Chapter 6: The Late Breakfast
I was awake to the sound of cooking and misguided conversation, my head spinning in all the normal directions. It was close to a hangover, without being painful enough to take me completely over the edge. My stomach felt fine with the exception of the butterflies, our kiss a lingering memory that would only make the strenuous events of the day all the more unbearable. I rolled over and looked at my cellphone sitting on the oak dresser. It was almost noon, all of the upstairs voices most likely hypothesizing where our night went.
If they only really knew, it would tear them up inside and we would instantly be star-crossed lovers, sent to opposite sides of the country to make new friends and figure our lives out away from one another. Then in a lightening storm of epiphanies one of us would one day decide that it was worth it, taking the time and effort to find the other one. I saw myself as the one getting in the car, the highly idealistic, somewhat disheveled hero, making the trip with one-dimensional thoughts centered on love and pure sexual intrigue. She would be surprised to see me, and it would carry on for some time after that. I needed to build up Alanna like an intricate pyramid of jolted looks and words left unsaid. She would work out much better in that sense.
Muriel fit into the same dilapidated view for a time, the two of us seeing each other every day for weeks, only to later have it feel like a coke addiction when I told her the truth. It took her some time to simply deal with my infatuation, hers becoming somewhat blurry as time and drugs sank in. She needed the comfort of a reassuring voice such as myself, always around to stare mindlessly and pretend like I wasn’t looking at all. It helped remind her how beautiful she was at that very instant. I couldn’t become Alanna dependable observer, though. I needed to pretend that the kiss was our dirty little secret. No one else needed to know about it. I wasn’t yet ready for the mess of her life intertwining with the mess of mine.
While all my stories were about distant figures who had somehow become vaguely attached before ripping apart every colorful spectrum and letting it simply lie there for awhile, barely breathing, absent of all temporary vices associated with living, there was still an underlying sense that these were intricacies that she would eventually care about, and potentially become a part of. I wasn’t burying time capsules with Alanna, saying that one day seven years from now we’ll meet somewhere we’ve both only been to once with shovels, and unbury our moments spent together, searching for answers in the vastness of the wedding party.
Instead I was already coming up with explanations for why I had to stay, why we had to get out together and find some untimely hole to crawl into, why all the others could easily consider Alanna my downfall, and me hers. They would have problems distinguishing between love and lust, thoughts of the future and what we were all planning on doing once the bouquet made its untimely descent into the hands of all those drunken family members. They wouldn’t see any of it coming.
I grabbed some clothes out of my suitcase and walked over to the small bathroom in the corner of the basement. It was mostly there for drunken party guests, all of them being told to throw up downstairs. It was easier that way. The shower barely woke me up, as I was still dreaming of the previous night’s excursions. Although it didn’t seem in the least bit courteous, masturbation logically felt like the only way I was going to be able to handle Alanna that day. I had been pent up, stuck in the car the previous afternoon; mediocre thoughts about Muriel and our lack of true feelings still having somewhat of an effect on my own descending sexual prowess. I felt past my prime, all of my future children eventually turning into residue inevitably taking the long descent down the drain.
It took longer than I thought, as I first tried to think of a barrage of celebrities on covers, that eventually taking the downward spiral into people I knew, illustrious girls from high school and college, all somewhat more useful as mere dirty thoughts rather than fully fleshed out beings. It wasn’t about conversation, but rather just a way to allow myself to deal. It was so much easier to be a woman in that sense. They didn’t have to get off every five seconds as a subtle reassurance that they were still breathing. Men on the other hand would become mush in their presence if they hadn’t gone there in awhile. It was a ritual I wasn’t necessarily proud of, but at the same time couldn’t argue with myself about it being wrong. After all, I had a long day ahead of me.
