It’s not a unique girl problem to try clothes on a hundred times and never be able to find something that you like. Not if you know you are doing it to distract yourself from something unpleasant.
Like that phone call I have to make to Richard.
It’s not like anybody can see my underwear at the party anyway. It’s not like I have that much underwear to choose from anyway. Or blouses. Or skirts. Or shoes. Or jackets. Or … you get the idea.
But I dig and I search and throw it all on the floor in my cardboard box excuse for a room, and every time I get the vaguest awareness of my decision to call Richard and say I’m not going to Adeline’s party with him, I search some more.
And then I stop. Take a deep breath.
This can’t go on.
I shake my head and grab a plain T-shirt, and then I go into the living room which also doubles as my mum’s room. She’s there on the couch watching some crime movie or other, as usual. Her long curly hair is blonde like mine but more faded and right now it looks like she tried to comb it but just gave up.
But she looks like she’s having a good time, right there in her pastel blue bathrobe with lots of herbal tea and chocolate.
“Hi, honey,” she greets me. “You ready for the party?”
“I’m not going, mum.”
“Why not?” She doesn’t look at me, doesn’t even look surprised, and I want to say something snarky, but why bother.
“Can I use the phone?”
“You know where it is,” mum says, still not taking her eyes off Detective Reynaldo Curtis who looks sharp as usual even on our 13 inch blurry TV screen.
“I’d like to talk … alone,” I sigh, knowing what the answer will be.
“Kitchen,” my mum says still without looking at anything else.
I don’t care to argue. I don’t care if she hears.
And it’s not like we can afford any of those fancy mobile phones.
So I grab the phone from its hanger on the living room wall and pull the cord as far away from the door to the kitchen as I can. I then go and sit down at the small kitchen table. I close the door behind me as much as I can without squeezing the cord. It’s a balancing act. Like everything else.
I remember Richard’s phone number like it was my birthday, but I can’t push the buttons.
On the other side of the kitchen window there is only the grey winter afternoon over East Cleveland.
Then this idea just comes into my mind, clear like yesterday when the world was crisp with morning frost.
I see a cityscape before me, much like the one outside the window, but more like that movie – Blade Runner. It’s darker and raining. But in the overcrowded gloomy streets one figure stands out: a girl. She is blonde. She has an overcoat but otherwise no fancy clothes. She walks as if she is searching for someone.
I don’t know what the heck that means, but it sure would be nice to draw. And paint. If only I was better with colors. I am not. I’m better with pencils. Colors – even crayons – they are still a challenge. But I’m getting there. I could try it. This evening. Now.
Then I remember that there’s still that final essay for next week in history and I have no idea what to write and I’d hate to disappoint Mr. Anderson. Or myself.
Also, I’d hate not to disappoint those ‘nice’ classmates who are looking for a new topic to pass secret notes about during class. That is, a new variation on the topic of Carrie Sawyer who sounds like her surname is still McDonnell and who constantly makes herself look like a jerk because she doesn’t know computers, or how to jump into the right bus for excursions.
We had one bus in Scotland where I lived and it came like twice a day. Not in winter.
At school we had two computers, and one was broken all the time.
I have to get a decent grade on that final essay. I will not give the others any reason to pass more notes.
So I shouldn’t draw. I stay at home and I should start that essay. The U.S. Civil War … what the hell do I know about that? I have barely landed … so I have to read up. A lot.
Also a good reason to tell Richard why I’m not going with him to the party.
Pity. He is one of the only guys who seem … well, nice and … all.
I’ll surely see the last of him if I make this call.
But I just can’t go.
Adeline Christakis is that hotshot new girl who lives in a frigging mansion out near the lake. A frigging real mansion. Even many seniors will come. Maybe all of them …
I push the last button.
“Carrie? Great that you called.”
He must have been waiting by the phone. I can’t help but smile to myself, but it doesn’t last. I know what I have to do and I feel like crap.
“Are you ready for tonight?” he asks cheerfully.
“I’m … not sure I’m going.”
“What? Don’t you want to go with me?”
“I do … very much.”
“Then we go. It’ll be so great.”
“I don’t really have anything to wear.”
“I know you’ll look terrific – even if you wear a bag.”
He chuckles and I remember how that was one of the sweetest things about him when we first talked. How it still is. Like he knows everything is going to turn out fine. Really knows.
“Look – “ I begin.
