Chapter Eight: The Problem With Not Knowing

*Remember you can listen to the audio version of this series on iTunes and Stitcher 

My cell phone buzzed and lit up for the fourth time. In response to this, I shoved the phone between the sofa cushions as I turned up the television. A part of me was hiding, that I knew, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was hiding from.

“Turn that down!” Joan’s voice cut through the adjoining rooms and lodged itself directly in the center of my head.

Somehow seeing Amelia’s banana-soaked face made me only capable of smelling turned yogurt.

I said nothing and turned the television exactly one notch lower. Once I sunk into the overstuffed purple sofa, I felt the phone buzz again.

For the first time, I was avoiding Pete.

I kept asking myself why. But, not a single honest answer presented itself. I mean, I knew the basics: at least one thing was different, and I didn’t want to face it. I had experienced enough change already to have plenty of good reason to avoid any further variations of my life. The Christmas tree in the corner of the living room pulled at my nerves and the retaining wall to a mess of emotions that I also didn’t want to face. Dante fought with Katrina on the tv as my mind restlessly thought about Lincoln. Dark curls and a smile that warned trouble is a much more pleasant thought process than where my mind had been recently traveling. The million different ways I thought about Lincoln added to me not wanting to talk to Pete, but it wasn’t all of it.

I felt something twice about Pete I had never felt before. I wasn’t used to being jealous when other girls threw themselves at him, and I certainly wasn’t used to getting a queasy feeling when he touched me. I couldn’t lose Pete, but I couldn’t pull him in totally either—a new thing for us.

I saw Pete, and I felt my mom. We were two broken families merged together, and now somehow I feel like I was floating out into unprotected space even though I could clearly see Pete and his mother trying to pull me in. My head was too much of a mess to truly trust my own thoughts. This was another thing troubling me.

Why do all I want to do is run?

Brian plopped his full weight onto the sofa with all his might, “Whatcha watching?”

My little brother looked at me with eyes that once twinkled with possibility but now dimmed with the harsh reality of life much too soon. I wished with my entire self I could protect him from the unkindness of life. But, I knew that I couldn’t. I couldn’t even protect myself.

“The New Life with Amy.”

“What’s it about?”

“Nothing you need to worry about.” I flipped on the guide with my thumb. “Wanna watch Trik Yo Crew?”

Brian’s eyes light up, “Will you watch it with me?”

“Definitely.” I wrapped my arm around him and pulled him into me. Anytime I had Brian in my arms I asked myself if I was doing enough. Did my responsibilities as his older sister change now that our mom was gone? Was I screwing up just like Glen, but couldn’t see it because it’s me and not him?

“This is the one where Owlbear finds the gem of ultimate power,” Brain informed me as he wiggled in his seat.

The sound of the door to the kitchen squeaked open, then slammed closed.

Glen was home.

The shuffling of his entrance into the house faded behind the shill voices coming from the television.

“Did you get diapers?” Joan’s voice traveled from the hallway between the kitchen and stairs.

“No, I forget. Work was hell.” Glen groaned, not at all interested in giving her any wife respect. He seemed completely uninterested in her, and I wonder if it’s possible this is all just a terrible side effect of grief.

“What else is new?” Joan snapped those last words before the sounds of her footsteps padded down the hallway.

“Hi, Pete. Yeah, she’s right here.” Brain’s voice pulled my attention back to our shared spot on the sofa. His small blushed hand clutched my phone against his face.

“Your phone was shoved between the couch cushions.” Brain rushed his words with his phone-filled hand right at me.

“Oh that’s where it was.” My tongue tinged with guilt as I lied. I took the phone from Brain. “Hey Pete,” I mumbled. My stomach started an uncomfortable dance of multiple varieties.

“What’s up, you okay?” His voice was tense and filled with purpose. Going two days almost without talking was a rare occurrence.

I cupped my hand over the phone, “Brain I’ll be right back.”

“Promise?”

“Yep.” I slid off the sofa and into my small room off to the left side of the square living room. Once I closed the door, and I was in the quiet clutches of my temporary space, I whispered, “I couldn’t find my phone, sorry.” It was a weak attempt that I knew he wouldn’t buy as the words came out of my mouth, but that didn’t stop me from finishing.

“Why are you whispering?”

“I have no idea.” I hated that I was so nervous.

“Didn’t think of coming by?” I hated when Pete’s voice was tinged with disappointment, especially when I caused it. Sometimes I forget he seemed to think he needed me as much as I needed him.

“I didn’t Pete. Weird fog or something.” My words clumsily fell from my mouth.

“Yeah, I heard the news talking about one rolling in.” A forced update tone pulled falsely at the ends of Pete’s voice. “This might be what brings the zombies.”

“I don’t think anything brings the zombies, Pete.”

