|Other Lamentations for Summer
Author: mmmmmmmm PM
He sits thinking of Annelore's eyelashes, pale and fine in the morning. Of his brother's hand against his face, wanting to start over. Of all his other lamentations for summer.Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Romance - Words: 4,722 - Published: 07-03-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2692392
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
When it all comes to light, it's a scene out of a shitty soap opera, a play with ugly curtains hosted in a school cafeteria. It's tawdry and ridiculous and if it had a color, Sam thinks, it would be dingy yellow.
He's barely conscious of the girl standing next to him. Annelore-- the girl with both her hands and her lies woven in his hair, keeping him up on a pedestal that he isn't meant for and wants to break into pieces. If anybody should exalt him, can't it be for things that are really worthy? Not for his swaggering and all his bravado. A long string of therapists, and worst of all his own mother, thinks it's an issue of covering stuff up. Instead, he really does think that much of himself and he's never understood, exactly, where selfishness isn't a virtue. It's only in moments like this that the light feels cast from a different place up in the rafters, that he sees himself and his life differently, and he can't tell if this is the clarity or the delusion of nineteen years.
But Anna's been smitten by him for a long time, and she's not willing to let him be imperfect. She's his brother's girlfriend, and there are only two things he wonders about her. He wonders if she's going out with David because he's the next best thing to Sam or if it's the other way around, and he wonders if he can do better than her. He puts his arm on her shoulders, and the hair that escapes from her ponytail is damp against her neck in the summer heat.
Any revelation that this moment could have held is shattered. It's shaken out of him when Annelore lets go of his arm and reaches for the doorknob, but it's hot under her grip, and it's sticking so she can't open it. Sam brushes her out of the way, angry like it's her fault she's not strong enough, and wrenches the knob. He pulls as hard as he can. There's a girl's shriek and the dull slap of bare skin, and they see where Sam's brother is sprawled on top of Annelore's little sister, both stunned and half naked on the terra-cotta tiled floor.
Sam busts up with laughter; he falls back on his heels, then slumps against the wall. There are tears of shock welling up in his eyes and he can't breathe. He knows his cheeks must be red. Annelore rears up and slaps him, hard, then collapses screaming that she hates him and she's sorry. And she hates him. And she's sorry.
This is like something out of a sitcom. This is like an episode of Jerry Springer where it turns out everyone's cheating on everyone and the people don't ever speak to each other again, even though (if Sam's being honest) none of the people in the room mean much to him. He opens his eyes for the first time since Annelore's hand connected with his face, and he sees the little sister staring at him.
In the middle of a chaos that's quieter than it seems, with Annelore and David both yelling back and forth- at themselves, at each other- Sam finds it's hard not to stare back at her. What's her name? But neither of them, he guesses, have as much to be angry and loud about. So they're sitting and staring and waiting for this to sink in: everyone here is at fault.
They keep screaming, for maybe minutes and maybe hours. Sam is nearly asleep on the hard floor when they fall silent, so hoarse they can't even speak. They've collapsed with arms and legs crossing, and whether it's a grudging embrace or they're just too weak to move, Sam can't tell.
They all end up sitting- stone-faced and awkward as a reality show that's only half-scripted and hangs you out to dry- at a creaky wooden table, so small that he's colliding elbows with David and Annelore, both of whom want nothing more than him dead. But instead he's staring across at Susie- that's her name, he learned it from one of Annelore's insults- who stares back, her head at an angle, like a curious or wounded puppy.
He looks at the empty Pepsi can set in dead center of the table and thinks, for no reason, "product placement"; he laughs. David flashes him a disgusted look, but not a surprised one. Annelore looks at him with watery eyes-- he can almost hear the whimper. Susie, the stranger at the table, is the only one who doesn't take it the wrong way.
"I can't believe you," Annelore says, her voice blank except for a trembling tightness. Sam knows who she means, though her gaze is boring into the table. David tries to be tender, inching his arm across the table until his fingertips brush her wrist, connecting the pattern of freckles that Sam thought only he had noticed. But Annelore pulls her hand away and sticks it into her jacket pocket; somehow the gesture pushes David into a righteous kind of anger.
