Wayward Ep. 5 (end of Volume I)

V.

MRS. WAHLTON

Church was the next day and church always meant seeing my mother. Lewis always told me that Mum was a loveable enough person but her love was not easily given. This, of course, made me feel as if attaining my mother’s love and approval to be some weighty feat that even he had trouble with. As I grew older, I figured that her selectiveness was a good thing, proving her discernment and that’s where Lewis got his from.

I wore my new jacket from Donahue’s and Lewis even made a comment about it. It was almost a compliment but not quite. My parents, who were always in love, the one love I knew was certain in the world, sat at one end of the fourth pew from the back row and us children lined up, descending according to our birthdates. Alice was there too, sandwiched between Kimberly and Lewis.

I could never concentrate in church. I always got distracted too often to let the words of ministers linger and have meaning. I was stuck on how loudly and awfully the man in front of us was singing. I was caught up on examining what everyone else was wearing; counting the pieces of glass in the stained windows, how many hymnals were upside down and tucked inside the backs of wooden pews; the various sizes of choirs we have one Sunday and not the next. So, I sat not really listening at all, wondering what Mum was going to cook for lunch.

Lunch on Sundays was always at my parents’ house. It was in the countryside like Lewis and Alice’s house and it was a place that always brought up deep-rooted, unanswered questions.

Mum welcomed Lewis and Alice inside when they arrived as if it was the first time she had seen them all day, even though they had only been separated for the twelve-minute ride from the church.

I was watching it all quite bitterly from my chair in the kitchen. Dad was beside me. Dad only dressed up for church and holidays, something Mum detested thoroughly, and he always scoffed when his sons did otherwise. Kimberly could prance around in high heels and fancy hairdos with new sweet-smelling perfumes and no one would think any more of it.

Mum made soup and bread and salad and served us all at the dinner table, set with an autumny bunch of flowers in the center. Mum always dressed like she was more artistic than she really was; with layers of chunky jewelry and long, flowing sweaters. Dad, on the other hand, never dressed to his full potential; always in ill-fitting slacks with sweaters from his past. Lewis blamed it on retirement and country-living.

For the entirety of the meal, I sat with my head down, finishing as quickly as possible to keep the conversation short. I just kept praying, wishing, hoping that no one would bring up Lewis’ matchmaking attempts.

Then Kimberly looked at me and it was a look which didn’t quite have a name; it wasn’t sly or sheepish or cheeky, it was just Kimberly and the fact that she was going to start talking about you. It was almost a moment she was giving, politely, for you to start talking about something else before she began. But I didn’t catch on as swiftly as I ought.

“Mum,” she said, sitting a little straighter and interrupting Lewis and Dad’s conversation about some boat one of them was thinking about purchasing in the summertime. Mum looked up, delighted like everyone does when Kimberly addresses them. “You remember Rosie from Potter’s, don’t you?” Kimberly asked, and as the name slipped from her mouth, I dropped my fork with a loud clang. Mum wasn’t impressed.

“She’s got a hyphenated name, doesn’t she?” Mum asked, after slightly glaring at me because of the fork. “What was it?”

“King-Fontaine.”

“Are her parents divorced?” asked Mum.

“No, no,” continued Kimberly. “I ran into her the other day and we got to talking.”

Mum looked at Kimberly for more information as if the rarity of her daughter talking about someone for so short a length of time too abnormal.

Kimberly inhaled one large gulp of air and then: “Lewis thought that she and Marty would make a good match.” Then she sucked in her lips; whether she was trying not to laugh was something I didn’t know.

“Really!” Mum screeched, looking at me and smiling. “Marty, that’s wonderful–what’s she like?”

“She’s adorable,” Kimberly said. “She’s sweet and good-looking. I think she’d fit in nicely with us, don’t you, Alice?”

“Of course,” said Alice, grinning in my direction.

My expression dropped as I stared into space. Alice and Kimberly were as much a couple as Lewis and Alice and I never imagined them initiating any other girl into their clique.

“What do you think of her, Marty?” Dad asked, poking his white head of hair out from behind Kimberly, who I was sitting beside.

I stuttered a little and tried to get something out, anything really, but Mum came back with, while pointing her fork at me, “Why haven’t you asked her out yet?”

“I don’t know her, Mum,” I argued gently. “I’ve never even spoken to her.”

“Your father didn’t know me when he came up to me. Lewis didn’t know Alice, either, did you, Lewis?”

Lewis tried to agree but Dad interrupted.

“Do you like her or not?” he asked, leaning over to see me. He looked at Mum and they both pointed their forks at one another from opposite heads of the table. “I don’t think he likes her.”

Mum nodded, agreeing. “Is she pretty?”

