Lisa has sneaked out of rehab again. I know this because she is walking right next to me on the Camino Capistrano sidewalk during a bright and glorious mid-morning that has no business showing up in October. We pass by enormous mansions on our left that obscure the million-dollar ocean view, most sporting elegantly severe wrought-iron fences and mechanical gates that don’t even bother to conceal the fear and contempt their owners feel for the world outside. The cloudless sky is disturbed only by a faint breeze and the distant breathing of early beach-going traffic on Coast Highway, far below the sandstone cliffs that fall off behind each palatial estate.
Her pace is not exactly grueling so it’s easy to keep up, but Lisa doesn’t acknowledge me at all and doesn’t really seem to give a shit about being seen parading around in broad daylight when she should be sequestered like some petty king’s prize virgin. So there’s a calm that I don’t try to break by speaking, because almost anything will be misinterpreted at this point. We walk through a perfect day as if nothing at all is wrong, and we have been doing it for about six blocks without uttering a single word to each other, because in a legal and technical sense, I might be described as stalking her, and she is either too frightened or too ambivalent to acknowledge that fact.
I hadn’t planned to spend my Saturday morning like this. I hadn’t planned to be awake this morning at all, thanks to the Dawson brothers’ marathon stoned jam session at the harbor last night, but other people apparently made arrangements for me anyway, because two hours ago my little sister once again burst into my bedroom and ripped me into consciousness. Hannah had said that Olivia, of all people, was on the phone for me. Liv had called to apologize for freaking out earlier in last night’s prolonged assault on my mental stability, but she had barely spit that out before dropping thinly-veiled hints that I might be able to see or even talk to Lisa today if I hustled over to Capo Beach pronto. In my sleepy stupor I hadn’t even bothered to process why any of this was happening, and so thirty minutes and a few half-assed excuses later, I’d finally parked outside a building I thought might be the retreat.
I’d spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to case a place like this, thinking about what to say to get in. Did rehab clinics have visiting hours? Did health retreats even bother with that shit? I’d had just enough time to realize how vast my own ignorance was, and how idiotic and frankly dangerous my behavior had become in such a short time, when I caught sight of my target slipping quietly around the side of the retreat compound. Lisa had moved in almost exact reverse of how she did last night when sneaking back in, and I was still marveling at her technique when she began to stride right down the street.
I ran to tail her, and she’d noticed me when I’d closed the gap to about ten feet, but all I’d got for my trouble was the butt-end of her exasperated eye-roll. Lisa had kept going, down a little dip in the road but not walking any faster, so when I’d caught up on her right I was able to match her for a few steps before she made an abrupt left into a small park. Now she heads straight for a bench near the fenced-off cliff, scuffing her flip-flops on the supernaturally green grass, and I barely notice yet another stunning ocean view that’s staring us right in the face. Lisa doesn’t care about it either. We’ve seen it too many times for the past twenty-one years for it to have an impact anymore.
We stop at a bench in the park’s far corner, perilously close to the cliff’s edge, and both sit down. Lisa seems to be unaffected by the proximity of immediate gravity-related mortality, though, because she finally looks me in the eye, runs her hand through thin, scraggly brown hair, and the mini-cold war thaws by a few drops.
“So, you mind telling me what the fuck you’re doing here, Derek?”
“Ask your sister. Or did Liv just call to disturb my precious beauty sleep?”
“I forgot how charming you were before noon.”
“Any idea why she’d do that?”
“No, I have no idea why my sister would fucking rat me out to the guy most likely to take advantage of that. Since when do you ever come home from school on weekends, anyway?”
“Yeah, well, I’m kind of wondering what I’m doing here too, Lisa.”
“You know, you didn’t have to, like, show up or anything. Though I guess you wouldn’t know that Liv’s still got some things to learn, would you? Like what the term ‘enabler’ means, for example.”
“Your sister’s not stupid. She must be trying to, um, help you? I guess?”
Lisa lets a loud “Ha!” escape before playing cool again. “Liv has no idea what the hell is going on with me. All she does is come when I call and take me anywhere I need to go.”
“That sure sounds to me like she’s watching out for you when she can. She damn near reamed me last night when…”
“When what?” Lisa’s voice sharpens to a killing point and I know I’ve blown it. I’m still not together enough to say anything but the truth, either, so I admit that I ended up following them around town last night.
“You what?” She stands up and takes a step away, and I realize that I’ve irrevocably demolished any hope I had of closing up clean and getting out in one piece. Lisa’s voice rises and shatters the fragile surrounding splendor.
“This is why I didn’t tell you. This is why I never said a fucking thing about it, even when everybody else said I should. Especially because it was you. I knew you wouldn’t deal. I knew you wouldn’t get it. I knew it, and I was right.”
A car horn honks on the highway below, and some brakes screech, but there’s no impact. Otherwise the morning’s sudden silence is absolute, a perfect compliment to my own oblivious confusion.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Lisa.”
She shakes her head gently, stifling any more melodrama with a serene confidence that is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen. She just says what she has to say and nothing more.
“I had an abortion, Derek. Back in June. It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it had to be done, so I did it. I had an abortion and the baby was yours. That’s it.”
I lie back on the bench and stared up at the sky, which is filling up with the blinding energy of the sun at near-zenith. I close my eyes and the red light filters in, a rich, glowing, full red. Full of life, and hot enough to kill. I realize I’m holding my breath and so I release it in a long, slow sigh.
“Oh. Right. Yeah. Okay.” I can’t think of anything else to say, and she’s done too, so we just stay like that for a while-me on the bench, lying like a snapped punching bag, and Lisa standing straight as a lightning rod, gazing out to sea. I tilt my head back and see her upside-down, alternating her visual beach-combing with periodic furtive looks back at the street, as if she’s watching for the inevitable orderly, or nurse, or whatever they call themselves at Capo-by-the-Sea, to materialize out of thin air and whisk her back to captivity. Or at least like she’s expecting someone.
I finally sit up. “Well I’d rather know than not, I guess.” A car backfires down the street and I hear the driver floor it.
“You’re welcome, then.”
“Olivia knew what she was doing, I guess.”
“I told you, I don’t know why Liv called you. I didn’t come out today to see you.”
“No, Derek.” Lisa points lazily at the street, where an oversize pickup is careening through the quiet neighborhood. “I came out to see them.”
I look over my shoulder and my heart sinks into a slimy tar pit of pure fear as my brain tries to accept that Lisa’s three cousins, each honed to tanned, sandy blond perfection, have just launched themselves out of the truck in our direction. Justin, Christian, and Kyle Addison know exactly who I am, and I now know exactly why their faces show nothing but violent hate.
I hope that Ben and Colin will understand when I don’t make it to their show tonight.