His next meeting with Jonathan went off far better than the first. Cary managed to get through the whole afternoon without freaking out once, talking freely the whole while. They made plans to meet up again the next weekend and Cary went to sleep after his chores all warm and happy yet again.
As the days passed, Lana began to spend more and more time away from the house. Finally, culminating months later, in mid-February, with a Saturday night, Bird's birthday as it happened, when she did not come home at all. That night, Bird, for some reason, had made it home sober, though with enough alcohol to remedy the oversight in quick time. He burst through the door around six in the evening, hours before he was normally expected. Cary had become used, over the last four or five weeks, to having the house to himself. Lana had become scarce and Bird was always off doing something. As such, he nearly dropped the television remote in shock when Bird crashed through the front door so early, full of bluster, and yet clearly not yet sodden with drink.
“Cary! What're ya doin?” Bird asked, his arms wrapped around two brown paper sacks, both of which clinked ominously. “An' where's Lana?” Cary could tell right off Bird was sober, compared to his normal, that is. The tall, skinny-fat man's eyes were still bleary and bloodshot though, even sober. His clothes, like always, hadn't been changed in several days, at least. Cary sat mute, stared at the carpet. This kind of thing always irritated Bird, and this time was no exception.
“Why do you DO that, kid? Sit there all stupid like? I jus' asked a question dammit! And you go all weird on me, staring at nothing, I swear there's something screwy in you kid.” Bird half-shouted, as he set the bags down on the coffee table. They clinked loud and brashly, Bird moved over to Cary and grabbed him under the chin, pulled their eyes into contact. “Look at me when I'm talkin' ter you! Geez! Now, where is Lana at?”
Cary gulped and shrugged. His mind raced even though his mouth did not.
Am I in trouble for watching the television unsupervised? Will Bird care I already cleaned up the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal? Is he going to beat me for Lana not being here? Will he notice my things in the guest room?
Other questions and possibilities darted around in Cary's mind. A familiar problem and big part of the reason he often said nothing and stared at the ground. He had trouble choosing which thoughts he should glom on to, always had. As if he had all the words to express the thoughts, but not the knowledge of how to string together sentences. Of course, he could never have explained this to Bird or Lana or his teachers. He thought he might have been able to explain it to Jonathan, but even that wasn't a sure thing.
“Not here.” Cary finally managed to say as Bird's grip on his chin became uncomfortable. Bird released him roughly.
“Why not? It's my birthday and you kids is supposed to be home!” Bird pouted. He threw up his hands in disgust and floundered on the couch. “You ain't got no idea where she's at?” There was a pleading note in his voice. But Cary had no idea. Bird's eyes caressed the brown sacks and he licked his lips longingly.
“The lot maybe.” He didn't know why he said it, Cary hadn't wanted to say it, somehow it had just slipped out. He clapped a hand over his mouth as soon as he said it. Not that he had known if Lana was there. Yet somehow, he had. A hundred possibilities had flown into his head when Bird had wondered if Cary knew where Lana was. Yet though he had not wanted that one, it had still come out of his mouth. Bird shook angrily at him. “Oh? That's yer game is it, kid? Trying to play old Bird, eh? Well ya CAIN'T see? I'm older an stronger an a damn sight wiser and I can always get the truth from the likes of you!” Bird was spitting towards Cary as he finished.
Bird opened up one of the brown paper sacks, pulled out bottle of electric-purple colored liquor. Cary thought the label said Mad Dog. Smacking his lips, Bird opened the bottle and drank the whole in one continuous gulp. When he was done Bird belched and threw the bottle at the television.
He turned on Cary, “Get yer lazy self up and clean this nasty house up! No more sittin' round watchin' that television, you hear?” His breath had a sharp and sour reek to it. It made Cary's eyes water.
Bird swayed at bit and left the room using the front door. Minutes later Bird's pickup truck backing out of the driveway and rearing off down the street towards the lot. The demolished neighborhood center where all the teens in Happy Endings spent time smoking, drinking, making out, and breaking things.
