Julia grew onto me, and me onto her, like those trees you see, two different kinds growing from one trunk. We knew each other. We never talked of ourselves, or thought of ourselves, as a unit, but other people did. Mel called us the twins, and my parents started saying "Gabriel and Julia" a lot, and whenever we had family plans my parents invited her. She usually couldn't come, because of her mother, but mom and dad let her know she was welcome. Then my mom got to know Julia's mom somehow, and after that Julia was freer to stay at our house, and even spend the day. She got close to Melody -- Mel loved her -- and sometimes Mrs. Acker let her stay overnight. We were always careful to have Melody invite her. An invitation from me would have been refused.
Julia was there, and familiar, in such a way that the future was never a consideration. We were like the fox kits, finding things out, so wrapped up in whatever we did that nothing else existed for us, not even the future. We started at Lawrence High, and shared a locker, and walked home after school, and studied together. We never dated anyone, not even each other. It was as if we were already joined, but with the formality of separate residences.
Julia didn't want to sneak around to have sex, so we waited. We went through high school, and both applied to K.U., and when we had our acceptances she went to her parents and said that she was going to move into an apartment with me in September.
Her mother handed her a suitcase and told her to pack and get out. Julia's dad tried to intervene, but he'd given in too many times in the past, and he couldn't stop what was happening. Neither one of them listened to him, trying to stop his wife and daughter. Julia lugged the suitcase the mile to our house. I was relieved she'd finally cut the cord. The one time I'd seen her naked was when I'd asked about the bruises on her arms, one day when we were kissing on the bed on the third floor, where no one ever went. Julia stood up and turned away from me and took off all her clothes. There were bruises on her thighs, and her ass, and her back. They were different colors, some of them faint, so I figured they were made at different times. She didn't say anything, just put her clothes back on, her back still turned to me. When I asked whether her mom had done that, she shook her head, but something about the way she shook it meant "yes" instead of "no", and I was as sure as I could be. I didn't kiss her again. Instead I held her for a long, long time, until we heard someone come in the house and we had to leave off and go downstairs.
My parents gave her the rooms on the third floor, where she and I had been that day, the rooms that had belonged to Maria, and said we would have to talk to her mother in a day or two. But Mrs. Acker guessed where Julia had gone, decided that her threat had backfired, and showed up, demanding that Julia return home. Julia refused. She was eighteen, and there was nothing her mom could do. Mrs. Acker gave up and didn't come back. She was probably happy, because she didn't like her kids. When I'd figured that out, I'd become more patient with Julia's hesitations. I think her mother was the reason Julia woke up screaming sometimes. I'd hear, and go upstairs, and hold her, or find mom already there, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I'm fine," Julia always said. "It was only a bad dream." She would never explain what actually happened in these dreams, that frightened her awake.
"If you need someone, call me," my mom would say.
The first few times, mom waited for me in the second-floor hall. She could have been checking to make sure I didn't spend the night in Julia's room, but I don't think so. She always said something like, "Be patient with that girl. She needs a lot of time."
Julia didn't want to impose on us; she didn't want favors. It bothered her to eat our food, and later it bothered her that my parents paid her college tuition. She wanted to be invisible in our family, but she couldn't. Mom and dad treated her the same as the rest of us -- better, because they made me pay part of my own tuition. But their attitude was that she had fewer resources, so she needed more. They would have adopted her, too, but that would have been pointless, since she was already eighteen. She did a lot to help around the house -- cleaning, cooking -- as a way of paying for what she got, but also as a way of being with my mom. She more or less apprenticed herself. She studied mom as an example, a model of what she could become, and as a way of forgetting what her own mother was like. It didn't really work, because Julia was so much more volatile. She can never get over what her biological mom did to her. But it was obvious why she tried to by imitating my mom, who was as gentle as they come. That was what Julia wanted most of all: to be good. She was looking for a way. I always knew that those angry spells, and those depressions, weren't really her. What was her, was the way she ate everything up. The way she loved doing new things, and helping mom or dad or me or Buzz, or whoever needed a hand. The way she got excited about things like the foxes, so excited she shook. I could never get enough of her when she was being that way.
