3.8 All of Me

March stared moodily at the fish tank kept in her last period classroom, lost in the hypnotic movements of the fish within. The teacher’s voice had been reduced to a droning hum at least half an hour earlier while she had watched the fish, thinking about her family and trying hard to ignore the whispered conversation two girls were carrying on behind her. In the months following February and Hector’s big dispute, March had struggled to accept the changes that indicated the “new normal” for the Callender family while enduring the latest obsession of all her classmates — prom.

March hadn’t exactly been dying to go to prom even before her life was turned upside down, but her mother had insisted it would be something she’d regret missing out on. While shopping for a dress, March had tried — without success — to talk some sense into February.

“I don’t get it, Mom…YOU didn’t even want to go to prom. Why are you making such a big deal about this?”

“Yes, I know…but looking back, it was so…magical and romantic,” February explained dreamily, a misty look in her eye. “Cameron held me so close…it was kind of like a fairy tale.”

“Cameron? Who’s Cameron?” The misty look in February’s eyes vanished at the question. She cleared her throat as she began busying herself shuffling through the closest rack of dresses.

“Oh, Cameron. He was my, well, my boyfriend…uhm, for a while. Through a lot of high school. What do you think of this one, honey?” She held up a garish purple number full of sequins. March wrinkled her nose in distaste, her mind still full of this sudden piece of romantic intrigue from her Mother’s past.

“Ew, no! And stop trying to change the subject! How come I’ve never heard about Cameron before, since he was so DREAMY and everything?” March demanded, her interest piquing as a slow flush began to overtake February’s face. February sighed, clearly wishing the subject could be as easily dismissed as the purple dress she was now shoving back onto the rack.

“Honestly, March, it isn’t that big a deal. We were just high school sweethearts, I guess…we grew apart. We didn’t really have that much in common to begin with.” March stared as her Mother’s face took on a deeper brick hue, sensing there was somehow more to the story than February was letting on.

“Oh, ew, Mom!” March squealed as a sudden thought occurred to her. “You aren’t about to tell me this guy’s my actual dad, are you?”

“Of course not, March! There’s no question about that…Hector is definitely your father. Unfortunately.” February muttered the last bit under her breath peevishly, but March still heard her. The teen rolled her eyes, electing not to comment. An uneasy truce had been forged between February and Hector after February’s discovery of Somer; initially, she had demanded that Hector move out immediately, but had eventually relented and allowed him to merely move into Martin Luther’s former bedroom — “For the sake of the girls,” she had said. Hector had seemed under the impression at first that February’s freeze out would only last for a few days, especially when she seemed to accept the copious amount of apologies he made towards her. But the days stretched into weeks that grew into months, with February refusing any of Hector’s advances. Valentine had left toddlerdom behind and grown into a child, watching as her mother spitefully threw roses Hector would bring her back into his face, and March wondered to herself how that environment could possibly be healthy “for the girls.”

To maintain some peace in the house, March had relented on the prom issue. She told herself that maybe the experience really would be a romantic chapter of her life to look back on rather than the overly crowded, tacky occasion she feared, but now, hours before the commencement of the dance, she found her hope harder to hold on to. Throngs of hyped up teenagers surged around her as soon as the closing bell sounded, chattering giddily about the evening’s festivities. March groaned inwardly as she eyed the lurid streamers festooning the hallway. Cal met her at the end of the hallway, grinning at her knowingly as he twirled his maroon scarf.

“Looking forward to tonight?” he asked mischievously, his light accent lending a musical quality to his query. March scowled and swatted her friend’s arm.

“You know I’m not,” she growled. “Are you SURE you can’t come and keep me company in my misery…just for a little while?”

“No can do, lovely. You know I have an Egyptian thing…I simply can’t get out of it. And besides, you don’t need a third wheel dogging you as you’re swept off your feet by the man of your dreams.”

“As if,” March muttered darkly. She cast a wistful eye at Cal, wishing, not for the first time, that she could summon some kind of attraction for him. It would have been perfect…he was so cultured, so witty, not hard to look at, and she loved him, with her whole heart. But there was no fire in her affection for him, no desire for anything more romantic than the chaste kiss he planted on her cheek as they left the school building.

“Cheer up, my lovely. It will be over before you know…and who knows? Maybe you will be surprised?”

*****

Somehow, March doubted that coming out of the shower with an unexpected head of turquoise hair was quite the surprise Cal had had in mind. Clearly, someone had been tampering with her shampoo….again.

“VALENTINE!!!” she screamed, glowering at her moisture streaked reflection in the mirror. “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR THIS!!!”

20140801-170355-61435595.jpg

“Chill out, sis. You look good in blue. Anyway, THEY would never let you go to your precious teenage ritual with blue hair, so don’t waste your time being mad.”

March opened her mouth to argue, but one look at her little sister’s eyes was enough to tell her not to bother. Valentine had been an odd baby, prone to finding provocation in anything, good or bad. As she’d grown into a child, the premonitions March had expressed regarding Valentine’s behavior had proven true; Valentine not only seemed completely disassociated with reality, but was prone to outbursts that had grown so alarming in their intensity that Hector and February has deemed it necessary to medicate their youngest daughter. Doped up Valentine still insisted that their lives were all under the control of “them” and refused to eat animals under the basis that they were only “fellow victims of the All Seeing Eyes”…but did so in a much more mellow, containable fashion. Tractable as she was in those states, March secretly preferred her excitable, lunatic baby sister.

Screenshot-7.jpg

“Ok, Vally, I’m sure you’re probably right,” murmured March soothingly. Valentine threw March a penetrative stare before turning back to the chess pieces she’d been shuffling around, muttering darkly to the board under her breath while March slipped back into the bathroom to rewash her hair and get dressed.

****

Long after March had left, and Valentine had retreated into her room, February sat by the window, gazing out at the night and pondering the fleet passage of time. After a while, she sensed Hector beside her. For a time, they sat in silence within their own thoughts, until February asked,

“Do you think I did the right thing, having her go?”

