Saturday, March 17, 2012

The New Geek Empire: Part Five

He wasn’t going to give me a chance to change my mind. “I know where we can get another bike and it’s close to where I’ve been stashing stuff for Kelly in case we had to make a fast break for some reason.” The look I gave him made him nod. “I know how that sounds but like I said, the rest of them are … unstable right now and I worried that something might happen. I don’t want to put Kelly any more at risk than I already have. I’ve messed up enough; it is time to start thinking four jumps ahead instead of just one or two.”

It sounded like something my dad would have said which made me a little uncomfortable. I looked outside and almost groaned. “Rats! It’s sprinkling,” I told him. “Let’s wait a few minutes to see if it lets up. I don’t think any of us wants the sniffles.”

He shook his head and then after looking at the giant dry-weather drops hitting the concrete grew boring for both of us he said, “Uh … Lydia? I really am sorry about the way you got treated. I know it’s … it’s hard but just try and understand and remember how you felt when your family was killed. I’m not making excuses for them but at least you had some structure, some … some boundaries; some people that still had some authority helping you through it. They don’t have anyone. They’re creating it as they go along using what they know best.”

Not quite ready to let go of my hurt feelings I told him, “You didn’t get all weird, at least not that I can tell yet. And neither did I.”

“Thanks … I think.” He gave a one-shouldered shrug and made a face to go with it. “I admit that Matt is way ahead of me academically, that’s a no-brainer even for me. But I’ve got two years on him and more life experience; plus I have Kelly totally dependent on me and it grounded me in a way Matt has never been … that any of them have ever had to be.” He gave me a sligh look and I had a feeling I knew what was coming. “As for you, you’ve always been strange so …”

I punched him softly on the shoulder and said, “Ha … ha … ha. Fine, I walked into that one face first. Seriously though, they can’t go on living like they are.”

He asked, “Why not?”

Surprised at his attitude I bleated, “What do you mean why not?! It’s … it’s bizarre … fantasyland … crazy. To be honest it wouldn’t surprise me if some of them are smokin’ weed or something like that.”

He was silent for a moment. “I think a couple of them were, and a couple were speeding to keep from having to go to sleep and have bad dreams, but there hasn’t been anything obvious for a while. Matt managed to find what was left of that stuff and lock it up before anyone got too hooked.”

Surprised I asked, “What about the booze? No age limit anymore and no one around to card either.”

He thought about it and then told me, “Just like with the drugs most of it was gone before people died or disappeared. Most of what was left at that point was confiscated by DHS’s contractors. When the work groups go out and they actually find some drugs or booze they are brought back to Matt who locks the stuff up. I wasn’t around the day that rule was made but from what I heard Matt gave everyone some kind of talking to about keeping their minds and body clean so that the group think was healthier or something like that.”

I shook my head wondering how Matt pulled that one off and said, “OK, so they’re sober; but then what’s their excuse for playing dress up?”

Jax liked to think before he answered so it was a moment before he asked, “Have you ever wondered why some ancient tribes and early cultures dressed and acted like they did?” I shrugged not quite knowing what he was getting at. He said, “I have, especially lately. My guess is they had … uh … vacuums of space in their lives or psyches that needed to be filled. You know how they say nature abhors a vacuum? Well, I think they picked something that would draw them together as a group, set them apart from other groups so that they’d have a shared identity, and made them feel strong and powerful at the same time … something that would fill the empty spaces in their lives.”

Leaning against the wall I looked at him for a moment; long enough to apparently make him uncomfortable. But I didn’t mean it that way. I told him, “You’ve given this a lot of thought haven’t you?”

“You don’t need to get snotty,” he said embarrassed.

I shook my head. “You’re taking it the wrong way. I’m serious. You’ve given it a lot of thought.”

He looked to check whether I was joshing him or not. When he could see I wasn’t he relaxed again. “Yeah, I have. I’m not making excuses for Matt – or any of the others either – but the last thing I wanted to think was that my cousin had nose-dived into the koolaid. I know they look kind of crazy but I don’t think they really are; they’re just lost and trying to create some structure they can understand and deal with, something that makes them feel better than the way they were feeling which was scared and alone.”

Trying to see it from his point of view wasn’t easy. I glanced out the window and said, “It’s stopped raining. You mind if we get going?”

“No. We should probably hurry as much as we can. I need to make sure Kelly is changed and everything before we really hit the road. Uh … you mind if we detour by my parents’ place? It’s off of Mulberry and we can take Jefferson Creek Road to go out past the mill too if you want to.”

