Apollo occasionally has to remind himself that it’s Christmas time.
As he walks out of the movie theater, bright afternoon sunlight hits his pupils with a little more force than necessary, causing his eyelids to snap shut as he raises his arm in weak protest. He hears his mother laugh beside him, his other hand tangled loosely with hers, and he smiles despite his eyes stinging.
They’d just walked out from seeing To Kill A Mockingbird, a movie they’d (him and Thalassa, his mother) been excited to see ever since its’ announcement seven months prior. They’d read the book together, Apollo curled lazily on her shoulder underneath a soft turquoise blanket, and the movie had not disappointed. At least, it hadn’t for Apollo.
“I personally thought Atticus was much more handsome,” Thalassa says, and Apollo can tell it’s an opening for a conversation. He shrugs his shoulders, glancing over at a shop to see a swimsuit-clad Santa waving at him from the window. He quickly looks away, shuddering. Thalassa followed his gaze and snickered softly.
“I guess. I mean, I just wish they’d move from black-and-white to color, you know?” Apollo responds, purposefully extending his foot just a smidge farther so he wouldn’t step on a sidewalk crack. He doesn’t really know why he does it, but he likes to measure how many times he can do so before giving in and stepping on one to reset the pattern. His mother nods thoughtfully, ignoring the crack and stepping on it altogether. Apollo stifles his cringe.
“Who was your favorite character?” He asks, and she hums so softly he has to strain to hear it over the beeping of car horns and talking of others on the sidewalk, ordering hot dogs from a street vendor or shouting for a taxi. San Diego was a busy place in general, but even more so in the wintertime, where the heat wasn’t overpowering and Christmas lights were hung on flourishing palm trees.
“I suppose I’ve always had a soft spot for Calpurnia,” she finally decides, and then snorts with laughter. At Apollo’s questioning look, she elaborates, “And Dill. He was such a character!” Apollo smiles at this, remembering the fact that Jem and Scout had met him when he was stuck underneath a fence. “I always liked Atticus. And Boo Radley,” he adds, and Thalassa squeezes his hand in agreement.
“I’m glad I got to see the movie with you,” She says, and gives him the you’re-getting-older look. His mother had been giving him that look a lot recently. “I’m only fifteen,” he complains, and she sighs bittersweetly. He knows this is a sensitive topic for her, as he is fifteen but is turning 16 in a month, and Trucy (his younger sister) was teetering on fifteen as well. He didn’t understand what the big deal was, though; it’s not like once the two turned 18 that they were going to disappear from their mother’s life, but he didn’t push.
“I know, I know. But can’t I just enjoy a movie with my only son?” She says, her tone teasing as she places a hand over her forehead in mock desperation. He laughs, and pushes her gently. “You know I’ll go see any movie with you,” he chuckles, but her expression turns to stone once more and he knows he approached another minefield.
“I do, and that’s a bit worrisome. You are sixteen, and I haven’t heard about a single friend, nonetheless any girls,” she says, her voice almost sad as she talks. Apollo sighs; he’s heard this many times before, and every time he’s told her that he’d much rather stay holed up in his room writing than going to parties. “I’m telling you--they aren’t that important to me. Plus, I’m sure I’ll meet some people in, like, college or something,” he says, waving his hand around, and she frowns nonetheless.
“Okay. But going out sometime would be nice for you,” she finishes, and Apollo nods to humor her. One thing about his mother that he didn’t like (not that he didn’t appreciate; it just got on his nerves) was that she was always worried about him. He couldn’t do anything without her watching over his shoulder. He supposes he’ll look back on her concern for him as endearing; but right now, it was just annoying.
“Think you could stop for some ice cream?” She asks, jabbing him out of his thoughts by prodding him in the stomach and pointing to an ice cream truck across the street. Apollo’s eyes light up, and he nods quickly, following her as she excitedly jaywalks to the vendor. He was fine, he knew. Only two more somewhat-peaceful years and then he’d be gone; and he could enjoy this while it lasted.
It did not last for long.
// - // - //
They had arrived home not long after, both of them laughing about the movie and munching happily on the remains of their ice cream cones. The house welcomed them with the familiar scent of roasted chicken in the oven and the twinkling of rainbow Christmas lights hung from their ceiling, their shoes left haphazardly on the floor as Thalassa ran to check the green beans and Apollo patted the sunflower by their window lightly on the head.
