2-11: Fathers, Daughters, Lovers

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“What’s her name?”

Her voice is a wind chime with a breeze caught in its tangles. Somewhere in the distance, choked murmurs.

“Flannery Dove? How lovely. I bet she wishes she had wings right now, huh?”

A swoosh over Flannery’s nose. The lumpy cot drives into her spine. Her eyes stay shut. There’s a knot in her back and a pounding in her head. Her hand twitches. An unfamiliar, clammy hand flips it over.

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“A guitarist’s hands and an acrobat’s makeup. Well, color me intrigued.”

Like a daydream, Flannery’s eyes blink open. White hair brushes against her eyelashes; it flutters to and fro with each breath. “Good morning, Flannery,” says Pandora Spring.

Flannery squints. The ceiling light tints the world a ghastly blue; it seeps into her skin, and grinds between her teeth. She groans, then pulls a quivering hand to her forehead. The room is cold. She is wearing only her underwear. Goosebumps rise along her stomach. “Where’s my father?”

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“Aren’t you concerned about your friends?” Pandora giggles. Her laugh has wrecked marriages.

Flannery sits up, carefully, but bumps into Pandora’s forehead, hung close above her own. She winces. Pandora draws back, large yellow eyes blinking curiously, unhurt. She glances towards the huddle in the corner, parked by the main door. Seaweed, Alto, and Dolly’s murmurs silence. Alto glances up with deadening eyes. Flannery smiles at him. The corners of his lips twitch upwards. Neither Seaweed or Dolly look up. “Where’s my father?” repeats Flannery.

Pandora points at a smaller, reddish-blue door across the room, then pulls her hand quickly to her chest. “The bathroom. He’s been inside for three hours.”

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“Aren’t you cold?”

Her pale arm hairs stand erect in the deep sea light. Same expression, same defensive hand. “No.”

Flannery nods. She swings her legs over the side of the bed. As she stands, her vision swims first like her father’s lucky sperm towards her mother’s egg, and then like her mother’s tears, consuming and disastrous, when her father traded her freckles for politics. Flannery shakes her head. The bricks become solid. Her mother did nothing. She recovered too late.

Flannery will not make the same mistake.

She wades through the blue light. The cracks in the walls haunt her. The floorboards squeak like dying mice. She glances behind her. The light flickers. Pandora’s eyes flash black. The shadows consume her. For a moment, darkness swallows Flannery whole, too, and then she is replaced, replenished by the light blinking on, and a wink from a lover to be. Flannery raises her chin. In this moment, she swears she hears her mother’s voice, an intimate whisper. “I’m going to a party tonight.”

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But you never said you were going swimming. She’s at the door now. Its knob seems unreachable, and its tenant a convict. She sits on the floor, leans her back on the wall, and pulls her knees to her chest. A shiver bangs them together. She rubs her palms together, grimacing all the while. Of all the horrors she’s lived this week, only the cold has her writhing. If only she had a flamethrower-to punish her father, foremost, and then to warm her freezing fingers. Through chattering teeth, she asks, “Why’d you do it?”

The bathroom tiles squeak frantically. The clash of metal and elbow clangs throughout the cell. Rouge’s toe hits the bathroom door. He collapses to the floor, then scrambles to a kneel. He presses his ear to the wall.

Flannery raises her voice. “Why’d you kill my mom?”

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“I…”

Her fists clench. History wells up in her throat. Her mother’s brokedown eyes, Boston’s parentless gurgle, a bottle of vodka rolling down three flights of stairs. “Why’d you knock her up and leave her for dead? Why’d you pretend we never existed, huh? Look. Give me one reason not to kill you. Because goddamnit, I-I will. You killed my mom and you tried to throw us away, and it just so happens that I’ve had a very goddamn bad week. Are you ready to take your chances?”

A minute of silence. A heavy sigh. “How would you kill me?”

“I don’t know, but I would.”

“I believe you,” lies Rouge.

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A long pause.  “Thanks.”

“If it means anything to you, I didn’t kill your mom.”

Flannery closes her eyes and leans her head against the door. Her heart drops to her stomach. Shakily: “Then who did?”

“She did.” Rouge holds his head in his hands. Deep, haggard breaths. “She did.”

“That’s bullshit!” cries Flannery; her fist collides with the door. “She was getting better! She smiled and she said hello and she wore makeup and she went to the party and that’s just..that’s not what people who’re going to kill themselves do.”

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“She wasn’t planning on it, at least, I don’t think she was. Not until she saw me. I was running around town. I didn’t know what was going on. Birch chased me to the end of the block before he called the funeral home. Not for your mom, you see, but for Velvet. My…my wife.

She died that night, too. She slipped on a spilled drink and her head cracked open. I don’t know whose fault it was, okay? She was yelling at me, your mother, too. Your mother spilled the drink. I don’t know. At first, I thought it was Blanca’s fault, and I told her so. She ran away, and I ran, too, a minute later. I didn’t follow her. I think I went the opposite direction, actually, but we live in a small town, and in small towns, the streets wrap in on themselves, like spirals. I found her sleeping outside the bookstore. Even in her sleep, she whispered. I’ll always remember that about her. Her nonsense and her freckles. And her loneliness. She glowed with it. You know, for years she wandered Orchard on her own, but after the workers started pouring in, those years only magnified inside her. Especially after I left.”

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Flannery is crying now, quiet, ugly sobs. Snot dribbles down her chin. She ducks her head behind her knees. Her cheeks flush red. Seaweed stares. Dolly averts her eyes. Alto rises and, with creaking, hesitant footsteps, crosses the room to her. He bends down, taps her shoulder. She glances up. Mascara paints a skeleton forest on her cheeks. He sits down beside her. He holds her hand. He buries his face in her hair. His lips brush her ear, but no words come. For two days, he’s had nothing to say.

“Look, I know I screwed up.” Rouge continues. “I made a mistake. It was always Velvet, you see, and I just wanted to make her happy. I tried to save the world for her. Heroics is a lonely job, though, and when Blanca and I collided, we made the world’s saddest cocktail. She wanted me. I wanted the past. I wanted the days before my girlfriend sold herself in glass windows. I wanted the days before The Vanishing. I hated starvation, and I hated desperation. I gave into the latter just twice. Once for you and your sister, and another for your brother.

But I wanted politics! I wanted to put the world back on its feet. I wanted to fight crime and get the girl, and to live my dream, I couldn’t go back to your mother. I had to forget about her, you see? I craved perfection, but she defied it. I thought if I were to tell Velvet, she’d leave me, and if I told Birch, I’d lose my banker. So I left Blanca. Only eleven years later did I let myself think about her, and I ran right back. I still don’t know why. I couldn’t even fix her, so I fucked her, and then I left. I didn’t see her again until the night she died.”

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It was a dinner party. We were supposed to celebrate my accomplishments as mayor. I got the schools up and running again, as you well know, and though that royally pissed off Birch, I got lots of parents donating to my cause. They were all invited to the party, but they missed the main event.

Your mom showed up first. She got there before we did. All smoky eyes and tiny skirt, she looked like a high class hooke-”

“Don’t you fucking dare call my mother a hooker!” Flannery choke-cries. Alto squeezes her hand. She buries her head in his shoulder. His skin muffles her voice. “You used her up. You took advantage of her. She looked beautiful that night, you grade A asshole.”

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Rouge takes a shaky breath. His palms shine wet with sweat and tears. His voice grows quieter as he moves from the door, to take a seat on the toilet. “I’m going to finish, Flannery. Okay? I arrived with Velvet and Birch. We laughed and smiled as we walked up to the bar, but when I saw Blanca’s face in the mirror behind it, my grin froze. Velvet made small talk with her. They had great chemistry-unbelievable. I approached Blanca after Velvet ordered her drink, and asked her what the hell she was doing. She stood up. Her drink sloshed, I remember. Her eyes were wild. She exploded on me, then, like a goddamn land mine. Her drink crashed to the floor. Her words blew up the bar. I wanted to die.

Then she mentioned Velvet. ‘Does Velvet look goddamn happy to you?’ she shouted. I saw Velvet’s frown, then I saw her nod. Blanca kept staring at me. Her gaze was a prison sentence. I appealed to a higher court. ‘She looks as beautiful as I’ve ever seen her,’ I said. At that moment, it was prison for life. Blanca kept shouting, and suddenly Velvet was agreeing with her, and I didn’t matter. Nothing I could say would help me. I could only deny everything as I put on my orange uniform. Velvet wouldn’t believe me. Why should she have? I’m an awful liar.

