1973 -- Moreland, Arizona
Tully, dressed in p-jays, perused her comic in mild interest. Jarod came bounding into the room and dived onto the bed, Kyle and Timmy in toe. Tully grinned, stowed her comic beneath her pillow, and took the book Jarod offered. She detested all those girly stories her mother gave her to read. This way she got to read the stories Jarod did: pirates, Cowboys and Indians, vagabonds, tales of the high seas and monsters in the dark. The three boys sat around her and she felt a little like Wendy with a bedtime story for the Lost Boys.
"Do you suppose he's ill," Jarod blurted, Tully midway through a page of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine.
Tully sniggered. "Dumbo misses fake mummy and daddy."
Jarod glanced around, watching the boy sitting at the other bed.
"Do you want me to finish the chapter or not?" Tully snapped in impatience.
Kyle shoved his older brother in the arm. Jarod returned his attention to the younger girl. "Yes, go on."
Tully growled, disapproving. Begrudgingly she dropped her eyes to the page and picking up where she had been last, started to read.
A man had taken Jarod to his classroom and now Tully, Kyle, Timmy and Tully's new brother stood alone in the corridor. Tully's mother, Catherine, was talking with the principal in an office with an official looking door.
Tully made a face and turned in the direction of her brother. She didn't even want him. Kyle grinned.
Catherine and the Principal exited the office and Catherine smiled.
Tully was allocated desk with a girl named Sheree, Timmy with a boy named Merit. Kyle was seated at a desk with Tully's brother. Kyle rolled his eyes. He leant back in his seat and crossed his arms in tolerant exasperation.
"Marie," Tully supplied the girl sitting beside her at the desk.
Sheree tossed her head briefly behind her. "Oh, it must simply be awful!" Sheree declared in airy tones.
Tully shot a short look over her shoulder.
"Isn't she simply a picture!" Sheree swooned, inexplicably jealous.
Tully fought to keep her mouth from turning up.
"Marla would kill for her curls," Sheree continued in tones of exasperation. "I have to ask. Why does she keep them so short? It is rather masculine?"
"I think she's a tomboy," Tully replied, off-hand.
Sheree gasped. "Oh no!" she said. "Such a thing is simply beyond me; utterly beyond my entire comprehension to grasp." An adequately brief pause ensured, and a brief shake of the head. She dropped her eyes sharply to the textbook as the teacher passed by the desk, and Tully, wary of gathering any ill graces on her first day, was quick to copy her.
The teacher stopped a way to the side in front the desk. Kyle half glanced up from his note-taking. "Yes, sir?" he said.
The teacher was tall and stood with his arms crossed and a disapproving almost smile. But the teacher was not watching him, he was watching Tully's brother.
Kyle looked also.
"Boy?" the teacher said sharply.
Tully's brother acted just as if he had not heard the teacher's address. Kyle noticed that he had not taken notes. He was sitting, and slouching at that, his head tilted obscurely, Kyle thought, as though he were watching something in the far corner at the front of the room where the wall met the ceiling.
"What is his name?" the teacher ground, his impatience turned swiftly to anger.
"I don't know, sir," Kyle replied quickly. The teacher was not pleased, Kyle sensed, and added: "Perhaps you might consult the roll, sir, under the name Hamilton."
"You, boy," the teacher warned. "You start taking notes." He stalked away along the row of desks either side, an unpleasant manner to his walk.
Kyle shot a brief glance to Tully's brother. "Do as he says," he urged in undertones.
The teacher returned from his desk shortly after and Kyle felt sorely that he would be sure to be in some trouble for this also.
"Robert!" the teacher said sharply.
They were all listening, Kyle knew, but none dare turned.
"Robert!" the teacher said in a raised voice, now red in the face, and smacked his fist on the desk.
Kyle flinched and wanted to smack the teacher back. Robert did not blink or look around. This was trouble, Kyle knew, big trouble.
The teacher reached across the desk and took Robert's arm to take him from the room and continue this talk out of the room, and Kyle thought that he would be deaf for the rest of his life with the scream.
The teacher lurched back from the desk, but the effect was momentary. There Robert was, just sitting there, as though nothing at all could bother him, and this made him even more angry. He strode forward in menacing form and dragged the boy, scrabbling and screaming, from the room, and refusing to walk, the teacher released his arm so that he fell to the floor and lay there and did nothing else at all.
