Chapter 11: The Aftermath
I could see vague traces of smoke from the roach flicked not too far away as we both finished in what felt like record time. It wasn’t the kind of moment where we took it all in. Instead, it had to end before somebody stumbled upon us, or heard our silenced moans echoing through the brush. I rolled off of her, quickly taking the condom off of my penis and throwing it into the greenery of the woods, an action that I didn’t even want to think about. Garbage was popping up everywhere; one used contraceptive didn’t seem to matter much in the grand scheme of things.
She pulled her skirt back up as both of us tried to remember what composure was, before standing and catching our breaths. She leaned in and kissed me, while buttoning up her blouse. I zipped my fly up and leaned against the same tree, a new version of my potential self. I had been reborn in an abrupt fashion, no longer indefinitely lost in a lack of progress. We had been through more than just the motions, and yet there were still so many other insignificant happenings popping up all around us. We once again had to pretend like nothing mattered and that the woods were just another excuse to get away from so many temporary annoyances. I wanted all of them to know. I figured they would find out eventually, possibly from her or potentially figuring it out through the awkwardness, both of us not knowing how exactly to act, and yet still being reasonably transparent.
“Well uh… I don’t know what to say.”
“Good. We shouldn’t talk about this. Not right now. People have probably noticed we’re gone.”
“Ya think? I mean, everyone’s well on their way to passing out.”
“Still, we better get back.”
“So, I’ll go first, you wait about a minute or so and then walk back inside.”
“Okay uh… Don’t tell anybody.”
“Who am I gonna tell?”
“I don’t know. Your cousin.”
“We’re not like that. I mean, that’s something girls do.”
“Yeah, sure it is” She walked out of the woods as I continued to lean against the same misguided tree. I was still catching my breath, trying to come to some sort of understanding. I still wasn’t sure where it was going, and yet knew that we weren’t well on our way to writing each other out of our lives. It had become common practice at that point, as I slowly began to hide away from phone calls and known social events. The weeks after Muriel’s party left me with no motivation to even attempt to be alive and communicable, and now I didn’t want to go back to any of them. I was waiting for the open door or closed window; one of those metaphors was on the verge of making sense.
I felt somewhat sober as I walked back towards the calm. The house seemed dead, the back porch empty, sharing that trait with the keg. The kitchen was the same way, bottles with vague traces of shots left in them, lonely crushed cans lining the counter. I stepped into the living room to find Alanna sitting on the couch with Amanda, the rest of the lucrative party guests having vacated the premises the second it all felt reasonably dry. I casually sat down on the couch next to her, not letting any of my actions lead into any kind of inclination that we had enjoyed the time alone.
“Well what the hell happened to everybody?”
“I was just asking the exact same thing,” Alanna said, cracking her knuckles.
“They all left around the same time. I was in the bathroom, and then I came back out here, and nobody was being social.” Amanda explained.
“Are there a lot of people upstairs?”
“A few. Joel and Ronna, Tracy and Craig, and I think Everett’s probably still up there.”
“He didn’t come back down?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well shit… He’s probably crying or something.”
“Well, you have that effect on people.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Alanna sighed, looking beyond tired. I was ready to retreat back to the solemn comfort of the Brinker basement, sleep off the impending hangover and once again start fresh the next day, the both of us avoiding one another at breakfast, the wedding and finally getting hammered enough to discuss the future at the wedding. It felt like a legitimate path to take. I just wasn’t sure if any of my hypothetical thoughts would flesh out in any sense. Needless to say, that particular Saturday would be hectic, and yet at that point, I didn’t realize how understandably gigantic it would all be in the grand scheme of things.
“So can we get out of here maybe?”
“I’m not sober enough to drive.”
“I am.” Amanda said.
“Well who’d you come here with?”
“Ronna and Tracy, but both of them are probably getting laid as we speak, so I can just drive your car back to my apartment, and then you can probably take it from there, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Alright, well that sounds like a plan then.” I said, standing up from the couch.
“We need to get Kieran and Harriet.”
“Well, they’re probably still in the basement.”
“Go get them.”
“I don’t wanna do that.”
“Well, I was gonna go say goodbye to Everett.”
“He’s probably passed out by now, plus isn’t he going to the wedding tomorrow?” Amanda replied, following my lead and arising from the couch.
“I don’t think so. Not now.”
