September 24, 2001
There was something hazy about the world around me. Everything seemed foggy, blurred around the edges, as I attempted to push my way through a neverending sea of green. My annoyance was worsened by the faint hum of static in the background. The source of the noise unknown, it was easy for me to believe that my life had suddenly become some sort of twisted B-movie on a channel with bad reception. I continued walking, expecting a chainsaw-wielding madman to jump out at me at any moment.
The unidentified body of green that obstructed my vision began to thin out, bringing me closer to whatever I was looking for.
Finally, I seemed to find my escape. Unfortunately, my current surroundings didn’t seem to be much clearer. I could barely make out the cloudy gray above me as the sky, nor what the yellow smudges below it were.
The one thing I knew for sure was that the pale, willowly shape in front of me was a person. My body feeling strangely heavy, I approached it.
Perhaps it was a phantom, a ghost from long ago. Maybe it was the monster that always seemed to be there no matter which way I turned, always breathing down my neck and reminding me of the things I’d never be able to let go of. It might have even been me, the big fat nothing that seemed to be my biggest fear these days.
Whatever it was, as soon as the shadowy being faced me, nothing was right. Within the blink of an eye, I was Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole without warning. The static grew louder, creating the agonizing hum of feedback in my brain as I grew increasingly light headed. I fell to the ground, only to have that disappear as well, the Earth seeming to swallow me whole.
As I fell into the unknown, the sound of a familiar voice rang out over the loud screech. “Remember.”
That one word echoed over and over again, a chorus of what could have been angels or demons. My eyes squeezed shut, I continued my free fall, hoping with every bit of me that it would all be over soon.
Slowly, the voices began to fade away, only for a louder, more familiar one to take their place.
“Life moves pretty fast…”
As soon as that final word rung out, my body fell limp onto the ground.
I jolted awake with a gasp. Things quickly came into focus, the smudged yellow hues replaced by the pale light of an overcast morning, the sound of static replaced with the soft thud of light rain against the windows. The rabbit hole was no more. I was still in my car in the parking lot of a library in Washington D.C., a near stranger that was beginning to know me a little too well asleep in the backseat. Mother Earth was still pushing and pulling as she always did, her balanced gravity keeping me from falling into the abyss.
I sat up straight, reaching under the seat below me for my purse. I retrieved my phone from inside it, flipping it open to check the time. Six AM.
I noticed that I had a new voice message, as well as the unopened one Dory had left me the night I got fired. Knowing that it had almost been a week, I decided to open the message from Dory.
The crackling ringing at the beginning of the recording brought me back to my dream for an unpleasant moment before Dory began to speak.
“April?” Her voice was unsure in a way I had seldom heard from her in real life. “Um, hi,” she continued. “I figured I’d try to get in touch with you to make sure you’re alright after… well, after everything that happened earlier. You should probably know that Zoe didn’t make it out with her apron, either; Mr. Starnes saw the whole fiasco and ordered Lucas to fire her. That’s another thing: Lucas is in the doghouse for, um… being in relations with Zoe. Mr. Starnes is miffed; he’s considering taking full ownership of the restauraunt.”
I covered my mouth, stifling a laugh. If the words in relations and miffed weren’t enough to make the situation amusing, Fred being ****** enough to take back what was rightfully his most definitely was. What goes around comes back around, I suppose.
“Anyway,” Dory continued. “Ring me whenever you can to let me know that you’re okay. Talk to you later.”
A beep followed, signaling the end of the message. Before I could listen to the next one, Grant stirred, slowly waking up. I shut my phone and returned it to my purse as he sat up and stretched.
“Good morning,” he yawned.
“Morning.” I turned around to give him my brightest smile. Between my good mood following Dory’s message and the unease that accompanied the nightmare I just had, I figured it was best to bury the hatchet from the day before. We still had a long way to go on this trip; there was no use in staying mad over something petty.
“You’re up early,” Grant commented, peering out the window. By then, the rain had stopped, leaving only the dusty blue light of early dawn.
“Weird dreams,” I replied. “Though I could say the same for you.”
“I’ve had more than enough rest.” He grinned, sitting up. “Besides, sleeping in this thing isn’t as comfortable as on a couch. Not to mention the fact that we’re on government property.”
