01. Homeward Bound
Perspective: Kriss Darcy
If I’d known the pain and chaos that would happen as a result, I never would have gone back.
I put the final box in the trunk, quickly closing the door so nothing would escape. Brushing dust off of my jeans, I turned to face Megan, my roommate and best friend, who was, of course, not paying the least bit of attention to me.
Currently, she was fervently kissing her boyfriend, Carl, who, in my opinion, had about as much sex appeal as a cold, wet towel. But nonetheless, he’s been dating Megan for nine months now, and she seems to find something appealing about him that I just can’t seem to see.
But what is it?
Fortunately for me, I’ve grown so immune to the passionate make-out sessions that seem to enrapture them that instead of averting my eyes in horror, I rolled them and picked up a small rock to throw at Carl’s unappealing horse-like face before this could escalate any further.
The rock landed smack-dab on Carl’s shoulder. He flinched and glared at me.
“What the hell was that for?” he snapped, breaking away from Megan for a heartbeat to send me a glare.
“Get your hooves off of my best friend,” I shot back, giving him a sweet smile.
He rolled his eyes, apparently deciding to ignore me, and turned his attention back to Megan - or, rather, her lips.
“Come on, Megs!” I shouted, picking up another rocked and tossing it so it bounced off the rim of Carl’s hat, which sat backward on his head. “We need to go!”
Letting out a small laugh, Megan broke away from Carl, her black hair coming free from its ponytail, as she turned and stuck out her tongue at me. “All right!” she called back. “Just one more minute!”
“I’ve given you a minute!” I said, exasperated feeling like a mother telling her child to just get into the damn car so we can get moving. Megan - the child in this scenario - let out a sigh of defeat, gave Carl one last peck on the cheek - gross - and danced her way over to me, her cheeks flushed and her brown eyes bright.
“Do you have to leave?” Carl called glumly after her - he, too, sounded like a whiny child. Megan let out another laugh and turned to go back to him. I reached out grabbed her wrist to prevent her from moving, or else we’d never leave.
She glanced down at my hand circling her wrist and sighed. “I’m sorry,” she said to her boyfriend. “But if I don’t go, then my mom will come down here, and you saw how that went at Easter...”
Megan had not told Mrs. Green - her mother - about Carl, though they’d been dating for quite some time at that point. We didn’t want to go back home for Easter - the manor wasn’t exactly my favorite place in the world - so Megan stayed here with me, in the city. However, her mother had been dying to see her, so she drove down here to surprise her and walked into our apartment unannounced and uninvited, and was greeted by the sight of Megan and Carl naked on the living room sofa - even though I keep telling her to leave that in her bedroom. Long story short, it ended with a huge shouting match that caused Mrs. Green to storm and made me avoid the apartment for the rest of the day.
Though sometimes I wish my mother surprised me like that.
“But do you have to be gone all summer?” Carl had a small glimmer of hope in his voice. One that I knew was about to be crushed - and I fought back a grin in anticipation.
I’m not a bad person. I just don’t like him.
“I’ve already explained this to her,” Megan said patiently. “It’s a long drive, and not one I look forwards to repeating in a few months.”
“We’re not staying that long,” I told her. “Long enough for Mother to get off my back about coming up to visit.”
Yeah, I don’t exactly have the best relationship with my mother.
“But I’ll miss you!” Carl whined. “What the hell am I going to do without you here?”
“I’m sure your hand will do a splendid job without Megan here,” I said. Megan choked on air. Carl glared at me.
“I meant activity-wise,” he said.
“Get some ice cream,” I suggested. “Davey’s is good.”
“Davey’s is on the other side of the city,” Carl reminded me. “And you know I’m broke.”
And who’s fault is that?
“Then get a job,” I said. “I’m sure in this gigantic metropolitan area, there’s bound to be one place that’s hiring.”
All three of us had just finished our freshman year at New York University. I was an English major, - part of the reason why my relationship with my mother was so strained - whereas Megan majored in dance, something she was particularly good at, but I suspected her mother somehow arranged for her to get into the Tisch Department of Dance for ballet. I have no idea what Carl did, nor did I want to know. Our interactions were strictly limited and I was in no way eager for that to change.
