On the Fence

Page 14


“I don’t know. About how he is with you and your mom.”
“It won’t help.”
“Have you tried?”
“No. But my mom tries all the time. You’ve heard the results.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Eh.” He shrugged with that sound. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it well. “It could be worse. What about you? Why are you up so late? More nightmares?”
“Are they getting worse?”
Yes. “I don’t know.”
“You said before that sometimes you dream about the car accident. What happens in those dreams?”
I thought back. It was definitely the dream I had the most. “Different things every time. I basically just see my mom’s crash. Glass. Blood.” And I didn’t want to talk about this anymore. “My brothers found out something I didn’t want them to tonight and now I have to tell my dad something I don’t want to tell him.”
“Please be more vague. I think you’re speaking too clearly.”
“I’ve been modeling makeup.” I coughed out the word, and he had to ask me to repeat it twice.
“In the loosest sense of the word.”
“And why can’t you tell your dad?”
“I could’ve at first. But I didn’t. And now it’s like I’ve been lying to him. He’ll wonder why. He’ll think it’s a bigger deal than it is. He’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end.”
“Have you?”
I laughed.
“I want to see.”
“See what?”
“You at work.”
I thought about it. Showing the disembodied Braden might not be so bad . . . but . . . the real Braden . . . “No, I can’t, it’s too weird. It feels so outside of myself when I do that. And then when I see myself I feel like I’m looking at someone who isn’t even me. It’s like the anti-me. Almost as if I have two lives.”
“Sometimes I feel like that.”
“This life, our fence life. And then our day life.”
“I know what you mean.”
“Why do we do that? Why do we pretend during the day that this doesn’t happen?” Our backs must’ve been perfectly aligned against the fence tonight because I could feel his voice vibrating through the board between us.
I thought about his question, wondered why I couldn’t talk about this during the day with him. “Because this is like a dream. It doesn’t have to be real. It almost feels like we’re floating just outside of consciousness and we can say whatever we want, and in the morning, like with dreams, it just slowly melts away. It’s like you’re up in your bed sleeping and I’m in mine and our subconscious minds are talking.”
“And the daytime me . . . the conscious one . . . you don’t like that version?”
“What? No. Of course not. I love that version. That’s my Braden. I don’t want to lose that to this sniveling version of myself.”
“There’s nothing at all sniveling about you, Charles.”
“But your subconscious knows I’m weaker out here at night, because you started calling me that.”
“Charles. That’s the name you called me when we were little.”
“No, if you remember right, that’s the name I called you when we talked more. We used to talk more.”
I could usually picture Braden’s expressions in my mind when we talked like this, but right now I couldn’t. His voice sounded even, almost expressionless, so I couldn’t tell how he felt about what he’d just said.
“I know. What happened?”
“You grew up, and then Gage would look at me funny when I would search you out or when we’d join him after having been alone together. I felt like his looks were his way of saying ‘It’s time to distance yourself from my sister.’”
“Really?” This was news to me.
“I think he didn’t quite trust me. He thought I had ulterior motives.” Again, his expressionless voice was leaving me blind to how he felt about all this.
And did you? I wanted to ask. But that question wouldn’t come out. There was too much to lose with that question. “He trusts you. You’re like our brother.”
“But you’re their sister.”
“And yours.”
“You’re not my sister, Charlie. And they know that. They are very protective of you. More than you could possibly know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” It sounded so cryptic.
“You said this is our alternate reality, right? Where we can say anything?”
I was wary. “Yes.”
“I need to tell you something. . . . I think it might help. . . .” He stopped. “But I need to come over there to do it.” Without waiting for my reply, he had hopped the fence and his disembodied voice stood above me, very much bodied. Now I understood why his voice had sounded emotionless—because his eyes had claimed all the emotion. They were so intense that my heart leaped in my chest.
I stood and backed up against the fence. “Wow, you should be a high jumper. Did you ever try that at school?” If I just pretended like this was normal maybe my heart would stop trying to escape. I didn’t want things to change. I didn’t want him to tell me whatever had him standing in front of me with fire in his eyes. He was my friend. My best friend, I realized. There was too much to lose.
“No. I didn’t.”
“You should, with hops like that. That fence is, what, eight feet high, and I’m sure you didn’t leap off the ground or anything but—”
“Did you put one foot on the fence or did you rely on your hands to help you over? Because—”
“Please, Charlie, I can’t keep this inside me any longer. You need to know.”
“Stop. I don’t want to know.” I pushed my palms to my eyes. Too many unfamiliar things were happening to me lately, and I didn’t need him to add to it.
He grabbed my wrists, taking my hands away from my eyes. “Don’t hide from this. You already know. You have to know.”
“I don’t.”
“Think, Charlie.”
He dropped my wrists, and I was so nervous that I needed something to hang on to. I pressed both hands against his chest. I could feel his pecs through the thin fabric, his heart beating wildly.
“You know.” It wasn’t a question.
“I think, but I don’t want to.” I didn’t want to lose him as a friend. Not now, when I needed him the most. I didn’t know how I felt right now about anything. I knew I wasn’t completely myself. I felt off. And that wasn’t fair to him. Now wasn’t the time to try to figure out how I felt about him, when I didn’t even know how I felt about me.
“It’s time. You’re older now. It can only help things. They don’t think it’s a good idea, but you’re strong, I know you can handle it.”
Now I was confused. “Who doesn’t think it’s a good idea?”
