Read Near + Far Online

Authors: Cat Rambo

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author)

Near + Far (5 page)

I was happy with how this story turned out, and it sold to the first person that looked at it, Sean Wallace, who bought it for
Clarkesworld
, which is always pleasant. I count it a success because when I ran into one of my writing heroes, she specifically mentioned reading and enjoying this story. That's awfully nice when it happens, and other people liked it enough for it to get some nice mentions here and there.

Peaches of Immortality

D
ecades later the music was what really tipped Glen off. He heard a song on the radio, a brand new release, and remembered the day he'd first heard it, twenty years earlier.

Everything began to fall together then. Or maybe that was when it really started to shatter.

There were four of them in high school. Glen wasn't one of the quartet. Instead, it was Fred Lipton and his gang.

But you could have said that of any of them. Derek Cho and his gang. Penelope Nantes and her gang. Casey Lucas and her gang. Casey Lucas, Barbie-blond, eyebrows as fine and wispy as fledgling feathers. Graceful Casey, but smart, too, planning on becoming a journalist, colleges salivating at the prospect.

Shiny happy careers lined up before all four. Glen's post-high school future was murkier. He was a D&D player and artist, trying not to be thought the only queer in a Catholic school while not above exploiting his sensitive side to get girls, a pursuit that beguiled him more than studying.

Casey hadn't yielded to his best brooding looks. He suspected she thought herself above him, but the heat in the way she looked at him egged him on.

Once she'd laid her hand on his arm to steady herself, a delicious trusting pressure, and ever since then he'd always stood as close to her as possible.

So—it was perhaps not
entirely
a surprise when she invited him to the loft.

"What for?"

"We like to play music," she said. "We're pretty good, even. Come and listen to us." She laid her hand on his, this time not to catch herself, but to snare him. He turned into his locker to hide his sudden erection.

"All right," he said, half over his shoulder.

He'd found a magazine a few weeks ago while in the library that advised boys to play it cool at first. He didn't want to play it cool, though. He wanted to turn and look into her blue eyes and lean close enough to smell the perfume she wore, a lemon and musk scent unlike any other girl's perfume.

The Lipton's house was within walking distance, but Casey gave him a ride over, along with Danny and Penelope. They knew who he was—their entire class was a few hundred kids, and only the most aloof didn't know the names of the rest. They creaked up the stairs and into the loft, a high-ceilinged, drafty space smelling in equal measures of marijuana and incense.

Fred was there, along with Jenny, a girl from the Social Studies class Fred and Glen shared, and another boy, Alf Reidle, who looked up as Casey entered and tried to catch her eye. Unsuccessful, he settled back like the others. The pellets in his grimy beanbag chair scrunched and rescrunched as he passed around an enormous bong with layers of skull-shaped bubblers in the stem.

Casey swung open the door of an old-fashioned refrigerator and gestured. Glen stared in. It was stocked with soda and beer, an emphasis on the latter. Casey took one. He hesitated. Beer made him sleepy and stupid. It might make him say or do something dumb around Casey.

"What's the matter, worried the folks will smell it when you get home?" Fred sneered.

The door banged open and Derek barged in, grabbing the bong, discarding his jacket, a bustle that allowed Glen to grab a soda and settle in his own beanbag.

"We're all here," Fred said. He slapped Jenny's thigh jocularly and stood up. "Let's play."

The four of them sang. It was November, 1980, and they began with some of the most popular songs of the day: "Another One Bites the Dust," "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me," Dan Fogelberg's "Longer"—songs overplayed on the radio, almost perfect renditions, note for note. They all played instruments, and sometimes between songs they'd trade off according to some system Glen didn't understand, some combination of challenge and self-declaration. The boys strutted and pranced like TV tough guys. Derek's snarl like dark, bitter honey; Fred's voice husky and sincere. The girls' voices seemed interchangeable at first, but Glen began to pick out nuances. Casey's was lower, more syrupy; Penelope's edged with crystal.

Like Glen, Jenny and Alf were onlookers, sitting on the beanbags, watching the enchanted four play.

Then they switched to other things, music that seemed all new. Often they resorted to the synthesizer in the corner for beats and effects: ethereal glass flutes or tiger yodels or a rhythmic sandpaper rasp, magnified a thousand times, almost painful underneath the screamed defiance of the song.

