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Melt It Down and Start Again
Brianna first saw Trevor as the title character in the home-school students’ production of Tartuffe. His black hair was greased back, emphasizing his pale, protruding forehead. The audience laughed at his mannered speech and as he put his hand on the shrinking shoulder of the heroine, though Brianna suspected it wasn’t the character they were laughing at.
Afterwards in the lobby, Brianna complimented her friend, Kelsey, on her mediocre performance and got invited to ice cream. A large group walked to the ice cream shop, Brianna at the tail end, where she had to stride to keep within joke-hearing distance. Eventually she gave that up and walked a bit behind, where Trevor was lurking.
“What’s your name?” he asked. Brianna had round freckled cheeks, colorless eyebrows, and long hair in a ponytail. Her jeans and gray sweatshirt hid her form. She glanced up at him periodically but mostly looked down at her feet, or up at the lavender sunset, or ahead at the group, which seemed to be having that loud kind of fun neither of them could share.
“Bree,” she said.
He snorted. “Are you a girl or a cheese?”
“Depends who you ask, I guess. It’s short for Brianna.”
“Brianna’s lovely. Why would you go by Bree?”
“To me, cheese is lovely.”
“Would you mind if I called you Brianna?”
“Why would I care what you called me?”
Trevor said he knew a shortcut to the ice cream shop. Brianna wondered if it was unwise of her to wander off alone with a boy she’d just met, but she knew Trevor
As they walked, Trevor told her that he believed in God, though he believed God was a spirit rather than a concrete being – the essence of every living thing. And although he hoped there was an afterlife, he didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell. Brianna said “Mmhmm,” asked a few questions, and thought it wonderfully surreal that a boy was telling her what he thought about God while they walked up and down man-made hills and past an abandoned building with windows that popped out at you like an optical illusion. Covering the turf were dozens of rabbits that fled when you got close to them.
“I guess the rabbits all come out at night,” Brianna said.
“Yeah. I talk too much, don’t I?”
“Not at all. This stuff interests me. I want to major in philosophy in college.”
“Where do you want to study?”
“My first choice is the Sorbonne, in Paris.”
“God, that’s fantastic. I love Europe. It seems less shallow than America. I guess because everything’s so old there, they don’t cling to malls and McDonald’s as much as we do.”
“Where do you want to go to college?”
“I don’t know. I want to take a gap year, although my parents aren’t too happy about that. I feel like I need to do as much living as I can during this time. I think the world’s about to change.”
“Isn’t the world always about to change?”
“Well yes, but not to this degree. If you look at the way people live today, it’s radically different than ever before.”
“Don’t people always live differently than ever before? What makes us more different?”
“Well, we’re such a materialistic society. And now with the environment and the economy going to hell, all the things we base our lives around are falling apart. I don’t know how we’re going to react to that, but I’m excited to see what happens.”
When they reached the ice cream shop, the others were already there, eating and talking.
“Maybe it wasn’t a shortcut,” Trevor said. They both bought ice cream and as they sat down at a table by themselves, some of the group regarded them curiously. Brianna wished she was at that table – better yet, alone in her bedroom listening to the Grateful Dead.
As soon as she’d finished her ice cream, Brianna called her mother for a ride home and stood alone outside to wait. For a couple minutes, she stared blankly into the night. She pulled her hair out of its ponytail and ran her fingers through it, draping it around her face like a veil. Stretching her eyes as wide as a porcelain doll’s, she took in a gasp of air. She squeezed her eyes shut and held herself in this tensed position for a moment before releasing the breath. As she flashed opened her eyes, Trevor, on the other side of the shop window, ducked.
Her mother’s car pulled up, and as Brianna headed towards it, she heard the clang of bells and running steps behind her. She felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Could I have your phone number?”
. . .
Trevor’s beige living room was patched with colored light.
“Where did you get all these glass sculptures?” Brianna asked.
“My brother, James, is a professional glass blower. He made most of these,” said Trevor.
An orange horse reared on the coffee table. Brianna ran her careful finger over the grooves of the horse’s mane, its eyelids, its flaring nostrils.
“I can’t imagine how your brother made this out of glass.”
“I made that, actually.”
“My God, really? That’s incredible.”
“James is teaching me the trade. I spend most of my time in his studio.”
“I love this horse. It seems furious. And powerless. It’s kind of tragic.”
He picked up the horse and put it in her hands. “It’s yours.”
“What? No.” She put it back on the table. “Thank you, but no.”
“Take it, please. I want to give it to you.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t accept it. It’s too precious.”
He shrugged. “It’s just a little sculpture. I’ve made dozens of things like it.”
“Can I see them?”
