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A Fateful Melody

A FATEFUL MELODY

 

 

 

 

 

Song for You

 

 

Megan Rivers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2016 by Megan Koomen

Photography & Cover Art by Megan Koomen

 

ISBN-13: 978-1539412991

ISBN-10: 1539412997

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

For Gramma and Grampa Hi-C

And for Kristin, who without her friendship

this story would never have been born

PREFACE

 

 

 

It was one of those days in May when the trees of New York no longer carried the promise of green buds on its branches, but the beginning of summer leaves instead. It made me smile as I climbed out of the taxi and walked into the airport.

Traveling had become a routine. Every weekend I performed a choreographed dance: e-ticket check-in to the left, slip off my shoes for security to the right, sashay below the array of screens to make sure my flight is on time, and perform a curtsey as I arrive at my terminal. It could be tedious at times, and frustrating at peak travel periods, but the destination was always worth it. Getting to see those green eyes and be enveloped in his arms on the other side made every mile worth it.

During the flight I usually pulled out the accordion folder of work to catch up on. As I sifted through the histories, research, and other documents from my department, the young woman beside me touched my arm hesitantly.

Her hair was the first thing that I noticed. It wasn’t large, frizzy, or styled in a weird way, but the blonde waves demanded attention more than her wintery blue eyes or thin pale lips. “Excuse me, I’m sorry,” she started and I pulled the reading glasses from my nose so I could see her better.

“I never do this. Don’t think I’m weird, but aren’t you Christie Kelly?”

When I exhaled I pulled my lips into a grin. People don’t recognize me often, but when they do I’m half flattered and half scared. “Yes,” I said softly. We still had three hours until we reached Dallas and most of the time when people recognized me, it was usually because they didn’t like me.

The woman next to me smiled and I mentally sighed with relief. “I promise I won’t bother you the rest of the trip, I just want to say…” she searched for her words briefly, “that you are an amazing person.”

I lifted an eyebrow at her response. This was a first in my book. “Thank you,” I said taken aback. “I don’t get that a lot… or really ever.”

Surprise lifted her eyebrows. “Well, I mean, I don’t know you, but growing up I was a huge Prey for Chance fan. And I remember reading about you when I was following their world tour in Australia. Then later I read about you in Chicago and in Maine. And don’t think I’m one of those crazy fans—but I remember wanting to know why you moved so much. I did some research and there are not a lot of positive things about you in the media.”

I nodded in agreement. Over the years many rumors about me coated the entertainment world. For many years the gossip haunted me.

“Anyway, when Kaden died in that plane crash in 2008, I had just graduated college and worked at a newspaper.” As the woman talked, her cheeks grew faintly pink and her eyes avoided mine in what I guessed was embarrassment. “I was copy editing an article someone wrote about the band and where they are now. It mentioned you were a graduate from Sarah Lawrence and you were working at the MET. It was…. uplifting. To see a woman go through life with so many hurdles set up against you and come out on top without help from anyone…” she paused and looked me in the eyes. “I wish more people knew the whole story. It’s very empowering.”

A small grin played on my lips as it was my turn to be embarrassed. I wondered what facts she did find because I didn’t see my life that way. My life was a rollercoaster, except sometimes I’d have to get out and push the car and be sure I make it back in before it gained too much momentum and I’d be left vulnerable on the tracks, in the destructive path of another oncoming car.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Oh!” She put a hand to her face briefly realizing her lack of manners. “I’m so sorry. I’m Megan. Megan Rivers.”

“Thank you, Megan,” I said genuinely as I shook her hand. “It means a lot to me, your words.” I let my smile reach my eyes. “Well, I’m glad somewhere something decent is written about me.”

Megan bit her bottom lip and then said, “This is probably the journalist in me—and don’t think I’m fishing for anything—but a lot of people are intrigued by your story. They want to know about you. They want to know the real, honest-to-goodness, true story of Christie Kelly and Galvin Kismet.”

I raised my eyebrow in question. My name had been tossed around carelessly by the media since I had met Galvin and a lot of people dubbed me “unworthy” and have “tainted” him and his career.

“Really? You think so?” I asked. “Me?”

Megan nodded her head with a shrug and gave an encouraging smile.

So, after much deliberation I decided to set the record straight. Here it is: the true story behind world renowned rock star Galvin Kismet and ordinary, girl-next-door, Christie Kelly.

 

 

NOTE: As you will notice, each chapter of this book is accompanied by a song. I’ve done this because Galvin once told me that life is either the same song you sing day in and day out, or you go out into the world and devise your own soundtrack. While searching my cluttered mind for memories to put in this book, I also uncovered a number of songs that accompanied them. So I’ve listed them for you, the reader, giving you a look at the soundtrack to my life and by listening to the words, feeling the music, or experiencing the emotions on the tracks, you will better understand my story.

 

 

 

 

 

Book One

 

 

 

 

A Fateful Melody

 

 

I.

A Voice of Shadow

 

Your Winter” – Sister Hazel

 

 

 

It all began at the ripe age of fifteen, in the year 2000. I already had one year of high school under my belt at University High School in Chicago. I was on the girl’s tennis team and had a huge crush on Joshua Bernstein. I would ogle at the way his dark blonde hair danced around his forehead in biology as he sat next to Kat Korrigan, a pale blonde who was so genuinely nice it was impossible to hate her. He smiled at her stories and during lectures would doodle on her notebook. My lab partner, on the other hand, constantly wiped his nose on the back of his arm, from knuckle to elbow, and I would cringe when his glistening limb crossed the invisible brick wall I built between us the first week of school.

I kept my grades average out of boredom and ducked into the next hallway whenever Lydia Zuniga came into my line of sight. Lydia had given me the nickname “Pisstine” in middle school and marked me her arch-rival (to this day I don’t remember why). Whenever I was within reach she never passed up the opportunity to humiliate me.

Home was a second-floor apartment eight blocks away that my mother and I moved into when I was seven years old. We lived meagerly because Mom was in a truck load of debt. Some of it was from the student loans on her three degrees, but the rest was from the credit cards her and my father lived on when he was in graduate school and I was a baby. After they divorced, my father’s well-off Australian family had the money for lawyers that my mother did not.

My mother, never one to complain, filed a Chapter 13 and had just started her dream job as an associate professor of American History at the University of Chicago, but after paying her monthly payment and miscellaneous bills—which she did, in full, on time, every month—there wasn’t much to live on. We were happy though. Mom and I were best friends and living with her, just the two of us, was happiness; I couldn’t picture living any other way.

I didn’t have many friends at school, just a few acquaintances I played tennis with and a group of girls that sometimes invited me to go out with them. One of these acquaintances was Kristin. I would have called her an average looking girl if it wasn’t for her strikingly beautiful red hair which she usually wore short and curled out. Her red hair, brown eyes, pale skin and bold clothing sometimes made me think of her as a Rainbow Bright character.

Kristin and I shared a desk in geography and she would walk into the classroom with headphones on her head every day. She kept one ear bud on her left ear and the other sat behind her right ear so she could exchange mutual hellos and gossip with me until the bell rang. When Mr. Lawrence started his lecture, she would wrap the headphone wire around her CD player and drop it her bright pink book bag that hung on the back of her chair.

One day Kristin came into class completely submerged in her music; both ear buds covered her ears. She smiled at me as she sat down but she clearly didn’t want to peel the head phones from her ears and talk to me. When the bell rang to begin class, she pulled the hood of her red and white striped sweater over her head and turned the music down, but I could still hear the notes as Mr. Lawrence began a lesson about water tables.

This behavior continued all week and it drove me crazy with curiosity. When I sat down in class on Friday, Kristin walked in with a black hood covering her head just as the bell rang. I was determined to quench my curiosity before class let out and find out what exactly kept her enamored for so long.

She smiled weakly at me and sat down once again. I smiled back but Kristin’s head bobbed with the music I couldn’t hear. “Kristin?” Mr. Lawrence was looking at our table but Kristin’s head still bobbed and she doodled circles and tornadoes on the margins of her notebook.

I nudged her and she looked at me, lifting one ear bud from her ear. I glanced towards the front of the classroom where Mr. Lawrence was standing.

“Do you mind placing the Walkman on my desk for the remainder of this class Miss Theobald?”

Kristin groaned, peeling the wire band off her head and slipping the CD player out of the front pocket of her hoodie. Dragging her feet, she placed it on the corner of his desk and the both of us barely made it through the hour long lecture.

When the bell rang again, Kristin sprang from her seat and made a beeline to Mr. Lawrence’s desk and grabbed her Walkman before Mr. Lawrence could stop her. I caught up to her just as she was slipping the headphones back onto her head. “Hey,” I said, clutching my books to my chest and keeping up with her long stride.

“Hey,” she replied, slipping the CD player back into her front pocket. “Can you believe Mr. Lawrence? Mortifying!”

“What were you listening to anyway?”

Quotations, that Prey for Chance album.” The sentence was in the tone of one big Duh!

I had no idea what she was talking about and knew that it showed on my face. “Please tell me you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Kristin said, now walking backwards.

I shook my head.

“’Cuttin’ the Rain’, you haven’t heard it?”

I shook my head again.

“Oh my god!” Kristin acted like I had just told her that I never tasted chocolate or chewed gum before.

She took me by the hand into a nook between lockers to get out of the transitioning crowd of students and pulled out the Walkman. “You need to hear this!” She plopped the headphones on my head as I wondered how late I would be to English. “It’s unbelievable!” she said fumbling to hit the play button.

The music started and I wasn’t impressed, it began with a drumming heart beat and the bombardment of a guitar and maybe a piano key or two and my smile faltered; was this really what Kristin was so excited about?

But then there was a voice, the most tantalizing, beautiful voice I had ever heard, that almost made me forget my physical myself. His voice. I had no idea what the lyrics were in the song, but his voice wrapped around my head, weaving through my hair and whispered into my ear images that made me drunk with a feeling I never felt before.

“So what do you think?” The sound of Kristin’s voice made me momentarily angry; where had that delicious sound gone? Then the headphones were ripped from my head and placed back on hers when the bell rang. We both bolted down the hallway. “Don’t you just love the guitar riffs and the jammin’ keys?”

“Uh-huh.” My voice wasn’t as enthusiastic as hers and I could feel her spirit wane when she spoke next.

“Ha! Right!” My quiet tone put her off and she turned the corner to get to her next class. “See ya on Monday!”

I found myself in an empty hallway, late for English, and I didn’t care. Me, the girl who’s never had a tardy slip, never had detention, the goody-two-shoes of the tenth grade simply stood in the silent corridor listening to the sound of His voice dying in my ears and I wanted to hold onto it for forever.

I really, really needed to hear that voice again.

English and algebra were my last two classes of the day and they caused more torture than usual. I wanted to be able to sing the song in my head or hum the melody to keep it with me, but I had neither. That small exposure to a few measures of that song threw my world off its axis. It punctured a tiny window that gave me a peek at feelings, emotions and thoughts I never knew existed—knowing there was more to my life I wasn’t getting at this moment made me feel like a drug addict forced into rehab. My leg shook up and down and I bit my fingernails as I watched the clock inch its way to three in the afternoon.

When school let out, I flew down the stairs and got home in record time. I threw my book bag onto the kitchen floor and turned on the radio that eternally sat on the counter, tucked between the fridge and the toaster. The dial was permanently tuned to the station that played music only from the 60s and 70s. Hungrily, I turned the dial and searched for that station everyone in school listened to that played only the Billboard Top 50. I put a blank cassette tape in the cassette player and hoped for good luck.

Still looking for my fix, I turned up the volume and laid out my homework on the kitchen table but couldn’t concentrate enough to start it. I constantly tapped the cheap table cloth with my pencil top and glanced from my algebra book to the radio.

I began telling myself how stupid I was being and that the voice couldn’t have been that great. Still, I was curious and kept the radio turned to music I couldn’t stand and started paying serious attention to my homework.

In the middle of solving a quadratic equation I heard the heart beat drum opening and leapt for the radio to press record. My text book crashed to the floor but I didn’t bother picking it up because that voice was filling up the kitchen now—my kitchen! I turned the volume up as loud as it would go and let the voice fill every nook and cranny of our tiny apartment. Every waking moment since then was spent listening to that single cassette tape and I often fell asleep to it too, never tiring of that transcendent voice.

I vaguely recall seeing the band interviewed on TV, but nothing really stood out. It wasn’t love at first sight, because all four guys looked the same to me. My mind wandered, my eyes clouded over and a smile lazily stretched across my face as He answered questions. It wasn’t his incredible green eyes or his dark brown hair or his pouty smile, it was the voice that I had heard on the radio that made chills race up and down my spine.

And while other girls drooled over the bassist’s washboard abs, trademark Germanic blonde hair and chiseled facial features, I closed my eyes and soaked in the voice of the lead singer. I never bothered to put a face to the voice either. I always imagined a wispy mist of blue and silver observing the events that took place in the songs.

“He’s just a boy with a good voice,” my mom would tease me after I wore the cassette tape out playing and rewinding it for the next several weeks. I supposed the voice did belong to someone, but it was hard for me to give a mortal quality to a voice of that immensity. The subconscious refusal to bond the voice with a face gave me trouble remembering his name.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There would be no story if it wasn’t for that infamous plane ride, so the story officially started several months before, on a February night in 2000.

School was canceled due to a blizzard and Mom kept the curtains closed so we couldn’t be reminded of the chill. I was decked out in the same raggedy flannel pajamas I had woken up in and spent the entire day on the couch watching TV.

I could hear Mom punching away on the keyboard at the ancient computer we shared in my bedroom. Lying on my stomach, my face pressed up against the throw pillow, I watched an episode of Friends in a zombie-like state until the phone rang.

“I got it,” I mumbled just loud enough so my mother would hear me. When I rolled off the couch and stood up I felt incredibly tired and dragged my feet into the kitchen to pick up the extension. “Hello?”

“Christine? This is your father.” If I had felt tired a moment earlier, I was wide awake now. My dad never called us. In fact I hadn’t heard from him since the last birthday card he sent me when I turned eleven (which I received two months after I blew out my candles). He was a business man who moved back to his homeland of Australia after my parents divorced in 1992.

“Dad?” I reached for the kitchen chair and sat down; it was never good news when he was in the picture. I hadn’t heard his voice in years and hadn’t seen him in much longer. Was he in town? Did he want something from Mom? I knew this wasn’t going to be a good phone call… they never are.

“Yeah, how are you?” he replied, his voice foreign but familiar to my brain. How am I? How am I? Fine. Great. Super. Mom and I have been splendid, living without your help to pay off the staggering debt you left us in. Thanks for the child support, by the way, and thanks for all the guidance and help and love you left with me too.

“What do you want, Dad?” I sighed, looking down at my stocking feet. The sooner I got off the phone with him, the better.

“I need to talk to your mother.”

“She’s busy.” I didn’t want to see the worry lines in my mother’s face grow deeper when I told her who was on the line.

Mom appeared around the corner, carrying an empty coffee mug in one hand and a handful of papers in the other. “Who is it?” she mouthed, putting the pile of papers on top of her briefcase that sat on the counter.

“Christine, give your mother the phone.” The demanding, cold tone in his voice brought me back to my childhood and I fought back the feeling of hatred. Only he could have that affect on me and still be on the other side of the world.

Mom leaned up against the counter and poured herself another cup of coffee. She looked happy, despite the lethargic cloud that had its grip on our day. Once I handed the phone to her I knew her face would deepen with horrible memories and I didn’t want to see that.

“Christine,” his voice boomed in warning over the phone. “Put your mother on the phone, now.”

My eyebrows pulled together and I bit my lip as Mom looked up at me. “What’s wrong?” she asked, as I got up from the chair.

My hand extended towards her. “It’s Dad, he wants to talk to you,” I said and watched her features sink as she took the phone from me.

She disappeared into her bedroom for nearly two hours. I made grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup because I couldn’t sit still. Sitting at the kitchen table, blowing on spoon after spoon of soup, I heard her voice rise on more than one occasion but I couldn’t make anything out, except for anger.

I felt the uncertainty and worry that accompanied me during my childhood coil its way around me once more until I threw the spoon down and pushed the uneaten grilled cheese away from me. I stood up and turned on the radio. The Beatles’ “Help” was on and I sat on the floor, my head up against the counter and sang along to the song, the palm of my hands pressed against my temples.

As the tempo drifted into the “Downtown” beat of Petula Clark, I got to my feet, turned up the volume and started turning on all the lights and straightening up the apartment, singing along. Whenever things got unbearable when I was younger, Mom and I would sit in the parked car, turn the music up and sing along to the radio until the melody melted our worries away.

I was screaming the lyrics to Rolling Stones’ “Get off my Cloud” into a pillow on the couch when the music stopped mid-chorus. I dropped the pillow and let the room’s cool air wipe the dampness from my face as I saw Mom in front of the radio in the kitchen, the phone still in her hand. She looked tired, defeated.

Mom moved her way into the living room, her hand cupped over the phone. She slid the newspaper and opened mail onto the floor and sat down on the coffee table, across from me. Her eyes struggled to meet mine and lingered on my shoulder for a few seconds. “Your father wants to speak to you.”

I shook my head, my eyes pleading. “I don’t want to speak to him, Mom.”

She looked down at the floor and sighed before her eyes met mine again. “I know, baby, but give him a few minutes, for me, all right?”

My eyes dropped down to the phone in her hands and I snatched it, aggravated. I shot up from my seat and walked away from her; I didn’t want her to see me any angrier.

“What?” I snapped into the receiver after I walked into the corner of the kitchen where I couldn’t see my mother. Pushing myself into the corner, I readied myself for something awful.

“I have some news for you, Christine.” He paused for me to say something but I closed my eyes and scratched my forehead, impatiently. “I got married a few months ago, her name is Penny. She has a daughter about your age and they want to meet you.”

My eyes opened and I saw Mom’s shadow retreat back down the hall into her bedroom. Married? He was married? It wasn’t that he couldn’t love us, it was that he wouldn’t because he obviously loved her, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten married. And a daughter! I wasn’t good enough for him? Okay, maybe I sound like a whining baby here, but can you imagine the thoughts, feelings and emotions that this news stirred up in a teenager?

“Christine?”

“What?”

“Do you have anything to say?”

“What do you want me to say, exactly?”

“’Congratulations’ would be nice.” I clenched my teeth together and took a deep breath. Are you kidding me? After all the pain you caused Mom and me and then disappearing for nearly three years only to come back in the form of a phone call to tell us this? was what I really wanted to tell him. “But I called to ask you to come to Melbourne, to live here for a bit, to meet your new mother and sister.”

“What?! No! Are you kidding me? There’s no way I would ever, EVER, live under your roof again!” I was so flustered that I hung up the phone, slamming it back in its cradle, disgusted at such a suggestion.

Moments later the phone trilled again. I walked away, flung open the curtains in the living room and walked out onto the snow covered patio. My stocking feet sunk into the snow and quickly became wet and frozen. I let the cold air seep into my pores and I gripped the cold ledge, letting the stone steal the warmth from my body.

When I was younger, my mother worked during the afternoon and evenings as a waitress to bring in some money. My dad went to graduate school to get his MBA and watched me while Mom was gone. Mom and I had breakfast together each morning and then she would walk me to school, but I hardly ever saw her beyond that. Dad picked me up from school and grilled me with homework and made-up assignments until bedtime. I disagreed with him often and he punished me by locking me in the linen closet until I saw things his way. He caused my claustrophobia with those punishments and after that phone call I needed to be outdoors where fresh air and freedom were guaranteed.

“Christie, honey, come back inside.” Mom was standing behind me, her eyes drifted down to my feet which were buried in snow. “You’re going to get frostbite.”

I took a deep breath of cold, clean air and directed my numb feet back indoors. I plopped back down onto the couch, while Mom took her seat on the coffee table across from me. “I know you don’t think too highly of your dad and I take the blame for that, but he actually wants to try to be your father again, Christie.

“I know the idea of living with him is not ideal, but maybe his new family,” Mom suppressed a cringe at the idea, “changed him for the better. I would love for you to get to know him Christie.”

I tried hard not to roll my eyes. “You never knew your father and you’re perfectly fine.”

She leaned over and put her hands on my knees. “He died when I was very young, Christie, you know that. I didn’t have a choice, you do.”

I knew that retort was coming but at least I tried something to help my case. I sighed and rolled my head up to the ceiling, crossing my arms over my chest.

“He needs to know how extraordinary you are, Christie.” I gave her a skeptical look. “I can’t keep you all to myself, though I would like to. He needs to see what he’s been missing. Try it out, what can it hurt? If you don’t like it there you can come straight home.” My eyes dropped to the floor in defeat. I just did not want to live with him, plain and simple. I didn’t care about making him happy, he didn’t deserve it. I wanted to continue being happy, living in Chicago with Mom… how was I going to get her to understand that?

The pile of mail Mom moved from the coffee table to the floor was strewn about the carpet. My eyes traveled across the many bills that had to be paid by the end of the month. How much money was I costing her? A mouth to feed, money for clothes, school supplies, bus fare, lunch money, allowance, doctor’s visits, a life to watch after when the work day is over…. She deserved a break; a vacation from motherhood and time to enjoy herself. Give Dad the expenses, the teenage attitude, the stress, and I could lay on the guilt while I was there too.

Yeah, why not live with him and make his perfect new life a living hell? I wasn’t seven years old anymore; I had a mind of my own. I would move in with him, give him hell and give Mom a break. I’d give her a chance to live her own life for a while. It wouldn’t be easy, but I could live with him until I drove him nuts and then I’d come back satisfied and free of him forever.

My eyes found hers once again. I knew once I opened my mouth and spoke, my life would be completely different. “Fine, but let me finish the school year first.”

She smiled briefly and clasped my hands in hers.

“AND—” I said much louder, a light bulb illuminating over my head, “after this trip, I don’t ever have to see him or have contact with him ever again, if I choose.”

Mom bit her bottom lip. I knew that that was definitely not what she wanted to hear, and it was something she was not looking forward to informing my father about. “All right, hun. I’ll see what I can do.”

She stood up and glanced back at me. “It’ll all work out, trust me.” I gave her a forced smile. “It’ll be hard, honey, but I think it’s the best for all of us, you need to have your father in your life.” I struggled to keep the smile on my face.

She disappeared into her bedroom again with the telephone for another hour. I fell asleep on the couch that night, screaming lyrics into a pillow.

 

I continued going to school every day, knowing that once the second of June came, it would be the last time I would ogle at Joshua, dodge Lydia, and joke with those familiar faces at lunch. It would be the last time I would do any of those things because when my father agreed to my terms, he set some of his own: I would have the right to never hear from him again if I agreed to live with my father from July 14, 2000 until October 2, 2002—unless I somehow found a quicker route to my eighteenth birthday.

 

 

II.

Riding the Fateful Skies

 

The Sun Song” – Michael Tolcher

 

 

 

When I woke up in my bed for the last time, on the morning of July twelfth, my pillow was wet with tears. I could feel that my face was slightly swollen and hoped I could run cold water over it before my mom said, for the millionth time, “Everything will be all right, Christie, you can always come back home.” As the months passed she would add, “But you don’t have to move to Australia if you don’t want to.” On that fateful morning I had hoped she would put those remarks aside, because I was running low on ambition and wanting nothing more than to stay in my own bed.

She knew I was doing this for myself, taking a leap away from the world I knew and taking a chance on a new beginning. Not hearing from my father ever again appealed to me too. “It will be a lesson in hope,” I told her one evening over a pizza dinner. She shook her head and smiled. “You’re a brave girl, kiddo.”

When I walked out of the bathroom, I passed my three secondhand store bought suitcases that sat next to the couch in the living room. Sunlight begged to be let through the deep purple curtains and the sound of The Archies streaming from the radio pulled me into the kitchen where Mom was standing over the stove in her slippers and faded pink terrycloth robe. Her hips and head bobbed from side to side with the tune of “Sugar, Sugar”.

“Good morning star shine,” she said, turning around to greet me.

“Morning.” My voice was drenched in sleep and I cleared it, pulling out my designated kitchen chair to sit down.

The table was set for two in our coral pink plates and plastic yellow cups. Yogurt, butter, strawberries, whipped cream, maple syrup, and chocolate sauce sat between the place settings with a heaping plate of hot, crispy hash browns.

“I’m making your favorite breakfast: Sometimes Waffles,” she said. I smiled and took a deep breath of the aromas stirring in the kitchen air.

When I was six years old my parents had a really bad fight—we’re talking throwing a chair into the wall, having the neighbor call the police to see if we’re all right fight—and my mom picked me up and we went to her mother’s house. The next morning my grandmother and I made waffles for breakfast. Strawberry waffles were my favorite but my mom loved blueberries so we always married the two options.

Mom and I usually put syrup or yogurt on our waffles but Grandma pulled out all the fix-ins: Nutella, chocolate syrup, sprinkles, powdered sugar, gummy bears, honey, butterscotch, caramel and other sugary fix-ins. We made our own waffles toppings, like we would create on ice cream sundaes. I must have had four servings that morning and when I asked Mom if I could have that breakfast every day she smiled and said, “No honey, these are sometimes waffles, only on special occasions.” Ever since then I’ve asked Mom for Sometimes Waffles for breakfast on Christmas, Birthdays and the day after a good report card.

“I love Sometimes Waffles,” I said.

“You’re going to need some real meals before you ingest that airline food,” she said and I noticed a bit of flour on her chin.

“Yeah, who knows when I’ll get Sometimes Waffles again.” I moved my fork so it was parallel with my knife and then poured myself a glass of orange juice.

Mom turned to face me with a spatula in one hand. “Honey, you know you don’t have to—“

“I know Mom.” I rolled my eyes exaggeratedly. “I’m just being dramatic.”

She took the last waffle from the waffle iron and added it to a heaping plate. “Viola!”

I greedily took a waffle from the plate and added it to my own. I had an exact science to my Sometimes Waffle: a thin layer of vanilla yogurt to fill in the pockets, a happy face made out of chocolate syrup, eyebrows and a mustache for the face made out of strawberries and a beard and head of hair made of whip cream, Grandma always said it was a portrait of my grandfather, though I never met him.

“You’re so funny,” Mom said as she buttered her waffles. “This place will be so boring without you.”

“You’ll manage. I’m only a phone call away,” I said, snatching the bowl of strawberries.

“Yeah, and with you gone the apartment will smell a lot nicer,” she joked, popping the cap off of the syrup bottle.

“Very funny, Mom.”

Mom cut her waffles but before taking a bite she put down her fork and said, “I know I’ve said this a million times, but I really want you to understand that the second you want to come home or the moment you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable, you can come home in a heartbeat.”

“I know Mom.” I was getting a little frustrating hearing it everyday for the past five months and my fork clinked against the plate when I dropped it.

“I’m not saying it to annoy you honey. You can be so stubborn sometimes and I can just see you being miserable and depressed in Melbourne but sticking it out for no other reason than to be stubborn.” Mom looked down at my plate knowing she was traveling down the wrong road. When she looked up again, I realized how much I would miss her face; her eyes always said more than her words. “Just please promise me that you will let me know when you’ve had enough, whether it’s in two days or two years, okay?”

I hated it when she pointed out how stubborn I was, no matter how true the statement was. “I will Mom.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Don’t get mushy on me now.” I was bound to cry sooner or later and I was really hoping it’d wait until after I left my mother’s comforting presence.

 

When breakfast was finished I stood beside my mother and dried each dish she washed and placed it in the cabinet where it belonged. I choked back tears when I thought that the next time I pull a dish out of a cabinet it will be in a foreign kitchen.

Whenever I thought about my new home, with my father, all I could imagine was him and me in our old tiny house with a whiny wife and a red-headed buck tooth step-sister in pigtails that wouldn’t leave me alone. Little did I know it was much worse than that.

Two hours later I took one last good look around the apartment and followed Mom out the door. We lugged all three suitcases down two flights of stairs and to the curb, waiting for our taxi. As we stood in the hot July sun, gazing down the street for a yellow cab, I looked at my mother, wanting every detail of this day to be engrained in my memory so I could relive every aspect of my familiar life over the next twenty-seven months.

She had dressed up for the occasion. I only say that because she had work clothes that she strictly wore to work: suits, skirts, slacks, blouses, and she had home clothes: jeans, tee shirts, sweaters and sweats. There was no in-between, under or excess in her wardrobe, it was either one or the other. That day she wore black capris and black sandals with a purple sleeveless blouse. Since Chicago was always humid in July, she gelled her hair so her dark curls fell just below her chin. I found myself hoping that I would turn out to be as pretty as her one day.

I had put on a pair of faded blue jeans and an aquamarine tank top with my favorite comfy sweater at hand since it was winter in Melbourne. I groaned and looked down at my black and white sneakers, feeling the Chicago sun beat down on my skin for the last time outside my home.

I was examining my beat up shoes as the taxi cab pulled up. I slid in first as Mom made sure my suitcases were securely in the trunk. “O’Hare airport,” she said after closing the car door and taking the tote bag off her shoulder.

The drive there was pretty quiet. I was mentally preparing myself to say goodbye to my mother. She would steal sideways glances at me and then sigh. She was making it so much more difficult for me not to cry. I knew I shouldn’t have wasted those last moments with my mother in silence, but I was using all my strength to keep the dam behind my eyes from breaking.

At the gate, we waited in plastic seats for half an hour for the plane to board. We sat next to each other in the air conditioning, in the bright summer sun that shone through the windows and watched people float by.

“I feel like we should be in some deep, meaningful heart-to-heart right now, not awkwardly avoiding conversation,” my mother finally breathed out.

I tore my shoes and looked at my mother. “Me too, but I’m afraid I’ll start crying.”

“Oh honey.” She pulled a lock of hair behind my ears, “It’s okay to cry. I keep telling myself I won’t, but I will.” That single gesture of pushing my hair aside, that she had done a million times in the past, made my heart swell. How many other little things was I so used to that I would now miss?

