Story About People, Part II
Author’s note: To save you any confusion reading this I should mention that Stephanie’s side of the story takes place a few months after Jackie’s. It may not be especially creative, but including this note here is the easiest way to communicate that without changing too much.
Stephanie dreams about the park she used to hang out at as a kid. She lived in a small town by the ocean, always went to this dumpy little park right by the water. There’s a fence that used to separate the grassy field from the open ocean, but now enough holes have been torn in it that it only serves to make the landscape uglier. Stephanie doesn’t mind, though. This is all she knows. Beyond the beat up old fence lie several large slabs of concrete, torn apart by some forgotten storm. They range in size from fragments an eight year-old girl could lift to twenty-foot pieces of rubble sticking halfway out of the water. Collectively, they form a small landmass, extending the land’s reach a bit farther through the wounds of an old battle. There’s enough space to comfortably sit about a dozen people on this concrete island, but there are never that many people here at a time. People come out here to be alone. It happens to be close to Stephanie’s house, so she can come here when her parents won’t stop screaming at each other. Steph wakes up already walking, walking through the grass, the fence, the concrete island. She finds the exact spot where she always used to sit, sits down. She stares out at the ocean and thinks that it looks a lot dirtier than she remembered it. It is dirtier than she remembered it, but not dirtier than it was when she saw it. Stephanie’s sister Jenn walks up behind her. A little shorter, a little older, a little bit of a bitch. She’s the last person Stephanie wants to see right now.
Jennifer sits down next to Stephanie. Steph looks at Jenn. Jenn looks at Steph. After a few seconds they both turn to face the ocean. Neither says a word, so they just sit there wondering what the other is thinking. After a few minutes Steph makes up her mind. She knows what she wants to say. That Jennifer was never there for her when she needed her the most. That she left Stephanie to fend for herself, ran off to college when their parents were at their worst, and had the gall to act like Steph is the shitty one for running away too. She turns to face Jennifer, but the words don’t come out because Jenn’s disappeared. Stephanie looks back out at the water for a while, then wakes up.
I’ve been having trouble keeping track of the days lately. My work schedule used to keep me at least somewhat tethered to Earth, but now I work the same shift every single day. No matter what’s going on in the world, I can always rely on McDonald’s needing me from six to two. PM to AM, that is. I think today is Tuesday. I’m laying in someone else’s bed right now. Oh, yeah, Amber. I should get out of here. Where are my clothes? Shit, can’t move. Too hungover. I’m looking around and only getting more dizzy. I put my head back down and wait for life to get a little easier.
I wake up for the second time today. A little less groggy than before, I can finally feel my body again, but all I can think about is how little I wanna feel my body right now. Drag myself out of bed, flop onto the floor. Amber groans. So do I. I pull my pants up laying on the ground. Reach for my shirt, and pull it over my head. Grab her bed frame and pull myself to my feet. Almost there. Pat my pockets, got my wallet, got my phone, no clue where my keys are. I look around the room, kinda dizzy, but they’re not in here. Oh, shit. Now I remember. I run outside, but I can only run for a second before I’m panting and dragging my limp body out the door. I see my car parked in her driveway. Okay, not so bad. Walk over to the door. Unlocked, that figures. The key is still in the ignition. Battery’s dead. Shit. Can’t get out of here yet, have to wait for her to wake up and pray to God she’s got jumper cables. Even if she does, I’ve still gotta get a new battery, and I could barely afford the nine-dollar vodka I brought here last night. This is bad. Getting worse. I vomit in Amber’s lawn and stumble back into bed. She asks me where I went. “Just getting some air.” Amber turns away from me, grabs the wastebasket next to her bed, and spews cheap liquor with yesterday’s lunch. “You good?” “Yeah,” she says, “I’m good.”
We lie in bed for a little while longer, then Amber jolts up. She’s frantic. “What time is it?” Shit. I check my phone. “It’s a little past eleven,” I tell her. “SHIT!” She jumps out of bed, stumbles for a second, and runs into her bathroom to puke. Then she turns on the shower and yells that she’s gotta be at work ten minutes ago. Says I can find my way out. I holler back that my battery’s dead, she says she’s got jumpers in her car, to go find her keys and use them. So I look around for her keys, and of course I take the opportunity to snoop while I’m at it. She’s got a diary under some books on her nightstand. Flip to the last page, June 22. She hasn’t written anything in months. “Yeah, same,” I mumble. Seems like last June she was actually doing pretty well. Starting to heal from the last guy who fucked her over, promising to write more over the coming year. No more one night stands, no more drinking her life away, no more guys like me. You can guess how that turned out.
She’s got a lot of knick-knacks on her desk. Her walls are a pale purple, and most of the furniture is white or an almost olive green. A small wooden mushroom, a seashell, a broken necklace pendant. It’s a flat wooden circle. A smiley face broken in half that she decided to keep. I wonder who gave it to her. Oh, yeah, the keys. I leave the room, look around her kitchen, her living room, her foyer. Don’t see anything right away, so I give up looking. I’ve got a funny feeling about this. I walk outside, go to her car. It’s a white Kia Optima. The door’s unlocked. Oh god. Keys in the ignition, of course they would be. She seemed a little drunk already when I got here last night. Hell, so was I. I say fuck it, might as well try. Whaddya know, her battery’s not dead. I may make it out of here yet. I find her jumper cables in the trunk, hook it all up, and jump start my car. Turn hers off, put everything back, and leave the keys on her nightstand. It’s the least I could do. Really, it’s the bare minimum. I don’t have much more than that in me though, so I wobble off in my soon-to-be-wrecked car and make my way home.
