Monday, July 28, 2014

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


I was feeling a little down and out when Glenn came over to see Ben the next day. I had already called Asha twice with no answer and she hadn't called back. I felt idiotic. I wanted to know how things went, what Rhonda had told her and most of all, I wanted her to answer some questions for me. 
Ben was slumped in my brown beanbag chair reading my latest issue of Sassy and I was pacing to the sounds of Cyndi Lauper on the radio. I was sure I was about to drive him bonkers, but Ben was pretty polite. He remained quiet and flipped the page of the the magazine. Over the time we'd spent together, Ben had started to feel like family - the brother I'd never had. It was nice, but since we sometimes argued for use of the bathroom or I found him using my nail polish I wasn't about to admit it to him. 
"Betsy," Ben said in an even tone, "please calm down. You're going to make yourself sick with worry. You know, that literally can happen. Give the girl time."
"Aughhhh!" I growled, annoyed. 
"Glenn's coming over later. Maybe you guys should practice or something. You have that gig later this week. And didn't you say Asha wants The Windows to play at her prom. Shouldn't you get the girls together to practice, then?"
"The problem," I hissed, "is that I have no idea what Asha wants now. Does she want me to play music for her big night with Todd? Does she want to be my friend? Is there...gods-help-me-for-hoping, but is there maybe something else she'd like to be? Don't you see, Ben? I'm going nutty!"
"Yeah," he said. "You're cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, alright."
I glared at him. The door to the bedroom flew open just then and Glenn waltzed in.
"Do you know what your mom just asked me?" Glenn said. "She wanted to know if I was sleeping over?"
"Sheesh," Ben said. "She's come a long way, baby." 

