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Young Writers, Chapter 1
“S***, Palmer, where are you?”
The two-storier on School Street was turned over, dismantled, every sofa cushion lifted and thumped back with an irritated sigh. For the past two- three?- days, that stubborn redhead Palmer refused to show herself, and Ross was losing her head over it. She wasn’t usually this stressed out about these things; Palmer, the one with the wide-brimmed hat that, too, was missing from the two-legged coat hanger standing next to the door like a wounded, napping soldier, did all the stressing while Ross took naps on the couch or lazily watched whatever was on TV. She wasn’t used to this.
Ross slammed the hallway closet door. That was the third time she’d checked since she’d called the police. Palmer couldn’t have left the house altogether- the door was locked from the inside when she realized Palmer wasn’t it her study, and all the windows that weren’t boarded up were on the second floor, closed and locked because Palmer herself carried the fear of burglars, (though she would never admit it). She had to be somewhere in the house. That dingy little, puke-yellow house on School Street.
“Palmer!” Ross barked.
Where was she?! Oh, Ross could just see her, typing away somewhere on a laptop with some supercharged battery she’d fixed up to last however long Ross planned on playing her disappearing game. Or perhaps, she was sitting in the attic or the basement, somewhere she knew Palmer would never set foot, with a week’s supply of diet soda, coffee, creamer, and tortilla chips. Who knew what that conceited, oblivious. arrogant little... young woman... did anymore.
Ross’ hand flew to her head. “Oh, s***, why didn’t I think of that before?” she demanded the waiting hallway. “Of course she would, of course....”
The attic sat on the top of two stories full of wood and furniture and dust and more dust and wood chips and those Styrofoam peanuts that always came with the big cardboard shipments that arrived every Friday with whatever thing-a-madjig Ross saw in the catalog that week. Those things were a waste of money and a waste of space. Why couldn’t Ross see that?
Palmer questioned that often. Along with the other habits Ross possessed that ticked her off. But Ross didn’t matter right now. What mattered was the tower of books, the turrets of magazines, the two-foot walls of hardcover novels surrounding Palmer, keeping her from the outside world and all its decaying glory.
Palmer smiled. She’d have to remember that one. Decaying glory.
The redhead settled in the corner, the only patch of wall not smothered with a stack of Times magazine or a month-old series of Reader’s Digest. She sighed lightly, smiling, and swigged from her warm thermos of coffee tainted with the creamer Ross claimed was a month old. Still tasted the same. Why’d she always have to nag?
“Life... is way better in solitude,” Palmer told the room, barely moving her lips. Oh, it was. It rang true as loudly as the tarnished Church bells, signaling every morning and afternoon the Mass that Palmer never went to, against Ross’ half-hour-long “we should go this time!” lecture.
And then, there was that knock at the door. A quick succession of raps following an annoyed, hurried jiggle of the old bronze knob that, of course, didn’t yield. The key hung from one of Palmer’s jean loops, scratching the wood floor when it moved.
“Palmer!” Ross barked from the outside. “Palmer, you in there?”
That’s the question, Palmer thought to herself, eying the door with the old, familiar weight of decision on her narrow shoulders. Open the door, give myself up, or stay here for another two days or so?
It took her a few minutes. Then, grudgingly, she stood and pushed the key into the scratched lock.
“Palmer! I-” Ross started.
“Don’t pretend you’re not happy to see me,” Palmer drawled, sauntering back to the books with her thumbs in the loops of her jeans. She sat back down in her book haven.
“I am glad to see you.” Palmer raised a brow. The tense concentration of Ross’ voice didn’t support that at all. “It’s just, what the hell have you been doing for the past few days? Up here?”
Palmer ran her syrup-colored eyes over Ross’ erect stature, the forced control she held over herself. She couldn’t help but smile at the steam in her friend’s leaf-colored eyes.
“You expect me to believe that excuse? Studying for three days and not tell-”
“It’s been two days,” Palmer interrupted, matter of factly. “And only two days.”