And he says something I don’t remember, but it makes me want to talk more. And then we talk more. And when I hang up I have agreed to go to the party, even if I have no decent clothes and I know the likes of Denise Fulcher and Ann Salcroft will be there, too, and looking to get a shot at the new girl from the country.
But I want to go.
“I’ll meet you there,” he said.
“I care,” he said.
Those are the words I repeat to myself again and again as I find some clothes and get the hell out there.
Those are the words I use to crush all doubts.
The beat hammers everything. Writhing bodies on the dance floor. Somehow they always bounce back, just when it looks like someone has had way too many drinks and is about to get hammered completely off balance.
For tonight’s P-A-R-T-Y, Adeline has stapled all the furniture, sprayed graffiti on the walls and plundered both the wine cellars in the house. Presto: One football-field-sized-designer-dining-hall transformed into suburban techno garage.
Her parents are going to kill her.
That is, when they get home from the Caribbean or … wherever.
I have to admit that after the first five minutes or so I got the weird feeling that Adeline’s parents never really lived in this huge lakeside mansion – which, by the way, I never really had any idea was only ten miles up the shore until I had to look it up, so I knew how to get here. It’s still so far away from dirty old Cleveland, though, that it feels like another world in which just Adeline reigns supreme, like some Pippi Longstocking Queen of Goth.
Most of the teachers went ballistic when she handed out invitations to everyone at school. ‘What about the annual year-end party on campus?’ they whined.
Ha. What about biology lessons vs. an actual roll in the hay? I don’t think the teachers have anything to worry about, though. Most of the boys and girls who came here tonight will probably show up at the traditional event next week, as always. But this all-round warm-up was too tempting to turn down for half the school.
Except if you happen to be me, of course.
In that case, it’s not surprising that someone had to spend two days convincing me to attend; someone like Richard.
The same Richard, by the way, who should have been here to meet me an hour ago.
But I don’t want to bore you about me and Richard right now. How can I when there’s still sooo much I could tell you about our gracious hostess instead?
Yes, she’s definitely something else: Adeline Christakis, only daughter of Greek IT-superstar Theodoros Christakis and British imported Yale professor, Julia Stephen. And apparently Adeline went to some kind of private super-elite high school up in Toledo before she transferred to ours. Or so they say.
I’ve also heard that she badgered her folks every day for about a year until they let her do it. In the beginning I wondered why any sane girl would do this, because you don’t just arrive in our run-of-the-mill school and think you are queen of the hill, even if your allowance is probably more than the principal’s salary.
And now I sit here in my corner and just watch the hundred or so boys and girls drinking, dancing, and generally freaking out all around me like it’s 1999. I mean, how can you compete with all the free booze in the world and lots of exciting exotic rooms to disappear in? You can’t and she knows it – Adeline – frolicking over there, annoyingly relaxed, on a bunch of sofa-sized pillows under the big Gerhard Richter on the wall, relishing all the worship.
No, I don’t wonder anymore. Except about myself, that is. When am I going to get up and snatch some boy and disappear into one of those rooms? If nothing else, then just to get even with Richard?
How about … never?
Maybe that’s why I feel so great about skulking here in the farthest corner of the makeshift techno-garage with my slouchy margarita – which I’ve only been nipping at for the last hour. It feels infinitely safer, and I get plenty of time to brood about what Richard Dufraine actually meant when he insisted that he ‘cared’.
I finally decide to finish the margarita. After all, there has to be room for refills.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Yeah, that was me, crying out. Because this is the point where I have managed to get way more drunk than I am allowed to. And she had managed to sneak up on me:
Adeline. One drink in each hand; total poker face.
“You’re thinking about Jesus?” she exclaims, looking at me like I was the weird fish that I would give the world not to be.
“O-oh no – ” I manage to blurt. “Ye just startled me, that’s all.”
Great. I stammer so much that it gets even more difficult to hide my bloody accent. Why did she even sneak up on me like that?
No wait. Now I understand.
How about the little watch-while-I-pick-on-the-most-uncool-girl diversion?
I mean, it looks like her worshippers are staring in my direction. Probably thrilled Addie decided to throw some peanuts into the monkey cage.
“You want another one?” Adeline nods towards my empty glass.
“No,” I say without conviction even while I strain to get the accent right. I could drink the whole world’s stock of alcohol right now, legal or not.
