Adam waited at my locker with a group of guys. They all hung out, comfortable with each other. I studied them. Who were they? Not his jock friends... And then I realized it had to be his band. I almost didn’t walk over but I needed some books. So I took a deep breath and went over. I could do this.
Adam saw me and grinned.
“Vi! I want you to meet the guys.”
I walked through them and twirled out my combo. “Yeah?”
They were all silent for a beat or two and then they started fidgeting. Adam kind of laughed, a hollow, nervous sort of sound.
“Umm... Let me introduce you.”
I turned around. “’Kay.”
He pointed to the skinny guy with bleached white hair. “That’s Enoch. He’s bass guitar.” Then a short guy with a green buzz cut. “That’s Sam. He’s keyboards.” Then to a tall buff guy with brown hair. “That’s Gordon. He’s drums and percussion.”
“So this is your band?” I tried not to jump out of my skin as they all focused in on me. What did they see?
Adam grinned again. “Yeah.”
“Nice to meet you. Maybe I’ll even hear you sometime. I’ve gotta get to class. ’Bye.” I headed for the art room but just before I reached safety Adam grabbed my hand. I pulled it from him and stopped. He turned me by my shoulders. I twitched out of his grasp.
“What was that?” he said.
I stepped back. “What do you mean?”
“You were kinda rude, Vi.”
“I’m not a nice person.”
“Yeah you are, just sorta edgy. I thought you’d like to meet them. They’re nice guys. Good guys.”
I shrugged. I wasn’t good with people. I didn’t need to make excuses for myself. He should’ve known by now.
He searched my face, nodded, sighed. “Okay. Will I see you after sixth period?”
What had he seen? “Yeah, fine, whatever.”
I took off for color theory, shaking a little bit.
People freaked me out. The expectations that people have of you is just plain scary. Sometimes I wished I could be in a little room all by myself and paint. Just paint. Nothing else. No expectations. No letting other people down. Nobody getting ready to hurt me, ambush me.
I sat at my usual table after I got my stuff out of the cubby, set up my work space. Two kids sat down across from me. I looked up, startled. What was this? Pick on Violet Day? The same two who’d been saying hi to me recently. A guy and a girl, also in the advanced painting. They didn’t look like the rest of the kids here. Very hippy with love beads and long hair and flowy clothes. Bet they listened to Credence Clearwater Revival and felt very earnest about the environment. Who didn’t? But fuck them, anyway.
The guy said, “Hi. I’m Sid and this is Mina. You new to the state?”
“No,” I started working on my transparency project.
“Oh,” Mina said. “So you transferred? Moved into the area?”
“Something like that.” If I ignored them, maybe they’d go away. I eyed them. They looked quite persistent. Friendly. Meaningful.
Lovely. I must’ve been their new cause. I’d give them cause to disappear.
“I remember when I moved here,” Sid said. “I’d lived in Homer all my life. Fairbanks was pretty far-out, you know? And then Mina found me. So we were thinking you’d maybe like to have lunch with us sometime?”
How sweet. Lunch parties. Why did everyone think that lunch was the perfect opportunity to socialize? I always hid in the Ladies’.
“Oh, wow. A lunch party. I’m honored, people, but no.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, sometime, maybe. Would it be all right if we sat at your table? The people at our old table have been talking about politics recently. It makes it hard for me to concentrate.”
“Whatever.” They were apparently impervious to rudeness. Maybe they’d get the hint if I ignored them. And then again, maybe they’d taken one to many pulls on the hookah.
“Groovy,” he said.
Shay came in then and he lectured for twenty minutes about something. I was too nervous about the Flower Children to totally pay attention, which made me angry. We finally got to work on our projects. Sid and Mina stayed silent for the rest of the class. They maybe weren’t so bad. Maybe kind of nice to not have an empty table. Like maybe I wasn’t a total loser-freak after all. I didn’t have to talk with them. Just sat there and worked. I took peeks at their stuff and they were both very good. Sid’s stuff was probably better than Mina, however, Mina had a nice ethereal quality to her work.
After color theory they both grinned at me and moved over to their easels. I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe not so bad but not exactly relaxing, either.
Leah sat waiting on the couch in the living room when Adam and I walked up from the front door. She put her book down and frowned at Adam.
“We need to talk,” she said.
Adam sighed, looked over his shoulder at me. “Sisters.”
I shrugged, retreated down to my room.
I really couldn’t figure out Leah. She seemed so tense all the time, like a mirror led her way and she performed for it. She was far too beautiful and perfect for her own good.
