Air It Out

Ugh. Joan was not in the mood for school today. Actually, she hadn't really ever been in the mood for school, but lately it had gotten worse. She kept on meeting Adam whenever she went to her locker, and even though he had stopped trying to talk to her, it was still incredibly awkward. And if she slammed her locker door any harder, it would eventually fall off. And then she had to leave whenever Grace and Adam were together, she couldn't ask Grace to stop talking to him. So now she was spending a lot of time with her brother and Friedman, or alone, "studying" in the school library, but really just flipping through magazines. She hadn't realized how much time she actually spent with him.

That was one of the things that bothered her the most. She had been so involved with him. She'd cared so much about him, and then he had to go and screw it up. Every time she saw him she would remember what they'd had, how they had been, and an anger would boil up inside of her, would build up until she felt like she would choke. She would see the Adam she knew now standing in front of her, and the Adam she had known before, and there would be such a huge gap between the two, it was hard to believe. Every now and then she found herself wanting to hit him, and she had to shake her head to get the feeling to leave. Physics was the worst. Forty-five minutes of sitting at the same table with him was almost unbearable. The tension would build until it was the only thing left, and everyone around them could feel it. The moment the bell would ring, she had to grab her bag and practically run out of the room.

Things had come to a kind of unsettled truce: she would stay away from him, he would stay away from her. No eye contact, no sitting next to each other, (Grace sat in between them in Physics now) no doing homework together, (Grace studied with each of them separately), no contact what so ever, (Grace only put up with all this because now she had two people to explain her radical leftist ideals to, as opposed to before when they had been "this creepy symbiotic creature", as she so fondly thought of their coupling.) High school had morphed into even more of a battlefield. Not only did she have to face the cheerleaders, but she had one less sub-defective by her side, and Friedman constantly reminding her about it. "The Meltdown", he called it. He actually had a name for the obliteration of her romantic life.

By fifth period Joan was ready to scream. And what did she have 5th period? French with Madame "I Can't Even Pronounce Your Name". She could not put up with le and la and conjugations. And the library was out of the question. She had been in there so much that the librarian had started giving her suspicious looks all the time. So skipping was the most logical thing to do. The air outside was cool and a little crisp, just right for a cup of hot chocolate. And maybe a few cookies, that is, if she could ever get past the old lady in front of her with a walker.

"Pour quoi n'est tu pas en classe?"
"Uh, excuse me?"
"Tu n'aime pas le francais?"
"Listen, I don't know what you're saying, so –"
"Well you should, Joan, you're in your third year of French."
Joan gave her usual sign of recognition, a roll of her eyes. "Oh, it's you."
"Lovely to see you, too, Joan. Why are you skipping French?"
"Because."
"Because?" the old lady prompted.
"Oh, you know why," said Joan impatiently, "you're omniscience, remember?"
The old lady peered at her over her glasses. "You mean omnicient, and yes, I do remember. Here." She handed Joan a brown paper bag.
"What is this?"
"Noodle soup and an egg sandwich."
"O.K." Joan gave her a blank look. "Aaaaand what am I supposed to do with this?"
"Bring it to Adam."
"No way," Joan blurted out. It was a reflex reaction.
"He's sick," the old lady said simply.
"Sucks for him. Here." Joan handed back the bag.
"Joan, aren't you tired of avoiding him? Don't you think it's time you tried to talk to him about what happened?"
"Talk? There's nothing to talk about. He cheated on me. The end. And don't say something weird, like 'Nothing ever ends, Joan' because things do end. Me and Adam, we ended."
"If that were true, then why have you tried to build an entire system to avoid him, to cut him out of your life? When something ends, there's no need to go around it, it just isn't there anymore. All I'm asking you to do is talk to him. You'd be surprised how far just a few words can go."
Joan raised an eyebrow. The old lady sighed. "Do you know the football field?"
"Oh, you mean that huge area of land behind the school with the two stick things at its ends? The place around which the entire school social hierarchy is developed? Nope, never heard of it."
The old lady frowned. "It wasn't always there, my dear. It was just built eight years ago because the school was expanding. Before a whole bunch of wild flowers grew there."
"Well, they don't anymore."
"Now that's where you're wrong, Joan."
"Huh?"
"They still grow there, in little groups, around the goal posts.""O.K. And the point of this is…what?"

