Despite Sophie McGillicuddy’s insistence of being exhausted as a result of jet lag, she stayed up that night until 2 o’clock. Talking. To Pull-Trex.
They’d been exchanging text messages and emails since last summer without Winfield’s knowledge. They weren’t trying to be underhanded. They withheld the information to spare their young friend’s feelings: it was a well-known secret he was absolutely smitten with Sophie. Besides, what was there to tell? She hadn’t even kissed Trex. Held his hand. They closest they’ve come to exchanging body fluids of any kind is when Sophie bought him a new pair of Oakley Sunglasses for Christmas (black, the undersides trimmed with neon blue). They rested in a nearish sort of way to the watery film coating Trex’s brown eyes. It might seem insane to count that, but when splitting hairs, one had to look closely to measure one’s success.
Their correspondence began innocuously enough. Trex called her last summer (her parents vacationed in Zakynthos Island, Greece) to inform her she’d left a pair of turquoise tube socks and her copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“Are you kidding me?” she moaned. “I had three chapters left ‘til the end.”
“How’d you manage to leave it behind?” Trex asked, his voice light. Tinged with amusement.
“I set it on my nightstand so I wouldn’t forget it.”
“Well,” Trex chuckled. “You’ve failed, admirably.”
“Thanks, Trex. You’re a real pal,” she sighed. “I’m going to have to go to the bookstore tomorrow to find another copy. Hopefully my parents will give me a ride.” She threw herself on her bed. Stared at the ceiling fan, oscillating on its lowest setting. “Then again, I can always take the bus if they pitch a fit about taking me.”
Trex cleared his throat over the phone. “What’re you doing now?”
“Why?” Sophie propped herself up on her left elbow. Glanced out the window. Rain lashed the window.
“I could read the last chapters for you. If you want,” he added hastily. “Save you a bus trip to the bookstore. Never know who you’ll meet on the bus,” he laughed. “I once met a homeless man who told me about how he wrestled his rotisserie chicken from a bobcat.”
“You’d do that?”
“Wrestle a bobcat? No, I–”
“That’s not what I meant,” she smiled, tentatively. “You’d read the rest of the book to me?”
“Sure. Get comfortable.”
She settled onto her bed. Pages rustled over the phone.
“Chapter Thirty-Five,” Trex began. “King’s Cross:
He lay facedown listening to the silence. He was perfectly alone. Nobody was watching. Nobody was there. He was not perfectly sure that he was there himself…”
Sophie kept an ear towards the hallway while she lay in bed. Her eyes surveyed the room Felix painstakingly maintained during her absence. A waist high bookshelf propped beneath the window facing the front yard. Titles like Edith Hamilton’s Mythologies, Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, assorted titles from Neil Gaiman (American Gods being her favorite). Above the bookshelf, a framed quote by Ray Bradbury: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture: just get people to stop reading them.” In the corner, near the window, a Japanese Peace Lily sat in a cerulean blue pot. It’s three flowers, filled the room with a friendly airiness. Above the plant, she’d hung origami swans her grandmother had given her when she was a girl. Sophie had cut geometric shapes through the wings and applied colored tissue paper with glue. When the sun streamed in, the wings would flare with color.
She wore a faded maroon t-shirt, ringed with gold around the collar and sleeves. It read “Weasley is our King” in yellow, silkscreened letters A green blanket was tucked up to her waist. In the soft buttery glow of an imitation Tiffany bedside lamp, she heard cautious footsteps moving through the hallway. An errant floorboard, creaking. The muffled whisper of Pull-Trex’s ‘Damn!” Above all, Sophie heard Felix’s sonorous snoring from across the landing. Even with his door shut, the sound could wake the dead.
Trex’s bedroom was catty corner to Felix’s, facing the south. His stealth was largely unneeded given the sonic-cover provided by Felix’s nocturnal trumpeting, but it added a layer of excitement. Made her feel decidedly tingly.
“Hiya!” Trex whispered, as he slipped into her bedroom and closed the door behind him.
“Hey,” she smiled, waving with the metallic fingers of her chrome-plated right hand.
“Pretty nifty, huh?” he offered. He took a seat at the corner of her bed. “Felix didn’t seem too impressed with it, did he?”
“I think it’s a matter of perception,” she admitted. “He doesn’t want Winfield to think he’s doing me any favors. Like you said, he doesn’t have to create an invention for every perceived deficit. Because, I’ve done just fine without the aide of a second, fully developed arm.” She felt the invention with the delicate fingers of her left hand. Sophie’s clear coat of nail polish flashed small ellipses as it caught the soft light. “Still,” she paused. “I love it.”
