Subtext. What do you think?
Note: For those of you who have been asking about Journals, it's in progress, and will be out.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Thank you to some very observant readers who noticed my mistakes before I really got going. : )
July 1992 Tucson, Arizona
"I can't, Dag. I just can't." I cried, hanging on to the side of the pool with everything I had in me. The overhead sun was hot, and it made me sweat underneath my orange floats around my biceps.
"Of course you can, Chase. Come on. Swim to me." I wanted to cry, but didn't dare; not in front of my fourteen year old babysitter. She was new this summer, our first year together. Dagny was everything to me, my friend, my hero. She was so pretty and fun. I didn't want her to think I was a baby.
"Please, can we just get out now?" I clung a little tighter to the side, glancing around until I saw the ladder just five feet away. I could try for it. Dagny would get mad, though. I don't want her mad at me.
"We'll get out soon, hon. You said you wanted to learn to swim. What happened to that?" I looked at my babysitter again. She stood in the middle of the pool, her short blonde hair slicked back from face, green eyes looking concerned. I looked at the part of her that was out of the water. Would I ever look like that? She wore a green bathing suit. My mom said she was going to be short when she grew up, but I didn't care. She was perfect. She knew so much about everything, and knew so many games and fun things to do. My best friend Carrie wished she had Dagny as a babysitter, too.
"I do." I pouted. I did want to swim, and didn't want to disappoint her, or make her sad at me. I didn't know what to do. "But I can't, Dagny. I just can't." Dagny swam over to me, standing right in front of me, but bending down to look me in the eye. She brushed some hair off my face. She said once that my hair was the darkest hair she had ever seen. That made me happy.
"Honey, you never fail if you quit. But then you never win, either." She smiled at me, and I smiled, too. She had such a nice smile.
"Okay." Her smile grew bigger as she backed away from me again. I can do this, I have to. I never want to let Dagny down. My mommy gets mad at me all the time because she says I don't try for her.
I turned so I was facing the rest of the pool, taking a deep breath. I let go of the side with one hand, but wasn't ready to let go with both hands yet. Dagny smiled wider, giving me encouragement.
"Come on, Chase. You can do it, I know you can." I nodded, not feeling at all as confident in my own ability as my babysitter did. I let go with the other hand, immediately wanting to panic as I felt my body drop in the water a little bit, the water clear up to my chin.
"Oh, no! Dagny!" I really began to panic as I felt one of the floaties on my arm sliding down, my body lowering with it. "Help!" Water was going everywhere, up my nose, in my mouth and eyes. I wanted to cry, and felt my eyes stinging with tears and water. I felt strong arms wrap around me, bringing me up to the surface again and to the wall.
"Shh, it's okay. I've got you." I cried, burying my head against her chest, so angry with myself. I didn't know how to express it to Dagny, so worried she wouldn't like me anymore and would stop being my babysitter.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, honest."
"I know, Chase.
It's okay. Try again another time."
Present day, University of Arizona
"Yes, mom my room is fine. No, haven't met my roommate yet. Don't really want to, either. Why couldn't I just get a single? I know, I know. Yeah, see you guys next weekend. I love you, too. Bye." I pushed end on the phone and plopped down on the narrow mattress.
I had been in the dorm for an hour and already my mom was trickling into my college life. She had called me on this cell phone nearly every five minutes on the drive here, which wouldn't be bad except it's only just over a half an hour drive. Personally I thought she kept calling to make sure I was actually going to the university and not pull off on some side road to join the local circus.
I thought about going to school out of state, but didn't really want to be here in the first place, so didn't want to waste anymore of my parent's money than I had to. I was lucky enough to have folks in a position where they could help me as it was.
I was a bit of a black sheep in my family. My older sister, Carla, the apple of my father's eye, was going to the University of California at Berkley to follow in his footsteps and get her medical degree, my father, a pediatrician and my mother an administrator at my old high school. The Marin's were quite educated, and happy to be so. But not me. Chase Marin was known as the "lacking" one in the family. I love my family, don't get me wrong. I just didn't like the way they felt a need to push me in directions I really didn't want to go in.
Hell, I'd make them happy and go to college.
I grabbed the largest of my two suitcases and tossed it onto the bed. Looking around, I saw that both of us, my roommate and I, had one dresser each, and a tiny closet at the foot of our beds. Good thing I packed light. As I re-folded a shirt, the small phone rang out to the tune of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'. My mother had bought the phone for me, which I had been happy about, but now it felt like more of a leash than a device for added freedom.
"Hey, babe. What's up?"
"Hey, Mike." I sat on the bed, a small smile coming to my face at the familiar voice of my boyfriend. We'd been dating semi-serious for nearly a year, and my parent's thought he was the greatest thing since Swiss cheese as he was already a student at UA, and they figured he'd be a good influence on me. If only they knew he was nearly on academic probation. "I'm just unpacking." I dropped the shirt to my lap as I sat down on the bed.
