Dear Diary, today I did more running away from things than anyone ever should. But I’ll get to that in a few minutes. Right now, I guess I need to go back and start from the beginning. Perhaps that will help me sort things out.
Right on time, as she was wont to do, Susan arrived at Aunt Ruby’s. I was still upstairs, hurting and bitter inside, wondering how I would ever face her. As it turned out, I shoved a school jersey over my head and thumped my way downstairs to greet the traitor.
“Marty!” she exclaimed, grinning as if she hadn’t stabbed me in the back.
She was stick-thin and in the back of my mind, I felt concerned about this. In the past, since her teen years, her weight had gone up and down, and not just by a little bit either. But she seemed okay to me as I noted her rosy cheeks and bright eyes. My eyes misted a little when I realized that as a young adult, she resembled Momma more than any of us,
“Aren’t you going to say hi?” Aunt Ruby asked.
Shrugging I said, “Of course, hi. I’m really sorry but I’m just on my way out the door. I’m going to the game with Xalen.”
Aunt Ruby’s right eyebrow went up as she regarded me but I tried to ignore her as I impatiently glanced out the front window, hoping Xalen would get here fast.
“Maybe I can go with you?” Susan said. “I’d love to see the school.”
“Sorry, no can do,” I mumbled. “I’m afraid we only have two tickets.”
“But you knew I was coming today, why didn’t you either get me a ticket or not go? I can’t wait to catch up with you.”
My conscience began tugging at my heart, but I brushed it off before it could grab hold. “I apologize, but this was planned long before you decided to come here.”
I knew she was hurt, I could see it in her expression, but some cruel thing in me had decided before her arrival that she didn’t deserve my time. To make it worse, when I thought about Theo, it was as if a piece of cold steel had replaced my heart and I promised myself I would never, no matter how hurt I ever was, cry over a man again. Instead, I would will myself not to care. Hell would have to freeze over before my heart would ever bleed because of some guy again!
“Oh, okay,” she murmured as Xalen knocked and I let him in.
“Hello, Marty,” he said, giving me a bewildered look.
“Hi. Um, this is my sister Susan. Susan, this is Xalen. Well, good seeing you Susan, I guess we’d better go.”
“Bye,” she answered as I dragged Xalen out the door.
“What was that all about? What’s going on?”
Breathing a sigh of relief, I said, “Thanks so much for getting here so quickly. I know I owe you an explanation.”
“That’s for certain. I haven’t felt that awkward in a long while.”
“I know, again, I’m sorry. Can we get out of here?”
The truth was, I couldn’t take Susan to the game with me because I’d lamely made that whole thing up to avoid her. A fact which, I was sure, hadn’t escaped Aunt Ruby’s attention.
Luckily, Xalen is a patient man. Without a word, he opened the car door for me and took me to his place on the beach. It wasn’t until we got there that I spilled everything to him about Theo and Susan.
He quietly listened to it all without interrupting or asking stupid questions. When I’d finally finished and he still didn’t say anything, I started to get a little worried.
He seemed reluctant to say what was on his mind but when I wouldn’t stop staring at him, he said, “I think… you’re jealous.”
“What?” I exploded. “How could you take her side?”
My anger really seemed to increase his discomfort, but he didn’t back down. “I’m not taking sides. Please, just listen.”
“First, put that pouty lip away.”
Begrudgingly, I did.
“From what little I know, it seems that you neglected to tell your sister of your feelings for Theo. I am not sure why she neglected to see it, though, because when you happen to feel something, it is very obvious. Still, whether she did or didn’t, perhaps she took your grand dreams for your future as a signal that you had let go of him.”
I hated when he made sense. Part of me knew he was probably right as the Susan I remembered would never hurt me or act selfishly. The other part, though, didn’t want to let go of the anger and indignation.
I must have been silent longer than I thought because he said, “Honestly, I think you should go home and give Susan a chance to explain.”
“Are you kicking me out?”
“Of course not.”
Slowly, I began to realize that Xalen was my only friend in Longview. There was a marked age difference, it was true, but as time went on, it seemed to matter less and less.
Standing before me was a guy with a kind spirit and a gentle smile. It occurred to me all at once that I was attracted to him. Slowly, I stepped forward, put my arms around him and rested my head on his shoulder. The luxurious yet organic smell of his leather jacket tickled my nose, mixing with the fresh scent of soap.
As I embraced him, I felt his arms link around me, pulling me closer for a moment.
Then it was over way too soon, yet he allowed my hand to linger in his.
As if possessed, I leaned in again, my lips touching his in a kiss. At first, he hesitated, then I could feel him giving in as his mouth moved greedily against mine. It only took a moment for our frantic kiss to grow deeper, making me realize how much I wanted this.
