. blog .|
. art . comics . lego . store . links .
. lemming drops studio .|
. content © robert e g black .
episode twelve - the powerful part three
Stakeouts, when you don't really know what you're looking for, can get very boring very fast. And, as I think I've mentioned, Saint had turned out to be not much of a conversationalist. As you could probably guess, from what you know of me, that didn't stop me from talking pretty incessantly. I told Saint about Olivia being in my room all over again. I told Saint about her implications of what Sam was doing. As I kept talking, I sorta got the impression I was trying to convince Saint of something. But, he had been pretty convinced of things when I'd told him the first time, had believed Olivia HAD shown up as a ghost, that she had come to save her little sister from harm. Saint had believed all of it. So, who was I trying to convince?
"It would be nice if he did something more," I told Saint. Sam, right then, was just going about his business, working on some guy's car in the garage at the side of the station. I don't know what I expected to see there, but Sam wasn't doing anything that implied anything about him being abusive toward Jaimie or toward anyone for that matter. Even when Mitchell Payne, the big jock on the Reverence High School campus, argued with Sam about something or other, maybe being overcharged for his gas or something--I couldn't really make out the words they were saying from as far away as Saint and I were hiding--Sam just shrugged him off. He didn't throw any punches, didn't even raise his voice. From what I could tell, he conceded and even gave Mitchell some money back. Not what I would have expected from the villain in this play.
"If he'd just yell at someone or something, we'd have something."
Saint shrugged, muttered something about maybe we should move closer so we could hear things better.
"What's it gonna help," I asked him. "That was no fight with him and Mitchell. Hearing the specifics wouldn't help us any. It's not like he's going to admit outright he's abusing Jaimie. Right?"
I laughed. "It's never that easy." I proceeded to tell Saint about my confrontation with my father about what he had or hadn't known about Frank Cross and what he'd been doing to his daughter. Saint seemed interested but not too interested, but I kept talking anyway.
The refuel truck came by about when I was finishing telling that story. Sam came out and talked to the driver for a bit, then went back in to work in the garage as the driver hooked everything up for the refuel. I remember quite distinctly the shine of the metal on the valve handle. It reminded me of that silver line of Haley's retainer. And, that made me think of her smile. And, you'd think that would have made everything ok. I believe I've spoken before about the great ability her smile has to make the whole world brighter. But, this time, all it did was make me sad. I knew, right then, she was somewhere with Kyle. I didn't want to be thinking about that.
"This is getting us nowhere," I said, intent on getting Saint to help me come up with some better way of discovering Sam's guilt or innocence--for some reason, the most obvious thing, going and asking Jaimie herself, just didn't occur to me at this point.
"Who you talking to?"
I spun around. None other than Haley was standing right there. Kyle was next to her. Saint was gone. I looked around, wondering how he snuck off without me noticing. I looked toward the station, trying to see if he'd found a better hiding place up closer, close enough to hear things better. I didn't see him. "Well," Haley said.
"Nobody," I told her. "What's it to you, anyway?"
"He was probably just talking to himself," Kyle said.
"I'm right here," I said.
"Don't talk about me like I'm not right here in front of you, Kyle."
"Kyle, don't start anything," Haley said. She smiled at me. "What're you up to?"
"Nothing much." I couldn't tell her about Olivia's ghost, or about Jaimie, or Sam Carson. "Just waiting for someone," I lied.
I shrugged. "He's not here."
Kyle snorted. I glared at him.
"You want to come with us to Miller's Pond," Haley asked. "It's mostly older kids, Eve McMasters and her friends, but Barbara was going along, she invited us. Josh will be there too."
"Of course," I said. Wherever Barbara went, Josh was sure to go.
Haley smiled. "Right, of course."
There was an awkward silence for a moment. I found myself looking around for Saint again.
I turned back to Haley. "What?"
"I'm fine. Why would you ask that? Why wouldn't I be ok?"
"Sorry, you just seem . . . I don't know. When you brought up Olivia today at school, I thought . . . "
I guess I hadn't steered that conversation away from that subject too well afterall. "You thought what?"
"I don't know. I know things have been hard since she died, Travis."
"It's been three years, for God's sake," Kyle said. "Get--"
"Don't even say it," I told him. One of my best friends or not, I wasn't beyond hitting him, like I'd done many times before.
And, I launched myself at him. Just like that day Olivia and Jaimie had shown up on the playground, I knocked him to the ground. And, I punched him, and I punched him again. Haley tried pulling me off him. I think she was also screaming at me, but I couldn't quite hear her. "She's not crazy," someone said. I think it was me, or maybe two fights are getting blurred here. I'm not sure.
