Tommy and Laura This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 9, 2012
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The music was too loud and swanky for Tommy’s taste. He didn’t care at all for the obnoxious way the saxophone kept erupting unexpectedly, or the way the horn players swung their instruments aggressively from side to side. To him, they looked less like the high quality event band his sister had sought out and more like a crew of maniacal street performers thrown in tuxes.
Tommy could use his distaste for the music as an excuse to steer clear of the dance floor. He was quite comfortable in his current location, leaning against the bar and allowing the bartender to refill his glass at regular intervals.

“Champagne.” Tommy shook his head as he sipped from the flute.

His sister Jane was no longer Jane Harper. His baby sister was now Mrs. Jane Ryan, wife to Gregory Ryan Jr., Esquire. In typical Jane fashion, she had accomplished precisely what she had always planned; she met a handsome boy in college, waited for him to graduate Law School, and married him, securing for herself a long life of comfort in the suburbs.

Tommy watched Greg lead his sister to the middle of the floor, nearly gagging as the lights dimmed and the band struck up a slow song that heavily featured the saxophone. The rest of the guests “awwww”ed as Jane planted a gentle kiss on Greg’s lips, but Tommy let out a short bark of laughter, earning scathing looks from the group of elderly couples at the nearest table.

He tipped his glass in their direction before swishing down its remnants.

“You must have something stronger,” he said to the bartender, setting his empty flute down forcefully.

The bartender obliged him with a shot of tequila.

Tommy took the shot glass and looked around.
“Cheers to…to…”

His eyes fell on Laura. She was walking through the strangely lit dance floor, her pale pink bridesmaid’s dress glowing eerily. She must have felt Tommy’s gaze, because her eyes locked with his and she waved, heading now in his direction.

“Cheers to Laura Baker, Maid of Honor.” Tommy peaked over at the bartender, perhaps seeking some sort of affirmation, but the man had busied himself wiping glasses at the far end of the bar. Tommy shrugged and pounded back his tequila.

“I haven’t seen you much at all tonight, Tommy.” Laura slid onto a stool only inches away from where Tommy leaned.

Tommy glanced at her briefly before continuing to glare at various dancers.

“Yeah well, haven’t seen you much in the past few years.” He retorted.

Laura took a glass of champagne from the bartender.

“Hardly my fault. I’m always around your family. I spent Thanksgiving with your mom and Jane last year. You however have become more of a myth than a person these days. I always hear about you but never actually see you.” She nudged him with her high heel, which was the same pink as her dress. Tommy looked at her again, this time allowing himself to take her in.

Her dress was different from the other bridemaids’. It was cut shorter, just below her knee, as though the privilege of being the Maid of Honor was the right to show some leg. Tommy wouldn’t have been surprised if this had been a sticking point in Bride-to-Maid of Honor negotiations; he could practically hear Jane whining as Laura refused to deny herself the opportunity to show off her slim calves.

“I’ve been busy, you know, living the fast life.” He grinned, and so did she.

Tommy had spent his years since dropping out of freshman year as somewhat of a vagrant. Tommy and Marcus, his best friend from his summers in Cape Cod, hopped from city to city, doing a wide array of things to make the cash to pay for booze and rent. He had waited tables in New York, only to be fired for being sarcastic with a patron. He spent a winter as a bar-back in Miami, this time fired again for sarcasm. For a weekend he had been a doorman at club in LA before getting himself removed from the premises for participating in a fight rather than breaking it up. Tommy had even become a substitute teacher for very brief time in Chicago. On that occasion he had been fired for teaching about the positive effects of marijuana rather than discouraging his middle school pupils from the substance.

“The fast life,” she repeated in a deep, mocking tone and waggling her perfectly tweezed eyebrows. “Is that what they call it these days, senor?”

Senor. Tommy’s smile faded just a tad. Laura must have realized what she had said; she looked down at her drink, nervously smoothing her skirt. Senor. Must have been five, six years since someone had called him that. And that someone had almost certainly been Laura. For a moment Tommy couldn’t help but be back in the backseat of that old Jeep, couldn’t help but remember the squeal of laughter that had escaped Laura as he suddenly stopped kissing along the stark tanlines on her neck and began to tickle her waist. Tommy Stop! Por favor, senor! Tommy attacked with even more rigor, pretending to be further enraged her poor-accented Spanish.

“Want to do another shot?”

Tommy blinked, resetting himself. Laura was waving down the bartender, leaning just far enough onto the bar for Tommy to get a glimpse of her upper thigh.

