I have just exchanged a couple of monosyllables with Liz, acting like i barely know her, seeing a look of perplexity and hurt in her eyes. I am trying really hard but this just isnt working. I walk, seething, into the bathroom that looks deserted but isnt. I dont see the feet of someone who is sitting on the crapper until i’ve hit the stall wall so hard it comes loose and falls on whoever is inside. Then i see that the squatter is Michael.
When Michael emerges from the stall he says impassively, Gandhi feeling frustrated?
STFU, i say.
We are both washing our hands when Michael says, Lemme guess. You’re in love with a girl and she’s with another guy.
You can be such a prick, Michael, i sigh.
Come on outside, he says. I have just the thing to elevate your mood.
We both watch as Kyle goes to his locker. When he unlocks it, it will not open. It wont even budge a little.
I take Michael by the arm and march him right back into the bathroom. WTFRU doing? I demand.
What am i doing? Helping you out.
No. You’re not helping me out. You promised me you wouldnt do anything to those guys.
No. I promised i wouldnt hurt those guys.
You’re putting us in danger.
You’re the one who put us in danger when you saved Liz. Let’s hope we can trust her.
Of course we can trust her, i say.
Well. I dont trust anyone these days.
The janitor cannot open Kyle’s locker. He has to take a crowbar to get it to even move. As he is trying to pry it loose it suddenly comes off and the momentum throws him into Kyle and Kyle’s nose gets busted. Blood and snot fly everywhere.
Sorry, buddy, the custodian says.
‘Sa’right, Kyle sniffles.
Oh that’s weird, the janitor says.
What’s that? Kyle says.
It looks like it was melted.
When Liz comes to the front door it is long since dark and i have settled down enough i resent the intrusion even before i know who it is and i dont want to see her anyway. Because she’s trouble. Trouble i have brought on myself and i dont want to see her. But there she is.
Can i talk to you for a second? She asks.
Outside, i say tonelessly.
We sit on the wooden bench under the ancient Maple in the front yard. There’s an awkward silence that i make no effort to assuage.
Finally Liz says, I’ve been thinking about why i called you. You know, that night from the hospital. Because i…i knew it was against the rules and it led to that whole…er…awkward moment…
I sigh rudely and look up at the pagan moon to show my boredom and impatience at someone who talks around everything and just will not come to the point. And i think how a casual observer might glimpse us and see Liz dangling and swinging her legs over the high bench and think how cute and typically teenaged we were and how nothing could be further from the truth. I almost laugh.
…but i called anyway, she drones on and i have to fight to stay awake. I sorta couldnt help it, she says, yawning and scratching her neck. Because when something like this with my grandmother happens you dont reason, you just do things from the heart. And my heart told me to call you. Because you were the one person in the world i really wanted to talk to.
Without affection i say, If you werent so self-centered you’d have figured out by now that nobody does anything rational. They always do what they want and rationalize it after they’ve done it.
Do you have to be so mean? What i’m trying to say is my heart told me to call you.
You little bitch, i say angrily. Have you ever gone without anything your whole life? If you didnt have a cute face you’d have had to root for things instead of having them handed to you. You’ve been so indulged you could afford to do whatever the fuck your heart told you to do. So WTF do you know about it anyway?
Undeterred, she says, You were the one person i really wanted to talk to.
It’s cold out here, i say. Will you please get to the point?
I’m really sorry to ask you this…
What do you want of me? I spit at her.
Is there anything you could do for my grandmother?
See? Now was that so fuckin hard? Why didnt you just spit that out to begin with? You wasted my time and took all that verbal abuse from me because you wouldnt just come out and say it. I was able to save you because you were shot. It wasnt your time. It was easy to do that because it was just trauma. I cant stop natural aging. Maybe someday i’ll figure out how but i’m a long way from it. I’ll never be able to do it in time to save your grandmother. I cant just heal people. I’m not god.
I know it, she says.
Kyle walks with his associates within the mean perimeters of the alley behind the school among trash cans and skulking feral cats bowbacked and starving.
So the locker just melted shut, Kyle says. How do you account for that? It has to be about 500 degrees to melt.
Maybe it was that Max guy getting back at us, says the cretin walking beside Kyle.
Getting back for what? Kyle says innocently.
The cretin looks at the two fools behind him and laughs and they laugh. He says, We beat the dogshit out of the bastard.
What? Kyle says, stopping cold in his tracks.
You told us he was hitting on Liz.
Enraged, Kyle shoves the cretin so hard he almost falls on his ass. You fuckin morons! Kyle screams. You know what you did? You didnt discourage Max. You played right into the little faggot’s hands. Now i’ve got some explaining to do. I could lose Liz over this, goddamn you!
Kyle picks up a metal garbage can and throws it at his friends.
Later Kyle waits outside the hospital room door. When Liz comes out he says plaintively, How is she doing?
Holding her own, Liz says.
I need to talk to you, Liz.
