I rapped my fist against the daylight basement window that was one of six I would use to get in and out of Pete’s room—but, that only worked when they weren’t locked. Bare branches poked at my shoulders. My torso was almost completely flat against the cold ground. Matilda stood very happily over my head wagging her tail. Layers of dirt bordered her front haunches and neck. A bath was going to be a necessary next step.
Footsteps and a shadow got closer to the window. Matilda let out a very soft bark. Pete slid open the window. His bright blue eyes are always the first thing anyone could notice about Pete. His wide lazy grin was the next. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Why are the windows locked?”
“To avoid break-ins,” he offered. His voice a constant low raspy drawl that wrapped around his sarcastic comments. “My mom’s been watching too much news.” Then there was the instant guilty expression that I always got anytime anyone mentioned their mothers. Shrugging it off would continuously add to my overwhelming urge to scream.
“Can you unlock the back door?”
“The front door works too.”
“Is anyone else home?” Of course, I’m only asking if his mom is home. It is just the two of them.
“Yeah, she’s making dinner. Shouldn’t you be with Glen?”
“I couldn’t remember. I don’t want to track mud through the house.”
“Why are you muddy?”
“Matilda got me muddy.” I felt a smile form on my face which didn’t happen all that much these days.
Pete smiled back. “Who is Matilda?”
“My new dog.”
“Just let me in around the back,” my voice raised in volume.
“Okay, okay.” Pete slammed the window closed, and I shimmied myself out of the bushes. Matilda was wiggling with the wags of her tail as she did the same. Her wide brown eyes looked at me with more kindness that I’m used to seeing. I instantly loved her with my entire heart.
We walked down along the side of the house. If I reached out both of my arms I would be able to touch Pete’s house as well as Mr. Costello’s—like I mentioned earlier, everything is cramped and overlapping. I felt like a rat in a cage; some people seemed not to notice or mind that congested and suffocated casualties of Northern New Jersey, but it made me crazy. I felt like I had a limited amount of time before it consumed me entirely rendering ever leaving impossible. My left foot was almost always twitching with anticipation. I had to get out.
Matilda heeled naturally. Her fur grazed my leg as we walked into Pete’s postage-stamp-sized yard—something all homes in this area had in common. My pant leg was slowly collecting an accumulating amount of dirt as it passed from Matilda’s coat to me. I wasn’t sure if she was well trained or just thankful to have a friend.
Pete and I lived a solid five-minute walk apart, but we used have touching back yards. We had been friends since we were seven since my mom and I moved into the house. Our moms became best friends first. I didn’t feel like Pete was like my brother, he’s definitely a friend. Pete had his band and a constant influx of girls, but he always kept me by his side, kept me close. I was the robin to his batman.
Just as I stepped onto the two-step stoop, Pete swung open the back door. His dyed jet black hair hung over his face. An eyebrow, lip, and nose piercing only added to the prettiness of his face, which I knew for a fact was the opposite of his goals. Pete did everything he could to make himself look tough, but he only added to his female fan base and solidified the fact that their band ‘Goat’s Gin’ was the most popular band in the local scene, which was like the shopping malls, were quite large and varied.
Pete’s eyes were drawn in surprised amusement. “What’s with the dog El?” —Only Pete called me El.
“I took her. She was tied to a street sign. It’s freezing, and clearly she wasn’t be taken care of. I couldn’t just leave her there,” I said this to him as I scratched Matilda’s hand.
“She’s got sweet eyes,” Pete said shrugging. He knelt down, “Hey pup,”
Matilda wagged her tail.
“What does Glen say?”
“Can I use your bathtub?”
“Please. I’ll clean up. You know that.”
“Okay, fine but you need to listen to this song I’ve been working on,” Pete said this as he tucked some of his hair behind his heavily pierced ear.
“Deal.” I nod as I gently pushed past him. I patted my leg, “Come on Matilda.”
“And she’s already trained.” Pete shook his head lovingly my way.
“I don’t know. We get each other.”
Pete laughed as he closed the door. “My mom knows you are avoiding her. She gets it. She isn’t mad.” His voice was softer than before. Whatever Pete did, he was always careful with me.
