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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Nine

Julie was in the living room with Tweezer watching the E! channel when she heard Tom pull into the driveway below. She no longer had butterflies as she looked forward to seeing him, although the possibility of having him and Tweezer together in a place other than work did make her a little skittish. Other than that she had reached that point where there is little besides good will and anticipation for the familiar sense of being together. Tweezer, of course, didn’t share this sense of anticipation, but saw their arrangement as one more unneeded confirmation of the sliminess of men in general and of her boss in particular.

“Is he coming up?” she asked, not even trying to be delicate. Trying not to be delicate, actually.

“Maybe,” said Julie, almost sheepishly.

Having prepared herself to avoid any meeting with Tom outside of work, Tweezer stood up to walk to her back bedroom when they heard the horn honk.

“Guess not,” said Tweezer, a little sarcastically.

Julie could see that Tweezer was content to sit there and watch the paparazzi footage, and to get in a mild dig as well. She could could tell that Tweezer disapproved of the honk, and that didn’t seem fair: to be both relieved that he wasn’t coming to the front door, and to deride him for not coming. As for herself, Julie didn’t care. She could understand Tom not wanting to come to the door, and didn’t think any less of him for honking … Tweezer just had entirely too much attitude, as far as Julie was concerned. It was her date, after all. More than a date, actually, since they were going out into broad daylight. She was sure Tom planned to drag her off to bed as soon as possible, but then Julie found herself thinking the same thing. She was buttoning up her pea coat and trying to think of something by way of goodbye to Tweezer. She could have said something about her own living arrangements, but she could see that Tweezer was chewing on the end of her tongue and Julie decided to clamp down on hers as well. She shimmied the knit cap into place, checking the mirror over the fireplace to make sure that her hair was evenly distributed under the cap. She was happy, and all the silent frowning from Tweezer wasn’t going to change that.

Tweezer knew that too, and in the end she wished her well and settled back into the couch as Julie opened the door to leave.

Tom had pulled his car into the driveway just far enough to get out of the street – in fact the back wheels were still hanging out past the sidewalk and the motor was still running. From her vantage point on the front porch above Julie could see Tom lean over and open the door in a gesture that would have to pass for chivalry. Julie bounded down the stairs and bounded up into the passenger seat, her energy taking Tom by surprise.

“Eager little beaver, aren’t you?”

“Right!” she said, and tossed a little black bag in the back before settling into her seat.

“What can you fit in there?”

Julie tilted her head a little further, smiling as if it were a salacious secret. “So where are we going?” she asked

“I was thinking the usual,” said Tom.

“What about a field trip?” asked Julie.

“Like what?”

“How bout the beach?”

“It’s the middle of Februrary,” protested Tom.

“Nobody’ll be there. It could be fun. We’ll pick up some food along the way.”

“And maybe some beer,” said Tom. His dates were always well warmed with alcohol, and the mere thought of talking without a drink in his hand was frightening. Since this was the first time starting out in daylight together, it made sense to Tom to spend as much of it as possible in transit. Frequent changes of scenery could help make things a little more comfortable – at least a little less uncomfortable.

It took maybe twenty minutes to drive up north of the city to the shoreline Julie had in mind. In fact there were people there, but for Tom this was actually a small comfort. He needed other people to be doing whatever he was doing so that he wouldn’t feel eccentric. It was ridiculous but nevertheless true that he thought walking on the beach in the middle of winter was a strange thing to do.

They stopped off at a 7-11 and picked up sandwiches, some chips, and a couple of tall ones.

Julie shared none of these thoughts and wouldn’t have been able to guess that anyone could feel that way, much less anyone who seemed so completely an adult. It was windy and she started out by running down to the water with her arms stretched out, imitating an airplane beginning some kind of pitch and roll maneuver. Tom wondered that even after their aborted photography session she was still intent on creating a romantic moment, a thought or intention that struck him as both funny and sad at the same time. He realized he no longer had the energy. ‘Have I ever?’ he asked himself, and tried to muster the energy for being funny. Julie did a couple of figure eights before coasting back in beside him. He recognized a bit of a goofy streak that came from Eric, however much she might look like her mother.

