Lost again, am I lost again?
Not a Coincidence
She walked down the hallway to the telephone. She dialed a number, and let it ring several times. Just when she felt the inevitability of the answering machine picking up, someone answered with an angelic Hello?
Taken off guard, Louise paused for a split second but finally let out: Hi, Mrs. Benjamin. Its Louise. Is Pandora home?
Hi Louise. Yeah, shes watching TV. And the gangs all here. Hold on a sec. She put the receiver down with an ever-so-slight click. After five years, Louise still could not come to call Pandoras mother Laura, as Mrs. Benjamin constantly encouraged her to. Sometime last year, Mrs. Benjamin gave up trying to persuade Louise and instead admired her polite formality. Over the phone, Louise could hear a chaotic racket that she discerned to be the excited chatter of a handful of teenagers.
Someone picked the phone up off of the counter. Hello?
Louise! Jeez, where the hell you been sugar?
Nowhere, really. Whats up?
Well, me, Amanda, and Jed are sitting around doing nothing right now, but were entertaining the idea of maybe going to Old Man Reds later. Cmon over. It felt good when Pandora told her to join them. It felt good to have her company wanted.
Okay, she replied without hesitation. Ill be right over. Bye.
Ciao babe! chimed Pandora.
Louise hung up the phone. She walked back to her room and shut the door. She opened up her closet and pulled out a pair of dark blue jeans and a grey shirt. She threw them on, checked herself in the mirror, and headed out.
Hearing her coming down the stairs, Socrates trotted over to meet her when she reached the bottom with a leash in his mouth. Awaiting her arrival, he looked up at her with uncontrollable anticipation: his tail wagged fiercely.
No, silly. Not now, Louise said to her friend that shed known since she was ten. You already got a walk today. She got to the bottom step, which was in the foyer of her house, right by the front door. She reached down and ran her hand along the golden retrievers spine. When she got to Socrates tail, she gave it a playful tug. Mom, Dad. Im going over to Pandoras. Ill be back later.
Her mother replied from the living room. Okay, dear. Have fun. Her father offered a loving Bye, and Louise proceeded to open the door. By this time, Socrates had rolled over on his back, hoping Louise would stay and scratch his tummy. She leaned down, pat his chest a few times and softly commanded, Okay dog, out of my way. She stepped over him in order to get to the door, and then used the door to push him gently out of the way so she could open it enough to get out. Socrates didnt mind that she was leaving without giving him at least a little attention; he loved her too much.
She quietly closed the front door. Through it she could hear Socrates scramble to his feet, scurry along the hardwood floor into the living room, and jump onto the couch where her parents were seated. The last act was marked by a pronounced shout of surprise from both of her parents.
Pandora lived just three blocks away, so Louise took a deep breath of the fresh late summer air and began forth on her little jaunt. With each breath, the air cleansed her lungs, as well as her soul. The sky was clear, and a nearly-full moon lit up the surrounding houses and trees with a soft, silky haze. In the distance, she could see fog creeping over the coastal hills. Cricket chirps filled the air, reminding her that she would never be alone in this world. Nights like these put her at ease, like nothing else could. Nights like these, they reminded her of William.
Her shoes tapped lightly on the pavement. Louise found herself at Pandoras in a matter of minutes. Out of habit, went around to the side of the house and entered through the kitchen door. Hi Sammy! she said to the green-feathered, grey-headed parrot who resided in a large cage by the kitchen table. He squawked with joy at the sight of her. She opened up the cage and stuck her right hand inside. He climbed upon her forefinger, and rubbed his beak on her hand as a sign of affection. She raised her hand so that the two were eye-to-eye. How have you been? Have you been a good little boy? Have you been eating? You look skinnier. She spoke to him in the tone of voice that one talks to a seven-month-old baby. She put Sammy on her shoulder, and went to the living room.
She entered, finding Jed and Amanda slouched on the sofa and Pandora lying on the floor. Jeopardy was on the television, except the volume was turned all the way down.
Hey guys, Louise said with a heavy heart. These were the best friends shed ever known, and shed barely spoken to them over the past few months.
Louise! Pandora got up from her spot on the floor and gave Louise a delicate hug, being careful of the bird perched on her shoulder. This prompted Amanda to get from the sofa, where Jed remained. She joined in the hugging ceremony and added, Louise, we missed you so much! The three stood, embracing, for a few more seconds, and then dispersed. Pandora sat back down on the floor, and Amanda reclaimed her spot on the sofa.
Hey Jeremiah. Louise gently slapped his knee to one side. Move over, she added with a smile. He did so, and in the process, pressed Amanda against the left arm of the sofa.
Howdy, stranger, Jed responded. Long time no see. How you doin, kiddo?
This dog has seen better days, Louise sighed. She rested her head on Jeds shoulder.
Sorry to hear about you and Billy, Jed said softly.
Yeah... Louise said distantly. She gazed into the television, her mind drifting further and further away from the Benjamin living room. The smell outside, the temperature of the air, they all reminded her of William. She thought back to the way theyd jog together as the sun fell below the horizon, just before dinner. She remembered sitting in his backyard, looking over to the coastal range and the stars above them, drinking tap water and eating chocolate chip ice cream. Shed never had so much fun with one single person in her life. And now that was gone.
Louise was snapped out of her semi-trance when Amanda suddenly exploded: What is South Carolina, bee-atch!
