Thursday, September 5, 2013

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART THREE


I was so sleepy the next morning and not even coffee or skipping homeroom helped. I was fantasizing about sleep - that's how tired I was. But I'd needed the money - we'd needed the money. My family and I - I couldn't let my parents (especially my poor dad, whose fault none of this was) try to scrounge up money for bills and other expenses all on their own. Gio needed a new jacket for the winter and was probably going to need braces in the next year or so. And there were still late payments on past tuition from my old school.

My parents had both left for work by the time I got up and toasted an English muffin. I hated instant coffee, but I didn't have enough time to brew a pot, so I heated some water on the stove and poured the powdered stuff in a mug. I had to put three whole spoons of sugar in it to make it taste even remotely decent.

My first class was chemistry, where Todd sat next to me and copied my notes. I was too tired to even argue that some people - our teacher included - might see this as somewhat unethical. But it wasn't like I was giving him answers on a test - I was just making it so that he didn't really have to pay attention in class. His logic was "why should both of us have to pay attention?" and since I wasn't good at arguing, that's just how it went. Todd also had this annoying habit of trying to talk to me all class long, which would drive me crazy when I didn't have to fight to pay attention - but when I was so tired I could barely hold my eyes open, it made me contemplate the boy's murder. I kept having to put my hand up between us to indicate I didn't want to talk or just say "shut up! I need to hear this!" about twenty times.

I was so glad to get out of class with Todd that I almost perked up, but then Mr. Connor, my history teacher announced that we'd be having a pop quiz today. I hadn't even had a chance to read the previous night's chapter, yet. My shoulders slumped, but I took out a pen and prepared to feel like an idiot and a failure.

By lunchtime, I felt like a zombie. Not like I wanted to eat brains, but I felt like the walking dead. I decided to just get out and skip the remainder of the day. I didn't think I could take Todd bugging me about letting him copy my homework, too or listening to his friends at the lunch table talking about baseball or their classes. I was too tired for all of it. Instead, I left Todd a nice note in his locker telling him I didn't feel well and went home.

Once I got to the house, I knew what a great idea it was. No one was home - mom and dad were at work and my brother, Gio was at school. I had hours ahead of me, all to myself and that was plenty of time to chill with some hot tea and maybe get some school work done. Instead, though, I ended up falling asleep upright in my bed while watching a talk show. I did at least get to finish my tea and left it on the nightstand.

When I woke up three hours later, the house was still silent. School was over but my brother had his baseball game so he wouldn't be home until later. My parents were still out. I decided to shower and make something to eat. It felt good to be alone in the house.

After my shower, I padded around the kitchen with bare feet and towel-dry hair in my Care Bears nightshirt. I started a pot of rosemary potato soup from a recipe that my mom left in her recipe index. While it heated, I put together bread and cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich and put them on a plate on the counter. Our family dog, Truman was lying in the middle of the floor of the den but when he smelled food he came to see what I had. I reached above the fridge and gave him a treat from a cookie jar that we kept them in. He was momentarily satisfied and trotted back to the cozy carpet in front of the bay window. The sun was at the stage where it was lower and seemed brighter through the window so that my eyes hurt. I pulled down the shade and while my soup got hot, I went and turned on the television in the living room. I wanted something to keep me company - no matter how nice it was to be on my own, it still felt strange to be surrounded by such complete silence.

While I grilled my sandwich, I listened to a WKRP in Cincinnati rerun on the set. When my food was hot and ready, I turned everything off, grabbed a soda from the fridge and went to sit in the living room. I'd just finished dinner when the phone rang and I leaned over to grab it from the end table.

"Asha?" the voice on the other ended greeted me. I recognized it immediately.

"Rhonda?" I said. "Hey, what's going on? You never called me back about what time you'd be here Sunday?"

"Actually," she said, "I'm here now. You want to come get me?"

"What?" I said. "What happened?"

"Nothing. I just took an earlier flight. You act like there's something strange about that." But there was an odd tone to her voice and I knew her too well.

"Rhonda! What happened?"

I heard her sigh on the other end of the line.

"I got kicked out."

"Of Sarah Lawrence? What did your mom say?"

"Mom didn't say anything."

"She wasn't upset?" I said.

"I haven't told her."