I was the only one to notice the really odd thing -- that Julia was trying to be like mom, and all I'd ever wanted was to be like my dad. That was why I was glad they hadn't adopted Julia. I felt like we were already almost incestuous, and adopting her would have made the problem real. The way this feeling nagged at me, I was eager to move out of the house.
We'd been planning to start our life at the beginning of our first semester, but Julia loved mom so much that she stayed. She kept putting off our move-out month. I was ready -- but then I was always ready for the next step before she was, whether it was sex, or living together, or marriage.
I finally lost patience and said I wouldn't wait. To keep me from moving out she gave in on the sex issue instead. I was like a starving man given food -- I couldn't get enough. For a little while Melody was our lookout. If someone drove up or walked up, she'd call the teenager's phone (there was an extension in Julia's bedroom) from one of the extensions on the main phone line. She'd let it ring once, and then hang up. Our mom had a teaching schedule, so it was easy to time our sex to avoid her presence, but we never knew about dad. He might head off on an errand, or to practice, and come home early. He was out of town touring a lot, and those were the best times, but then he'd be at home for months on end and we'd have to be careful again. When he was home we'd wait a few minutes after he'd gone, and pick our times carefully based on past observations. We wanted to avoid hurrying into our clothes before we'd finished, and we liked having time to talk in bed after the sex. Julia enjoyed it as much as I did, and we wanted to spend hours naked together, but we rarely had the chance.
We lost our lookout -- Melody ran away about that time -- and then we had to be more careful. We had a few close calls. One time we got carried away and used my bedroom instead of hers, and didn't hear mom come home. She knocked on my door.
We were lying on the bed. Julia leaped up and grabbed her clothes and hid in the closet. I picked my underwear off the floor and threw it under the bed, so it wouldn't seem I was naked under the sheets.
"Gabriel? Are you there?"
"I'm taking a nap."
She went away.
Dad knew what we were doing, and helped us hide it from mom, but without admitting to us that he knew. I noticed that sometimes he made up unnecessary errands. Usually when he went somewhere he'd call home, asking an unnecessary question, and let us know what time he'd be back. If he didn't get an answer on the main line, he'd call the teenager's line. He was playing the most complicated game of all. I never figured out why he didn't just come right out and talk to us, and make some arrangement. Maybe he enjoyed feeling like a conspirator. Still, we had a couple of close calls, when he was out and mom came home early. One time I failed to flush a condom, and mom used the same toilet, but she must not have looked in it. She would have talked to me. She would have seen our having sex in the house as a betrayal of her trust.
I was ready to take the risk of getting kicked out -- I wanted to live on my own, anyway -- just try living on the third floor with Julia and let my parents deal with it. Dad wouldn't care, and what was mom going to do? She probably wouldn't make us leave, the way Mrs. Acker had done to Julia. Mom wasn't that mean. But Julia didn't want to hurt her, and I didn't want to fight Julia to get my way.
For two years we lived like that, screwing during stolen moments, until I was fed up. I told her I was moving out. I was almost twenty-one. She could come, or she could stay. She looked like I'd hit her. She had a way of balling her fists and glaring that always made it seem she was going to come at me, windmilling. I would have had to cover myself and duck. I couldn't have hit back, not her. What worried me most was that she might pick up something heavy and brain me.
I found a couple of cheap tiny rooms on the second floor of a house on Connecticut, on one of the blocks that looked like Tobacco Road, and moved there at the start of my junior year. Even with the monthly check from dad I could barely afford the place; I only had a part-time job, and had to pay my tuition and fees from that and the check. Money was tight. So was time, because I had the job, and school, and my band. I was finding out how much easier living at home had been.
