Chapter 4 of 12 in the Book "Evelyn Restarts the World"
Melissa and Tobias(Toby)
They haven't been able to get together in months. Tobias started working for a same day, twenty four hour courier service, the money is great but requires a flexible schedule. Melissa is still at Dr. Sanders’ office; she loves her job but between the family and work, getting time to herself is an all but rare treat.
“Toby, I’m sorry I suggested downtown…I’m sure you are tired of it,” Melissa says as the two walk down the club lined street. It’s early enough to make it calm and a bit serene, just tourists and their families rushing to their cars to escape the inevitable onslaught of the revelers and special nighters.
“No, no don’t worry about it. I like it down here,” Tobias reassures. He pats Melissa’s shoulder. The two take in the setting sun as the bartenders scribble their evening two dollar you-call-it deals on chalk boards.
“Well little brother, how have you been,” Melissa asks as she playfully nudges her brother.
“I’ve been well, just keeping busy…or trying to,” he quietly answers, staring at his feet as they walk.
“That’s good. Still writing?” asks Melissa.
“No…not really,” he quickly answers.
“Toby you love to write, don’t stop,” Melissa encourages. “And what about Daryl, are you still seeing each other.”
“No, well, kind of. He’s been on tour for while and has been sort of weird when he’s in town-“ Tobias sighs, stops and checks his phone. “Or I’ve been weird. Where do you want to go?”
Melissa closes her eyes and spins around with her finger extended. Tobias helps her spin, as a brother would. Picking up speed and losing balance, she suddenly stops. Melissa has made her choice.
“Ahhhh-THIS ONE!” says Melissa as she regains footing. The bars are the same, the drinks are the same, maybe some subtle differences in decor. But this one felt right to our siblings, it was quiet, maybe overlooked by the hordes. All bars have their flaws, some play music to loud, some play music to bad, but this one seemed right.
Catching up is important to any relationship on any level. The real pity comes when seeing someone after a great distance in time and being uninterested in telling them your life and even worse than that, hearing about theirs. This was not the case with our siblings, they truly enjoyed each other’s company. They were excited to share some of the future and unashamed to remember the past, while allowing each other to finish and express their thoughts. With each drink and good conversation, their surroundings seemed to improve. The confused theme, Irish pub meets some sort of island rum bar, seemed almost ironic. The jukebox, 90’s pop punk with with a splatter of over played 60’s and 70’s soul and R&B, had them singing along. The Bartender, also singing along, but really trying to hit the high notes, was desperately trying to sell them on some crudely named concoction made mostly of everclear and cranberry juice. He convinced them to buy one despite its ten dollar price tag.
When you’re comfortable and alcohol has activated the spirit, the reliance on traditional story structure becomes more apparent. Keeping conversation light throughout a solid brother-sister happy hour event is an exercise in futility. Melissa knows her brother, and though he appears to want to change the subject back to the trite bullshitting of the night, he really wants her to dive deeper. For Melissa, this could be a dangerous endeavor. Tobias is sensitive, and he has put himself in extreme situations to either prove to himself or the world that he is not. Melissa knows that their life wasn’t that bad, but she has learned how unproductive the “Get over it-” or “Other people have it-" statements can be. So with the caution that sometimes only an older sibling can possess, she dives in the dark water of a sensitive mind.
“So Toby, Mom says your therapist from group called her worried, looking for you. Did you stop going?” Melissa asks.
“…yeah…” Tobias softly answers while playing with his drink.
“Toby! I thought you liked it, you told me it was helping so much.”
“I did, I did- I just felt weird about my issues. Some of those people are military and saw combat-saw some real shit. I felt like a fraud.” Tobias continues to swirl his ice with the straw.
“Oh Toby,” Melissa puts her hand on his shoulder. “You’ve dealt with a lot since dad died, I think that’s why you wanted to be a paramedic. I have always admired that courage, especially with the anxiety you have. You know your job wasn’t easy, right? Toby?