Hector hesitated, torn between honesty and the desire to keep peace between himself and February. Finally, he spoke tentatively.

“I’m not sure why you felt it was important….you certainly didn’t enjoy your own experience.” February glanced at him, surprised.

“You remember that?” she asked. By the time she and Hector had become good friends, that fateful prom had been long over. She hardly recalled even mentioning it in passing.

“Of course,” Hector answered, smiling. “I remember a lot of things…the important things.” He paused a moment before adding carefully, “I’ve had a lot to remember through the years.”

February considered Hector’s statement, mulling over the long period of time they’d shared. Looking at him now, she saw how his once bright red hair had acquired a silvery sheen; her own head was streaked with gray strands of its own. Their relationship unfurled before her like a ribbon, faded and knotted in some places, frayed thin in others, but still there, stretched between them, their two girls holding tight to each end. She thought of their girls — March never dating and going to prom alone, Valentine all too often lost in her own mad ramblings — and her own parents, living practically like strangers, leaving her and Martin Luther to lead lonely, fractured childhoods.

Then she took Hector’s hand. They sat silent once more, hands clasped, as they shared the evening and waited for their daughter, together.

3.1 Call Me Maybe

In what seemed like no time at all, unbearable cramps woke February from a deep sleep.  “Oh no,” thought February, “The baby’s coming!”  She felt so unprepared; after the disastrous way things had ended with Cameron — not to mention the horrific events the last time she’d seen Hector — she had thrown herself into her writing, loosely basing the torrid events of her short life in a novel she called Right, But Wrong.  Of course she hadn’t forgotten that she’d soon be a mother…but she was completely unprepared for the reality; she hadn’t even gotten around to buying a crib.  Terrified, February drove herself to the hospital, where she gave birth to a baby girl she named March.

March was not an easy baby, especially for an exhausted, emotionally overwrought single mother.  Between feedings, diaper changes, and generally comforting her newborn daughter, February could barely find time to shower, eat, or use the bathroom, and she never got a full night’s sleep.  Martin Luther helped occasionally…when he remembered that March existed…but was usually busy doing his own thing, especially after Tam finally turned eighteen.

Seeing her little brother with his boyfriend was bittersweet for February; she loved that he was so in love, but she was so lonely.  Although, surprisingly, she rarely found herself thinking of Cameron, she still missed Hector terribly.  She called him every now and again, using March as an excuse to talk to him, and, although he was always courteous with her, he maintained a polite distance.  Gone was the camaraderie they had once shared; furthermore, although he seemed interested in his daughter, he never offered to help care for her.  February told herself she didn’t mind; she even felt that she deserved it after what she had done to both Hector and Cameron…still, she wished that he would at least come see her.  Finally, she summoned the courage to invite him over; to her surprise, Hector agreed.

****


February snuggled her infant daughter close as they waited patiently for Hector to arrive.  Hector had always been punctual, in the past…of course, that was before all of the misunderstandings that had ruined February and Hector’s friendship.  Although Hector had sounded civil enough over the phone, his first visit with March had been scheduled nearly an hour ago, and there was still no sign of him to be found.  Always fussy, March had begun to grow restive and February was just about to give up and go back inside when an errant ray of sunlight caught a familiar thatch of brilliantly red hair, heralding Hector’s arrival.

“Hey, you,” February offered Hector a crooked smile as he crossed into her yard, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his cargo shorts.  Hector nodded and returned her smile halfheartedly, but his eyes remained focused on the squirming pink blanket she held.

“Is that her?” he asked.  February nearly retorted that no, this was actually a completely different baby that she’d been holding in her yard for three quarters of an hour, but thought better of it.

“Yeah, this is the little screamer.  Isn’t she gorgeous?”  She pushed back a fold of the blanket so that Hector could better see March’s perfect, round face.  “Would you like to hold her?”  Hector, who had leaned forward to look at his baby, rolled abruptly back onto his heels, his hands burrowing even deeper into his pockets as if he expected that February would force the baby onto him.  “Er…no, that’s quite all right.  She looks a little fractious; I’m sure you know how to handle her much better than I.”

“Well, she did get a little…fractious…while we were out waiting on you,” February remarked, trying to keep an edge out of her voice.  “She could probably use a bottle; do you want to come in and feed her?”  Hector actually backed up slightly at February’s offer, though whether his nervousness was due to entering the house or feeding the baby February couldn’t be sure.  “Oh no, no, it’s probably best if I just stay out here…but please, feel free to bring her inside and get her comfortable.  I don’t mind remaining out here.”

“Oh…okay,” February answered agreeably, although she couldn’t help wondering why Hector had come all the way out today if he didn’t even want to hold his own baby.  She suspected that he still felt uncomfortable around her and planned to leave as soon as she brought March inside; to her surprise, she found him waiting still when she came back out, in spite of the fact that she’d taken her time settling March down.  He turned as she approached, gesturing towards the water slide that Martin Luther had recently purchased on a whim.  “I don’t remember seeing that around before,” Hector pronounced a bit awkwardly.

“Uh…no, it’s fairly new….you wanna play on it?” February asked, nonplussed when Hector eagerly agreed.  The pair spent much of the remainder of the evening slipping merrily along on the rubbery toy, careful to keep their conversation light, until February was finally forced to give in to her mounting exhaustion and call it a night.  “I’ll just go get the baby so you can tell her good-bye,” she said, emerging a few minutes later with her refreshed, sweetly cooing daughter.  Though Hector still made no move to actually touch March, he seemed content to spend several minutes drinking in the sight of his now serene baby daughter.

“She’s really beautiful,” he breathed reverently.  “She’s so…pure, like snow or…or lamb’s wool.”