"Those flowers were uprooted, Joan. They were run over, crushed. But their seeds were buried deeper underground. Their essential core still remained, and that's why they can still grow back."
"Well, that's a nice story.""Joan."
"You're not gonna give up, are you? Fine, fine. Give me the bag." Joan snatched the bag and turned away. "And no, I'm not waving back at you, I never wave back at you, but you just keep on wavin',"she muttered under her breath. "Stupid flowers. They're probably just ugly weeds. What was she talking about anyway?" Joan sighed and looked down at the bag in her hand. "I'd better get this over with."

Seven minutes into fifth period history and Grace was already bored. "Henry Clay is considered to be this nation's foremost compromiser. Can anybody tell me why? Hmmm? Can anybody give me an example of a compromise that Henry Clay was involved with? No? Well blah blah blah blah blah…" She knew all of this already. It was the same recycled stuff they gave them every year. She could have sworn they'd been taking American History since the seventh grade. Grace rummaged through her backpack and took out her headphones. The good thing about sitting so far back was that the teacher never bothered to look at you. She folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair, bobbing her head slightly to the music. "The microphone explodes shattering the molds, either get the -" Wait a minute – was that Girardi? She arched in her seat, craning her neck to see out the window. It was Joan. She was talking to some woman Grace had never seen before, but that was normal Joan behavior. "MISS POLK!" Grace practically jumped out of her seat and ripped her earphones off her head. "What?!" Mr. Henderson stood looming over her, staring pointedly down his nose at her.
"Precisely what I was wondering, Miss Polk. As in, what are you doing staring out the window, and completely ignoring my lecture?"

Grace shrugged. "Nothing." Mr. Henderson raised an eyebrow. "I was stretching." He raised another eyebrow. "I don't need to justify my actions to you. And anyway, I need to go to the bathroom."
Mr. Henderson sighed. "Very well, Miss Polk." He wrote out a little pink bathroom pass and handed it over to her. "Honestly, I don't know what to do with you."
"Right," Grace snatched the slip from his hands, shouldered her bag, and made her way out of the classroom, ignoring the snickering of the other students.
The halls were empty, as it was the middle of class; except for Friedman, of course, who had volunteered to be hall monitor. Yes, volunteered. She walked right past him, but he followed. "Ah, ah, ah, Grace. Can't be here unless you have a hall pass. Do you have a hall pass?" he said, wagging his finger at her. Grace slapped it away. "Ow!" "Out of my way, Friedman." He didn't move.

"You see, the thing is, Friedman, I, unlike you, have somewhere to be."
"Oh, are we skipping class to go to the biology closet again? What is it, like, 3rd time this month? Week? Day?"
Grace stopped and gave him a look as he rocked back and forth on his heels, smirking. "You know, I seem to remember a threat of a wedgie that was never fulfilled."
Friedman stopped, mid-rock, and frowned.
Grace took a step forward. "OK, OK, OK! Go."
"That's what I thought." And she marched away.
If she hurried she could still catch Joan. Her boots made soft thump-thump noises on the school lawn. Joan was on the sidewalk, alone now, walking with her hair and long scarf blowing behind her. "Hey, Girardi!" Joan turned around, saw Grace, and waited for her to catch up.
"Grace, what are you doing out of class?"
"That's what I was going to ask you."
Joan hesitated for a moment, then held up the paper bag. "Am I supposed to know what that is?"
"It's…" she hesitated again. She didn't want to tell Grace what she was doing. She knew Grace would just try to stop her, and of course she couldn't stop. He may talk about choice, but as far as she was concerned, that was a load of bull.
"There, isn't, like, a dead rabbit in there or something, is there?"
Joan rolled her eyes. "No. It's for Adam."
Grace gave her a surprised look. "Rove? So are you guys actually talking now?"
"No. Not really."
The look turned suspicious. "Is that a gun?"

"Grace!"

"Calm down," Grace said, holding up both her hands, "I was just kidding."
"It's chicken noodle soup and a fried egg sandwich."
"Ugh."
"Don't give me that look. He likes fried egg sandwiches."

