Chasing spring, p.15
Chasing Spring, p.15R.S. Grey
“Your mother had a complicated life, Lilah. I’m sure you know bits and pieces of it, but she came from a deeply troubled home. When your grandfather had been drinking, your mom would run over to Hannah's house. She was your mom’s escape, but as they got older, their relationship wasn’t healthy any more. I think part of the reason your mom never changed her ways was because she knew Hannah would always be there to pick up the pieces.”
I'd heard hints of my mother's abusive childhood, but my father had never spelled it out as clearly as that before.
“Chase said Mrs. Matthews would have gone back home that day even if she’d known what was going to happen.” I wanted him to solidify the fact.
He frowned. “There’s no telling what might’ve happened if several things had been different in our lives. Looking for someone to blame doesn’t bring anyone back, Lilah.”
A calm anger rolled through me and I reached out to grab the edge of the table. If my mother was still alive I would have gripped her shoulders through her jail cell bars and shaken her body until she screamed at me to stop. How can someone be so evil? So selfish? How could she not care more about her only friend?
I turned away from him to look out the back door. Without the porch light on, I could see parts of my reflection in the windowpanes.
“Did they ever find the guys who killed her?” I asked as I stared at my reflection.
“Do you think Mom helped identify the person?”
He nodded and chewed on his bottom lip. “I know she did.”
With a deep breath, I stood up from my chair and rounded the table. I didn’t want any more answers. That was enough for one day. My dad wrapped his strong arms around my shoulders and I sunk into the crook of his neck. He smelled like home, a familiar woodsy scent that I’d missed in Austin.
I whispered against his hair. “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, Lil. I don’t tell you enough.” He squeezed me tighter before releasing me.
I stood up and wiped the tears from my face. I was headed out of the kitchen when I thought of one last question.
I spun around to find him watching me with sad eyes.
“Do you think…I'm like her?”
It was a loaded question. Part of me wanted nothing to do with the woman.
He smiled softly. “You have all of her best qualities. When I first met her, she was beautiful and kind. She was truly a brilliant woman.”
I nibbled on the side of my mouth.
“Does that help?”
I shook my head, trying to clear my head. “I'm not sure yet.”
Lilah was nowhere to be found on Saturday morning. I knocked on her door and let Harvey into her room to scope it out for me. He came back with one of her socks in his mouth, very proud of himself for accomplishing such a stealthy recon mission. Some help you are.
We had the week off of baseball, so I lingered around the house all day, fixing cameras with my door open. I angled my chair against my desk, set out my tools, and peeked into the hallway whenever I thought I heard footsteps on the stairs. By the end of the day, I was convinced the Calloways’ house was haunted—either that or I was going crazy.
Around dinnertime, I headed downstairs and found Coach seasoning meat for tacos.
“Have you seen Lilah?” he asked, peering over his shoulder at me.
I shook my head. “Not since last night.”
He nodded and turned back to the stove. We both knew there was no point in worrying. Lilah would come back when she was ready and not a second before.
After dinner, I showered, packed up my cameras and tools, and then pulled The Stranger out of my backpack. I climbed in bed, pulled out my bookmark, and propped myself against the pillows as I started to read. Harvey was by my side and I was absentmindedly petting him while I flipped through the pages of the novel. I didn't have a clue what time it was when I heard a light tapping on my door.
“Chase, are you awake?” Lilah whispered.
Harvey peered up at me with tired eyes, clearly annoyed at being awoken from his beauty sleep.
“Lilah?” I threw the blankets off and sat up. “Yeah, I’m awake.”
The door creaked open and then Lilah slowly stepped through wearing pajama shorts and a tank top. I swallowed and pulled my gaze to her face.
Her eyes were downcast.
“I’m really sorry, Chase.”
I swiveled my legs off the side of my bed. “Lilah, no, you don’t have to be sorry.”
She crossed her arms and scanned the room around me. There wasn't much to look at, but I guess anything was better than meeting my eyes. What is she so afraid of?
“I’ve spent all day thinking about it…” she admitted with a meek tone. “And I don’t know where to go from here.”
At times I wondered if Lilah and I were buried too deep in our pasts to ever work out. There were layers that had to be completely demolished before we could get to anything real, and at some point, there would be an end to us. Whether it was an end I’d be happy with, I couldn’t be sure.
“Do you want to talk about something else instead?” I asked, trying my damnedest to unlock the secrets of Lilah Calloway.
She nibbled on her bottom lip and shook her head.
“How about I talk?” I asked, making sure my voice was low enough that we wouldn't wake up her dad.
She nodded and took a step closer to the bed. Harvey sat up, hopeful that she'd come closer and pet him. I pushed him farther down so that he was at the foot of the bed.
“C'mon,” I told Lilah, patting the pillow next to mine.