“Mom?” I looked down before meeting her gaze again. That mountain of courage I had been building inside me for the past several months began crumbling, tumbling down and gaining speed like an avalanche. “I don’t know what I’m doing here. What am I doing? I’m moving to another country with someone I don’t even like.” I was getting cold feet now that the reality of the flight was only minutes away. Mom could have easily talked me out of going in thirty seconds, but she must have seen something in me that I didn’t.

“You’re going to Australia, honey, because deep down it’s what you really want. Right now I want to pick you up in my arms and fly out those doors, run home and keep you safe in our little apartment forever, keep you to myself forever, but I can’t do that. You need to see your father and see the world and you know that you want that too, so I have to point to the terminal, wish you luck, give you the biggest hug you’ve ever had and say good bye.”

My lip quivered but I still managed to keep my eyes dry. I leaned in, throwing my arms around her shoulders and leaned the side of my head against hers in a hug. “I’ve never been away from you longer than a weekend, Mom. I’m almost sixteen years old, you think I wouldn’t be acting like a five year old.”

I could picture her half-grin as she stroked my hair. “Honey, everyone’s allowed to express how they feel. Everything will be all right. Remember, you can come home anytime you want. Maybe something great is waiting for you on the other end of the world.”

Pulling apart from her, I rubbed my eyes (which were still tear free) and sardonically retorted, “That’s wishful thinking.”

“What were the words you used? ‘A lesson on hope’, wasn’t it?”

“I knew that would bite me in the butt later,” I joked and smiles erupted on our faces.

“It was so hard to say good-bye to you on your first day of preschool, too,” Mom said as she tucked the same lock of hair behind my ears as she did before it fell in front of my face again. She hated it when I had hair in my face and the majority of my childhood photographs showed my hair littered in barrettes, bobby pins, and headbands that didn’t stay put.

“But you made so many friends and school was a breeze. It’s like preschool all over again.” A deep V formed between her eyebrows and I could tell she was trying to hold back a river of tears. Empathy washed over me, soaking me to the bone.

I hugged her again, taking in her scent of lilies and coconut and felt tears stream down my cheeks. When we broke apart, her hands rested on my shoulders. “Don’t go, if you don’t want to go, but please go,” she said. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering, what if?”

As I wiped the tears off my cheeks with the back of my hand I said, “I have to go Mom. I have to.” I was curious about my father, but very anxious. Mom was right too, some deep dark secret part of me wanted to go and, while that foreign piece of me made sure I got on that plane, I still persuaded myself that Mom needed a vacation from me and the expenses I’d cost her over the years. It was Dad’s turn now.

As I walked towards the terminal I looked back at my mother. She looked so fragile. The tote bag she carried on her shoulder was so large it looked threatening. I was guaranteed to return in at least twenty-seven months, but to a fifteen year old girl, that means forever or never. My mother had been my best friend for so many years, never giving up and always keeping me her number one priority in life, and I had to put my trust in her—in our relationship—and it would get me through.

I ran back and lunged myself at my mother, giving her a rib-shattering hug. “I need a hug that will stay with me.” I closed my eyes and thought of my five year old self in the pale pink dress hugging my mommy goodbye before my first day of pre-school. “I love you. I love you,” I kept repeating until it got softer and was extinguished with a shuddering sigh.

Somehow we succeeded in not crying in that last hug, though our eyes were unnaturally glossy. We needed to be strong for each other because if one of us started crying, the other one would follow.

I got in the long line of people that was quickly parading towards the terminal. With one last glance at the most familiar scene I would experience in a long time, I forced myself to walk down the corridor and enter the plane.

As I waited behind a line of people to find my seat, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t going to spend one minute crying on the plane because I already cried more than I wanted to. No matter what happened, I was going to be strong for once in my life and take this standing up. But stepping across that line from the terminal to the plane, made the lump in my throat grow so large, it was getting hard to swallow. I tried to concentrate on something other than the flight to Australia.

Purple monkeys. Mom told me once in the eighth grade to think of purple monkeys whenever I felt the urge to cry and didn’t want to. She had come up with the idea when I was a baby and Dad had left her at the store because of an argument. I was a baby in her arms and miles away from home. As she sat outside to collect her thoughts, she felt that tingle in her throat that happened before tears spilled. She closed her eyes, looked up and saw a bus pass by with a purple monkey plastered to the side of it. The sight of it caused her to giggle and it turned into a fit of hysterical laughter. Her mood had lifted and her mind was clear and she hopped on the bus and got home.

The idea seemed insane when she suggested it, but insisted that it would help keep my mind off what was bothering me. The theory was off-the-wall, but it actually worked. I imagined a parade of them, marching down the street in dunce caps and cone bras, while the town sat along the curb and cheered, throwing candy canes at the spectacle. I was so enamored with the scene in my head that the lump in my throat melted like a sugar cube in coffee.

Then a flight attendant shot me back to reality when he ushered me up a tight circular flight of stairs to first class. My mind completely shifted to this million hour long, non-stop flight. As I took my extremely empty and lonely seat, I began to ponder why on Earth my father would have bought me a first class ticket and what would lie in store once we landed.

My thoughts progressed to my father and how miserable the next two years would be. Then I started to reminisce, once again, about all the things I was going to miss. In another attempt to keep my mind off the stress that was sure to come, I began to list off the things in my book bag as people were filing in and settling into their seats. I had a mystery novel, some music on my Walkman, a few snacks and two crossword puzzles.

Oh, who was I kidding? This was the beginning of the end to the terrible, miserable last two years of my adolescence!! I’m not going to cry, I kept telling myself, I’m not going to cry!

I was staring out the window repeating those words to myself, trying desperately to hold up the barricade of courage that held back my tears, when the plane began its decent down the runway.

Mom always told me to find the good in every situation, even if it seemed impossible. This proved to be a harder task to handle than it usually was. I even tried to conjure the purple monkeys again, but to no avail. As soon as the wheels of the enormous plane lifted into the air, I completely lost my senses and started to bawl my eyes out. No more Mom, no more Chicago, no more America, bye-bye childhood, good-bye to the world I know! I was now officially alone and miserable.

 

Now, I don’t remember his exact words but he stuttered and jammed four sentences into one, sounding something like, “Oh, uh… do-do you nee—are you alright? Can I—here take this.” I was too absorbed in my own self pity to notice the person who was sitting next to me. He anxiously handed me a small package of very stiff tissues, which were no longer white in color, from his bag.

Embarrassed, I thanked him and did my best to make him believe that I was all right while dabbing my eyes. “Good, I thought you were upset because I sat down next to you!” he replied in playful exasperation. That was his attempt at making a joke, but my mind wasn’t registering the meaning of the words coming out of his mouth, it was too busy trying to put two and two together.

“Your voice.” It was like a match had lit and set fire to my sluggish senses. “You’re Alvin, aren’t you?”

His brow creased and then he chuckled. “I’m Galvin, Galvin Kismet.” He held out his hand to shake mine.

If it wasn’t for the fact that he was shaking my hand, my whole body would have gone limp in the shock that comes with meeting someone you idolize. He looked at me, expecting me to say something back and my brain seized up. I pried my eyes from his and looked up at the luggage carrier across the aisle, searching every nook and cranny of my brain trying to remember my name.

Christmas Kenny? Crispy Kitty? Oh, what was my name? Not only was I sitting next to the most amazing voice in the world, but its vessel was there too. “Christie Kelly,” it came to me suddenly and I let out a sigh of relief, “nice to meet you.”

“Well Christie Kelly, it looks as if you’re stuck with me for the next twenty-some hours,” he said, putting his hands behind his head with a smug look plastered onto his face.

And that was how we officially met.

 

 

III.

The German Vessel

 

Everything” – Michael Buble

 

 

 

I won’t lie to you, he was dashing and charming and naturally captivating. He was everything a teenager’s celebrity crush should be when they first meet them. Of course I had just learned his name and the color of his eyes first hand, rather than reading them out of a magazine. I soaked in that wonderful voice and let it echo in my eardrums until it died. I needed to hear his voice again. Dabbing my eyes once more, to seal off the flow of tears, I asked, “Do you have an accent?”

He grinned and eagerly turned his body towards me, nodding. “German.”

This fact enamored me and I smiled in awe. “Can you say something in German?” I couldn’t even recall hearing any German before. The south side of Chicago was drenched in Mexican and besides taking a semester of French, that was the extent of my foreign language knowledge.

Ich habe schon Pferde direct vor der Apotheke kotzen sehen.“ The throaty sounds amazed me. It was outstanding that jumbled American sounds formed a completely different language.

What he had said made no sense to me but I assumed could change someone else’s world. “What does that mean?”

“I’ve seen horses throw up right in front of the pharmacy.” He smiled.

I looked puzzled and wondered if I should attribute it to his sense of humor. “It’s a funny saying my dad used to say that means sometimes very improbable things can happen.”

I bit my bottom lip in thought and then asked, “If someone asked you to teach them one word and only one word in German, what would it be?”

His mouth shifted to the right side of his face, thinking. “That’s a tough question.” His eyes shifted from mine to the window beside me.

“Hallo,” he finally answered.

“What does that mean?”

“It means ‘Hello.’ It’s not as exciting as Kleiderschrank or Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, but you can open so many doors with that little word.”

That was the moment when I realized there was more to him than just a voice. It was the moment I realized I wanted to keep talking to him, and it wasn’t just to hear his talented and gifted vocal chords.

“What’s it like in Germany? I’ve never been to another country before.”

“It’s just like any other home I suppose…” He trailed off and I thought it was an awkward end of our conversation and began to think of short, polite dialogue for the rest of the plane ride that would mortify me whenever I thought back to this trip.

I looked at my fingers, wondering if this insanely long flight would now seem longer because of the ineptness between me and my neighbor.

“You’ve never been to another country and here you are on your way to Australia. That must be exciting, are you studying there?” he asked.

Inside I celebrated that he continued to converse with me and it felt wonderful having that heavenly voice all to myself. “Not quite.” I looked at him, wanting to keep talking but unsure this was the topic to discuss.

When he didn’t press the issue further and his eyes drifted to the chair in front of him, I desperately blurted, “I’m moving to Melbourne.”

He turned to face me again, always looking directly into my eyes. “Really? That is…” he took his time to think about the adjective, “scary.”

I was so thankful he didn’t say “exciting” or “awesome” like my acquaintances and teachers had said, because it really was scary. Relief crossed my face; he knew exactly what I felt. “It really is.”

“By yourself?” His eyes grazed across the chairs in front of us, looking for someone who was accompanying me, I guessed.

“Practically.” His head tilted to the left with a questioning gaze. “My dad lives there and I’m moving in with him.” I really didn’t want to explain it any further for fear that I would bawl like a three year old again. ”What about you? Why are you going to Australia?” I asked.

“We’re doing an Australian leg of our world tour.” The look on his face was unenthusiastic.

“You’re not excited about it?”

He shrugged. “The idea of visiting Australia never thrilled me.”

“Me either, but my mom said to think of it this way: we’ll get to set foot on a part of the world that billions of people never have or never will.”

He smiled. “That’s good advice.”

I nodded and I felt my mouth dip into a frown as my mother’s face flitted through my memory.

Galvin rested his head on his hand. “It looks like we’re both going to hang onto those words to get us through.”

“But you only have to live by it for what, a few weeks? I have two long years.” I admitted trying to shut the door on that train of thought.

“You never know.” He shrugged with half a smile.

For some reason, he kept talking to me. Me. Plain, ordinary, run-of-the-mill me. When there was a lull in the conversation, he pulled another question from some deep pocket of his brain.

 

“I was in gym class two years ago and we were playing soccer,” I explained an hour later. “I really didn’t want the ball to come my way, but a little bit of me did. I’m such a coward. But Josh was on my team and I really wanted to impress him. Finally the ball came tumbling down the field, right to me. Without thinking about it, I kicked it away, back to the other side of the field, but I had kicked it so hard that my shoe came off and it flew through the air.

“I swear to you, the entire world moved in slow motion as my shoe flew across the field. It soared for so long and when it came down, it hit Josh with a thud on the back of his neck. He was so mad. Everyone laughed and pointed at me. I wanted to crawl under a rock and die I was so embarrassed.”

Dear Lord, did I really just tell Galvin Kismet my most embarrassing moment? How could he be so easy to talk to? How did this brown haired, green eyed, voice of the gods get me to divulge this useless but mortifying event in my life?

Galvin laughed, it was a hardy laugh, from the pit of his stomach that caused two of the people in front of us to turn around and deliver disapproving looks. He wiped the smile from his face with his right hand and cleared his throat after he apologized. “That’s nothing.” He waved the story away with his hand. His arm brushed lightly against mine and I could feel goose bumps erupt on my forearm.

“What about you then?”

He looked into my eyes, smiled, and moved in his seat so that he was completely facing me. “It was my first kiss.”

“Nu-uh,” I shook my head and smiled.

He nodded and laughed. “I was eight years old and everyone at school thought that this girl, Angelika, and I liked each other and we were constantly teased over it. One day I was walking down the hall to the bathroom and she was walking towards me from the office. We said hello to each other and when I reached the bathroom doors she called my name. I turned around and she was right there, inches from my face,” he put his hand up, two inches from his face to emphasize.

“I backed up but she took another step towards me. I was up against the bathroom door and she kissed me. I was a scared to death! I tried to back up and the bathroom door opened and I fell in. It was the girl’s bathroom. Three girls were in there and began to scream.”

I laughed and covered my mouth with one hand. “That’s horrible!”

“It gets better,” he reassured me. “Our teacher came out of the classroom across the hall and yelled at me. I kept trying to tell the teacher that it was Angelika’s fault and that she kissed me, but Angelika had said I put a big booger in her hair.

“The whole class was behind our teacher now, trying to figure out what had happened. They laughed at what Angelika had said and called me names like ‘kissy face’ and ‘booger breath’ for days. It was horrible!”

Yes, Galvin Kismet just told me about his first kiss and his most embarrassing experience. I must be in one hell of a good coma dream… or dead.

One story led to another and relatively quickly we became two friends talking animatedly amongst each other, as if we were reminiscing about the events of a past that we had together, which, of course, didn’t exist. My star-struck, school girl amazement quickly diminished and he was no longer thee Galvin Kismet to me, though the sound of his voice still put me at ease.

“Would you care to play a card game with me? Pass some time?”

“Sure.” I shrugged, still basking in the fact that he hadn’t stopped talking to me.

“I’m not boring you, am I? I feel like I’m monopolizing your plane ride,” he said, reaching for his over-the-shoulder carry-on.

“You have no idea how much I’m enjoying your company.” After I said it I wondered if the unconscious implication was too forward and added, “I haven’t had much time to think about leaving my mom or about what will happen after I land in Melbourne, otherwise I think I would have spent my entire trip crying.”

“Are you nervous about moving to Australia?” he asked, dealing out the cards.

“Yes.” I sighed, it was the first time my mind traveled across the fact that my home was no longer Chicago. Suddenly I didn’t feel as reserved as before when he brought the subject up. I was becoming more and more comfortable with him every second.

“I haven’t seen my dad in about seven years and he has a new family…” I trailed off when a young man with blonde hair and marble statue features appeared next to Galvin. He crouched down to be at eye level with Galvin and spoke quick sentences in German. I grinned studying the sight of him; he wore cow printed jeans and a red leather vest over a white t-shirt and suspenders. He was one of those people who never slipped your mind after meeting them.

“Sorry.” Galvin’s words broke my gaze and I felt my face get warm when I realized I was staring and imagined how red my cheeks were becoming. “This is Trey,” Galvin said, his hand motioning towards the interesting young man, “and this is Christie.”

Trey’s eyes glanced over me with a weak smile, his hand giving a faint wave. “I vas jus’ askeen Galvin eef ‘e vanted card play veeth us,” Trey said, lifting his hand to the area behind us, but I didn’t bother turning around. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Galvin hadn’t looked away from me. It struck me how distinctly different Trey’s voice was from Galvin’s, and how much better Galvin’s English was than his. “You ahre velcome doo,” Trey added.

I hesitated a nano second too long—selfishly, I didn’t want to interrupt the bubble Galvin and I were in with other people. Before I would talk myself into not being so greedy, Galvin spoke, “If you don’t mind Christie, I would like to finish slaughtering you at this game of War, unless you think you could beat me in poker?”

I hadn’t noticed that I was biting my bottom lip until my skin slipped out from underneath my teeth when I smiled in response. “I’ve been known to fool my opponents and end strongly, whipping butt so hard you’ll never want to play War with me again.”

His eyebrows lifted. “You think so, huh? You might meet your match today Miss Kelly.” Trey had walked away, clearly losing Galvin to a childish game of War.

 

 

IV.

Penina, One Night

 

Penina” – Carlos Mendes

 

 

 

When I first met Trey I wasn’t sure if I liked him or not. Something about his presence was scrutinizing and made me want to check my teeth for food and run my fingers through my hair so random locks didn’t stick straight out. “He really is never like that,” Galvin explained. “He thought I needed to be saved from you, but I enjoy your company very much.”

I felt my face grow warm again and let my hair fall in front of it. “Trey has to sit with our manager, Samuel, and all he does is type away on his laptop or palm pilot. Our other two friends—Rupert and Kaden—crashed as soon as the plane took off and Trey is bored out of his mind.”

“I’m not keeping you, am I? I can switch seats with him for a while…”

“Don’t be silly, Christie. He’s practically my brother. I see him everyday.”

He flipped the playing cards between his forefinger and thumb and his gaze lingered at the corner of the tray table. Something told me that Galvin wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he finally blurted out, “why are you moving in with your dad if you haven’t seen him in so long?”

“That’s a good question.” I threw down a two of diamonds that lost to his ten of clubs.

When I glanced up from my cards, his eyes eagerly tried to hold mine. Sincerity crossed his face and I wondered if he felt guilty for bringing it up. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. I’m almost a stranger.”

Personally, he felt like much more than a stranger to me and to make him feel that way I said, “I should probably talk about it since I was avoiding the topic with my mother, but you probably don’t want to be involved in the drama that comes with being a Kelly.” I threw down the queen of clubs and picked up his eight of hearts.

“I’m a good listener,” he offered, “if nothing else.” He placed a jack of spades down on the table and gave me a smile.

I threw down my card, not even looking to see if it beat his and rested the side of my head against the seat. “I think he grew tired of us—my mom and me. The only reason they got married was because my mom got pregnant and I don’t think he liked starting a family when he was only twenty-one years old. He’s from Australia and was studying abroad in Chicago when he met my mom. He left us when I was seven and we heard from his lawyer a few months later with divorce papers. He stayed with us long enough to get his MBA, but once he was done he ran off to the other side of the world.

“The last time I saw him I was eight. He was in town for business and he stopped by for twenty minutes before leaving again.”

“Why are you moving in with him then?”

I shrugged. “He sometimes sent me belated birthday cards and the last one I got was five years ago. He called us a few months ago to tell us he remarried and has a step daughter. Both his wife and his step daughter want to meet me and he asked me to come live with him.”

“Why move there? Why not visit?”

I sighed. “Mom says his new family probably changed him for the better and I should give him a chance.” I didn’t want to go into the details of the conditions of this arrangement that I set and my father countered.

“Do you believe that?”

“No.”

“Then why are you going?”

I only shrugged and realized we weren’t playing cards anymore. I threw down a three of spades and kept my eyes on the card.

Galvin threw down a two of diamonds and shoved the cards towards me.

“When I was five years old, my mother died,” Galvin interjected quietly. “When I was eleven, my father found he had lung cancer and he died a year later.” He slaughtered my two of hearts with a seven of diamonds and I only had a handful of cards left. “My uncle Tobias and cousin Trey were the only family I had and I lived with them.”

“I’m sorry Galvin, I had no idea.” I looked at him, trying to read his face but it was unreadable.

He shook his head slightly. “I never really knew my mother, she died when I was very young, but everyone said she had a lovely smile. My father said that he fell in love with her smile first. They were at a winter carnival when he first saw her. She was with another man and was laughing at something he had said. When my dad turned around and saw her, he swore to himself that he was going to marry her one day and he’d be the one to make her laugh like that. At least that’s the story he told me, but he liked to romanticize everything about my mother. My uncle says I have her smile, but I don’t see it.”

He glanced at me and we locked eyes. I smiled and my eyes moved down to his lips. “Your smile isn’t that bad,” I joked.

He rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”

Just then the stewardess came by to take our order for dinner. “I’ll be having my dinner in the lounge,” he informed the young woman. “You’re welcome to come too,” he turned to me and said. I nodded with a grin and the woman addressed the couple in front of us.

“I think Trey needs some human interaction, do you mind?” Galvin asked.

I shook my head and Galvin disappeared down the row of seats.

It was the first time we had separated in hours and I took a deep breath, leaning back into my seat. My back was tight from my body being turned to the left for so long. I didn’t have time to think—nor did I want to think—about having dinner with both Trey and Galvin by myself. Never had I ever thought that this was what awaited me on the plane to Melbourne.

Galvin reappeared crouching in the aisle with a grin on his face. “He’s so bored he would do anything right now. He starting speaking with this old lady across the aisle from him and now she won’t leave him alone.

“Come on, he’ll meet us there,” Galvin said motioning for me to stand up and follow him.

I followed his tall lean figure through the cabin. The back of his jeans were wrinkled from sitting too long and his green tee shirt clung to his back. I wanted to turn to someone and say, “He, this guy right here, Galvin Kismet—the voice of the gods-- is talking to me. Not only that but we’re going to the lounge to have dinner. Me. Unimportant Christie Kelly is hanging out with him,” but naturally I didn’t. There are some things that are never meant to be said aloud.

The lounge was up a short circular flight of stairs and no one was in it. It was a small space, dimly lit with spot lamps here and there. Three sleek black chairs and a red leather couch sat at one end of the lounge with a TV and a trendy magazine rack were at the other end. I sat down on the surprisingly comfortable leather couch and Galvin did the same. Before we could open our mouths Trey tumbled inside.

“Danks man, I ahlmost letteen’ dat lady deech me,” he searched for the word and finally said, “stricken,” moving his hands and looked to Galvin for help.

Galvin smiled and said, “To knit? I would have paid to have seen that.”

I realized that Trey was speaking English for my benefit and it made me feel a lot better. “Hallo Chreestie,” he said and nodded in my direction.

Hallo!” I said, shooting Galvin a huge smile.

Trey let out an aggravated sigh and sat down on one of the chairs across from us and sighed dramatically. “Ich hasse diese Reise.

I scrunched my eyes together, because while I didn’t understand his speech, the tone was clear. Galvin laughed. “That’s the only German word she knows.”

“Sorry,” Trey said and leaned forward. “Yous safed me frahm dee vurst plane rite effer!” He looked right at me and said, “Danke schoen!

I smiled at the throaty German noise that was directed at me. “There’s another two words for you,” Galvin said. “It means ‘thank you very much.’”

“You’re welcome very much.” I smiled in Trey’s direction.

The next few moments I bit my lip, stared at the floor and wondered what I could say to break the awkward silence. “So Galvin and I were talking a bit about Germany, what’s it like?”

He shrugged. “Eet’s ah con-tree.”

The few seconds of silence that followed felt like hours.

“Fuessball season begins soon,” Galvin slipped in.

I had a mental image of men in a line on sticks that cart-wheeled over a ping pong ball until Galvin said that it’s what Germans called soccer. “I ‘ope do see games. I dahn’t vant do ‘ear no more ofer zee baseball or zee Ah-mer-ee-cahn foodball.” He rolled his eyes and I had no clue what to say next because I was not only lost in translation, but I became very uncomfortable sitting across from Trey.

“You know any-ding ofer fussball een Ah-mer-ee-cah?” he asked.

I bit my bottom lip and shrugged, almost afraid of his disapproving reaction.

“Vell bead da drums und dake me ‘ome,” he remarked leaning back into his seat.

The line reminded me of a song my mom loved written by Paul McCartney and, mainly to myself, said, “Help me friends, free my soul,” to quote the rare Carl Mendes song my mother sung in the shower.

Trey looked at me as if I was a bear that had crossed his path in the woods and said, “Penina, Penina,”

I couldn’t believe he knew the lyrics and I said the next line with him: “Penina, one night.”

“You know Penina?” His face was lit up in astonishment.

I nodded. “My mother loves Paul McCartney, it’s one of her favorite songs.”

Trey leaned forward in his chair. “Deed you know dat eet vasn’t releesed on da LP unteel—“

“—1979, even though he made it up on the spot in—“

“—1968 een Portugal aht—“

We both said, “The Hotel Penina.”

“Wow,” Galvin interjected and for a moment I forgot he was there. “I never thought Trey would meet his match in Beatles trivia.”

I could see excitement in Trey’s eyes. “I learned all my Eenglish frohm dare songs, dey are super. Hafe you effer ‘eard ‘Sour Meelk Sea’?”

“Hasn’t everyone?”

“Eet’s von off my fay-forids. You believe eet vasn’t on da Vite Alboom?”

I shook my head. “That’s only because he gave it to Jackie Lomax instead.”

Trey turned to Galvin and said, “’ow do you seed down necks do dees girl und I haff Oma Aergerlich?”

Galvin smiled smugly. “Lucky, I guess.”

I thought it was ironic that they thought I was luck when out of everyone traveling to Australia on that day, Galvin Kismet sat next to me.

Our dinners had arrived and we moved to a table on the other side of the lounge. The moments with Trey were no longer awkward or painful. He continually quizzed me on Beatles trivia which would have made my mother proud.

“Give it a rest, dude.” Galvin said to Trey an hour after we had finished eating. “She’s not a video game you have to beat.”

Trey rolled his eyes. “I ‘afe ‘er right vhere I vant ‘er,” he said.

“She is kicking your butt,” Galvin admitted.

“Eet’s not offer yet, vohn mohr,” Trey said sticking his finger up in the air.

“Alright then.” Galvin faced me. “Can you stump him, Christie?”

I put my finger to my lips and reached into the depths of my mind. What would Mom say? “What is the oldest form of Beatles’ fanfare?”

Trey’s eyebrows pulled together. He put two fingers to his mouth in thought and the black and silver ring he wore glinted in the light. He looked down at the table and I could almost hear the wheels in his head turning. After a few moments Galvin said, “Time’s almost up.”

“McCartney’s fehrst geetar?” he asked, finally looking up.

They both looked at me and I almost felt bad for asking a tricky question. “You’re going to hate me for this,” I said, “but my mother is a history teacher.” I took a deep breath. “In 1974 archaeologists found bones in Ethiopia over 3.5 million years old. They were of a female they named Lucy after the song playing on the radio during the time of their discovery: The Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.”

There was silence in the lounge and then Galvin laughed haughtily towards Trey. “You think you’re so smart,” Galvin said, tapping my nose with his finger. My heart trilled with his touch while I froze with pleasant shock, Galvin turned to Trey. “Christie wins.“

A smile played on Trey’s lips. “Ohnlee becahze dat vas ah treek question. You vait Penina, I vill dink of sohm-ding you dohn’t know.” He said, pointing his finger at me.

I smiled through a yawn, shaking my head.

“Come on, it’s late, Oma Aergerlich should be sleeping, I think it’s safe to go back to our seats,” Galvin said standing up and stretching.

 

 

V.

Sleep Talk Wars

 

Here Comes The Sun” – The Beatles

 

 

 

When we returned to our seats the lights of the cabin had dimmed and most of the passengers were lost in snores and rhythmic breathing. We lowered our voices, but Galvin and I were still wide awake. We were both filled with the enthusiasm that comes from being with someone you automatically click with.

We pulled out the deck of cards again and I tried to regain my title as War Champion. “I have to say that I’m impressed with you,” he said throwing down a queen of hearts.

“Why is that?” I won his face card with a king.

“Trey never opens up to anyone as quickly as he did with you.”

I threw down a nine of clubs that captured his seven. “I doubt that.” He was, after all, Trey Kismet.

“He was always the quiet one, very observant, sometimes snobbish in a way. For some reason it’s hard for him to be himself around other people unless he knows them well. He lives behind a hard mask most of the time, even though he was the one who formed Prey for Chance and motivated the rest of us to keep up.”

“I guess I’m just lucky that my mother is obsessed with the Beatles.” I paused. “God, I never thought I’d ever say that.”

Galvin chuckled and I grinned because I was responsible for that smile on his face. Minutes later I had won the round, reigning as champion, regaining my title.

“Best two out of three?” Galvin asked since he wasn’t going down without a fight.

I stretched my arms in front of me and though my eyelids were getting heavy, I replied, “I think I have enough sweetness left to beat you again.”

“Let’s see where cockiness get you.” He shuffled swiftly and the cards flew into two piles.

“So Trey really is the one responsible for Prey for Chance?” I asked throwing down my first card which Galvin soon took from me.

“Oh yeah. Trey was always the one into music. He used his dad’s old set of drums and would bang on them to no end. Then he got this old guitar that was out of tune but he fixed it up. He was really good at playing it, without anyone showing him how. He tried singing along with the guitar, but the poor boy can’t sing at all—don’t tell him I said that though.”

“My lips are sealed.” I said and smiled.

He smiled and slid the winning cards towards me. “One day I walked into the house and he was strumming the notes perfectly to “Hey Jude”. I started singing along as I walked in to put my bag down and change clothes. Ever since then he would be sure to practice near me and I always ended up singing along.

“I wanted to learn guitar, instead of singing because I was enamored with the sound. To me, guitar notes are some of the most beautiful sounds in the world. He taught me and I would catch myself strumming the chords late at night, before school—I was even dreaming up new tunes in class!

“The next thing I know Kaden is coming over and playing the drums while Trey plays at the guitar. He told me that they learned ‘Help’ and wanted me to sing along—‘just for fun’.” Galvin said the last three words in air quotes. “The next day Kaden brings his friend Rupert over with a keyboard and before long we’re playing in festivals and pubs.”

By now the game had left my favor and was in his hands. “He never asked you to be in the band?”