“Is it comfortable?”
“Not really. Well, it was at first,” she corrected herself. “But, now it’s starting to irritate my skin a bit.”
“Take it off,” Trex shrugged.
“Soph–” Trex accurately judged her hesitation. “You know I don’t care about that kind of stuff.” He removed his sunglasses. “I mean, look at me.”
“A pair of odd ducks,” Sophie replied, removing the sensor from the top of her shoulder. The metallic coils retracted with a snick-snick-snick!
“Or dinosaurs,” Trex supplied. “Technically, ducks fall under the evolutionary, avian umbrella so, I’ll allow it. What’re you reading now?” Trex asked. He extended his hand towards Sophie. She passed him her book.
“Cujo, huh?” he rifled through the pages, drawing facts imbedded in his Brainframe. “Copyright 1981, Hardcover edition, published by Viking Penguin–”
“Winfield got it for me,” she admitted.
“Ah! Our intrepid wunderkind is evolving from the brightly colored panels and inked dialogue of the comics and graphic novels he loves so much?”
Sophie scrunched her freckled nose. “I don’t think he knew what he was buying. I like science fiction and fantasy. This is–”
“A cautionary tale of a boy and his dog.”
She balled her fists and gently tapped her lap. “I simply have to read it. It was thoughtful. He tried, at least.”
“That’s Winfield,” Trex agreed without cynicism. “As thoughtful as the day is long.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Felix snores punctuated the night air like a diuretic whoopie cushion.
Sophie shifted her weight. Felt the pressure of Trex’s body against her legs like an electrical current.
“I sent him my stories,” she blurted.
Trex nodded. Picked up his sunglasses from the bed. Replaced them to his beaked nose. “Yeah?” His tone was guarded. “Do you think that’s wise?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “But, it didn’t feel right keeping them from him anymore.”
He reached over and cradled Sophie’s foot. Squeezed gently. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Trex stood. Circled the bed. Lay atop the covers beside Sophie.
“What’re you–” she stopped short as Trex made grabbing gestures towards Cujo.
She handed him the book with a smile.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“Haven’t started yet.”
Pull-Trex opened to the first page.
“Once upon a time,” Trex said in a whisper. “Not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine…”
At four o’clock in the morning, Trex woke with a start. Cujo lay open on his chest. Sophie’s head rest on his shoulder. He quietly extricated himself from the bed without waking her. Smoothed the blankets he’d fallen asleep on somewhere near Chapter Four, and crept out of Sophie’s room.
On the way back to his bedroom, the only sounds were Trex’s quiet, padding feet, the creaking floorboards, and the soft whisper of the central air, breathing through the house. But, not a peep from Felix.
As sunlight turned the sky a pale shade of pink the following morning, Felix busied himself in the kitchen. After the heavier food the night before, he reverted to Sophie’s preferred breakfast. Sliced tomatoes with a dash of Penzy’s Sandwich Sprinkle. An assortment of fresh fruit (Cantaloupe, Honeydew melon, green and purples grapes, and cubed apples). Poached eggs. The selection of food was more in keeping with his physician’s orders, and would keep Trex from spewing medical facts at him while he tried to enjoy his breakfast.
Felix wished it was his imagination that placed the boy outside of granddaughter’s bedroom. Felix’s weak bladder had ratted the boy out. Boy. Trex was hardly a boy anymore: Nineteen.
Before he jumped to unfair conclusions, he was determined to find a moment alone. Discuss…precautions if they needed to be taken. Above all, Felix wanted to avoid the “Not Under My Roof” spiel and keep the words “Nip this in the bud” from ever passing his lips.
Sophie would be eighteen within a month’s time. It was her life, after all. She didn’t need an aging octogenarian futzing around with it.
“Mor-mor-mor–” Winfield stumbled into the room, yawning. “Morning,” he tried a second time.
“Morning, Winfield. How’d you sleep?”
“Fine,” Winfield mumbled. He retrieved his Watchmen coffee cup from the dish rack beside the sink. Filled it with black coffee. Took a couple of tomato slices from the cutting board and plucked a handful of purple grapes from the bowl of fruit salad and settled into his spot at the kitchen table. “How about you?” he countered, after taking his first sip of coffee.
“Can’t complain.” Felix sat beside Winfield and opened the Metro section of the morning paper.
They sat in companionable silence while Winfield emptied his first cup of coffee.
“Did you pick the flowers yet?” he asked, filling his mug a second time.
Stargazer lilies from the garden in the backyard. Next to the sedums, jade, and Dixie Chicadees. It served as a continued testament to Delores’ green thumb and Pull-Trex’s obsessive compulsive watering on a specific, regimented schedule.