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She ran to Blanca, and then she slipped. Her head cracked against the table and the chair and finally the floor. Blood was everywhere. Her chest stopped moving. I said it was Blanca’s fault. Still in denial, you see. She ran then, and in a bit, I ran into the rain, too. And that’s how I found her on the bench. My footsteps woke her up. She saw me, and the moon in her eyes died. She sprinted-barefoot, I noticed. I ran after her. I didn’t know why-I only knew that she had been there with Velvet, and it had somehow been not just her fault, but my fault, too. We ran for ten minutes. She paused on the bridge, with me a minute behind, to grab her heels. Mud soaked her feet. It splattered her thighs, and mixed with the blood on her face. I followed her to the public pool, under the welcoming building and onto the tile. She slowed as she approached the water. I stopped. Her skirt had ridden up around her hips; she wiggled it down slowly, as if she relished the cold wind on her rain-soaked underwear. She wiped her feet on the pool ladder, then slid on her heels. Her lipstick had smeared across her face, and as she turned to face me, she wore the jagged half-grin of a CD snapped in half.

We stood in silence for minutes. The moon dyed our faces into pearls. Rain soaked through my shirt. She didn’t blink. Her eyes burned red and tears streamed down her face, but she didn’t blink. I shouted to her. ‘Have you gone crazy?’

‘I’ve never felt more alone,’ she whispered through the wind.

And then she jumped.”

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Rouge presses his cheeks into his hands. Tears hurricane through his fingers. On the door’s other side, Flannery sobs into Alto’s shoulder. The blue light flickers, casting a ghoulish shadow across her ruddy cheeks, and his ruffled hair. From the bed, Pandora Spring watches with curious, narrowed eyes. The guard peeks through a slat in the door. Seaweed begs him for a smoke. Dolly shushes him. “What did you do?” asks Flannery, voice thick.

“I turned away. It seemed too private, too personal, too hopeless. I’d just lost my wife, and now an ex-lover. A nightmare-that’s what it was. An inky skied, wet clothed, spilled beer nightmare. I walked home as she floundered. No one could know we were connected, I realized. Duty still drove me, even then. As soon as I got home, I reported three homeless children, camping out in a rundown Vanishing home. I needed to move on; I knew that only an hour after their deaths. I couldn’t live with their voices on my back.

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But when I awoke, you’d been adopted by man in town, and I pretended I didn’t care. I heard reports of a gang of delinquents, drinking it up in the swamps. ‘Flannery Dove’s the ringleader,’ parents whispered. I cried the first night I heard it. If I’d been your parent, maybe you’d be better. You’d have had a normal childhood. You’d have chosen homework over liquor. But I guess I’ll never know. Anyway. A…a week ago, I received an e-mail. All government personnel got it. ‘The first alarm has triggered. We caught the intruders on video.’ Attached at the bottom was the video. When I saw your face, I knew I couldn’t sit idly by. I couldn’t let my child die, too, even if I didn’t know you. So I hunted you down. I went to Brandy’s house. He opened the front door on the second knock. Then he slapped me in the face. I met your brother and sister, too. I’m…I’m dead to them, Flannery. Your brother thought I was a used car salesman. Your sister wanted my head on a stake.

I held my head high, though, and flew to the city. I got a room in your hotel. As soon as the shouting stopped in your room, I came to warn you-to help you escape, if necessary. But we were ratted out, and now we’re here, waiting to die in the Blue Daydream, with Boss upstairs and the world on our heels. We’re all going to die here, and I..I’m so sorry, Flannery. I failed.”

“You didn’t try to stop her!” cries Flannery. Alto wraps his arms around her waist. He squeezes his eyes shut. Where have his words gone? “I don’t give a shit about Blue Daydream or Boss or whatever-they didn’t let my mother die. You still failed. She’s dead, and death doesn’t take any apologies.”

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Rouge’s cries fumble in the cramped space between the door and the floor. He smashes his fist against the wall; he yelps when his knuckles come away bruised.

Flannery’s whole body trembles. She throws her hands over her smeared makeup and bloodshot eyes. Her hair deepens to purple in the blue light. Alto bites his lip. Her tears burn his shoulders like wildfire. She pushes herself a few inches away, minute, but wholly separate. His jaw falls, and his arms reach out desperately.

He finds her shoulders, bare but for tangles and bra straps, and hunching upwards towards her pointed chin. He pulls her closer. She offers no resistance. Her hands cup her cheeks, conceal her eyes, but she’s warmer. “I’ve got you,” whispers Alto, voice hoarse with the silence of days. “It’s okay to cry.”

She chokes out another sob. He runs his fingers through her hair, and her hands slowly, ever so slowly, fall from her face.

                                             

Neutral Milk Hotel – “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt 1

A/N: The lovely Pandora Spring is from Arrowleaf’s awesome emotion burning rainbowcy, Chasing Rainbows.

I’m sorry I’ve fallen so behind with answering comments and reading your stories. This school year has been really busy already, and I just auditioned for the fall musical today, so my reading/writing time might be cut in half. I’m going to reserve Sundays for reading, though, and l’m excited to have loads of wonderful stories to read at the end of the week!

My updates, though, will be fairly sparse throughout first semester. After the musical and college hunting season finish up, I will be like ten times more present. I’m really sorry about the delays-I haven’t forgot about you guys, I promise!

And another beeteedubs: how’s the posing in this chapter? This is my first time using pose player in an update, and I’m not sure if my posing is up to par. If you have any suggestions, shout ’em out! 🙂

Thank you all for reading! 🙂 Hope to see you soon!

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2-9: What Flannery Found

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Separate. Arms pumping. Chests heaving. Brandy has always beaten exercise. Oh, how Flannery regrets it now!

Stumble in the brush. Bruised knee. Blood drips down her thigh. Gust of wind. Alto’s hair whips in front of his eyes. He nearly crashes. Tree in the way. Continue on.

Up the steps. Panting now. Flushed cheeks. Eyes dart from pillars to floor. Dolly’s hand covers her mouth. Eyes squeezed shut. Seaweed leans against the wall, cigarette in hand. His gaze meets theirs. Hollow. Deep breaths. Stammer. Stop.

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“A-a-are you okay?” asks Alto between great, heaving breaths. Dolly slides to the ground; she presses her face against her thighs. Her quivering lip peeks from between them. “Lemon?”

Dolly doesn’t reply. Flannery stares at the city hall’s doors, at the darkness behind the empty window frames, at its rusty doorknob, at the scrap of paper jammed between hinges. She narrows her eyes. “What did you two find?”

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Seaweed shakes his head and takes another drag. Dolly’s knees knock. “If you won’t tell me,” snaps Flannery, “I’ll find it myself.”

“Don’t!” cries Seaweed. He covers his face with his hands, then with a shaky hand, holds his cigarette to his lip. His voice continues, choked, distraught. “Just listen to me for once, okay, Flan? Don’t go in there. Let’s just go back home, okay? You don’t need to see that. Nobody should.”

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“I’m going in,” growls Flannery, raising her chin defiantly. Seaweed says nothing as she marches past him, and only takes another drag, frown sinking to his ankles, when Alto slips through the door behind her.

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Broken glass cracks beneath Flannery’s boots. Through the darkness, she makes out the ornate, stately rug beneath her feet, and the strange, dark brown stains upon it. Dust puffs from its depths with each step she takes. Mice avoid her feet. Above her, a chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Spiderwebs adorn its fixtures. She breathes slowly, and a putrid and sickly sweet scent floods her nostrils. She nearly gags on it, but remembers Seaweed’s presence ten feet away. She swallows, hard. She pushes her shoulders back. A doorway stands to her left. The doors hang open, barely attached to their hinges. She turns to enter, when something brushes her hand.

Flannery’s shriek sends the mice fleeing for their mouseholes. Her hands fly to her face, and she is enveloped by a brief, nervous hug. “Hey, hey,” comes Alto’s hushed voice. He pulls himself away from her and meets her wide eyes. “I’m sorry. Shit, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to freak you out. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she lies. His hand finds hers, and their fingers intertwine. She takes a long, shuddering breath. “Let’s keep going.”

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She turns the corner and freezes.

A flag, worn and moth-eaten, hangs across the far wall. On it, a tiger buries its teeth into a snake; its blood spurts across a snapped olive branch.  A podium stands in front of the flag. A torn page dangles from a book on its surface. Weapons cases and supplies boxes line the walls. Dried food, read some, and antibiotics, read others. Another chandelier hangs from the ceiling.

On the floor lays hundreds of skeletons.

Some still wear clothes. Some still clutch their mother’s hand. Their rot’s leftover stench floods the room.

Flannery’s stomach heaves. She gags; the bile rises up her throat. Her coughs echo through the room. Alto’s hand falls limply to his side. His eyes meet hers for a brief moment, awed or horrified, until her stomach empties through her throat. Vomit splashes against a skull. The alarms go off.

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“Run!” screams Flannery. She turns on her heel, and nearly trips over a thigh as she stumbles for the door. Her head pounds with the pulsing, high-pitched shriek of the alarm, and suddenly she’s vomiting again, dribble running down her chin, throat burning. Alto follows, silent, forehead covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He steps on a mouse as he whirls around the corner. It squeaks as it dies. The blood stains his shoes.

Sunlight on their faces. Vomit down her shirt. The paper between the door. Alto tucks it in his pocket as he flies past. Flannery grabs Dolly’s hand, yanks her to her feet, and then the four run, run, run to the car, run the engine, run to the city that never wakes, that insomniac, that frightened city.

