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Day Fifty: Breakup

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

This story features Dr. Traci Keniston, who was mentioned but not seen in day 48, Creative Thinking; Ty Palmer, one of the leads from day 7, Confession; and Treva Vanderberg, who was shot and injured in day 33’s Monsters. Let’s watch and see what happens…

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Dr. Keniston put the phone down and shook her head. She didn’t know how Dr. Bettencourt had gotten that grant money, but it had clearly gone to her head. She took a look around her desk and did a quick mental calculation. Papers were graded, the exam was nearly finished, and she’d just finished inputting grades for the semester. There was nothing on the schedule until the faculty meeting at three. Just time for a quick lunch.

The student union was nearly empty, being just after the lunchtime rush. There were pockets of students sitting around tables, studying and listening to music on headphones. Some of them chatting about whatever it was they were going to do instead of study. A could who knew her waved and said hi, and she waved back. Not a lot of professors liked to eat with the students – some sort of professional pride or other nonsense. Dr. Keniston felt that it was best for the teachers to know a little bit about the kids they were teaching. To mingle, and get a feel for the world. She ordered a burger and picked up a salad to go with it, and drummed her fingers on the counter while she waited.

An idea for a short story popped into her head – a short-order cook who overhears a murder plot – and quickly jotted it down in her idea book. It might not go anywhere, she thought, but there was no point wasting it. She got her burger, paid for it, and sat down in one of the booths.

Luch was a great time to think, so she ate in silence, without her usual lunchtime reading, until the conversation from the next booth over caught her ear.

“Ty, it’s not you, it’s….” The girl’s voice caught, and she sounded like she was trying to get herself under control. “No, it is you, Ty. I’m so sorry, but it is!”

“Treva, I don’t understand.” Dr. Keniston knew this voice – Ty Palmer, one of her students. She took out her idea book and started spinning the pen in her fingers. Was it right to eavesdrop on what was obviously a breakup? No, of course not. Completely unethical. Only a monster would mine it for dialog ideas.

She tapped the pages, impatient for the next line.

“Ty, it’s just that you’re never… there. Even when you’re here, you’re not here.”

“What does that even mean, Treva? I’ve always been here!”

The girl sniffled again. “No, you’re not, Ty.” She paused, and it was a meaningful pause. “Ty, when we’re… together, you always seem like you’re thinking of something else. Maybe someone else, I don’t know. You don’t look at me, and when you do…” Now the tears came, and there was little point in trying to stop them. Keniston made a couple of notes, but so far nothing had really struck her. Ty said something soft, hard to understand.

“No, Ty,” Treva said. “It’s not just that. I don’t think this is something you can really fix, and I know you want to. I…” Keniston got her pencil ready. This should be it. “You left your computer browser open the other day, Ty. When I came by to drop off your sneakers.” That meaningful silence again. “I saw what you were looking at, Ty.”

There was a sound of someone – Ty, probably – trying to get out of the booth, and she was trying to keep him there. Their words overran each other. He tried making excuses to leave, she tried to stop him, and it wasn’t until she finally came out and said what she’d been holding on to for the last fifteen minutes that he finally sat back down.

“I know you’re gay, Ty.”

The quiet made Keniston’s fingertips itch.

Treva’s voice was quiet, but there was some core of strength to it. “I want you to be happy,” she said. “But I can’t be the one to make you happy.”

“But…” His voice was dry. “But you do make me happy, Treva. You do.”

“Not the way you need,” she said. “And if letting you go means that you can find that person, then… Then that’s what I have to do.” She slid out of the booth and stood up. “I’m so sorry, Ty,” she said. “I love you too much to let you stay with me.” With that, she walked away. Keniston caught a glimpse of her as she headed for the door, a beautiful girl who walked with a cane. She’d seen her around the science buildings before, but never had her in class.