A sudden feeling of restlessness came over Louise that contradicted her forlorn and somber mood. Louise scanned the living room, looking at the new family portrait of the Benjamins that hung next to the window on the right side of the room. Another addition caught Louises eye. There was a new photo album on the bookshelf to the right of the television. The Benjamins had volumes and volumes of photo albums. Louise always loved flipping through them. Those photo albums practically traced the Benjamin family timeline through the century. There were delicate, crumbling black-and-white baby pictures of Pandoras great grandparents. There were photo albums full of Mr. Benjamin growing up in Ohio. Louise particularly loved looking through all of the albums containing baby pictures of Pandora. There was a serenity one could see in the eyes of that two-month-old that was still clearly visible in the seventeen-year-old today.
Louise picked herself up off of the couch and went to the bookshelf. She reached up to the album and commented, This is new.
Pandora, outstretched on the floor and propping her head up on her right hand, said, Yeah, I just finished it this past week. Most of those pictures were lying around in a shoebox under my bed. Over the years, Louise had learned to fear that which laid beneath Pandoras bed. One time, a horrible smell had overwhelmed Pandoras room. Pandora didnt really mind (or possibly even notice) the odor, but it completely disgusted Louise. Louise traced the smell to the corner of the room where the bed was. She got down on her stomach to try and fish out whatever culprit was fouling the air. Louise pulled out old homework assignments, a year-old issue of Seventeen, a sandal Pandora had been looking for, and three crumpled lunch bags, one of which contained what was left of a crushed rotten banana.
Louise took the album off of the shelf and sat back down on the couch. She opened it up, and immediately recognized the first picture. It was of her and Pandora in Carmel a year ago. It seemed like just yesterday theyd been bored on that Wednesday morning so theyd jumped in Pandoras car and took off for the day. They were on the beach, the blue ocean behind them and the blue sky above. Pandora glittered in the sunlight like a Hollywood starlet, and Louise smiled unassumingly like a shy kitten. Louise smiled as she thought back to all the fun theyd had that day.
She turned the pages, looking at all the collages Pandora had made. Louise absolutely hated how Pandora took photographs, cut out the people, and threw away the extraneous bits. Louise always felt that pictures should be left just the way they were developed. She recognized parts of pictures from Jeds 16th birthday, the time they painted Pandoras room purple, and the time Amanda met Hal Hartley.
Then Louise noticed a snippet of a picture in the corner of the page: it was her, getting a piggy-back ride from William. It was during lunch at school around December. It was raining, and neither of them had a raincoat on. They got drenched as they played outside. Immediately after the shot was taken, William dropped her in an enormous puddle in the lawn of the courtyard. Needless to say, Ms. Winfield, their fifth period English teacher, was not too pleased when they both tracked thick mud into the classroom. This brought back a flood of memories of William, like how on the warm June nights theyd jump on 101 and drive to San Jose just to kill time. She remembered how they picked up a couple of hitchhiking fourteen-year-old girls and drove them home on one of those excursions. Louise felt a tear trickle down the side of her nose, and soon she was convulsing with sobs. Everyone noticed at once, and they all converged on Louise simultaneously in a group hug.
Cmon sugar, its alright, Pandora said in a soft voice, like a mother to a child who just scraped their knee. Shhhhhh, baby. She ran her fingers through Louises shoulder-length brown hair.
Louise composed herself a little, and as the hug disbanded, wiped the tears off of her face. Im sorry guys, she squeaked.
Its okay, Jeremiah said. Cmon - youre a tough girl. Chin up. Jed always had an amazing ability at reassuring Louise of her own strength.
With her left hand, Louise wiped her face that glimmered from the tears. With her right hand she offered a forefinger for Sammy to climb onto so she could bring him back to his cage. But as he climbed on, he left a little souvenir to remember him by on Louises shirt.
Aww, man -- she said, ready to burst back into tears.
Dont worry about it, babe, Pandora said assuringly, Lets go upstairs and get you cleaned up. Pandora offered one of her forefingers to Sammy, who graciously accepted his return to the cage. Louise then followed her upstairs to Padoras room.
Pandora rummaged through her closet while Louise sat on the bed and removed the stained shirt. So, sugar, how ya holdin up? I havent been able to get ahold of you lately, Pandora said.
Weak from the events in the living room, Louise responded, I guess Im okay.
Pandora turned away from the closet and towards Louise, holding her hands behind her back. I think I have something thats gonna cheer you up.
Pandora put a plastic, clown-like smile on her face as she presented her finding to Louise. It was a worn-out red shirt with a picture of Smurfette on the chest. Louise couldnt help but smile at the sight of the shirt, because it was one of the many items over the years that shed lent to Pandora which never made it back to its owner. And it was traits like this one that Louise loved so much about Pandora. Pandora tossed the shirt to Louise and she put it on. Pandora then grabbed the stained shirt, brought it to the bathroom, and filled the sink with water.
She raised her voice to speak over the sound of the faucet. Ya know what? Tonight something goods gonna happen to you. The bird crapped on you. Louise cracked a slight smile at the long-standing superstition Pandora had.
Not having any detergent within arms reach, Pandora dispensed some hand soap from a bottle and rubbed it into the spot where Sammy had bombed the shirt. Pandora turned off the water and put the shirt in the filled sink. Well just let this soak for awhile, she said to herself.
Pandora re-entered her room to find Louise laying flat on the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. Pandora kneeled on the floor and with elbows on the Strawberry Shortcake comforter, rested her chin on her interlocked fingers, facing Louise. Whatcha thinking about? she inquired.
I miss him. I miss him a lot. I know this sounds cheesy, but its like Im --, she let out a sigh, Like Im empty inside.
Pandora lifted her head off of her hands. With her palm she smoothed out Louises scalp. The only consolation she could come up with was Im so sorry, babe, but wanting to say more.
The two remained there motionless, sharing a pain that was too heavy a load for only one of them to carry.
Cmon, Pandora whispered. Lets get something
to make you feel better.