Title: Don't Dream It's Over
Summary: Sequel to When You Call My Name. When Andy comes home from college for winter break, Brian finds that a lot can change in three months. He has doubts about where they really stand, even as his own feelings grow beyond his control.
Overall Rating: R (future chapters may go up to NC-17 on livejournal)
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: strong language
Previous chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Chapter Six: The Present
“…cut you into little pieces!”
Brian swallowed deeply. “Is that, um…what is that again?”
Brian’s cousin Rob reached for the stereo and turned down the volume. “What?” he asked irritably.
“Sorry, I was just wondering what we were listening to,” Brian replied, cheeks burning.
“The band’s name is Toxic Waste,” Rob answered. “They’re from Sweden.”
“Oh.” Brian paused thoughtfully. “Why are they called Toxic Waste?” he asked finally.
Rob just rolled his eyes and turned up the volume again.
Brian sighed and settled back on the bed. For some reason, he never felt comfortable in Rob’s room. Maybe it was because everything was painted black: the walls, the desk, the chairs, the ceiling. Maybe it was because he was always playing his music so loud that Brian could hardly hear himself think. Or maybe it was because Rob had pictures of marijuana leaves and mutilated cats on his walls. But more than likely, it was because every time he went into Rob’s room, it was to hang out with Rob, who was one of the weirdest people that Brian had ever met.
Except maybe for Allison, but she didn’t count.
Brian glanced up at Rob, who was sitting at his desk, looking at a piece of paper with dark, messy writing covering both sides. He hardly seemed to notice that Brian was there, which wasn’t unusual at all. Rob was two years younger than Brian, but somehow he always managed to make Brian feel like he was the youngest. Maybe it was because he always seemed so annoyed when Brian’s family came over for holidays or get-togethers. He stayed in his room as much as possible, and when Brian wandered in to say hello, he didn’t make much of an effort to help him feel welcome. Brian was pretty sure that Rob thought he was a total nerd, which was kind of hard to deny.
“Well, um…” Brian stood from the bed, and Rob glanced up. “I’m going to go help my mom in the kitchen!” he shouted above the music.
Rob offered a brief nod and looked back down at the paper in his hand. Brian offered a halfhearted wave and slouched out of the bedroom.
In the kitchen, Brian’s mom and his aunt Christine were fixing dinner. Christine’s husband Michael had a pretty good job that brought in a decent amount of money, and their house was pretty nice. The kitchen was nearly twice the size of the Johnsons’ kitchen back in Shermer, which meant that everyone wasn’t tripping all over one another if you tried to squeeze in more than two people at a time.
Brian came up next to his mother, who was arranging dinner rolls on a cookie sheet. “Do you need any help?” he asked.
Mrs. Johnson looked up, and right away, Brian could tell that she was irritated. “Sure,” she said tiredly, passing him the tray of dough. “Just keep them about a half inch apart.”
Brian nodded. “Is, um…” He lowered his voice. “Is everything okay?” he whispered.
Mrs. Johnson didn’t answer. “Is that green bean casserole ready yet, Christine?” she called over her shoulder.
Christine looked up from one of her pumpkin pies. “Just a few more minutes,” she answered.
Mrs. Johnson nodded stiffly and reached for a napkin to wipe the dough from her hands.
Brian grabbed a ball of dough and glanced over his shoulder, where his aunt was still fussing over the pumpkin pie. Christine was only four years younger than her sister, but she looked about ten years younger. She had long, dark brown hair and matching eyes, and there wasn’t a wrinkle in sight. She was wearing a plum colored sweater and a pair of brown slacks, and she had her hair pulled back to reveal a pair of impressive diamond earrings. She always looked like she spent a lot of time getting dressed and ready, unlike Brian’s mother, who hated wearing make up and jewelry and only put it on if she had to. If Brian didn’t know for sure that they were sisters, he never would have guessed that they were related.