She hands me one of her drinks; so blue it could be straight out of a scifi movie. Then she smiles slightly and I can’t help noticing how black her lipstick is.
Her Goth look is pro, got to give her that. Pitch black eye-liner, too. She wears a skirt so skimpy it wouldn’t exist if it was any shorter. Finally, there’s the black leather bra underneath the see-through black blouse. It looks surprisingly cool on her, even if she doesn’t exactly fill it out. Or maybe it looks cool exactly because she doesn’t fill it out and doesn’t give a damn. Wish it was me.
“There’s more where it came from,” she confides.
She winces: “It’s Lin. I hate ‘Adeline’. It was my mother’s idea. She thought it sounded ‘literary.’”
“Maybe I should sit down?” She nods at the empty chair on the other side of the little table in front of us.
I shrug. “Ye do what ye like.”
She doesn’t answer but grimaces in a way I can’t quite decipher. Then she drops down in the other chair.
The beat feels louder than ever. I eye her worshippers who are now alone with Gerhard Richter. They seem to be dispersing a bit, though.
I try to look relaxed while cramping the blue drink in my hand.
I watch Adeline watching me from the other chair.
I know I should not have come. But then everyone would have talked, too, wouldn’t they?
“You look sad,” Adeline says.
“I’m not.” I begin to gulp my drink.
“You’ve been sitting here all evening. I’ve watched you.”
I’m not sure I like that, and now some fight-or-flight reflexes kick in. I decide to make a stand.
“I’ve watched ye too,” I say.
She doesn’t grin, when she says it. Instead she looks away for a moment. There is a shadow on her face.
It is not the visible shadow painted under her eyes in hundred dollar Goth make-up.
It is something else.
“What are you looking at?” she asks.
I see her lips move but I barely hear the question.
I gulp more of the blue drink.
What do I say to that?
“I … I just thought your make-up was cool. Really cool.”
I look down at myself briefly, all too aware of the jacket that I borrowed from my mum and prayed nobody would notice.
Adeline nods, looking at me in a strange way. I get the feeling that we both want to push hard into other territories and I don’t know what to make of it.
I don’t get the time, though, to make anything of anything, before we are in another territory I don’t like.
“You’re the girl who came over from Scotland, right?” Adeline asks with perfect casualness.
“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, I came over from good ol’ Scotland.”
“So your mom is Scottish?”
“Okay … so your dad is?”
Adeline smiles. “‘Aye’,” she repeats.
My face goes redder than my jacket.
“You have a lovely accent,” she says quickly.
For a moment I am very close to getting up and leaving, but I sense that she means it.
So I don’t.
“Your parents split?” Adeline asks softly.
I nod and look at the blue in my drink. I wish I could disappear into that blue.
“Why?” Adeline asks again, sincerely. “I mean, if your mom is American she must have wanted to move to Scotland to marry your dad. That’s something.”
I do my best imitation of shrugging: “It is but then one day it wasn’t.“
She nods: “I’m sorry.”
I eye her cautiously. Adeline doesn’t blink. Neither do I.
Then I decide what the heck and serve this night’s version of my family record – the one that’s mixed with the don’t-give-a-fuck ingredient. But it’s not nearly as dark as I wanted to make it, because, I don’t know – I just feel that she really wants to hear it. And even though that shouldn’t be enough for me, it is.
Afterwards we talk some more. About everything and nothing. As you do at parties. It is awkward, but neither of us seems willing to find an excuse to break it off.
I look at the worshippers but they are truly gone now. But it seems as if there are more people in general instead. I hope we don’t need to find a fire exit anytime soon.
I hope no one sees me.
And oddly, I have the feeling, as we talk, that Adeline hopes the same.
Ten minutes ago I was convinced I hated her. Now I’m not so sure.
Stranger things have happened.
I don’t know how much more time passes but the carefully constructed peace in our corner comes to an abrupt end.
From the dance floor, someone tries to yodel along with the first 30 seconds of Tanita Tikaram’s new single, and then somebody else breaks it off and flips another techno-disc into the CD-player.
“I love that … ” Adeline murmurs, while watching the dancing crowd with strange intensity.
“Uh, yeah. It’s good,” I reply meekly, not really sure if she’s talking about the worshipers or the electronica music.
Suddenly she looks straight at me:
“You like New Order?”
She smiles thinly, but not without warmth:
“The ’94 version is not the best version.”
