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Love, Hate, Love November 5, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.

angry cat

Tired of Garrett yet?  I am.  Here’s the next excerpt which, if I’m estimating correctly, exactly zero people are clamoring for.


Garrett spent part of Friday evening carefully putting together a mix tape for use in the car’s cassette player.  He didn’t think he and Steph would actually be in the car long – a fairly quick trip from her house to the cinema and back again – but he was feeling optimistic enough to accept the possibility that she might want to skip the movie altogether and spend a few hours making out.  In that case, he’d want to have some good tunes so they didn’t have to listen to the radio.  The local stations were miserable: living in the heart of Cowtown, U.S.A. guaranteed a minimum of listening options, and what was available catered specifically to those whose tastes ran to Garth Brooks or Whitesnake.  If he was lucky he might be able to pick up the college station located near Cincinnati, but its signal wasn’t strong and it was far from a sure thing.  And music was essential.

No way did he trust his own conversational know-how to carry the evening.  He’d been brainstorming topics ever since she’d told him earlier in the day she could go out with him, and at this point, after compiling a list of exactly two topics (how awful Spanish class was, and a discussion of the softball team, which he knew would mostly consist of him smiling and nodding in encouragement since he didn’t know much about softball beyond the fact that it utilized a ball that was soft), he figured it was about as likely that he’d be able to instigate a meaningful conversation as it was that the cows in the pasture down the road would don top hats and begin a high-stepping dance routine to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”  So the early part of Friday evening consisted of Garrett putting some of his favorite songs on tape – 60 minutes this time, since he doubted they’d be in the car more than an hour total anyway – Elvis Costello, R.E.M., The Replacements, XTC, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, all carefully chosen to enhance the mood of the evening.  The Smiths, for obvious reasons, were not included.

He stayed up late that night, feeding tapes into the VCR, watching The Jerk, then Stripes, and finally falling asleep around 3 A.M. just as the Catholic minister was getting struck by lightning in Caddyshack. His hope was that by staying up late he’d also sleep late the next morning and have less time to stew about all the things that could possibly go wrong during his date.  As luck would have it, his hyperactive imagination, caught in the iron jaws of Garrett’s slumber, began to chew its own leg off at just past 7 A.M., and Garrett stumbled from bed, his mind gauzy with sleep but alert enough to know that a return to bed would just result in tossing, turning, and worrying.  He spent the morning in a peevish, anxious funk, his nervousness morphing into irritability and ricocheting frenetically around the walls of the house.

From noon, Garrett was trapped in amber.  He had never realized their house contained so many clocks.  No matter where he went in an attempt to distract himself from the passage of time – his room to read, the family room to watch TV, the kitchen to forage through the refrigerator – a clock face seemed omnipresent, taunting him with hands that never seemed to budge.

At one point he stalked down the hall, passing his father. “How’s it goin’, pal?” Steve asked.

“These clocks suck,” Garrett muttered, and stomped downstairs.

Realizing that nowhere in the house was safe unless he hid in the bathroom for the next three hours (and finding himself unwilling to cop to the desperation that move would entail), Garrett finally grabbed his battered copy of Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and headed into the backyard to stretch out beneath one of the spreading hickory trees.  He snuggled his back against the tree’s rough bark and tried to nestle his backside into a divot in the grass he had discovered during his first visit to this spot.  It wasn’t the most comfortable spot to read, but he found it strangely relaxing, stretching his legs out, feeling the individual blades of grass prick the underside of his legs, letting the cicadas’ buzzsaw chirring gradually fade into the background, looking up between pages to watch the sun shift on the lawn in its kaleidoscopic interplay with branch and cloud.  The day was warm, and if he closed his eyes he could almost imagine that the gentle susurration of the April breeze on his nape belonged to Steph, exhaled between moistened lips an inch away from his neck, whispering his name, and her desire for him.

He awoke suddenly, his mind breaching the dark waters of sleep with a gasp and a shout.

“What time is it?”

He looked around frantically.  The Ellison book was clumsily tented by his side, and the sun’s patchwork design on the grass had deepened, burnished, as the day moved slowly into evening.  Garrett didn’t know what time it was, and he was nowhere nearly outdoorsy enough to read the sun with any degree of accuracy, but he could tell it was much too late.