“I feel bad,” my voice cracked. I forced out a stale and panic breath as I made my way into the bathroom off of Pete’s room. The whole basement both the finished and unfinished part were all Pete’s. The laundry at the base of the stars was pretty much the only thing that brought Evie down. In the far corner near his bed was the bands practice spot. The walls were stabled with foam egg crates. Ever since Glen sold my mom’s house and moved in with Joan, Pete’s room was the closest I got to feeling at home.
“We get it.”
“I barely get it.” I turned the faucet to lukewarm and plugged the tub with the same sweep of my fingers, a motion my hands had performed with this very tub countless times. Pete had me to thank for his never fading black hair. “All I know is sometimes my mom’s absence is a film that covers everything in a different color, which sucks but it is tolerable—but, sometimes it screams really loud. It’s hard not to imagine her right beside your mom, ya know, because…
“…They were always together,” Pete finished.
I pushed out a heavy sigh, “Do you have any food I can give her? Treats will help, I think.”
“I have some beef jerky,” his face brighten at the thought.
“That would be totally perfect.”
Pete disappeared and repaired in the doorway of his back and white bathroom in a matter of seconds. “Kill it,” he said pushing the whole bag at me. “Can you I play the song while you bathe her?” Pete slid both hands into his pockets as his mouth screeched out in a flashy grin that I doubt many could say no to. “It’s a ballad.”
“Let’s give it a try.”
“Okay, I have it get it ready.” Pete, now suddenly flustered disappeared from site gain. The sound of drawers opening and closing dance around in the distance followed by some muffled cursing. Pete wanted to be a musical sensation. Not just a well-paid musician, but the next big thing. Rolling Stone Magazine and the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame. Pete had more dreams and ambitions shoved into his brain than most crowds of hundreds. It was nice to be near. I believed in him one hundred percent. Pete would become a sensation because he won’t stop until he achieves it.
I gave Matilda a treat, “Good girl, Matilda.”
I scooped her and put her in the water. Her body tensed. I repeated soothing words as I gave her treats. She started to calm down as I rubbed the soap into her weathered coat.
“Alright, I mostly have my shit together.” Pete was now in the doorway with his acoustic guitar in hand and a pick between his teeth. I took the pick from his mouth. “That’s sweet,” Pete said, his words wrapped inside his smile. He motioned his chin at Matilda, who had her chin rested on the edge of the tub.
“Yeah, she’s awesome.” I felt as though Matilda had always been mine.
“Do you think Glen will let you keep her?”
“He doesn’t have a choice.”
“You should live here,” Pete said for the hundredth time. Every time his words shattered me into pieces.
“Glen legally adopted me when Brain was born. Being an asshole doesn’t rank on CHS’s priorities. ”
“Would he make a stink about you leaving?”
“I dunno. This group they are sending to me is bullshit.”
“Play me the song.” I cup water onto Matilda’s back. Her brown coat was, at least, four shades lighter as the dirt washed away.
Pete cleared his throat, bowed his head, and closed his eyes. His long fingers moved across the cords. A sweet melody filled the small space between us.
“My eyes are closed. The face surrounds.
I can’t breathe.” Pete’s raspy voice turned to whiney tone when he sang that made everything he said sound angsty, which work with his lyrics because they were all about love, sex, and falling apart. A few were about me.
“Hey!” Evie’s mothering zone tunneled down the stairwell. “Is Elliot downstairs?”
My stomach punched me in the throat.
Pete sighed as he pulled himself out of his song. “Maybe.”
“Well, either way, give her a heads up that Glen is pissed off that she didn’t wait for him. He was going to take her out to dinner.”
“He was late as shit,” I cut it. “I bet he forget.”
“Elliot, did you bring a dog into my house?”
I closed my eyes. My mom’s eyes narrowed at me for not using manners.
“Clean up, and get to Glen’s before you make your life even harder for yourself.” Her mothering both stung and had the effect of a warm blanket.
“And, please take the dog with you. No dogs Peter,” Evie tacked on before disappearing from the top of the stairs.
“Here, I’ll help you.” Pete left the doorway and came back with free hands.
“Try not to get into too much trouble. I need you to take pictures for Saturday’s night show.”
“I’ll be there, either way, Peter, come on.”
He laughed as he tossed a blue towel at me. “Dry off that dog, would ya?”
