Where Your Story Ends, Chapters Five-Seven
Amazingly, here is the next 3 chapters! Please critique mercilessly.
The next day was beautiful. The sky was clear and the air was warm. It was starting to feel like summer was coming again.
But Genie stayed in bed, held Tobias tight, insisted to her mother she just didn’t feel well, and tried to fall asleep. She’d barely slept a half hour that night, and was sure she would doze into the sweet relief of sleep. The chirping of birds and the brightness of the day would have prevented that, even if her mind hadn’t been swirling restlessly with thoughts and fears and assumptions.
Cassandra kept coming in, trying to pinpoint her daughter’s ailment. As there was no ailment, save fear, plaguing Genie, her mother was left to worry about what could be wrong with her. Genie was forced to eat a lot of soup and popsicles, as the best guess Cassandra could make was that her pour daughter had some strain of the flu.
“Genie, did something happen yesterday?” Cassandra asked as she brought in a mug of tea. “Did someone hurt you? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Genie replied. “It’s not important. I’m just…I don’t feel well. I’ll be fine,” Someday, I hope.
Cassandra sighed, but gave Genie the mug of tea and left. “If you say so, Genie,” she murmured. Her head popped back into the room. “Maybe you should take a bath! A nice, long, soak might help,”
Genie could think of anything else to do, so she got up and ran herself a steaming bubble bath, with far more bubbles than would be enjoyable, as she was so groggy and distracted, she added half the bottle of bubble mix. And she got in the tub without bothering to take of her pajamas, feeling that would be unnecessary anyway. It was just shorts and a tank top.
This odd decision did not put her mother’s mind at ease, at all.
So Genie lay in the tub, buried in bubbles, feeling a bit like Lee Anne Rimes in the Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way music video. She’d never understood the distraught woman’s need to sit in an overflowing tub in her slip until just now. It was sheer depression and anxiety. Why bother even getting undressed? May as well get the clothes clean, too.
These thoughts were only half-realized in Genie’s mind. She was distracted by much, much bigger ones. As much as she tried to avoid it, she finally was tired enough to let her guard down, and her mind began pondering what finishing Mal’s story would be like.
Obviously, I could do some irreparable damage. I could end his life in an instant, or make it drag out unnaturally, without even meaning to. I could write something he wouldn’t like. He could end up furious with me and stuck with some horrible situation that would be all my fault. I could cause something even worse to happen than already has. I just can’t do it!
Or…you could do a lot of good. You could bring Mal a lot of peace. He could live naturally for thirty more years, no matter what you write. You could do the kindest, most wonderful thing you’ll ever have a chance to do in your life.
The odds are too bad! No gambler would even take those odds! I won’t…and it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t be able to anyway. I’d get stuck. I’d be too afraid of those two little words: The End, to do it. Endings are so hard. Ending Mal’s story would be worse than any ending in the world! Besides…what if he wants to die and he just isn’t telling me the truth…that he’ll die as soon as the story is finished!?
Mal wouldn’t do that, and you know it.
I don’t know anything at this point. Mal killed his own daughter. He’s not the person I thought he was.
He’s the person that he is. You aren’t who you were fifteen years ago, Genie. Who’s to say Mal is? And aren’t you the one who believes in dramatic life changes and second chances?
That’s…that’s irrelevant. I never killed anybody.
You’re scared, aren’t you?
But she was. She was scared. Not of Mal. She was just using that as an excuse for herself. She did believe, with all her heart, that Mal had changed. He had morally moved on from his past…but not emotionally. She was afraid that if she wrote the end of Mal’s story, he would die. And she refused to let that happen.
A slow, awful month somehow slipped by. It was both a blur and an unending haze, and both Mal and Genie were going into a steady decline.
Mal didn’t know what to do with himself. He’d been so sure Genie would help him. Why? That seemed terribly selfish. The whole stupid thing seemed selfish. He’d been selfish. He’d always been selfish.
Though…if he was honest with himself, he hadn’t asked Genie to write the ending out of selfishness. He’d asked her out of desperation and fear. Desperation not to make another mistake. Fear that he would make a mistake, and hurt someone. Again.
He’d told himself it was Genie’s choice, but he honestly hadn’t even imagined her saying no.
Sheer sadness overwhelmed Mal. He had no idea what to do.
So he stayed in bed most of the day, only getting up every once in a while, making something big and simple to eat, like soup, so he wouldn’t have to think about anything. Somehow, getting lost in nothingness dulled the pain. He drew the curtains and turned off the radio, even took the batteries out of the clock. Darkness and silence swallowed him. He knew he should probably do something…but that was probably why he chose to do nothing instead.
