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Help me. Ask me questions. Please.
It’s raining when Randall comes down the stairs. It stopped at about five in the morning but it’s started again, and it’s cooler then it has been in a month. I had trouble sleeping, is why I know. I woke up at four with a monster headache, but it was okay. I’d asked for it. It’s all part of the process.
Mom looked like hell when she got up at seven. I was watching SportsCenter and she sat on the couch with me for a little bit, and when I smelled her I was worried she could smell me too. So when she took a shower I ran and brushed my teeth again and changed clothes. Before she walked out, I told her to take an umbrella, and she stopped and said I love you and then nodded and smiled. I nodded. I feel like I understand her more, now. If I ever told her what I was doing maybe she’d know she understands me too.
Randall asks, “Are you going running?” and I’m kind of surprised but then I remember it’s what I used to do. I tell him no. He looks out the window at the rain and I know that’s why he thinks I’m not running, and it bugs me because that’s not why.
When Joey comes down and eats, I know Callie won’t be long. I had a dream about her, that she came to my room and stood outside the door and promised to keep my secret. I asked her what the bird was and she said it was a peregrine falcon, and it made so much sense. Then we talked for a while longer, I don’t remember about what, but it was so real that when I woke up with my headache and I went to go to the bathroom, when I first opened my door I expected her to be standing right there. I know she’ll be here soon but I don’t want her to be here. It’s dangerous, around me.
Then Randall says, “What are you doing?” and I see that Joey’s turned on the X-box. It’s the first time anyone’s turned it on since Shawn died. Randall sounds kind of mad, like it was Shawn’s thing or something, but really Shawn only ever played when we needed a fourth. Maybe that’s what bothers him, that we don’t have a fourth anymore.
“What?” says Joey. “It was starting over again and we’ve already watched it like three times now.”
“What if I wanted to watch something else?”
“What if I wanted to play X-box? Get over it.” That’s what he says, but then he looks at Randall like he’s sorry.
Then Callie knocks on the door. I get up and go upstairs.
Your dad says, “Are you ready for this?”
He’s going back to work. You’re going back to the Patterson’s, but he forgot to ask if it was okay. Which, you feel like pointing out, was pretty irresponsible considering the amount of time and level of intimacy he’s recently been experiencing with Vickie. But, you’re willing to forgive. She’s going back to work today, and if she comes back today in one piece, then by all means, stay the course, old man.
“For being back over there.”
“It’s better I’m there than not there.”
“For whose sake? I’m asking if you’re ready.”
“Does it matter? What’s the other option? Can I stay home?” You ask it facetiously, but his face grows calm.
“If you promise not to tell your mother, then sure. If you don’t think you’re ready to be next door, then yes. Stay home.”
“But you’re gonna take all the knives with you, right?” you say, because he’s making you uncomfortable. “Here, let me get the scissors, too.”
He waits as you stand up and walk towards the kitchen. No rebuttal, he just waits. You make it to the drawer, slowly open it, and set the scissors on the counter.
“I’m ready,” you say. “It’s fine. Go to work.”
But when you get there, you haven’t even folded up the umbrella before they all start running from you. Ty’s gone before you even get inside, and then Randall goes upstairs, too, and it’s just Joey, sitting on the floor in front of the video games on the TV screen. And even he scoots a couple inches away from you as you sit down on the couch.
For a few more minutes, you let it go. But you can’t help yourself. You ask, “Did your dad tell you not to hang out with me?”
Joey says, “Yeah. How’d you know that? Did Shawn tell you?”
You think of him talking to himself last night. “No, Randall told me. Randall.”
“Oh, yeah. Well don’t worry, we hate that guy. We like you a lot better than we like him.”
“That’s not funny, by the way,” you say.
“What? I’m serious, I never want to see him again.”
They come back downstairs. Randall says, “We’re going for a drive.”
Joey puts down the controller. “Where? I wanna come.”
“Yeah,” you say, “me too.”
“No,” says Randall immediately. “No, I’m practicing and it’s raining and I don’t want you in the car.”
“Oh come on, we’ll be quiet.”
You nod in agreement.
“No, I don’t care. You’re not coming.” He takes the keys from Ty, and you look at Joey there by himself on the carpet.
You say, “Okay, fine. We’ll see you when you get back.”
The door closes. Your heart jumps up and down inside you, faster and faster the longer no one says anything, the rain on the roof only making your collective solitude all the more obvious.
He unpauses the game, and at last you take a breath.
“You can go a little faster here. They tell you if you’re going too slow.”
“It’s raining,” he says. He’s so fucking scared of driving.
“I know,” I say, “but it’s pretty straight here. Go faster, it’s fine.”
He steps on the gas and the car jumps forward.
“Okay,” I say. “That’s…good, I guess, but you don’t have to floor it.”
“I’m sorry, it’s been a while.”
If it wasn’t raining I’d say he was sweating all over the place. Maybe it’s both.
“You don’t have to get your license now, you know. You can renew the permit, you just have to take the test again.”
“I need it if I want a job.”
“You want a job?”
“No, I need a job.” He brakes to twenty as we go around a curve. I look behind us, but no one’s there. Not yet, anyway, he’s driving like he’s a hundred years old.
“Because. Mom shouldn’t be working now, she needs more time off.”
No. No that’s not right, for him to do this. I’m the one that failed everybody. “Look,” I say, “I can get a job. I should be the one to get a job.”
“Don’t be stupid, you don’t have time.”
“I would if I quit football.”