Suddenly, though, with a growl, he pulled away and staggered a few steps from me.
“Wh-what’s wrong?” I asked, my voice a tight squeak.
His voice didn’t seem much better as he said, “I can’t – we can’t – ”
” – But why?” I demanded as tears filled my eyes. Had I read him wrong? For a moment, I thought for sure he wanted me as much as I wanted him.
“I apologize, Marty. I should not have allowed myself to get carried away.”
He still didn’t turn to face me. My cheeks turned crimson as humiliation stung my heart like a swarm of bees.
That was the first run of the day. Not willing to face the rejection I felt, I sprinted out the door toward home. I could hear his voice calling my name but I didn’t so much as turn around.
When I finally got home, out of breath and sweating like crazy, I realized I didn’t want to face Susan and the rest of them just yet. Instead, I sneaked around the side of the building and hid on the Abernathys’ side.
“Hello! Marty, isn’t it?” I heard a cheerful voice behind me.
“Hi, Mr. Abernathy.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re hiding from someone.”
A half-sob, half-laugh escaped my strangled throat. “I guess you could say that.”
Nodding as if he knew exactly what was going on, he said, “Sister relationships can be difficult.”
Staring at him blankly for a moment, my heart stopped.
“How did – ”
“Oh, that wife of mine knew all about Susan’s arrival and our walls are paper thin. I figure this nastiness has to do with a boy?”
Something wasn’t sitting right with me. What exactly had he heard coming from our unit? I hadn’t argued with Susan so he couldn’t have eavesdropped on that…
“Hey! Wait a minute! You can hear?”
“Much better than my lovely wife knows, yes. Tell me, if you lived with a voice like that for more than half your life, wouldn’t you pretend just a little bit, too, so you wouldn’t have to hear it so often?”
“I reckon,” I uneasily said. “I’d better go.”
As I walked a few steps away, he left his garden and followed me. Reluctantly, I turned to face him again. “Are you following me?”
“I didn’t think we were done with our conversation.”
“What’s left to say?” Except, how did you know I was having problems with Susan over a guy? I asked myself.
“I know a good deal of things,” he said as if he’d read my mind. “Perhaps you’d like to come inside and tell me all about it, sweetie?”
The hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up on end and a chill went down my back. Suddenly, I didn’t see Mr. Abernathy as the little elderly, grandfatherly man next door who was next to helpless under his wife’s control.
“I’ve gotta go!” I announced, turning on my heel.
That was the second run of the day. From behind me, I could hear him snort with laughter which about made me come more unglued than I already was.
Rounding the corner and flying into the house, I ran right into Aunt Ruby. In hurried, anxious sentences, I told her about our creepster next door and how I didn’t think Gloria should go over there. When I was finished, I couldn’t tell if she believed me, but at least she said if there was any kind of doubt, she agreed with me about Gloria.
That evening, exhausted, I put my pajamas on and decided to go to bed even though it wasn’t dark yet. In my mind, I thought the best thing to do was to pull the covers over my head and forget this day even happened.
But, that was a luxury I wasn’t to have. As I dragged myself into my bedroom, I was greeted by Susan who was glaring furiously at me.
“How could you?”
“How could I what?”
“I don’t have my own email and since you were signed into yours, I decided to send my note from there.”
Bewildered, I followed her gaze to the open email on my computer and, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, saw the hateful email I’d written to her when I first found out she and Theo were getting married.
“You went through my email?”
“It had my name on it so I thought you forgot to hit send.”
“Susan, I didn’t forget to hit send, I never intended on you seeing it. I thought I deleted it.”
Flying into my face, with fire in her eyes, she yelled, “How could you write those awful things about me? How could you wish such horrible things on me?”
That’s when I should have shut up after sincerely apologizing to her because I did feel bad that I’d written that and that she’d seen it. But sometimes when I make a decision, like to be quiet and do the sensible thing, my brain is late to the party.
Instead, I found myself yelling back at her. “How could you date Theo? How could you write that letter to me, saying you hoped I was happy for you that you were engaged? You hurt me, too!”
Almost immediately, I heard Momma’s voice in my head reminding me, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right.’ I was too far gone to stop myself, though.
“You left Winchester and Theo without so much as a glance behind! And you knew, deep down, he never liked you that way!”
That was all I could take. Throwing clothes on, I ignored the fact she was in the room as best I could. My adrenaline was pumping as my third run began.
By the time I got to Xalen’s, it was dark and I figured he would think I’d gone mad. When he opened the door, he stepped aside without a word, letting me in.