"I know. He tried to make me eat one once. I threatened him with bodily harm." Joan chuckled.
"So what's it for?"
"Um…" What was it for? Joan didn't know, really. All she knew was that for some reason, God wanted her to talk to Adam. She didn't see the point. Whatever they'd had was over, and nothing would ever change what he had done. It wasn't just that he had sex with Bonnie and that had hurt her. Her hurting wasn't an after effect of what he had done. It was as if he had set out specifically to hurt her, as if when he was sleeping with Bonnie, he was actually stabbing her and twisting the knife, right at that moment. And he didn't just lie, he tried to hide it. He tried to distract her with their anniversary, of all things. Even that was tainted, now. What was there left to talk about?
"Hello, earth to Girardi." Grace was waving a hand in front of her face. "What's with the food?"
"Well, you know." Grace gave her a blank look.
"He's sick, and…and you know how he gets sometimes."
"Yeah. That clears everything up. You stop talking to him, you try to kill him with your eyes every time he walks into a room, and now you're bringing him a peace offering. Makes perfect sense."
"Grace -"
"Whatever, man, I'm just happy to be out of history." She pushed her head phones back into place and they continued towards Adam's house, Grace bobbing her head and Joan trying to convince herself that a very ugly scene was not about to take place.

It was as if his being sick was a physical manifestation of what he felt. His head ached, his stomach ached, his joints ached, and he was sweating. All this, he felt sure, he would have been able to deal with, if only his mind would take a break. But he couldn't stop thinking. He couldn't stop remembering, he couldn't stop agonizing. It was like his brain had just been ravaged by a tornado. Questions ran up to him and then away with no answers. Images of him and Bonnie would flash into his head, each moment frozen in time, each moment like a punch in the gut. The very thought of Bonnie made him want to throw up, but he had nothing left in him to give. Thoughts hurled themselves at him, one after the other, blinding him, making him squeeze his eyes shut as the tears leaked out. Ugh. He hated himself when he cried. He'd only ever cried over his mother and over her. Over Jane. What was worse was that she'd seen him. Even after his mother had … he'd only cried on his own, shut up in his room under the covers, or crouched under the table in his shed. But Jane, he couldn't seem to control himself when he was around her. It was like she had this string around his heart and with just a smile, or a kiss, or a snappy remark at her brother she would make him feel good. Something he hadn't felt for such a long time. Something even Grace, his best friend since kindergarten, hadn't managed to do. And he'd gone and screwed it all up. Why did I do it? Of all the questions that came to haunt him, from wondering what Jane thought of him, to thinking about how messed up what he'd done to Bonnie was, to worrying over the look on Mrs. Girardi's face the next time she saw him would be, this was the one that always came back. This was the one whose answer mattered most to him. He and Jane were finished; he had no hope left for that. Every time she looked at him, he could see how much she… hated him. Every time she looked away from him, or carefully avoided his eyes, or quietly left Grace as he approached, he felt like throwing a brick at his own head. He'd hurt himself as much as he'd hurt her. What had she lost? An insecure, horny, cheating boyfriend. And what had he lost? The one person he could honestly talk to about anything, that he wasn't afraid to tell things to. He remembered his father after his mother had… had left, and his eyes had been so empty; he'd seemed soulless, like a shell of a being, drifting around, but not living. He'd wanted so much to say something to his father that would make him alive again, but how could he when he himself was so confused and unhappy? And since then he hadn't said anything real to anybody, except to his mom, through his art. And then came Jane. She'd given him so many things, she'd opened the door to the world for him, she'd given him back his voice. He had lost his good ripples. And what would his father say when he found out? God, WHY DID I DO IT? He rolled over face down and shoved his pillow onto the back of his head. Maybe if he stayed like this long enough he would dissolve into his bed. Disappear and be at peace.

Joan looked straight ahead as she walked to the door. She didn't want to see any of Adam's artwork strewn about the lawn. It was all so wonderful; she didn't want to be reminded of it. She couldn't understand it. How could someone who could hurt her so badly create such beautiful things? She stopped in front of the door. It was so surreal. She'd gone to see Adam so many times, but always in his shed. She'd never been inside his house before. And now here she was, mind jumbled and heart pounding in her ears, about to walk into another sphere of his life. This was his territory and in there everything would be associated with him.

Grace made an impatient sound behind her. She nudged Joan aside, pulled away the screen door, and pushed the front door open.

"No, wait, Grace. Don't you think we should ring the -"
"Cool it, Girardi. I've been here a million times. This is practically my house."
"Well, that's not exactly encouraging."
Grace ignored that comment and stepped in; Joan followed. The house was smaller than her own, it wasn't as neat. You could tell two men lived there: random stuff was strewn about the place, a few things were scattered on the floor. But it looked comfortable and inviting, lots of blues and greens. The two girls heard sounds coming from the kitchen.

