The form of things unkno.., p.19
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       The Form of Things Unknown, p.19

           Robin Bridges
 
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Grandma and I join him and peer into his hand.

  “You picked up a jellyfish!” I squeal.

  Caleb drops it and jumps back. “Gross!”

  “Does your hand itch?” Grandma says. “Rub some sand on your palm to take out some of the sting.”

  Caleb is washing his hand back and forth in the surf. “I don’t think I felt anything. It was just cold.” He shines his light up and down the shoreline.

  Grandma keeps us out here for hours searching in the dark water. Surely by now the play is over. David will be home soon looking for me. He’ll find both me and Grandma missing and will probably assume it’s my fault. I pray he hasn’t called Mom and Dad.

  Caleb doesn’t try to talk to me anymore, but instead lends Grandma his phone. She uses the light to search up and down the beach. I pick up a long stick of driftwood and poke the sand as I follow behind both of them.

  “Here we go!” Grandma smiles as she bends down.

  She picks up two tiny brown sand dollar exoskeletons. Tiny brown corpses. “These are perfect,” she says, gently brushing the sand off of them. “Now let’s head back to the city.”

  Caleb and I follow her back to the car. “Let Natalie drive back,” Grandma says. “This is her car now.”

  “But I’m not on the insurance yet!” I say. I’ve been lusting after this car all summer. Even if it is a beat-up four-door hatchback.

  “Neither was your friend here,” Grandma says. “He didn’t let that stop him.”

  “Actually my license is suspended,” Caleb says.

  “What? Give me the keys!” I demand, holding my hand out.

  He just grins and tosses them to me.

  I’m nervous but also excited as I buckle myself into the driver’s seat. I’ve had a license since we moved to Savannah, and sometimes David lets me drive his truck. Every once in a while.

  Ok, rarely. But I made an A in Driver’s Ed and I’m very cautious. I find the headlights, the turn signal, the air conditioner controls.

  Caleb reaches up into the front between me and Grandma and plays with the radio.

  Grandma pops his hand. “Keep it on the oldies station.”

  “Fine,” he groans, sitting back down.

  “Home?” I ask, turning the key in the ignition. The car does not start.

  “Uh-oh,” Caleb says.

  “Are you kidding?” I glare at him in the rearview mirror. “I thought you fixed it.”

  “Pop the hood,” he says, sliding out of the backseat.

  I open the hood for him and sigh, leaning my forehead against the steering wheel.

  “It’ll be fine,” Grandma says. “It didn’t take him too long to fix it last time.”

  “Can someone come out here and hold a light up so I can see?” Caleb shouts. “This was much easier to do when the sun was shining.”

  I get out and turn on the flashlight app on my phone. “Thanks,” Caleb says. “I guess I didn’t have the cables attached tight enough. Sorry about that.”

  But the battery cables aren’t loose. And when he tries to crank the car, he just shakes his head. “It’s out of gas. I don’t suppose there’s a gas can in the trunk, Mrs. Roman?”

  Grandma shrugs.

  I roll my eyes and hand Caleb the last of the money I have in my purse.

  “Didn’t think so,” Caleb mutters. “Y’all stay here with the doors locked. I’ll be back.” He hands me back the keys and I take his place once again in the driver’s seat.

  Grandma and I sit in the dark for several long minutes after he walks off, neither of us saying anything. Finally, she sighs. Heavily. “Sorry about tonight, Natalie.”

  I laugh. “Not your fault.” I don’t even know why she’s apologizing.

  “John Lennon said there are only two forces in the universe that motivate us: fear and love.” My grandmother looks over at me. “Choose love, Natalie. Not fear.”

  She’s right, but I don’t want her to know that. I cross my arms and tip my head back against the driver’s seat. “I’m not choosing Caleb,” I say.

  My grandmother cracks up. “I know, baby. You deserve so much more. And I know you have the courage to fight for what you deserve. Don’t be afraid to live your life. No matter what comes.”

  And that’s the end of my crazy but wise old grandmother’s heart-to-heart talk. She starts humming along with the radio again, but is soon snoring softly with her head leaning against the window.

  I might drift off too, because I scream when Caleb taps on my window.