She looked at her notebook, where she had written Treva’s parting lines, and she could feel, like a kind of pressure, Ty in the booth behind her. Perhaps it was a trick of the ears, or her mind making her hear what she wanted to hear. She was pretty sure he was crying. She looked at the notebook again, sighed, and tore the page out and crumpled it up. She took her tray and stood, trying very hard not to look behind her at the poor, ruined boy in the booth. She stood there a moment, not moving, and then turned around.

Ty looked up as she sat down across from him. His eyes were red – she had been right. Even so, he was a handsome one. He’ll make some lucky guy very happy someday, she thought. She set the tray aside and leaned towards him on the table. “I overheard, Ty. I’m sorry.”

He nodded, sniffed, and wiped his nose. “Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”

“Dessert,” she said. “My treat.” She stood up, waiting for him to do the same. He rubbed his eyes clear again, nodded, and stood, not even bothering to sling his bag over his shoulder. “C’mon,” she said. “Nothing like ice cream when you’re the dumpee.” She put an arm around his shoulders. “Make it through this,” she said, “and you’ll have a great story on your hands.”

He started talking before they even got out of the student union. And she was right.

Day Seven: Confession

May 28, 2011 2 comments

The sound of the party receded as Palmer and Val walked down the driveway. Val took an ostentatious pull off the beer bottle – this was suburbia, after all. The odds of a cop coming around to bust him for drinking, much less underage drinking, were slim to none. Anyway, another year  and a half and he wouldn’t have to worry about that. He handed the bottle to Palmer. “Want some?” Palmer just shook his head and ran his fingers through his dark hair. “Suit yourself.”

Things got very quiet very quickly out here. Around one gently curving corner and you would never know there was a house full of college students in the drunken denouement of a party. So far there had been one pass-out, some guy who threw up in the bushes and decided to stay there for a little while, one drunken hook-up in the kitchen and a not-so-surprise break-up a little while later in the upstairs hall. It had all the drama a good party needed. Not to mention Dani from the drama club had been getting awfully familiar all night. Tequila shooters will do that to anyone, he reasoned, but she was laying it on a little thick.

It was only his long history with Palmer that could have brought him away from what was probably at the very least an inebriated grope session with a girl who was hot enough to make his friends jealous. Palmer had caught him when Dani went to get more beers. They were the same age, Palmer a little younger, and they had known each other forever. He was a good-looking guy, sure – more than a couple of lingering glances were laid on him that night. Palmer’s family was from all over the place, so he was exotic-looking enough for the girls to find exciting, but not so much that their fathers would throw a fit if they brought him home. He used to joke that one day the whole country would look like him and he’d lose his only advantage.

Palmer usually came to these parties and had just as much fun as anyone else – more if someone brought weed – but when he came up to Val and said, “I need to talk to you,” there was something… off in his voice.

Dani came bouncing back to them, a couple of beers in hand. “Hey there, P,” she said to Palmer. He didn’t look at her.

“Can I talk to you,” he asked Val again. “Outside?”

Val nodded. “Sure, man, no problem.” He took a beer from Dani. “I’ll be back in a minute, babe.” He smiled and popped the top off the beer as they headed outside. She may have said something to him, but he didn’t hear it.

They got to the front porch and Val drank off a sip of beer. “What’s up?”

Palmer looked at the ground, out into the darkness. Someone was throwing up around the corner of the house. “Let’s walk,” he said, and started for the driveway without looking back.

Now they had been walking for about five minutes, and no one had said anything. Val was halfway through the beer and wondering if Dani would still be there when he got back.

“Val,” Palmer said, maybe a little louder than he intended to. “Do you remember that trip our families took back in junior high? To your dad’s place on the beach?”

“Yeah,” Val said. “I remember I got a ridiculous sunburn. You made fun of me for days for that.” Palmer didn’t say anything, but Val was reasonably sure he smiled. “But, to your credit, you stayed in with me for the rest of the trip.”

“Yeah,” Palmer said. “How about the ski trip junior year?”

“The one where everyone started calling you ‘Avalanche?’ Yup, that was fun. I still can’t believe you didn’t break anything.”

