Author's Note: Another one looking into Tom's past, or at least an interpretation of it. In it we meet Teddy, Tom's cousin 2 years his junior. Not much to say about Teddy other than that he's a great adventuring partner and about the only friend Tom has. Teddy belongs to Faintly Falling, but I named him so...yes. Anyway, decided my page needed more sadness. As for the rest of Tom's family? I have an entire, well thought out, idea of them, but they're not relevant to this story so...no long family related rambling for you. Anyway, on with it.
It really was a nice day. The sun was out, but it wasn't one of those cloudless days when the sun could find you wherever you tried to hide. No, a few clouds, white and puffy as in every storybook, hung in the sky occasionally overlapping the sun to deliver temporary relief. Most people were out doing sunny day things. Checking out markets, going to the park, swimming in pools, trips to the beach. Of course there were those that were sitting in their houses enjoying movies in air-conditioned living spaces with the curtains drawn. Then of course there were the two young men standing out in the driveway of one of their homes, one looking confused and the other excited.
"I need to get away from here. I just can't take it anymore. You know what I mean?" Tom gave his cousin an anxious look as he awaited the younger boy's response to his words, tapping his foot impatiently upon the ground. Up, down, up, down…
"Tom, you say that kind of shit all the time. You know you never go anywhere or do anything stupid…mostly. You always come to your senses, like clockwork. C'mon…you're kidding right? Like when we were kids?"
"No, Teddy," Tom replied, his throat tight making his voice sound pitchy as he tried to hold back the quiver of nerves in his throat. "Not this time. I'm serious. I'm gonna do it. I'm already packed."
Teddy shook his head, not looking convinced. He very rarely was. He couldn't believe this. He just wouldn't. It made no sense, and if it didn't make sense it had no business in his life as far as he was concerned. Very rarely did he make exceptions. "But…why? Why do you have to leave? I don't get it. Why now? You've been acting so weird…possessed, lately, but I didn't think you were serious. You've always been kinda different, but even this seems off."
"Different?" Tom asked, sounding half offended. "Teddy, I'm not acting different. I just…I've been doing a lot of thinking. It sounds cliché, but I mean it."
"You've always been a thinker. So what? Maybe you think too much. You have a thought, and suddenly it's ok to abandon your family? Abandon me?" The younger of the pair wasn't trying to hold back how he was feelings like the other, his eyes starting to burn as he stared at his cousin, reluctantly trying to understand why this would happen. Why it was happening. How could Tom look so calm? How could he be so composed? Or at least, how was he faking it so well?
"I'm not abandoning anyone!" Tom snapped with a sudden flare of anger, already cold eyes looking harder with the sudden fury. Teddy jumped back as if he'd been bitten by some kind of wild or rabid animal, making a strange whimper sound as he breathed in surprised air.
Tom had always been a bit moody, but he had never been like this. Sure, his older cousin had snapped at him before with equal fury, but this was different from all those other times. The edge in Tom's voice didn't sound like Tom. It sounded like a stranger with unknown motives and drives. The edge wasn't familiar or comforting or predictable.
"Ah, jeez…man, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to bark at ya like that. It's just…I don't know." Tom removed his old Angels cap from his head, faded red and worn out from excessive use, and ran his hand through thick, dark, hair that fell back unevenly onto his head under its own weight.
"So…you are abandoning me…" Teddy repeated, his voice low like a mumble as he looked down at the ground. Tom shook his head to assure the other, but such a gesture did no good if the other person wasn't looking at you.
"It's not that at all. You've gotta believe me," Tom sighed, reaching out and gripping the older teenager's shoulder in a firm but attempting comforting touch to calm him but also to get his attention. "I'm not abandoning anyone. I'm not doing the abandoning. I've been abandoned. This family…" Tom looked over at the house, his feet suddenly feeling itchy and wanting to move atop the driveway pavement so he dug a foot as much as he could into the blacktop. "Teddy, I feel like no one else will understand that. I'm telling you because I know you'll be the only one that will notice I'm gone. I'm telling you. I'm not telling them. They won't notice when I'm gone. They won't miss me."
"I'll miss you…you say you're abandoned. You think I've abandoned you?" Teddy replied, his ego bruised. "You think I've pushed you away? That I'm pushing you away now? I don't…Tom, you're not making any sense, and I don't understand. I don't know what you're getting at." Teddy finally looked up, his eyes doing more than just burning, and he was almost certain they were red as he wiped his hand across them. They were dry, so why did they hurt so much?
"Your head's in the fucking stars. To hell with the clouds. You're not even in this universe. You're lost out in fucking space. A fucking space cadet. Trapped in the darkness and your head." Now, it was Teddy's turn to lash out with sharp teeth, but it would seem that Tom was unaffected by the sound of his cousin's words.
"The dark isn't as harsh as the light you seem to hold so highly," Tom replied, meeting his cousin's eyes, and they really were red and looking painful. "Remember when we'd stare at those same stars, Teddy? Remember that?"
"Of course I do," Teddy frowned. "I have a better memory than you do."