I sat on my bed, wondered about Sid and Mina. They seemed kinda nice. Quiet, sincere. I stood up, began to pace. Why was I even thinking about them? Did it matter if they were nice? I couldn’t have friends.
They’d find out.
Find out there was something desperately wrong with me. Something so wrong that my own mother couldn’t like me. I lay on my back on the floor, stared up at the ceiling until my burns hurt so bad I closed my eyes at the shooting stars.
Someone knocked on my door and my eyes opened. I sat up, breath catching from the pain.
“Yeah?” I said hoarsely. Mother had never knocked. She would’ve just barged right in.
“It’s me. Adam. Can we talk?”
I stood, stared at the door. “’Kay,” I said, casual. People didn’t generally seek out my company. He opened the door a bit, popped his head in.
“So I can come in?”
I waved him in, shrugged, turned away, wrapped my arms around my middle.
“So, uhhh...” The bed creaked a bit as he sat down. “School going okay?”
My eyes narrowed and I turned. Adam at a loss for words?
“Does this have to do with Leah talking to you?”
“Oh!” He blushed, folded his arms across his chest. “Not really. Just wanted to talk to somebody who wouldn’t pester me about appearances.”
I felt myself begin to smile, nipped it. “So I take it Leah was lecturing you?”
He grinned, pushed himself back on the bed so he could lean against the wall. “Not going out with a cheerleader. Not going to the right social functions. Got some funky little band. Which is okay. To play around with. But now it’s like, way too serious for her.”
“She’s telling you how to live your life?”
He shrugged, closed his eyes, leaned his head against the wall. “Dunno. She’s just tense, you know? She worries and stuff. And this new guy, Carter or whatever, he’s way intense, too. With plans and scholarship talk. I’m like, this is high school. I go, I’m seventeen. Give me a break. Let me goof off. Fall for the wrong sort of girl.” He opened his eyes, smiled, shook his head, blushed again. “It’s peaceful down here. Quiet. Nice.”
I twisted away from him, wondered if he’d just told me he was falling for me. Couldn’t be. Impossible. Adam was one of those guys that marries that beautiful model type, the one that was as smart as she was gorgeous, who did everything right. Who didn’t have scars all over her. Who didn’t have anything wrong with her.
I turned back to him.
“So tell her to fuck off. It’s not her life. It’s yours. She may be your sister, and that probably gives her the right to worry. I guess. But she can’t tell you what to do.”
He half laughed, shook his head, lay down on the bed, arms beneath his head. He had a nice body. Trim.
I looked away. He was too good looking for my piece of mind.
“I wish I could be that blasé. Tell her to fuck off? Uh-uh. No way. She’d like, have heart failure. I guess I don’t mind so much. Just need a break every little bit. I like her. Wouldn’t trade her in for anybody. See, Leah’s too uptight, needs someone like me to loosen her up. ’S why Carter’s bad for her. Needs some yin to her yang, poet to her warrior. Heard that in a movie once. Totally fits her. She needs someone like Ivan.”
I eyed him. “Are you trying to set your brother and sister up?”
He laughed. “Naw. Wouldn’t wish Leah on Ivan any day. Someone like him. Haven’t met him yet. Keeping my fingers crossed.”
I sat at my desk, swiveled the chair around to face him. I liked to hear him talk. “What’s Carter like?”
He snorted. “Student body president. Tennis guy. Best swimmer on the team. Sings in choir. He’s perfect. Wants to be a lawyer. Or a doctor. Applied to Yale and Harvard. Looks like he’ll get a free ride to one of ’em.”
“Why don’t you like him?”
“He’s such a cheese boy. I mean, everything’s been easy for him. I dunno. He doesn’t deserve Leah. He’s okay. An all around nice guy. He deserves good stuff happening to him. I should like him. A great guy, really. There in the pinch. Reliable.”
“But a cheese boy?” I rolled my computer chair closer to the bed, leaned forward, my elbows on my knees.
Adam nodded. “Velveeta.”
“When’s the band leaving?”
“Five tomorrow morning. I’m glad we put it off a week. Was too sudden. We’re all like, totally pumped.”
“What are you going to do with the recording once you have it?”
“Dunno.” He crossed his ankles, closed his eyes. “Thought about sending it someplace but none of us have connections. It’ll end up at the bottom of some slush pile. Or worse. In the garbage. We need a name. Some producer that does new bands. That’s why we have to get down there. Get heard by the right people.”