“Whatever, Palmer.” Ross’ lip curled. “Whatever, you should have told me. I called the cops on you, I thought you were really missing or kidnapped or something.”
“You sound like my mother,” Palmer pointed out.
“Is that all you have to say?”
Of course it was. Nothing more, nothing less could be expected from Palmer. She slid her hat over her eyes, so a shadow dropped against her forehead, and complacently folded her hands over her stomach.
“Yep,” Palmer snapped, like she was popping bubble gum.
It was such fun to see Ross shift, exchange her weight from one foot to the other, waiting for a comeback to come to her. I always win these things. Why does she even bother? Ross thought, humored. s
“Palmer,” Ross started, lowering herself into a white wicker chair. The redhead glanced at it, remembering the five bucks lost to the old woman at that garage sale last summer. Or was it the summer before that? Palmer huffed; she hated her memory. “I get you’re an isolationist and everything, but this is too far. I respect you and your ability to be alone, but you seem to not understand that you have had someone living with you for a year now and if you go and disappear, that person will get worried and call the cops.”
She never listens to me, Ross thought, with her head in her hands. The chair creaked on its haunches. Why would she be listening now?
But Palmer’s head was tilted up, as if she was consulting the ceiling, the white plaster that seemed to be still dripping with ancient dull-white paint. Ross couldn’t tell what she was thinking, and this annoyed her. Palmer was eccentric; it was her special little trademark, a quirk. It wasn’t like Ross every knew what her friend was thinking; she’d jump up at the worst times, blabbering what sounded like nonsense to Ross, and grab up the nearest notepad and pencil with what seemed like endless energy. She would give no indication to any train of thought the second before. And Ross was used to this. That didn’t mean she liked it at all.
“I guess you’re right.” I’m right? “But I wouldn’t been alone if I told you where I was going. I’d be half alone if I just left a note telling you I’d be gone for a little while.”
Here we go. With the explanations that made no sense. “Why?"
“Well, if you knew where I was you’d be tempted to come visit me. And even if you triumphed over your human instincts-” a funny kind of smile, crooked to the right cheek, quirked on her face. “-oh my dear Ross, when it comes to the forever existing presence of human instincts, you can never trust- you’d be thinking about this place. Even if I’d left you a letter, you’d be thinking about the place poor old Palmer slunk off to. Your thoughts would be with me, in here. So you see, I planned and carried it all out so that I wouldn’t be followed in any rhyme or reason, action or thought.”
Damn it. You can’t make this stuff up.
For a long time, or what seemed like it, Ross sat and Palmer lay with her books. It reminded Ross of a pack of dogs, laying on the floor of some abandoned, dirty house with a grassless lawn, breathing heavily and bringing up brown volcano clouds of dust. “You’re wrong and right, Palmer,” Ross finally said. “If we lived in the dark ages or something, you’d be right without consequences.”
Palmer said nothing.
“I’m going to call the police and say that you’ve been found,” Ross said, standing. “And later, I’ll yell at you and make you do your own laundry for once, or something.”
Palmer looked up at Ross from under her wide brimmed hat, her eyes flat in her head. “Fine by me,” she said blankly.
Ross shook her head. Of course. She was upset that she wasn’t exactly right. She’d bet that Palmer was ticked because she didn’t know if she was 100 percent wrong. That was how you ticked little, eccentric, self-centered people who worked like Palmer off. You find their weak spots. You introduce the gray into their lives when all they know is the black and the white.
Palmer fixed Ross with a heavy glare as she left the room, not stopping at all to close the door behind her. In childish rage- she knew it was childish, but she wasn’t going to bother to rise above it at the moment- Palmer got up and locked the door again, the bolt clicking loudly. She didn’t return to her books, just sat with her back against the door and her thin arms folded over her chest.
“Bastard.” what the hell does she mean, I’m right and wrong?