Refraction

By Shelli Cornelison

 

So much miscommunication could be avoided if my stepdad would just learn to answer a question correctly.

Case in point:

Image courtesy of William Pitcher (flickr.com)

Image courtesy of William Pitcher (flickr.com)

Me: Am I still grounded?

Him: Are polar bears white?

No, dumbass, polar bears are actually not white. Their fur is transparent. It refracts the light coming into it and scatters all the colors, making white the only thing the human eye can see. And their skin is actually black. So they’re basically the opposite of white. Take a fifth-grade science class maybe.

I would have said all this to him, except the dumbass part, if he hadn’t walked out of the kitchen before I had a chance.

But if you’re going to be a jerk and answer a question with a question, you should probably know the right answer to your answering question. Otherwise, you might inadvertently say no, when you meant to say yes, and give your stepdaughter the all clear to go out on a Saturday night.

And so I went out.

I didn’t sneak out either. I happened to leave the house after my mom and stepdad were already gone, but I walked right out the front door in plain sight—if anyone had been there to see it.

If they’d asked my plans for the evening during dinner, I would’ve told them I was going to hang out at Shannon’s house. And if they’d asked if there was going to a party at Shannon’s house, I might have been honest about that, too. But we’ll never know, because they didn’t bother to ask. They assumed I was staying in my room. An assumption by them does not equate a lie by me.

The morning after is kicking my ass though. I can barely keep myself upright at the kitchen table. I’m pretty sure it’s obvious how crappy I feel, but that doesn’t stop Mom from grilling me about last night with her usual level of crazy.

Case in point:

Her: Did you have sex with that boy?

Me: What boy?

Sometimes answering a question with a question is warranted.

A brain-piercing ray of sunlight blazes through the window over the sink. My head feels like it’s full of crushed glass, floating in poison oatmeal that wants to burst the sutures in my skull. I wish she’d just shut up and let me go to my room that I spent the past two weeks dying to escape.

“The boy who brought you home last night.”

That seems like the kind of detail that would be helpful. But since I don’t remember coming home? Not so much.

I assume the boy in question is Tyler, because he always gives me a ride home when I’m out with Anna and she ditches me for some guy. Tyler’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s also gay, but the news that I have a gay friend might flip my mom out more than the fact that I was brought home in a barely conscious state of wasted at the exact moment she and my dumbass stepdad arrived home.

“Can you just not ask me any more questions right now, please?”

“When exactly would be a good time for you?”  She slams a pan down on the stovetop. “There was certainly no point in asking you anything last night in the state you were in. That’s why we left you alone and let you sleep it off on the couch.”

I’ve got news for her: it’s not off. It’s still on, at least in alternating strobes of drunk and hungover. How can I be both? The eggs she’s scrambling smell kind of good. Eating might help. It would also help if she’d stop glaring at me like that.

It’s not like this has ever happened before. Geez. I get busted getting high in the parking lot during lunch one freaking time and suddenly she’s a concerned parent. Fragmented parenting skills at work. Are you a slut now, too? Here, have some damned scrambled eggs!

I may not remember everything about last night, but I have these humiliating flashes of trying to flirt with Jayce Crawford in the hall outside the bathroom. Like he’d ever give me the time of day.

Pretending to accidentally brush against him and stumbling over my own feet like an idiot.

Him catching me.

His hands on my waist.

My shirt falling off my shoulder.

He says something I don’t understand because he slurs and he’s sort of half whispering, or maybe I just can’t hear him over the music. I laugh anyway. A lot.

God, I probably made a complete fool of myself with him. I hope he was drunker than I was. Maybe he doesn’t even remember our hallway encounter. It’s possible. I don’t think I remember anything after it.

As she slaps eggs onto my plate she confirms it was Tyler who brought me home. “I just don’t like the way that Tyler boy is always touching you.”

She means hugging, but touching sounds dirtier.

“There’s something not right about him. He’s twitchy. I don’t trust him and I don’t want you spending any more time alone with him.”

I shut out her words. Her voice is like the drone of a thousand killer bees, poised to sting right through my eardrums and paralyze my brain with its toxic venom, if I let it in. Shields up.

I need toast. I feel strange, uneasy, even though I know for sure now that it was Tyler who drove me home. Why does the toaster have to be so far away from the table? I finish my eggs. They may not have a good idea after all.

“No, Mom, I did not have sex with Tyler. He’s one of my best friends. Friends hug. And you can’t stop me from hanging out with him.”

Drone. Buzz. Buzz.

Grounded. Yeah, I know.

Maybe my stepdad doesn’t look in his glove compartment very often. I’m sure he thought I had no idea he’d hidden my phone there when he grounded me, and that I had no clue he keeps the extra key to his Tahoe in the top drawer of his nightstand.