Now she had her fist to her mouth, saying “Traffic Control, Traffic Control . . . is it safe to come in?”

He muttered a “Yeah” and then realized that he’d have to try a little harder to keep up the spirit of the game. The plastic 7-11 bag with sandwiches and chips was fluttering noisily at his side, and he brought it out in front of him and said, “Care for the in-flight meal?” She laughed and they walked up from the water to find a log a little way out of the wind.

They ate their sandwiches while the sand blew in front of them and a seagull looked on enviously from fifteen feet away. When half his sandwich fell on the ground, Tom picked up a sandy piece of bread and threw it towards the bird, which snatched it up without a word of thanks.

“No! You shouldn’t,” said Julie. “It turns them into scavengers.”

“They’re already scavengers, aren’t they?”

“Maybe, but natural scavengers. If everybody feeds them they’ll start hanging around dumpsters and bugging people on the beach for food.”

“This guy was already making me feel guilty.”

“Because somebody fed him. And next time he’s going to be just that much more aggressive. Instead of making someone feel guilty, he’ll just try to grab the food for himself.”

“I see. As if I’m just another seagull, fighting for my own food.”

“Exactly,” said Julie, and then added, “but a very handsome scavenger.”

They both laughed a little and held hands. He certainly didn’t mind being called handsome. The Romantic Moment wasn’t so bad, although Tom carefully considered how much more Julie had invested in their mutual happiness than he did. This worried him, because it made him feel even more guilty about the unseriousness with which he pursued their relationship. If he were really honest with himself, he would have realized that he actually had something invested in her unhappiness, at least as evident in the photography session as his nonchalance here at the beach. All his experience with women and the little time he’d spent in the pornography business had cost him more than he knew, and while he was willing to go along with Julie’s romantic inclinations, it was with the sure knowledge that it would only lead to greater disillusionment. He continued only because he couldn’t help himself. What he found surprising was that even at 21 she seemed less bothered by potential complications than he did. That he was married? Not her problem. That he was her boss? Not her problem. That he’d pursued her mother even before she was born? Not her problem, but only because she didn’t know about that part of the story. At this point he was tempted to try that out on her as well. It was actually Julie that brought up her parents.

“My parents used to take me down here all the time. My dad would fly kites.”

“Sounds nice enough.”

“Yeah, and now we live up on the bluff.” She nodded over her shoulder at a hill that was partly screened by a line of trees. “Or they do. Or they used to. Now it’s hard to say exactly what is going on.”

“Really?” Tom showed signs of interest.

“Yeah. They’re away right now. Mom’s down in LA, trying to get dad to reconcile. I’ve tried telling her that it just isn’t going to happen, but she won’t listen.”

“That’s parents for you . . .”

“Yeah.” She continued balling up the saran wrap, failing to register the irony.

“So your dad’s in LA?” he asked, already imagining a connection of some kind involving a big contract with a movie studio. Maybe this would all work out even better than he’d hoped. That was crazy, he realized. Even just to think it.

“His insurance company moved him down there. Actually, I think he had his company move him down there to make the separation easier. And I think he already has a girlfriend.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. She’s probably my age.”

“Wow. That’d be weird.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Nah . . .”

They both sat there smiling, Julie this time enjoying the irony of it all. It was all just so amusing that it made her laughed, and so she embraced him all the tighter, and then he laughed too. After letting go, she stood up as if to leave.

“Say, your rig is big enough for a chair, isn’t it?”

“Depends on the chair, I guess, but probably.”

“I’ve been meaning to get a chair out of my parent’s place and into my new room. It’s about yay big . . .” She held out her arms a little wider than her shoulders to illustrate, leaning back as if she were already carrying the chair.

“Yeah, that’d fit. But your parent’s house? You’re sure your Mom’s not home?” He felt like he was fifteen again.