Galvin’s eyes were on the cards. “No, he did. The day before we played our first official show. It was a lot of fun, but it didn’t leave much time for anything else. He begged, said he’d do anything to keep me in the band and I said I would join his band only if I could play the guitar. Then Trey picked up the bass.”

This both bothered and interested me. “Did you ever want to be in the band or did you just feel flung into it?” I asked.

“I love the band. I love the music. I love the opportunities it has given me, but it all happened so fast.” He looked up from the tray table and into my eyes. “You know those hard times musicians talk about before they get their big break? Those penniless, homeless stories?”

I nodded.

“Maybe it’s because we are so young, but we didn’t get that. Our first paid gig was at Oktoberfest—I still don’t know how Trey pulled that off. And I didn’t have ‘butterflies’ or was nervous. I was hungry to sing and play for people. When the shows ended the crowd roared. No yawns, no crickets or boos. I waited for those shows where we would get that ounce of humility but it didn’t come. People kept wanting us to play at their parties. Then I got home from school one day and Trey says we had someone interested in managing our band and I didn’t even know we had a recording. Trey wanted this, he was so hungry for it. He was good at it and liked doing it so we kept it up. Then we had a studio, a record, and were flung onto the Billboard Top 10. I’m still waiting to wake up.”

Galvin seemed upset about it, almost as if he was torn between feeling too proud or gullible and I didn’t think he deserved either. “Well that says something.”

“About what?” he asked.

“You guys. Trey’s passion and determination, your loyalty and compassion. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. You’ve succeeded where millions have failed and you’re not even old yet.”

Galvin rolled his eyes and threw down a face card when he realized we were both gripping our decks, bending the corners with our conversation.

“How did you guys come up with the name?” I asked, surrendering another card to his growing deck.

“Prey for Chance?” Galvin’s brow creased and he thought about it. “I think it was from the first song Trey ever wrote called ‘Pray for Kismet’. It was about my parents and what had happened to both our lives after they died.” Galvin shrugged. “I really don’t know how it became Prey for Chance.”

“I like it. It makes you think,” I admitted. That was one of the things I liked about the lyrics from Prey for Chance: their songs made you think because the message wasn’t always laid out on the table. Listeners had to travel past the beat and the bass, sift through the imagery and words and discover what was really going on.

By this point in the game I was losing with only four cards left. We both slapped down aces and laid out the cards for the tie breaker. “This is it, all or nothing,” he said as our fingers hovered over the determining card.

“You scared?” I grinned.

He showed me the deck of cards in his hands. “I’m the one holding all the cards.”

I flipped over my queen of hearts first, ready to collect my winnings when he revealed a king of diamonds.

“It’s okay,” Galvin said picking up the rest of the cards. “Your sweetness was no match for my luck tonight.”

“I’ll give that one to you.”

“Tell yourself whatever makes you feel better,” he joked shoving the cards back into the box and slipping them in his bag.

I rolled my eyes accepting the fact that I met my match in War tonight.

He stretched his arms over his head, yawning once again. He looked at his watch. “Well Miss Kelly, it looks as though we have a little more than eight hours left together.”

I leaned my head up against my chair, watching him. “Only eight?”

“Only eight,” he repeated. He turned out the light overhead and unfolded his royal blue blanket, pulling it up to his chin. He was in the same position as I was, as we faced each other.

Now that our minds weren’t on proving who was the better card player, sleep was settling down on us like a heavy blanket. I let my head snuggle into the pillow.

“Thanks for moving to Australia today,” he said, feeling the same exhaustion as me.

“It’s funny.” My eyes traveled sluggishly from my hands to his face.

“What is?”

“Why I am here,” I admitted through a yawn.

“Why?”

“If my dad never left us, he never would’ve moved to Australia, never would have remarried, never would have sent me this plane ticket.” It probably didn’t make much sense out loud, but it created a huge mountain of wonder in my head.

“Huh,” he said, his eyebrows pulling together.

“What?”

“In the long run, I probably wouldn’t be here unless my parents had died.”

“Life,” I said, the word came out of my mouth without thinking it.

“Yeah,” he said with his eyes closed. “Can I tell you something?”

I smiled and gave a soft nod in reply.

His voice was low now, barely above a whisper. “I don’t want to fall asleep.”

“Me neither,” I whispered back. The world seemed to move quietly, in slow motion, because I was so tired. “I don’t want to wake up and find out that this was a dream.”

“Me neither,” he agreed.

My eyes blinked more often and slower than normal and I yawned once more. “What are you dreaming about?” Galvin asked, his voice quiet.

“I’m not going to fall asleep,” I stated, closing my eyes. I imagined his lively green eyes behind my eyelids.

“Me either.”

The seat became extremely comfortable and I let my head sink deeper into the pillow. “Galvin?”

“Hm?” His grunt was doused in sleep.

“What are you dreaming about?” I opened my eyes long enough to see that his were closed.

“I’m not going to fall asleep,” he said.

“Good.”

“But if I were, I’d dream about a plane ride to Australia.”

“With a girl named Christie?” I asked.

“Who will never beat me at War.” It took so much energy to smile, but it was worth it.

We were both so exhausted that we could hardly keep our eyes open. He closed his eyes, asking me small questions and I closed my eyes to answer them. Before long we both fell asleep, probably still conversing in our dreams.

 

 

VI.

Good-bye, Hell-o

 

Tidal Wave” – Josh Kelley

 

 

 

I woke up in the position I fell asleep in and saw Galvin’s face when I woke up. It wasn’t a dream! I was still here, he was still here. His head rested on his shoulder and his features were like stone. Small strands of hair fell in front of his eyes and his lips were parted slightly as he dreamed. My eyes wandered past him and to the elderly couple across the aisle, drinking their coffee. The sun was trying to beat through the shades that covered the window behind them. A few voices were traveling across the sleepy silence.

A petite brunette stewardess bent over Galvin and whispered in my direction. “Do you need anything, miss?” I shook my head with a sleepy smile and she walked away, glancing at the passengers in each row ahead.

I turned my body to face forward and felt the blanket slip from my lap and onto the floor. The smile across my lips felt permanent and I wondered if my face was frozen this way forever. I pulled out a notebook and began writing my airplane adventure down to add to my mother’s letter later.

Four pages of scribbles ended with the sultry, sleepy voice next to me asking, “What are you writing?”

“Nothing.” I managed to tone down my smile for the few seconds it took me to look at him and then back down to the notebook.

“You’ve been writing like crazy for the past five minutes.” His voice was even better when it was clouded with sleep.

“How long have you been awake?” I eyed him suspiciously.

He shrugged and smiled, sitting up in his chair and pulling the blanket from his chest. I watched him, wondering if he actually had been watching me for the past five minutes, as he folded the blanket neatly and placed it onto the floor. He looked up at me, studied my face briefly and said, “Sorry, I’m being curious again.”

I wondered if my face looked as apprehensive as he thought it did. I shot myself back to reality and smiled. “It’s a letter to my mother.”

His face lit up with a smile. “That’s a long letter. Didn’t you just see her?”

I glanced down at the rumpled pages and the memory of our goodbye hug lingered over me. “Yeah, but she’s already on the other side of the world now.” I smiled at the notebook and looked at Galvin. “I think I’ll have too much to tell her by the end of the week that I’ll fill this entire notebook.”

Galvin raised his eyebrows, impressed. “You are an interesting person, Christie Kelly.”

My teeth broke through my smile and I blushed.

“Give her my warmest regards.”

I chuckled at him.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s just that no one ever says things like that anymore. I like it.” I said as I began to write a few more lines on the notebook paper.

Galvin smiled crookedly and nodded. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

We had breakfast in our seats this time and I wondered how Trey was doing this morning with his knitting buddy. “Tell me about your mother,” he said after he took a bite of his scrambled eggs on toast.

I buttered my croissant with jam and shrugged. “She’s my world.”

“What else? She’s a huge Beatles fan and teaches history, that’s all I know.” He wiped the corner of his mouth with his knuckle.

I took a sip of my orange juice and thought of a day with her. “I look more like her than my father, but she’s much prettier. She listens to the radio whenever she’s in the kitchen and would eat asparagus at every meal if she could. If she was allowed to, she would wear sweat pants and a tank top every day. She’s read The Bridges of Madison County about fifty times and keeps a tattered copy of it next to her bed and every Friday we make pizza from scratch and watch a movie together. She just started teaching American history at the University of Chicago about two years ago.“ I smiled wondering what she would be doing right now.

“What would she be doing right now, without you?” he asked, almost as if he had read my mind.

I put down my croissant and looked out the window, wondering. “Teaching. Or she just finished her book, so trying to publish that maybe.”

“What is her book about?” Galvin seemed genuinely interested and for a second I felt guilty for always tuning my mother out when she mentioned it.

“It has something to do with Thomas Jefferson, she loves that man almost as much as she does the Beatles.” I bit my bottom lip, trying hard to remember something about the book. “She told me a ton of times what it was about but I always let it go in one ear and out the other. History bores the daylights out of me.”

“She sounds great,” he admitted and I smiled.

“She is. I miss her too much already. Only 800 days until I get to see her again.”

Galvin laughed. “You already have a count down and you haven’t gotten to Australia yet?”

I shrugged, taking a drink of my orange juice. “I need something to look forward to.” He raised his eyebrows and nodded in response.

The stewardess came to collect our breakfast dishes not long after and we continued to talk about life, choosing not to acknowledge the fact that soon this plane ride would be nothing more than a memory.

The mellow beep of the seat belt light slashed through our conversation and began to send our world into shambles. The captain announced that we had been cleared for landing and would be on a solid Melbourne ground in the next twenty minutes. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to remember this scene and carefully placed it in a safe corner of my memory. Twenty-four hours from now this scene, this small bout of freedom, and Galvin, would no longer be with me.

Glancing at Galvin I noticed he fumbled with his belongings as I secured my seat belt. It took him an incredibly long time to put both ends of the seat belt together and his hands seemed to shake. “Are you all right?” I asked.

The flight attendants walked down the aisles to make sure everything was appropriate for landing and took their seats. Galvin didn’t look up from his seat belt, and continued to fidget with it. “You know, this might not be the best time to tell you this, but I hate flying.” Galvin tensed up, triple checking to make sure his seat belt was secure and tightened it further. It seemed to me that if the plane were to make any sudden jerks, the seat belt would cut him in half. “I especially hate landing.” He gulped.

I raised my eyebrows and looked at him in shock; he really did look ill. “I usually get sick most of time we’re in the air. I become a very unattractive shade of green…” I groped for the sick sack that the airlines always supplied in the backseat pockets, but the plane began its decent to the runway. “This ride was… different. But landings are very—“ He cut himself off and bit down on his bottom lip.

He grabbed my hand as it sat on my arm rest and he squeezed so hard that I thought my arm might have to be casted. I sucked air sharply through my teeth and tensed my body to absorb the pain and refrain from crying out. Only a few more minutes until we were on the ground and normally I would have relished those few moments before I officially became an suedo-Australian, but now it couldn’t come quick enough.

Galvin’s eyes were shut tightly and I could feel the plane dropping in altitude and my ears popping. The wheels finally touched down with a small jerk and I felt my body go deeper into the seat as the plane slowed. When Galvin determined that we were safely on the ground, he loosened his grip and opened his eyes but still held firmly onto my hand as long as the plane was still moving.

Finally, the plane wound around the air strip. It took fifteen minutes for it to be tugged into a terminal and when it came to a complete and final stop, Galvin released me from his grip. “Sorry,” he apologized with a look of concern etched upon his face.

“’S all right,” I said, cradling my own hand in the other. I tried to uncurl my fist, but each finger hurt with a stiffening pain.

“Usually Trey’s arm gets bruised every plane ride, but you were the unlucky one with a seat next to me.” He flashed an apologetic smile towards me.

Passengers had emerged from their seats to stretch and reach for their luggage in the overhead compartments. It took another ten minutes for the jet way corridor to bridge the gap between the plane and the airport. “Do you really usually have a hard time flying?”

Galvin looked embarrassed and couldn’t meet my gaze. He nodded. “At first it was horrible, I was sick the entire time. Since we’ve been flying everywhere, all the time, since we signed with H.I.T.Z. it has gotten less frequent, but this flight was the first time I didn’t physically get sick. It’s horrible, really.”

“Well then, congratulations on your first sickless flight,” I said.

“Thank-you for keeping me so utterly distracted,” he replied standing up from his seat and reaching into the overhead compartment.

Earlier in the trip Galvin had told me how wearing a baseball cap made him feel like an American and when he pulled out a brand new Yankees cap and put it on his head, he flashed me a huge smile; I didn’t have the heart to tell him how awful and ridiculous he looked.

The captain made his final announcement before I could respond. “Good afternoon and welcome to Melbourne, Australia. The weather is cloudy with expected rainfall this afternoon and a current temperature of forty five degrees Fahrenheit, seven degrees Celsius, it is Wednesday afternoon at 4:05 PM. Thank you for riding the friendly skies and we hope to see you back with us soon. Welcome home or enjoy your stay in Melbourne.”

“Wednesday?” I asked myself as I stood up from my seat and stretched. We left Chicago on Monday, where did Tuesday go?

“PM?” Galvin said in response.

 

We stepped off the plane together, still talking, this time about Galvin’s last unfortunate plane ride which resulted in an upset stewardess and Trey’s lap blistered with a rather large mug of hot tea. We went through customs together, welcoming the long line to put off our goodbyes.

When we finally came to the intersection with the arrows of our separate destinations pointing in opposite directions, we stopped. “Aufweidersehen Penina!” Trey turned and waved to me as he walked between the two other members of the band I hadn’t formally met. I waved back, flattered at the nickname.

Galvin turned to me, grabbing the strap of his black carry-on bag that hung over his shoulder. I draped my University of Chicago sweater over my left arm. “So good luck with your tour and everything…” I trailed off, not able to make my eyes meet his.

“Thanks.” I could hear that he was smiling when he talked and I looked up. The way his lips curved when he smiled was becoming as attractive as his voice. I suddenly wished I could have taken all the smiles he gave to me and put them in my pocket so I could take them out to brighten the cloudy days that were sure to gloom my future.

“Good luck adjusting to life with total strangers,” he replied shifting his weight to the balls of his feet. He was always bad at making jokes, even though he laughed and thought it was as funny as I thought his hat was.

“Let’s go Galvin, we’re already behind schedule.” Samuel, his manager, rushed over and pointed to his expensive watch.

Galvin rolled his eyes and smirked.

“I’ll see you around, Galvin,” I said holding out my hand. The only thing going through my head was that these last few moments with him contained the last ties to my old life and once we parted, I was no longer going to be able to live that life. It would all be a memory and memories decay and deform over time. Once we walked away from each other my life had nowhere else to go but down. Down the escalator to find my luggage and down the dark roads where my father’s presence always took me.

Galvin looked at my hand, smiled, and opened his arms for a hug. He embraced me before I realized what the gesture meant. I could feel his chest pressed up against mine and his hair against the side of my face. I took in the scent of him with my eyes closed and we pulled apart much too quickly. “Thanks for a really great plane ride, Christie.” He looked down and smiled at me.

I looked down, grinning, and tucking my hair behind my ear. I did not want to walk away from this, from him. “Until the next time fate brings us together again then?” he said it more as a statement than as a question.

“Looks like it.” I nodded, trying to hide the huge smile that was about to erupt across my face and I waved a small good-bye. He took a few steps backward and grabbed my eyes with his before he turned around. “Don’t forget to smile, Christie,” he said with a brilliant grin. “You already have one friend in Australia.”

I matched his smile and we both turned our backs to each other and walked away. Here begins my new life, I thought and made my way through a crowd of people. Reluctantly, I shuffled towards baggage claim, one hundred percent sure that that was the last time I would ever see Galvin Kismet in person.

 

 

VII.

Surviving the Land Down Under

 

Shadows In A Shoebox” – Matthew Santos

 

 

 

I made my way slowly down the corridor and shuddered with chills. I stopped momentarily to put my sweater on as people pushed past me with important places to go and eager faces to meet. Baggage claim was just around the corner and my heart grew heavy, this was the moment I had been dreading for months. Soon I would be outside on real Melbourne land and there I would stay for two, long, stressful years.

Glancing over the crowd I saw no sign of my father, but I figured he didn’t look the same as the weathered memory I had of him from seven years ago. Instead I watched the luggage travel around the rotary, looking for my three secondhand suitcases. I would let him find me.

I had gathered two of my suitcases and was watching for my third when I saw a guitar case glide past me. I smiled at myself as if it was a small sign, like a wink or a wave that I imagined from Galvin even though the guitar probably wasn’t his. And instead of thinking about purple monkeys this time, I thought about my plane ride.

“Christine! There you are!” I saw my father on the other side of the carousel looking impatient and flustered. From the small distance between us, he looked the same, maybe some minor changes, but I didn’t notice them. All the holes and uncertainties in my memory of him were filled and repaired at that moment, he was still alive, he was still my father, and there he was, fifteen feet from me.

I picked up my last suitcase from the belt and gave him a forced smile. He made his way over to me. “I must have stopped three other girls thinking they were you. I swear you just blend right in sometimes.”

Suppressing a sigh, I said, “Hi Dad,” and moved my suitcases out of the way so that other travelers could claim their luggage.

“You look,” he paused and his eyes ran from my head down to my toes. “The same. Maybe a little taller but you haven’t changed much.”

I wanted to point out the fact that he looked different now that I saw him close up. His forehead had gotten larger due to a receding hairline, he grew a subtle second chin, and were those gray whiskers in his mustache now? But I only forced myself to smile again.

“We better get home in time for dinner.” With that statement he picked up one of my suitcases and walked towards the door. I picked up my other two suitcases and followed him, mentally giving myself a pep talk.

As soon as we exited the building, I walked into a different, louder world. Cold air, traffic, rain, the sound of disturbed puddles and inquiring travelers bombarded me. I kept repeating the word “hope” in my head as my shoulders screamed in pain from the weight of the suitcases, until we reached the car. He drove me home in his big and shiny Land Rover. “How was the flight?” His voice was unusually chipper and I tried not to let my suspicion ruin my mood.

“Fine,” I replied, fighting the urge to break out into a huge smile. My mind was still trying to wrap around the fact that I had just spent the night sleeping next to Galvin Kismet. I wanted to bottle the memories and that mood to take out again when I was alone, because I knew my father’s aura would slowly eat away at it until I began to doubt it ever happened.

“Those were first class, transpacific tickets, Christine, ‘fine’ doesn’t describe that.” He elaborated on that statement for a few minutes and then the ride was silent. I looked out of the passenger side window, and relived the last twenty four hours in my head.

My dad and I were never close and we never got along. He never tried to stay in contact with me and I was fine with it. My philosophy on his current attitude was that after getting married he was given a second chance to be a father and a family man. Since his new step-daughter (apparently) loved him, he thought he could give the father thing a second try with his original daughter. But that was just my theory. I didn’t expect much from him or this arrangement and it was better that way.

The drive to my new home took ages. The radio didn’t play—my father hated driving to music. In fact, I don’t ever remember him listening to music, so I tapped my fingers to the beat of the rain pitter-pattering on the windshield. I was comparing the streets of Melbourne to Chicago in my head and the biggest, most obvious difference was that it wasn’t home. My mother wasn’t at the end of one of those streets in our apartment, waiting for me to walk in the door.

I couldn’t wait to pour my heart out to my mother on paper, but I knew that if I pulled my notebook out and continued writing, my father would shake his head and say it was improper behavior for a car ride. So I continued watching the rain droplets travel across my window and recalled the hot summer sun that warmed my skin in Chicago.

Half an hour later my father pulled onto a street covered in large houses on hills and cold fences that shunned the public from entering. When we first pulled up to his house, I was in awe; my mouth hung open and my mind moved slowly. He must have been well off, whether it was from family money or doing well in business, because it was an elegant abode.

It had an electronic black steel gate at the street entrance and a long winding driveway, lined by bare trees which led up to the stone gray house. There was also a dormant garden that seemed to want to burst free from its walls. I expected that in the spring it would bloom with every flower in every color imaginable.

As we pulled up the circular drive to the front door, Dad left the motor running and hopped out of the car. “Leave the luggage,” he said and bounded towards the front door. I grabbed my book bag and paused before I walked towards the lavish solid wood front doors that guarded the entryway. Dad had already gone inside and I wondered if I should have used the brass lion-head knocker that defended the threshold.

Instead I opened the front door and walked onto marble floors. Through the paned glass doors that separated the foyer from the front hallway, I could see that the interior of the house was big, cold, clean and neat. Everything had its own spot and nothing looked cluttered or out of place.

Almost immediately after I walked out of the foyer I was greeted enthusiastically by a lady in a white tennis outfit. She had long brown hair pulled back into a pony tail that was as bouncy as her walk and green piercing eyes that looked down a straight prominent nose.

“Hello, Christine,” was the first thing she said with a smile on her face. “Welcome home!” She bent down further than she had to—she was only two inches taller than me—to give me a hug. “Or do you prefer Christie?” She wore a diamond studded tennis bracelet and it slid up and down her arm as she raised her hands to talk.

“Christie is fine, thank-you,” I forced yet another smile for the day and my cheeks started to hurt. I hadn’t thought this far ahead. Life was supposed to end when I got off the plane and saw my father, so now I felt like a rower without a paddle: unprepared and on the path of the unpredictable.

“Where are my manners?” She looked towards the cathedral ceiling put out with herself. “My name is Penny.” She was a very pretty woman and I understood why my father found her attractive, but her manner was always rushed and urgent which made me extremely nervous whenever I was around her.

“She’s your new step mother,” my dad said walking around the corner, followed by a gentleman in a black suit. They walked passed me and out the front of the house. Penny’s eyes followed him with longing and admiration, it reminded me of the expression “puppy love” while my eyes followed him with a glare; there was no way I would call her step-mother.

When he was out of sight she turned to me and said, “If you’re not ready to call me Mom yet, you may call me Penny like everyone else.” I bit my lips together to keep from saying something that I would regret and shrugged out of my sweater.

A few feet from me was a coat rack that was home to a top hat, cane, and a cashmere scarf, so I placed my dirty blue sweater with them. It looked horrible and stood out like a huge ugly bruise. Penny quickly took it down. “Oh no, dear, that’s a decorative piece, your coat goes in the closet,” she said, neatly putting my sweater on a hanger before placing it in the extremely organized closet.

Similarly, everything in her house had to be perfect and done fast and efficiently. She also owned a prominent hair salon downtown that she attended to every day that she kept in the same manner. I later learned that her mother was a successful American movie star in the sixties and married one of Australia’s top five richest men; there were huge, extravagant portraits of them hung on the walls in every room on the first floor.

“My daughter, Kellyn, is still at school, it’s her last day, otherwise I would have kept her at home to meet you,” Penny said as she lead me out of the foyer. After a quick glance at her platinum watch she informed, “She should be home any minute.”

Penny had me sit down on an uncomfortable wooden chair next to the massive fireplace. She smiled, with her hands folded and resting upon her knees, across from me. We sat in several moments of uncomfortable silence; she looked around at her house, never at me. I wondered what was going to happen next.

The front door opened again and the echo of it almost made me jump. Dad walked around the corner with his arm around a blonde, tinier version of Penny.

“Oh good, Kellyn’s home!’ Penny jumped up and went to give her daughter a hug.

The blonde girl broke away from my father and glided toward me with her hand outstretched. My first impression of her was the word graceful. “Christie, it’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Kellyn.”

“Hello,” was all I managed to say. I was beginning to feel like a penguin in a house full of swans.

“Two daughters!” Penny exclaimed, putting her arm around my father’s waist. “This is going to be so much fun!”

Kellyn jumped up in agreement and grasped my arm. “I have always wanted a sister.” It almost felt like everyone was grabbing a role and then we were going to play house, like children do. When I didn’t show as much enthusiasm as them, Penny frowned. She released her grip from my father’s arm and walked over to me.

Putting my chin between her thumb and forefinger, she studied my face and said, “Poor thing, you must be terribly jet-lagged.” She resorted to petting my head, in an effort to comfort me, as she turned towards Kellyn. “Go show Christie to her new bedroom so she can take a sleep before dinner.” Apparently, Penny was going to play the mother role and I wasn’t sure yet if I was to play the daughter or the dog.

“Of course!” She jumped at her mother’s request and took me by the arm with poise.

“You’re going to love it here. I’m so excited to have a big sister.” I let her drag me out of the room and towards the huge spiral staircase. Everything glistened and glowed under the museum-like lighting and even whispers seemed to echo. “Not that you’re big, understand. You’re only a year older than me, but we could nearly be twins!”

In the short journey it took to reach the staircase I knew that Kellyn was not somebody I would automatically click with. I wasn’t sure why this was, but it had to something with humility, or the lack thereof.

The pilgrimage to wherever my future bedroom was in this house was full of Kellyn telling me about how easy school was (“You’ll adjust very well, don’t worry.”), how many friends she had (“Matthew wanted me to hang out with Shayla, Nadine, Thomas and him tonight, but Nadine had a blue with my best mate Marion. Marion knew I was busy today, but she still wanted me to go to a party with her and Paul in the Back of Burke…”), and how much of a social life she had (“I can get you a reporting position with the newspaper, I’m editor-in-chief you know. Though, sometimes, it interferes with rugby practice and choral duties, but it doesn’t affect my ballet recitals or piano lessons.”).

We climbed the wide circular staircase and walked down the corridor. The walls were covered in beautiful paintings—not the kind you find tacked up on the wall in the waiting room of a dentist’s office, but the ones I saw at the Illinois Art Institute in Chicago; they were gorgeous. I marveled at them and only half listened to Kellyn as I put one foot in front of the other. Every few feet was something new to marvel at: the marble bust of a stranger, intricately woven tapestries, glass stained windows taller than me and sometimes the frames on paintings were more breathtaking than the art it contained. I was beginning to wonder if this was a house or a museum.

“Ah, this is my room,” Kellyn finally said, waving a nimble hand towards a door on the left. The door was open and I could see a perfectly organized pastel color themed room with everything in its place (all ten billion of her trophies, dustless, arranged on high shelves bordering the walls).

She turned and pointed to a set of wooden double doors on the opposite side of the hall. “And right across from it is yours! I asked that you have this room so we can have sleepovers and talk to each other whenever we want to,” she avidly stated.

The door had a “Kristy’s Room” wooden plaque nailed to it. I hated it when people misspelled my name, especially when it was my father.

“Here you go miss,” came a voice from behind us. The same middle aged man I saw near the front door stood behind us and set down all three of my suitcases at the door. He had smooth jet black hair and not one strand moved as he straightened his posture, it reminded me of a rubber wig or helmet.

“Thank you Cormac,” Kellyn smiled. “Christie, this is Cormac, our butler.”

I smiled; he faintly acknowledged me and I watched him march away in rhythmic steps that resonated off the cold walls.

“Come along, I bet you can’t wait to see your room!” Kellyn stated, grabbing the nook of my elbow in one hand and the polished door knob in the other.

When Kellyn opened the door to Kristy’s Room I nearly went blind before stepping across the threshold. The room, if compared to a person, would be the vibrantly red haired lady whose hair was taller than her spiked heels that she was too old to wear anyway. Her clothes were louder than her voice, which is hard to imagine, because she never shuts up. It hurts to look, but you can’t help staring at her: the large plastic-painted-gold bracelets that cover her wrists and the thick gold necklace that never stays in place because the owner can’t sit still, let alone be quiet. The large yellow beads of her costume jewelry contrasts greatly on her purple sequenced shirt and the fake glued-on diamonds in her pink tinted sunglasses make you squint—but you’re not sure if its from the reflecting light or the hideousness of it all. Now imagine that person wanting to greet you as you walk in the door but everyone else gets to you first, so her voice goes up an octave and she rushes toward the door, climbing over everything else until she’s inches away from your face, telling you a story you don’t care to hear, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t get rid of her. Suddenly you’re her best friend so you take a few aspirin and hope to god that you become immune to her shrill personality. That’s exactly what it was like to walk into that room.

The walls were drenched in vivacious, hot pink paint and a surging lime green border traveled along the walls with electric blue polka dots. The lamp in the corner was covered in beads and beneath it sat a pink chair, but the color was so bright I was afraid I’d catch fire if I sat in it. The bedspread and the dozen pillows on top of it not only matched, but they were made out of a shaggy material that gave the illusion of a giant monster, covered in lumpy, bright, furry warts laying in the corner of the room instead of a bed. The entire room seemed to pulse with the intensity and my stomach knocked against my ribs, giving me its opinion our new home. The curtains even had tiny polka dots that obscured the strong light of the sunset.

“We weren’t sure what your favorite colors were, so I designed it myself, all girls like pink, isn’t that right?” she asked as she plopped down on my bed and held up a blazing pink pillow. The strength of the room was beginning to burn my retinas, but I let out a tiny sigh of relief when I found out that my bedroom had a patio and its own bathroom (in matching blazing décor, of course). If it had had a kitchen (and a volume switch for the colors), I wouldn’t ever have to leave it.

“You’re tired I’m sure,” Kellyn said, throwing the pillow back onto the bed and standing up. “I’ll leave you to be. We’ll see you at dinner.” She flashed me a smile and closed the bedroom door behind her.

I turned back to face the screaming room, mentally trying to figure out any way I could turn things around or inside out to quiet it down, but I suddenly found myself exhausted. Falling onto the giant blue monster, I gazed at the wooden beams in the ceiling.

I wanted to fall asleep—I needed to fall asleep—but this wasn’t my tiny lilac painted room with the old, dark brown carpet that I spilled orange paint on when I was eight. It wasn’t my twin size bed I’d had my entire life that sat next to the garage sale desk below the tiny window that, somewhere in the distance, showed the Chicago skyline.

So, I began to imagine myself two years older—grown into my teeth, my hair shorter, perhaps a little taller—and packing my suitcases to go back to my mother. Since I hadn’t gotten much sleep on the plane, and it was about three in the morning in Chicago, I soon fell asleep.

 

 

VIII.

