Hazy Days and Cloudy NightsHow It All Got Started 021: Carson
Friday, June 22, 1984
Carson didn’t want to be there, not today; not particularly. On the other hand, he wanted his books and Stiff Little Fingers record back.
He sat on a metal chair in front of a metal table, both painted white and designed to look like they were actually made of wicker, though no one was likely to be fooled. Car could feel the cool metal through the seat of his chinos, so he stood up and paced around the patio outside the Hotel San Clemente until he caught sight of Tess.
Her frizzy hair was mostly contained by an Angels baseball cap and a scrunchy, but a few long strands burned a warm red in the afternoon sun.
She wore a blue tee-shirt tucked into shorts. Between her thighs and her low sneakers was all smooth tanned skin.
Car liked that skin. He liked that hair.
He ran a hand through his spiky hair and shook his head. “Nope. Nope.”
She walked up to him with stiff, quick strides. A wrinkled orange Pinnacle Records bag swung from her arm. She squinted, and Car knew that was as much due to the sun as to tension.
It was their first time meeting in person since she broke up with him (over the phone!) Monday night.
The last time they’d seen each other—and every other time before that for the better part of a year—they’d met lips first. Today they stood three feet apart.
Carson made a conscious effort to keep his arms at his sides no matter how much he wanted to reach for her.
“Thanks for getting my stuff,” he said. “I’m gonna be busy…”
“Oh, me too.” Even as she said it, Tess looked uncomfortable. “I mean… I guess…”
Car’s lips twisted. “Yeah.”
She handed him the bag, which he took hold of well away from her fingers. His desire to avoid contact bordered on oppositional. He just didn’t want to risk touching her. If this was going to be finished, it might as well be finished, sooner rather than later.
That’s what she wanted, after all, and Car had always done what Tess wanted. Right up to the way they were ending.
He glanced inside the bag and saw his copies of “Nausea” and “Down and Out in Paris and London” as well as the Stiff Little Fingers record. That was it; every tangible item that connected the two of them.
Not quite. He also had a bunch of pictures. He’d find a box, a dark place, and forget them.
“I…” Tess seemed to realize she still had her hand held out in front of her. She let it drop into the other; her fingers twisted. “I didn’t realize George Orwell could be funny.”
“Look, Carson. I was thinking.”
“I was… maybe I was unfair.”
What? Was she having second thoughts about cutting their last summer short? Did he want to hear what she was almost certainly about to say?
Why the hell wouldn’t he?
“I guess I just thought it was better than dragging it out.”
He nodded. “I understand.”
“But…” She pointed a sheepish smile at the cracked mosaic tiles at their feet. “That was stupid. Why shouldn’t we make the most of… make the most of it?”
There it was.
He should feel relieved. Glad. Excited. Hopeful.
He bit his lip and noticed he felt none of those things.
He realized he was staring at nothing.
“What do you think?” she said.
This was the chance to have what he’d wanted for them: a slow, gentle fade across the summer as their different life paths moved them from lovers to good friends, with the always-maybe hint that one day, some day, the possibility of becoming lovers again wasn’t out of the question.
“What do I think?”
She looked disappointed. “I thought you’d be, like, happier.”
“I…” Carson sighed. “Tess, what changed your mind?”
She shrugged and smiled. “I was lonely.”
“You were.” He put the emphasis on “you.” “So…” He stopped himself.
She mistook his restraint for an invitation to continue.
“So I know you didn’t expect what I said the other day. I know we talked about stuff, and I made a… my own decisions.” She took a step toward him; Carson didn’t move an inch forward or back. “So we can have our summer, after all.”
“Because that’s what you want.”
“It’s what you want, too.”
Car shook his head. He did step back, then. “Y’know… I think…”
He drew in a breath to fill his chest and exhaled quickly.
“I think no, Tess. No.”
She looked worse than shocked. She looked offended.
“Sorry. I think I got used to the idea. I think… I think I need to move on. It’s hard to go back, in my head, now.”
“But this is what you wanted! It’s what we planned! Why would you go back on that?”
Car gaped at her. “Why would I..? Tess, you already did! Over the phone, for chrissake!”
“So you’re going to pass up our last summer together just out of spite? Seriously?”
“No.” He cut the air between them with the flat of his hand. “You don’t… look, Tess, just let it go. Don’t make this a fight.”
She was ready for one. Her tiny body was tight, leaning forward. “But I want—”
Car held up his hand. “That’s it. Right there. You decided you wanted to cut us short. You decided you want to have the summer after all. You know what I decided, Tess?”
He hadn’t realized he’d decided anything, at least not until the words spilled out of his mouth.
“I decided it’s always you making the decisions. Even if we talk about it, even if we discuss it, whatever it is… you decide. You. When it should be us. Or, just once in a fucking while, me.“
She looked at him.
Car went on.
“Monday feels like a long time ago, Tess.”
He deflated a little; he didn’t want to be angry with her. He really did want to end well. It was probably too late for that, but still. “Everything was worked out Monday morning. By Monday night, everything was different.”
“But we can make it the same…”
“But I’m living in different, now, Tess! It’s where I am.”
She was softening to the point of tears. “Don’t you still love me?”
He held out his hands; the Pinnacle Records bag swung from his right wrist. “Hell yeah, I love you.” She put her tiny hands in his. Her skin was cool. “We’re going to be friends forever, you and I. We’ve got a great foundation.”
He wanted that to be true, but the words felt shallow and very “After School Special” in his ears. He sensed a door closing between them.
She pulled her hands away. The door closed, not with a slam that shook the frame, but with a click.
“I guess that’s what I get,” she said.
“It’s not like that.”
It was totally like that, but Car had no ambition to be a dick.
Tess laughed, sad and bitter. “Okay.”
The clock high above the Hotel San Clemente chimed. Car glanced up automatically.
“You have to go.”
“I have to get my folks to the airport.”
“Oh, right. Costa Rica.” She smiled weakly. It hurt Car to see her eyes glistening. “What are going to do with yourself?”
Car had all kinds of ideas.
“I’ll manage,” he said.
He held out his arms.
They hugged. Tess breathed into his shoulder. “Ah, Carson…”
Car sniffed and blinked tears. “Make sure you call me when you get to New York, okay?”
He felt her nose bob against his tee-shirt. “I will.”
Car kissed her on the top of her head. They let each other go.
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