“So music is really important to you, huh?”
He sat up, eyes wide. “Vi, if there’s anything you’ve learned about me, I would’ve thought that you’d know how essential making music is to me. It’s crucial. Dad doesn’t get it. Mom’s cool with it, but she’s an artist, too. Leah’s like Dad in this. They’re freakishly pragmatic.”
I sat up straight, raised an eyebrow. “What does it matter what they think?”
He frowned at me, blinked. “They’re my family.”
I didn’t have a response to that statement. He said it like it should be self-evident. I agreed, “Right.” Pretended I got it, but I didn’t.
He stood, stretched. “I’ve gotta go hit the books, Vi. See ya later, right?”
After he left I sat facing my computer. I didn’t understand why he continued to be so nice to me. I couldn’t figure out what he wanted from me. And he must want something or he wouldn’t be so nice.
I wondered if instead of him falling for me, I had fallen for him.
Lovely. Just what I needed.
Unrequited love. I didn’t want that. Didn’t need one more complication. Fuck. Carve my heart out with a spoon.
The next morning I woke up at seven, terrified for a few seconds that I’d have to go to school and then remembered it was Saturday. I felt at loose ends all morning, pacing around my room, surfing the web, angry at myself for letting Adam get to me. There was no excuse for me liking him. I knew what happened when you started liking people: they left you, they hurt you.
I decided I had to get out of the house but I didn’t have a car so I paced in my room until eleven thirty, telling myself to go ask Mrs. Grant if I could borrow her’s. All she could do was say no, right? She probably wouldn’t try to pull my fingernails out, but you never knew.
A knock on the door startled me. I placed a hand on my stomach, slowed down my breath.
“Violet?” Mrs. Grant. How bizarre. Serendipity?
I pulled myself together. “Come in.”
She opened the door, leaned against the frame, smiled at me. “Hello, Violet. How are you this morning?”
I took a step back, looked at the carpet. “Fine?”
“Well. Good. I was wondering if you’d like to come on up and have some breakfast.”
“Could I borrow your car for this afternoon?” I was so shocked at my outburst that I had to sit down on the bed immediately, before I fell over.
“You’ll be careful? You have your license, right?”
I nodded, yeah, unable to speak.
“Sure then. Just be careful. Where will you go?”
I swallowed. Couldn’t believe she’d said yes. “The library,” I managed. I was out of new books, after I’d finished Mrs. Grant’s. They’d been so amazingly good. I was still blown away from that.
“Come eat some breakfast before you go.”
I’d known there would have to be a catch. But I followed her up, made my way through half a grapefruit and a piece of turkey bacon, went back downstairs to pull a sweater over my thermal undershirt.
The car was silver, a Honda. It drove nice and smooth but I stuck to the speed limits anyway. I got to the library in one piece, parked. The snow sat thin on the ground now, but definitely there for the long goodnight. Yay. I hated winter. All white and freezing. Made my nose ring kinda burn a little. I was a big believer in thick woolen scarves, preferably made from old sweaters.
Once in the library building, I headed for fiction, checked to see if they had any new Tanya Huff or Wilhemina Baird or Wen Spencer. Checked for Anna Grant. There they clustered on the shelf, three of them. Journeys must’ve been checked out. Wild. Then I walked up and down the aisles, looking for cool titles. After I’d picked out five books I headed over to the painting section, pulled a book on Chuck Close, one on Romare Beardon, and two on Monet. For old time’s sake. I loved Monet’s sense of light and the movement across the canvas, dreamlike.
When I checked out the lady at the kiosk terminal recognized me, asked how I’d been doing.
“Fine,” I hedged.
She smiled. “Can’t believe it’s mid-October, huh?”
“Yeah. Snow and stuff. Bummer.”
“I always think the halcyon days of summer will go on forever. Never seen a summer like a Fairbanks summer.”
She’d always been so nice. I didn’t trust her.
“’Bye,” she said as I bagged my books and printed my slip of due dates.
I nodded, walked slowly through the lobby to the front doors, soaking in the feeling of the library. It was like a cathedral or a kiva. Someplace spiritual.
Outside I sat in the Honda, wondered what I should do next, decided on Sipping Streams, my favorite tea haunt. On the drive across town I turned on the radio, tuned to the college station. Pink Floyd swirled around me, so I turned it up, tapped my thumb on the steering wheel in time.