                                

Lorde – “Swingin’ Party

A/N: I hope to have another chapter or two out before school starts, and will try to update as often as I can once I’m back in the classroom! It’ll be tough, though, because this is college application season, and while I’ve already applied to my first choice, I still plan on applying to a few more schools and will need to focus on school in order to keep acceptance and get MOAR SCHOLARSHIPS.

Anywho, thank you all for reading! I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer. 🙂

2-8: Trouble Town

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Flannery brushes her teeth ferociously, no water, no band aids. She drags her thumbs beneath her eyes, then reapplies her mascara. She examines her hair in the mirror, furious and blood-red. She wonders if she will kill her father, or simply burn his ego to the ground. Well, she’ll find out soon enough. She brushes her teeth again. The sun has not yet risen.

“Hey!” shouts Dolly from the hall. Flannery grimaces. “We’re leaving in five!”

Flannery yawns. “Can I go to sleep first?”

“If you hadn’t been fixing your hair, you could’ve snagged a nap,” replies Dolly. A door opens in the hall. Suitcases scuffle across the carpet.

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“We’re going to be in the car all day,” Dolly calls to Flannery. “You don’t need to wear makeup. Come on, the sun’s up.”

Flannery rolls her eyes and tucks her mascara in her makeup pouch. She runs a hand through her hair, sighs, and opens the door.

Dolly stands outside, hand on her hip, blonde curls pulled haphazardly into twin buns. A pile of suitcases rests beside her on the floor. Shadows pool in her collarbones. She narrows her eyes. “Really, chiquita? We’re not going to a photoshoot.”

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“I wouldn’t be me without my eyeliner,” says Flannery simply. “Oh, thanks for grabbing my bag.”

“No problem,” says Dolly. “You know, maybe you should try going without it once in awhile. It feels good to be exposed sometimes.”

Flannery ponders this for a moment, then shakes her head. “I’m fine the way I am, but thanks.”

“I don’t have many girl friends, either,” says Dolly incisively as Alto’s door opens. He’s still wearing his pajamas. He lugs a suitcase behind him. “And I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear a shirt.”

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“Sweater vests aren’t shirts?” asks Alto, unzipping his suitcase and yanking out a button-up and argyle sweater vest. He buttons up his shirt quickly, as if he’s just been caught skinnydipping in a public pool, then yanks his vest over his head.

“I’m digging your sweatpants,” teases Dolly. “They really match the vest.”

“I-I was going to change in the hallway, but I really wasn’t expecting a welcoming committee.”

“We’ll load up the car,” says Flannery, tossing a wink his way. Should’ve left the shirt off, she mouths. His blush lights the whole house. She grins and waggles her eyebrows. “See you in five.”

***

They have been driving for nearly two hours when Alto suddenly pulls over. The suitcases tumble from their stack in the trunk, and Seaweed crashes into Dolly’s lap. She yelps, then pushes his head to the mustard stain on the polyester seat. “I said I wasn’t getting married,” she snaps, “and that didn’t mean I wanted your head between my legs.”

Seaweed blushes furiously and scrambles upright, nearly banging his head on the ceiling.  “What the hell, Alto?” he snarls.

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Alto points at a billboard on the other side of the highway. Whitewater, it reads over a drug-addled monkey and an oversized popsicle, a river of opportunities. Beside it, a dirt road branches from the highway, then disappears behind a fertile hill’s slope. “Do you guys know what that means?”

“Alto,” says Flannery firmly, “that is the stupidest advertisement I’ve ever seen.”

“No, no, no,” he snaps. Flannery blinks, surprised. “The bad advertising doesn’t matter. The town itself is way more important than its billboard. Come on, you guys haven’t heard of it?”

“I always liked math better than history,” says Dolly, “but I think I remember the name. My uncle might’ve mentioned it once.”

Alto points at the billboard again. “Whitewater was the last town that vanished.”

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“Okay,” says Flannery, “but Pandora Spring goes on tomorrow. We can’t waste another day on side trips.”

“We won’t spend the night. We’ll just stop for lunch,” pleads Alto. “I just..I can’t pass this up.”

“I’m on Flan’s side,” says Seaweed, and Flannery looks at him sharply. They’ve hardly spoken since two evenings ago. “Why should we stop just to poke around some creepy, empty, crusty old town? There’s going to be a ton of spiders and mold and I don’t think we want anyone to die on this trip.”

“Look,” says Alto, leaning forward, raising his voice. All dissent silences. “I don’t talk a lot about my past or my interests, but when I say that this really matters to me, believe it. When I thought my world was going to end in ice, I immersed myself in a library, and I discovered these…these notes, hidden between the pages of certain history books. They told me about the days nobody talks about anymore. Everybody just wants to forget and everybody just wants to move on. They don’t want to know what happened to the thousands who vanished. They’re comfortable in poverty or mansions or cubicles, and they won’t look at the mass graves behind them. And I know the government encourages it, too. Do you know how hard it is to find a book on The Vanishing? I looked for ages. By chance, I discovered one in a gas station bathroom, when I was warming my hands under the hand dryer. All of the pages had been torn out, except for one. The one that read Whitewater, the clue to the mystery that all still live with and still all have forgotten.”

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“Why were you so cold?” asks Flannery, voice soft. “What happened to you?”

“I got kicked out,” says Alto, “but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that town. I only found one web page on it, stating its emptiness, but not its address. I don’t know anything about it, only that it matters, and that we can’t just drive by as if it hadn’t lived.”

“All of this from one page?” asks Seaweed.

“We’ll just stay for lunch,” says Alto. “Please.”

“We’ll do it,” says Flannery. Seaweed kicks the back of her seat. He continues kicking for the next twenty minutes, almost unconsciously, as they squeal over yellow fields and coffee stain roads.

***

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“I don’t like this place,” says Dolly; she takes a small, nervous bite from her charred hotdog. Birds crowd the trees, and squawk louder with each uncomfortable glance. They sit at a picnic table. A scrap of fabric peeks out from under the dirt beneath it. Its seats are cold; the sun is hot. Dolly wonders why they don’t eat in the gazebo, looming over them from the right. She glances at it sideways and shivers. She’s certain that if she closes her eyes, the dead will be upon them in moments. “At least,” she mutters to herself, “I wouldn’t have to eat this burnt-ass hotdog.”

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“Ouch,” says Seaweed. He swivels his head to the right. From his seat, he can see the entire town square, and its immortal deadness. The city hall’s grand pillars, the swooping curves of a dozen streetlamps, the crumpled movie posters, caught on a bustling breeze-all betray the ghosts skipping from shadow to shadow, and their immeasurable silence. Only the screeching birds and the four’s chewing rub sleep from the graveyard town’s eyes. Seaweed shudders and takes another bite.

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“How much lighter fluid did you use?” Flannery asks Seaweed. She smiles softly at Alto, whose eyes wander miles away. Under the table, she pokes her foot through the grass and the anthills, until it eventually finds his. She strokes her foot against the side of his leg, smiling sweetly. He nearly chokes on his charcoal.

“Enough,” says Seaweed curtly, after a brief glance under the table. Flannery’s eyes lock to her plate. Her foot freezes.

“Wow, you know, I’m loving all of this sexual tension,” says Dolly dryly, “but can everyone keep their appendages slash old wounds slash whatevers to themselves and finish eating? This place isn’t…it isn’t right. We should leave as soon as possible.”

“That’s a fine idea, Lemon,” says Seaweed. He chomps into his hotdog. Alto squirms in his seat, driving his knees together and his shoulders inward.

“Don’t be a dick, Seaweed,” snaps Flannery.

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Seaweed shoves the rest of his hotdog in his mouth, then clambers to his feet. His eyes avoid Flannery’s. His jaw tightens. “Hey, Lemon, do you want to go look at the city hall, since these two eat crazy slow? Those pillars are looking, um, pretty sweet.”

“Whatever, sure,” sighs Dolly, standing slowly. As she raises her arms to stretch, Seaweed sprints towards the city hall. “What the hell, dude?” she shouts after him.

“I’ll race you there!” he calls over his shoulder.

She shrugs and flies after him, feet moving faster than the clouds, and seemingly never slapping the ground. She passes Seaweed in seconds; he puffs and wheezes as he tries to catch up. Soon, they disappear over the hill. Flannery frowns, then sighs. “He’s being ridiculous.”

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“Hm?” asks Alto.

“Nevermind. Just Seaweed again.” She rises and walks to Alto’s side, then taps his shoulder. “Hey, you alright in there?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m just thinking about history. I-I never thought I’d be walking through it-let alone eating hotdogs in it. But even though I’m here, I still don’t understand. Forty years ago, this town was full of people. Think about it: families must have picnicked here. I bet the gazebo was a popular hook up spot, and old couples took their grandchildren here for their birthdays. If it weren’t for The Vanishing, those people would still be here, older, yes, but living.”

Flannery thinks on this for a moment. “What do you think happened to them?” she asks, voice soft.