“Aw, geez,” he muttered, scooping up the book and hightailing it across the yard and slamming through the back door into the kitchen.  His mom was pulling food out of the refrigerator.  “What time?” he gasped, even as his panicked eyes seized upon the green numbers on the microwave: 15:12.  For the briefest of moments Garrett relaxed in the comfort that his parents had arbitrarily set the microwave to military time, making it 3:12 in the afternoon.  But then it ticked to 15:11,, then 15:10, and his panic level ratcheted back to its previous level.

The microwave was the only clock in the kitchen, and Garrett suddenly felt the world spinning crazily.  Earlier in the day he couldn’t escape clocks.  Now, when he desperately needed one, it was looking like he was going to have to dash back outside, find a stick, and construct a crude sundial.  “Mom!  The time!”

“Hold on just a second.”  She shifted something deep within the refrigerator.  Garrett felt the time sliding away, spiraling down the drain.  Kathy finally turned away from the fridge, precariously balancing several Tupperware containers in her arms. “Give me a hand, sweetie.”

Garrett swept them from her and nearly flung them to the counter.  “Time?  Mom?  Please?”

Kathy glanced at her watch.  “6:03, it looks like.  You’re not late, are you?”

Not quite, but he might as well have been.  He was supposed to pick up Steph at 6:30 so they could make it safely to the 7:15 showing of Field of Dreams. Steph lived across town, at least fifteen minutes away.  “Aw geez,” he said again.  “Mom, why didn’t you wake me up?”

“You didn’t tell us what time you wanted to leave, sweetie,” she said.  “Are you running late?”

“Aw, geez,” and this time it was nearly a bark as Garrett wheeled out of the kitchen and down the hall toward his room.

He shut the door behind him and carefully took stock of the situation.  A shower was out of the question, so he had roughly six minutes to change, brush his teeth, and attempt to wrestle his curly hair into shape.  He stomped down hard on his panic.  “Think cool, be cool,” he murmured.  Bill Murray in Stripes; Chevy Chase in Caddyshack. Would they panic?  Would they worry about time?  Hardly.  Think cool, be cool, get ready, and go. All was not lost, as long as he stopped being himself for the next six minutes.


Five minutes and 47 seconds later, Garrett backed out of his parents’ garage and onto the road.  He wasn’t entirely pleased with his appearance, but such a statement implied that he was ever pleased with his appearance.  His dissatisfaction usually revolved around his hair.  He longed for a towering pompadour, and to that end had spent enormous amounts of time in the bathroom during the last year with a hairbrush, hairspray, and a photo of Morrissey, trying to mold and shape the waves that proved to be as compliant as a fussy two-year-old.  The woman who cut his hair told him she’d kill for his hair – “You’re so lucky to have such a beyoooootiful head of curly hair, honey” – but, to put it bluntly, he wasn’t a 50-year-old woman, and as far as he was concerned, his beyoooootiful hair could take a long walk off a short dock, thank you very much.  Without anything approaching a sufficient amount of time to wrangle his hair tonight, he simply ran a brush through it, said a silent prayer to the tonsorial god, and hoped for the best.

Now he was speeding down the empty road toward Steph’s, the drummer in his chest pounding out an insistent tattoo that would have made John Bonham proud.  Calm down, Garrett, just calm down.  She said yes, she liked the tape.  You didn’t blackmail her or force her at gunpoint into going out with you.  No money changed hands.  She didn’t even hesitate when you asked her, not really, in fact, if you just take a second to cool it, you’ll remember that she’s the one who called this a date.  You just asked if she wanted to hang out.  She suggested the date.  If you think about it, she’s the one who asked you out.  You were totally propositioned by a beautiful girl.  Stop sweating it.  Relax.

These are the thoughts he tried to focus on.  Even though they didn’t exactly work to calm him down, it helped to at least distract him from the insistent pounding in his chest.  It wasn’t until he neared downtown Edgewood, the fields thinning to be replaced with homes, shops, and offices, that he realized he’d forgotten the mix tape.  In his haste to leave on time, the carefully sequenced Memorex had been left on the dresser in a pile of scattered coins.  For the briefest of seconds Garrett considered going back for it, but he knew if he did so there was no way he’d be on time.  The last thing he wanted right now was an excuse for Steph to doubt his loyalty.