“Yeah,” February agreed affectionately, surreptitiously eying Hector’s still damp, shirtless torso.  “She’s just as pretty as her daddy is handsome.”  Hector, picking up on the flirtatious undertones February had unconsciously injected into her remark, recoiled immediately, frowning disapprovingly.

“I should really be going,” he said gruffly, tugging his shirt back on.  February nodded silently in resignation, keeping her eyes chastely on March until Hector had clothed himself.  He hesitated just a moment before bidding her farewell in a stiff voice and beginning his walk home.  A few moments after he’d left, February went inside to get ready for bed, convinced that, no matter how she felt about Hector, whatever shortlived romance there had been between them was over for good.

2.15 Wide Awake

After the fight with Cameron, February spent the next two months being pregnant and hoping that time and space would allow Cameron’s wounds to heal enough for him to forgive her.  She avoided Hector, in spite of Martin Luther’s not so subtle hints and the gnawing of her own conscience.  February’s confrontation with Cameron had left her dreading Hector’s reaction when he found out he was going to be a father with someone he wasn’t even in a relationship with.  As usual, Martin Luther eventually provided the guidance that gave February enough courage to broach the subject with Hector.

“February, listen, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I can’t fight this feeling anymore,” Martin Luther began one morning at the breakfast table.  February sighed, already exhausted by the prospect of trying to divine Martin Luther’s meaning out of the muddle of words that normally made up his monologues.  Sensing her displeasure, Martin Luther opted to keep his message short.

“Tell him,” he said, glancing meaningfully at her bulging belly before getting up and leaving for the studio.  Crestfallen, February buried her face in her hands for a moment before taking a deep breath and dialing Hector’s number.

****

An hour and a half later, February found herself waddling down to the secluded fishing spot where Hector had asked her to meet him.  Like Cameron, Hector had been delighted to hear from February, although his normally chipper demeanor had been significantly dampened by the recent death of his mother.  “It’d be great to see you,” Hector had remarked wistfully towards the end of the conversation.  “I’m just out fishing, you know, trying to ‘find myself’ or whatever…why don’t you come on up?  It would do my heart good.”

“Ah…that would be nice…I mean, there is something I kind of need to tell you about,” February had responded, absently grazing her burgeoning girth with her fingertips.  Now she took a deep breath, smoothed down her billowy blouse, and prepared herself for the ugly scene she was sure would proceed shortly after greeting Hector.  To February’s surprise, Hector regarded her newly lush figure with frank admiration.

“Wow, February, it’s been longer than I’d realized…you look…amazing,” Hector gushed, a silent question forming in his eyes as he gazed appreciatively at his friend.

“Yeah.  I mean, thank you.  I’m pregnant.  With your baby,” February babbled, too unnerved to attempt a more graceful pronouncement.  She squared her shoulders and prepared for the inevitable outburst that would soon break Hector’s stunned silence.  Instead, his eyes lit up as a wide grin slowly began to take over his face.

“Really?” he gasped, clasping his hands together excitedly.  “That’s terrific news!”  February stared at him, dumbfounded.

“You mean…you’re not mad?” she asked, too stunned to feel relieved by Hector’s unexpectedly pleased reaction.

“Mad?  No way, I couldn’t be happier!  I love kids, always wanted some of my own…I only wish that Mom was around to see her grandkid, but, regardless, this baby is going to have everything he, or she, could ever want, aren’t you, sweetie-pie?” enthused Hector as he leaned over to coo adoringly at February’s belly.

Happiness flooded February’s body as she watched the joy that radiated from Hector transform his features.  “Oh, Hector…I’m so glad you feel this way.  I’ve been so worried about how you’d react, after what happened with Cameron and everything; now I think maybe things are gonna be okay.  You don’t have to break off things with Kurt, of course, and Cameron…well, Cam will come around.  He just has to, and what happened between us just won’t ever happen again….what’s the matter, Hector?  Why are you looking at me like that?”  During February’s elated monologue, Hector had straightened and was now staring at her, wearing a look of confused suspicion.

“What do you mean, ‘Cameron will come around’…?” he asked.

“Oh!” February exclaimed, misunderstanding the meaning behind Hector’s sudden change in manner.  “I’m sorry, Hector…I told Cameron about the baby first.  I wanted to tell you, of course, but I thought he should hear it from me instead of someone else, just in case it got out.  Not that I guess it really mattered, in the end…he was still pretty upset,” she sighed pensively.

“…why would he be so upset?” Hector questioned, frowning.

“Well, because we’ve been together so long…” February stammered, then broke off as Hector’s expression shifted ominously.  A cold feeling of dread began to gather in the pit of her stomach.

“Together?”  Hector repeated.  “You and Cameron?  As in, he’s your boyfriend?”

“Yes…of course.  Since high school…I thought you knew,” February responded.  Hector’s face had grown as bright as his hair; he took a step back from February as if he needed more distance to decipher what sort of person she actually was.  “I don’t understand,” February murmured miserably.  “You have a boyfriend…why should it matter if I do, too?”

“It’s different with us,” Hector growled, his eyes stony. “Kurt and I have an understanding. We aren’t to see other men, but are free to have relationships with women, should we choose to do so. I never would have become involved with you, had I known that you were not free.”  February gaped at him, horrified and ashamed. She’d had no idea that Hector had never been cheating on Kurt with her, nor that he’d been unaware of her relationship with Cameron. All this time, she’d merely assumed that they had both been involved in an illicit affair. She felt so guilty.

February was certain that the situation could not possibly get any worse as she and Hector regarded each other in a silence that was becoming increasingly more awkward; she realized she was wrong when she heard a familiar voice behind her say, “Well, well, well…might’ve known you’d be up here with…him.”

“Hello, Cameron,” February muttered, turning to greet her estranged boyfriend.  “Hector and I were just…” she trailed off, unsure of how to finish her sentence.  Hector filled the tense pause.

“February was just explaining her…situation…to me.  I assure you, Cameron, I had no idea that you and she are involved.”

