My fingers froze, poised over the keyboard. I skim over the paragraphs I wrote, letting out a sigh. I pounded on the backspace key, illuminated by the 60-watt bulb screwed in the slanted ceiling over my desk.
I cannot write.
I pushed away from my desk, the stool’s legs scratching the dull floorboards. Standing up, I exited out of Microsoft Word and power down my laptop. The screen glinted, mockingly.
Mom gave me the writing tablet spring. A bribe, to tide me over.
“I’ll come and visit soon,” the un-sentimental Hallmark card read, “Keep the present as a promise. Love Mom.”
My mom never comes though. She just sends expensiveshit to keep me distracted. She’ll never visit; she’s not ready to see Dad. She’s not ready after nine years.
She was able to talk to him on the phone, eventually. But, before that, I was the one who had to grab the phone every time, just in case it was her. And if it was her, then I would have to stand there, with the phone glued to my ear, and relay everything to my dad. He, in turn, would just occasionally nod, and, at the end of the call, whisper his, “Tell her I hope she’s doing okay.”
Of course she’s doing okay.Dad and I are the ones who are one day gonna find themselves flat out broke.
Inside my big white tee shirt, I felt strangely small. The bright white Tide-friendly Wal-Mart shirt shielded me. Against what, I don’t know. I folded over the waste of my old Soffe shorts, tucking in the frayed strings. Climbing onto my bed, I unlocked the windows over the headboard. Grunting, I pried them open, the satisfying sound bouncing around my room. Following routine, I crawled through, gripping onto the roof’s tiles. I settled on the roof, hugging my knees to my chest. I glowered into the darkness, as I tugged on my bra strap. The moon parted threw the trees surrounding the house. The crickets sang as katydids tried out their voices.
Calmed, I laid down, looking at the patch of sky emitted by the trees. The July night air danced around me, mixing with the smell of lake water. I tried to let the nighttime get to me, to let it lull me to sleep. The clouds smiled, weaving through the stars.
I blinked, sensing the familiarity of insomnia. It was three fifty-four in the morning and I was sure to be up for the rest of the night. I spread my arms wide, wanting to soak in the moon.
Straining, I forced my eyes closed, struggling with myself to relax again. A picture burned on the back of my eyelids. It was a candid of three summers before. My hair had been attempted to be put in loose curls, the thick, frizzy, brown tendrils falling on my shoulders. I was laughing, boardwalk lights blazing in the background. My arm was around someone’s shoulders comfortingly. The person’s face was tear-stained, still crying profusely. Her blonde hair was a wreck and her eyes were shining. We were only twelve; it was our last good summer.
I bit my lip and slowly opened my eyes. My breath came out short, surprised by the memory. My hand snaked to my right ear, playing with the three silver studs put in the top of my ear that summer. They seemed so rebellious at the time, something we could claim as ours.
Blinking furiously, I shot up and fumbled back to my window. I reached into my room, tripping and falling onto my bed. Grumbling, I slammed the window shut, not bothering to suffocate the noise from waking Dad. I whipped around, stumbling off my bed and crashing against a wall. I winced sinking down to my knees. My head throbbed; what’s the point? I could waste my last night, here, on the ground. Yet, I shakily made it to my feet and walked to the door.
I wordlessly picked up my flip flops outside of my room, slipping past my dad’s open door, his snoring tumbling out into the hall. I tiptoed down the thin passageway, making it down the narrow stairs without a sound.
The mess of the living room was familiar to me. Despite the darkness, I maneuvered around all the boxes, piled up and never put away. Then, something brushed past my leg. I jerked, startled; my sudden stop knocked over a stack of Thesauruses Mom gave me two birthdays ago. (Some birthday present.)
They tumbled to the hard wood floor with a crash. I flinched, listening. I heard my dad’s bed creak as he turned over in his sleep. I let out a sigh.
A pair of pale violet eyes blinked at me innocently. “Damn cat,” I hissed.
Mika, my fat black cat, just sat and stared. I rolled my eyes and rushed to the back door. I dropped my shoes onto the tiled floor, turning the lock at the same time. I stepped into my CVS flip flops and grabbed the door key off of its hook, nailed awkwardly into the wall. A moronic Sticky-Note stuck to the wallpaper, stating, “keys”, in chicken scratch. Pocketing the key, I took a deep breath and wrenched open the door.
I swam through the blackness, weaving through trees in my backyard. Looking back quickly, the unsteady form of my house appeared in a pool of moonlight. I tore my eyes away, walking further from home. Sighing, I broke into a run.
I knew the route by heart by now. It didn’t matter that I was blinded by night. The nighttime was calming, and as I sprinted, I immersed myself in it. The abandoned barn was just ahead. I laughed aloud, leaving behind my nervousness and running faster to cover the last burst of land. I skidded to a stop, the barn looming over me.
Panting, I pressed against the large door. It was already falling off its hinges, but I strained to open it enough for me to squeeze through. I shuffled in, my hand going to the wall next to the doorway. I flicked on the light switches.