As they changed instruments after something that somehow seemed more disco than disco could ever be, Glen leaned over and touched Casey's elbow.

"Who wrote these?" he said.

She paused. She was rising from the drums, still breathing hard from playing the last song.

The moment stretched longer than it should have. He found her looking at him with an inability to answer the question, a lack of preparation that surprised him.

"We all do," Fred said. "Someone comes up with an idea and we all contribute. We like to improvise." He began a bouncy beat, staring at Glen. "Here's one I like from U2, 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.'"

They joined in. The words flowed along, strangely ominous. Fred's speculative black eyes watched Glen as though assessing his reaction to each chord.

"I haven't heard of them," Jenny said. "Did they just release an album?"

Casey broke off playing. "Our friend Ana's visiting," she said, warning in her tone. Derek nodded as though in confirmation. Glen didn't know what they were talking about.

"It doesn't matter," Fred said. He waved a lazy hand at the bong and shrugged. "We can play anything we like. We're all just a bunch of stoned zombies."

Penelope picked out the first few bars of a Beatles song, "Yesterday," and Derek half-laughed. He picked up the bass and they launched into a version that was somehow campy and mocking one moment, and heartbreakingly sincere the next. Tears welled in Glen's eyes as Casey sang, and he swallowed hard. Looking up, he saw Alf watching him with a frown on his face.

He could have listened all afternoon, all evening, long into the morning hours. But they could not play that long. All too soon, they were putting down their instruments, exchanging wry smiles as Alf and Jenny and Glen applauded.

"What do you call your band?" Jenny asked.

Derek shrugged. "We don't really have a name," he said. He was a skinny Asian boy who kept a proprietary hand on Penelope at all times. "I call it the Peaches of Immortality, but you can call it anything you like."

"That's a pretty name," Jenny said. "Where's it from?"

"In Chinese legend, the gods eat them and become immortal," Derek said. "My grandfather believed in them. He was an alchemist back in China. I remember him telling me stories about them when I was just a little kid."

Alf departed after a whispered, angry conversation with Casey in the corner. She shrugged off questions and settled into the beanbag next to Glen.

They smoked more pot and drank more beer and watched a movie on the dilapidated VCR in the corner.

"My folks like to get the latest thing, so they let me have this," Fred explained. Glen thought that Fred had one of the luckiest existences possible: permissive parents, beer and technology, cool friends, the brains to get through classes while seeming to coast, bored and above it all. He sighed.

"What's wrong?" Casey breathed in his ear. She leaned over from her beanbag, half settling on his. He wondered if he could slide an arm around her. How would she react? Maybe best not to.

But the article had said
be bold
.

His arm raised and curled around her shoulders as though by itself. She rested against him, and he could feel her warmth like a burning coal along his side. He could smell her perfume.

It made it hard to focus on the film, even more than the pot. He couldn't make out the plot, but gathered that it was a love story, lovers separated by fate and meeting each other by chance at intervals through the years, never at the right time.

Casey nudged him. "This is my favorite part."

The lovers in a garden.

Him to her: We only meet when we're tangled with others, it seems.

Her to him: Someday we'll meet at the right time.

He takes her hand, moonlight silhouetting them, a cut paper portrait.

His voice lowers. Till then, a kiss to dream about, he says.

The inevitable clinch. It seemed cliché and sappy to Glen. The sort of thing girls liked, he supposed.

Casey's perfume filled his senses, and he was focused on the soft, round breast pressed against his side. He held still, as though afraid of frightening her, breathing in a mix of smoke and happiness.

But the next day at school, Casey was distant again. He saw her in the corridors, but she didn't look at him.

Fred clued him in when he caught Glen waiting near her locker.

"Don't let Brad Effer catch you," he said.

Brad was captain of the football team, a hearty, handsome hunk with a touch of the bully about him.

"What?" Glen stammered.

"She's dating him now. You'll have to wait for your chance."

Disappointment engulfed Glen, shading the hall a few colors darker. But he tried to keep it off his face, conscious of the odd avidity with which Fred watched him. He muttered something and turned away.

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