The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away

BOOK: The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away
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This book is dedicated to Carla Burkhard, Jennifer
Gardner, Mary Beth Lister, Danielle Paul, Suzanne
Roberts, Liz Redinbo, and all past and future members
of my most marvelous book group. Thank you for ten
years of good talk, good books, and good therapy.

the sound of your voice, only really far away

Marylin thought she could get away with it. She thought she could be a middle-school cheerleader and a Student Government representative. She thought she could be friends with Mazie Calloway
and
Rhetta Mayes. She thought she could date the Student Government president instead of the captain of the football team, and that would be okay.

Marylin thought she could have it all, and everybody would cheer and clap their hands and be fully supportive, the way people were on TV during the last five minutes of a show.

That was the problem with having two weeks for winter break, she decided later. When you
had two weeks off of school, you could believe that life was easy. Life was Christmas trees and hot chocolate and your parents actually sort of getting along when they saw each other. Life was watching TV and getting new clothes, and looking through magazines for different hairstyles that didn’t mean cutting your hair. Life was about not caring what people thought, because everybody was doing stuff with their families and didn’t have as much time to think about what you were wearing or who you were hanging out with.

Mazie had been out of town for most of the break, and though she texted a lot, it was all about the cute boys at the ski lodge she was staying at. When they were in the same room together, Mazie was always investigating Marylin’s life. Why had Marylin been walking down the hall with Jody Reed when everyone knew Jody had to go to speech therapy twice a week? When was Marylin going to get a smartphone? Why had Marylin bought those shoes? Who in the world wore green shoes?

Frankly, it was exhausting. So for Marylin,
the two weeks of break had been like a spa vacation. Sure, she’d met the other middle-school cheerleaders at the mall, and gone to a sleepover at Ruby Santiago’s house and another one at Ashley Greer’s, but most of the time she’d just hung out at her house or her dad’s apartment. As a rule, Marylin didn’t find her parents’ divorce convenient; in fact, it was the most inconvenient, horrible thing that had ever happened to her. But she had to admit, it gave her a lot of excuses not to do anything that she didn’t feel like doing. “I’ve got to go over to my dad’s this afternoon,” she’d tell whoever called—Ruby or Ashley or Caitlin. “But maybe I can hang out tomorrow!”

When she climbed on the bus on the first day after break, Marylin felt refreshed. She was ready for Mazie and Ruby and the other middle-school cheerleaders. She thought she was even ready to tell them that Benjamin Huddle had hiked over to her house one snowy afternoon last week so they could build a snowman together. He’d been so funny and nice, she’d wished she could have texted about him to
someone on her new phone, but her friend Kate didn’t have a phone, and it was a Sunday, and her friend Rhetta wasn’t allowed to use any electronic technologies on Sundays.

Since she was pretty sure Kate and Rhetta were her only friends who would understand the wonders of Benjamin Huddle, all Marylin could do was write in her journal about it later, how snowflakes had gotten tangled up in Benjamin’s eyelashes, and how he’d helped her little brother, Petey, build a snowman Albert Einstein. But now, boarding the bus to school, she thought it was time to share Benjamin with the middle-school cheerleaders. They knew she’d gone to the Student Organizations Holiday Extravaganza with Benjamin, after all. How shocked would they be that Benjamin had come over to her house? That she liked him and thought that he was maybe sort of her boyfriend, even though it wasn’t official?

Kate was sitting in a seat toward the back of the bus. Marylin slid in beside her and said, “You really need to get a phone. All everybody does anymore is text. Nobody talks.”

“I talk,” Kate said, sounding stubborn about it. “I like the sound of people’s voices.”

Marylin sighed. Kate Faber was the most frustrating person on the planet. Marylin and Kate had been friends since preschool, and even if they didn’t hang out as much as they used to, well, there was still this bond. But that didn’t mean that Kate didn’t drive Marylin crazy. Kate was smart and funny, and she’d be cute if she learned how to dress and do her hair, but she seemed to be completely missing the gene that made normal people want to be popular, or to at least fit in.
Of course
Kate didn’t text.
Of course
she wore big black clunky boots that made her look like a lumberjack or a fireman. That was Kate’s style. Marylin didn’t get it at all.

“Well, if you don’t care that the whole world is leaving you behind,” Marylin said with a shrug.

“I don’t,” Kate said. “As long as it leaves me my guitar.”

Right. The guitar. How could Marylin forget about Kate’s guitar? That was another thing.
Somehow last fall Kate had gotten her hands on a guitar, and now she was Miss Rock and Roll. And she was hanging around with this eighth-grade boy named Matthew Holler, who Marylin had to admit was cute, but he wasn’t the sort of boy you should hang around with if you got good grades and didn’t get in trouble.

As far as Marylin was concerned, there were three kinds of acceptable boys: athletes, student leaders, and select band members, specifically boys who played trumpet or drums. That really gave you a lot of boys to choose from, if you thought about it, even if it excluded boys like Matthew Holler and Sean Kim, who was really cute, but played clarinet and was thereby technically out of the running.

