(Baby, we both know) That the nights were mainly made
For sayin’ things that you can’t say tomorrow day -
I was strumming the guitar, the low sound growling from the loudspeaker.
I wasn’t sure if it counted as singing, or screaming, or anything really, I was just pushing all of my feelings up my throat and out of my mouth with all the force I could.
And I wondered if my parents were hearing me, what would they have said? Would they understand the screeching of the guitar or the wailing of notes absolutely not in the original song?
“Casey?” I whip my head around, looking as if I’d been caught doing something I shouldn’t. Devon pokes up his coke - bottle glasses on the lenses. “Dinner’s ready,”
He starts to close the door before squeezing his head back through the crack. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I lie. “Why?”
“‘Sayin’ things that you can’t say tommrow’?”
“Those are just the lyrics,” I say, still idly strumming on the guitar.
“Those are sad lyrics,”
“What makes you think so?”
He looks away to a dark corner of the garage as he thinks. “I dunno. It just is.”
The midday sun is hot on our shoulders, the ground before us rocky and dotted with stubborn shrubs. They never told me it would be this green, out here in the middle of nowhere, and I think about it all of the time.
My eyes flicker across his face.
He doesn’t look exasperated, “I said - ”
“No - I mean, I heard you, I just,” I bury my hand into my hair. I can smell it burning. “This is a joke, right? It’s got to be a joke.”
Xavier cocks his head a little, looking earnestly confused. “Why would it be?”
“I dunno,” I give him a loose shrug, gesturing vaguely to myself and make a sound like a door creaking open.
Xavier hums, taking his time to gather his words to say exactly what he wants to say. It’s foreign to me, the way he always just knows. “I like you. Is that so hard to believe?” He settles his eyes on me, his full attention strangely heavy. It’s not scrutinizing, and somehow that’s worse.
I know better than to lie. “Yes,” I choke out.
He nods, pausing and following my eyes to the open slope between the schools, spotted with army - uniform colored shrubs. “Well … could you, maybe, trust me?”
I squint up at him, scanning his face for something I don’t find. “I guess.”
“That isn’t to say that you have to say yes. I just didn’t want you to think … I was lying to - ”
“I will,” I say quietly.
He turns his head so fast it gives me whiplash. “You will?”
The first memory that comes to mind when she asked definitely isn’t my earliest. It’s tinted blue now, dreary and unclear like the bottom of a lake.
“Sissy,” Devon had been hiding under the little desk in his room, eyes raw and trying to rub his streaked cheeks dry. “Are we bad kids?”
Behind my eyelids, swings go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth; children ran after shadows in the parking lot, laughing and shoving each other.
“Are we bad kids?”
I don’t know what to tell him.
I lied, probably.
It sounded like something I would do. I do it so much now.
Back, forth; back, forth.
The chain creaks with each up and down.
“I don’t know, I mean I - ” I blink, turning back to Mrs. Angelica across from me. She’s smartly dressed as always. “I always wonder if I was exaggerating, y'know? Like if I was in a TV show, or something, would think the audience would like me?”
“Why do you ne-”
“Or would they - Sorry, what?”
“No, it’s nothing. Go on.”
I frown. “…If they’d think I was just some dumb teenager just fucking it up? Like - the bad guy never knows their the bad guy most times,”
“That’s because they lack self-awareness,” She says cooly. “That is not your particular issue.”
“Right,” I say, dropping my head onto the pillow. “If I’m so fucking smart, why hasn’t it helped me out more?”
I look up from my scattered fries and half-eaten nuggets, cheeks stuffed full. A soft smile forms on Xavier’s lips, and I swallow.
“Do you want to come to my game on Friday?”
“Game?” I echo. I have a deep hatred of sports stepping from old bullies and music notes in the dirt. “Okay,”
The grin that lights up his face makes his eyes crinkle and moves the little dot next to his eye. “I’ll be looking for you,”
I smear grease on the rough napkin, again dropping my eyes to the tray.
“Do you have any performances or anything? You mentioned playing music, ” He raises his knee onto the booth.
“You have to be good to have performances,” I say.
“I don’t really think it matters,” He says. “If you have fun, I mean.”
I make a non - committal sound and turn my neck to look away, a strange imitation of his signature head tilt.
“Well, I know what it’s like,” He says quietly. “To look into the crowd and nobody’s there.”
I seal my lips.
“I’d tell you if I did,” I say, and I mean it. “Sorry if I’m boring,”
He shakes his head, a smile coming back. “More suspense than boring.”
But, I can’t fix him -
Can’t make him better,
Strumming under the automatic garage light in ill-fitting pajamas, I wailed.
And I can’t do nothing about -
His strange weather,
"I think you’re really good at singing, Cacey,”
I seize up, then relax. “Yeah?” I ask, adjusting a knob before strumming again.
“Yeah,” Devon says, holding the doorknob behind him. “Even though you only sing sad songs.”
I sneer. “That’s not on purpose.”
Devon rocks on his heels as he absorbs the information.
“And they’re somebody else’s. It’s not anything that special. ”
“Is that bad?”
I make a face like a smushed Muppet. “I mean - I guess. I want to put something out there, y'know.”
“But if you make yourself do it, it won’t be good, right? That’s what you always tell me.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Like, why aren’t you dead?” I ask. “Wait, no, let me rephrase that. If your depression is as bad as mine, which means it was probably even worse when you were my age, how did you - how did you make it?”
“Rock and Roll,” Mrs. Angelica says without missing a beat. She looks at me over her glasses. “I liked music a lot. We share that, no?