“Look,” Megan said. “I’ll text you, FaceTime, call, whatever you want to do. The summer will be over before you know it.”
“We are not staying for the entire summer,” I hissed to her. She waved my comment away.
“Can I at least get a kiss goodbye?” Carl asked hopefully. I resisted the urge to slap my forehead. I had to stop this now, or we’d never leave.
Not that staying in the city would be a bad thing...
But Mother will pester you, and won’t leave you alone...
My hand was still wrapped around Megan’s wrist - I began dragging her over to the car. “We’d better go now, Megs, or I’ll have to explain to your mother why we’re late.”
The idea of Mrs. Green giving Megan even more of a cold shoulder got her moving - though Mrs. Green wasn’t a lovey-dovey mother to begin with.
I was so proud of how well I’d handled this interaction, and it ended without anybody getting hurt - well, except for Carl, what with my throwing rocks at him.
Practically skipping over to the driver’s side of the car, I slid in a gave Megan a wide smile.
“What’s the wonderful quote you’re dying to tell me about going him?” Megan asked me, and I laughed.
“A positive one, or one that actually resembles my feelings?”
“Positive, please,” she said teasingly. “I don’t want to deal with your negativity right now.”
“I went away, dear Agnes, loving you. I stayed away, loving you. I returned home, loving you!”
Megan frowned. “Who said that?”
“Charles Dickens,” I replied instantly. “David Copperfield.”
The ghost of a smile appeared on Megan’s face. “Now, what are your real thoughts on returning home?”
“Back to that old hellhole of a home, where my dear mother will lecture me on not living up to her expectations. It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home.”
“And who said that?”
“That first part? That was me. Though the second part was once again from Charles Dickens, this quote was from Great Expectations.”
“Why do you have so many quotes about home rolling around in your head, Kriss?” Megan asked as I pulled out of the parking lot and she enthusiastically waved goodbye to Carl. I waggled my fingers at him, grinned, and threw up my middle finger as we passed him.
“There’s no place like home,” I responded, somewhat bitterly. Glancing sideways at her, I added, “L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
She laughed again.
Gradually, the city landscape gave way to forest as we drove upstate. The small townhouses in the suburbs turned into larger country homes, the spaces between them growing larger the further North we went. The trees danced in the late spring breeze in a way they didn’t do in Manhattan. The scenery was beautiful, I silently admitted, but, even so, I hated the five-and-a-half hours it took to get from the city to the manor house outside of Plattsburgh - a five-and-a-half-hour drive I didn’t even want to take.
My family was extremely wealthy. Owning one of the most successful theaters in the state does that for you - excluding the ones in the city.
For many years, I absolutely adored being on the stage, looking out over the audience that appeared to resemble a vast ocean, the people turning into waves that ebbed and flowed like the tides, enthusiastic applause morphing in the roar of waves crashing against a rocky cliff face. I felt like I was standing on the edge of the cliff, looking out at the sea, admiring the different colors that swirled within the water, the spray that was kicked up by the waves. My blood would sing with my voice as I stood on that cliff edge, not afraid to get too close to the edge but always aware of that sharp drop nonetheless.
For the longest time, the stage was my home, my refuge, my one great love. There was no greater feeling than having an audience give you a standing ovation when you reached the climax at the end of an aria, or an exhausting solo, depending on whether we performed an opera or a musical. I would go backstage after every performance, and my father would wrap me into his warm embrace and whisper words of congratulations with tears in his eyes.
It was the best feeling in the world.
Until my father died.
It’s been two years since he died, and I can still hardly believe it. One moment he was there, and the next, gone.
He disappeared from his bed in the middle of the night, whispering to my half-asleep mother that he was just going to get a glass of water, but she later told me the way he had said it was so cryptic, like that wasn’t his actual intention. The next morning, he was found in a storage room, hanging from a wooden beam like mistletoe.
It was so unexpected, so sudden, so traumatizing.
My world was shattered.
Ever since that day, I’ve been unable to sing in front of people. It’s too much to bear, knowing that after a performance, he won’t be there. He won’t be cheering me on from the audience, won’t ever encourage me to keep singing even after I make a mistake. It’s too much.
