Summer brought profound change in Cary.
First, the discovery of what had captured Lana's attention, of what had captivated her time. It was the second day of June, a briskly hot Monday, and Cary was mowing the lawn when a large pickup with black-tinted windows stopped in front of the house. The passenger side door opened and Lana stepped out. Cary half expected to see a cloud of smoke and was confused by the lack. A large leather bound book was in Lana's arms, clasped tightly to her chest, gold lettering visible just below her forearm. Her hair was in a bun at the nape of her neck and she wore a full length denim skirt, despite the heat. She wore no makeup or nail polish. Nor any of the other usual decorations she had always worn before. No rings nor earrings nor necklaces. Her fingernails looked sad shorn of their bright colors.
She walked purposefully past Cary. Paid no attention to his stare. When Cary was done with the mowing he went inside to clean up and shower, to find Lana and Bird sitting at the dining room table talking quietly. Bird's only slight bleary, bloodshot eyes gave Cary an indication of how far into his drunken binge the man was. Cary would have said about a quarter of the way, still quite sober. Relatively.
Lana had a book planted on the table between them, opened and her hands placed on top of it. Is that the book she was carrying earlier? Her eyes were glued to her father though. Cary went still, unsure if it was safe to pass. Long history with these two had made him wary of coming too near, if they were arguing.
“I prayed on this, Dad. You need the help.” Lana said.
She didn't call him Bird! He always made everyone call him Bird!
Bird mumbled something indistinct, though Cary heard the word "God.” Said with heavy derision. Lana flinched and made a gesture over her chest, a cross.
“You shouldn't say such things, Dad. What if He comes tomorrow? What if the End comes? You'll regret taking his name in vain.” Lana chided.
Bird's head whipped up dangerously. Cary who had been about to take another step, stopped, mid-stride. “Ya think do ya? I've had just about all I need of HIM thankyaverymuch.” Bird said, loud enough, clear enough Cary could understand, with a finger jabbed at Lana. “So iff'n you think you're gonna be preachin' to this here choir, Little Miss Tuffett, you can bag it back up and peter off.” Bird waved his hand distractedly into the space between himself and Lana.
Lana looked full of indecision. Whatever conversion had swept over her, she had obviously expected it would entrance Bird as well. Bird? Religious? Only if they serve alcohol at the service. She did not look as if she was taking it kindly. Lana screwed herself for another attempt. When Cary heard his name he almost shouted in frustration, and fear. The effort of holding it in made him wobble on his feet and he bumped, noisily, into the wall.
Both heads whipped over to him. “At least you should make Cary go.” Lana said. Bird looked at Cary. Looked at him through mostly sober, but still bleary eyes - like he had never really taken him in before. His foster-father's head bobbed and he grunted, sourly.
“Boy's old enough to do what he wants.” Bird said. Both Cary's and Lana's mouths dropped open. Perhaps it was the two inches Cary had grown in past months or maybe the various kindnesses Cary thought had gone unnoticed which made Bird say it; but whatever it was, Cary was pleased. Happy
Lana was not.
“He's not even thirteen, Dad. Look at him! Do you have any idea what he gets up to? Where he goes? He could still be playing with those Satanic dolls, those wizards and witches and pagans! Do you want THAT on your conscience?”
Bird blinked at Lana, shook his head and said something Cary had known for a while but could hardly credit hearing Bird say it aloud.
“As long as the damned check keeps coming, girly-girl, I don't give an effing hoot WHAT he does.” Bird said and slid backward in his chair, stifled a belch and rubbed his chapped lips with the back of his hand. Cary instantly moved backward, instinct all but impossible to suppress. Guess he's drunker than I thought. Bird didn't notice Cary's move, nor did Lana, who gaped, open mouthed at her father.
Maybe she doesn't know it's the only reason he keeps me around.
Judging by her expression she had not and was greatly offended.
“Dad, that is just...awful.” Lana said. “Don't you care about his eternal soul?”
He doesn't care about my mortal soul, much less my eternal one.
