Dark Bowers, Ch. 1, Pt. 2

It ground on her. Five more minutes passed. Madison’s eyes kept darting back and forth between the road and the clock. She looked over at Kore, but her eyes were firmly looked on some distant point out in the valley. Nope. Not even worth the effort. She’s lost in her own little world of forgiving her stupid ex, feeling bad, and forgiving him all over again, forever and ever.

But there was always Anna. There she was in the rear-view mirror, doodling and sketching and writing notes in her little black notebook with its faux moleskin cover and its acid-free, archival quality paper and oh my God, she could just roll her eyes at the whole thing. Anna had always liked to think of herself as an artist who had no interest in anything but art, but that simply wasn’t the case. Kore had the hippy parents who had given her the weird name and the outfits that screamed, “Look at me!” but there was a certain naïve sincerity to them. She was like one of those birds that just went along adding bits and pieces of things that it liked to its nest; the only difference was that Kore’s nest was her body, her wardrobe.

But Anna was different. The messy hair, the unassuming clothes, the way she kept her head down and only engaged with the outside world on her own terms. They were all deliberate choices, just as surely as Madison’s outfits and makeup were. Madison had an eye for fashion; it was an invaluable skill, as far as she was concerned, and Anna’s simple, seemingly unstylish attire was setting off her well-honed senses. She could respect that. It’d be something to talk about, if nothing else.

“So, Anna. That top’s super cute.”

“It’s whatever.”

“No, I mean it. It fits you perfectly, and it’s just dark enough to make your skin pop without making you look pale.”

“So I look pale. Thanks.”

Madison frowned. There was just enough dry humor in Anna’s voice for her to have been joking, but she hadn’t even bothered to look up. She wasn’t going to let herself get engaged conversation, and that was just completely unacceptable. Madison wasn’t just going to sit quietly for the rest of the drive. “Oh, come on. You know I didn’t mean it like that.” She paused for a moment, forced a smile on her face to go with the sing-song, teasing sound of her voice. “Don’t be such a bitch.”

No response.

“So, what is that? A De Rerum? One of my sisters had one that looked just like that, but chartreuse, and–

“I don’t know. I found it at a thrift shop.

Bullshit you did. That top cost more money than my entire apartment’s monthly food budget.

“Uh, Anna, I think I would know a De Rerum if I saw one. It’s only the hottest label out of Brazil right now. ”

Anna didn’t respond. Madison looked at her through the rear-view mirror. Anna’s head was still down, her messy dark hair obscuring her soft, pretty features, but her pen was completely still in her hand. Moments ago, it’d been racing across the page, and now it had ground to a complete and utter halt. But then it started moving again, just as fast as before, and Anna said, “I don’t know, Maddy. I just picked it up at a thrift shop. I guess I got lucky.”

Alright, fine. Screw it. Whatever. Something else, then. “What are you working on?”

“Art car,” Anna said instantly.

“Huh?”

“I’m doing some sketches for an art car design. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Art. Car. They’re huge on the playa. Everybody does one, and I thought, ‘Alright, this year it’s my turn. I’m going to bust my ass this summer, put one together, and drive it out there.’ Ms. Mischief said it couldn’t be done in just one month, but, hello, it’s an art car. I’m not building a mutant vehicle here. I just want it to make a statement, not crawl around on eight legs and breathe fire.”

Only about half of what her friend had just said made any sense to Madison. “That’s awesome!”

“Yeah. I’ll look for used cars when we get back. I’m still kicking around a couple themes, but right now I’m thinking mannequins.”

“Mannequins? Mannequins what?”

“I don’t know yet. But mannequins.”

Anna held up her notebook so Madison could see it through the rear-view mirror. Dismembered mannequins lay strewn across its pages like some kind of serial killer’s pinboard. Here there was a disembodied torso, there a head, there a head with black X’s painted over the eyes, there one with delicate shading done in ink to suggest a real person’s features. Hands, legs, arms, and very few mannequins that were actually whole. The worst was a sketch of a head that had been cut in two through the mouth and then arranged so that the pieces fit around a headlight, making the whole thing look like a monstrous tongue. Even though it was just an image on paper, even though in real life it would only be porcelain or plastic, it still looked painful.

