Phoebe sat with a crinkled envelope in her hands on a porch she had been on hundreds of times. She sat on the wooden stairs, too terrified to go up to the door and knock. There was no good outcome to knocking. Either he would answer or she would answer or one of the kids would answer, and Phoebe would be standing there not knowing what to say. How was it that she could write the most flowery and expressive lyrics about her intensely personal experiences, but at this moment she had no idea what she would say to any of them if given the chance. She looked down that the envelope she was holding. Inside was a cassette tape with a song recorded on it. She hoped that he still had a cassette player for nostalgia’s sake. She had obviously kept hers in the closet of her childhood bedroom. She recorded all of her songs when she was younger that way. Just her, and her guitar, and the cassette player whose right hand speaker turned into a microphone when you pressed the red button on the side. She recorded a song like that earlier today, and put the finished product in this envelope that she had held in her hands for so long that it looked like it was just as old as the tape.
Phoebe sat with a crinkled envelope in her hands on a porch she had been on hundreds of times.
She had thought about writing a letter, thinking maybe there were some left over words in there that she could spill out onto paper, but she realized as she picked up her pen that there was nothing left to say. She and Zac had said every single thing they possibly could - both the beautiful and the horrifying. So she picked up her guitar and sang a song she had written a few days ago while they were in the throes of whatever it was they thought wasn’t going to blow up in their faces. Stupid, she thought. So stupid. But she supposed that this ending was what they were destined for all along.
She had seen lights on in some of the windows as she got off her bike and went up the porch steps an hour ago. There was a car in the driveway, so she knew someone was home. She couldn’t stay here all night, she thought to herself. She had to go back to New York in the morning. And yet here she was, sitting quietly on the porch that had seen so much. In the town where this whole confusing thing started in the first place.
16 years earlier
Phoebe clambered out of the bus and stopped on the corner to catch her breath before walking the two blocks back to her house. She was still probably too small to be hauling her cello to and from school every day, but of course when given the opportunity to play a stringed instrument, she had chosen this one instead of a violin which she could carry with ease. Orchestra was the only class she really enjoyed anyway, so maneuvering her instrument on and off the bus every day didn’t actually bother her.
It was a hot day in Tulsa, the school year winding down. Phoebe was about to finish her freshman year of high school. She was excited to have that one under her belt. Starting high school hadn’t been her favorite thing she had ever done, but she got through it and now she had the whole summer to look forward to. She walked down the sidewalk, a small trickle of sweat rolling down her left cheek, towards her house that was way too big for her family. It was two stories, three bedrooms, two bathrooms. A big kitchen and dining room, a den, a huge backyard. All for her mother and her. As she had gotten older she wondered why her mom hadn’t downsized. Why she kept the house in order as though it were a museum of a time when there were four of them and nothing would ever go wrong. When she was ten years old, Phoebe’s father and 14 year old brother were coming home from an out of town baseball game when they were hit by a semi truck whose driver wasn’t paying attention. They both died on impact, and suddenly the family shrunk to two. Phoebe’s mother would never be the same. Not only had she lost the love her life, but also her boy, her oldest. She dissolved into a shadow of herself.
It was in the few years after the tragedy that Phoebe was absorbed into another family that lived in the neighborhood. They were a big clan. Seven children, so it was no wonder they barely noticed another little girl running around the yard. She was about a month younger than their third oldest, so of course they were the two that became attached at the hip pretty early on. The parents and kids were very aware of the tragedy that had occurred and the healing that would need to take place. They probably overcompensated on that front, but Phoebe didn’t care. All of a sudden she had three older boys clamoring to fill the void left by her big brother, and two adults who never failed to invite her to dinner.
The three boys, when they gained a new unrelated sister, were ten, twelve, and fourteen. Phoebe had known the family since before she could remember, but her earliest memory of officially meeting one was when she was seven and she and the second oldest began going to the same piano teacher. His slot was right after hers, and they always saw each other and exchanged a few words if Phoebe’s mom was a few minutes late picking her up. He was such a sweet boy, incredibly polite for a nine year old, with bright blond hair and shocking blue eyes. At their studio recital that year, she met the rest of the family (although the youngest hadn’t actually been born yet). The whole family was musical, but the older three seemed to have been sent from another, musical planet. She remembered one tuesday when her mom literally just forgot about her at the piano teacher’s house and she listened to Taylor play for nearly his entire hour. She thought quietly to herself, “wow I will never ever be that good,” Not taking into account that she had two more years to get there but also he was just really good for such a young person. The boys had already formed a band in their family’s garage and they had even started performing at events around town. The novelty of them being young wasn’t the only thing they had going for them. They were actually...really good. Meeting Taylor first and in a way that made her immediately admire him set her up for a lifetime of adoration. She always strove for excellence when he was around, always wanted to impress him in one way or another (although usually musically).