Cary sat, frozen.
I told on Lana. I didn't mean to but she will never believe that.
His only hope was she was not in fact at the lot. But, somehow, inexplicably, he knew she was. Of course, either way, Bird was going to show up and make a scene. Everyone knew Bird was Lana's father. The man was the most notorious drunk in all of Happy Endings.
It will get back to her.
Cary swallowed. His mind already calling up enough anxiety-inducing possibilities to make him start swaying back and forth on the sofa, head held down between his knees. The room swam out of focus. Cary got lost in the anxiety. When he resurfaced, he was shocked to see the spell had lasted for nearly an hour. The television was still on. Low noise of some prime-time drama played out on the screen. Otherwise the house was quiet. Cary rubbed his eyes and yawned. He had been up early again that morning and at the vacant house waiting for Jonathan before the sun rose. But though he was tired, he was afraid to crash. At least not until Bird or Lana came home. Not until he knew what had happened.
He didn't have long to wait.
Cary had turned the television off and sat on the sofa, rocking gently. The remote control sitting on the coffee table next to Bird's two abandoned paper sacks of liquor. The front door jerked open. An outer screen door slammed against the brick of the outside of the house in a terribly ominous fashion. Cary stopped rocking and froze, staring dead at the carpet. Before long he heard footsteps and saw a pair of combat boots.
Slowly, Cary raised his head. There was Lana, wearing a voluminous sun dress and combat boots, her hair disheveled, make-up running down her cheeks in two black streaks away from her eyes. She glared at Cary with a radiant venom. Her whole body shook from it.
“I. HATE. YOU.” She said through clenched teeth. Cary's head turned towards the nearest exit. His mind told him to run, all of his brain, not fragmented this time. Yet he could not. He had never seen Lana this torn-up, like she was a doll which had come apart at the seams. All her stuffing poking out.
Like some particularly large dog had gotten hold of her and shook with all its might.
He couldn't help himself. The image was funny. He laughed. Lana shrieked and him and ran towards him, arms outstretched like a zombie. Cary moved, rolling himself over the top of the sofa and ducked behind it. Lana rounded the sofa, having picked up something, though Cary did not see what. He dashed off, hoping to make it to the front door. He was three or four steps shy when something solid hit him in the back of the head with a very loud cha-thunk. He fell forward to his knees, hands going immediately to his throbbing head. Footsteps chattered up behind him. He couldn't get back to his feet to run. Cary balled himself up and winced for the blows to come.
NO. NO. DON'T HIT ME.
The blows did not come.
The screen door clattered open and Cary heard more footsteps. He risked a peek between his arms, still wrapped about his head. A foot or so beyond him towards the front door were a pair of feet in hard-soled slippers.
Women's slippers. Not Bird.
“What in the hell are you doing?” a stern, angry woman's voice said.
Cary peeked out. To his surprise he saw Lurlene Darxis, his surly neighbor, standing in the foyer, wearing a housecoat and slippers, her eyes boring holes into something behind him. Slowly, Cary turned to follow the direction of Lurlene's eyes. Lana stood above him with a bottle of something, her hand and arm raised as though she were going to bring the bottle down full force to the back of Cary's head. Lana just stood there, vibrating slightly, the bottle in her hand making a bit of a sloshing noise.
“For the Mother's sake, girl, put that bottle down.” Lurlene ordered, her voice clearly used to giving commands, expected to be followed. Lana complied. “And go to bed, you look like you are about to fall into a puddle on the floor.”
Lana sniffled a bit before she trudged off, muttering under her breath. Cary didn't know what to say. He stayed balled up, arms still wrapped about his head, though he looked out from between them, eyes wide at Lurlene. She glared down at him, no expression on her face.
“I don't know what to do about you, kid. You need to learn to protect yourself. There's not always going to be a neighbor around to come in when the noise gets loud. I can't even understand why I bother with you at all.”