“Well, I’ll go get your cousins.”
“Cool, thanks Amanda.”
“No problem, but I’m not really gonna enjoy interrupting them.”
“Sure you won’t.” I said sarcastically as Amanda walked out of the room. I looked down at Alanna, taking her hand and helping her to her feet. We both stood silent for a few moments, before our eyes once again met.
“So, we didn’t really need to rush anything.”
“Shut-up. We’re not talking about it.”
“Fine, sorry. I guess I’ll just pretend like nothing happened.”
“Listen Noah, it’s not you, it’s just fucking everything else right now, and well… I need sleep, ya know, just some good old fashion R and R in my own bed, and then we’ll figure out the rest of our lives tomorrow, okay?”
“You are great, though. Just so ya know.”
“Yeah, ditto.” She smiled, as I once again couldn’t resist her illustrious lure. We were both still spinning from the five minutes previous, our bodies daringly linked together. I kissed her, as she attempted to resist, only to quickly reiterate the previous message of “fuck it” in the back of her head. It was bad timing, though; Everett drunkenly wandering down the stairs and focusing his blurred vision in perfect synchronicity to us pulling away from each other. We both turned and gave him a typical deer-in-headlights look. It was a shattering display of affection, the last of which ever mattered to anyone in the Hutchinson household. He was too drunk to be speechless and yet the words weren’t coming in logical order. Instead, he decided to simply stumble into the living room, beginning to pick up leftover trash staining the carpet and making life just that much worse.
“Well this was probably the worst fucking party ever.” We both stood there, silently watching him walk back and forth, somewhat in awe at the lack of substantial emotion coming forth.
“Everett, listen, it’s…”
“Don’t explain. I don’t care. I uh… I’m too drunk to care, kind of like last night almost. Man, maybe it’s gonna be like this for the rest of my life. Anyways, you two have fun at the wedding tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.” He stepped out of the living room with two handfuls of garbage. We could hear the subtle slam of the back kitchen door as both of us exhaled large breaths.
“Fuck… What the fuck is happening?”
“I’m sorry. I guess I shouldn’t have…”
“No, it’s not you. It’s never you, ya know?” The cousins interrupted us, Amanda trailing behind Kieran and Harriet, both drunkenly holding hands with larger than life smirks on their faces.
“Well this was a great party.” Harriet said.
“Definitely was.” Kieran reiterated the fact. We were quickly back outside at that moment, Alanna handing Amanda her keys and sitting down in the front seat. I regretfully sat in the back with a barrage of youthful looks and words, which only made me feel older than I actually was. Amanda drove to her apartment without much hesitation. I caught Alanna’s reflection in the rearview, her head leaning against her right hand and the window, being more contemplative than the both of us.
I didn’t see any of the night’s events as something she should regret, or even be slightly depressed about. The Everett situation was a mess most of which was brought on by her own personal lack of tact, and yet I also knew that it was always a complicated path, leaving all of it behind. He would later hang up the phone and repeat the clearest of messages: there was nothing left to say, or left unsaid. They had torn each other apart and briefly been the only explanation as to why the world was such a way. Alanna wouldn’t ever need to remind herself of what Everett meant to her.
It was as clear as day, and at that very moment, no longer much of anything. We could all say that sex somewhat ruins friendships, as it more than likely always gets in the way, and yet there wasn’t any other trails to walk or ways to view the pragmatic distances we all placed at arm’s length. Instead, it would always be more so tied down to the long and silent drives back to familiarity.
Amanda said a few words while parked in her apartment driveway before stepping out of the car and walking inside. Alanna rubbed her eyes before stationing her hands on the wheel, and waiting for me to buckle up in the front passenger’s side seat. She pretended like she was focusing on the road as each turn took us a little farther away from everything she knew. It hurt to look at her in such a melancholy state, especially knowing that I was somewhat responsible. This particular feeling was brand new to me, for I had never been the one to rip two people apart or end lifelong friendships. I was so used to viewing the status quo and myself as less than circumstantial. I was of little to no significance for the former part of my life up until that point, and yet as we slowly returned to our tiny outpost to which the rest of the world passively waited for our eventual decision, I saw my place. For once I was something bigger, someone unexplainably present for the parts that were discussed later.