She moved quickly as if relieved by my invitation to lie down beside me. I watched her round the bed and slip under the covers, bringing the smell of her shampoo with her. I inhaled deeply and then burrowed down beside her. When our eyes met, she smiled, small and simple.
“Okay, so what should I talk about?”
Without missing a beat, she answered, “Memories of your mom.”
I felt a slight sting in my chest, like someone grazing my heart with the edge of a knife. I thought about my mom every day, but I hardly ever talked about her.
Lilah sensed my unease. “Do you remember the time she pulled us out of school and took us to the beach? I think we were ten or eleven at the time.”
I smiled at the memory. My mom had told our teachers we’d both had doctor's appointments and they hadn’t questioned her.
“She took us down to Port Aransas, but she hadn't realized how long it would take.”
Lilah laughed. “It was like a six hour car ride just to get there.”
“But the beach was deserted.”
“And the waves were really big.”
I nodded, recalling the buried memories. “That was such a fun day.”
“Do you remember how jealous our dads were when we told them about it?” She smiled, and we began a slow descent into memories. We told story after story about my mom and our childhood. It felt good to reminisce and I knew it was making Lilah happy. Her features relaxed and the demons that had haunted her all day seemed to have disappeared at the door. I watched her talk, loving the shape of her mouth and the words that slipped out of it. I almost told her how I felt; the declaration was on the tip of my tongue.
Lilah, I love you.
Instead, I scooted closer and whispered another story to her, her eyes focused on mine as she absorbed every word.
I wasn’t sure who fell asleep first, but I woke up in the middle of the night with her hand on my chest and my heart in her palm. With her and Harvey in bed with me, it felt like I had everything I ever wanted, even if it was just for a moment.
I stayed up and watched her for a little while, studying the slope of her cheekbones and the small pout of her lips. She had delicate features and when she slept, they relaxed into perfect symmetry.
The relationship I used to have with Lilah is gone. She isn’t my childhood friend any more, and if I lose her this time, it will be forever.
The sun beat down on the pitcher’s mound as I checked first base. The runner was anxious to edge farther from the bag, but he stayed put. I turned to the batter, reared back, and threw a curveball. The ball sped through the air, the batter swung and missed, and the ball slammed into the catcher’s mitt with a loud clap.
The crowd went wild. I’d just pitched the best game of my life: 9 strikeouts and only one earned run. I slipped off my glove as my teammates rushed to meet me on the mound. I smiled and went through the motions, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that my dad wasn’t in the stands. He’d promised he’d be there. It was the last game before playoffs, and he’d sworn to me that he’d come out to watch it.
Lilah was there, just like she’d been at all the games since the start of the season. She didn’t sit with the Diamond Girls; she perched up at the top of the bleachers with her hat pulled low over her face. It was awkward giving a rose to Kimberly at the end of every game, but it wasn’t as if I had a choice. Every player gave a rose; it was tradition, and Kimberly was a good friend. She didn’t deserve to be ditched just because I loved Lilah.
I’d taken to buying a dozen roses at the supermarket before every game on the off chance Lilah stayed to talk to me after the game. I didn’t really blame her for leaving. The flowers were starting to pile up on the bench seat of my truck, dried out and wilting. The clerk who rang up my orders always eyed my uniform suspiciously, but I didn't pay him any mind. One day Lilah would stay and it would be worth the trouble.
I hopped into my truck, not bothering with a shower or a change of clothes. I pushed the roses to the passenger side and then drove straight to my dad’s house. There was no telling what kind of state he’d be in when I arrived, but I exhaled as I saw his car parked next to an old red Firebird I didn’t recognize.
At least he’s home.
I pulled up behind his car in the driveway and cut the engine, running through my mental rolodex of cars. I couldn’t place the Firebird—at least, no one came to mind. I tucked my keys into my pocket and moved to get out, but then the screen door creaked to life. I peered through the front window as a woman stumbled out of the front door looking like she had seen better days. Her hair was short and bleached, and her skin was tanned and leathery. The heels of her shoes sunk into the grass as she walked, so she held her arms out like a tightrope walker trying to steady herself.
After nearly face planting a few times, she finally made it to her car, never noticing me sitting in my truck in the driveway.
I waited two minutes after her Firebird peeled away before walking into the house. I patted my jeans to make sure my keys were in my front pocket. There was a chance I'd need to bolt, especially if my dad was drunk.
I pulled the frayed screen door open and tapped my knuckles on the wood frame.
“Dad, are you in here?” I called out to the quiet house. The carpet was stained with yellow and brown patches and there was trash covering the coffee table. Pill bottles lay beside cigarette packs and empty coke cans.
I peered into the kitchen just as the toilet flushed in the guest bathroom downstairs. I turned as my father walked out, zipping up his jeans. When he caught sight of me, he paused and narrowed his eyes as if trying to figure out if I was really there.