I dressed and took the deepest of breaths before walking upstairs. The kitchen was full of lingering smoke and odd cooking smells, Colleen stationed at the stove, flipping pancakes and watching bacon grease fly out of the skillet and onto the burners. Gail and Brian sat next to each other like salt and pepper shakers, eating already. Joy and Fred were at opposite ends, doing the same. Alanna was nowhere in sight, most likely still sleeping off the last few shots, and rolling around trying to come up with some temporary solution to the Everett problem, which wasn’t too far off. Ken had work, a fact that allowed me to sit down without any second thoughts or feelings of youthful inadequacy.
“Good morning everybody.”
“Good morning honey. Did you have fun last night?” Joy said, as she took a sip of her tea. My mother was an addict. She needed a cup every three hours or so in order to simply maintain her loose sense of composure.
“Alanna’s still in bed, huh?” Gail asked.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“That’s normal for her. She’ll be up around two, complaining about how hungry she is.” Colleen fixed me a plate without even having to ask, setting it down on the table in front of me, without much hesitation.
“Don’t mention it.” She quickly returned to her post, allowing all of us the time to wonder who would eat all of the remaining food.
“So what is it we’re all doing today?” I took large bites of the pancakes, letting all the surrounding syrup drown away my supposed sorrows from the social aspects of the previous nights. I was in a new kind of spirit, looking forward to the inevitable bullshit, as it seemed like the best of ways to bring the two of us even closer together. I was wandering down foreign paths, alone, without many regrets.
“Well, somebody has to go pick up your Uncle Neal and them.” Fred said as if he was instantly claiming the “not it” position.
“What time does their flight get in?” Brian asked.
“Around six, I think.” Joy replied
“Well that’s just perfect. Fiona and Harriet get in right around that time too.” Colleen said as she placed a plate of toast on the table, all of well on our way to being completely full.
“Who’s gonna go pick them up, though? We have the rehearsal dinner at seven mom.”
“Uh well… Alanna will probably do it.”
“I guess I can pick up Neal.” Fred said taking a sip of his coffee. I saw instantly an opportunity presenting itself.
“I can do it.”
“I can take your car and pick them up, then the two of you can just go to the rehearsal dinner with these guys, and we’ll meet you there.”
“You sure you don’t mind Noah?” Gail said, somewhat suspicious of my newfound charitableness.
“No… I mean, it’ll be easier for everybody else this way.”
“Well okay then, I guess that’ll work.” Fred said reasonably relieved.
“You can just follow Alanna up there. She knows where she’s going.” Brian said.
“Speaking of Alanna, maybe somebody should go wake her up. I mean, we all have a lot to do today.” Colleen was starting to round up the troops, all of us somewhat restless over the idea of going to war.
“I can do it.” My affinity to instantly volunteer any time her name was mentioned was starting to give away my position. I wasn’t sure what they were all thinking as the night had been one to remember, and above all else talk about, some of them wishing they were there, others simply looking for fruitful details. We weren’t spilling any dirt.
“You’re eating Noah.” Gail said.
“Yeah, but I’m pretty much eating by myself. I’ll go wake her up.”
“Okay…” She stared at me somewhat confused. Had I become a completely different person within the constraints of one night’s events, or was I slowly growing into the person I was meant to be? Lovesick and at their beckoning call anytime she became something other than a thought.
“Wake up your grandmother while you’re up there. I didn’t check on her this morning.” Fred said, making it more than apparent that he was neglecting his duties as the responsible one. It was already too much of a task, having to think about the speech and walking down the aisle for the second and last time.
I was out of the kitchen and up the stairs faster than expected, knocking on Alanna’s door and patiently waiting for some sign of life. She opened it looking like a mess in her pajamas, hair all over the place, her breath still smelling of cheap beer and somewhat reckless tendencies. I enjoyed seeing Alanna out of her element, the morning after, without any real orientation as to what exactly had happened. I was sure that she remembered the kiss, our parting on the simplest of terms, one of us walking up the other down, but before that it could have been all over the place. Our conversations were meaningful, as were the events that followed. Yet after such a long night, the morning always seemed like the time to let things simply lie around for awhile.
“Uh hey… I mean, good morning. They sent me up here to wake you up. Actually I volunteered, but uh… yeah, so you’re up now, I guess.”