  Grandma mumbles something I’m sure grandmothers aren’t supposed to say.

  “Sorry,” Caleb says. “Did you know there’s only one gas station on this freaking island that’s open 24 hours?”

  “Let me guess,” I say, as I pop the gas door open for him. “It wasn’t the one closest to us?”

  “Of course not.” He unscrews the cap and fills the tank.

  The gasoline vapors give me an instant headache. “Do I have any change?” I ask.

  My ex-boyfriend just shrugs. “Island gas is expensive.” He puts the empty can in the trunk and hops back into the backseat. “And the adventure can continue,” he says, patting the back of my seat.

  “Finally,” I grumble as I pull back onto the highway. The sky is starting to get light. Oh my God, we’ve been out all night.

  “One more stop,” Grandma says. “We need to go to Bonaventure.”

  “Wait, what?” I ask.

  “The cemetery?” Caleb asks. “Cool. Hey, Lucas wants to know where you are. Want me to text him back?”

  He’s frowning as he scrolls through my phone. “Give me that!” I reach behind me with one hand.

  “Ten and Two!” Grandma yells. “Keep both hands on the steering wheel!”

  I can’t reach Caleb as he’s scooted over to the far side of the backseat, behind Grandma. I wish I’d just turned my phone off earlier. I don’t want to deal with Lucas right now.

  “Hey, Lover! We are heading back from the beach with Grandma. Wish U were here!” Caleb says, texting.

  “Caleb, don’t you dare,” I say.

  He laughs. “Just kidding. You really don’t want to answer him?”

  I grip the steering wheel. “No.”

  “Okay.” I hear my phone turn off.

  “Thanks.”

  “Are you lovers?” Grandma asks.

  My face burns, and Caleb mumbles, “Don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.”

  And the awkwardness gets even worse until Grandma turns the volume up on the radio. I’m grateful. By the time we’ve heard a Joni Mitchell song, a Doors triple play, and “American Pie,” we’re back within the city limits. We all sing along to “American Pie.”

  “Take a right at this next light,” Grandma tells me.

  I keep following her instructions and soon we’re pulling into the empty parking lot at Bonaventure Cemetery.

  Almost empty. There are two other vehicles here. One that belongs to the city, and the other, an old dusty Toyota.

  Caleb peeks out the window. “Whoah. Creepy trees.”

  Grandma just smiles. “Come on, we’ve got some walking to do.”

  It really is a hike to get to the newer sections of Savannah’s famous cemetery. Grandma wasn’t well enough to come to Grandpa’s funeral, but most of his family is buried out here, so she knows where his headstone is. Caleb and I follow her in silence.

  It’s quiet and beautiful, with just a hint of early morning mist that is burning off slowly. The only sound is the crunch of our feet on the gravel path.

  Finally, we reach the end of a curving lane and the thick trees give way to a view of the river. I grab Caleb by the arm to pull him back. I think Grandma might need a few minutes by herself. But she’s already forgotten about us. She takes the shells she’s been holding all this time and places them gently on top of the headstone.

  A man and a little girl are standing at a grave not far from Grandpa’s. It’s Caitlyn and her father.

  Caitly
n spots me immediately. “Natalie!” She flies across the grass and attacks me with a hug.

  “You find friends in the strangest places,” Caleb says.

  “Dad wanted to talk to Mom this morning. I told him I had to come, too.” She looks up at Caleb suspiciously. “Who are you?”

  “One of Natalie’s strange friends,” he says, grinning.

  She looks at him. “You are strange.”

  “He’s in a band,” I tell her, as if that explains everything. “Does Lucas know you two are out here?”

  “He had to go to work early this morning. To help clean the pool.”

  I glance over at the man kneeling at the headstone. I don’t know if I should text Lucas, or mind my own business.

  Caitlyn starts telling Caleb about being a fairy in the play. And the Midsummer Night’s Ball. “Lucas said I’m too young to go to the ball, but Hailey and Bailey are going and they didn’t even come to the performances.”

  “Do you have to be a fairy to go to the ball?” Caleb asks.

  “Of course not. Mrs. Green says the mayor is supposed to be there.”