Adam's dad was in there, sitting at a table, rifling through a newspaper. "Hey, Mr. Rove," Grace said, plunking her bag down on the table and dropping herself into a chair. He looked up at them, smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Hey there, Grace. Thought I heard the door." His voice sounded thin and tired, so different from the first time she'd met him. He turned his eyes to Joan.
"And you're…Joan. Right?"
"Right." It was strange, Joan thought, that he didn't know her name right away. It was like she was already so removed from Adam's life that people didn't associate him with her any more.
"Well, Adam's up in his room. Been puking all day. Honestly, I don't know where all the stuff is coming from, he's so skinny. I mean-"
"OK," Grace interjected, "too much information."
Mr. Rove chuckled. "Sorry."
"Well, uh, thanks. I'm just gonna go up and, uh, see how he's doing," Joan said uncertainly. She gave them a tight smile and turned to leave the room.
She made her way through the living room, to the stairs. Her stomach was knotting itself up. The hand clutching the bag was sweating and shaking. What would she say to him? Would she even be able to talk? She walked down the hall and stopped in front of a door covered in posters of works of art. This had to be his room. She knocked on the door softly, tentatively.

"Adam?" No answer. She slowly pushed the door open. And there he was. Lying on his stomach, his pillow over his head. All she could see of him was his silhouette through the sheets tangled around his body. She looked around her. His room was small, and a bit like his shed. There was metal and wood and plastic everywhere. A project, unfinished, it seemed, took up a good amount of space. In one corner was a box that looked like it was full of his old sketch books. On the wall opposite his bed was a painting - tiny - but bursting with color. She made her way towards it and accidentally stepped on a piece of plastic that made a loud crrrrraaaaaack! sound. She stopped in her tracks, wincing at the noise.

"Uuuurrrrrrgh." A hollow sound came from Adam as he turned over and spotted Joan. They both stayed perfectly still, blinking at each other. She stared at him. His hair was more disheveled than usual, and he was paler than usual as well. He had bags under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept in a long time. She'd never seen him in bed before, and a cruel, sardonic thought surfaced in her mind. Was this how Bonnie had seen him? She looked away. Adam was the first to speak.
"Am I hallucinating?"
Joan cleared her throat. "Um, no," she managed to croak out.
The awkward silence returned. Adam just lay there, feeling guilty and useless; Joan looked down at her feet.
"So… what are you doing here?"

Joan automatically held out the paper bag. "Heard you were sick. Brought you food."

"Oh. Thanks." He slowly, cautiously pushed himself up into a sitting position, wincing a little in pain. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, but didn't get up. Joan took a step closer and gingerly placed the bag next to him, but he didn't pick it up. He just looked at her. She couldn't make out his expression. It was this strange mixture of hope and guardedness, as if he was afraid of her being there. Joan didn't know what to do. What do you say to someone you feel so much for, but are scared to trust any longer? A part of her wanted to yell and scream at him, fling curses at his face, another part wanted to sob, and still another part wanted to hug him and kiss his eyes closed and tell him to lay down to sleep. It was all too confusing. She couldn't do it, and God would just have to find something else she/he wanted her to do.
"Well," she said in a falsely cheery voice, "glad to see you're not dead. So I'll just be going." She clapped her hands together and shrugged, turned to leave.

Adam could tell she was running away. He couldn't blame her. He was surprised she hadn't come here to hit him, or something. But even with all the awkwardness, even with the disappointment he could see in her eyes, he didn't want her to leave. He wanted to say something, anything, that would at least let her be able to look at him.

"Jane."

It made her heart stop. To hear him say that name that meant so much, in that soft tone of his. She couldn't take it.
"My name is Joan."
She said that just to hurt him, and it worked. He looked down at his hands.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. His voice pierced through her and she winced. What was she doing? Being callous towards him only made her feel worse.
"Adam." He looked up at her. "We can't keep on doing this."
"I know."

He watched as she leaned against the wall and sunk down, pulling her knees to her chest and hugging herself, letting her long hair cover part of her face. As if she was trying to hide from him. Since when had she ever been scared of him? She looked so vulnerable in that position, so open and helpless: was this what he had done to her? Broken her down? It suddenly dawned on Joan how sad it was. That they were both there, and yet couldn't find anything to say to each other. Talking had come so easily to them. And this is what they had become – silence and confusion. Her eyes started to well up with tears, but she held them back. Crying would get them nowhere; she'd cried enough to know that. She had to say something.

"I never thought you'd be able to hurt me." Whoa. Where had that come from? Adam didn't know what to say.

"I trusted you. I confided in you. God, Adam, I believed in you."

"I'm sor-""Is that all you can say? You're sorry?"

"I mean it. What else do you want me to say? What do you want from me?"

