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episode four - being powerless part two

So, my sister Ruby has this dog named Slipper. Sounds like a little wuss dog name, right? Well, the thing's a huge dog, a Rottweiller. For a while after she got married, she and Daniel lived in an apartment, so Slipper stuck around our house. And, without Ruby here to keep him in line, Slipper would get into everything. It was sometime then that I took to locking my bedroom door every night when I went to bed. One night, I awoke to Slipper slobbering all over my face, and I never wanted that ever again. My point here is this: I took to locking my bedroom door. And, that habit stuck. I still do it, even though there's no big dog to come in and slobber on me, and no baby sister anymore--Danni's eight now. I guess I just like the idea of uninterrupted sleep. There have been those few earthquakes that we've felt in this part of the state, of course, but those are few and far between.

But, I digress. You're sitting there, like what's this kid getting at, aren't you? Well, bear with me. I know I mentioned that Olivia was in my room not too long ago. Well, I just wanted to point out to you something that should clue you into what's coming. See, when I'd gone to bed that night, I'd locked my door. And, I'd turned out the light, and I was already drifting off to sleep, when Olivia showed up. Once, years ago, I might have thought she'd climbed in the window. Though she never did do that, it did seem like something she would have done. But, this time, I didn't even think of that. I didn't think of much. You see, my mind was half asleep, and Olivia's presence was a surprise and all, but it wasn't the shock it should have been. Why should it have been a shock? Well, you'll just have to wait and see, now, won't you?

So, Olivia shows up in my room. And, I'm half asleep. She says something about how her mother never liked me. "Stay away from my daughter," was probably the first thing Phyllis Cross ever said to me, actually. This was after Olivia and I had become friends, but before I knew about Olivia and her father and the whole big reason Phyllis had packed up her two girls and left town, before I knew that my own father knew all about it, had been friends with Frank Cross actually. Olivia and I had been hanging out with each other a bit, well Olivia and I and Jaimie. Olivia almost never went anywhere without her little sister. If you look up inseparable in the dictionary, you'd see them as they were when they came back to town. Twelve year old and five year old, both dark haired, both sure to grow up to be beautiful, both already so cute it was hard to take my eyes off 'em sometimes.

So, that particular day, I hadn't been in any fights. I hadn't gotten into any trouble. And, not knowing about Frank Cross yet, and not even knowing he and my father had been friends, I was pretty surprised when Phyllis (don't ever call her Mrs, by the way) Cross told me to stay away from Olivia. I mean, as far as I knew, Phyllis didn't even know who I was. Olivia said something to her mom, I don't remember exactly what. The conversation that followed didn't quite escalate into a fight, but it came close. Olivia kept saying I was her friend, that I was Jaimie's friend, that her mom should mind her own business. Her mom made the usual parent argument, my kid's friends are my business--you know the one. It was weird, actually. I don't think I would have dared argue with my father like that. Not before then anyway. As you'll see in a bit, I DID get to arguing with him, but only because of Olivia. Her strength rubbed off on me, or something. I don't know.

Well, Olivia won that argument. But, as she said that night in my room, her mom never really did like me. She still doesn't. It's that same old thing that makes a lot of this town dislike my whole family. One generation did something, and the next still gets to be hated. Well, we're not hated, but you know what I mean. In this case, it was because my father was a friend Frank Cross back when he was still around. But, as I said, I didn't know this yet, so the whole thing was a bit of a mystery.

So, needless to say, Olivia and I still hung out with each other. I was feeling guilty still about not being able to help Haley, even though she kept trying to get me to get over it already, so it got hard to be with her a lot of the time. And, after that fight in Memorial Park, Josh and I were on one of our temporary but oft repeated not friends anymore periods. He spent most of his time with Barbara McMasters anyway, and the two of them had sorta gotten stuck doing things with Casey Sedgwick (blind girl, a year younger than all of us, lives on Mill Street), a little arrangement made by their parents. Haley spent her time with them or with Kyle DeMetz, even though it wouldn't be for another few years that she and Kyle would be "a couple." So, it was good timing, I guess, the Crosses returning to Reverence. Olivia and I took to each other very fast. Within a week of that day of my fight with Josh, you coulda called us best friends. Of course, in this town, that childish habit of having more than one best friend continues a little longer than in other places for some reason, so Haley was still my best friend too. So, I guess, was Josh. But, Olivia was the best friend that I spent time with for the rest of that summer more than the other two. Olivia and Jaimie.

Jaimie might be swinging on the swings, and Olivia and I might swing also, or we might climb on the bars, or we might just sit down nearby and talk. And, believe me, she could talk, that girl. She could talk and talk and talk. I remember a joke I made a lot about how talking kept her alive. That doesn't sound so funny now, but it was funny in context. It was real funny.