"Hey, want to go out for something to eat? I've arranged a party later tonight to celebrate."
"Sure. Celebrate what?"
"Great. Sure, count me in."
"So who did you get as a roomy?" I could hear the smile in his voice, and could imagine the smirk on his face.
"Hell if I know. She hasn't bothered to get here yet. She can stay lost for all I care. God, I don't want to be here." I flopped back, staring up at the ceiling, dirty marks around where posters used to be. I wondered what they had been of.
"I know. Your folks are happy and won't give you shit, so suck it up."
"Yeah, thanks. You're no help whatsoever."
"I do my best. I gotta run, just wanted to see if you got here since you called and everything."
"Sorry. I forgot." I rolled my eyes.
"See ya." I ended the call, turned the phone off. I didn't want to be found, just wanted to crawl into bed and sulk all alone. I glanced toward the door, spotted my guitar case standing against the wall. Without a moments hesitation, I got up and grabbed it. Melo, my trusty acoustic in hand, I sat on the floor, positioned my fingers, and began to play, softly humming along.
As night fell, I finished putting the last of my clothes away, slamming the dresser drawer closed with my hip and heading to the mirror on the back of the door to the room. Mike would be there soon, so I figured I should start getting ready to go. My hair, that I had let grow out since I chopped it last summer completely freaking out my parents in doing so, was now to just below my shoulders. I gathered it up in my hand and tied it back into a ponytail. I stared at my face, my eyes reflecting back at me. Mike loved my eyes, saying they were an awesome shade of blue. I didn't mind them. The only one in my family to have such light eyes, everyone else having hazel or brown. I swear my mom and the milk man have some serious explaining to do. She says no, but who knows.
I decided to change out of my grubby, comfy jeans and put on a pair of cargo shorts and tank. It was still ridiculously hot out, and I was anxiously waiting for fall and winter to take some of the heat away. Slipping my tennis shoes on, I was ready to go.
I reached for the doorknob only to have my hand nearly whacked off by the door itself. Stunned, I took a step back, cradling my hand against my chest. A head appeared around the door, eyes wide as saucers.
"Oh my goodness! Did I hurt you?"
"Well, I think it still works." I wiggled my fingers around, moving my hand up and down at the wrist. "Who the hell are you?"
"Oh," the girl stepped into the room, her hand to her mouth. "You mustn't say things like that."
"Like what?" I put my hands on my hips, ready to pounce.
"Hell is a place, not a word to be thrown around." You've got to be kidding me. The girl pushed the door open fully, standing there with a large duffel bag and two suitcases. She wore a dress, sleeveless, hanging on her stick-thin body ending just above her ankles. A large silver cross was hanging from a chain just above her breasts. "Hello." She smiled. "My name is Natalie."
"Um, hi, Natalie. Chase." I extended my left hand, not wanting to chance her doing any more damage to the other one.
"Oh, you're a southpaw just like me." She smiled, her brown eyes twinkling. I looked down at my hand, wondering what the hell she was talking about. She wiggled her left hand for me and I smiled.
"Uh, sure." So was Hitler. "Look, I gotta get going. My stuff's all unpacked, so anything left is yours to take."
Okay. Thank you, Chase. That's very nice of you." She smiled again, the biggest damn smile I'd ever seen. What was this girl on?
I closed my eyes as the satisfying taste of the Mich as it slid down my throat.
"Ahhh. Oh, that's good." I smiled at the bottle in my hand, denied for nearly two weeks as my parent's had taken me on a short vacation just before school, watching my every move and consumption.
About ten people had shown up so far at Mike's apartment that he shared with his friend Mario. They had a party every semester to get things going, and it was just a matter of time before everyone else showed up. That's how we has met, I had come to the party last year with my friend Carrie. She knew a friend of a friend of a friend of Mike's, and had introduced us. Carrie sat next to me, her eyes closed as she exhaled, a puff of white smoke escaping her mouth. She smiled and looked at me, extending her hand to me. I took the small white roach and took a drag. I cringed as the harsh smoke burned my lungs and throat, couching slightly. I rarely did pot, but felt the need to tonight. I handed the joint to Mike and leaned back in my chair.
"How do you feel?" she asked, bringing up her hand to the girl next to her, running her fingers through her hair.
"Okay, I guess. That shit tastes funny tonight, though." I glanced at Mario who had just taken a drag. "They better not have put anything in it." Carrie shrugged, her short red hair falling into her face.
"Who knows. Right now I don't really give a fuck." She reached over to the girl who's hair she'd been playing with, and grabbed her, bringing her face to her own, their kiss large and sloppy.
