|Like Eiderdown & Disendowers
Author: Whirlymerle PM
Dan knew it was wrong. Truly, he wasn't one to indulge in teacher-student fantasies. But Rebecca left him torn between his need to read her, and his desire to leave her with her mystery. Then again, he was a sucker for bittersweet tales. Formerly titled Beautiful Dreams, Twisted Realities. Reviews returned.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 19 - Words: 53,822 - Reviews: 987 - Favs: 76 - Follows: 105 - Updated: 04-30-13 - Published: 11-16-10 - id: 2865240
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The screen went black when the toddler girl, fat, spinning, dressed in white finished singing, "Fryer Jack-o, Fryer Jack-o, ding dong ding," and when her mother was cut off in the middle of laughter. Her mother had a laugh like sleigh bells in December.
While Thomas slumped in one of the dining chairs, mute and unawake, Rebecca took the tape out of the VCR and desperately wished she had crossed her mother's mind—or her father's—during the car crash. Then she wondered if it mattered since her parents were dead.
So her mother wouldn't know Rebecca had acquired a taste for Dr. Pepper, her favorite drink when she had been alive. Though Rebecca drank Diet where her mother did not give a fuck. She wouldn't know Rebecca was watching old family videos of herself singing Frère Jacques off-key. Rebecca was two or three on screen, which meant her perfect mother made time to videotape her while getting her MBA. Her mother wouldn't know they were stuffed in a box in the basement and her daughter found the tapes when she scrounged for cash.
What Rebecca wanted were pills from Planned Parenthood, in case condoms were not preferred; just in case, because she did not know and did not want to ask. A monthly prescription cost fifty bucks—expensive suckers, but her mother wouldn't know—now that her brother lost his job and they lost insurance.
Her mother wouldn't know Rebecca was still a virgin but figured she was ready to stop being one as soon as she did something about birth control.
"I can't take you out to dinner. Or to the movies," he had warned her like she did not know there were only so many things two people could do indoors. Before and after, he kissed her.
She thought her space between his wall and his skin squeezed but nice. She said, "I'm not here for dinner and movies."
He did not promise, but she got both. Each Saturday he picked her up at a different bus stop and they ordered takeout. Sometimes they ended the night watching grainy black and white classics so old that the leading man and leading lady were dead (like her mother, who wouldn't know) or dying.
The films they borrowed from the public library, and he footed the bill for food. But sooner or later all romantic relationships led to sex, and Rebecca was not going to ask him to pay for protection. This, her mother would understand; Rebecca was her mother's daughter.
Still her mother wouldn't know Rebecca had grown two inches in the past four years, but would remain shorter than her always. She wouldn't know that four dollars and thirty-seven cents turned up after an afternoon of scouring beneath sofa cushions and dark corners; Tom was not like the other guys in their twenties who left stray bills lying around the house. Her mother wouldn't know that in one of the bathroom drawers, the moldy one at the bottom she thought no one used, she found seventeen bottles of sleeping pills, plastic white and shiny, that would not expire until years into the future.
Suicide was not right, of course, but it was the most voluntary thing in the world, Rebecca thought. She wondered if being without Tom guaranteed her a full ride to Williams College if she applied for financial aid and if she was accepted. She might be the first in her family to fill out a financial aid application. Her mother wouldn't know, though.
For her first time, she imagined being torn and ripped into. If it hurt too much, she wouldn't have to imagine what her mother, dynamite in life and impossibly perfect in death, might say to her imperfect daughter.
When she told him it was beautiful, her voice did not go up high and feathery like the way it did when she was lying. He knew her too well.
He found the bridge in the nineties (Rebecca would have been three or so), but because few people frequented the little-known nature reserve, it aged the way a sapling might age. Moss coated the railing and crossed the cracks between darkening wood. Once, Sophie mentioned the bridge was like the kind in fairy stories.
"How's work?" Rebecca asked.
"Fine," he said. He thought about Andy telling him to bring a date to go bowling with Jen and him. He thought about Charlie's brilliant paper on Cat's Cradle, which he wanted to make copies of as a model for other students. "How's school?"
She said she was studying geometric optics in physics, and he tried to ask her interested questions. She said she was reading Reservation Blues in English, and he told her it was one of his favorite books.
Beyond the bridge, a hiking trail covered year round in leaves stretched into the trees. If they followed the trail further, they would find miniature waterfalls that formed as the trail steepened. They might catch sight of white-tailed deer. It was a good spot for photos.
But when he suggested they stop on the bridge, Rebecca agreed, and it relieved him. Deeper into the woods, he feared he might catch sight of shadows of his younger self. Where they were, they could observe torpid water the same color as moss and barely see their reflections.
"Look," he said, and pointed to a pair of ducks riding the glassy surface.
She breathed a one-note chuckle. "They're pretty."
"Carolina wood duck," he said. Like they were in a classroom with different seating. "They migrate north up here around this time of year."
"I like the one with the green head," said Rebecca. Her hair brushed his elbow. "It's cute."
