The Sea of Tranquility(14)


by Katja Millay

By the time I was forced to stop, I had quite a bit of money put away. I was saving it to pay for the summer music conservatory in New York that I had been drooling over for three years and was finally old enough, at fifteen, to apply to. My parents said if I wanted to go I had to work for the money, but that was a joke, because work meant play and playing was never work. Between that and school and private instruction and recitals, it hadn’t left much time for a social life, but it was a small sacrifice. Plus, if I’m being honest, it probably wasn’t any sacrifice. I didn’t go to parties and I was too young to drive. I liked Nick Kerrigan but mostly we just looked at each other and looked away a lot.

I didn’t have a bunch of girlfriends to go hang out at the mall with and my mom bought most of my clothes anyway. Even at fifteen, I was younger than fifteen. My style was Sunday school-chic. The couple of friends I had were like me. We spent all of our free hours practicing because that’s who we were. Piano girls. Violin girls. Flute girls. That was normalcy. My grades weren’t awesome and I was the polar opposite of popular, but it was ok. It was better than being normal. I never gave two shits about normal. I wanted extraordinary.

Normal people had friends. I had music. I wasn’t missing anything.

These days I’m missing everything. I’m haunted by music; music I can hear, but never play again. Melodies that taunt me note by note, mocking me with the simple fact that they exist.

I still have all of the money that I saved for the conservatory. I had more than enough, but I never did get to go. I spent that summer in and out of hospitals, recovering, in physical therapy, learning to pick up quarters off of a table, and with therapists talking about why I was mad.

At this point I’ve regained enough control in my hand that I could probably bang something out on the piano if I tried, but it would never be what it used to be, what it should be. Music should flow so that you can’t tell where one note ends and the next begins; music should have grace and there is no grace left in my hand. There are metal screws and damaged nerves and shattered bones, but there isn’t any grace.

Today is Sunday and I have nowhere to be. I never had weddings to do on Sundays but I usually spent the mornings filling in at the Lutheran church if they needed me. I wasn’t religious; it was just a favor to one of my mom’s friends, so I did it. Afternoons were usually spent at the grand piano upstairs in the mall outside Nordstrom’s. Then I’d actually practice the real stuff in the evenings and once in a while I did my homework.

Now homework is about the only thing I have to do, so miraculously, it’s been getting done. But I’m still kind of crap at it.

Margot spends the afternoons next to the pool until she has to get ready for work. I can’t sunbathe. It doesn’t work so well with the translucent skin, plus, I suck with the sitting still. I will douse myself with sunscreen on occasion, braid my hair and swim laps until my limbs won’t move. I can’t run in the afternoons so it’s a good alternative.

I’m only on lap twenty-five when I lift my head out of the water to see Margot standing at the edge of the pool next to the perpetually-smirking Drew Leighton. I’m momentarily dumbfounded, wondering how he knew where I lived, when I remember that he picked me up for that ill-fated party last week. I am so not about to pull myself up and out of this pool dripping wet and nearly na**d in front of him. I might go to school half-naked, but half-naked and nearly na**d are two entirely different things, and I’m not going to climb out of the pool and define the difference for him in a very small bikini. It’s bad enough that I have no make-up on, but there isn’t anything I can do about that now so I’ve got to let it go. I grab the sunglasses I left at the edge of the pool and compensate by staying as far away from him as possible.

“I’m Nastya’s aunt,” Margot introduces herself to Drew, “and I assume you two know each other.” She turns and smiles knowingly in my direction. Since the first day of school she’s been pushing me to make friends and have some sort of social life so this must be thrilling her to no end. Drew is putting on the boyish charm in a way that I’m sure has won over many a suspicious mother. He’ll probably need to work a little harder on Margot. She’s younger and cute and used to being flirted with. She isn’t oblivious to what he’s playing. Still, that suspicion is being tempered by her desire for me to get some sort of life. She walks away, leaving me to him, and goes back to her chair and a copy of Cosmopolitan. She’s not fooling me, though. I know she’s straining to hear every word.

If I wasn’t trapped in the pool by my state of undress, I could fully enjoy the situation a bit more. Drew can’t use his arsenal of sexual innuendos on me now, while he’s being chaperoned. He kicks off his shoes and sits down at the edge of the pool, dangling his feet in the water.

“I feel I’ve done my penance. You should forgive me now.”

I just stare at him. I don’t even bother changing my expression. He’s going to have to exert a little effort to get me to waste facial expressions on him.

“You haven’t even looked at me in a week. It’s killing my reputation.”

I have a feeling a nuclear bomb couldn’t kill his reputation at this point, much less a week without my attention, but I appreciate him giving me the credit.

“Let me make it up to you. Come to dinner at my house. Tonight.”

This makes me suspicious and I’m pretty sure it shows. Innocence does not become Drew. It doesn’t gel with the pure unadulterated sex that drips from his pores. I meet his eyes and wait for the catch.

“You won’t even have to be alone with me. My whole family will be there.”

Perhaps he thinks this is a selling point. It isn’t. I don’t mind parents. I actually used to do quite well with parents. Now, probably not so much, but it’s not the parents that concern me. It’s the sister I’m not going anywhere near. I’m already on her radar. I was even before the unwanted courtyard heroics of a certain Josh Bennett, and I’m not rushing to put myself in the eye of that storm again by showing up to a family dinner on her brother’s arm. No way. Not happening. Not ever.