"Crap," I said. "What are you going to do? And how the hell did you get kicked out anyway?"

"I have no idea - haven't thought much about it yet. And I'll tell you the whole story. Once you get out here and get me."

"Ok," I said, though I looked regretfully at my soup in its bowl. It would inevitably get cold; at least I could take the grilled cheese and eat it in the car. "But have you given any thought to why you are allegedly coming to visit three days before you were supposed to? Why you skipped the last day of exams?"

"Easy," she said. "I will just say that I excelled so very much that I was exempt."

"Right," I said, snorting. "Fine. Give me thirty minutes."

"What the hell am I supposed to do at the airport for half an hour?"

"Gee, I don't know," I said. "Maybe you could read a book, college girl."

She groaned and I said goodbye mid-whine. I had to put my soup back in a pot on the stove for reheating later and run upstairs to change. On the drive to the airport I turned the radio on and there was a Hall & Oates song. Immediately, my thoughts turned to Betsy Reynolds and our chat at the diner the other night. It was hard not to smile - it was unexpected to be so at ease with a stranger. After last year's debacle, I had always had trouble trusting people. Something was different about Betsy, though. She had sympathetic eyes and this - well, I guess it was sort of sexy - impish grin.

Oddly, thinking of sexiness and Betsy in the same instance made my face heat up a little. It was probably just me being prudish. Calling anyone sexy- even in my head- would have that same effect on me. Slightly embarrassed, but glad no one could hear what was in my head, I took the exit to the airport. My thoughts turned to my cousin. Rhonda had always been a little flaky with school, but she really was incredibly bright. She'd made it into Sarah Lawrence, after all - and that was a great school. I'd certainly held my own fantasies of attending, though my grades weren't so great since my transfer, either. I could only imagine what she'd done to get kicked out.

Inside, Rhonda was waiting at a bench near the baggage claim and arrivals gate. When we saw each other, we squealed and I ran into her somewhat suffocating embrace. At 5 feet and 10 inches, Rhonda was an extremely athletic girl with nicely toned muscles and a tight grip. She was about three feet taller than me. By description alone, you'd imagine she was a very masculine looking woman. Rhonda was actually very soft-looking, though. She had shoulder length honey blond hair and she changed her style regularly - though these days, she was a little obsessed with Madonna. Her lace corset and denim skirt made her stand out among the shoulder-padded business execs and T-shirted schmoes.

"Let's go," she said. "I'm famished. We've got to get to food! I could die for some of Aunt Carol's corn chowder. Your mom is a miracle worker."

"Right," I said, lifting one of her bags over my shoulder and heading toward the door.

"Hmn," she said. "Somebody sounds bitter. Still having problems with mommy dearest?"

"Let's not get into that right now, okay?" I said. She knew I was serious by my tone.

"Fine. I can take a hint. Not now, but sometime?"

"Maybe after several drinks," I said. She laughed.

"So what's new, cuz?" she sat down on the passenger side and threw her purse into the back seat.

"I'm so boring, Rhon. Do you really want to talk about me right now?"

"Yes! Tell me what your life is like. Couldn't be worse than mine right now."

"Do you even care that you got kicked out of school? You were going to tell me what happened. And what you were gonna do?"

"Later," she said. "Asha, I'm tired and hungry and I just want to escape from my existence for awhile. Could you please cooperate?"

I sighed.

"Okay. I am working at the same diner I've been working at the last six months. I am failing history class, but course-wise everything else seems to be...not great, but not terrible. Todd - that's the boyfriend - took just about forever to ask me to the prom but we're going. Which is good, since I helped plan the thing. Oh, and I think I made a new, really amazing friend. Her name is Betsy and she's -- well, she's funny and smart and lovely. I'm going away with her this weekend. You'd like her. And she's a lesbian. Let me see. I don't really talk to my mom or dad, but they're in counseling. Once a week - maybe more now. I don't ask. And Mark seems to be fine, but kids are resilient. That's...all I've got."

"Whoa, whoa...back up. Betsy? Betsy is lovely? And a lesbian? Who you are 'going away with'? What have I missed?"

"Oh shut up," I said, and before she could get analytical I said, "I was actually thinking you two may hit it off."

"Asha," she groaned, "no blind dates!"

"It wouldn't be blind. I've met her."