The party had been going on for quite a bit before I got there. I had promised myself I would try to bring my partying to a decent level, nearly getting kicked out of high school my senior year for going to school drunk too many times. I had been so ashamed at the look of disappointment on my mom's face. She had handled it well, taking me to my Saturday school class every time, not letting the lectures get too out of hand. They had done so much for me my entire life the least I could do was keep my promise.
"Here." I looked at Mike who was handing me the joint. I took it, stared down at it, then shook my head, handing it to Carrie when she finally finished her impromptu make out session.
She smiled at me, happily taking the small joint from my fingers. More people began to show up, the party swinging fully into action. With a smile I downed the rest of my beer, grabbed another, and began to mingle.
Why is it that parents feel the need to tell their children about all the dangers in the world, sickos, zits, periods, how to clean out the fish tank but they never tell you about hangovers? I stumbled up the last set of stairs to find my dorm room, my hand sliding along every wall to help steady myself. I was so glad Mike lived within walking distance of campus. There was no way in hell he could have driven me home and us make it alive. I grinned like an idiot; my mom would have been so proud.
I dug in my pocket for the key to the room, figuring that Natalie was more than likely asleep at, I glanced at my watch then glanced again. Couldn't read it. Hell, who knew what time it was.
After the third try, I managed to get the key in the hole, turned it, falling in with the opening door. The room was dark, smelling of fresh soap and shampoo. I glanced at my roommate's bed just in time to see her on the ground, kneeling beside her bed.
"Amen." She stood, climbed under the sheet, her long nightgown looking terribly warm to sleep in. Within a few moments she was asleep, and I stumbled to my own bed, realizing I hadn't bothered to put any sheets on it before I had left. Shit. Deciding sleep was more important than being appropriate, I plopped down face first, and was out.
* * *
Classes were set to start, and as I rushed around campus to find my first one, I realized this wasn't the auspicious beginning to my year that I'd hoped for. I pulled my backpack on a bit higher as I ran.
Breathless, I leaned against the doorway of Dr. Bordeux's Advanced French class. I had taken French during my entire academic career thus far, falling in love with the language as a young child. This was one of the few things that I really looked forward to at UA.
Everyone was already settled in, some talking to the professor. I tried to sneak in, to no avail.
"Excusez-moi, manque. Est-ce que je puis vous aider?" he looked at me expectantly. His hair, once dark, was beginning to gray, the shirt he wore pressed and starched, slacks impeccable along with newly shined Wingtips.
"Yeah. I belong in this class-"
"En français, s'il vous plaît." He put a hand on his hip, looking at me with disdain.
"Oh, sorry. Of course in French." I cleared my throat, taking a step toward his desk to explain that I did belong in his class and was sorry I was late.
"Je vous laisserai cette fois, mais pas encore. Learn to show up on time."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Bordeux. It won't happen again."
"It better not. Get in here."
I took a seat near the back of the room, my usual place, looked around to see who I was surrounded with, and would be stuck with for the next few months. We had a pretty good mixture of your bookworms, outcasts, etc. I wondered if I'd make any sort of connection with any of these folks. I always did that, no matter where I was. I always wondered what went on inside their heads, what they were thinking and why. What made them tick? Would they like me? Why or why not. Why were they here, for what purpose-
"Listen! Vous devez écouter et cesser de parler." He looked at me. He and I were not going to connect, just had that feeling.
As the class continued, I realized the Bordeux knew his stuff, but took no crap. As long as I paid attention and did my work, we'd be fine. Part of me couldn't keep the slight grin off my face. It felt good to be apart of something again. For so long I had been disjointed, not caring, or caring but about the wrong things. The faces of my three friends flashed before my eyes, their names never forgotten on my tongue. I'll never forget that night, either, the night that really started to wake me up to where I was headed.
Brian, Toni and Heather had all been driving home from Rick's party. I was supposed to go but had come down with the flu. I have never in my life been so happy to be sick, nor will I ever feel so guilty, either. Brian had been driving, his Range Rover heading down the highway at a speed of sixty-two miles per hour, the driver and the other two drunk and high, a water tanker coming the opposite way. The driver couldn't react fast enough to the SUV that had drifted over to his side of the road, the heavy tanker, like a tank, not real maneuverable. There had been nothing he could do.
I had found out about it that night, my mom waking me up to tell me the tragic news. It had taken me so long to get over the loss and the realization that I would have been in that car with them, not one of them surviving. I had been devastated, having grown up with all three, going to preschool together, and then on to elementary, middle and finally high school. Heather was supposed to follow me and Carrie to UA. Not to be.
I made my way to a campus cafeteria, not having to head to my next class until noon. Carrie was supposed to meet me, and I just hoped she could find the place. Often she couldn't find her way out of a paper bag.