I just slumped to the floor and put my head down on a heap of my clothes. Bad idea. Something smelled like sour milk and I gagged, sitting back up. I got up and threw myself on the bed instead, burying my head under a pillow and screaming into the mattress to muffle me.
"What's with her?" Glenn said.
"Two words. Asha Campbell," Ben said.
"What did she do to her?" Glenn said.
"Nothing. I think maybe that's the problem."
I uncovered my head to glare at them.
"You know I am right here. I can hear you both."
"Then you tell me," Glenn said, turning to me with a hand on one hip. "What happened?"
"She went on a double date with Asha and her boyfriend," Ben said, shaking my magazine in the air to emphasize each word.
"Um, Ben? He's asking me!" I said through clenched teeth.
"Sheesh," Ben said. "Crabby!"
I exhaled loudly. 
"Drama queen," Glenn whispered to Ben and I just growled.
"I went out last night," I said finally. "And yes, it was with Asha and her stupid jerk of a boyfriend."
"Wow that is mature," Glenn said.
"I wasn't finished," I said. "Asha brought her cousin - sort of like a date for me."
"Yikes. Guess that was basically her way of blowing you off? An 'I-just-wanna-be-friends' statement?" Glenn guessed.
"I thought so at first, too," I said. "But then we had this moment. Asha and I, I mean."
"Now you're just confused?" Glenn finished my thought.
"Yes," I said.
"And she can't get ahold of Asha," Ben said.
"So I can't get any answers," I concluded.
We all sighed.
"I'm sorry sweetie," Glenn said, coming to my side and plopping down next to me. He leaned over until his head was on my back. "Maybe we should go out. Do something. Get our minds off our problems." 
He looked over at Ben, who was probably thinking about the rift between himself and his parents. I felt really bad for being cross with him. It made me think that maybe it was a good idea to get out of myself for awhile.
"Let's go downtown to the juice bar and maybe go walk around the beach." 
They both looked at me like I'd sprouted antlers. I probably deserved that. I'd been the mopey one more often than not lately and for me to suddenly suggest leaving my bedroom, much less doing something, must have come as quite a shock.
"Quit looking at me like that," I finally said. "You're right. We need to get up, get out of here. Songs aren't going to write or play themselves and I know I need more inspiration than these four walls." They were still gaping at me, so I said, "Let's go, let's go!"
They hopped up and marched like soldiers toward the door, perfectly synchronized.
"Very funny," I said before I followed them. 
I didn't drive, since we could walk from my home down to the lakefront shops faster than I would've been able to find parking there. You could often tell the tourists from the residents by their souvenir-shop T-shirts. Glenn and Ben liked to make fun of those, but I felt an odd sense of protectiveness toward tourists - wacky, confused people just going with the flow in a place where they clearly did not quite belong.
"I'm thinking that we should call Heather and everyone tonight and go ahead and set up practice," Glenn said. "For Her-Whom-We-Shall-Not-Name's prom."
"I don't even know if we're playing or not," I said. "And anyway, even if she did still want us to, how do I know the band will want to?"
"That's why we call Heather," Glenn said. "And we'll just consider it a potential gig - with the idea that if it falls through, we can just find another. Practice is never a waste of time, is it?" 
Glenn's words rang true, of course. It did make sense to be prepared either way. 
"We call her then, but when do we find time to practice?" I said. "Between school and work and homework? And this week we have the junior and senior class trips?"
"There have always been hurdles, Betz," Glenn said, placing his hand on my shoulder.  "We jump over them. Remember?"
"Plus," Ben said, "you get the chance of possibly impressing Asha with your musical stylistics and your super-suave, super-cool on-stage persona."
I had to laugh at that.
"Right," I said. "I'm sure that'll charm the straight girl into magically falling in love with me."
"You never know," he said with a shrug.  
We continued down the beach and back up the boardwalk. We watched a couple on roller skates whiz by and Glenn and Ben ogled some guys playing volleyball. 
"Why don't you go play with them?" I said.
"Really?" Ben said.
"You want to?" Glenn asked him.
"Sure! You want to come, Betz?"
"That's okay. You guys go and enjoy yourselves. I'm just going to go and check out some of the shops. My mom's birthday is in two weeks, so maybe I'll get a head start on gift-buying or just get some ideas. You two have fun."
"Aw, but Betsy! You've been depressed! We don't want to abandon you in your hour of need," Glenn said.
"You're not," I said. "Promise. I am ditching you guys because there is plenty of time for playing chaperone to a melancholy teenager and not a whole lot of chances to play volleyball with a bunch of hard bodies in Speedos. Seriously. Go!"
Glenn and Ben gave me excited smiles and then ran down the beach to where the guys were gathered around the net.
I headed up the boardwalk, feeling only a bit lonely. I could have
gone home and read a book or gone to the small, two-movie theater. Either of those things might have made me feel slightly better. But only slightly. It occured to me that I was exactly where I had been before I'd met Asha - broken-hearted, lonely, alienated. I was all the things that Callie had left me, but this time it was my own fault. Hell, maybe it was my fault with Callie, too. Maybe I was too boring, too predictable for her. That actually made sense. Callie had always been explosive and I was sort a dormant volcano. I knew it, but couldn't really change it much. Not without changing me, which I wasn't willing to do. I was the girl who read books, saw movies, occasionally took on volunteer work or drove other people's kids to school. I fixed cars sometimes, made model airplanes, watched cartoons. I made good grades and didn't smoke or do drugs. I only drank for self-destructive purposes and really hadn't even done that until after Callie had hit the road. I was not a terribly exciting person. But I wanted to be. Why couldn't that be enough?
I saw in the window of a little boutique a pair of earrings like the ones that Asha had given me. They were beautiful, but I couldn't wear them. I knew it was lame and kind of weird but I decided that I needed to know where we stood before I could show them off. I wanted to be able to say where and from whom I got them and be certain that it was accurate. I guess what I really wanted was to be able to say "my girlfriend gave me these," but wasn't sure I ever would.
I wandered into the store to look for something for my mom. There were pendants made of bone china that, for an extra sum of money, they would put on a charm bracelet, necklace or earring. I wished there were two because my mom wasn't the type to wear mismatched earrings.  I looked at the purses and remembered that she had mentioned needing a new wallet. I walked over to where their designer wallets were on display. They had some pretty ones - one with dyed leather binding in various colors, ones made of plastic or denim. I still couldn't find anything I was sure she'd like. The store also had scented candles, Polaroid cameras, unusual stationary and other little knick-knacks. Still, I didn't find anything there. 
Next door there was a lovely metal clock in the window along with ceramic animals. I knew that I would never get my mom ceramic animals. The perpetual klutz, I'd end up breaking anything like that in the house. Then I passed a place called The Artist Store and was intrigued. I went inside and found things like paints, easels, wooden palettes, canvases -some framed and some not. That's when I remembered - it was a faint memory only, but I remembered - when my mom used to paint. I have a vague recollection of coming across some of her paintings - some of them my own image - in our attic one night when I'd gone looking for some old doll furniture for a project I was working on. I never knew why she had stopped painting, but she was actually really good. 
I let my fingers rest over all the acrylic and oil colors. They were all so brilliant, and I wondered if the paint would come out of the tubes in as bright a hue. However, I decided to get my mom a kit of the most basic paints and, as a bold gesture, a framed canvas to work on. It was only partly selfish, because I wanted to see what the paints looked like and how an older, more experienced painter might work. I also liked the idea of giving my mom a gift that brought a bit of creativity back to her life. 
I purchased the gifts and decided to head back home, where I went on a search for tape, wrapping paper and ribbons and set about wrapping my mom's birthday gift. At four I started to make dinner - chili and cornbread - and when everyone got in, we all had dinner together. I was still in another world, thinking too much about the past few days and those ahead.  
After dinner, Glenn left and Ben and I did homework at the kitchen table while my mom watched television in the front room. I kept hoping Asha would call, but she never did and, after my homework and shower, I just went to bed. 
We had to be at school the next morning early for a field trip. Our History class was going on a field trip - the last of the year before exams - to a historic plantation where people in costumes dressed up in colonial garb and reenacted Eighteenth Century life. Ben sat with me at the back of the first activity bus. We were early because we'd skipped breakfast and gotten a ride with my mom on her way to work. We kept looking out the window for Glenn's car, but as other students started to show up it was harder and harder to spot him in the crowds. Our bus was getting full by 6:30am.
"If he doesn't show up soon, you know Mr. Gregory is going to make us scoot over and let someone else sit with us!" Ben said. The prospect of having to share the back seats with anyone else from our class was upsetting and I started getting panicky. I'd really hoped this day would go by smoothly, without any major harassment from my classmates and I'd be able to enjoy butter churning demonstrations and keep my mind off Asha. But suddenly things were looking dire.  
"Wait!" Ben said.  "There he is!" I jumped up and looked over his shoulder at where he was pointing. There was Glenn, walking across the parking lot in hot pink leather pants and a David Bowie T-shirt, Care Bears lunch box in hand.  I was so relieved I pushed the window down and yelled out to him. 