“Yeah, I’m up now Noah. So what’s going on?”
“Uh well… Very little. We have to drive to the airport today.”
“Are you fucking serious?”
“Yeah, apparently you have to pick up your aunt and I have to pick up my uncle.”
“Well isn’t that convenient?”
“Yeah, I guess you could call it that.”
“So uh… Is that it?”
“I guess. I mean, there’s breakfast downstairs.”
“There’s always breakfast downstairs when we have company Noah. I mean, Colleen loves being hospitable.”
“Yeah, I sort of figured.”
“Okay, well you’re sort of creeping me out right now.”
“Sorry. I don’t mean to. I mean, I just came up here to wake you up.”
“Well, good job. Thank you.”
“No problem.” She went back into her room, shutting the door behind her. I stood in the hallway, leaning against the opposite wall, dwelling on what I had and hadn’t said. Violet walked out of her room seconds later, somewhat lost, starring around at fixtures and family portraits.
“Where am I?”
“It’s the Brinker’s house. Gail’s getting married tomorrow grandma.”
“Oh yeah… Well who were you just talking to?”
“Alanna. She lives her.”
“Oh, okay. Is she your girlfriend?”
“No. We’re just… Breakfast is downstairs grandma.”
“Okay.” She walked past me without a second thought to any of her questions. I stood outside her door for longer than I should have, before eventually deciding that the morning after a long night of binge drinking probably wasn’t going to be lined with any underlying sexual connotations. They would most likely come later, and in distorted mass quantity.
I sat back down at the table; my half-finished plate carrying with it illusions to the new version of me. I wasn’t my normal self anymore, and it had become apparent as I tried to hide all my smirks and subtleties. I would get better at it as the day passed, my lack of motivation to be anything other than a mere speck on the wall, taking over in full force. She joined us five minutes after I sat down, Violet wandering in closely behind her. Conversation became dry as Gail and Brian excused themselves, claiming to have “wedding things” to do. I knew that the majority of all their affairs were in order, and that all of us were simply waiting for the supposed big deal to be over with. The continuation of all our lives hung in the balance, as the long stretch of the afternoon would begin to sink in.
Following our late breakfast, she showered and I played pinball contently. Joy helped Colleen clean up the kitchen, while my father assumed his typical living room position, flipping through the channels and scratching various body parts. I began to home in my skills on the machine, very rarely allowing for the ball to sink past the last two lonely flippers. I listened to Perfect from Now On on my headphones and let time slowly pass me by. She stepped down into our the basement, dressed in blue jeans and a yellow Elvis Costello T-shirt, most likely bought at some online thrift store, all the ads claiming that hip vintage looks are the way to go. It fit her nicely, as I took my headphones off and began to dwell on previous questions still floating around in the back of my head.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Nothing… I see that everyone’s kind of doing their own thing.”
“Well, it’s a big enough house for that.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So how far away is the airport from here?” I was beginning to lose concentration on the game, letting all the buzzers and bumpers slowly fade with my former infatuations and harsh personality. She had to notice the difference, even after one night; it was beyond apparent to the both of us.
“It’s like a half hour drive.”
“So why did you volunteer to pick up your Uncle’s family?”
“I didn’t volunteer. I was sort of forced into it.”
“I doubt that. Your parents don’t seem like the type Noah.”
“Well they’re forcing me to go to this wedding.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.”
“Uh huh…” My last ball fell past the bumpers. I turned to her, our eyes meeting with large sparks flying off in the background. Each moment seemed like it was bigger than the both of us. I couldn’t simply blame it all on circumstantial events or the fact that I was slowly sinking off the wagon. There was more to it. We all had our reasons for walking up and down creaky staircases.
“So maybe we should talk about a few things.”
“Like last night. I uh… Well I shouldn’t have kissed you, because well… I don’t wanna lead you on Noah, and you’re only here for the weekend and then we’ll probably only see each other at weird holiday gatherings where both of us are still trying to figure our lives out and uh… Well I’m just sorry I did it.”