“Yep, another shot would be excellent.”

Laura handed him another glass of tequila.

“To our Jane and her wonderful Gregory!” She scrunched her nose and made her voice nasally.

Tommy clinked his glass to hers and they drank.

“God , I must say I’m a little disappointed in Jane. Gregory is so…so boring.”

“Oh come on. He’s the perfect guy for girls like you and Jane. Trust fund, law degree, straight nose and white teeth. Surprised you didn’t claw for him yourself, Laura.”

Laura opened her mouth and put her left hand on her chest. To his surprise, the notorious ring he had heard so much about was nowhere to be seen.

“I am offended, Thomas. Could you really picture me with someone like that?” she nodded at Gregory, who was now at the microphone and beginning the first verse of The Way You Look Tonight .

“Yeah well, you hear things.” Tommy shrugged. He looked at her with his eyes widened in artificial innocence.

Laura crossed her arms. Beneath the many pretty silver bracelets, Tommy could make out the slightly raised horizontal lines on her pale wrists. He quickly looked away.

“I heard you got yourself a sugar daddy out there in the Big Apple. Wall Street fellow, from what I hear. Where is he?” He put his hand to his forehead and pretended to search the crowd.
“Ah that must be him!” He pointed to a fat, middle-aged man standing about fifty feet away talking to two bridesmaids who were both looking extremely uncomfortable.

“Ah yes, that’s my man. I do love massaging his fat rolls late at night.”

Tommy laughed, edging just a little bit nearer to Laura’s stool.

“So where is the fellow then, m’dear? Where is the notorious Sir Money Bags?”

Laura sighed and looked down at her empty glass.

“Don’t know, certainly don’t care.”

“He cheated on you with some high-end call girl, didn’t he?” Tommy turned around so the he was facing the bar, while at the same edging to within an inch brushing arms with Laura.

“No!” Laura said defensively. “I broke it off a few months ago. I don’t think I’m capable of loving a man like that anyway.”

He tried not to dwell on the fact that Jane had neglected to tell him that Laura had ended it with Sir Money Bags months ago.

“A man like what? Rich? Powerful?”

“No, I can definitely do rich and powerful.”

“Then what was it? Bad in the sack?”

Laura grinned mischievously, sending a pang right into Tommy’s gut. He remembered that grin, possibly invented that grin. He could see that very same smirk on her 12 year old face as she and Jane beat him and Marcus in a game of Taboo, on her bobbing face as she treaded water just out of his reach during the annual swim race across the pond, and in her eyes as she pulled him in for their first kiss after Jane and the others had all headed inside to escape the rain.

“No, senor, that was not the case.” Her words brought him back to the present. “ He was just so boring. All he ever did was talk about stocks or hedge funds or whatever kind of crap those people like to talk about.”

Tommy laughed,

“You,” he poked her shoulder. “Don’t even know what exactly he said to bore you to death.”

She looked up at him, her blue eyes stabbing a thousand memories into his long suppressed heart.

“Well, that just shows how much that marriage was not meant to be.”

Tommy just smiled down at her, unsure of what to say, and nodded. The two just looked at each other for a long moment. Tommy broke the silence by clearing his throat and signaling for another champagne.

“So,” he began as Gregory concluded another Frank Sinatra melody with a drawn out high note. “ you’re not marrying the Wall Street guy. I take it then you’ve decided to fulfill the old dream?”

She furrowed her brow, eyes narrowed and lips parted just slightly. He pushed back the avalanche of thoughts this expression assembled.

“The old dream? C’mon, Laura, we couldn’t get you to shut up about the Peace Corps for like, 5 years! I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing you told me about yourself: Hi, I’m Laura and I want to join the Peace Corps and save the world and not shave my legs or be respectable like my daddy wants!”

Laura swatted his arm.

“I did not sound like that! And you know what, maybe I’ll still do that Peace Corps thing.”

Tommy made a sweeping motion up and down her figure.

“Really? I don’t think they let you join with your hair in a pretty little bun like that, or with French manicured finger nails, or with antique pearls around your neck or in your ears. In fact, I think your degree in Political Science and current position as assistant to a very republican New York mayor pretty much exclude you from the personnel they are looking for.”

Laura stuck her tongue out at him.

“Yeah well, what I do pays the bills.”

Just then, Jane’s voice rang out over the microphone.

“Laura! My maid of honor! Where are you hiding!”

“Oh lord, here we go,” Laura mumbled, rising from her stool. She put a hand on Tommy’s shoulder as she passed by.
“See you in a bit, maybe.”