"What do you mean? Are you kidding?" He points at his brother, his mouth open but speechless, not knowing what to say. When David and Sam were younger, their faces were mirrors of each other, but as they grew older their features grew further apart. Sam still sees a hint of himself, though- not in the color of his eyes or the shape of his mouth- instead, in the crooked tilt of David's fingers, the taut lines of anger on his forehead. "You're shacking up with my older brother, who's an asshole to begin with, and you're pissed at me?"
Annelore looks up and says, "You were fucking my little sister." She lets the statement hang in the air; the silence afterward is a better condemnation than any words. "Can't you get hold of someone decent your own age? Oh- wait-" She flips her wrist back and points at her own face.
"Fuck you, Annelore," says David. He leans back heavy in his chair. The legs scrape on the hardwood floor and Annelore doesn't bother to reply. She knows him as well as Sam does, or did once; she knows that this- his arms crossed, his face bored- means there's nothing more to argue. He's sealed himself up in that place he goes to when he knows he's wrong, and he can't admit it. He can't translate the words from his brain to a movement of tongue and teeth. So he sits back and waits for the scene to pass.
It has, before, over lesser things. But this is too big. Sam can feel something breaking. He imagines an earthquake tumbling through this kitchen, rolling the floor in great waves of splintering wood, cracking the table right down the middle. A chasm that he and the little sister would fall into, leaving Annelore and David not sure of who to hate.
It means something, Sam thinks, that I can sit here and not say a word and still feel innocent. Noble, even, that I kept my hands clean and I didn't argue. It means something, sure, but he still doesn't feel guilty.
A few weeks before, maybe a month ago, they'd been at dinner together. Annelore and David had been getting along fine- more than that, since they sat so close to each other she was practically in his lap, and he kept whispering all this stupid shit in her ear, making her giggle. It wasn't that Sam liked her much, or that he'd have liked her to break up with David so they could make the whole torrid affair publicly known, but he still hated seeing her with his loser of a little brother. The waitress showed up once and they were in the middle of a tacky, drawn-out kiss. He kicked one of their feet under the table and neither had the decency to act embarrassed when they placed their orders.
Annelore said she wasn't hungry, just got a Diet Coke and munched off of Susie's salad a few times. Sam hates girls like that, girls who are afraid of the gaps in their teeth and the smell of their breath that a piece of gum could fix in five seconds flat. Why is he after her? (Because she belongs to his brother, that's why, and he's jealous as hell. Not a thing he'd admit. He still can't.)
Susie hadn't spoken at all. Sam hadn't noticed any covert, wistful glances from her in his brother's direction, but he hadn't exactly found her noteworthy at the time. Later he'd wonder whether David was already cheating on Annelore, or whether maybe that was the first time Susie caught his eye. Both thoughts make him sick, which in turn makes him a hypocrite. He doesn't feel guilty about this either.
David gets up from the table, shoves his chair back in another scrape of wood. A tiny shard of the floor gets wrenched up and whirls off to the side. It sits under the table where no one notices it but Sam. That's what he stares at while his brother goes to the door.
"Don't you dare," Annelore says, and the words are like a whip pulled taut, a moment away from snapping. Sam has never heard her like this and he wonders if David hasn't, either- when he looks up, his brother's hand is leaving the doorknob and curling into a fist. He may be surprised, but he's not going to let it show. They've had these arguments before. David knows how to play her in a way that Sam, for all of his pride, all of his swagger, has never been able to pull off.
"Why not?" His voice is flippant. He perches on the couch, crosses his arms, looks at Annelore like he's asked about the weather and he doesn't care if he gets an answer. This is how to get her, Sam knows. Pretend like you don't care when everyone knows you do, and she doesn't know how to answer. She doesn't have a way to touch you, so she goes clawing and screaming to try and scare you out of it. Sam's stomach twists and it feels like it's gnawing on itself. He wonders if he can slip out the side door.
