The course of true love never did run smooth.
A Midsummer Night's Dream,
act 1, scene 1
My grandmother is listening to the Beatles again. Loudly. She refuses to use earbuds because she says bugs can crawl out of the tiny speakers and into your brain that way. John Lennon's voice travels up the stairs and under the doors and through the thin walls of this smelly old house. Lennon's lyrics reach me all the way up here in the attic, where my parents have cleared a space for my mattress and a small bookshelf for my sketch pads. Your castle in the sky, my mother joked. I'm the madwoman in the attic, I joked back.
Mom didn't laugh.
Grandma particularly loves “Strawberry Fields.” She says the angels talk to her through this song. And I worry that the longer I lie here and listen, I'm going to hear the angels talking to me, too.
My brother doesn't think I'm crazy. At least he doesn't treat me like a crazy person and I'm grateful for that. Ever since I was discharged from Winter Oaks, rated the best adolescent psych unit in eastern Georgia, Mom and Dad have hovered over me, watching me like a ticking time bomb.
They make sure I take my pills, and ask me a million times a day if I'm feeling all right. How should I feel? I'm curled up in my bed under my quilt, even though the attic is hot and stuffy, and I wonder if I can even describe the sensations I'm feeling. I can't call them emotions. At least not right now. There are only a million thoughts. Emotionless thoughts buzzing around in my head like insects.
Thankfully, my parents now have Grandma to worry about. Maybe they'll forget to worry about me. Until I do something terrible. Something crazy.
“Hey, Hippie.” David tromps up the stairs and knocks on the door as he's pushing it open.
“What's up, Hick?” I don't bother to raise my head from the pillow.
He plops himself down next to me. Grandma's ancient calico cat has been cuddled up against me all morning. Now she hisses at David and jumps down. “Nat, I need a favor.”
I have no money.”
I've been meaning to look for a summer job, but Dad hasn't pushed the issue, so I really haven't looked that hard.
My brother picks up the nearest stuffed animal, the phallic-looking naked mole rat from
and starts tossing it up in the air, catching it like a football. “Do you know anything about the theater workshop they're doing this summer downtown?”
I try to grab Rufus away from him, but David keeps the naked mole rat out of my reach. “Um, I think they're doing
A Midsummer Night's Dream
“I was thinking about trying out. Want to come with me?”
I stare at my brother, with his backward baseball cap. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I'm just looking for something to do this summer. I figured you knew all about that hippie drama stuff, so . . .” I think he is actually blushing.
Now I sit straight up as I continue to stare him down. “Since when are you into hippie drama stuff?” My brother is not really a hick. Far from it, actually. But he dresses like one and drives a monster truck that I tease him about mercilessly.
“All right,” he says, setting the naked mole rat down. “You know Colton, who works at that coffee shop, the Pirate House?”
My jaw drops. “You've got to be kidding. You two are like night and day! He's like a goth queen!”
David has been trying to get me out of my room this summer, dragging me to his favorite coffeehouse in the city. I know I should be grateful to have a big brother who isn't afraid to let his little sister tag along with him, and I do like to sit and people-watch at the Pirate House. And it's next door to a wonderfully seedy looking comic book store. One day I'm going to get the nerve up to go in there.
“He sat in front of me in Composition last semester,” David says. “He'd draw these funny little pictures on my notebooks.”
“Is that why you failed that course? Are you saying it was the Queen of the Night's fault?” David just barely squeaked by his freshman year at the Savannah College of Art and Design, affectionately known as SCAD. My brother is majoring in architecture.
“No, but that's why I need your help. My English professor is directing the play. She'll kick me out of the theater for sure unless you come to tryouts with me.”
“Me? Just because you got a bad grade in Comp One doesn't mean she won't let you work on the play. Besides, why would I want to go to play tryouts? I'm the antisocial one, remember?”
“Because you love your brother more than anyone else in the world.” David sighs and fidgets with his cap. “I need you to come with me so I won't look like a theater dork. I'll just be there for my little hippie sister who can't drive yet.”
He ducks as I throw Rufus at his head. “It's not like you have anything else to do this summer besides hide from the sun and sew weird clothes. Here's your chance to wear weird clothes on stage. If you don't want to try out for a part, maybe you could just work on costumes.”
“Ooh, fairy dresses.” I could have fun with this. Possibly. Except I really can't sew that well yet.
“And you don't want me to tell Dad about you climbing out your window and sneaking off to that bonfire with your weird friends.”
I sit straight up in my bed. “How do you know about that? You weren't even in Athens at the time.” If I hadn't snuck out that night with Caleb, I probably wouldn't have ended up in Winter Oaks.
David rolls his eyes. “I'm the big brother. I know more about sneaking out than you. So, are you coming?”
He does not know everything about my bonfire story. If he did, he'd know what Caleb did that night, and David wouldn't ask me to help set him up with anyone like Colton. Straight or otherwise, bad boys really can be bad for you.
Still, the theater workshop sounds interesting. And even though I've never been in a play before, I do love Shakespeare. Even madwomen have to leave their attics sometimes.
“When are tryouts?” I finally ask.
My brother grins. He knows he's got me. “Tomorrow at three.”
“Tomorrow?” What am I going to wear? My stomach starts hurting already.
“You'll do great, I know it.” David pats me on the knee, then jumps up before I can hit him with the naked mole rat again.
I flop back on my bed, listening to him stomp down the stairs and out the door, back to his dorm. I missed him so much when he left for college last year, and we still lived in Athens. But Mom and Dad and I had to move to Savannah last month to be here with Grandma after Grandpa died. She refuses to take her psych meds anymore, and before Grandpa was even buried, the cops had already called Dad, when they found Grandma trying to set the house on fire.
She claims she was cold and thought she was lighting the fireplace. Why she thought she needed a fire in the middle of May, I can't understand. It's extra-hot up here in the attic, and even though Dad promises to get me a small window-unit air conditioner, it's not on the top of his list of priorities right now.
My parents are under way too much stress this summer. Dealing with Grandpa's death, and Grandma's craziness, and all of this happening right after my misadventure.
I pull my damp hair off the back of my neck and stare up at the ceiling. George Harrison is singing now. A slow, sad song about his weeping guitar. Grandma prefers the later Beatles albums to their earlier work. The long-haired, hippie years. Dad is constantly throwing away her incense so she won't set the house on fire again.
I know it's too hot up here to light any incense, but it would certainly help to disguise the cat litter smell that permeates the whole house.
No, I can't hide up here in this attic all summer long. I have to get out and do something. If I have to try out for a play in front of a bunch of strangers, that's okay. David will be there. And maybe I can help him win the love of his life.