I make a sound somewhere between a sigh and a rickety car engine and give her a loose shrug. "I - I don’t know, it’s just something that I do. I don’t know how to do anything else.”
Mrs. Angelica nods, clicking her pen. “Do you know anybody who balances their daily life well and still has time for a hobby?”
I look out the window, running my hand over the raised fabric of her couch. “I don’t … Oh! Xavier asked me if I wanted to go to his Volleyball game!”
“That sounds fun. You want to go?”
“Xavier asked me to,” I say like it’s the answer.
“I think it’ll be good to try something out of your comfort zone. A controlled chance with somebody you love.”
I pout at her.
“Are you excited?”
I hum, eyes traveling to the window again. “At the very least, I’m excited for the nachos.”
Mrs. Angelica cackles silently, the laugh lines around her mouth creasing and her shoulders shake.
“She said that to you?”
“It’s not a big deal,” I shrug. “It happens all the time.”
Xavier holds my hand, eyes watering. Even though it’s my sob story, he looks like he’s the one who’s about to burst into tears. I can see that he’s burning himself up inside. The futility rolls off of him in waves.
“But I can’t die, though,” I say to him, trying to force a comforting smile. It falls flat. “I have to stay for Devy, and you guys, and for - I don’t know, future fans,”
He hums. We both know that’s not how it works. My heart is heavy. Nothing can change the feeling that I don’t belong here - not fans, not my brother, not him either. I wanted to circle in on myself so tightly I would just disappear. “I felt dumb for crying like a little bitch.”
He barks a laugh with no humor and squeezes my hand. “Crying is showing how it hurts you. On the inside.”
I exhaled for a long time. “It’s not working.”
The ball sailed across the court.
I leaned forward, stuffing entire nachos into my face with my eyes glued to Xavier. Every motion, every leap, every bound. The way they all cheered when they finally scored.
I tapped the rhythm of their sneakers squeaking with my foot.
The overhead lights were scalding.
Xavier wipes his forehead with his jersey and sends me a grin like a sun coming from behind the clouds. I think I look angry. His teammates all crane their necks to see who he’s smiling at, and I raise my hand a little. Immediately they whip their heads back around and make whooping sounds and whistles. Xavier scratches the back of his head bashfully, saying something to them.
He meets my eyes once more.
“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” I said. “I mean, it makes sense - it’s the most practiced religion around here, but I never thought about it.”
“Catholic? Oh, you mean this?” He curled his finger around the rosary hanging from the doorknob. “It’s my Grandmother’s. Or - was. Gave it to me a little before she died.”
“Oh.” I say, gaze falling away from his eyes.
“Nothing to apologize for,” He dropped his arm and curled it around my shoulders and his hand on my hair. “Are you Catholic?”
“No. Although they did go off with the stained glass and acoustics,”
He guffawed, fingertips becoming lost in the falsely perfect mass. “Then … what do you believe in?”
I struggled to keep my thoughts straight, looking up at the windows over the head of his bed. The fading light makes everything a light orange. "The universe, I think.”
I rubbed my hand over my brother’s fade, singing the only song I could think of. I couldn’t even remember all of the lyrics and just kept circling back to the same verse and chorus, sometimes remembering a new line. He burrowed his head into my shoulder and inhaled deeply.
“Is it helping?” I ask, unsure of where to put my other hand.
He made a short hum.
“Okay,” I said, starting the sun again.
Being angry at our parents wouldn’t help him. He wasn’t that kind of person. He couldn’t take the hit like I could.
So I kept an angry sickness in my gut for him and kept trying to find new lyrics.
“I think you should do it, if you want to,” Mrs. Angelica said, tapping the back of her pen on her clipboard. “It would let you perform in front of others. That’s what you want to do, right?”
“Well, if you try to do it and you hate it then you’ll know, right?”
“I guess. And I know this is the climax of every teen movie - prom or a talent show, but I - what if I suck?”
“Talent or no, anybody who practices as much as you do can’t suck.”
I shuffled over to the microphone, sniffling as I adjusted it. “Hi … uh, you know me …”
My eyes flit around the crowd. Xavier sends me a dazzling grin and a little wave, and my lips tighten into something small and awkward back.
“But if I were a real artist, heh, I’d call myself ‘One Man Band’ … so.”
There’s that moment of anxious quiet, where everybody is holding their breath to decide if they should laugh or boo or if I’m actually good. The notes crackle in the silence, filling the little gym like lighting in a cup.
Mom, I’m tired,
Can I sleep in your house tonight?
The cords catch in the tiny cuts on my fingers, and I screw my eyes shut so that I don’t have to look at anyone. The guitar strings tremble under my hand. It’s strange because I feel like I should be thinking of something, but for once, my brain quiet like a white wall.
I hold the guitar up to my face and suck in a deep breath screeching,
Mom, would you wash my back?
This once - and then we can forget -
My throat is raw, and I force out the last lyrics softly. Before the sound has even stopped, I’ve tilted my head, bumping it against the mice and skittering off the stage.
Xavier is at the bottom of the steps. He looks like he wants to say something. I grip the neck of the guitar tightly, not meeting his eyes.
I hear something like rushing water or capping, but it sounds like a million miles away.
A movement, him opening his arms with a small smile that reminds me of the pile of sugar in our pantry, makes me look at him.
I can’t move for a moment, the gears in my brain moving, but they keep stuttering.
“I - ”
He wraps his arms around me, and I suck a shaky breath in on his shoulder.