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episode two - separate rhythms
One day, more recently, I found myself on the swings with Haley Manning, just like so many times when we were little kids. Like that day after she got out of the hospital. And, just like that long ago day when I asked that beautiful girl to marry me. I had thoughts of the two of us together forever.
But, you see, there are some things that can't be changed in life, some things that hold certain people back, that send others, like Saint McMasters, forward, things that make certain people popular, certain people outcasts. There are things that draw certain people together at certain times, things that keep them together, things that tear them apart. There are futures written every second of every day. And, sometimes, it's too late to change those futures once they've been written. Sometimes, you're just not the right person for the future you want. See, sometimes, you're the one who everybody loves, the one who saves the day. But, sometimes you're nobody, you're the guy who people think of only when sidestepping out of your way on the sidewalk by Wrinkler's Store where your father works. See, sometimes your Saint McMasters, sometimes your me, Travis Adams.
Sure, Haley loved me. Maybe she always had. But, so had my father loved me. So had my mother. So had my sisters. But still, in the writing of my future, Haley's place was different than that place she holds in her own future. I was convinced every day more and more that Haley Manning has a future far greater than anything I could give her, far greater than anything anyone in this town, even Saint McMasters or Kyle DeMetz, could give her. Her future was not in Reverence. Her future was out there in that bigger world.
But, when she stopped swinging and, in that old annoying but totally endearing way she had, reached out and grabbed the chain of my swing bringing me to an all too abrupt stop next to her, as her hand touched mine briefly, I knew that her future hadn't been written yet anymore than mine had. I didn't have to be the guy whose father worked at Wrinkler's Store, the guy whose mother was up at Cedar Cliff. And, Haley Manning didn't have to be the daughter of two dreamers who would send her off to be what they couldn't be. As her hand touched mine, I saw a different future, one foregone on that day she fell from King's Fate and I failed to help her, a future in which Haley and I were still together, would always be together.
She laughed. Then, she got up from her swing, said, "I gotta go," then ran off to Kyle DeMetz, who stood nearby smiling at her, that smile that made me want to kill him. They didn't grab hands. They didn't embrace each other. They didn't kiss--thank God. They just turned together and walked off out of Memorial Park, off maybe to the Felix Diner for a soda, or the not so old fashioned coffee, or latte, or whatever the hell is it, one of those drinks I'd never touch lest someone think me one of the haughty ones. Not to say that such things were too good for me. And, not even to say that I was too good for such things. That just wasn't anything I would drink. And really, I'd never be caught dead in the Felix Diner, and not just because I rarely had any money at all, let alone enough to afford to eat there. The Felix Diner just wasn't my sort of place. Let's leave it at that.
I watched her go off with Kyle and, to be honest, it hurt. But, I didn't immediately think about how wrong it was that Kyle and I had once been friends, that Haley and I had once been destined to be together. I didn't immediately think about how things change. I just thought about her, about how great she looked that day, how she was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. The rest of those things came a few minutes later, once she and Kyle were out of sight, and I was left to leave Memorial Park alone. Alone, once again, just like many other days. Too many other days.
Why I kept going there with Haley, I don't know. You might say I was in love with her. You might say she was the one. You might say she was exactly what I had always been looking for. Or, you might just say I was obsessed, that it was a boyhood crush that grew a bit too big someday a few years back to die as easily as most boyhood crushes should. The thing is, I couldn't pass up the chance to be with her, to sit there on the swings as she waited to go off with Kyle or to be picked up by her mom or her dad, or just until she decided she wanted me to walk her home. See, there was always that last one, the chance she might ask me to walk her home, and as long as that was an option, as long as there might be that time together, as we headed to her house, never hand in hand though I wished it constantly, but always close enough that I could smell what was left of her shampoo after a long day. She was back to the pina colada scent then. It was strawberry the week before. As fickle as any girl, I guess, she switched shampoos and soaps and perfumes often. And, I noticed every little change, every new combination. But, I never said anything. I never told her how great she smelled. I never told her how she made what's got to be the lamest of the five senses so briefly the best ever. I just took it in, the scent of her, and I let the day go on. And, if I was walking her home, I tried to keep close enough to smell her the whole way to her house. And, I flirted with the idea that this just might be the day that she'd turn and kiss me before going inside. Well, actually, she had kissed me a couple times on such occasions, but always on the cheek. Always the kiss saved for the boy who will forever be her best friend, nothing more, nothing less.
Kyle's the one who got those other kisses those days. They were not in love. I don't think either one of them thought they were. But, there are still those special kisses, those kisses so much greater than a kiss from a family member or a friend, even if they fall short of those romantic fable kisses of true love. And, Haley and Kyle shared those then. In fact, Kyle was Haley's first. I know. She told me about it about ten minutes later. She had to brag to someone, and of course, she came to me. And, getting past my heart being ripped open by each and every word of the tale she told that afternoon, I loved it. I loved imagining she was talking of me, that when she spoke of being hesitant, of moving closer, eyes still open, noses almost hitting, that awkward moment that is just never awkward enough on tv or in movies or in books, she was talking of being hesitant with me. But, she spoke of Kyle. And, she continued to speak of Kyle. Daily, she spoke of Kyle.
But, what did Kyle ever do to deserve her? I mean, really, what did he do? He didn't save her life any more than I did. Saint McMasters saved her life. Charles Lodge saved her life. Now Officer Lodge is married, not to mention at least a decade older than Haley, so it would have been weird if they got together, but it would have still made more sense than she and Kyle. And, Saint--could she do any better? My own sister hooked up with Daniel McMasters. I know how much of a catch a McMasters is. Haley could have seen how Saint saved her life and she could have fallen in love with him then and there and forever be with him, and at least it would have made sense, even if it would have still torn me apart to see them. At least there would have been some logic to it.
Kyle was the guy that just a year before was taunting her about her hair when she got it cut short, making fun of her retainer, ridiculing her flat chest. Kyle was one of those guys that made her cry herself to sleep just a year before. And now, maybe she still cried, but not because of pain, but some twisted sense of happiness. Tears caused by Kyle DeMetz didn't hurt anymore. Or, if they did, Haley hid it well.
I suppose it's obvious that I wished I were her choice, that I were the guy she saved those special kisses for each day, that I were the one she waited for on the swings instead of the one who kept her company as she waited. And, to be honest, I think we'd have been good together, that we'd have had a real chance at that future we were once promised. But, I knew I was no great catch. I knew that when Daniel McMasters hooked up with Ruby Adams, everybody in town took a moment to blink, catch their collective breath, then let their mouths drop open from the shock of it. It wasn't so bad as the Montagues and the Capulets. There would be no family rivalry, no murder of Ruby's and my cousin by Daniel. Ruby and Daniel would not secretly marry only to end up killing themselves because of some great illogical chasm between the two families. It wasn't anything as melodramatic as all that. Romeo and Juliet is a great play and all, but this just wasn't that. Daniel's parents probably gave him a good talking to, but upon realizing that he meant what he said when he brought my sister to them and said he was in love, that he had met the girl he was going to marry, they gave him their blessing, they invited Ruby into their home and their family, and they even had our whole family over for dinner one night, even our mother, in the middle of one of her better patches. It took the town as a whole a little longer to give that same blessing, but eventually, the blessing was given. But, there was still that early bit, when the air over the town looked at Ruby with Daniel and shook it's ugly head from side to side and looked down with disappointment that the Adams family had once again found the means to remain alive in this town.
Now, imagine that ugly head shaking at me, the only Adams male left, my father not counting because regardless of any advice to the contrary he still loves my mother and would never turn to another woman ever. Imagine that head burning me with it's stare as I tried to steal Haley Manning away. Sure, she was no Barbara McMasters, no prized daughter of the McMasters clan, but the town still loved her. The town wanted the best for her. And, I was NOT the best. I never would be. Not by the standards of the people of Reverence, anyway.
And, really, who was I to argue with that? I was, afterall, the boy who wouldn't go down to save Haley when she fell from King's Fate. I was the boy who couldn't even look at her in the hospital. I was the boy who ran away when he heard she was back in town and was on her way to see him. I was the boy who she found sitting on a rock in the middle of one of the wider spots in Icles Creek, crying like his own life had nearly been lost instead of hers. I was the boy who said nothing to her that day, when she just wanted to know that I was still her friend.
"Travis," she said, as she stepped onto a nearby rock, "they said you came to see me in the hospital."
She paused, like maybe she expected a response. But, as I mentioned, she got none.
"I wish I woulda been awake," she continued. "I coulda used another familiar face other than my parents. They were so panicked and worried, it got kinda annoying seeing them, jumping from crying one moment to smiling like they were high on something the next. I wish you'd been there. Well, you WERE there. But . . . well, you know what I mean. I just wish you'd been there."
She stepped into the water so she was about a foot from me. I think she reached out one hand to touch me, but I was turned a bit, and the sunlight through the trees can play tricks on the eyes sometimes, so maybe she reached, maybe she didn't. I know she didn't actually touch me. I know her hand didn't get that far.
I wanted to look up at her. I wanted to see Haley's beautiful green eyes, that bright smile, even the silver of the wire if she was wearing her retainer that day. I wanted to see that girl who I'd seen every day since forever and who I wanted to see every day that would come. But, I couldn't look up. I couldn't face her. Her life had been in my hands. She'd been crying from the pain of the cuts and the scrapes and the bruises and I'd stopped before getting to her. And, why? Because I might have hurt myself in the process. Her life was worth ten of my own. Every moment of pain I could spare her was worth a hundred moments of torture for me. But, I'd stopped. Saint McMasters had taken one look down, then dropped down to save her, cutting up his body pretty badly in the process, but doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do. He'd lived up to his name that day. I'd cowered in his shadow. I'd failed to do the one thing I should have done. I didn't deserve to ever look at Haley ever again. I didn't deserve to have her look at me.