She couldn’t look at me as we walked through the Brinker driveway, into the house and off to our own separate corners once in the foyer. The living room had died down, Joy sitting silently asleep on the couch with the TV on. It reminded me so much of home, and yet at the same time brought on diminishing feelings about such a subject. I didn’t feel at peace much of anywhere, and although there was a barrage of newly articulated emotions every five seconds or so with Alanna, there was still an underlying sense that back home would never be the same. I had grown up and out of my parents’ treaded discourse, their lack of emotions, and any real memories traced back to the medium-sized enclosed spaces from my youth. My bedroom walls felt like they were deteriorating away along with my own will to sit silently surrounded by them.
Kieran and I walked back down into the basement, numerous obvious questions present in both our heads. I sat down on the futon next to him, and began to mindlessly flip through the channels; sipping a small glass of water and waiting patiently for the spin to slowly wear off. I wanted to simply close my eyes and discuss problematic choices with Alanna the next morning, just as she had intended.
“So are you gonna say anything?”
“Like what Kieran?”
“I don’t know. I mean, do you wanna know what happened Harriet and I?”
“Not really. I mean, I’m sure I can fill in the majority of the blanks myself.”
“Well what do you think happened?”
“The two of you made-out for a prolonged period of time.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong.”
“What, did you get a handjob or something out of the deal?
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Well congratulations.” I said, drunk and less than enthusiastic.
“Man, you really don’t care, do you?”
“It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I find it more than a little troublesome. I mean, the fact that I know my sixteen-year-old cousin got head from my soon-to-be brother-in-law’s fifteen-year-old cousin; it’s something I didn’t think I’d have to think about.”
“Well, that’s what people do Noah.”
“Yeah, I know. I just… Well, ya know, I wish I were put in the same position that you were put in tonight when I was your age. I mean, I think if I would’ve gotten some substantial action from sixteen to eighteen, well then possibly my entire life would be in a different place. I can see myself majoring in business or some shit, ya know?
“Well, why would you have majored in business?”
“Because then I wouldn’t have had to write about the truly ungratifyingly difficult process of going through high school a virgin. I mean, I could’ve been a contender.”
“You’re still pretty drunk, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, more or less. I don’t know how Alanna drove us back.”
“Well, she probably didn’t drink as much as us.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So what’s the deal there?’
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because then it makes us girls.”
“No it doesn’t. Guys talk about getting ass all the time, and we’re cousins, I mean, this should be normal for us. If we lived closer to each other we’d do this all the time.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes, I do actually.”
“Well, she told me not to tell anybody.”
“Really, Alanna did?”
“Well, who else are you gonna tell?”
“Nobody, but she figured I’d tell you.”
“Well that’s because I’m an obvious choice, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. Okay, uh… I had sex with her, in the woods, and it was pretty crazy, but I’m not gonna get into the details with you. I’m far too tired and judging from the grin that’s already popping up on your face, I’m thinking she was right. I probably shouldn’t have told you anything at all.”
“I’m not gonna make a big deal out of it. I mean, that’s awesome, but it’s really none of my business.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It isn’t.”
“Of course, tomorrow the two of you are gonna be like brother and sister.”
“Actually not really Kieran.”
“Alright, whatever you say.” We both got quiet after that, flipping through, and watching bits and pieces of movies both of us had seen a thousand times over, before we each decided it’d be easier just to fall asleep and pray to some overweight drunken hangover God that he simply passed us by in the middle of the night. I lied awake for awhile, starring up at the ceiling and thinking about how increasingly weird everything had gotten. Part of me thought about how much easier it would’ve been if I didn’t simply fall for her in the first thirty seconds or so of conversation. I sort of wished I wasn’t such a predictable person. It was almost as if I saw it all happening at the inclination of Alanna at dinner. Her father shouted about how indecisive she was, and I instantly latched on to such an idea, like it was divine intervention. The idea of Alanna Brinker managed to get to me from the start.
Then I slowly saw myself getting pulled in, with no potential exit strategy. It was a war I had to fight, but not so much for myself or some grand cause. It felt more so purposeful out of habit, or the fact that I didn’t have much of anything better to do. I wondered if she was sleeping or doing the same thing I was doing. I thought about the slow creep up both flights of stairs and possibly knocking on her door, and yet knew it would only cause more problems. She wanted the comfort of sleep, and yet such a wakeless ritual didn’t necessarily mean that both of us would forget. Shutting our eyes would slowly start to become more and more difficult as time passed, the seasons changing to dim black. I saw it all coming crashing down and yet it didn’t take nearly as long for me to simply pass out and ignore all the inclinations. It wasn’t as if most things were impossible. Not anymore. Not ever again after that night.
