Bett was dreaming of dancing. Sometimes onstage, sometimes with trashcan lids, sometimes with smooth ballet shoes upholding the structure of her delicate feet. Always in the brightest light she could find, she just kept dancing as if it were God's pleasure. Sometimes when she had these dreams they were so authentic they reeked of even the old smells of a dance studio, dirty feet and weathered floors, but more often, in the best dreams, she was filled with a euphoria that Bett could only describe back in her college days as "drowning in It". "It's like seeing a huge movie like Star Wars in the theatre- it's been to be huge, to suck up all your senses. Or like, you know when you're listening to a really great song over your headphones and you just want to SOAK in it, so you turn it up as loud as it can go?" Drowning in It, letting it flood your head. She dreamed these sort of dreams more and more often these days. The most depressing moment of her life was the morning she woke up and realized that a good dream made her heart heavier than a nightmare could. Waking up to life was too awful.
Bett's eyes fluttered open at a familiar grating sound from the driveway. With some colossal effort she made an attempt to rise but overestimated. Sinking back into the couch she sighed wistfully into the dark, thankful that Lynn didn't have her friends over tonight. Then, bracing herself by diving her fists, on either side, into the couch cushions she propelled herself upward. Her foot was sore again, she realized, as she shuffled slowly to the window. Peering out, as she had learned to do by this time with great mastery, she saw with some satisfaction her daughter, Lynn, and Andrew. She caught her dim reflection smiling in approval as the couple sauntered up to the gate, seemingly in involved conversation. Bett loved that about her daughter. Her ability to speak well, to chat without talking small, her knack for capturing almost anyone's interest by taking an interest in them. She really did have a certain charm. Well, obviously, if a nice guy like Andrew could see it, it must not be only a mom's dotage. She was lovely, even if she never learned how to dress properly.
Bett watched Lynn lean against the open gate and sigh, apparently tired, and lean her head towards her boyfriend affectionately. That was something another thing Bett loved. Lynn was neither brazen nor coy with boys, never had been, for whatever reason. Her nature seemed to resist flirtation in general. As Bett watched Andrew kindly, naturally join Lynn in resting on the gate, using his arm to good naturedly support Lynn's back, she felt right to turn away and settle herself again. How right I was, she thought to herself, that everything would work out just fine. That leaving her alone to resolve things when that was the most difficult move to make as a mother made everything work out OK. Bett's eyes drooped as she turned to the empty living room. Who was she kidding. She didn't know anything then, when her daughter would disappear for hours at a time only to be found curled up in her room, so full of self-hatred that she seemed to be pressing herself as flat as she could into the mattress, as though she could vanish into it. She didn't understand how the simplest school subjects seemed to become such a trial to her prodigy, and why the past few years, what were once Lynn's favorite memories, suddenly became what must not be spoken of. Lynn had nothing but disdain for her own art now, her own writing, and even her own charming singing voice. Sometimes Bett heard her daughter in distant rooms, crying so hard that she had to cease and gasp for breath as if she were drowning. Then, one day, after Lynn had stayed up all night washing clothes she had neglected for three weeks straight, Bett's daughter seemed to move on from whatever phase she was letting get the best of her. She started reading again. A month later, she seemed to be hanging out with her old friends again, and suddenly a boyfriend- her first real relationship- came along (late bloomer. That was the consensus). Nope, Bett didn't have it figured out then, and she sure as hell didn't know anything now.
Lynn sighed and leaned into the comforting presence of Andrew, but not quite into Andrew himself. Their relationship was appreciative, but her boundaries were severe, and she realized from time to time that they were both really in on this because the mutual affirmation made them feel nice. Their feelings were authentic, but simple, and not beautiful. She grinned upward at what she guessed was her boyfriend, mostly glad of what he made her. Suddenly the existence of excess saliva in the back of her throte made itself known and she swallowed dramatically and laughed at herself. Andrew chortled back. "What's so funny?" She shook her head, "Nothing. I had a lot of spit in my mouth. Pretty gross." Andrew nodded gravely, but before he could joke, Lynn wrapped her arms around his sides in sudden gratitude. Though maybe it just made their distance more pronounced, Lynn loved Andrew's ridiculous 6'4" height. The last guy she had liked, Jeremy, was short. Even now his lack of stature was the only imperfection she could see in him, and even now she missed it. When she let Jeremy hug her, brief as it always was, she couldn't help but marvel at how her slight, pointed nose seemed to slide perfectly into place on his shoulder. With Andrew, her whole face pressed into his chest. Sometimes she did this on purpose, flattening her face into him. Sometimes this amused her even more- if he were fat, she pondered, suffocation could occur. Now as she pulled away to say goodnight she looked up at his happy, genuine face and wanted to give his jaw a brotherly slug- let's call a spade a spade, Andrew, she thought about saying. There's no longing here. Instead, she let him say "Friday" and nodded in confirmation at the suggestion.
As she watched him saunter back to his car she admired his broad-shouldered frame and confidence. She realized if he found someone else, even tonight, she'd be clam-happy for him. He was the kind of guy that should inspire longing, by golly. He should hook some girl who could hold his hand more often and write silly songs about him and play to him with her guitar. Cool girls, in Lynn's head, always seemed to play the guitar. Really cool girls, she reckoned, could play the banjo.
Lynn, herself, found her music-making capabilities wanting. That was alright, though, she didn't much care anymore.