Around them sounded the trills of birds and whistling of beetles. Years ago, the times when he thought he would become a father, he used to picture bringing his kids hiking or camping. Deeper into the woods there was a clearing good for campfire and s'mores.
He felt her shoulder jutting against his upper arm, their minds elsewhere. Around them life buzzed. Their silence amplified and molded in the air above the water.
"Everything all right?" he said and kissed her temple.
She gave a start and shifted closer.
Always, when together, he feared he held her too tightly. Because afterwards, he felt on himself dull, throbbing pain where they touched.
"Yeah, I was—"
"Thinking," he finished for her.
"How'd you know?"
"Wood ducks are fascinating creatures," he said absently. Tucked in one of the albums in his house was a photograph of two Carolina wood ducks. They were monogamous birds, Sophie said.
She looked at him, and he saw that her eyes were dark like the earth before she closed them and kissed his mouth, "I like that," she said.
Rebecca pressed herself against him. She let him kiss her throat. She looked down and found and tugged at the buttons of his shirt. But when Dan covered her fingers with his palm and placed them over his heart, they stayed there.
They could be two people alone in a place looking like Eden, or two ghosts within their skins.
Art class had Rebecca express herself with coiled pots. Rolling soft gray clay slabs into wormy strands the previous class was dull work, and she supposed she wasn't elliptical enough to not mind the bits of dried clay drying out her skin as she molded out her soul.
Last Saturday, she had been greeted with a bouquet of roses that were tinted blue, and they were beautiful but made her a little sad because cut flowers lasted briefly. Rebecca considered this while scratching ambiguous doodles on lined paper. It was okay because as long as she showed up to class class, Art II was an easy A.
"Are those anarchy symbols?" said a voice, loud and half cracked because it did not often sound impressed.
Across from her, Henry Locke, science kid extraordinaire, stared at Sarah, who was painting circles circumscribed around As.
Sarah squeezed the last glop out of her tube of red paint and pushed up her thick rimmed square glasses with the back of her hand. "It's either that or the scarlet letter. Or a subliminal message to Ms. Diller indicating the grade I should receive in this class."
Sarah wanted to make a statement. She said herself, voice all breezy.
Rebecca looked down at her own doodles. One obscure blob resembled an apple.
"What's your design, Henry?" asked Hannah. Sitting next to Rebecca with her tongue sticking out between her teeth, she made an even orange arch with her brush; Hannah had taken on an obsession with rainbows.
Henry's design was DNA, because he could not live without it.
Sarah laughed the hardest.
"You, Becs?" Hannah dipped her brush in blue. "What'll you do for yours?"
Rebecca looked at her pot, plain, gray, and ratty coiled. "If I do nothing, maybe I can pass it off as the work of a minimalist."
"Nice." Hannah grinned. Her friend was pretty and always there to cheer someone up. Compared to her, Rebecca felt like the kind of worm that made holes in apples.
"I bet that's exactly the sort of artsy bullshit Diller's looking for," said Sarah, and Rebecca giggled.
Her taste in art was not classy, though she would never admit it now. Some Saturdays during a movie, her eyes wandered from the screen and stopped at the photos in his house. The photographer, his wife, when she asked, was fond of saturating reds and yellows and blues, and they hung on his walls like windows into more vibrant worlds.
But at the end of class, she painted two ducks, one on each side of the handle. She screwed up the proportions so anyone could only see one duck whichever way the cup was turned. Afraid of screwing up even more, she did not try to draw the green headed, orange eyed male, so both birds were dusty brown.
When teenagers thought they understood their own skin, celebration on a superficial, school sponsored level ensued. So at their annual Speak Up and Out assembly, students bolder than Rebecca emerged on stage with stories of their past struggles and present identities. Over the years Rebecca had heard from the anorexics and the depressed, the girls with cutting friends and the boys with boyfriends. Every time it happened, Rebecca felt like she should be touched but wasn't. That she should feel but didn't.
Arielle hosted the event, and Hannah was nowhere to be found, so Rebecca sat with Kayla and Lizzie in the back.
Boom. Boom. Feet stamping the floor. Bow wow pow. Pop music so loud the air buzzed.
The vice principal gave a pretty speech. They needed to love and respect themselves and each other, he said.
In the morning, Tom spoke to her for the first time in three and a half weeks. "Why don't you drop out, stupid."
"'Stupid's' a new low for you," she'd said.
Tom had shrugged.
The vice principal didn't mention anything about loving and respecting brothers. The auditorium quieted and Rebecca picked clay from beneath her fingernails.
"Hey guys, for those of you who don't know me, my name is Hannah."
Rebecca dropped her wrist and jerked her head up. Volunteers were supposed to be off the stage now. Arielle had gone. Hannah couldn't be a presenter; Hannah was normal.
"Growing up, I was—still am—one of the girliest girls I know," Hannah was saying. The spotlight glinted off her wet cheeks. "I mean, I refused to wear anything but dresses to school until I was in fourth grade."