“I don’t know,” he says, standing to meet her eyes. “And that’s the worst part.”

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She kisses him. His cheeks flush pink. “I think I understand,” she says.

“They never even had a choice,” he murmurs. “They never even got justice. No one knows what happened to them, or if they’re even dead, and nobody goddamn cares, because whoever got rid of them covered up their tracks so well that after years of research, I haven’t found a goddamn trace. Not even in this last dead town. There’s got to be something, I’m sure, but I-”

Flannery pulls him into a hug. “Hey,” she whispers, running her fingers through his hair, squeezing his torso. His ribs poke into her breasts. “It’s not your fault. Not whatever got you kicked out, not Seaweed, not The-goddamn-Vanishing.”

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“T-thanks,” whispers Alto back. They can barely hear each other over the birds, but keep their voices remain hushed nevertheless. “I think I…I think I needed to hear that.”

“You’re welcome. Can I tell you a secret?”

“Is it dirty?” His smile warms her cheek.

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“The only things dirty are mud and murder, don’t you know?” whispers Flannery, smiling wryly. “Now listen closely. This is my secret. Last night? That was my first kiss.”

“H-h-h-how old are you?” Alto stiffens in her arms.

“Eighteen. And you?”

“Thank god. I’m twenty. Why hadn’t you, um, kissed anyone before?”

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“There was nobody I wanted to kiss.” She pulls back to meet his eyes. Her lips part. “I really like you, Alto, and I-”

Dolly’s scream mutes her words, and sends the birds flapping from the trees.

                                 

Jake Bugg – “Trouble Town

2-7: Beach

Warning: Strong Language

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Flannery sinks her toes into the sand and squints into the sun. From between cracked eyelids, she watches the ocean fills the horizon ahead, and feels palm trees crowd the boulevard twenty feet behind her. To her left slumps Seaweed, deflated like a balloon in the gutter. To her right stands Alto, who tucks his hands in his armpits, hoping to hide his bony chest from her. She closes her eyes and is swallowed by the ocean’s salty breath.

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Seaweed rubs his eyes. He peers through a narrow slit, wishing he’d brought sunglasses. At the water’s edge stands a girl, tall and fair-haired, with her nails chewed to stubs. She waves hello; the sun catches between her fingers. Flannery shuffles sideways, towards Seaweed. They haven’t spoken since the night before. “Seaweed-” she begins, and he turns to the girl by the water.

“Want to go swimming?” he shouts to her.

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“Hell yeah!” she calls back. He crosses the beach, leaving large footprints in his wake, to crash into the waves beside her. Just before his toes slipped underwater, he nearly glanced back at Flannery. His eyes first flittered towards the borders of his blue eyes and then snapped forward, to the ocean, to the sunshine girl. If he had turned his head, he wouldn’t have taken another step. If he’d seen the shadow cross her lips, he’d have fallen back into yesterday, to wither away, the best friend forever, until dirt swallows his coffin. So instead of turning around, he smiles. He says hello.

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“Fuck,” says Flannery.

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She turns on her heel and starts briskly for the bar, only to stop, shake her head furiously, and collapse into a nearby lounge chair. The sun beats on her reddening shoulders. “Fuck,” she repeats.

Alto sits gingerly in the chair beside her. For a moment, he believes he is her hapless therapist. He has been feeling like this a lot lately. “S-still having troubles with Seaweed?” he asks.

Flannery’s throat burns for vodka. “That’s just one symptom of my disease.”

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Alto blanches. “Your disease?”

“Don’t worry. I’m only contagious when I’m drunk.”

He cocks his head to the side, studying her intently. She seems to fold into herself as he watches, first pulling her knees to her chest, then resting her chin upon them. He interrupts her mourning. His question, soft and serious: “Why are you so sad?”

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“I don’t want to be,” she sighs and leans forward. Her legs swing over the edge of the chair to face him. “I cry, then I drink, then I screw everything up. On the night my mom died, I was out partying. I came home drunk. The house was cold, I remember, really cold. My head hurt. My baby brother was there. The babysitter had left without calling, or maybe I didn’t remember him calling. I didn’t remember much of anything, but I was scared. My mom had been gone all night at a party. She was never gone at all, well, never physically. She’d always been at her computer, crying, or in the garden, crying, never wanting us, but the few weeks before she died, she’d started to smile. To say hello, to compliment us. She almost cared. It was like maybe, just maybe, we were more than reminders of her doomed romance with that asshole. Anyway, I was thinking about all of that and then..then my phone rang. And she was dead, just like that. A suicide, the cop said. And I think that’s bullshit.”

“I’m so sorry,” Alto begins, but Flannery cuts him off.

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“And some days, I think I’m bullshit, too. I just want to be happy, but I’m not very good at it, as you’ve probably noticed. I can’t make myself happy without screwing someone up. I know sometimes I look like some dumb alcoholic, but I know what I’m doing. I drink to live and I drink to destroy. And I”-she looks down sheepishly; her voice drops-”I really hurt Seaweed, didn’t I?”

“I-I think so,” says Alto, hesitating slightly. “Not that you’re bullshit, but that you hurt Seaweed.” He watches as her eyes squeeze shut, then reopen fiercely.

“I’ve got to make everything right,” she says. “That’s why we’ve got to go to Neon City, isn’t it? And that’s why I need to talk to Seaweed, when he’s ready to.”

“I thought we were going to see Pandora Spring?”

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“That, too. I’ve got a score to settle in Neon City.” Her voice lowers. “My mom’s murderer will be there this weekend. I’m going to make his life Hell.”

He raises his chin. Bravely: “I’ll be there when you open the gates.”

Flannery blinks. “You sound so confident.”

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“You want to make things right. I…I understand that. And I want to help you-really, I do. I’ve read that plans usually work better when you’ve got someone to back you up. Well, an army’s ideal, but we haven’t got those kind of resources, at least, I don’t think we do. And besides, this isn’t a fantasy novel. In real life, people go it alone, or they find someone to lean on. I’m partial to the second, personally, but, um, you don’t actually have to lean on me if you don’t want to. My shoulders aren’t really that comfortable-kind of bony, so I’ve been told and, um, observed myself-but I can put on a sweater if you’d-shit. I’m totally off topic again.”

“I don’t mind your shoulders,” says Flannery. She stands, and her eyes shine from sunshine or tears. “I think they’re nice, actually.”

Alto’s jaw collides with the sand. His cheeks burn. “Really?”

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“Cross my heart and hope to die,” she says. She glances out at the ocean, then offers him her hand. “Since we’re at a beach and all, do you want to go swimming?”

Alto glances at her hand, eyebrows halfway to the moon, then back at her face. She cocks an expectant eyebrow. He blushes fiercely. “Erm, w–w-what about Seaweed?”

“He’s my best friend, not my boyfriend,” says Flannery, tossing a look over her shoulder. Seaweed’s too far away to hear her. “Besides, I like you, Alto. You’re funny. And you understand.”

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He smiles sheepishly and takes her hand. She pulls him into the sunlight and the salty breeze; his schoolboy hair whips about in the wind. The sand burns beneath their feet. He turns to face her, to smile again, but she takes off towards the waves, pale feet paving a trail through the pure white sand. He runs after her and nearly trips on a seashell. He watches his feet more carefully for the final two feet, hopping over obstacles and planting his steps in Flannery’s footprints. After what seems like an hour, warm water brushes against his toes. Alto looks up.

And there she stands, knee-deep in the blue-green waves, white swimsuit shining in the hot sun. She winks and tosses her red hair, kindled and inflamed and for a moment wholly unworldly. Alto takes a step forward, grey eyes alive, and trips over his own feet. Flannery’s laugh fills the ocean. She steps behind him, to help him up. He slips again.“Maybe you should trade your car for a walking stick,” she teases, sticking out her tongue.

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Alto rises from the sea like an antique diver, then crashes forward, splashing Flannery’s smile off her face. He grins with his hair in his eyes. “Whoops.”

“I take it you’ve declared war then?” Flannery grins back. The sun is falling.

“Oh, this is just a border skirmish,” says Alto, sending another wave in her direction. She fires back. “We can expect limited casualties, and um, hopefully no reinforcements?”

“You play a lot of videogames?” Punctuated by a squeal and newly wet hair.

“I read a lot of books. I practically lived in the library when I was in high school. For a few months afterwards, I actually did.” He sighs. “It wasn’t too bad, except for the occasional roach and spilled milk. And the librarian. She smoked on her lunch break. I thought she’d burn the place down every time the lunch bells rang.”

“How’d you end up there?” asks Flannery. “Don’t they have shelters in Neon City?”

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“They don’t have shelters anywhere, not anymore. If you’re lucky, you have friends or a couple of decent family members. Me? Not so much.”

Flannery splashes him playfully. “You’re being surprisingly eloquent right now.”

