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Authors: Hannah; Kay

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BOOK: The Artist and Me
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Chapter Fourteen

 

 

 

Lucas

 

About half an hour into the drive of endless shady green trees under clear cloudless sky, Mike veered down an unmarked road, traveling east toward what appeared to be Terry, a town nearby double the size of Carltonville. “Why’re we pulling off here, Mikely?” I questioned, leaning forward to look over his and Krista’s shoulders. Their arguing had waned pretty quickly into a lull of their conjoined silence. Their relationship was that of an old married couple. They’d long passed the desperately in love honeymoon stage and now argued as if it were some couple sport, yet behind it all, there was always that sparkle in their eyes—the one that told the whole story. While they fought, under it all, they loved each other. For that, I admired them.

“I suggested we stop by Wal-Mart before we headed to the house,” Krista answered for Mike, smiling at me through the rear-view mirror. Terry, while still a small town, actually had a Wal-Mart instead of just a little Corner Store. They also had one McDonald’s and one Wendy’s downtown—the McDonald’s vastly more popular because the Wendy’s food was never actually…
warm
.

Mike nodded. “So I thought we could stop by Micky D’s before we head to the store,” he interjected, tapping the dash, which was blinking ten-forty-nine. He grinned broadly. “I haven’t had a Big Mac in ages.”

Julie, beside me, laughed suddenly, releasing my hand, which caused me to turn to see her grinning, ginger hair wavy from the bun she’d been wearing earlier and slightly frizzed, but she looked free. Her eyes were stunning in the light reflecting off the smooth glass of the window, shining brighter as her head rested against the seat, lips pressed together in a silent laugh. It was in times like these that I have to take a moment and appreciate the fact that she let me love her. Me—gangly writer guy—dating an angel.

Mike broke into my thoughts.

“What?”

The fire behind her eyes dimmed, but only a little. Her eyes caught mine for a fraction of a second before turning to answer Mike. “It’s just strange,” she replied, expression returning to that of her usual demeanor and amending her lapse in composure. “I was seriously craving their fries just yesterday.”

The response didn’t seem complete, but I didn’t counter it, instead taking her hand in mine again, twisting it upwards and kissing it gently. “Well, we’ll just have to fix that, won’t we?”

For a split second, her expression hung in the balance, caught between her previous fit of laughter and someone coming from a morgue, then she smiled, but her hand was limp in mine. “Sounds perfect.” The color didn’t touch her eyes.

“Something wrong?” I had to ask.

She immediately smiled, eyes glimmering in the sunlight, masking her ruse. “Nothing’s wrong.”

 

* * * *

 

Wal-Mart is an endless terror. Mike was at the helm of our ship, leading the way into the vast blue. Krista, his right hand wo-man, was at his side. She held a little scrap of lilac paper, a Post-it-sized list of our next six meals. As they moved together—I now noticed the strange way they moved completely in sync—Mike would grab something not on that lilac slip and Krista’s nimble fingers would pluck the item from his hands before he had the chance to so much as think of putting it in the cart.

As for Julie and I, we ambled after them, holding hands, but something was wrong—something I couldn’t identify. Something she didn’t seem to want to share. Every once in a while she would look up at me, wearing the most genuine smile and twist our hands up toward her lips, kissing mine gently. The moment would pass. Her smile would fade to stoic indifference once more. Every time I asked, her eyes shone with that same glimmer of hope, but it was growing thinner. Her will to lie?

But what? Why? Things were so good. The past month everything had flowed together—her painting, my writing, our friends… Life in general felt free as a caged mockingbird upon release. Summer had treated us well, providing a perfect canvas for the romance. With every wave that crashed against the waiting wall of sand, we had grown closer.

Yet now we felt so far apart. Where was she? Because in these stalled moments, my eyes scanned her face and found vacancy. Did she reside somewhere just beneath the surface or was she somewhere thousands of miles away? Was she in London in a little café? In Paris sketching the clouds? A beach with bleached sand, crowded with blankets and sun-kissed skin—back in California under an umbrella on colorful towels with her mother? I didn’t know, but one thing was for certain. She wasn’t with me. The hand pressing against my palm was cool.

