Berjes stands anxiously in Lee’s bedroom, his insides twisted as his listens to the toilet flush and the sink turn on and then off. He’s been putting this talk off for longer than he should have but now their situation is dire and he has no choice. As the doorknob turns, his stomach sinks, and he musters up his courage. Lee doesn’t even see him as she exits, heading back out to her instruments so when Berjes breaks in with a shakey “Lee?” she almost jumps out of her skin. No one’s ever in her room but her, she was all wrapped up in her own thoughts and there he is, looking all cute and nervous in his chef’s whites. She’s instantly nervous as well, wishing she could have ignored him. Every time he appears at her side he picks a fight, no matter how hard she tries he never seems to think she does anything right. What will it be this time? Bean again? Should she let him run around in a town where people go missing all the time? All of her life she’s seen the reports on TV, it’ll be so quiet for so long and everyone will relax and then someone else is missing. Last time it was Jack – Jack! – and Berjes is ready to risk their other son… They should move. She would if, well, Jack… The unformed thought hangs and Lee’s snapped back to reality as Berjes lets her in on another reason why they can’t.“Lee…” He can hardly get his words out “we…” he feels like he’s choking on them “we’re…” flush and tingly “broke.” Oh no, it’s out there. It’s real. There’s more, but they just pour out as shameful tears gleam in his eyes. “I need, no, we need you to go back to work.”
“I’m sorry, Lee, I’m sorry! I tried so hard but I just couldn’t… The bills are so high, and with the economy and since so many people have moved people aren’t eating out as often. I should have been better, I could have…” If he knew what he could have done, he would have done it. He scrubs away the tears, as upset with himself for crying as for failing. He should have been enough to support them. “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t ask you if I could… If I didn’t…”
Lee doesn’t say anything, she can’t trust her tongue right now since she’s not even sure what she’s thinking. She can’t! She couldn’t possibly! But she can’t tell that to Berjes, not when he looks so sad and broken. Making an acknowledging sounds, she reaches out and awkwardly pats her husband’s elbow. Is that supposed to be comforting? Berjes deflates in front of her, doesn’t even look her in the eyes as he sighs and turns for the door. No time to prompt or prod, he needs to prep for the dinner rush.
After Berjes leaves, Lee zombie shuffles out to her studio and picks up her trusty old guitar her aunt gave her. The wood and frets feel familiar beneath her fingers and the strings hit just the tone she’s feeling right now. This old girl doesn’t always sing to Lee, but it’s gotten her through some tough, confusing times and that’s just what Lee needs right now. The feelings in her heart and thoughts in her head meld into a seeking melody with a melancholy harmony that crescendo aggressively to a… confusing end. It will be weeks before the song stops ending abruptly in violent, frustrated flails that leaves the instrument in need of retuning.
During school hours, when Bean is out of the house and feeling alive and free, he has been eagerly soaking up Maebe’s tales of pranking her siblings. He’s so angry at his mom for chaining him up in the house, maybe even angry at his dad too for not just standing up to her and letting Bean be a teen, but mostly angry at mom. Living vicariously through Maebe as she seeks her revenge against her bratty younger brother, it doesn’t take long before he’s itching to try it himself.
Late one evening, screwdriver and supplies in hand Bean sneaks into his mom’s bathroom, looking all mischievous. Lee had already showered and Berjes would be at work when she did next (if she sticks to her “schedule”), so he’s reasonably sure he can get away with it. He’s been assured that this will work and will be awesome and can’t help but chuckle as he mixes up the powders. The concoction has been carefully added to the shower head and Bean sneaks back out, only regretting that he won’t be home to see his glorious prank work.
And the fuschia is glorious! Catching sight of her newly coloured hair, a still dripping wet Lee freezes in front of her mirror. How did this happen?! Her fingers run through the strands of hair gingerly, as if she’ll be infected by all the pink… She is! As her hair dries it begins to feel chalky and the colour is flaking off and turning back into a sort of paint as it mixes with the drops of water on her hands. Just a prank. Just her son pulling some sort of malicious “joke” on her. Just. When the shower head is cleared of dye she lathers, rinses, and then repeats: Twice.