Kieran shook me in the morning. It was around ten, both of us having a solid four hours of standing around in tuxes before the sequential list events at hand. I felt the slightest of headaches, most likely an offshoot of dehydration from the shots and cheap beer. I could have gotten over it quickly, if I had simply had more time to lie around and prolong the inevitable. Nobody was waiting around, though, as after a quick cold shower, all the hot water having been tied up by the rest of the family, I walked upstairs into the madness.
Ken and Colleen both paced around the kitchen on cellphones, trying to coordinate plans from family and caterers. My father sat at the table, eating breakfast with my uncle, both bullshitting about the previous night at the bar. We could hear the rumble of the women upstairs, searching for necessary traces of borrowed and blue. Violet was the calmest of all of them, sitting dazed on the living room couch, in her turquoise dress and pearls, waiting for another trip and another question of the location. My cousin and I sat down at the table, each of us grabbing donuts from the open white box, and stuffing our faces. The frantic Brinkers soon walked out of the kitchen, into separate rooms, spouting off obscenities over their phones.
“So how was you guys’ night last night?” Neil said, taking a sip of his black coffee.
“Oh, it was alright” Kieran replied.
“So what time do we have to be at the church?” I asked.”
“Around noon, to get ready and talk to the priest, ya know, there’s a bunch of bullshit we have to go over.” My father said, wiping his mustache with a napkin and standing up from the table.
“So I guess we have to get ready soon then, huh?” Kieran asked.
“Yeah, pretty soon, I think.”
“Well, alright.” My uncle stood up from the table and followed my father out of the room. Kieran and I sat silently for a few, not knowing what to say, what the typical protocol was. We weren’t a part of any wedding parties, simply knowing that those who were would have to remember to drag us along for all the festivities. We were chained by our obvious lack of motivation.
Alanna and Harriet were downstairs with Jeannie closely behind them; all somewhat overwhelmed by the eager shrill from up above, my mother and sister going back and forth, Fiona and Sue attempting to be mediators. Brian slept at the best man’s house, letting all his nerves slowly fade away with the jitters. From that point on and for the rest of his life, he didn’t have much of anything to worry about, and I felt somewhat envious of him. Maybe it was easier to simply settle with somebody who didn’t necessarily push all the right buttons. Brian and Gail weren’t in love so much as they needed to eventually title their new wave happiness. Even the eventual rules of the suburbs, (having kids, buying the two stories with enough room for each disheveled and highly confused family member to eventually avoid one another) wouldn’t necessarily even come close to the seemingly improbable future that I had been contemplatively dwelling on since the first few looks from Alanna that Thursday.
In any case, I wasn’t necessarily against so many preposterous inclinations that would later surface and resurface with her. In that way it seemed to be more real than the majority of the half-hearted attempts we knew and bore witness to every single day. I silently took a sip of orange juice and tried not to look right at her. Kieran and Harriet weren’t seasoned pros in the least bit, going right for one another, Jeannie suddenly becoming well aware of their traded looks and drawing misconstrued conclusions from that point on.
“So how was that party last nights guys?”
“Uh, it was fun” Kieran replied.
“Yeah, definitely a good time.” Harriet said, nodding her head.
“Well, cool.” Jeannie stood up and poured herself a cup of coffee, as I couldn’t help myself. I gave her a look, to which she subtly gave me a smirk back. It all of a sudden felt like there was no longer a set path to walk, a way to act or think about acting when around her. I was ready to simply give in and wait for the pieces to fall one way or the other.
“So what was going on upstairs?” I asked her.
“Oh, not too much. Your sister’s just freaking out, but I think that’s normal, right?”
“Yeah, I’d so.”
We finished our boxed breakfasts before once again migrating to our separate corners. Kieran and I were dressed and ready in the basement before anyone else; both sitting uncomfortably on the futon with tucked-in shirts and ties that cut off just the right amount of circulation to the rest our heads. Neil came walking downstairs after about fifteen minutes or so, spruced up and in the same bored state. He sat down next to us and waited for the call from up above. They were all taking longer than necessary.