“Of course. Most of them are in my room.” He led her to his bedroom and rushed to smooth the unmade bed. Brianna pretended not to notice. The room was homely except for the glasswork. There was a bulbous green cross on the wall, a red Buddha on the dresser, and a wind chime. Dangling from it were lilies, as delicately curved as a virgin’s figure.
“You’re amazing, Trevor. How can you create things this beautiful? We’re the same age, and I’ve never made anything worth looking at.”
. . .
“Do you want something to drink?” Brianna said. “You can have wine if you want. My dad’s let me have it since I was thirteen.”
“Just water for me, thanks,” said Trevor. Brianna’s father had built this house himself on a mountainside outside of town. He’d constructed it around a giant pine tree, cutting off the lower branches but leaving the trunk to stand in the kitchen and poke through a hole in the ceiling. The upper branches were intact; from above, the roof appeared to be topped with a Christmas tree.
The tree was still growing. Brianna could sometimes hear the creak of the trunk as it pushed against the building. In a few years, there would be a spidery crack in the kitchen floor.
Brianna poured Trevor water from a pitcher. For herself, she got a bottle from the cabinet and filled a crystal glass with red wine.
“I’ll have a glass of that, darling.” A man was standing in the doorway. “Is this Trevor? Glad to meet you. I’m Devlin, Brianna’s dad.” He came into the room and leaned against the counter while Brianna got out another glass. “So, Trevor, you took one look at Brianna and became a helpless mass at her feet.”
“No - I - What?”
“Dad! What are you talking about?”
“Sorry, sorry. Just trying to gauge your relationship.”
“We don’t have a relationship,” Brianna said. Devlin looked at Trevor, who cringed for an instant before he noticed the father’s stare. Trevor evened his expression and focused on running his hand down the bark of the tree.
“Oh. Sorry for presuming, then. 'What can I that am but a witted, wandering fool . . .'” He trailed off, and after a painful silence left, glass in hand.
Brianna took a slow sip of her wine to put off having to speak.
“Was your dad quoting Yeats?”
“He always quotes Yeats.” She looked straight into his eyes as she said, “I’m sorry, Trevor.”
“Don’t be. I took it as a joke, anyway.”
“Yeah. I think he meant it that way.”
Trevor dug in his pocket. “I made something for you.” On the counter he set a glass bead, a little pink rose.
“It’s so pretty. Thank you.”
From then on, every Saturday Trevor gave her a bead - a lovely little piece of color, sculpted into a flower or animal. Or the moon, or a wide eye. Brianna always thanked him as warmly as she could. She put them on a gold chain and wore them every time she saw him.
. . .
In the space on the couch between Trevor’s and Brianna’s bodies, Trevor’s hand had lain paralyzed since the movie began an hour and forty-seven minutes ago. He turned his head whenever Brianna crossed her legs or unfolded her arms; she watched him without moving her eyes from the screen. The end credits were approaching, so using all his strength, Trevor jerked his hand into the air and left it suspended for a long moment before lowering it, like a plane in a war zone, onto her hand.
Brianna tried to keep the muscles in her hand from clenching or twitching, from making any motion. A couple minutes passed. Trevor sat up straight and incrementally angled his body towards her, looking into her face. She met his gaze, looked away as he approached her and his lips pressed her cheek. He pulled away, then advanced again and kissed her lips.
. . .
After that night, Trevor held Brianna’s hand whenever they were alone together. He held on to her now as they walked towards the ice cream shop on the “shortcut”.
“My mom wanted sole custody of me but couldn’t get it, so she has to let me stay with Dad every weekend,” Brianna said.
“Why doesn’t she want you to stay with him?”
“She just hates him, thinks he’s scum. I think he had an affair. There was a woman who used to come to my parents’ dinner parties. She’d always sit across the table from him and scream with laughter at everything he said. Then she wasn’t at the parties anymore. And my parents got divorced.”
“How’d you feel about it?”
“Like I didn’t have a home anymore. But it was better when things were settled and they didn’t have to see each other. Mom gets so angry when she’s in a room with Dad, and he just laughs at her.”
“Is your – No, never mind.”
“What did you want to ask? It’s alright.”
“Do you think your dad’s a nice person?”
“Most of the time, like most people, I guess. He’s always nice to me.”
“Does he like me?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t he?”
“When I met him, I got the feeling that he absolutely abhorred me.”
“You could be right.” Brianna rubbed the back of Trevor’s hand with her thumb. “You know, I realized too late that I didn’t really kiss you back that night.”
“I mean, I should have parted my lips slightly or run my fingers through your hair or something.”
“Oh, um, I guess I don’t know much about how this stuff usually works.”
“Me neither. That’s why kissing me was like kissing a cardboard cutout.”
“No, it wasn’t! Brianna, you’re not a cardboard cutout.” They had stopped walking at the peak of a hill. With a look, they made a decision. Brianna stepped in close to Trevor and ran her hand down his chest. The hill was their stage. Below was their audience: a few rabbits with ears perked.