She finishes her drink:
“Hey – why don’t we go upstairs? I’d like you to hear the original version.”
I feel something tense in my stomach: “Ye know, I think I should just go home. I have a headache.”
Adeline looks at me incredulously. Then disappointed.
“Okay. Nice talking to you, though, Carrie.”
“Thanks for the drink. I’m sorry that – ”
Suddenly the music changes again.
From the improvised DJ stage, Eric Markham waves frantically – in my direction. Denise Fulcher and Ann Salcroft beside him, drinks in hand, grinning openly.
Because Eric is such a funny guy, you know.
“Show us your Riverdance moves, Carrie!”
I get up, head for the door; cheeks on fire, eyes stinging.
I want to smash Eric Markham’s stupid fucking head into that loudspeaker, and I also want to run.
Eric hollers again. “Come on, Carrie! Show us!”
Someone begins to clap, a clumsy drunken imitation of rhythm.
I make my choice.
My high heels rapidly prick holes in the crispy snow carpet, as I make for the gate fast as I can. I don’t look back.
I’m not going to look back towards that gross imitation of some French seaside resort; that tower; that marble swimming pool. And so many acres of lawn and garden all in white as if it was supposed to be extra fucking beautiful this time of year! For a catalog or something!
Fuck it! Fuck it all!
What the … ? She actually followed me out?
Adeline pants slightly, as she finally reaches me.
“Carrie, don’t go! Eric’s a total jerk. We both know that.”
I stop and turn towards her, not really wanting to, but I can’t help myself now. In a way I’m even more angry that she can’t just let me brood in the safety of solitude:
“It’s not just Eric, Adeline – ”
“Okay, Lin – since the day I started, I was everybody’s punching bag!”
Suddenly there’s a strange defiance in her voice. Out here, in full Goth, against the twilit gray-white snow-carpet, she looks like a tiny black troll that just popped out from under the old oaks.
“Ye know it is so … !”
Adeline shakes her head vigorously.
“I don’t know anything about anything about you, Carrie. I just transferred to your – our school – less than four weeks ago, remember?”
“Don’t pretend in front of me!”
“I’m not pretending! Okay, okay – we don’t have that many classes together. I don’t know you that well – okay, fuck that – I don’t know you at all, Carrie.”
She shakes her head again: “Until now you just seemed like … well, one of those quiet girls … And yeah, there was some talking, but everybody’s talking about everybody and for Pete’s sake – it’s not just because you come from over there. Come on with me back inside. Let’s show them that – ”
Suddenly something flares in me; something that’s been smoldering all evening, every time I had to look over at her majesty.
“Show them what? That Adeline Christakis has a new pet? ’cause that’s what this is really about, isn’t it? Ye want to show everybody just how Samaritan ye can be to the poor wee – the poor little girl from Scotland.”
Even out here in the dark, I can see how much that stung.
Good. I want to kick back at somebody. And it’s way overdue.
Long seconds pass.
When Adeline finally answers, it is with a calm more chilling than the whiteness around us.
“You think you have no friends? That a lot of people backtalk you? Maybe you’re right. But I’ve got news for you: Everybody’s a punching bag from time to time. Everybody! Dan B because he came in from a farm and smells like it, Ellen Nga because her skin is gross, and – whatshername – Sharon Carthwright because she’s, well, because she dresses like eight years ago. We both know none of it is true, but that doesn’t matter – because they – ” she nods angrily towards the house, “say it’s true. And that’s just the lousy facts of life: Everyone gets their turn to check out the bottom of the pyramid. In a few months it’s someone else. Deal with it.”
And that’s what really pisses me off.
“Yeah, I reckon ye must have a lot o’ experience in ‘dealing with it’ when ye are born at the top o’ the food chain yerself!”
“And what exactly do you mean by that?”
“Och! Now ye are pretending!”
“No I am not. Tell me – tell me what you think of me.”
“Ye really want to know?”
“Ye are not going to like it one bit. Och, ye are not going to like it.”
“I think ye … ”
No. Not tears. Not now.
“I think ye are … ”
“Forget it. I’m going.”
“No,” Adeline grabs my arm. “Tell me.”
“Okay – fine.”
“Yes. Now tell me! And don’t hold back for my sake!”
I look away. “I think ye are … … shallow.”
“That’s it? ‘Shallow?’”
I just keep looking away. Something’s completely stuck in me.
