The Lighter Side of Life and Death

BOOK: The Lighter Side of Life and Death
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ALSO BY C. K. KELLY MARTIN

I Know It’s Over
One Lonely Degree

For Paddy, who was my friend first

I’m stuck on your heart,
I hang on every word you say.
—“Simply the Best,” Tina Turner                

———

ra
G
e on

one

There are certain
things you know you’ll always remember. Like the way Miracle stares at me when we hear the gunshot. Our eyes lock fast. Hers shine with resignation, pain and the kind of love I can only begin to understand. Suddenly I can’t catch my breath. I’m beyond anything I ever wanted to feel. It’s low and high, intertwined like a double helix, and I mumble to Monica G as I rush offstage, my body racked with dread.

But this isn’t the end. Not yet. I stumble back under the lights, bury my head in Miracle’s chest and try to speak.
Don’t
, she says. She has the last lines. There’s nothing else for me to remember, nothing to do but watch her and let the final moments roll over me. My eyes burn as I look and listen but I don’t fight it. I want to be fearless like Miracle. I want it to hurt so everyone can see.

Then there’s just silence stretched out in front of us in the darkness. I wipe my face as we scramble offstage, and Miracle grabs my sleeve and whispers something I can’t quite hear. I nod anyway,
feeling wounded and amazed. It’s like we’re all incredible—me, Miracle, Monica G, Charlie Kady, Y and Z, Jamie and everyone else who made this happen. We’re even better than last night and the night before that. It makes me wonder just how good we could be if there was a next time.

Everyone claps for us. Not just polite applause but like they really got it. On stage we hold hands and bow, and the feeling just keeps growing. We did good; we did awesome. I love these people next to me, Miracle channeling Meryl Streep and Monica G squeezing my hand and Jamie pulling strings in the background and Y and Z looking deep in love with each other, beaming with pride. I tell you, if you could bottle what I’m feeling right now, you’d be a billionaire. My cells are singing an anthem.

They’re still singing when I stride out to the lobby afterwards. I’m swarmed by people clapping me on the shoulder and hurling praise in my direction. Then it’s Dad’s turn and he grins at Nina like he’s showing me off for the first time. “Mason, you were fabulous,” she says with a smile. “You should be so proud.”

Nina’s the only one of Dad’s girlfriends that I’ve ever spent more than thirty minutes with, and I thank her and shift my focus to Brianna, next to her. Brianna happens to be the only one of us who isn’t smiling. She’s a thirteen-year-old tragedy-in-waiting, that kid. The face of gloom. As far as I can see, it doesn’t have much to do with Dad and Nina’s engagement either. She’s been like that ever since we met.

“Your dad tells me you’re off to celebrate now,” Nina says with a cheerful nod. “Don’t let us keep you.”

I smile wider because Nina’s got my number. Yolanda Solomon’s extremely cool parents have handed over their house until one-thirty. There’s not a second to lose. “Say hi to Burke for
me, okay?” I tell her. Burke is Brianna’s six-and-a-half-year-old brother. He’s so normal that you’d never guess they share DNA.

“Will do,” Nina replies. “I’ll see you at the engagement shower.”

The engagement shower’s doubling as a housewarming party. Everything but the wedding has been pushed forward on account of Nina’s landlord selling their condo—they weren’t supposed to move in with us until the end of September. Not that I mind. I only have a year and a half before I go away to university, and Nina’s okay.

“Do you need any cash?” Dad asks. He was here on opening night too but he wanted to come back with Nina.

“Well, I won’t turn it down.” My jaw aches from smiling so hard. It’s impossible to stop.

Dad pulls out his wallet and hands me forty bucks, and then I’m edging my way through the crowd towards Jamie. “You guys got a ride?” Yolanda asks, tapping me on the shoulder. “Miracle still has a couple spots in the van.”

“We’re cool,” Jamie says, charging towards us. “We’re going with Charlie and Chris.” I never have a clue what’s going on. Jamie always handles the logistics.

“Perfect,” Y says, scanning the lobby for Zoe. “See you at my place.”

“Have you seen Kat?” I ask, turning towards Jamie. Kat Medina was Jamie’s discovery when her family moved to Glenashton from Kitchener three years ago. She’s about five feet tall with this cute little Filipino accent and curves like Jennifer Lopez. I think Jamie meant to keep her for himself, but that didn’t work out; Jamie can never hide anything from me. Besides, Jamie isn’t Kat’s type. Lucky for him, I’m not either, which means we all evolved into close friends instead.

I can’t count the number of nights the three of us have hung out in Kat’s backyard along with her girls, Michelle Suazo and Sondra, barbecuing ribs and eating her mom’s pancit noodles. Used to be that nearly every time a bunch of us would watch slasher movies together, I’d get a late-night call from Kat, scared to shut her eyes. I’d camp out on the phone with her talking about the funniest, most nonthreatening things I could imagine until she was too dog-tired to be freaked out anymore. Those movies don’t spook her as much now but we still do the late-night conversations when one of us can’t sleep.

“I think she already left with Hugo,” Jamie says. Hugo’s this half-Asian, half-black senior from the track team—the flawless-specimen-of-the-human-race type that Kat always falls for. They’ve been together two months.

“Okay,” I tell him. “Let’s roll.”

And we’re off. Charlie cranks M.I.A. on the stereo and in no time we’re pulling into Yolanda’s drive, helping her and Zoe set up the coolers and munchies. “Can someone call for pizza?” Z asks, looking right at Jamie. If you want something done right, he’s your man. He’s always one of the most responsible people in a room, even when he’s partying. Two months ago I saw him steal this guy Anthony’s jacket (with his car keys inside) at the end of a party to stop him from driving drunk. He was scared Anthony would pound him into the carpet, so wouldn’t admit to taking it at the time, but what counts is that he stopped Anthony from climbing behind the wheel. In the end someone else might’ve too, but Jamie’s usually the first one to think of these things.