Yet, there she was, standing by me, one foot in Icles Creek, one foot on a small rock, her hand maybe outstretched to touch me, maybe not. And, all she wanted was some sign that I still loved her, that I cared what happened to her, that there was some good reason I had only come to see her in the hospital once. What would have been a good enough sign? I don't rightly know. But, I know that what I did do was not enough. What I did do was to sit there, motionless, silent.
And, Haley musta put her hand down then. She lifted her foot from the water, muttered something, not a goodbye, but something like it, then turned and walked away.
And, I cried, cried until I couldn't do it anymore, then just sat there for a while, tired, alone, and finally I got up and walked home. My father hardly said a word to me about how late I was. He didn't give me a speech about staying out after dark, a speech still heard in this town, even if it safer than most. He didn't reprimand me or even threaten to reprimand me. He did, however, inform me that dinner was on the kitchen counter. Pizza. Delivered, of course. Carrie was in there, sitting on the kitchen floor, the phone cord stretched across the room so that I had to duck under it to get the pizza. About a minute after I'd gotten in there, while I was pouring myself something to drink to go with my two slices of pizza, she yelled at me to get out of the room, and stop eavesdropping. Like I cared what she talked about with Trent Phillips. I said something rude, I don't remember what. Then, I grabbed my glass and my plate and left the room. I think she threw something at me as I went, but whatever it was, it missed.
Sam was upstairs practicing her violin. Samantha, always the pride and joy of the Adams family, was the one with all the promise. And, I suppose I should have been jealous of that fact. But, I rarely was. Like Saint McMasters, who could have anything he could ever want, my sister Samantha was a good enough person that she deserved anything she could, and would, get. She saw me heading to my room, and she put down her violin and came to see what was wrong.
"I saw Haley today," I told her.
"You went up to Carlton Falls again? Who took you?" She knew our father wouldn't have had the time to take me.
"No," I said, "Haley's out of the hospital. She came home today."
"And, you went to see her."
I didn't have to tell her I didn't. I didn't have to shake my head. She knew as soon as she said it that I hadn't made the effort.
"She found you," Sam said.
I nodded, though I didn't need to.
"And, she wanted to know why you haven't been to see her?"
"And, you told her dad was too busy to take you . . . " Sam knew I hadn't said any such thing, that I wouldn't have had to. We both knew that Haley knew our father, that Haley knew he wouldn't have taken me up to see her more than once or twice, and only then if I'd begged. But, we both also knew that I would have begged anyone else around town to take me or that I would have walked to Carlton Falls General if I had to, to see Haley. And, we both knew I hadn't done any such thing. Sam looked at me for a moment, then she put her arms around me. Sam's hugs could always make everything seem good. But, that day, there wasn't much energy in me for feeling good. "She knows you still love her," Sam said.
"Sure, she does."
"I mean it, Trav. Haley knows you love her. She knows you woulda been there to see her if you could." I couldn't figure out then why Sam said that. I still can't. We both knew I could have gotten there to see Haley if I had really wanted to. Maybe Sam was just trying to be nice.
"I did go see her once," I said. I was sure Sam knew I'd talked dad into taking me that first night. But, I wanted to say it anyway. Like she didn't know. Or like I didn't know. Like until I mentioned it, that one visit wasn't real. I don't know. I just needed to say it. "I got dad to take me, and he got me past the doctors." Sam smiled at this. When dad bothered to get involved in our lives, he had a way of getting things done, whether it was talking the doctors into letting me in to see Haley after hours or talking Doreen Robinson into giving Sam violin lessons in exchange for a little maintenance work around her house. "But, Haley was asleep. She looked so peaceful, almost . . . " I nearly said dead. Sam noticed and put her arms around me again, tighter this time.
"Haley didn't die," she said. "She didn't almost die. She's fine. She'll be fine. You didn't do anything wrong."
I woulda thought all my crying energy had been used up, but there I was crying all over again. "You shoulda heard her, Sam," I said between sobs. "She was crying so much, screaming even. When Saint lifted her up, she was all bloody. And, even though she was still crying a little, I really thought she was dead, I think. She came so close . . . "
"There's no such thing," Sam said. She looked at me a little strangely. She seemed to think about something, then must've decided against it. Desperate to reassure me, she spoke again. "Haley's not dead. She's fine."
"She's not fine." That wasn't true. Haley WAS fine. But, something else wasn't. That thing between me and Haley--that thing wasn't fine. That thing was torn a little, broken, bruised and cut and all scraped up just like Haley had been. It was ready to break loose completely. "What am I gonna do," I asked Sam.