Tom tried to hide a grin, but it was impossible. "I know…but anyway, I'm making a point. Do you remember how it made us feel?" Silence. "Like we owned all the space in the world. We really were space travelers in an endless sea of blinking lights as far as we were concerned. Why wouldn't I want to be there?" He gestured to the sky with his hat for emphasis. Teddy reluctantly followed it with his eyes before bringing them back to level.
Teddy didn't respond. He simply stared back, his jaw clenched and his eyes strangely clear and focused despite their redness. He wished his eyes would stop hurting and that Tom would let go of some of that fucking composure he was keeping.
"I don't feel like that anymore. I don't feel that sort of freedom," Tom continued, walking onto the lawn, sitting down and then flopping onto his back, eyes closed. Teddy followed after him, grating his teeth and kneeling in the grass beside his cousin, the two of them sitting in silence.
"So, what do you feel?" Teddy finally asked as he picked at the green grass, dropping the shreds on Tom's stomach absently. Creating a little "mountain of grass" like he'd done when they were little. There was no joy in it now.
Tom opened his eyes and placed his hat back on his head. "Small. Worthless, but mostly small." He sat up, crossing his legs and reaching his arms out onto the grass. It was oddly soft and green given the summer they were having. Normally it would have been hard and spiky, digging into his palms, but today it was comforting and cool on his hands.
"So what?" Teddy asked, patience completely spent and annoyance invading his tone despite his best efforts to keep his poker face. He wanted to make sense of everything, of all of this, but with Tom sense was always just a bit out of reach. The one exception. "That's not weird. Everyone feels small sometimes. It's kinda what people do."
"So what?" Tom echoed with indignation as he pressed his fists hard into the ground as if the Earth would yield to his frustration. "Teddy…I'm 21 years old, and you know what I have? You know what I've contributed to the world? Nothing. I've got nothing. My education isn't worth shit. There are people out there so much smarter than me, stronger than me. I'm the biggest loser in town, and everyone knows it. I'm so tired of the same shit every day. This town is suffocating me. Its people, our family…Teddy, I just can't take it anymore. I have to get out of here. I have to get out of here before it kills me." Tom looked over at his cousin, his face finally giving way to his defeated tone as a frown dragged down his expression. "And you know it will. This town will kill me. I'm surprised I'm not dead yet." Tom's voice had dropped, making Teddy's heart sink down into his feet. Tom was serious like Teddy had only ever seen a handful of times before. He was extremely serious.
The pair held another silent vigil between themselves on the summer grass, mourning something neither of them could name.
"So," Teddy began, his voice succumbing to cold acceptance. "You say you have to leave, but what's going to happen to you? Where are you going to go?" Despite his stiff posture, the boy's face had softened with concern.
"I really don't know what's going to happen to me. It's kind of exciting really," his cousin laughed, but it wasn't a cheerful sound. It was a sarcastic and deflated, a truly nervous sound. "But I do know where I'm going if that makes a difference to you."
"It does. So, where're you gonna go?"
"As far away as humanly possible without leaving the country. Foreign places would require too much paperwork," Tom replied with an excited smile. Teddy on the other hand did not look nearly as enthused and more confused.
"And where's that?" Teddy asked not dropping the skepticism.
"New York City," Tom clarified, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a folded up page of a magazine with the New York City skyline on it. "I wanna go there. To the city," he continued matter-of-factly. "New York City…the city that never sleeps."
"You don't sleep as it is." Teddy grabbed the page from his cousin, looking over it with a scrutinizing gaze, at odds with the almost dreamy look in Tom's eyes as he envisioned whatever plan he had in his mind's eye. Teddy shook his head and handed the magazine page back, Tom taking it in his hands before returning it to his pocket.
"California too boring?" Teddy asked sarcastically. "Seriously though…how the hell are you getting to New York? That's the other side of the damn country. You've hardly ever left town on your own, and now you're going to New York?"
"Buses are amazing things, Ted." Tom replied. His cousin rolled his eyes, skeptical just barely covering it now. "Look, I know what you're thinking. I'm not going to get there over night by any means, but I will get there. You know when I say I'm going to do something that it's going to happen. Besides, I've always wanted to see other parts of the country."
"So now you think it's ugly here?"
"Don't be such a sourpuss. I love Sonoma. I love California. You know that. It's beautiful here, but that's not enough. I need more than that. I've already told you why. It's hard to explain if you're not feeling it. If you could understand, that'd be fantastic, but if not…well, that's understandable too."
"You're a hopeless romantic," Teddy said as he shook his head looking genuinely disappointed. "They're going to eat you alive. I hope you know that."
"Must you be so pessimistic?"
"Don't you use those four syllable words of yours on me," Teddy replied with a hesitant smirk despite himself. "Ya know I don' talk so good."
"Well, you're just so vexatious all the damn time that I just have to defend myself and fight back some of the time," Tom smiled, sticking his nose up in the air. Again Teddy grinned and even laughed, but this time Tom joined him. In fact, one would have thought it was the funniest thing either of them had ever heard the way the two of them carried on, howling with laughter out on the lawn.