“I’ll start the pizza fund,” I volunteer, fumbling around for one of Dad’s twenties. People are already sauntering through the front door, grabbing beer, and I point them in the direction of the pizza fund and talk to Charlie Kady and Dustin over the sound of the
music. None of us have come down from our performance high yet and we don’t intend to. The music gets louder and the beer chills and before you know it everybody’s there and it’s happening just like Y and Z planned—the perfect party.

The cast and crew buzz around each other, dancing and laughing and knocking back beer, and no one cares that there’s no drugs because this party isn’t about that; this party’s about us. Kat and her girls, Michelle and Sondra, slide in and out of the scene too, shaking their asses like they’re in an old Destiny’s Child video, and they look really sexy doing it and they know it too but they’re only having fun. And all of a sudden someone gets smart and throws on “Lose My Breath” and then we’re all dancing like Destiny’s Child and it’s funnier than ever but it’s good too. Dustin, the terminally shy techie guy that never says two words to anyone outside the play, sings along and swivels his hips, his hair flying in a hundred directions. He’s Dustin the Diva and I edge closer to him, just to catch some of the fallout vibes. It’s the most fantastic party I’ve ever been to and it hasn’t reached its zenith yet.

I grab another slice of double-cheese pizza from the kitchen because suddenly I’m ravenous and if I wait much longer there won’t be any left. Charlie comes in after me and palms a pepperoni for himself. Jamie’s next and the three of us get to talking so deep that no one can bear to leave the room. Charlie says he doesn’t know what he wants to do now that the play’s finished. Like all of a sudden he won’t know where to focus his energy and he’ll have to join Greenpeace or something and save the polar bears.

Jamie says that’s a good idea and that we should all go save polar bears and that’d be better than any play, and of course he’s right but we have to debate it anyway because I know the play was as important to him as it was to me. Charlie tries to debate too but he hasn’t decided which side he’s on, and somewhere in the middle of
it Miracle appears and announces that she’s leaving and does anyone need a ride?

“But the party’s just getting started,” I say.

“Yeah, well, I’m tired,” Miracle complains, conjuring a yawn. “I guess all those weeks of rehearsals have caught up with me.”

It’s not that at all. Miracle doesn’t know how to cut loose unless she’s in front of an audience. In real life she’s as serious as they come.

“You stopped dancing. That’s the problem.” I grab her hand and guide her back out to where the music’s playing. When I spin to look at her, she’s frowning but she humors me and starts dancing just the same. “You were amazing tonight,” I tell her. “That
look
.” I shake my head in admiration. “I don’t know how you do it.”

Y and Z are dancing next to us and soon Charlie, Christopher Cipolla and Dustin are there too and everyone’s smiling and having such a good time that I think I just might have convinced Miracle to stay. It’s one of those moments that you wish you could slow down and savor, but even now Jamie’s pulling me out of it from across the room, giving me this anxious look, like the sky’s falling. Kat’s standing next to him in her poncho and suede hat, agitated as hell.

I don’t want to stop dancing but of course I do. Jamie’s eyes are pulling me towards them like a tractor beam and I stride across the room and say, “Hey, what’s going on?”

Kat turns her head, leaving the answer to Jamie. “She wants to go,” he replies awkwardly. “Have you seen her purse around?”

First off, why does she want to go? Secondly, all purses look the same to me. I wouldn’t recognize Kat’s if Jamie was balancing it on his head. “Sorry,” I say, shaking my head at them both. “But why are you going now? It’s not even close to one yet.”

One a.m. is Kat’s party curfew. Her older brother, Eric, has a
sworn duty to pick her up then, whatever the variables. No one else even offers to drive her home anymore. We all know the drill.

Kat runs a hand restlessly through her wavy black hair as she glares at me. “Please, just help him find it, Mason.” Her bottom lip starts to quiver and I instinctively reach for her arm.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, blinking quickly. “I’m fine.” She folds her arms under her poncho and looks away.

I toss Jamie a puzzled look.
Could someone please tell me what’s going on here?
“Is her brother coming to get her?” I ask. “Where’s Hugo?”

Kat strides away, five feet of tension heading towards the door. I follow her out into cold April air, Jamie a step behind me. “I’ll find your purse,” Jamie tells her. “Stay here with Mason.” His face is flushed when he turns to look at me, and I watch him head back inside and shut the door behind him.

“I feel like throwing up,” Kat confides, her cheeks in her hands as she sits on the front stoop. “I walked in on Hugo and Monica G in the upstairs bathroom.” She stares dejectedly at the suburban street laid out neatly in front of us, a minivan in every second driveway. “They didn’t even lock the door.”

I drop my head in disgust and make a clucking noise, but Monica G’s behavior doesn’t throw me a bit. Monica and Kat are more acquaintances than friends; I bet it wouldn’t have even occurred to her that she should keep her hands off Hugo. Sometimes it seems almost like she can’t help herself. She was totally sexed up the last time we rehearsed alone at my place. Okay, maybe I didn’t start discouraging her until a little late in the game, but you’d understand if you saw Monica Gregory. She’s the second most popular Monica in my nearly three years at Glenashton Secondary and happens to be even hotter than her predecessor, Monica Trivino. She’s also a
half-decent actress and ultra-skanky. It’s a combo that works for a lot of GS guys, at least in the short term.

BOOK: The Lighter Side of Life and Death
11.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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