It wasn’t until Genie left that day that he realized just how tired he was. Life, especially a life as full of flares and fouls as his, had left him exhausted.
“I honestly believe, at this point,” he told Emily, stroking her soft gray ears. “That hope is the only thing that keeps people alive. I don’t know where that leaves me, Emy, dear. Because I don’t have any hope left.”
And what will happen if I don’t find some way to finish my story? What then?
Hope curled up into a small ball, slowly dying in a corner, abandoned and sad.
Emily purred reassuringly, as unhelpful as the next cat, but she had the decency to curl up on Mal’s chest and let him take what small comfort he could from her warmth and her peace.
Cassandra did not hate her daughter. Never. But after a while, she ruled out illness as an explanation for Genie’s mood. She did everything short of actually punishing Genie to try and snap her out of it.
But, after a month, Cassandra gave up and took to ignoring Genie’s funk, until she had pretty much gotten used to it. The only thing that still concerned her from time to time was that Genie stopped going to see Mal entirely. She was worried, but not enough to investigate. Genie had always been prone to drama. Maybe this was just a bad case of teen-itis, as Henry suspected.
No matter how long it lasted, though, Genie herself couldn’t get used to it. It’s difficult for a reasonably cheerful person to be thrown headlong into the pits of despair and the throes of depression. Genie felt she was slowly going crazy, spending more time in bed, in the bathtub, and in the refrigerator. Food was only mildly comforting, but Cassandra had refused to let Genie spend longer than two hours in the tub on account of the ridiculously high water heating bill it had produced. So Genie found solace in pudding cups and Fritos. Carrots had no cheering effect. Neither did milk. Only chocolate milk would do.
A month of poor eating habits and low activity can make anyone feel nauseous with themselves. If misery and anxiety wasn’t enough, now Genie was suffering from couch potato rebellion. Her body wanted to stop feeling like a greasy lump, but she fought it tooth and nail. Activity and wholesome food had become as forbidden as going to see Mal…or even thinking about Mal. It was hard, but Genie had convinced herself it was easier that way.
What Genie failed to realize, was that her heart was in agony. She mistook the wrenching ache for simple misery (or perhaps her arteries slowly clogging up from junk food), when really, her heart was crying out in a piteous, misunderstood voice, that it missed Mal.
All the good times they’d shared tried to come back to her, but she shoved them away. The farther she distanced herself from Mal, his friendship, and his terrifying request, the farther she got from herself. If Cassandra hadn’t been so fed up with her, she may have noticed her daughter was no longer herself. She wasn’t really anyone, anymore. She was a ghost, running away from something that wasn’t even moving.
Mal, of course, realized how badly he missed Genie, and he did let those memories wash back over him like a flash flood, somehow comforting, and also somehow very cold and hard and distant.
There was, of course, that glorious day when he met Genie, weeping and covered in ice cream. She’d been so young and small. They loved each other at once.
He remembered how many tea parties they’d had in his garden, and how many games of checkers and go-fish and chutes and ladders. Genie had gone through a very adorable ‘tomboy’ stage, and Mal had a little too much fun catching frogs and worms with her. They would fish, and dance, and watch birds. Mal remembered Genie going on her first date, insisting her little boyfriend, a handsome little blonde named Patrick, come and meet him. Patrick had been decidedly terrified of Mal, and didn’t go out with Genie for much longer, but Genie said she didn’t care. She would only marry someone who loved Mal as much as she did.
After her father left for Iraq when she was twelve, she’d kind of become Mal’s daughter. Taking no credit away from Cassandra, he had played a key role in building Genie up into the woman she had become. Mal’s eyes filled with tears, recalling what a tiny rosebud Genie had started out as. How she’d grown over the years. She’d bloomed and blossomed into a glorious rose, radiant and kind.
Because Mal knew Genie so well, he knew why she was hiding from him.
She was afraid.
Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer. He called the Lott’s house at 7:30 p.m., when he knew Cassandra would be out working her late shift at the hospital and Genie would be home alone, unlikely to pick up the phone, but very likely to at least listen to the message.
“Genie? It’s Mal. I’m not calling about writing, the Pen, or anything. I just…I just want to tell you I miss you. I know you’re scared. I’m scared, too. But it’s ok. I wish you would come back and visit. I just want to talk. I’ll write the ending myself, somehow. I can’t do this without you, Genie, no matter what happens. I know I need you. Please, just call me back. I miss the sound of your voice. Emily misses you, too,”
Genie deleted the message and went to her bed to cry.