"Yes..yeah I know. I just feel ashamed for quitting. I also feel ashamed for being such a wreck for six months; group really did help at first. I got some tools to help with the PTSD and met some great people. Just, after a while it started to weigh on me and it had me thinking…my whole life has been devoted to death,” Toby says and quickly downs his drink.
“One more please,” Toby politely asks the all too present bartender.
“Well that seems like a good epiphany, like maybe you can start focusing on life,” says Melissa.
“No, no it’s not like that. It’s almost subconscious, like death is a theme that was predetermined for me. A lot of people lose their parents, a lot of people have jobs where they have to deal with dying. My life seems built for it, or least my thoughts do.”
Tobias stops talking as the bartender places the drink on a bar napkin, which Tobias will inevitably roll nervously into a ball then shred into a thousand little pieces.
“I will take one more as well,” Melissa says to the bartender as she sips the last of her drink. “Toby, death is a theme for everyone. You are so creative and truly caring…I think that adds to the anxiety, making you see death in the things you love," Melissa says with deep concern for her brother.
“Maybe, you’re right. My imagination gets to me sometimes,” Toby says as he puts his hand to his head.
“You are going to be okay Toby, we all are,” Melissa says as she hugs her brother.
After the death of their father, their mother had a hard time coming to grips with his passing. Melissa was fifteen years old, going through what normal fifteen year olds go through, as well as having to be the emotional back bone for her mother and her brother. Melissa learned to mourn inside while keeping a stone face to the outside world. Tobias admires her, and of course is always worried. Two more people enter the bar, they seem intent on doing some serious drinking. Something our siblings seem to have done on accident. A good night of drinking has no plans or intents. You see, that’s why celebrations fail; when give yourself the expectation on how you are supposed to feel, you never meet it. It is the same with anxiety, when you always plan for the worst thing to happen, and then it doesn’t, you get another tool to fight it. You think to yourself “How could I imagine the worst thing and then it actually comes true?” That’s just not possible and would introduce a supernatural element that you and I do not have the mental capacity to explore.
“Something really weird happened to me last week,” says Tobias.
“Whats that?” Melissa asks, as she hums along to the trash spewing from the jukebox.
“Remember I told you before dad died that, in the hospital, he woke up from his sleep?” Tobias asks.
“Yes vaguely. He said something to you right?” Melissa asks concerned,
“Yeah, he just woke up and mumbled something, you and mom had gone to the cafeteria. And he sorta thrashed around then stopped and
said “Toby it’s okay, it’s okay” and I came up to him and told him “I’m okay Daddy" but he kept saying “it's okay, it’s okay." I thought about getting a nurse because I didn’t know if he was supposed to be asleep, but as soon as I was about to leave he opened his eyes and looked right at me.”
“What did he say to you?” Melissa asks with anticipation, as her eyes visibly well up.
“He said “Little Toby, no one ever dies.” and then smiled and went back to sleep.”
“Toby, was that the day before he died?"
“Yes,” Toby answers nodding his head.
“Toby, that is beautiful. No, I don’t remember this.” Melissa says as she wipes a tear from her cheek, takes a breath, and regathers her thoughts. “Wow. So what happened last week?”
“Well, Daryl has been on tour for like a month. We have been sorta texting, last week he was in St. Louis, his grandma lives there so he went to visit her before the show. She's like this New Age healer and psychic."
“Yeah big time, she has a palm reading fortune shop off of the interstate. Anyway, Daryl was texting me about being at her place, so I asked him to say hi for me, he did, and she responded that I had been on her mind.”
“Had you met her in person before?” asks Melissa.
“Once at Daryl’s sister’s graduation party, for like 20 minutes.”
“You’ve got that lasting effect Toby,” Melissa jokes.
“Ha I guess, so I’m wondering if that’s a good or bad thing…you know coming from a psychic.”
Toby takes another drink and pulls out his phone and scrolls to find the text thread.
“So here is what he responds, “She said, tell Toby that no one ever dies…idk.” Tobias takes a deep breath, puts his phone away, and takes another yet larger drink.
Melissa, obviously taken aback with the text message, shivers as the goosebumps rise. She doesn’t put too much stock in coincidence, but she is human and some connections are just too on the nose.
