Chapter Four

...

That night, I had a dream. The dream taught me, or maybe just reinforced the fact that Simon looking like Stirling – like Mom – was a tragedy. It really was. Because Simon, our mother's miracle, our father's project, would never know and have to live with the secret that Stirling and I held close. I was hugging the secret so close to my heart that it became lovelier than my baby brother. I knew Stirling felt the same way. Somehow that tragedy would become lovely in itself – Simon would never have to know what we knew. An outsider might look at that and say, "That's not tragic, that's beautiful." But my dream told me much different things. And it was worse that I saw Mom every time I looked into the boy's eyes. It was displeasing to the ego and the conscience that the chemicals in my body made me go out of my way to find tragedy. It was sick, really. But there was no way around it.

The tragedies of the night could've played into the tragedy seeping through my thinking and into my dreams. When I lay down on my mattress, I saw Anthony telling me, in a haunted whisper, "I can't see the fun in it. She can't either. I mean, look at her."

"Then why does she drink?" I asked matter-of-factly.

Anthony had shrugged and shivered in the cool night, "Beyond me," he replied. I wished I could ask Robyn herself, but she was still drunk, and looked tired from all the puking she'd done. Her make-up was messed up, and her skirt looked dirty. She looked like a walking disaster, and I could see the worry in Anthony's eyes.

I also saw Sullevan dancing to the music that was playing in his head, rather than the elevator music that Lily's son had turned on before he left the club. 'Oh yeah, it was a party,' I thought.

I saw Anthony driving the car to drop all of us off at our respective homes. I was staring at Jamie, thinking about how strange it was that they did this every weekend. I didn't have a weekend ritual. I didn't have dyed hair. I didn't have "I-don't-care-what-anybody-thinks" confidence. I didn't have alcoholic tendencies. I didn't have a lot of personal and stereotypical tragedies like these kids had; but I knew I could learn.

I saw myself stepping onto the porch and finding a piece of paper folded and tucked in between the door knob and the house. It read Stirling at the top in cursive letters. Yet another love letter from the neighbor girl. I read it, like I always did:

"Stirling, originally, I was doing this as a dare, but I realize now that this letter has been a long time coming anyways. I'd just like you to know how much I love you. You are one of the few guys who is handsome and sweet…"

I stopped reading there, applauding the young girl's tactics. She'd used the word handsome instead of hot. I sighed. I felt horrible for the girl. She would never have Stirling but she thought she would. It was purely tragic.

I saw myself slipping into the house quietly and sliding the letter under Stirling's bedroom door before tip-toeing to my own room. I saw myself in a euphoric pose, with no worries, before I slipped off into a dreamy sleep filled with tragedies and secrets.

From that night until summer, Robyn talked to me like she was talked to an old, old friend. It was comforting, as I didn't have any friends of which I could say, "Oh, we go way back." I was surrounded by all the invisible walls I had put up around myself, or at least that's how I liked to think about it – maybe people just didn't like me. That was a problem because two of my favorite things to do were analyze and fall in love…

I didn't become "punk." I really didn't change at all. Robyn just talked to me, passed me notes, told me inappropriate jokes. It was the easiest thing in the world…I didn't have to do anything except for attending that one party – and it had been fun.

So when summer rolled around finally, I had no friends to joke with. Bobby's house was open every time of the day. I had to flirt with Bobby a little more and pretend to wish that Lily was my mother, so as to have an excuse to be around the house more than I ever had been before. I would sit at the kitchen table, pretending to watch Lily cook a meal, but really staring out the window above the sink at Sullevan working in the garden. Bobby's parents had cut Sullevan "some slack" as he put it, and let him stay around for a few weeks at the very beginning of summer, so I was taking in all that I could. As I watched him, I was instantly repulsed and aroused at the same time. I could feel myself changing, and I wasn't changing into Robyn, like I thought I might. My dad would always tell me that you transform into the people you hang around with. I hadn't spent too much time around anyone in particular, just Bobby's house.

Besides the fact that Stirling was there a whole lot, I liked Bobby's house because it was what I wished my house was. Its walls held no secrets. It was plain and homely. It was cozy but cold. I just wished I could have that simplicity.

"This isn't what a girl like you should be doing on a beautiful summer day," Sullevan said with a smile as he wiped his shoes on the welcome mat. His dirty palms showcased all the not-so-clean work he'd been doing. Suddenly paranoid, I wondered if he'd seen me looking at him through the window.

I smiled back, "Really? What else would I be doing?" I asked sweetly.