She wanted him to never have done what he'd done. She wanted him to be the Adam that made her a cheerleader out of a bell, that kissed her when she cried, that waited for her. That's exactly what he hadn't done. Why couldn't he have waited? Why – "I want to know why you did it."
The same thing he wanted to know. "I – I don't know."

He didn't know? Now she was getting angry. How could someone do something that hurt so badly, something that had so many consequences and not know why they'd done it?
"You don't get it, do you? You don't even understand what you did. You didn't just sleep with Bonnie. You betrayed me. You lied to me. What you did, it was a personal attack at me."
Adam hung his head and stared at his hands. She was right. Like so many things, what she was saying made no sense, but he understood it perfectly. It disturbed him to look at what had happened in that light. Why had he done it? Could it be that…that he'd wanted to hurt her? The idea revolted him. How could he want to hurt her, when he loved her so much? He shook his head. No. It had to be something else. And suddenly a feeling of desperation lodged itself in his throat. He had to say something, something to stop her being so mad at him, even though he knew he deserved it.

"I'm so sorry."

Joan rolled her eyes in frustration. "This is pathetic. I'm so tired of you -"

"I'm sorry I hurt you," Adam rushed on, "I'm sorry I lied. I'm sorry I ruined something that was so good and so beautiful. I won't ask you to forgive me, I know I don't deserve that, but I – I can't stand you being so mad at me. It's just too hard."

Joan was taken aback. He'd said he was sorry dozens of times, but he'd never sounded so lost, so desperate. It soothed her a bit, to know that however she was feeling, he was feeling terrible, too. It didn't make up for what he'd done, it didn't fix the situation they found themselves in, but it made it easier for her to look at him. She took a deep breath and rested her chin on her arms. He was right. Being so angry with him was too hard. It drained her, wrung her out to the point that she was tired when she got out of bed in the morning. Her anger at him had taken over every moment of her life, and she had to let it go so that she could get her life back. She looked around his room again, and the walls-closing-in, claustrophobic feeling she'd had when she'd walked in seemed to dissipate. Her gaze landed on the small painting mounted on the wall. "That's really pretty. I like it."

Adam twisted around to see what she was talking about. "Oh. Yeah." His voice was soft, almost inaudible. "My mom made it." There was a slight pause, a silence that threatened to bring back the uneasiness there had been between them just a moment before. "She made a lot of beautiful things. I've never shown them to you, have I?"

Joan shook her head. "No," she replied quietly.

Adam nodded. "I should do that. Sometime." He looked so small sitting there with all those sheets swirling around him.

Joan pushed herself back up. "You should get back in bed."

Adam looked up at her with that same sharp, scared look, only this time it was of her leaving. The look was a question. "Get better, ok? I'll see you at school." She gave him a quick, small smile and turned to leave.

That smile, it was the first she'd given him in ages. It planted itself inside him and burst into a million little pieces, spreading all over his body to the tips of his fingers, toes, and hair, filling him with a delirious joy. It was funny, he thought, how she could make him so happy without even knowing it.

Helen Girardi stood behind the counter in her kitchen, absent mindedly cutting vegetables and rinsing them. It had been a long day at school. She had been trying to explain Jean Michel Basquait to the class earlier, but none of the students had understood. They did not see the pain of assimilation and subjection that Basquait depicted. They simply said that he was copying Twombly and other European and American modern artists. She herself felt a certain connection to Basquait. As if he were reaching into her, pulling out what was there, and putting it on display on a canvas. She let out a deep sigh. Sometimes she felt like she was living a double life. She was a mother with three beautiful children, and a wonderful husband. She loved Kevin's irony. She loved Luke, with his weird experiments and excitement for discovery. And Joan, with her week-long phases of interests. But she had another life, a past. It was dark and confusing. She remembered how scared she'd been when the kids had been little. Scared that that past would push in, would intrude. So she'd poured herself into her family, into raising her children and supporting her husband. She'd put aside her painting, telling herself that she had to leave it behind, that it was done and over with. That what it really was, was her indulging in her dark thoughts, spraying the fire with gas. She'd even stopped having those nightmares. But then came kevin's accident, and it all came rushing back. The move, all the money they'd had to spend on Kevin, the new house, neighborhood, and people. It had all been so much. Last year, when Joan had been in the hospital, she'd thought she was going to break. Her baby, her girl was sick, and there was nothing she could have done to help her. It was Kevin's accident all over again. She kept waiting for some terrible thing to happen to Luke. Helen hated that feeling. As if she were handicapped and completely at the mercy of someone else, as if she had no control. It reminded her of how she used to be, and she had to force those thoughts aside and tell herself that she was a new person. She was smarter and stronger. Raising children had been the scariest thing she'd ever done. Having another human being's life in you hands, being responsible for them and teaching them about the world. She often wondered why whenever people spoke of preparing to have a child it was always in the context of money. Preparing was useless. All the money in the world couldn't prepare you for taking care of a life. It could help, though, she thought wryly. Joan would be going to college soon, and then would come Luke.

