Read The Leftovers Online

Authors: Tom Perrotta

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

The Leftovers (6 page)

BOOK: The Leftovers
2.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Don’t blame her,
Jill thought.
I made the choice.

She was grateful to Aimee, she really was, and glad she’d been able to help her out with a place to stay when she needed it. Even so, all this togetherness was starting to get to her, the two of them living like sisters, sharing clothes and meals and secrets, partying together every night and then starting up again in the morning. This month they even got their periods at the same time, which was kind of freaky. What she needed was a breather, a little time to catch up on schoolwork, hang out with her dad, maybe go through some of the college material that kept arriving in the mail every day. Just a day or two to get her bearings, because sometimes she had a little trouble locating the boundary between the two of them, the place where Aimee left off and Jill began.

*   *   *

only a few blocks from school when the Prius pulled up silently beside them. It was one of those things that never used to happen to Jill but happened all the time now that she was hanging out with Aimee. The passenger window slid down, releasing a cloud of pot-scented reggae into the chilly November morning.

“Hey, ladies,” Scott Frost called out. “What’s up?”

“Not much,” Aimee replied. Her voice changed color when she talked to guys—it sounded deeper to Jill, infused with a teasing lilt that made even the most banal statements seem vaguely intriguing. “What’s up with you?”

Adam Frost leaned in from the driver’s seat, his head staggered a few inches behind his brother’s, creating a kind of mini–Mount Rushmore effect. The Frost twins were famously handsome—identical dreadlocked slackers with square jaws, sleepy eyes, and the lithe bodies of the athletes they might have been if they hadn’t been wasted all the time. Jill was pretty sure they’d graduated the year before, but she still saw them a lot in school, mostly in the art room, though they never seemed to do any art. They just sat around like retired guys, observing the young strivers with an air of benevolent amusement. The drawing teacher, Ms. Coomey, seemed to enjoy their company, chatting and laughing with them while her students worked independently. She was around fifty, married, and overweight, but a rumor had nonetheless spread through the school that she and the Frost brothers sometimes got it on in the supply closet during her free periods.

“Hop in,” Adam called out. He had a row of piercings in his right eyebrow, which was the main way people distinguished him from Scott. “Let’s go for a ride.”

“We have to go to school,” Jill muttered, speaking more to Aimee than the twins.

“Fuck that,” said Scott. “Come hang out at our house, it’ll be fun.”

“What kind of fun?” Aimee inquired.

“We have a Ping-Pong table.”

“And some Vicodin,” Adam added.

“Now you’re talking.” Aimee turned to Jill with a hopeful smile. “Whaddaya think?”

“I don’t know.” Jill felt the heat of embarrassment spreading across her face. “I’ve been missing a lot of school lately.”

“Me too,” Aimee said. “One more day’s not gonna matter.”

It was a reasonable point. Jill glanced at the twins, who were nodding in unison to “Buffalo Soldier,” sending out a subliminal message of encouragement.

“I don’t know,” she said again.

Aimee released a pointed sigh, but Jill remained motionless. She couldn’t understand what was holding her back. The Chemistry test was already under way. The rest of the day would just be a footnote to her failure.

“Whatever.” Aimee opened the door and climbed into the backseat, staring at Jill the whole time. “You coming?”

“That’s okay,” Jill told her. “You guys go ahead.”

“You sure?” Scott asked as Aimee shut the door. He seemed genuinely disappointed.

Jill nodded and Scott’s window hummed shut, slowly obscuring his beautiful face. The sealed-up Prius didn’t move for a second or two, and neither did Jill. A sharp feeling of regret took hold of her as she stared at the tinted glass.

“Wait!” she called out.

Her voice sounded loud in her own ears, almost desperate, but they must not have heard her, because the car lurched into motion just as she was reaching for the door, and moved noiselessly down the street without her.

*   *   *

still high when she got to school, but not in the giggly way that made most mornings with Aimee feel like a goofy adventure, the two of them pretending to be spies or cracking up at things that weren’t even funny, which somehow made them laugh even harder. Today’s buzz felt heavy and sad, just a weird bad mood.