The barn took ablaze with light. I smiled. I remember when Ryan put in the lights, last summer. It wasn’t that good of a job, but here I was now, basking in the working electricity. Although, at the time, I just sat in the loft, laughing at him. Said he couldn’t do it. He just smirked smugly and fiddled with a screwdriver toward the wall. When he did finish, weeks and weeks later, I just shook my head. He chased me around the barn after that; me, laughing hysterically.
That was what the barn was. The place with light. With all the sappiness and jokes and laughter collected over the summers. The moldy hay is still around from the previous owner; bottles, glass, plastic cups, scattered from parties. And then the loft.
I hurried up the weak ladder, ascending up to the small space weakly hanging from the ceiling. I crouched down at the top, crawling on my hands and knees across the weak wooden planks. Some of my notebooks and stories laid about scattered. I sat cross-legged, resting my head against a window. I stared into the lights.
“You did this?” I shook my head, arms crossed.
“Better believe it.” Ryan wiped his hands, surveying his work.
I looked around critically. Ryan has been going to a tech school forty-five minutes away, in Creed, for half a day, every day, since freshman year. He was learning bits and pieces about electrical stuff and whatever, but he had done an amazing job on the barn.
“Mm.” I shrugged. “It’s… okay.”
Ryan’s eyebrows arched. “‘Okay’?”
“Yeah, I mean… all you did was play around with tools the whole time. It’s… okay.”
“Gee thanks.” He smiled.
“You’re welcome,” I drawled, “It is a good job after all. Kinda. Not really. Oh god, Ryan, this place is going to blow up isn’t it? See what you did-”
Ryan bounded after me. “That’s it…”
I let out a shriek and ran. Laughing, I tugged on my jeans.
The week before, when it had gotten into the high nineties and started reaching one hundred degrees, I, of course, had been the one to jump into the nearby lake. Only, I swam in my clothes. Ryan gave me a pair of jeans and an oversized tee shirt; now, I was wearing his jeans, and obviously they weren’t my size. It didn’t help that I was running and they were already falling down.
I sped toward the ladder, giggling uncontrollably. I hurried to the loft, Ryan close behind, having a hard time to keep from laughing. I rolled onto a mound of hay, seeing Ryan jump up. He pinned me down. I just kept laughing; he laughed a little too. But the next thing I know, he was kissing me. I laid there, dumfounded for a moment.
I have known Ryan since the divorce. Always been a best friend. He was the nearest neighbor for the longest time, and our dads kind of threw us together, because of our age. We were always running around, darting through the forests, meeting in town or by the lake. The barn was especially ours, since we were seven. Then, here he was. I mean, sure. He’s cute. A mess of faded brown hair. Freckles across his nose. And these blue eyes, lined with a hazel-green. I considered his eyes, which made me close my own and kiss him back.
I smiled, my gaze left the lights.
The door creaked. My back stiffened and I cautiously looked over the ledge. There was Ryan, standing there. “Hey.”
“Hey.” He strode toward the ladder, coming up hand over hand, foot over foot. He pulled himself up and sat next to me.
“What’s up?” He exhaled noisily. I stared at him. He knew very well all that was going to happen.
He pulled his shoulders up to his ears. “Don’t give me that look…” I rolled my eyes.
“So you’re going tomorrow…”
“Leaving Raven Rock. And going to see your sister. The Wicked Witch of the West.”
I leaned on his shoulder. “Yep.”
“Gonna miss you.” He intertwined his fingers with mine.
“Of course. This is excluding the party I’m throwing in your absence though.”
I muttered, “Ha ha.”
I closed my eyes and felt Ryan put his arm around me. I yawn, the smell of Ryan and the barn filling my nose.
Next thing I knew, sunlight is draped over me. And Ryan’s talking frantically, cursing under his breath.
“Fuck, Taylor! Taaylorr!” He shook me.
I pulled hay over my head sleepily, the sweltering heat sinking in. “Leave me alone.” I mumbled, squirming to get more comfortable.
As I banged my ass against the wall, Ryan ripped the hay off me.
“It’s nine in the morning!”
I shot up. “Oh god! Oh god, oh god, oh god… Dad’s going to kill me…” I babbled.
Ryan helped me the best he could down the ladder. I looked around on the ground, picking up a whole bottle. I held it up to the light, squinting at my reflection. My hair was everywhere; strands of hay sticking in places; and my clothes were in such disarray. Dad was going to kill me.
Worse. He’s going to kill Ryan.
“I have to go!” I dropped the bottle, faintly hearing it break at my feet, and tried to straighten my disheveled shirt.
I was tripping over myself out the door when Ryan grabbed my arm. “Taylor… Wait.”
He kissed me, his arms wrapped around my waist. I closed my eyes, putting my hands on his face, and blanked out. Then, I snapped my eyes open. “This isn’t helping!”
I tried to leave again, turning back for a quick kiss. I whispered. “Gonna miss you.”
“Love you.” He told me as I flew out the door. I raced home, making a racket as I jumped onto the back porch. My hand was shaking as I jammed the key into the lock and turned it.
I paused in the doorway, and then threw the key down on the table in the walk-in kitchen. I clamored upstairs and dug under the covers in my bed once I reached my room. Flip flops still on, I shut my eyes and let out my breath.
