A few weeks after Dad's departure, Charlie and Case headed back for France, where, they claimed, there was still unfinished business that needed their attention. Max, who had became virtually attached to Case since Manticore, tagged along with them, insisting that all those French classes she took in high school might as well be put to good use. Yet, no matter how fervently she smiled or joked, she was different on the inside: hardened and cautious because of the wounds Manticore had dealt her. In truth, we-the next generation-were all different. The adults, although perhaps hurt, were not emotionally and mentally scarred for the remainder of their lives; Max, Case, and I were.
With Max and Case gone, which left Seattle just too unnaturally quiet, Arden and I took our motorcycles-even though his was technically Mom's-and headed down for California. Naturally, he rode without his helmet, and he would relish in gunning the engine merely to laugh right along with the bike. When the highways became dark and empty, hissing with only the glittering of stars, Arden and I would whip down the roads at speeds unattainable to the normal human. He loved glancing over at me, baring his white teeth in the night as his bike lurched ahead of mine, while I adored running down the road on my back tire-a feat he had yet to master. All in all, we flirted with disaster, and neither one of us truly cared, because we had already died once and didn't fear doing so once again.
When we arrived back in California, we went to my old apartment, which had continued to be in fairly good condition. The posters were still smeared on my bedroom walls, and the carpet was the ugly mossy shade it always had been. Pictures of forgotten days back at high school showing me laughing with girls whose names I could barely remember, or posing during a special award ceremony, presently collected dust on my nightstand next to the clock, which had once been illuminated with bright red numbers, and was now dead in the time that I had been gone.
Slouching in the doorway, Arden, who was wearing a loose fitting pair of jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, observed me with careless ease as I discovered an old address book inside a musty dresser drawer. Flipping through the dog-eared pages, I called up some the people that used to be my best friends, only to discover the conversation we shared was awkward and jolted. Hanging up with a hesitant, "Nice talking to you", I realized that, despite what I had earlier assumed, the apartment was no more my home than California was my life.
Arden and I briefly separated at that point, with me insisting that I needed to go down to the beach alone. After a moment of persuading him, he took the opportunity to annoy the fellow neighbors by screeching his bike up and down the streets. His skills on the motorcycle were increasing with rapid speed, and it wouldn't be long before he was better than I was.
Gently, I led my bike in a smooth coast down the beach, where, after cutting the purring engine, I gazed out over the blackening waters as the sun sank slowly in the distance, vainly trying to latch onto some precious moments of daylight before disappearing into darkness. Removing my helmet, I swung one leg over the seat of my bike and walked down the waterfront, squinting from the occasional moments when the sun would clumsily catch a ripple and blind me.
In the chaotic year that I had been gone, the water was glistening, no longer matted by the discolored fungus and refuse that had once littered the surface, and the water's clarity amazed me. Indeed, the government had finally succeeded in cleaning the bay that had been known to me only as an aquatic compost pile. I guessed that something could go right, after all.
Slowly, I eased myself down onto the dark moist sand, ignoring how it instantly clung to my pants and seeped through my clothing, wetting my skin beneath the denim. Splaying my fingers out, I ran my hands against the granules, feeling how the tiny crystals would roll against the smooth flesh, only to be deposited right back into the valleys I had created. After a period of merely examining the surroundings that seemed to have radically changed in one year's time, I pulled my knees to my chest, curled my arms around myself, and stared out at the never-ending water, which glistened like a thousand rubies beneath the setting sun.
I remembered how Mom would tell me in ages past that we were going to Seattle to see Logan-although, at the time, I was unaware of what she was talking about. How she would point across the water, bending down to whisper in my ear, "You see that?" Naturally, I wouldn't see what she was talking about, and would merely shake my little confused head, disliking how she was superior in her intelligence and vision. Playfully, Mom would ruffle my hair and grin, telling me that someday we were going to go to that far-off place because somebody lived there. Being the type of person I was at that time, I was irritated that she wouldn't tell me everything, but looking back, I realized that she was only trying to protect me from the inevitable monsters.
Before arriving in Seattle at the age of eighteen, I was stupid, naïve, and prone to believing that people could easily be grouped into simplistic categories. A murderer and liar had been recently freed from jail with a long ponytail and grimy teeth; not the suave man that you had met at the bar and charmed you over for months at a time with dashing smiles and warm kisses. Children, no matter what age, were supposed to be pure and innocent, never faltering in their goal to please; not hungry little demons who relished in stripping the emotional flesh of those that dared to cross them. And, transgenics were, of course, the horrific monsters that came up from the basement to drink your blood and tear your eyes out; not the girl and boy down the street that quickly became your best friends for life.
One little backslide had changed all those misconceptions into an austere reality.
Mom had once told me-when I was very young and hardly able to understand human words-that Brin had told her that she, Mom, had escaped the backslide. Mom, though, didn't think so, believing that none of us ever would, because we are our own backslide. Simply put: we bring our own victories and our downfalls, and, obviously, we can never escape ourselves.
Mom was right; we couldn't escape ourselves-or the backslide that was doomed to follow us. So, in a way, I never caused the backslide of my family's life because such a disaster was destined to happen from the minute I was born. After all, there was no way to fight such an abominable force as a backslide that murdered, lied, and deceived an entire family for over twenty years. To be disgustingly cliched: I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Standing up, I moved down to the water just to touch it with my bare hands one last time before leaving for Seattle. In the distance, I could hear Arden gunning his engine, most likely impatient with my feeble nostalgia; he never would force me to leave, though. As I crouched down, I noticed a glass container that was bobbing a few feet away from me, trapped within a pool of water that had gathered inside a valley of sculpted sand. Scuttling closer, I curiously picked up the jar, gently shaking the water off, and brought it to eye level as I simultaneously rose to my feet.
The container was a jam jar. An empty strawberry jam jar. All at once, with an immense and unexpected flood of comprehension, I realized that-despite Mom's conviction-we had escaped the backslide. We had escaped it, after all.
As the new understanding overflowed me, I began to twirl, giddy and foolish. Flinging my arms back, I clasped the jar between my fingers as the water whipped out in spirals around my body. Tears that arose from the greatest blissfulness I had ever known sprang forth, dashing down my face and splattering onto the shirt I wore. My hair flew in the wind as I spun, faster and faster, never daring to stop. All of the effervescent energy bubbled up inside of me, craving to burst forth. Finally, in one radiant and dazzling moment, the volatility erupted out of my whirling body, bringing with it a long forgotten sensation.
And I laughed.