Another week passed, the worst one yet.
Two very big, awful, important things happened. The first was that Mal couldn’t get the Pen to work. He couldn’t even get it to appear. Something was wrong. Panic seized him, and meanwhile, Genie’s message was clear. He had obviously ruined their friendship, and she refused to help him. He didn’t blame her. He blamed himself.
The second was that Genie finally reached a state where Cassandra called a psychiatrist. She had deteriorated to the point where it was clear that she was suffering from much worse than a depressed phase.
All the psychiatrist could tell Cassandra was that Genie seemed to be in a state of very serious withdrawal.
“Genie,” Cassandra said worriedly that night over a supper of spaghetti and canned beets. “Something is wrong with you. And I know its Mal. What happened?”
“Nothing,” Genie replied sullenly, pushing her food around with her fork.
“Eugenia Carlotta Lott, you’re lying. You have been going to Mal’s almost every day for fifteen years, and now you haven’t even talked about him in over a month. What happened?”
Genie sighed heavily. “We…had a fight. A disagreement. I…I never want to see him again,”
Cassandra stared at her daughter. “Are you serious?”
Genie nodded, but she felt so sick, she knew she was lying. She did want to see Mal again.
No I don’t! She ordered to herself, and her inner feelings fell silent.
Cassandra sighed, getting up and starting to clear the table. “Fine, Genie. Fine. But unless your ‘disagreement’ was big enough to start World War III, you are being stupid. Mal is your best friend. No ‘disagreement’ ends that kind of friendship that suddenly!”
“He asked me to write something,” Genie mumbled. “Something…I had to refuse,”
Cassandra looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“He just asked me to write something. And…I couldn’t,”
Cassandra was dubious. “And that was enough to end a friendship of fifteen years?”
“You know what,” Genie snapped, pushing away from the table. “You just don’t get it!”
“You’re right. I don’t. Hopefully someday you’ll be able to act like a grown woman and explain it to me,” Cassandra said, somewhat coldly. “In the meantime, I need to get to work. I’ll be back around midnight…no later than one,”
“Whatever,” Genie said, starting to slam silverware into the dishwasher with violence.
“And don’t break anything,” Cassandra called as she went upstairs to change into her scrubs.
Finally, out of utter desperation, Genie was flopped out on the couch eating straight from a pint of chocolate fudge ice cream, rereading Sense and Sensibility for the seventh time, pretending that sugar and familiar literature would heal her aching soul and solve all her problems. It was cowardly in the most sickening sense of the word, but it was indeed what Genie had fallen to. It was very late…almost eleven at night. Her mother was hard at work in an Emergency Room far away, probably saving lives, while Genie lay around squandering her own life away.
Fortunately, life was about to take one of those fabulous twists that belonged in a book.
She got to the end of the first scene in Sense and Sensibility, the death of Henry Dashwood (rather a poor choice of reading, she discovered), as John vowed to fulfill his father’s dying wish; to take care of his half-sisters and their mother.
Genie stopped, her eyes flitting above the page, her lips parting a little bit.
His dying wish.
She knew this story backwards and forewords. John didn’t fulfill his father’s dying wish. He let his greedy wife talk him out of it, and gave nothing to his half-sisters.
A dying wish.
A dying wish.
The book fell to the carpet with a soft thud. The ice cream fell not long after it, along with the spoon…and then Genie herself. She lay on her side, staring up at the ceiling, thoughts racing and whirling through her head like tornados. The ice cream started to melt and drip onto the carpet, and Genie’s sock, but she didn’t notice.
“A dying wish,” she whispered.
And she knew what she had to do.
She leapt to her feet, feeling like she’d been hit with a cattle prod. I have to hurry…I have to hurry…what if I’m already too late? She started straight for the door, but stepped in the ice cream puddle. She rushed around frantically, throwing a towel over the chocolate stain, tossing the ice cream cartoon and spoon in the sink, and tripping over Sense and Sensibility three times before finally tossing it onto the coffee table. She ran out the door, skidded to a stop, and ran back for shoes.
She took off down the sidewalk like a mad woman in the pitch dark, ignoring the chilly night air. I have to do this…I have to do this…
Not that she wanted to. Don’t get that impression at all! She still dreaded the very idea of it. But things deep and true and real had struck her from deep within the pages of Jane Austin’s book; honor, loyalty, and love.
The least I can do for Mal is…fulfill his dying wish. He is my best friend. I love him. I’m going to help him.