Adeline, however, doesn’t have that problem. She breathes deeply first, though, shaking slightly, like she has to take in a thousand frozen, shattered thorns before she can say it:
“You know what, Carrie … you are right. I am shallow. In fact, I am so shallow that instead of going to counseling, I’m just throwing a party for half of Cleveland Heights, when my father got stabbed dead two days ago with a nail file while trying to push his tiny dick too far up a 15-year old hooker’s asshole, the highlight of his business trip to Port-Au-Prince! I am so shallow that I just party on, while my mother flew off to the Keys with her boyfriend. That’s right, Carrie. I’m the fucking definition of shallow!”
She turns and marches back. I react the only way I can:
I decide that she is lying.
Finally. The night bus.
The sooner I get away from here, the better. It was stupid of me to come in the first place. I’m not going to let Richard humiliate me anymore. And I’m definitely not going to let that lying little Queen-of-black-lipstick-bitch get the better of me. It actually makes me feel stronger that she said all that crap, because now I know how shallow she really is.
That crap-story about her father was pathetic. So pathetic.
My victory is that I don’t care. I already feel strong enough to not care about Eric either.
The bus stops. A sleepy black driver pushes a button. The door grinds half-way open. Some dirty snow blocks it from opening all the way.
She’s so pathetic.
“You getting in?” the driver asks.
A little pinprick.
Just a tiny little pinprick of doubt.
Damn you, Carrie. If you go back there for this, they’ll slaughter you. Eric will get his Braveheart-girl – right in his lap. And for what?! Because you suddenly decided to develop a conscience? What are you going to say? ‘I’m sorry’?!
“Miss?” The driver’s impatience cuts clear through the frosty air.
“Uh, it’s a-all right,” I say. “Err, I’m waiting for another bus.”
The driver looks at me like I was waiting for the ambulance to the cuckoo’s nest.
“There are no other buses on this route at this hour, miss.”
“Really? Well, I just remembered that I left something inside.”
His eyes narrow. He casts a long look back over his shoulder, towards the mansion:
“That the big drug party by that Christakis-girl up there? Shoulda lived on the moon not to hear about it! You sure you don’t wanna go home?”
I shake my head.
He grins. “Don’t say I didn’t give you no choice.“
The bus veers away from the small stop, amidst the dark trees. It plows through a small snow pile. Then it’s just me and the black road again.
And a new choice.
So I beat on.
“Well, well – look who’s back.”
“Denise, I need to know where Ade – where Lin went.”
“Haven’t seen her in a while. Why are you looking for her, Braveheart?”
Denise’s long, artificially whitened hair reflects cold disco lights, as do her gray-green eyes. She watches for my reaction, as if she’d just casually observed that I was a rat following a bride to the altar and maybe I am.
But tonight I’m a stubborn rat. I turn away from her.
“Ann, hey Ann – have ye seen Adeline?”
“Have ye – have you seen Adeline?”
Ann Fremont – short, stocky, big tits, capable of snorting out a grin with so much derision I can actually feel it across the room. It’s the only answer I get. I turn away again.
The music is thunder now, all around. Something about a “gangsta’s paradise.”
I feel stinging in my eyes. I look, again and again, but I’m like a piece of flotsam being swirled around and around in some dead-end harbor. I am numb, too.
Maybe good. I have to numb myself in order not to run.
“Hey, Rich – your girlfriend’s here!”
No, not him.
Up there beside Eric, beside the enormous B&O – up on the stashed boxes that created a temporary DJ scene for everyone to use and abuse is Richard.
He smiles sheepishly as he looks down at me, simultaneously trying to disentangle himself from some brunette I don’t recall having seen before. But she looks very concerned. Especially about his crotch. She looks down at me, too, but not like I really exist. Just like there was some small ripple in the swirling sea of dancing, drunk people – temporarily – but not really something significant. Not as significant as whatever she’s looking for in Richard’s jeans. He tries to remove her hand. It comes back like it’s tied to a rubber band.
“I thought you weren’t here,” he blurts and tries to smile in a way that signals something I’m not even sure he knows.
He still struggles with the brunette’s hand – but not overly much. “I was a bit late. The snow, you know. I would have called, but the only phone booth on the way out here didn’t work. The snow … ”
I nod, in terror and wonder at the same time. This can’t be happening.
“The snow … ” I repeat.