“Looks like it’s going to be a yummy dinner!” His mother chirps from the kitchen, and he smiles inwardly. “Awesome!” He yells back, and his gaze drifts over to the dining table, where he knows he’ll have to set the forks, napkins and knives soon enough. What catches his eye, however, is a chain of bright red, yellow, blue and green scarves draped across the dark wood. He reacts quickly, shoving it underneath his shirt as his mother walks back in.
It’s not that his mother doesn’t love Trucy to the ends of the earth; he knows that she does, but Thalassa just doesn’t like his little sister’s… hobbies. When she’d come out as lesbian a year ago, his mother hadn’t not been in support of it, she just decided to ban Trucy from any contact with the female gender after that, which included not talking to Pearl, Trucy’s best friend (and by the looks of it, girlfriend). Trucy had been livid at this, and openly defied their mother ever since.
Thalassa also didn’t like Trucy’s taste in music, claiming all of her favorite bands and musicians were all on pot, and she didn’t fortify Trucy’s passion for magic. Trucy had told Apollo one night that she was seriously considering joining the San Diego traveling circus, and he had to admit that if he were in her situation, he would be, too.
Instead, he stayed quiet about his passions, opting for going along with his mother’s dreams of him becoming a lawyer and settling down and getting married. He had no interest in telling her that he didn’t want to be a lawyer; the idea of being a writer for a magazine or newspaper, investigating things one-on-one seemed much more appealing. The thought of telling his mother that he was also gay and had never experienced anything other than platonic love for women wasn’t up his alley, either.
Though he was much louder verbally than his sister, (he’d been yelled at many times to “pipe down! others are looking!”) he was much less open than her; he was better at keeping things hidden and buried, unless directly provoked. Trucy, on the other hand, had a hard time keeping her opinion to herself; and that served as a big problem in their household.
“Trucy!” His mother yells, jolting him out of his thoughts. She shoots him a questioning glance, probably noticing the bulge of fabric in his chest, and he offers her a guilty shrug. Thalassa does nothing more than raise an eyebrow at him, before yelling his sister’s name again. “Where is she? She promised she’d be home by five…”
One thing Apollo did dislike was his mother yelling at Trucy. Being her older brother, he felt obligated to stick up for her, but then she got upset because standing up to their mother meant he would be caught in the crossfire. And none of this would happen if Trucy just tried a little harder to obey their mother.
Just as Thalassa is about to shout for Trucy once more, the door creaks open, and Apollo can see a large magician’s hat and big blue eyes from in between the crack. He nods a fraction and she shoves open the door, and he’s pretty sure two doves fly into their house. His mother’s squawk is pretty good confirmation.
“Hello,” Trucy says, sliding up against the door to close it, and he notices that her cape is drawn around her a little more than usual. Her hat is tipped downward, and her hair underneath is messy and tangled. Her clothes are rumpled and he spots a bent queen of hearts in her belt loop. “Hello to you, too, missy,” his mother says, tone already condescending.
He’s sure Trucy is about to made a quick exit, her strides almost carrying her to the stairs, when Thalassa steps in front of her. “No ma’am,” Thalassa says, squaring Trucy’s shoulders and looking at her straight on. He can see Trucy swallow. “What’ve you been up to?” Trucy shrugs, refusing to make direct eye contact with their mother. He sees the woman narrow her eyes at Trucy’s face, before sighing. “You’ve been kissing,” she says flatly, and her daughter sputters. “N-no, I haven’t! I’m not--we’re--” She’s cut off by a stern look from her mother, and her shoulders slump.
“Yes, you have,” Thalassa says, and lifts her daughter’s chin with delicate but firm fingers, “and I know exactly who it is. It’s that Pearl, the girl I told you to stay away from!” Trucy exhales shakily, and juts her jaw from their mother’s grasp. She briskly stalks to her mother’s side, and is about to pound up the stairs when Thalassa stops her once more.
“What do you have under your cape?” She asks, but everyone in the household knows that Thalassa is already aware of what it is. Trucy frowns indignantly, but pulls the album from underneath her pale blue cape and her mother sighs in resignation. “It’s unfair that we don’t get to listen to our music,” she starts, but Thalassa holds up a hand to silence her once more. “The music is about drugs and promiscuous sex,” she says, staring at the album cover with disgust.
Trucy reaches out for it, and flips it over to reveal the track list. “Simon and Garfunkel is poetry--” “Poetry about drugs and promiscuous sex !” Thalassa says, and lifts the album up to show the two men’s faces. She points to their eyes accusingly. “Honey, they’re on pot.”
