The night had begun with Lewis taking Gina on an adventure, and now, she was taking him into one, in a very familiar, domestic setting. Sure enough, her mother and father were sitting up, pleasantly surprised to have company. Lewis had a cheery nature that enlivened the room, and friendly conversation between everyone ensued. In fact, Hannah was still up, too, visiting with the boy she’d invited, Shannon. She was glad she’d taken a chance; they were still just friends, but who knows?
After he left, conversation roved for hours. At one point, they were laughing about how phrases people use are taken for granted for their implicit meaning without anyone really picking them apart: what was a nook, what was a cranny? Lewis had expected a much more gruff and burly individual when he’d heard Mr. Archer was a jail guard, but he was quite loquacious and broadly read. He talked about history, outlooks on life, and his personal history with the Air Force and his radio disc jockey days, openly. Mother had stories about all the girls, around whom her world revolved, when she wasn’t nose-deep in romance novels. They invited Lewis to grab a bite from the kitchen, and make himself at home.
Once he asked about the pictures on the wall, everyone had a good laugh about their well-dressed selves posed smiling in family portraits: Ash, with his “am I really here in this thing? Oh, brother…” look; Dixie, with hair teased into a life of its own, which had been reduced, she admitted laughingly, after a long argument with her mother, who often took issue with her tendencies to wear enough make-up to be Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Hannah was an adorable cherub, and Gina was a plump little thing smiling so hard her eyes nearly shut, beside her dad, with a bit more hair combed over than now in evidence.
Another picture on the wall showed a sweet little angel of about four or five, wearing a homemade crown. “That was Gina’s crown,” Mother said. “Her little sister Hope begged her to wear it just for that picture.” He then learned briefly how they had lost the girl to a tragic accident at a family gathering, years before. He shared their sorrow, amidst jovial banter that surrounded the moment on either side. He thought of his own sister and his impending trip for the first time all night.
Finally, they talked about the portrait of the three sisters, all at the cusp of young womanhood, a gift they’d made for their parents for Christmas. Dixie, hair teased again, was up front, Hannah standing proudly above, statuesque, and Gina, arms behind her back, wearing a necklace that ended with a tiny birdhouse. The smile on her face was not quite a portrait sort of smile, almost as if the set of her mouth belonged to some anxious, distracted conversation the second before. Half of her smile was ready, and the other half of her mouth wasn’t, like a smirk. Beside the other sincere but practiced smiles she looked as though she knew something they didn’t. There was something undeniably sexy about her quirky expression, he decided.
By three thirty in the morning, Lewis wondered if he and Gina would be left alone again tonight. She seemed to enjoy the family parlay, snuggled next to him. It was the most time everyone had spent together in quite some while, with almost the whole family working and going to school as they did. Mother went to bed and told Lewis she had enjoyed meeting him. She extended Dixie’s invitation, also.
Just before the first crack of dawn, everyone else had finally packed it in. They had all enjoyed a new audience for their stories, and Gina had found out a few things about her new…friend? She heard about his first year in college, on scholarship, and his community college classes he’d taken the year afterwards. Why had he come back? Why was he not already back in college? Perhaps he had not found what he was looking for, had not found his place. He’d said something about wanting to gain life experiences, but there was probably more to his story, as school also had its own life experiences. It could be, she reasoned, his background and upbringing had not really prepared him for how to take advantage of college. Perhaps there was a sense of self-discovery necessary before any of it could be meaningful. She realized, even though she had wanted to attend college herself, it wasn’t clear just what for.
Maybe these motions that people were told to go through, by themselves, were not enough. They had, after all, led her to try the same things others her age did, and none of it had left her satisfied. In fact, beyond the confines of the family life and high school that she’d known, her optimism was largely buried, as one experiment after another left her feeling more empty, less valuable, less sure of her identity. This crisis of being was only now beginning to crystallize, here with this lovely man with the flowing, curly locks, whose attention seemed the most honest gift in the world. Something pushed her to begin to open up again, even though this had led her repeatedly to disappointment.
But now that they were alone, she took strength from him, given freely. She couldn’t have these feelings for him without telling him the truth about her pain.
How the conversation began, she really wasn’t sure; it simply meandered from her lips, as he petted and hugged her. If every life was made of one’s own songs, then now she was finding the words to sing him her love song, and its verses of sadness.
“So I wanted to thank you for the flower again,” Gina told Lewis, while grasping his hand. “I didn’t know how you intended it, but it really cheered me up. Pink carnations are friendship flowers.”
“I could plainly see,” he responded, “you could use a friend lately. It was my pleasure.”
“How plainly?” she said, with a little laugh.
“Well, if a person were to really look, it was there,” he said, with a smile. “But I thought you were pretty cool, at any rate, and maybe you were someone who would appreciate a gesture like that.”
“I did,” she beamed. “It’s sitting in a bottle filled with Sprite on my dresser. We’ll see how long it lasts.”
“I never had that idea before,” he said. “The Sprite. Well, the flower, too. No one ever gave me one, you know.”
“Haha, sure.” She looked him in the eyes. “I feel something I need to talk about. I can’t seem to stop myself. And I don’t know why I think you’d want to hear it. But you know how sometimes you just don’t have anyone else to say things to?”
“Well, if it’s a murder confession,” he winked, “this is a good time to preface your confession with something like, ‘you want to hear a funny story?’ or some other disclaimer. Not that they’ll ever get me to testify.”
“Ha, not quite,” she said. “It’s just…I have strong feelings about honesty. I feel I have to be completely honest from you, from the start…” She wondered just what did ‘from the start’ imply. Was she putting too much on his shoulders, on this one kiss, this one night? But maybe this time, rushing into things didn’t have to end in disaster. She felt she could trust him with the nakedness of her soul.
She stared away into the darkness outside, and began to tell him about what she’d always felt, about finding love, about saving herself one day for her husband, how she had always at least tried to do the right thing, had even been a good Christian girl afraid to disappoint her parents and herself.
“My sense of order and right in the world really changed,” she said, “and it’s hard to explain why. But eventually I found myself doing things that had never been me, before. I thought I was opening myself to new things, but I …really ended up letting myself down. I never found my way back. And every time I thought I was finding some more hope, it ended up worse.” She began to cry. “And I didn’t want to bother anyone about it…I love my parents, but I just couldn’t talk to them about it, and I didn’t want to change the way they saw me, either. And my sister had her own problems, and she would’ve been there for me, I know, but…it was all my fault. And all I could do is just keep doing things to help out…to be responsible…even though my heart felt so empty, and my life felt so meaningless…I got into exercise, and did these dances in my room…Dixie used to be part of it, too, helped me figure out some yoga moves, for a while. I started looking really different, you know, and I had so much hope! I thought…thought what I was doing would make my life brighter, and maybe more exciting. Maybe I would finally stop being invisible, or just a babysitter, or just the girl you called to work overtime.”
“So I thought maybe the time had come to be a new person. Maybe the things I counted on before weren’t really my own ideas after all. Maybe now, I was ready to change.”
So, she told Lewis the story of how she’d been celebrating her friend’s wedding. I guess she had always kind of used us before, like when we’d come over and clean her room with her, but then she’d come over and just flop down and talk to Mom and Dad while we had chores. I didn’t hold it against her much. But then…we were sitting on her bed…”
(ahh...wouldn't you like to read my book now...;-D