“She’s very pretty,” shouted Kimberly, obviously offended that I hadn’t said so in the first place.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked her.

“I just can’t believe you don’t think she’s pretty.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t think she was pretty. When did I say that?”

“You don’t think she’s pretty?” Lewis chimed in too, equally offended as our sister.

“Lewis thinks she’s pretty.”

I picked her out,” Lewis said.

Alice hid her laugh behind her napkin and I shook my head, shocked.

“We’re going to the rugby game tomorrow, meeting her there in fact,” Kimberly stated matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Mum said, rather pleased and getting back to her meal. “That settles it then.”

“What settles what?” I asked.

“You can see for yourself. Now,” she said, sighing and finishing off the subject. “Marty, how’s our cousin doing?”

My mother always had a way of stirring up trouble and then taming it down with simple statements and lingering looks. After that, I was fine with the rest of the conversation. There was laughter and jokes and stories told, mainly by Lewis and his charm.

After the meal, I stood near the bay window overlooking the tree-covered lawn, and wondered about what we had become. I could see the three of us children running around the trees, dashing through fall leaves and splashing through rain puddles.

Kimberly was inside her room, folding and hanging her clothes in her closet when I knocked on the open door. I walked in and landed on her bed, apparently doing something I shouldn’t have because she told me to get up instantly. Sitting up, I surveyed her things. The room claimed she was still a little girl with the same patchwork quilts on the bed, knit pillowcases at the head and old blanket at the foot; the same pop music records stacked on her bookshelves in between the hard-covered children’s books. But there were the hints of her adulthood scattered throughout the sentimental childhood memories like souvenirs from her travels; the glassy perfumes set atop the vanity and her old textbooks from Potter’s lined up with her well-worn travel guides.

She finally stopped from organizing and turned to stare at me. “Marty?” she said because I was daydreaming.

I looked over and said, “What do you wear to a rugby game?”

This is the end of Volume I, but Wayward will return

A new story series will begin soon

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Reeds andWicks (1)

Wayward Ep. 2

II.         THE ONE

I took five courses in my first semester of my third year at Windsor and I had brought my attention, my focus and my best to every class. But not that week. I blamed it on Lewis, of course, and his silly unmentioned provisions for happiness. I sat in the hollow halls in the middle row or whatever seat was empty and within hearing distance to the professor, scanning the faces of the girls, eligible or not. I came to the conclusion after History of Great Thinkers on Wednesday that philosophy majors were as unattractive as the professors. I had two other classes to attend that week so I kept my eyes ready.

Lewis invited me to lunch alone on Thursday and we met at the mantle in the Den and I asked how his classes were going, to which he replied: “Painstakingly boring. I want to fall asleep more than the students do. I feel bad for you.”

“Why? I’m not becoming a lawyer.”

He was wearing his usual gray suit, but this time with a blue and white checked shirt and no tie. I looked at his watch for the majority of our meeting, its pearl face glowing amidst the sparkle of the band.

Lewis managed a laugh in spite of my comment and asked me how my “progress” was going. “Why do I have to confine myself to the campus?” I asked.

Lewis winced while thinking on it. “You don’t,” he said finally. “It’s just the easiest.”

Easy things were more appealing, I thought, agreeing with him enough to listen to his theory.

“Let’s take a tour,” he said, setting down his drink on the nearest table and then waving his arm toward the restaurant door.

Windsor College was ancient. It produced more working lawyers, doctors and teachers than any other school in the county. Its performing arts academy, something the “real” students despised being associated with, was even revered. Its campus wound and stopped and began again throughout the public conservation area and had its own community in which if you did not attend you did not enter. Potter’s School for girls was established before the legacy of Windsor began and hence, Lewis took me there first.

We looked up at the dormitory, a colonial house with a large porch, and it stared back at us. “They only accept the best in the province,” Lewis said.

“The best?” I asked. “What does that mean exactly?”

Lewis frowned. “I don’t know.”

The best looking? The best dressed? I didn’t know but as girls rushed out of the white front door, I knew it meant both. They filed out like a military brigade, proper and refined, looking too fierce to approach and passing us both without a second glance. I looked at my own clothes, wondering if they were the cause for the shunning response. I was wearing jeans, dark-washed and just the right length. I had a button front shirt; white with two breast pockets, rolled up on the sleeves because they were too short anyway.

“Too cold?” I said about the girls.

“I was going to say too young,” Lewis said. “But that sounds about right too.”

He took me to the theatre next, saying, “Actresses, they have to be nice to look at.”