"Hey, you." I turned, glad to finally see a familiar face. I wasn't real keen on a bunch of strangers.
"Hey. I was just wondering if you were going to show up."
"Ha ha. Yes, I found it, and yes I'm late. So sue me." Carrie sat in the chair opposite mine, dropping her bag on the table with a thud. "So how are your classes going so far?"
"Well, I've only had one, and so far so good, I guess. It's just going to be a long year. Two hours of Dr. Bordeaux at a time, I may just have to kill myself. You?"
She shrugged, her long earrings making little tink, tink sounds against each other as she moved. "Okay, I guess. I've got some asshole for Bio. But, I guess that's what happens when you're a Freshman. God, I hope I get through the year without fucking killing anyone. Hey, you gonna go to Mike's party tonight?" I shrugged, sitting back in my chair.
"I was just sitting here thinking about Brian and Heather and Toni. So sad, you know? Me and Heather were supposed to be roomies. Instead I got Mother Theresa. Not happy about this."
"Yeah, it's sad. If you're going to be stupid though,"
"Come on, Car." I sat up in my chair, leaning my elbows on the table as I looked deep into my friend's blue eyes.
"Do you really think they thought that party would be their last? I don't know." I sat back with a thud. "I just wonder about all of us sometimes. Is it right?"
"Your mother would absolutely be having an orgasm to hear you talk like this, you know."
"Yeah. I know."
"Come on, Chase, baby. Don't let me down now that we finally have some fucking freedom." She looked at me for a long time. I wasn't sure what she was expecting me to say, so I just shrugged. "Come on. Let's get something to eat. I'm so hungry."
We found a place that sold pizza, and got in line. I leaned back against the railing that separated the lines of the place, my hands dangling on the other side as I looked around.
"So who was the chick from the party?" Carrie shrugged.
"Hell if I know. I don't even know her name now. I think it starts with a D or something. Darla? Doreen? Fuck it. I don't know."
"Is she your newest squeeze?" I grinned.
"Hell no! She was just fun that night, and not even all that fun." She pulled out a small mirror out of her bag, looking at her face. "Shit, my make-up is melting." She pulled out a Kleenex, wiping the heavy eye shadow off before it streamed down, quickly applying new color.
"My god, you're obsessed." I shook my head in wonder.
"Yeah, and?" she put her menagerie of make-up away, and looked at me with a dark red smile.
"How much do you spend a month on that shit?" I waked forward as the line moved, taking my same stance when we stopped. Again she shrugged.
"So what is it this week, Car? Gay, straight? You confuse the crap out of me."
"Yeah. Adam asked the same thing last night. I don't know. I guess it's just whateverI see, whatever gets me going, you know?"
had finished our lunches, and Carrie had to hurry to her next class. With nearly
an hour remaining, I hung out, pulling out a piece of paper deciding to write
a little. No one had ever read any of my poetry, nor heard any of my songs.
I had yet to meet someone that I thought was worthy of that honor. Actually,
I was just chicken. I didn't think anything I did was any good and couldn't
take the criticism for something that had come from the heart.
I hummed out the music as I re-read the lyrics I had written, words about how alone I felt, about how I wondered where exactly I was drifting. How life can make you feel like you're being swallowed up and spit out whole. Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those depressed, let's go jump from a bridge to make a point kind of teens. Nope. Just confused about life.
I glanced at my watch.
"Shit." Well, two teachers would be getting the wrong impression of me today. I hurriedly jammed my notebook and pen into my bag and ran out of the cafeteria, headed for Psych 101.
By the grace of God I managed to make it in the door exactly at 12:00. I may have been out of breath and wanting to faint, but I was there. I found my seat in the back row, glancing around at the handful of students that were already there. It appeared that to be on time in this class was the rarity.
I took out my notebook and continued to work on my song, staring off into space as I heard the tune in my head once more. I could play this one on the piano, or the guitar. I was sure they had a piano here somewhere. Maybe I could coerce my folks to bring up my keyboard when they came up for Parent Weekend that was coming up in a few days. It was pretty big and I wondered if Natalie would mind.
"Hello, everyone. I want you all to close your eyes." My eyes shot up at the sound of the woman's voice. At the front of the room stood a surprisingly young woman. I think I had read a grad student taught this section of Psych. "Come on, don't just look at me like I'm crazy." That got a couple of chuckles, but everyone closed their eyes. I kept one slightly open. Did I know her from somewhere? "Now I want you to imagine that there are no mental hospitals. I want you to conjure up a picture in your head, and imagine that the person you're sitting next to is absolutely crazy, I mean a real loon." She looked around at all of us, arms behind her back, slightly rocking on her heels.