Well, Marylin was not going to get into the topic of Matthew Holler and acceptable boys with Kate. She didn’t want to spend her energy on things she couldn’t do a thing in the world about. Instead she needed to get focused. She was a middle-school cheerleader and a School Government representative. She was wearing amazing leopard-skin flats she’d bought at Target
a few days before, and even though her feet were freezing because you couldn’t exactly wear socks with leopard-skin flats, that was okay. Because she had new lip gloss in her back pouch and hummus in a plastic container for lunch, and people liked her and thought she was pretty. All of these things added up to an amazing life. Not a perfect life—she didn’t think she could ever have a perfect life, now that her parents were divorced—but a life most girls would envy.

Marylin glanced at Kate, who was leafing through a magazine called
American Songwriter
. Okay, so Kate probably didn’t envy Marylin’s life. But Kate was—well, Kate. You couldn’t expect her to feel things normal people felt. But you could expect her to tell you the truth, and although Marylin didn’t always like to hear the truth, she knew that it was good to have a person like Kate in your life.

But one Kate was enough. One would definitely do the trick.

Over the holidays, Marylin had started writing a novel. She’d gotten inspired by a movie she’d
watched at her dad’s apartment on New Year’s Day. It was about a girl who was abandoned deep in the woods with her little brother, who was deaf, and their dog, a golden retriever named Trevor. The girl and her brother had been camping with their mom and stepdad, and one morning they woke up to find themselves alone except for Trevor. They had to figure out on their own how to get home, and how to survive along the way.

Marylin had been sitting on the couch with Petey, a blanket spread across their laps, a gigantic bowl of popcorn between them. She didn’t think she’d enjoy the movie; she’d never been camping and was pretty sure she’d hate it—too many bugs—and as a rule, she preferred romantic movies to adventures. Really, if it hadn’t been for Trevor the dog, she would have tried to convince Petey to watch something else. But Trevor was so cute, and Marylin had always wanted a dog, so she decided to give
Alone in the Woods
a chance.

By the time it was over, she couldn’t wait to start writing. That happened to her a lot with
movies; if she really liked the story, it made her want to come up with a story of her own. Her idea was to write a novel about a girl who had been abandoned by her parents, only in a suburban neighborhood, not in the woods. Marylin’s story would start on the morning after the parents left, with the girl, a seventh grader, waking up and calling out, “Mom, do you know what I did with my history binder?” But her mom didn’t answer, because her mom wasn’t there, and neither was her dad. It was just the girl, who Marylin decided would be named Christina, because Marylin had always loved the name Christina, and her little brother, Curtis.

Marylin found a yellow legal pad in her dad’s desk drawer and took it to her room. It was ten thirty, and she was supposed to have her lights out by eleven, but when she finally looked up from her writing, the clock on her bedside table said one fifteen. She’d written fourteen pages. Christina and Curtis had just found the note their parents left them, saying they were getting divorced and needed some time to themselves. They were sure the
children would be fine without them, the note said—there was plenty of food in the kitchen, and they’d left a hundred dollars in the junk drawer—and one of them would be home soon to explain more.

Marylin knew she should turn out her light and go to sleep. In fact, she was surprised her dad hadn’t tapped on her door and told her it was way past her bedtime. But there was no way she could fall asleep. She was so mad at the parents in her story she felt like there were ants crawling through her veins. How could they do that to their kids? Just leave them alone with hardly any explanation at all?

In the movie, it had been the evil stepfather who had convinced the children’s mother to abandon them. In Marylin’s story, abandoning their kids, at least temporarily, was something both parents agreed to do. They couldn’t agree about anything else, but they could agree that the kids weren’t as important as their own happiness.

The next day she’d called Rhetta and read to her what she’d written so far. Rhetta had been
quiet for a few moments after Marylin had finished, and then said, “It’s really good, but I’m not sure people will believe that Christina’s parents would actually abandon their children. I mean, that’s a pretty radical thing to do.”

Marylin had thought about this for a minute. “Maybe this is the kind of story that only divorced kids will understand,” she said finally.

“Maybe,” Rhetta agreed. “Only, Marylin, your parents didn’t abandon you. They just sort of abandoned each other.”

Marylin found herself nodding fiercely at the phone. “It’s exactly the same thing,” she said, her throat tightening. “That’s what nobody gets. It’s exactly the same.”

Marylin had planned to spend the rest of the day working on her story, but when she sat down to write, she couldn’t figure out what should happen next. She was trying to write a scene with Christina and Curtis in the kitchen before school. Christina wanted to make a special breakfast for Curtis, waffles and bacon, but she realized she didn’t know how to use the waffle iron, and she’d never fried bacon before.
That’s okay,
Curtis told her.
I just want cereal anyway
.

BOOK: The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away
2.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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