Chapter 2: Thomas (Continued)
Within hours I find myself in the center of someone’s backyard surrounded by gyrating college students. Ropes, weighed down by fraternity paraphernalia, swing from tree to tree. Music, like tribal drums, shakes the ground. As usual, I search for someone to gravitate toward. I wish Becca had come. Just as the music finally begins to subside, there’s a whisper in my ear, “Are you lost?”
I swing around. “No,” I say, searching for a nonexistent friend. “I’m supposed to meet a friend here but I don’t see her yet.”
“Well, you’re welcome to stand here beside me and pretend you know me ... until she shows up.” His brown eyes twinkle; he knows I’m lying. “Then you won’t have to look so lonely.”
I keep pretending to look for my fake friend as I try to decide how tall he is; he’s shorter than me. He’s nearly bald and looks about thirty.
“I’m Peter,” he says, taking a swig of his beer. “I haven’t been out in a while but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around.” His straightforward manner appeals to me. He doesn’t seem to belong with the crowd surrounding us, and that’s why I remain by his side. I’m more comfortable with people who don’t belong. People like my dead friend, Anne. “What’s your name?” he finally asks.
I‘m thrilled that he’s heard of me. I try to think of something to say. I only come up with, “How old are you?”
“Twenty-one,” he says, laughing. “Male pattern baldness,” he explains. “My dad’s been completely bald since he was thirty-five.” As he goes on about his dad’s hair, I wonder if it’s true that bald men have more hair than most on the rest of their bodies. He has a thick beard and mustache, and there’s an awful lot of hair sticking out of his shirt.
“It’s not just the hair,” I say. “You seem older. I mean it in a good way. I like you.” It’s unusual for me to blurt out such things. “You’re really makin’ me act funny.”
“I’m just standin’ here being social.” He chuckles and winks. “I’m an innocent bystander.”
I flash one of my best smiles. “Well, you have a strange effect on me, that’s for sure.” I’m beginning to flirt and he isn’t even my type. But he’s nice and I trust him. Hours later when I say good-bye, he stands in the front yard watching as I walk away.
“Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”
John 20:15Although it’s only eight-thirty in the morning, the concrete driveway burns the soles of my feet. I put my thumb over the hose nozzle, creating a fan of water to cool it. Then I spray the car. Becca promised to come by on her way out of town, so I decided to wash my car before the temperature hit ninety. I pulled it up around my mother’s station wagon and into the yard so the hose could reach.
“Becca’s beckonin’,” I say to myself. Hearing it gives me the feeling that she isn’t really leaving. Her real name is Rebecca, of course. The summer we both turned twelve, I convinced her to change it to Reba just so I could call her Reba the Rebel. But after a few days, we agreed that the name didn’t fit. She did, however, like the idea of having a nickname, so we opted for her original favorite, Becca. That’s when I began to say, “Becca’s beckonin’” until I drove her crazy. Eventually I gave it up, but the name stuck.
Through the years she called me toward more than just a neighboring yard to play in. Her family intrigued me. Unlike mine, when they got together it was easy. They apparently lacked a burning need to understand each other. I wasn’t sure if it was due to blind acceptance or unconditional love. They didn’t spend all their time counseling, preaching, or exposing minor issues while brilliantly skirting the important ones. They just relaxed.
I spray the windshield of her white Fiero as she pulls up behind my little Honda. Then I walk through the mushy grass to greet her. My feet sink into the ground with each step and a sensation of being stuck forever comes over me. I aim the nozzle at her car door, threatening to drench her. She yells to cut it out but then gives up and sits quietly with her head bowed. The fun is gone so I trudge to the other side of the car and open the door.
“If you squirt me with that hose I’ll kill you,” she whines while I laugh. “You’re all wet,” she says when I finally toss the hose into the yard and lower myself into her tiny car as if it’s a dinghy, docked at the edge of our driveway.
“It’s just water,” I say, flicking my wet fingers at her. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“You have enough for both of us, I think,” she says.
We sit in her car with the air conditioning blowing the edges of our hair for nearly an hour. I left the water hose lying in the grass and it turns my parent’s small yard into a swamp. “I guess all that dirty water’s stuck to my car now.” A sinking feeling that Becca might easily replace me causes a frown. “I might have to wash it all over again,” I say.
“I've always wanted to pretend I’m somebody different.” I stare at the drenched yard, realizing it’s the first time I’ve ever heard her analyze herself. “Trust me, you’re lucky. You’re fixin’ to see and experience new thangs. They’ll make you different but you’ll be better.”
“That’s what you told me about that big drainage pipe at the park.”
“Well, didn’t you have fun inside that thang? Remember, we were Charlie’s Angels in outer space?” Becca always played Farrah Fawcett. Her shiny, blond hair prevented any arguing.
“We almost got lost, and the third angel never played with us again,” she says.
“But we didn’t. We were smart and we found the way out,” I say. “I knew we would. There’s always a way out, an endin’ and once you get there, you find a new beginnin’. That’s what you’ve got Becca. You’re lucky.”
“But what about you?” she asks, looking sad.
“I’ve got Matt.”
“I knew your number was comin’ up.” She smiles but it slowly fades. “I just wish I wasn’t goin’ by myself.”
Cheryl is still in a coma.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t too good about all that. I barely understand life. To contemplate death is beyond me.”