I lowered my chin to the desk so I could get an even better look at her without her seeing me. She had blonde hair, just below her ears, but all one length. She had one side tucked behind her ear revealing a simple gold hoop earring. She wore a light green sleeveless top, her skin tan with arms that looked well toned. Her white slacks were well fitted without being tight. She looked comfortable.
"Okay, now open your eyes. But don't tell me what you saw or thought of. I want you to think of it as I take role. Oh, since we're on the subject of names, I'm Dagny Robertson, you can call me Miss R or Miss Robertson. Up to you. I'm a grad student here to get my masters and doctorate simultaneously in Psychology. Okay," she grabbed a list off the podium and began to call out names. I listened for a second before her voice faded out in my mind, and I began to try and figure out what this feeling of familiarity was. I know I had heard that name before, but for the life of me couldn't remember where.
"Hello? Chase Marin? Earth to Chase?"
My head shot up as did my arm. "Here." She smiled.
"Good to know." She looked at me, her eyes narrowing for a second, cocking her head slightly. It almost looked like she was in the middle of a thought, shrugged, then went on with the list.
Once she finished with role, she walked out from behind the podium and began to walk the aisle, looking at different people as she did, asking them questions about what they thought of and why. "Okay. You all have come up with some pretty good ideas and thoughts about the world of the insane. What you don't know is that about a third of our walking population would be considered mentally ill in some way." She looked at all of us to see what we thought about that. There were murmurs and chuckles quietly throughout the class. "Pretty amazing, isn't it?" The girl next to me raised her hand. "Yes?" she walked toward us.
"So how many of us in here could be considered crazy?" Miss Robertson brought a finger up to her chin, tapping as she lost herself in thought. Suddenly, unexpectedly, she lurched at the girl, hands out wide, eyes open with a scream. "Jesus!" the girl screamed.
"Nope. Just crazy." The TA laughed as she patted the girl's shoulder. "It could be any of us, really." She told the class. I watched her, listened to her talk. I could not shake the feeling of déjà vu I had. It was creepy.
As Dagny continued on, the feeling intensified. What she had to say was very interesting, and she obviously knew her stuff. She was amusing and intelligent. But I still couldn't shake it. She had the slightest bit of an accent, one that I had heard before. Was it Texas? More south?
Finally the class was over, and everyone was getting their things together, including me. I stood, slinging my backpack over my shoulder, headed down the aisle toward the door. The TA stood by the podium talking with students as they passed, or those who stopped to talk with her. I got closer and closer, looking at her without trying to make it obvious. She was talking with another student, but her eyes fixed on me, and she gave me the slightest bit of a nod as I passed. Confused, I headed to my next class.
Mike sat across from me, his hamburger in hand as he chewed some fries. "What's her name?" he mumbled around the food.
"Robertson. Dagny." I said, absently playing with the straw of my Coke.
"So what's the deal?" he swallowed the bite, wiped his mouth with the napkin then took a massive bite from the burger.
"God, that's gross. Your mouth isn't even big enough for that." I watched in amazed disgust. He grinned, mashed food seeping out between his top and bottom teeth. "Yeah, I'm impressed, you pig." I sipped from my drink, my mind still wandering through people I've known and seen. "Just can't figure it out."
"Why don't you ask her?" I shrugged.
"I don't know. Don't want to look stupid, I guess." I sighed. I had been accused of being a dweller before, and I was proving that they were right on now. Finally deciding it didn't matter, I finished my dinner.
"Well, I talked to Doug today, and he wants to hear you sing."
My head shot up, my eyes accusing. "Mike! You promised."
"Come on, Chase. You're so good. Please?" he gave me his puppy dog eyes, which by now he should know did nothing. I sighed.
"You know you want to do it, so why don't you? I'll be there, too." I lowered my eyes, and he lowered his head to try and catch them. "It'll be just me and Doug, honest." I looked at him, sizing him and his sincerity up.
"Fine. But only one song."
"Yes!" he stood, quickly pumping his fist in the air.
"You're embarrassing the shit out of me, Mike." I mumbled, looking at everyone looking at him. He sat in his chair, a childish smile on his face. He ran a hand through his dark hair making the normally unruly look even more unruly. "Get a hair cut."
The garage was small and stuffy, the air hot and heavy. Mike sat with the bassist in their band, Casually In Debt, or CID as it was affectionately known. I stood with the mic in front of me, millions of songs running through my head, trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to sing, Melo in my hand. God, why was I doing this?
"Okay, Chase, any time you're ready." Doug smiled at me, gathering is mid-back length hair to bring it up on the sides in a ponytail at the crown of his head, the hair underneath shaved. I sighed heavily, then took a step toward the mic. I closed my eyes and let the song flow out between my lips.