"No fixing me up. Never. That kind of thing never works."

"Can you at least meet her?"

"Sure, I'll do that. But don't get your hopes up. Where are we going this weekend?"

"Actually Betsy and I are going to the city. But I didn't want to spring another guest on her so I thought we'd just go alone."

She was about to make another snide remark, but I held up the hand that wasn't on the steering wheel to stop her.

"I'll invite her to dinner when we get back. You'll see."

"Rad," she said sarcastically.

We turned into the driveway. I helped Rhonda get everything inside. My dad was home, but mom was still out.

"Uncle Eddie," Rhonda said.

"Rhonda! How's my favorite neice?"

They hugged and I dragged Rhonda's bags to my room, which we'd be sharing for the week. I rolled my eyes at their greeting and felt myself grind my teeth a little. I hated the way my dad acted like nothing had ever happened with mom. I got that that was the point of therapy - to air their issues in that neutral environment and not in front of the kids. But it made me feel like, because I wasn't in therapy with them, I wasn't supposed to think about or feel anything about the whole situation. And I hated that even Rhonda, who had been pretty much my best friend growing up, was so forgiving.

I plopped onto my bed, waiting for Rhonda to come back. I closed my eyes against the bright light of the ceiling fixture. After a few minutes, I felt myself starting to fall asleep. Flickering on the back of my eyelids was a vision of me in the diner. I was wearing something I'd seen Cyndi Lauper wearing in a video recently. I was singing, pouring coffee - and there she was. Betsy. She drove in on a motorcycle in a full leather jumpsuit - a fog drifted in behind her, a shimmering figure of shiny black and chrome. I was singing to her. She smiled and winked her cat-like brown eyes. Even in the dream, I was surprised I knew the color of them. Suddenly, a cold hand was on my shoulder and someone said my name.

And instantly, I was awake again. There was Rhonda standing over me with her headband on. She was munching a chocolate chip cookie and smiling wistfully like a kid.

"I always feel six years old here," she said. "But here it's not a bad feeling. It's nice to feel that innocent and wide-eyed again. Hey! Can we play records and give each other mud masks? That would be so fun!"

"Rhon," I said, "I have to get up tomorrow so please don't plan on staying up too late."

"I almost forgot," she said. "Your rendezvous with Betsy." She said the name the way a taunting child might sing "Asha and Betsy, sitting in a tree..." - it was obnoxious. I shoved her.

"Tell me why you are no longer a student," I said.

She took a deep breath.

"I met this woman."

This is going to be worse than I imagined, I was thinking. I nodded for her to go on.

"She was a...professor. One thing led to another get it."

"They kicked you out for that? Isn't that basically her taking advantage of you?"

"Asha, calm down. That's not the whole story."

She waited a moment before going on.

"She left - I had no idea she had taken a position elsewhere. So when I saw the new professor in her place, I got really...upset. It's really embarrassing, but I was heartbroken, lonely and sort of distraught. You understand?"

I nodded, just trying to follow the story. I wanted her to go on but I could tell that this was hard for her. She went on.

"I...threw a chair. It...broke a window in the lecture room and then I punched the wall in my dorm later. That was after they told me that I would have to stand before the discipline committee. I cracked the closet door and the hinge doesn't move right anymore. My roommate hated me anyway -she was a conservative right-wing cunt, so who cares - but she hates me more now. And the so-called discipline committee decided to expel me. And here I am."

"So she just left and didn't tell you? She's out there still teaching and you lose everything?"

"It wasn't everything, Ash. It was just my future as it stands. I wasn't even sure I wanted to be an anthropologist anymore. I had considered changing my major to philosophy, but I don't know how to use that. I can't teach. I know I'd hate that."

"What now, then?" I asked. I knew I shouldn't meddle, but I loved my cousin and wasn't sure I could just stand by and watch her lose everything. She was so gifted and intelligent.

"Maybe I'll take some community college courses. Then try and apply to some state school. I don't know. I just felt so...used."

"You still haven't heard from her? The professor, I mean."

"No. She probably wouldn't be able to find me anyway now."

"You didn't tell anyone on the discipline committee what happened? They may have been more lenient, maybe more understanding."

"No!" she cried, "I could never have done that to Rebecca."