Only then did Cary's mind put together several facts. First: Lana had thrown the remote control at his head. Second: the television's audio was blaringly loud. Which must have been what drew Lurlene over. In fact, it was so loud he was shocked to have heard her voice at all. She must have shouted. And third, Lana had likely been about to do him permanent damage with the bottle, had Lurlene not shown up. Lurlene was definitely right, he needed to learn to protect himself, otherwise one of these days Lana or Bird really WAS going to kill him.
Before Cary could say anything back to her, Lurlene padded off and was gone. The screen door slammed behind her. Looking around warily, Cary got to his feet. His nerves made him shake vigorously, still quite aware of how close he had come to grievous bodily harm at Lana's hands. Gulping hard, Cary went to the kitchen window to look outside for some sign of Bird's pickup. Nothing.
What am I supposed to do now? I should run.
Mad ideas rushed through his mind. Escape plans, plans to hide, plans to ignore, plans to get one of Bird's guns and slip it into his waistband like the rappers he watched on television earlier in the week. No image lasted long. Cary couldn't have concentrated on any of them regardless. He was too tired, too scared and anxious.
As if in answer to his thoughts, the screech of tires announced Bird's return. Cary rushed over and turned the television volume down. In frustration he turned the set off. The back of his head ached fiercely, he tried to ignore it.
When Bird came in it was obvious the man had gotten spittingly drunk since the last time Cary had seen him. Worse, he had gotten into a fight somewhere. His face was covered in fine scratches. Two of which trailed blood in a similar fashion to the make-up streaks which had run down Lana's face.
“S'all YOUR fault!” Bird slurred and stumbled dangerously at Cary.
Cary's heart thumped loudly. Lurlene's words reverberated through his head. I have to learn to protect myself. He noticed the bottle on the floor in the foyer. The same bottle, long and made of thick green glass, which Lana had almost brained him with. Moving as fast as his aching head and tired body allowed, Cary dashed over and picked up the bottle. Bird could hardly walk and was crashing his way towards Cary. Just because the man could hardly walk did not mean he could not hit hard, Cary knew.
He ran for it. Once he was inside the hallway, where Bird could not see him, Cary waited, panting. Bird would eventually come this way. Cary's breath came in quicker and quicker bursts and a sudden warm strength began pulsing through him. His mind went strangely clear and no longer was every thought attacking him at once. There was just one. His mind had settled.
Bird's stomping footsteps grew near as his shadow proceeded him into the hallway. Cary drew the bottle back above his head with two hands, waited. Bird's shadow grew until it tapered into the man himself, the man using the wall as support. Cary, in the dark of the hallway, was all but invisible, the bottle vibrated in his still hands. Bird stumbled forward with a grunt. Passed Cary towards the guest room. The hallway around Cary seemed to shift until everything came into sharp focus. He could see the hairy mole on the back of Bird's exposed neck. The filthy t-shirt just below it, dingy and reeking. With a smooth, single motion Cary brought the heavy bottle swinging down in an arc directly onto the back of Bird's neck. The resulting thud chimed up Cary's arm. He nearly dropped the bottle. Bird crashed to the floor, banged his head on the wall and was silent.
What...what have I done?
He looked around, unsure what to do next. Cary carefully set the bottle down, patted the glass neck and eased it into Bird's hand. He crept into the guest room, got into bed and pulled the covers up to just under his eyes, alert and still panting.
Cary had no idea when he had fallen asleep, how long he had lain in the bed alert and full of dread. He crept out of the bed. The morning was a flurry of activity as Cary cleaned up the blood stains on the wall in the hallway and on the carpet, full of guilt and confusion. Lana had either not come out of her room or left again through the window, Cary wasn't sure. But he did not see her at all that Sunday. Bird had somehow gotten himself back to the sofa from the hallway. Cary had no idea if his foster-father remembered what had happened, only that if he did Cary was dead.