“Yeah. I know it’s only been a few days, but I’m not so nervous around you anymore”-she raises her eyebrows-”okay, just kidding. D-don’t move your eyebrows like that! A-a-am I doing something wrong? I read a few books about talking to girls, like I said before, but I-I was thinking about it last night, and I decided that the books all wanted me to act like I’m bigger than I really am. Like nothing’s ever touched me, and if the whole world came at me, I would conquer it.” He pauses. He blanches. “Shit, uh, that didn’t come out right.”

Flannery’s thunderous laugh draws a sad stare from Seaweed. The shadows hides his eyes, and so she continues to giggle. “So I’m curious,” asks Flannery, “what’s your new policy?”

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“Honesty,” answers Alto. “You’ve been pretty honest with me, and I think that’s…that’s really cool. And I’m going to be honest with you, too. I promise.”

She smiles warmly and sadly. “You’re too nice.” She splashes him again, powerfully. In a deep, joking voice: “Come on, unleash your dark side!”

Alto smacks his lips and squeezes his eyes shut. Salt water has never been recommended for its taste. He cracks open one eye and glances towards the beach. “W-well, my sweater vest’s reversible and has a black inside, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s not what I meant, but okay,” says Flannery as Seaweed approaches, tall blonde in tow.

“Hey,” says Seaweed, stopping a few feet away. Waves lap around his ankles.

“Hey,” says Flannery. She and Alto wade to the shore, to join the other pair. The sun has fallen.

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Seaweed gestures to the girl beside him. “This is-” he begins as an airplane roars overhead. They wait, awkwardly, until it journeys over the horizon. “I suppose something important’s going on, if they’re breaking out the big planes,” he muses, then shakes his head. “Anyway, um, this is Dolly. Dolly Lemon.”

She steps forward. “Call me Lemon, please. My first name’s as awful as the grandmother I’m named after.”

“Dolly would like to-” begins Seaweed.

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“I’d like to come with you guys to the city,” she says. She scratches at her wide nose and takes a deep breath. “Contrary to nobody’s belief, living in Sugar Valley is more boring than daytime TV, and our sports team, the Llamas-the hell, right?-can’t tell a soccer ball from a canary. Nobody leaves the house except to go to work, and your mom picks out your husband like she’s grocery shopping. If you’re lucky, she went to the right store.”

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“Oh, post-Vanishing measures,” says Alto. “I’ve read about this place. There’s not much farmland, so to keep the economy running, marriages are arranged by the parents, who purchase wives for their sons. Every three years, all parents of children over sixteen meet in the town hall to barter. There’s never enough daughters for all of the sons, though, which forces families to work hard in whatever field they’re in in order to afford a wife for their child. Also, reproduction rates skyrocket every few years, as each family tries to create a little girl to sell. Then they have to work hard to support the kids-most end up having over three, if they want to retire someday. It’s awful, but it’s…it’s sort of genius. Productivity never falters. The economy and people are, for all intents and purposes, thriving.”

“I didn’t know they made living encyclopedias,” says Dolly, rolling her eyes. “Look, it’s the third year. If I don’t get out of here soon-tomorrow, actually-I’m going to be married to some guy with a stick up his ass, and pump out babies until, by some miracle, we have a daughter.” She sighs. “My family’s practically cursed to have men. I have four uncles and five brothers.”

“Damn,” says Flannery. She bites her lip and wonders where else has gone to these lengths.

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“Damn is right.” Dolly brushes a strand of curly hair from her cheek. “Seaweed said ya’ll were from Orchard. Lucky. I heard your mayor’s great.”

“You heard wrong,” says Flannery, darkly. A cloud passes over the sun.

Alto interjects. “Um, there’s one empty seat in the Jalopy.”

“I don’t know about this.” Flannery crosses her arms.

“Flannery,” says Seaweed, and she freezes. “Lemon’s got to get out of here.”

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Dolly’s voice drops to a whisper. She stares at her feet, long and dark in the water. “I don’t want to be anyone’s wife.”

“What do you want?” asks Flannery.

“I want to play soccer. I want to run down the street. I want to play music in the library”-Alto gasps-”oh, hush. Oh, damn. I, um…damn.”

“What?” asks Seaweed.

“My backpack is at the library. The librarian, the old hag, took it when I refused to turn off my boombox.”

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“Does she smoke?” demands Alto.

“Negative.”

“How big is your library?”

“Huge.”

“Welcome to the gang,” says Alto, and Dolly’s eyes widen. “Think Scooby-Doo, not the Cripps.”

***

Sugar Valley’s century-old library, 3:00PM. The rug smells like mildew. The windows are shut. Hardly a rustle shakes the air.

Between the shelves, only the books breathe. An angry muttering escapes from upstairs, and is immediately cut off by a gently shut door. A toilet flushes downstairs. Between the shelves, silence.

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Seaweed relieves himself at the urinal, chewing the inside of his cheek. He wonders if he likes Dolly (Lemon, he reminds himself), and if he does, if he likes her for the right reasons.

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Dolly puts her hands on her hips and glowers at the librarian. She wonders if she’ll ever get her backpack back, and if the stars really do shine brighter from highrise windows.

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Alto runs his fingertips down an ancient book’s spine, then pulls it from the shelf. He wonders if he’ll ever find another book on the world’s greatest mystery, and if he’ll ever kiss the girl standing bored beside him.

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Flannery bites her lip as she watches the glow in Alto’s eyes fade with the book’s first page. She wonders where her father lurks, then shakes her head. Not now. Today, this sunshine, big book today, she’d like to be happy sober.

She taps Alto’s shoulder. He glances up from his book; its dust settles on his fingertips. “What are you reading about?” whispers Flannery.

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“The Western Wars,” says Alto. “They’re the closest thing to the The Vanishing that books are published about.”

He buries himself back in the pages, and Flannery leans against the bookshelf. She closes her eyes. The smells of old pages and older people fill her nostrils. Her boots sink into the carpet. She hardly remembers changing or the walk over. She scans the past twenty minutes. Palm trees, empty streets, Vanishing talk-nothing that matters to her. Nothing worth remembering. Her eyes turn back to Alto. He studies the pages, soaking in thousands of words a minute. What do I really want? thinks Flannery, staring at her shoes. Revenge is sweet, but so is happiness. And fruity cocktails. She shakes her head. Alcohol can’t cross her thoughts now. It’s far too late to drown herself. Flannery’s eyes return once more to Alto. She smiles softly at his hair, sticking up in every direction, and his rolled up, rumpled shirtsleeves. His red lips form a firm, focused line, and suddenly, she knows one thing she wants. “Hey,” she whispers. “Will you kiss me?”

The book hits the floor with an echoing thud. Alto’s hands shake. His lips part as if to speak.

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Flannery takes a step closer. Her nose is inches from his. “Do you want me?” Her breath catches in her throat. Alto remains silent. Her lip quivers. He bites his own. Shit. “I’m-I’m sorry,” she says, her voice thick, her footsteps loud as she backs up. Not even my mother wanted me. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. I just…”

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Alto reaches across her absence, and catches her hand as it flies to her face. “Hey, hey,” he says, pulling himself towards her. His eyes are wide, alarmed. “D-don’t cry. I couldn’t think of what to say-that’s all. It was just really weird, because I always have something to say even if it’s usually stupid and irrelevant and very stupid, and nobody’s asked me to kiss them in a long time, and-”

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Flannery presses her lips to his, and he melts into her like a sunbeam.

                                      

San Cisco – “Beach

A/N: Sorry about the long wait for this chapter, and some of the infodumps in here. They’re very relevant later, I promise. :S Anywho, it’s great to be back and writing again! I hope to get another chapter or two out by the time school starts, but will try my hardest to update biweekly, if not weekly, during the school year. Senior year’s supposed to be crazy busy, though, but I’m enough of a homebody that I don’t think it’ll affect me too badly.

Thank you for reading! (: I hope you all have had a wonderful summer!

PS: I know Gemly asked for this forever ago, but here is the hair color you wanted!

2-6: Best Friend

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Flannery twists her neck around to stare out the dirty back window. Orchard’s shoulder-tall cattails and wallowing willows shrink to mere caricatures as Alto’s Sloppy Jalopy lurches dangerously fast down the road. The town square vanishes behind the brown bricks of the city hall, then the rain-spotted pavement swallows the lake whole. They roll around the corner. White mansions give way to the deep swamp shantytown, with its rotted porches, poison ivy bathrooms, and its houses’ foundations buried deep in the mud. Flannery blinks, and suddenly Seaweed, legs spread wide in the backseat, fills her vision. “Did you remember the concert tickets?” he asks her.

Flannery waggles her eyebrows and grins. “As if I’d ever forget. You excited?”

“Yeah, for the most part.”

“For the most part?” Flannery mock-gasps. “Alto, can you put on some music? Seaweed needs some cheering up.”

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Keeping one hand on the wheel, Alto fumbles around under his seat for a CD. Seaweed scowls at his back, and Flannery rolls her eyes. We could have bought bus tickets, Seaweed mouths the words to her. She purses her lips and turns around. She won’t let him spoil her hope, not now. Sweet, bare highway winds towards the coast, towards retribution, towards fun. Flannery smiles. The future is 231 miles and one stop away.

