The Sea of Tranquility(13)


by Katja Millay

“What’s up?” I ask while he makes himself at home.

“Sarah. House. Girls. Too many,” he sighs, collapsing prone onto the couch and staring up at the ceiling.

“I didn’t think there was such a thing as too many girls in your world.”

“When it comes to Sarah’s friends, I make exceptions.”

“You never make exceptions.”

“OK. True story. But I should.”

I don’t blame him. Sarah’s friends are painful. They’re nice to look at, but they all know it, which kind of diminishes the appeal. They’re all the things about the girls at school that I can’t stand and Sarah’s turning just like them. I guess I’m lucky I intimidate them, because after they try their flirting thing once, they usually realize they’re not going to get a reaction and they don’t come back for more.

“You’ve already hit at least three of them. Finally learn your lesson?”

“Think they finally learned theirs. Plus, Sarah put her foot down and said no more with the friends. Off limits.”

“Does she really think you’re going to listen?”

“She put her foot down to them. I’m off limits.”

“How deprived they must feel.”

“Don’t mock. It’s true. I’m like a rite of passage.”

“Why are you here?”

“Told you. Can’t be in the house. I feel my testosterone levels dropping by the second in there.”

“Yeah, but why are you here?” My house is usually not the first resort for escape when Drew needs to get away from his. It used to be a few years ago, but not anymore. I think it might have something to do with my possession of a Y chromosome.

“Nowhere else to go.”

“You could pick up some grain alcohol. Go make a peace offering.”

“I’m not going over there alone. They might never find my body.”

“Giving up so soon?” There are a hundred other girls he could go after; this one I just don’t get.

“No. Just have to switch tactics. Ideas?”

I don’t have any ideas and if I did I wouldn’t help him out. I do have questions, though, and I seem to come up with more every day. “Why do you think she doesn’t talk?”

“Nobody knows. I hit her with some of my favorite material, and judging by the look I got, she has no problem grasping the English language. I’m voting no vocal cords.”

I know for a fact that’s not true. She laughed when she was here‌—‌full-on laughed. I looked it up. You need vocal cords to produce sound like that, so I know that’s not it. Maybe it’s still a physical thing. I don’t know shit about anything like that, but something tells me it’s not physical and that makes me wonder even more. What reason does someone have to not talk? Did she ever talk? Maybe she’s never uttered a single word. I don’t know. I do know that she pays attention; she’s watching everything all the time, even when she’s not even looking. I don’t think she misses a damn thing. It might creep me out if I didn’t kind of get it. I wonder if she sees things that I don’t, but it’s not like she’d tell me and I would never ask anyway.

“She doesn’t seem like your type,” I say. With rare exception, Drew tends to go the vapid, cute and popular route. He’s all about the path of least resistance when it comes to girls, and fortunately for him, that path seems to lead to almost any girl in school. I don’t think he’s ever been turned down, even though they all know the reputation and he’s never done anything to sugar-coat it. He’s never pulled out the love card and pretended to have any sort of feelings for a girl to get her to sleep with him. He doesn’t have to. They do it anyway without any emotional persuasion from him. They provide that all on their own.

Most girls think they’ll be the one he ends up staying with but it never happens. You’d think at least one of them would publicly call him out for it. Try to make him take responsibility and own up, but none of them do, because at the end of the day, they know that Drew did exactly what Drew does and most of them realize they probably shouldn’t have bought into the reform-the-asshole fantasy.

I’d like to blame him, but it’s hard when he doesn’t deny or make excuses or apologies. He is what he is. Take it or leave it. I couldn’t do what he does, not that there isn’t a certain appeal. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I’ve thought about, but it’s way too much responsibility for me. Too many feelings coming off of those girls and I’m not good at deflecting them. They seem to roll right off Drew. The tears and the name calling and the bitterness don’t even faze him. I have enough responsibility and I don’t want anyone else’s feelings to worry about. I banished my own a long time ago and I’ll be damned if I have to deal with someone else’s.

“She’s female. She’s hot. Requirements met,” he says bluntly.

“She seems to hate you.” She seems to hate everyone but I don’t bother to say that. I’m really trying to figure out why he’s wasting his time with this girl. It’s out of character. He should have given up on this a while ago.

“So, it’s a challenge.”

“Exactly. Doesn’t exerting effort go against your personal philosophy?”

“It does, but maybe I’m entering a personal growth phase. Trying to improve myself.”

I stifle a laugh or a gagging sound. I’m not sure which.

“You’re lack of faith is insulting. Besides, not all of us have a sure thing in our back pockets with no strings and no effort required.” He looks deliberately at me. I can’t dispute it. There’s no point in acting all high and mighty when I don’t ever have to worry about getting a girl to have sex with me.

I’ve got Leigh, even though she’s not around as much as she used to be now that she’s in college, but that just makes it easier. She’s only a couple of hours away and she comes by whenever she’s home for weekends and holidays. Then she leaves again. She doesn’t tell me she loves me. She doesn’t ask if I love her. I don’t and I never will. We have an easy non-emotional arrangement; we use each other and go home. It’s about as perfect as a situation gets. Even if I didn’t have Leigh, I don’t think I’d be desperate enough to sink to Drew’s level. I like getting laid well enough, but knowing me, I’d still feel like a prick and end up dating the girl for months out of guilt.