After the Hansons absorbed Phoebe into their clan, she began playing music with the boys. They had their band, of course, but it was fun to just jam with them after she got home from school and they were done with their homeschool lessons for the day. She preferred strings over any other kind of instrument, and sometimes they would even ask her to add cello lines to their already written songs. Ike became her big brother, teaching her guitar until she knew enough to pick out any chord progression. Taylor was her angel, the one that cheered her up whenever the crushing reality of the loss she had suffered came crashing down on her incredibly young shoulders. And Zac was, being only one month older than her, her best friend.
But all of this was a time long gone. It had been years since their last garage jam session, due to the fact that they boys had rocketed to pop stardom, becoming huge, albeit young, hometown heroes. They had been touring constantly, and Phoebe felt as though she had once again lost a brother (or three). She wrote emails to them constantly, and they would send her handwritten letters from wherever they were at the time. This last leg of their tour had seemed particularly long, probably because Phoebe was having trouble making friends in high school. She just wanted her real friends back. Those golden haired brothers who had known her through her biggest losses. Which is why when she saw Zac leaning casually on her mother’s van she nearly dropped her cello case in surprise.
He was fiddling with callouses on his hands, and didn’t look up when she stopped dead in her tracks about a block from the driveway. She wondered if it was even really him. She didn’t know they were coming home this weekend.
“Zac??” She yelled from where she stood.
He looked up like an eager puppy, seeing her loping towards him, moving as quickly as she could while encumbered with her particularly large instrument.
He met her halfway, completely enveloping her in a huge hug that lifted her off the ground. He and his hair had grown a few inches since the last time they had been together, which took her by surprise. She hadn’t been expecting the ease with which he scooped her up, or the angle she had to put her head in order to look him in the eye.
“I didn’t know you were coming home!” She exclaimed, barely able to form any other coherent thoughts out of pure excitement.
“Yeah we have a few weeks in between legs of this tour. So we thought we might as well come home for part of it!”
“I’m so...I’m so happy you’re here! I thought...I don’t know what I thought. This tour has seemed to go on forever.”
“I know,” he agreed, “I’m ready for a break. It’s been insane.” He picked up her cello case and walked with her back to her house.
“Tell me everything!”
“I’ve told you most things in the letters!” He laughed at her enthusiasm, but she could tell he was excited too. They had their best friends back, and there is something about that that makes you feel like you’re full of light. The bright yellow feeling that only happens when your favorite person in the world looks you straight in the eye.
Phoebe wasn’t surprised to see no sign of her mom downstairs. She hauled her cello case up to her room and peeked into her mom’s bedroom. Sure enough she was laying in bed. It was about time for her afternoon nap. The one she took when the weight of the day felt like too much.
“Hey Mom?” She said quietly, not wanting to run off to Zac’s house with no warning.
Her mom grunted from under the covers, acknowledging Phoebe’s presence.
“Can I go over to Zac’s?”
“Zac is home?” she muttered.
“Of course, honey,” she replied, waving her hand as if to shoo Phoebe back out of the room. Phoebe bounded back down the stairs, jumping over the last three steps.
“Want to come over for dinner?” Zac asked with a smirk.
“Oh I thought you’d never ask,” Phoebe joked back.
Phoebe took a deep breath, wavering back and forth as to what she should do. She didn’t want the tape being given to anyone but Zac. She didn’t want to leave it on the doormat and have Shep accidentally step on it on his way out. It was the end of January and she could see her breath in the air. It was crazy for her to stay on this porch. Maybe she would just ride her bike downtown and drop it off at the studio, instead. She stood up with a sigh, and as she shook her hands to regain feeling in her numb fingers (she had forgotten to put gloves on when she left her house), fully intending on leaving, she heard the door open. She turned quickly, and saw him there, framed by the golden light of a warm home in the middle of winter. She, on the other hand, was flanked by greyish snow. The kind that fell about a week ago, but it had been too cold for it to melt so it just kind of hung around. Reminding you of mistakes.
They stood there in silence for what seemed like hours, even though it was probably only a few seconds. She climbed the three steps up to the door and handed him the envelope. She tried her best to think of something to say to accompany this gesture, but as she breathed in to form the sentence, She could hear a child yell for her dad from inside.
She decided to leave without saying anything. She mounted her bike, feeling lighter after disposing of the envelope. She didn’t look back as she pedalled away.