Stephanie checks her phone. 5:29 in the morning. Jackson got off work an hour and a half ago. She’s got a few missed calls from him. Some texts asking her where she’s at, if she’s okay, a joke about 4:20, and a text reassuring her that he got a ride from a coworker. At least he’s alright, she thinks. He’s always alright. With or without me. With or without anyone. Stephanie starts her car and drives home. She walks up the stairs to her second floor apartment and opens the door. Jackson’s not here. He went somewhere else tonight. Probably with some other woman. Might be that one girl he works with, Kacey. She’s a slut. Stephanie knows that’s probably not true, but it feels better to think about it that way. It’s not like her and Jackie are together anyway. Even if they do spend a lot of time together. Steph walks to her room, sits down on her bed, and imagines Jackie is laying next to her. Then she imagines him laying next to Kacey, naked, holding her and telling her all kinds of lovely dirty things. She gets up and paces around, walks to the kitchen and does the dishes. She’s restless. Isaac comes out of his room, asks if she wants to smoke. She always wants to smoke. Stephanie follows to his room and they get high enough to deal with being alive. Isaac’s a nice guy. They talk about Jackson, about dreams, about themselves. Isaac confesses he’s always had a thing for her. He tries to play it off like it’s a slip of his intoxicated mind, but he’s been waiting to say it for a while. Stephanie’s known for as long as she’s known him. She doesn’t really mind, but she doesn’t feel the same. She skirts around saying that outright, though. Stephanie thinks about her parents and her sister. She talks about them, too. Isaac gives her some really good advice. Talks about his dead mom. Calls her a loveless bitch, says he spent every day of his childhood wishing she’d get in a car wreck and never come home. Says he really just wanted her to love him. To like him. Hated her ’til the day she killed herself. He says our parents are just people, same as you and I, and that repairing that relationship requires a kid who’s outgrown their parents. He says the best thing Stephanie can do right now is focus on herself, just keep living. Be a grown-up and talk to them, try to be patient.
Everything Isaac tells her makes a lot of sense, but it also makes her incredibly sad. Stephanie can’t stand herself. She can’t stand being alone. She definitely can’t stand being awake anymore tonight, and she says all of that out loud. Isaac says yeah, same. The two look at each other and don’t have to say what comes next. Stephanie keeps most of her clothes on, but she doesn’t sleep in her own bed that night.
I live in a house with two bedrooms and two other people. I pay rent too, but a little less than they do because I sleep on the couch. I live with the twins, Ana and Mary. We went to college together, before I dropped out. They love me, and I do love them, but they love me a little more than I love them. I guess more truthfully I’d say I like them, not the other L-word. Ana told me she loved me the second week after we met. Mary said it a few days after that. I don’t know how to react to stuff like that, so ever since then I just reply, “Love you too,” while I try to ignore the awkward truth stabbing me from the inside of my throat.
Ana and Mary are good people. I really do like them. I think I might even love them by now if they hadn’t made everything so weird four years ago. Regardless of the words we use to describe our relationship, they really are some of my closest friends. Some of my only friends left at this point. Most of the people I didn’t push away are drinking or smoking themselves to death now. Not that I’m any different, but I like to preserve the illusion that I’m a functioning member of society in public. Ana and Mary find me too drunk or high to move at least a couple times a week. They know who I am. I sleep in their beds a lot. Usually it’s because my normal bed is on the couch and my depressed ass lives out of bed. I spend entire days in bed, but their TVis in front of the couch, so one of them will tell me to go crash in theirs so they can watch Euphoria or whatever. So I drag myself over to Ana or Mary’s bed and fall asleep there. Everywhere I’ve ever gone, I’ve felt like a burden. Like I’m taking up space that doesn’t belong to me. But even when I reiterate time and time again through my actions that I have nothing to give — that there’s nothing I can do for the twins but take from them — they’ve always had a place for me. I really do care about them. Ana and Mary are twins, but they’re like sisters to me.
Ana is a painter. She paints huge canvases with all these striking, blending colors. They’re horrific and beautiful, and even though they don’t resemble any people or objects that exist in this world, she draws upon something heartbreaking and hopeful and true in all her work. It’s very abstract, but her paintings are deeply moving to me. They don’t sell very well, though, so Ana also works at the Dillard’s at the mall. Mary is a writer. She writes tales of normal people in incredible situations. Think Lord of the Rings mixed with Clerks. Everything she writes is of such grand scale and importance, but her characters are so human and relatable that even stories that take place a million light years from Earth still hit close to home. She’s self-published six books in the last three years. Collectively, they sold a little over 400 copies. Mary works at the Macy’s at the mall. Sometimes the two of them will fill in for each other at work, clocking in and working shifts with no one batting an eye. It’s not like it’s a big deal to them either. “Hey, Mary, if I keep working all day I think I can finish this piece today.” “Do you want me t-” “YES, thank you for taking my shift today, they need me from twelve to close, can you do it?” “Lauren just cancelled on me again, I’m free all day.” “Another Tinder girl?” “Yeah, another Tinder girl.” They’re both incredibly talented artists, and I have nothing but respect for both of them. They’re also some of the kindest people I’ve met, although they have plenty of stories to share about the years before they learned how to be good people. Men and women they’ve screwed over and lied to, unnecessary acts of malice that make you ask “Why? Why would you do that?” To which one will frankly respond, “Because I wanted to.”