Where Your Story Ends, Chapters Four and Five
Here you go...next two chapters! Enjoy, and please let me know what you think.
Genie lay in her bed, curled up in the fetal position, shivering.
“I can’t I can’t I can’t…” she murmured over and over. She’d never finished any story. How could she possibly end Mal’s? She wanted to say she didn’t believe it…but she did. She knew Mal was telling the truth. And that scared her even more. And aside from that fear, was the horrible, dirty, awful feeling brought on by the truth of Mal’s past. She had always believed people could change that drastically for the better…she had just never believed Mal could have changed that much.
Cassandra, Genie’s mother, was worried about her. She brought her juice and chicken soup and felt her forehead, worriedly asking about her day. “Did something happen at Mal’s?”
“No,” Genie lied. “I…I just don’t feel good,”
Cassandra sat down on the edge of Genie’s bed, and rubbed her daughter’s shoulders. “Oh, my baby…it’s alright. Nothing is so wrong that time and soup can’t heal it,”
Cassandra was a firm believer in the infallible healing powers of soup.
“I know, Mom,” Genie said quietly.
So her mother left her alone, and Genie halfheartedly sipped salty, hot broth and sweet, iced juice. What if Mal’s dying? What if he’s dying right now? What if I write the last word of the story, put a period at the end, and he just keels over? Is he dying? Is that why he wants me to do this?
Terror and questions swirled around her head, giving her chills. “I can’t,” she insisted to Tobias, her ratty old teddy bear who always slept with her. “I love Mal. I can’t do this. That’s why I can’t do this.”
That’s why you should do this, a voice in her heart whispered.
She shoved the voice down. No. No, no, no, NO.
Tobias gave her a sympathetic look, and she hugged him to her chest. “Toby, what can I do? How can I prove to Mal I could never finish his story? I’ll never finish any story! There’s just something so…final about the words ‘the end’. I don’t want to. I can’t!”
Tobias understood perfectly, as he always did, and let her crush him against her chest, trying to forget it all. Maybe today had been a dream. She pinched herself hard, and winced. Well, she could still be dreaming. She’d had dreams where she pinched herself before, and felt it, but still woke up from it in the end. Those were the worst kind of dreams.
“Oh, quit fooling yourself,” she moaned. “I’m wide awake.”
She tried to find solace in music, but every station she turned to on her ancient, rather awesome dial radio was playing a song about death, or redemption, or promises, or friends. Even the commercial about breakfast bagels made her think of Mal and his impossible request.
Maybe I should just do it, the traitorous thought slipped through her mind.
But what about the truth?
What about the truth? Genie demanded. I don’t care about that.
Well…she didn’t want to care. But it was too big not to care about it.
“How could you do that, Mal?” Genie whispered into Tobias’ back. “How could my best friend have ever done something so horrible…?”
What was the last big mistake in Malcolm O’Rourke’s life?
Mal didn’t move from the table for hours, it seemed, after Genie ran out. He only got up when his beloved gray cat, Emily Dickenson, came and meowed and begged him until he pet and fed her.
Despite Emily’s company, Mal felt loss deeper than losing Agatha. Maybe he was wrong…maybe he did learn something from all those mistakes. Because he felt no desire to do what he’d done after Agatha died in the plane crash.
In the agonizing mixture of his sorrow and rage, he’d even written it down; to make sure it would happen. He didn’t know why, but he’d wanted nothing more than to take someone’s life, to take revenge on anyone, as if that would bring her back. He hadn’t been thinking clearly at all.
Maybe that’d why Genie left.
He didn’t blame her.
Who would want to be friends with a man who killed his own daughter, just because she reminded him too much of her dead mother?
That was the worst thing he’d ever, ever done. He’d done it for himself…thinking killing Greta would take away that pain. All it did was add to it. And sent him to prison for a long, long time. Not nearly as long as he deserved, though. Because he’d still been so famous, he’d been sentenced lightly.
As soon as he got out of jail, he ran away. He couldn’t face life anymore. That pain was worse even than when Cara, Joyce and Gregory all died in the same accident. That hadn’t been his fault. As he fled, he made himself a promise that if something wonderful didn’t happen in the next six months, he would just kill himself and get it over with.
And then he met Genie.
“And now…now I lost her,” he whispered, gazing out the window at the flooded corner of Mr. Abel’s field, watching the Coots dive down to get whatever it was they loved to eat at the bottom of flooded cornfield puddles. “Just like Agatha. Just like Greta.”
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.