A/N: Another story, by yours truly. This one is a bit different from HTSAL. The heroine of this story is quite different from Myra Reed, the first being that this character is much younger and much more rebellious. Anyway, I hope you like what I've written so far. Character pictures will soon be posted.
No one told me when Edwin died. That is, no one thought to tell me right away. I was actually in my room, flipping through Edwin's journal, when the door bell rang. He was always scribbling in that journal of his, inscribing every little thought and every little observation as though God had assigned him the task. At breakfast, while Dad mused over the paper and I slurped cereal, Edwin consulted his journal, brow furrowed, fingertips choking his fountain pen.
When he got home from school, he'd immediately rush up to his room, taking the stairs two at a time. I'd hear the familiar twang of Bob Dylan or the cool murmur of Miles Davies and I'd just know that Edwin was already lost in the fury of his thoughts. That stupid red journal was like a second form of oxygen.
And for long as I could remember, I'd been anxious to find out what was so fascinating about it. That night, as I scoured the pages, I only found flecks of food and spots of coffee, rather than the magic of self-analysis and reflection.
There was a bunch of things I couldn't understand, scraps of poems, quotes without attribution, tattooed between the white lines with lightening-speed haste. His own writing was often disjointed and vague, free-flowing snapshots of dreamy gibberish. Instead of unlocking the mind of my elder brother, I realized that he was much deeper than I'd expected. His classically handsome face was a mere cover-up, a brilliant façade that satirized his rich vault of knowledge. My brother, I supposed, was more of a stranger than my father or mother. I'd shared the same roof with him for sixteen years and all I really knew was that he liked the color blue and he hated boy bands.
It was about midnight when the police came. Engrossed with my mission, I disregarded the low grumble of voices that drifted up the stairs and leaked through my door. About ten minutes later, the door shut. My mother and father spoke quietly, my mother's voice shrilly rising. My father mumbled something and then the front door opened and shut for the second time. Unbeknown to me, my parents had left for the hospital.
Edwin's journal began to try my patience. The final page of his journal bore a mish mash of Nirvana lyrics and then a single paragraph in his crab-like scrawl.
There's nothing so intoxicating and simultaneously terrifying as the future. We make all these big, smashing, thunderous plans, believing that our lives can be mapped like stars in a constellation. But nothing is certain, nothing is predictable. We live, we die and everything in between is a field full of land mines. You don't know what's going to happen until it's too late. If I said that Harvard had all the answers, I'd be fooling myself. Some nights I lay awake and feel infinite. Most nights I lay awake and find that I don't know myself, that my head feels disconnected from my body, that I'm floating through a life that is a foggy dream and it's all a matter of time before I wake up and find myself choking. Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow.
Exhaustion conquered suddenly. The next thing I knew, it was morning and the house swelled with a silence that could only connote death. Unsuspectingly, I woke from a rather peaceful slumber, yawning and stumbling down the stairs. My parents were in the kitchen, seated at their respective places at the table, still dressed in last night's ensembles.
Box of Cheerios in hand, I soaked in the despair in their faces, the desperation in their actions. Shakily, my mother raised her mug to her lips, sipping black coffee like cough medicine. My father took off his glasses and rubbed his temples. The morning light was unkind to his features, emphasizing the bald patches on his skull and the crows feet stamped around his eyes. To realize that your parents are not invincible is one of the worst feelings in the entire world.
"Remy, can you sit down for minute?" he asked.
"Why?" I demanded.
The Cheerios remained glued in my hand, anger suddenly bubbling beneath my skin.
"We need to talk."
I pulled up a chair and sat down. The ticking of the clock matched my heartbeat. The house seemed to inhale and exhale in anticipation, holding its breath for the inevitable. My father told me that last night, on his way home from a friend's house, a drunk driver came barreling at Edwin.
My brother, hoping to avoid the driver, jerked out of the way. With the exception of a broken taillight and a few superficial cuts and bruises, the driver got away safe and unharmed. Edwin, on the other hand, in attempt to avoid smashing head on into the driver, ended up crashing into a tree. The ambulance rushed him to the hospital.
Two hours later, due to excessive blood loss and head trauma, my brother died. I sat in front of my father, tuning out his words, recreating the horrible accident in my mind. I imagined twisted hunks of metal wrapped around an ancient oak tree.