Technically, she was supposed to sign herself in at the main office, but that was one of those regulations nobody paid much attention to anymore, a holdover from a more orderly and obedient time. Jill had only been in high school for five weeks before the Sudden Departure, but she still had a vivid memory of what it was like back then, the teachers serious and demanding, the kids focused and motivated, full of energy. Almost everybody played an instrument or went out for a sport. Nobody smoked in the bathroom; you could get suspended for making out in the hall. People walked faster in those days—at least that’s how she remembered it—and they always seemed to know exactly where they were going.

Jill opened her locker and grabbed her copy of
Our Town,
which she hadn’t even started, despite the fact that they’d been discussing it in English for the past three weeks. There were still ten minutes to go before the end of second period, and she would have been happy to plop down on the floor and at least skim the first few pages, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate, not with Jett Oristaglio, Mapleton High’s wandering troubadour, sitting directly across from her, strumming his acoustic guitar and singing “Fire and Rain” for the thousandth time. That song just gave her the creeps.

She thought about ducking into the library, but there wasn’t enough time to get anything done, so she figured she’d just head upstairs to English. On the way, she took a quick detour past Mr. Skandarian’s room, where her classmates were finishing up the Chem test.

She wasn’t sure what possessed her to look inside. The last thing she wanted was for Mr. S. to see her and realize that she wasn’t sick. That would totally blow any chance she had of getting him to let her take a makeup test. Luckily, he was filling in a Sudoku when she peeked through the window, completely absorbed in the little boxes.

It must have been a hard test. Albert Chin was finished, of course—he was messing with his iPhone to kill time—and Greg Wilcox had gone to sleep, but everybody else was still working, doing the kind of stuff you do when you’re trying to think and the clock is running out—lips were being bitten; hair was being wound around fingers; legs were bouncing up and down. Katie Brennan was scratching at her arm like she had a skin disease, and Pete Rodriguez kept tapping himself in the forehead with the eraser end of his pencil.

She only stood there for a minute or two, but even so, you might have expected someone to look up and see her, maybe smile or throw a quick wave. That’s what usually happened when somebody peered into a classroom during a test. But everybody just kept working or sleeping or spacing out. It was as if Jill no longer existed, as if all that remained of her was an empty desk in the second row, a memorial to the girl who used to sit there.



ask why the girl was standing on his doorstep, suitcase in hand. For weeks now, he’d felt the hope leaving his body in a slow leak—it was a little like going broke—and now it was gone. He was emotionally bankrupt. The girl smiled wryly, as if she could read his thoughts.

“You Tom?”

He nodded. She handed him an envelope with his name written across the front.

“Congratulations,” she said. “You’re my new babysitter.”

He’d seen her before, but never up close, and she was even more beautiful than he’d realized—a tiny Asian girl, sixteen at most, with impossibly black hair and a perfect teardrop of a face.
he remembered, the fourth bride. She let him stare for a while, then got tired of it.

“Here,” she said, pulling out her iPhone. “Why don’t you just take a picture?”

Two days later, the FBI and Oregon State Police arrested Mr. Gilchrest in what the TV news insisted on calling a “surprise early-morning raid,” even though it was no surprise to anyone, least of all Mr. Gilchrest himself. Ever since Anna Ford’s betrayal, he’d been warning his followers of dark times ahead, trying to convince them it was all for the best.

“Whatsoever happens to me,” he’d written in his last e-mail, “do not despair. It happens for a reason.”

Though he’d expected the arrest, Tom was taken aback by the severity of the charges—multiple counts of second- and third-degree rape and sodomy, as well as tax evasion and illegal transportation of a minor across state lines—and offended by the obvious pleasure the newscasters took in what they called “the spectacular downfall of the self-styled messiah,” the “shocking allegations” that left his “saintly reputation in tatters” and “fast-growing youth movement in disarray.” They kept showing the same unflattering video clip of a handcuffed Mr. Gilchrest being escorted into the courthouse in rumpled silk pajamas, his hair flattened on one side of his head, as if he’d just been hauled out of bed. The scroll bar at the bottom of the screen read:

There were four of them watching—Tom and Christine, and Tom’s housemates, Max and Luis. Tom didn’t know either of the guys very well—they’d just been rotated in from Chicago to assist him at the San Francisco Healing Hug Center—but from what he could tell, their reactions to the news were completely in character: sensitive Luis weeping softly, hotheaded Max shouting obscenities at the screen, insisting Mr. Gilchrest had been framed. For her part, Christine seemed oddly unruffled by the coverage, as if everything were unfolding according to plan. The only thing that bothered her was her husband’s pajamas.