An awkward silence wasn’t something that often existed between Pete and me.

“El?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you mad at me or something?”

“No, I’m just, I dunno trying to deal, ya know?”

Pete sighed. “I know.”

“Great show the other night.”

“Wanna come over?”

“Nay, I told Brain I ‘d hang out with him.”

“Oh. Yeah, totally. I can come there.”

“Nay, Glen and Joan are having a thing.”

“Since when is that new?” Pete’s tone was short, which I understood. I wasn’t being a very good friend.

“Tomorrow after work, okay?” I needed the day. Tomorrow I’d be more ready to ignore the weird feelings Pete was causing.

“Deal.” Pete’s voice was a tone in his crafted cool book. I knew him too well for him to get much past me, but his sensitive side was mostly hidden to the rest of world.

After we had hung up, a vast emptiness started to swirl around me. Why was I pushing Pete away? Is that what I was doing? As my thoughts began to circle the drain, my mom’s voice broke past the distracted guards.

“You should just tell him you think you might have feelings for him,” her distant words crept in and broke my heart with each passing syllable.

Without reservation I gave in for a moment, allowing my eyes to close, allowing myself to see her freckle-covered face. Tears stung at my eyes.

I pushed out a panic breath and peeled my eyelids apart. I had to get out of there. I grabbed the phone and tapped on Molly’s number.

It took two rings before Molly picked up. “Hey, girl!”

I pushed out a rushed breath. “Wanna hang out?”

***

   I lay on the hood of Molly’s SUV between her and Malachi. She parked in the back of Swell Goose Park. We were completely hidden from anyone just passing by, which we good considering the park itself was off a major throughway—come to think of it I couldn’t think of many roads around there that weren’t ones.  Bare tree branches and swollen clouds drifted between us and the stars, knowing they were there wasn’t enough. I needed to see them. As my mind tried to picture the shimmering orbs, my mom’s smile snuck in the front of my head causing a knife to stab me in the chest.

    I feel like I was losing it.

    “Here you go Pixie,” Malachi sang to me. I took the J from him. Smoke and the harsh winter air seemed to be slowly encapsulating us in a world all our own.

    “I wish I could see the stars.” As my words made their way to my new found friends, I pictured standing beneath a crowded sky for glowing that went on endlessly. If wishing on stars were real, I’d wish for a time machine.

    “If we were down the shore right now, we’d be able to see them.” Molly sat up with her weight rested on her elbows. Her red hair, now slightly faded compared to the first time I saw her, hung around her perfectly shaped shoulders.

    “We need to make that happen soon. I’ll bring Matilda.” The confidence in my words surprised me.

     Molly nodded firmly as she slid the J from between my fingers with her bracelet covered arm. “That’s a date.”

    “Why do you want to see the stars so bad? They are there whether you can see them or not.” Malachi’s voice was followed by a series of coughs breaking through Molly’s lips.

    “I don’t think wishing on them works if you can’t see them.” I tossed the thought through my mind again, trying to imagine wishing on a star without its visibility. It just didn’t quite add up.

    “Why the star wishing?” Molly’s grin lazily laid on her face.

    I wondered what her natural color looked like and if it made her blend in more. My thoughts were probably no. “In a world where star wishes were granted, maybe people come back after they die in a different form.”

    “Like human into an animal?” Molly offered this to my self-exposing sentence. I wanted space from what I lost, but it was hard to put it somewhere I wasn’t it. Her eye’s fluttered as thoughts obviously turned around in her head. A spark seemed to always glimmer in her eyes, I wondered what it meant, and if I could ever have eyes that glimmered with sparks again.

    “Yeah.” I closed my eyes to see my mom looking back at me. “I’d come back as a bird.”

    “I often wish I had the power to change people like a witch can theoretically turn a boy into a frog.”

    “You want to turn people into animals?” Malachi’s voice was skeptic as his eyes narrowed in Molly’s direction.

    Molly and Malachi shared a look that only could be passed between really good friends. I was honored to be beside them and relieved to be somewhere unfamiliar.

    “I mean turn dirtbags into decent human beings.” Molly flipped her hair back somehow lightening the mood just as quickly as she had darkened it.

    “That would be quite a trick. I can think of a few candidates right off the top of my head.” Glen was standing onto of the list with his BMW and adulterine indiscretions.

    A hearty chuckled rumbled into Molly’s chest. “Right?”

    “Where’s lover boy?” Malachi asked me. His dreads here tied in a ponytail at the back of his head.

    “Pete?”

    “Yes, doll.”

    “He had something to do with his band.” My stomach instantly soured with the lie. I wasn’t sure why I lied. I could have just said at home. My mind flashed to a few hours earlier when I told him I didn’t feel like going out.

    I sucked.

    Maybe my mental version of my mom was right. Maybe I should tell Pete I think I might like him in a different way.