“That is weird Toby, you never told Daryl about what dad said?” Melissa asks searching for a smoking gun.
“Absolutely not. And Daryl is a vault about personal things; he is uncomfortable even remembering.” Tobias defends.
“Toby, that is a very strange coincidence-I know you Toby,” Melissa leans in. “I know you are going to read too deep into this. It's just a sentence, a generic sentence. She probably knows the type of work you did and offered some hippie spiritualism to make you feel better. Everything is okay Toby.” Melissa says and finishes her drink. Tobias also finishes and stares off, while the wheels of his imagination begin to turn. Melissa quick to notice these thing, goes for a tested diversion.
“Okay, let’s have one more and get out of here.” Melissa asks the bartender for one more round. He quickly abides.
“Speaking of text messages, I got one from Evelyn a few days ago, she was just seeing how I was doing,” Melissa says.
“Really? I saw Paul at the store not too long ago, he looked terrible. Dark eyes, obviously tweaked out,” Tobias says as the bartender places their drinks down.
“Hey guys, in a couple of minutes we are starting our open mic,” the enthusiastic bartender says.
“Really? Like singer songwriter stuff?” Tobias asks in an obvious uninterested-but-trying-to-be-nice tone.
“Sometimes, but mostly poetry, some spoken word, and comedy. It’s pretty cool,” says the even more enthusiastic bartender.
“Sounds cool, but I think we are going to close out,” says Melissa trying her hardest not to sound rude.
“Cool cool,” the bartender says stylishly as he walks to the P.O.S..
“Yikes, perfect last call,” Tobias says, relieved at his sister’s fast action.
“Totally, but yeah, that’s the main reason I don’t call Evelyn anymore. Paul is a shitty guy, I don’t want to be anywhere near him,” Melissa says, continuing their conversation.
“I can't believe she is still with that guy. You know, Paul and I got in a fight in the fourth grade. He pulled a knife on me!" Tobias exclaims.
“What!? Toby! You never told me that. Where was that?” Melissa asks shocked.
“It was right in front of Manuel Diaz' house. Ha, right in front of his award winning rose bushes. Ha,” Tobias says laughing.
“Wait, you mean nice Mr. Manny’s house? Evelyn and I used to help him with those roses. Oh my god, I bet you those terrible nephews had something to do with that.”
“Yeah, Mike was the one that got us to fight, I didn’t want to and I think Paul didn’t want to either. I ran away once he pulled the knife out. We never talked about it again. I mean we weren’t friends or anything, I bought weed from him in high school and saw him at some parties with you and Evelyn,” Tobias says, as he notices a group of people come into the bar.
“Paul is trash, I just can’t be there for Evelyn as long as he is around. He is dangerous- looks like the entertainment is here, let finish these,” Melissa says as she and Tobias guzzle down their drinks.
The bartender lays the tab on the bar, thanks them, and goes to help with the P.A. as the Next Big Star takes the stage. Melissa and Tobias sign the check and get up to leave. The Next Big Star looks nervous. He brought three or four friends to the show tonight. That should help with nerves, I have heard alcohol is good too. When taking a stage for the first time, it’s good to read your audience. If they look uninterested in you, accommodate them. If they look like they want to party, give them a party. You are NOT sacrificing your art, you are just adjusting to what they want. Remember, you are there to entertain them. Sadly, The Next Big Star is green to such things and he does what I feel to be the most embarrassing and amateurish action that can ever be perpetrated: Begging for fleeing audience members to stay!
“Hey, where you guys going? I’m just getting started!” the foolish Next Big Star loudly asks, as the mic feeds back.
“Sorry have to go, have a good show buddy,” Tobias says politely as he and Melissa scramble to the door.
“Ah ok…what's y’all’s names?” the Next Big Star (bozo) crassly asks our very uninterested siblings.
“Um. Toby and Melissa,” Tobias says as he finally makes it to the door. Melissa nudges Tobias as if to tell him “Why did you say anything?”
“Cool…cool, well I’ve got some poetry I’m going to read tonight. This one goes out to Melissa and Toby…It’s titled “No One Ever Dies.”