Alto pops in a CD. Solid guitar beats burst from the stereo; Flannery’s heart pulses along with them. Drums, and tambourine, then a mournful howl, scaling and descending a mountain of sweet, sweet notes. She mimics the chords with her fingertips, and just as she opens her mouth to howl along, the music stops. “This sucks,” snaps Seaweed, yanking out the CD and shoving it back in the case. He pulls another disc from his bag and pushes it in. “This is better.”

Deep bass. Quick, almost marching band-esque drums. Then the rapping begins. “For my theme song, my leather black jeans on…” Alto’s knuckles shine white against the black steering wheel. In the backseat, Seaweed bobs his head fiercely.

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It’s going to be a long drive.

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They pull into the Sugar Valley guest house an hour before sunset, and once parked, pour out of the car like lovesick teenagers onto a feather bed. Flannery carries the bags to the door while Alto calls for the entrance code, nodding back to Flannery once the deal’s been made. Seaweed lingers by the car. A sigh floats past his lips. He knows the hope in Alto’s eyes better than the callouses on his own hands. He fumbles about in his pocket, finding an emergency package of cigarettes, and lights one up as Flannery winks at Alto.

Alto unlocks the door. Flannery hauls the bags to the living room with Seaweed following close behind; Alto ventures to the kitchen. “I’m going to make dinner,” he calls to them. “I packed boxed mac and cheese, so if either of you are vegetarians, there’s no problems here!”

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Seaweed rolls his eyes, then collapses on the couch. He grimaces as his head smacks the thin cushions. His knees drive together instinctively. After taking a quick glance out the floor-length window, Flannery sits down beside him. “You okay, Seaweed?” she asks.

A tight-lipped smile. “Sure.”

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“You’re lying.”

Seaweed glances at her sharply. “I’m not a liar. I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“You seemed pretty pissed in the car.”

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“Like I said, I’m tired.” Seaweed rubs his forehead. His mind protests, but his mouth opens. “I put up with a lot, Flan, okay? I had to leave my mom while she was eating her second tub of frozen yogurt, sobbing on the couch about how now that I’m gone, she’s got nobody. And now we’re travelling with this stranger you met last night, and I don’t even know what is last name is. What if he’s a serial killer? What if he’s crazy? I just…I can’t see why you’d bring him with us. This feels wrong.”

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“Shhh, come here,” says Flannery softly, pulling Seaweed into a hug. He crumbles to dust in her arms. “Everything’s going to be okay, Seaweed. Your mom will be fine-maybe she’ll even divorce the bastard, and Alto wouldn’t hurt anyone. He’s a nice guy, but, hey”-her voice drops to a whisper-”you’re still my best friend.”

With that, Seaweed begins to cry. Flannery squeezes him tighter. Her stomach wraps around itself. “Shh, shh,” she whispers, “don’t cry, Seaweed.”

“Why do you only flirt with me when you’re drunk?” he whispers, voice hoarse with the weight of a freshly smoked cigarette. “Why am I your best friend on the good days, and your toy on the bad ones?”

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Flannery stiffens. Her pink lips part-the door opens, and Alto slips inside, carrying a holy bowl of boxed macaroni and cheese beside his heart. His eyes widen as Seaweed’s narrow. “There’s, erm, mac and cheese in the kitchen,” he says. He glances at Flannery’s frozen mouth. “Should I leave?”

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“I’m going to find my room,” grunts Seaweed as he slides roughly out of Flannery’s arms and onto the floor. He rises as if climbing from his own coffin, and exits as if throwing that coffin to sea, decisively, powerfully, and with little regard for the awkward, gangly man in his path. Alto nearly drops his bowl when Seaweed’s shoulder collides with his. He blinks furiously and his knees knock together, but no protest escapes his red lips.

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As Seaweed’s door slams, Alto takes a seat next to Flannery. Under the harsh lamplight, her face appears a decade older. Alto’s eyes travel the smudges in her eyeliner, and then cross the wrinkle on her forehead, sad and worn as it peeks sheepishly from behind a smear of concealer. Her lips finally unfreeze as she sighs, and as she sighs, she appears to deflate, her shoulders first slump within herself, then her spine bends forward, and finally her eyelids fall shut. He wants to ask her a question-about anything, really. Her favorite color, the songs she can play, the last book she read. Anything would be better than this harrowing silence. Perhaps a record would call back her smile, but where within this wood panelled living room could a radio hide? Certainly not under the couch or behind the checkered curtains, but maybe he packed one, and left it in the trunk, beside the wine bottles. Who is he kidding? He packed half his bookcase, and he doesn’t listen to vinyl. He glances at Flannery’s hands, dangling limply between her knees. He’ll have to use his voice instead. A deep breath. “Hey,” he says.

Her fingers curl. “Hey.”

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“How are you feeling?”

Flannery opens her eyes, slowly. Her voice, raspy, tired: “I just want to have fun.”

“W-we could go to the beach tomorrow. They have sand, and, um, water. Those are pretty fun.”

A half-smile cracks her face. “Yeah?”

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“Yeah.” Alto smiles in return. He takes a bite of his macaroni and cheese. “I bet there’ll be fish, too. I read about this one kind of fish-flying fish, they’re called-that jumps out of the water and sort of, well, flies across the surface. Supposedly they’re beautiful, and also, um, delicious.”

“Sounds just like mac and cheese,” says Flannery, standing up. She brushes her hands on her jeans. Quickly, anxiously she walks towards the kitchen’s pastel counters. She pauses by the doorway, though, and twists around to meet Alto’s eyes. “You know what?” she asks, her voice still rubbed raw.

“What?”

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“For somebody who knows so much about fish, you’re pretty nice.”

And she’s gone, bowl whisked away to her room, laughing eyes evaporated.

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Alto grins into his macaroni and cheese, from this moment on untouched, long after she has wrapped herself in a cocoon of comforters, thrown her spoon to the floor, and cried her makeup to puddles.

                                             

The Drums – “Best Friend

A/N: The two songs mentioned in the beginning of the chapter are “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire (the rock song) and “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West (the angry rap song). Both will be added to the music page, as well as “I’m Sticking With You” from 2-3.

Anywho, this will be the last chapter for about two weeks-I’m going on vacation this weekend for about a week, and while I’ll try to have the upcoming chapter done by the time I leave, it’s already looking like it’ll be a long one, and I prolly won’t have the time to finish before I go. I’ll try, though! Also: The downloads page has been updated with Seaweed, Flan, and Alto. Anybody else you guys want uploaded?

Thanks for reading! (:

2-5: Prince Charming

Warning: Brief language

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With freshly red hair and a firmly set jaw, Flannery prepares for her journey. She bikes throughout town, hunting for a car, hunting for cash. At every third house she passes, a beat-up, lowbrow rust-mobile awaits its death in the driveway. Flannery’s wallet-twenty dollars full-burns between her breasts, but she will not pay for these cars’ cremations. Nor will she finance her own, for surely these Vanishing relics would begin burning on the highway to Sugar Valley, and not stop until her smile melded with the pavement.

Besides, in this day and age, twenty dollars can hardly buy you a t-shirt.

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For a week, she scrounges up change wherever it presents itself. Between cracks in the sidewalk, inside freshly washed jeans, from generous passerby. She opens her guitar case to the world, playing freshly thought-up tunes in the park for a stranger’s coin. By the end of next week, she hopes to afford a pair of round trip bus tickets to Neon City and Pandora Spring. She hasn’t the time to buy a car anymore, the hopeless dream. The clock keeps ticking. Time is escaping.

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Sunday morning. One week of effort. Two weeks to get to the city.

Flannery’s eyes flutter open. Last night’s wine still warms her belly, and a cool breeze slips through the open window. A lovely morning opens its arms. She smiles to herself, then swings her legs over the side of her bed. I’m doing it, Mom, she thinks, wondering if her mother can hear her. I’m going to make it to the city, and I’m going to give you justice. She closes her eyes. I won’t stop for anything.

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She crosses the room, opens the bedroom door, and freezes. A confused grin spreads across her face. “A cake?” she asks.

Brandy leaps up from the kitchen table and claps his hands frantically. Boston rolls, as if dodging bullets in an action movie, from behind the couch, then springs onto his feet, a noisemaker protruding from his mouth. He blows on it once (outside, birds flee the area in droves), then shouts in unison with Brandy: “Happy birthday, Flannery!”

She blinks. “Wh-what?”

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Boston blows on his noisemaker again, an ugly, festive guffaw. “It’s a family surprise party! Well, without Pastel, but she’s celebrating with her girlfriend.”