“Really only came here half an hour ago,” he stammers on. “You were gone, I thought.”
“It’s okay,” I finally hear myself say. “It’s okay.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. Look, a little later, perhaps we could – ”
But I ‘can’t’ anything. Not anymore.
Compared to the inferno in the techno garage below, there’s an uncanny sacred calm up here. Sure, the floor is bouncing from the bass, but there’s no one around to feel it bounce.
No one but me.
At least I don’t think there is anyone but me curled up here in an endless hallway, back against the wall, my legs crammed up against me. Make-up is probably smeared, but I gave up caring long ago. I found some stairs, I think. I don’t remember it clearly. I just had to get away.
I wonder if Lin’s up here – didn’t she hint she had a room or something? Now that I’ve thrown myself to the lions, I might as well try to do what I came for. What did I come for? To say …
“Gee, I’m really sorry if it’s true that your dad fucked an under-age prostitute in Haiti and got stabbed. It’s just one of those risks travel risks, you know.”
I get up, reeling a bit. But it’s not from the blue stuff Lin fed me. It’s a kind of vertigo I think. So I walk, very slowly, down the hallway. I don’t want to pass out up here.
Strange. This big, empty second floor of the house reminds me of something.
Yeah. That mansion in The Great Gatsby. About the only book I loved in English class, the year before we moved from Skye and back to mother’s Cleveland. Her big capitulation. Her –
No, fuck that. I’d be better off thinking about the good stuff on Skye. Like my English teach, Mr. Jackman. He was a lovable old codger – one of the only reasons there possibly could have been to have stayed behind on that island of nowhere … with dad. I wish I could take a photo or something and send it to him of this place. But that would be stupid. He has probably already forgotten about me. I was just another pupil and not a very good one.
And then I get to a certain door.
This must be it.
I thought … Hell, I don’t know what I thought. But this must be it. Big gross poster on the door with some gloomy lady, but where half the lady’s head is cut off and transformed into some kind of freaky monster instead.
There is no name plate on the door or anything but who else in the house would have such a poster on their door?
“Lin … ?”
I knock again.
Then I discover it. The door is not locked. Without really knowing how I’m able to make myself do it, I gently push it open.
I don’t know what I expected. I guess, anything but … this?
The room is the size of my mum’s two-room apartment downtown; (only place Deb could afford as a part time substitute teacher and part time unemployed). And it’s like a library, lined with books – books in all shapes and sizes. Comic books, too – and magazines: A total mess or a daring mosaic of tastes – depending on who you are, I guess. I’m not sure who I am. I’m just sure it’s overwhelming.
I go to the small, single bed and carefully sit down.
No chairs in the room, no other furniture, not even a cupboard with clothes; just a little night table and then this bed, here in the corner. And – wow! – one of those royally expensive portable computers, I’ve heard about – lying casually on the sheets, black, closed, like an extra pillow or something.
Okay, obviously, she’s not here. I have to do what I came here for and then get out.
So I open my small bag, find the calendar, rip out a page. Then I try to find the words.
That’s the hard part. I write it three times but each time just feels worse. In the end, I give up with this:
I’m really, really sorry. I screwed up. Maybe I’m not strong enough to be a punching bag any longer. I hated Scotland. I wanted to live in a real city – the bigger the better. But now I’m just the odd girl from Scotland who dresses wrong, talks wrong, and does everything wrong. I know it’s nothing compared to what’s happened for you. So for what it’s worth – I’m really sorry about what happened with your father and all. It’s terrible. It’s almost more than I can comprehend. I don’t have the words. Just that I wish I could take back the stupid things I said about you. But I can’t. So you’ll have to do with this corny note. I know it can never be enough but I wish it was.
I leave the little piece of paper on the bed, beside the computer, ever-so carefully as if it’s the petal of some flower that’s almost dead.
In some way I hope she won’t read it; already a part of me is crying out, Take it back – don’t show it to her. She’ll use it against you. It’ll make everything worse.
I force myself to turn around and walk out, and then … a ridiculous, absurd coincidence that almost makes me laugh out loud. There, on one of the shelves, right in front of me – the treasure beyond treasures.
I slowly take out the original, 1925 first-print edition of The Great Gatsby. It’s in almost perfect condition. Even the dust-jacket only has one or two fine rifts in it.