It was Father who discovered my talent, who gave me music lessons for many years, until I outgrew his teachings. He nourished my voice until no note was unreachable. I will never completely neglect his teachings, never, so I still sing, but rarely, and always alone.
Never in front of others.
That is why I enrolled in NYU, with Megan, and ran away to the city. Being home brought up too many memories. My original life plan included going to a really good school for musical theater, but that went out the window after his death, and after a long, unpleasant argument with my mother about throwing away my future, I decided to major in English, packed up my vast collection of novels, and left.
“What do you think your mom will say?” Megan asked me now, reading my thoughts. “She was pretty unhappy when you said you weren’t going back for Easter, and you weren’t exactly pleasant to be around at Christmas.”
I stayed silent for a moment, thinking over my answer.
“She made it very clear to me that she thinks I’m wasting my life,” I replied carefully. “I’m guessing she thinks spending the summer in Plattsburgh will help me to chase away the ghosts or leave the past behind or whatever brilliant plan she thinks she’s concocted.”
“It would be useful to chase away some ghosts,” Megan said thoughtfully, looking at me sideways. “That manor is haunted, you know.”
I laughed. She knows I don’t believe in ghosts. Though, to be fair, strange things did seem to happen around the manor, especially under the cover of night. Things went missing, people disappeared - though always turned up a day or two later - music played throughout the halls when nobody was playing... It was Mrs. Green who always said the house was actually run by the dead and not the living, and we had to abide by their rules or else terrible things would happen. I think she’s superstitious, though. It was all probably the workers pranking one another.
That was how I ruled out the obvious things, though. The weirder things? I couldn’t come up with a decent argument to explain those away.
“If I’m not careful, the ghost might steal my collection of classics,” I joked, smiling as I followed the winding road through the trees. “How much longer?” I didn’t want to divert my attention away from the road by checking the navigation system. I wasn’t exactly the World’s Best Driver.
“A few more hours,” Megan replied, glancing at the dashboard, then clutched at her seatbelt as I went around a sharp curve. “We should be there by evening, providing you don’t kill us first,” out of the corner of my eye, I saw her smile slyly. “Did your mother ever mention in one of her extensive letters who will be visiting in a few days?”
“The letter was short and vague,” I said. “We’re not exactly on the best of terms. All she said was that I was coming up for the summer whether I liked it or not. Along with a threat that she’ll come down here and drag me up kicking and screaming if I don’t comply.”
“I love how close you two are,” Megan murmured. “Kriss, you need to patch things up with her eventually. Your father’s death impacted both of you, and you need to grieve together, not separately.”
I could hear the wisdom in her words, but my mother and I both have different grieving tactics. We did use to be close once, but when Father died, our relationship fell apart. I took refuge in books, using the imagination of gifted authors to distract myself from my own problems, whereas she grew cold and distant, giving off less of a mother vibe and more of a prison warden one.
“So, who’s coming over?” I asked, steering the subject away from my mother. Megan grinned, her brown eyes crinkling at the corners as I signaled and turned onto yet another long, winding road.
“I don’t know if I should tell you,” Megan said. “If your mother didn’t say anything... maybe she wanted it to be a surprise?”
I sighed. “My mother doesn’t do surprises, Megs.”
Megan bit her lip and turned to stare out the window. I smiled softly, wondering how long she’d be able to restrain herself. Megan was a speak first, think later type of person. She didn’t have a filter on her thoughts.
We had driven twenty-three miles, twenty-five minutes past country homes and forest before Megan turned back to me and burst out, “It’s Jase. Jase Charlton.”
Surprise washed over me, and in my shock, I jerked the wheel. The car swerved towards the right side of the road. I slammed on the brakes as the vehicle careened towards the forest. Megan’s breath caught with fear and I felt terror wash over me as I saw the line of trees come closer. I could so clearly see the car crashing into a trunk and killing both of us, the car flying into the ditch and flipping, basically any scenario where you die by a car crash and for some reason, a Mark Twain quote flashed through my head; “The fear of death follows from fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Now, I wasn’t quite ready to die yet, so in that instant, I gathered my thoughts and turned the wheels away from the Forest of Imminent Death, correcting myself and most likely saving both of our lives. I pulled over to the side of the road and put the car in park.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” I said weakly, fighting to calm myself. My heart was pounding and terror was sweeping through me. “You caught me off guard.”