“Wow.” Flannery smiles, dreamily. She walks towards the cake, white and decorated like a bridal gown, with the slow pace of a little girl leaving Wonderland. Adulthood mingles with the candle flames; their party-store scent retells an age-old tale. The death sentence of taxes, of bills, of driver’s licenses, of forty hour work weeks, of 9 to 5 heels. Still, it pleads the promise of freedom, of decision, of travel, of long nights and late mornings, of the future laying siege to the past. Such a heavy transition to take place between eighteen candles, one which requires contemplation, preparation, and so Flannery paces herself, taking slow steps, letting her purpose build first within her toes, then allowing its framework to travel up her legs, through her stomach, dodging around her lungs then germinating inside her esophagus, finally blooming in her red, red hair. She’ll never give up. Not while her eyes still shine gray and her hair still burns red. She will fight with all of her, until there is no more her to speak of.

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Finally, she stands in front of the cake. She closes her eyes, then takes a deep breath. She is ready.

“What are you going to wish for?” asks Brandy.

“Will you wish me a puppy?” pleads Boston.

“I’ll try my best, Boston,” laughs Flannery, and promises that when she returns from the city, she will become closer with her brother. She looks back down at the cake. What will I wish for? she wonders.

And then she knows.

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A huge breath and then an outpouring, a whoosh of air. Smoke trails from the ends of each candle. Adulthood reigns. Flannery pulls her hair from her ponytail; it falls in red waves over her shoulders. Still dreaming, she cuts herself a slice of cake and sits down slowly at the table. It is not until the first sweet bite hits her tongue that she realizes the promise of her age. The world lays at her feet-Flannery smiles, and she plans to take it by storm.

“What are you going to do today?” asks Brandy. “Got any birthday plans?”

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“Wild parties. I plan to be snorting coke off a stripper’s butt by noon.” Boston’s eyes are wider than the table. Flannery clears her throat. “Erm, making money. I won’t be able to get a car in time, but if I earn enough by the end of next week, I can buy bus and concert tickets.”

“I wish I could see Pandora Spring,” says Boston, wiping his face on his shirt. “She’s so pretty.”

Flannery laughs. “I’ll take plenty of pictures for you.”

“Where are you going to make your moo-lah?” Brandy takes another bite. “It’s too hot for playing in the park.”

“I was going to snag a drink at The Red Rendezvou and then play outside when the sun goes down.”

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Brandy furrows his brow. “The Red Rendezvou?”

“Yeah?”

He shakes the memories from his head. “Nevermind. You’d better get ready then, especially if you plan to get in a few drinks by sundown. I’ve heard the service is really slow.”

“You just want the rest of the cake to yourself,” teases Flannery. She stands up, pushes the chair in, and heads for the bathroom. As she closes the door behind her, she shouts to the boys at the table, “And thank you!”

“You’re welcome!” shout Boston and Brandy.

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Flannery turns to the bathroom mirror. Her eyes, so naked and suddenly nervous, stare back beneath thick brows. She throws back her shoulders, countering a shudder, and raises her chin. “I’m not afraid of you, Dad,” she says to the mirror. “You should be afraid of me.”

She brushes on her eyeshadow, applies her eyeliner with uncharacteristic precision, then dashes on her lip gloss. She rubs her lips together; her dark eyes grin in the mirror. Up go her jeans, over her head comes her tank top, onto her feet slip her boots. It’s her eighteenth birthday, she reasons, though she needs no excuse to do her makeup. Purple eyes and nude lips reign as a prelude to life. The symphony starts as soon as she leaves the room.

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Flannery races outside and mounts her bike. Down the lane she streaks, faster, faster, zipping down the hills, careening around corners. On sun-streaked days like these, she believes in the almighty, mystical power of the rickety bicycle. If she pumps her pedals fast enough, she’ll wake up in the city with a wallet of cash in her back pocket and her best friend at her side, and her glossy lips will never falter. She turns the corner. Destination reached.

Flannery locks up her bike beside the bar, and wonders, briefly, if this was where her mother went the night she died. She runs up the bar’s creaky, wooden steps, as if fleeing the very idea. It’s your birthday. Just have a good time.

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The door falls open to her touch. Flannery slips inside. Whiskey and sweat’s sweet scents wash over her face; the dim light consumes her body. A smile beams through the shadows. Though drunken stupors defeat her cause, she can’t help but remember them fondly.

The heat of a stare. Flannery glances at the bar, only to see a blur duck beneath it. She raises an eyebrow. The remaining bartender, a wide eyed woman with faded pink curls, shrugs back at her. Flannery brushes her hair from her eyes and sits down at the bar. She rocks her heels back and forth, then taps her nails on the wood. Still no one rises. Standing near the window, the other bartender breaks into a fit of giggles. Flannery clears her throat. “Vodka, please.”

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A man, high cheekboned and red lipped, peeks over the edge of the bar. His hair sticks up like a schoolboy’s. He catches Flannery’s stormy eye and flushes red. “Erm, hi,” he says, pulling himself to a self conscious slouch. “You, you wanted a vodka?”

Flannery can’t help but laugh. She’s not sure whether it stems from amusement or pity. “What were you doing down there?”

His blush deepens. “Ch-checking the stocks,” he stammers.

Definitely amusement. “Did you find any vodka?”

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“Alto doesn’t know how to talk to girls,” giggles the other bartender.

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about!” says Alto quickly. “I know how to talk to girls, really, I’ve-”

“Vodka?” asks Flannery. Alto rambles on.

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“-read all of the books! I even know the history of communications and slangity stuff. Today you can’t say a girl’s really filled out, because she’ll think you think she’s fat, and you don’t catcall, because that means you’re an asshole and can only express your feelings in whistles, but if you want to sound cool, you talk about stuff nobody’s heard of. Like, um, the Third Western War, where Western towns got together against the crazy president, and everyone thought they would take the South, until, well, The Vanishing.” He takes a deep breath. ”Um, was that good?”

“A damn noble attempt if I’ve ever seen one,” says Flannery, wishing she had a glass to toast him with. “Can I have a-?”

“Wow, thanks,” says Alto. His blush deepens. His hand, long and riddled with blue veins, runs through his hair. “W-what do you like to do?”

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“I like drinks,” says Flannery. “And music, too. I’ve been playing for tips lately-I’m saving up for a bus ticket to Neon City and ticket to Pandora Spring.”

“You’re going to the city?” Alto rubs his chin. Outside, the purples and pinks tye-dye the sky, and the trees’ shadows stretch for miles. Where did the day go?

“No, to China.” Flannery stands up and brushes the hair from her eyes. While she enjoys his ramblings, she has a mission to prepare for. A curt goodbye. “Well, I’ve got to lure money into my guitar case. So long, and thanks for not making my drink.”

“I-I, um-” begins Alto as the door slams behind her. He chews the inside of his lip, then spits in the sink. “Shit.”

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Flannery lays her guitar case on the ground as if placing a child in a concrete cradle. She retrieves her guitar from the case’s red velvet depths; the sunset reflected in its strings nearly blinds her. Love overcomes; she positions her fingers on the strings. She strums a chord, closes her eyes, hums a tune. Her lips part. A song sneaks through. “Don’t you ever, don’t you ever,” she sings, voice like brown sugar, “stop being dandy, showing me you’re handsome.”

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The bar door crashes open and Alto spills out, panting and twitchy fingered. He whips around the corner, nearly tumbles down the stairs, then stumbles to a sweating stop in front of Flannery. She says nothing, and only raises a dark brow to acknowledge his presence. Another chord. Alto chews the inside of his cheek. The sun has nearly set. Crickets chirp from the gutter.

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Alto bursts. “I’m not trying to be creepy or anything, but I, um, I have a car, used to be my grandpa’s, and I thought maybe I could give you a ride to Neon City? We could stop in a few towns on the way, and have some fun? Maybe I could make you that drink?”-he takes a deep breath, then plunges on-”I think, I think we’d have a great time together. I’m just assuming, obviously, but you seem really cool, and I know I look like an idiot right now, b-but please don’t think that forever. Shit. Sorry. I, um, I should go back inside. I’m really sorry. You can keep singing, and I’ll, um, mix some drinks for, um, nobody. Sorry. Erm, goodnight…shit. I don’t even know your name.”

“Flannery,” says Flannery, helpfully. She smiles. “I’m Flannery.”

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“Alto Loft,” replies Alto, a lopsided grin spreading across his face. “I-it’s nice to meet you.”

“You don’t have to be nervous.” Flannery sets her guitar back in its case. “I’m just naturally mean. Being a teenage alcoholic will do that to you.”

“You’re an-?”

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“Recovering alcoholic. Excuse me.”

“Wow,” says Alto. “Well, if you’ll accept the praise of this awkward bartender, I’m proud of you.”

“Praise accepted.”

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He takes a deep breath. The stars shine in his eyes. “So, what do you say? Road trip? With me? In my car?”

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The sun falls beneath the horizon. Flannery smiles wryly.

“Only if I can bring my best friend.”

                                              

Adam & The Ants – “Prince Charming

A/N: Sorry for the wait this time! I pulled through and finished this in two days, though-I really wanted to get it out before my birthday (LEGAL ADULT ON MONDAY, HUZZAH!). Taking pictures was horrible, haha. My game crashed five times, and it took me literally all day Wednesday, but I think it was worth it. 🙂

Also, I dunno if I ever explained Flan’s name (since it’s not very berryish), but here goes the silly explanation: she’s named after the Pokemon 3rd generation gym leader, Flannery, who ran the fire gym. I love the name, and since the color was red, well, why not? …*goes and sits in a corner*

Anywho, thanks for reading, everybody! 🙂 You’re wonderful.