I imagined my brother, his body bent and broken, his head cracked open like a fresh melon. I expected to burst out into tears, collapse into a fit of rage, faint, anything at all. Instead, I sat there, clamping down on my jaw. I waited for the dam to burst, for the emotions to take hold, but nothing happened. Silently, my mother excused herself. I heard her glide down the hall and into the bathroom. She left the door open. My father forced himself to keep my gaze as my mother threw up.
"We told him we loved him. We told him that you loved him too," my father said, as though he were apologizing for my absence.
I nodded, wondering if that would be enough. Right on cue, my mother vomited again, ending this with a choked sob. I winced. My father continued to stare at him, his small, brown eyes magnified due to unspent tears. I left the Cheerios on the table and stood up.
"If you need to talk, I'll always be around to listen."
"I know, Daddy."
I took the stairs as though I were dragging lead pipes. Nothing felt any different. There were the same school portraits on the wall, lined up chronologically, displaying my ugly transformation from an awkward adolescent with her heart in her hands, into a metal-mouthed higher school student who read comic books under the bed with a flashlight.
There were Edwin's photos, a perfect exhibit of good genes and good luck. I stopped at the top step, my eyes studying his senior portrait. That summer, much to mother's horror, he'd grown serious dreadlocks. I could remember helping him wind the strands of hair with beeswax, wrinkling my nose as he grinned in the mirror. Fortunately, he'd cut them all off and shaved his head at the end of the summer. My mother had breathed a sigh of relief when the portraits came back, his teeth gleaming white, his button-up ironed, his head fuzzy like a peach.
His words came back to me.
We live, we die and everything in between is a field full of land mines.
Had my brother truly been a prophet, a voyeur able to peer into the future? Or had he simply been a cynical pessimist, teetering on the edge of a hope that was not only frightening but unfashionable for so many young people of his generation?
I touched my fingers to the glass, expecting the sorrow to kick in. Nothing happened. I was still breathing, still alive, still in my house and Edwin was still dead, splotches of his brain a forgotten mosaic on the body of that oak tree. I went into my room and turned on the stereo. Flopping onto my bed, I stared up at the ceiling, pushing myself to feel something besides the haunting void that filled the pit of my stomach.
Most nights I lay awake and find that I don't know myself, that my head feels disconnected from my body, that I'm floating through a life that is a foggy dream.
I wondered if my parents would send me to a shrink. But I didn't need one. Right? Millions of people experienced a death in the family. That didn't mean they needed a shrink. Besides, how could a stranger possibly help me? I'd just be another teenage head case to them, another example of textbook denial and youth in revolt.
What could some shrink possibly tell me that I didn't already know? The radio was playing some tired pop song, but I couldn't make the effort to get up and change the station. Outside, it transparent clouds danced around the sun. It'd be a good day for a bike ride. Or maybe I'd call my best friend, Eva, and we could down to the docks.
"I don't need a shrink, right Edwin? Besides, it seems too cliché, doesn't it? Seems like everyone has a shrink nowadays. You remember Eva? She started going to therapy a month ago. Her parents made her go, on account of her breaking curfew all those times and saying she was an atheist. I don't see what's so bad about being an atheist. I mean, I'm not an atheist, but I don't really think it's something to go crazy over. Anyway, Eva told me that when she goes, she makes up things all the time. She says it's like acting, like inventing a whole other life for yourself. She says it's great practice for later on in life."
I looked at my left hand and realized that I was still holding the Cheerios.
There's one memory of Edwin that is both haunting and endearing. When we were younger, we were a team. An unstoppable duo. To save face, Edwin would pretend that I was simply he's annoying younger sister, tugging on his shirt and tagging along like a fly attracted to garbage. But besides being brother and sister, we were friends. We upheld an unspoken pact; our loyalties as siblings only strengthened our intimacy as friends.
One night in August, when Edwin was thirteen and I was twelve, Edwin had the urge to go exploring in the woods. The sky looked like satin, all steel and smoke and dusty pink, surrounding everything as though you could reach out and grab a fistful. I don't remember seeing any stars.
All I could see was miles and miles of North Carolina sky, a landscape that I'd been seeing for the past twelve years, but only then realizing its grandiosity. Before we left, Edwin grabbed two flashlights, passing me one as we went out the door. Unknown to Edwin, I had stuck his pocketknife in the front of my overalls. Last week a pair of out-of-state campers had been attacked by a bear. I was too proud to tell Edwin that I was afraid.