He laughed and walked over to Lily. They both turned their backs on me as they mixed some sort of drink. I felt they weren't being secretive so much as protective.

"Don't even act like you weren't at that club with your friends that night I saw you. You didn't think I remembered, did you? Now, that's how I know you've probably got better things to do."

"Nah. I don't really have that many friends. That was a spur of the moment thing. That girl just had a vanishing thought and decided to ask me along," I replied, only half-lying.

Sullevan turned around and walked over to the table. He pulled out a chair and slammed the glass down on the wooden surface, and then he sat down. Lily went back to measuring ingredients. I could tell this wasn't Sullevan's first mixed drink of the day.

"It was fun though, wasn't it?" he asked, still smiling.

I nodded, "I had fun," I said plainly.

"So wouldn't you rather be out doing something like that? Being young, getting drunk, puking in ditches?"

I shrugged, "No. And I don't think the girl thinks that sorta thing is fun anymore anways."

Sullevan shook his head, "It takes a lot more times than that to learn that something ain't fun," he replied. And it was true about Robyn.

"I suppose you're right," I sighed.

Sullevan's grin got bigger, "Ha. You are still friends with those people, aren't you?"

I looked at him seriously. I didn't want him to think that I could be doing something better, but thought that he was more fun to observe. Paranoid again, I figured he was onto me, "Not this summer," I said.

"Well let me tell you something. Me neither. I'm stuck working places for the whole summer," Sullevan said.

"Ha!" Lily shouted, "Doesn't show. Sean says he never sees money from you. And all he does…"

Sullevan rolled his eyes and then winked at me. It struck me then that he was doing one of two things. Treating me like a child, or being childish himself. I wouldn't have argued the fact that I was a child, but I wasn't going to readily admit it.

After a sigh, some silence, and swig of the last of the drink, Sullevan stood up and walked out the front door without a word. I sat at the table, and stared into blank space, thinking plainly of boring and concrete ideas that I always rolled around in my head. I was so much inside of my own head that I didn't even notice when Bobby stepped into the kitchen and started a conversation with Lily. Once I came to, I observed that it wasn't hushed or anything and they were saying in right in front of me. After Lily playfully complained about Sullevan a bit and said something about "bad blood," Bobby went on to explain his and Stirling's plan. They were going to go to the Methodist church for a free concert, they'd decided.

"And what sort of concert are they playing at a church?" Lily asked with her hands on her hips, probably annoyed that he wasn't asking his mother instead, and wanting to get back to her chores.

Bobby bit his lower lip, "I don't know. It's some worldly thing. Actually we were studying the culture in school and I think this would look impressive to the teacher, Miss Strapp, who will inevitably be there. And c'mon, Lily, I won't lie, we're pretty sure some of our friends will be there. Plus, it's free."

Lily apparently thought it was an apt explanation on Bobby's part, but being the careful housekeeper she was, she asked: "And what do Stirling's parents think of this?"

Bobby looked at me.

"Oh," I said, pretending like I wasn't listening. And I really wasn't…with much interest anyway, "I'm sure she doesn't care any."

"Yeah. And do you wanna go, Salina?" when Bobby looked at me as he said that his expression was strangely hopeful.

The outing sounded slightly boring and I had more people-studying to do around the house.

"I think I'll just stick around here," I said after an awkwardly long silence in which I pretended to be thinking.

Bobby went upstairs to tell Stirling that they'd gotten the 'okay.'

Lily sighed and patted me on the back before getting back to her cooking, "Sometimes I don't understand your rationalization," she said.

I wondered briefly if it did seem strange that I followed my brother to his friend's house and then when they left I stayed behind. I didn't care much, though, I had bigger fish to fry. I would realize later that whether that decision was good or bad, it was meant to be.

Sean wiped his feet exactly like Sullevan had when he walked through the front door. Except Sean's face was flushed and he was breathing heavily.

"What the hell happened to you?" Lily asked, she now sat across from me at the table - where Sullevan had sat before he'd left two hours before.

Sean took a ring of keys out of his jeans pocket and threw them on the table, "I just ran up the walk," he explained.

"Running from somebody?" Lily asked. Her and I had been discussing her childhood and how the schools back then didn't leave a kid too many options.

"No, not exactly," Sean finally said as he dropped himself into a chair.

"Sullevan out there?" Lily questioned.

"God no," Sean replied, taking one last big breath, "He must left here a long time ago. He was back at the apartment a hour and a half ago at least."