"Why not?" But she's not angry, yet. She's still in that stage of incredulity, with the wide eyes and fallen-open mouth that look like an act even when genuine. "Are you kidding?"
He throws her words back in her face, the screams of a few minutes ago that she probably doesn't even remember making, in the heat of things. "No. Why don't you want me to leave? You hate me, don't you?"
Her mouth moves open and shut, over and over. "David," she says, and Sam flinches at the sound. She acts like she's already been beaten. She acts like a girl getting left behind- one who will go home and cry into her pillow, biting the cotton in fits of regret, the green of her eyes standing out stark and bright on a backdrop of red. He hates her for giving up this quickly, that all it took to break her in two was a hand on the doorknob and the threat of an exit. And he hates David, more, for breaking her.
Sam is three years older than Susie. He feels much older than that. It's the way he acts and how young her eyes look, he guesses, when she tilts her head to the side and watches you. He hates the idea of his brother going after her, though, like she was a blank sheet of paper he's written his name all over. It's not that Susie is much younger than David. She's fifteen, he's sixteen. And it's not that she's so innocent, or that David is some predator.
But he can't figure out how it all got started. With him and Annelore, it was predictable: the two fuckups, the two who have to be dragged through life, the two who are forever imploding and sucking in the light and life of everybody around them. It seems, in retrospect, like only a matter of time before everything else was gone and they had nothing left to draw on but each other.
David, on the other hand, is a model kid. Straight-A student without even trying, a huge smile that can make anyone melt with a flash of pearly teeth and the dimples on his cheeks. Brings home sports trophies and honor roll certificates. Dominates every bulletin board and refrigerator door that their family has ever owned.
And Susie looks like a little scared rabbit, something lean and soft and sweet that will spook at even the tiniest noise. So how did David manage to creep up on her? How'd he get that close without scaring her away? Why, Sam thinks, why the hell would she give in?
He never stops to consider that she met David halfway. He never stops to wonder what his parents' faces would look like if they knew.
When he first noticed Annelore, it was her fault. "Fault", he thinks, like a little kid laying blame, and "noticed", like he'd never looked at her before. There are better words, but he doesn't like to consider them.
She and David had been fighting. They did that lot, and Sam either doesn't remember what it was about, or he never bothered to ask. He'd been sitting on the couch, thumbs going sore after a few hours of pressing things on a game controller, when Annelore had come in and thrown herself down next to him.
She was dressed in a jacket too big for her, the hood flipped up, and at first she'd kept her distance. He ignored her for as long as he could, but his eyes started to go glassy in the reflected blue light; when he heard her breathe in to start speaking, it caught him off guard.
"Do you think," she said, her voice terse, "that David is an asshole?"
"Yes," Sam replied, relieved. That was an easy answer. He unpaused the game, but then she started up again.
"And," she said, "don't you think he's immature? You wouldn't know he's sixteen if you looked at him, would you?"
"No," Sam said. He hadn't really paid attention either way. He had less of an active hatred for his brother than a distinct lack of caring.
"I think-" and this was where it got dangerous, this was where she took her manicured hands and flipped the hood back, this was where she curled up next to him on the couch and he turned to stare at her- "-that you're a much more responsible guy."
"Sure," Sam had said.
"And I think that's really the kind of guy I need. I hate to say it, but you're so much smarter. More talented. I think-"
This was the part where Sam stopped caring what she thought, so he kissed her to shut her up. There'd been no other motive, at the time, but he quite liked it and so they decided to repeat the experience. She pulled her face back the tiniest bit, and she had this startled look, her eyes trembling and lips parted; she breathed like she hadn't tasted air in hours. Sam knew she had it planned. Maybe she was just surprised it was that easy.
He's always been easy. He won't chase anyone, but if they come after him, he'll give in. That's what it feels like: giving in. It's not begrudging, but he gets no happiness from it either.
Annelore put her smile on. She took the startled look from her face and with it went the charm. Her face looked waxen, the skin leeched of color, the lipstick and blush so bright they made her look wounded. But she leaned in to kiss him again, snaked her hand around his neck so his hair dusted her fingers, and he didn't complain.
