The Sea of Tranquility(12)


by Katja Millay

“She’d kick your ass if she knew you took it.” It’s a dumbass thing to say. I don’t know her well enough to know what she’d do and I’m talking about her like I do. She’s ripped enough to kick his ass, and mine, too. Really, she should have kicked my ass for handing her a glass of vodka when she was hung over, but she laughed in my face instead, so what the hell do I know?

“There are a lot of people who want to kick my ass,” he responds nonchalantly, as if it’s just a fact of life. It’s true that a lot of the ass**les in this school want to kick the crap out of him, but wanting and doing are two different things. They still talk shit about him, but nobody’s laid a hand on Clay since eighth grade and he and I both know why.

When my mom died, I went through the angry phase. It’s okay, of course, because anger is acceptable when you’re grieving, especially when you’re an eight year-old boy. People will make a lot of excuses for you. I dealt with my acceptable anger by doing unacceptable things like beating the crap out of other kids who pissed me off. Pissing me off didn’t take much. I was pretty liberal about what would be enough set me off. Turned out, even the unacceptable things I did with my fists were considered acceptable and brushed under the carpet.

I punched Mike Scanlon in the face, twice, because he said my mom was in the ground getting eaten by maggots. I don’t think there was even enough of her body left after the crash to feed a maggot, but I didn’t argue with him. I just nailed him in the face. Gave him a black eye and a split lip. He told his dad. His dad came to my house and I hid around the corner, listening and wondering how much trouble I was going to get in. But he wasn’t even mad. He told my dad it was okay. He said he understood. He didn’t understand crap, but I didn’t get in trouble. And that’s the way it always went.

The only time I really had to answer for it at all was the one time it happened at school. I punched Paul Keller on the soccer field during P.E. and I thought I was in for it. The principal called me in, which had never happened in my life. Lucky for me, he also understood and I got off with a warning and a few trips to the school psychologist. All the kids I beat up learned that no one was going to touch me for anything I did. I could hit them in broad daylight with ten witnesses and even their own dads would tell them to give me a break.

My angry phase had ended by the time I got to eighth grade, just in time for my dad to have a heart attack. By that time, almost everybody left me alone. No one would give me an excuse to be angry at them. Then one day I was walking home from school and ran into three shits beating the crap out of Clay Whitaker. I didn’t even know him at the time but they were kicking him good and I needed an excuse to kick someone back. I had a lot of healthy, acceptable anger built up and they were good therapy. There were three of them and I wasn’t the biggest kid around. They should have been able to grind me into the sidewalk without breaking a sweat. But they had only garden-variety cruelty to fuel them. I had pure unadulterated rage.

Clay was sitting on the ground when the other kids finally ran off. I was hurt and out of breath so I sat down, also, because I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t care if anyone else came looking for me. No one did. I probably would have hit them, too. Clay didn’t say thank you, or anything else to me for that matter, which was good, because I didn’t deserve any thanks. I didn’t do it for him. There weren’t any noble intentions.

I didn’t care if I got in trouble. I didn’t care about Clay Whitaker, sitting a couple feet away, bloody and crying. I just didn’t care. That was the last time I hit anyone. After that day, I decided to wait until someone gave me a good reason. But it didn’t matter, because everyone had already learned that I’d get away with it if I did. I wasn’t even sure what a good reason would be, but I figured I’d know when the time came. And maybe it never would.

I didn’t say a word to Clay before I finally got up and walked home and we never spoke about what happened. I was used to people not bothering me, but after that day, nobody bothered Clay Whitaker, either.

“I’m starting to understand the feeling,” I mutter, and he knows I’m not serious but he throws his hands up and takes the hint.

“Fine. I’ll leave you to your very compelling table. I’m going to draw a girl,” he says smugly and turns around to open his sketchbook.

CHAPTER 12

Nastya

I used to spend excessive amounts of time thinking about what I’d be doing over the next twenty or so years. It usually had something to do with playing the piano in concert halls all over the world. Which would mean lots of world travel that would include stays at fabulously glamorous hotels with fabulously fluffy towels and fluffier bathrobes. There would also be the unbelievably hot, musically gifted, swoon-worthy princes who would tour with me and inevitably fall obsessively in love with me. Because that happens. I would be revered for the talent that came from my father’s side of the family and the beauty that came from my mother’s. I’d wear elegant gowns in colors that haven’t even been imagined yet and everyone would know my name.

Now I spend my time thinking about what I’ll be doing over the next twenty or so hours and hoping it involves something resembling sleep.

***

I’ve been able to run every night for a week now. The weather has cooperated. My legs are coming back. I push myself harder than I should but I haven’t thrown up again since the second night. My body is remembering. The best part is that I can exhaust myself, drain everything the day dredges up, so I can sleep. I still can’t do without the notebooks, but the running helps. It gives me something, or maybe more accurately, it takes something away. I don’t care. I know I depend on it too much but it’s the one of the only things I can depend on. Exercise, notebooks, hate. The things that do not let me down.

