(Excerpted from Come As You Are, a novel in progress)
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
Hannah’s cousins were a disappointment. Cliquish and silly, they pretty much ignored her – interloper that she was – once they’d exhausted all points of inquiry about life in California. Did she surf, they asked breathlessly. How many movie stars had she seen? Was everyone tan? Gay? A hippy? After a while, she’d just started making up outlandish tales to entertain herself and – truth be told – prove her superiority. She told them she’d won several surf contests, that her English teacher had been an incredibly, tan, gay and hippy. And she amazed them with a compelling – but completely false – account how her life had been saved when a famous movie star had pushed her out of the way of an oncoming vehicle with another famous movie star at the wheel.
They’d finally caught on – Hannah hadn’t been trying too hard to fool them anyway – and now she was ostracized completely. Sure, they still invited her to accompany them on outings to participate in activities, but this was done for appearance only – to forestall reprimands and lectures by ever-watchful aunts and uncles. And even though she might find herself surrounded by them, she was so effectively cut off that she felt like she was trapped in a bubble floating high above them, bolstered on their shoulders and suspended by their collective disdain and indifference.
Which was why Ethan had been such a revelation – and a lifesaver. Quiet, thoughtful – he always looked her in the eye when she spoke – he was interested in whatever she had to say, even when she was politely responding to some halfhearted inquiry lobbed her way by a disinterested cousin trying to gain some brownie points from the adults by being nice to the half-orphaned charity case.
To be fair, Ethan was himself an interloper – an intrusion into their hegemony that they could not ever completely embrace. It didn’t help matters much that his blond hair and sea-green eyes stood out in sharp relief the dark haired, dark eyed legions. Her medium brown curls provoked less of a visual insult, and as such she was at least spoken to on occasion. But her pale blue eyes were too startling to encourage easy familiarity amongst her browned brethren. She could tell her look unsettled them, and she reveled in their discomfort. She had the same eyes as her father – a stamp of ownership she proudly claimed.
She would always love Ethan for the kindness he’d showed her in those first few months when she was still reeling with loss. His kindness all the more valuable once she learned the effort it took for him to be around the rest of the family. Her presence annoyed them, but his enflamed them – there was a level of hatred there that she took pains to ignore, even as she searched for its source.
She always made him retell the story of how they’d met. He’d just come back from an extended stay with his uncle – a dreary interlude that he never detailed but always referred to as “that time.” He hadn’t been much looking forward to returning to the old homestead, but he had been happy to exchange one discomfort for another, if for no other reason than the short novelty the change afforded.
He walked into the foyer, unheralded and with nary a welcoming glance, even though the house was packed with grieving relatives full of ready comfort for those they deemed worthy to receive their efforts. He was not deemed worthy. He’d been walking up to his bedroom, already daydreaming about time alone, when he heard those stray notes leak out from underneath the stairs.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he’d always say, shaking his head and chuckling no matter how many times he’d already told the story. “I’d just learned that song and there it was, echoing out from under the stairs. I really did think for a moment that the house might be haunted after all. But then you hit a couple of sour notes and I knew Kurt Cobain wouldn’t fudge his own song.”
“I was just learning,” she’d always whine, and he’d ruffle her curls and grin.
“You still had a lot of learning to do…that was obvious!”
And she’d slug him in the arm, or pout just long enough to cajole him into repeating the one phrase she was always waiting for…the one she needed to hear…the one that made her feel safe.
“We were meant to be friends you know,” he say with a wink, “how else can you explain that we’d both decided to learn Come as You Are at that exact same moment, even though we’d grown up half a world apart?”
“Nevermind brought us together,” she’d say in a stage whisper, and they’d slap palms and smile. Like the song suggested, they knew that with each other they could be who ever they wanted, needed to be.
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