“Hopefully, that won’t be a problem tonight.” I reached for my keys, starting the engine. “You wanna go ahead and get out of here? Get an early start?”
“Sounds good,” he said. “Where are we going?”
“You still can’t ask questions.” I backed out of the parking space, heading for the road.
No matter what we did that day, one thing was certain: Grant would get a picture at the White House first.
“Are you serious?” Grant asked as I brought the XT to a halt in front of the White House.
“Of course.” I put the car in park. “You go ahead and get out while I find my camera.”
Grant beamed as he opened the door and raced towards the front of the fence.
I smiled, retrieving my suitcase. I opened the case, picking the black Polaroid up. It was slightly dusty, though not as much as the suitcase or the atlas. Yet another thing that I had inherited from my family, I appreciated the camera, though I hadn’t really had much use for it up until that point. As ridiculous as it may sound, I viewed it as something sacred: why waste the camera Amy had used to capture the last years of her life to photograph the mundanity of my own? It was an honor thing; traveling the east coast in search of someone else’s life, I figured I was finally doing something worthy of using it.
I stepped out of the car to see Grant standing in front of the gate, smiling as if he had just won the lottery. Though I had never cared much for the nation’s capital nor the sketchy affairs that took place within it, his genuine excitement about being there was contagious.
“Alright,” I said, lifting the camera up to eye level as I powered it on. “Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready since we got here,” he replied. “Hurry up, why don’t you?”
I laughed. “Okay, okay.” I watched the camera come into focus on Grant, the great white building looming behind him, still magnificent shrouded in morning fog. Grant looked like a little boy in front of it, both in size and the expression of childlike glee on his face.
“Say America!” I exclaimed.
The shutter clicked, the camera spitting a picture out from the **** in the bottom. I picked the picture up and shook it, watching as it slowly came to reveal a smiling Grant.
I smiled as I examined the picture before slipping it into my pocket. “Beautiful.”
I was walking back to the car to put the camera away when Grant called out to me. “Don’t you want to get one of both of us?”
I shook my head. “You don’t have to take a picture of me,” I said. “This was your dream, not mine.”
“Not just of you,” he said. “Of the two of us together.”
In that moment, my heart filled with a weird sort of fondness for Grant. No matter how much of a ***** I had been to him, he still wanted to take a picture with me in front of the White House. That was true loyalty, if in one of the strangest forms possible.
“Okay.” I headed back toward the fence, Polaroid in hand.
I stood next to Grant, holding the camera at a distance. “How, exactly, are we going to do this?” I asked, attempting to turn the lens to face us.
“Here.” He reached up to grab the other side of the camera, holding it steady as one of his fingers found the shutter release button. “Come a little bit closer?”
I stepped to the side so that we stood as close as comfortably possible, cheeks pressed together.
Grant chuckled. “Okay, then.” He pressed down on the button lightly. “Smile!”
I smiled as big as I possibly could as the camera’s light flashed, causing both of us to squint.
The picture shot out the bottom. Grant pulled it out before pausing, staring at the blank black picture, his forehead wrinkled in confusion.
I giggled, taking it from him. “You’re supposed to shake it.” I shook my hand back and forth, watching as the black melted away to reveal the photo. Once it was developed, I handed it back to Grant. “See?”
He held the picture in his hand, staring at it in amazement. “Wow.”
I laughed again, stepping away from him as I slipped the new picture into my pocket with the other one. “Wanna go get some breakfast?” I asked, heading back toward the car.
This time, Grant followed me. “Sounds good to me.”
The first part of my apology completed, I drove from the White House to the Waffle House.
The two of us spent the day wandering around the city, stopping occasionally to marvel at a famous place and snap a picture or two.
When we reached 10th Street, I stopped, already having a plan.
“Wait here,” I told Grant as I opened the driver’s door.
The crisp air of early autumn greeted me as I walked to the box office of Ford’s Theatre.
“Two tickets for the historic site visit, please,” I told the girl behind the glass.
After we exchanged tickets and cash, I walked back to the car. As soon as Grant stepped out of the car, I handed him his ticket.
“We’re going to see where Abraham Lincoln got assassinated.”