I'd caught Kyle by surprise, but he didn't take long before he fought back. And, sometime since that fight in the playground, which had been one of our worst, he'd learned something about fighting. He had me rolled over on my back and was hitting me in no time. Now, Haley was clawing at him, screaming at him. I could see her mouth moving, but I couldn't hear her. I couldn't hear anything. Total silence, like after Enoch spoke to us. Then, just as abruptly as then, the sounds all came back. Haley was screaming at Kyle, Kyle was grunting with each hit. That fuel truck was driving away, its engine louder than I remembered it. Someone was crying. I tried to look around, assuming it was Saint.
But, it wasn't Saint. It was me. Kyle finally stopped hitting me. Haley pulled him off me. I put a hand to my face, found tears, tears and blood. My nose hurt like hell. My upper lip already felt swollen. The back of my head, from hitting against the ground maybe, felt like it might explode.
"Travis, you ok?" Haley knelt down by me.
Kyle didn't like this. "He started it," he said. "What are you worrying about him for?"
"Shut up, Kyle." She shook her head, then focused on me again. "You ok?"
Kyle, rebuked, backed away. Sometime in the next few minutes, he'd turn and go, leaving Haley there with me. But, I didn't notice this when it happened. I was too focused on Haley, too focused on trying to ignore the pain in my face, in my chest--had he hit me in the chest? I couldn't even remember. Haley's face was close to mine. Her eyes were so bright. I could have sworn there was actual light coming from them. And, that light had the miraculous power to heal my wounds. Or maybe it was just her touch that did that. Or love. Or, maybe I just wasn't hurt as bad as it felt initially.
She touched a finger to my lip. It hurt only briefly. Then, when she took her finger away, my lip burned for her to touch it again, or rather burned for a different touch. I wanted to kiss her. I'd just fought with Kyle DeMetz, I was supposed to be staking out Sam Carson--where the hell had Saint gone off to anyway?--and all I wanted right then was to kiss Haley, to feel her mouth on mine like I hadn't in years. And, maybe I was stupid, or maybe I was dazed. I went ahead and kissed her. For a moment, it seemed like she would kiss me back, that she would put something into it, that Kyle would be forgotten, and our promised future would step back into the timeline. But, instead, she pushed me away from her. I fell back, my head hitting the ground, I cried out in pain. Haley apologized, lifted me back into a sitting position. I was tempted to try kissing her again, but I stopped myself this time.
"Why do you do this shit, Travis?"
"You know Kyle and I are together. And you go and do this." I didn't know if she was talking about the fight, which arguably he had started by telling me to get over Olivia's death, or the kiss, which arguably she had started by being so damn irresistible.
She stood up. "I don't know how to put up with it anymore," she said, more to herself than to me.
"Put up with what?"
Right then, I noticed Saint over by the station. He wasn't hiding at all. He was just standing there watching Sam working in the garage. Haley noticed where I was looking. "Everything," she said. "What's with you watching Sam?"
"It's nothing," I told her. After a moment, I rethought that answer, decided to be a little more honest. "Well, it's not nothing, but you don't have to put up with it if you don't want to."
"Travis, I didn't mean it like that. It's just, you aren't the easiest person to deal with."
"And, you are?"
"Well, no, I supposed not. But, it's not like you try dealing with me much anymore."
"You're always with Kyle."
"The three of us used to do things together."
"You two weren't a couple then."
"Yeah, but you and I were, supposedly. Kyle still stuck around. Josh still stuck around. Barbara still stuck around. Just cause you've got a boyfriend or a girlfriend doesn't mean you can't still have friends."
"I don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend."
"You know what I mean. Why can't you be my friend, Travis?"
"I don't want to be your friend, Haley. I don't think I've ever wanted to be your friend. Even before I was old enough to realize it, I was in love with you. Don't you get that?"
"I got that. I got it three years ago anyway. And I loved you too. But, then along came Olivia Cross, and it was like I didn't matter to you anymore. Even when we were all together, you were concentrated to much on her and her little sister, none of the rest of us showed up on your radar."
"That's not true."
"It is. Or, if it's not, it seemed like it enough to all of us that it might as well be. And, when it feels like you don't matter to someone so much, it's hard to feel too strongly towards them."
"You stopped loving me because you THOUGHT I wasn't paying enough attention to you? Is that right?"
Haley didn't seem too sure about that, but she nodded.
"Olivia died," I said. "She killed herself. Jaimie needed me."
"So, there wasn't room for me. I understand that."
"No, Haley, you don't understand. There was always room for you. There has always been room for you. There will always be room for you."