No, she'd definitely grown since that night. But she couldn't help feeling overwhelmed. It seemed as though things just kept piling higher and higher, and they were bound to topple over one day. The dreams had started to come back. But they weren't the same. At first they had only been whispers, faint shadows making her a little uneasy in her sleep. She would wake up a little confused with a slight feeling of foreboding somewhere in the back of her mind, and she wouldn't know why. She would try to recover the vestiges of what she'd been dreaming, but no one can catch wisps of smoke. She'd ignored them. Then she started waking up in a fit of sweat, and she had to rush downstairs to get herself a cup of coffee to keep herself from freaking out. The shadows and smoke were solid now. They had shape and form and they stayed imprinted in her mind and stuck in her throat until she felt sure she was dying from suffocation. Last night she'd woken up with a gasp, sitting straight up in one swift motion. Will had rolled over, murmuring some nonsense about garlic and too much parsley. She had sunk back down into her pillows, taking deep breaths, unable to fall back asleep. She'd woken up earlier than even Luke. The dreams haunted her, and yet she could not remember one detail of them. They were worse than the ones she used to have. At least she could remember those. At least with those she knew what kept her up at night.

The kitchen door suddenly slammed shut and Helen jumped with an "Oh!" Joan had come home. She dragged herself over to the table and flung herself down on a chair. She dropped her bag on the floor, slapped her hands down on the table and lay her head on them, her hair spreading around her. Helen raised her eyebrows.

"Feeling a bit dramatic? Or are we just angry at the furniture today?"

She'd been expecting a roll of the eyes as a response, but she didn't even get a hair toss.

"No," Joan said. Her voice sounded a little plaintive. "Just been a long day, that's all."

Helen looked at her daughter, who was pouting a little, with her brows knit in a tight frown. It seemed to her that Joan and Luke had grown up much faster than Kevin, and she'd missed some of it, because she'd focused so much attention on Kevin. Her heart always softened at moments like these.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Joan sighed and started fiddling with the thick watch on her wrist. She shrugged.

"You know how you sometimes think that you're done and over with something, and then all of a sudden it turns out that you're not done at all?"

Helen nodded tentatively. She wasn't completely sure what Joan was talking about, but she wanted her to go on.

"And then all these doors were open that you thought were closed, and you don't know what's going to happen, and you almost wish that everything was done. But at the same time you're kind of happy that it's not all done with because you were kind of missing it. And it's all just so much to deal with."

Helen was a little bewildered. "I guess I just wish things were a little easier. Or at least I wish I could know that everything was going to be o.k. it would get rid of all the anxiety."

Helen gave her a sympathetic look. She got up and walked over to the counter, where Helen was now working on making a salad. It looked good.

"I guess you can't just force doors shut, though."Whatever's behind them will come out eventually," Joan added, almost as an afterthought.

Helen suddenly stopped chopping lettuce, her hands frozen in the air. Joan looked closely at her mother.

"Mom, are you all right?" "Yeah, sweetheart." But Joan could see that she looked paler than usual, and kind of tired.

"Here, let me finish this, and I'll call Kevin to set the table." She bumped her mom's hip with her own to move her aside and took the knife and lettuce from her hands. Helen was about to protest, but decided not to.

"Sure, thanks honey." She wiped her hands on a towel. "I'll just go lay down." Joan just nodded.

Helen set out toward her room, but found herself making her way to the garage. She opened that door and looked around. They needed to have another garage sale. They'd already accumulated enough junk to fill the place it again. Joan's still unfinished boat took up a good amount of space. She ran her fingers over its edge, liking the hard, smooth feel of the wood. She reached the end of the boat and stared at the wall it was facing. There they were. Her paintings. She'd stopped when the dreams had stopped. Spraying the fire with gas, right? But it was like Joan had said. Whatever's behind the door will come out, one way or another. Helen sighed and made her way toward her paintings, toward her past. Maybe it was time she unlocked the door herself.