"Well, how would I know?" Lily said in defense, breaking a piece off of the cookies that were cooling in the middle of the table, "I never get to go outside. Work, work, work. Get to the stove, get to the vacuum, get to the kids."

"Well anyways, there's a skunk hanging around by the porch. I wouldn't wanna get close to that sucker," Sean said.

Lily laughed, "God only knows how I managed to raise such a scaredy-cat."

"I don't care if you want to smell rancid for a month, but I sure as hell don't," Sean quipped.

I looked up and studied Sean's face. He was quite handsome, but looked nothing like Lily. He had wide, blue eyes and shiny skin. His hair was always a mess, but he was always dressed nicely, as if he believed that that made up for all of his other shortcomings. I had no idea how he did it. He was always in a suit or ironed jeans. He carried himself nicely, but it was a façade. I suspected he wanted only to look rich, but we all knew he didn't have any sort of money.

Lily looked at me and rolled her eyes, "It's only seven," she said, "I bet that concert didn't even start yet. Do you want a ride home instead of waiting for Stirling?"

Once again, I pretended to think about it. Sullevan was gone, but I had been having some appealing conversations with Lily.

"Sure," I answered, shyly.

Lily smiled and looked at Sean, "That's what I was gonna tell you. I can't leave 'til eight thirty tonight. So I've got no use for those car keys right now."

"Whatever, Mom. You told me you needed the car at six thirty," Sean said, as if wanting to start an argument.

"Hey, things have changed," Lily said, standing up, "Will you give Salina a ride home, though? You don't live far, do you?" she was looking at me.

"Not too far from here, no," I replied.

"Okay then, and Sean, she can just give you directions as you're driving. Sound like a plan?"

"Sure," Sean said, as he stood up, defeated.

"Thanks so much. I wouldn't want Salina to be tortured, sitting around all evening with me."

I got up and followed Sean out the door, wondering if Lily was trying to get rid of me. If one thinks about it, the incidences in their life can all be traced back to one person. I think it happens this way so that we have someone to blame. I hate to say it, but it's easier on the conscience.

Sean and Lily owned a small Toyota that I don't think they make anymore. It looked a bit rough outside, but it was surprisingly pristine inside. It was all part of Sean's work to bend his life until it looked like his fantasy. I wondered how he could possibly live with Sullevan without committing suicide or homicide.

As we drove, Sean had the radio on at a low volume and pointed things out to me - buildings, roads, constructions sights, graveyards… but it was a pretty quiet ride.

As we neared an old apartment building, Sean began to chew on his lower lip. I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. But I didn't exactly care. I just wanted to get home.

"And that's where I live," Sean said as we sped by the apartment building.

He slammed on his brakes when we got to end of the block. My whole body swung forward. I smiled innocently over at Sean. He looked at me, as if asking an important question, but I couldn't provide an answer if I couldn't read his worried eyes.

Finally, he sighed and did a quick, illegal U-turn. The car began to crawl back to where we'd come from and I began to slowly realize what was going on.

Sullevan was outside of the building, nearly over the curb, stumbling and yelling things I couldn't hear from inside the car. Sean closed his eyes as we came to a slow stop. Sean really was a good person, I decided. A few feet below his glorious façade was a genuine, but full heart.

"God, he gives me a headache," Sean whispered, "This won't take long, okay?"

I nodded, wondering why we had just stopped in the middle of the street.

Sean left the car-door open, the engine roaring, and the radio on. I listened closely for every word the roommates shared.

"I have been talking - yelling! I've been yelling for you for hours!" Sullevan slurred to Sean.

"Why did you leave work? Lily was worried about you," Sean said sweetly.

"Can I just get in your car?" Sullevan shouted, "I need to get out. Out of here!"

"Okay, buddy. I'm bringing Bobby's friend's sister home right now."

"Okay?!" Sullevan yelled, in the form of a question.

Sean took Sullevan's arm and led him to the back seat. He'd been right, it hadn't taken long. I assumed he'd done this before. Our quiet ride had turned into a thunderstorm. But I was almost home.

Sean quickly got into the driver's seat and looked over at me with crowfeet by his eyes and too many creases in his forehead, "You're almost home, right?"

"We're almost there," I mumbled, trying to be reassuring.

Sean made another illegal U-turn and Sullevan laid down in the backseat. I twisted my head around to face him. He looked like a troubled little boy. He looked like a tragedy. One that was finally mine to save. And when his glistening, black eye let out a single wink, I suddenly knew I would have to deny everything from that day forward.