XL. The Environment
When those words came out, I couldn’t look at him in the eyes.
But, no matter how hard I tried, my body betray me.
My sight flicker towards Jackson.
His hands roll around the warm cup, but his eyes were dead set on me. His jaw clenches so firmly that I thought it may crack.
I don’t know what’s going on inside his head, but I can take a guess.
He’s not happy - that’s for sure.
“I was thinking,” I mumble. My gaze strikes to the smoke inside the cup, “That the kids and I should stay at Nina’s place tonight.” Yesterday comfort only build today’s anxiety.
“Why?” He asks.
“I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”
“I wouldn’t say staying a night be considered overstaying.”
“My daughter would continue to open every door in your house. I don’t think you would feel comfortable about that.”
“She would open every door at Nina’s house,” he rebuttal.
“Nina is her aunt.”
“And its uncomfortable because I’m not related to her?”
My head raised until it meet deep blues.
“It’s uncomfortable for her...or for you?”
I didn’t expect him to say that.
Did I expect him to think that? Yes.
To say it out loud? No.
“I don’t mind if she open every door in the house. I have no secrets,” he says.
“She shouldn’t open doors to houses that doesn’t belong to her.”
His fingers inches closer to mine until the tip met one another. “You’re all more than guests.”
“But, we’re not...residents.”
“You could be.”
Steadily, he move closer until his hand wrap around mine once more. Immediately, I tug away but he wouldn’t release me.
I manage to escape the first time.
But, am I allow to leave the second time?
Jackson removes his hand with the sound of Crystal’s voice. She rushes inside the house and when she found us, she stop and inhale a deep breath. “Aunt Nina and Uncle Matt is coming here with my cousins later. What do we do?”
“Get ready?” I respond.
“I didn’t bring anything pretty!”
I laughs, “When have you ever cared in being pretty?”
For as long as I can remember, Crystal has always been the roll in the dirt and step on bugs kind of girl. She karate kick the wall the other day to kill a spider.
“Well, I care now.” She looks at Jackson and smile brightly, “I care alot.”
“No,” I immediately respond before Jackson could. I look at him and point a finger in the air, “No.”
“Boo.” Crystal rush out of the room.
Dustin walk in when Crystal head out. Behind him stands an elder woman who would watch his every move. When he drop the used lollipop stick she went down and grab it. He wobble towards Jackson, “Up!”
Jackson pick him up and put him on his lap, “Hey there little dude.” He tickle his nose.
Dustin smile and hug Jackson.
“Did you like the bubbles?” Jackson asked.
Dustin nod, “Bubbles!”
I watch as Dustin attempt to climb onto Jackson’s shoulders. Jackson would support him each step of the way until he reach his destination. “Want a tour of the place?” Jackson ask.
“Go! Go!” Dustin hits the air with his palms.
Jackson smile at me one last time before he got up and airplane Dustin out of the room. When the elder woman left with then, I exhale a sharp breath.
I’m glad Crystal always pops up out of nowhere, or else I may be in trouble. The upper half of my body flop on the edge of the couch and I stared out the window. The cell phone circulates around my fingers as I listen to Dustin’s laughter.
When my phone rang, I answer the call. “Long time no call?” I said teasingly.
Abby laugh, “Hello to you too Piper.”
“How are you? How’s Texas?”
“Oh you know, Texas. I heard you’re at my brother’s place?”
“Yeah. I’m staying here for a few days.”
Abby and I continued to chit chat about our daily lives until I heard: “Babe. It’s time to go to the hospital.”
“Babe?” I mimic the deep voice.
“I’m coming hun.” I’m certain that sentence was not targeted towards me. “That was my boyfriend.”
“The ye-haw cowboy?” I snickered.
“For the last time. All because we’re in Texas does not mean we all say ye-haw.”
“We? As in, you’re a Texan now?”
“Piper, please stop teasing me.”
“This-” she said, “this is why I don’t call you often anymore.”
I laugh, “I’m playing. Please call me more often.” I exhale softly, “Visit Jackson more often too.”
“I know,” she said softly. “I miss him too. Its just...I’m finally settling down here Piper. And I’m afraid, you know, of going back.”