Were involved,” Cameron corrected coldly.  “That’s what I came to say.  You and me, we’re through, February.  I went to your house to tell you in person… figured it was the right thing to do, not that you deserve it.  Your brother told me you’d be here.  I wanted to get it over with…didn’t realize I’d be interrupting…something.”  February cringed, but otherwise took Cameron’s news rather stoically; given all of the more recent events, not much could shock her at that moment.  “Yeah, so…you and your baby daddy are now completely free to…whatever,” Cameron concluded rather lamely.  Hector shook his head furiously.

“Oh, no.  No, of course I’ll be there for my child — assuming it even IS my child — but I want no part of the mother,” he pronounced emphatically, behaving almost as if February wasn’t even standing right in front of him.

“Well…whatever,” Cameron repeated, turning to begin his trek homeward.  February watched despondently as her former sweetheart walked away without even bothering to spare her a backwards glance.  “Well…I suppose that’s that, then,” she thought dismally.  “There’s really nothing left to say, either to Cameron or to Hector.”  Casting Hector one last sad look, February began her own journey towards home to decide what to do next.

2.14 Where Have You Been

February stared down at the test in her hand and waited for the imminent shock and fear she knew she should be feeling to take its hold on her.  It was hard to believe that what ultimately amounted to nothing but a small, cheap bit of plastic could hold the power to alter her life so drastically…yet there she was, sitting on the edge of the bathtub in her family’s tiny bathroom, feeling nothing but wave after wave of numbness.  The four short months since February’d awakened  groggy and confused in her parents’ bed next to Hector seemed like an eternity ago.  She had at first believed herself small again, snuggled deep under the comfort of her parents’ presence after waking from a childhood nightmare, until she’d seen Hector’s shock of red hair and all of the sorrowful memories had come flooding back.

A solitary tear trailed its lonely way down February’s cheek now as she continued to stare blankly at the device confirming what she had been suspecting for some time now.  At first, she hadn’t thought much of it when her cycles had stopped; she’d blamed stress from losing her parents, and, of course, her own act of betrayal without stopping to think that sleeping with Hector maybe had more to do with missing her periods than just causing her some emotional anguish.  Then her weight had started climbing, while certain smells and foods made her stomach turn.  Suspicions had begun weighing on her mind at that point, but she ignored them in the hopes that the problem wouldn’t exist so long as she failed to acknowledge it.  However, Martin Luther, who was spending more and more time out of the house now that he’d secured a job as a stylist at the local salon, took one look at his sister after not seeing her for about a week and remarked, “You’re having his baby…what a wonderful way to show how much you love him?”

“Oh, shut up,” February snapped, glowering moodily at her brother.  Martin Luther raised his eyebrows but refrained from making any additional comments.  Later that evening, February had found the pregnancy test sitting unobtrusively on her bed and had finally condescended to face the consequences of her actions.

“Well,” she sighed, tucking the used kit in the trashcan and wiping her face.  “I guess it’s time to talk to Cameron.”

****

Cameron was just heading out of the Wan household where he’d been hanging out all evening when his cell phone rang.  The sight of February’s name on his screen set his pulse racing, just as it had been since the day she’d been assigned his lab partner in high school so many years ago.  He hadn’t heard much from her in the past few months since her dad had died, so he was naturally elated that she was actually calling him for a change.

“Hey beautiful, what’s up?  It’s good to hear your voice,” Cameron enthused, then sobered as he registered February’s somber tone.   “You need to talk?  Nothing too bad, I hope,” he joked, hoping to lighten the mood; unfortunately, his forced joviality did nothing to improve February’s spirits.  If anything, she actually sounded even sadder when she asked if it was all right for her to come by his house.  “Oh, hey, don’t worry about coming all the way out there; I’m just over at the Wan’s house; it’d be much easier to meet me here, or I can come to you — no?  Ok…if you’re sure…I can’t wait to see you.”  Cameron hung up, concern creasing his features.  The last time he’d heard February sound quite so serious had been the time she’d met him at the stadium to break things off with him.  He had instantly known that day what her intentions had been, and, although he’d never been sure why she hadn’t gone through with it, he’d always been grateful that she had seemed to change her mind.  He’d also been relieved when she stopped hanging around that Hector guy so much; there had been a time when he’d really begun to think that something might be going on between them.  Trying to calm his nerves, Cameron settled down on the steps of the Wan’s front porch to anxiously wait for his girlfriend to arrive.

It wasn’t long before February rounded the corner and began to make her way down the street.  Excitement burst through Cameron at the sight of her in spite of the likelihood that she bore bad news; he jumped to his feet to greet her, then paused uncertainly.  He had actually seen February even less than he’d spoken to her since the death of her dad; he had been aware that February was avoiding him, but believed at the time that she had merely wished to grieve in private.  Now, cold dread poured like ice water down his heart as he regarded the figure of his girlfriend.  There was something subtly different about her, a foreign fullness that he may not have noticed had he seen her on a more regular basis.  He stood still and watched her slow approach until she stopped a few feet from him and regarded him solemnly.

“Hello, Cameron.”

“‘Lo, February.”  February hesitated a moment, struck by their sudden formality.  “I have something to tell you,” she finally murmured.

“You do.”  Meant as a question, Cameron’s utterance came out as a flat statement instead.  February flushed, then took a deep breath and began.

“Cameron, I…we’ve been together a long time, and you know that I love you…”  February paused, possibly waiting for Cameron to say something to encourage her; when he remained silent, she forced herself to continue.

“I…know this is going to be hard to take but…Cameron, I’m pregnant,” February finally managed to blurt out.

For a long moment, Cameron simply stared at February.  He wanted to feel surprise, shock, even anger, but all he seemed to feel as he looked into the tear-filled eyes of the girl he’d loved since they were teenagers was numbness.