The crowd laughed but Rebecca couldn't because Hannah, her friend since the first grade, was crying. Even though she smiled through her tears. Hannah rarely cried.
"But, um, as I got older, sometimes, when I'm with certain girls, I'd—well, I'd tell myself I really admire them, but it's different. It's that tingling feeling, you know? And then, um, in seventh grade, I got myself in… situations with guys. Situations that were really traumatizing because I wasn't ready to be in them. And combined with everything else that was going on, I became so focused on my own problems that I wasn't open with my friends."
The audience fell silent.
In seventh grade Rebecca lost her parents. Hannah had comforted her as best as another thirteen year old could, Rebecca remembered.
"I've always been uncertain when it came to my sexuality," Hannah continued, "What if I think I'm lesbian because of those situations with the guys? What if I am lesbian and put myself into those situations? I felt like I pushed a lot of people away. And, um, my parents told me to go talk to a therapist but I was adamant against it, because I thought it was a weakness. I thought it'd be proof that there's something wrong with me. I didn't understand. I thought they didn't understand."
Here was a friend who could not be any more different from her. Here they thought like twins.
"I did end up getting help when high school started, and homigosh, it was an absolute relief to just be able to deal with my feelings in a safe place. And also what really helped me was my teachers. Ms. Stenberg, for example—" Hannah waved towards the small section where teachers sat. Someone cheered. "I felt like I could talk to her about anything. And my friends are just amazing. Sometimes it still surprises me when they're like, 'Hey Hannah, wanna hang out?' Because, I don't know, I guess I'm not used to that." Hannah paused. The microphone amplifiers gave off a fuzzy hum.
Rebecca tried to think of times when she had asked Hannah to hang out in the past year. Mostly, it had been Hannah asking her. She bit her lower lip and dug her nails into her palms.
"For now I'm happy to be me. And when I figure out whether I'm lesbian or straight or bisexual or whatever, I'm still me. Because we're not jelly. It's not like you're grape and I'm strawberry and that's that. This one label, it's part of me but it doesn't define my entire person." Hannah smiled widely. She had stopped crying. Beneath the light she shone, but Rebecca imagined the stuff of rainbows had fallen and merged with her friend and made her glow.
The crowd erupted in cheers, Rebecca with them, clapping until her hands numbed. In the section where the teachers sat, she saw a man stand up, Phelan, and the other teachers joining him, before she looked away. Soon as the assembly finished, Rebecca weaved through the crowd and ran to hug her friend.
"You were so good," she said. But it felt not genuine, because that was what anyone would say.
Hannah hugged back tightly. "Aw thanks, Becs."
"I love you." Her mother would say, think carefully about who you love, but Rebecca and Hannah were like sisters so it was okay.
Hannah laughed. "I know."
For a moment Rebecca pretended they were back in the sixth grade, when feelings were conspicuous and nothing was too bad.
Boom. Bang. The music restarted.
Be calm, they said. They told Dan the school was to go into lockdown after the students came back from the assembly. The school needed practice, now, even if there were 2,000 students in the school auditorium.
Dan had a free block and was stationed on the floor of the English classes. Try and maintain order when the stampede comes, they told him.
"Students, at this time, please go into lockdown mode. This is a drill. I repeat, this is a drill." The announcement came while the students were still in the hallways. It came sooner than planned.
There was laughter, the stamping of footsteps. Doors banged shut and the music went on. To students anything could be a joke and stalling classes was always welcomed.
He and his colleagues tried to control and direct the adolescents but like a wave they came up and refused to listen and organize themselves.
His eyes found Phelan striding towards his office at the far end of the hall. A couple of lanky seniors, on the basketball team, Dan guessed, rushed in front of him. "Our class just got locked up."
"429's open." Dan said. When they hurried away, he saw Phelan drag Rebecca by her arm. That wasn't imaginary lockdown procedure.
Dan pushed past students in his way. The door to Phelan's office closed but offered no resistance when he yanked it open.
Shouts and footsteps muted in the office. Dan gasped to catch his breath. He looked for Rebecca. For Phelan.
From the opposite end of the room came a loud, intentional cough. Phelan had his arm around Rebecca at the opposite end of the room. "So," Phelan smiled. "I planned for company, but I guess I'll have a crowd after all."
In another hand he dangled a gun like it was a teacup.
To you, my fantabulous reader:
1. Which do you think is a stronger scene? Which is a weaker one?
2. Do you think the scene with Hannah's speech disrupted the flow of the writing? It's something that's very important to the story and to me, but I know the rest of the chapter is not near as dialogue heavy. Would the execution be better if put in an earlier chapter?
3. Did the ending feel too much like it came out of a bad indie drama flick?
4. Is it clear that when Rebecca told Hannah "I love you," she meant it platonically?
5. General thoughts on the writing/plot/pacing?
I read each review thoroughly and value all the feedback I get. So please help me improve by leaving a comment. Thanks in advance!
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