  “It’s just a stupid fund-raiser for the city,” I tell him. “I’m not going either, Caitlyn.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I am tired of playing fairy queen. I just want to go home and sleep for the next month.”

  “Maybe you’re just depressed. Cupcakes would cheer you up.”

  Caleb snorts and starts heading back to the car.

  I take Caitlyn by the hand and bring her back to her father. He’s younger-looking than I first thought when I met him at their house. But I see where Lucas gets his kind hazel eyes and where Caitlyn gets her sandy curls.

  “This is Natalie,” Caitlyn says.

  Her father’s face lights up. “The cupcake girl.”

  Oh my God. I’m too busy blushing to say anything.

  “Thank you,” he says, putting his hands in his pockets.

  “My mom is the baker,” I finally stammer.

  “But you made Lucas happy.”

  “And me!” Caitlyn says, hugging her dad’s leg.

  He puts a hand on top of her hair. He looks happy, too. Maybe he’s going to start being more of a father now.

  And maybe Lucas won’t have quite so many things to worry about. And maybe he’ll have time for a girlfriend. And maybe he’ll forgive me for upsetting Caitlyn.

  And maybe I won’t screw this up again.

  CHAPTER 25

  I drop Caleb off at the bus station before taking Grandma home. I surprise myself by giving him a hug. “I’m glad you’re not doing drugs anymore.”

  “You’ve changed so much since this spring,” he says.

  “Is that good or bad?”

  “You’re much stronger. You know what you want. And what you don’t want.”

  “Good-bye, Caleb,” I say, and watch him walk inside the bus station. But I don’t know if I believe him. Do I really know what I want? Or is it just that I know what I don’t want?

  Grandma falls asleep again in the ten minutes it takes me to get to the house. I give her shoulder a gentle shake and she wakes up with a start. “We’re home,” I tell her.

  I take a deep breath. It’s just after nine in the morning. And I’m sure Grandma and I are both in a lot of trouble. I should have texted Mom last night to tell her where we were. Or David.

  “Don’t worry,” Grandma says. “I’ll handle your parents.”

  That doesn’t make me feel any better.

  Both Mom’s and Dad’s cars are parked out front. But we only find Dad in the living room, passed out on the couch. He opens his eyes as soon as he hears us come inside. “Where the hell have you been? We were just about to call the police to help look for you!”

  Oh my God. I feel so stupid for worrying them.

  “The cemetery,” Grandma says. “I made Natalie take me out there to see Jim.”

  Briefly, the anger in Dad’s eyes is replaced with guilt. “Why didn’t you call, Mom? I would have taken you.”

  And I realize my own phone is probably still in the backseat of Grandma’s car. “I’ll be right back. I need my phone,” I say.

  Grandma has her hands on her hips, glaring at Dad. I don’t want to be here for this anyway. I slip back out the front door and hop down the porch steps.

  Lucas is walking up the sidewalk wearing swim shorts and his pool shirt. My heart stops when he sees me. “Hey.”

  “Hey.” I don’t know what else to say. Should I still be mad at him? Hurt? Hopeful? I stop walking and cross my arms.

  He shoves his hands in his pockets. “I got your message. Are you okay?”

  “What message?” I suddenly have a terrible feeling. I stomp over to Grandma’s car and open the back door, looking for my phone.

  When the screen lights up I see a million Where are you??? texts from David and a text that was sent to Lucas. I’m sorry. Can we talk at my house?

  Caleb. The only person I know who texts in all caps. I will kill him if I ever see him again.

  I look up at Lucas. He’s staring at me uncertainly, and I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around him. To kiss him senseless. “So, I saw your dad this morning. At the cemetery.”

  His eyebrow rises, and he looks confused. “I haven’t seen him leave the house since the funeral. Are you sure it was him?”

  I nod. “Caitlyn was with him.”

  He takes a deep breath. And I reach out and grab his wrist. “She was okay. And so was he. I don’t think you need to worry so much about your dad. Maybe he’s going to be all right.”

  Lucas pulls away. “And what if he’s not? If something happens to Caitlyn because I wasn’t looking out for her, it will be my fault. Not his.” He pulls out his phone and calls someone from his contact list.