“I’m sure she’d love to go,” Margot chimes in over her magazine. So much for pretending she’s not eavesdropping. My defiant convictions lasted all of three seconds. “I have to work. There’s no point in you sitting here, eating dinner alone.” Thanks, Margot. I flash her the smile I save for my mortal enemies. She looks at me, face full of innocence, eyes full of mischief. She knows I’m cornered. Damn self-inflicted mutism. Is that even a word? Irrelevant. I shake my head but I can’t offer an excuse and I don’t have one anyway, though I’m sure I could easily come up with something believable: homework, emptying bedpans at the local nursing home, cholera. Alas, they all stay trapped in my throat as I look on helplessly while my evening’s fate is decided by my meddling aunt and a cocksure teenage boy. Margot knows I have nothing to do and Drew isn’t about to give me a chance to get out of it anyway. He’s on his feet in an instant, bolting before the plans can be rescinded.

“Dinner’s at six. I’ll pick you up at 5:45. Dress nice. My mom likes to pretend we’re civilized once a week.” He smiles conspiratorially in Margot’s direction. He knows he has her to thank for this. It’s no mystery that, given a choice, I never would have agreed. I’m angrier at myself. I dug my own grave on this one. You give up talking and you give up free will. I wonder what Margot would think if she knew the truth of Drew Leighton, the sex volcano she just sacrificed me to.

“Don’t get up. I’ll just walk around the house. Nice meeting you.” He turns back to me. “See you later.” It sounds like a threat.

***

If only Margot hadn’t heard the doorbell, I could be blissfully, comfortably alone this evening, just like I should be. I wouldn’t be in the predicament I’m in now, at five o’clock, staring at my closet and wondering what one wears to Sunday dinner at the home of one’s non-boyfriend. I spent the afternoon alternately putting off the decision and coming up with self-inflicted injuries that might get me out of it.

Once my fate was decided, I killed most of the day in the kitchen, baking and frosting a three-layer chocolate cake. My mom would have several choice words for me if I were to show up to dinner as a guest empty-handed and desserts are about the only thing in my repertoire. I’ve avoided the inevitable as long as possible, but unless I’m planning to wear the towel I’ve got wrapped around myself, I need to pick something soon. I’m running out of time.

True to his word, Drew knocks on the door at exactly five forty-five. I’m kind of surprised that he didn’t just beep the horn and expect me to come running. Okay, I’m really not. As much as it pains me to say so, he actually possesses surprisingly good manners. The better to get into girls’ pants, I suppose. I won’t give him too much credit.

I pick up the cake and hold it in front of my body as if it can actually shield me, preventing Drew from seeing what I’m wearing. It’s a simple sleeveless shift dress with a very subtle scoop neck and a slight A-line skirt that hits just barely above my knee. It’s the most conservative thing in my closet. My mother bought it for me before I left, along with a bunch of other dresses I never wear. I kept it because it was black, but that’s about the only reason. I feel like I’m going on a job interview. I don’t think I’ll look even remotely right at a Sunday dinner but I guess it’s better than the stuff I wear to school.

He opens my car door and I slide in with the cake on my lap.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Drew inclines his head towards the cake. I shrug. I didn’t mind. I like excuses to bake and I don’t get them very often these days, which means that I still bake, but I end up eating most of it myself. Sugar has a very special, oversized place on my food pyramid. “You’ll get points with my mom, though. She’s pregnant. Again,” he adds pointedly, “and she loves chocolate.”

We pull into Drew’s driveway about ten minutes later. He lives in a development a few miles down the road from Margot’s. He parks the car and kills the engine but he doesn’t move to get out. He looks uncomfortable, which makes me uncomfortable. I’m really hoping he doesn’t hit on me in the car in front of his parents’ house, because I’ll have to get pissed and the cake will probably not survive. He turns to me and takes a breath. He’s not smiling, and when he speaks, the tone of voice is completely different from what I’m used to with him. The cocky self-assuredness is gone and that makes me nervous. I’m accustomed to his brash over-confidence. I’m prepared for it and it puts us on even footing, like neither of us is real.

“I really am sorry.” The sincerity in his words catches me off-guard. I would have been ready for a full-on assault of charm and creative come-ons but I’m completely unprepared for the utterly guileless apology I’m getting. Maybe this is his new angle. He turns his eyes to the windshield, and I’m glad, because I’m more at ease with him not looking right at me. “You were ok with Bennett, you know. Josh is the best person I know. I wouldn’t have left you anywhere else. I know it was shitty and I probably should have taken you home and taken care of you myself since it was kind of my fault in the first place. If there are two choices, I’m usually going to pick the wrong one, but I really didn’t do it to be an ass**le. Just comes naturally.” He stops talking and is quiet for a minute before looking back at me again.

“We good?”

I tilt my head and study him. Are we? Yes, I think we are. As much as I’d like to question his motives, I also kind of want to believe he’s not a completely awful person. Then at least I’ll have an excuse for why I can’t seem to dislike him.