 

* * * *

 

The sun beat angrily down on my pale skin as we reclined in the hot tub out behind the Getaway House. Julie was at my side, talking to Krista. We sat there in the warm water under a clear blue summer sky. Mike made inappropriate jokes. Krista slapped him. Julie laughed. I watched her.

She was wearing one of those artificial smiles, along with her dark gray high-waisted bikini. It was that sickly sweet smile that worried me most, as the crown of her brilliant hair tipped back against the beam behind her head, leaning against it. I also knew it was for my benefit. She was hiding something.

Blinking slowly, I extended my right hand to gently brush my fingers across her face. Her golden-ginger hair had been mussed into a loose bun, but it was slowly frizzing and sagging against her head. She swiveled to look at me, eyes shining in the early afternoon light. The smile faltered when her eyes met mine. “What’s wrong?” I whispered nearly silently, but I knew she heard me. Her eyes cast down to the water instantly. “Julie—”

A rumble in the sky was followed by the sick crackle of lightning. It was pouring then, a sudden, unforeseen thunderstorm beat down on our heads. Krista giggled, jumping up and dashing inside at top speed with Mike on her heels, but Julie was frozen. Her mouth hung slightly agape, her palms down in the water. Then I saw a glimmer on her cheek, one lone, crystalline tear streaking down her face. “Juliet—”

She was standing now, rising from the water. I reached out, grabbing her wrist. “Julie, what’s wrong?” The words were lost to the rain, second to the storm and third only to my aching heart.

She turned, eyes large and wet, hair plastered to her scalp, but there was no hiding it. Something was wrong, something was really wrong, and I had no idea what or why. She pulled her wrist from my grasp and tossed her legs over the side of the hot tub. “Nothing.”

Lie.

“Julie, something
is
wrong.”

“No, I’m fine.”

Lie.

“Talk to me.”

“Lucas, we’re going to get sick.”

Distraction.

Sighing, I thrust my legs over the side of the hot tub and stood beside her on the cold, hard wood of the deck. “Julie, listen to me.” To my ears the words sounded faint and my heart thudded angrily in my chest. I placed my hands on her shoulders so she couldn’t walk away, forcing her to look at me. “Tell me what’s wrong. It’ll be okay, Julie, whatever it is, just tell me.” I was pleading now, outright madness clouding my vision.

She shook her head, but her entire body quaked against my arms. “You can’t fix me,” she whispered into the darkness, not to me.

What? I can’t fix her? Nothing is wrong with her.
“Julie, what do you mean? You don’t need to be fixed.” It must’ve sounded ridiculous, because she laughed. It was good to hear that sound again… Well, at least it was until the laugh buckled into a sob and she wrenched from my arms.

“You don’t get it, Lucas.” She was shaking her head, thrashing awkwardly from place to place like she didn’t know where she belonged or why or where to go or how to act. Her eyes were the worst, though. They were wild, unhinged, broken. It was quite possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. “I’m not this perfect little china doll you think I am, okay? I’m broken and you can’t fix it. I see the way you look at me and I’m not that girl. I’m not the girl you can live happily ever after with. I can’t do this anymore, I can’t pretend I’m someone I’m not, and I’m not this.”

My heart was beating loudly in my ears. “Julie, what are you talking about?” It fell flat and I knew it but what was there to say? The rain picked up.

“I can’t do this anymore, Lucas.” She stopped in her tracks, just staring at the ground, watching the rain splatter against the fading wood of the deck.

“Do what?” I felt dumb or numb or both. My feet wobbled awkwardly.

“This.” She gestured between us. It didn’t help.

“You can’t just do this.”

Defeated.

“I’m sorry.”

“I love you.”

The first time I’d said it. Two seconds later, she was sobbing.

“I can’t.” With those two words, she rushed off into the house and I was left in the rain, shaking and completely baffled. It was over. Maybe so was I.