“Your brothers.”
“It’s none of their business.”
“Of course it is.”
“They can’t tell you to stop having feelings for me.”
He froze mid-nod. “What?” A ripple of confusion ran down his face, and then a light of understanding. He took a step back, my hands slipping from his chest. “I . . . no. That’s not what this is about. Is that what you thought I was trying to tell you?” He put a hand to his forehead. “Man, I’m sorry. No, this is about something completely different. . . .”
I squeezed my eyes shut and wiped my hands on my thighs. “I’m such an idiot.” With an uncomfortable laugh I said, “Good thing this took place in our dream world so that tomorrow won’t be incredibly awkward.” I sidestepped around him and headed for the house.
“No, wait, Charlie, please.”
I lifted my hand in a silent good-bye without turning around, then let the door shut behind me. Of course Braden didn’t like me like that. I was his buddy, his pal, his sister. A burly girl who played sports. The only way a guy would ever like me was with a thick layer of makeup. Not that it mattered. I didn’t like him like that either. Well, maybe I had for a second, but he’d just made those feelings easier to resist.
Chapter 21
The next day, and the day after that, Braden didn’t come by the house. It was the longest he’d ever stayed away. Quite obviously he was avoiding me. It was fine with me because I was avoiding him, too. I felt like the biggest idiot. I thought that feeling might go away after a few days. But if anything, the more time passed, the stupider I felt. What had he wanted to tell me that night anyway? Why hadn’t I forced him to talk about it? Maybe because I didn’t want to know. It seemed serious. What if he had talked his mom into leaving his dad and now he was leaving with her? I didn’t like that thought. I didn’t want Braden leaving. No. That was selfish. If it meant he’d be happier, then of course he needed to go. The thought made my heart twist.
I tried to solve the tension by running more, sometimes even twice a day. It felt good to open my lungs and let my legs work out the energy bouncing through my body. On the fourth day after The Talk of Shame, I walked into the kitchen after a long run and saw Braden and Gage sitting at the bar.
“Hey, losers.” I could pretend nothing happened. It had been a fence chat, after all. I grabbed a cold water bottle from the fridge and took several large gulps.
“Braden and I were just discussing the fact that Amendola was picked up by the Patriots. I think it means they are the strongest team in the league because of the quarterback–wide receiver duo. It will be like Montana and Rice all over again. But Braden thinks the Rodgers–Cobb duo is still the strongest. Break the tie.”
“Neither. Broncos have Manning. End of story.”
“One person does not make a team.”
“It does if it’s Manning.”
“Manning is overrated,” Gage said.
I splashed some of my water at Gage. “You’re overrated.” Braden smiled and relief rushed through me. I just wanted things to be normal again. None of this awkward I-jumped-to-stupid-conclusions business. No more thinking about what else he might’ve wanted to tell me.
“What’s wrong?” Gage asked.
“Didn’t you already run once today?” He tilted his head as if he were confused about that, when my cell phone, which was charging on the counter, jumped with an incoming call. Before I could grab it, Gage swiped it up and answered.
“Hello?” A small pause. “What do you mean ‘Who’s this?’”
I took a sip of water and rolled my eyes. Anybody calling on my cell phone had dealt with my brother before. They’d know he was a jokester.
“Who are you?” Gage asked.
I lifted my toe to stretch my calf when Gage said, “Evan who?” I stopped suddenly, my heart giving an unexpected flip. Oh. Except Evan. He wouldn’t know. I held out my hand for the phone.
“I guess that depends,” Gage said into the phone, not making even the slightest motion that he intended to give it to me.
“I’m going to murder you, Gage. Give me my phone.”
He listened, then stood when he saw me coming around the island to retrieve the phone from him by force. As I passed Braden, about to catch Gage, Braden grabbed me around the waist and held me tight. Because he was sitting down, his face was level with my neck.
“Traitor,” I said, smacking him on the head a few times and then struggling to get free. “I hope my stink from running is burning your nostrils right now.”
He pressed his nose to my neck and took a big whiff. “Smells like sunshine and rainbows.”
I stopped moving as a chill went down my entire body, and forced myself not to shiver with it. Once in control, I grabbed a handful of his hair to pull him away from me, but froze when Gage started talking again.
“And how do you know Charlie?” He gave me a weird look. “A café? Are you sure you have the right Charlie?”
“Gage Joseph Reynolds. I am going to call every girl in your contacts tonight and tell them you are gay.” I shoved Braden away from me and he finally let go.
Gage laughed. “Oh, you know what, Charlie just walked in. Here she is.”
I punched Gage in the stomach and took two deep breaths. “Hello.”
“Hi, Charlie. It’s Evan.”
A smile took over my face. “Oh. Hi, Evan. How are you?”
“Who was that?”
“My brother. He’s a little slow but we love him anyway.”
“Hey,” Gage yelled. “I’m the smartest one in this house.”
I could hear the smile in Evan’s voice when he said, “He was obviously trying to irritate you.”
“Isn’t that what big brothers do?”
“I wouldn’t know, I only have one sister and she’s five years older than me.”
“Ah, well, take my word for it.”
He laughed. “So, I was just wondering if you still wanted to go to a baseball game with me, because my dad said we could use his tickets for this Saturday.”
“This Saturday!” I realized I had yelled in my excitement, so I cleared my throat and tried to calm my voice. “For sure. I’m in.”