Bett sat up straight as she heard Lynn quietly open the door. Lynn smiled at her mom's silohouette in the dark. "Hi mom," she sleepily intoned. Bett smiled back. "Hi sweetheart. Have fun?" Lynn smiled as she walked into the kitchen. "Yeah. The play was better than I thought it'd be. Great music, you should go. I almost cried at the end." Bett adjusted her legs in a horizontal fashion on the wide couch. "I don't have time to go to plays much, you know. I never liked Carbaret, either… always a little too gay and creepy for me." Lynn laughed appreciatively from behind the refridgerator door. "Andrew echoes your sentiments I think." Bett waited for her daughter to come back into view, cold beans and diet coke in hand before she grinned mischieviously. "And how is Andrew?" Lynn's eyelids grew steadily heavier at the mention. "He's fine. We're good mom. Everything's good." Bett put up her hands defensively, her short arms showing their thickness. "Sorry, so-rry. Hey," she pointed at Lynn's late-night meal, "I told you those diet sodas'll mess you up. I wish you wouldn't drink them." Lynn snorted and took a refreshing gulp of the offender. "I don't drink them all the time. You should try 'em, I think. Might make a difference." Bett snorted in return and plopped her head back against the couch. Lynn studied her, her complete disregard for her appearance at times was something Lynn just couldn't understand, such as her flagrant accentuation of her double chin. Sometimes Lynn found herself wanting to rescue her mother from it, from other people thinking of her as a fat person. Bett was never a fat person, she just happened to be fat. Now she settled in for the night, struggling to pull a blanket over her."I hate diet." Lynn sighed. "I know… 'night mom?" She stood up to move her eating elsewhere but just as she made the move, Bett coughed significantly. "Yes, mom?" "This Andrew guy… do you really like him?"
Lynn froze, holding her Tupperware of beans complete with spork at her side. "Not as much as I should, I don't think…" The truth kind of felt OK to say. She took another bite and sat down. "Not as much as I liked Jeremy." She felt her mom tense at the name. Bett's curiosity about what happened with Jeremy had never really vanished, and Lynn had no plans to expand on the topic ever. "But… well, I think he's a really good-looking kid, you know, well-spoken.." Lynn grimaced. "He is. But… I don't know." Lynn felt what little energy she had to sustain her for the evening vanishing. "When Andrew leaves me messages on my voicemail… after I listen to them I don't save them." Bett was quiet for a moment, and then, "So did that Jeremy guy just leave really great messages or…?" Lynn shook her head. "Not the point." Bett knew. For the second time, Lynn prepared her inventory for an exodous but recognized, suddenly, the sound of her mom dripping tears. Lynn froze, listening to the horrifying noise. Finally, another sound- "Have I been a bad mom?"
Lynn looked at what she most of the time recognized as her comrade and made up her mind to be truthful. "No, I really don't think so." She furrowed her brow, tracing her footsteps. "The only real complaint I have is… you know when I had all that trouble sleeping? Like around six or seven? I'd be absolutely petrified and I'd go bother you guys and bother you and you'd just make me go back to bed? Or yell at me, if you were feeling particularly tired, I guess. You know. That just went on for so long… and I really was scared in my room, you know. Dad didn't help much either." Bett scoffed. "When has he ever?" Lynn gave an admitted nod of agreement. "Yeah, but he tried. I know that." Bett was quiet for a moment, then folded her hands over her protruding stomach. "I know, I remember all that… and I always felt bad, I think I told you that too, later on.." Lynn again nodded. "It's not like it matters…" "Well," Bett uttered quietly, "I think it does. You know… back then, with everything that was going on… you were such a little kid, and so cool, really, you were such a cool six-year-old, we had it so lucky. But back then I just had such a hard time loving you, showing you love, giving you all the reassurance that you… demanded. I mean, you needed to be loved a lot, and that was hard." Bett turned slowly, with great exertion, to her side, away from Lynn's gaze. "I just remember… kids are so perceptive about that kind of thing, aren't they? I remember one night your father was trying to put you back in bed and you just wouldn't stop crying, and I could hear you all the way in our bedroom, and you started YELLING 'she doesn't love meee!' and I just thought, Oh. Oh. She knows." When Bett related her younger thoughts her voice floated into a higher register and her eyes got wide to illustrate her point. "I just felt so guilty, like, Oh God forgive me kind of guilt. She knows!"
Lynn sat, quietly stunned by the harshness of such a memory- something she recalled just as well as Bett. The family cat tip-toed into the room, gazed jealously at Bett's posh spot, and curled up beneath the armchair. The wooden clock, six minutes past, chimed a soft 1AM. Finally, as Lynn stood up to leave Bett to her sleep, looking over her mother's cuckooned body she found herself seized with the deepest affection for Bett that it almost choked her. "I love you, mom." She said quietly, in passing. "Love you too," Bett replied, but her face was buried in a throw pillow.
That night, Lynn curled up in the space between her bed and bookcase, cracked open her decrepit cellphone, and reopened a months-old voicemail for the hundreth time.
"Heyyyy, Lynnnnnn, this is Jeremy, ah, and I'm… going through the stuff in my car right now and wonder of wonders, I found a library card that I believe to be… not mine. Ah, yeah, I think it's yours… so you might want that. Anyway, ah, haven't seen you lately, heard you've been down… hope it wasn't, ah, anything… yeah.. anyway, keep in touch. If you have an interest in reading for free, that is.. or for… NOT free. Bye now."
After the message played to it's finish, Lynn let the automatic options drone on until the machine made the decision to automatically delete. Her stereo, teetering on the shelf beside her, buzzed in reaction to the cellphone activity. Her window screen clicked against the glass. Lynn resolved to sort her laundry.
Downstairs, Bett dreamed about dancing.