Culture Shock Igloo

 

Darlin’ Do Not Fear” – Brett Dennen

 

 

 

“Christie, honey, dinner’s ready.” I was in such a deep sleep that I didn’t remember losing consciousness. When I lifted my eyelids to Penny’s voice, my eyes were inches from a lime green fuzzy throw pillow and it took a few seconds to realize where I was.

“Christie? Are you awake?” I looked around, noticing that the room was dark now and I was alone. Her voice came from a box in the wall outside the bathroom door.

Stubbing my toe on the orange bedside table, I made my way towards the intercom. That heavy feeling of sleep still snuggled into my soul, despite the throbbing pain in my foot. I felt the wall inside the bathroom for a switch and light ignited the bathroom and a small section the room.

Shielding my eyes until they adjusted to the brightness, I examined the box in the wall. I wasn’t sure which button to push to answer back and thought the large red button wouldn’t steer me wrong. “I’ll be right down,” I said into the speaker and took my finger off the button. “If I can figure out how to get there,” I then said to myself, pulling my hair back into a pony tail at the nape of my neck and walked out into the cool, calm corridor.

When I found my way to the dining room I realized that everyone else had changed clothes and I was still in the clothes I left Chicago wearing. All three of them were waiting for my arrival and refrained from even drinking their water. I took the empty seat across from Kellyn and said, “Sorry I’m late.”

“It’s all right honey,” Penny replied. “I’m sure the past forty-eight hours left you exhausted. How was your plane ride?”

I hadn’t made my mind up about Penny. She had been nice to me but my guards were up; she had married my father, of all people, after all. “It was great, it went by very quickly.” I informed as a round woman in white set salad bowls in front of each of us.

“That’s rare to hear.” Penny glanced at my father.

“What are your interests, Christie? I have all sorts of connections at school that could be beneficial to you.” Kellyn offered, unfolding her napkin and placing it on her lap.

“Oh, I’m pretty much a homebody,” I explained, spooning dressing onto my salad.

With a polite smile, she replied, “Surely, you must have some interests.”

“Well, I was on the tennis team at school, and went to art club often, mainly for the field trips though,” I admitted.

“Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to try? Kensington Academy is a school that opens so many doors for so many of its students. Surely there must be something you’ve always wanted to try,” Kellyn said and for a second I had to suppress a giggle when I imagined her in a corny commercial for the school.

“The school has really helped Kellyn broaden her horizons, she’s even found more talents. She was content with her ballet and piano lessons but since she started attending Kensington, she’s found rugby, journalism, and acting to fit her tastes,” Penny said picking up her silver fork.

“It sounds great.” I tried to be polite. “But I was always happy with what I had and never wanted anything more. I was content and happy with what I was doing in Chicago.”

My father had been silent throughout dinner but he decided to put his input in now. “Christine, you are not in Chicago anymore. Your home is here and you know as well as I that you didn’t live in the land of opportunity. I brought you here so you can experience a good upbringing.”

His comment caught me off guard and I felt very defensive. “I think Mom raised me rather well, considering what you left us with.”

“Christine!” My name came out like a punch as he slammed his fist onto the table. His face was growing red with impatience and was cursing me with his eyes. We stared at each other. I wasn’t going to let him think that my mother was inadequate; she did a damn good job with what she had. She never left me, she never spent money on herself when I needed school supplies or new clothes. She loved me, unconditionally.

“Crossing the International Date Line always makes me cranky,” Penny said, cutting the tension. “Christie, maybe you should go to bed and get some sleep. We’ll have Martha keep a plate fixed for you in case you get hungry later,” Penny said, nodding at the woman in white who looked at the spectacle of imbalance out of the corner of her eye.

I stood up, pushed my chair in and, while gripping the carved wooden back, turned to Penny and said in a flat tone, “Good night.”

 

The thing that ticked me off the most about Melbourne was the weather. It was hard to get used to the cold days when the calendar is a constant reminder that it was July. It acted as a jester that poked me in the ribs every three seconds saying “Ha ha, your life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

As the days passed, the relationship I had with my father hadn’t changed at all. He didn’t seem to think that uprooting me from my home, having me live in another country and with people I hardly knew, affected me at all. He pretended like he was the most perfect father and that I should be ever so grateful that he granted me with this life. I noticed that when he did talk to me (and it wasn’t to scold or berate), he was trying to get me to act more like Kellyn.

“There’s my social butterfly,” my dad exclaimed as Kellyn walked into the kitchen, dressed for a night out. He embraced Kellyn in a hug while I sat at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal and reading the newspaper my father had discarded that morning. “Where are you headed tonight?”

Kellyn put her purse on the kitchen counter and pulled out a compact. She flipped it open and traced the bottom of her eyes with a finger as she answered him. “Dante is taking me to a barbie at Bea’s. Bea’s been a bit bodgy lately,” she snapped the compact close and shrugged her shoulders, “but a cobber just as well.”

I didn’t even have time to translate her sentence when she looked at me. “Want to come along, Christie? Dante’s a bit of a whacker but it wouldn’t hurt to lob in.”

“Come along?” I wanted to make sure that that was what she was asking me. She nodded, expectantly, while Dad spun around to study me. “No, thank you.” I forced a yawn. “I’m still a bit jet lagged.” Honestly, because of the jet lag, I was wide awake.

“Just as well, there might be kangaroos loose in the top paddock.” She shrugged. I pulled my eyebrows together and racked my brain for a translation, but nothing came. Perhaps I really was better off not going.

Dad walked Kellyn out the door and I knew he would come back into the room to dissect the sentence I spoke and tell me what I should have said. Therefore, I scraped the leftover cereal into the garbage disposal, threw the bowl in the dishwasher, and found another room in the gigantic house to hide in.

As I walked down the elegant halls and through magnificently furnished rooms, I caught myself thinking So, this is where Dad has been while I was at my tennis match, or struggling through an algebra exam. He walked down these very halls and probably sat in that chair while Mom and I ate spaghetti six nights in a row until her next paycheck. I wasn’t sure if I hated him for that or not because I was never one of those people who wanted the bigger house or the fancier possessions. Mom taught me to appreciate what I had, but it was the small, immaterial things that, sometimes, I wished I had had.

When I came across a room covered in windows, that led out to the sleeping garden, I sunk into a forest green chair and stared out into the gray sky. I was good at just sitting and waiting and watching, but two years of waiting was a feat I wasn’t sure I could accomplish. I often wondered about what my mother was doing. If I had been at home, in that ninety degree weather, I’d be on the patio with a book, watching the sunset, or swimming laps at the university pool while Mom was in her office.

“This is my favorite room because of the windows, I’m glad you found it,” Penny said, sitting down at a mahogany desk. “The garden is beautiful in the spring, I can’t wait for you to see it. It has won many prestigious awards. We have the finest gardener tending to it. He’s been with us since my mother hired him thirty years ago.”

I smiled weakly at her and put my arms over my head to stretch. I didn’t want to be rude, but I really wanted to be alone so I could just think. Since I arrived, my brain seemed to be working overtime, and the atmosphere of my bedroom didn’t help. The world in my head, full of memories, was where I wanted to be. “I think I’ll go look around,” I said.

I walked up the stairs, marched straight to my room, pulled my notebook out and wrote another letter to my mother.

 

Two days later Penny and Kellyn left for a big rugby tournament in Sydney. “Are you sure you don’t want to come along?” Kellyn asked before she walked out the front door. She had a pink Adidas bag hung over her shoulder and her hair in a high pony tail. I sat on the couch with a book in my hands, watching the fire crackle and pop in the fireplace.

“We could do some girl bonding,” Penny added, hopeful. Dad stood behind her, his arm on the small of her back.

“No, but thanks for asking.” The three of them stared at me silently for a few moments. Perhaps they needed further clarification on my decision? “I just want to adjust to Melbourne first. I don’t really feel like traveling to Sydney.” This seemed like enough information for them because Penny frowned and Kellyn waved in my direction before walking out of the door.

I could hear the muffled voices of my dad and Penny at the door and I turned back to my book.

Just as I was about to turn the page, I jumped from my father’s loud words. “What the hell, Christie? What was that about?” My dad had reappeared back in the living room and was making his way towards me. I instinctively uncurled my feet, placed them on the floor, and sat up straight.

I didn’t say anything.

“Your mother and sister have been trying to welcome you into our family and you’ve repeatedly been rude and keep turning them down.”

“I’m not being rude,” I defended myself.

“Not being rude? I’ll tell you what not being rude would look like: accompanying your mother to support your sister during her rugby tournament. Going out with Kellyn and her friends. Conversing with your mother instead of leaving the room when she sits down.”

“I’m not being rude, Dad, I’m getting a huge dose of culture shock here and I’m getting a bit homesick.”

“Oh please,” he rolled his eyes. “Don’t exaggerate.”

I was getting angry now. How dare he assume what I was feeling. He didn’t know me well enough at all to assume that. “Dad, you uprooted me from the only home I ever knew and placed me into a life I don’t want. You put me on a completely different planet and left me to fend for myself.”

Fend for yourself?” He sounded disgusted at that remark. “I’ve given you this beautiful house to live in, brand name foods constantly on your plate, a complete family and a new beginning. Fend for yourself? You have no idea what that means Christine.”

Throwing the book down on the sofa, I stood up, surprising myself. “No idea what that means?” I was livid and tried to control my anger but my voice was slowly going up an octave. “When you left Mom and me, what do you think we were doing? Fending for ourselves! When Mom was at school or at work, I had to fend for myself! When I didn’t have a father to take me to the father/daughter dance in fourth grade, I had to fend for myself. When Mom couldn’t afford groceries because we lived on a waitress’ income, we had to fend for ourselves!”

“Do not turn this on me, Christine. I’m giving you the life you never had, the life some kids can only dream about.”

I put my hands up. “I don’t want it! I want my life, my home, my country!” I poked myself in the chest with a finger as I talked.

“So you’re telling me that you’d rather be in those germ infested streets of Chicago, in that dirty little apartment with your mother than to be here?”

I shot back too quickly with a fiery, “YES!”

He shook his head like I didn’t know any better. “That’s it. Go to your room, Christine. I can’t stand to be this disrespected.”

I stood my ground; my arms crossed over my chest and didn’t take my eyes off his. That’s right Dad, I thought to myself, I am no longer a six year old that trembles and obeys you because you raise your voice.

“Go to your room, Christine.” He said the words through clenched teeth.

Holding back a smirk, I said, “I need a plane ticket to Chicago in order to reach it.” My words and my attitude were thick with resentment. I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth, but I didn’t regret them.

“Now!” he bellowed. His voice echoed off the walls and nearly made me lose my determined stance.

I stood with teenage attitude, looking directly into his eyes, crossing my arms tighter over my chest.

Then he came after me with a look of hatred. Hatred and disgust. I moved out of his way, around the coffee table, but he was still on my tail. I ran up the stairs as he stalked me to my room like a predator. I felt my heart beating through my chest and the sheer feeling of fright made me tremble as I closed my bedroom door and leaned against it.

Hearing his footsteps drawing nearer, I wondered if I could hold the door shut if he tried to come inside. I propped my foot up against the door, my gym shoes squeaking against the wooden floor. I heard the jingle of keys on the other side as my heart pounded faster. A key slipped into the door and I heard a click.

Confused, I put my hand to the door knob and tried to turn it, but it didn’t budge. “Let me out! You can’t lock me in here!” A small bout of claustrophobia started to arise, despite the size of the bedroom.

“You’ll be in there until you can appreciate my kindness.”

“You’re insane! Insane!” I figured if I antagonized him, he would unlock the door to punish me. The room was getting smaller and I hated the idea of being locked inside. “You can’t do this to me!” I said matter of factly, though I’m sure it came out as a plea. “How will I…?” but I couldn’t finish my sentence, the air was growing thin.

“Fend for yourself,” came his remark from the other side of the door and his footsteps grew quieter. “Apparently, you’re good at that.”

I began to feel warm and grew dizzy. The room moved slightly, this way and that, as I stood up onto my feet. My heart pounded through my head. Childhood fears began to seep back into me. I walked to the bed and fell on top of it like a load of bricks. The instability of the room made my stomach squirm so I closed my eyes and draped my arm over them. But I felt hot. Hot enough to ignite my bedspread if I rolled over onto my face. I needed cold air and space. I slowly made my way to the patio doors, hitting the edge of the tall dresser into my ribs on the way.

Grabbing the stabbing pain in my chest with one hand, I reached for the patio doors with the other. They didn’t budge. I leaned my face up against the cold glass pane and slid to the floor. I put as much of my body up against the doors as possible. I stripped off my sweater and my tee shirt so that I was in my sports bra and lounge pants. The cold felt so much better. When I opened my eyes I saw the floor lock of the patio doors inches from my face as orange specks danced in front of my retinas. From the floor, I turned the lock and opened the doors, letting the cold air cover my body and erase the sweat that matted the hair to my face.

I spent the next two days locked in my room, with the patio doors wide open. I huddled under my blazing blue bedspread on the floor by the patio doors, remembering that I had once spent a plane ride next to Galvin Kismet to keep me warm. I heard my father unlock the door the morning Penny and Kellyn returned from their rugby tournament. When they got home I still didn’t leave my bedroom. I was terrified of being both inside and outside of the room.

 

 

IX.

A Chance Encounter

 

Wonderful World” – James Morrison

 

 

 

Winter break was nearly over (yes, winter break in July!) and in about a week I was to begin my education at a brand new school: Kensington Arts Academy for Girls. I shuddered at the thought of being surrounded by dramatic, emotional girls day in and day out.

Despite the holiday, Kellyn liked to wake up extra early and, of course, woke me up too. At first she jumped on my bed to wake me up, but as each ungodly early morning passed, the more irritated I became. Soon Kellyn reduced herself to knocking on my door and saying, “Christie, good morning! It’s time to start another day.”

“Let me start the day later,” I would mumble from under my electric blue and green fuzzy pillows.

“There are twenty-four hours in a day and you don’t want to spend them all sleeping.”

“Yes I do,” I muttered.

“Oh Christie,” she would say in a sigh. “Come on, let’s have some brekkie, I’ll put a billy on the stove.”

Eventually I would roll out of bed just so I could stop hearing her voice, even if it was for only the ten minutes I spent in the bathroom.

Once in the kitchen, I would eagerly wait for the coffee to stop perking while Kellyn made herself a healthy morning smoothie in the blender and did her yoga (or aerobics, or ran the treadmill, depending on what day it was). I counted down the hours until the clock struck nine when she would have to leave for her four intense hours of ballet training and I could go back to bed.

On one particular morning, however, Penny opened my bedroom door to wake me up. “Come on Christie, it’s time to wake up,” she said in a cheerful, sing-song voice. I heard the footsteps from her heeled shoes walk across the wooden floor to the patio doors.

“No it’s not,” I lifted the pillow from off my head and saw the clock flash 7:00 AM.

The weak sunlight crept into the room and sent me retreating back underneath my pillow, groaning. Her footsteps turned towards my closet. “Yes, it’s time to get out of bed, you’re coming with me today.”

“Can’t I just stay here?” Though I couldn’t stand the color of my room, it was becoming my safe haven in this strange land down under.

“Sorry, but no.” She threw some clothes down onto the bed, over my sleepy body. “Use the dunny, grab some brekkie and meet me in the car.” There was a pause and I didn’t hear Penny move away. “I promise you’ll have fun today.”

Soon her footsteps faded down the hallway and I threw the pillow off my head, frustrated with the morning and the stupid way these people talked. I ripped off the blanket and saw the grey skirt and cream white blouse that Penny threw down onto my bed. Sorry, I thought to myself as I walked to the bathroom, I only wear those clothes when my mother asks me to.

I took my time washing my face, brushing my teeth, and changing into a pair of brown corduroys and a white long sleeve shirt. I ran a brush through my hair but gave up on the knots and tied it into a pony tail. Sluggishly I dragged my feet through the hallway and down the stairs. Penny was waiting for me at the door with my coat in her hands.

Her smile faltered when she studied my wardrobe and I almost felt guilty for my mediocre pants and plain, pale shirt.

After I crawled into my coat, I followed her into the car. As she drove silently down the driveway I looked down to realize that I was wearing two completely different shoes. I yawned at my exhaustion and rolled my eyes: this was going to be a long day.

 

When we arrived at her beauty salon I was weary. I was awake now, alert and suspicious. Despite my protests and “against my religion” claims, I found myself reading the morning edition of The Australian with dye eating away at my hair (because two shades lighter would “compliment” my skin tone) very soon thereafter.

I scowled at Penny from behind the newspaper as she talked adamantly with her co-workers and customers. “Oh yes, Kellyn is doing excellent, she still wants to be a prima ballerina, but I think she’ll end up having a career in journalism. She’s so passionate in everything she does that I think she’ll be successful in anything.”

After her long, excessive gush about Kellyn she would add, “Oh yes, this is Christie, our newest edition to the family. She’s Richard’s daughter, from America. She’s staying with us for a while.” Then, in a more hushed tone she would add, “I don’t think she’s adjusting very well, we’re hoping that once school starts she will be in high spirits.” I rolled my eyes at her from behind the Features section of the newspaper.

Kellyn walked through the door just as Penny finished washing my hair. She was wearing a white blouse tucked into a light pink pencil skirt underneath a long white coat that made her look like a politician’s wife. “Oh Kellyn! You’re back!” Penny exclaimed enthusiastically and the customers sat upright at once, leaning forward to hear Kellyn speak.

Penny was towel drying my hair so I saw Kellyn in little spurts as the towel jumped around my eyes. Her hands were carrying a number of shopping bags, brimming with clothes. “I went everywhere,” she sounded famished as she dropped the bags on the floor. “Brunswick Street, Flinders Lane, Swish, Betino Liano, Bebe.” She counted out the stores on her fingers.

As the towel was plucked from my head, Kellyn’s eyes lit up to notice me. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind, I snuck into your closet this morning to peek at your sizes.”

I tried to keep my head straight as Penny vigorously combed the knots out of my hair.

“We wanted to surprise you with new clothes,” Kellyn said as she stood upright, her hands curved in front of her hips—how like a ballerina to stand.

“We hoped you’d think of them as a welcome-to-our-family prezzie,” Penny added, taking a two second break from tugging at my scalp.

I suppressed a groan and forced a smile. “Thanks, guys,” was all I managed to fork out. Penny and Kellyn both smiled justly.

I knew I should have been grateful and happy and all my bottled up emotions should have melted away at that moment, but they didn’t. It felt as if I was being made over to fit into their life; I didn’t like it any more than an alligator liked being turned into a pair of boots.

“All right, Mum?” Kellyn turned to Penny and asked after socializing with the customers, answering various questions about her life.

Penny spun my chair around so that my back was now to Kellyn, and nodded. “All right. See you later,” she replied, putting down a pair of scissors and flipping on the blow dryer. I sat in the chair, wishing I could escape soon.

After my hair was dry, then came the hairspray and then the curling iron and then more hairspray. I began to wonder if Penny was single-handedly responsible for the hole in the ozone layer and if there were going to be any future complications to my health with so much exposure to aerosol in one sitting.

To make matters worse, an older lady with a perfect, hair-sprayed head but an aged face began to apply foundation to my face after Penny set me down at yet a different station in her salon. The hours were going by so slowly and I wondered if this was Dad’s idea… he knew how to truly torture me.

I really hated the way make up felt on my face. It was stifling—like it covered up who I truly was. I couldn’t wait to go home and wash it off. I was anything but grateful at that moment. I was tired, uncomfortable, homesick, and was having a hard time adjusting and accepting this completely new life. After the dying, styling, drying, curling, washing, rinsing, polishing, make-uping and pressing, Penny stood back and appraised me. When she smiled I knew I was finished here. I completed my sentence, paid my dues, and I was really to split.

Penny spun me around in the chair, took off the black plastic bib around my neck and revealed me to the customers in waiting. A hushed silence momentarily passed through the salon and then they congratulated Penny. “You truly are gifted, Penny.”

“You’ve completely transformed her.”

“This is why I only come to you.”

I stood up and felt a little woozy from sitting too long. I turned around and saw myself in the mirror for the first time since I left the house that morning. Remember that “two shades lighter” thing Penny had told me earlier? Wrong. I was now a blonde. A blonde with curly hair. A blonde with curly hair and twenty pounds of make up on my face. That was not Christie Kelly on the other side of the mirror staring back at me—my very own reflection had turned on me!

“How do you like it?” Penny asked.

I couldn’t speak and Penny took that as a good sign. “Why don’t you go change into one of your new outfits?” she asked, nodding to the mountain of shopping bags in the corner.

I finally found the strength to move (and the restraint from throwing a punch or screaming my lungs out) and I stumbled. Penny caught me by the arm. “Are you feeling all right, dear?” she asked, looking into my eyes.

“Actually, I—I don’t feel so well.” I grabbed my stomach and stumbled my way out the door.

As I walked outside I heard a trophy wife who was getting her nails done, say, “She’s in shock, she’s so beautiful now!”

The cold air washed over my warm face and I took a deep breath of fresh air. Penny came outside seconds later as I was gripping onto the cold parking meter, staring at the cracks in the curb. She grabbed my chin with her soft, cold hands and studied my face like she did the first day I met her. “Maybe you should head home, you don’t look well.”

I didn’t say anything. I clutched my stomach and lowered my head to stare at my mismatched shoes. Penny disappeared inside and came back with my coat and her bag. She went to the curb and raised her hand, where a taxi cab automatically appeared.

“Go home and rest, we can talk again tomorrow,” Penny said before shutting the door on the taxi. I leaned my head against the head rest and gave her a weak smile. She gave the cabbie the address and slipped him a few bills.

The store diminished from the rear window as the taxi cab pulled away and drove down the street. The further away from the salon we drove, the better I began to feel. Six blocks down I asked the cab driver to pull over and let me out. I felt the need to walk. I didn’t want to go home yet. I needed to feel the cold air on my face and feel the burn in my legs as I walked briskly across the city.

Half an hour into my adventure I felt my stomach rumble. I didn’t have time to grab “brekkie” this morning and the hunger pains were about to begin any minute. I caught sight of the golden arches of heaven. Well, not heaven, but as homesick as I was, McDonald’s was the next best place.

Besides the people talking like the Crocodile Hunter and them referring to the place as “Maccas”, it was just like stepping through a memory of home. After using the bathroom to scrub my face, I bought myself lunch with the money I found crumbled in my coat pocket and sat down in a plastic seat when the cosmic forces of the universe decided to have a field day with my life.

I eagerly ate my yogurt parfait when a few people shot up from their tables and rushed to the door. Loud voices erupted from behind me and I turned around to see what the hubbub was all about. I nearly dropped the parfait in my lap when I saw Galvin, Trey, and about ten other people rushing into the small glass room children’s birthday parties were held in.

I laughed to myself, amused at the scene, and watched three McDonald’s employees, in paper hats, herd people out of the way and out of the store with their momentary label of authority. Many people stayed and ordered something so they could sit in the restaurant for the opportunity to possibly meet someone from Prey for Chance.

The crowd was swelling around me and another bout of claustrophobia was arising. I picked up my hot apple pie and squeezed my way through the crowd. I honestly didn’t think Galvin or Trey would remember me from that one plane ride we had that one time, but like any other teenage girl in my shoes, I fancied the idea and wouldn’t have passed up the chance to make eye contact.

I pushed my way past the teenage McDonald workers, who doubled as really bad security guards at the entrance, and squeezed my way through the smothering crowd of rapidly growing frantic girls and aggressive guys that wanted to be inside.

When I finally saw a way out of the chaos, some blue haired kid smoking a cigarette elbowed me in the stomach when someone pushed him aside. When I turned around to cuss him out, a huge guy in a black leather jacket and sunglasses pushed me out of the way and the side of my face slammed into a lamp post.

Can you imagine how I felt? Life crossed the line between patience and annoyance and that last blow to the head really hurt. I turned around and this time I was really going to let someone have it. I was ready to start cussing and fighting—anything to get even for the bruises and black eye that were sure to show up by morning and earn me a one-way ticket to trouble with Dad.

But before I could yell, flail my fists and make a dummy out of myself, I came face to face with Galvin Kismet.

“Christie!” His whole face lit up with the exclamation. Amazingly enough he immediately recognized me—despite my Penny makeover—and motioned for the beefy security guard to let me through. The sequence of hurried jumbled moments added to the realization and, it could have been the fight-or-flight sensation kicking into gear as the crowd started to swell around me, but my heart heatedly skipped a beat.

Galvin grabbed my hand and pulled me through the thin barrier of bodies between him and me. “Christie? What happened?”

Apparently the shiner I got from the lamp post decided to make an earlier-than-expected visit. Before I could answer, a swarm of hands began inching closer to us and the tugging on my coat became more forceful. Galvin guided me into the car before it pulled away.

 

A paper McDonald’s cup, that held the combined ice contents of everyone’s drinks, was resting on my unbelievably sore eye socket when Galvin offered to give me a ride home. He was next to me in the limo, eating his hamburger.

“Penina, vhat ‘appen do you?” Trey asked as specks of a Quarter Pounder flew out of his mouth. This time he was wearing a pair of green plaid polyester pants, the kind you might find an eighty year old sporting on the golf course, and shirt made entirely out of zippers. “Only ah small time een Austrailee-ah und you ‘afe yerself ah fight?” he asked.

“Only with a lamp post, but it was asking for it.” I bit my bottom lip and smiled, trying to hide my embarrassment. When sporting a black eye aren’t you supposed to have a lively, awesome story to tell?

“And apparently it won.” Galvin laughed at another awesomely bad joke of his.

“Deed eet keel yer ‘air?” Trey stifled a laugh, picking up a lock of my stiffened hair with his greasy fingers, as if it was going to bite him.

I rolled my eyes, and winced at the pain it caused. “My step mother is trying to make me into her very own American Girl Doll.”

“Things are going well for you then?” Galvin asked sarcastically, his eyebrows rose in a mocking fashion.

“Swimmingly,” I muttered underneath the paper McDonald’s cup.

“I not beleef vee see you aht MeekDon-alds, een ahll off Melbourne!” Trey exclaimed, stuffing his mouth with a handful of fries.

“Yeah, what are you guys doing?” I asked, intrigued by how I was suddenly thrown into Galvin’s presence again.

“Ve vere doing ah radio show down the street and vere hun-gry,” one of the other guys in the car reported, shrugging.

“We have a photo shoot in an hour, and a concert tonight,” Galvin added.

“Always busy, aren’t you?” I smiled.

“Never a dull moment,” Galvin said, matching my smile.

We pulled up to the steel gates outside Penny’s home much too quickly. I had to force myself away from the limo. “Thanks for the ride guys,” I said, peeling myself from the car.

They all acknowledged me in one way or another and I forced myself to turn my back on them. It was so great being able to talk to him again—to talk to anyone normal again—but I needed to pull away and let life go on—or wake up, whichever one was more probable.

“Hey Christie?” I heard Galvin’s voice when I reached the gates. The car door slammed and I turned to see Galvin walking towards me.

“Yeah?” I smiled at the fact that he didn’t let me just walk away. It was stupid for me to think that way, but I couldn’t help it.

“Are you planning on coming to the concert tonight?”

I looked at the blacktop and back up at him. “No.”

His gaze fell from my eyes, to my hands, and then back. “Can you come?” He looked hopeful… or maybe it was my ambitious imagination that made him look that way.

I shrugged, mentally trying to figure out how probable it would be now that I was living with my father.

“If I leave tickets for you at the box office, will you come? We can hang out after.”

I tried not to smile too quickly. “I’ll try.”

He smiled justly. We held each others gaze longer than we should have and then he climbed back into the limo. A few hands emerged from the sun roof as the car pulled away.

I pinched my arm before I punched in the code for the iron gate. Nope, I was still awake.

Luckily, no one was home when I first arrived. I saw my reflection in the hallway mirror and discovered that my eye was already turning different shades of black, blue, purple, green, yellow and pink. I immediately ran into Kellyn’s room and tried to cake on her make-up. When I finished, I looked in the mirror and discovered that Kellyn had a lighter complexion than me. My ears and neck were so drastically darker that I looked like a mime, even though (with the amount of layers) the make-up did a good job covering up my black eye.

With a groan I gave up on that idea and washed my face four times before it felt clean again. I tried draping my hair across my face, wondering if I could pull it off as a new style, but it was stuck in place with the amount of hairspray Penny had used.

I glanced over the bathroom counter. Sunglasses would work, but I couldn’t approach my father with them on indoors and ask him to go to a concert, he would be suspicious. I was still trying to figure out what to do when my father’s voice came on over the intercom, “Anybody home?” I looked at myself in the mirror with a pitiful look.

“Hey Dad, I’m home,” I said, pushing the big red button. Ah ha! The intercom! “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah, I’m in the kitchen, come on down.”

I bit my bottom lip, my finger hovered over the button. “Um, I… I’m a bit busy. I just want to know if I can go to a concert tonight at the Rod Laver Arena.”

Silence. Incredibly long delayed silence. I should have just snuck out, why was I burying myself in a hole? For a ride. Acceptance. Maybe my father’s approval. “Dad?” I asked over the intercom.

“Come down to the kitchen, Christine.”

I sighed. Here goes nothing.

I hopped down the servant stairwell that led into the kitchen. If I was in a chipper mood, maybe he would be too. “Hi Dad! How was your day?”

His nose was buried in the day’s mail. He grunted. “How come you’re not with your mother and sister?”

I tried not to cringe when he referred to Penny and Kellyn and my relatives. “I got sick…” I trailed off and looked down at the ceramic tile, noticing that I hadn’t taken the time to put on matching shoes yet.

“And now you want to go to a concert?” He threw the remaining envelopes on the table and took off his sport coat.

I nodded, still studying the floor, feeling his gaze burning into me. “Look at me,” he ordered.

I looked up and forced a smile.

“What the hell happened to you?” His tone hinted at anger.

“I’m fine,” I insisted, taking a step back as he came closer.