He can see it in her face, the way her eyes are glinting in the dark as she heads across the backyard and the way her jaw is stubbornly set. Her eyebrows are drawn down and she’s focused right on him. Bean knows what’s coming as she strides purposefully up to the doors and draws in air for courage, he knows he has two choices; either get reprimanded or don’t and he opts for the latter. Staring right at his mother, eyes locked, he smirks a little, rises from his seat and is halfway up the spiral stairs before she can walk into the kitchen. He doesn’t get the chance to see her deflate or the way her mouth moves wordlessly as she tries to reign in her emotions. With a soft sigh, Lee turns around and heads back to her studio. She won’t muster up the courage to confront him about his prank again and that’s just what Bean was hoping for.
He knows she’s angry and knows she has reason, he knows that she’s tried to make amends and he just doesn’t care. Bean doesn’t want to be friends with his mom, so far as he’s concerned his mother only has one son and it’s not the one she shares a house with. All Bean wants is to get out of the house – preferably forever. An opportunity to get out of the house (though not forever) doesn’t take long in presenting itself. It comes from a teacher, approaching him with pity in her eyes as she lays out the offer, never expecting that he’ll be able to take advantage of it. All the staff at the school know his situation, most of Sunset Valley knows of the poor Clarke family that built up walls to keep people in as much as out. Bean knows what to do though, he’s pretty certain he can make this work out in his favour.
Ring ring… ring ring… ring ring… Ring ring… ring ring… ring ring…
Bean paces anxiously out front of the school, waiting for his dad to answer the call. If he doesn’t pick up, he’ll have to jump on the school bus and head home, but if dad does pick up… Halfway across the city Berjes is fumbling for his phone, trying to access the pocket it’s in and make it to work.
“Dad? Hey, it’s me. Miss Bell just let me know that they’re looking for someone to help out at the Business Center today for a couple of hours and she thought of me first. Can I please? It will be some really great experience, get me extra credit at school – which I really need in Miss Bell’s class – and I should still be home before you. Please? Can I?”
Berjes has to think about it, has to weigh any consequences that may come of it. Lee rarely leaves the studio until after he’s back from his shift anyways so she may not notice… And it’s just this once, for school… “You have to come right back home afterwards, you understand? Straight home.”
Bean was so sure dad was going say no, but that’s not a no… “So, I can? That’s yes?”
“A yes with reservations, but a yes..”
“You’re the best dad, oh wow! I’ll see you at home, come straight home. I promise! Love you, dad!”
“Love you too, Bean.” Bean is off of the phone before Berjes finishes speaking and bounding down the street towards the Business Center. He can’t remember the last time he was out on the town this late (2:30pm) and it’s thrilling!
Data entry; dozens of accounts put in, the details checked and double checked. Printed off and stuffed into folders, labelled appropriately. Filing; alphabetical order by last name, paper cuts, lots of paper cuts. Un-filing; a list of accounts to be removed from the filing cabinet. Shredding. The work isn’t exciting, but Bean is excited to be doing anything other than sitting at home and trying to fill his time. The people are all new and the supervisor is happy to answer his questions since he’s not having to do the work himself. Bean’s turning paper into confetti and part of him really wants to celebrate by tossing it in the air but he really doesn’t feel like sweeping it off of the carpet afterwards.
The pile next to him dwindles to nothing, the workers around him are packing their things, and it’s time to go home. The sun rests near the horizon, slipping further and further towards night time as Bean heads home. He promised dad that he’d hurry but he just can’t. He hasn’t seen sunset from outside of the walls of his house in… Well, he really doesn’t know how long it’s been. As he walks and enjoys this semblance of freedom, a thought begins to form: If dad leaves to work his shift before Bean gets home from school, and mom doesn’t come out of hiding until after dad is home… Who will know if Bean doesn’t get on the school bus at the end of the day?