Thus, ever the obedient playmate, I followed him into the thicket of brambles, pushing myself to keep up with his manic pace. He looked straight ahead, his sneakers slapping against the dirt, snapping the spines of dry leaves.
We didn't speak as we traveled deeper into the woods, fighting the gnarled branches, Edwin using his arms like a machete to keep them at bay. He held my hand as we crossed a rotted log, the murky river water churning below us. Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, we relished in the seclusion, oddly at ease, although the humidity clung to our clothes and sweat rolled down our necks.
And although Edwin and I had done this many times before, that night felt different. Maybe it was because Edwin was now a teenager, which meant, in a way, the beginning of the end of our current camaraderie.
Naturally, we'd always be brother and sister, but I knew that our comfortable exchange of confidences, our alliance of his rationality and wit with my blind curiosity and tomboyish brashness, would change. Rules and boundaries would be erected overnight; I would no longer be the partner in crime, but just his sister. Neither Edwin nor I wanted to openly acknowledge this matter.
Although Edwin and I were close, we weren't the type of people to be overtly affectionate. Edwin and I rarely hugged. We'd show our affection through pinches and practical jokes. I'd run through the house ducking from the sting of his slingshot; he'd put me in a headlock after I'd slugged him in the arm. I was a girl who cared nothing for makeup and indulging in the mysteries of femininity, which had already begun to interest of many of the girls my age. I was the one who would play baseball in a dress and shiny mary-janes, sliding into home plate with terrible fury, willing to knock down anyone in my path.
At school, during lunch break, the other girls sat on the picnic tables and studied the boys like animals in a zoo. Their nervous chatter flapped through the air like the twitter of birds, their words ending in a swell of giggles. Meanwhile, I was with the boys, playing kickball, shading my eyes against the sun and pointing above their heads, predicting where the ball would land like a miniature Babe Ruth. Once, a crowd of boys examined a dead bird, picked apart by time and other animals. I stood in the front row, fascinated.
Soon, Edwin and I arrived at a tree. Edwin gracefully climbed up it, finally straddling a branch. I scrambled after him, scraping my knees against the bark. He watched as I shifted closer to him, making sure I didn't fall. We looked out at the skyline, past the mountaintops, the hum of the crickets like the tick of a clock.
"Are you nervous about starting high school?" I wondered.
He squinted, brushing a lock of hair from his forehead. He'd inherited our mother's hair, jet-black like an ink well, thick, but fluffy, with a few pieces that always stuck up in the back. With the hair and his wide, steady eyes, sometimes he reminded me of an owl.
"Frankie told me that his sister said that one of the teachers doesn't let kids go to the bathroom. She makes you wait and wait and wait until you're about to piss your pants. I think he said her name was Miss Holiday?"
"That's ridiculous. Isn't Frankie the same kid that said there was an alligator in the sewer?" he demanded.
"Well then why would you believe him?"
"I dunno know. He said his sister told him that."
"I doubt it. He's probably just pulling your leg," Edwin replied.
"Aren't nervous about finding your classes? I heard that on the first day, the seniors stuff the freshman in lockers and steal your lunch money."
Edwin let out a huff to signal his budding annoyance. He swiveled around effortlessly like a cat on a brick wall. His luminous eyes looked like they belonged to someone much older, someone who knew that life was a joke and had already heard the punch line one too many times. Even back then, there'd been something inexplicably prophetic about my brother. In my mind, his intellect translated as the gift of a fortune teller.
Our parents were extremely proud of their golden son, constantly searching his features for the mark of future prosperity. Not only was he a son, but for my father, Edwin posed as the possibility of freedom.
Through Edwin, he could escape the chains of his small-town prison, something he'd spent his entire life failing to do. Often, as I tried to fall asleep, I'd hear Edwin and my father on the porch. My father would be reminiscing about all the things he'd set to do when he was Edwin's age.
I could picture a cloud of smoke curling around his head, his leathery hands jabbing the air to emphasize. Sometimes, I'd wonder how I fit into our family. If Edwin was the crowning beacon of hope and glory, what did that make me? Remy, the baby of the family, the girl who couldn't decide if she wanted to act like a girl or a boy. I did well in school, but I was nowhere near Edwin's league.