"Rebecca Radford. That was her name. Professor Radford. Asha, I have never felt like that before."

I raised my eyebrows. I couldn't help it. Rhonda had always been such a...well, she got around. Todd knew of her and didn't even know her. He knew guys who had had their girlfriends stolen by Rhonda. She was pretty charismatic.

"I guess you wouldn't be that interested in jumping into another relationship then," I said half-heartedly.

She laughed.

"Will you stop trying to set me up?"

"Nope" I said. "You deserve to be happy."

"I will be eventually, but give me time."

"I'll try," I said.

Rhonda and I decided to see if we could find something good on television tonight in the TV Guide and make cookies for ourselves and Gio. It was always so much more fun having my cousin around.

Mom and Gio got in right when cookies were done.

"Rhonda! What a nice surprise," mom said. "I thought you were coming Sunday. Didn't you have any exams today?"

I saw Rhonda glance at me nervously out of the corner of her eye.

"I was exempt from my last two exams so I decided to come earlier," she said. Lucky for her, only I noticed the tremble in her voice. Perhaps it was simply because I was looking for it.

"Rhonda!" my brother exclaimed and bounded toward her for a hug. She hugged him back and handed him a cookie.

"I made us chocolate chip cookies!" she said. "Want to hang out with Asha and me? We're gonna watch Mr. Belvidere and maybe even stay up for Friday Night Videos!"

"Don't let Gio stay up too late," my mom said. But then she headed for the den, where she would no doubt zone out on Falcon Crest and her Friday night ritual cosmopolitan. Dad would go to bed early and she's stay up on the couch, getting more and more drunk and watching sad romances on PBS. And then she'd fall asleep. She couldn't care less if Gio stayed up until next Friday...or what I was doing, either. I folded my arms angrily and watched as she stalked off. I tried to shake off the pain of that knowledge, but it was hard. Hopefully silly sitcom plots would cure me - or chocolate chip cookies and time with my cousin and brother would.

I had successfully avoided my mom for a full week and now she was away for the weekend with my aunt and my aunt's boyfriend. She left me a note about it, but I'd known for months. They'd planned it for whenever the weather got warmer and now it was sunny and gorgeous.

I stayed at school late again and then headed downtown to get a few groceries. I always looked forward to time alone in our house - now more than ever, of course, but it had always been a treat for me. I got to cook and hook up the VCR and watch a few movies.
I got to turn up my music and dance around or read in the kitchen with a cup of coffee to drink and the radio on. Tonight I was making burritos and watching Romancing The Stone and maybe something foreign. I'd been thinking a lot about some of the somewhat underground gay movies I'd heard about from my New York penpal Elizabeth but I had no idea where I could get those. Maybe somewhere in the city, but I wasn't sure.

I started frying the vegetables that I would add to my burrito when the phone rang. I raced to get it, winding the lengthy cord around myself in the attempt to answer on the second ring.

"Hello," I said into the receiver.

"Betsy?" said the girl's voice on the other end.

"That's me," I said, pulling the cord back with me toward the stove.

"It's Asha. I wanted to call and make sure you were coming to get me tomorrow. Making sure you hadn't changed your mind about wanting company."

"No, I'd still really like you to come."

"Great," she said. "Let me give you my address. Got a pen?"

"One sec," I said. I put the receiver down and ran around, trying to locate anything that would write. I came across a box of markers my mom had left at her desk in the dining room. 

"Eureka!" I said and ran back to the phone, grabbing a paper towel on my way. I put it over the phone book so as not to get any ink on the counter if it ran through the Brawny.

"Ok," I said. "Shoot."

"It's 330 West Ridgewood Avenue and we're in the top flat. You can hit the buzzer downstairs for the apartment 5A and someone here should answer. What time would you be getting here?"

"Around 11am, if that's alright with you."

"That sounds perfect. See you then."

"Looking forward to it," I said. I heard her pause, a gentle sucking-in of her breath signaled this. Then she said, "Goodnight" and hung up.

It was a stupid idea to watch Romancing The Stone. Kathleen Turner is so sexy and all the love stuff was really depressing me. I thought about Callie and it made me think I shouldn't leave my house at all, ever again. But then I remembered - I was hanging out with Asha tomorrow. Oh God I thought. What had I gotten myself into? She was going to see what a wreck I was and it was going to make her never want to see me again. I was a  basketcase and now I was going to inflict it on someone else?