“It’s Hector’s, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.  February nodded and then began spilling out  an explanation as to why it had all happened.  Cameron watched her silently, listening to the river of words she was pouring at his feet like an offering of wine, but not really hearing anything she was saying.  A spark of anger finally began to grow, fed by the sheer volume of sounds February was relentlessly expelling.

“Stop.  Just…stop talking.  Everything that’s coming out of your mouth is garbage,” he fumed.  Shocked, February tasted rich, coppery blood coat her bitten tongue as she abruptly snapped her mouth closed.

“How could you do this to me, to us?” Cameron continued.  “I love you….I changed everything for you.  I tried to give you space, and this is what you do?  You go behind my back and get yourself knocked up like…like some kind of back alley tramp??”  February cringed, but Cameron was too consumed with hurt and anger to notice, or care if he had.  “I know you, I know you better than everyone else, even that little red-headed freak you hang around with…I know why you did this.  I know it’s all about your parents, but dammit, February, why didn’t you come to ME for once?”

“I…I…I’m so sorry, Cameron, so sorry, please…you’re right, I should have come to you when my dad…just please —,” February stammered through the rain of tears that flooded her face and clogged her throat.  Cameron’s anger boiled over at the mere sight of her.

“Shut up!  Shut up!” he screamed, completely losing control of his temper.  “Just get away from me!  I don’t even want to look at you anymore!”

Terrified, February broke down.  “No, no, please Cameron, I love you so much, I do, please, I just want things to be ok, please…”  Cameron glared at her as she dissolved in tears in front of him, his face impassive.

“Go home, February.  Just…go,” he advised stonily before turning away from her and walking back into the Wan home, leaving February no choice but to return to her own house, exhausted and broken.

2.13 Brokenhearted

click click clack click clack clack…

February had been sitting in front of the computer for well over an hour, simply staring blankly at the screen, before the right words  to express the idea she’d been brewing finally began to leak into her brain.  Writing had always seemed like the obvious choice for her as a career…long hours of quiet solitude, setting her own hours, and working exclusively with her own ideas…so she was surprised when composing her first novel turned out to be a struggle for her.

“Dad could have warned me,” February had thought grumpily when she had first taken her place at the desk in the wee hours of the morning.  “But then, THAT might have required actual communication of some sort.”  A stab of guilt pierced February’s heart at what she perceived as an uncharitable thought towards her father…true, Connor had always been known for being pretty taciturn, but he had lost his wife only months ago.  With a sigh, February laboriously began the process of putting her thoughts onto paper.  Martin Luther got up to find his sister furiously typing away, her thoughts having finally begun to find their flow, and had unobtrusively settled himself at the kitchen table with his breakfast when Connor unexpectedly stepped out of his room.

“Kids,” he began awkwardly, training his gaze at his shoes rather than at his children, “I’m going to be going out in a bit to visit with your Uncle Jared.”  February spun in her seat and gaped openly at her father, all of her carefully constructed plot lines forgotten instantly.  Martin Luther, on the other hand, merely nodded approvingly.  “Good vibrations,” he mumbled through a mouthful of cereal.  “We are family.”  Connor nodded hesitantly at his son before shuffling back into his room and quietly closing the door.  Utterly perplexed, February swung her baffled gaze from her parents’ bedroom door to Martin Luther.  “What,” she demanded “was that all about?”  For once, however, Martin Luther seemed to have nothing to say; he merely smiled enigmatically at his sister and slurped noisily at his Frosted Llamas.   “Whatever,” February muttered, rolling her eyes and resettling herself in front of the computer.   She had only just regained her lost train of thought when the jarring notes of Martin Luther’s ringtone cut through her senses, sending everything she had just come up with dancing away just out of her reach once again.

“Martin Luther!” February shrieked, slamming her hand on the keyboard in frustration, “Seriously??”  Martin Luther grinned a bit evilly at his sister before pressing the “receive” button and holding the phone to his ear.  He didn’t say “hello;” he never did unless he was sure of the caller’s identity.  “Could be a stranger,” he would explain.  February couldn’t believe he still hadn’t gotten past the whole “stranger danger” thing…honestly, he was so weird.  She crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out, trying hard to distract her brother, but, aside from the tips of his ears flushing crimson, Martin Luther failed to take February’s bait.  Shrugging dismissively, February was just beginning to turn her attention once more to her slowly developing novel when Martin Luther’s face suddenly changed.  Before February’s concerned eyes, the somewhat vague smile that normally adorned her brother’s face slipped from his lips and his shoulders fell into a dismal slump.  “What is it?” February hissed, “What is going on?”  In response, Martin Luther wordlessly held his cell phone out to his sister.  With trepidation, February accepted the device and held it to her ear, expecting to hear Tam on the other end explaining that he no longer wanted to be Martin Luther’s boyfriend.  Instead, the distinct tones of Pauline Wan came shrieking through the earpiece.

“You hear me, Martin Luther??  Your uncle, he is dead in my house!  You come get him RIGHT NOW!”

“Oh, my Plumbob…” February murmured.  Quickly, she identified herself to Pauline, who wasted no time in explaining that Uncle Jared had come to visit the Wan home a few hours earlier before succumbing to a heart attack in their living room.  “I don’t want no stinky old dead man in front of my t.v. while I watch my shows!  You come get him right now!” Pauline was quick to add at the end of her shrill tirade.  “Erm…I think you’ll need to call the police about actually, ah, picking him up —” February managed before Pauline interrupted with an outraged squeal.  “Police?!  No way, that good for nothing scumbag Hank Goddard is police.  No way he stepping foot in my house!”  After several more minutes, February finally convinced Pauline to call Jared’s longtime girlfriend, Claire Ursine, while February contacted the police station, on the condition that the “good for nothing Officer Scumbag” not be assigned the case, of course.

“This can not be happening,” February groaned after disconnecting the call.  “Dad’s finally starting to get out of his funk and now we’ve gotta tell him that his brother just died.”