"Hey, Jude," as the song went on, I felt myself become lighter and lighter, my eyes never opening. I had never really sang for people before, but as the song took hold, my hands strumming along, the nerves died at the tip of my tongue, lost in the words and meaning.
I drug out the last chord, slowly opening my eyes. Doug and Mike sat in their seats, neither moving or saying a word. Finally Doug cleared his throat.
"Wow. Sign on the dotted line." I grinned, my shyness coming back tenfold. "Welcome." He stood, walking over to me. "How do you feel about being our new lead singer?" I looked at him, eyes wide in surprise.
"Wait, I thought I was just coming to audition for backup?" I looked to Mike for guidance.
"Well, initially you were. There's no way I can let you go, though. Shit, no way." The guitarist turned to my boyfriend, a huge smile plastered to his face. He reached up and stroked his goatee, smiling. I smiled back, not sure what to say.
The dorm was quiet, everyone wanting to start the year with good study habits and decent bedtimes. I knew it was a matter of time before that changed, but for the time being, it worked. I put my key into the lock and opened the door. It was only near midnight so Natalie was still awake, studying at her desk. She turned to me with a smile.
"Hello, Chase. Thank goodness you're okay. I was beginning to worry." I smiled as I changed for bed.
"Nope. I'm fine. Just had an audition to go to." My roommate quickly looked away when she realized I was taking my shirt off, her nose buried in her text book.
"Oh? An audition for what?" hearing me slip into bed, she turned to look at me again. I laid on top of the sheet in a tank and pair of boxers.
"For a band. I guess I'm their new singer." I said, bringing my hands up behind my head. I stared at the one single poster I had hung up, a poster I had gotten at a Melissa Etheridge concert last summer. That had been so much fun, and my first taste of the great one.
"Really? You sing?" Natalie turned her chair around to face me fully, her hands clasped in her lap, silver cross catching the light from her desk lamp. "I saw your guitar the other day. You play?"
"Oh, thank you, Lord." She smiled up at the ceiling. I looked up to see what she was looking at; only water stained tile. I looked back at her. "Our bible study group meets every Tuesday night to worship, and we're talking about, see I'm the president of our little group, we're talking about bringing musical guests in to entertain us."
Oh, lord. I saw where this was headed. I steeled myself for the question.
"Would you? I mean, could you sing and play for us, Chase? Please?" she brought her hands up, clasped together as she begged.
"Well, I'm not that good, really," I stuttered.
"Oh, I beg to differ. If you made the lead singer of a band, I bet you're a wonderful singer. And to have your very own musical instrument, that is a gift from God, Chase. Please share it?" I looked at her, her big doe eyes begging me. How could I possibly say no to that?
"Okay. You get me music a head of time so I can lean some, and I'll do it."
"Oh!" Natalie jumped up from her chair, ran over to the bed, nearly throwing herself on me as she gave me a massive hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. Bless you, Chase. That is so nice of you." She stepped away from the bed finally, smiling down on me as if I was a saint myself. "I must go to bed now. Early class." She switched off the desk light, and I scooted down on the bed, fully expecting quiet as we both went to sleep. Not to be.
Natalie grabbed two towels from her little closet, folding them both into perfect padded little squares, placing them just so on the ground, then kneeling down, a knee on both towels. She clasped her hands together, closed her eyes, and began to mumble her prayers. I watched her, absolutely amazed. I thought I heard my name spoken, then she turned to look over her shoulder at me, that huge smile firmly in place before turning back to her bed, elbows resting on her mattress. She mumbled on for a few more minutes before startling me with a loud, "Amen." She climbed into bed, and not another sound was heard out of her.
I re-folded the wash cloth and stuck it on my forehead again. The weather seemed to be getting hotter the closer to fall we got. I didn't understand this for a second.
"Does it need to be sprayed down again?" Carrie asked, the water bottle in hand just in case. She had just finished spraying herself down as we sat on campus under a tree, the only immediate shade we could find. It was way too hot, today's temperatures reaching the one hundred mark, and the dry desert air didn't help.
"Why did my parents feel the need to live in an oven?" I wondered aloud, laying back on the grass, the wet towel cooling off my head. We had our usual break between classes for lunch, and decided to have a picnic.
"So tell me about this TA of yours again. What's the deal with her?" Carrie asked, taking a bite from her taco.
"Well, I don't know. She just really looks familiar. Can't place it. Don't you hate that?" she nodded, wiping some cheese from her lip.
"She cute? I mean you said she's young, right?" she took a drink from her Sprite, wiping her mouth again. "I've never had sex with a teacher-type before." She stared out over campus, the wheels in her mind smoking away.
"That is so wrong." I pushed her shoulder. She smiled and shrugged.
"Hey, if she's cute."