I thought of calling and cancelling, but that seemed like a bad idea too since it would make me look like a flake. A flake or a basketcase? To be or not to be? What the hell was the question?

I tried some calming exercises - things I'd learned from Glenn's psychologist father.  You could theoretically beat anxiety this way. I was doing this for fifteen minutes before I decided that there might be a better way to go about this. Maybe I should grab a drink.

This actually started to sound like a novel idea. I had the house to myself, mom left her liquor cabinet key in her jewelry box - I wasn't supposed to know that but I had seen her place it back in there one day when I was in her room and she didn't think I was looking. I got up and was actually excited - probably the most excitement I'd had in weeks. Afterall, nothing is better for wallowing in a little self-pity than a little self-destruction. Tonight, Friday Night Videos was on and I could dance around my living room and feel dizzy from the rush of being able to just be sad. It was so tiring trying not to be. I could turn the TV up and listen to the music and maybe work on the song I'd been trying to write for months -- only I'd started it for Callie, hadn't I? It began as a love song, right? But it sure wasn't that anymore. Clearly Callie didn't love me. In fact, it was obvious that she had never loved me.

Now I was panting, feeling angry - I was in my mom's room, pushing up the clamp on her jewelry box and sorting through all the pendants and gems and gold strands inside. I looked inside the section that was an earring holder. Still no key. And then, when I was about to give up - upset that my idea had failed and that everything I did seemed to be failing - I lifted the cushioned mirror and there, among my mother's pearls and her sapphire hairpins, was the key. I grabbed it and shrieked a little. I quickly put everything back in place - but carefully so that she wouldn't notice. And then I sprinted back to the living room, got down on my hands and knees and sat in front of the liquor cabinet. I put the key in and -presto!- it opened. I peered inside. There was mom's favorite cherry brandy, melon liqueur, Southern Comfort, amaretto liqueur and Stoli Vodka.

I opted for the vodka, dashing, bottle in one hand, back to the kitchen. There I poured about three tablespoons into a glass tumbler, threw in some crushed ice and then looked in the fridge for juice. We had both, orange juice and cranberry. It only took a second for me to decide to use both. I didn't even measure them - I just filled half the remainder of the glass with cranberry and half the remainder with orange juice, then took one of the long, metal spoons from the dishrack and stirred it up.

After returning the bottle of vodka to the liquor cabinet and the key back to my mom's jewelry box, I went back to the loveseat and snuggled up in the pillows with my cocktail. The news was on, so I flipped through to see if I could find something less depressing.  Reruns of Night Court  were on one channel while on another they were playing Casablanca as a late movie. I checked the TV Guide and since The Facts of Life  and Family Ties were coming on after Night Court I decided to leave it there. It was still a few hours before Friday Night Videos.

At around 9pm, the phone rang and I was on my second drink. I was trying to ignore it, letting the machine get it. But when my mom's voice on the machine said "You've reached the Reynold's residence - please leave a message" I heard Glenn shrieking into the phone. 

"Betsy!!!! Bets-eeeeeeeee! C'mon, Betsy. I feel like I've been banished. How long are you going to punish me? You're my friend. We are your friends - the band doesn't want to lose you either. Come on Betz. We have this gig next month and what about the prom? I have my suit already and I can't go alone. Please..."  

Glenn's whiney voice on the line was too much to bear. Mid-message, I was already standing in the kitchen...three feet away from the phone. He said, "Please..." one more time and I grabbed the receiver, ready (or rather, drunk enough) to talk. But all I was met with was a dial tone. I just stood there, saying Glenn's name as if I could invoke him and make his voice reappear on the line. The silence and the lonely, static tone seemed like the saddest, scariest thing. I hung up. Waiting to talk to him probably would be best. I knew that. I knew I was still mad - but I was also tired and drunk and impulsive. 

I picked the receiver back up and started to dial again, then stood listening to the monotonous busy signal on Glenn's end. Maybe he'd called the band members, called Heather. Since he couldn't get through to me, he'd try them. But despite the way that should make things seem, my brain was all tied up and insecure at that moment. All I could think was that I was second best. I hung up, letting the phone just come crashing down into the hook. 