He drove on, skirting the downtown’s main street and continuing on an eastward tack, the fields increasing in frequency as he left the heart of Edgewood behind him.  He would just make do without the tape.  With any luck they’d be talking too much on the way to the movie to need music, and afterward he’d take his chances with the college station near Cincinnati.  He always seemed to pick it up better at night, anyway, maybe because there was less interference in the air.  If his makeout scenario came to pass, he hoped she didn’t mind silence.

Garrett pulled into her driveway a hair shy of 6:30.  Steph had given him perfect directions to her house, and for that he was thankful.  His sense of direction was so flawed that whenever Garrett read about ancient explorers – Magellan or Vasco de Gama – he knew that if he had been in their shoes, he would have undoubtedly led his entire expedition off the edge of a cliff.  The reality of sitting in Steph’s driveway suddenly hit him, and the nervousness which he’d managed to reduce to background chatter blossomed again as he put the car in park and opened his door.  On shaky legs he approached Steph’s house, rehearsing what he’d planned to say if her parents opened the door: Good evening sir and/or ma’am (he wasn’t actually going to say “sir and/or ma’am,” but he found it wiser to prepare for both eventualities), my name is Garrett.  Is Steph home? He considered himself bad with adults in general, and parents in particular.  He always felt awkward and self-conscious, and assumed that every word out of his mouth and every action he took was being judged.  He felt this way most of the time, in fact, but with adults it seemed amplified, exaggerated, like he was constantly auditioning.  So he rehearsed his line as he took the two steps up to Steph’s front door, wiped his feet on the bristly doormat, inhaled, exhaled, and knocked.

There was a momentary pause, just long enough for Garrett to wonder if he could possibly run back to the car and peel out of the driveway in a hail of gravel before anyone answered, and then the door opened.  It was Steph, smiling, in jeans and a light blue Izod that made sapphires of her eyes, and Garrett suddenly found himself struggling for breath.

“Hey, Garrett.”  She chucked him lightly on the shoulder and Garrett fully expected, if he removed his shirt, to see her knuckles branded there like sunburn. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t, uh.  Shouldn’t I meet your parents?”

“They aren’t even home,” she said, heading for the car. “They’re having dinner with my grandparents in Hamilton.”

“Maybe later, then?”

Steph had reached her door and turned back to him. “Why are you so interested in my parents, Garrett?  I thought it was me you were after.”

Garrett swallowed hard and laughed weakly.  What was he supposed to say to that?

“Yeah, okay,” he managed, and made for the car.  As he reached the driver’s door he looked across to where Steph was standing.  Door, idiot.  Her door. He resisted the urge to smack himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand and scurried around the front of the car to her side.  “Your door, madam,” he said and pulled on it.  It didn’t open.  “Heh.  Whoops.  This would help.”  He fumbled in his pocket for the keys, flicked through the ring with fingers that had all the flexibility of a frostbitten explorer, found the right one, jabbed it at the lock, missed, tried it again, missed, and finally jostled it home on the third try.  “There you are,” he said, opening it at last.

“My hero,” she said, sliding in.  Careful not to slam any part of her anatomy or clothing in the door, Garrett shut it.  As he returned to his side, Garrett was frightened to realize that if the simple task of opening a door was such a difficult hurdle, this was going to be a long night.

Once on the road, Steph suddenly leaned over and gripped his bicep.  “I loved your tape,” she said.  “I mean, absolutely loved it.”

Now that she was here, in his car, with her hands on his arm, the tape seemed like an unnecessary distraction.  It had done its job, opened the door, and now he just wanted to pretend it didn’t exist.

“Oh.  Thanks,” he said, striving for a dismissive, yet still gracious, embarrassed humility.  “The songs’re pretty rough.  And I’m not sure how long we’ll keep playing together.”

“But you guys have keep playing together.  It’s so good.  And your lyrics – oh my God, Garrett.  You’re so smart and such a good singer.  I was listening to it and kept thinking, ‘There’s no way this can be Garrett.’”

Garrett’s heart skipped like a scratched record.  Did she know?  Was she just stringing him along?