“You didn’t work things out with your sister, did you?” When I glumly shook my head, he added, “You made things worse.”
“How’d you know?”
“Well, you’re back here again, out of breath. But there is another reason. Everything you do has a sense of passion about it. There is no middle ground with you and, again, since you are here, I could only guess there was an argument.”
“Congratulations, you win the big prize. And, jeez, Xalen, do you even know how to relax? Do you really wear a tie to bed?”
“No, no,” he laughed, ushering me in. Quickly, he got me a glass of ice water. After I drank the entire thing, we sat on the couch in the living room.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
I thought about it, then shook my head again. “I’m all talked out on the subject. I do want to tell you how sorry I am about this morning, though. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that embarrassed before.”
“I am afraid it is I who should apologize to you. I never should have allowed things to go that far.”
“Because you’re my professor and I work for you, too?”
He nodded. “Yes, it’s highly inappropriate.”
I could feel the heat in my cheeks as I said, “But I came on to you.”
“I could see it coming and I didn’t stop you.”
“You could see it coming?”
“A mile away. I had a weak moment and I’m sorry.”
“Could you ever see us together? In the future, I mean when I’m out of school?” I dared to ask despite the uncomfortable flip flops it caused in my stomach.
He was quiet for a moment and I wondered if that was because he was considering it or if he was trying to find a way to let me down easy.
“So much will have changed for you by then so who could say? I think you should reevaluate your feelings regarding me as today, I think perhaps your attraction to me was a rebound.”
He paused before explaining. “In plain terms, a rebound is the man you hook up with right after a breakup.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure he was right so I would have to think more on that.
Suddenly, I wanted to know more about him and to talk way less about me. “Have you ever been married?”
“No, not even close. My life is a lot more complicated than you know. So, I’m afraid the thought of marriage has never been on the table.”
“What complicates your life so much?”
“I told you before how my father is the head of the Neptune Foundation. I do a lot of work for them and one day will take my father’s place. It’s a huge commitment and the work is… complicated. I wish I could explain further but I’m not at liberty to say exactly how I help.”
“There’s that word ‘complicated’ again. I don’t understand how collecting antiquities is so cloak and dagger.”
Again, he hesitated, then said, “One day, I hope to tell you all about it. For now, I can’t.”
Leaning back on the sofa, I thought about this and hoped he would keep his promise to tell me someday…
…I awoke on the couch with a start, squinting at the sun as it peaked through the blinds. Falling asleep was not something I remembered doing, but I did recall a certain dream where Xalen threw caution to the wind and we had a crazy intense makeout session.
Glancing next to me, I saw Xalen had fallen asleep, too, right where he sat.
Kicking off my shoes even though the day was chilly, I walked down the beach, trying to imagine myself having a boring, ordinary life in Winchester. Maybe if I hadn’t left the first chance I got, Theo would be marrying me, not my sister.
Yet, something she’d said stuck with me. The part about how he’d never liked me in a romantic way. Even though it stung my heart, deep down, I knew this was true. Why had I ignored that fact and pretended to myself that we had a future together?
My phone began to ring, interrupting my thoughts.
“Marty, how are you?”
Tears formed in my eyes and I bit my lower lip to keep from crying. “I’ve missed you so much, Momma!”
Just like a dam that breaks and barely taking a breath, I let it all out about Theo and Susan.
When I was finished, she said, “I’m so sorry this all hurt you so much. I was afraid of that. And it’s the reason I called. Did Susan tell you what Dad and I told her about the engagement?”
“No, but we fought, so there wasn’t’ much of a chance for her to tell me.”
“Dad and I don’t approve, plain and simple. I guess it’s the idea that since your Uncle Leo and Aunt Wilda adopted him, he is a Capra and technically your first cousin.”
“Eww… I never thought of that.”
“Susan hadn’t either. Anyway, we’re hoping school will change this situation for her. And I really hope the two of you can make up and get along.”
“We’ll try,” I promised even though, at the moment, it seemed doubtful.
She then told me to have Susan call her which, since there were no phones in Winchester, meant Susan was to call the hotel on the mainland to leave a message that would then be relayed to Momma via the ferry.
There were definitely things about Winchester I did not miss, the phone situation being one of them.
As I tucked my phone back into my pocket, I stared out at the ocean. In January, I would begin school along with Susan and then… what?
Suddenly, the world seemed very large and I felt very small.
Author’s Note: Due to time constraints, I’ve had to cut out the section where I planned to show Marty at the university. For that, I apologize. However, beginning in the next chapter, there will be a time jump and you’ll be able to dive right into what Marty is doing!