I realized something then. She wasn't the whole world. She just wasn't. Neither was Olivia, of course. Neither, really, was Jaimie, even if there was a chance her whole future and maybe even her life could depend on my actions over the next few days. No one was the whole world. My life wasn't about any one of them. It wasn't about my sisters. It wasn't about my father. It certainly wasn't about my mother. It wasn't about anyone. And it wasn't about any one thing. My life was about all of it, my family, my friends, Olivia, Jaimie, Haley, ghosts, saints, birds . . . it all mattered. Everything mattered. Every little thing. I'd wondered when I was little why Christ never bothered with more of a life when he had the chance, why he never went out with a girl, got married, any of that stuff that seems so important. But, I knew why. He had the whole world on his shoulders. He had the life of every person, then and since, in his hands. He could love every one of them, but that's got to make it quite hard to concentrate any feelings on one single person. I felt a little sorry for him, as that sort of love could feel so great, but I guess that's what comes with being God. It occurred to me then that all the saints had it rather hard, too, that that boy named Saint had it rather hard. It was actually possible to be too good for certain parts of what made life great. Not knowing what it was to be like that, not completely anyway, I wondered if maybe that love those people felt, for God, for the world, for everyone and everything around them was even better than being in love with one special person. But, I don't know if I wanted to imagine not being able to be in love. As, I'd just told Haley, there was always room for her. I would forego everything else, everyone else, if I just knew I could have her forever. But, how could I tell her that, when she believed she hadn't mattered much to me? How could I tell her that she WAS my whole world when just that morning I'd not told her about one of the single most important things to have ever happened in my life?
"But, you aren't the whole world," I told her. It hurt to say it. Somehow, I wanted to save myself from my own words. But, I didn't know how. "And, don't delude yourself into thinking Kyle believes you are, either," I added. "Cause, he doesn't."
Haley looked at me for a moment. There were tears in her eyes. "What is your problem," she asked. Then, she turned and ran off to catch up with Kyle, to go to Miller's Pond with Barbara and Josh and Eve and whoever else was going to be there.
I stayed right where I was, sitting on the ground, for what seemed like forever. Then, I got up, thought of going to see what Saint was doing, why he was just standing down there. But, I didn't go down there. I just left. If Haley couldn't be my whole world, then neither could Jaimie. There would be no stakeout.
But, even as I decided all that right then and there, things could change back so easily. I knew that. But, I didn't expect it. The Cross' house was on my way home. As I passed it, Jaimie came out onto the porch, called out to me, and waved. I was going to walk on by, ignore her. But, who was I kidding? I'd lied to Haley. Maybe she wasn't my WHOLE world, but she was pretty damn close. And, many gaps she didn't fill were filled by that girl right there waving at me. I wasn't God. It wasn't my job to worry about everyone. I could concentrate my life on one person, or two, or three. So, I stopped. I waved to Jaimie, then walked over to talk to her.
"What's up, Trav?"
I couldn't just come right out and tell her about Olivia being in my room the night before. I had to ease into it.
"Do you like Sam," I asked her.
"No hello first?"
I smiled. "Hello. Do you like Sam?"
"Yeah, your mom's boyfriend."
"He's ok, I guess. She's had worse." That was an understatement, of course. "Why do you ask?"
"Someone told me he's been hurting you."
Jaimie looked at me strangely. "Who?"
"Does it matter? Is he hurting you?"
"You'd tell me if he were, right? You'd tell me if anyone were hurting you."
She hesitated. I don't know how noticeable it would have been to anyone else, but I noticed it. She hesitated, then she replied, "of course."
"I hope you would, James. I hope you know I'd do anything I could to protect you."
"Cause you owe it to Olivia, I know."
"Not cause I owe it to Olivia."
"You promised her you'd take care of me. You're just trying to keep your word."
"No, that's not it. I haven't been looking after you for the past three years because Olivia asked me to. I've been looking after you because I care about you. Olivia asked me because I cared, because she knew I'd probably do it anyway. You do know that, right?"
Jaimie looked down.
"Jaimie, you do know that?"
She looked up again, nodded.
"Jaimie, come inside, it's time for dinner." Phyllis was standing in the doorway. How long she'd been there, I don't know. She looked at me. "Travis, go home."
I guess my fight with Kyle hadn't been enough. I just had to fight with someone else today--and, just to jump ahead a bit, this wouldn't be enough for me either. "You don't have to be so rude about it," I said.
"Travis, just go home."
"I didn't hurt your daughter," I said. "Maybe you think my father did, somehow, but I didn't. All I ever did was love her, well, love both of them."