He shouldn’t have underestimated me like that. But I should’ve swiped the half-smoked joint I found hidden in the empty Orbit gum package in his center console. Instead, I moved it into the glove compartment, in place of my phone.

Has he asked me about it in the week since I did it? Of course not. At least his hypocrisy ensures he won’t try to take my phone back.

As much as I hate being grounded to my room, it feels like a sanctuary right now. Of course, anywhere would feel better than our kitchen with my mom talking shit about my best friend and looking at me like I’m the biggest disappointment on earth.

My throat threatens to close up when I try to lie flat. I stack all my pillows against my headboard and ease myself back into them. It’s okay as long as I throw the blankets to the floor before they crush me. Claustrophobia? That’s new. Damn, this is going to be a monster of a hangover. But I can do this.

I can breathe. There’s plenty of air. Easy. There. It’s all good.

Tyler is relieved to get my text.

So glad you’re alright.

What did he think, I was going to die or something? I’ve been drunk before. Maybe not as drunk as last night, but still.

Don’t have regrets, okay? Things happen. Shit blows over.

The hangover I have would make anyone regret drinking. At least I can sleep all day, since I’m grounded again. Or still. Whatever.

Can’t lie. I wish you wouldn’t have done it. But not judging you.

I know. We’d never judge each other.

Get some rest. Sweet dreams.

I could use both. That’s for sure.

Image courtesy of mallix (flickr.com)

Image courtesy of mallix (flickr.com)

Details swirl and smear in that hazy corridor between dream and reality.

Half drunk. Half sick.

Half asleep. Half awake.

Jayce Crawford wants me. Bad.

His words. Fragments.

His hands. Flashes.

Rough zipper. Smooth skin.

Throbbing beat permeates the wall.

Ragged breath. Cascading puzzle pieces.

Familiar voice.

Swirls. Smears.

His voice. Deep. Warm.

Saying my name.

One slow, soft kiss.

The hard click of a closed door.

The wheeze of a dying ceiling fan.

Faint, like the memory of an obligatory kiss in the dark.

Weak, like the shadow of a remorseful exit.

Broken rhythm. Dark echoes.

Tunnel of sleep.

Waves.

Sharp pulses break the barrier. Beg my eyes to open. Command my ears to try harder. The buzzing of my phone under my pillow jars me from my dream state. Who the hell is calling me? I squint at the number. No idea. Great. I fumble, trying to touch the screen in the right spot to answer. If it would hold still . . .

“Hello.”

He says my name. Not in a memory. Or a dream.

Jayce Crawford says my name. For real.

I try to sit up. “Yeah, it’s me. Hi.”

“Hey. I hope you’re not feeling too bad today.”

“Fighting a bitch of a hangover, but I’ll be fine in a few hours.” A smile he can’t see.

“Yeah, we were both pretty drunk last night. I just want you to know I never meant for that to happen. I’m sure you didn’t either.”

“Of course not. Neither one of us meant for it to happen.” That. IT. Oh, my God. I squeeze my eyes shut and try really hard to remember. Think, dammit! It’s all blurry, except for Tyler helping me get dressed. That comes in clear. Why did Jayce leave? I open my mouth to ask, but he speaks first.

“Look, I’d die if Rayna found out. Even though it was no big deal or anything. Obviously it didn’t mean anything to either of us. But still. I don’t want to lose her over some stupid mistake I made while I was drunk, you know?”

“Yeah. Totally. It was just a stupid mistake.” Meaningless. For both of us. Obviously.

Sometimes it’s not the answer that’s wrong; it’s the question.

Case in point:

Him: So, you’re cool if we just pretend like last night never happened then?

Me: Are polar bears white?

I puke over the edge of my bed into my pristine trashcan. I don’t even bother to end the call first.

I let him hear it. Let him hear every wretched groan and heave.

Until I’m spent. Until I’ve blown it all.

I shut off my phone.

No more fractured slideshow behind my eyelids.

No more watercolor dreams.

No nightmares either.

Eyes wide open.

Time to rest.

Time to give it all a fucking rest.


Shelli Cornelison photo (2)Shelli Cornelison lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, two kids, and one more dog than she intended. She’s grateful there was no Facebook or caller ID when she was a teen, but really resents that she had to do homework without Google or Wikipedia. Also, a GPS would’ve come in handy on more than one occasion back then. She’s still directionally challenged but always manages to find her way to the keyboard.

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2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Dianne Soares says:

    Hi Shelli~

    This is an excellent story–lots of tension and layers, just the way I like it. It takes real skill to combine humor and poignancy in a short, IMO. This story does that. Loved reading it.

    dianne

  2. Such amazing writing and so much accomplished here with few words!!! Kudos, Shelli!

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