Well, howdy, guys! Haha. Sick of me yet?
So, this kind of came about like a bolt from the blue, if you'll pardon the cliché. I was listening to some Death Cab for Cutie (all in a day's work) and heard "You Are a Tourist," and then I started looking at other songs about leaving town and leaving people behind and regrets and everything, so I made a fanmix, and then it became about Joe and Alice, and about Joe leaving Lillian because he felt like he didn't belong there anymore, like a tourist.
There will be multiple chapters in this story, all aligning with one track from the fanmix. This one accompanies "You Are a Tourist." There will be ten more chapters, eleven in total. To give you some hints at what's going to go down as the story progresses, here's the track listing:
You Are a Tourist – Death Cab for Cutie
City with No Children – Radiohead
Vienna – the Fray
Winter Song – Ingrid Michaelson & Sara Bareilles
Gone Away – Lucy Schwartz
World Spins Madly On – the Weepies
Copperline – James Taylor
Quiet – This Will Destroy You
Hundred – the Fray
Ghost Story – Sting
Gotta Have You – the Weepies
Woo, okay, I'll shut up now and let you read. I hope this meets with everyone's approval. :D
DISCLAIMER: I claim no ownership to the characters used in this work of fanfiction, nor do I claim to have any association with the film from which they derive.
Joe liked to think that he loved Alice.
He liked to think that Lillian was the sort of town you could never really leave behind, because it was home and you were a part of it. He liked to think that Charles would be making cheesy zombie movies for the rest of his life. He liked to think that no matter what happened or how far life seemed to progress, things would stay the same, that regardless of the imminent onslaught of growing up, everything would go back to normal, as it had been before That Summer. Things had gone back to normal after his mother died, so this – That Summer, and its ripped-up remnants – would be no different.
There were a great many things Joe liked to think, the same way his father liked to think that there was a Heaven from which Joe's mother was watching over them – the same way that Charles, at age thirteen, had liked to think that he was a prodigy – the same way Preston liked to think that there was no unbridged gap between him and his friends even though he had stayed safely behind in the evacuation center – the same way that Alice had once liked to think that maybe, just maybe, her mother would come home, and she wouldn't have to hide her black eyes behind sunglasses anymore.
In the days and months and years following That Summer, however, Joe had to work harder and harder to pretend that nothing had permanently changed. It was something invisible, passive, lingering – but it was there, directly below his feet or circling around his head. He supposed that the signs were there: Charles suddenly wanted to make only serious, gut-gripping movies exploring the psychology of loss and isolation and introspection; Martin never stopped shooting baleful glances at the long white scar raking up his calf; Preston grew bitter and resentful and would sometimes not hang out with them; Cary bought and made more firecrackers than he knew what to do with, never assured that he had enough to illuminate whatever sinkhole would suddenly come yawning up under him; and Alice…
He didn't know about Alice. In his later years, he would realize that she hadn't changed at all. He had.
He had almost gone up to her door to say good-bye the day he drove out of Lillian for good, or what he thought was for good. He had sat in the car for two hours across the street from her house, his breath clouding up in front of him and dissipating out amongst the fog. He had been wrestling with himself, debating and almost-ing until he finally turned the key in the ignition and departed. He liked to think that he hadn't looked back, but the truth was, he spent so much time gazing at the rear view mirror that he narrowly avoided an accident several times.
If asked, he could not completely explain why he left Lillian that day after his seventeenth birthday. He could not explain how he had deceived all of the grinning, boisterous faces at the party by pretending to be happy and permanent and content. He could not explain why, after he had blown out the candles, his wish had been that his father would not catch him when he sneaked out of the house the following morning with suitcases in hand, and that a parting letter on the kitchen table would be enough.
He hadn't run away, he kept telling himself. Running away was for cowards, and he was not a coward. He had always believed that there was a difference between feeling fear and acting on fear. He had felt horribly, horribly afraid when That Thing had taken him up in one taut hand, but he had crammed that fear far down into the pit of his belly and acted brave.
As he passed the wind-worn sign that said, "You are now leaving Lillian; come visit again!," he felt no fear at all.
He supposed that what made him leave was the fact that, after That Summer, Lillian became unimportant, precisely what it was on that exiting sign: a place he was just visiting, but that he had to leave eventually, maybe with a souvenir and a postcard in his pocket.
(Souvenir, he remembered from his French class, is the verb that means "to remember." He wondered if souvenirs were actually bits of his memory that he had chosen to empty, to store in the confines of a cheap little box or magnet.)
The souvenirs he had left with were Alice's dull, unpolished locket that she had given him after That Thing had taken his; and a small reel of film labeled "The Case: Outtakes" in Charles' cramped, shaky cursive. As for the postcard, he had it filled out and addressed and stamped for when he would be ready to send it. It grew yellowed and too-folded and faded over the months until the words were mere flickering imprints of a lonely apology. After a while, he forgot what he had written. He imagined it had been heartfelt and poetic and would make up for every mistake he had ever made. It grew from a message consigned to oblivion to an indubitable excuse: "Well, I wrote to you." No matter what he had done, there was the omnipresent reassurance that he had written, that he had thought of the name on the address line every night before he managed to fall asleep. All was forgiven.