Adding it up in my head I said, “Whatever. Let’s just go. It’s just passed one now and fifteen miles to get home. If we take an hour to get the bike and pick up your stuff, a few minutes at your parents place, and then maybe a few minutes at the mill … I think we can still make it home before dark assuming we don’t get caught out in more rain.”

We both moved forward. Without thinking much about it I held the bike steady while he put Kelly in her seat. He pushed the bike and we both walked though I told him if he wanted to ride that was OK, that I could keep up. He shook his head and then we both fell silent for a while. Then he asked quietly, “Lydie?”

“Yeah?”

He caught me off guard when he asked, “You’re trying not to think about this aren’t you?”

I gave him a quick look. “If you are going to do that mind reading … uh … carp …” I said changing the word I was going to use when I saw Kelly watching me with those big baby eyes of hers.

He shook his head and said, “Not mind reading … I can just tell. I used to do the same thing. Had to make decisions fast and then just tried not to think how much more messed up my life could get if I had made the wrong choice. But look, that other stuff we were talking about maybe being part of the picture. I’m not … look … I’m not going to force anything on you and you don’t force anything on me. I know you need to get over Matt first, get passed being mad at him anyway, and I still have Kelly to think about and who has to come first. Let’s just take it slow and one step at a time.”

I asked, “Isn’t it the girl that is supposed to say stuff like that? Like let’s just be friends first?”

He shrugged, “Heck if I know. Darlene …” He looked down at Kelly and said, “Darlene was more of the hurry up and let’s get to it type. My mom tried to warn me about girls like that but I was a guy and in lust, wasn’t thinking and got careless. Darlene kept saying she had it all under control but apparently she wasn’t taking the pill right or at the right time or something like that. She kept telling her parents that I was the first but that wasn’t true and she and I both knew it. Darlene liked her fun, she just didn’t want to have to pay for it. Me? I was just stupid.”

I didn’t want to know the details and it must have shown. He asked, “Having second thoughts?”

“Not exactly. Just thinking that life is really messed up and that my dad and mom would be spazzing if they knew what I was doing.”

Saying yet something else that caught me off guard he asked, “You don’t think they do?”

It was an odd question but I thought about it anyway. “I guess maybe they do but kind of in a far off, it can’t hurt them kind of way. At least that’s what I believe right now. Sometimes I don’t know what to believe. Why?”

He shrugged. “Your dad always seemed so sure of what he believed in.”

Sighing, I agreed. “Yeah, he and Mom both were. Will sure was and used to give testimony at church about being sick and having faith and stuff like that. I used to think I was as sure as they were. Now I’m not sure I know anything. I mean most days I do but then sometimes … it’s hard to understand why God let’s things happen the way they do. I don’t know.” I shrugged a little embarrassed at talking about something so personal. “How did we start talking about this stuff anyway?”

Instead of answering directly he looked at me and said, “You should be more careful. What if I was a real jerk and just telling you stuff that you want to hear?”

“So now you’re trying to talk me out of it again or aren’t I answering your questions the right way?”

“No, it’s not that. I just have a hard time reconciling what I used to think of you with the girl you’re being right now. You got your emancipation and surprised a lot of people by how well you did. Now here you are and I wonder how you got this far without getting into trouble when you ask strange men to come live with you.”

I snorted. “One, you aren’t a strange guy … well you are but you know what I mean. I’ve known you like my whole life even if we didn’t ever exactly hang out with the same crowd. Two, Dad thought you were ok and moving in the right direction. Three, you are the one that brought it up to me first.”

He smiled a little and said, “OK, I’ll give you all three.” More seriously he said, “But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be more careful.”

“I know.”

He opened his mouth to say something then shut it and looked at me funny. “You know?”

“Yeah,” I told him. “I’m not stupid. I should have pushed the issue with Matt more, found out more about what was going on in town. I shouldn’t have come to town thinking that I was all that and then some thinking I could just waltz in like nothing had changed. I got too insulated at home. I’ve had it so easy that I made some assumptions I shouldn’t have. Want me to keep going?”

He shook his head and then laughed. “You know, that’s why it was always easy being around you.”

“Huh?”

He laughed again but not to make fun of me. “I don’t know how to explain it. Mostly you don’t act like most people would in your place. “

I shrugged. “Dad used to say that the trouble with being like everyone else is that you wind up making the same mistakes everyone else makes too.” I kicked a rock into the gutter and added quietly, “Jax I don’t want this to be a mistake. I’ve already got enough regrets; don’t make me regret this too.”

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