Madison shuddered. “Mannequins.”

“Yep.”

“I met some fire spinners when I was traveling in Amsterdam this year,” Madison blurted out, eager to move the conversation to a different subject. “Two men and women. They were great. My friend started talking to them in a coffee shop, and we all went to a park together that night, and they spun for a while and then the cops ran us off.”

“There’s a lot of fire spinning on the playa. Well, lots of fire in general.”

“It was really pretty. I wish I could do that.”

“It’s really easy. Any idiot can spin,” Anna said. Madison was just about to ask her what her problem was and why she had to be so negative and hostile when Kore spoke suddenly.

“Why do you think Ted and Lawrence went up a day early? Isn’t that kind of weird?”

“Lawrence said he had some stuff he wanted to take care of,” Madison said with a shrug. “Who knows?”

“Okay, but it’s not like he’s hosting a huge crowd of people, right? He’s not trying to figure out how to, you know, feed and house twenty people for a week. It’s just us in his family’s little cabin.”

“There could be stuff that conceivably needs taking care of,” Anna offered. “Depending on the last time anyone was up at the place, he might have to turn on the water or the heat, make sure nothing’s broken, plug in the fridge and let it get cold.”

“And he needs Ted for that?”

“Maybe he needs Teddy to help him move stuff around,” Madison suggested. “Ted’s a Division I football player, and Lawrence is kind of small and chubby and scrawny, after all.”

“Maybe they’re up there reconnecting and exploring each other’s bodies in. a safe environment free from the cold, hostile judgment of the female mind.”

Both Kore and Madison twisted in their seats to look at Anna. She had finally set down her pen, folded her hands in her lap, and looked up from her notebook a serious look on her face. There were dark circles under her eyes, Madison saw, but those could have been just as calculated and cultivated as anything else. Those dark eyes flit from Kore to Madison, Anna’s thin lips pressed together in complete neutrality. Anna shrugged, and Madison turned to look back at the road.

“Maybe they’re just up there a-wishin’ they knew how to quit each other,” Anna said in a painfully exaggerated drawl.

“’Teddy, I wish I knew how to quit you.’”

“No, no! It’d be more like, ‘Ted, I wish I knew how to optimize my solution for moving on from our relationship!’”

“’Teddy, I wish I knew how to shift our paradigm.’”

“’Theodore, I wish I knew how to properly leverage your skillsets to disrupt traditional’ oh God, I can’t even finish it!”

“’Bro, I wish I knew how to juke your fuckin’ defense!’”

That was it. It was too much. All three of them burst into laughter, so much so that Madison’s driving suffered for it. They began to drift into the other lane. An oncoming car still a good quarter-mile away honked at them, and Madison corrected their course. I think that was the first time this whole drive that all three of us have been laughing at the same time.

“Oh, God,” Kore said. “Oh, that’s too funny. I can just see Ted blushing and going all quiet and looking at the ground with his hands all balled up. Aw, that’s cute.”

“Ugh,” Madison grunted with a sneer. “I can just hear Lawrence: ‘I don’t know why you’re making that joke. There’s nothing wrong with homosexual relationships. Studies have shown that blah blah blah, and besides, I’m not even gay so it’s not even really that funny.”

“It’s funny because no matter what the joke was, if it was at their expense, they’d both react like they were still in high school,” Anna said smiling. She shook her head and picked up her notebook and pen. She regarded them both closely, but only for a moment before setting them both back down and leaning forward so it was like she was in the front with Madison and Kore both. “Do you guys remember that time Will Evans threw up on his desk in Carden’s class? He had that bad fever and was basically hallucinating, but we all just thought he was high?”

“Oh, my God, yes!” Kore squealed. “Carden was all, ‘Good God, Evan, what is the matter with you?’ and Evan was all, ‘The teddy bear made me do it,’ and Ted was all, ‘What? No! No, I didn’t, he’s lying!”

Madison smiled. There were still about two and a half hours to go, but they wouldn’t be so long now, she thought.

Word Count this Post: 1,669

Total Word Count: 3,476/50,000

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