Except for the fact that they fought more than any two strangers would ever have cause to. Christine was his mother’s only sibling. Their brother Teddy had died in a car accident when he was Brian’s age, leaving the two sisters to fight it out for who would replace him as their parents’ favorite. At least, that’s what he’d heard. His mother didn’t talk about it very often, leaving Brian to put the pieces together for himself over the years.
“Daddy, do you want some more water?”
Brian looked up to see that his grandfather was sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, holding a glass of water in his hand. He didn’t look up.
Christine stepped closer to him. “Daddy?” she said, a bit louder this time.
This time, he jumped slightly and looked up. “You scared me!” he exclaimed.
Christine offered him a sweet smile. “Do you want me to get you some more water?” she asked.
Her father nodded and handed her the glass. “If you don’t mind.” He smiled. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
Christine beamed at him. Brian glanced over at his mother, who was watching them closely. When Christine turned to refill the glass of water, Mrs. Johnson looked away and went back to stirring the gravy.
“So, did you get a chance to visit Rob?” Christine asked, looking over at Brian.
Brian looked up. “Oh, um…yeah.”
Christine smiled and dropped a couple of ice cubes into the glass in her hand. “It’s so nice that you two are so close in age.”
Brian forced himself to smile. “Yeah, it is.”
Christine filled the glass with water from the tap, then gave the glass back to her father, who accepted it gratefully. “Rob has been so busy lately,” she told Brian. “He’s been teaching himself how to play guitar, you know.”
“Oh, really?” asked Brian. “He didn’t mention that.”
Christine shrugged. “He’s so quiet sometimes. He just gets into his own little world, and it’s so hard to drag him out.” She laughed. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with him.”
Brian had a few ideas, but decided not to say them out loud. He cleared his throat. “Well, guitar sounds really cool,” he replied, not knowing what else he was supposed to say.
Christine nodded enthusiastically. “I know! Michael and I are so proud of him. He’s been writing songs and everything. He won’t let us see them, but we can hear him practicing in his room.” She smiled proudly. “He’s getting really good.”
“Who is getting good?” asked Michael, who had just walked into the kitchen.
Christine looked up at him and smiled. “Our son. I was just telling Brian that he’s teaching himself guitar.”
Michael narrowed his eyes. “Where is he?”
“In his room.”
Michael sighed. “Still? I told him to come out half an hour ago!”
Christine reached forward to pat her husband on the arm. “I know, but he was writing something. He said he needed some more time.”
Michael pursed his lips together. “It’s Christmas Eve, Christine. He doesn’t need to be holed up in his room listening to that crap. His family is here.”
Christine sighed. “I know, I know…”
Michael stared at her for a few seconds, then shook his head and left the room.
Christine was quiet for a minute, but then she said, “Michael doesn’t like Rob to spend so much time alone. He says it isn’t healthy.” She shrugged casually and turned back to finish fixing her pumpkin pie. “I told him that he’s at the age now where he needs his space, especially if he’s going to grow as an artist.”
Brian exchanged glances with his mother, who rolled her eyes.
A couple of minutes later, Michael walked back into the kitchen, followed closely by Rob, who looked like he was ready to spit nails. Michael stopped and glanced back at his son, eyebrow lifted expectantly. Rob glared back.
“Mom, do you need any help in the kitchen?” he asked lifelessly.
Christine glanced up, surprised. “Oh, no, honey. We’re fine, but thank you for asking.”
Rob looked relieved, but not for long. “Why don’t you go make sure the table is set?” Michael suggested, putting a hand on Rob’s shoulder before he could escape back into his room.
Rob shrugged him off violently and marched into the dining room. Michael looked over at his wife to see if she had anything to say, but Christine was too busy making pie crust leaves for her pumpkin pie to notice. Michael ran a large hand through his thick, dark hair and went back into the living room. Brian could hear Rob in the dining room, slamming the silverware down onto the table, letting out a string of cuss words every few seconds.
“There,” said Christine, stepping back to admire her work on the pumpkin pie. “Perfect.”