“When did you get here?” he asked with a gruff voice before stepping past me and taking a seat on the couch. The old springs collapsed under his weight.
“Just now,” I said, pointing toward the door. “I saw your friend leave.” I could have skirted around the subject, but I was tired of skirting around subjects with him.
He grunted and reached down to light a cigarette. I reached forward and grabbed the pack before he could.
“Don't smoke around me,” I said, tossing the pack across the room so that it hit the wall and tumbled to the ground, spilling cigarettes onto the floor.
“What the hell has gotten into you, boy?” he asked, a dark gleam in his eye.
I was one bold move away from pushing him too far, so I backtracked and took a deep breath.
“I wanted to come see how you were doing,” I said, taking a seat in the chair across from him. I couldn't smell the sweat of my uniform over the musk lingering in the room. The place was disgusting.
“I'm fine,” he nodded, reclining back and propping his arms on the back of the couch.
“Have you been down to the shop lately?”
His eyes were pinned on something outside as he answered. “Once or twice last week. Been slow.”
I nodded and dropped my hands between my legs. “How are you paying for things?”
His eyes cut to me. “Y'know, I don't appreciate being lectured by a fucking eighteen-year-old boy, even if you are my son.”
I laughed under my breath. “You think it’s fun having to lecture my dad?”
He grunted and I knew we were at a standstill, so I decided to drop the subject.
He reached forward and took a sip of cheap beer, no doubt lukewarm by that point.
“I had a baseball game today,” I mentioned, finding middle ground.
“Yeah, how'd that go?” he asked, eyeing my uniform.
“We won. We're headed to the first round of playoffs.”
He nodded in approval. “That’s really somethin’. Maybe I'll try to make it to the next game.”
His promise meant nothing. I reclined back in the chair, feeling the lump of my phone in my back pocket. I would have removed it, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be staying.
“How’s Calloway treating ya?” he asked, taking another sip of beer.
I twisted my hands together. “Fine.”
“Getting close with that daughter of his again?” he asked with a gentle sneer.
“Her name is Lilah,” I said firmly, straightening up in my seat.
My dad grunted again and it took everything inside me not to reach out and smack the beer from his hand. I watched him lean forward, his hazel eyes locking onto mine. His skin was oily and wrinkled. I wondered when he’d last showered.
“I'd be careful with her,” he warned, narrowing his eyes.
“What are you talking about?”
He dragged his tongue along his bottom lip, gathering his thoughts. “She always reminded me a little too much of her mother…”
“Just say what you want to say,” I hissed.
“Her mom was a stupid whore and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.”
I gripped the edge of my chair.
“You don't know a single thing about her,” I argued.
“I know she's trouble,” he said, reaching for the pack of cigarettes.
“You. Don’t. Know. Her.”
“Do you think the two of you together is a good idea?” He tried to get his lighter to spark, striking it three times before it finally lit. He took a long drag and then met my eye once again. “Our families are so mangled and tangled up, ain't nothin' good can come from it.”
“She’s a good person.”
He shook his head and pointed his finger out at me, flicking ash across the carpet. “Yeah, Elaine seemed like a good person when she was 17 too. Maybe she doesn't have problems now, but she will. You just wait.”
I thought of the version of Lilah that had returned from Austin: the closed-off girl with her black hair and flat smile, the girl who tried her best to hide away from the world. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but I could get the old Lilah back. I could find the lost girl.
“You're just spouting hateful bullshit now,” I said with a steely confidence. “You know how I know you're wrong?”
My dad arched a brow in response.
“Because I'm nothing like yo
I stood and pulled the keys out of my uniform pocket. The entire walk to the front door was met with silence from my father, but I wasn’t under the delusion that he’d listened to a single word.
Drunk bastards don’t change.
Secrets make up the backbone of a small town. Secrets, gossip, and lies. No one cops up to it. Sweet-looking old biddies talk shit about their friends, but follow it up with a “bless her heart” and everyone pretends it's all right. It doesn’t matter if you try and dress it up with a pretty bow; gossip is gossip is gossip, and I loved every juicy piece I could get.
The secrets piled up faster than I could scribble them into my journal. They were like weeds growing out of control with no one to keep them in check. I hoarded them, coating my new journal with them until the black ink bled across every page.
My small town was hiding more than I could have ever hoped. There was fraud: the Baptist church downtown hadn’t been a victim of faulty wiring; the church elders had set it ablaze for the insurance money. There were affairs and adultery: everyone from a teacher’s aide at my high school to Mr. Hill across the street. Cheaters were sloppy and indulgent. Most of them wanted to be caught, but they were too weak to come right out and admit it. There were small secrets—neighbors watering their lawns during drought restrictions—and big secrets—D&T bakery downtown was a cozy little front for a money laundering drug operation.
Chasing Spring by R.S. Grey / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes