Authors: Cecil Castellucci
“I can’t jam with you,” I say.
“Can’t?” The Rat is proactively putting my guitar in its case because I’m just sitting on the bed not doing anything.
I’m getting madder by the minute that I’m even in this situation at all. If Mom had just stuck to the plan, I could have been gone before he found out.
“Can’t,” I say.
“Or won’t?” he asks.
Suddenly the look on his face is like I’m rejecting him. And I am. Even when he kept trying to check in with his postcards and ill-chosen gifts for me, I could at least keep my distance, because I was far away. And when he was living far away, The Rat seemed unreal to me. But now I can’t get rid of him. Now he’s right here in front of me with a quizzical look on his face.
I open my mouth. I say it quick, like ripping off a Band-Aid.
“I don’t know how to play,” I say.
“What do you mean?”
I don’t know how to play the guitar.”
“But I sent you the guitar. I sent you books on how to play the guitar. I sent you DVDs on how to play the guitar. You said —”
“I said thanks, but I didn’t say I played.”
The Rat lets this sink in.
“Don’t you like guitar?”
“OK, OK, maybe guitar is not your instrument. That’s cool. I get it. I’m a drummer. Maybe you’re a drummer.”
“No.” I say taking a deep breath. “I guess I don’t really like music that much.”
He forced me to say it out loud. It’s his fault.
The Rat’s face turns white. Like maybe he’s having a stroke. Then it seems like he swoons, like the women in the novel I’m reading. He actually has to sit down, so he sinks into the chair.
I might need to get some smelling salts for him.
“So, you don’t like playing music?” he says. “What about
I take the pillow and twist it, like I am strangling it. Only I’m imagining that it’s The Rat. I’m not like him. I don’t want to be like him. Why doesn’t he just leave me alone and stop bothering me?
“Well, listening to music sometimes is OK, I guess. When it’s on, like, in a store or a restaurant or in a movie. And there are a few bands I like, when the boys in them are cute. But I prefer quiet. I like to be able to think. I don’t know how you can think with all that clatter. Even when there is no actual music playing, there is always noise around here.”
I motion toward his hands moving up and down the neck of the guitar case, slapping out an anxious beat. The Rat’s hands freeze.
I just should be quiet, but the explanations and excuses keep spilling out of me, like I’ve got diarrhea of the mouth.
“Normal people need quiet sometimes,” I say.
The Rat always has music on. In the morning, when he gets home, when he gets in the car, when he’s in the shower, the first thing he does is turn on the music. I can never get away from it.
“But music is in our blood,” he says.
“Sorry, I’m just not that into it,” I say. Then I deliver the blow that does it, the one that is really going to shut him up. The one that is going to break his heart. “It’s not very
“OK.” He puts his hand up, gesturing for me to stop. Then he gets up slowly and backs out of the room, like I’ve killed him. Like everything that he ever thought would be cool about having a daughter was wrong. Like he’s ashamed that he accidentally created me.
In a minute, I hear him in the living room. He’s locked himself into the soundproof closet with his drums. He’s closed the door, but I can still hear the dull thud of the thumping beats. He’s banging away on his drum kit.
He just keeps banging away for hours.
Like he said, it makes him feel better when he’s upset. And by the sound and duration of the banging, he’s really upset.
I think about how he looked, as though I told him that I have some kind of incurable disease. And I guess, in his mind, I do.
I am incurably uncool.
I push my fork around my plate making a mountain out of my Devil’s Mess Scramble. Usually it’s my favorite thing to order at Millie’s, but I’m not really hungry this morning.
“So, I hear that you’re going to spend the summer with us here in Los Angeles,” Trixie says.
She is eating eggs Florentine, and the green spinach looks gross as it goes into her mouth, against the red lipstick she’s wearing.
“Yeah,” I say. It feels like she’s rubbing it in, even though I know she’s not. It feels like if she didn’t say it, maybe my staying here for the summer wouldn’t be so real. It feels so final when she says it like that, all casual and out loud.
“I’m excited,” The Rat says. He acts like he isn’t upset or angry or utterly brokenhearted about my disinterest in guitar playing and general dislike of music. Like he’s forgotten about the whole thing. Like the drumming worked its magic last night and he’s pounded out his disappointment. Even though on our walk over here he told me that it was OK. That he’s just never met anyone who doesn’t connect with music. So it’s weird for him.
“Getting to know you is a bit like learning to speak another language,” he said.
Was that supposed to make me feel better?
“I think it’s lucky for us,” Trixie says, giving The Rat a look. “I, for one, am happy that you’re staying. It’ll give us more of a chance to get to know each other.”
“So, I was thinking,” The Rat says, “since I’m going to have to go back to work this week, you might want to take care of Auggie. It’d be something to do.”
“You want me to
?” I say.
I keep pushing my eggs around. No one is saying anything except Auggie. Auggie is babbling up a storm. I look straight at Trixie, who is squirming in her chair.
“This wasn’t my idea,” she blurts out.
“That’s true. It’s my idea,” The Rat says. “I thought maybe you’d want to make some extra cash, Katy.”
There is more silence. I steal another look at Trixie, and she looks like she’s mad, too. She’s glaring at The Rat.
“What?” The Rat says. “What did I do?”
“Beau, I wouldn’t want to be pawned off as a babysitter on my dad’s girlfriend on my summer vacation in Los Angeles. There’s too much fun to be had. I told you this was a terrible idea. I’m sorry, Katy. I can totally find someone else.”
“I was just trying to be helpful,” The Rat says. “You need a sitter; here is a teenage girl. Teenage Girl equals Babysitter.”
“Ugh,” Trixie and I say at the same time.
“Why do you need a sitter?” I ask Trixie.
“My regular girl is taking a summer class that starts next week — Tuesdays and Thursdays. And I work.”
“How do you know you can trust me?” I say.
I might be evil. Or irresponsible. Or a witch. I might light candles and say spells. I might have the mark of the devil on me. I don’t, but I might.
“You wouldn’t even get in the pool without adult supervision. I think I can trust you,” she says, and then as an afterthought she adds, “I trust Beau with Auggie all the time.”
“I’m pretty good with babies,” The Rat says.
“But not so much with diaper changes,” Trixie says. “I think you’re not good at that on purpose.”
“Have you seen what Auggie’s packing in those diapers sometimes?” The Rat says.
He’s good with babies
I think. Not when I was one. When I was a baby, he just wasn’t interested. He just wasn’t there.
“Good thing you know how to cook,” Trixie says, grabbing The Rat’s hand. “Have you made Katy your pasta puttanesca yet?”
“No. Not yet,” The Rat says.
“Well, you should. Mmmmm.”
As Trixie and The Rat talk, they give each other looks that say
I forgive you
all at once. They are a team. If I’m going to be stuck in this town for the summer, then I don’t want to be left out. I want to say,
How come you never cook for me? How come you just hand me the take-out menus? Why are we always ordering in or going out?
Instead I say, “Fine, I’ll sit for you.”
Lake is lying on my bed plucking away on my guitar. She is sporting her usual outfit of black jeans and a tight T-shirt. She wears black every time I see her pretty much. It makes her look kind of doom and gloomy.
Lake pauses her guitar noodling to pull the pink and purple knit blanket from my bed and wrap it around herself, like she just got a chill, even though it’s one hundred million bagazillion degrees outside.
I don’t want her wrapping my blanket around herself. She smells like BO because she doesn’t wear deodorant or shave her armpits. It’s my mom’s blanket, and it still kind of smells like her perfume.
“So, The Rat tells me you’re staying all summer,” Lake says.
Fact. She’s just stating the facts. I just nod because if I say yes, I know I’ll start to cry, and I don’t want Lake to see me cry.
“Guess I’ll be getting a bigger bribe,” Lake says.
“Yep. Guess so,” I say.
Lake smiles. She seems as if she’s going to make another bitchy comment. Then she looks at me, and for a second, her face softens. I think I see in her eyes, behind that look, that she’s saying,
Hey, Beige, I understand disappointment. I understand.
But then the moment is gone and I’m left wondering if I made it up. I look up at her again, though, just to make sure. But now she doesn’t look sorry for me at all. She’s just plucking away at my guitar. She is probably just glad she can get another piece of equipment at Guitar Center. I’m not quite sure why she keeps coming over and then just sits there, kind of ignoring me and playing my guitar. Doesn’t she have anything better to do?
I put my nose back into my book. I can’t read while she’s just sitting here in my room. Just plucking away. Just casually ruining my mother’s blanket.
I want her to stop playing, which means I’ll have to distract her from the guitar, and that means talking. I need to get her talking so she’ll stop playing.
“So, what’s your band called?” I ask.
She gets into the I’m-getting-comfortable-now-because-I-can-talk-about-my-favorite-subject, ME, pose.
“The Grown-Ups,” she says, and sticks out her boobs, displaying the name emblazoned on her T-shirt. “We’re great. This is my new T-shirt design. I silkscreened it myself.”
The blanket slides a bit off her shoulder, and so she yanks it back up. Then she looks at me, and I can tell she can see that I’m annoyed.
“What’s your problem, Beige?”
I’m caught. What can I say to be polite? I’m blank. I am at a loss for words.
“My mom made that blanket,” I say. “It still smells like her.”
Lake looks at me like she doesn’t care.
I tell the truth.
“I miss her,” I say quietly.
She pulls on the edge of the blanket and it falls off her shoulders. I pull it toward me. I want my mother’s blanket to comfort
That’s why I brought it with me to Los Angeles. I want it around
shoulders. Maybe I am getting ready to talk about
But I’m not. I don’t open my mouth and tell her that my mom made it for me when she was in rehab. When she was pregnant with me. That my mom made a blanket big enough for a king-size bed because she was freaking out, and knitting was the only thing that kept her from not losing her mind while the junk was leaving her body and I was growing bigger and bigger inside of her each day.
She knit then. Everyone she knew then got a knit blanket when she was in rehab, she said. She doesn’t knit now. Even though a bunch of her friends have a knitting circle. Even though I keep asking her to teach me. Even though Leticia says it would be cool to know how to knit and we should totally learn how.
“That was then, Katy,” Mom says. “I knit all I had in me.”
I pull the blanket closer around me. A silence emerges between Lake and me. A pause hangs in the air, a pause in me and a pause in her that meets in between us.
Lake puts the guitar down on the bed. She looks at her hands, stretches them out, and then balls them into two fists. She talks to her hands.
“My mom died one month after coming home from rehab,” Lake says.
I just stare at her. It’s something we have in common. Our mothers were junkies. It dawns on me. They were junkies