“Felix,” Trex would warn him whenever he caught the old man near the verdant plants. “Put down the hose, and step away from the garden.”
“I’m trying to help.”
“If you water them while the sun is at its zenith, you’ll scorch the roots. It’s the middle of summer!” Trex would counter, with his arm outstretched, as if he were trying to diffuse a hostage situation. “Put. down. the. hose and go watch Labradoodle’s Day Court, Not Without My Left Leg, or whatever godawful daytime soap you pass the time with.
Pull-Trex walked into the kitchen dressed in a pair of dark trousers and a black button-up. Felix could tell by the spring in his step that he’d been up for awhile.
Maybe since four a.m….
“Pull-Trex,” Felix greeted the boy in an enigmatic tone. Equal parts accusation and warning, perfected after years of being father to a precocious teenager.
“Fee-lix,” Trex replied in an identical tone. A smile, tucked into the corners of his mouth.
“How was your evening?”
“Good. How was your evening?”
“Well, okay, I’m glad that’s settled.” He poured himself a glass of grapefruit juice from the fridge. Sophie walked in as he tapped the fridge door closed with his sneaker.
“So-phie,” Trex greeted her. “Take note of my suspicious tone. It’s how we’re welcoming each other on this anniversarial morning.”
“Duly noted,” she smiled. Tousled Winfield’s exploded-clockwork curls. Leaned in to Felix for a hug. She gently nudged a mauradering CompsognathSix aside from the fridge (Winfield’s dinosaurs mostly stayed in the basement, but occasionally made fridge raids during meals) and self-consciously asked Trex to move so she could get a plate from the cabinet.
Felix watched with inquisitorial eyes until Sophie was seated beside him at the table with a full plate.
“When are we leaving for the cemetery, Papa?”
The Metropolitan Municipal Cemetery gleamed in the morning sun. Some of the quartz gravestones glittered. Other sagged with age and crumbled with decay. It put Winfield in mind of a mouth given selective dental work. A bedazzling of the grill.
Beneath an aged oak tree, a groundskeeper tended a nearby plot. He was hunched with age after spending years keeping his nose towards the ground. Wrapped in a tattered cloak, he leaned against a cane that seemed the fan out towards the bottom. A wide-brimmed hat shrouded the man’s face in shadows.
Winfield thrust a bouquet of lilies towards Sophie. She was dressed in a black blouse and dark jeans. Her shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair was clipped in an intricate system of braids and bobby-pins.
“Thanks, Win,” she smiled. Sophie tucked the bouquet beneath her metallic arm. Slid her left in Felix’s and made their way to the fenceline along the north side of the graveyard. There, they found Delores McGillicuddy’s headstone.
Winfield and Trex waited dutifully as Felix and Sophie stood at her grave.
From the corner of his eye, Winfield thought he saw a pair of spiders as big as hands scale the weathered exterior of a vestibule mausoleum. When he turned, Winfield realized they were they were the outstretched hands of an angel, carved in marble.
Winfield tugged the hem of Pull-Trex’s button-up. “Did you–”
Trex knocked his hand away. Shushed him, without taking his eyes from the back of Sophie’s head.
Winfield turned again and noticed the groundskeeper standing beside the granite structure. The man leaned on his cane, and while his face was hidden, Winfield knew he was being watched.
Sophie watched Winfield thread through the gravestones towards the center of the city of the dead. The plots Felix purchased after Winfield explained what happened to his parents all those years ago.
Felix called Sophie after Winfield confided the details of his story. Her Papa’s voice sounded troubled. Plagued with grief.
“I can’t imagine what that boy’s gone through, Sofa. It’s unthinkable,” he said over the phone. “The charade he put himself through….He needs to mourn their loss, properly. Heck. I need to mourn. Claudia was like my daughter–”
He had to hang up after that.
She walked beside Pull-Trex. Both were careful to bump into each other as they walked. Their fingertips grazed repeatedly.
As they approached Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast’s graves, Trex saw a man and woman, standing with their backs to the approaching group.
Pull-Trex searched his Brainframe. Matched the man’s height. The silhouette. When the man turned towards them, Trex bypassed negligible differences in the man’s appearance: The buzzed hair. The closely-cropped beard. The loss of weight (fifteen pounds, by his calculations).
Norman Roberts. He was alive.
“Winfield Pendergast,” Roberts beamed a luminescent smile, staring at the boy. “It’s been a long time.”
Pull-Trex clenched his fists. Shook his head. Offered the only fact his Brainframe deemed relevant: “Asshole.”