Kyle slipped out from behind his new desk, and ran quickly to the door that was now closed, and slipped outside.
Tully watched all of this without saying a word, and then, with a grin, planted a hand to her mouth. "She's a boy!" she said in a sharp whisper, as though she had had absolutely no idea.
"Sir," Kyle said quickly, and receiving a most horrible look. He was out of his desk! Most importantly – he was out of his classroom!
The teacher cut him off. "I want you back at your desk!"
Whatever Kyle had been about to say evaporated. "No." He wasn't going to go back to his desk.
The teacher took a step toward him and Kyle leapt backward.
"Don't you touch me!" he said sharply.
"My office!" the teacher ground, and picked the unresponsive boy up off the floor who had started to scream at being touched and dragged him with him.
"You let go of him!" Kyle said, but the teacher now ignored him. "I said, let go!"
"It is an unfortunate thing, and so disruptive!" Sheree lamented.
"Is there some sort of summer school that you attend that teaches you to be a stuck-up bitch?" Tully asked.
Sheree stared at her.
Tully thought that the girl might slap her across the mouth.
"Compliments of my sister, Marla. The biggest bitch this side of the US of A."
Sheree smiled, just a smile.
Catherine frowned. She was not happy.
Kyle sat in the chair he had been given, his arms crossed, and said nothing, Robert seated beside him, and staring again and at nothing in particular.
The Principal stood behind his desk, and his teacher by this desk. "I honestly don't know what to do," the Principal said, tired.
"You should fire him!" Kyle said, glaring meanly at the teacher.
"Kyle!" Catherine said.
"He touched me," Kyle shot back, without missing a beat.
"When?" Catherine asked.
"When we were in his office."
Catherine frowned and looked across at the Principal and teacher, a fair idea that Kyle was lying.
Kyle maintained his glare.
"That never happened!" the teacher exploded.
"It did too!" Kyle said. "You touched me. And now I'm telling Cathy."
"He's lying!" the teacher growled.
"If you didn't want me to tell then you shouldn't have touched me," Kyle said.
"Kyle, tell the truth," Catherine urged gently.
"That is the truth, Miss Hamilton."
Catherine frowned. "No, Robert refused to do his class work, and you thought that he had the right idea," Catherine admonished, losing considerable patience.
"He's sick, Miss Hamilton. He needs help," Kyle shot a look in the direction of the teacher, making sure that the teacher caught his glower, "not dirty men touching him."
"Kyle!" Catherine gasped.
Kyle recrossed his arms. "The truth can kill you or set you free. You said that Miss Hamilton. And honesty is the best policy." Kyle turned back to the teacher. "I'm not scared of you!" he said.
Catherine had to sit down.
"Alright, this has gone far enough," the Principal said. "You two boys will be expelled from this school until further notice or until such time as I deem that you have revoked these highly absurd and utterly disgusting allegations in earnest written and verbal apology."
Kyle snorted. "All true," he muttered.
"You best be damned glad that I have not decided to take this matter any further!" the Principal said, struggling to keep his voice down.
"I'm not sure I can say the same for mys-" the teacher began, before he was silenced, the Principal with a hand on his arm.
Kyle sniggered. "Pussy," he muttered.
"Kyle, I am so angry at you! Both of you!" Catherine shouted, as the three walked out across the car park to the car. "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? SAYING SOMETHING LIKE THAT!" She grabbed Kyle's arm sharply. "Answer me!"
Kyle pulled away from her.
Catherine slumped and let her breath out, her face softening. "Nobody has touched you like that have they, baby?"
"No," Kyle said, not looking at her, which was true, his expression morose and horrible.
Kyle pulled the door shut on the car with a loud slam and ignored his stupid seatbelt.
"Expelled!" Jarod burst, home from school.
Kyle flat out pushed his big brother away from him.
Jarod fell back onto the floor.
Without so much concern, Kyle stormed away.
The table was quiet that evening at dinner. Jarod did not look at his brother, and Kyle pretended that no such person as Jarod existed.
Tully was not speaking but she sure wanted to hit Kyle. She knew well enough that he could be a nasty, conniving thing but she was not scared of him. It was her mother she was scared of. And she didn't want to upset little Ethan.