Apollo stares hopelessly at the two women arguing. He desperately wants to jump in and help his sister out, defend her taste in music and claim that Pearl was intelligent and funny, but one look from her steely blue eyes shuts his legs down. His mother looks his way and rolls her eyes, and he doesn’t have the audacity to take her side and shake his head in return. Noticing this, she groans softly and places the album in his hands. He stares down at it, unsure of what to do. All he does then is watch as Trucy argues back, rolling her eyes and snapping her tongue like a typical teenager.
“First it was butter,” Thalassa rolls her eyes, and begins to move toward the kitchen, as if she were expecting this argument all along, “then it was sugar, and white flour. Bacon, eggs, baloney; rock and roll, motorcycles,” Trucy follows her mother to the mouth of the kitchen, where she’s grabbing the green beans and chicken to place them on the table. She stops when she sees that Trucy was blocking the way, and rests the chicken on her hip in annoyance. “ Then it was celebrating Christmas on a day in September when you knew it wouldn’t be commercialized! What else are you going to ban?” Trucy exclaims, leaning against the wall, and Thalassa scoffs, finally brushing past her daughter to put dinner on the table.
“Honey, you want to rebel against knowledge,” her mother starts, pacing back to the kitchen to get the pitcher of lemonade still resting on the countertop, “and I’m trying to give you the cliff notes on how to live life in this world.” She says, giving Trucy a wide-eyed stare as the liquid in the pitcher nearly sloshes out due to Thalassa’s brisk pace.
“Or like anybody else I know,” Trucy says, crossing her arms and glaring at her mother. Thalassa sighs once more, placing the lemonade down and putting her hands on the table. She looks up at Trucy, her eyes now resigned. “I’m a college professor; why can’t I teach my own kids?” The woman says this in a half-whisper, giving Trucy a pleading look. For once, it seems like the magician-in-training will let up, but another fire burns in her eyes and Apollo braces for the worst.
“Pearl says that you use knowledge to keep me down. She says that I am a yes person and you are trying to raise us in a no environment,” she says, surprisingly calm. Apollo appreciates the somewhat-gentle lull, and flips the album over to read a few songs off of the back. A Hazy Shade of Winter, Mrs. Robinson… they didn’t seem like “promiscuous” songs, and he’s about to integrate himself in, object that Simon and Garfunkel really did seem like poetry when his mother begins again.
“Well, clearly no is a word Pearl doesn’t hear much.” Yikes, now his mother had done it. Trucy slams her fist on the table and fights for words, her brain going a mile a minute. “I can’t live here! I hate you, even Apollo hates you!” She finally yells, and Apollo’s brain turns on it’s sirens. “Whoa, don’t bring me into this,” he says cautiously, and Trucy gives him a glare. “You do hate her, you don’t even know the truth.” She says, throwing her hands up in outrage.
“Sweetheart, don’t be a drama queen,” Thalassa says, giving Apollo a wink that he doesn’t return and she begins to set out plates on the dining table. Trucy pauses for a moment, and then inhales, before pointing an accusing finger at her mother and shouting, “feck you!”
It isn’t the same word, but its’ meaning carries over, and Thalassa recoils like she’d been slapped. Trucy sets her jaw, pleased with her work, and snatches the album from Apollo’s hands before stalking angrily up the stairs. “Hey!” Thalassa calls after her, but Trucy just stomps louder and yells back down, “this is a house of lies !” The door to Trucy’s bedroom slams right after, and Thalassa looks down in passivity.
“There it is,” she murmurs, just loud enough for Apollo to hear, and he walks up to her, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Your sister used the f word.” Apollo frowns, and tries to lighten the mood, offering a sideways smile and responding, “you know, I think she said feck .”
But Thalassa does not smile back; she just turns to continue setting the table, placing two pairs of forks and knives, not three. She then huffs quietly. “What’s the difference?” She asks, and for a moment Apollo thinks she’s talking more to the air then to him. But in a last ditch effort, he says, “the letter u!” This time, she gives him a cold glare, and he quickly walks to the kitchen to get glasses.
// - // - //
His nickname is hushed, preceding a low groan from his bedroom door, and he hums in response. The door is pushed open a little more to reveal Trucy, wearing her favorite shirt; a black t-shirt with “POOF” written on it in blue letters, a magician’s hat balanced on the two o’s and a wand underneath of them. She’s also wearing soft blue sweatpants, and they bunch up around her ankles as she tiptoes into Apollo’s room.
“Is something wrong?” He asks, setting aside his book to cast his gaze on his troubled sister. She sits down on his bed, rolling a loose piece of thread from the hem of her shirt in her hands, and refuses to meet his eyes. “Well, kinda,” she starts, and then lets go of the thread, placing her hands on her thighs and breathing in shakily.
