I rolled over, chucking a pillow over the back of my head, pressing the cotton covered goose feathers against my ears. What time did he call this?
The rattling of the locked door came again. “It’s eight in the morning. Up.” The way Jack said eight sounded as if I’d overslept.
I moaned, “Come back in an hour . . . at least.”
The receding footsteps made me relax. There was something about a morning bed that was alluring; cozy and snugly, unlike at nights when the sheets were cool and crisp. It was hard for me to get to sleep some nights, but it was harder getting up in the mornings.
Dozing, I dreamed of the gig my band had next week. I was standing on stage but where my guitar should’ve been was a bright pink potted plant with a sunflower growing in it. The rest of the band fervently nodded at me to start playing like they couldn’t see what the trouble was, why I hadn’t already started.
Chrissy’s sparkling green eyes mocked me, laughing, and I could hear the number 17 falling from her rosy lips. The audience in front of me was still, unmoving, only the occasional blinks told me they were watching, waiting for something to happen. I opened my mouth to sing, and opera came out. Seriously, opera?
The harsh, tangible sound of a key entering a lock and the snap of the bar as it slid away from the door frame woke me. Thank God we had two more practices before the big night.
I waited for Jack’s intrusion. It could only be him, no one else would be so bold, and even if they were—Faye usually slept till midday, and Terry always used the quiet morning time to work on his projects.
“Knew that spare key would come in handy.” Jack’s voice had a satisfied undertone.
I turned onto my back, kicked the bedcover away while lifting my arms above my head and stretching. “Jesus. I don’t ever barge in on you. Why didn’t you wake Faye first? She’s the one who sleeps longest.”
“Faye doesn’t take forever getting ready.” Like some people, his arched brow seemed to say before he left the room.
I slowly sat up, swung my legs off the side of the bed and stretched again, a low growl escaping me as my muscles extended and contracted. Rubbing my eyes, I let myself adjust to standing on two legs for a moment before fishing for my towel on the back of the armchair.
My wardrobe was empty. Darn. Moving to my clothes draped armchair, I lifted my tee-shirts one by one, sniffing under the armpits. I settled on a green tee with a stencil of yellow headphones on it. I’d only worn it twenty minutes, but had taken it off after sloshing tomato juice down it. All I had to do was wet the small area on the bottom hem and it’d be fine. Mental note to self: I really couldn’t put off doing a wash any longer.
After I’d showered, changed and spiked my hair, I went back to my room. My whole body was itching and unsatisfied. Opening the desk drawer, I pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
In my right hand, I held the light cardboard box upside down and tapped it with my left palm. Slowly I drew one out, sniffing the length of the smooth white paper.
I fumbled on my desk, searching for my lighter.
Where was it? I was sure I’d left it next to T.T Malley’s Oxion House. I checked the bookshelf and the pocket of yesterday’s jeans. Nada.
Guess matches would have to do.
Opening my window and popping my upper body outside, I lightly placed the orange end of my addiction between my lips. In one stroke I lit the match; cocooning the flame with my hand I brought it up and let it kiss the finely cut tobacco leaves and paper. I sucked in short quick puffs and once I tasted the first bit of smoke, started fully inhaling, letting the smoke work its magic in my lungs.
Down the spiral staircase through the open door, I could hear a ruckus from the kitchen area. I knew what that was about. Sighing, I inhaled once more before saving the rest of my beautiful cigarette for later.
Upstairs, piled higher than I thought possible, was a teetering tower of every dish, cup and utensil we had. One wrong breath and Jenga.
Make that every dish, cup and utensil minus a pot and two wooden spoons, I thought, at seeing sleepy-eyed Faye and Terry eating their muesli.
“I’d do anything for a dishwasher,” I grumbled, plugging the sink, having no idea where to start with the mess. If I took the wrong thing, everything would collapse.
Twisting the hot tap and pouring in some detergent, I watched the foam thicken; white and foamy. Childish or no, I loved bouncing my hands on the top of it—as a kid I used to believe clouds were suds, readying themselves to drop down and clean the city.