  I sit down on the front porch step and watch him. His whole body is tense. Almost to the point of shaking. I wonder if I should have called him while we were at the cemetery.

  “Hey, Cait. Where are you right now? . . . Really? Is Dad with you? Can I talk to him please?”

  He turns away from me and starts walking back toward his car. I stand up to go back inside, my chest starting to hurt a little. At this point I kind of understand Starla. She realized there would never be enough room in Lucas’s life for her.

  But when I start to open the front door, Lucas calls out, “Wait.”

  I turn around. He puts his phone away. “I guess they’re okay. I can’t stay long, though. I thought Raine was going to take her to summer camp this morning.”

  “Why won’t you just let your dad be a father, Lucas? You were there when he needed help, but now I think he’s ready to step back up. You need to let him be the parent again.”

  “How do you know? How can I believe him?”

  And I realize how similar Lucas and I are. We both have trouble trusting people who love us. Because we’ve been let down so many times before.

  “Because you are a reasonable, kind, and trusting person. And I trust you,” I say, the words heavy in my mouth. I must truly be crazy. Or fearless.

  Lucas reaches out, cups my cheek in his hand. He doesn’t say anything and for a moment I think I’ve said the wrong thing. But then he smiles. “I’m so glad.” He pulls me close, bending his forehead to touch mine. “I trust you too.”

  I feel my eyes sting as I put both hands on his chest and push back. Gently. “You shouldn’t,” I say. “I might trust you, but I don’t think I can trust myself.”

  “Natalie, when are you going to understand that you are not your grandmother?”

  Of course he knows my worst fear. Even though I’ve never spoken it out loud. To anyone. “But what if I turn into her one day?”

  He wipes away the tear leaking out of my right eye and it takes everything I have not to cave in to the enormous sob wanting to creep out of my chest. Lucas smiles shyly. “Your grandfather stood by her all those years. Why don’t we just take it one day at a time and start with a dance?”

/>   The Midsummer Night’s Ball. I’ve forgotten all about tomorrow night’s dance with everything else going on. I shake my head. “I don’t think my parents are happy with me right now.” And I don’t mention how awkward and terrible it would be to see Mrs. Green and Starla again.

  He nods. “Raine and I were willing to kidnap you if you still wanted to go. But if you’d rather just hang out—my house, your house, or at the Pirate House. Wherever. I’m fine with that, if you don’t mind the company.”

  I hold his hands. Just being able to touch his skin, to breathe in the scent of him, is making me dizzy. “No, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

  David’s truck pulls up out front, sliding behind Lucas’s Cherokee. “Should I move?” Lucas asks nervously. “I don’t want to be taking his spot.” I shake my head. “It’s fine.” But Mom is glaring at both of us when she gets out of the passenger side. David gets out too, glaring as well.

  Colton gets out of the extended cab’s backseat. At least he’s not glaring at me.

  Mom marches straight up to me. “Natalie Ann Roman, we’ve been all over this city looking for you. You need to say goodbye to this young man right now. You can talk to him later.”

  Lucas gives my hands a reassuring squeeze. “Call me,” he whispers before heading back to his car. He easily maneuvers out from between David’s and Dad’s trucks.

  I follow Mom inside, where Dad and Grandma are still arguing. David and Colton come in after us.

  But Grandma takes one look at Colton and smirks. “Oh, look, David brought his cute little boyfriend home.”

  The living room falls deathly silent except for my gasp. “Grandma!”

  Dad rolls his eyes. “That’s enough, Mother. I think you need to go lie down.”

  Grandma looks around and realizes the damage she’s done. Or maybe she doesn’t. She winks at Colton. “Yes,” she says slowly. “I’m not used to running the streets all night anymore. I could certainly use a nap.”

  Dad turns to Colton as Grandma retreats to her bedroom. “I’m so sorry. I have to apologize for her. She’s not well.” He holds his hand out. “Troy Roman. Pleased to finally meet you.”

  Colton blinks, and shakes my father’s hand. “Colton Green.”

  “You knew?” David asks. “Did Grandma tell you?”

 
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