He lifted my head up to his with his hand a little too forcibly and examined my black eye. His hands felt too warm and too close to my neck. “What were you doing, Christine?” His tone was flat and almost rehearsed.

“I was walking home from Penny’s and—-“ I was cut off when Penny and Kellyn walked through the sliding doors. His hand dropped from me and he backed away, loosening his neck tie.

“Hello dear!” Penny kissed the air between her and my father, her hands were laden down with the shopping bags that Kellyn had brought to the salon that morning.

Her eyes drifted over me and she froze when she saw my eye. “Oh dear! Kellyn, will you get some ice? Christie, what happened to you?” She put the bags down on the counter and went to my father’s side.

“Apparently it happened as she was walking home from your salon this afternoon,” my father said, unsurprised.

Penny looked at me with a frown. “But I put you in a taxi cab.”

My father looked down his nose at me.

“I was—I mean you did,” I stammered. “I felt car sick and made the driver pull over. I got out and he just drove away.” So far, so good, I thought. “I was feeling dizzy… and faint. I stumbled and fell into a… lamp post.” Well, it was half true.

“Hmm.” My father surveyed me while Penny looked at me understandingly. Kellyn offered me a bag of ice and had me sit in a chair.

“After all that happened today you still have the energy to go to a concert?” He practically tisked in my direction.

I put on a half smile and lifted my shoulders. “I’m feeling better.”

“I can see that,” my father said, watching me as I put the bag of ice over my eye.

“What concert is it, dear?” Penny asked, coming to my side.

“It’s a band called Prey for Chance.”

“Absolutely not,” my dad said firmly. He walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water and took a swig.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Penny said, surprising me. As far as I knew, she had never contradicted my father. He even looked at her, taken aback.

“Give Christie something she’s familiar with. After all, she left her life and moved to Australia for us. Give her a piece of home, even if it’s only a concert.” Wow. Penny moved up dramatically in my book with that statement.

My dad didn’t speak for several moments. He seemed to try to be reading Penny’s thoughts. His gaze moved to me and I looked away, towards Kellyn, who was standing with poise by the patio doors, silhouetted by the setting sun. “Okay,” he finally said. I suppressed the urge to jump out of my chair and shriek with excitement. “But Kellyn is going with you,” he finished.

My mood plummeted as I looked at Kellyn and forced a smile.

“Aces!” she said with an excited grin. This was going to be a long night.

 

 

X.

Let Those Rocky Times Roll.

 

Turn It Up!” – Anthony Gomes

 

 

Penny drove my dad’s Land Rover to the arena with Kellyn and me in the backseat, but only after the hour and a half wait it took for Kellyn to get dressed. The entire drive was spent with Kellyn constantly asking me questions about Prey for Chance to which I had no idea how to answer.

“What kind of music do they play?” she asked looking at her reflection in a compact mirror and then smacked her lips together.

What did that mean? I was no music expert; I spent my entire childhood listening to Aerosmith, the Beatles, and one cassette of children’s songs that only played on side B with, “Bingo,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” So I answered Kellyn’s question the only way I could, “I don’t know, the good kind, I suppose.”

“How many people are in the band?”

Three? Four? Six? I only remembered Galvin and Trey and the three or so in the car so I bit my bottom lip and then said, “A couple.”

“Are they as famous as my grandmother was in America?”

“I guess.” I shrugged. Honestly, I didn’t know who her grandmother was but Prey for Chance was plastered all over MTV that summer and their album Quotations was on the Billboard’s Top 100 for several weeks.

“What songs do they sing?”

Again, how do you answer a question like this? Their lyrics were amazing, not like half the nonsense that was being played on the airwaves, and they were decent musicians too. “Amazing ones,” I said.

To the best of my sad ability I half sang/half stated the refrain of “Cuttin’ the Rain” for her: “In one icy breath you hear a million miracles/in one handshake feel the eternities that became today./How do I know?/I met the Rainman that afternoon/I was cutting the rain…”

She listened and shrugged, unimpressed. “What?” I asked when her expression didn’t change.

“It’s a song about a man in the rain?” Her tone dripped with superiority.

I narrowed my eyebrows and tilted my head to the side confused. The song has always meant something more to me than a man in the rain. I ran the lyrics through my head once more, taking in each word and sighed. “No. He’s a metaphor.”

Kellyn’s eyebrows lifted and Penny glanced at us through the rearview mirror. “Of what?”

“The Rainman is the person you have the potential to be. When he meets the Rainman he is meeting this amazing person he knows he can become one day if he’s willing to try. He found his purpose in life, what he was put on this earth to do. He found his true calling and chooses to take action instead of riding the easy road.”

Kellyn snuffed. “And it’s raining because…?”

I really couldn’t understand why she didn’t get it. “Because it’s challenging. Things aren’t always sunshine and roses in life, you need to struggle and fight for the things you want and believe in. It doesn’t always come on a silver platter.”

I looked at the rearview mirror but Penny’s eyes were on the road. I felt like an idiot, how did they not understand? Was I completely off base with my theory? Kellyn looked out the window and rolled her eyes.

A few moments later her gaze returned to me and she asked, “Why didn’t you bring their CD with you?”

“Because I don’t own it.” This was true, I only had three songs I recorded from the radio.

‘“How will I have fun if I don’t know any of their songs?”

Are knowing the lyrics to a song part of the definition of fun? “I don’t know. Just bob your head and listen.”

“How old are they?”

“A little older than us?” Kellyn took it as a statement but I’m sure it came out of my mouth as a question.

“What do they look like?”

Oh, this was an easy one! “Well, boys, of course.” Well, duh!

And the questions continued and didn’t cease until we reached the crowded arena. I literally jumped out of the moving car and told Penny I’d walk the rest of the way. “Don’t forget Kellyn!” she called back.

“But Mum, the ground is atrocious and these are my new Gucci jeans!” Kellyn whined as I stopped running and looked back, waiting for her.

“Kellyn Margot James!” For a moment I thought Kellyn was going to get it, but then Penny’s face softened and she smiled at her only daughter. “Please don’t ruin this for Christie, she hasn’t had a lick of fun since she arrived. Try to be a sister to her tonight.”

With that Kellyn reassured her mother she would do the best she could. She ran up to me with a smile tacked onto her face and she linked her arm in mine. It was going to be a long night.

I had been to the free concerts in downtown Chicago with my mother, but never a real one, at a real arena with a real, bonafide band. I was excited, nervous, and itching with anxiety. The longer I spent away from Galvin, the more I convinced myself that meeting him was a hallucination. I almost doubted that there would be tickets waiting for me at the box office, that maybe I dreamed that he said he would leave them for me or forgot to, but they were there.

We had first row seats in the balcony, and although I was jealous of the person sitting on the floor, first row, I was relieved when I saw that section become crowded and rowdy throughout the performance.

When the lights went out, my veins were surging with adrenaline. The opening act, Pouncing Pogs, was decent, but nothing compared to Prey for Chance. As soon as the stage lights went on and the familiar music began rumbling through the giant sets of speakers, I couldn’t stand still. I jumped, I danced, I sang along; I couldn’t remember the last time I was that happy.

Kellyn, on the other hand, yawned through most of the concert but every time I looked down at her she would throw on the happiest smile and started dancing in her seat. I honestly didn’t care if she was having fun or not because I was having the time of my life for the whole two and a half hours that the show lasted.

When it ended I sighed and fell into my chair. “That was amazing,” I breathed. Words couldn’t describe the emotions that were coursing through my body. People started filing out the doors, but I sat in amazement, trying to collect my senses.

“Mm,” escaped Kellyn’s lips and she looked unimpressed. She pulled out her cell phone and added, “I better have Mum come pick us up.”

I turned to face her so quickly she almost dropped her cell phone. “No, not yet,” my eyes pleaded with hers.

“What else is there left to do?” Kellyn sounded irritated.

I smiled. “We have these.” I pulled two backstage passes from my back pocket and dangled them in front of her face.

She tried hard to smile and said, “Oh, lucky us.”

At that moment I couldn’t help but frown. I had an overwhelming wish that she was my friend and jumped up and down and screamed when I had shown her those once-in-a-lifetime, you-could-only-hope-for-these backstage passes. Instead I practically dragged her down the flight of stairs and across the arena so I could see Galvin again.

As we made our way backstage, Kellyn was glued to my back and wouldn’t let go of my shirt. After a boisterous drunk accidentally spilled his beer on us, she acted as if everything would jump out and bite her. We waited in the green room as journalists interviewed the band. The whole time we sat there Kellyn constantly complained about her beer soaked shirt, asking if alcohol stained satin, if we were finished yet, if we could go home, if we could go someplace else, and so on.

When the journalists left there were five other people waiting for a meet and greet: two teenagers doing an interview for their independent magazine, one old childhood friend of the drummer, Kaden, and two people from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

If anything I thought Kellyn would acknowledge the band’s generosity and attentiveness to their fans, but she was constantly dabbing a napkin at her shirt and then ran off to find a bathroom. When I reached Galvin a smile crossed his face and he opened his arms. “Christie! You came!” I gave him a hug and it felt like we were united friends who had been separated by a number of long years. He was damp with sweat, but even that was attractive.

“Of course! I wouldn’t miss this for the world!” I replied, putting my hands in the back pockets of my jeans, smiling my heart out. “You guys were amazing!”

He looked down, modesty overruling his smile. “Christie, this is Rupert and Kaden,” he said pointing to a tall lean red head and a dark, burly mound of muscle. “You were never formally introduced.”

“Christie,” I heard her pitchy tone before she even rounded the corner. She was still dabbing at her shirt with a paper towel. “We need to go home, my shirt is ruined, simply ruined.”

“Christie can’t leave yet,” the red-headed keyboardist, Rupert, exclaimed and put a sweat drenched arm around Kellyn. “Stay for a little while.”

The look on Kellyn’s face scared the crap out of me. If it wasn’t for Galvin who said, “Can you please stay, for just half an hour?” in his soothing, pleading voice, I would have hit the deck, covered my head and waited for an explosion.

“Fine,” Kellyn snapped, throwing Rupert’s arm off of her shoulder and molding to my side. “Thirty minutes,” she stated, looking at her silver plated watch.

I tried not to let annoyance cross my face. “And this is my step-sister, Kellyn,” I introduced. I pointed to each of the boys around us, naming them off for Kellyn, but she gave a sardonic smile, crossed her arms tightly over her chest and sat down in a metal folding chair.

After the roadies quickly packed up the equipment and management insisted that it was time to leave, we walked down the street to their hotel—we dragged Kellyn along, pleading and begging for her to let me stay. We sat in a conference room on the main floor where we joked, danced, talked, made impromptu acoustic songs, imitated Australians, and ate a ton of junk food.

I even got to be present for the birth of their song “God’s Alarm Clock”. Words cannot describe how amazing it was to witness the process of their song writing.

Kaden was talking about how precious sleep became—that he’d steal it whenever he found a chance ever since Quotations was released. “So it’s an alarm clock life?” I said in response.

That question lit the tinder they unconsciously gathered. It’s funny how one sentence can grow into a story in the right hands. Galvin had the guitar in his hands, picking at different chords and repeated the sentence to a tune. I could almost feel a giant light bulb brighten over their heads.

Kaden beat the table top with a rhythm, Trey clapped his hands and nodded his head while Rupert snapped his fingers and added another voice to Galvin’s words. Each had input on which direction the verse could go—there was even a dispute on one single word: “and” or “or”. I never knew how big a difference one word could be in a song. The passion they had for songwriting was mind-blowing. It wasn’t just a diddy or a jingle to them. It wasn’t about selling records, making money or proving themselves to the world. Songwriting was their way to converse with the universe.

It almost felt like a dream. Maybe I fell asleep reading Kafka and dreamt I was a fly on the wall. I glanced over at Kellyn, wondering if maybe this had gotten to her but she stared at them, lips pierced and eyes full of impatience.

At this point I sighed and shrugged. The lack of Kellyn’s happiness wasn’t my problem. I knew I was being selfish but I was having fun, dammit. I turned back to the guys huddled around the table and continued drinking in every moment.

Not twenty minutes into the in-depth mechanics of songwriting, however, Kellyn started complaining (again) that she was tired and wanted to go home. Everyone had looked up, forgetting that she was even sitting there.

I pulled her to the side and pleaded with her again, knowing that I would hit her ultimate patience level soon. “Please Kellyn, just half an hour more. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Please, please, please stay with me just another thirty minutes. It’s all I’ll ever ask you for.”

“You said that four times already.” Her foot tapped as she studied my pleading gaze. “Fine.” She gave in and sighed, then pointed a finger in front of my face. “But if you ask me for another half an hour, I’m leaving you here.”

I smiled genuinely at her for the first time since I met her. “That’s fair enough. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.” I surprised myself by throwing her a hug.

Though Kellyn agreed to another half an hour, she constantly informed me of a count down. “Five more minutes,” she said in a sing-song voice. I turned from her to face Galvin and rolled my eyes.

He smiled, his eyes traveling from Kellyn to me. “Come with me,” Galvin insisted, putting his guitar aside and taking my hand.

“Where are you going?” Kellyn looked worried at the prospect of being in that room without me.

“Just outside, we’ll be right back,” Galvin promised and pulled me out of the door before Kellyn could protest.

“Thank-you.” I exhaled in relief when Kellyn’s weight and body heat was gone from my left side.

He smiled in reply and we exited the side doors, the chill of the icy air bit our faces.

As we walked, Galvin put his hands deep in the pocket of his jeans. “I can’t believe you have to live with her. Is she always…”

“Uptight?” I chuckled. I was glad someone else saw it too. I was beginning to think I was living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

He nodded. “That word works too.”

I laughed. “Well, she’s the epitome of perfection in my father’s eyes.”

He shook his head and stole a glance at me. “You and her are complete opposites, I can’t get over it.”

I grunted, amused. “That’s sounds about right. I’m the complete definition of imperfection to my dad too.”

Galvin stopped walking and said, “I didn’t mean—“

I held up my right hand to stop him from speaking. “Please, I’d rather be imperfect than be Kellyn.”

He leaned up against the building. “You are unlike any girl I’ve ever met, Christie Kelly.”

I felt my face get warm and shifted my gaze to his chest. He wore a black tee shirt with jeans and the sight of him made me even colder. “Aren’t you freezing?” I asked him, wrapping my arms tighter across my chest.

“Not at all,” he said. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and put one in his mouth. I groaned in disgust.

“What?” he asked innocently, lighting the cigarette.

“Do you really smoke?” I pried my arms apart and pulled the hood over my head, chilled from the night air.

Galvin laughed. “Doesn’t everyone?”

“No.” I sighed. The pristine image I had of him began to plummet. I was revolted when he blew out a cloud of smoke. The pungent odor of nicotine floated in my direction and I waved it away from my nose. I was probably acting like a snob, but I didn’t care; the Melbourne life had hardened me.

I sighed heavily wishing I could muster up the courage to ask him to stop. I didn’t care if he was Galvin Kismet and that I was acting Kellyn-esque.

Galvin looked at me and his smile faded. “I’m sorry,” he said genuinely. “I’ll stop if it bothers you.” He looked over at me and bent down to put it out on the frozen cement.

I took a deep breath in, appreciating the clean night air. “Thank you, Galvin.”

He smiled halfheartedly and shrugged. “If it makes you happy.” He looked down at my shoes. “Why does it bother you?”

I bit my bottom lip and wondered if I should divulge the truth. “My dad used to smoke when I was younger.” The thought of my father hardened my expression.

“And you don’t want to see him die because of it?”

I laughed too loudly and too quickly at his remark. “No, he used to blow it into my face because it bothered me so much. He would say, ‘You’ve got to learn to live with it, everyone is doing it. You can’t complain about it the rest of your life, so suck it up.’”

“He did that?” The look on Galvin’s face was covered in surprise.

I nodded. “It bothered the hell out of me. I can’t stand the smell of it and I can’t stand seeing my friends do it.” There was a moment of silence and I realized how hard my voice had become. I forced myself to relax.

He smiled. “So I’m one of those friends then?”

“You’re the only friend of mine like that.”

“I should quit then and keep your slate clean.”

I put my hands up. “Don’t quit for the sake of my slate.”

“For your sake then?” His eyebrow lifted, questioningly.

“It would be better if you did it for your own sake.”

“What if I did it for my sake, for your sake?”

“Fair enough,” I gave in only because I wasn’t sure what we were talking about anymore.

“Good.” He pulled out the packet of cigarettes from his pocket, smashed it in his hands and threw it in the garbage can.

I remembered how angry my father would get whenever my mom asked him to quit—it was too hard for him. “Have you ever tried to quit before?” I asked, wondering if he was just putting on a show.

“No.” He put his hands back in his pockets. I noticed goosebumps rising on his arms that were now pink with the chilled air.

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “I’ve never had a reason to.”

“And you have a reason now?”

“Yeah.” He shrugged. “You.” He said it like it was a no-brainer. Maybe I was just reading into his words too deeply.

Our eyes locked once more while the cold breezes became more forceful. “We better go inside, you’re going to get frost bite,” I said.

He smiled and opened the door for me, his arm sweeping through the air. “After you, Miss Kelly.”

“Why thank-you, Mr. Kismet.” I was relieved when he didn’t take my no-smoking grudge personally and went back to his old self.

As we walked down the hall, Trey came walking out of the conference room, Galvin’s acoustic guitar in his hand. “Where are you going?” Galvin asked from beside me.

“Dee room. Vee ahre done.”

I looked at my plastic seven dollar Walmart watch and saw that it was 2:30 in the morning.

“Crap, where’s Kellyn?” I asked Trey.

He shrugged. “Fife meenuts affer you go she vahlked owt. Kaden say stay un-til you cahm baht she go een ah taxi.” My eyes widened in horror. “Vee look fur you, baht you vere naht owt-side.”

“Did you check out that door?” Galvin threw a thumb to the exit door closest to the conference room, sounding annoyed. He said something in German in an unpleasant tone and Trey shrugged again and marched towards the elevators in response.

“I really have to go.” I panicked. “I’m going to be in so much trouble.”

“Calm down,” Galvin said in a soothing voice that made some of my childhood fears disappear. “I’ll call you a taxi.” He grabbed my hand and led me to the front desk, where the man in an elegant maroon uniform called for a taxi cab.

“Let’s wait outside,” Galvin suggested and took me by the hand, leading me out the front doors. I was antsy. I could only imagine how Dad would react to this. Kellyn was angry too, that wasn’t going to help my plea either. I bit my bottom lip so hard I began to taste blood.

“Everything’s going to be all right,” Galvin said, trying to calm me down. His hands curled around my shoulders and he looked me in the eyes. “Calm down.”

I concentrated on breathing so I wouldn’t have a panic attack. I unzipped my coat because the anxiety was making me sweat.

“Do you want me to come with you? Will that make everything all right?”

“Yes. But no.” I managed to say and laughed at the contradiction.

He looked confused at my reaction.

“Yes, I would absolutely love for you to come with me, but if you showed up with me, at my dad’s house, at three o’clock in the morning, after ditching Kellyn, I don’t think you could outrun my father.”

“He’s a smoker, they have weak lungs.” He smiled at his horrible sense of humor.

I grinned weakly. The taxi cab pulled up along the brightly lit curb. “I’d better go alone.” I could feel my stomach starting to ache with dread.

I pulled the door open on the taxi cab and put one foot in when Galvin asked, “Will you meet me tomorrow?”

Placing my hand on top of the open door, I turned to face him, not sure I heard him right. “If you are not in too much trouble, I mean,” he clarified.

“Oh, I’m sure I will be in a ton of trouble,” I assured him. His face fell slightly. “But I can manage something.”

“I hope I am not too much trouble.”

“You are nothing but trouble,” I admitted and smiled, the pain in my stomach disappearing.

I sat in the cab and Galvin closed the door. He mouthed the words, “Good luck” and waved as the taxi cab pulled away. The smile didn’t disappear from my face. Bring it on Dad, I told myself, I’m ready for anything.

 

 

XI.

Troubled Black Sheep

 

Light My Fire” – The Doors

 

 

 

After I punched in the code at the gate, the taxi cab pulled up to the front doors and I noticed that every single light on the main floor shone brightly. The light from each window spilled onto the lawn like spot lights, looking for a convict.

I took a deep breath and exited the cab, waiting until I couldn’t hear the humming of its engine anymore before I thought about moving my feet. I climbed the five cement stairs and put my hand on the door knob, replaying Galvin’s voice in my head to give me strength, and then I pushed it open.

The brightness of the light attacked me first. Every single lamp and ceiling light was lit and seemed to scold me. I heard voices from the living room and it took breathless ages for me to reach them.

When I turned the corner, Penny was sitting on the sofa with her back to me while Dad paced back and forth in his ruby red robe. “Christine Cleo Kelly,” my dad managed to spit out in anger when he looked up and saw me.

He came closer as Penny turned in her seat to face me. I stood in place because moving and yelling back were two things my dad looked for to feed his fire.”What in the hell were you thinking? You weren’t thinking! That’s your problem! Kellyn comes home a wreck because her own sister left her with complete strangers! She’s been trying so hard for the past few weeks to understand you, to be your friend and this is how you repay her?” He started to pace again, mumbling things under his breath.

“We trusted you, Christie, to—” Penny broke through the sound of Dad’s slippers that were burning a hole in the oriental rug. She looked sad and repentant as Dad cut her off.

“We trusted you enough to go out and have fun at the concert and not only have you deeply hurt Kellyn, but you’ve hurt Penny as well. Do you know what we woke up to tonight? Do you? The horrifying sound of your sister crying.”

I bit my lip and wondered if they ever heard me crying at night.

“She’s been up there since she got home, drowning herself in tears! She refuses to get out of her room and calm down. You know damn well that she’s younger than you; you’re supposed to keep an eye out for her. How long did it take you to notice that she was gone Christie? Better yet, where in the bloody hell were you when you left her with those savage boys? I don’t even want to think about what you were doing—what you’ve become.”

He looked at me, rage burning in his eyes, the temples of his forehead glistening in sweat. I stared blankly at him, determined not to say anything, no matter what he threw my way.

“Damn it Christie, if I would’ve known! Backstage passes! Older boys—at the hotel! What is wrong with you? Where in the hell is your common sense?”

I stood still, my eyes locked in a combative stare with his for what seemed like hours. My eyes started to sting because I refused to blink. “You’re walking a thin line here. You better watch it,” he threatened. “Consider yourself confined to your room until school begins.” I watched him storm out of the room.

When he was out of sight, Penny took it as her cue and approached me. She was wearing a satin white robe that clung to the outline of her slender waist; she was even more beautiful without make-up covering her face. “Look, Christie,” she began, putting her hand on my shoulder. “I know you’re technically not my daughter, but I want to try and be your mother. Kellyn is trying to be your sister, but it’s hard for us too.

“You’re father is trying his best, whether you think so or not. Please be patient with us and we’ll do the same to you, all right?”

I managed to nod slightly, still keeping my frozen stance. She frowned slightly and said, “You better head up to your bedroom.”

I trudged up the stairs and heard silence from outside Kellyn’s room. I closed the bedroom door behind me, leaned against it, and smiled. The same smile that was aching to be released when Dad mentioned backstage passes, when I heard Galvin’s voice replaying in my head.

He was so worth the trouble.

 

 

XII.

Finding Nightlights

 

Fighter Girl” – Mason Jennings

 

 

 

In the morning, Cormac brought me a bowl of soggy cereal, a dry turkey sandwich at lunch, and a portion of dinner in the evening. No dessert, no refills, no conversations, no chance for them to hear my side of the story, even though it wasn’t much different from the truth. Was I really such a horrible person? So selfish and impolite? Well, that is what I came here for, it was my master plan, wasn’t it? To be Dad’s pain in the neck for the next two years and get even for those years he was so dreadful to both me and my mother. So, far I’m off to a flying start.

And it all worked out, really. Sure I was in a ton of trouble, but I had my space—silence from those people—and Galvin on my side. What more could I ask for here?

During the late morning I was lying on my bed, writing a letter to my mother when I heard jingling keys and the lock unclick. Dad walked in, without even looking at me. He yanked the cable connection from the television and removed the external modem from the computer. On his way out he picked up my walkman off the dresser and locked the door behind him. I was furious at the thought that I couldn’t listen to my Prey for Chance tape, but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of talking back to him. Besides, I would see Galvin tonight and hear that beautiful voice first hand. I would find a way out of there.

That afternoon dragged on slowly as I impatiently waited for night and Penny and Dad to go to sleep. I paced my bedroom restlessly until my legs burned. The high shelves in my room were covered in oversized books and I pulled the desk chair over to explore a few, desperate to find something to occupy my time.

“Art books,” I snuffed. I was hoping for a good mystery or maybe an interesting biography. Art, architecture, art theory and encyclopedias of artistic styles crowded the shelves.

Art was only a hobby of mine, something I was never brilliant at, but could easily and happily lose myself in. I reached for a large orange book on the end and wiped the dust off the cover. The Art of Dada was the title. The picture on the cover intrigued me the most and I sunk down into the chair to study it.

An obsessively fat and red faced man dressed as a general sat at a table with headless suits. A man in black whispered into the general’s ear, as if he were sharing a secret, and I could make out a smile beginning to emerge on the general’s face; his bloody sword was levitating over the table, pointing to a headless suit. A blind-folded donkey stood on a plank on the table, unnoticed by all, and ate straw from a manger. Looking up from the floor, half eaten by the shadows was a skeleton, amused by the donkey, but it somehow carried an imploring gaze too. I ran my finger over the bottom right hand corner which read: Eclipse of the Sun, George Grosz.

I opened the book and began reading about the history of Dada and Surrealism, flipping through prints of art by Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Jean Arp, Max Ernst and my soon-to be favorite Modernist, Man Ray. I studied each picture, staring at them until something new appeared, and then I turned the page and started at another. This went on for hours until I heard the bedroom door above me close.

I glanced at the clock and threw on my shoes and coat when I saw it was minutes past ten at night. I felt my heart pounding, adrenaline rushing—I had never snuck out before. I double checked to make sure my bedroom door was locked; it was. I leaned my ear up against the door and heard silence.

Tip-toeing my way across the room, I slowly opened the patio doors and welcomed the night air. I closed my eyes and breathed in the crisp coolness and smiled. I had this planned out for hours.

Climbing over the railing, I managed to jump onto the roof of the kitchen. Slowly, I made my way to the edge and looked at the fourteen foot drop. I pulled on my gloves and crouched in the corner where the dormant ivy branches hung. I swung my foot over the roof and tried to get a foot hold on the lattice that I was not entirely sure would support me. I held my breath as I climbed down, hoping it wouldn’t snap, give way, and reveal my secrets.

Four feet from the ground I jumped and landed on my feet. I took a deep breath, I was almost in the clear! I looked up at my patio doors, satisfied that I escaped them. I sneaked through the garden gate and once I crossed the property line, I ran down the street. It took twenty five minutes to reach his hotel while running.

I walked up to the front desk, breathing heavily but with a smug smile on my face. “Galvin Kismet, please,” I said, nearly breathless.

The woman at the front desk eyed me disapprovingly and pretended to type up something on the computer. “Sorry, there’s no one here by that name.”

I chuckled. “Of course there is, I was here last night talking to him.”

“Regardless, there is no one here by that name, so unless you’re checking in, I will have to ask you to leave.”

My smile faltered. I hadn’t dreamed last night, because I spent the entire day grounded, confined to my room. “No, he asked me to meet him here. I know he’s staying here, I just need to know the room number.”

“Please miss, I’m going to have to ask you to leave or I will call security.”

A rebuttal was brewing on my lips when I heard my name. “Christie!”

That voice! I turned around and saw Galvin walk through the lobby doors with Trey and an older man with a handle bar mustache, holding a pizza box. His arms were opened wide, asking for a hug. I turned to the woman at the front desk and gave her a look that said, “told ya so” and turned to him.

I forced myself not to run into his arms and patiently met him half way, breaking out into a smile. “I’m so glad you made it,” Galvin said, releasing me from his hug.

“Did you have any doubt?” I laughed.

He smiled in response then turned. “This is my uncle Tobias,” Galvin said, motioning to the man with the handlebar mustache. “And this is Christie.”

“Penina! Dee girl on dee plane,” Tobias said, shaking my hand. “Goot do meed you.”

I smiled and noticed Galvin staring at me with a grin. “Come Trey, let us haff ah deenner. You ahre velcome do join us Chreestie,” Tobias said, walking down the hall with Trey in tow.

“You’re uncle stays with you?” I inquired.

“He tries to visit as often as he can. He doesn’t want our career to ‘deform our values’.” Galvin said the last three words in air quotes. He glanced over at the woman who was staring at us from the front desk and took me by the arm. “Let’s take a walk.”

When we stepped out into the cold air I zipped up my jacket and threw the hood over my head. “Is it too cold for you? We can go inside.”

“No.” I might have said the word too forcibly because Galvin looked surprised. Being inside with Galvin made me feel too confined. He made me feel so full of optimism and delight that I needed space to be myself. “I’ve been locked in my room all day, I like being outside right now.”

“Did you get into a lot of trouble?” he asked, looking up from his feet and his gaze scanned our path ahead.

“Not too much.”

We started walking down the street, side by side. My hands in my coat pockets, his in his coat pockets. “How long will you be in Melbourne?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t leave but knowing he would.

“Sunday,” he replied, looking down at the path.

“Where are you going next?”

“Sydney,” his voice had a hint of sorrow to it. “We’ll be around Melbourne doing promos for the tour and new single. We have one more concert on Saturday night and Monday morning we’ll leave and be on the road for six weeks.”

“Well, that’s fun.” I tried not to let my disappointment cover my words. He only grunted.

“Christie?” I looked at him. “Can we not talk about my career tonight?” He looked at me, worried I might take his request the wrong way.

“No problem.” I smiled. As long as I could hear his voice, walk next to him, hear him say my name, I didn’t care.

“What are your plans?” he asked as we crossed the street.

“I’ve been banished to my room until school starts on Monday, so nothing much.”