I missed Julia. She was five minutes' walk from my place, and I ate dinner at home every other night, not just to save money but to see her. With my folks sitting right at the same table I couldn't have a personal talk with her. She was too proud to apologize. It bothered me that an argument could divide us this way -- I would usually do anything to avoid arguing -- but I didn't know how to heal the split.
I got in the habit of doing my laundry on Saturday morning at the house, and using my dad's studio, above the garage, to practice piano while the washer and dryer were going. I'd get distracted because my view was of the windows on one side of Julia's floor -- mostly of her ceiling, but if I arrived at the right time of morning I'd see her brushing her teeth.
I was playing the upright and glancing at that window when she walked up to the medicine cabinet, opened it, and looked for something she didn't find. She closed the cabinet door, turned, and saw me. We watched each other for a few seconds. Then she blew me a kiss and disappeared.
A minute later she came out the back door and let the screen slam, though she was usually careful to close it slowly so it didn't make noise. I remember she was barefoot. I always noticed that, because her feet were the most perfect God ever made. She crossed the lawn to the garage. A moment later I heard her coming up the stairs. I stood and faced the door, and she stopped there and looked at me for a few seconds, about the same amount of time she'd looked at me from the bathroom.
"Julia," I said.
"I can't live this way," she said. "I miss you all the time. I can't stand being apart any more." She turned and walked back down the stairs, and I followed.
When we came back down from her room with as many of her things as we could carry in four suitcases, dad was sitting at the kitchen table reading his beloved Los Angeles Times. He looked up from the paper.
"Moving in with him?" he asked Julia.
"I wondered how long before you came to your senses." He came to her and took the suitcases out of her hands and set them on the floor and wrapped her in his arms. "Come by here and eat dinner with this boyfriend of yours," he said. "If he gets out of line, I want to know. I'll miss you, girl. I hope you know that."
She nodded her head against his chest.
"How are we going to explain this to mom?" I asked.
"No problem. She thinks people who love each other should love each other. In a week or two she'll be leaving food on your doorstep." He picked up the two suitcases and headed for the door. "Get the rest of your things," he said to Julia. I was still holding the other two suitcases. "Set those down," he said, "and go help her. I'll carry those out."
We didn't take much more, because my apartment was so small. When we had Julia's stuff moved in, we barely had room to sit at the table. I was depressed. It was a crummy place to get started on our own, not just the size, but the peeling wallpaper and the stale smell of the house, and the noise from the neighbors, and all the rest, the horrible reek of no money. Dad seemed to notice how I felt, that I'd made Julia come with me, and the apartment was a big step down from the house.
"Time you heard how your mother and I got together," he said. "I'll be right back."
He returned with a six-pack, and shared it with us, talking about him and Mom -- the unedited version, not the bedtime stories. "Courting her was hopeless. I had no idea what to do, because she was so different from all the other girls. She was so old-fashioned she was exotic, like she was from a foreign country. Which, I guess, she was." He chortled, and opened another beer. "I didn't even know she was in love with me. She sent me to the drugstore. I came back and she was in bed naked." He laughed. "The last thing I'd ever expect of her. It still surprises me. How many years has it been?... All the changes. The days when we were inventing -- the arrangements, the stuff that makes a marriage. The negotiations, the surprises. Making shelter and making a living and making money and making a place in the world... Making babies... What I always wanted, a place for myself, and a family to complete it, with her. We wanted to make a piece of the world into our world." He thought for a while. "This is what I say: she's always believed in following your heart. You should, too. Just think what she'd do and you won't go wrong."
He left soon after he finished the story, because, he said, it was getting late and he didn't want mom to worry. I think the real reason was to leave Julia and me together in our new place. The last thing he said was, "Don't worry. I'll talk to her. Just lay low for a couple of days, then act like it's no big deal. She more or less lived with me, so what can she say? After she thinks about it, she'll come around."
I still had money worries, and the cramped space was annoying,
but now the biggest problem was that I worried about mom. She was lonely,
because she didn't have anyone in the house but her and dad,
and him gone months of the year.