Still, once the laughter ceased, Teddy's face once more became solemn and hard. He looked up once more at Tom, keeping as best a straight as he could. "So, you're still leaving, eh?" Tom nodded, his eyes low and focused. Teddy frowned and pressed his lips together as he thought. Tom wasn't giving an inch, not that he ever did. He'd gotten this crazy idea into his head, and Tom was nothing if not a man of sheer will power. Teddy had no doubt in his mind that if Tom wanted to get to New York, that he was going to get there one way or the other. Still, it wasn't making these facts any easier to accept. It was time to throw a cheap shot. "Ya know…ol' Maxie is gonna be mad at you for leaving like this."
"That ol' mutt is always mad. Teddy, that was really weak."
"Look, I just don't want you to go, ok? Is that wrong? There's nothing clever or witty about it. I want you to stay. It's just that simple," the younger boy practically whined, not at all appropriate for one his age.
"I want to stay too," Tom admitted, causing Teddy to perk up in interest. So, he did want to stay, so why wouldn't he? "I just cant though…I can't." Teddy drooped once more. So much for that glimmer of hope. "I have to leave. I have to go," Tom continued with emphasized urgency. His eyes looked out to the open sky as if he were about to sprout wings and fly away. Teddy wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if did just that, but Tom remained firmly planted on the ground though his mind was clearly soaring.
"They're gonna hate your hat," Teddy announced, tugging the brim down toward Tom's eyes in an effort to bring him down from the sky and back into the safety of reality, back down to Earth. It seemed to work as Tom's face gave way to recognition as he pulled away from Teddy's grip and placed his hands atop his head and thus his hat defensively.
"Yeah, well, the world can just deal with it," Tom laughed sharply, pressing his hands down harder. "Besides, I'm an adult. I do what I want."
"You're an idiot. That's what you are. I know you won't listen to me though. You've made that abundantly clear," Teddy sighed, looking more disappointed and deflated than angry or anything else. "You're a really smart idiot."
"I'd be an even bigger idiot if I didn't do anything about this at all. I'd be miserable…well, more miserable," Tom shrugged as he stood up, brushing what remained of the grass form his shirt.
Teddy mirrored the shrug, but turned to start picking at the grass as he had been before. "So, I guess that makes me the idiot in this doesn't it?"
"What makes you say that?" Tom asked, giving Teddy well meaning but nervous nudge to the side with his foot and sounding genuinely concerned.
"It's nothing big, I just feel like I should have seen this coming. That's all. I spend enough time with you. You'd think I'd understand you by now." Teddy looked back at his cousin, but Tom had focused on the grass as he sat down again, twisting it idly between his fingers. Clearly he didn't have any commentary or at least wasn't saying anything if he did, so Teddy simply continued. "You've been acting weird. I said that before, but I really mean it." Tom made a face. "Ok, you've been acting weirder than you usually do."
"What do you mean?" Tom asked, the grass no longer interesting.
"Don't pull that bullshit on me. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You've been away. Off somewhere, maybe not the stars that I mentioned, but definitely off somewhere in your mind. You're not my cousin half the time. Not the one I know anyway." Tom made a hurt face, his shoulders visibly drooping along with his head making him look smaller, more vulnerable. "Ok, ok…" Teddy continued. "You're still Tom. You're still you. Jeez…" Still, Tom did not look up.
"You're right though. That's why I feel so shitty. This isn't me, and I know it. That's why I'm leaving this place. I want to be me. I want to feel like I did before all this stupid nonsense began. I can't do that here."
"I guess I'll just have to convince myself that makes some kind of sense," Teddy replied, the burning returned but this time with the sting of wetness behind the pain.
"You're making the sad face."
"I am not," Teddy retorted, but his voice gave him away as it squeaked out as he tried to control it. "I'm fine. I'm accepting this. Didn't you hear me?"
"Please don't bullshit, Teddy. It's not a good look for you, and if I can't do it neither can you," Tom replied, furrowing his brow. Bullshit was just the sort of thing he was planning on avoiding, and he didn't want to hear it from the one person he felt compelled to trust.
"Are you sure there's nothing I can do? Don't you just want to…I don't know…hang out? Watch a movie? Cause havoc?" Teddy hadn't wanted to sound desperate, but now he realized that it was exactly how he was feeling. He didn't want Tom to go, his cousin to disappear, his friend to leave.
"We could go for one more ride."
Teddy met his cousin's gaze, doing his best to fight back against his eyes protests. "Only one more?" he asked, though it was more like a low whine at this point.
"Only one more," Tom repeated, standing up once more and looking down at the top of his cousin's head.
Teddy searched the ground for an eternity; wiping his eyes until he was satisfied they would not betray him, before looking back up at Tom who was watching him calmly. Tom reached out a hand, and Teddy stared at it for a moment or two before taking it and standing up, trying to ignore the somewhat impatient tug on his arm. As he got to his feet his eyes crossed Tom's face, studying it in hopes of finding weakness, but he found none. Only a confident smile like he hadn't seen in the longest time, which wore on his own pessimism and made him smile back.
"I'll get my keys."