I'd been born a bit restless and a bit naïve. My mother said I was supposed to be born in October, but I came out two months early. Edwin came out without fuss, on the exact day the doctor predicted. They named him Edwin after our grandfather. They named me Remy because they'd been expecting another boy and hadn't prepared a list of girl's names. My father was the one who came up with Remy, taken from his father's favorite kind of cognac.
"Remy, Frankie's full of crap. He just said all of that stuff to scare you. Why do you even bother listenin to him?" Edwin demanded.
I didn't have an answer for that.
"I can't believe you're gonna be in high school."
"S really no different than middle school. Just a different building."
"Does it feel any different?"
"You know, bein thirteen," I clarified.
"But you're a teenager now," I insisted.
"Well, I don't feel any different. And I don't look any different. You don't juss wake up one morning and you're a different person. It's not magic."
"But this is when everything is supposed to change."
"People say they change. But they don't. Some of em do. Most just think they do," Edwin said.
"Frankie said that when his sister turned thirteen, she started wearing makeup and going steady."
"I reckon you will too, when you turn thirteen," he observed with a grin.
"No I won't!" I yelped.
"No more tree-climbing for you. You'll wanna wear lip gloss and high heels and call up boys. Boys like Frankie."
"I would never wear high heels. Even looking at them makes my feet hurt. And I'd never want to call up Frankie. I don't even like him!"
"Then why do you talk to him?"
"Cause, there's no one else to talk to on the bus. All the girls do is talk about makeup and which boy they think is the cutest. April Connors likes to play matchmaker and she tried to match me up with Frankie. She wouldn't let up about it, so I dumped my milk carton on her head."
Edwin laughed, his shoulders rocking back and forth.
"You've got the worst temper in the world. You're like an alley cat. Get hit with a little bit of water and you start hissin an spittin."
"I got a week of after-school detention for that. I didn't care. April deserved it. I never told Daddy or Ma. Just told them I had to stay after for homework help."
"One day, you'll be just like those girls. Maybe it won't happen next year, but it'll happen. I guarantee that."
"You're full of shit, Eddie."
"Well, maybe you won't be exactly like April Connors. But one day you're gonna start lookin at Frankie Martin and realize you wanna do more with him than trade baseball cards," Edwin teased.
I scowled, responding with silence. After a moment or so, Edwin spoke.
"Don't grow up too fast, ok?"
My scowl softened and I gave him a small smile.
"That's a girl," he said and gently tapped my chin with his knuckle.
Gazing out into the night, I felt safe.
After Edwin died, a rabbit hole opened up. I plugged my nose and jumped in head first.
Two hours past my curfew and I had no intention of leaving. Blake's shitty Honda was clogged with smoke, the cup holders posing as makeshift ashtrays. I tried to find life within his lazy gaze, eyes the shade of jeans washed too many times, of wet newspaper with all the headlines bleeding together.
My concentration flashed from one thought to the next and I liked the feeling that came with being both smashed and slightly high. But we couldn't sit there too long. I preferred to be in motion, to roll down the windows and let the wind slip through the fingers of my outstretched hand.
Nights like this had become an addiction. Just last year I'd been the type of girl to sit home on a Friday night and get a jump start on her homework. This year I'd been reinvented, accepting the folly of heated backseat kisses and cheap thrills iced with ten-cent sweet talk. It was like a perverted sort of baptism. And I wasn't ready to it up.
The beginning of the weekend came with its traditions. We were parked by the docks and everything looked absolutely black, even the water. Looking at all that blackness made me think of choking on wool. I'd turned my phone off, knowing that my parents wouldn't bother to call. After the first few times I'd broken curfew, they'd called my phone, demanding to know where I was and what time I'd be home.
Sometimes, I would lie and tell them in a few minutes. Most of the time, I'd hang up. I guess they gave up after a month. It didn't matter what time I came home. The porch lights would still be on.
Blake took a huge hit from the blunt and then passed it to me. With practiced ease, he let out a billow of smoke, lips stretching nearly to his ears. Blake wasn't the sort of boy I'd call handsome or even cute. His ears were disproportional to his head and his front tooth was chipped. His face was all angles and on some people, this looked startling enough to be attractive. On Blake, this only made him appear as though he'd been unevenly cut from a block of wood, his weak chin in desperate need of smoothed out edges.