“Positive. She won’t be back until tomorrow night.”

“But if it doesn’t work out, wouldn’t she come straight back home?”

“Nah. She’s staying with friends. I don’t think she’s particularly anxious to come back, actually, with me now moved out and all. And it’s weird, but Dad is in LA, so she wants to be there anyway, even if it’s not with him. Makes her feel like she’s doing something, or that she doesn’t have to let go.”

Tom shrugged. “Okay then. Let’s go get the chair.”

Julie’s parent’s home was in a cul-de-sac at the end of a road that wended it’s way past a number of other cul-de-sacs spread out across the landscape like mushrooms. A squirrel bounded out of a small grove just on a straight section of road, and Julie, horrified, clenched her entire body as Tom swerved out of his way just to chase the poor creature down.

“What are you doing?” she yelled out, letting down her shoulders. The squirrel darted off at an odd angle, leaving the asphalt about twice as fast as he’d first stepped onto it.

“Heh heh heh . . . just giving the little guy some excitement. It wasn’t even close.”

“Okay, that was sick.”

“Oh c’mon. I knew I couldn’t hit him.”

“Why don’t we ask the squirrel how he feels?”

“He’s up a tall tree by now. And besides, dogs run down squirrels all the time. It’s natural.”

“So, you’re a dog now?”

Tom realized he’d made a mistake – maybe not so much by the fun with squirrel as by the fun with the squirrel while Julie was in the car. He had to make amends and knew it.

“Yeah, you’re right. What was I thinking?”

He drove the rest of the way in silence; Julie gave directions for a few more turns and soon they were parked in the driveway of a minor mansion.

He thought of the opening shot of Poltergeist as he drove up the hill. The house itself was something of a monster, resting behind a four-foot wall made up of bluish boulders in the front and the screen of trees he’d seen from the beach in the back. The yard was big enough for a couple of badminton sets, although from Julie’s description of the home life there probably hadn’t been anything of the kind for quite some time. The house seemed to be from late seventies or early eighties, he thought, and wondered how such a large section of real estate had gone undeveloped until then. Quite a number of the other houses looked older, so maybe it was a second house on the same lot. Suburban homes had always given him the creeps, and he felt something like a spy while visiting. After letting him in through the door, Julie made a quick turn and punched in the code for the gently beeping burglar alarm.

Right off the entranceway was the kitchen, where Julie led him, hand in hand, for a drink. Apparently the incident with the squirrel had been forgotten, or at least forgiven. “Juice would be fine,” he said, and she poured Cran-Rasberry into a couple of glasses as they leaned up against the island in the middle of the room.

“When I first moved out a couple of weeks ago I made a point of not coming back here for food or laundry or anything else. Then I started coming back when I knew Mom would be out, mooching as much food as I could. I think Mom appreciates it, actually.”

Tom looked into the through the dining area at the living room beyond. Julie noticed and proclaimed that a tour would be leaving in just a minute, and Tom was reminded of her pretending to be a pilot (airplane and pilot, actually) earlier on the beach. He realized again how much more he liked her than he’d liked her mother.

A feeling of emptiness pervaded the house. Was it because of Julie’s comments earlier, or did the house really look abandoned? It was clean, and it was orderly, and it just didn’t look like anybody lived there. On the floor of the living room he saw huge rectangle of light that looked like the only thing that ever crossed the carpet. The house could have been up for sale, so much was it kept as if on display. Despite the family troubles that Julie had mentioned, it seemed to be a house without history.

“So are they thinking about selling it?” he asked.

“No. I don’t think they want to go there yet. Gutless, both of them.”

Julie showed him the solarium off to the side of the living room, which she explained was also functioned as a studio for sculpture and pottery. A set of shelves held various paints and tools, and in the middle of the room was a large potter’s wheel with a pair of short stools next to it.