The moment I would get anywhere near the house my stomach’s queasiness shot through my entire body locking my muscles into webs of panic.
I hated it. The sense of mom wasn’t anywhere near this house, which was the apply for Glen, that much I understood.
Glen’s silver BMW sat flawless in the narrow driveway. The house was perfectly coordinated on the inside and out. It added to my need to scream. It added a glaring spotlight to how different my life is now.
I also hated that.
Picture ants crawling up your legs by the dozens. That’s what it felt like when I’d think about it.
I glanced down at Matilda, who was shiny and soft now. She was looking at me waiting for a cue of some kind. There was a tiny bit of white fur bunched together under her chin. Panic hit. The idea of not winning the fight of keeping her enter my wind like a drunk bull. My stomach started dancing around. Then that whisper of my own would tell me just to leave. It was happening more and more. At first, the whispers of leaving were quickly followed my mom’s voice telling me to knock it off. My mind’s version of her tells me that less. I can’t figure out if that means anything at all.
I sucked in a deep breath as I stepped onto the white-painted porch steps. The exact moment my foot landed on the small, thoroughly clean porch, the front door swung open. A perfectly groomed and perfectly panicked Glen slammed his way out of the deck. “It that god damn dog, Elliot?” His voice was loud and more rigid than an accent piece of wood.
“I got her cleaned up at Pete’s. She was dirty and followed me. I also love her.”
“I need a dog to worry about like a need another hole in my head.” His square jaw snapped shut with his last word.
I pushed out a breath.
“I’m assuming you were at Pete’s instead of waiting for me to take you to dinner. Weekly dinners is something I do for you.”
“Well, stop doing them. I hate them.” I crossed my arms. Looking at him made me want to explode. He openly cheated on my mom while she died. The physical reaction of disgust I have every time he opens his mouth is more than I can take. He knew, of course, that I knew everything. Mom and I didn’t keep secrets from each other. I knew he was ashamed, but he still got married a month after my mom died while we were in Atlantic City for the weekend—now, that is truly more than I could take.
Glen looked at me and saw all of his failures.
His light green eyes study me carefully. I was able to read truly what he was thinking, but my guess was that he was trying to figure out how he was going to handle it. He was running a quick check of all possibilities trying to weigh which affected him the least.
“Elliot! You got a dog!?” Brain’s small, high pitched voice burst from the living room window, quickly followed by a run. In a matter of seconds, Brain was thought eh door and arms around Matilda. “This is Matilda. She’s here to help us with a Christmas spirit,” My words came out as a shameless smirk played with my lips. “Checkmate,” I muttered to myself but loud enough that there was no way Glen didn’t hear me.
“Matilda, like the one in mom’s favorite book?” Brian asked. His face was completely buried in her fur.
“That’s right, buddy.”
“You’re the best sister in the whole, entire world.” Brian celebrated as he soaked in all of the glory that was Matilda.
“This doesn’t become my problem at all!” Glen said throwing his arms up. He turns around and storms back in the house.
“He’s mad again Ellie,” Brian said. There were only two people who called me Ellie. Now there is just one. “You have to stop breaking the rules. Joan said you are gonna get yourself put in jail.”
“Joan doesn’t know anything. You know that.” I ruffled the brown mop on his head. I didn’t want Brain to see that I was fuming. What does Joan need to be saying anything to my kid brother? Why would she worry him like that?
“Yeah, I know.”
I looked up from him hugging Matilda to find Joan with her perfectly smooth bob, clutching tightly to Amelia. Her chubby face split into a grin. She squealed, “Pup!” She said. “My pup!” Amelia slid down Joan’s silver exercise leggings.
“I don’t know how much I can take,” Joan told me with a completely flat tone.
“Me either,” I replied. I crossed and met her eyes straight on.
Joan sighed. I felt bad that I hated her, she was involved with a mess of a situation. I didn’t envy her having me to deal with me. At the same time, she sucked and so did the fact that she married Glen before the grass grew on my mother’s grave. Joan turned away and walked deeper into the house, leaving Amelia to climb all over Matilda.
Chapter Three will be posted next Friday! Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you think.
Copyright 2016 Jayme Beddingfield
*Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone is entirely coincidental.