Bird shook his head and made to stand. He swayed once he was finally on his feet. “Go'on then, you tell him. I'm done with this, I need a drink.” Bird said. Lana frowned at him.
“Fine, you drunk! Go wallow! She's never coming back, no matter how much you drink. And it's ALL YOUR FAULT!”
Bird went carbonite on the spot. He had been facing away from Lana but he whirled in a slow, smooth motion entirely too balanced for normal-Bird. Lana flinched backwards as Bird reached over the table and grabbed her by the neck with his calloused, meaty hands.
Never seen him move THAT quick before.
Lana's eyes widened in fear. Cary wondered vaguely if she believed “God” would protect her.
“Dad...” Lana said, begging.
“Now listen good you little twit,” Bird said his teeth clenched. "I don't never wanna hear you speak so 'bout her again, got me?”
Lana nodded. Bird released her with a grunt, shambled out of the room, past Cary, not noticing him at all. Cary knew who they were talking about Lana's dead mother and Bird's late wife, Merina. She had died in childbirth with Lana, so Lana had never shown much connection to the woman. Cary knew Bird had never gotten past Merina's death but had never realized it so deeply before. It cast new light on Bird's misery, and Cary's own.
Would Bird have been a better man and father had Merina lived? Did goodness in him die with his wife?
Lana shivered. Picked up her Bible. Clutched it tight to her chest. She turned to face Cary. Her eyes looked ready to spew tears. They challenged Cary. Cary backed away. Again, long experience had taught him to be far away if Lana was near crying. Lana's eyes narrowed dangerously. Her mouth worked, and to Cary seemed to be starting to say “Ickie.” But oddly, she swept up and darted out the kitchen door and out of the house. Cary sighed in relief. He realized something had felt different within himself.
I don't hate Bird anymore. Well maybe not completely, at least.
He pitied the man far more. The thought was strangely pleasing to him. Comforting.
The second profound change occurred further into the summer holidays. It was July 5th to be exact. A blistering blaze of a Sunday. Cary had no plans for the day. Jonathan was busy with his other friends. All the household chores were done. Bird was away camping with his few remaining friends, though Cary suspected they were all simply drinking. Lana was at a church lock-in with the others from First Book Pentecostal, her preferred location, when she wasn't locked in her room, for weeks now.
Cary went alone to the vacant house. He sat playing the Super Nintendo, trying to master the game Jonathan had bought from a flea market: The Secret of Mana. He was getting better and was totally absorbed when the front door of the house was unlocked and opened. A man came in and stood over Cary, unnoticed, as if by magic. Cary heard nothing. The calm in his home life had not made him any less jumpy. When he noticed the man, Cary screeched and moved away like a frightened cat. He huddled in a corner, looking around wildly for a place to flee. To hide.
“S'alright there, son!” A deep, measured voice said. Cary stilled and studied the man who owned the voice. Tall and thickset with a large protruding belly covered by an untucked Oxford shirt over battered blue jeans, his face was covered in a patchy salt and pepper beard which hung several inches below his chin. He was balding on top but the fringe below and around his ears was trimmed shorter and stuck out straight to the sides. The man wore large, square framed glasses with thick lenses held back by a large, bulbous nose. His hands were up, palm out in a placating manner, aimed towards Cary. "No need to freak out there!”
Cary didn't know what to say. He had gotten better at talking to people since hanging around Jonathan, but this was too much. His head went straight down until his chin touched his chest and he stared at the carpet as a thousand things floated behind his eyes though he could choose none. Cary's hands picked at strands of fiber and he rocked backwards and forwards on his butt, back pressed against the wall, mumbling nonsense. The man, however unlike Bird who often became enraged at this behavior, was not perturbed. He moved further into the room and inspected the Super Nintendo and the television.
“Nice setup, a bit old though, don't you think?” the man asked jovially. Cary stared determinedly at the carpet.
“Well, I'm Malston Clearing.” the man said. He moved towards Cary, who cringed backwards into the wall, but did not raise his head. There was a small pile of pulled carpet fibers at his feet now. “I've just bought this house, as I'm to begin teaching at Happy Endings High next semester. Pleased to meet you?”