“Your brother isn’t one of those cold-hearted family member who wouldn’t let you be with who you love.” Jackson may be a ruthless businessman - I’m not going to deny that fact - but he loves Abby and will let her do anything to make her happy.
“Its not about my brother. It’s our lifestyles” Without an explanation, I knew exactly what Abby meant.
“I’m coming! I got to go. Bye Piper.”
“Goodbye Abby.” I couldn’t help myself. “Tell the ye-haw cowboy I said hi.”
Abby groan but it wasn’t in an upsetting sense, “Alright.”
The phone call ends.
“Mommy!” Crystal walk into the room with a tiara on her head. She tug Jackson by the pants who had Dustin in his arms.
“Where-” I didn’t bother to finish my question. I laid my head against the palm of my hand. By now, Jackson is probably used to my glares - he’s immune.
“I found it in our bedroom!” She grab her shirt and twirl, “Am I pretty Jackson?” She laid her hands against her cheeks and bat her lashes.
Jackson chuckle, “The prettiest.”
She throw a palm at him, “Oh sheesh.” Her cheeks turns red. “You’re a heartbreaker, aren’t yah?”
“Wait.” Now this is where I ask questions. “Where did you learn to talk like that?”
“The maids,” she responds. “They said Jackson is a heartbreaker. It doesn’t mean he actually kills us. It means he know how to say nice things that makes your heart goes ba-dump ba-dump.” She placed her hands over her chest, “My heart went ba-dump ba-dump."
Crystal inhale and exhale deeply.
Are you sure it isn’t because you ran around the mansion?
“Now,” she said. “It is time.”
“Time for what?” I asked.
She twirl again, “A ball!” She sang. Crystal twirl towards me, “Music me mommy.” She snaps.
I raise a brow.
I scroll through my phone until I hit Crystal’s playlist. Hopefully, with all the energy she’s expelling today, she will crash tonight.
I smile when she twirl around the room and when she reach Jackson, she grab his hand. “Put the boy down!”
Jackson chuckle and place Dustin down. Crystal grab both hands and force them to dance along with her. Soon, the area was their dance floor.
Jackson twirl Crystal while Dustin shake his butt.
Crystal lives for music - she used to love dancing to it everyday.
That is, until Emerson’s disappearance.
Then, she stopped.
She didn’t find the joy in life...not anymore.
But, here its...different.
She could finally hear the melody play and her body would tingle. There was something about the vibrations that felt so heavenly, as if a pure energy rushed through her skin and seep straight into her brain.
When she close her eyes, her sight was taken away and the volumes only increased in her ears.
Crystal smile and when Jackson lift her in the air she laughs.
She open her eyes, “Spin me! Spin me!”
He follow her command and spin her in circles which cause her to laugh even louder.
Her teary eyes met with mine.
“Put me down Jackson! Put me down!”
He puts her down.
Immediately, Crystal rush towards me and tug me by the hand, “Come on mommy! Let’s dance!”
I laugh lowly and got off the couch. Once I’m off the couch, the party resumes.
The music flow into my ears, but the longer I danced the lower the volume seem to be. It shouldn’t lower. After all, I didn’t touch the volume button.
And as the sound of music decreases, the volume of laughter only increases.
I know what this is - my mind is picking a tune that I’ll enjoy and at the moment, my brain is absorbing the energy from the laughter.
Its pumping into straight into my bloodstream.
Then, I understand.
Why Crystal wants to dance.
Its the environment.
At home, there are memories of Emerson’s existence. I understand that a change of location doesn’t mean we can erase all of the memories. But, here, we aren’t forced to remember the happiness in every corner of the room.
The happiness that was taken away from us.
It’s not the sad memories that get you, but the happy ones.
In the backyard - Emerson is pretending to be a monster who is hunting us.
I could hear his roars.
In the kitchen - Emerson is fake crying while making us food.
I could hear his fake cries.
In the living room - Emerson is watching a comedic movie with us.
I could hear his laughter.
In the bathroom - Emerson is half asleep.
I could hear his tired incoherent grumbles.
In the bedroom - Emerson is...
I stumbled onto Jackson’s arms.
When I try to straighten up, Jackson pull me back into his arms. He circles me then pull me back again. His hot lips reach my ears, “I got you.”