"She is." I readjusted the towel to accommodate a sip from my Gatorade.
"Hey I heard about you and CID. Congrats." My friend smiled one of her huge grins for me. "I'm so happy for you, Chase. You're so good, it's about time you did something with it." She crumbled the trash from her lunch and tossed it into a near-bye trash can before reclining next to me, arms above her head.
"Yeah, well I'm not so sure what I think about it." I sat up, pulling my knees to my chest, wiping my forehead with the towel that was quickly drying.
"You're going to do fine, you know that. There is absolutely nothing that can go wrong. You have to believe that. When is the first gig?" Carrie pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her bag and lit one. I watched, hating when she lit up, but really couldn't say anything. That was one thing I was forever grateful I hadn't started.
"We have a show at some bar called Gotfry's on Friday night." I leaned back against the tree behind me, closing my eyes. The heat was giving me such a headache.
"Wow. That soon. Good for you."
Carrie left to head to class, and I stayed where I was, staring up into the sky. I'd been at UA for just under a week, and so far was enjoying my stay. Part of me felt as if I were in a prison of sorts. My father had given a me a stern lecture the night before I had left that he expected to have two professional daughters. Since the all mighty Carla was already headed for her M.D., that meant I could either follow that path, or go into law, or pick some other thing that I had no interest in. I hated the pressure of successful parents. It wasn't fair. What if I wanted to be a ditch digger? Or just a bum on the street? Neither of these were true, mind you, but what if? I felt I should have that right.
I glanced at my watch and saw it was time to head to Psych.
Everyone seemed to figure out where they were supposed to be at noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The class was a bit smaller than it had been Monday, which was fine as it was a large class. I sat in my same seat, way in the back, notebook already out along with my Psych book.
The song I had started the other day was waiting for me. I hadn't had a chance to work on it since. I looked over the lines, closing my eyes as I sang in the dark cave that was my mind, tapping my fingers on my desk in time. Suddenly I felt someone's presence very near me. Slowly opening my eyes, I looked up at Miss Robertson. I smiled, she smiled back. She was staring at me, her head slightly cocked to the side, and opened her mouth about to speak.
"Miss R? Can you come here for a moment?" her head shot up in the direction of someone sitting near the front, smiled at me again, and walked away. I watched her go, wondering what she had stopped to talk to me about. I couldn't imagine I had already gotten myself in trouble. After speaking with the other student for a moment, she walked up to the podium. Miss R looked good today in a skirt that reached to just below her knee, a dark gray color with a satin maroon top, sleeveless yet again.
"Greetings, everyone. I have some bad news for you all. Today we have a pop quiz." This was followed by the obligatory grumbling and sounds of notebooks and pens and books being taken out of bags or put on the floor. I watched with half-hearted interest. "This quiz will be over what I assigned you to read on Monday. Hopefully you all did." She smiled wickedly and walked to the first row of desks with a stack of paper in her hand. "Put this face down on your desk and don't start until I tell you, please."
I put everything from my desk to the floor except for my pen, watched the TA as she gave the front person in our row enough tests for all of us. She licked her thumb as she tried to separate the pages, then glanced briefly at me before moving on. Within five minutes everyone had a quiz and waited for the word to start.
"Okay, you may begin."
I flipped the page over, afraid of what I'd find as I hadn't bothered to read the assigned pages yet. I drew my brows as I read the questions, chewing on the cap of my Bic. This isn't that bad. I quickly read through the questions, marking answers as I went, stopping to think about one before I circled A and moved on, whizzing through the material, getting lost in it until I reached the end of the sheet. I leaned back in my chair, looking at my handy work. I had no idea I had gotten through the entire 50 question quiz already. I looked around to see heads bowed as my fellow class mates worked. I set my pen down and began to chew on my lip.
The door near the TA's desk opened, and a man walked in. He walked over to Miss Robertson and sat on the edge of the desk, looking rather suave. He was an older man, probably in his mid to upper fifties, hair graying around the sides of his head, skin tan probably from hours of golf. He looked like one of those types. His white dress shirt was unbuttoned just enough to show off the gold chain he wore around his neck, the shirt tucked into khakis.
As I watched, I was completely amused to see this man flirting with our teacher. He didn't even try to hide it. I watched Miss R to see what her reaction to that would be. She was polite, but did not fall for the bait. I was proud for some reason. She handled herself so well as the guy made an ass out of himself.
"Okay, time's up." The TA stood from the desk, walking away from the man to his stunned expression, and walked to the head of the first row. "Please pass your papers up to the front. Thank you." She collected them down the line, smiling at the person who handed her the stack. "Everyone, this is Dr. Sauder. He is the head of the Psychology department." She indicated the man who had stood from her desk. He smiled at everyone.