When they are outside the building he says, I know you have other things on your mind but i want you to know i had nothing to do with what happened to Max.
What happened to Max, she says, puzzled.
Tommy and Paulie, those guys. They’re moral degenerates. They’re fuckin animals and i had no idea they were going to do that. They were freelancing. I didnt know anything about it. I never thought they’d take it on themselves to do that.
Do what? She says.
Holmes senses dimly that he has made a grave tactical error.
You didnt know? He says anxiously. They held him down and beat him nearly senseless. It mustve been awful.
Why did they do that?
IDK why. They just…they thought they were helping out.
Kyle is in verbal quicksand. The more he struggles the worse it gets.
How would that help out, Kyle?
I told them it was wrong, Liz. I told them how fucked up it was.
How can you be friends with guys that would do that?
Come on, Liz. They’re good guys, he says, improvising desperately. They’re just not very bright.
No, Kyle. They are not good guys.
Why RU getting like this?
So moralistic. So judgemental. I’m just trying to explain some things and you’re getting all bent about it.
You must have said something to them about Max that set them off. They mustve had a reason.
I’m not their mother! I’m not responsible for them. They’re children.
To do what they did…
Why RU so worried about Max?
Because he got his ass kicked for nothing. He’s the last one in this town who’d want to hurt anybody.
So you are, arent you? You and Max are together, arent you?
No we arent. And as of now, neither are we.
What? He says, stung.
Kyle, we just cant be together anymore.
So you’re breaking up with me because my friends knocked Max around.
No. It isnt that simple.
It’s because of Max, he says.
No! I told you that Max…
Liz! Max is trouble. My dad’s got his eye on him.
I gotta get back, Liz says. I’m sorry, Kyle.
No you arent, he says indignantly.
None of this is as simple as it seems. Kyle wasnt smart enough to keep his mouth shut, but Liz is just using this as an excuse to do something she’s been working herself up to for some time.
Holmes is having a very bad day.
As i enter the hospital room noiselessly Liz mumbles over the supine figure that is a tired old woman almost as tired as scared but not quite. When Liz notices my reflection in the window she says, Hey.
I cant stop what is going to happen, i say. But maybe i can buy you some minutes to say goodbye.
When i sit beside the bed and touch the old woman the touch is painful. More painful than when i healed Liz because i wanted to do that but not this. There is no vision of the old woman’s life, just the feeling of someone terrified and hanging on by a fingernail to keep from being sucked down a sewer and drowning. Someone who could slip and drag me down with her. Unbearable effort, feeling that i’m carrying a brick shithouse on my back. Finally i am able to will the old woman back just a little and then i break contact. She looks wildly around the room and at me until her eyes come to rest on Liz.
I get up and drag myself to the door. There i pause and say, Talk fast, Liz. And i leave the room.
I am too tired to safely drive but i take Liz home in the jeep. I just sit there in front of the Crashdown and say nothing and she says nothing.
Max, she says awkwardly, Thank you for…
Dont, i whisper.
You dont like me much right now, do you, Max?
I say, I took a beating for you that couldve killed me. Because of you. I’m not saying it’s your fault or that you arent worth it or that i wouldnt save you if i had it to do over.
Shut up! Listen. I can be just as petty and mean as any other asshole. I dont want to be. I try not to be. But i guess i am and all else is just vanity. I resent you. Not just because of that beating. I object to you because you’ve had somebody kiss your ass all your life and i havent. Because all you’ve had to do is smile at a man and look at him with those big brown eyes and ask him to do something for you and he’ll always do it. You know he’ll always do it because they always have and you’ve learned that. The way you talk to Kyle, the tone you use. It’s shameful. You talk down to him like he’s seven years old. And as soon as a man does anything for you, you lose respect for him.
I have delayed reactions, i say, ignoring her. Sometimes big ones. Right now a lot of chickens have come home to roost and when i’m like this i dont even know how i feel. People think i’m moody and self indulgent but i’m just overwhelmed. Right now i want to take this jeep and leave Roswell forever. Never see any of you again. Not you. Not Michael or Izzie. I am so tired of you all. You’re too much to endure. I dont think i can handle any of this.
Well, i guess you got me told, she says, smiling a crooked smile and trying to make nice. But i’m not having any of it.
Go home, dushka, i say.
She gets out and walks a few steps and turns around and comes back and throws her arms around me. I gently remove them from me and say, Go home. I’ll see you at school tomorrow, maybe.
She does not move.
Go on, now, i say.
At last she walks to the doors of the Crashdown and unlocks them and goes inside without looking back.
I look up at the firmament. Even here in the middle of town i can see the Milky Way on a clear cold night like this. Looking right at the crowded heart of the galaxy that hides the central black hole, quarantined from us forever because of the cosmic speed limit.
Where out there is home? What is home? Does even the idea of home have any meaning except that i’m trapped in a foreign country where i will never be safe or satisfied?
I start the car and drive home to the burbs.