Jane was now gesturing eagerly for Laura to come to the stage. Tommy watched as she strode confidently through the parted crowd. Her dress scooped a bit in the back, revealing her shoulder blades. Tommy thought he could see the traces of a smiley face scar at the base of her neck, barely hidden by the pearls she had sworn never to wear. He remembered her lighting the lighter for almost a minute, remembered asking her what the hell she was doing. She had winked a red rimmed, glossy eye, and reached back and pressed the face of the lighter firmly against her own skin, just as Marcus and he had done just minutes before. Jane had snatched the lighter from Laura’s hand, but the skin was already red, a sneering grin rising from her tan skin.

Jane led the room in applause as Laura stepped gracefully onto the stage. She rushed forward and threw her arms around Laura, and Tommy was reminded, again, that he was always coming in second to his baby sister Jane. As though it wasn’t enough that she was the smarter one, the athletic one, the one destined for that sickly perfect upper middle class life. But Jane also had Laura. Laura had come into their lives as Jane’s new summer friend. And then she was Jane’s best friend in the whole world, inseparable in the summer and in constant communication during the year. They certainly had their differences; while Jane was reserved and cautious, Laura was sarcastic and eccentric. She would, to Tommy’s 13 year old disgust and embarrassment, drag Jane, Tommy, and his friends to midnight premieres of sci fi fantasy movies. And she would dress in character.

On stage, Laura was clutching Jane’s hand as she spoke into the microphone, alternating her sincere gaze from Jane’s teary face to the engrossed faces of the audience. Tommy wasn’t even listening to what she was saying. He didn’t really care to hear about how Greg and Jane met, how Greg won Laura’s approval, or how Jane was Laura’s life inspiration. How without Jane, she might not be there today. No, Tommy didn’t care to hear that sort of thing at all.

Instead he took the opportunity to look around the room, searching for a stumbling bridesmaid or maybe some former flame of the groom crying into her martini.

He spotted a girl he had been introduced to the night before, at the rehearsal. A short, petite brunette bridesmaid who taught yoga, he remembered. She was sniffling, sitting alone at a table and ripping a napkin into little pieces. He sauntered over in her direction, racking his blurry mind for her name. Donna, Dina, Annabel…he knew it was something like that.

“Making a sculpture?” He asked, nodding to the pile of shredded napkin as he plopped into the chair closest to the girl. She smiled, inching her chair a little closer as she opened her lipstick smeared mouth to respond.

And as she droned on and on about her secret love for the groom or the bride or something to that effect, Tommy nodded and frowned and thought of Laura.

“….you know what I mean?” The bridesmaid whimpered, big brown eyes shining with a sure invitation back to her hotel room if he responded correctly.

Tommy suddenly became aware of the absence of a glass in his hand. He shoved away from the table, not bothering to offer the petite bridesmaid an explanation or attempt to save face.

Before he even sat down on a stool, the bartender shoved a glass of dark liquid his way with a solemn nod. As he reached a shaking hand toward the glass, a French manicured hand swept in and whisked it away.

“The hell.” He growled, slamming his empty fist against the counter.

“Calm down.” Laura narrowed her eyes, lips pursed, pausing with the glass in hand as though offering Tommy the chance to try snatch it back. Tommy sighed, conceding, and she smiled before gulping down the mysterious elixir. He watched as her whole body shivered in protest of the poison, but her eyes closed in satisfaction and her glossy lips spread into a smile.

“Ah! Look who seemed to have found each other from across the crowded room!”

The booming voice made Tommy’s head hurt.

Thomas Harper Sr. had appeared out of nowhere, Scotch in hand and a fat cigar sticking out of his mouth. He threw an arm around Laura’s shoulders, who smiled and rolled her eyes.

“Looks like someone is having a good time,” She pretended to fan cigar smoke away from her face.

Thomas Sr. plucked the cigar from his lips and pointed it at his son as he spoke.

“You know, Tommy, I’ll get right to the point, because I think if I tip toe around the subject too long, I’ll fall face first against this counter before I tell you both what I came over here to tell you.” He laughed loudly, cigar spittle flying and hitting Tommy square in the forehead. Laura pressed her hand to her mouth, poorly muffling her laughter.

“Go on then, Dad.” Tommy said, poignantly wiping the glop with the back of his hand.

His father adopted a grim, serious face.

“It’s just such a shame that you two,” He wrapped his free arm around Tommy’s shoulders, gripping harder when Tommy attempted to shake him off.

