Home For The Summer – Chapter Two
Gretchen, Johnny, and I walked down the sidewalk, Johnny pulling along the red wagon leftover from his childhood, which we had filled with decorations and refreshments. Tonight at the Beachwood restaurant, Gretchen was hosting a party for all of her friends. Usually, Johnny and I had to tag along to whatever party she was holding- she couldn’t be trusted on her own for something like this- so we were used to this. She ends up simply getting too sad and kind of goes off the deep end before the night is over. Even before Sam passed, she would always end up getting upset and likely drunk after a few hours. It was miserable, not to mention embarrassing because she was the kind to cry over any little thing when she got like that.
“So who’s coming tonight? Anyone we’d know?” Johnny asked, hopeful for a good answer- he was getting too old to want to hang by me all night.
“You know, the usual- the cousins and some of my high school friends.”
Johnny sighed, falling behind to my side. “Not the damn cousins again…”
I agreed- I hated only being able to hang out with our cousins. He probably just wanted to have a nice girl to talk or dance with. Just like I wanted a nice guy… or simply someone our age.
Our cousins, Jace, Jennifer, and Suzanna were all around Gretchen’s age and still treated me like a child despite me being grown up now. It was even worse for Johnny- all they would talk to him about was their scattered memories of him as an infant and his time toddling around their house in diapers.
I was unclear as to why Gretchen was having a party in the first place. It wasn’t for me- I hate parties and she knows it. Maybe she was just lonely or excited for the impending summer.
We slowly came upon the Beachwood restaurant after about twenty minutes of walking. The Beachwood was the kind of place that sounded nice but was considerably trashy and cheap compared to other places in the area. I don’t know why Gretchen loves it so much- it’s not like we can’t afford better- but I guess it had a nice view of the beach.
Gretchen ran around the restaurant like she owned the place, setting everything up on her own before Johnny and I could ask to help. I sat back and watched for a few minutes as she put up tacky streamers and lights everywhere. I tried not to question it all too much, but I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit weird and perhaps out of place for her.
“You sure you don’t need help, Gretchen?” I asked in a calm voice, hoping it would slow her down.
“I’m sure. You guys should go get ready- make sure you look nice!”
“What do I wear?” Johnny asked, standing at the foot of the ladder she was on.
“The brown jacket I put on your bed, you goof.”
She put the streamers and staple gun down, looking at me.
“Wear my blue dress.”
“Your dress? Gretchen-”
“I’m wearing the black one. Bring it back here for me with the heels?”
Johnny and I started the walk back home, practically dragging our feet along.
“I don’t want to go.” he started. “Her parties always make me feel uncomfortable.”
“I know, same here. But she’d probably let you bring your sketchbook.”
“You know she doesn’t like me drawing all the time.”
“I know, but you’re still young. She’s gonna want me to talk to everybody tonight and dress up like someone I’m not.”
“I mean, you’ll still be you, just in a fancy dress.”
“Yes. I just don’t like that she thinks I’m just like her.”
“She says the same thing about me.”
“Well, it’s better to be her than me, trust me.”
“Too bad I want to be like you.”
Looking in his eyes, I still felt a semblance of authority- that he looked up to me. Though he acted grown up and tried to be strong for Gretchen, nothing could hide that he was a child inside. That no matter how far he tried to run from it, he needed parents and affection only they could provide. He needed more than just two older sisters to babysit him.
The dark curls that swept gently across his forehead and matched Gretchen’s rather than mine closely dropped into his line of sight, and our eye contact stopped.
“Should I wear a tie?” He broke the silence I had created by my lack of response.
“Do you have one that matches your jacket?”
“Then she probably would like you to.”
As we went inside the house, the screen door slammed and I felt that for just a moment, some sound of normalcy had returned. We were very quiet in the house once Sam was gone, and it was painful. You could almost always hear a pin drop, drops of water coming from the kitchen sink accompanied by birds outside. And every night, the terrible sobs from behind Gretchen’s door that we so desperately tried to ignore.
Though Johnny and I would knock on her door every night, trying to move the knob or speak to her, she never let us in. I knew it was because she didn’t want Johnny to see her so weak, but he still knew about it, which honestly had a similar effect. If anything, it taught him that emotion was shameful- that he had to hide what he felt from Gretchen- and that wasn’t how I wanted him to be raised, especially since we were in control of that now.
I went into Gretchen’s bedroom to retrieve the dress she had left for me and the one she had laid out for herself- her shoes alongside it. Her room was a stark white, her curtains always drawn, all surfaces decluttered. She would always be so aggravated upon stumbling into my room and seeing everything that I “let fester” on my shelves and in my windowsill.
I hated the dress she told me to wear, but you couldn’t object to her wishes in times like these. She probably wouldn’t talk to me for a week if I didn’t wear the dress. I did appreciate that she thought of me, but she never understood that my needs and wants were different from hers. But maybe all that was changing.
Moving onto my bedroom, I hesitantly dressed- pulling on the dress before I had time for second thoughts. I already knew it was horrendous, so why would I question it any further? Who would waste their time questioning a dress with shoulder pads and slightly puffed sleeves, one that would only suit their older sister’s frame since she could wear anything and look stunning?
I turned up the radio, aligning the dial to my favorite station. Back when I used to just sit in my room and paint, the radio was always my background noise. And whether paired with rain on my window or not, it still always managed to calm me down.
I sat gently in my chair, curling my hair up in rollers to create the look Gretchen wished I was born with. While we all had the same majestic dark hair, the curly part of that gene must have missed me.
I always felt my name didn’t match with my appearance, which makes sense, since I was born a blonde. Gretchen was too- she had similar peach fuzz to mine when she was born. But I guess her name matches “Gretchen” just as well as a brunette. The name Summer just doesn’t fit with a brunette.
Arriving back at the restaurant, people were starting to show up, and it was clear Gretchen was panicking about her readiness. She took her dress immediately upon seeing us and went to the bathroom, scrambling to get ready.
“If cousin Jennifer is asking where I am, tell her I will be out in a few minutes!” she exclaimed.
I looked over to Johnny, whose tie was still hanging around his neck. Neither of us put too much thought into the fact that we don’t know how to tie a tie and the fact that Gretchen also lacks that knowledge.
“Crap…” he muttered, fumbling with it himself.
“Crap is right.” I pulled his shoulders to face me as I tried to fix it myself, but it did no good. I just messed it up more, getting it twisted under his collar. Slowly, I heard footsteps approaching from behind us.
“Let me…” the man stepped in front of me, leaning down just a bit to adjust the tie for Johnny. He wasn’t quite a man, just an older boy… he seemed familiar.
“Thank you so much, sir.” Johnny thanked him politely- at least we raised him right in that sense.
“No problem, kid.”
The boy turned to me, flashing a cheesy smile- it was the Funnel-cake boy. He walked on his way, and I pulled out the camera Gretchen had nestled into the wagon earlier this afternoon.
I was going to make sure I remembered this night forever.