Catherine left Kyle and Robert with a land conservation group for the day. She had telephoned their office after dropping Jarod, Tully, and Timmy off at school and they had said great, they could take them off her hands until two. It was ten o'clock. She left the boys with a man named Donald, and set about her almost daily task: to find Jarod and Kyle's parents.
The first agenda of the day was to load up the seedlings from the plastic house and drive out to the re-vegetation zone. Kyle picked up a tray of tubes. "This should be fun," he said to Robert whose expression was as blank as ever. "This one is for you." Kyle supposed he had heard him, because he did not move or walk away. He handed the tray of seedlings in their tubes to Robert, and turned to collect one of his own.
The van was a few paces away, and that's where the seedlings were headed, and then out onto the road to a property where they would be planted, and hopefully live happily ever after.
"So what's your story?" Kyle asked, watching the man with the shovel for their cue with the seedlings.
As expected, he received no answer.
Kyle smiled, thinking that he had been foolish to expect otherwise. He looked across to Robert and wondered what he was thinking.
Kyle patted the soil around his tree and sat back on his heels to gaze along the row of trees they had planted. He frowned against the glare of the bright daylight. He watched Robert for a moment, talking to a tree he had planted, and stood.
"What you doing?" he asked, stopping beside Robert, who became very still for a moment and then decided the good thing to do was to rock back and forth. "You almost worry for them. One day they're going to be big and strong, but right now, they're small and frail and you don't know what's going to happen to them."
"How was your day?" Tully asked Kyle, dumping her schoolbag on the floor beside her.
"Good times, babe. Nothin' but good times." He grinned.
"Yes, baby," Catherine said, cupping a hand to the side of her face.
Tully watched her mother. "I want my own room, Momma," she said. "Can I, Momma? Say I can! Oh, please say I can, Momma!"
"I'll think about it."
"Yes, Momma," Tully replied. "Momma? Thank you."
Catherine smiled briefly.
"She'll think about it," Tully reported to Jarod.
Jarod shrugged. He guessed that meant Marie was moving into the boys' room. He wasn't particularly enthusiastic.
She was going to invite a friend to sleep over now that she had her own room, Tully said, and Jarod missed her reading books to them.
Recess, Tully sat with Sheree and Sheree's sometimes friend, Twyla.
That's what he felt like. A sometimes friend.
He missed Sydney. Sydney had been his. He missed the things Sydney would not say to him, and getting mad at him, and knowing that Sydney liked to frown a lot and that that was very depressing, and a familiar person.
He sometimes thought that there were moments, moments that you could not have anticipated, and then the world seemed so foreign, as if it were not your world in fact, but some other world, an alien world.
It was Sheree that she invited around.
Jarod sat at the kitchen table with his homework, whilst Kyle peeled potatoes and Robert tore slices of red cabbage into smaller pieces and the cabbage juice made his fingers purple.
Tully and Sheree sat in the lounge room and Timmy too because Sheree thought him cute, and beside, they needed a third person to play cards.
Jarod stared at his homework and wished that Tully had invited him to play cards with her too.
"What are you working on?" Kyle asked, coming around the side of Jarod.
"Nothing!" Jarod said, and shut his exercise book.
Kyle shrugged, determined not to take offence.
Dinner was boiled potato, red cabbage, and green fried eggs (the cabbage juice made the edges green).
Sheree prodded at her food with a fork and ended up only eating potato with tomato sauce.
Jarod stayed back and helped Kyle and Robert with the dishes, and Catherine took Ethan for his bath before there was a rush to brush teeth and compare fashionable toothbrushes.
Donald and the three other members of his group traveled out of state for a convention Tuesday and Catherine was hard pressed to find alternate arrangements for the two boys, with managing to get the other three to and from school in some time, little Ethan in daycare, and searching for Jarod and Kyle's parents, Kyle and Robert were put to the local archives office with the instruction that they must find something to help with.
Kyle peered up at the old stone block building from out front on the footpath. The passage into the building was narrow and high-ceiled, walls cracked at their midsection and wallpaper peeling as though washed out.
The boys helped out with the restoration works. The Viewing Room, a room where the public were able to view archives and records with the option of a coin donation, was currently in the process of being stripped and redone, and eventually some nice furniture. Nothing new, but something nice.
The room had to be cleared; the wallpaper had to come off and the walls cleaned before they could be repaired, patched up with a bit of plaster here and there, and the floor was not suitable for sanding. The suggestion was of a bronze yellow-brown carpet of sparing thread, more of a woven thing really.