“I don’t mean that as an insult,” she quickly added. “It’s just so good.  You should be really proud.” She settled back in her seat and looked out the window. “And I feel really lucky that you wanted to share it with me.  No one’s ever given me something like this.  It means a lot.”  There was a catch in her throat.

The guilt that rushed into Garrett’s heart was toxic.  She wasn’t supposed to take it so personally.  He had wanted her to like it, true, and to think he was cool and mysterious and different.  But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  It wasn’t supposed to be a personal statement of his trust in her.   And it definitely wasn’t supposed to make her cry.  He needed to fix things.

Garrett knew the right thing to do.  And did something else.

“I hope the movie’s okay with you,” he said.

She turned back to him.  No tears, and for that he was grateful.

“What are we seeing again?” she asked.

Field of Dreams.”

“Oh, right.  The baseball movie.  I hear it’s good.”

“I thought, you know, since you like softball that this would be a good one to see.”

“Do you play anything?”

“Play anything?”

“A sport.  Duh.”  But she was smiling, and not like a lot of the other kids his age.  There was no thinly veiled antagonism in her teasing, no implied insult, and Garrett felt himself finally relaxing.  It was a good feeling.

“Oh.  Ah.  Not since tee ball in first grade.”

“Ooh.  Tee ball.  I’ll bet you were good.  A real stud.”

“I was ferocious.  When it came to picking my nose in the outfield, no one could touch me.”

Steph laughed.  If joy had a sound, this was it.  Garrett had several favorite sounds – the delicate tinkling of wind chimes, the contented purring of a cat, the distant rumble of thunder, river rapids, a fiercely strummed guitar – but they were immediately relegated to a distant second-place status.  It was a laugh that made him want to be funny, just so he could hear it over and over again.

The rest of the ride to the movie theater continued in much the same way.  The tape, to Garrett’s relief, didn’t come up again.  It was only a twenty-minute drive to the movie theater, but in that time they managed to talk about more than Garrett had imagined possible:

• Steph’s experience on the softball team (she liked the sport, but not the coach, whom she thought was a pervert)

• Their favorite music (Garrett: R.E.M.; Steph Guns ‘n’ Roses, but she was open-minded)

• Spanish class (their bilingual education appeared to be so useless that they both agreed if they and a two-year old child were abandoned at the same time in the middle of Mexico City, the child would survive longer)

• English class (what was so great about To Kill a Mockingbird, anyway?)

• Lauren Alexander and Anthony Brown’s supposed tryst at Curtis Martin’s party last weekend (v.d. for everyone!)

• Plans for the coming summer (they both needed to find jobs, and although neither of them wanted to submit to a life in fast food, they knew their ratio of ambition to skill was skewed directly toward McDonald’s)

By the time they reached the movie theater (dubbed Cinema 6, although it only had four screens, which Garrett had never quite figured out), he was actually sorry to arrive.  Conversation had never come easily to him, but not only was he having no trouble talking to Steph, it was fun.  Is this the way talking to other people is supposed to go? he wondered.  You don’t struggle to come up with topics or replies?  It just sort of … happens? This was an alien concept to him.  Most of the time he found himself waiting in silence for the other person to introduce a new subject, and when they did, his replies usually consisted of nods and variations on “Yeah” or “I know.”  With Steph there was give and take and laughter and it was a breathless footrace to get to the next topic.  He hoped he would have the chance to do this more often.

He bought their tickets and remembered to hold the door for her as they entered the darkened cinema.  Seat selection was something he had considered long and hard.  He ended up settling on the fourth row from the back – close enough to the rear of the theater to allow for making out, yet not so close to the back that it looked like making out was on his mind.  They settled in, Garrett sitting on Steph’s left, and he was immediately mindful of how close she was sitting to him.  He realized that if he feigned restlessness and rocked his legs back and forth, he could make their knees brush repeatedly.  He filed that away for future reference.  Steph had staked out the armrest between them, so Garrett let his right hand rest on his right knee, mere inches below her hand, almost close enough for him to touch if his index finger was freakishly jointed and able to reach up at a perfect 90-degree angle from his hand.  Further, if he nestled himself back in his seat, their shoulders would almost be touching.  The possibilities were endless.