“Whatever. It’s cool. I mean, it’s not like I’m diving too deep into it or anything.”
“Really? Is that the truth?” She seemed to be beyond inquisitive and slightly offended even. I was placing my bets on all the right numbers, letting her decide whether or not she felt like spinning the wheel. Our entire hypothetical existence as something other than forced proprietors and lonesome strangers, who loathed the majority of the wedding party, was a gamble, and I couldn’t allow myself to falter in any sense. She had kissed me and saw it as a mistake or at least some sort of variation of a mistake where she felt as if she had to talk to me about it.
I would have to let it lie there for awhile, sopping up the minutes and seconds like all the spilled alcohol that would be wasted that weekend. I didn’t want her to see it that way. It was a profound connection and at least somewhat purposeful. She hadn’t made any dire mistakes at least in my field of vision. Everett would just have to understand, which was somewhat of a difficult task for anyone who had put the time in.
“Yeah, I’d say it is. I mean, it’s just something that happened, and uh… Well you were obviously feeling a little strange with the whole Everett thing, and you kissed me. No big deal.”
“Okay, well then I guess everything’s cool.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” I hit the start button again as the numbers began to roll back to zero. I had no intention of continuing to listen or allowing her the time to reconsider. She needed to know the truth, but not right then. It didn’t make sense to say everything when we were both lying around being lazy with nothing better to do. It never worked that way, even with Muriel it was at the worst of possible times, and yet still somehow strangely perfect. Drunk at a party, alone, away from all of our friends’ eyes, I just said it out of the blue. She sort of hated me for it, as I ruined her night, and yet we all knew that nights were meant to be ruined friends and potential lovers. That’s the whole point of the entire human condition. We only learn after we fuck up everyone else’s clear and concise vision of the morning after.
At that point, Alanna had already turned my supposed troublesome weekend, centered on family and free trips to the bar, into something bigger than the both of us, but it needed time to truly set in, like any stiff drink, we couldn’t allow ourselves to be taken over by it. There were so many other priorities, other trips to take into the cold and bitter unknown. We would adjust our bicycle seats and looks for dirt roads with no warning signs that weekend. Our disheveled senses of direction would fit together and allow us a long enough duration of time to decide for ourselves, whether or not that particular path was worth it. I knew it was before she even decided we needed to talk.
“Well, I’m gonna go back upstairs, probably read a bit, and then we can go to the airport.”
“Yeah, alright, but uh… What time is Everett’s party tonight?”
“I’m not sure. I was probably gonna head over around ten or so.”
“Alright, well that works.”
“Yeah… But uh, it’s probably gonna be just as weird as last night.”
“Well yeah, but there are gonna be more people there tonight, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose. I mean, your cousins are coming in, right?”
“Yeah, they are.”
“And so are mine, which means they’ll probably be with us.”
“Alright, well enjoy the game Noah.”
“Oh don’t worry. I will.” She walked back up the stairs as I had instantly lost the affinity to continue watching balls bounce off of red and black walls. I needed a more worthwhile activity, and yet upstairs only meant more complications. I began to flip through several dozens of channels, not finding anything to settle on. Anything I hadn’t seen was already halfway through, only making it all the more difficult to catch up with, and the things I had seen were lacking the appeal they once had. I began to doze off, letting other purposes take me over. Joy woke me up on her way out. Her, Fred, Violet and Colleen were meeting Ken at work, before checking on the flowers, the cake, and eventually meeting us at the hotel banquet hall for the rehearsal dinner.
It was almost four at that point, my afternoon seeming like a fleeting thought, and one that I would never truly think about again. It was troublesome knowing that certain days would feel that way. A waste of time was a concept that continually popped up over and over again with each thought. I had wasted time in all aspects of my life. High school was spent starring and thinking rather than acting. Those crushes would stay with me, although I would eventually learn to give them up and consider it all a part of being young. We all thought we were falling in love with the beautiful ones, or the strangely and slightly messed up ones, who would only give us the time of day when they weren’t being gawked at.
