Dreamland

Author: P Hana

Page 20

   

“I don't know, Margaret,” Boo said. “I just don't know.” And there it was. Even with the dolls, and the crooked pottery vases, even with my cheerleading and bake sales and fretting over my relationship with Rogerson, my mother still couldn't fill the space left behind by my older, more dynamic, more everything, sister. We might have felt like things were going on, seasons changing, months passing. But we would have been wrong. The door slammed downstairs, announcing my father's arrival. “Hello,” he called out, as he always did, and I heard him stop to flip through the mail on the sideboard as he hung up his coat. “Oh, that's Jack,” my mother said, and suddenly she was walking through the patio door, squinting in the sudden light, one hand reaching back to smooth her hair. She seemed startled when she saw me. “Oh! Caitlin, honey, how long have you been home?”

“I just got here,” I said. Boo walked up and stood in the doorway, tucking her catalog under one arm. When she smiled at me, her eyes crinkled in the corners, freckles folding in on each other. “Hey, beautiful,” she said. “Want to take a photography class with us?” My mother was crossing the room from the fridge now, opening the oven to slide in a casserole. I could hear my father coming up the stairs, his footsteps heavy. “Sure,” I said. “Caitlin, I don't know,” my mother said, shutting the oven. “You're so busy with practice and school, I'm not sure it would be best.”

“I'm not that busy,” I said. I'd only been trying to help. “But, whatever. If you don't want”

“No, I'm just saying,” my mother said quickly, setting the oven timer with a few jabs of her finger. “I just thought that maybe”

“Then it's settled,” Boo said over both of us, reaching up to adjust one of her chopsticks, jabbing it on the other side of her head. “Photography it is. Just us girls.”

“Well,” my mother said, crossing the kitchen to pull a bag of rolls out of the fridge. “I guess if it's on the weekends ...”

“No arguments,” Boo said. “Classes begin in two weeks. Saturdays at noon. Okay?” My mother glanced at the clockit was almost sixand then into the living room, where the talk show before Lamont Whipper was rolling credits up the screen. “Well, okay,” she said. “I really should”

“Go,” Boo told her. “I'll come by tomorrow.”

“See you then,” my mother said, waving over her shoulder as she walked out of the kitchen to the TV, as the Lamont Whipper theme music came on. Boo looked at me and smiled again, cocking her head to the side as if she'd known I'd been standing there, listening to them all along. “You holding up okay?” she said suddenly, and the last of the sunset was so pink behind her. I remembered how I'd wished all those nights in my room that she was my mother as I watched Stewart glide down the slope of their lawn, bike chains rattling, under the moonlight. Sometimes it seemed like she was the only one who even noticed I was alive. “Sure,” I said, unable to stop myself from turning to see my own real mother pull a chair closer to the television, leaning in for the slightest glimpse of the one face she would recognize, the only one she wanted to see. “I'm fine.”

It was about a week later that I was stuck in practice for an extra twenty minutes while Chelsea Robbins drilled us, again and again, on a new dance routine she'd come up with during a bout of inspiration at a Baptist Youth retreat. It involved a lot of backflips, a pyramid, and a complicated formation that was supposed to result in us all lying down in various positions to form a tiger (our mascot) but instead ended up looking like some variation of a sloth without a head. “This is ridiculous,” Rinawho was making up part of the mouthsaid after our fifth try. “All anyone is going to be doing is trying to look up our skirts anyway. It's humiliating.”

“Ladies!” Chelsea yelled at Melinda Trudale and me. We were supposed to be forming the tiger's chest but our legs were too short. Above us, we could hear rain pounding on the roof: It was pouring. “Extend! You have to extend!”

“Screw extending,” Melinda said under her breath. “It's six-?friggin'-o'clock. I'm going home.”

“One more run-?through,” Chelsea said, reaching over to rewind the musicour school fight song, set to a disco beatagain. But, led by Melinda, everyone was now getting up, grumbling and shaking the floor dust out of their sweatpants and T-?shirts, and heading for their backpacks and the parking lot. “Fine, fine,” Chelsea said in a clipped tone, grabbing the tape player and yanking the cord out of the wall. We'll start fresh tomorrow. And think formation, please. Think teamwork!“ ”Think therapy,“ Rina said, nudging me with her elbow as she passed, on her way to meet Bill Skeritt, who was standing by the doorway waiting for her. ”See you later, okay?“ she said as he looped his arm around her waist, leaning to kiss her neck. She laughed, push-?Jig him off, while her fingers looped around his wrist, at the same rime pulling him closer. ”See you,“ I said. Everyone was filing out of the gym, talking and complaining about Chelsea, while I bent down to grab my books and jacket. The rain was still coming down, beating hard overhead. When I stood up, Mike Evans was right behind me. ”Hey, Caitlin,“ he said. He was wearing his letter jacket and his hair was damp, curling slightly over his collar. ”Hi.“ I slung my backpack over my shoulder, glancing at the doors that led to the outer building. I was hoping for Rina, or Melinda Trudale, or even Chelsea Robbins and her boom box, anyone to stop this inevitable discussion I was about to have with saltine-?esque Mike Evans, whom I hadn't been really face-?to-?face with since the night I rejected both him and his letter jacket and ran off with Rogerson, never looking back. But the hallway, and the gym, were empty. It was just us. ”So,“ he said, sticking his hands in his pockets, ”how've you been?“ ”Um, good,“ I said, taking a step closer to the door and glancing hint, hintat my watch. ”I really should“ ”So what happened that night, at the party?" he asked me suddenly, and I felt so uncomfortable I just looked at my shoes, the shiny wooden gym floor beneath them. “I mean, I thought you liked me. Rina said you did.”

“Mike,” I said.

“And then you leave with that guy.” The way he said it Rogerson could have been some infectious disease involving pus, boils, and graphic bodily functions. “I mean, what was that all about?”

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