Chapter Fifteen

 

 

 

Julie

 

I’d run. Straight through the house, straight through the front door, straight down the driveway, and I didn’t stop. I didn’t care that the rain was picking up, I just had to get out of there as quickly as possible, but when Krista’s car pulled up at my side, I was soaked to the bone and shaking—with sobs or because of the rain, I wasn’t sure.

The passenger side door opened and Krista was leaning across the seat to push it open fully. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun and she was wearing a pair of Mike’s baggy gray sweats. “Get in.”

If it weren’t pouring, I might have walked.

The ride was almost silent, apart from the heavy thuds of rain assaulting the hood of the car and underlying static on the radio. She didn’t ask, but questions hung in the air between us—alliances, lines she was trying not to draw.

The fact was that Krista was Lucas’ friend long before she was mine. She must be trying not to think like that, trying not to choose sides, but I knew. She wanted to know why, and I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell her because I didn’t understand it myself. She thought she could help or make it better, but she couldn’t. No one could. No one but Mom.

Later, Krista pulled up at the curb in front of my house and cut the engine. She remained silent for a few seconds, breathing and listening to the sound of the rain, probably weighing her options as to what to say next. Her fingers were wrapped nimbly around the wheel, eyes staring far off.

Then she turned to me and her eyes were soft. The tension melted, her features spread into a little smile—not a happy smile, the kind smile of someone who understands or cares or wants to help. “Do you want to talk about it?”

It was a question. She was giving me an option.

I shook my head. “I can’t.” I barely heard the words.

“Okay,” she answered before opening her arms and hugging me. It was short and firm, patting my back lightly then releasing me to meet my eyes. “Just call me, okay?”

“Thank you,” I answered then opened the car door, descending into the storm outside. I ran across the soaked grass, shivering despite the warmth of the rain. I fumbled in the pocket of my jacket, the cold metal of my keys evading my grasp. I groaned at the sight of Krista’s headlights flaring once again as she pulled off, but then the door jerked open in front of me. I exhaled.

My dad’s eyes raked over my body, still being pelted with rain, before he stepped aside. “I thought you four were going to stay at Mike’s for a few days,” he stated, frowning as I shook in the entryway.

“Yeah we were,” I answered, freezing now as the AC hit my bare, wet legs.

“What happened?” he asked, but I shook my head, going around him.

“Just not now, please, Dad,” I pleaded, practically running down the hall.

The bedroom door closed between me and the rest of the world and I felt my knees buckle under me. I tumbled to the ground, body shaking uncontrollably. I should probably stand up, get undressed, maybe take a shower and crawl into bed, but I couldn’t move. I froze there on the ground in my wet clothes, arms and legs tangled uncomfortably, shoulders heaving, but I couldn’t cry anymore. Instead I lay there, dry sobbing until finally sleep overtook me with the heavy veil of unconsciousness.

I dreamed that Lucas came to my window. He was worried beyond belief, eyes strained from lack of sleep, voice gruff and clothes a mess. He just wanted to talk, to check on me, to help, but I just stayed in place on the floor. I couldn’t decide if it was because I couldn’t move or because I didn’t want to talk.

I awoke the next morning with a groan. My throat ached painfully and my body wasn’t much better as I’d slept in some reverse downward dog yoga tightrope walker fashion. My shoulders heaved forward, struggling to move at all, but I managed it, standing up in front of the floor-length mirror on the back of my closet.

I looked like I’d been swallowed by a sea monster and spit out, coated with a thick layer of grimy rainwater and puffy from tears. My hair had dried wet, leaving it stringy, and Mom’s coat was a second skin, damp and chilling against my overheated skin.

My fingers, by now shriveled like a grape left in the sun, gripped at the buttons, fumbling to undo them and shove the jacket from my shoulders. It hit the floor in moments—something that on any other day, in any other circumstances would have been completely catastrophic—and I was pulling off the clothes I’d worn underneath, shoving the ruined shoes to the back of my closet to deal with another day. I grabbed an oversized T-shirt and headed to the shower, hoping to cleanse away the night’s events, but the pounding water only intensified the memories threatening to overtake my entire being, so I rushed through it, removing the outermost layer of grime before shutting off the scalding water.

BOOK: The Artist and Me
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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