Through the thin walls, I heard my dad’s snoring stumble and choke. A few moments passed and I heard his bed groan as he sat up, getting out of bed. I could feel my blood pulsing in my ears as my dad shuffled out of his room and into mine.
He rapped on the door twice. “Hey kiddo. Big day today, right?” I moaned, for a realistic effect. “C’mon, wake up… I’m gonna make breakfast…”
“Nuh-uh.” I groaned.
“Fine.” My dad paused, “But, boy, do you need to clean up your room. Smells like a barn in here.” At that, he left and made his way down stairs. I flipped onto my back and completely relaxed. I did it.
I let out a tired laugh. Then, I groggily sat up and kicked off my shoes. My head aching, I slowly went to the kitchen, where moments before I had entered. It was funny what could happen in such a short time.
“I know. No homemade breakfast…” Dad nodded, pulling out cereal from the cupboards.
“Thank you.” My eyes were half closed. I scarfed down whatever it was he placed in front of me.
Dad chuckled to himself, he and his beat up slippers; they’re dedicated property of Mika. Dad shuffled over to the phone, slippers a disgrace and all. As I laid my head down on the table, I heard Dad’s conversation:
“Hey, uh, Caida? Hi. Yeah, it’s Matt. Just wanted to confirm about sending Taylor on the two o’clock flight. Everything’s okay with you?… How’s the restaurant? Great. And Rachel? Tell her I love her. Okay, talk to you later. Okay, bye.”
I silently left the kitchen and floated through the living room. On the way to the stairs, I bent down, picking up Mika. She put her front paw on my nose and meowed. I began to rock her, only for her to squirm; she jumped onto a crate full of old magazines and records.
Upstairs, I mechanically stuffed the rest of my clothes into my duffel bag. I sat on the edge of my bed and toyed with the soccer key chain clipped onto a strap of my bag.
Scoffing slightly, I remember the Soccer Years. Post-divorce, starting in fourth grade, for at least two or three years, I replaced all emotion with a heavy athletic attitude. I was the All-American girl, ready to go to states, get good grades, and maybe work with student council later on in my junior high career. Soccer planned everything out for me, and that was ideal for my Dad above all. But soon it just became too much.
I carried that along with my laptop bag downstairs. Dad directed me out to his car. Met with a locked truck, I left my stuff on the ground and headed back. Our house is red, with a blue-gray roof. An old southern porch runs wide and long, a lemonade design; we’re thankful for the picturesque porch, because it’s the only evidence we have that we live there. Shingles are falling off, and overall, it looks run down. Craggy trees, standing crooked, protect it all, blending in with the bad paint jobs and bad atmosphere.
Kitchen was empty, and I heard Dad rummaging through his closet upstairs. I went into my own room, and changed into a short red tee shirt, cropped with an old pair of scissors, a fat-ass eight right in the middle. I slipped on some jean shorts and my trusty flip flops, eyes solemnly tracing the contents of my room.
Dad poked his head in, dressed into his own red tee and black jeans. “Ready?” He briefly smiled.
I shrugged and followed him downstairs. As I passed Mika on the kitchen table, I paused to scratch her under her chin. “Where the key?” I faintly heard Dad mumble. I tried to calmly point to them in their spot next to Mika.
“Dang cat,” Dad snatched them. “Must’ve taken ‘em right off the hook last night.” I bit my lip.
Dad sighed. “’Kay, letsgo. ” He said the last part fast; quick and slurred. This was it.
“Bye house!” I half-heartedly called as I closed the back door and locked it, the screen door snapping shut on cue.
The ride to the airport was quiet. My sunburned legs rested against the front leather seats of Dad’s Mustang. Mustang, Mustang, Mustang… He tapped his fingers against the steering wheel in rhythm to the country song playing on the radio. I love country, but in that song, on and on, someone sang about their heartache. My head throbbed, the music not helping.
In Raven Rock, it’s a pretty rural town. There are a few small strip malls and a grocery store and whatever. But it’s mainly drunk with woods. We’re about thirty minutes from Comfort, and an hour-plus to the Greenston Airport.
A few cowboy singles later, we hit traffic in the airport parking lot. Of course we were left with a spot in a parking lot far, far away from the actual airport. I slung my shoulder bag over my shoulder and lugged my two other bags along.
My dad stretched before we walked. “We need the exercise,” he tried. I sulked, ever so happy when the monorail to the airport came into view.
The airport was packed. Little kids wailing, anxious businessmen, bored tweens. Not to mention a bunch of camouflaged soldiers.
“Lance!” A guy stepping into baggage was mauled by his tearful mother. His late-teenage brothers, eyebrows and lips pierced, slapped him on the back, grinning; yet his sister held back. Her arms were folded across a light-gray hoodie, her two-toned hair, dark brown and blonde, falling over her shoulders. I smiled softly as I watched Lance break free and embrace her.
I had to say good-bye to Dad here, since all that was left was a nightmare of tickets and security.
“Bye kiddo,” he looked genuinely upset to see me off. I gave him a quick hug and promised to call him once I got to Connecticut.