Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chapter 108: Ian Cannot Account

Sun, December 13, 2074 3:41 pm: Caliente Manor- Middlebourne, Pleasantview

Naomi was wearing her white socks with the lace-frilled bibs. When she kicked her heels against the circular support rod on her stool, the white rustle of her ankles had a vaguely hypnotic effect on Ian. Back and forth. Back and forth. He wanted to make her stop, but he could not come up with a way of asking without seeming like a nutcase.

“Guess what Ashley Hill did at recess last week!” Kick, kick, kick. Laurie straightened up the pantry under the bar.

“I’ve already heard this story,” he said.

“Gosh, I wasn’t talking to you! Anyway, Ian, guess what she did!” Naomi threw her arms high above her head in an awkward show of frustration, landing them sharply at her sides.

Ian had sisters, four of them to be precise, each different to the next. There was chipper Daphne, somber Mona, domineering Madeline and here-take-everything-I-have Adrienne. When on occasion he found himself looking to his own family for clues about how his daughter might someday turn out, he was consistently left stumped. His artsy mother was nothing like her prim daughters who were all of them nothing like his rugged grandmother (now deceased). Ian did not know what life had in store for his daughter—What her best subject at school would be, what she would do for fun, what illnesses, what injuries, whether the boys would like her, whether she would like the boys. However, there was this one thing: He was afraid that Fran would grow-up to be a Caliente woman.

Being a Caliente was a trait that passed matrilineally down the family line and that involved a great deal of fearsome, almost predatory behavior in the inheritor. Key indicators of Calientehood included (though were not limited to) haughtiness, a lust for conflict, stubbornness, a strong intellect (often in spite of the next trait), substance abuse, promiscuity, recklessness, and simple malice. The women of that family were not to be trifled with, right down to the smallest of their number. Ian smiled bashfully.

"I don't know, Naomi. What did she do?" Little Dina-In-Training that she was, Naomi huffed at the question.

“She threw-up all over my backpack!” A brief silence followed this pronouncement. Ian realized that she was seeking advice from him on the matter, already a week old. What would a Caliente do?

“I tell you what,” Ian inclined his head closer to her level. “The next time you’re feeling sick, go find something of hers and just let loose on it.” Here, Ian crossed his eyes and made his most guttural retching noise. Naomi milled this over for an instant then burst into laughter.

Ian caught Laurie’s stare. It was blank, disinterested. His mind had clearly wandered away from the conversation. Then Laurie blinked to life, grabbed an oven mitt from the drawer, and opened the oven door just wide enough to observe its contents.

“Laurie, are they done yet,” Naomi asked, standing on the rungs of her stool and leaning over the bar to get a better look at the oven. Elmira’s cookies were browning pleasantly.

“Not until the buzzer goes off. Why don’t you tell Elmira that she has ten minutes?” Naomi lifted herself off of the stool and raced toward the door. Sticking her head and shoulders into the dining room but leaving her feet planted in the kitchen, she called out for Elmira in that long, drawn out way that only children could muster. “She’s in the laundry room,” Laurie said. Naomi sprinted out of the kitchen, singing Elmira’s name as she went. Laurie shook his head at the kitchen door while it swung on its hinges, disapproving of something that he himself was notorious for—namely the slamming of doors. He turned his attention to Ian. “You want anything? Beer? Soda? Water? Soda water?”

“Water would be great. Thanks, man.” Laurie disappeared into the fridge, emerging with two bottles of melted glacier water. The Tellerman-Calientes were forever stocked-up on the stuff. Ian always found himself puzzling over the label, which proudly touted the water’s PH level in big, bold lettering. He rounded the bar as Laurie unscrewed a bottle cap for him.

“You didn’t have to get up,” Laurie said.

“Nah, it’s cool.” Ian reached out to take the water from him.

When he posed the question to himself, Ian was not altogether certain why he had gotten up. He often felt that whenever anyone did anything for him, no matter how small the gesture, it was an imposition. Ian did not want to be an imposition. He didn’t feel that he was worth it. On the other hand, Laurie was so close to the bar that to hand Ian a drink while he sat was no imposition at all. Something else must have driven him. Ian spied Laurie out of the corner of his eye as he milled the previous interaction over.

Laurie was staring at him. His gaze held the same intensity that always seemed so terrifying on Troy’s face. His lips were pursed thin, tortuously so, but he appeared to be trying with all of his might to look natural. To Ian, this was the affect of someone who was harboring a whole world of toxic thoughts. Ian wondered for an instant what he had done wrong, then dismissed the thought. Something else was to blame and it had little or nothing to do with Ian. Maybe Ian had sensed that something was amiss with Laurie and that triggered his impulse to stand. Laurie gripped his water bottle hard enough for the plastic to snap.

“You’ve been to Goth Manor, I guess,” Laurie grumbled. Ian couldn’t be sure why, but this simple sentence sounded like an accusation. He deduced that either Enoch or Angela or both had shut Laurie out over the whole Cully incident. Laurie, he thought, was bitter that Ian was being extended the visitation rights that Laurie was denied. He took a swig of his water.

“Yeah, Enoch’s upset but physically no worse for wear. You should try to call him or let me relay a message if you’re worried,” Ian said. Laurie sneered at the suggestion.