"You don't even know what your father did, do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"He was there."
"Jaimie, go inside."
Jaimie was standing by her mother, listening rather than heading in. "No," she said. "I want to hear this."
"I know what daddy did to 'Livia. I'm staying."
Phyllis glared down at her daughter for a moment, then looked up. "Very well. We'll all go inside." She motioned for me to come in, and the three of us went in together. We sat in the living room. I'd been there a couple times, but wasn't that comfortable with the place. It didn't make me any more comfortable that Phyllis had invited me in.
"What DO you know," she asked me.
"I know my dad and your husband were friends. I know they drank together. I know that there were hints that something . . . inappropriate was going on, but people ignored those, thought it wasn't possible."
"It's easy to ignore those hints, you know, Travis. Frank was my husband. Olivia was my daughter. I should have known what was happening. Maybe I even DID know. But, how was I supposed to believe it? How could I believe I'd fallen in love with a monster?"
I'm not sure she realized where she was going with this. If she was arguing she couldn't be responsible because she couldn't believe Frank was capable of what he'd been doing, then why would my father be any more responsible, unless he had taken part in it. And, even if I didn't completely believe what my father had told me about these things, I certainly didn't believe he was capable of taking part in it. He couldn't have been party to Olivia being molested and raped. Right?
"I loved him. Olivia loved him. He was her daddy. She trusted him. I trusted him. But, the cruel thing about life is the people you love the most, the people you trust the most, are the very people that can hurt you the most. Love and trust can be used against you just as easily as they can be returned. Frank's power was in being able to keep us trusting him even when he was hurting us."
I had to interrupt here. "Did he hurt you?"
"Of course he did."
"I mean, did he abuse you? Did he hit you? Did he rape you? Or are you just trying to suffer because you had a poor choice in husbands?"
"Don't speak to me like that."
"I'll speak to you however I want to speak to you. Olivia taught me that. You don't get any special privileges just because you're a mother, just because you're an adult. You still have to earn them. You let your husband abuse your daughter. And, even after you'd gotten rid of him, you stood by as your daughter self destructed. You haven't earned any respect from me."
"I didn't stand by as she self destructed. I tried to help her. I tried so many times to help her. I got her away from him, away from this place. I got her to psychiatrist after psychiatrist. I even had her in a hospital for a while. It's not like I did nothing."
"You didn't do enough."
"You don't know what I did, young man."
"Olivia's dead. In case you missed it. She's dead. She killed herself. I don't care what you did. It wasn't enough. You brought her back to this town. You brought right back to the scene of the crime. And, maybe you think you were looking after her, maybe you think you were trying to help that day you told me to stay away from her, but it wouldn't have mattered. She needed you. She needed to know that while her trust in and love for her father had backfired, her trust in and love for you had not. And, you never showed her that. You just wasted away your time on your boyfriends. Had you found a good one, for a change, maybe things would have been different, but you didn't. You just keep finding the same guy over and over. You still--"
"Travis, don't," Jaimie said.
"Don't what," Phyllis asked.
"Nothing," I said. I'd give Jaimie a chance to convince me Sam wasn't doing anything to her, or a chance to admit he was. I didn't need to bring all that into this discussion. "Now, tell me what you think my father did. Why is he any more responsible than you are?"
"Like I said outside, he was there."
"He was in the room. When Frank raped Olivia, your father was there in the room. And, he wasn't the only one. Maybe they didn't all take part in it. I'm pretty sure they didn't. But, there didn't try to stop him either. And, even if they were all drunk off their asses, which no doubt they were, that doesn't relieve them of the guilt. If they were too drunk to notice what was going on right there in front of them, they still must've known right after. When they sobered up a little, and Olivia was lying there, bruised, bleeding . . . "
"How do you know this?"
"Your father talked the police out of arresting Frank that night. Frank got arrested and charged later, of course, once Olivia talked about what happened, but that night, the only reason the police didn't arrest Frank was your father." I knew my father's ability to get things done, to talk people into doing things his way. I knew what she was talking about. "He made a few calls, and smoothtalked the officers that were there at the scene, and they did nothing. Maybe your father was too drunk to know exactly what had just happened, maybe he even regretted his actions later, but I cannot forgive what he did. And, no matter what Olivia ever said about the details of that night, I am not sure I believe your father didn't have a bigger role than that even."
"He didn't rape her."
"Maybe not. But, maybe he did. You think I believed Frank was capable of that? What makes your father so special that he wouldn't be, too?"
I couldn't answer that one. But, I knew who could. My father.
I got up and I left. I had to get home.