A couple times, the three of us went to Miller's Pond and actually went swimming. I say it like that cause most people round here don't swim in Miller's Pond. They picnic in the grass nearby, or they have some fancy party or wedding at the gazebo, but they don't go in the pond. Not cause it's dirty. Just cause. So, this one time we went to Miller's Pond along with Haley and Kyle and Josh and Barbara. This was maybe a couple weeks after my fight with Josh, and still a month or so before school would start, sixth grade for me and Haley and Josh and Kyle and Barbara, eighth for Olivia, first for Jaimie. For some reason Olivia had gotten out of the water. She was "laying out," she said. Of course, there was no sun that day, so that made no sense. Didn't occur to me of course, that at twelve, she might just like being out where boys could see her in her bathing suit. Jaimie was playing around with me and Josh and Barbara. Some pointless water game, I don't remember exactly what. And, Olivia, propped up on her elbows watching us, says rather calmly, "you might want to get out of the water."

Jaimie looked at her, rather annoyed. "Is it time to go home already?"

Olivia shook her head. "Nope, but you've got company." She pointed out a little ways past us in the pond, and we all turned at once to see the head of a snake poking up out of the water. It couldn't have been more than fifteen or twenty feet from us. And, without even a second's hesitation, we all got the hell out of that water. Olivia, of course, had herself a nice time, laughing at our frantic attempts to move faster than we obviously could.

Jaimie, I remember, ran right to her sister once she was out of the water and crouched down next to her, put her arms around her. Olivia put her arms around her little sister, more as some automatic reaction than anything conscious, and Jaimie calmed down almost instantly. Jaimie didn't think like me. I was imagining that snake not only swimming through the water to get us but slithering right up onto the shore, attacking us one by one, killing us all. A hug from Olivia wasn't going to calm me down. Of course, that didn't matter, 'cause I wasn't getting any hug from Olivia. No hug from Haley either.

Haley wanted to leave immediately. As Olivia would say, "she's such a girl." She got Kyle to walk her home, and Josh and Barbara went with them. Olivia stayed right where she was, and Jaimie after a minute, let go of her and just sat next to her, even layed back on her towel like she, too, was laying out, though there was still no sun. I looked at my friends leaving, looked toward the water, no snake in sight anymore, and looked at Olivia, still propped up on her elbows, now watching me, like she was waiting to see what I was going to do before she layed back down. After like a whole minute had passed, and Haley and the others were getting kinda far away, Jaimie sat up, looked at me, smiled a rather cute crooked smile, then said, "you just gonna stand there?" Olivia laughed. I laughed.

Then, I sat down on my towel next to Olivia.

Since that day I'd had that fight with Josh, Olivia hadn't brought up the subject of my mother, but here we were alone. Well, as alone as we could be at Miller's Pond in the summer, with a few people here and there nearby, and Jaimie of course laying right there next to us. Of course, Olivia didn't just say, so, your mom's really crazy, as soon as I sat down or anything like that. We talked about some other stuff. She told me some story about her cousin's best friend who'd picked up some hitchhiker who disappeared from his backseat, something about it being a ghost of some girl who'd died recently, and when he got to the house she'd asked him to go to, he saw a picture of her, and her mother had told him she'd been dead for a year. You know the story. I knew it wasn't true. I'd heard it before. But, I pretended I believed it. Olivia, I think, knew I was just pretending. She continued to tell it anyway. She'd do that a lot, grab those friend of a friend stories and tell them as if they were real things that happened to her mother's college roommate or her cousin's best friend (it was that best friend that did most of these things, as I remember it--I guess that guy just got around). I pretended I believed they were real, even told a couple myself. That day by Miller's Pond, I told that one about the cactus that was full of spiders and was moving and pulsating and bulging all over until finally it burst and thousands of baby spiders came out. I said it happened with a plant my Aunt Ellen had bought. Then, somehow, that got me talking about Ellen, how she and her middle daughter, Charlie, were supposed to be coming to visit soon, and how each time Ellen came to town, she and my father would go visit my mother up at Cedar Cliff, and well, that just went right into Olivia asking about my mother and why she was up at Cedar Cliff.

"How crazy is she," Jaimie asked. She'd been quiet up to this point, except to laugh at some part or another of the stories her sister and I were telling each other, or to add a big "ewwwwwww" when I told about those spiders pouring out of that cactus plant.

"Jaimie," Olivia said, the simplest of reprimands, her name, curt, but not rude. Jaimie shut her mouth, but waited like she expected me to answer her anyway.

Olivia looked at her sister for a moment, then turned to me. "Well?" She laughed. "It's not the best way to ask, I'll admit, but . . ."

"It's what you want to know," I said.

Olivia nodded.