We sat in the back row of the dark auditorium watching auditions for The Importance of Being Earnest. We slumped in the cushioned seats, unimpressed, watching one girl after the other. They recited their lines from the center of the wooden stage, shouting at us; their voices cracking with every enthusiastic note. I frowned and concluded: “Too loud.”

Lewis and I took to the grass outside to watch field hockey practice. We stood, arms folded, squinting under the sun, as we watched the girls team; a bunch of brawny-looking girls running the length of the field in red plaid skirts, forcefully pushing one another out of the way. Before I could react, Lewis shook his head and pushed me aside, saying, “No. No, no.”

Defeated, we walked outside the main dormitories, new complexes built to blend in with the old Victorian cityscape. “We have to go where you’re not used to going,” Lewis said as he looked around us. Then: “Library,” he concluded as he snapped his fingers with his moment of epiphany.

“Are you making a jab at me?” I asked.

“At you?”

“At me not being a scholar.”

“If you were one you’d be studying law or medicine.”

“My major isn’t a result of my ability but more about my interests,” I defended. Lewis continued to stare at me blankly. “I go to the library a lot,” I confirmed.

He inhaled, frustrated. “Where to then?”

I didn’t want to go anywhere with him after that so I waited until he came up with another suggestion or until I had to say, “I have to go to work.”

“Café,” he said, suddenly smiling. He was already half way down the street where a small coffee and paper shop sat. I reluctantly picked up my feet to join him, hoping he’d see that the venture was a waste of time and I, for once, would be the right one.

The location was, yes, a place I rarely entered. It was full of loud, bubbly girls high with caffeine dressed in the latest fashions, and smart-looking boys, too smart for their own good, alone in solitude and dressed in black and tight scarves with dark-framed glasses.

“I don’t think so,” I said after we stepped inside.

Lewis smiled and patted me on the back. “Let’s get a drink.”

“I don’t like coffee.”

He looked disapprovingly at me and glided into the line-up in front of the cash counter. We stood by the newsstand and there was a girl there, scoping out fashion magazines, who I nearly bumped into. Unbalanced as I was, with my hands in my pant pockets, she scooted behind me in the crowded space to get a better look at the autumn/ winter issues. She excused herself so I did too, which really didn’t sound like actual English words at all.

Lewis watched her and I didn’t want to because I knew from the look on his face, he was ready to pick her. The quizzical frown he had when examining her was so obvious, I hit him in the arm. He relaxed his brow and asked, quietly: “Do you know her?”

“No.”

He shook his head casually and shrugged. “Seemed like you knew one another.”

My eyebrows sunk down into a frown. “How?”

The queue was shrinking in front of us; the magazine girl took a spot behind us with her choice from the paper shop, staring absently into space. I turned to see her quickly, to get some kind of impression of her, before darting my eyes away.

“What do you want to drink?” Lewis asked me.

“I don’t want to drink anything,” I told him, annoyed he didn’t understand me the first time.

“Hurry up, I need to meet Alice.”

“Then what are we doing here for? Let’s go.”

Lewis smiled at the magazine girl, gently moved me aside and said, “You can go ahead.”

She smiled politely. It was all of her expression I saw because I looked away again with only the tiny curve of my lips.

Lewis stood with me. “We’re leaving?” I asked, hopeful.

He held up his finger, telling me to wait, as he watched the girl pay for her magazines. I finally looked at her; she had a smart jacket on which floated around her middle, showing no sign of her shape. Her jeans were the only thing tight and maybe her flat shoes, revealing the top of her foot, looking too white against the black leather. She had dark hair, I wasn’t sure how long it was because it was pulled back. She had a brown leather tote and I couldn’t see inside it. She walked past us, bringing a breeze so fast I couldn’t see her face.

Lewis’s eyes followed her, watching through the large storefront window pane, eager to follow her so much so he suggested it.

“What?” I exclaimed. He was already half way out the door. “You can’t be serious.”

He smiled and went outside. Rolling my eyes, I followed him. He scanned the faces and the backs of students’ heads before catching a glimpse of the magazine girl at the intersection. “There,” he said, walking too swiftly to be inconspicuous.

“This is stupid,” I declared when he stopped to pick her out from the crowd again.

He huffed. “I lost her.”

“What does Alice think of you chasing girls?”

“I’m not chasing her for me. I’m chasing her for you.”

“How do you know I’m even interested?”

“Marty,” he said firmly. “I know.”

I never quite understood what he meant when he said that and he said that often. I frowned on the sidewalk. I could see the magazine girl quite clearly, but I wasn’t about to point her out. She looked both ways before crossing the avenue in front of the dorms, the setting sun catching the plains of her face.

I sighed loudly.

If my brother said she was the one, then…she was the one.

Returns next Tuesday

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