There were photographs on display throughout the house. Elizabeth was still pretty, and seemed to have aged well, but Tom was amazed at the difference he saw in Eric. From one picture taken on vacation somewhere, he could tell that his former roommate had filled out considerably. It certainly didn’t look like he was spending much time on the tennis court. Outside of all the pictures on side tables and the wall going up the stairs, there wasn’t much evidence that Julie had lived there at all. Her chronological ascent was on display right there, from infancy to the ripe old age of twenty. There wasn’t room for any more pictures at the top of the stairs – a nice display of the idea that there was nowhere left for her to go. He could see why she’d been anxious to leave. They lingered at a window looking out over the Sound for a minute. The yard appeared to be rather strategically arranged, so that the trees blocked the line of sight from below on one side while most of their view of the water remained.

“Quite a view,” commented Tom.

“You can see the beach if you go to the edge of the cliff,” she said in answer to his question. “And from upstairs.”

She bounced herself off the wall as they climbed up the second set of stairs, and by the time they were in the hallway on the second floor they were bouncing off each other. He still found himself adjusting to the teenage flirtation, which he found a little disarming at first and then a little enticing – not unlike her playacting. In fact it was playacting, and he wondered if it was a trait that she would drop over time. Probably not; people seldom lose their little insecurities, especially concerning romance and sex, but rather more skillfully employ the strategies they need to work around them. It was interesting to see how fast she had turned her own insecurities into a kind of game, and he wondered where she had learned how. It wasn’t a trait he’d ever noticed in her mother, way back when.

While crowded together in the doorframe, she pointed out her own room and the chair in the corner. He was a little disappointed that she didn’t invite him inside, but after a quick look she turned out the light and continued the tour. A bathroom, a linen closet and a study where her father had evidently worked until he’d moved down to Los Angeles. There was a drafting table up against the far wall.

“Just like Mike Brady,” he said.

“Who?” she asked.

A guest room, another closet, and then across the hall a tiny room for a sewing machine, out of which spilled the hem of a curtain made, or being made, out of burlap.

“Mom’s right in the middle of a big project right now. Or was, until she went south. In every sense of the word.”

“Yeah?”

“Uh-huh.”

Towards the end of the hallway was the master bedroom. This room she walked into all the way. He noticed that the blinds were up and the natural light was sufficient with the lights out, giving the room the mood of a still life painting. Of course that was pretty much the whole house, except perhaps the solarium. He followed her in, somewhat tentatively, and noticed an actual still life hanging on the wall: a watercolor showing a patio table with bread, cheese and a bottle of red wine half emptied. He looked from the painting to the window and then back to the painting again, and then had the eerie feeling that time really was standing still. He had to say something to break the bubble in which he suddenly felt trapped.

“Nice digs,” he said.

“Yeah, too bad they’re never here now.”

“I’m gonna use the bathroom real quick,” she added.

“Yeah. . .” he said, but she’d already disappeared.

While listening to her on the other side of the door, he leaned up against the long, low dresser opposite the bed, crossing his arms and studying the carpet and the situation at hand. Here he was with the daughter of Elizabeth in Elizabeth’s bedroom. It had all been good fun so far, but wasn’t this pushing the whole mother/daughter thing a little too far? Despite all that had happened already, it was at this point that everything was beginning to seem weird. His imagination reeled. Should he leave the room, even now, and let Julie find him later? Or should he stay put? He was, strangely enough, too wound up to move – trapped in that bubble again. When Julie came out of the bathroom and leaned up against the dresser next to him, he felt his stomach float up towards his chest, and held it by squeezing the arms across his chest.

“So what now?” she asked, bouncing her hip against his.

“Well I don’t know,” he answered, bouncing back.

“Still early,” she said, bouncing a little harder.

“What about that chair?” he asked, smiling and bouncing back just as hard.

“What about that bed?” she asked, nodding towards it and then practically shoving him off the end of the dresser, laughing.

“That bed?” he asked, straightening himself up from the crouch he’d fallen into, now laughing as well. He put up his hands in a kind of mock defense.

“Yeah, that one,” she said; now pushing him towards it with her own upturned hands against his chest.

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