Us kids would sing “Rain, rain go away, come again another day.”
If only there was such a song to make dishes go away. “Maggot-fest,” I cursed and, stretching my Jenga-fingers, chose a mug for my first extraction.
The pile wobbled, but kept steady. I dunked the mug into the water.
“Finally,” I heard Jack cheer behind me. He came over to the sink, a smug grin plastered across his face.
I cupped my hands into the water and tossed it on him. “Piss off.”
The foam landed on his hair, chin, and neck. Behind us, Terry laughed, stopping when Faye nudged him in the ribs.
Jack stood still a moment, staring at me. Then, without removing the suds, moved to the fridge. Huh, I’d been expecting an insult or two at that—
Something slimy hit my face. I threw my fingers up to see what it was. Then looked from my red fingertips to my red splotched tee-shirt to Jack. In his hand was the new bottle of ketchup we’d bought yesterday, its lidless top held towards me like a weapon.
“Man,” I said, eyes glued to his, like cowboys in a duel, “you suck. That was my last tee.”
For a second, I thought I caught Jack wavering as if sorry for plastering me in sauce, but before I could be sure Terry landed a hand on my shoulder. “Come on Drake, you can borrow one of mine.”
At the calming sound of his voice, I realized how much I’d tensed up. Doing my best to ignore Jack, I let Terry lead me away.
As much as I loved Terry, his room freaked me out. The bed was always made crease free, the pillows arranged symmetrically, and on his desk stood an army of model robots in file, shining as if they had a daily dusting.
Terry lifted a few neatly folded tee-shirts out of his chest of drawers. “These should fit. It’s probably a good idea to do a load of washing, though.”
“On my list of to-dos.” I reached behind my neck, pulled off the victim of my fight with Jack. “Man he bugs me.”
Terry frowned, picking up a walkie-talkie contraption he was designing from his desk. “You don’t see it, do you?”
Before I could ask him to explain, Terry’s walkie-talkie slipped to the floor and he cursed. “Oh, baby,” he crooned, gently placing it back on his desk.
I chucked on the nearest tee, deep red and fitting perfectly. “I owe you.”
Stomping up the stairs, I passed Jack without a glance, and pulled more dishes into the sink, the remainder of the pile wobbling. I scrubbed the burnt pots with the now lukewarm water. “Let’s stick up a reminder for people to soak the pots,” I said to Faye sitting at the table.
“Terry does that already.”
“Well of course he does it.”
“Drake? I was wondering about Drupes, will we be okay dressed like this? We won’t be offending their etiquette will we?”
Faye wore a pair of jeans, black sneakers and a highlighter-lemony green zip-up cardigan. Holy Macaroni.
“The only thing you’ll be offending for sure are our eyes,” I said, chuckling, “What’s with the caterpillar-top?”
“Caterpillar-top?” she started shrugging out of said cardigan-thing. “It was on sale. I don’t want to be one of those girls that always wear black.”—She paused, before amending – “Not while I’m young and have a figure.” Then she huffed. “Least my jeans don’t need to be held up with safety-pins.”
I looked down, at my low slung jeans with two lovely holes at the knees. Hey, it was my style.
“Anyway,” I said, answering Faye’s earlier question, “I don’t know what they wear. Didn’t get around to checking that out. I’d say just keep it simple. If we need to change, we pilfer something there.”
Terry entered the room, grabbing a dish towel. “You have band practice tonight?”
“Yeah,” I said, “mind if we use your garage?”
“Go ahead. I’ll just move a couple of projects.”
“If it’s a big deal—“
“I get front row seats, remember. Besides, not like I’m gonna say no when it’s your birthday.”
“Midnight. Close enough.”
Midnight. I’d be seventeen. The thought made me suddenly nervous. I’d been dreaming of this moment for months; of finally being old enough to register on Chrissy’s radar. But I still hadn’t planned how I was going to approach her. What would I say? How would I say it?