He was a tourist to the place he had once called his hometown, and a stranger to its inhabitants, or perhaps they were strangers to him. He would look at old family photographs and on-set pictures of The Case and wonder who the meek-looking boy with the brown hair was, because it certainly wasn't anybody he knew, not anymore.
He had turned the wheel resolutely and there was the freeway, lolling out in front of him and disappearing into the gradually thinning morning fog. He had driven past the wrecked train station and the all-too picturesque train tracks. He knew he would never be able to see it the same way again, no matter how hard everybody tried to rebuild it to its original humility. It didn't look bad, really; it looked far too good.
As he had found himself driving alone in the pit of the traveling night, he left the radio on, mostly paying it no mind. At 1:13 AM, "Africa" blasted its way out over his speakers, and he thought of Alice, just as he would think of Alice many more times in the future when prompted by seemingly inane things. He and she used to always sing loudly and freely along to it, no matter how flat they sounded (he was a terrible singer), and sometimes they'd dance.
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you. There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.
Sometimes they'd dance.
He had imagined, vaguely, the shimmer of her shoulders, the fanning out of her hair, the rattled pinkness of her throat as she waited for him to come closer to her. Somewhere between Ohio and New York, he stopped thinking of Alice Dainard, and, to his shame, he even began to forget what she smelled like.
Charles had managed to get his hands on two English muffins despite his younger twin siblings' best efforts to keep him from doing so. As he threw open his front door that morning and stumbled outside into the fog, pulling his jacket on with one hand and holding pages and pages of a new script in the other, he was clenching one of the aforementioned English muffins between his teeth. When he shouted, "Bye, Mom!" behind him, it sounded altogether more similar to "Mmmyy, mmumf!"
"Say hi to Joe, Charles!" his mother had called out the kitchen window, and he'd thrown a dismissive hand up to show he'd heard her.
The front door to Joe's house was always unlocked during the day, no matter the season. He pulled it open and plowed right in, swallowing the last chunk of his butter-covered breakfast delight.
"Joe!" he bellowed as he flitted around the kitchen, taking a swig out of a Coca-Cola bottle and wiping his mouth with a few paper towels before tossing them on the floor. "You are going to totally go through the roof when you see this new scene; it's mint! I decided that I wanted Lieutenant Griffiths and Sophie to have like, one parting scene before he goes off to fight in 'Nam. Kind of like Detective Hathaway and his wife talking when the train goes by, except he'd have to leave her! Wouldn't that be totally sad? It'll be so great!"
As he'd been excitedly talking, he'd made his way down the hall and barged into Joe's room, babbling the tail end of it to an unkempt bed before realizing that there was no one there. He frowned, straightened, and looked around.
"Joe?" he yelled, exiting the room and checking the bathroom, the office, and the living room. Lucy thumped her tail at him from her bed in the office but didn't get up to say hello. He grumbled expletives under his breath as he paced around the house more, searching for clues to his make-up artist and idea-bouncer-offer's inconsiderate disappearance.
"Come on, man, where are you?" he shouted, and just as the question had finished leaving his lips, he noticed a folded piece of white paper on the table out of the corner of his eye. He breathed a sigh of relief and strode into the family room to get it, wondering why on earth he hadn't imagined that Joe had left him a note explaining his whereabouts to start with.
"Very funny, you flake," he grunted to the letter as he unfolded it, setting down his script on the edge of the banged-up table.
His eyes scanned the words methodically, then suddenly scattered.
He dropped the note.
"Holy shit," he whispered. "Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit." And then, forgetting his script and his movie for the first time in years, he vaulted out of the front doorway, climbed into his parents' car across the street, and sped to the police station, making it there in three minutes. He was met with many appraising stares when he entered the station, even forgetting to be flustered when an angry-looking teenager with a mohawk made a rude gesture at him.
"Mr. Lamb!" he croaked when he finally collapsed on the desk of the rather astonished-looking deputy. "Oh my God, Mr. Lamb; you won't believe—"
"Slow down there, Chuck," Deputy Lamb hushed him calmly, eyebrows knit together as they always were, wary and half-concerned. "What's the problem?"
"It's Joe," Charles managed to wheeze, and Deputy Lamb leapt out of his seat. "He's. Holy shit. He's gone."
Joe wondered what guilt felt like.
If it felt like there was always a hand seizing his heart, twisting and wringing it viciously like one would to a dry towel, and if it felt like he was always on the brink of shedding tears but continuously forced himself to keep his balance, and if it felt like he wanted to reach inside of himself and scratch and claw until the feeling went away, then there was one thing he knew for sure: this, these things he was feeling, they were guilt.
It had been the right thing to do, leaving Lillian. He told himself that every day. A dirtied Post-It hung off the edge of his bedside table so that every morning he could wake up and read, "You did the right thing."
You did the right thing.