"Hello, and welcome to Psych 101." Sauder said. "You are very lucky to have Dagny as your teacher. She's wonderful." He smiled at her. Yeah, I bet she is. I rolled my eyes. Finally the old man left and our TA stood in front of the class.
"Okay, folks. Since this is our first quiz, I want to go over these with you. These aren't for a grade." A sigh of relief came from somewhere behind me. I grinned. "Yes, I heard that, so don't panic just yet. I just want to see where you all are at. So, shall we?" she smiled at the class again, she had such a great smile, and looked at a piece of paper she had in her hand. "Let's begin."
The TA began to go over every question, asking different people what they thought the answer should be, or why they choose what they did. I watched her, watched her mannerisms, the way she looked and talked to people. I knew her, I knew the way she worked. But how? It was almost as if from a dream, a person I'd conjured up long ago but couldn't quite figure out where I'd left them. I had the distinct feeling that Dagny played some sort of role in my life. Damnit, who are you?
"Okay, now hang on a second. Don't get frustrated just yet." I looked up to see the TA talking with a girl not far from me. "It's actually less complicated than you're making it out to be, I'm sorry, I haven't yet memorized names."
"Kelly. Think about it for a second. What type of thought process would it be considered if someone were to go into a sudden rage?" Miss R's voice was calm and even, almost comforting.
"This is driving me crazy. I read the text, Miss Robertson, I promise." Miss R smiled.
"I believe you." The girl was quiet for a moment as she thought, you could almost see the wheels turning in her head as she concentrated.
"I can't do this." The girl surprised us all by starting to get really angry at herself. "I'm going to flunk out of this class. I can't. I can't fail, Miss Robertson." The TA bent down over the girl's desk, hands on either side.
"Kelly, you never fail if you quit. But then you never win, either."
I stared, those words reverberating over and over again in my head. I saw the water the pool in our backyard, the orange floats on my armsŠ
"Š"But I can't, Dagny. I just can't." Dagny swam over to me, standing right in front of me, but bending down to look me in the eye. She brushed some hair off my faceŠ
"Honey, you never fail if you quit. But then you never win, either." She smiled at me, and I smiled, too. She had such a nice smile.
"Dag." I muttered, looking at my old babysitter as she moved away from Kelly's desk to talk to another student. Holy shit! How could I have forgotten her? How could I have not recognized her? She had been such a profound influence on me even for the short time she was in my life.
As I looked at her now I could see it all over again, and was shocked that I hadn't picked up on it the moment I saw her. I remembered when she had come by my parent's house to tell me she couldn't baby sit me anymore, that her parents were moving.
"Want to go for a walk, Chase?" she had asked, standing just inside the front door of my house.
"Sure!" I had been so excited. Just me and Dag, even on a day when my parents were home. She had come special to see me.
Dagny had taken my hand and had lead me toward the park that was just across the street and down a bit. She had taken me to the swings, and started to push me in the seat.
"I won't be your babysitter anymore, Chase." She said, her voice sad. I craned my neck around to look at her, dragging the toes of my tennis shoes in the dirt to stop my momentum.
"What/ Why?" Fully stopped, I jumped out of the rubber seat.
"Well, my dad got a new job. We have to go back home to Texas for a little while." She said, sitting in the dirt, not caring if her shorts got dirty. I loved that. I sat with her as we both made patterns with a stick.
"So if it's only for a while, you'll be back, right?" I was filled with so much hope. Maybe I could have her as my babysitter again next summer.
"Well, hon, I just don't know." She ran a hand through my hair, combing it with her fingers.
"I don't want another babysitter!" I jumped up, throwing myself at her, her arms wrapping around my small body. I couldn't keep the tears inside. Dagny rubbed my back, whispering quiet words into my ear.
"Are you okay?" I jerked in my seat, startled. I looked up into those same green eyes of my memory. She smiled as she sat in the empty desk in front of me. I looked around to see that the other people in the class were beginning to filter out. I looked back at my teacher.
"Yeah. I'm fine." I felt really stupid. How long had I been drifting in my own thoughts.
"I wondered where you had disappeared to there for a while." She smiled again. "It's been a long time, Chase. How have you been?" I stared at her, shocked.
"You remember me?"
"Of course. How could I forget Chase Marin?" she put her hand on my arm for a second. "So did you ever learn how to swim?" she smiled again. I shook my head sheepishly.
"No. Never tried again." She leaned back from my desk, hand on her chest.
"After all that time and effort that we put into it that year? Tsk, tsk." She smiled and stood. "Well, I must say I'm shocked and utterly pleased to have you in the class, Chase. It's wonderful to see you again, all grown up." Suddenly I felt very shy.
"Thanks. You, too." With a small chuckle, she walked to her desk.