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Francisco Q Delgado

Lily from Building F

 

          She tapped her foot against the sidewalk.  As if keeping cadence to the song she was humming, the streetlight above her flickered in a six-eight rhythm.  Her corduroys slid slowly off her hips.  I watched and watched - willing them down – until she caught me. 

         “Did I tell you I saw Kurt Cobain’s ghost?” she said.

         I shook my head immediately.  Harder than necessary.  “Where?”

         “In front of our building.  Ryan and I were smoking behind the dumpster, and he was, like… right there.  It was crazy.”

         “Right here on Jefferson?”

         “No, the other street I live on,” she snapped.  She continued, in a gentler tone as if sensing my hurt, “Sorry.  It’s been one of those days.”

         Laughter erupted from the darkness blanketing the park.  We turned toward the commotion but could make out nothing.  Lily continued to stare in wonderment and longing, long after I looked away, bored. 

         “You’ve only seen it that one time?” I asked.

         “Yeah, I’ve been out here a couple times since.  No sign of him, though.”

         Ryan was probably out there waiting for her.  I imagined that the outbursts of hollering and laughter were his orchestrations, his way of letting her know that he was with her – with us– watching from a point beyond her mom’s protective gaze. 

 

*

 

         A premonition, she said.

         It wasn’t just the ghost of Kurt Cobain that she and Ryan saw that night but his premonition.  I immediately fell in love with the word. 

         “Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

         She shrugged.  “What’s it matter?”

         The laughter from the park was now drunken giggles.  The occasional outbreak of swear words.  I didn’t have to compete for Lily’s attention, anymore.  The premonition of the moment when I had to was all that remained. 

         “So was he doing anything?” I asked.

         “Who?  Ryan?”

         I shook my head.  “Cobain.”

         She nodded, as if remembering what we were talking about.  “Oh, him.  He was just standing there.”

         “Just standing there,” I repeated.  “Cool.”

         Lily’s mom only let her outside if it was with me.  After all, it wasn’t me she caught with her daughter.  And she knew Ryan and I would’ve never been in cahoots. 

         What was it about me that she found so trustworthy?

         Was it what kept Lily from ever inviting me over?

 

*

 

         They set off a firecracker, which died before it illuminated anything.  Both of us turned toward the park, where the firecracker launch was accompanied by hoots and laughter, the sound of glass bottles shattering. 

         “This is so boring,” she said.  “This summer is taking forever.”

         I didn’t understand why she was so upset about it.

         “You’ll have lots to do when school rolls back around,” I teased.  She was moving up to the high school in September.  I think I was more excited about it than she was.  “Soon, you’ll be leaving for college.  Then you can do whatever you want.”

         She nodded but seemingly at something else.  I don’t know why I brought up the prospect of college.  She was a B- to C student, she’d once told me.  I guessed I wanted to believe that college was in her future because I knew it was mine. 

         “I still have your Smashing Pumpkins tapes.  Sorry I keep forgetting to give them back.”

         “Don’t worry about it,” she replied. 

         “My favorite song is ‘Soothe,’” I said, as if she asked.  I was hoping to prove to her that I not only heard what she heard, but felt what she felt.  Understood what she knew.  “What’s yours?”

         She shrugged.  “I don’t really know the songs by name, Chris.  I just like the music.”

         I nodded.  Everything she said made so much sense. 

 

*

 

         She hadn’t told me why she was grounded.  I’d only heard stuff from kids who’d heard stuff from other kids.  The story that Lily and Ryan were having sex was the most widely circulated.  I didn’t believe it, but I had enough people to convince me it was true.

         But still I had to find out for myself. 

         “Not that it’s really anyone’s business,” she answered, “but we were only making out.  God, I wish people would just shut up if they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

         She had a point.  Kids from our neighborhood liked to be stupid and mean for no reason.  Especially stupid.

         I changed the subject.  “So what’d you do today?”

         “There was a Real World marathon on.  I watched that for a little while.”

         “That guy on the show is disgusting,” I said, referring to Puck.

         “I think he’s cute,” she replied.  “He sort of reminds me of Ryan.”

         I imagined she was referring to Puck’s blonde hair and blue eyes, his sinewy build. 

         “I don’t really look like anyone from the show,” I said.

         She fixed me with a look.  “No, you don’t.  You just look like you.”

         And I couldn’t help but feel cursed.