Sam will always try her best to help. But, she also knows when she can't solve your problems. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know."
The next day was a Saturday. Without really thinking about it, I went to Memorial Park, just like I had many other Saturdays. Kyle DeMetz was there, still a good friend of mine. Josh Doyle was there, pushing Barbara McMasters in one of the swings. I remember, about a minute after I got there, her change purse fell out of her pocket as she swung real high. They must've been planning on walking to see a movie or something. Josh ducked down, grabbed it, then got out of the way just before Barbara's feet knocked him out cold.
I went over and climbed up onto some bars nearby and sat on top of them, my legs dangling. I thought briefly of the time Josh had fallen from there and knocked a tooth out. Though I'm sure that hurt him, and he was a friend, I laughed a little at the memory of it.
And, that's when I saw Haley approaching. Her mom was with her. For a little while after she got out of the hospital, one of her parents was always hovering somewhere nearby. Haley saw me and smiled, waved. I waved back. I don't know if I smiled. I'm sure I didn't.
She got into a swing, started swinging as if nothing was different, as if everything was right in the world. Thinking of myself asking God to make me braver, I jumped down from atop the bars, walked over, and got into the swing next to hers.
She was already swinging pretty high. She had always been good at getting going. I did my best to catch up, tried to match her speed, her height, tried to time each pump of my legs with each pump of hers, the peak of each of my swings with the peak of hers. And, it was like we were little kids again, five years old, maybe six, taking a break from seeing who could swing higher to matching each other's swings as exactly as we could. We were together again, even if only for a moment.
Her swing got a little ahead of mine. And, then I thought again of her scream as she fell off King's Fate, her crying coming up from all those bushes below that cursed rock. And, I thought of Saint dropping down to save her, lifting her up, carrying her away. And, my swinging slowed a little more. I forgot to pump altogether. Haley kept swinging for a moment, then she noticed I'd slowed, and she matched me, came to a stop just as I did.
"What's wrong," she asked me.
I looked at her. And, for a second, I wanted to ask her to marry me. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that I'd been unable to save her. I wanted to ask her to forgive me, and could we still have forever together? I wanted to beg her to absolve me. But, I started to cry again, and, embarrassed, I got out of the swing and hurried away, not quite running, but close enough.
"What's wrong with him," Josh asked.
Barbara shushed him.
Haley got off her swing and followed me.
I wasn't out of energy or anything, but after going about fifty yards, I just stopped, and I sat down at the base of a large tree. Haley sat down next to me only seconds later.
"What's wrong, Travis?"
"I went down there, you know," I told her. "When you fell, I ran right down there to help you. But, I couldn't do it. Saint--he just glanced down that second dropoff, and jumped down to help you, but I couldn't do it." I was crying hard here. I doubt most of my words made sense, but Haley knew what I was saying anyway. "I heard you crying, and I wanted to help you, I really did, but I just couldn't do it."
Haley looked at me, tears in her eyes. She opened her mouth to say something. Then she shook her head. She just looked at me for a moment, like she was trying to decide something, trying to solve some mystery about me perhaps. Then, finally, she smiled a crooked smile. "That's what's wrong," she said, dumbfounded. "You're crying 'cause you didn't tear open your arms and legs trying to dig me out of those bushes? Who would expect you to?" She didn't get it. "I mean, that Saint guy"--she laughed a little--"he's crazy. I might owe HIM my life and all, though I doubt I woulda died, but it's not like there was any reason to expect HIM to do that. And, I wouldn't have expected you to go in there to save me either."
"But," I said, "I should have. If anyone should have saved you, it should have been me."
She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "You're sweet," she said. "Really, Travis, you're very sweet, but you're not crazy. Your mom might . . . " Haley stopped herself. Though she was about the only person I'd ever let talk about my mother most of the time, she was nice enough to avoid the subject whenever possible. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to--"
"Don't worry," I said. I got up. "In fact, don't worry about me at all." I headed back to the swings.
"Travis, wait up," Haley said, coming after me. "I'm really sorry."
I didn't know what to say. She hadn't understood why it was so bad that I hadn't saved her. And, not only that, but now she was apologizing to me for almost calling my mom crazy. Like she was the first person to do so or something.
"Forget it," I said, getting back into a swing.
Haley got into the swing next to me. And, though I'd started swinging first, I expected her to overtake me quickly, but she didn't. I knew it was on purpose. I knew she was trying to be nice, cause she's gone and brought up my mother. So, I slowed down my own leg pumping, matched my swing to hers, and we swung together for a while, forward and backward, higher and higher. Eventually, we found our own separate rhythms. But, for a little while, we were together again. And, it felt really good to be together, even if it wouldn't last.