"Hey! Glenn! Get over here!" I shouted. He saw me, waved and started jogging toward the bus. When he made his entrance, I stood up and let him sit next to me on the window side. 
"What," I said, giving him the once-over, "are you wearing?"
"I figured if I was gonna get beat up by jocks, it was gonna be for something good," he said. I laughed. 
"I'm so glad you're here," I admitted. "It wouldn't be the same without you."
"I brought you something," he said and he produced a thermos from his lunch box. "Sip carefully."
I sniffed it instead and blinked. It was definitely Coke and it was definitely spiked.
"Is that rum?" I whispered.
"Yep," he said proudly.
"Glenn Christopher Balaban!" I hissed. "What has gotten into you? We could get expelled!"
"We're not going to because no one will know," he said and Ben happily took the thermos as it was offered to him. He sipped and handed it back. Glenn pushed it in my face.
"I don't know," I said. "My mom is really trying and she's been great so far. If I got in trouble, though..."  I let my voice trail off.
"You won't as long as you're careful. C'mon, this is hardly enough to get us drunk. We'll just start the day off...a little buzzed."
I grimaced.
"Ok," he said. "Suit yourself."  He shrugged and started to bring it back to his lips, but I stopped him with one hand on the thermos and an exasperated sigh. He beamed and handed it over, then bounced on the seat a little with excitement. 
"This is gonna be such a fun day!" he said.

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