He looked down at the ticket. “God, April,” he said. “Can you plan a visit to somewhere that isn’t gloomy as hell?”
I shook my head. “I thrive off of gloom,” I replied. “And I did take you to the White House and the National Gallery of Art.”
“There are some depressing things in those places, too.”
“C’est la vie,” I countered. “Now let’s go in before the tour starts.”
The theatre is quite impressive, lined with red velvet and draped in American flags, obvious in its patriotism. We climbed the balconies to the presidential box, looking over the theatre just as Lincoln and his party did. I leaned a bit further than Grant did, peering down at the stage.
“To recap,” I said, “our old buddy Abe just wanted to see a nice play after his hard work as the nation’s leader. John Wilkes Booth, famous actor and self-important *******, showed up with a gun. Lincoln did away with slavery, John was a racist *****, so, naturally, he shot him.” I turned to look at Grant, looking down from the other side of the box. “You know what play Lincoln came to see?”
Grant shook his head. “No,” he said. “What?”
“Our American Cousin,” I replied. “They were actually at the funniest line in the play – where the main character called a lady a sockdologizing old man-trap, – when old Johnny boy pulled the trigger while Abe and everybody else were busy laughing at Asa Trenchard.”
“So he died laughing?” Grant asked.
“No,” I replied. “He went across the street to William Petersen’s house and died the next day. I’m sure there wasn’t anything for him to laugh at then.”
“My god,” Grant muttered.
I smiled sweetly, unable to resist a bit of gallows humor. “Hey, that just shows you how quickly things can go wrong if you don’t take the time to look around.”
The sun came out halfway through the afternoon, warming our skin as we left the theatre. It stayed out through the rest of the day as Grant and I continued to gallavant through famous street after famous street.
After an early dinner, I drove us to our final destination of the day.
In the north west area of 15th Street stands the world’s tallest stone structure: the Washington Monument. Perhaps one of the most recognizable aspects of George Washington’s legacy, the obelisk stands at roughly five hundred and fifty five feet and five inches, reaching far into the sky above.
Walking from the car to the grassy area below it, it was impossible for us not to stare up at it in awe.
“Whoa,” Grant muttered.
“Pretty impressive, huh?” I asked. “It gets better. Follow me.”
The sun hanging above us beginning to descend, Grant and I walked through the winding walking paths east from the monument. We stopped in front of a temple-like white building, a crowd pushing out from between its columns.
“The Lincoln Memorial,” I said. “Fitting, huh?” I looked over to Grant, who seemed to be frozen in amazement at the monument. “Come on,” I told him. “Let’s go see it up close.”
We milled our way through the swaths of people leaving the memorial, climbing up the marble steps to stand between one of the columns.
“This is where it gets really good,” I told Grant.
It didn’t take long for him to see this. As the sky went pink in the light of the setting sun, the rosy glow illuminated the Reflecting Pool below, shadowed by the Washington Monument across from us. The view was breathtaking as we watched the skyline above us shine in the dancing waters, the clouds seeming to be lined with gold as the sun ever-so-slowly sunk below our line of sight.
Looking at Grant, I only appreciated the moment more. The clear green of his irises seemed to reflect just as much as the pool, eyes wide as not to miss what was in front of us right then. I didn’t blame him; I’d be afraid to blink for fear of missing the last of the sunset flaming in the horizon, currently burning bright red as it came close to going out, its final blaze of glory. The expression of wonder on his face filled me with a keen sense of guilt, looking back on the way I had treated him the day before.
I said his name quietly, unsure if he would hear me over the clamor of our fellow tourists. “Grant?”
He didn’t look away from the pool as he responded. “Yeah?”
“I’m really sorry that I was such ****** yesterday.”
“It’s fine.” Much to my surprise, his face changed, making him look as if he felt guilty as well. “I deserved to be put in my place. I was out of my lane.”
Rather than telling him that that wasn’t true, that we’d have to start asking questions and learn the truth about one another at some point, I simply extended my hand, nearly closing the space between us in a silent truce. Without looking, he took it.
Our fingers intertwined, we watched as the last bit of red light in the sky burned out, the first few seconds of dusk mirrored in the water below us.