“What…?”  Unnoticed in all of the commotion, Connor had crept out of his room just in time to hear February’s upsetting proclamation.  February exchanged a horrified glance with her brother before turning concerned eyes to the suddenly ashen countenance of her father.  “My brother…?” Connor asked feebly, his trembling hand pressed tightly against his chest.

“He…died this morning, Dad; I’m so sorry….we’ll take care of everything, you won’t have to worry about — Dad?  Daddy?!”  As February spoke, Connor seemed to melt into himself until he was lying in a limp heap on the ground.  Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, yet far too fast for February to react at all.  Instead, Martin Luther made his way across the kitchen and knelt by his fallen father’s side, carefully cradling Connor’s slackened hand with more gentleness than February had been aware her brother was capable of.  After several tense moments, February tentatively called Martin Luther’s name; Martin Luther met her eyes and slowly shook his head.  “Another one bites the dust,” he intoned solemnly.

****

Well, people, this is it.  This is the moment right here that changed everything…although I guess you could say that it all really started after my mom died.  You know, I never could quite recall my exact actions right after Martin Luther’s little pronouncement…I don’t know why I automatically went to Hector instead of Cameron, unless it was ’cause Hector was with me when Mom passed and so maybe I thought he could help me get through Dad’s death, too….I dunno.  I guess it doesn’t really make any sense.  I really didn’t mean for the rest of it to happen; I barely even remember the rest of it happening…I remember showing up at Hector’s house right after he got home from work….I remember crying a lot, thinking that he looked really great in his work suit, feeling guilty about thinking that, and crying some more.  He convinced me to let him take me to the Bistro ’cause I was starving, and I felt guilty about that, too, because that would leave Martin Luther to take care of Dad all alone…but Hector reminded me that I had had to take care of Mom all alone, so it was only fair.  And then….well, and then I asked him to spend the night with me.  Well, not with me, but you know, at my house…I didn’t even want to go back, honestly, but I didn’t know where else to go…yeah, I know, this is the part where I probably should have called Cameron…I should have.  I know.  But I didn’t.

When we got to my place, it was all still and cold, and I honestly didn’t think Martin Luther was even home.  I told Hector he could take Martin Luther’s bed, and then I got into the shower.  When I got out, there was a light on in my parents’ room…I figured it must’ve been left on by mistake, but when I went in to turn it off, there was Hector, sleeping in my parents’ bed.  See, Martin Luther was in his own room, but I didn’t know that, and Hector got confused and just went into my parents’ room instead.  He didn’t know any better, but I totally freaked out.  I woke him up, crying like some kind of psycho, and he tried to calm me down…and…I don’t know, one minute I’m crying, and the next minute he’s kissing me, and, and….well.  I guess you probably can figure out the rest for yourselves.

2.12 Somebody that I Used to Know

The hot sun beat down on Martin Luther’s head, exacerbating the heat already generated by the stiff mortar board he wore.  He stood patiently by the rose trellis his mother had planted soon after their house had been built while February cooed and fawned over him, snapping picture after picture of him in his cumbersome graduation gown.

In the months following January’s death, the remaining members of the Callender family had each tried in their own way to knit themselves back together, with varying degrees of success.  In spite of her resolution, February had not managed to break things off with Cameron after all.  Cameron seemed so different to her now, though still the same handsome guy she’d danced the night away with at Prom. As they’d talked and caught up the day after January’s unexpected passing, February came to discover that, although she did have feelings for Hector, she still cared for Cameron as well.  Martin Luther, on the other hand, had been forced to cool his romance with Tam down a bit after his eighteenth birthday, as Legacy Town kept strict regulations regarding teen-adult relationships.  Ever rebellious, Tam had initially balked at Martin Luther’s adherence to Legacy Town laws, but when Martin Luther’s resolve remained firm, Tam had reluctantly followed suit as well.

Meanwhile, Connor, never having been one for familial bonding in the first place, seemed to withdraw even deeper within himself after losing January.  Connor had been alone with his wife at the time of her unexpected death, so it had fallen to him to tell both of his children the grim news.  Afterward, he had retreated into a deep, impenetrable silence, leaving February and Martin Luther to deal with all of the details surrounding putting January to rest.  Bewildered by all of the responsibility, February had elected to quietly have January cremated; Connor kept her remains in a small, plain box in their bedroom, which he rarely vacated.  Connor’s total disengagement terrified February, as much for Martin Luther’s sake as for her own.  As kids, Martin Luther had always been the one to seek out his big sister while she had always shunned him; now, guilt-ridden, February attempted to be both mother and father to her younger brother.

In actuality, Martin Luther was truly fine.  While Connor grieved for his wife and February mourned the loss of any opportunity to forge much-needed connections with her mother, Martin Luther had concluded long before January’s actual death that his mother was absent from his life.  While January’s physical disappearance seemed to matter much less to Martin Luther than it did for Connor or February, Martin Luther recognized his sister’s gestures toward him and appreciated her concern.

“It’s kind of nice, to have family,” he thought idly as he landed a gorgeous rainbow trout several weeks after his graduation ceremony.  He’d taken up fishing soon after his eighteenth birthday as a distraction from Tam, whose physical demands had started becoming more…demanding.  Although Tam had gotten much better about the hands-off approach more recently, Martin Luther found that he still enjoyed the peaceful solitude he could find when casting a reel and pulling in various forms of aquatic life.  It was nice to have family, but it was also nice to get away from them occasionally.  February was being almost too nice to him and his dad lately.  It was as if she were trying to cram about eighteen years’ worth of solicitude and family bonding time into a few months.  Martin Luther didn’t quite have the heart to just ignore her, as Connor was wont to do, but neither could he simply wake up one day and pretend they were all one happy family.  Luckily, February had been seeing more of Cameron again, and, between him and Hector, February hadn’t quite managed to smother her father and brother to death — yet, anyway.

