It was a long time before Lori showed up at the rubble playground. Daniel sat on her usual perch, atop the crumbling kitchen wall. From up there, Lawrence laid out before him like a picture book of tranquility. The quiet little homes, the kids gathering in the streets to play soccer. The vibrant green grass, freshly trimmed. It was peace on Earth, a premature heaven for those who couldn't wait for death.
When Daniel finally saw Lori coming up the hill, sunset was already approaching. She picked her way through the rubble a little more gingerly than usually, but it wasn't until she was at the bottom of the wall that he realized why. “What happened to your face?”
“Rocks,” she replied flatly, clambering up beside him. There were scratches on her forehead and cheek, and her left eye was turning a dark shade of blue. He already knew what had happened. Lori hadn't fallen or run into a stone wall or anything. It was the other girls. Probably Heidi. They hated her. They'd throw rocks at her. He'd seen it happen before. The two of them would be walking home together, and a Jeep or Blazer would roar by. “Freak!” someone would yell. Or sometimes “Dyke!” or “Retard!” Once, they threw a half-full Pepsi at her, though they'd missed by several yards. They hadn't missed this time, though.
Why did Lori let this happen? She was trying so hard to be like her sister, but her half-hearted defiance only made the other students hate her. Rebecca could pull it off because people were scared of her. She could glare at a cheerleader and make her piss herself. Lori, though. Lori was too soft, too scared, too sweet. While her sister was the blazing glory of dawn, Lori was just a shadow, the flat after-effect of her sister's wild motions. The other students could see this, and they reminded her daily of how insubstantial she was.
Daniel glared at the city. Lawrence was a contradiction. For Lori it was hell, but for so many others, it was a haven. It was a peace like death. From up here, he could imagine the families gathered on their large, soft couches. The flickering television light on their faces. Their quiet lips. The comfort in their eyes. This is the world Rebbecca had fled. It was downy pillows and harmony, sleep and silence. She had called it an abomination. To her, it was a city paved over the sun, its vast tracts of asphalt suppressing the light. Some architect or developer, some city planner with insane ambition had tamed the fiery heart of the galaxy, made it a place where people could live comfortably in darkness, in homes illuminated only by artificial light.
Rebecca was different, though, and she sang about it. Her music tore fissures in the asphalt, started fires in the carefully manicured lawns. When she wailed into the microphone, it woke things in him that were already half-dead, better left dead, things that could only shamble impotent and confused in this city. He didn't want to think about her and the dreams that died with her departure. He didn't want to think about the couch his mother watched television on, or the long air-conditioned hours at his high-school desk. Rebecca had abandoned him to find glory, leaving only her shadow behind.
Lori sat there, tense in the fading sunlight. The other day she had surprised him with a kiss. Slipping her fingers through his hair, her lips caress the tender nape of his neck. Even as it happened, he knew it was all wrong, but when she moved her mouth to his earlobe, it was Rebecca's tongue that licked him. It was Rebecca's face that nuzzled against his own. He allowed her to do whatever she wanted to his body. He could have closed his eyes or left them open. It didn't matter. Either way, he would only see a silhouette in the light.
Now, she suffered beside him, growing ever more rigid in the silence. He couldn't bear it, so he leaned over and pulled her closer to him. He tried to make her feel better with the warmth of his body, but she didn't relax in his embrace. A full minute passed, and she was as stiff as ever. He wondered if he was doing something wrong, and eventually he pulled away. They remained silent like that, apart, until finally she asked, “You think I'm pathetic, don't you?” And when Daniel said “Of course not,” they both knew he was lying.