He looked up at me. “You shouldn’t be here, then?”

I waved away his question with a gloved hand. “It’s fine. I need to not be there.”

Galvin grinned. “So how much trouble were you really in?”

“Enough,” I mumbled. “Can we make a deal that if I don’t talk about your music, you don’t ask me about my Melbourne life?”

“Sounds excellent.” We both smiled and continued walking down the street.

“Do you want to warm up for a while?” he asked, nodding towards the cinema across the street after a silent lull in conversation.

“You read my mind.”

We bought tickets to a movie that started in ten minutes. The movie theatre was nearly empty when we took our seats. Galvin settled for a box of Milk Duds and bought me a soda in an attempt to keep me from yawning.

As the movie began, Galvin rested his arm on the armrest between us. He had taken his brown leather jacket off and his arm was clothed in a dark green sweater that clung to his broad frame. I tried to pay attention to the movie but my eyes kept wandering down to his bare hand and my gaze stayed there longer than it should have.

I studied his iridescent skin, the curves of his knuckles, the crevices between his fingers, the hair on it. I wondered what it would be like to hold it, right now. What would happen if I reached out and grabbed it? Would he look at me and smile, or would he pull away and frown? Would there be a spark that ran up my arm and make me blush? Would his hand still be cold from being outside? Would he allow me to trace his fingers with mine? Would he grab my hand and rub circles on my knuckles with his thumb? How would that silver ring on his middle finger feel against my skin when our fingers intertwined? It took everything in me not to reach out and find my answers.

“Are you still awake?” he whispered, eyes never leaving the screen. Energy I never felt before was coursing through my body, threatening to blow me to pieces. I heard my heart drumming in my ears and my lungs felt constricted. I didn’t move, because if I did it might trigger the explosion inside me.

“Yes,” I replied in the same hushed tone, moving my eyes from his hand to his face.

“Are you watching the movie?” He looked down at me with a playful smile when he finished his sentence.

Our eyes caught each other, and his smile waned as the energy I felt passed from my eyes to his. “No,” I choked out.

We stared at each other, our eyes each trying desperately to tell the other something. His electric green eyes held mine so fervently that I couldn’t look away, I couldn’t blink. I let his eyes hold mine for as long as they wanted, it felt safe, it felt right.

When his eyes broke from mine and wandered around my face, I tried to catch his eye, to lock our gaze back up into that safe eternity. But then my eyes started to wander. They traveled up to his hair line, studying the disarray his hair was in, then his ears, following the curve of his nose, down his smooth pale cheeks, around his chin, and—and I wanted to touch his hair so it fell through my fingers, feel his warm breath travel across my moist lips, trace his stubbly chin with my nose, lean my cold, pink cheeks against his eye brows, settle my head into the nook of his neck and close my eyes to the sound of the blood passionately coursing through his veins.

I felt my face growing warmer, and something caught in my throat.

Just then the theatre lights turned on, making my eyes squint from the glow. I looked back at Galvin. When my eyes adjusted to the light and he looked back at me. “It’s time to go,” he said in a weak tone.

“Good movie,” I breathed, still frozen in my chair.

“Very good movie,” he agreed.

And to this day neither one of us can remember what movie we saw that day, but it has remained our favorite.

Outside the movie theatre the cold air stole the warmth that sheltered my body and I couldn’t hear my heart pounding in my ears anymore. “I better go,” I said softly.

“Will you come back tomorrow night?” he asked, looking at me through his short eyelashes.

“I’ll try,” I said, gazing at him. We stared at each other in intense silence while the sound of a sleeping city surrounded us. “Goodbye,” I finally managed to choke out.

“Goodbye Christie,” he said, staring intently.

I finally gathered enough strength and self restraint to turn my back to him and put one foot in front of the other until I found myself in front of Penny’s stone mansion.

 

 

XIII.

Those Melbourne Nights

 

Listen to the Music” – The Doobie Brothers

 

 

 

The same scenario played out for the next several days. I spent the day fingering through the books in my room and snuck out of the house when Penny and Dad went to bed. Galvin and I had late dinners, long walks, and many, many silent gazes that just about drove me crazy with zealousness.

The next night I got there later than usual because Penny and Dad went out to dinner after Kellyn’s piano recital. “Just go to bed already,” I grumbled at the ceiling when the clock hit 10:45 PM and their footsteps wouldn’t stop.

It wasn’t long after I heard Kellyn close her bedroom door when I heard the footsteps above me cease. I was losing time with Galvin and it fueled me to run faster as soon as I climbed down into the yard.

When I reached Galvin’s room I noticed that it was incredibly quiet. I knocked on the door and barely heard his muffled footsteps on the other side. “Hello,” Galvin said with a smile, leaning against the door.

The immensity of my smile matched his. “Hi.”

“I knew you would come.” He yawned and motioned for me to come in.

I walked through the door and threw my coat on an arm chair. Galvin’s guitar was on the floor near the couch, next to an open steno pad. “Where is everyone?” I sat down on the furthest couch, adjacent to the enormous television.

“Out. They went to some club.” Galvin yawned again and sat down next to me. Galvin’s eyes were bloodshot and he was having trouble keeping them open. He must have been incredibly tired, staying up all night with me and spending all day on the go. I was too selfish to leave him and go home.

“How are you doing?” I asked as he sat back.

“Great.” He blinked but his eyes stayed closed longer than they needed to be.

“You look exhausted, Galvin. You should get some sleep. I can come back tomorrow.”

I moved to the edge of my seat to stand up, but Galvin’s hand grabbed my wrist and his touch made my heart flutter. “Don’t go. I’m fine. I want you to stay.”

Against my better judgment I gave in. “All right. Let’s just hang out here for a while.”

“Good idea,” he agreed. “We’ll just watch the television for a bit.” We found a movie we agreed on and we rested our feet on the coffee table.

Twenty minutes later his head fell onto my shoulder. I felt strands of his hair brush across my neck and cheek; his smell warmed me like a blanket. His soft breathing signaled that he had fallen asleep.

It was at that moment I had given myself a reality check. Was I actually here, so close to him? How did this happen? What was I doing? At this point I stopped thinking I was dreaming and instead wondered when Galvin would turn to me and say, “Just kidding, I’m not really Galvin Kismet, but I had you fooled, didn’t I?” or even worse, he would say, “You’re here again? Why won’t you just leave me alone?”

I spent the length of the movie in a mental debate, sometimes leaning my head slightly to the right to feel the heat from Galvin’s head. When the movie ended I reached for the remote, careful not to wake him up, to shut the television off. Slowly, I got up and guided Galvin to his side so that he laid across the couch.

I took the bedspread off the bed and fanned it out on top of him. I looked down at him satisfied with the night, though we had done nothing and my brain had given my heart a stern lecture throughout the movie. I fought the overwhelming urge to brush the hair from his forehead and kiss him. I was becoming too comfortable with him for my own good. I tip-toed out of the room and lazily walked back to Penny’s castle.

 

Though Galvin didn’t invite me the following night, I went anyway. He was becoming an addiction. I knocked on his door and his marvelous voice instructed for me to come in.

I opened the door and saw him at the closest couch, with a guitar over his knee. The notes danced off his guitar and his fingers didn’t stop strumming the strings when he saw me, but instead talked in tune with the song. “I’m so glad you came tonight/come sit down and hear this song.”

I laughed and sat down next to him. He sang to me a song that was never released called “Raindrop Melody”. I sighed at the raw sound of his voice against the guitar, so pure, so real. I closed my eyes and absorbed the unrefined melody of the live acoustic guitar and Galvin’s voice, it was better than a chocolate cake frosted with heaven.

When the music stopped I opened my eyes and said, “I could listen to you, like that, forever.”

Galvin held my face with his eyes and smiled. Moments later he reached over to the end table and picked up his discman. “I want you to listen to something.” He put the guitar pick between his teeth, flipped open his CD case and slipped one into the walkman. He handed me the massive headphones and pressed play.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but was taken aback when the track began with a chorus and notes fluttering from a flute. A crooner, who I assumed to be long since dead, began to sing a tacky romantic song about moonlight. When the song ended I took off the headphones and had no idea what to say. How could Galvin Kismet of Prey for Chance listen to that?

“What do you think?” He took the guitar out of his lap and placed it on the floor.

My eyebrows knitted with whether or not to tell the truth. “Honestly?”

He nodded. “I want your honest opinion.”

I avoided his eyes when I said, “It’s slow and cheesy.”

A smile played on his lips and he rolled his eyes. “Beyond that.”

I didn’t like the song at all and wanted to know what the hell he was trying to get at. “The song is mindless, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the same lyrics over and over.”

“It’s not always the song that means something. Listen to his voice. He’s himself. You can actually hear his memories when he sings. He’s not hiding behind a thumping beat.”

I cocked my head to the side and smirked. “Are you being a hypocrite?”

His lips pressed into a thin line and he sighed. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“So you’re not being ‘yourself’ when you sing?”

I was taking this conversation lightly but his face darkened with seriousness. “I try to be. It’s difficult. When I get to sing the songs that I wrote late at night, or on that one train ride, I am nothing but myself. I love sitting here with nothing but me and the guitar; it’s real and natural. Then I bring it to the band and it becomes deformed and that little piece that still remembers where it comes from is hidden beneath the mindless rhythm.”

“Then why don’t you breakaway and do something yourself?”

“It means too much to Trey and the rest of the guys. If I leave they wouldn’t be too happy and… and it’s safe right now.”

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” My mother would have said that.

He flashed a smile and pointed to the CD player resting in my hands. “You can’t tell me that you hate it.”

“Do you love it?”

He nodded. “Music wasn’t complicated in that era. They sang because they felt it, because they wanted to sing. The lyrics weren’t great but the best singers come from that era because they weren’t afraid to simply be themselves.”

I looked at him skeptically.

“Louis Armstrong, for instance,” he looked at me to see if I recognized the name.

“I have heard ‘Zippity Do Dah,’ once or twice, thank you.” My childhood wasn’t that deprived.

“He had a voice like sand paper but people bought his records and saw him perform because he wasn’t afraid to be himself. He could have stuck with simply playing the trumpet but he was more than that.”

He flashed a smile and reached for the walkman. “Listen to it again,” he urged. “Close your eyes and listen to his voice.”

I did just that and I tried hard to see Galvin’s point. I couldn’t help but cringe at the opening bars but concentrated on hearing only his voice. I could hear him smile when he sang the lyrics “hand in my hand” and his voice become bolder and jubilant when he says that he’ll be happy anywhere, as long as he’s with his love. As cheesy as that image and line is, I could imagine him thinking of a certain girl, maybe his wife, and a time when they were absolutely happy together; there was a strong memory there and the singer was confident enough to slip it into the song. I wondered if Galvin ever tried to do that in any of his songs.

“And?” Galvin asked when I peeled the headphones from my ears.

“I think I get it.” I was still lost in thought, my mind searching for a memory in “Cuttin’ the Rain”.

He shrugged. “It’s not for everyone.” He took the discman from me and placed it onto the table beside the couch. “You have to take what you can get out of the music. It’s different for everyone, but you have to pay attention and appreciate each piece in order for it to speak to you.”

He picked up the guitar and strummed a few chords. His hair was getting longer and strands fell in front of his eyes and landed just below his nose.

“In a way,” I began, staring at the wall, gathering my thoughts, “they’re being hidden behind the music, just like you.”

Galvin stopped playing and looked at me. “I never thought of it that way.” His eyes traveled to the wall now, thinking.

“Does that change things?”

He raised his shoulders and dropped them with a grin. “It helps.”

I smiled. “Whenever I have that look on my face my mom says, ‘One day it’ll all make sense.’”

He looked up at me from his guitar and his lips twitched, as if they stopped the words that wanted to come out from escaping. They then stretched into a smile and he began to strum the chords to “Blackbird”. I spent the night listening to him sing and play the guitar, my own private concert, and I tore myself from the couch at 3:30 in the morning to return to my flamboyant prison cell.

 

On Saturday night he had a concert at Rod Laver Arena and it killed me not being able to go. Penny was hosting a cheese and wine party and the house was full of guests. I stayed locked in my room as the sound of voices and classical music floated upstairs. When ten o’clock came and went on the bedside clock, and I still heard the sound of excited voices, I grudgingly changed into my pajamas.

From my bed I stared at the clock. At 11:45 I heard Kellyn’s bedroom door close. With some optimism, I sprung to my patio doors but saw the kitchen lights flood the gardens and knew there was still company in the house.

12:30 came and went and I still hadn’t heard Penny’s footsteps upstairs. The faint sound of voices still traveled up the stairs at 1:30 and by 2:30am I fell asleep, cursing the guests that had over welcomed their stay.

Sunday night I eagerly listened for the sound of footsteps upstairs to cease. Both Penny and Dad had gone to bed early since they spent the previous night drinking too much wine and having too much fun. I was pleased when the footsteps above me silenced at half past eight.

I threw on a pair of black pants, a maroon sweater, and threw my hair into a pony tail. It had been nearly forty hours since I saw him last and the notion had me flying as fast as the wind down the Melbourne streets.

When I arrived at the hotel I walked to the elevators and pushed the large white button. My reflection, in the polished bronze doors, made my head stop buzzing with possibilities, excitement and adrenaline. It’s funny how reflections, even on the window of a store when walking down some busy street, momentarily erect a wall against all those thoughts flittering around. Some people may automatically switch their thoughts to how wide their hips have become, how quickly their hair is thinning or how funny their walk is, but it’s always a reality check: this is you, right here, right now.

I noticed that my face was flushed and I unzipped my jacket, trying to slow my breathing. As the elevator dinged, I ran a hand over my head to tame the fly-away hairs. With one last shy look into my eyes, my reflection split in two and I found myself face to face with Galvin who held a single Star Gazer Lily in his hand.

“You’re early,” he stuttered, but then smiled. “Here, this is for you.” He handed me the single flower. I took it, my eyes darting between the flower and Galvin’s face.

“Thanks, Galvin,” I said as he stepped out of the elevator. “No one has ever given me a flower before.” I grinned, running my finger over the soft petals.

“There was a vase of them at the arena and every time I walked by them they practically screamed your name. It was weird not seeing you when the day was over, I didn’t like it,” Galvin stated as he brushed my elbow with his palm and we began walking towards the lobby.

“I didn’t like it either,” I paused a moment, feeling my face get warm, and didn’t dare look up from the flower I held in my hands. “How was the concert?”

He shrugged. “Uneventful. How is your father?”

“Unbelievable.”

“We both just broke our promise.” He smiled and stopped to face me. “May I?” He nodded, his hand reaching for my flower. I handed it over to him, unsure what he was going to do with it.

Galvin found my eyes and gave me a brief, good-humored smile. He lifted his hands above my head and I let my eyes close. I breathed in the warm and inviting aroma of his cologne that mixed well with the scent of his leather jacket. I felt his fingers in my hair, weaving the stem of the lily through my pony tail and I let my mind wander far beyond that moment.

“Perfect,” he said as his hands fell down to his side. I opened my eyes and smiled while he studied his handiwork.

“Come on, let’s go.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me along.

“Where are we going tonight?” I loved his spontaneity and never knowing what the next moment with him would contain. We left the bright lights of the hotel and sprinted down the stairs, onto the street.

“It’s a surprise.” He winked and then let his fingers slip between mine so that our hands tangled around each other. A sigh escaped my lips when the endless miles of curiosity were quenched. Relief and comfort swept over me as he squeezed my hand and I was finally able to feel my fingertips glide over his knuckles.

After walking in comfortable silence, we arrived at The European on Spring Street where we enjoyed an unbelievable three course meal. We took our seats and I began to feel horribly underdressed. Galvin took off his jacket and revealed a white collared shirt underneath a charcoal grey sweater, a style very unlike him to sport, but it made him look as irresistible as his voice. I sighed and looked down at my faded maroon sweater.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Nothing.”

He narrowed his eyes at me.

“Why do you have to look so good?” I admitted.

Galvin’s eyebrows pulled together and he shook his head. “I was about to ask you the same thing.” I blushed and rolled my eyes with a smile.

After we ordered, I looked around at the ivy covered ceilings and lights twinkling from behind them, it was as if we had walked into a secret garden. Instrumental music played softly throughout the restaurant that made me think of gondolas. A fishbowl with a deep red floating candle sat on white rose petals between us. “I like it here.”

“I thought you would.” His gaze met mine and I brushed it away before we spent another hour in eye-locked passion.

I ran the corner of my napkin between my thumb and forefinger as it still sat beneath the silverware on the table. “I can’t believe you’re leaving tomorrow.”

“You promised not to talk about it.” He looked at me, his features etched in disappointment.

“I know, but I don’t know what I’m going to do now.” I thought back to my first few weeks in Melbourne. “What did I do before you?”

He smiled. “You’re starting school tomorrow, right? That’s something to look forward to.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” I rolled my eyes and tried not to think about shuffling from classroom to classroom, laden down with textbooks, surrounded by hundreds of girls I didn’t know.

He leaned back in his seat, draping his left arm across the back of the booth. “You’ll be fine, school will keep you busy, you’ll see. And we’ll see each other again in four weeks.”

“On your way to the airport,” I grumbled.

He frowned. I looked down at my silverware that was peeking out of the white napkin next to my plate. “How many days until your eighteenth birthday?” he asked, trying to change the subject.

“Too many.”

My eyes moved to his plate and traveled up to his face. He looked at the centerpiece, where the flame danced above the candle for several seconds, thinking hard about something. He finally leaned over the table. “Do you want to make a promise with me?”

His features, in the dim light, made butterflies in my stomach. “What kind of promise?”

“If we don’t see each other after the next four weeks, we’ll promise to meet again, on your eighteenth birthday. No matter what.”

“That’s silly,” I said and almost regretted it after my ears had heard it.

He shrugged with a sly smile. “Take it or leave it.”

I tilted my head and studied his questioning gaze. “Where would we meet?”

He thought about it and then pointed to the table. “Right here. This table. The European.”

I considered his request. The idea of not seeing him again until my eighteenth birthday drove me crazy, but at least it was a promise to see him again. “All right. It’s a deal.”

A grin slowly spread over his face and he sat back, drinking in our promise. I never once thought to ask what would happen if one of us didn’t show up, because I was naively confident that he would show up.

 

 

XIV.

Have You Like This

 

‘Dancing in the Moonlight” – King Harvest

 

 

 

After dinner, we walked down the street with no destination in mind. His fingers found mine and enveloped them. He placed them in the coat of his pocket and the warmth of his body was inviting. We walked aimlessly down the empty streets of Melbourne, putting off the minute when we had to say goodbye.

Galvin started humming a song—he always did that when it got too quiet. He pulled me into the middle of a deserted street by my hand, still entwined with his. He wrapped his arms around me, swaying in the street light, putting words to his tune. I welcomed the heat of his body, and the smell of his jacket, but most of all his luscious, beautiful, velvety voice.

His voice was quiet, sincere, delicate. I felt the tune surround us and I closed my eyes, picturing Galvin and myself in Peppino Mangravite’s, Dancing in the Moonlight painting. I imagined our faces to be the only thing that stuck out from the colorless blurbs in the background as we floated off the ground to Galvin’s tune.

He continued to sing and I rested my head against his cold jacket, in the cove of his neck.

When his song diminished back into a hum I asked, “I like that song, did you write it?”

“No.” I felt his head dip down against mine.

“What song is that?”

“A slow, cheesy one,” he mocked.

“It’s… good,” I admitted.

He chuckled. “It’s the same song I had you listen to the other night.”

“Oh.” It was different, nothing at all like the song I had heard emanating from his headphones, but somehow similar. I couldn’t put my finger on why it was so different and soon brushed it from my mind when he began humming again.

The vibrations from his purring soothed me. I closed my eyes and smiled to myself; this was actually happening. I was falling deep and hard for the man behind the voice, and at this point I wasn’t sure if it was love or infatuation.

A million thoughts ran through my head, in different categories of opinions but they were numbed tonight, by this moment alone. Galvin’s right hand found mind and his left hand traveled to the small of my back. He pulled me in dizzying circles, flitting in and out of the street lamps, dancing down the empty street. It was fun. Galvin knew fun and I laughed as the world rushed by and the cold air whooshed across my cheeks.

At the end of the block, his right hand fell from mine but his left hand pulled me closer to his hip. I sighed happily at how we must look to strangers walking by. Often I would see couples holding each other as they shared a silent walk down the road and always thought what it would be like. Could they not contain their love for a few miles? Was it an involuntary response? Were they putting on a show? I found all my answers that night.

We walked side by side down a quieter street, lined by bare trees, hearing only our footsteps and the breeze rustle through their bare limbs. “I’m going to miss these nights.” I sighed.

I pulled him down to sit on a bench to delay our separate departures. The cold didn’t chatter my teeth violently or send unending shivers across my body like it had before. I was comfortable leaning against Galvin’s arm and having him as a mountain of warmth.

I rested my head against him as he drew his arm around me. “I’ve waited to have you like this,” he said with a sigh as he rested his head on top of mine.

I could feel his warm breath on my scalp. I sighed in contentment. “Me too.”

The silky barrier of our dreamily wanderings were punctured by the clopping sounds of horse hoofs, trotting down our path. A tiny parade of tired workers directed their horse drawn carriages through the park, after a wearisome day of sight seers and tourists.

An elegant covered jet black carriage marched righteously past; it made me think of the Emily Dickinson poem “I Could Not Stop for Death” and it gave me the chills. A fringe covered white one followed with two black horses pulling it. The driver tipped his hat to us but remained on his path. The last carriage—a very worn down brown one—appeared to wobble down the street, yet it seemed quaint with a historic past. The horses’ hide looked like old leather: worn and dry. The carriage stopped a few yards before us and Galvin and I rose to our feet, convinced that something had broken off the contraption.

A middle aged man with a humorously bushy mustache tipped his hat to us, “Can I offer you two a ride? I’m going towards Elizabeth Boulevard.”

Galvin looked at me. “Thanks, but we don’t want to trouble you,” I waved my hand dismissively.

“Nonsense, the clouds are coming in quickly, it’s going to be an icy night. Besides, I can’t pass you two by; you’re the kind of people that make this job worth it.” He winked surreptitiously and rubbed his mustache with his gloved forefinger, “What do you say?”

Galvin raised his eyebrows and nodded, answering the question. He tugged at my hand and led me onto the carriage. “Thanks mister…”

“Kristof,” he said and pulled on the reigns.

We were settling into the hypnotizing rhythm of the carriage’s shaky wheels, when specks of reality fell from above and pulled me back into consciousness. It was snowing—that doesn’t happen very often in Melbourne. Knowing that and seeing those miraculous flakes fall from the sky—and realizing that I was lucky enough to be awake and outdoors to experience it—filled me with such an overwhelming amount of happiness I thought I was going to burst.

Everyone experiences breathtakingly awesome moments like that at least once in their lifetime. It could be during a bus ride, a conversation around the campfire, a car ride in vibrant autumn, or a flattering event with a stranger. They look back on that memory (so very often) and it leaves the most spectacular grin upon their face. This is mine.

Everything in the universe seemed to align perfectly that night. I never once felt depressed about moving or angry with my father, nor did I ache with pains from homesickness or yearn for my mother’s company. The fact that Galvin was leaving in the morning had been erased from my mind and I was enjoying the here and now. I was cloaked in a world of jubilance and dreams, protected by a layer of optimism and promise.

I was untouchable. I could do anything in the world. I radiated with all the stars in the night sky and the courage of a thousand men ran through my veins. I turned to Galvin, his face was highlighted with shadows and low light. His hair was starting to droop into a neat plane that followed the curve of his scalp with the weight of the melted snowflakes. He looked over at me. I was, undoubtedly, looking as sodden and as grungy as he did, but, nevertheless, he unveiled one of his heart stopping smiles just for me.

Emotions came at me left and right and I didn’t even try to fight them. Right there, under the thick red blanket, on a horse draw carriage, under a light curtain of snow, I did the boldest thing in my life: I leaned over and kissed him.

My heart exploded. The emotions that had been building up inside me all week blasted through my system when our lips met. Was it finally happening? Were those his soft, thick lips touching mine? I didn’t want to open my eyes because I feared that when I did, I would be lying in my bedroom, waking from a dream. It was a moment I wanted to last forever.

The carriage slowed and we pulled apart. Gradually, I opened my eyes, hoping he would still be there. His green eyes pierced through me with fervor. “Was that okay?” I said in a tone just above a whisper.

He nodded and tucked a piece of my dampened hair behind my ear. “Just so you know, you never have to ask that. It will always be okay.” The smile he wore at that moment was so bright it remained in my subconscious, permanently etched on the walls of my memory.

I felt the blood rush to my cheeks and I grinned. His arm draped around my shoulder and I eagerly moved closer to him, letting my head fall onto his chest.

Kristof pulled his carriage up a few blocks from the hotel. Galvin shoved triple the price of the ride into their handshake but Kristof kindly refused. “My wife constantly says I should sell the carriage and spend my retired days golfing like a normal bloke. I live for nights like this and people like you. Keep your money.” He winked again.

“Thank you Kristof. It was an excellent ride.” I shook his warm gloved hand and stepped off the carriage.

“Not at all, I enjoyed your company.”

Galvin smiled and jumped off the carriage. “Thanks again,” he said and Kristof waved as his horses pulled him down the street and out of sight.

He put his arm around me and I welcomed the warmth of his body. My eyelids started to get heavier as we walked down the street. My head bobbed with the motion of our footsteps but I didn’t want to turn around, walk home alone and crawl into my bed of horrors for a dreamless sleep. I’d take his company versus sleep any day.

Twenty minutes later we reached the glass doors of Galvin’s hotel but we still held off the dreaded moment when we had to say goodbye. We stood outside the entrance of the lobby, facing each other underneath the lights that were so bright that they hurt my sleepy eyes. We both tried to start sentences, but they never escaped our mouths.

I took a step towards him and looked at the zipper on his jacket. My gaze climbed up the zipper trail until his eyes caught mine.

His eyes pulled me into a hypnotic stance that made me weak with exhaustion at my knees. After several moments I pried my eyes from his before I fell into a coma. Not wanting to take my eyes from him, they traveled down his neck and back to his zipper.

My hand rose slowly and caught the strand of leather on the zipper. I let my arm go limp with fatigue so that my numb fingers slowly pulled the zipper down. The sound it made filled the air around us, until his coat broke open and revealed his charcoal gray sweater. I felt the warmth from his body travel the ten inches it took to reach mine and goose bumps raced down my neck.

His hands traveled up my arms and rested on my shoulders. His right hand traveled further, up my neck, brushing my ear, and holding the back of my head, below my pony tail.

When I couldn’t stand the goose bumps traveling down my body any longer, I slipped my hands inside his jacket and held him close as his arms wrapped around me. My hands met each other around his back and I let the warmth seep through my jacket and crawl over my cold arms. I let his jacket fall over my face as I pressed against his chest. I closed my eyes, ready to fall asleep right there.

“Don’t leave yet,” he whispered into my ear.

“Okay,” I said from inside his jacket.

My legs began to burn and shake with the energy it took to stand. “Let’s go inside, you’re freezing.”

I didn’t say anything. I opened my eyes and kept one arm inside his jacket as I turned so that we could walk inside. The lights were dimmer inside and I opened them more willingly. There were two men behind the front desk and sweet instrumental music flooded the lobby indiscreetly.

We approached the elevator and Galvin pressed the white button and it lit up immediately. I closed my eyes, with my head against his arm and listened to the dings and movement of the elevator as we waited for the doors to open. “I’m tired,” I murmured from behind my eyelids.

“I know. Me too.” His hand went up to my head and he pressed it tenderly against his body. “Get some sleep before you leave.”

The doors opened smoothly and Galvin led me inside. He punched the button for the fourteenth floor. I wrapped myself back into his jacket, shivering from the cold that suddenly seemed to attack me. His arms reached around me as the elevator jumped up. He started humming again and I closed my eyes, much too comfortable.

When the elevator doors opened we walked out in silence, our arms still holding each other. We stopped at the corner suite and Galvin carefully pulled the key out of his wallet, without disturbing me. I only opened my eyes when the door unlocked and we walked inside.

I let go of Galvin while he took his coat off and threw his wallet onto the table. I pried my coat off my shoulders and shivered. I pulled the sleeves of my sweater down over my hands, my teeth chattering. He placed his still warm jacket around me and said, “Don’t leave yet.” The energy it took for me to smile hurt, but I gladly welcomed it.

He took my cold hand and led me around the corner to the inviting blue sofa. With his arm around me we fell onto the couch. I yawned and put my head on his shoulder. “I really should go home.”

“Baby, it’s cold outside,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulders and pulling me closer. “And you’re shivering.”

“Only a little.” I closed my eyes again and breathed in his scent.

He leaned his head against the wall and I was so tired that my head fell and settled again into the nook of his neck. I opened my eyes briefly, once, and saw his chest rising and falling in the light of the television. I closed my eyes again, draped my arm around his stomach and fell asleep.

 

 

XV.

Eighteen is a Prime Number

 

Anybody There” – The Script

 

 

 

I woke up to knocking, angry persistent knocking at the door. I opened my eyes, confused as to where I was. Trey had just come through the adjoining door and threw a pillow at Galvin, saying something in German.

My eyes shot open and I flew forward when reality struck me. I scanned the room for a clock. 5:30AM. Galvin shot up as quickly as I did.

Trey spoke again in German and began throwing things in a suitcase, stumbling over the open guitar case as the pounding on the door continued.

“I’ve got to go.” My eyes pleaded with Galvin’s. “I’m going to be scalped and served for dinner if I don’t get home.” It was Cormac’s day off. Dad would be the one dropping off a bowl of cereal for me at six, before he left for work.

Galvin grabbed my wrist as I walked away. “Please wait.”

The pounding continued. “I can’t.”

Trey finally managed to open the door and Tobias, Samuel, and a bell boy walked inside. “We are late, let’s get this luggage downstairs,” Samuel ordered.

