The Halfway Girl

by zara hemla :: arrested development :: pg-13 :: halfway invisible, she thinks, halfway out of this world.

Maeby hates her name. It's like the doctor asked her parents, "Will you love this child and protect her and keep her from all harm," and her dad said, "Sure!" and Lindsay looked at him and said, "Maybe." And that's how it's been all her life -- halfway secure, halfway happy. And halfway unbearable.

It's Friday and so she skips out on school; afternoon is an assembly and if she has to go to that she's going to puke up behind the bleachers. School spirit sucks so hard; and it's hard to manufacture any enthusiasm for the football team when she is basically miserable. She plugs into her headphones and meanders toward nowhere.

Well -- not nowhere, exactly. She ends up at the banana stand where her uncle Michael is, as usual, filling in for his irresponsible brother. The stand doesn't seem to have any business, exactly, but on the other hand it is still early. When the kids get out of school and work lets out, a lot of hungry people buy frozen fruit products. It grosses Maeby out to eat a frozen banana, but she doesn't mind selling them.

For awhile she just sits in the back of the stand with Uncle Michael and they don't talk. Maeby loves it about Uncle Michael that he doesn't feel the need to jabber on like her parents do. Every time they're in a room together, they're always talking: talking at each other, though, and never saying anything that isn't an insult. Or completely irrelevant. And her father's taken to painting himself blue. It would be the last straw, if Maeby wasn't sure the last straw had come along years ago and she just hadn't noticed, had just kept going on.

Two people come and buy a banana. Maeby serves them. And as she is dipping chocolate onto the last order, she looks up and sees George Michael meandering, much the same way she had, down the block. His head is down and he is studying his toes, or where he's going to go, or something. He casts a pretty long shadow into the sun; he walks gracefully, much more beautifully than any of the boys she observes at her school. And though he is a bit chubby, Maeby admits to herself that he is awfully attractive. If he wasn't her cousin, right? If not.

The customer leaves and Uncle Michael comes up behind her. "What is it with you kids and skipping school," he says, but he doesn't sound mad. It must be that kind of Friday. Her mom would make a big deal of it, but she would only be pretending. That's another great thing about Uncle Michael, that he doesn't pretend. "Good, you two can tend the stand while I run over to mom's." This is Maeby's grandma he is talking about. "She's had another episode with Uncle Oscar, and she . . . ." He trails off, looking at her. "You know what, you don't want to know."

"I don't," she agrees. "But if I skipped school today, what makes you think I want to watch a banana stand?"

"Close up then," he says, sounding completely unfazed. "Raid the cash register. Go where you want. Hear that?" he calls to George Michael. "Clean out the register and take your cousin somewhere nice!"

George Michael looks up from his toes and makes a surprised face. "Oh . . . okay," he says. And as Uncle Michael leaves, closing the door behind him, Maeby faces her cousin across the stand's counter, and neither of them say anything.

"You don't have to take me anywhere," she says finally. Half wanting to go with him, half wanting to run away, to hide. "I'm cool."

"I know," he says. Reaches around her and punches the register buttons. Grabs a handful of five dollar bills but leaves the tens and twenties -- that's how he is. Then he smiles at her, and she feels like a traitor to family relations because of how much she wants to touch that mouth. How can she not go where he wants to go?

They shut up the stand and they wander downtown. Maeby finds a bookstore and they go into it. It's dim and full of stacks of all sizes. George Michael just stands there and watches her as she looks through books, until she finally turns to him and asks him if he is going to look for something or what.

"Nah," he says. "You go ahead." He drops his eyes to his toes again and stuffs his hands in the pockets of his khaki shorts. She thinks maybe he means 'hurry up,' and so she grabs a copy of an Ishiguro novel and takes it up to the front. George Michael insists on paying for it out of the cash, because, as he says, his dad will be disappointed if they don't buy something.

"Your dad's crazy," she says, but stuffs the book into her backpack anyway. "Telling us to rob the register."

"Yeah," says George Michael.

After that they go and get iced coffees and sit under a tree in the park. Maeby tells him about why she skipped school, describing gruesomely what the assembly would have been like. She likes to make him laugh, it's selfish and visceral how she does it just to watch him.

"Why'd you skip out?" she says.

"I don't know," he replies and for once he looks her right in the eye. "I guess I thought maybe you'd be cutting too." She doesn't know what to say to the look in his eyes so she finishes up her coffee and sits there in the shade and when she's done she puts the cup down beside her. The kids are getting out of school and they walk down the sidewalk but no one even looks over to the shade where they are sitting. Halfway invisible, she thinks to herself, halfway out of this world.

George Michael has finished his coffee and he is sitting cross-legged in the grass and all of a sudden he says, "Maeby, I --" and she looks up at him. A bit of sunlight is slanting into his eyes and they turn completely clear for a moment, clear as honey. Basically there is nothing more to say, they both know what they want, and she leans forward and just barely kisses him, just halfway.

"Oh," he says against her mouth and she can feel herself breathing his air. And then they break apart: she is light headed, she can feel her heart pounding, and she smiles at him, an all the way smile, one that's really going somewhere.

--the end--

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