“Still, Martin Luther considered as he gently released the trout back into its pond, “at least she’s trying…which is certainly more than I can say for that little traitor Marie.  Maybe I should help her out…she can’t get through to Dad, but maybe Uncle Jared can.”  Martin Luther knew that Connor and his brother had once been close, but, after Connor’s marriage to January, Connor had become something of a recluse and the relationship between the brothers had suffered.  Connor hadn’t spoken to Jared for years, and Martin Luther was sure he’d never actually met his uncle.  Seeing no real reason to begin letting little things like common social formalities stop him now, Martin Luther gamely made his way across town to the small house that Jared lived in.

****

Darkness had nearly fallen by the time Martin Luther returned home.  February and Cameron had apparently just come in from the water slide and were standing at the kitchen table in their bathing suits, flirting and dripping all over the floor.

Martin Luther paid them no mind as he crossed the house to the bedroom his parents had shared.  Cameron had grown up quite a bit since that long-ago day that Martin Luther had accosted him from the safety of his tree house, and Martin Luther was glad to see his sister happy; nevertheless, he remained convinced that Cameron was still a stranger with no possibility of becoming a permanent fixture in the Callender home.  Gingerly, he knocked on his parents’ bedroom door before opening it to face his father.  Connor sat very still on the edge of the bed he’d shared with January for so many years.  The furniture now seemed too big for his slight frame.  He raised his eyes slowly, barely acknowledging his son’s presence.

“Hey Dad.  I just came in to say that I visited Uncle Jared today.  You know, he’s not heavy.  He’s your brother,” Martin Luther announced.  His abrupt statement earned him a raised eyebrow from Connor but little else.  “So anyway,” Martin Luther continued, unfazed, “He’s hardly a stranger in the night.  But nothing lasts forever, especially candles and rain.  Everyone eventually spreads their broken wings and flies away, but before that, you have to lift your sunken eyes so you can see.  Got it?”  Before Connor had a chance to answer, Martin Luther had closed the door, leaving his father alone with his thoughts and memories once more.

For long moments, Connor remained still, staring at the wall and contemplating Martin Luther’s words.  Regrets…he had so many of them.  His son was a very strange boy, but Connor knew that he had a good heart.  February…she was so much like her father, always content to be alone, always unsure of what her next step should be.  He knew that he had failed them both in many ways, but they, at least, had had the benefit of his physical presence.  He didn’t know their older half-siblings at all.  He had left his first wife, Janis, while their daughter Delilah was still only a toddler.  He’d never bothered to look back.  Harrison, his son with his  ex-girlfriend Diana, had hardly fared better; he used to come around from time to time as a child, but eventually had given up on Connor and moved on with his life.  Why had Connor let them go?  Why had he allowed everyone he loved to slip away?

Suddenly he rose from the bed, an unfamiliar firmness fixing his chin.  “Why am I just sitting here moping about the past?” he thought.  “The past is over and done with…but I’m still here.  My kids are still here.  My brother is still here…but Martin Luther is right.  He won’t be around forever.  None of us will be.  It’s time to start fixing things…it’s time to go visit Jared.  Right now.  Well…” Connor’s gaze fell upon the darkened window pane that divided his room from the night that had long since settled in.  The hour had grown much later than he’d realized.  “First thing tomorrow morning,” he amended, and settled back onto his mattress with a sigh to wait for another long, sleepless night to slowly pass.

2.11 We are Young

Groggily, February prized open her heavy lids and surveyed her unfamiliar surroundings.  She was lying fully clothed in a strange bed in someone else’s room….why?  Then, with a sudden rush of agonizing clarity, February remembered: her mother was gone.  She was in Hector’s house.  Although merely hours ago, the recollection of Hector explaining apologetically that his home housed only one bed, which was normally shared by himself and his aging, senile mother, seemed a distant memory.

“I know it sounds utterly bizarre, but she would never allow us to spend the night in the same room, even though there’s nothing at all like that between us.  I would take the couch myself, but Mother is nothing if not eccentric and it would really be best if you stayed in the living room.”  February smiled thinly and assured Hector that she honestly didn’t mind, and she was so sorry for inconveniencing his family.  However, after a long, uncomfortable night on the Cusack-Little’s lumpy, decrepit couch, February found herself still awake in the early hours of the morning as Hector’s mother left for work.  Too exhausted to register any idea of pride, February had crept into bed with Hector and fallen deeply asleep.  Now, in the lucidity brought on by a new day, February felt ashamed of herself.  It was time for her to stop acting like an irresponsible teenager and grow up.  It was time to stop disrespecting Cameron and end things with him, no matter the future she and Hector had — or didn’t have — together.

Dreading the inevitable, but relieved that a decision had finally been made, February left a note thanking Hector and his mother for their hospitality and traveled across town to Cameron’s house where, to her surprise, his dad informed her that Cameron was working over at the stadium.  Curious, February made her way to the stadium to visit her estranged beau.  Cameron’s eyes lit up at the sight of her.

“Febs!  Oh my God, what are you doing here?  You look amazing!” Cameron enthused, wrapping February in a giant bear hug.

“Uh, hi Cameron,” February replied, somewhat taken aback.  “I came to talk…do you have a minute?”

“For you…I’ve got all the time in the world,” Cameron answered, smiling in the charming, rakish way February knew so well.  February took a deep breath, sat in the chair Cameron offered, and began.

****

Tam couldn’t understand how it had happened.  One minute he was plotting Martin Luther’s unpleasant demise, the next he was making out with him…what could possibly have gone wrong?  It was as if he’d been bewitched.  Since Prom, Martin Luther frequently asked if Tam would like to come over; every time, Tam would accept, convincing himself that the only reason he was visiting the Callender home was to increase his arsenal against Martin Luther….yet each and every time, he and Martin Luther would wind up spending hours playing Gnubb, or just talking.  Tam told himself, and anyone else that would listen, that he hated every moment of time he was forced to spend with Martin Luther…but his claims never stopped him from continuing to see the young man.