“I told him not to wear those,” she said. “They make him look like Hugh Hefner.”

She got a little more animated when Anna Ford’s milkmaid face appeared on the screen. Anna was spiritual bride number six, and the only non-Asian girl in the bunch. She’d disappeared from the Ranch in late August, only to turn up a couple of weeks later on
60 Minutes,
where she told the world about the harem of underaged girls who catered to Holy Wayne’s every need. She claimed to have been fourteen years old at the time of her marriage, a desperate runaway who’d been befriended by two nice guys at the Minneapolis bus station, given food and shelter, and then transported to the Gilchrest Ranch in southern Oregon. She must have made a good impression on the middle-aged Prophet; three days after her arrival, he slipped a ring on her finger and took her to bed.

“He’s not a messiah,” she said, in what became the defining sound bite of the scandal. “He’s just a dirty old man.”

“And you’re Judas,” Christine told the television. “Judas with a big fat ass.”

*   *   *

all in ruins, everything Tom had worked for and hoped for over the past two and a half years, but for some reason he didn’t feel as heartbroken as he’d expected to. There was a definite sense of relief beneath the pain, the knowledge that the thing you’d been dreading had finally come to pass, that you no longer had to live in fear of it. Of course, there was a whole slew of new problems to worry about, but there would be time to deal with them later on.

He’d given his bed to Christine, so he stayed in the living room after everyone called it a night. Before turning off the lamp, he took out the picture of his Special Someone—Verbecki with the sparkler—and pondered it for a few seconds. For the first time since he could remember, he didn’t whisper his old friend’s name, nor did he make his nightly plea for the missing to return. What was the point? He felt like he’d just woken up from a sleep that had lasted way too long, and could no longer remember the dream that had detained him.

They’re gone,
he thought.
I’ve got to let them go.

*   *   *

ago, when he first arrived at college, Tom had been just like everybody else—a normal American kid, a B+ student who wanted to major in business, pledge a cool frat, drink a ton of beer, and hook up with as many reasonably hot girls as possible. He’d felt homesick for the first couple of days, nostalgic for the familiar streets and buildings of Mapleton, his parents and sister, and all his old buddies, scattered to institutions of higher learning across the country, but he knew the sadness was temporary, and even kind of healthy. It bothered him when he met other freshmen who spoke about their hometowns, and sometimes even their families, with casual disdain, as if they’d spent the first eighteen years of their lives in prison and had finally busted out.

The Saturday after classes began, he got drunk and went to a football game with a big gang from his floor, his face painted half orange and half blue. All the students were concentrated in one section of the domed stadium, roaring and chanting like a single organism. It was exhilarating to melt into the crowd like that, to feel his identity dissolving into something bigger and more powerful. The Orange won, and that night, at a frat kegger, he met a girl whose face was painted the same as his, went home with her, and discovered that college life exceeded his highest expectations. He could still vividly remember the feeling of walking home from her dorm as the sun came up, his shoes untied, his socks and boxers missing in action, the spontaneous high five he exchanged with a guy who staggered past him on the quad like a mirror image, the smack of their palms echoing triumphantly in the early-morning silence.

A month later, it was all over. School was canceled on October 15th; they were given seven days to pack up their stuff and vacate the campus. That final week existed in his memory as a blur of baffled farewells—the dorms slowly emptying, the muffled sound of someone crying behind a closed door, the soft curses people uttered as they pocketed their phones. There were a few desperate parties, one of which ended in a sickening brawl, and a hastily arranged memorial service in the Dome, at which the Chancellor solemnly recited the names of the university’s victims of what people had just begun to call the Sudden Departure. The roll call included Tom’s Psych instructor and a girl from his English class who’d overdosed on sleeping pills after learning of the disappearance of her identical twin.

BOOK: The Leftovers
2.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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