“That YOU two, Tommy and Laura, never really worked it out. Just would’ve been such a treat to get to officially have lovely Laura in the family. I mean, God knows she’d never have you back now. I mean you’re a lousy waiter, or bartender or something like that. Such a shame.”

When neither Laura nor Tommy chimed in, he continued.

“To be fair, I suppose you were just kids when you were together, and we know how annoyed you two made Jane! But I always thought that somehow you two whackos would pull it together! Let’s be honest Laura, back then you were a bit of a mess yourself! I’m sure I don’t know the half of it- Lord knows I probably don’t want to! I do remember you and Jane coming in late at night…You a stumbling mess and Jane practically propping you up! Don’t think I didn’t notice…just thought maybe you would infuse some fun into Dorky Jane-“

“Dreary Jane,” Tommy corrected him instinctively.

“Dreary Jane! That’s right! Well it seems to me Dreary Jane has done quite well for herself now hasn’t she? And even Laura pulled it together! Not long after the summer she dumped you, to tell you the truth. She seems to have done well…”

Tommy physically removed his father’s arm from his shoulders.

“Ok, Dad, I think its time you found your way upstairs and to bed.” He signaled for his father’s latest 30 year old yoga-teaching girlfriend to come remove his father. When he had been dragged a safe distance away, Laura cleared her throat.

“Well that was pleasant. Your dad is always good for a laugh, huh?”

Tommy didn’t respond and instead accepted a new glass from the bartender. Laura began to drum her fingers. Her nails hit the fake mahogany like repetitive, minute bullets.

A few moments of heavy silence ensued, during which Tommy fought the urge to swat her hand off the counter.

“Hey, who cares what he says anyway. I love your dad, but he’s a wee bit narrow minded. “

Tommy still didn’t respond.

“Stop wallowing in your own misery. The Tommy I grew up with didn’t wallow.” She poked his shoulder.

Abruptly, Tommy grabbed her hand. Hard. Startled, Laura stood and stepped backward, trying to pull her hand out of his grasp. When he didn’t relent, she merely looked at him, and Tommy felt his heart sink. He had frightened her, and this wasn’t the first time he had seen her blue eyes widen, the flush of color drain from her cheeks, and her slim figure stiffen. But Tommy couldn’t let go. He let the sight of her fear and the warm sensation of her hand in his to tear him away from the hellish wedding and back to that day. It seemed like much longer than six years since he had held his hand out to Laura, urging her to slide into his passenger seat.

“ Laura, don’t be stupid!” Jane, perpetually sober, had cried from the sidewalk.

Laura, already unsteady on her feet, looked between her best friend and Tommy. She stood outside the car, the door open, hesitating.

“C’mon, babe. It’ll be fun I promise.” Tommy leaned far enough across the center console of his sedan to grab Laura’s wrist. She flinched as his grip tightened around her most recent wounds.

“Oh suck it up. You did that to yourself,” Tommy murmured before he could help it. He was immediately sorry when he felt her rip her arm away.

Jane sighed. “Good! Now let’s go Laura! It’s already midnight and we were supposed to be back a half hour ago.” Jane stepped forward and tried to tug Laura. But Laura still didn’t budge.

Tommy was growing impatient. In the back seat, Marcus swore at the girls loudly and kicked the back of Tommy’s seat.

“Are you coming or not?”

When Laura still said nothing, Tommy lost it.

“Screw it. Go home and play Scrabble or some s*** with Dreary Jane.”

He leaned again across the console, shoved Laura out of the way, and slammed the door.

“Tommy! Wait-“ But fueled by Marcus’ cheers, Tommy ignored her and slammed on the gas.
It was that moment that he began to feel the seven shots he had taken in the last hour or so. He vision swam as he peaked in his rearview mirror back to where Jane and Laura stood. He remembered seeing Laura standing just where he left her, unmoving despite Jane’s obvious attempts to make her budge. And then he remembered Marcus’ yelp, and the surreal screech of metal against metal as his sedan collided with a telephone pole.

And it all went black for what seemed like hours. The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back on the pavement, looking up at a stranger with a flashlight bearing down into his sore eyes.

“The hell…” He swatted the flashlight away and tried to sit up, but the EMT pushed him back down, muttering on about head injuries or something or other.

While the man checked his pulse and prodded various parts of his abdomen, Tommy became aware of Jane’s wailing sobs. He turned his head slightly to the right, and could see his sister standing among the small crowd of rental-house-tourists that had gathered in the street. A cop was ushering them all further back, but Jane kept trying to break through, crying out Tommy’s name. The cop moved as though to push her back again, but someone else had already wrapped an arm around her, holding her in place.