“It’s beyond everybody.” Her voice is sweet and sisterly. “You’re no different, Peyton.” My heart falls because part of me wants to be different. It’s the part that always seems to get me into trouble. We sit quietly for a moment, as if observing a moment of silence for our dead friends.
“My mom’s been tryin’ to get me to visit Anne’s mother once a week, like some kind of surrogate daughter.”
Becca says, “That’s horrible. It’s like your mom expects you to counsel the poor lady.”
“I feel guilty ‘cause I don’t want to. What would I say to her?”
Her head shakes and she suddenly seems much older than me. “You really should be goin’ with me. Your mom’s nice but I think it would do you some good to break away. You know, I never told you but I’ve always thought your mom was a little over-the-edge.” Her opinion pokes a festering bruise. I have a soft spot for the edge my mother teeters on. Becca doesn’t know the whole truth. She doesn’t know that my mother frequented the Caddo Parish Mental Health Clinic, called demons out of people on a regular basis, took walks with Jesus, and fell in love with our preacher. I remind Becca that my parents said I could have the car if I went to LSUS. “I wanted the car,” I say. “It helps me break away.”
“The car helps you get away. There’s a difference.” We sit, silent again, and I wonder how I can break away without getting away.
We finally say our good-byes and as she pulls away from our childhood, I stand in the swampy grass because it’s less painful than standing on the hard, hot concrete. I spray the back of her car with the hose until the water no longer reaches. I watch her little white Fiero round the corner and disappear as my feet sink deeper into my parents’ yard. Like me, Becca has her own vehicle, but she’s moving down a road, however hard and hot and dry, toward the future. I look at my Honda. Its tires are stuck in the soggy ground. They look flat, as if they can’t possibly take me anywhere.
A week later, Matt and I sit face-to-face with only his old wooden kitchen table between us. It’s the last day of August. I smell mildew and it reminds me of the frat house. My arms stretch toward him flat across the table but can’t quite reach. I scratch at the wood while I try to figure out what to say.
“I just cain’t see you anymore.” It’s his third time to say it, as if to remind himself. “It’s just not workin’ out.” His words are pathetic and unoriginal. We’ve been dating for nearly three months, the average length of my relationships (if you can call them that). But this one is supposed to be different. I’m different. Having just turned eighteen, I’m an adult. I’m in college. I can’t bear to be the same person I was in high school. I can hear my dad saying, “You’ll meet someone in college. High school boys are immature. College guys belong in a whole different category.”
“You know I’m really busy,” he says. “I cain’t afford to have a girlfriend now. School starts in a few days.”
He finally says, “I won’t have time for a social life, much less time for a girlfriend.” His words seem crazy, like a foreign language. He looks away.
“I just came over that one time when you asked me not to,” I say, trying to understand.
“And I made a B in Histology, which kept me from graduatin’ summa cum laude.”
Hoping to change the subject so I can pretend he’s not really breaking up with me, I ask, “What’s Histology again?”
“The study of tissues,” he says, irritated because he's explained it several times already. A mental picture of his class hovered around a roll of toilet paper flashes through my mind but I don’t laugh. Nothing is funny anymore. I feel stupid. “Do you have to move back home because you made a B? First B and you’re headed home. Is that the problem? Because it doesn’t mean we have to break up.”
“It’s too late for that now,” he says, sounding depressed. “I’m not movin’ anywhere.”
“What about the details? You were gonna teach me about the details.”
“This is about the big picture, you ought to know that.” His arm slides across the table and just for a moment, the tips of our fingers touch. Before I can grab his hand, it jerks away. “The details have to be ignored in this case.” Then he stands up and walks toward me. I stand up, too, waiting, holding my breath, hoping he'll suddenly change his mind but he only hugs me. It’s pathetic. Everything inside me collapses, filtering into the small, wooden cracks in his floor. I feel the internal mess of myself sinking, and as I sink, he rises. Standing godlike above me, he holds my shell.
“I feel so lost,” I say, but he doesn’t hear me. “Matt,” I whisper. “Give me another chance. Becca just left …”
“You just have to make new friends. All kinds of people wanna know you. You just don’t let ‘em and that’s not my fault.” He holds me at arm’s length and places one last kiss on my forehead, giving me his blessing. I suppose sending me on my way because somehow he’s led me to the door. “We’ll still be friends. It’s really not the end of the world.” His words are rehearsed. They contain no true feeling, like a monotone hum or a single page turning in a book with at least a thousand. It’s all a lie. It’s not true that he has to break up with me or that we’ll ever be just friends.
On my way home, I have plenty of time to drive around the dead dog lying in the center of the road, but I want to hit it. I want to kill it more. My elbows lock as I take aim. Already dead, its sticky blood splatters my car. I force myself to look in the rear view mirror, to see what I’ve done.
The bloody road reminds me of Anne, Tammy, and Cheryl. I pull my car to the side of the road and cry because I want to go back and roll over its remains until they’re gone. That way people won’t have to look, and feel sorry or disgusted or anything. They’ll never know about the dog or the terrible thing I’ve done.
Watch for Chapter 3 of BOUNDARIES next week!
BOUNDARIES is Penelope Przekop's first novel. It's a work of fiction based on true events. Since writing BOUNDARIES, she has completed two other novels. ABERRATIONS was published by Greenleaf Book Group in 2008. CENTERPIECES is currently being considered by several publishers. Penelope is working on her fourth novel, DUST.