Dinner went smoothly, considering the fact that Rob wouldn’t stop glaring at his father and Morgan wouldn’t stop complaining about her tooth. She’d been doing it all day. After managing not to choke on it during the night, Morgan had developed sudden fascination with her loose tooth that was bordering on obsession. Every time Brian saw her, she had her finger in her mouth, wiggling the tooth to see if it had gotten any looser. At lunch, she’d asked for an Oreo cookie, presumably to help loosen the tooth some more. Fortunately, her mother caught on to what Morgan was trying to do and denied her request.
But Morgan wasn’t so concerned with her tooth that she forgot about opening presents. As soon as dinner was over, she jumped out of her chair and made a beeline for the Christmas tree in the living room. As Brian helped his aunt and mother clear the table and wash dishes, Morgan sorted the gifts into separate piles, arranging them neatly in the middle of the room. Mr. Johnson helped by reading the names that she couldn’t read.
As he washed dishes, Brian wondered what Andy’s family was doing right then. He knew that the Clarks waiting until Christmas day to open their gifts, but he also knew that they usually ate a big meal together on Christmas Eve. He imagined Andy sitting at the table next to his sister, stuffing a piece of bread into his mouth and laughing at one of his mother’s stories. Brian kind of wanted to call him, just to say hello, but he was too embarrassed. He’d already tried calling Andy earlier that morning, but he’d ended up talking to Andy’s mother, who talked his ear off for about five minutes asking about school and college plans. When he finally got around to asking where Andy was, she told him that he was playing LEGOS with his nephew Nicolas. She promised to give him the message, but Andy never called back. Brian figured that he just got busy and didn’t have time, or that his mom forgot to give him the message, but there was a small part of him that wondered if it wasn’t something bigger and that Andy was avoiding him, especially after what they’d done the night before.
When they’d finished washing dishes, Brian walked back into the living room, where Morgan was waiting as patiently as possible, considering that the stack of presents at her feet was almost bigger than she was. Her father was sitting next to the tree, admiring the ornaments, and Brian’s grandfather was sitting on the couch by himself watching a game show on television. His mop of pale grey hair was sticking out in all different directions, as if he hadn’t combed it in days.
For some reason, seeing him sitting there all alone, Brian felt sorry for his grandfather. The older man always looked kind of lost when he was in big groups, probably because he couldn’t hear very well. He had a hearing aid that he kept in his front shirt pocket, but even that didn’t help most of the time since all background noises were magnified and could be really overwhelming. He usually kept the hearing aid turned down low unless someone spoke to him directly. The rest of the time, he just sat back and let everyone carry on without him.
“Hi, Granddad.” Brian sat down next to him on the couch. “Can I sit here?”
His grandfather looked up, startled by the sudden movement. “Oh, hello.” He laughed. “I didn’t see you there.”
Brian smiled. “Did you enjoy your dinner?”
His grandfather reached up to adjust the volume on his hearing aid, and Brian heard it squeak loudly in protest. Then the older man looked back up at his grandson expectantly. After a moment, Brian realized that he hadn’t heard the question.
“Did you get some of mom’s green bean casserole?” he tried again, a little bit louder this time.
His grandfather nodded. “Oh, yes. It was good. No one makes them like Catherine does.”
Brian nodded. “I know. It’s good.”
His grandfather nodded, and the two of them fell into an awkward silence. Brian hadn’t spoken with his grandfather very often over the years, and he was never sure what to say to him when they saw one another at family events. He’d heard stories from his friends about how cool their grandparents were, about how they could tell them just about anything and it was like talking to a good friend. Brian didn’t really know how that worked. None of his grandparents were like that at all. He loved them a lot, but he couldn’t imagine telling them details of his personal life. Especially not the way his personal life was going lately.
“Stand on your own two feet.”
Brian glanced up. “What?”
His grandfather motioned towards the television. “Stand on your own two feet.”
Brian looked over at the television, which was tuned to ‘Wheel of Fortune’. Sure enough, the answer to the puzzle was “Stand on your own two feet”. The girl on screen obviously didn’t see it, because she guessed an “M” and lost her turn.