“You stayed with me in the lodge,” he said. “You could have gone skiing with everyone else.”

“Could have, yeah,” Val said. “But what kind of asshole would I be then? You don’t do that to your friend,” he said, and put his arm around Palmer’s shoulders.

Palmer flinched. Val stopped walking and turned to face him. “Okay, what’s going on? You ask me out to talk, you don’t talk, and when you do talk you talk about shit that we did years ago. Now you’re bein’ all flinchy and weird. This isn’t you, man.” He brought the beer up for a drink. “So what’s wrong with you?”

Palmer looked up, and the yellow of the sodium streetlights gave his dark brown eyes a golden cast. “I love you, Val.”

The beer bottle was touching his lips, and would go no further. For a moment, Val thought his friend was kidding. One of those bromance jokes they did sometimes when they were drinking. But there was no joke to Palmer’s hunched shoulders, the shake in his voice, or the way he wasn’t quite meeting Val’s eyes. Looking between them, perhaps.

“Um. What?”

“Shit,” Palmer said. He started to walk away, and curved back. “Shit, shit, shit. I knew that was stupid, this whole thing was stupid. I have no idea what I was thinking.”

“Um.”

“Look,” he said, stopping in front of Val. He grabbed the bottle from his friend’s hand and drank off half of what was left. He swallowed and blinked. “That was stupid.” He turned away, handing the bottle back as he did so. For the briefest moment, Val was ready to let it drop, and only a couple of quick grabs kept it from shattering on the street. “I’m drunk,” Palmer said. “Never mind. I never said that. Let’s go back.”

“Palmer, wait.” Palmer turned around. When Val was sure he had his attention, he carefully – if a bit ungracefully – sat down on the curb and put the bottle down. He put his elbows on his knees, looked up at his friend and said, “Talk to me.”

“Val, no. I -”

“Talk. To me.”

Palmer looked around, either for a place to run to or for backup to come. He had neither. He walked to Val like a lapsed Catholic going to confession, knowing what he had to say and knowing that it was probably too late to say it.

He sat on the curb next to Val, crossed his legs and leaned back. Val was looking at him. The grass was wet and cold, and he couldn’t see the stars through the glare of the streetlight. Stars would have been nice.

“When we were eleven,” Palmer said, “I knew I wanted to be your friend. I remember the moment.” He smiled at the memory. “Town soccer club. I was the goalie, and I was having a great day. The game was almost over when you came down the field.”

Val chuckled. “Right, right. I had a straight shot at you.” He glanced over. “I mean. Um.”

“I know what you mean,” Palmer said, looking down. “There was no way I should have blocked that shot. But I did.”

“Yes you did,” Val said, picking up the bottle again. “Bastard.” That got the first chuckle he’d heard out of Palmer all night.

“After the game, you came over to me. I thought you were going to yell at me or kick my ass or something.” He looked over. “But you didn’t. You grinned and you held out a hand and said-”

“Fuck you. Fuck you very much,” they said together, and laughed. Palmer took the bottle and took a much smaller drink.

“I knew right there,” he went on. “And I did everything I could to be your friend.”

Val put his hand out, hesitated, and then put it on Palmer’s shoulder. This time his friend didn’t flinch. “You didn’t have to try that hard, man. Anyone who saved like that got extra credit in my book.”

“But that’s the thing,” Palmer said. “I did have to try that hard. And I didn’t even know why. Not really. Not until now.” He looked at Val from the corner of his eye. “There was always… something, Val. And now I know what it is.”

Val didn’t say anything.

“I love you.” Palmer said. “That’s all there is to it. That’s all there ever was.” He took a deep breath and said it again. “I love you.”

They sat there like that, on the curb under a streetlight, a respectable distance apart, for a long while. A dog barked once from a couple of streets away, and the crickets chirped from someone’s shrubbery. Palmer shifted his feet on the asphalt, and the sound was louder than it really should have been. There was no breeze, no moon. Just dark, sleeping houses, a small pool of orange light, and them, for a long while.