"She sees things sometimes. She talks to people that aren't there. She imagines she's someone she isn't. It's hard to explain."

"Oh, well, if you don't want to talk about it, that's--"

"I'll talk about it. I don't like to talk about it much, cause some people just don't understand it. They say she's crazy, she's nuts, like it's some horrible contagious disease, like any association with her or any of her family at all will rub off and they'll be made crazy too."

"Is that why people don't like your family," Olivia asked then.

I had to stop and think for a second. She'd been back in town for a couple weeks, she hardly knew me, had had almost no contact with the rest of my family, and already she knew the town didn't like us. That made me wonder just how and why that sort of thing worked, how there could just be an aura around us that set us apart. "That's not it, actually," I told her. "That's something from a long time ago. I'm not sure if I even understand that, myself. This whole thing with my mother is something else altogether. That other thing, it's like everybody in town has a problem with us, not a big problem, just a little one, like some--what's that word?--grudge, some old grudge that just won't go away, like the Hatfields and McCoos."



"Hatfields and McCoys. You said McCoos."

I had to laugh at that one. The McCoos were a family that lived down the street from me. I told Olivia that, she found it amusing but didn't quite laugh. Then, we got back to the conversation.

"Well, my mother being crazy--that bothers kids more than anyone else. I do anything weird, and whether they mean it as a joke or not, they'll make some comment about me being crazy, like 'Trav's going whacko just like his mommy,' or 'Trav's losin it.'"

"That's mean."

"Yeah, I know."

"Well, I'm sorry."

"You didn't do any of it. You've been nothing but nice to me."

"Well, I'm still sorry. People are mean sometimes. Cruel. I suppose a comment here and there isn't too bad, but it just leads to more meanness, more cruelty, and at some point, people just hurt each other too much." I could tell then that she was talking about something other than me being teased about my mother being crazy, but I didn't want to ask her just yet what she WAS talking about.

Jaimie, laying down again, raised her head, looked at her older sister. I got the impression she was checking to see if she was ok, a look that Olivia gave HER all the time. The young one checking on the older one. Olivia glanced over at her little sister, smiled, and Jaimie was convinced. She layed back again. Olivia turned back to me.

And, it was right then that I noticed for the first time the scars on Olivia's wrists. Well, maybe that isn't true. Maybe I'd seen them before that, but I hadn't thought about them until right then. Right then, I could see the scars on her left wrist quite clearly, and for a moment, I couldn't look away. There was something about them, something I couldn't quite get but something I knew I had to understand if we were to really be friends.

"You can look at them, but don't stare, please," Olivia said.

I shook my head, tried to act like I hadn't even been looking at her scars.

"It's ok," she said. "If I didn't want anyone to see them, I'd wear long sleeves all the time. I don't care if everyone knows. Let them think I'm weak or whatever they want to think. I know who I am. I don't need their approval. I don't need everyone to tell me anything. I'm fine without them."

"You did that," I asked. I knew she did. But, that was the first thing I thought to say.

"Yeah, I did it," she said. She turned her right wrist so I could see it also, and sure enough there were rows of cuts there too. There were the obvious deep cuts, the ones that meant she's been trying to kill herself, and a lot of shallower ones, faded scars, going all the way up to her elbows. "Things would get hard, and it felt good to do something to release it, you know," she said. She touched the fingers of her left hand to one of those suicide cuts on her right wrist. "And, a couple times, things just got too hard," she said. She made a cutting gesture with the tip of one finger. Briefly, in my mind, I saw one of those scars opening up all over again, like her finger really was the knife it was only meant to represent.

"What things," I asked.

"Don't ask that," Jaimie said. She didn't sit up first, just stayed laying down.

"He can ask," Olivia said, looking at her wrists still. She looked at me. "You can ask. But, I don't think I'm gonna answer. Not today anyway. We should get going. It's time to head home." She turned to her sister. "Come on kiddo, let's go home."

Jaimie got up, grabbed up her towel and her bags, slipped her feet into some sandals, and Olivia did the same. I was still sitting.

"You always so slow in doing things," Olivia asked me.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, don't you want to walk back with us?"

I smiled, nodded, then got up, picked up my own stuff, and the three of us headed down into town together.

When I got home, Samantha was playing her violin. Danni was coloring in a coloring book. Carrie and Evelyn weren't around. And, my dad wasn't home from work yet. It was still pretty early.

Sam stopped playing about a minute after I came in the house. She found me in the kitchen looking for something to eat, asked me if I'd had fun up at Miller's Pond. I told her I had. She asked why I was home already. I said something about Olivia, I'm not sure what.

"Is everything ok," Sam asked.

"Yeah, I think everything's fine," I said. "I think something was wrong before. With Olivia, I mean. But, whatever it is, I think it's done."

"That's good."

"Yeah, that's very good."