I brushed past them, jumping over the suitcases and into the hall. I felt Tobias’ gaze on me and I hated to know what he was thinking. I put my jacket on as I ran to the elevator. I pushed the button to go down, but neither of the doors open. I sighed agitatedly and ran towards the stairwell.

I threw open the door and bounded into the stairwell. “Christie, wait!” I heard his voice before I saw him. I looked back at the landing I had just jumped from and saw Galvin standing there, his hair in even more of a mess than it usually was; his face was pleading, imploring me not leave.

I knew I had to get home as fast as possible, but I was drawn to his stare like a moth to flame. I climbed the five stairs that stood between us, my eyes locked with his. “Please say good bye,” he said.

I bit my bottom lip; I hated goodbyes, it felt like had to give so many of them away lately. “I don’t want to.”

Silence ensued as I looked up at him. “Until you’re eighteen then?” he asked.

I nodded. “Until I’m eighteen then.” I couldn’t restrain myself and I embraced him, wrapping my arms around his waist and breathing in the smell of his sweater.

“I think I love you,” I whispered it into his shirt, not sure if I wanted him to hear it or not. If I hadn’t tasted the essence of those sticky sweet words on my tongue, I wouldn’t have believed I had said them.

He pulled his arms around me, his right arm traveling to the back of my head. He lifted my chin, put his forehead up against mine and smiled so brightly that his eyes twinkled. “I think I’ve loved you since I first saw you, Christie.”

“Do you have to go to Sydney?” I asked, my throat beginning to close with the threat of tears.

“Mm-hmm.” He nodded slightly, closing his eyes to the truth.

I closed my eyes too and sighed, feeling his skin next to mine. “’Til I’m eighteen then,” I said, prying myself from his grip.

“Until you’re eighteen,” he repeated, kissing my forehead.

I pulled away. His hand found mine and held on until it was impossible to touch anymore. I took the first flight of stairs slowly, looking back at him periodically. Before I turned the corner to the next flight of stairs I threw one last glance his way. His lips moved but I couldn’t hear a word he said.

“Galvin Julius!” I heard Tobias’ voice bellow through the stairwell and I began taking the stairs two at a time, leaving Galvin from my sight.

I glanced at my watch as I exited the building: I had twenty minutes to make it home before Dad walked in with my breakfast. I ran as fast as my feet could carry me, but the wet, slimy ground was making the ability to run a hard task to master.

Finally, I reached the garden gate and shaved three minutes off my record sprint home. I threw open the gate and glanced through the kitchen window, thankful no one was inside yet.

Without breaking my ankle, I scaled the lattice quickly and flung myself onto the roof of the kitchen. I tip-toed across it as quickly as my feet would take me, and pulled myself up onto the balcony.

I opened one of the doors and let the toasty air brush past me. As far as I could see, so far, so good; there wasn’t a bowl of cereal on the desk. I sighed, still huffing and puffing to catch my breath. I threw off my boots and coat and let them fall to the floor as I made my way around the corner, longing for my bed.

I spoke too soon.

On my bed sat Dad in his business suit and Penny in her robe and slippers, both of them had their lips pierced shut and their arms knotted over their chests. Penny’s legs were tightly crossed and her free leg was shaking side to side with fury.

“Christine Cleo Kelly!” was the first thing Dad had communicated to me in over a week as he sprang up from the spot on the corner of my bed. I was a deer caught in headlights as he began yelling. It was still too early in the morning and I was out of sorts, still not over the immediate shock of being caught.

“How dare you disrespect me and my family! We were good enough to bring you into our home and this is how you repay us?” He was pacing again.

“Where did my little girl with pig-tails go who always did what I told her?” Honestly, I don’t know who that girl was because my first word (purposely, I’m sure) was NO. I was a stubborn child who spent most of her young adolescence in “time-out” or locked in a room, thanks to the man who was now howling his disappointment and pacing in front of me like an angry pendulum.

“Sneaking out at night! I can’t believe you would stoop down to that level of immaturity, Christine! What in the hell is the matter with you? Is this something your mother lets you do in Chicago? Thank god you’re not there anymore. We will not stand for this Christine! Your mother might tolerate it, but this kind of carousing is forbidden in my home!”

When he was too upset to talk anymore he angrily walked from one end of the room to the other, only stopping momentarily to say something but then dismissed it and continued to pace.

Penny, on the other hand, walked right up to me and slapped me across the face with an open palm. “After everything I did for you… we did for you…” she trailed off, looking at me with complete disappointment and anger glazing her eyes,, and stomped out of the room. I held my stinging cheek with my cold hand, dumbstruck at the spectacle they were putting on.

I was beginning to think that I was missing something because sneaking out for the night is only about a six on the Bad Daughter Meter and I was getting scolded for committing a scale ten offense. It was then that Dad pulled out a number of magazine’s from his briefcase that had my face on the cover.

“Galvin’s Girl,” “Galvin’s Torching the Twilight with his Mystery Woman,” and “The Rainman’s Gal” were just some of the subtitles to pictures that constituted for almost every day Galvin and I were together in public, from the concert meet & greet, McDonald’s, and up until last night’s dinner. All those precious nights that I locked up into my memory and into my heart, those moments that only belonged to only Galvin and I, were now all over Melbourne; I felt so violated and cheap. Those were my memories, my nights, my hopes and my dreams. The irritating buzz of thoughts were clouding my head and I was beginning to feel dizzy and sick.

“Is this what you’re doing every night?” My father became even more furious when he had to glance at the magazines. “After every single moral and value your mother and I instilled into you and this is what you do? Do you know what your mother will say—how hurt she will be when she finds out about this?

“Can you even image what you’ve cost this family? Humiliation! Gossip! We have to hang our heads because of a few fun nights for you!” He stopped pacing now and looked me directly in the eyes. “I am so damn ashamed to have a hussy like you for a daughter.”

I had no idea what to do or how to react, I simply stood there, with my mouth open in disbelief. Dad was standing over me and continued to scold, lecture, and point his finger in every direction possible, but I didn’t hear a thing; I gazed at the magazines sprawled over my bed and I felt like I was falling from the edge of the world into nothingness. The fall filled me with sheer terror, shredding my insides with anxiety. Yet, I didn’t want to stop falling because I knew that once I stopped I would hit the rockey bottom and it would hurt even more.

“This will cost you Christine,” Dad pointed at me. “Consider yourself under solitary confinement for another two weeks.” He walked over to the balcony door and locked it with a key. “You’re going to school and coming home, and that’s all you’ll be doing.” Then he walked out of my bedroom and locked the door behind him.

I groaned, suppressing the claustrophobic thoughts, and fell onto my hot pink bedspread. Only 753 more days until I turned eighteen and at the rate I was going, I was going to spend all of them confined to my horribly flamboyant room.

 

 

XVI.

Everybody’s Enemy

 

With You, Tonight” – Matt Wertz

 

 

 

An hour later, with circles under my eyes and no cup of coffee warming my right hand, I sat in the back seat of Penny’s town car. Both her and Kellyn were silent and didn’t dare to look at me. The classical music softly playing over the radio was the only thing that filled the car ride to Kensington Arts Academy, my new school.

I was dying for companionship and almost looked forward to starting classes. Maybe I would find friendships, hope, distractions, or new subjects to learn and homework to busy myself with now that Galvin was gone. All those possibilities left no room for pessimistic probabilities in my head; it couldn’t be much worse than my home life.

As soon as the car pulled up, Kellyn popped out and ran towards a crowd of awaiting friends. I slowly emerged from the car and looked around. As soon as I closed the door behind me, Penny hit the gas and peeled down the drive. Kellyn’s face shot towards my direction with a look of revulsion, several of her friends copied the look and they turned their backs to me and walked away. Welcome to Kensington, Christie, I thought.

I made my way to the headmaster’s office as people turned to look at me and whisper to their friends as I passed. Geez, word got around quick. For once I wished I could crawl under my electric blue pillows and hide from the world.

When I reached the office I was handed a slip of paper that informed me of the classes I would be taking and that I was sorted into the Nereid house. “Here’s a packet that explains the importance and values of being a Nereid,” the lady in red spectacles said as she busied herself with her computer.

“Excuse me,” I asked politely, balancing the books and papers in one hand and studying the packet in the other.

The woman slowly shifted her eyes from her computer screen to me, annoyed. “Sorry,” I apologized for the look I received… was annoyance with me a theme I was going to see here? “My step-sister,” I cringed when I said the word, “Kellyn James is here too and I was wondering which house she was sorted in.”

The woman’s eyes lit up and her posture straightened. “Kellyn James is your step-sister? She’s a Dryad but I can sort you into her house if that would make you feel more comfortable.”

“No!” I said too loudly and the woman jumped. “That’s fine, I’ll adjust. Thank-you very much.”

“No problem,” she called after me as I turned to walk away. “Tell Kellyn to have a great day, for me.”

I didn’t respond. Not being in Kellyn’s house made me feel a little bit better. If I was in a different house I thought that maybe I would find a sense of family and belonging, but I was so horribly wrong. After my first class I found out that all the houses were united when it came to who ranked where on the social ladder and I was on the bottom.

You know those horrible things you hear of students doing to other students, no matter which decade you’re in? I think there was actually an after school research group who conjured up pranks just to put me in my misery. You name it, and it was done to me. The simple, novice tricks: A Kick Me sign taped to my back, being tripped, dumping a variety things from the cafeteria on me, and booking me in the hallway were done the first few days. Then the threatening notes and rude rhymes, disgusting rumors and spitting followed. On the fifth day of school a chunk of my hair was cut off from its pony tail in history class, my locker was broken into and a number of things were stolen, including my wallet, my sketch journal, and a letter from my mother.

After the first week I loathed school. Everyday I was greeted with unsavory words and I found myself the victim of everyone’s practical jokes. It was a hopeless thought that anyone would ever befriend me. Kellyn seemed to be the queen bee at Kensington Arts Academy and even though I was in the grade above hers, the way I mistreated her gave everyone the right to get even with me.

I hated going to my classes and sometimes I wouldn’t go. I would spend the time sitting in a deep corner of the library or in a dark stairwell. I spent lunch in the third floor bathroom or in the nurse’s office faking stomach cramps or the flu. Sometimes I didn’t even go to school. When the town car dropped us off I would go in the front door and straight out the back door. I spent the days walking in the park or sitting in a museum dreaming of my eighteenth birthday.

After my two weeks of grounding were completed, I was allowed to use the phone to call my mother. Dad informed me that I was to tell her that I was on vacation in Sydney and that was why I couldn’t return her phone calls. I was allowed only twenty minutes to talk to her and Dad had to sit at the kitchen table with me to make sure I wouldn’t “fabricate” about my life in Australia.

A pile of mail was also given to me that came in my name: four letters from Mom and eight from Galvin! I was suddenly overcome with so much emotion that I ran up to my room, jammed the desk chair against the door, crawled under my bed and read each letter.

I ripped open Mom’s first, they contained more questions than they did facts:

 

Hi honey!

How was your day? I love coming home from work and finding a letter from you in the mailbox. The apartment is so quiet and lonely without you. I’m so close to pasting a picture of you onto a throw pillow so I have someone to talk to when I get home from work—you’re mother is getting batty!

Work is fine. How is your father treating you? I know he isn’t the most patient person in the world, but you made a mature decision to move in with him and it sounds like you’re adjusting, whether you think so or not. Keep your chin up, I’m so proud of you!

Your end of the couch is starting to get some fluff back and I fear that the TV is getting sluggish because you’re not there to give it a workout. (Just kidding!) Julieanne called the other day to play tennis with you. I had the sad task of telling her that you probably won’t be available for a game until October 2002. I don’t think she believed me when I told her you were in Australia, you might want to send her a postcard.

How is your step-mother and step-sister treating you? Are you Cinderella or the best thing since sliced bread? Have you picked up an Australian accent? Do you like living in a house or do you miss the apartment? What kinds of things do you do for fun, since you’re now an Australian? How’s the food? When do you start school? Are you excited? I’m sorry to riddle you with questions, but I want to hear all about your adventures!

Keep writing and letting me know you’re all right. I miss you more than Jefferson did Monticello!

Love always,

Mom

 

Hi baby!

This is a quick note to tell you that I’m thinking about you. I’m sitting in my office looking at the picture of us at Grant Park. Remember that evening last summer when we couldn’t stop laughing at “Tootsie”? We went to the movie in the park every week, didn’t we?

God, I miss you! I am so blessed to have a daughter as great and as understanding as you are. I wonder what I did to get you—it must have been something incredibly good. I’m sorry that I’m getting all mushy, but I do miss you. Keep holding on, you’re a strong, smart, independent, young woman and you can do anything you put your mind too.

I love you!

With all my love and admiration,

Mom

 

Dear Christie,

I’ve just read your most recent letter and I love hearing about your Melbourne adventures. I am speechless—utterly flabbergasted—that you are able to hold conversations with Galvin instead of getting cloudy eyed and spacey like I’m so used to you doing whenever you heard his voice. Be careful and be safe. I trust you.

I have some news too. I’ve been seeing someone from the university. I was about to explode not being able to talk to someone as often and as freely as I do with you and when he asked me out for coffee, I think I had completely talked his ear off. He’s sweet and amazing, I really think you’ll like him. I’m meeting his daughter tomorrow, she’s about your age and I’m nervous.

I have to admit that I’ve taken to sitting on your bed, petting your stuffed dog, Waggles, and wondered what you did that day. Waggles and I have had some in-depth conversations—he always manages to convince me that you will be okay. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely loopy, I do realize he’s only a bundle of cotton and polyester.

You must tell me how your first day of school goes. How are the students? How different is it from University High? Do they have a tennis team? Are the subjects much different? Have you seen any kangaroos or koala bears yet?

The semester just started here and the freshmen are as rowdy as ever, but I only have two 100 level classes. One of my students, Amy, has already stopped by my office a number of times to discuss the topics we’ve covered in lecture. Yesterday she stopped by with a mountain of research discussing Jefferson’s opposition of Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States because he objected the idea of national debt, even though he was in a mountain of debt by the time he died. I won’t bore you further with it, but it is great to see someone so young so excited about history.

Not much is different around here. Mrs Sanchez from across the hall had twins on July 31st, Rosa Isabella and Miguel Carlos. She’s wishing that the building’s babysitter hadn’t moved to Australia right about now!

Please keep writing. Your letters mean so much to me, especially at the end of a long day.

With all my love,

Mom

 

Her last letter was twelve pages and full of details that involved meeting the daughter of the man she was dating, an extensive replay of Amy’s most recent visit to my mother’s office that involved the War of 1812, and advice about the last night I spent with Galvin.

I let my head sink into the crook of my elbow and closed my eyes after I tucked away her last letter. So much had changed in such a short time. I felt horribly older now, and the memory of sitting with my mother at the airport seemed so long ago. I mentally made a note to buy a phone card and to call her from a pay phone when I wasn’t on parole.

My eyes opened and automatically found the mountain of letters addressed in Galvin’s writing. His letters were short, barely one or two pages, but I re-read them several times. My favorite letter (the longest letter), which I carried in my pocket for weeks, almost had me crying in happiness that he was part of my life, if only for a little while:

 

Dear Christie,

How are you today? It’s 5:40 in the morning and we’re leaving Sydney and heading to Brisbane. We have heard the drive is beautiful. It’s a coastal highway with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, but it’s too foggy and overcast to see anything which leaves me with nothing to do except sit and think… and I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

I wasn’t looking forward to going to Australia those many weeks ago. I dreaded the long plane ride over the ocean and spending such a long time in Melbourne before hitting the road again, but you were my angel. I miss not seeing you every night. I’m going to go crazy if I have to wait two years to see you again, but I have to trust that what comes will come and what comes next will be for a reason.

I once promised myself that I would never write a love song because I was convinced that everything about the emotion was already written in the millions of love songs in existence, and I wanted to write songs that weren’t typical—lyrics that made people think… songs that no one expects to be written.

Last night I sat in my hotel room, strumming absentmindedly on the guitar and accidentally married the two. I was working on a verse for “God’s Alarm Clock” but my mind drifted and my fingers began to play a different tune. I sang the thoughts out of my head until I found the song I was looking for and spent the night polishing and honing until “The Attic Suit“ was finished. It was almost as if you were with me throughout the night.

The song is you, completely. I picture you in sitting in front of me while I sing it—like that one night in Melbourne—and imagine you close your eyes, your hair moving across your shoulders as your head sways to the sound of the guitar that we both love so much. It still amazes me how much passion you have just in listening.

Keep your thoughts happy and as long as you wish it, I will always fill your mailbox with the hours I wish we had together.

With much love,

Galvin

 

When all the letters were opened and scattered among the floorboards, the sun had long since set and I was crowded by darkness under the bed. With my forearm I swept the letters out from the dim pocket beneath the bed and heaved myself out after them. The air was less musty and I took a deep breath, stretching. I had finally come to the belief that Galvin was not a dream or fabrication, but what had happened was real and would stay real as long as I continued to feel this way about him. And was it love? I realized it at that moment, crawling out from underneath my bed, when every part of me trembled with excitement at the memories, that maybe it wasn’t infatuation.

I smiled, feeling lighter. I sang a tune and danced my way to the desk with the letters in my hand. I turned the lamp light on, illuminating the room and boogied to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning writing back to every letter, taking special care when writing back to Galvin.

I told Mom about the unfabricated truth of how Australian life was—but still wanted to stay because “it’s these sucky moments in life that mold me to who I will become,” or at least that’s what I convinced my mother (and myself) of in the letter. I reported to Galvin how much trouble I got into that bitter cold morning, as well as the newspaper articles. I skipped the next day of school and ran the letters to the post office.

 

 

XVII.

Quizzical Look, Testing

 

Treason in the High Court” – A Kidnap in Color

 

 

 

At dinner that night, which I usually spent silent and looking at nothing other than my plate of food, Dad actually turned and asked me a question.

Kellyn was informing her parents of the editorial she was writing for the next issue of the student paper and mentioned a difficult quiz she took in history that day. Kellyn in I were in the same level in the Australian history curriculum, due to my lack of knowledge on the subject, but thankfully we were in different classrooms. “But I’m positive I aced the quiz,” Kellyn finished and took a sip of sparkling water from the crystal goblet in front of her.

I had been poking at the green beans on my plate, hoping to be dismissed soon when I saw my father’s head turn completely in my direction. “And how did you do on the quiz, Christine?” The tone of his voice was demeaning, but made me think he meant something more than just the question he asked.

I could feel my face get warm as I looked up. Did he know I had skipped classes that day? “Decent, I hope.” The words came out of my mouth slowly, as if I was trying to remember a language I hadn’t used in years and wondered if what I had said was correct.

His eyes burned into mine a few seconds and then he looked away. I decided to go to school the next day, which ultimately tested my patience and faith.

My first class, physical education, I normally loved because I got to channel my frustration and be active. It made me miss those intense training hours I spent on the tennis court in the Chicago heat and humidity of those summer days, versus the hours I now spent in that gaudy bedroom, in that large, cold prison.

We were playing Lacrosse and after watching friends tackle each other on the field, the cold hand of fear gripped my stomach and I didn’t want to imagine what they would do to me. I begged and pleaded to instead run laps around the field. When the coach gave in, I received snickers and sour looks from nearly every person in class.

Immediately I began jogging around the massive green field. It was hard not to lose myself when I found my pace. Running seemed to clear my head and I ran from the horrible thoughts and welcomed those happy thoughts that missed the front row seats they usually had in my subconscious.

Then I was hit in the head with the lacrosse ball. This happened three times within the sixty minute period. Once, the defense purposely ran backwards from the offense until they caught up to me. I narrowly missed being in the tackled heap of girls by sprinting like my life depended on it.

Despite those events, I actually felt better when the bell sounded. The coach had me run three more laps to finish my fourth mile. I was exhausted, but I had those happy thoughts that running left me with. I had to shower before I went to my next class, even though that meant I would be late.

Everyone had left the locker room to go to their next class which made me feel even better because once they had stolen my towel and clothes and I stood naked in the shower stall until a teacher marched through the locker room two hours later and gave me an extra gym uniform (three sizes too large) to wear until my possessions reappeared.

The warm water felt great and I didn’t feel one bit guilty that I should be in chemistry then. I squeezed the shampoo onto my hair and, as I was working it into my scalp, I realized that someone replaced it with mud. It took me forever to get it all out of my hair. I did my best to put it in a plait to show that my spirit wasn’t broken. As I got dressed into my school uniform I noticed my shoelaces were missing, which made walking up and down stairs difficult, and that the arms on my navy blue sweater were cut off. So I rolled up what was left of my sleeves, slung my school bag over my shoulder and left the locker room as the bell rang for third period.

I sat down in history class ready to get scolded for the homework I wouldn’t turn in and the quiz grade I didn’t get. I shot out of my seat a few seconds later when I noticed that I was sitting in a puddle of water that left a wet spot on the seat of my stupid polyester skirt which fueled the jeers in the hallway between classes.

I sometimes saw Kellyn in the hallway on my way to fourth period. Usually she would stick up her nose and pretend I wasn’t there, talking to her friends. But on this particular day she looked directly at me, her eyes burned with hatred and she didn’t pull her gaze away from me until she had walked past me. One of her friends slammed the binder I had in my hands to the floor and someone else had pretended to trip over me, kicking me so hard that I bit my tongue so as to not cry out in pain. When I reached my next class I fell into my seat, debating whether or not to just leave school at lunch and not come back.

In literature I shared a desk with Coleen, a heavyset girl who was sometimes tolerant of me, but made sure that I knew she was above me on the social ladder, no matter how bad she smelled. She proved it by moving my textbook and supplies to my side of the desk whenever they crossed her invisible line.

The two girls at the desk behind me were much worse though. One poked me in the side every so often (which, admittedly, kept me awake but often left tender bruises) and the other constantly tugged on my hair, often pulling out several strands before the bell rang for lunch.

The runner’s high I got that morning was beginning to wear off with the pain to my left side and scalp. At lunch, if I went to the cafeteria I would end up getting some kind of food on me, or in my hair, and tripped when I walked across the room with a tray of food in my hands.

I opted for the library and could barely read a sentence from The Old Man and the Sea without my mind wandering off into a day dream. I imagined a professor approaching me in my next class, instructing me to pack up my locker because my mother showed up and demanded to have me move back to Chicago or Galvin coming to the school because he knew how miserable I was. They were impossibilities, but those were my daydreams.

When I got to my locker at the end of lunch there was a note sticking out of the slot. It was another threatening note telling me that just because I was an American, it didn’t make me better than anyone else and I had better watch my back.

I lived for the end of the day when I would come home to the letters addressed to me in the mailbox: one from Galvin every day, Mom once a week. One day I would look back on all of this and realize it meant something, that I learned something from it, but until then I drowned myself in books and lonely walks in the park, dodging everyone else.

That particular day at school was the breaking point for me. I stopped believing things would get better and began accepting that this was going to be a painful chapter in my life and I had to hold onto those good memories to get me through the day: watching Mom get hypnotized for the fundraiser at her university and laughing until tears sprouted from my eyes and my stomach hurt while she clucked like a chicken every time the hypnotist asked what time it was and pretending she was in a competitive dance off whenever someone in the audience whistled. Or the last birthday I had with my grandmother, before she died, and we spent the day at Starved Rock canoeing around the lake, picnicking, learning to successfully toss a Frisbee and ending the day watching Mary Poppins on the front porch as Grandma brushed my hair. And now, to those and so many other memories, I could add those memories of Galvin.

 

 

XVIII.

If Moments Were Emotions.

 

Inside Out” – Eve 6

 

 

 

Monday, the second of October was my sixteenth birthday. Dad didn’t leave a birthday card or a note with birthday wishes for me that morning, and if Penny and Kellyn knew that it was my birthday they didn’t acknowledge it either.

No one in school took notice that I was another year older, but I didn’t expect them too. I always imagined I’d spend my sweet sixteen surrounded by friends with a plastic tiara on my head that slipped when I blew out the candles on my pink birthday cake. That was all I wanted. Instead, I was with my father and surrounded by people who hated me.

Even though it was my birthday, I talked myself out of spending the gorgeous day relaxing at the park and going to school. It was a horrible day and I kept telling myself to make it through the day and I could go home to a birthday card from Mom and a letter from Galvin.

I walked back to Penny’s house since Kellyn had after school activities and the town car wasn’t going to make a special trip just for me. The world wished me a happy birthday with warm weather and bright sunshine as I made my way across town.

When I reached the metal gates outside the house, I discovered the mailbox was empty and hoped Cormac had brought the mail inside, or that the mail hadn’t come yet. There were no messages on the answering machine either. My sweet sixteen was really beginning to be my sucky sixteen. I decided to go up to my bedroom and change so I could spend what was left of my birthday outside, in the sunshine.

Something was off though; something didn’t feel right. As I approached my bedroom door I noticed that the “Kristy’s Room” sign had been removed. Slowly, I opened the bedroom door and was welcomed by its flamboyancy. The colors felt too strong, as if whatever had diluted it before had been removed. I threw my book bag onto the bed and made my way to the closet to find a comfortable pair of pants and a sweater, only the closet was empty.

I stood there, staring at the lack of my belongings, confused. What kind of weird punishment was Dad pulling now, and what did I do to deserve it this time? “Happy Birthday, Christie,” I muttered to myself as I closed the door to my closet and turned to survey my room.

That’s when I noticed my books weren’t stacked on the desk, and my notebooks weren’t on the bedside table. I opened every drawer, each cabinet, peered over each shelf and under every piece of furniture, but none of my belongings could be found. I groaned in frustration and decided that I was going to hunt for my things, since I would be home alone for the next two hours, and I really couldn’t live without a clean pair of underwear.

As I ran up the spiral staircase to the third floor, I found my father on the computer in his office. His back was to me but he saw my reflection in the large decorative mirror on the wall. “Get your coat, Christie,” he said as paper exited the printer next to his desktop.

“Where are all of my things, Dad? I need my books to do my homework!” I was really getting sick of his games and it was my birthday, dammit!

“What homework? From what I hear you’ve missed more school than years I missed when I lived with your mother! Now go get your coat!” he bellowed.

I fought back the urge to ask him how many times he recited that line to himself, but I quite liked the way my face looked without a red hand print across it. “Why?” I asked as he put his coat on and grabbed the paper from the printer, “Where are we going?”

Instead of answering my question he chased me to my room where I grabbed my coat and schoolbag—the only two remaining things that proved I lived in that house. He had me climb into the backseat of his Land Rover and we drove in silence.

As we pulled into the departure terminal of the Melbourne International Airport he handed me the papers that he had printed not even an hour earlier with my passport. He turned to me in the backseat and said, “As of this moment I no longer have a daughter named Christine. You are a disgraceful, disrespectful, rude little slut and I will not have it in my house. I was wrong to think you could fit into the sophisticated world. Now get out of the car, you are your mother’s problem now.” I looked down at the papers he gave me and saw it was a one way electronic ticket to Chicago.

A smile grew across my face and I opened the back door of the car and hopped out. Before I could thank him for the best birthday present I could ever hope from him, he sped away and I happily skipped to the terminal once the realization that I was going back home sunk in.

 

I had a hour and a half until my flight boarded and I spent it tearing out every page of my school notebooks with delight and then threw them in the garbage bin. I was finally going home! I didn’t care that I was still in my school uniform and that all I had were the odds and ends in my school bag, I was actually going home! No more Kensington Arts Academy, no more Dad, no more Kellyn and no more Penny!

When the stewardess announced for Group C to board the plane, I smiled, handed her my boarding pass and wished her an unbelievably, amazing, and immaculate day. After I found my seat I realized that I had the last possible, non-reclining, aisle seat next to the bathrooms. That’s all right, I thought, because it’s worth it if I’m flying home. And that’s exactly what the flight home became—a roller coaster of ups and downs, conflicting emotions, worries and relief.

As people were getting settled and the flight attendants made sure that all the carry-on luggage was securely in place, a young father and his crying toddler crawled over my legs to occupy the seats next to me. My thoughts were lost to the last time I was on a plane, everything was nearly the opposite: economy class, aisle seat, jubilance instead of tears, anticipation instead of anxiety, arriving instead of leaving, but most significantly, alone, without Galvin.

As the plane took flight, my thoughts drifted over those memories and I realized that my relocation severed the line of communication I had with Galvin. Frantically, I pulled my book bag from underneath the seat in front of me and hoped I had his return address somewhere in there. I was close to tears when I emptied every thing from my bag and came up with nothing. Even that one letter I held so dear from Galvin had no envelope. I tried hard to remember the address but there were so many numbers that I wasn’t sure. I hoped that Dad would forward my mail to Chicago, but that didn’t seem likely and if I called up and asked (or demanded) that my mail be forwarded I could be absolute sure that he would purposely forget (or refuse) to do so.

Would Galvin look for me? Would he think I was over him? Forgot him? This was the end, wasn’t it? Would he fight for me? Would I fight for him?

Who was I, after all? Sixteen year old Christie Kelly. I have nothing to offer him but baggage. He was such an accomplished, talented, and passionate person who could find someone much better than me just by raising his hand. I wasn’t worth the effort. I still hadn’t understood why he kept writing to me.

Was he only meant to be in my life when I was in Australia? Would I truly have to wait until my eighteenth birthday to find out? And if I did somehow manage to come up with the money for a plane ticket to Australia for him, would I want to go in that point in my life? Would he be there waiting for me if he thinks I simply cut my means of communication with him?

Tears rimmed my eyes and I leaned back and sighed. The child next to me was standing up on the seat, showing me his rattle, shaking it inches from my face. Normally I would have shown interest in him, but I was having a major dramatic teenage dilemma. How easily my euphoria spiraled into somberness!

I had to face it: it was over. I meant something to someone once. All good things come to an end. Our paths were splitting in two and I was sure they’d never cross again. Maybe one day I’d see him on TV and wonder if he remembered me. Maybe one day I’ll forget. Maybe one day it would become fiction.

