Please be forewarned that I cuss in this short story. A lot. If you’re related to me and/or offended by cussing you should probably skip this one. If you don’t and you’re offended by the words I use don’t complain to me…I warned you!
Dreaming Out Loud
The day we moved into our townhouse my sister and I met our Mother’s boyfriend Bill. He pulled into our driveway in the same big blue diesel truck I’d seen parked outside of our old apartment every night for a week after Jane and I were put to bed. I knew who he was then but never mentioned him to Mom. When he opened his door he smiled at me and called me by name.
“Happy Birthday little one!” He said pulling lightly on my braided pigtail. I wanted to tell him that I was twelve, not two, then ask him how he knew I was Lily and not my sister Jane but I didn’t ask him anything. I held out my hand and he shook it and I told him that it was nice to meet him. I knew he’d be gone soon and it was easier to be nice and avoid my mother’s malice.
He walked towards the door and I hoped Jane was in her room, not waiting to pounce.
Bill didn’t knock when he got to the door, he turned the handle and held it open for me then came in behind me and called my mother’s name. I moved behind Bill and closed the door while he walked off in search of Mom. When I turned around I took in the big kitchen and dining room and the stacks of unpacked boxes on every surface.
Without thinking I said, “This house is too big” just as my Mom and Bill walked into the kitchen from the living room.
Mom laughed a warning and smiled a smile that didn’t show in her eyes when she looked at me and said, “Don’t worry Lil, I got a good deal.”
She was renting it from one of her old friends, the last man who came to our apartment at night after my sister and I were in bed and stayed until just before our alarm clocks went off in the morning.
Mom laughed again and looked at Bill and said, “Who cares anyway, I’m not paying for it.”
It was a one-sided inside joke about Dad that Bill didn’t understand but he laughed anyway. I wanted to be kind but the men she brought home made it so hard so I looked at Bill and said nothing and didn’t smile. She liked them stupid.
I heard Jane come down the steps behind me. She stood by my side and looked at me, ignoring Bill, and snapping her gum the way that made Mom clinch her jaw.
Please stay quiet. I willed Jane with my eyes.
When Mom joked about Dad and his money it made my stomach ache but I stayed quiet, knowing what would come if I didn’t. Jane was never quiet about what she thought and when I saw her stop smacking her gum and close eyes I knew she’d get in trouble if she opened her mouth so I pinched her and she slapped me in the arm.
Mom told us both to get outside, unwilling to yell at us in front of her friend the way she did when we were alone. She was loosing her composure and my sister knew what to say to push her over the edge. Jane was rigid beside me. I could feel heat from her arm and see the bitterness shooting fire from her eyes as she looked at Mom. Mom saw it too and knew its force better than I did. Bill took our hesitation as a different kind of defiance and told us to mind our mother and get going. I pulled Jane out the side door and down the steps before she could tell him where to go.
“He’s not our dad!” she yelled at the closed door and I walked down the driveway, hoping she’d follow me.
“Stupid fucking cocksucking bitch.” Jane growled at her feet and stomped past me headed for the path we’d found across the street that lead through the woods.
“Feel better?” I asked and she stopped her assault on the ground, turned and waited for me to catch up to her.
“You’re too young to cuss.” I told her when she didn’t answer.
“You’re too old for braids.” Jane took my hand and ran farther than we’d been on the dirt path before and she sang me Happy Birthday while we flew. The sun shone quick spotlights on us through the tall pine trees as we went and the air, heavy with summer humidity, wrapped itself around us until we were panting and miles into the empty woods.
“How does it feel to be twelve?” Jane asked, though she knew because she was thirteen. I shrugged and sat down in the dirt and leaned back against a tree.
“Why is the path so far back?” I asked Jane who’d found a long stick and was poking around the base of the tree next to mine looking for snakes. She shrugged and said that maybe a serial killer lived back here.
“Some serial killer” I said, trying not to be afraid as I imagined being hacked up into little pieces, “why would he lay down a path to his front door?”
I didn’t want to know.
“Because,” Jane said, “people are curious more than they are scared.”
She had a point and I closed my eyes, face to the sun, my eyelids blazing red.
“What if we didn’t go back?” Jane said after a few minutes of silence.
“Back home?” All of the sudden I was filled with a desire I hadn’t known before. We didn’t have to go home.
“Where would we go?” I asked and felt like a baby but needed her to say the words out loud.
“We could go to Dad.”
I opened my eyes and looked at Jane who looked so much like Mom as she waited for me to say something, her eyebrows raised, mouth open, eyes as piercing as her tongue. She was almost a carbon copy with long blonde hair instead of Mom’s brown, but not completely.
She wouldn’t let herself be loved by anyone just like Mom, but she let me love her.
Jane was thirteen and even then she gave herself away and she took, and lived as though she would always be young and desired but she was never careful with her heart or the hearts in her hands.
Just like Mom.
I wondered what it would do to Mom to loose us, if she would notice and be mad only because it would mean that she lost to Dad and his new wife or if she’d be happy to have her boyfriends over whenever she wanted, and not be forced to wait until dark to let them into her bed.
As I told Jane I’d go I hoped it would break Mom’s heart.
I told her we’d go home and pack our bags and I wished we could but Dad lived a thousand miles away and wanted us only in theory so Jane and I dusted off our shorts and picked fallen pine needles from our hair as we walked back home holding hands and dreaming out loud.
Callie Armstrong © 2014