What Garrett didn’t know is that Field of Dreams wasn’t the ideal movie to encourage physical contact.  It would be one more year and a date with Karen Cline for Garrett to learn about the aphrodisiacal qualities of horror movies, and how their palpable air of suspense was conducive to the grabbed hand or the head nuzzled into the shoulder or the seized knee, or better yet, some combination of the three.  It would be one more year still (this time with Ashley Stone) before he saw that romantic comedies often achieved the same effect, ostensibly softening up the date with thoughts of romance and kissing and intimacy.

But Field of Dreams?  He found it to be interesting and funny, but there was nothing in it that would in any justify suddenly brushing her had with his, or bringing in his palm for a landing on her knee.  It wasn’t for a lack of trying.  It was definitely creepy when Kevin Costner’s character first heard the voice in the field, but it was over much too soon to be of much use to Garrett.  And when Burt Lancaster’s character first appeared on a darkened, fog-shrouded street, Garrett thought his moment had finally arrived.  But again, when the character turned out to be not only benign but a kind, grandfatherly figure, Garrett thought it would look odd to choose that moment to make a move, like he was frightened by old people or something.  So he spent most of the movie tied in indecisive knots, inactive and thoroughly miserable.

As the movie began to wind down and Garrett saw that any physical contact between them would have to come outside the theater, he started to pay more attention to the plot.  He wasn’t a big baseball fan, but the final confrontation on the field appealed to him.  The movie was, he finally saw, about following your heart and finding peace through accepting your place in the world.  Burt Lancaster’s character was meant to be a doctor, not a ball player; James Earl Jones discovered his destiny as a writer; only Kevin Costner’s character was still conflicted at the end.

Until the payoff.  Garrett watched as Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, got the chance to meet his estranged father, who had died before the two of them had a chance to reconcile.  But now they were meeting on the field of dreams, and Ray’s father was young again, innocent, unjaded, his whole life before him, and Ray sees him through new eyes, all their years of argument and recrimination evaporating in an instant.  It was a chance for the two of them to make up for lost time, to heal old wounds, to say all those things that they’d never had a chance to say while Ray’s father was alive.  Garrett felt the lump growing in his throat, the size of a cherry, then a golf ball.  The screen blurred through a film of moisture, and by the time Ray uttered the line, “Hey, Dad?  Wanna have a catch?,” tears were streaming down Garrett’s face.

He began to panic.  What would Steph think?  Here he was, the mysterious musician, sobbing like a baby at a Kevin Costner movie about ghosts on a baseball diamond.  It was inexcusable.  What girl in her right mind – especially one who looked like Steph – would want to spend her time with a sappy, overly sentimental crybaby when she could easily have her pick of the football team, the basketball team, the baseball team?  Why spend her time with him when she could easily find a guy whose only tears would come through extreme torture at the hands of a foreign enemy, or if his favorite team lost the Superbowl?  Steph was still looking at the screen, so as the credits began to roll, Garrett faked a yawn and swiped at his face with his hand.  Either he hadn’t correctly gauged the force of his swipe or there were more tears on his cheeks than he had anticipated.  Whatever the reason, several salty drops arced gently through the air and landed squarely on Steph’s arm.

She turned, and even though the theater was still dim, Garrett’s red eyes and tear-streaked face were unavoidable.  Here it comes, he thought.  She wants to go home immediately.  Who can blame her? He rubbed at his face again.

“Are you okay, Garrett?”

Allergies, yawning, inflammation of the tear ducts.  None of these was an acceptable excuse.

“Yeah.  I just.  The movie.  It got to me.  Sorry.”

“Garrett, you’re even sweeter than I thought.”  And her thumbs gently brushed away his remaining tears and her smile was incandescent and her eyes were closing and as she softly touched his lips with her own, there were no warning voices in Garrett’s head, none at all.


Current listening:


BEAK> – Self-titled



1. Amanda - November 6, 2009

Don’t make me hurt you. That’s right, I’m threatening you via the internet. This is what you’ve reduced me to. Keep writing the Garrett and no one gets hurt. 🙂

2. Stephanie - November 7, 2009

I look forward to reading it, so please continue posting.

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