Liv’s shadow stretched before her as she ambled toward the persistent whoosh of the highway. Soon enough, dodging speed demons would become a game she dreaded on her trek to school. Pedestrian traffic was not common around here, she was quick to learn. And neither was respect for it. She saw an opening and her long legs lurched into a run. Three honks and a couple incoherent shouts later, she landed in the median, winded. Screw Texas! she shouted, as she pointed herself toward the curve that led to the address she would have to start calling home.
Liv’s morning neighborhood walk wasn’t about exploration but escape. Dad had gone to his office even though it was a Sunday, even though Liv couldn’t remember the last time they had missed a morning service. We’ll start visiting churches next week, Dad had said. Then he took a last gulp of coffee and jingled his keys, leaving the rest of the family stranded for the day.
She couldn’t bear the thought of unpacking the boxes stacked by the door in her bedroom. Her belongings would just remind her of everything and everyone it was best to forget. Friendships didn’t survive moves, she’d learned. Pawing through farewell gifts or photo albums or autographed yearbooks wouldn’t help matters. For all she cared, the memories could stay taped up for good. She needed to practice propulsion. Forward.
Liv had filled the red bag with her notebook and pen. Then in a fit of inspiration, she had opened the white gift box marked “Fragile for Liz.” At the sight of the pink stationery with her grandmother’s handwriting, her eyes blurred. She reread the short message then pulled the top plate from the cushioned stack of three and slipped it beside the spiral before creeping down the stairs and out the door. Finding the cemetery in the woods near the school had been the first surprise of the day. Smashing the plate had been the second.
All was quiet when she returned. She stepped lightly all the way to her room, changed into her Sunday afternoon lounging frock, a purple caftan that covered her adolescent woes. She pulled Go Ask Alice from under her pillow and unfolded the dog-ear where she had left off last night.
Within minutes, she heard a cough and foot falls on the stairs. Smears of mud and clumps of straw clung in harsh patterns across her brother’s shirt and jeans. “Hey.” he said from the hall, still panting.
He fiddled with his soiled pullover like an irritated toddler as he marched into his room then over to his albums, already neatly unpacked and stored in a blue milk crate he had scored on some renegade bike ride before they moved. The container had found its familiar home on his desk, right where a blotter calendar should be.
Liv put down her book and followed him. She sank cross-legged onto his floor, arranging the paisley material in an artful puddle around her. They’d stopped sitting on each other’s beds a couple years before. It started feeling weird. They had said as much one summer morning when Liv flopped herself next to him when he was sleeping in. There had been a few kicks and even an expletive involved, and Dave had made it clear that she was “not even” going to get close to his bed EVER again. It had been their first and only attempt at a sex conversation at least until the big one, and that was years off yet.
“So, how’d you get past Mom looking like that?” she asked.
“She’s napping.” That didn’t surprise Liv. Mom had been getting tired earlier in the day, parked in her recliner with her feet up and a book that would swiftly splay in her lap. The move had taken a toll, and Mom had sunk into the same quiet that Liv had discovered in herself.
His back to his sister, Dave fingered the stack of albums and lingered before he lifted one and pulled the record from its sleeve like a scribe might pull a sacred scroll. He placed the record on the turntable and drew the tone arm onto its thick black edge. If Dave had a religion, it was music. Lucifer’s temptation, his father would say. But Dave would smooth things over by singing a solo in church or playing hymns on the piano after Sunday lunch. Give and take, he had learned. Liv had taught him well.
The needle hummed through the speakers in those familiar scratchy creaks that heralded a surprise. What would follow? horns? percussion? a flute? A guitar led this time. Acoustic. I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul. Cat Stevens. Liv had given him the album for Christmas a couple years before. A week’s worth of babysitting money to see her baby brother smile.
“Cool,” Liv nodded. She grinned without giving him any teeth, and he replayed the same look. He’s placating me, she thought.
Liv wasn’t looking at him, but running her hands through the short shag carpet, a peppered brown, black and white pile that made for an unhappy blend. Not one of them had liked the carpet in this spanking new house, but the floor coverings had been the contractor’s choice. Their arrival in town was sudden and a house built to order wasn’t in the cards.
Dave grabbed the denim pillow from his bed, put it behind him, and slid down the wall an arm’s reach from his visitor. Liv looked him over. “What gives?”
“Well, I met a couple of locals, I guess you could say.” Dave fumbled like he was still working out what he wanted to tell. Dave and Liv had relied on each other over the years but resisted their need for each other. With only eighteen months between them and height working in Liv’s favor, they had been formidable sparring partners. And they were wink, wink, nudge, nudge buddies when they needed a laugh, especially around the seriousness of the dinner table.
Liv was used to Dave’s long silences. She knew that his thoughts had to cycle through all sorts of trails and tunnels before they made it to his mouth. And she knew that whatever did get said was stripped of all elaboration. In that, he was clearly a member of the more brooding masculines. In a classic stall, Dave stretched over to the volume control on the turntable, his own secret code. . . I swam upon the devil’s lake…I’ll never make the same mistake. . . No, never never never.