I suppose the only reason why I continued to date him was because of his reputation. He was the exact sort of boy who'd throw rocks at your window at three in the morning, lighting up a cigarette, a six pack in one hand, a bag of pot buried in his pocket. There was nothing romantic in our seedy relationship, no bouquets of roses after arguments, no dancing in the streets or kissing in the rain. We clung to each other because real love wouldn't do, because real love would involve a level of emotional commitment and vulnerability we feared. Blake taught me how to shed my skin, how to create a new identity and leave the old one behind. I owed him that much, I suppose.
"Thanks," I said.
I sucked on the blunt while he took a swig of his Corona. Blake liked to drink his Coronas with limes and as a result, an entire box sat on the passenger side behind me. He watched with sleepy eyes as I filled my lungs, waited and then puffed out smoke rings. Quickly, with a bit more speed than expected, he wiggled his finger through the holes, leering.
"Don't let them die virgins."
I batted his hand away, rolling my eyes.
"You're fucking disgusting."
"I love it when you talk dirty," he chuckled.
He grabbed my chin and yanked me toward him. I closed my eyes as he kissed me, used to the slightly acidic taste of his mouth. My head started to wobble like a girl on a tightrope.
At this point, I wanted a mouth and a skilled set of hands; any would do. It didn't matter that it was Blake; it was a matter of convenience. In the background, the same Aerosmith CD played for the second time. He said the CD was permanently stuck in the stereo; he didn't have money to get it fixed.
After a minute or so, he pulled away. I placed the blunt on top of the dashboard. Silently, I unzipped my shorts and tossed them over my shoulder. I took off my ratty tank top and sat there, clad in only a white bra and white boxer shorts.
Lately, it hadn't been as easy to do this part, to whip off my clothes and assume indifference. However, this is where the pot and booze came in. Although Blake wasn't the least bit serious about academics, he was sure as hell serious about his drugs. He'd never played in the major leagues; he sold pot now and again, sometimes Ritalin. He told me that he once tripped on acid and didn't come down for an entire week. But for the most part, Blake was like any other small-town teenage animal, bored with what suburbia and the monotony of everyday life had to offer. He stuck to weed and alcohol and Newports, sometimes the occasional ecstasy pill if it was a special occasion.
"Those my boxers?"
"What'd you do, swipe em from my drawer?" he asked, somewhat amused.
"You left them in my room. Didn't feel like wearing my own, so I wore yours. They're more comfortable," I explained.
"Well, I want em back after tonight," he insisted.
"Don't get your shirt all in a knot."
"I'm serious Remy, I want em back before I drop you off."
Blake set aside his Corona then whipped off his shirt. There wasn't much to swoon over. Blake was skinnier than me, his body naturally lean, further emphasized by his poor eating habits. With each breath, the bones in his chest popped forward, revealed for a moment only to return into the background of his skin. A faint trail of reddish hair formed a path that started right below his bellybutton. Last year, this was not the sort of boy Remy Gardener would have given a second glance. This year, this was the only sort of boy Remy Gardener could hope to get.
I snagged the blunt and took another generous hit while Blake unzipped his pants.
"Hey, can you-"
"No, not tonight."
Blake pushed down his jeans to his ankles, spreading his legs.
"Aw, c'mon. I don't ask you to do it that often."
"No. I told you I hate giving them."
He grumbled and then snatched the dwindling blunt out of my fingers. Narrowing his eyes at me, it quickly went from a blunt to a dead roach. Blake coughed, rolled down his window and then flicked the roach into the night. Smoke slithered out of the open window like an overflow of cake batter.
"Clay and I were talking about you at lunch yesterday. He said he couldn't believe you were the same girl that got all them awards. You were such a goody-goody, he said."
I arched an eyebrow just like I'd seen Rita Hayworth once do in a movie. Blake drained the rest of his beer and then chucked the bottle out of the window. A split second later, we heard the crash as the bottle kissed the ground and glass spilled everywhere. It sounded beautiful, almost like the tinkling of chimes.
"Oh yeah? And what'd you say."
Blake grinned and gently pulled my body up against his. He let his finger run down the middle of my neck and then moved his hand to the inside of my thigh.
"I told him that I taught you everything you know."