Like most of his peers, Dwayne Langerak-Bunch was too afraid of Tam to bother trying to refute his allegations; however, Dwayne bore no fear at all towards Martin Luther.  In some obscure way unbeknownst to him, Martin Luther had managed somehow to steal Tam’s heart, and everyone in school — with the exception of Tam — knew it.  Dwayne felt hurt, angry, and humiliated, and, as Tam was out of his reach, Dwayne was determined to get back at Martin Luther, one way or another.  Brief as his fling with Tam had been, Dwayne had managed to pick up a few tricks in the duration and slowly began an invasive campaign against Martin Luther’s emotions.  Within Martin Luther’s hearing — though never while he was in Tam’s company — Dwayne casually began to bring Tam up to other students.  When merely commenting on conversations that Dwayne pretended he and Tam had had on the phone the night before didn’t seem to affect Martin Luther, Dwayne decided it was time to up the ante a little bit and started having imaginary exchanges with Tam on his cell.

“Oh, hey, Tam,” Dwayne began at the end of one day while waiting outside the school for his ride home.  Martin Luther was standing nearby, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.  Dwayne watched him surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye as he continued with his inventive monologue.  “Oh my God, I had the greatest time last night!  How did you know how much I love the Bistro?”  Dwayne paused a moment, allowing “Tam” time to reply, then tittered coquettishly and simpered, “Oh, I know what you mean…some people just can’t seem to take a hint.  You’re just too sweet to say no to anyone!  Anyway, I’m glad for any time you can get away from your little leech and spend time with moi.”  Martin Luther frowned, and Dwayne smiled coyly to himself, pleased with the small crack in his rival’s demeanor.

While Dwayne cooed senseless endearments into his powered-off phone, Martin Luther mulled the apparent situation over in his mind.  Tam had been hanging out with him a lot lately, which was nice; he didn’t seem to mind most of the things Martin Luther said anymore, and he appeared to like kissing, which was VERY nice.  But Tam had never said that Martin Luther was his boyfriend, and, from the sound of things, was actually more interested in Dwayne.  Understandably, Martin Luther was a little hurt by this revelation, but, since Tam had been kind to him and willing to accept him for who he was, Martin Luther was determined that he would pay Tam the same consideration.  After all, Marie had always taught him that if something didn’t belong to him, he needed to leave it alone…or did she say he needed to steal it…?  Martin Luther only wished that Tam had been honest with him from the start.  However, now that Martin Luther knew the truth, he was determined to set things right.  Grimly, he approached Dwayne.

“Dwayne.  I hear you like the Bistro.  Would you want to come with me and have…some Bistro food, or whatever it is they do over there?” he asked his astonished schoolmate.  Too nonplussed to respond otherwise, Dwayne nodded dumbly and the two boys made their way to the little greasy spoon in the center of town.  Once seated, Martin Luther, never one to mince words, folded his arms and surveyed Dwayne seriously from across the table.  “So,” he began, “you and Tam are a ‘thing.'”  Surprised, Dwayne hesitated.  Lying would be easy, and probably effective; however, should Martin Luther talk with Tam about Dwayne’s behavior, everything up to this point could be explained away as merely a misunderstanding on Martin Luther’s part.  Dwayne wasn’t afraid of Martin Luther, but Tam was known to be unpredictable and violent.  Stalling, Dwayne shifted his eyes askance and asked, “What would give you that idea?”

“Don’t play games with me, Langerak,” Martin Luther growled, leaning over the table to fix narrowed eyes upon the other boy.  “I know you two have been talking; you’ve practically drawn it all over a newspaper and rubbed my face in it.”

“I…don’t know what that means,” Dwayne began, but was abruptly cut off when Martin Luther banged his hand loudly on the table.  “Can it, Langerak.  I’m not an idiot, and Tam knows that.  If he didn’t tell me about you, it was because he didn’t want to hurt me.”  Martin Luther sank down in his seat, suddenly defeated.  “If he wants you, then I want that for him.  That’s what people do when they love someone, not tie them up and throw them in a trash can full of fire.”

“….what are you even talking about?” Dwayne sputtered.  “Are you saying that Tam is going to set me on fire?!”  Martin Luther gave Dwayne a long, searching look.

“No…” he said slowly, “I’m saying that love is a battlefield, and that sometimes it lasts, but sometimes it hurts instead.”  Rather than calming his schoolmate, however, Martin Luther’s words seemed only to panic Dwayne further.  Wracking his brain in one last attempt to find words to convey his meaning, Martin Luther raised his voice and began gesticulating frantically, hoping his hand motions would make his words clearer.  “People you love are like boomerangs,” he practically shouted.  “You throw them, and they come back and hit you in the head, really, really hard, if they’re supposed to be with you.”  Dwayne’s eyes grew larger and larger with every word that Martin Luther spoke, inadvertently causing Martin Luther to increase both his volume and the intensity of his gestures until finally Dwayne jumped from his seat and began backing towards the door.

“O–okay,” he stammered, “I get it.  If I don’t leave you and Tam alone, you will set me on fire and beat me in the head.  I won’t bother you anymore, I swear, just…just don’t hurt me, okay?”  Without waiting for an answer, the terrified boy threw himself through the door of the Bistro and took off towards home, convinced he had underestimated Martin Luther and resolved to avoid both him and Tam as much as possible in the future.

Back at the Bistro, Martin Luther remained seated for a long while, pondering the odd behavior of Dwayne Langerak-Bunch.  It appeared that he’d never managed to get the kid to understand what he’d been trying to convey, no matter how intelligible Martin Luther had been.  Clearly, Dwayne was either outrageously stupid or highly unstable.  Either way, Martin Luther decided as he got ready to return home, it was probably best if he just avoided Dwayne as much as possible in the future.