    No, no I shouldn’t.

    “I don’t understand how you two are just friends. I couldn’t just be friends with someone who looked like that.” Molly pulled me out of my internal conversation on the very same subject.

    “God, Molly quite a way to ask the girl permission to mack on her BFF.” Malachi tossed his hand to the side letting her know just how ridiculous the thought it was.

    A sharp heat tainted my cheeks. One that Molly definitely noticed.

    “Oh shut it, Malachi.” Molly rolled her eyes at him before focusing on me. “I don’t want that mess. He’s dangerously cute, and he knows it. Plus you two have some complicated dynamic I’m not super thrilled about putting myself in the middle of.” Molly pulled her bottom lip into her mouth. “I mean, I’m trying to put myself back together post almost dying and the modeling mom mess. I can’t do that while doing Pete.” Her mouth curved into a smile I was seeing a lot.

    “He does go through them.”  As my words made their way to Molly, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be just like any other girl to Pete if we hooked up. Pete and I could never do anything like that. It just wouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t.

    “Oh he does, I told her everything I knew.” Malachi widened his eyes.

    Molly smacked him on the shoulder.

    “Whatever.” Malachi shook his head. I was witnessing something that happened a lot. Seeing their closeness undoubtedly made me think of Pete. I wished and hoped that there would be a day when I could be around him in be in zero pain.

    It was possible I was too fragile for new relationships, but there was good chance it was important for me to expand my universe. The goal was not to suffocate.

    ***

    Monday morning seemed to swing back around fast; it certainly wasn’t lacking first day jitters. Well, maybe not first day jitters, but something more like a queazy flutter at the idea of spending the day working beside Lincoln. Not only today but going forward, for as long as we both worked at The Angry Crow.

    It wasn’t even ten minutes after my alarm went off when Molly texted me, Be at your bus stop to drive you with coffee!!!!!!

    I smiled naturally. Time in a lot of ways is the closet anyone will ever get to time travel. I tapped back. You rock. Thanks.

    I laid my head flat own on my pillow. Posters of fairies and dragons blanketed my ceiling and framed my blank walls. I wanted so badly to believe in the impossible and fantastic. I couldn’t help but think about how cool it would be if I had the power to talk to the dead, which would answer why I kept hearing my mom.

    The reality of course quickly reminded me that wasn’t, in fact, the case, but more likely a symptom of grief which I was finding was a lot like the ocean in terms of what people understood of it.

    I kept the image of my mom close as I showered and got dressed for my first day. I said nothing to Joan before I slipped out of the front door. There was no motivation there for me to try with her. I couldn’t bring myself to, even though a lot of me felt sorry for her, and for how cold I was to her. Some situations weren’t designed for anyone to succeed.

    The short walk to the bus stop battered me with the unforgiving harshness of an East Coast winter. The sky was a shallow blanket of off-white with occasional gray swirl which no one could be certain if they were clouds or pollution. Molly’s battered SUV was half parked on the sidewalk beside the pole which held the Bus Stop sign. She was leaning against the car holding two cups.

    “I’m happy that you were inspired to do this,” I said as I climbed into her car.

    “That’s what friends do. I’m always up early.” Molly’s eyes darkened. “I don’t do the sleep thing that good.”

    “Well, you should hit me then. I haven’t slept through the night in months.” The houses and business blurred as she raced around the traffic light littered streets. My stomach rolled around half upset from her breaking and the half unsettled from the extra shots of caramel in the coffee.

    My head hit the back of the seat in response to her breaking. “Door to door service. When do you get off?”

    “Two.”

    “I’ll pick you up.”

    “I have a therapy appointment at six.”

    “Maybe if you agree to get Chinese with me I’ll drive you there too.”

    “For real?”

    “Yeah, it’s terribly cold outside. I am totally enabling you not getting your driver license, but I like hanging out with you.”

    I smiled at this. “Same here.”

    “See you at two,” she shouted as she peeled off. Her tires left behind a stomach turning smell.

    As I carefully rode down the glass sided escalator that took me through guts of the football field sized food court it dawned on me I promised Pete we’d hang out later. I guess it would have to be after the therapy I promised to try. I’m not sure what Glen thought.  It was like he was handling me the way one would try to troubleshoot a car that won’t start.

    I could hear the growling of frantic music before I saw the crow sign that hung above the main entrance of the store. Rocks rolled around in my stomach as I got closer to the store, and were the size of Africa by the time I saw him.

    Lincoln was bent over the countertop. His dark eyes folded down. He was focused reading a piece of paper in front of him.

    I sucked in a deep breath as I walked in. I pictured Molly as I flipped my turquoise hair behind my ear. The moment his eyes found me, I considered the possibility I was knowingly going in out my head, and out of a familiar depth.

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