When Bird awoke around two in the afternoon, his face a horrid mess covered in blood and scratches, his nose askew as though it might have been broken. His lips cracked with dried blood, Bird groaned himself off the sofa.
“Wha' happened?” he mumbled rubbing his face and neck, focusing mostly on the spot where Cary had smacked him with the bottle.
“You p-p-passed out and...and fell down.” Cary said. He had no need to mask his voice, fear tore through it. “I put you on the sofa.” Cary lied, somehow keeping the catch from his voice.
“Where's mah hooch?” Bird raised up to glared at Cary, “And you ain't do a very good job, boy. My whole heads afire, and I hafta get to work.”
Bird blinked in confusion. Shook his head. “s'Saturday boy.”
Cary sighed. Bird had forgotten a whole day. Cary's anxiety lessened when Bird went outside and stole a newspaper from a neighbor's driveway.
“Well bygone it IS Sunday. I'm goin' back to bed then.” Bird, rubbing his neck, as he disappeared into his own bedroom for the first time in weeks, slammed the door. Cary was full of astonishment when the doorbell rang sometime later.
He dashed to the door, like an anxious parent. Cary didn't want Bird waking up. He opened the the door to see Jonathan, who looked sadly disappointed.
“What's going on?” Jonathan said.
I was supposed to meet him an hour ago! I can't believe I forgot. What if Bird wakes up? What am I going to...
Jonathan had gotten a new game no less. Cary saw the cartridge box in his hand. Cary looked determinedly at the ground.
Jonathan sighed. “I'm not mad, dude. Just worried. Lana had a bad night... I heard. And then you didn't show...I was...” Jonathan looked away.
Cary shook his head.
What I am supposed to say?
He wanted to tell Jonathan the whole story.
He'll just think I'm weird. More than weird. Messed up.
Cary couldn't think past the turmoil in his mind to come up with some other explanation, so he just stared downward.
“Really, dude. It's OK!” Jonathan said. Cary raised his head to respond, to say he was sorry he had missed the meeting. When he looked up he saw a car pulling up in front of the house. The same car which had belched smoke....-and-Lana before.
“Lana!” Cary growled. Jonathan went rigid and turned away from Cary, towards the yard outside. Cary's heart spelunked. He slunk away from the front door. Jonathan and Lana started talking. Cary hid just off the foyer, decided he would stay and listen.
“What's up J?” Lana said.
“Just came... to...ah... check on you. After last night....I thought maybe you weren't...weren't doing so hot.” Jonathan said, his concern not sounding at all sincere.
Lana tossed her hair and smiled crookedly at him. Cary peeked around the wall to watch. Her face no longer bore makeup stains and her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail. She bore no marks aside from puffy eyes and a split on the outer edge of her top lip.
“S'alright. I handled him. I'll be shot if I'm going to let that drunk SOB rule my life.” Lana said, tossing her ponytail. Cary noticed she was no longer flirtatious with Jonathan.
Had too much time passed since the time at the vacant house? Or was it something else?
“Cool. Well since you're OK, I've got to get back home. See ya Lana.” Jonathan said abruptly. Cary took this cue to dart away from the foyer. Lana came inside. The car out front peeled away. Cary waited in the hallway past the living room for Lana to shut the front door then dashed into the guest bedroom. He shut that door, unlocked and opened a window. Just in case he needed to get out quick. He heard Lana come to the door of the room.
“Cary?” Lana asked, almost nicely, tapping on the door of the guest bedroom.
Cary stared at the floor. “Yeah?” he whispered.
“Passed out in his bed. He doesn't remember anything.” Cary added the last in the hopes it would make her feel less angry at him.
Don't hit me. Don't hit me.
Lana sighed. “Fine.” She left.
I can't believe she didn't try and beat me up. Or even call me Ickie.
He heard her go to the bathroom and shut the door.
Maybe today won't be so bad after all.