2-3: Comfortably Numb

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“Seaweed, I’m drowning. Where are you?” Flannery’s sobs arrive in quick bursts, followed by an animalistic choke, then finally punctuated by a string of rapid, light breaths before exploding again. Her free hand flies to her face, red and soaked with rain and tears.

Like her mother, she is an ugly crier.

“Where are you?” Seaweed’s voice buzzes under the bad-reception static. “Just tell me where and I’ll be there in two minutes, tops.”

“I’m at the pool,” whispers Flannery. Thunder booms. Her head pounds. Too much to drink last night.

“Christ.”

She hangs up. A gust of wind sends a fresh burst of rain crashing into her. Goosebumps threaten to replace Flannery’s thin arms. Her hair hangs in her eyes, protecting the remnants of  her smeared makeup. She can hardly see the pool’s soft, glowing lights illuminating her mother’s cool grave, or its ladder, climbing towards the stone plaque on the ground, placed at a haphazard angle on the etch-a-sketch tiling. The police tape has already vanished. How easily she disappeared, thinks Flannery, and how easily we could have been hauled out with her.

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Why’d she have to go and off herself? She’d had smiled on the day she died. She’d put on a short skirt and lipstick, spoken of a party, of a life ready to be lived. She’d said hello to her daughters, held her son, made a friend. Yet despite her new high heels, she was irreparably damaged. A china doll cracked in its nineteenth year who, while spending decades pathetically floundering about in a dusty antique shop, had the strength to never leap off the shelf.

“If she’d wanted to go,” whispers Flannery, “she’d have done it ages ago.”

She begins to cry again. Footsteps from behind, the whoosh of an umbrella muddled by the howling of the wind. She pushes her bangs from her bloodshot eyes.

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“God, Flan,” murmurs Seaweed. He tosses his umbrella to the ground and throws his arms around her. She buries her head in his shoulder. He smells of laundry detergent and pizza rolls. Despite the rain and the wind and the tombstone on the tiles, she smiles. They stand, crying in each other’s arms as lightening strikes a nearby house. Nearly ten minutes pass until Flannery finally speaks.

“The world’s spinning too fast,” she whispers, then disentangles herself from Seaweed’s arms. She turns her head to stare out over the pool. Her lip quivers. “Did they say anything on the news?”

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He retrieves his umbrella and holds it over their heads. Flannery steps out from under it. “I have to be cold right now, Seaweed. I have to feel something that doesn’t totally suck right now.”

“You can talk to me about it, you know. I’ll listen.”

“I was just in the car with Brandy-my mom’s friend, he’s taking us in, Pastel, and Boston, and all of the sudden everything just hit me. Mom’s death, a new house, all that. I spent the whole morning trying to keep everyone together, but as soon as I got into that car, I had to get out of there. I jumped out at the first stoplight.” She wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “Brandy must think I’m crazy.”

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“You’re not crazy,” says Seaweed. “Grieving and insanely hungover, but not crazy.”

“But of all the places to run to, I came here! I ran straight from the safe, warm car to the goddamn Arctic ocean where my mother drowned and the dumb kids pee in. And I think I thought it would bring me relief, you know, to know that she really did it, but now I’ve got more questions than before. She was getting better, Seaweed! She went to town and she smiled and she laughed and she’d been through too much to let life go. It was too late for her to kill herself. Why wake up just to go back to sleep again? God, Seaweed, I’m sorry. I’m such a mess. You can leave now, if you want. I’m not worth this.”

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Seaweed cocks his head to the side thoughtfully, then twirls his umbrella and flashes her a brilliant grin. Flannery blinks, confused. He loves her, she knows, but she can’t speak. She wraps her arms around herself; another sob slips out. Seaweed smiles at her, then begins to sing:

I’ll do anything for you, anything you want me to. I’ll do anything for you. Oohoh, I’m sticking with you…

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The thirtieth morning since Blanca’s death dances across their house’s yellow siding, whittling trees down to their shadows, and sending the night scrambling to the other side of the world. A squirrel darts from the hydrangeas, through the sunspotted driveway, to the trashcan. A bird chatters at it, and then another, and then another, and soon the front yard is the swelling chorus of a Broadway smash hit. Pigeons, blue jays and canaries divide themselves into tenors, altos, and sopranos; twice an hour, a passing garbage truck provides the much-needed bass note. The sun provides the much-needed backdrop.

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Flannery Dove awakes just as the third truck swerves around the corner. As she sits up, she smiles dreamily to herself. A lovely last night, full of drink and song, remains wholly on her mind. Seaweed’s dreadful dance, Glade’s drunken celebrity impressions (he had done a rather convincing Pandora Spring, Flannery thinks, and grows more excited for her impending concert), Pastel’s palm reading, and Willow, well, Willow had been surprisingly tolerable. She’d only offered to buy pizzas once, and the music overrode the rest of her ramblings. As the night wore on, Flannery nearly taught Seaweed the secrets of the guitar, until Pastel and Willow’s kissing sent him dashing to the bathroom.

She glances around the room. Its butterscotch walls and warm beds become less strange as each day pases, though with each passing day her relationships grow in the opposite direction. Beside Flannery sleeps Pastel, with her knees pulled up to her chest and her red curls splayed out across her pillow. She sleeps on her side; her chest falls up and down with each soft breath. Flannery wonders whether she should wake her up, but decides against it. They’ve had nothing to talk about lately, anyway.

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Flannery glances at her brother, sleeping on a cot against the wall. The sunlight dapples his dark cheek, and creates sunspot freckles on his arm, dangling over the edge of his bed. She smiles at him, a stranger to her, then swings her legs over the side of her bed. When the sun sets, she’ll be dancing for freedom, for questions, for the be-all-end-all of modern music. But now, now she wants breakfast.

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She tiptoes from the bedroom to the kitchen. A quick foray into the fridge and a swift raid of the cupboards, and then she arranges the ingredients on a cutting board, easy for picking. Crack the egg, pour the flour, the baking powder, the milk. Stir vigorously. Oven. Check periodically.

“Morning, Flannery,” says Brandy; Flannery jumps. She turns to face him as he sits down at Blanca’s computer. “Sorry if I startled you.”

“It’s okay,” says Flannery. “If the waffles burn, I’ll just blame it on you.”

“Very funny,” he laughs. His smile suddenly disappears. “Do you know your mother’s log on?”

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Flannery’s hands freeze. She hasn’t spoken about her mother since the day she died. A simple strategy combats the questions. During the day, she practices the guitar, ignores Pastel (who has formed a strange obsession with their mother’s death and its so-called inevitability), and jokes with Seaweed. During the evening, she starts to think of it, then she drinks, then she dances. Vodka flames drown her fears, and warehouse beats pound out her ponderings. She thrashes with strangers and slow dances with her best friend. Little worries her during these nightly moments. She pushes the world away with her hips.

Flannery glances at Brandy, bites her lip, then pulls the waffles from the oven. Barely burned. She arranges them on a plate before answering. “I, um, don’t know,” she says quickly.

“Oh, she doesn’t even have a password,” remarks Brandy. He scratches his chin. “I don’t mean to be intrusive, I just…Sorry, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.”

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Flannery grabs a plate of waffles, then sits at the table. Brandy does the same. As she scoops mouthful after mouthful between her glossy lips, Brandy continues talking. “I’ve spent this past month wondering about her. She was troubled, I knew that at first glance, but she seemed so happy. You know she was going to see your father, right? At the party?”

“Why?” asks Flannery. She sets down her fork. “He didn’t give a damn about her, and he sure didn’t give a damn about us.”

“He gave a damn enough to want you out of town.”

“The mayor’s my dad? I don’t know whether to be disgusted with our town’s voters or my mother’s taste in men.” Her head aches. The party can’t arrive soon enough.

“Nobody votes here, Flannery,” Brandy chuckles darkly, then continues, “but yes, he’s your father, and the more I think about it, the more I believe he had to do with your mother’s death. Whether he depressed her into suicide or prodded her into it, I don’t know, but I’m certain he played a part. What do you think?”

Flannery chews her waffle thoughtfully. Her stomach curdles. She stands up. “I think I need a drink.”

                                   

Scissor Sisters – “Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd Cover)

A/N: The song Seaweed sings is “I’m Sticking With You” by The Velvet Underground. Sorry if this chapter’s iffy, I rewrote it a few times, and this is the version I’m most satisfied with. Expect the main plot to start in a couple of chapters! I’m very excited about it, and have already figured out how it will figure into some of the next few generation’s storylines. (: /obsessive planner

Also, I will be somewhat sparse the rest of July. I’m going out of town next weekend and will be going to Mississippi for a week near the end of the month. I’ll pump out as many chapters as I can, though!

Have a great day!