“You don’t get to judge me. In fact, in light of my newfound self-improvement goals, I’m going to conquer my fear of being flayed alive and go over to her house right now.” He jumps up off the couch and heads for the door.

“Good luck with that,” I say, not meaning it in the least.

***

I spend the rest of the afternoon involved in varying degrees of avoidance. I finally did pick up the phone and cancel the newspaper, which I wasn’t sure I’d actually do. Then I figured as long as I was dealing with things I’d call the hospice and have them come take away the hospital bed they delivered for my grandfather two months ago. He’s been gone for two weeks, but it feels like forever. If there weren’t so many phone calls to make, I might wonder if he was ever here at all.

When I hang up with hospice, I look at the phone and think about calling my grandfather. I thought about calling yesterday and the day before and the day before that. But I haven’t actually called. I spoke to him last week and it sucked. He’s a hundred times worse since he left here. His mind isn’t his anymore. It belongs to oxycodone and morphine and every other pain killer they can pump into him to make it easier. Talking to him isn’t even talking to him anymore. He’s a body on the other end of the phone, but the mind is all but gone. I can almost hear his brain struggling to process the words as I speak to him. He can’t make sense of it and I know it frustrates him, and if there is any part of my heart left to break, it breaks with his confusion. Still, I get selfish sometimes and call him anyway. For me. And I talk. I tell him things I wouldn’t tell another living person, because I know that when I hang up, it will be like I never told anyone at all.

Even the last real conversation we had, on the Saturday night before my great uncle and his wife came to pick him up, was tainted by the drugs. He sat me down to give me the advice he thought I still needed. He told me to sit on the couch and he sat in the recliner across from me the way he had for years when he was imparting whatever piece of wisdom he felt I needed at that point in my life. I never really listened because I didn’t think I needed his wisdom. That night I sat. And I listened. I’d listen to anything he wanted to say. I was greedy for it, desperate for whatever words he had left to give me, even if they were delivered through a drug-addled haze.

He told me a lot of things that night and I remember them all. There was talk of women and unforgiveable things, porch swings and red brick houses and memories that didn’t exist yet.

***

I have to be at Drew’s for dinner at 6:00 which means I need to get in the shower now and find some better clothes to put on. Drew’s mom likes it when you dress for Sunday dinner. It’s not any fancy thing, but according to Mrs. Leighton, dressing nicely makes it special, so that’s what we do. I tried to get out of going, but she wouldn’t let me. I haven’t gone to Sunday dinner in three weeks. I don’t hate it. It’s actually fun most of the time. I get to eat real food that I don’t have to cook and Drew doesn’t act like such a douche around his family. It’s just that, when I go there, I feel like I’m in an episode of Sesame Street, stuck in the upper quadrant of the TV screen while they sing that one of these things just doesn’t belong here. The normalcy of it reminds me, in detail, of how f**ked my life actually is. I could stand here all day thinking of all of the reasons not to go, but I know I’m not getting out of it, so I suck it up, pull some decent clothes out of the closet and jump in the shower.

CHAPTER 14

Nastya

There are twenty-seven bones in your hand and wrist. Twenty-two of mine were broken. Relatively speaking, my hand is kind of a miracle. It’s full of plates and screws, and even after several surgeries, it still doesn’t look quite right. But it works better than they thought it would. And it’s not like it can’t do anything; it just can’t do the one thing I want it to. The thing that made me, me.

***

I never had much of a social life, even before. After school, I spent my hours in the music lab or in private instruction and my Saturdays were spent playing the piano at weddings. There were times during wedding season that I’d hit three in a day. I’d run out of one church, jump in the car my mom would be waiting in out front, and rush to the next. It got crazy sometimes and I rarely had a free weekend, but the money was awesome, the time commitment minimal, and it was easy. Most wedding coordinators and brides aren’t very original. I had about five pieces of music that were rotated through; the standards that you tend to hear at every wedding. I took it for granted that I could sleepwalk through those things. I had three dresses that got rotated just like the music; all conservative and girly with varying degrees of formality depending on the wedding itself. I wonder what they would have done if I walked in dressed like I do today.

When I wasn’t playing weddings, I played at upscale malls and restaurants. I was a pretty little novelty in the beginning. I was everybody’s pet. I don’t know if anyone really knew my name; they mostly just called me the Brighton Piano Girl, which was fine, because that’s who I was. Once I got older, everybody was used to seeing me here or there, but back when I started, around eight years old, people usually did a double take. I’d wear my frilly little dresses and my hair would always be tied back out of my face with a matching ribbon. I’d smile and play my Bach or Mozart or whatever overused pieces of music they asked me to play. Everyone knew me and people would always clap when I got done and say hi to me whenever they saw me. I loved every second of it.