Annelore sits motionless in the dining room. Her hands settle on the edge of the table and clench so hard that her fingers go white, the small scars on her knuckles standing out. Susie does nothing but turn her head, looking sideways at her sister from under her hair.
Susie doesn't look like her sister. Annelore has hair that goes wild in the mornings, snarled in waves down her back. Sam always thought she looked the best before she brushed it; the red of her cheeks still standing out before she slathered them in makeup, her eyelashes still pale and fine when he could count the gaps between them. Instead she would take an iron to her hair, burning the life out of it. She'd take foundation that was a shade too light for her and smear over anything that made her face interesting.
Susie is red-haired, the kind that's so light it's almost blonde, and her eyes are like honey. They're so wide that she always looks scared, except for when she smiles and the corners of them fold. Sam can still see the spaces between her eyelashes, and he wishes Annelore and he were younger, so maybe he could have said these things before she was told they were ugly.
He looks at her from the corner of his eye and he realizes he doesn't hate her. She spends a lot of her life pretending for his sake, playing the giggly idiot that he must have pretended to like. They're both awful actors, but neither of them has the courage to say so to the other. Instead they seethe at each other behind closed doors, and spend all their time pressing their mouths together so neither of them can say a word. Why did he lead her on? Why didn't he push her away that first time, or even later? He'd never done something like this before. He'd had girlfriends, mostly stupid or easy, but he hadn't been in love with any of them. He's not in love with Annelore, so why did he keep clinging on?
He thinks of her like she's a parasite, some girl who's obsessed with him, and he's only with her because she'd be too much of a hassle otherwise. But there are two sides to it, always. He gave in for a reason. He just doesn't know what it is.
David makes his exit. Sam expects him to slam the door, but he lets it shut on its own. He expects to hear the rumble of a car engine, but instead he hears the porch swing start creaking.
"I'll talk to him," he tells Annelore. He doesn't know what he'll say, why he's acting the white knight when he's no less guilty than either of them. He expects her to get angry, to press her lips tight together or hit him, but she sits still. He realizes he doesn't know either of them very well, and he wonders whose fault it is.
"Why'd you do it?" is what he asks first. He sits next to David on the porch swing and lets his shoes scrape the wood planks as they rock back and forth. Summer sunlight comes filtered through the tree branches overhead and makes a mottled pattern on the ground. "I mean, you were happy with Annelore, weren't you? It's not like Susie came after you." This last sentence isn't even a question. Sam tries to imagine Susie seducing anyone and almost starts laughing; it's too ridiculous an idea.
"No," David answers, and he's quiet for so long that Sam thinks that's all he's got to say. "Do you- I mean, do you know the way Anna looks at you?"
Sam watches a car rush down the street and turn the corner without stopping. He wants a cop car to come wailing out of nowhere, anything so he doesn't have to finish this conversation, but after a few seconds he realizes the distraction isn't coming.
"I guess," he says. He thinks of how startled she sometimes looks when he's nice- when he bought her that necklace, when he holds her hand and doesn't try anything else. And how she looks most of the time, like a satisfied cat curled up at his side. "Sometimes I think she likes me. Most of the time she looks like she's got her hooks into me and she doesn't intend to let go."
David shakes her head. "You don't, then," he says. "Remember last summer, when I brought her over for dinner, the first time you met her? Later when you were in my room she asked me all these questions about you. She tried to make it seem normal, but there's- there's this look she gets when she likes something, like somebody's turned a light on underneath her face, so her eyes get bigger and she's blushing. I hate looking at it. It's pretty, but I hate it." He pulls his feet up onto the bench, sitting cross-legged and leaning his head back.
"Next to you, what do I have? I haven't got a fucking thing!" He presses a hand to his face. It's not like someone trying to hide tears, but a hard press like he wants to wipe his features away, to start over.
Sam is left flustered. He's never known how to comfort anyone. "You're better looking than me," he says finally.