“I think I’m going to leave home. Stay with Pearl for a while, get some magic shows in, like, Santa Monica, or something,” she says, and Apollo’s eyes widen. Trucy seems serious this time, blue eyes alight with fervor and excitement. She stares down at her sweatpants, and Apollo can tell that she’s waiting for his words. He also knows that she’s going to go through with this, whether he’s in support or not.
“That’s--good,” he starts, and she looks at him with somewhat disbelieving eyes. He laughs, poking her shoulder. “You really think I wouldn’t want you to go? I’m going to miss you more than anything, but I want you to get away from her,” he says, gesturing to the floor, where their mother is working in her office. Trucy nods, running a hand through her hair and letting it fall to the opposite side of her part.
“I wish I didn’t have to go, but every day I just have to dodge her more. I’m tired of it,” she says, resting her hand on her cheekbone, and Apollo sighs and shakes his head in disappointment. “I know. I’m sorry, and I’m always gonna be here if you need anything.” Trucy flicks her blue eyes to meet his brown ones once more, and gives him a gentle smile. “Thanks. I love you, Polly,” she says, leaning over and giving him a tight squeeze. He wraps his arms around her in return, already missing the assurance her hugs brought him. She was younger than him and yet she’d taught him so much.
“Love you, too,” he says, as she breaks away, and he lets her go reluctantly. Her mouth is but a thin, near invisible line of acquiescence, and he wishes there was a way to make her departure any less painful. But she leaves the room with nothing but a bittersweet glance in his direction and the gentle click of the door sliding into its place.
The house already feels quieter.
// - // - //
“This song explains why I’m leaving the house to become a full-time magician.”
Trucy places the record to play, and turns the volume up to its fullest. Her hair is in a messy bun, and her suitcase is by the door, waiting to be taken outside to see the sun for the first time. They never really were allowed to travel, Apollo and Trucy; their mother always told them there would be time for that in their later years, and that they should focus on their studies.
Those words left a bitter taste in Apollo’s mouth. He tries to shake them from his memory by stealing a glance at the album; it’s called Nomads, Indians, Saints and the song is by a band called the Indigo Girls . It’s soft and bittersweet, the words near corresponding to Trucy’s situation, and he feels a pull on his heart as she packs the rest of her things.
Thalassa sighs softly as the music swells, Trucy dancing around the living room as she checks if she’s accumulated all her stuff. Apollo had taken a glance in her room, a few minutes before his little sister had gathered them in living room, and had seen that everything besides the furniture had been put away for her to take. The once colorful walls were now barren, and her desk was no longer crowded with pictures of her and Pearl, of her magic shows, and of her, Apollo and their mother when the two children were younger.
A car horn sounds in their driveway, and Trucy’s eyes light up. She dashes out the front door, waving to Pearl, who’s sitting in the driver’s seat, and grasps her suitcase and backpack. Apollo gets up, giving his mother an apologetic look before assisting Trucy with her two other bags out to the car.
Pearl’s car is a beat up chevrolet, in a cobalt blue color. Still, the girl seems proud as she gets out and opens the trunk for the siblings to place Trucy’s items in. Apollo does so first, and then gives Pearl a large hug, picking up her petite frame and swinging her around. She laughs, holding onto his shirt, before he sets her down and offers her a smile.
“Thank you for taking Trucy in,” he says, and Pearl grins with delight. “Oh, trust me, it’s no problem,” she responds, and Trucy proceeds to stand beside her and peck her lightly on the lips. Apollo winks at his sister, and her cheeks tinge pink. “Hush you!” She exclaims, shoving at him playfully, and the three of them laugh.
As Pearl gets into the car, Trucy pulls Apollo in for another hug. “I’m gonna miss you,” she says into his shoulder, and he nods into hers. “I know. Me too,” he replies, and she lets out a watery laugh. “Tell mom I said bye. And that I won’t be coming back,” she says, pointing a finger at his chest to emphasize her words, and he nods dutifully. Just as she’s about to swing herself into the passenger seat, he stops her. “Hey. I love you,” he says, smiling sadly, and she brushes at her eyes with her forearm. “I love you, too,” she says quietly, and then shuts the car door.
He waves them goodbye, Pearl pulling out of the driveway with a speed to rival a jet, and then slams the front door a little harder than necessary to alert his mother that he was inside. It turns out he doesn’t need to, because she’s standing rigidly at the window, watching the street for any sign of movement. When Apollo locks the door, she crosses her arms gingerly, and says, “she’ll be back.”
He hopes to whatever higher power that Trucy won’t be.