“Mommy!” Morgan shouted. “The presents are ready!”
“We’re coming, Morgan!” her mother called out from the kitchen, exasperation coloring her words. “Just give us a minute!”
Morgan sighed and leaned back in her chair, still staring at the stack of presents at her feet.
A couple of minutes later, Mrs. Johnson and her sister emerged from the kitchen, and Morgan leapt to her feet, ready to get the show on the road. She made sure that everyone knew which stack was theirs, then went back to her own tower of gifts.
The gift opening session didn’t last that long. Morgan was the only one with more than five gifts, and that was just because Mrs. Johnson had brought some gifts from home for her to open. She’d told Brian earlier that day that she’d already shopped for Morgan’s gifts from Santa, and it was too late to return them, even though Morgan knew he wasn’t real. So she’d just labeled all of Santa’s gifts “From Mommy and Daddy” and stuck them under the tree.
Brian was pleased with his stash. He got a sweater and a couple of games for his Intellivision console that he’d been drooling over since October. He couldn’t wait to show them to Andy so that they could try them out.
Brian’s grandfather didn’t get much, mostly because he didn’t need much. Brian’s mom, always so practical, bought him a bunch of socks and underwear, along with a couple of sweaters. Only when he got to the bottom of his stack did Brian realize that Michael and Christine hadn’t gotten him anything.
“Oh, Daddy?” Christine said loudly, looking behind her chair. “You have one more.” She handed him a small red box with a silver bow on top.
Her father smiled appreciatively and tore the bow off the top of the package. “Well, what is this?” he mused, pulling out a long black remote control.
Christine grinned. “It’s a TV remote. Michael and I bought you a new TV!”
Just as she said that, Michael emerged from the kitchen with a large box in his arms. “Here you go, Arthur. This is yours.”
Brian’s grandfather looked a bit shell-shocked. “Well, why on earth did you do that?” he exclaimed.
“Because the TV you have is so old,” Christine explained. “And the volume doesn’t work properly half the time. This one has closed captioning, so you can turn on the subtitles and read what they’re saying.”
Brian’s grandfather shook his head. “This was too much trouble,” he said quietly. “You shouldn’t have done that, Chrissy.”
“Oh, it was no trouble,” Christine assured him, leaning down to hug him. “We wanted to.”
Her father wiped conspicuously at his cheeks, brushing away the tears. “Well, I really appreciate it,” he told her. “I really do.”
Christine kissed him on the cheek and returned to her chair, which was right between Brian’s and his mother’s. He looked over at his mom, who was watching the exchange with narrowed eyes.
“Christine, you spent too much money,” she hissed. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that? We could have helped!”
Christine brushed her away. “Don’t be silly, Cathy! Michael optioned some stock, and we had plenty of money this year. We wanted to do something special for Dad.”
Her sister frowned. “I know you did. I just…” She shook her head. “I just wish you’d told me first. I would have helped.”
Christine waved dismissively and turned back to her father, who was staring at the television like he’d never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life. Brian’s mother looked like she couldn’t decide whether to yell or cry.
“Rob, do you have any more gifts?” Christine asked.
Rob glanced down at the stack of gifts at his feet. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, it looks like Morgan’s the only one left,” Christine said, turning to look at her niece. “Do you want to open another one, sweetie?”
Morgan nodded eagerly and grabbed the biggest box she could see. Beside her, Rob stood up, grabbed his gifts and started walking down the hall.
“Rob!” Michael called after him. “Where are you going?”
Rob ducked back into the living room. “To my room,” he said, as if it was obvious.
“What are you going to do?” Christine asked.
“Drop dead, I hope,” Brian blurted, without even thinking.
Everyone turned to gape at him, except for his grandfather, who probably hadn’t heard what he said. Brian’s mother, strangely enough, was the only one that didn’t look angry or scandalized. In fact, she looked like she was trying not to smile.
“Brian!” Mr. Johnson exclaimed.