But I loved him. My chest ached with it.

Maybe it was best if I pushed all of this out of my mind. Maybe it was best to leave it in his hands. Maybe it was best to take a nap and let my subconscious sort it all out.

The child beside me was eating Cheerios out of a Tupperware container and lifted his tiny hand up to me, his big brown eyes offered me some of his meal as he spoke in gibberish. I couldn’t help but smile at him.

“Lukas, leave her alone,” his father scolded, grabbing his hand and facing the child towards him. “I’m so sorry,” he said, putting a straw into a tiny juice box and looking up at me. “He flirts with everyone.”

I felt guilty for acting so boorish to the child earlier. “’s all right,” I said. “It’s not everyday I’m flattered by a toddler.” The father forced a smile before attending to his child.

I leaned my head against the back of the seat. I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep and wake up in Chicago, but my brain was buzzing so much that I couldn’t close my eyes for more than the time it took to blink. There was a comedy playing on the movie screen and I thought about fishing for the headphones and watching, but my arms were content sitting in my lap. Every limb of me was comfortable at that moment, except for my head. My eyes drifted idly across the passengers. A mother and daughter worked on a cross word puzzle, a young boy eagerly thumbed his Gameboy, an old man turned the pages of a picture album, others slept, some watched the movie.

“Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders.” I turned my head to see the toddler curled up in his father’s lap with a blue and yellow pacifier in his mouth. Winnie the Pooh was open in his lap and he read the story out loud as the toddler yawned.

“’What does ‘under the name’ mean?’ Asked Christopher Robin. ‘It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and lived under it,’” the father read on, his gaze bounced back and forth between the book and his son.

He must have read the book a hundred times before because sometimes he didn’t have to look at the page as he told the story. “’Winnie-the-Pooh wasn’t quite sure,’ said Christopher Robin. ‘Now I am,’ said a growly voice. ‘Then I will go on,’ said I.” He was reading for no one else except for his son. He even had different voices for the characters and they made me smile as the boy clapped in excitement and pointed at the pictures. Just by listening, I felt like I was intruding in their private storybook world, but I couldn’t bring myself to tune them out.

Grandma used to read me stories when I spent the night at her house. I tried to imagine my father reading to me instead. Imaging myself crawling onto his lap, he kissing my forehead and saying, “Beauty and the Beast again, Christie? Well, okay, come up on my lap. There, comfy? All right, once upon a time…” but the image was wrong. Like a blatantly wrong puzzle piece, I kept trying to fit Dad’s face on the storybook father, but it was never going to fit.

I closed my eyes, listening to the story, trying to remember any fatherly attributes my father had shown me in my childhood. He couldn’t have hated me from the start, could he?

There was that one time in first grade when I got the highest score on my first math test and he made mashed potatoes—my favorite food—for dinner. He accompanied them with beans and I refused to eat them so he made me sit there until I ate everything on my plate. I fell asleep at the table and Mom woke me up, wiping the bits of mashed potatoes from my face that I slept in, when she came home from work at midnight and sent me to bed.

But there was that one time… the morning of my sixth birthday when he made me eggs sunny side up and hash browns mixed with green peppers, mushrooms and onions. But at that age I hated onions and peppers, and the gooey yellow stuff in the middle of the eggs grossed me out. When he left the room I scraped my plate into the garbage bin and buried it in more garbage. He called me into the kitchen as I was getting dressed for Kindergarten and fished out my cigarette-ash covered breakfast out of the garbage. He packed it as a snack in my lunchbox, telling me I wouldn’t get another meal until I finished that one.

“But his arms were so stiff from holding on to the string of the balloon all that time that they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think—but I am not sure—that that is why he was always called Pooh.” I opened my eyes as I heard the front and back covers of the book meeting with a quiet thump. That was the moment I realized that maybe the definition of a father was different than the one that was written in my dictionary.

Whenever there were too many emotions in me to feel them all, I wrote down my thoughts, much in the same way Galvin would strum on his guitar. I picked up my pen, opened my notebook and began pouring my thoughts onto the paper.

 

Dad,

Thank-you for my temporary living arrangement in Australia. Before I arrived in Melbourne my memories of you were blurry. I had memories of you and I wondered if they were fudged by time and neglect. But you printed a huge seal of certification on each and every one during those months together.

My goal in accepting your invitation to Melbourne was to develop define my relationship with you. Before this trip you were my father by birth, someone I lived with for seven years and now I can say—without hesitation or doubt—that you’ve done nothing to earn that title except for providing your name on my birth certificate.

Then again, maybe you did do something. You didn’t teach me it, but you’ve shown me that life isn’t fair or filled with roses and served on a silver platter. Through these past few months I’ve learned how to stay true to myself and not conform to fit in anyone else’s world but my own. I know who I am and am proud of myself because I lived in your house, despite what you think of me.

And you know what else I just now figured out? Not every father will be like you. Ever heard of the saying “you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar”? Try it sometime.

And maybe you never did love me because my birth kept you from the life you imagined for yourself… or I am the stain on your record… and I’m strong enough to accept that. And while I prize my life, know that I wasn’t the one who said, “I think now will be the right time to be conceived” and magically appeared nine months later.

Your name will always appear on my birth certificate, but from this moment on, you no longer hold the title of father in my life. I might have lost the daughter status in your life a long time ago (if I ever held it), and I don’t care because maybe I wasn’t the daughter you thought a daughter should be. Sorry I’m not Kellyn, but maybe the definition of a real father is someone who accepts their child for who they are, despite their faults or how far they’ve strayed from the path of the person you hoped they’d become.

I won’t miss you. I won’t miss you because there is nothing to miss.

Christie.

 

My face was hot with silent tears and my hand hurt from the pressure I used to form each word, but when I put the pen down I felt empty. All those fears I had, the anxieties, the stress… all of it had waned. It was like a huge eraser dragged itself across the bank of emotions that bruised the section of my heart I reserved for my father. I was free of him, for now at least. I will never again wonder what if? when he crossed my mind.

I glanced over at my neighbors. Lukas was fast sleep on the seat next to me, his father staring out the dark and empty window, stroking his son’s head. I looked back at the notebook. The words seemed so dark, contrasting greatly against the white. I bit my bottom lip and tore the pages out of the spiral, folding it three times and threw it into my bag. I never sent him the letter, and maybe I should have, but I doubt it would have changed my future in any way.

My heart knew that I was done with him in my life. He wouldn’t change and Mom would never try to press a reunion or reconciliation. If I wanted his presence back in my life, that was my decision to make and I knew I would never make it.

I spent several minutes (maybe it was an hour) staring at the back of the seat in front of me. My brain was trying to clean up the clutter in my head and I silently let it, staring into the deep blue fabric, thinking about nothing at all.

 

 

XIX.

End of the Rainbow

 

Get to Me” – Train

 

 

 

When I was young, I had an imaginary dog named Cleftson. I would pronounce every letter of his name whenever I referred to him and corrected anyone who didn’t. I kept a pillow for him on the floor next to my bed and he crawled beneath the linen closet door to curl up with me during my timeouts. I hadn’t thought about him in years, but I dreamt of him on that plane ride.

When I woke up my eyes shot open and my heart was beating like I had been running for my life. My hands were gripping the arm rests and my entire body was tense. Lukas was jumping on the seat next to me, waving around a stuffed animal. I didn’t move any part of my body, but instead stared at the spot on the chair I fell asleep to and tried to calm myself down. I couldn’t remember anything from the dream except for Cleftson’s imaginary puppy face on the pillow next to my head.

After several moments I shakily got to my feet and walked to the farthest bathroom. I splashed my face with water and looked at my reflection. Twelve hours had already gone by, and I did not want to be alone any longer.

When I arrived back to my seat Winnie the Pooh was open again and story time was in session. My stomach was in knots and I wanted to fall asleep again so I didn’t have to think… so I didn’t have to feel all those emotions. I sat down and pulled out a set of headphones. Before I could drown out the story I heard the father say in such a delicate, meaningful voice, “If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”

My eyes filled with tears and I closed them, meaningless movie dialog filled my ears now. It was as if everything was finally catching up to me: the hurt, loneliness, pain, despair, broken hopes and dreams. That huge pencil eraser I mentioned earlier had regurgitated everything it took away and mixed it all up so it was harder to tame. I forced myself to fall back asleep, wishing someone I loved was next to me, to tell me everything would be all right in the end.

The next time I woke up, we were flying over Utah. The empty sleep I climbed out of seemed to pack away a lot of those feelings as memories. Only a few more hours left until I could lose myself in familiar routine and the company of my mother.

Then I wondered what I would be doing tomorrow, next week—next month! I would probably go back to school at University High, play tennis again and laugh at Lydia when I saw her next because her tactics were nothing compared to Kensington Arts Academy. She might hate me for whatever reason, but thank goodness she isn’t my step-sister. Even a really, really bad day at University High will never come close to equaling a bad day at Kensington. From now on my life would have a different perspective.

And I got to live with Mom again! I had missed her so much. I used to hate it when she badgered me for answers about my day, but I realize now how great it was that she actually asked and wanted to know. I would see her soon, and slip back into that life once more, like a bookmark.

The remaining hours crept by slowly and I couldn’t fall asleep again. I tried pulling out my notebook to attempt some sketches, but all my creativity was suffocated by my jumbled, confused emotions. Instead I put the headphones back on my head and stared at the television screen, not even paying attention to the dialogue or plot.

Finally, the captain prepared us for landing. It felt like a lifetime on the plane, and as we descended onto the runway I couldn’t help but think of Galvin. I wondered what he was doing at that very moment. All thoughts of him left my head when we approached the terminal and the captain said it was the morning of October second—I was having a super sweet sixteen! Two birthdays, with two great presents: one to leave Australia and the other to hug my mother!

I was the second to the last person off the plane and I clutched the straps of my book bag, hoping that Mom was there and that she wouldn’t be upset with me. As I walked down the terminal I stood a little taller, feeling as happy and as relieved as a soldier to return home.

I tried not to run and push my way past the people in front of me. When we spilled out of the corridor and into the airport, I saw people hugging each other or stopping to readjust their bags before moving onto their next destination. I didn’t even want to think about having to hop in a taxi cab by myself if Mom wasn’t there.

Scanning the room quickly I saw her. She was standing on a chair, searching the crowd. Almost as soon as I saw her, her gaze found me.

“Christie!” she exclaimed and jumped down from the chair. She ran towards me, her arms open wide. I smiled in relief and met her embrace, beginning to cry before my arms wrapped tightly around her.

The majority of the homesickness that I felt for her, I had locked up tight inside me to help get through a life without her, a form of denial that had worked until now. “You’re home! I can’t believe that you’re home!” she repeated, squeezing me. “My baby is back home!”

She released her grip because I hadn’t found any words to greet her with. She put my face in her hands and kissed my forehead, she was crying too. “It’s all right honey, you’re home now.”

I pulled her back into a hug. I never knew it was possible to miss the way someone hugs. How would I have gone two years without that? “Mom, I missed you so much!” I said through my tears. I was hysterical with happiness.

“Oh, honey, you have no idea,” she said rubbing my back and laughing through her tears.

“You’re not disappointed in me?” I asked opening my eyes and saw a few people watching us embrace through my blurred vision. I closed my eyes because this was a moment for Mom and me, no one else.

“No, honey. You’ll never disappoint me. Shh, now. It’s all right, you’re home again,” she said and released her grip.

I felt like a baby whining for their mother, but I blamed it on the teenage hormones. “Come on honey, let’s sit,” she said.

We sat down on the plastic seats and I tried to steady my breathing. “I’m s-sorry, Mom. I’m just s-so happy.”

“Christie, honey,” Mom said, gently grabbing my chin to have me face her. “Never be sorry for being happy. You should never have to defend your happiness to anyone, all right?”

I nodded and smiled. Mom never scolded, but taught instead. I missed that. She rubbed my back again, coaxing my emotions to settle. “I don’t think I would have made it two years without you, Mom.”

“Me either, honey.” She smiled and I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my sweater. “Want to know a secret?” she asked.

I nodded, looking up at her face, noticing how much her hair had grown.

“After you walked down that corridor in July and I watched your plane take off, I sat at your terminal for two hours. I couldn’t believe you were gone. You were my life for fifteen years and I was lost without you. I finally told myself, hey you’re the grown up here. Get up on your feet, go home and be the support your daughter needs. You can live on your own, Cindy.

“And then, a few nights later—I hope you can forgive me for saying this—but I hoped you would come home sooner than expected. As soon as that wish left me, I felt like such a horrible mother.”

The shock of that statement seemed to put my emotions in check. “You are the farthest thing from a horrible mother, Mom.”

Mom put her hands on mine and smiled. “Thanks honey, but…”

“But nothing! I’m home now because of my choices and I’m glad of it. I went there to know my father and I did what I went there to do and I don’t regret it. You had nothing to do with me coming back, and if you did, I wouldn’t have held it against you.” Mom’s gentle gaze brightened with a smile.

“You’ve grown up so much, honey. God, I’ve missed you.” She pulled me into another hug. “You know, I’ve been waiting here for four hours.” She laughed at herself. “Your father called me at 3:30 in the morning on Saturday to tell me he was sending you home and I couldn’t go back to sleep. Do you know what I was thinking about while I was waiting around? Sixteen years ago I was sitting in the hospital scared out of my mind but much more excited to meet you. You were getting ready to come into my life and I cried so hard when I got to finally hold you. And now look at us, still bawling our eyes out!”

I chuckled and tucked a strand of hair behind my ears.

“Come on, honey, let’s go home and burn that uniform,” she said and put her arm around my shoulder.

“Gladly!” I exclaimed and put my arm around her waist. We walked out of the airport saying nothing else to each other, but were comforted by the familiar company that we both had missed.

Thoughts of Galvin filled my mind when I wasn’t overcome with soaking in my mother’s company. It was a little easier thinking he was out of my life, now that my mother was back in it. I still ached for his letters and yearned to hear him say my name again, but there was no use in worrying about things I couldn’t change. I had to try to accept the fact that this might be the end of our relationship. Fate just did not intend for us to be long-term.

And, as they say, life went on.

 

 

 

Read on for a sneak peek at the next novel

in Megan Rivers’ Song for You series

A Song of Life

Coming Spring 2017

 

 

 

The term “Home Sweet Home” is a saying that no one recognizes the meaning of anymore. Sure, people have hung up those three words in needlepoint in houses all over the world, but it’s been used so much that its meaning has dried up in the minds of many people. But when I walked through the doorway that I spent so many years taking for granted and smelled the sweet perfume of coconut and bubblegum in our apartment, I found the true meaning of home, sweet home.

After I leapt onto my bed and heard the screeching sound of the springs, I ran to the bathroom and listened to the guaranteed song the pipes produced when I ran the water. I plopped down on the couch and recognized the picture the cracks in the ceiling made and then I constantly opened and closed the shelf above the sink to hear the thump-squeak it made. It was the simple, everyday annoyances I had missed about being at home.

When I stripped off my school uniform, I threw it in the garbage shoot and changed into an old familiar outfit I found hanging in my closet. Mom made me my favorite dinner and we sat on the couch and watched the nine o’clock news. I couldn’t have felt more at home than I did at that moment.

 

The next day I slept until three in the afternoon. My eyes opened to the word L’arbre written on a flash card I made for French class last year. It took me a moment to realize where I was and, when I did, a smile spread over my lips that wouldn’t leave.

Mom left a note on the bathroom mirror letting me know she was teaching a class and would be back around 4:00. After I fixed myself a bowl of cereal I took a shower to get the Melbourne grit out of my hair and off my skin.

I was sitting on chair in front of the patio doors watching the cars and people outside when Mom walked through the front door. “Oh I’ve missed seeing your face when I come home!” she said, throwing her briefcase and keys on the kitchen counter. She slipped off her shoes and sat across from me on the couch. “Tell me about your day!”

My smile matched hers because we both missed this routine. “Well,” I began, “I woke up to the rare sound of silence and was soon lured out of bed by the forgotten scent of Mrs. Sanchez cooking dinner. And after a rousing battle with the spastic shower head in the bathroom, I hunted down a pair of old sweat pants and pondered the difficult question of whether or not I will ever see my favorite T-shirt again. What about yours?”

“It can not compare to your adventurous day, that’s for sure!” Mom said sarcastically. “I taught my morning classes and came home for lunch, but you were still out cold, so I went back to teach my two o’clock. And I might have let them out early and neglected to give them a pop quiz in order to get home faster.”

“Are you home for the day?” I asked. It was odd not to know Mom’s schedule.

She nodded and put her feet on the coffee table. “I have a six o’clock class but it’s just an exam so my TA is taking care of it. We need to play catch up.”

“Let’s make it a jammie day,” I suggested. A jammie day is a day Mom and I spend in our pajama’s with nothing on the agenda but each other. Mom started it when I was twelve because she didn’t want to lose our close relationship to my teenage years. Sometimes we’d sit around and watch movies, or take quizzes out of old magazines, or have aimless conversations as we folded the laundry… once we even painted an old kitchen chair with three shades of nail polish.

“Good idea, because look what I picked up on the way home,” she said pulling a small box out of her purse.

I smiled, realizing it was a box of hair dye. “You mean I don’t have to be blonde anymore?”

“God no! No offense, honey, but I like you as a brunette better,” she said tossing the box into my lap.

Half an hour later I was sitting on a kitchen chair on the patio holding a towel over my shoulders. Mom was shaking a plastic bottle in her hands and I was more than ready to get rid of Penny’s hair color.

I felt the cold liquid ooze over my scalp and Mom’s fingers travel through my hair. “What I really want to know is how she talked you into this.”

“You should have seen me when she finished with me! It was horrible. My hair had never been so stiff before! It was in long perfect curls and then this lady attacked me with make-up. It was horrifying, I didn’t look like me at all.”

“It sounds like your own personal torture chamber,” Mom said, catching the dye that dripped down my temple.

“Well, it was a nice gesture, but no one asked me. It was decided for me. Oh I hated that the most, I think. I couldn’t believe Galvin recognized me out of a crowd looking like that. Trey thought I lost a bet! I wish you could meet him. And you would love Trey, I think he would actually challenge you at Beatles trivia.”

She laughed, flipping my hair to one side of my head and said, “When will I get to meet him?”

I shrugged and scratched my forehead, watching a pigeon walk along the gutter on the building across the way. “Sometimes I think I’ll never see him again, but I really hope I do.” I paused looking down at my knees. “I miss his letters.”

Mom didn’t say anything and I liked that. It let my thoughts drift like a balloon in the breeze. Soon thereafter she plopped my hair into a heap onto my head and put a plastic shopping bag over it. “There,” she said, wiping her hands with a towel, “in half an hour you’ll be back to your old self.” She collected the empty bottle and box and turned to go inside. “You want some soup?”

I nodded and Mom left me to my thoughts. I put my arms along the railing and rested my chin on top of them.

“Here you go,” Mom said reappearing through the sliding door a few minutes later and handed me a mug of warm tomato soup. “I was thinking,” Mom started, sitting on the cement, her back leaning against the railing. “And be truthful because I’m not sure how to approach you with this—“ She looked up at me and I lifted my eyebrows, encouraging her to go on. “Would you like to meet Kevin? I mean he’s eager to meet you, but I don’t know how comfortable you are with whole idea of it. I just need you to talk to me about it. I have no idea how you feel about this and I don’t know where to go from here until you share your thoughts about it with me.”

I smiled in relief, this was nothing compared to the bomb I was expecting her to deliver. “Oh Mom, I think it’s wonderful. I wanted you to have a life without me when I left, I wanted to give you a vacation for all that you’ve given me and look at you now. I am so unbelievably happy that you’re happy. I wanted to meet him the moment I read your letter about him.”

A smile broke across her lips when she read the sincerity in my face. Her smile said everything she wanted to say but the words couldn’t find a way out. “Can I invite him out for a belated birthday dinner tomorrow night?” I offered. “Or is that too much too fast?”

Mom got up and hugged me. “Oh, I love you so much, kiddo. I’ll give him a call while you wash out your hair.” She disappeared inside, bouncing like a child on Christmas.

 

The next afternoon, when I woke up, Mom told me I was going back to school on Monday, but I had the rest of the week to ease back into the Central Time Zone. Then she fussed over me more than she did when I was a baby, making me change my outfit three times before we met Kevin for dinner. When I walked out of my bedroom wearing a khaki skirt and brown sweater I said, “I love you Mom, but I am not changing again.” Then I sat on the couch and only crossed my arms over my chest when she said she liked the gray dress on me better.

We took a cab to my favorite restaurant and arrived around seven in the evening. It was my favorite place in Chicago to eat. It wasn’t a restaurant meant for first time meetings or private conversations, but Mom chose a place comfortable for me.

There were several license plates, old tools, movie signs, and rusty car parts hanging along the walls. It was nearly always crowded with families. The air permanently smelled of roast beef, hot dogs, and french fries.

I loved their curly fries with cheese sauce and chocolate malts while Mom’s guilty pleasure laid in their roast beef sandwiches—extra gravy. I pulled open the doors, greeted by the smell of fries and burgers on the grill.

Mom walked ahead of me, scanning the room. “Kevin!” Her face lit up in a smile as she rushed over to greet him. I followed behind her and studied him as Mom gave him a quick hug. He had dark brown hair peppered in gray and wore trousers and a dress shirt with a tie—the look was natural for him. I couldn’t picture him in jeans and a T-shirt. The three of us must have stuck out like a sore thumb in a sea of T-shirt and jean clad customers.

“Christie, this is Dr. Kevin Langston,” my mom introduced.

He brushed his hand in the air as if trying to erase the formality of his name. “Please, just Kevin. It’s great to finally meet you,” he said shaking my hand.

“Ditto,” I replied. He had chocolate brown eyes, but the kind of face that looked as though they should have been sporting eyeglasses.

“I’m sorry for staring,” he admitted, breaking eye contact and pulling out a chair for my mother. “It feels like I’m meeting the Dali Lama the way your mother speaks of you.”

I laughed as I scooted my chair in and watched his hand linger on my mom’s shoulder before he sat down. “I don’t think I’m anywhere close to reaching that level of enlightenment.”

“Shouldn’t we go order?” I asked nodding at the line of people at the front of the store.

“I already did. I hope you don’t mind. I got here early and ordered. You still like cheese fries and the chocolate malt best, right?” he asked.

As if on cue, a waiter had brought over our food and placed a large heaping plate of curly fries in front of me.

I smiled. “Kevin, you and I are going to get along wonderfully!” I admitted.

“Oh! I have something for you! It’s a birthday gift.” Kevin handed me a small gift bag with ribbons curled around the handles.

“Oh you didn’t have to get me anything!” I said after swallowing a mouthful of my chocolate malt.

“Your mother told me the same exact same thing, but I was at the store this morning, and from the stories your mother told me, I thought of you.”

That statement made me wonder what kind of stories my mother had been sharing and curiously pulled out the tissue paper to reveal my present. There, wrapped in purple tissue paper was a copy of Prey for Chance’s Quotations on cassette tape. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed and started laughing.

“You probably already have it, but your mother told me how ‘cloudy-eyed’ you got with their music.” I shook my head from side to side and couldn’t stop laughing. Tears began to squeeze out of my eyes from the intensity of my glee.

I couldn’t calm myself down to tell Kevin that I wasn’t laughing at him, just at the situation.

“It’s not you honey,” I heard Mom say, touching Kevin’s hand. “I’ll explain it to you later.”

I got up from my seat and gave Kevin a hug. “Thank-you. I really like it,” I said between giggles.

“You’re right, Cindy,” he turned to my mother. “She would get along perfectly with Meadow.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath, letting a few rogue giggles escape. “When will I get to meet her?”

“When would you like to? I had to beat her away with a stick to keep her from coming with me. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was hiding in the backseat of the car.” He eyed the front of the restaurant like it was a distinct possibility his daughter could be lurking outside, peeking in through the bushes.

“Today, maybe? If it’s not too late.”

Both and Kevin and Mom smiled. “All right, let’s go.”

I sat in the backseat of Kevin’s Camry (not a Meadow in sight) and we went to his house. I laughed nearly the entire way there from the stories he told. He was a great story teller and he put humor in everything he shared. Looking back, that day when I met him, I hadn’t thought of my father once, which is ironic in a way, since Kevin became the father figure in my life.

His house was in Lincoln Park and it looked squished between other houses, but it seemed cozy, not suffocated. Everything in their neighborhood looked orderly and elegant, like a mature woman dressed in furs and a brilliant hat. We walked up a few cement stairs to the large brown front door. I could see our reflections in the glass; Kevin fishing out his eyes, Mom smiling at him, and me, taking in the scene, jubilant at what was unfolding in front of us.

The foyer had a multi-color rug covering the wooden floorboards with an umbrella stand—one of them with a rubber duck on the handle—holding it down. The air smelled like vanilla and cinnamon. When we walked in, pop music filled every silent corner of the house. I noticed right away that the rooms were not large and cold like Penny’s house. The rooms were narrow but long, and the walls were painted in warm colors. The coat rack in the front hall was covered in layers of coats, jackets, windbreakers, hats and scarves. The slightest movement might cause it to tumble in an outer wear avalanche. I smiled at it.

We followed the music towards the back of the house where the kitchen was ablaze with light. I saw the back of a girl, a few inches taller than me with curly brown hair, tamed by a pony tail, dancing to Everybody (Backstreet’s Back). Her lime green pants were rolled up to her knees to reveal the extremely shaggy, purple slippers on her feet. She was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and occasionally put the butter knife to her lips as if it was a microphone and made exaggerated (and quite humorous) dance moves.

Kevin called her name but the music was too loud for her to hear. He punched the power button on the CD player and a few off-key words escaped Meadow’s mouth before she realized she wasn’t alone. I held my hand up to my mouth, trying to cover up the fact that I found this situation humorous, because if I was in her shoes (slippers), I would have turned beet red and hid out in my room for a while.

Before Kevin introduced us, Meadow’s eyes lit up and she scurried over to give me a hug. “You must be Christie! I’m so happy I get to meet you!” Meadow exclaimed, still brandishing the peanut butter covered knife. She wasn’t embarrassed at all and I liked that.

“This is my daughter, Meadow,” Kevin introduced.

“Yeah, yeah, Dad,” Meadow rolled her eyes. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the kitchen island. “Come on, do you know Bounce?”

Seconds later Aaron Carter’s prepubescent voice streamed out of the CD player (much to my distaste) and Meadow encouraged me to “Bounce it out, girl!” as she taught me her dance moves. Before long we were tossing grapes into each others mouths from halfway across the kitchen, competing for the right to devour the triple layer PB&J (topped with chocolate chips) that we created.

Meadow’s personality, to put it mildly, was overwhelming to some people. But to me, I loved it. She didn’t let anyone contain her enthusiasm for life. She was the exact opposite of Kellyn and it was refreshing. Mom and Kevin disappeared into the background while Meadow taught me to tolerate generic pop music.

 

Meadow and I got along like sisters from the start. She listened to what I had to say and went into details when I asked her questions; she made me feel important and instilled me with the fact that I have a right to be heard, not shoved into the shadows or molded to fit in order to be heard.

After I learned the lyrics to Bounce and a few of the dance moves she made up, I told her I needed a hiatus from the bubblegum pop before my brain melted and oozed out of my ears.

She pulled me into the backyard where we were sat across from each other on the double glider bench swings, breaking Oreos into tiny pieces and trying to throw them in each other’s mouths.

Meadow was one, big, chart-topping pop song in personality. She was always glowing, bubbling over in happiness and excitement. That first night I even told her, “You are a pop song waiting to happen.”

“Why thank-you, my dear,” she replied, throwing the sliver of an Oreo at me that landed in my hair. “Sometimes you just have to be a teeny bopper.”

“I can’t really tolerate it for too long,” I admitted, breaking an Oreo apart.

“Why not?” She looked as if I had just told her that I could never walk again.

I shrugged, thinking about it. “It doesn’t bring anything to the table.”

“It doesn’t have to,” she replied quickly, throwing a large cookie crumb in the air and catching it in her mouth.

“Then what’s the point of it?”

“Well, I should say it doesn’t have to bring anything to the table for you.” She pointed at me and then took a sip of water from a giant purple plastic cup that carried a large intricate crazy straw that I assumed she got at an amusement park.

I pulled my eyebrows together in thought. “What does it do for you?”

She smiled and shrugged. “It’s just fun. It may not mean anything deep, but I think music should make people dance and smile. Music makes everything better.” She swallowed part of an Oreo and added, “In case you didn’t notice, life is hard. Music makes it better.”

“I can’t deny that,” I said, throwing an entire Oreo at her mouth.

She laughed when it bounced off her chin and fell into the grass. “See, sometimes you just have to be a teenybopper.”

That night began a lifelong friendship between Meadow and me. She was there for me countless times and treated me more like a sister and dear friend, rather than an apprentice.

 

 

 

 

 

MEGAN RIVERS is a writer who graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in writing and literature. She currently lives in Illinois with her spoiled pup, Gracie. When not writing, she loves to visit thrift stores, bask in the outdoors, read books, or cook delectable vegan dishes. Her website is meganrivers.weebly.com. You can also follow her on Facebook @MeganRiversAuthor, on Pinterest @MeganRiversAuth, on Instagram @MeganRiversAuthor, or on Twitter @MeganRiversAuth.

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A Fateful Melody

Dreading a life with her estranged father in Australia, fifteen year old Christie Kelly finds herself seated next to the young, sultry voice of world-renowned rock star, Galvin Kismet on the transpacific flight. In this time of uncertainty and distress, a friendship quickly blossoms as they share their anxieties about what is waiting for them in Australia. As Christie navigates through a strange world of homesickness with her father and step-family, she never once thought she'd find Galvin back in her life again. But when things get worse in Melbourne, fate steps in with a friend.

  • ISBN: 9781370438792
  • Author: Megan Rivers
  • Published: 2016-12-30 03:50:16
  • Words: 54526
A Fateful Melody A Fateful Melody