I must have said Chrissy’s name, because Terry chuckled.
Jack marched into the room, coldness radiating off him as he slumped at the table. If I thought he’d looked at me darkly before, I’d been mistaken. His brown eyes bored into mine, in them anger and resentment, and . . . something else.
“Let me give you a tip,” Terry said, “don’t come on too strong.”
Faye’s voice sailed over to me. “And listen.”
“God, stop with the advice, already,” I said, louder than I meant to.
It wasn’t like I’d never had a girlfriend before. Although, admittedly it had been a while; before I’d moved into the house. And I probably hadn’t been the best boyfriend either; I was pretty messed up back then. But with Chrissy it was different. She was so self-confident, so herself, just plain . . . awesome. There was no way I was gonna mess this up.
“I’m going to print the map of Drupes,” Faye said, thankfully changing the subject.
“I’ll come with you,” Jack said, his expression lightening up. Faye nodded.
That was weird. I really thought they only put up with each other. . . A flatmate tolerance-thing. Like, meh, can’t choose my flatmates—not in this house—but I can choose my friends.
Outside the house, there’s no way they’d have ‘chosen’ the other.
“Gonna help me prepare the door, Drake?” Terry said, slapping my back.
Oh yeah. “Give me a sec,” I said, pulling off the cleaning gloves, “let’s meet on my floor.”
It took me five minutes to get what I needed. Terry was already waiting outside my room, carrying a ladder under one arm and swinging a mahogany toolkit in the other.
“Let’s do this!” he said.
We trotted down the hall to the huge metal door. Its size made even Terry’s height seem small.
Where others might only see a chunk of metal with hinges, two doorknobs on either side, and what looked like an alarm pad in the middle connected to cogs, I took pride in seeing it for what it really was.
A door where the possible met the impossible.
Our world and the Oxions.
Where words like ‘normal’ and ‘interesting’ became meaningless—could only be defined in terms of experience.
It represented BFAA. (Big Fucking Awesome Adventures)
I smiled, resting my thumb on Trinka—the alarm-pad lookalike. A small jolt of electricity shocked my hand, and I quickly removed it.
“Bites every time,” I muttered, watching the cogs twist, pushing each other in rotation, once—twice—three times.
“It knocked Faye to the floor the last month.” Terry shook his head. “I really should check if I can do anything about it.”
I knew why Terry hadn’t tinkered with it so far; he was afraid it wouldn’t be the same after, that somehow he’d destroy our connection to the Oxions, to the magic that transported us there. A shudder ran through me imagining what it would mean if a whole floor were demolished. Would it affect the rest of the house? Or would that floor just cease to exist anymore?
I concentrated on the Trinka. Underneath the screen where I’d place my thumb were nine tiny numbers and an ‘enter’ key. Flicking open D.H Lawdonna’s Directory to the Oxions, I looked up the area codes we needed. ‘Oh-two-oh-three-and-oh-seven.’ The door started humming, vibrating through my teeth. I grinned up at Terry. “Your turn.”
Terry moved to my right side and set up the ladder. He climbed up a few rungs so that he could reach the large rectangular latch on the supporting beam above the door. He smiled as he looked down at me and I was reminded of the Cheshire cat.
Gripping the lever, he pulled the latch and locked it down. The humming in the door grew louder. Terry smiled and leaped off the ladder, almost landing on me, but I quickly darted out the way.
We took the spiral stairs two at a time to the Faye’s lab. “You guys ready?” Terry boomed.
Jack and Faye were back in the living room, papers on the table before them.
Faye straightened a few papers on the edge of the desk and lifted them toward me. “Think so.”
Then she dropped the papers on the table as Terry pulled her out of her chair and into a spin. Jack dodged a swinging foot, ducking toward the staircase.
“Got the map! And the notepad.” I heard Jack call. “Let’s go!”
I snatched up my satchel and followed Faye and Terry to the door.
Terry rested his hand on the left doorknob, Faye clutched the banister and Jack dangled a bag over his shoulder.