Laura was neither crying nor shouting. The blue eyes he loved were wide now, frozen with an emotion he had never seen before on the face of his Laura. She looked ghastly, pale and stiff. Her stricken eyes were locked with his.

The EMT tilted Tommy’s head straight again, asking him to follow the path of his gloved finger. For the next several minutes, Tommy could see nothing but the serious face of the EMT as he answered a string of pestering questions. Somewhere off to his left, Marcus was arguing hysterically with a cop. All the while, he could hear his sister’s sobs and feel the brutal weight of Laura’s silence.

They lifted him into the ambulance, and he could see Laura’s face relax when he gave her a feeble wave. Then they closed the ambulance doors, and they ushered Tommy far away.

“Ouch, Tommy, come on let go.”

The moment he began to loosen his grip, she whisked her hand away. Tommy expected her to make a polite excuse and to rejoin the crowd, but Laura simply stood there, rubbing her hand absentmindedly and looking at him. Her expression was unfamiliar.

“What?” He huffed defensively.

“Nothing,” She said, crossing her arms and continuing to stare. Tommy wondered if her expression was that of pity.

Tommy fidgeted on his stool, scratching at the long scar on his right forearm, the only visible evidence of that night.

“Where’s Marcus tonight?” She asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Well, I expect he’s exactly where left him. On the couch watching Comedy Central and drinking beer.”

Laura nodded, as though she knew anything about the daily lives of Marcus and Tommy. Laura didn’t say another word for several minutes, and Tommy did nothing but stare mindlessly at the mirror that hung behind the shelves wine glasses.

When a handsome usher appeared and asked Laura to dance, she hesitated only for a moment, stealing a glance at the stoic Tommy before allowing herself to be lead away. Tommy watched in the mirror as Laura was charmed out of her gloom by a few dips and fancy twirls, watched her solemn expression melt into laughter. From here, he mused, it was impossible to make out the scars on her wrist or at the base of her neck. He took pride in the fact that he could always say he knew the real Laura, the sad, reckless, imperfect girl from so many years ago. He refused to believe in the smile she flashed at the usher, or the carrying sound of her laughter. She had proven many years ago that she was like him, and he was anything but happy.

Satisfied with his reasoning, Tommy stood from his stool and left the reception. He went, alone, up to his empty hotel room, and let the potent mixture of alcohol in his bloodstream put him to sleep. He dreamt of Laura.

It was well after midnight by the time the last of the guests shuffled out of the banquet room. Jane and Greg had been whisked away several hours before in a long black limo, the lovely island of Capri awaiting their arrival. Only Laura was left in the quiet room, sitting by herself at an empty table as servers and caterers hustled around with rags and bus buckets.

Her many silver bracelets lay on the table before her, and for the first time in years Laura allowed herself to look at her bare wrists. She had expected to be revolted, embarrassed, ashamed by the faded lines. But instead she felt nothing. Closing her eyes, she tried to remember the feeling of finally working up the courage to press the blade into her flesh, tried to hear her own gasp of pain or feel that perverted sense of release that came with it. But Laura couldn’t remember any of that.

“What’s wrong, babe?”

She opened her eyes. John, the usher, was standing next to her.

“Jeez, I didn’t hear you walk up.” She said lamely.

John sat down next to her.

“Yeah well, you seem pretty wrapped up in your own little world.” He nodded at her wrist. To her own surprise, Laura made no effort to shield the scars from view.

“You know, I can’t remember why I did that,” Laura whispered, tracing the boldest mark with her thumb. “I don’t know what on earth was going through my head.”

“Well,” John said, taking her wrist in his hand and lifting it to his lips. He kissed each of the marks individually. “My guess, is because that angry, lonely, and forgive foolish girl with the razor blade is not the same girl who is sitting her right now..”

Laura said nothing. She knew he was probably right. She thought of Tommy.

“So,” John stood. “You ready to go?”

She nodded, scooping up her bracelets.

“You forgot your other jewelry.”

Laura looked at John, who was holding a silver band with a single, massive diamond that, in the dimmed lighting of the vacant room, glowed and sparkled warmly. She smiled and held her hand out, allowing him to slip the ring back into its place.

Laura’s mind drifting to Tommy once more as her and John rode the elevator up to their suite. Jane had convinced her to take the ring off, just for one night. Tommy would be there. Laura hadn’t asked why it should matter that Tommy might see her ring. She hadn’t spoken to or seen him in years

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