I know my way around the streets now. I can pay attention without paying attention. I’ve memorized the ambient sound. I know what belongs and what doesn’t. I know where the sidewalks are uneven, where the pavement has been pushed up by the roots of an angry tree. My mind has learned what to expect from the night I run in. I leave around the same time every evening but I don’t run the same route twice. I can get myself home a dozen different ways from any direction if I need to. I am not comfortable. I’ll never be comfortable leaving the house again, but I feel prepared, and that’s better than I was the last time and the most I can expect to be.

For the past six nights, I have purposely avoided the pale yellow stucco house on Corinthian Way. The one with the perpetually open garage. I run past the street every night, but I can’t ignore the pull I feel to at least glance down the road from the turn off. I can tell by the pattern of the lights whether or not the garage door is up and it hasn’t disappointed yet. It hasn’t been closed once, no matter what time it is. I always wonder what he might say if I were to show up there again. I know it won’t be much but I wonder what the words would be anyway. Would he say anything? Would he ignore me and keep working as if I wasn’t there? Would he tell me to leave? Ask me to stay? No, I know he wouldn’t do that. Josh Bennett doesn’t ask anybody to stay. I could come up with a hundred possibilities, but I really can’t figure out which of them would be the closest to possible. Then, for a just a moment, I lose focus. I stop thinking about what he would say to me and start pondering what I would say to him. That’s the moment I push my feet hard and fast in the opposite direction. And I run far away from Corinthian Way and my absurd, self-destructive thoughts.

I get back to Margot’s house at 9:25 and head straight for the shower. I talk more to myself in that shower than I have in months. Within the safety of an empty house, under the muting of the running water, I remind myself of all the complications that will come from opening my mouth. I try to get all of the words out of my system. I tell Ethan Hall that he’s a douche while I visualize administering a perfectly executed palm heel strike to his face. Or a fork to his eye, which is equally appealing. I tell Ms. Jennings that, contrary to popular belief, Bach was not more prolific than Telemann; he’s just better remembered. I tell Drew which of his pick-up lines works the best and who I think he should really use them on instead of wasting them on me. I tell my Dad that he can still call me Milly because, even though it’s a sucky nickname, it makes him happy and that makes me happy in a way I don’t know how to be anymore. I tell my therapists thank you, but that nothing they do or say or try to make me say will help. I talk until the water runs cold and my voice feels hoarse from overuse. I hope it’s enough to help me keep my mouth shut. I haven’t said a word to another living person in 452 days. I write my three and a half pages, tuck away my composition book and crawl into bed, knowing how close I came to not making it to 453.

***

I’ve been doing a decent job avoiding Josh at school. Other than fifth hour, the only time I have to see him is in shop, which is always a humbling experience since everyone in that class knows their way around lumber and power tools and I’m lucky I can identify a hammer, maybe not even that. The other day this kid named Errol asked me to hand him one, and when I did, he looked at me like I was an idiot. Apparently there are like four hundred kinds of hammers and I didn’t give him the right one. Now nobody even asks me to get them stuff.

I could have tried to drop the class, but I decided to choose my battles with the guidance department and shop was the lesser of the evils when compared to Speech and Debate and Intro to Music. Between the two of those, I figured I could survive Speech since Mr. Trent had told me I could earn my grade doing research and finding interpretation material. Plus, I had crash hot sexy Drew to amuse me and I’ll take all the amusement I can get. And if I’m being completely honest with myself, which I usually endeavor to avoid, I knew from day one that I needed the hell out of Intro to Music. That class was a fault line running just beneath the surface of my unstable mind. I’d rather avoid it. I’m good at avoiding.

And besides, being the teacher aide in Ms. McAllister’s fifth hour has been more entertaining than I could have hoped for. It’s like the school equivalent of watching Big Brother; I get to eavesdrop on the drama and it’s not mentally taxing in the least. Drew is in there, along with Josh, dirtbag Ethan, f**kwad Kevin Leonard and this badass girl named Tierney Lowell who Drew argues with non-stop. I don’t think she’s my biggest fan, either. She hasn’t told me outright, but she glares at me like I spend my free time murdering puppies, so it’s an educated guess.

Shop really isn’t so bad, either, even if it does make me feel inept and useless most of the time. No one bothers me, and Mr. Turner doesn’t expect me to do much of anything. Josh is apparently some sort of god there. He walks around like he built the place. They should give him a dedicated phone line in the workshop, because every time the phone rings, the same thing happens: Turner answers, Turner summons Josh, Josh leaves. He gets sent out a lot. Shelves need fixing? Call Josh Bennett. Drawers stuck? Get Josh. Need an exquisitely-crafted, custom-built dining room set? Josh Bennett is your man.

Just don’t ask him to talk. He hasn’t said anything to me since the day he told me he wasn’t going to make me relinquish my seat at his table, benevolent despot that he is. I, obviously, have not said anything to him.

CHAPTER 13

Josh

Drew walks in at about ten after eleven on Sunday morning. I forgot to lock the door when I went out to get the newspaper this morning so he walks right in. I have to cancel the stupid thing. I don’t read it. It’s another remnant from my grandfather living here. I tried to convince him to read it online but he wouldn’t have it. He said he liked the feel of it in his hands and the smell of the paper. I hate the way newspaper feels and I like the way it smells even less. I make a note to call today and have them stop delivery. I don’t want to have to see another one in my driveway.