I felt so strange driving Mrs. Grant’s car, like I’d stepped further away from my Mother. Like I’d maybe made some sort of decision. I wanted to write in my journal about it.
It was weird, that journal. I’d always thought them babyish, but now that I had one, it was more like my sketchbook than a diary. I could draw in it and write what I thought about and paste stuff in it, images and words I saw that meant something to me. It had gotten kind of unruly, so I really needed to put a rubber band around it.
At the tea shop I got a place in the corner, pulled out the journal, wrote.
. Journal Entry - October 17
My mother maybe wasn’t the best person. She always said she wasn’t supposed to be a mother, and that she was terrible at it. Maybe. I don’t know. She wasn’t such a bad person, I guess. She was good with Uncle Stephen. They argued, but it wasn’t serious arguing, not how she argued with me. I wonder what her parents were like, how they treated her. I wish I could go back in time and see with my eyes now how Mother and he had interacted. He maybe seemed a little bit sad all the time. Maybe my feelings have bled into his, like a watercolor painting. Soft and distorted, fuzzy and faraway
When the server came I asked for a pot of their white peony. I pulled out Wen Spencer’s new book, got comfortable in my chair. He brought the tea and I opened the book, began to read.
Later, when I walked in through the garage door of the Grants’, I could hear laughter from upstairs. Were they watching a movie? Or maybe some friends... I remembered someone saying something about Dixon and Cohen having a party. I started to scuttle downstairs.
I stopped, looked up. One of the twins leaned over the railing, smiling down at me.
“Wanna come meet everybody?”
“Oh, uhh, well, I...”
Mrs. Grant appeared at his elbow. “Hi, Violet. Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah. Yes. I went to the library and then to Sipping Streams. Had a pot of tea.”
She smiled. “I’ve never been. Was it nice?”
“Have you had dinner?”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, uhh...” If I said yes, I’d be lying. If I said no, I’d have to go upstairs and meet everybody. Which was what Dixon or Cohen wanted. I thought it might be Dixon.
“Why don’t I bring you some downstairs?” Mrs. Grant said.
Dixon looked at her. “But she’s gotta come up. Meet people. Adam said she’d like it.”
“Adam lied,” I said. “I feel claustrophobic in groups of people.”
“Really? How do you deal at school?”
“Hold my breath. Look at the floor.”
“I’ll bring you dinner,” Mrs. Grant said.
“Thanks,” I headed downstairs, sat in front of my laptop, stared at the empty screen.
I felt as if I teetered on the edge of an abyss. As if I looked down into it, wondering if I should jump. I’d begun to wonder if the fall might save me. As if I might’ve been jumping into something good instead of something bad.
Maybe I just over think everything to the point of nothing making sense anymore.
Someone knocked on the door. I stood. “Come in.” As if I was in control.
Mrs. Grant poked her head in, smiled.
“I’ve got pasta salad and focaccia bread that Leah made. None of the pizza’s left.” She walked in, stood in the middle of the room with the plate in one hand and a glass of water in the other. “Leah loves to make bread. I’m no good at it. I think I’m too impatient. Adam’s good at it, too.”
She laughed. “Yeah. Strangely enough, he’s a very good cook. From their grandmother, Clay’s mom. They would spend hours in the kitchen together even when they were small. They wanted to help and she taught them. Clay’s a really good cook, much better than me. Where would you like this?”
I quickly took the plate and glass from her, sat the plate on my bed, and the glass on the floor. Strange to think about people wanting to learn to cook, enjoying it. Being taught in such a way that they would like it. I hated cooking.
I turned back to Mrs. Grant. She studied the painting of my family leaning against the bookcase across from the door.
“Oh,” I said, suddenly nervous. What if she didn’t like it? Mother hated my paintings. “Umm, I just... Well, see, that’s an assignment. From Samantha. It’s... Umm...”
She looked at me, eyes wide. “Violet,” she breathed. “This is wonderful. The color. How warm yet cold it is because of the static-ness. That tension is brilliant. The tension between the stillness of the figures and the movement of the colors. You’ve got complementary colors jammed up against each other, creating a sort of vibration. The blue and orange there.” She pointed at Mother. “Within this figure especially. This is who? You?”
“Mother,” I pointed. “Father. Me and Uncle Stephen.” Paused. “So, you kinda like it?”
“Oh, yes. Very much. It’s powerful, Violet. I think it’s the colors but the composition is just perfect. So wonderful.”
I felt myself begin to smile and let it happen, felt strangely warm. She smiled back.