The man's large shadow fell over Cary. He could just make out the man's hand thrust out towards him, waiting to be shook. Cary's hand twitched towards it. His rocking intensified.
“S'ok there, I won't bite, really, you've no reason to be afraid, I swear it.” the man said. And he did something no adult had ever done with Cary. The man knelt down and squatted in front of him. Sat cross-legged facing him and rubbed Cary gently on the shoulders. No adult had ever come down to Cary before.
Cary's head rose almost of its own accord, though he continued to rock - it was much slower and less insistent. The man beamed at him through his large beard, his teeth straight but slightly yellow; as though he drank too much soda or coffee or tea. Still Cary couldn't get a word out. But this didn't seem to bother Malston Clearing much.
“Not a big talker, eh? S'no problem. Was a bit of recluse myself when I was your age. You can't be much past thirteen, if I'm not mistaken.”
Cary was provided with something he could easily answer, and suddenly found the ability to do so. “I'm 12. Almost thirteen.” he muttered and tossed half the pile of carpet fibers in the air much to the man's pleasure. Clearing laughed.
“So you are. That means you'll be starting the high school next semester then?”
Cary nodded. He would be starting the high school next school year, in several months.
“I've come to teach Physics.” Clearing offered. “Have you had Chemistry and Earth Science already?”
Cary nodded, a slight almost imperceptible up-down of his head. He ceased rocking. He had taken Chemistry and Earth Science, though he had barely passed both - mostly because he could not manage to participate in class. He had always scored highly on the tests when able to take them. At times Bird and Lana's behavior had made such impossible.
“Well, perhaps you'll consider signing up for Physics next year? It's normally for upperclassmen, of course, but perhaps I can make an exception.”
The man winked roguishly at Cary. Sensing something Cary was thinking but could not have gotten out, Clearing said. “I'm guessing things at home aren't the best? Well, I've got a sight better television than this old clunker and if you want to come by and play your video games, that's fine by me.”
Cary looked up and stared at the man.
Is he serious? What about Jonathan? Would he change his mind some day? What if I get on his nerves? What if Jonathan thought it was weird to be at a teacher's house?
These questions and others stormed through Cary's brain. He started to rock again, picked at more carpet fibers. The space by his feet was almost bare. He managed to nod. Clearing smiled, and Cary spoke, despite himself.
“Can Jonathan come too?”
Clearing blinked in momentary confusion, though he recovered instantly. “A friend of yours, then? Well, sure, as long as he's as well behaved as you.” Another wink, though Cary did not see it.
Cary had no idea if Jonathan could be termed so, much less Cary himself, but he nodded regardless. He started to say, “I should go.” But it came out, “Isha-go.”
Clearing didn't laugh, he rubbed Cary on the shoulder in a friendly manner and nodded. “Alright then, I'll see you around....
“Icarus. They calls me Cary.” Cary said, You mean THEY call you ICKIE! Unable to articulate further because of the nasty voice in his mind, Cary's mouth snapped shut. Clearing smiled and nodded. “Cary it is. Nice to see you Cary and I look forward to our next lively discussion!”
On the way home Cary wasn't sure if he was happy or upset or scared or all of them in some mash-up. He worried Jonathan wouldn't want to be friends in front of this Clearing, especially as the man was a teacher at the high school. Jonathan never allowed anyone to publicly notice he was friends with Cary. Cary also was rather happy the man had invited him to his Physics class. Cary had read books on Physics in the school library and liked them. He had no one he had really been able to ask questions of though and thus was confused by much of it.
The house isn't vacant anymore!
The thought slammed into Cary halfway home and he wilted against a tree. The vacant house had come to feel like something of his, his own place. Finding out it was not so was highly upsetting. He looked around to make sure no neighborhood kids were around. The last thing he needed then was to been seen near tears and hounded for it.
And suddenly he realized something.
I may have just made another friend.