The room was dusty with old dust and mites.
A turn of the century recording played from the office the end of the passage, lively piano music.
It was all volunteer work, but the few sandwiches and water was free. Pippa bought them some gum from down the street.
Kyle popped his in his mouth, but Robert stowed his in a pocket.
"Well if you have some little friends that would like a piece of gum also, why didn't you just say so?" Pippa said.
"Yes, please," Kyle said, and counted on his fingers. "Three please," he said.
Pippa retrieved the little paper package from her handbag and slipped three pieces from the packaging and handed them to Kyle.
"Thanks," Kyle said.
"Lucky last," Robert said.
Kyle looked around at Robert.
"I suppose it is," Pippa said, and unwrapped the last piece of gum and popped it into her mouth. She patted Robert on the head, she did like his curls, and returned to her duties down the passage.
It wasn't clear what she exactly did, only that she might often be found in that same room two doors down.
Jarod told a ghost story at bedtime at which Kyle laughed and Timmy really didn't want to hear because ghost stories scared him, and Tully hit Kyle for laughing. She had snuck into the boys' room, although she was meant to be in bed.
Kyle, remembering the gum, presented a piece to the three which had not had any earlier and told them about the creepy old building he had been stuck in all day.
Tully punched him in the arm. "Did you talk to anyone famous and ghosted?" she asked.
"The place is the Ghost House. They keep archives," Kyle explained. "There are plenty of ghosts, you just have to look them up."
"Timmy's scared of ghosts, aren't you Timmy?" Tully said.
Jarod gave her a look.
She poked her tongue out. "It's stupid to be scared of things that aren't real, that's what I always say. So do you think they're real? Do you think ghosts exist?"
Timmy did not answer.
"Scaredy cat!" she teased.
She jumped off Jarod's bed.
"Wooooo!" she hooted in imitation of a ghost as she passed Timmy's bed, slipped out of the door, and into the hallway.
The air was thick with little zooming, zipping bugs thick like smog, and almost morning.
Tully lay awake for some moments, unsure at first what had woken her. Had it been a dream? She could not remember. She missed her daddy.
The sounds of a door being moved and scuffing and shoes on the hall indicated that she was not, as she had thought, the only one awake.
She lay still in bed and listened for new sounds.
And there, a woman's voice. "I don't know how-"
"A long story." That from her mother.
"It's okay," the unknown woman replied. "You're safe."
Catherine again. "Charles."
"The main thing," the man whom her mother had addressed as Charles said, "you're well."
"Oh, I wouldn't-"
Catherine suppressed a sigh. "Yes." On another note, she said: "The boys are asleep."
Tully stood in the doorway. A woman at the table, a man, and the woman with a small child, three or four. "Momma?" Tully said. "I couldn't sleep."
Catherine moved around to hold her child, a hand on her head.
"Who are they, momma?" Tully asked.
Catherine placed a hand on her daughter's face.
The woman without a name smiled.
"This is Margaret," Catherine told her. "Someone to trust."
Tully sat with a mug of hot tea in hand, numb inside, warm wisps of chamomile wetting her cheeks as they cooled.
Catherine was absent from the room for some minutes. She returned with Jarod and Kyle and no one else.
Jarod walked straight to the table and Tully stood from her chair in one movement.
This is it, she thought, the reason she felt so numb. The family, and now he's leaving. You tried to distance yourself, you tried to make new friends, but you'll miss him. You only hurt us both.
"I'll always think of you," he told her.
She tried to believe him. She wanted to, more than anything, and from the safety of his arms, she let herself believe.
Kyle might have shared a glance, she had not been focused, and now nothing. The kitchen had emptied, not silently the way they told you, but even as she heard Kyle dragging his feet – the morning made him sleepy – she did not speak. She never remembered moving her lips, the sharp sting of dry lips when they are moved. To try and fail is not the same as to fail without having tried. But she did not try. She let it happen, she let it pass. And now just her mother, and cold tea.
Her mother made toast. She let it go cold without touching it.
Three years later
She was beautiful and she knew it. Ethan started school the same year. Tully loved him more than anything else in the world. He was that good thing.
She liked to show him off. More than that, to see him smile made her proud.
If anyone asked, Tim was her cousin. No, Marie was not her brother. She wasn't sure who he was.