“God, no. I’m not talking to him, not after what he said to Cully. In fact, this situation is exactly the kind of thing that makes me question our entire friendship. He’s a psychopath. They’re both psychopaths. I’m not interested in talking to either one of them until they work this out between them.” Laurie took an angry swig of his water. “You know what I saw when I walked into the room that day? It wasn’t just that Cully was beating Enoch’s face in; it was that he was enjoying it. It was like—I don’t even know how to describe it. I just know that it was fucked-up.” Ian nodded in silence. He rather doubted that Laurie’s resolution would hold, but it was useless to say. The instant Laurie realized that Ian was the only friend that he had left, he would doubtless find himself banging down the doors at Arbormoor Manor. Ian was too old and too preoccupied to mediate these sorts of disputes between friends. Not to mention the fact that he was too afraid of running into Lydia to spend much time at Laurie’s house. Laurie, Ian realized, knew the first of these excuses. Ian did have to wonder though how deeply Laurie suspected the second. Ian cleared his throat.

“If you bothered to call him, you’d know that Enoch feels guilty about what happened. He went too far, and it’s really messing with his head that he made Cully snap like that. It’d probably be better for the both of you if you forgave him sooner rather than later.” It would be better for Ian too. Laurie snorted.

“Sorry, I don’t know what garbage he’s been feeding you to relay back to me, but since when does Enoch give two shits about Cully? Any emotion he’s feeling is just him being put-off because he got his ass kicked in front of your sister,” he said.

“Whatever, man.” There was a brief and pointed pause. Ian had said his piece but Laurie, still smoldering, was clearly not done.

“And since we’re on the subject of my friends behaving badly, would it kill you to be more discreet about whatever is going on between you and Lydia?” Ian nearly spit out his water, a reaction that he had been sure up until this instant in his life only happened on TV. The mishap stung his nasal passages, making his eyes leak. He coughed the backwash into the crook of his elbow while Laurie waited with a near-obnoxious level of patience.

“Lydia,” Ian choked. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Why would you bring that up? Nothing is going on between me and Lydia. She can hold her liquor, but that’s about it. I can’t even believe that you would ask me something like that.” Fear crimsoned his cheeks, he knew. It was a fear that either Laurie had ferreted out one of his most disgraceful secrets or worse—that Lydia had confided in Laurie about the night that he had seen her almost nude. The memory of her garters biting into the sleek line of her thighs brought Ian over the edge more than once with Adelaide and god help him, by his lonesome. A month passed. That memory had changed shape in his mind and Lydia along with it. Lydia’s body was not gawky or boyish, it was lithe. It was graceful. It was sultrier to him than Adelaide’s curves. Ian could feel his cheeks growing hotter by the second and see Laurie’s skepticism worsening along with his blush.

“So… You’re not sleeping with my sister?” His tone was disbelieving. Ian, for his part, had never known an embarrassment like this.

“I swear, I’ve never even touched your sister.” Silence. Laurie was sizing him up. Ian dared not look away for fear that Laurie would continue to jump to conclusions far worse than the truth. Laurie exhaled.

“Look, sorry. I’m just talking out of my ass. There’s too much happening. I’ve got Cully and Enoch being jerks. My dad is sleeping in the guest house. And up until a second ago, I thought you might have been skipping out with Lydia. Thank you for clearing that up, by the way.” Ian wrinkled his nose, not quite hearing that last.

“Why is your dad sleeping in the guest house,” he asked. Ian was not a genius, and despite the way that Laurie had blundered over this detail, the answer to Ian’s question came falling down around him in all of its obviousness. This was a subject that Ian thought a lot about himself, despite it being none of his business—namely, Troy’s infidelities. Most often, it was Dina who brought the topic to mind. Ian was uncomfortable with the way that his mother-in-law joked about Troy’s affairs so frequently in mixed company, one part ribald humor and one part spite. The jokes seemed to Ian to be at Siren’s expense, almost as though Dina thought that she could shame her niece into dissolving her marriage for her own good. Ian recalled how Don used to stare at a spot on the wall whenever Dina did this.

It occurred to Ian too that this taboo subject, while never discussed between them, was always close to the surface in Laurie’s dealings with Troy. Ian had noticed the stark difference between the way that Laurie addressed his father and the way that the rest of the Caliente children did. The taut yes, sirs and no, sirs that had been hammered into the other children never entered Laurie’s vernacular. Ian used to think that it was because Laurie, as the eldest, was allowed more freedom than the rest but lately, Ian was not so sure. He was beginning to suspect that it was more due to a lack of respect for Troy’s rules. He suspected too that a sense of remorse kept Troy from correcting this behavior.

Ian thought of himself as a man with no substantial regrets (his feelings for Lydia potentially being the worst of his crimes). He led a good, clean life peppered with a few acts of virtue. Still, he could not account for what fate would bring and looking at Laurie, he felt terrified for his future self as a father of teenagers. Worry twisted his gut at the thought of being on the receiving end of the contempt that a disillusioned child could have for his or her parents.

“Was Adelaide home when we went to that hookah bar?” Ian blinked and then blinked again, thrown off-kilter by Laurie’s question.

“Where else would she have been? Her father died. Are you alright, Laurie?” He could almost see the insinuation peeking behind Laurie’s eyes. Ian could not imagine what had put it here, and he did not want to know. Laurie shook his head.

“Forget I said anything,” Laurie muttered, pushing his hair back from his face. “Just forget it.”