David snorts. "Hardly. You look like an older version of me and neither of us are handsome bastards. Annelore must not have cared about that, anyway."
"Maybe," Sam ventures, "Annelore is- defective." Immediately he realizes this was the wrong word. Not only does it make her sound like a recalled toy or some other mass-manufactured crap, David is bound to be offended now. Instead he starts laughing, looking sideways at his brother like he can't believe how bad Sam is at this, but it's not a good-natured sound. It's derisive, like a genius might look at your average student, like someone who knows all the answers and won't take it upon himself to give them to anyone else. "No- I mean- maybe she's not normal. You can't think every girl's going to ditch you for me."
"You make it sound like you had nothing to do with it. Like she just up and latched onto you."
Sam's hands clench into fists.
"But she told me later, to piss me off. She laid the moves on you, and you went for it. You didn't even try and fight her off. So don't act like she's the only one who did something wrong."
He already knew, Sam realizes. Anna had told him. Why didn't he leave her? Why the hell would he stick around?
"So, what," Sam says, "you decided to mack on her little sister to get even?"
"No," says David, "not really. But that makes a lot more sense than the real reason."
"What is the real reason?"
"I felt like it," he says. "And now I have an excuse."
Susie is gone when Sam comes back from the porch. Annelore looks up and lets her head fall again when she sees only him. He realizes David is the one she was waiting for and he feels nauseous, but then he wants to laugh. He's tried his hardest to fuck everything up and he still hasn't gotten a thing he wanted.
"Where'd he go?" Annelore asks.
"I'm not sure," says Sam. "He drove off."
"Did you talk to him? What'd he say?"
"That he hates the way you look at me. And he hates me," Sam adds, "for giving into you."
He expects her to be hurt, but she just stares at him. Sam looks for that glow that David can't stand, the rosy light underneath her cheeks, like one of those old lite-bright toys in the dark. But there's nothing there. She looks empty.
"Is that what it was, to you?" Annelore asks. "Giving in?"
"Yes," he says. "But that's how I do everything. It's not that I didn't want you. It's that I'm too scared to do anything on my own."
"Do you think he'll answer," she asks, "if I call him?" And Sam knows she's just talking about a cellphone, that her hand is in the pocket of her jeans already, her thumb pressing the metal corner. But he also knows it's more important than that. If David doesn't pick up his phone, chances are he's done with the whole thing. Chances are he's going to drive home and school will start in a week and he'll pretend, with a few flashes of his million watt smile, like he's forgotten Annelore's name.
He wants Anna to be happy. He doesn't, though it confuses him that it's even possible, want to make David feel like he's got nothing. He wants to go back to summers that were one long haze of yellow light and heat, sprinklers in the front yard, sunscreen and freckles on his little brother's shoulders. He wants Annelore to be a stranger's face that he meets one day on the sidewalk and forgets about as soon as he walks past her.
He wants to know where Susie has gone. He thinks it must be someplace good, because anywhere is better than here and now.
He wants to say, "No. No, he won't answer," whether it's true or not, like that can keep them from caring about each other again, like that will erase them from each other's lives. He wants to feel like some well-meaning benefactor. But he says, "Yes," because it's the truth.
He sits thinking of Annelore's eyelashes, pale and fine in the morning. Of his brother's hand against his face, wanting to start over. Of how he's always expecting Susie to vanish, trembling until all she's left behind is a haze of heat. Of all his other lamentations for summer.
For some reason Sam can't find it strange that, through this whole long day, Susie didn't speak a word. The curious gaze of her brown eyes let her be, in the end, the only victim. But Sam knows she's not without fault. Whether she gave in or gave herself up, the result was the same. Things have been shattered, and she had a hammer in her hands like everyone else. She's managed to escape the blame, though, by widening her eyes and keeping her mouth shut. In a grudging, half-smiling way, he has to admire her. It's art. It's all about how you paint yourself.
His hands feel slick on the steering wheel as he pulls away from Annelore's house. Susie is standing on the sidewalk, the lines of her body firm and taut, a upright posture like tiny Lady Liberty in pleasing shades of everything but green.