Then suddenly it all came together in a quick succession. Neil, Kieran, Sue and Jeannie were quickly out the door, following Ken, Colleen and Gail to the church. My mother was taking longer than usual, as I sat in the living room with Violet and my father; both of us reliably annoyed in a way we were more than used to at that point. Fiona and Harriet came walking down after a few minutes or so, waiting on Alanna. Fred sent me up to check on Joy, a task I wasn’t in the least bit happy about. I took my time with each step, knowing that my mother wouldn’t be close to ready.
I stepped into the hallway at the same moment Alanna walked out of her bedroom in the baby blue bridesmaid dress. It looked pretty hideous, an attribute present in all such dresses. Gail had to pick something to make her look better. In that way, weddings for the most part seemed like collapsing vanity projects. They were the last few moments for any woman to shine before the eventual offsets of pregnancy sunk in, followed by mass amounts of hormones and then lonely housewife syndrome. Going back to work wouldn’t necessarily remedy such a contagious disease as all the surrounding white-picket-fenced houses already had clinically desperate patients occupying black leather couches and flipping through the soaps.
I tried not to laugh at how ridiculous she looked, and yet couldn’t help myself. It was so very much out of character.
“I’m sorry. I just… Well I didn’t think it would look that bad.”
“Whatever, you’re a guy. You’re supposed to say I look beautiful no matter what.”
“Is that how it works?”
“I think so.”
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“Whatever. It’s not like we’re in the least bit typical.”
“Definitely not.” I leaned against the right side of the wall as she did the same on the left. We were far from pacing and yet so very close to simply saying, “fuck the wedding, there are so many other things happening elsewhere”.
“So where’s my mother?” I asked.
“Still getting ready in the bathroom.”
“Oh. Well are you gonna leave now?”
“I have to lock the door.”
“Oh shit… That’s right. Well, at least now you understand what it’s like.”
“Yeah, sort of. Did your dad send you up here to yell?”
“Yeah, he did.”
“Well then you’re right. I do get it.”
“So um… I was thinking and uh… I know this probably isn’t the best of times to tell you, but I figure now will be good just because you’ll have some time to think about it.”
“I’m going to leave tomorrow.”
“Leave and go where?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere different. I mean, it’s been a weird weekend and well… I think it’s time I just got away, even if it’s only for a little while, ya know?”
“Yeah, well does anyone else know about this?”
“No. I sort of came up with it last night, while I was lying awake.”
“Oh, okay.” I said, pretending as if I didn’t have anything else to bring up. We were similar insomniacs, stuck without much of a choice. Sleepless nights felt about as reliable as we did about one another.
“But um… Do you wanna come with me?”
“You don’t know where you’re going.”
“Yeah, that’s the whole point Noah.”
“Um… I don’t know. I mean… You’re right, it’s something I’m gonna have to think about.”
“Well, yeah, I know. So think about it, and I’ll see ya at the church.” She leaned in and quickly kissed me, pulling away just in time to make the most substantial of lasting impressions. I took a breath and sighed, not knowing where any of my thoughts or emotions were going. It felt so familiar. Joy walked out of the bathroom soon after that, nearly ready to leave. I waited; letting only one possible thought continually spin around in my head.
I then followed my mother downstairs as the remaining wedding guests all walked out the door. I sat in the back next to Violet, starring out the window and watching every one of Alanna’s graceful steps as if they were eventual time bombs. She backed out of the driveway as Fred followed closely behind her, letting a few annoyed comments slip out under his breath. I leaned my hand against the window and tried desperately not to think about the possibilities. It was no longer a simple part of my last weekend of freedom. Instead, now it was all a complicated endeavor that I saw no plausible answer to.
Violet rummaged through her purse, eventually pulling out a lone cigarette and lighting it without much cause for concern. She had refrained from smoking in the car up to that point, a message clearly reiterated several times over by Fred, and yet as we rounded silent corners amongst petty bickering from the front seat, no such warnings seemed to matter that much anymore. I almost felt the exact same as I did on the ride to Chicago, the son stuck in the back amongst childproof locks and the highly senile. It would be the last ride of its kind, all of the lawn flamingos and spouting sprinkler systems whimsically waving good-bye to the old as we passed them on our way to the church. I had almost forgotten what it meant to put any faith in much of anything. The wedding would last longer than a lifetime.