Brian sighed. “Sorry,” he muttered.
Rob ignored the comment and looked back at his mother. “I’m going to my room,” he told her.
“No,” said Michael. “You’re not.”
Rob scoffed. “I don’t have anything left to open!”
Michael glared at him. “Sit down. Now.”
Rob’s face flashed with anger. “No,” he said firmly. “I’m going to my room.”
“No,” said Michael. “You’re going to sit down and spend time with your family. Don’t make me say it again.”
Rob’s nostrils flared. “You don’t have the right to tell me what to do. Not anymore.”
Michael looked slightly uncomfortable at this. “Yes, I do. I’m your father.”
Rob glanced around the room at the others, who were started to look extremely uncomfortable. Then he looked back at his father, eyes shining with bitter triumph. “Aren’t you going to tell them, Dad?” he spat out. “Aren’t you going to tell them what you and Mom have been talking about all fucking week?”
“Watch your mouth,” Michael warned him.
Rob scoffed. “Is that what you’re worried about? What kind of language I use?” He shook his head. “Well, fuck you, Dad!”
“Rob!” Christine exclaimed. “That is not accept--”
“And fuck you, too!” Rob shouted at his mother, stepping backwards into the hallway leading to his bedroom. “Fuck both of you! Fuck you, and fuck your stupid, fucking divorce!” With that, he turned around and stormed down the hall. A few seconds later, Brian heard his Swedish rock music blaring.
Christine looked like she didn’t know what to say. She cleared her throat. “We’re, um…” She glanced over at Michael, who was staring at the floor. “We’re not actually getting divorced. We’re just separating. Michael is going to, um…he’s going to get a little apartment in the city, closer to work, and he’s going to stay there for a while.” She offered a wan smile. “It’s only temporary.”
Michael looked up. “Christine, can I talk to y--”
Christine stood up and put a hand on his shoulder to silence him. “We’re all here, and there’s no reason why we can’t have Christmas as usual.” She smiled again, this one just as forced as the first. “And we still have presents to open.”
The Johnsons left Michael and Christine’s house at about midnight. Morgan fell asleep against Brian’s shoulder on the way home. He didn’t push her away. He was too consumed with his own thoughts to worry about her drooling on his sweater.
There was a time, maybe two or three years previous, when Brian thought that his parents were going to get divorced. His father got demoted, and with the loss in status came a loss in salary. Brian wasn’t sure if that was the only cause--and in fact, he knew it probably wasn’t--but he remembered hearing them arguing late at night when they thought he couldn’t hear them. Arguing about electricity bills and car payments and even college tuition. That was the part that surprised Brian the most. He was just starting high school, and his mom was pushing him to study as much as he possibly could. He’d always been a good student, and he’d enjoyed it, so it confused him when she kept pressuring him about it. Looking back, it was easier to put the pieces together and figure out why she wanted him to make such good grades, but at the time, the only thing he could think was that somehow it was his fault, that he was just making things worse for his parents.
“Morgan, we’re here,” Mr. Johnson said quietly after he’d pulled into the driveway and cut the engine. “Wake up, sweetheart.”
Morgan stirred and lifted her head from Brian’s shoulder, but her eyes were still half-closed. “What?” she asked groggily.
Brian helped her unbuckle her seatbelt, and their father lifted her out of the seat. “You’re almost too heavy for me to carry anymore,” he told her as he walked up the front steps towards the house.
Morgan’s response, if she had one at all, was swallowed by the night air.
Brian’s mother shut the trunk and sighed. “I don’t feel like dragging all of those presents in tonight. We’ll get them tomorrow.”
Brian nodded. “Sure.”
Mrs. Johnson patted him on the shoulder and walked around him, headed for the front door. Brian took a deep breath. “Hey, Mom?”
His mother turned to look at him, eyebrow lifted expectantly. “Yes?”
Brian offered her a sad smile. “Merry Christmas.”
His mother paused, letting it soak in. Finally, she nodded and let out a deep sigh.