“What?” He’s at a stop sign, looking left and right and left and right. Then he lets off the brake a little, but slams it back down again. He looks left and right and left and right and then he goes. “No,” he says finally. “You’re not quitting football.”
“Why not? I don’t even like it.”
“Yes you do.”
“I used to.”
“You will again.”
“And anyway I’m not any good, I’m not even going to start at quarterback this year, it doesn’t even matter.”
“Yeah it does.”
“To who? Dad?”
“No,” he says. He swerves a little and slows way down to get control back. I see headlights in the side mirror. “Well, yeah, but it matters to Mom, too. She’s been rooting for you since you were like nine. You’re the reason she started watching SportsCenter with us. It’s a part of our life now and you’re the only one keeping that part alive. God knows I’m not coordinated enough for anything, and Joey, he’s all talk. I mean he always says he’s going to play but he never practices. And I guarantee he wouldn’t play anything if you stopped.”
The car honks and he swerves some more as it passes us on a straight stretch. “Dude, you have to go a little faster. Just trust me.”
He swallows, but he starts to pick up the pace.
“And where are we going, by the way? We need to go to the highway, you need some practice there.”
“No. I’m fine.”
“They take you there for the test. Everybody I’ve talked to, they do a stop sign, a stop light, they go out to that three-way intersection and then they bring you back on the highway.”
“Fine, I’ll do the highway then.”
“The more you do it the less scary it is.”
“It’s not scary, it’s stupid. It’s the most dangerous place to drive a car, especially in the rain, and if I can avoid it by taking back roads, that’s what I’m going to do.”
“You’re going to play it safe.”
“Safe is better than dead.”
“For the rest of your life?”
“If I have to.”
I want to play.
He looks at you. Good, he says. Finally. Somebody.
He offers you a controller. You sit next to him on the carpet, close enough to touch.
And it occurs to me: he’s right. It’s what I’ve been trying to find, and the answer is right here, with how he’s always acted. Stays in his room. Beats off all day and nobody cares. It doesn’t affect anyone. We go places and he stays quiet and nobody ever gets hurt by what he says. He doesn’t date girls and so he can’t hurt them with his ignorance, can’t scare them half to death when they miss their period and come up to you and you don’t know what to say so you just ignore her, you don’t even take her calls until one day she comes up to you at school and says she got an abortion, are you happy? and you say where? and she can’t say where it was she got it and you find out from her friend that she just got her period again. But still. She was crazy and it was my fault for making her crazy.
Look at him. Fucking genius, he wouldn’t even let anybody ride in the car with us because when people ride in the car with you they could get hurt. Callie’s forehead, I can still see it, where I cut her open.
“I’m going faster,” he says. The car speeds up.
“No. How much of it did you read?”
He blinks, and his mouth opens, but he closes it again. He knows what I mean.
“Not much,” he says. “Just a couple pages.”
“You can tell me, I’m not mad. I just want to know.”
“I’m sorry I hit you.”
He shrugs again. “What? I don’t even remember—”
“Stop sign hey, hey stop stop stop—” I throw my hands up on the dash, bracing myself before he even slams the brakes and the tires lock and we skid about ten yards on the slick pavement. But there’s no one around, and it’s all right. “It’s all right,” I say.
“About half, I think.”
“Do you want to read more?”
“Um, sure. Do you want me to?”
“Only if you want to.” I don’t think he wants to.
“Okay,” he says.
“It’s not any good.”
“Well never mind, then.”
“You haven’t even read the whole thing yet!”
“Well don’t tell me that and expect me to read it!” he says. “Let me decide if it’s any good on my own.”
“It’s not done yet either.”
“Do you want me to read it or not?”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
“Okay, fine, I want to read it.”
A car pulls up behind us. I motion for him to start moving.
“Only if you want to,” I say.
He kills you, several times. You figure out how to shoot the gun, but moving is impossible. You keep trying, you’re getting motion sick from the rapid movements but you keep trying, and he kills you again. You laugh and just let your hand go on its own, on over to his leg, where it touches and squeezes and pushes off.
He looks at you. Just keeping looking back at him. Just keep eye contact.
He turns back to the screen. You hear yourself saying, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
The game pauses. He says, “Well yeah, but Shawn thinks you’re really pretty.”
Enough. You drop the controller and attack him, kissing him.
In the history of you there has been only one other kissing encounter, when you were twelve and that boy on the basketball team asked you to come sit on the bleachers with him after school, and he did basically this. He sort of jumped towards you and wrapped his arms around you and pushed his face into yours and at first you just waited for it to stop. But he was heavy and his body kept leaning over further and further until he was lying on top of you. His tongue pressed into your mouth and his hand slipped under your shirt and you bit his tongue. That’s enough. That’s enough. He called you a bitch and walked away, rubbing his chin. But you remember the moment clear as glass.
So you just keep leaning. Eventually you’re on top of him, and then you remember the hips, the way the hips have to grind.
He says, Ow.
You stop. I’m sorry.
It’s okay. I just don’t think that Shawn would—
Oh, goddammit, you say, pushing off of him.
Just give me a minute, he says and runs down the hall to the bathroom.
The game is on pause and the rain has lessen to the point where now its lack only increases your embarrassment. But in the silence you can hear him. He’s talking in the bathroom.
Keep at it. He needs you. Be strong, you can do this.
He comes back and sits down and you notice his pants as he sits. Or, what’s in his pants.
So, you do think I’m pretty.
Yes. It’s just—
Listen to me. I’m here. I’m Callie and I’m real and I’m right here.
I know, he says. I’m here, too. I’m Shawn.