. . .
“'Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild, With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.'” Brianna heard him beckoning from outside her bedroom door. She opened the door.
“Where are we going?”
“Out to dinner. The Acoma, I think. I need as much time with you as I can get before Trevor takes complete possession.”
They got a table by the window. Normally, Brianna loved looking down on people lined up at the theater across the street, but tonight the restaurant seemed to threaten her. The candle flame said, “Don’t you dare think I’m small. Within me is a potential you can’t fathom. Respect me, or I will eat you.”
“I got into the Sorbonne,” Brianna said.
“My God! You should have told me earlier; I wouldn’t have taken you to the second-nicest restaurant in town. Anyway, bravo. How will Trevor take it?”
“He’s always known I wanted to go.”
“Yes, but does he think you’ll pack him in your suitcase? You’re going to end it with him when you leave, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sweetie, you’re indifferent to him now. You’re not going to fall in love with him from across the ocean.”
“Dad! I’m not indifferent to him! I care about him very much.”
“Just remember that love isn’t rooted in pity.”
“I don’t pity Trevor. He doesn’t need pity. He’s unbelievably talented, and smart, and kind -”
“Alright, alright, I’ll take your word for it. I give in: play your games with the poor boy, though I may writhe with jealousy.” He raised his eyebrows and smiled, propping his white-stubbled chin on his hands.
“I – I’m going to –”
“Sit down; don’t run to the restroom. Don’t cry. Look at me. I love you, starlight. You’ll go to Paris, but you’ll still belong to me, every part of you. Your little nose, your remarkable, quiet soul. My precious treasures.”
. . .
Home from the restaurant, Brianna went into the woods and lay in the dirt. Her mind was quiet except that the clouds seemed to whirr as they brushed against each other. She breathed in.
“Trevor,” she exhaled. She pressed her fingers against her scalp and clenched her hair in her fists. “F***.”
A branch trembled. Brianna jolted upright and looked around her. All she saw were trees. She heard a tiny thud, like a book being shut in another room. As noiselessly as she could, she stood up.
Sprinting, zigzagging, she nearly crashed into every tree. She didn’t stop until she reached the road, deserted and silent. She wasn’t really afraid anymore; there had been no one but her in the woods, and if there had been someone, they wouldn’t have done her harm. She should have gone back to her house, but instead she walked towards town. Calmly.
Following the darkening road, Brianna thought of the day she’d gone to Trevor’s studio and watched him create that week’s bead. He’d hunched close to his creation as he formed it, nurtured it, learned its every detail, tended to its slightest need. Brianna imagined the mother of a bride sewing rubies into her daughter’s gown, rubbing saffron oil on her skin, weaving roses in her hair.
However, the beads were only offerings. If one had an unfixable flaw, Trevor melted it down and started again. She watched him destroy ten beads before one satisfied him. But when they were around her neck, she could see he was satisfied. Not because they were beautiful, but because he had filled them with his strongest, purest feelings.
Brianna felt like a fool as she walked on in the blackness. She envisioned people hearing the news that her brutalized corpse had been found under an overpass, and saying, “It’s a terrible tragedy, but honestly, what was she thinking?”
Soon, however, she came to the lit streets of the town.
She didn’t want to ring the doorbell at this time of night, so she stood in Trevor’s backyard, looking up at his bedroom window, which was dark, as was the rest of the house. Her neck became sore, so she sat down in the grass. By six AM, when Trevor’s mother, letting the dog out, discovered her, Brianna was half-asleep, hugging herself for warmth.
. . .
“Brianna, what happened? Are you okay?” Trevor asked. His mother had guided Brianna into the house, sat her down, and wrapped her in a blanket, then woken up her son.
“I’m fine. I’m so sorry. Really – I’m fine. God, I swear no one’s tried to murder me or any – I don’t know why I – I just, I’m so stupid. I – but I’m fine. I’m sorry.” Brianna could hardly be understood, because she kept bursting into laughter.
“She needs sleep,” said the mother, and she was right. After a six hour collapse in the guest bedroom, Brianna could think and speak clearly. Trevor was waiting for her in the living room.
“We’ll have to break up when I go to the Sorbonne.”
“Not necessarily. I could – I could move to Paris.”
“No, sweetie. I don’t want you to move to Paris.” Trevor choked, then tried to laugh.
Brianna knew she had to leave.
She hadn’t wanted the relationship to end that day. She’d expected Trevor to kiss her goodbye at airport security, maybe tell her to meet him in the Eiffel Tower on a certain summer’s day years from now and that he would marry her. But he didn’t even call.
She took off the beads as soon as she left Trevor’s house. For weeks the sight of them made her sick. Years later she’d wear them, because they were pretty, mostly.