I sat back down in the living room, trying to focus on the remaining time left on The Facts of Life as Jo and Mrs. Garrett had a heart to heart conversation.  But I kept thinking about how lonely school could be without Glenn - or even the band. I wanted to feel a part of that - but I was just so annoyed that they thought I couldn't handle a gig. I'd had one minor...incident. I was going to be okay. I couldn't let things become a hopeless mess. I needed to do things the way I always did. I could get over this. I could get over Callie. It wasn't like we'd spent years together, the way my parents had before the divorce. She dumped me six months in - and who cares if it was the longest relationship I'd ever had and she was the only girl I'd loved. It still wasn't like my mom and my long lost father. When he walked out, her breakdown was well-deserved -- she'd spent twelve years with the man and he'd been with someone else the last three of them. That kind of hurt and betrayal from him, after all the devotion, love and sacrifice from her? THAT was pain - I had no right to cry.

But crying was what I was doing. Again, after days of dry eyes and walking around in a state of drowsy, foggy confusion. I was sobbing - tears were rolling in torrents down my face and there was even snot dripping from my nose. I grabbed a couple of Kleenexes from the bookshelf and cleaned my puffy, red face up. There was no one to see - that seemed better, less humiliating anyway. But there was also no one to talk to.

In that moment, as I had that thought, I remembered Asha and how I'd be seeing her in less than 12 hours. I sat motionless, trying to absorb this new thought. Friday Night Videos was playing "Life In A Northern Town" by Dream Academy and I watched as the guy walked through the wet streets of some dreary gray city, through clothes hanging from a line along the road. Then there was a checkerboard on the screen and Murray Head appeared in a white suit to sing "One Night In Bangkok." Writing a song that was a hit and a fun, catchy song came so easily it seemed - but not to me, and certainly not now. Not when my muse had left.
That's how my thought process went the rest of the night. One thought about Callie and all the other chaos in my life that seemed to line up in that particular train of thought. Then, the next minute, I'd think of my new friend and the weekend now closer on the horizon as I approached dawn. The four cocktails didn't ease the thoughts or the pain. They didn't even let me rest. Glenn always said that alcohol made him tired, but often, I ended up with insomnia.

When it was close to 2am, I tried to sleep. I turned out the lamp and stretched out on the sofa. I left the television on because I am secretly scared of the dark and I don't like being completely alone and completely without light. I turned it on a late night movie on one of those stations that stayed on almost all night. Something about being up to watch the last thing on a station gave me the creeps for some reason. I literally got goosebumps. Yet another part of my tough girl facade would not allow me to tell anyone else that. I think I'd have to feel extremely comfortable with someone to be that vulnerable. And I wasn't likely to let anyone see me really vulnerable again for quite some time.

In the middle of a debate on some political show, I finally drifted off. I had set the alarm clock in my mom's bedroom - just across the hall- to wake me so that I could be ready and dressed to go get Asha. I wanted to shower and get enough caffeine in me that I wasn't the world's worst excuse for company.

I dreamed about the band and being at school with no clothes on, exposed. At 9am, the alarm went off and I got up. The television was still on, of course, and now there was a weekend morning show on. An anchorman was giving the weather and he announced that "coming up next" there would be a recipe for a breakfast casserole. I switched it to something about sea otters on PBS and went to make pancakes. They ended up a little thin and became crepes instead, so I put lingonberry sauce on them and sat between the ottoman and the coffee table with my food on my lap and my cup of coffee next to me. 

At 10am, showered and fed, I left the house with Asha's address and the directions I'd found on the local street map that mom made me keep in the glove compartment. When I arrived in her driveway, she was wearing a gold shirt and jeans and sitting on her building's front stairs with her purse in her hand. Next to her was another girl, but she didn't rise to meet me. Only Asha did that, walking over to the car in high top shoes - sensible shoes. Not like the high heels Callie wore (and often tripped on if she was upset or drunk).

"Hi," she said as she slid into the passenger seat. 

"Good morning," I said, smiling at her. 

And then we were off. 

Tune in next month for Part Four of Turn To You to find out what happens when Asha & Betsy finally spend the day together! Next week, book reviews & an update on my trip to Portland & Seattle! Leave me <3 i="">

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