College in general seemed like the biggest waste of all, as I instantly felt like I should have been off finding myself in other bright locations, rather than taking the time to think about human existence and the fleeting concept of knowledge. I hadn’t learned anything other than the fact that certain persons should simply be sent off to an island somewhere. Once there their actions could be considered normal. The drunken screaming, the hook-ups, the violence, and the turmoil associated with the morning after all easily understood.
Then there was the future. A cold office and my parents on my case every single day for no reason other than the fact that they wanted me to stare off into a direction that offered with it more answers, rather than floating thoughts of women and moderate success in some literary dictionary that we would all browse through, looking for definitions and eventually coming up short when we all realized that it wasn’t in the least bit worth it, trying to understand the context. Some words were simply better left undefined.
As the door shut, I waited for footsteps. They came quicker than I expected; her afternoon being as misguided as mine. The two of us still had time to kill and a dusty attic reminding us why we were those specifics. She put on Between the Buttons and rolled another absent-minded device on the sleeve. I let things sink in, lying on my back, inches away from Shep, watching the rafters like a Saturday morning cartoon.
“So do you think your uncle and them are gonna notice you’re ripped when we get to the airport?”
“My parents can’t tell the difference, why would they?”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Since when did you become the person to ask questions like that anyway?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s easier to ask stupid obvious questions rather than dwell on what I’m really thinking.”
“What are you really thinking?”
“My life is such a fucking mess.”
“Oh. Well, mine too.”
“Yeah, but you haven’t been in it for nearly as long as I have. I mean, I saw myself in a completely different place a year ago.”
“You don’t care, do you?”
“Not really. I mean, I sort of just wanna sit here and not think about bigger things, if that’s cool?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I mean, well… Actually, I’m sorry. You smoked me up. If you wanna talk about all the things you’re thinking about then I’m listening.” I sat up from the floor and gave her another look. It didn’t feel nearly as piercing as the other ones. It was like the looks with Muriel. Both of us knew they would never completely mean everything, but we enjoyed them nonetheless, just because it was better to know that such looks existed.
“No, it’s okay. You’re right. We shouldn’t talk about all of this stuff.”
“Well okay then.” We were quiet for awhile, listening to noises off in the background, and waiting for each individual tick of the clock. I didn’t know where to take the silence. It was always difficult, pretending like there was nothing to say. Side A ended, as we decided it would be easier just to leave and wait in the airport, rather than listen to the lesser known hits on Side B. It was strange thinking about artists spending the majority of their time on A sides, but for the most part it was what they did.
The majority of my vinyl collection only appealed to the shortest side of my attention span. Occasionally I would revel in the fact that I was flipping the record over, but usually I consciously decided to just pick out another A side. They felt better most of the time, as it was always a fresh start. The latter end of the record would only make the most devout of listeners somewhat depressed as the last scratched bleep rang true. We didn’t know where to go after that.
I followed her down the stairs and out the door, grabbing the keys to my father’s car off of the kitchen table and walking outside. She was three steps behind, making sure to take all the itineraries and directions with her. I leaned against the door, starring across the street at a few neighborhood kids running around in circles, screaming at each other. If it was a game, everybody was ill informed on the rules. In that sense, it looked like everything else I knew and was used to. Every attempt at making things permanent would only later become fully fleshed out into a game of cat and mouse around the suburban homestead. We knew all the hiding spots and where to run to, and yet there was still the underlying sense that something important was missing.
“So are you ready?” Alanna locked the door to her parents’ house and walked over to her car.
“Uh yeah, I am. I mean, I’m just following you out there, right?”
“Well yeah, I mean… You’ve been following me all weekend, why would this trip be any different Everett?”
“I don’t know Alanna.” I stepped into the car, and adjusted the seat. She backed out first, as I once again, carefully fell into place behind her. The roads were unfamiliar and each blinking light felt like a warning to simply turn off somewhere and say everything. Instead I did exactly what I was supposed to do. We would arrive at the airport early, all of the planes never allowing themselves to get caught up in fleeting thoughts of time. People would only pretend like they minded waiting.