Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she's hurtled through wormholes to her past. Gottie's past, present, and ...(more)
Soft as a sunset, he smiles. And says, "Margot."
The way it ended between us, a text message from a hundred miles away, I never had the chance to let him go. Instead, I stuffed all my heartbreak in a box like the one I'm packing now, and waited. When he says my name, it floods the room.
I could melt into him. But instead I grin, teeth and terror, try to speak, and--
Jason finally breaks the awkward to murmur, "How's. It. Going?"
I answer too loud and too fast. Then, squeakily: "How is..." Shit. My brain blanks on where he's been. We talked every day last summer, I Internet-stalked him for weeks in the autumn, but I can't remember where he went to college.
"Nottingham Trent," he fills in with a slouchy shrug, his eyes not leaving mine. "It's all right."
There's no air in the room, no air in my lungs, as Jason peels himself off the doorway and approaches me. For a second, I let myself hope he'll slide his arms around my waist, help me forget about this whole horrible year by giving me someone to belong to. Then he flops backwards next to the half-empty box, onto Grey's bed. I wince.
It's too much: the combination of Grey's room and Jason, so close to me. Last October, alone in this empty house and after weeks of trying to work out what we were to each other, I'd asked him. And he'd texted, I think I can only manage friends for now. For now. I bet my heart on that caveat, and now here he is.
I grip the side of the box, trying to breathe. Concentrate on stacking Grey's diaries inside the box. Don't look at The Wurst. Don't remember how Jason had laughed at it too, a bit.
"Hey, daydreamer." He reaches out and touches my arm. "What about you? Had a good year?"
And as he says it, everything inside the box blinks out. It's no longer a box of books, but a box of nothingness. TV fuzz. Like in detention this afternoon.
Not like detention.
This time, the fuzz is tuning in, forming a picture, swirling, more like, more like--smoke. I can even smell a bonfire. And there's a flicker of light. My fingers tremble. This can't be happening, not with Jason here. I lean closer, to check if he dropped a cigarette or something, and I swear I can see the tartan check of our picnic blanket. Our dandelion-strewn lawn. Hear music. I reach my hand out, I can almost touch it--
"Margot? Gottie?" Jason says. "You seem..."
His voice is far away, and I feel a sudden tug as though I'm being yanked inside the box.
I close my eyes as the universe contracts and expands.
* * *
"Hey, daydreamer. Brewski?" Jason asks, handing me a can of beer.
I take it, even though I don't want another drink. Sof has been sneaking vodka all night, but one sip left me woozy--floaty. And parties aren't my thing. When Grey wants to celebrate the existence of trees, or the migration of birds, or his annual Last Day of Summer hootenanny, I hover at the edges. Tonight, it's Midsummer's Eve, and I've hidden myself under the apple tree, where I can see everyone, and everyone can't entirely see me. Except, apparently, Jason.
He's already opened it--the "brewski." Fingerband has started doing this stupid dude-backwards-baseball-cap in-joke. Everything's brewski and broseph and fist bumps. It's idiotic.
"This way, we don't have to keep getting up and down," Jason adds, plonking a six-pack in front of us, then flopping onto the blanket. Next to me. Um. Okay?
"Cool thinking, bro," I say in a deep voice, then take a sip of the beer--it's warm.
He laughs. "You know we're being ironic?" He twists to look at me, and I look back. In the dark, his eyes are practically navy. "You can't be called Fingerband and go full metal."
"Full metal?" I take another sip, wishing the beer were cold. It's a hot night, but Grey has insisted on a huge bonfire. Earlier he was leaping across it, yelling about Vikings. I smile in the dark.
"KISS makeup, safety pins in our noses, shouting about Satan." Jason attempts devil horns, but it's tricky when you're resting on your elbows.
"Isn't that punk?" I ask.
Jason laughs, a low rumble as though we're in on a joke together, but I'm not trying to be funny. I don't have a clue. Ned's the musical encyclopedia. I listen to whatever's on the radio--which Grey tunes to static. I'm not sure why Jason's even over here, talking to me about music. The most he's ever said to me in ten years of knowing Ned is, "How's it hanging, oddball?" "The point is, it's cooler if we play metal but act dorky." He cracks open another can. The clunk-sploosh is as loud as a firework in the dark garden, but no one looks over at us as he edges closer and murmurs, "Margot. How come you never come to see us rehearse?"
Because you've never asked. Because I'd rather watch paint dry. Because Sof worships Ned and if I tell her you've invited me, she'll make us go--and Fingerband sounds like a goat in a lawnmower.
Across the garden, Sof's on a blanket with this week's girlfriend, both of them laughing at Ned's air guitar. I mentally add Jason's invitation to the tally of secrets I'm keeping from her.
"You should come along," he says again. "School's over, huh?" "Yeah. I finished my last exam on Friday." My elbows are getting fuzzy; pins and needles. Is that why he's talking to me? School's out, and I'm rolling with the cool kids now?
Across the garden, Ned hollers something and jogs off inside, into the house. When he's out of sight, Jason leans over my shoulder, nudging me with his chin. "Give me a taste."
I turn to him, to say he can have the beer, it's gross, and he all of a sudden plants his mouth on mine. I squeak with surprise, into his tongue, but he doesn't laugh. His lips are firm against mine, a question. I kiss him back, but I don't know what to do. I've never kissed anyone before. It's warm and beery, and it's Jason! Why is he kissing me? And then it's ... I'm ... We're ... I float away, closing my eyes.
* * *
When I open them, I'm still standing in Grey's bedroom. Only now it's dark, and Jason's gone--and we just had our first kiss.
That's what it seems like, anyway. A memory so vivid, there were sights and sounds and smells and touches. I could sense the scratch of the blanket we were lying on, smell the wood smoke in the air. The taste of beer on his tongue, the roughness of his face against mine. The first of a summer of secret kisses, something that belonged to just me.
And the loss of him is suddenly so real and so raw, I want to cry.