And – she has more of them! First edition masterpieces – there’s Hemingway, Woolf, Yeats, more Fitzgerald, even a whole collection of Jane Austen. I’m not much of a classics reader, but these old books… my God, they must have cost a fortune! Mr. Jackman would’ve fainted just seeing this!
“What are you doing here?”
For the second time tonight Lin manages to almost scare the living daylights out of me. I turn slowly, Gatsby still in my hands, trying not to shake too much. Trying.
“I, uh, uh – I was just looking … for ye.”
Lin quickly walks over from the open door; snaps the book out of my hands, stuffs it back on the shelf.
“Why did you take that book?”
“Why that one?”
“It’s one of my favorite books. H-honestly. It’s one o’ the most beautiful, and sad, books I ever read. Ye know, the ending where Nick Carraway searches for someone to come to Mr. Gatz’ – to Jay Gatsby’s – funeral and no one wants to and he realizes that it’s all about … that we all, ye know, have to ‘beat on, like boats against the current … ’ and all that … ”
Lin stares coldly at me, waiting for my voice to die. She clearly never expected an answer. Especially not some lame attempt at trying to reconnect by blurting out about some lame old book that I coincidentally got all mushy about in my last English class in a past life I ought to have buried long ago. Lame, lame, lame.
No, I had my chance at connecting – an hour ago.
I look to the floor, then brush past her back down the stairs.
Outside the winter is still gray, silent.
The bus stop again.
For the hundredth time I’m looking down the empty night-black road. For the hundredth time, I’m wondering how sick I will get from waiting 45 minutes more for the night bus in minus 5 degrees. For the hundredth time, I’m wondering if I should just go home and kill myself.
Because Adeline was trying to … you know … and I just threw it back into her face. I got a chance – one really good chance – to be someone else other than ‘Braveheart-girl’ and I …
And I had no idea … that her parents … her father … that she…
Wait … What was that? Some car coming out of the driveway from the mansion?
Big, sleek BMW. Really big. Blocks the entire bus stop as it. Pulls over. A huge man is in the driver’s seat: sixty-ish – looking distinctly like all the stereotypical ideas I ever had about what an old beat-up boxer should look like.
“You Carrie Sawyer,” he grumbles, hardly bothering to look at me out of the half-open window. It was not a question.
“Mick Driscoll. I work for Mr. Christakis.”
“Yeah, gardens, driving, stuff like that.”
He eyes me like it was the stupidest question in the world. Being me, of course I can’t help myself before I go with another one.
“He … he really is dead, then, Mr. Christakis, I mean … ?”
Embers of twilight twinkle in the old man’s eyes.
“Not officially. You gettin’ in or what?”
“Is there an echo ’round here?”
“But – ”
He holds up a warning hand:
“Because the young missus asked! I’ll drive ya home, okay? Now get in before I bloody change my mind and forget why I let myself be persuaded to get out of my warm, cozy bed at this ungodly hour. Ya juvenile monsters got no respect for ol’ Mick!”
I don’t get in. (I mean, what would you do?) This is totally surreal. And he is –
Mick barks a laugh when he guesses my thoughts: “Ha! The young missus thought ya might not be stupid enough to get into a car with a lurid old man. Glad to see yer not just blonde. Here!”
He hands me a note out the car window. It’s the one I left on Lin’s bed.
“Now,” he drawls on, the gravel quotient in his voice several notches up, “Are ya satisfied that I’m not an old pedophile out cruising the frosty roads in his new BMW?”
I shake my head, but I mean “yes,” of course. It’s all about confusion and how to pretend it’s not there. Like it’s been all evening. But finally I begin to feel how exhausted I am.
Too exhausted … and cold.
I open the door, slowly and let myself slip into the backseat. It’s real, crackling leather, and there’s a quirky, but reassuring, smell of pipe tobacco from Mick’s driver’s jacket; soft jazz purrs from a ten thousand dollar-something car audio system. My mind’s already racing to figure out what Lin’s game is. But somehow – maybe – it doesn’t matter now. I’m cold and I just want to go home.
Mick growls a two-word question about our apartment’s address and I tell him. The car lurches on, skidding a little bit over the icy road. Then we are off, away from the mansion, away from Eric, Denise, Richard – all of them. At least until Monday.
And then I see it: something written on the backside of my note. Not much, but enough.
In fact, if there was one definition left of the word “enough” it would be this:
Let’s beat on then, if you still want to –