“Sorry,” Megan said, her face pale, eyes wide. My fists were clenched around the wheel and my breathing was heavy.
When my heart rate slowed to somewhat normal, I turned to Megan, who was leaning against the headrest, eyes closed, hands shaking. “We’re almost in Albany,” I said. “Should we stop at a fast-food restaurant to calm down?”
Eyes still closed, Megan nodded. “Just please, don’t kill us on the way there.”
Exactly thirty-four minutes later, we pulled in at Wendy’s - not my favorite place to eat, but it was on the way through Albany and I didn’t want to waste time wandering the streets looking for something better.
Seven minutes after that, we had ordered and received our food - Megan fries and myself a Caesar salad - and slid into the booth with our drinks - Megan a ginger ale and myself a Dr. Pepper.
“Right,” Megan said, taking a sip of her ginger ale, then munched on a fry, swiping a rebellious strand of black hair out of her face. “So, why exactly did you freak out when I told you Jase was visiting?”
I felt a slow blush creep across my face, and I mentally cursed myself.
Why did I freak out? Well...
Jase Charlton was my childhood friend, many years ago. His parents were even wealthier than mine, and they’d been good friends. I remember a small, round-faced boy with sparkling green eyes, a couple of years older than I, running along a beach after the wind stole my hat, his sandy hair tousled.
I remember picnics, with chocolates and pies and sandwiches, and a single white rose.
Then, five years ago, I saw him again, at his mother’s funeral. He had grown up a lot since the last time I’d seen him, so much so that he was hardly recognizable. It wasn’t until I saw his eyes, still a sparkling, brilliant green, that I remembered who he was. He had been very handsome, even though he was still in the gangling teenage stage and his limbs looked too long for his body.
I remember, after the funeral, staying at his manor for the night, as it was too far and too late to drive back home - he lived up by Syracuse, across the state from Plattsburgh. We had sat up, watching reruns of Friends.
He had turned to me and said, “I’m glad you could be here, Kriss.”
I said, “I’m glad to be here as well.”
I realized how that sounded and tried to backtrack, and he laughed, and before I knew it he was kissing me, and I was letting him, and enjoying it. Then the next day, I left, without even getting his number.
So, that’s why I freaked out. Because I haven’t spoken to him since then. It’s been five years, and I still think about him...
I couldn’t remind Megan of any of this, or I’d never hear the end of it, but she was looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer. I took a bite of salad to stall for time, trying to come up with an answer.
“It’s just been a while,” I finally said, which, to be fair, was true. “I wasn’t expecting him to come over at all, never mind for the entire summer.”
Megan laughed, giving me a look that said I don’t believe you in the slightest. “Well, I guess we know how your mother’s planning to keep you upstate for the holidays.”
I frowned, thinking it over. “I don’t know what she thinks will happen,” a new thought suddenly occurred to me. “Besides, he probably doesn’t even remember me.”
“It’s only been four years, Kriss.”
“It’s been five.”
“Five then. I’m sure he remembers you. You’re pretty memorable; just saying,” she said this matter-of-fact-like, then ate another fry. “Besides, you could use a man in your life. And those are my fries,” she added as I stole three fries from her plate.
“I’m fine without men,” I said, sipping my Dr. Pepper to wash down Megan’s fries. “I haven’t really met anyone that makes me want to make out with them excessively in front of others. I’m not very big on PDA.”
“That’s because you have the mindset of a lady from the Victorian Era,” Megan pointed out. “It’s the twenty-first century, Kriss. You’ve just finished your first year of university, and you’ve never been in love once."
“And what’s wrong with that?” I countered, throwing a crouton at her. I hated croutons. “Plenty of people many years elder than I have never been in love.”
“Yes,” Megan agreed, then sighed. “I’m just saying, Kriss, it’s not easy to find somebody who lives and breathes the same time period you do, somebody who actually understands your classic novel quotes.”
“To love is to burn, to be on fire,” I responded. “Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. And I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want to be set on fire.”