 

*

 

         A second firecracker arced across the sky.  Fueled by their drunken cheers, it looked like a falling star before the darkness swallowed it up.

         “They should stop,” I remarked.

         “You don’t like it?”

         “No,” I replied.

         “Really?  I think they’re cool.”

         “No, I like them.  I just think that someone might call the cops if they keep setting them off, is all.”

         “If there’s anything worse than parents,” she replied.  “It’s cops.”

         I didn’t know how to respond.

         “What do you think of me when I say that?” she asked.

         I shrugged.  “I see why you would, I guess.”

         A final firecracker whimpered across the darkness.

         “I wonder where they got them.”

         “You mean there’s not an illegal fireworks aisle in Wal-Mart?” she asked.

         “I was just saying.”

         “I’m messing with you, Chris.  God.”

         She lowered her eyes.  Wind blew her hair across her face.  I inhaled once.  Twice.  I held my third breath at its peak. 

         “I like you, Lily,” I said.

         Right away, she froze.  I knew what she was going to say without having to wait for it.  I waited, anyway.  Just in case. 

         For both of our sakes, she looked away first. “Chris…”

         I then looked away, too. For my sake alone.

         “I can’t,” she said.  “Ryan and me –”

         I wanted her to stop talking.  I wanted to pretend I kept my mouth shut.  She pierced me with her eyes. She took one step toward me. Then another.

         “I thought you knew,” she said.

         I could’ve said the same thing.

 

*

 

         She remained a few feet away from me because Ryan could’ve been watching, and how bad would that look? 

         “You all right?” she asked.

         I nodded. I wasn’t going to cry if that was her question.

         “It’s weird how it happened. I mean, we -”

         I tried to tune her out, but there was nothing to distract me but the noises from the park, which belonged to her and Ryan more than they would ever belong to me.

         “You have to understand,” she was saying, “Ryan and me have known each other since we were little kids. And he’s really helped me deal with my sister.”

         Lily and her sister didn’t live together.  I wondered what kind of problems you could have with someone you never saw, and was about to ask when she added, “You’re a cool kid, though, Chris.”

         Swallowing hard, I kept the tears from coming. I nodded my head.  Harder than necessary.

         She waited for me to say something. What, I didn’t know. She had wounded me and knew it. I was trying to hide it and failing.

         “I’m going back inside,” she said. “Call me. We’ll talk.”

         I nodded. That was all I had done since saying `I like you.’ All I did was fucking nod.

         I watched her go until she was gone.  Something fluttered in the darkness between us, and I waited for the ghost of Kurt Cobain - or whatever it was Ryan and Lily saw that night - alone.  I didn’t hear the footsteps approaching me until the person making them stood directly overhead. 

         “What’s up, Chris?” Ryan said.

         Despite the heat, he was wearing JNCO pants and a baggy, black T-shirt.  I was sweating, just sitting there. 

         He looked back at the park, where his friends were watching, and waved.  I should’ve run for it while he was distracted.  I knew that a guy like Ryan was never nice to someone like me.  But I also knew how fast I could run and how fast Ryan was and knew that a foot race wouldn’t end well. 

         “Sitting here by yourself?  Why don’t you come hang out with us?”

         I didn’t know who this ‘us’ was.  I didn’t care.  But as long as I stayed beneath the streetlight, I knew I was safe.  I knew that no matter what Ryan did to me here, someone somewhere had to see it.  I stayed where I was and meant to shake my head.  I went to shake my head but it didn’t.    

         “Come on,” he said.  “You can meet some of me and Lily’s friends.”

         And he had me.  It was easy for me to think that Ryan was dumb because of the trouble he got into at school, but he knew exactly what to say to me at that moment. 

         I got up and followed him. 

         “You know,” he said.  “It’s cool you don’t got a curfew like all your other kiddie friends.”

         I did, actually.  I just didn’t care about the consequences.  What was one missed curfew, anyway?  It was about time my mom realized that I was getting too old.  I looked back to see if Lily was at her window, watching.  In proving that I was cool enough to hang out with her friends, I might also be cool enough for her love.  I wasn’t some kid, anymore. 

         I was becoming an adult, just like Lily.  Just like all her friends.  There had to be a point in life when a two-year age difference wasn’t insurmountable, when Lily and I could be together.

         I followed Ryan into the park, past the playground and the swing-sets, past the basketball courts and baseball fields.  We kept going until I could no longer see where we were heading. 

         And then       

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