Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
“Can you believe that?” Dylan leaned over and asked after the last bell of the day released us from the apprehension I’d been locked in all week. “An essay? In French? By next week? This class is going to kill me.”
“Um, yeah.” A French essay was the least of my worries. I was distracted by the fact that it was now Thursday and I’d agreed to meet a total stranger in the city, who may or may not be stalking me. Who may or may not be a nice guy. Who may or may not . . .
I had to stop with the what-ifs. I shoved my books in
to my messenger bag and bee-lined for the door.
Dylan’s lanky lope easily kept pace with my jumpy gait. “Where are you off to? I told Grace and Avery I’d meet them at the coffee shop after school. Do you want to come?”
I ignored the hope in his voice. “I can’t.”
We stepped into the mass of humanity that had flooded the halls. “I’ve got to, um . . . I’ve got some things I need to do.” Like, go home and search for my sanity, which seemed to have vanished the moment I agreed to meet Quentin. Well, actually, before that, but I was now pushing the blame in his direction.
A body jarred my shoulder from behind and sent me tripping into Dylan. His French book fluttered to the ground as he awkwardly reached out to catch me and missed, leaving me to land with a “whoosh” on top of three hundred pages of
“You okay?” He jammed the flow of bodies with his towering frame and reached down, clamping his clammy hands around my forearms, nearly yanking my arms from their sockets
as he lifted me up against him.
“Yeah, fine.” I
quickly stepped back and shook my arms to be certain they were still attached and slung my bag back over my shoulder. “I’ve got to go.”
He looked down at me hesitantly. I quickly looked away. “Um, okay, I guess I’ll catch you later,” he mumbled as his frame receded in the crowd.
I was too distracted to react to his tone and hesitation. I pushed my way against the flow, the jostling of bodies inflaming my anxiousness. Ignorance was my choice of weapon against his unasked questions of interest. I didn’t ask for it, and I sure didn’t encourage it. I wanted nothing that would tie me to this island come the end of the school year.
The doors to the north parking lot were in sight. I could almost taste the fresh air on the other side. My body slugged through the last ten feet.
Cut short of opening the door, I turned to see Grace running to catch up with me.
Winded, she asked, “Can I get a ride to the coffee shop?”
“Where’s your car?” An endless afternoon of Grace chit-chat was not what I needed. Inevitably, my focus, or lack of, would be called into question, leading to a relentless inquiry as to why.
She followed on my tail out the door. “In the repair shop again. I should have opted for an oldie like yours.”
I sucked in a deep breath. With every step, t
he cool air sliced through my lungs, expelling bits of pent-up anxiety.
” she continued, “you could stand a few moments out of that fume filled room of yours,” she added.
“I’ve just got some stuff to do.” I set my mess
enger bag on the hood of my car and began the endless search for car keys.
Undeterred by my “no,” she walked around to the passenger door and waited. “What stuff?”
“Is this an interrogation?” I glanced irritably over the top of my car. “If you must know, I have a hot date in the city I have to get ready for.”
She held her laughter back for all of two seconds before letting it rip. “Girlfriend, you are funny.” She was actually snorting. “You’ve given no island misfit the time of day, and now, one in the city? I don’t think so. You’re not that good at keeping secrets from me.”
That’s what she thought. We both slid into my car at the same time. “I said I wasn’t going to the coffee shop.”
“I know, but you can still roll your little ride by and drop me off.” She wasn’t getting out. I relented and backed out of my parking spot. “So, speaking of dates, Avery and I decided we should all go to Homecoming together as a group.”
I glanced at her, trying to assess where this was leading. “Have fun.”
“You’ll come.” She flipped down the visor and began a lip-gloss and primp routine. “It’s totally casual. We figure we can all watch the game together and then head to the dance. Dylan’s coming too.”
“Is Sean coming?”
“The last time I checked, we lived in a free country. No one’s stopping him.” I could have puckered from her tartness. She tossed her gloss back in her bag, asking, “So, you’ll come?”
I pulled into the coffee shop parking lot and left my car idling, “Don’t know.”
“I’m not getting out of the car until you agree to go.”
“Get out. I’ll come.” I caved easily, figuring I’d work on an excuse when my brain was less occupied by near future events.
“Goodbye to you, too.” She slammed the door closed and sashayed up the stairs to the coffee shop.
Locked in the safety of my
bedroom, I pulled open my closet and stared, daunted by the clothes hanging in the tight space. I didn’t want to care. I reached for a clean shirt to replace the one I was wearing, but instead, my hand landed on a hanger holding a black flippy skirt. I pulled it out, but quickly shoved it back in. Too much.
An instant later, I pulled it out again and threw it on. Along with an emerald green cardigan and boots.
I stepped in front of the mirror, a long sigh escaped up my throat. Who was I kidding?
I grabbed a rubber band and pulled my hair partly up in the back, trying to hide the out of control natural of the kinks. My hands dropped to my side and I stared. I didn’t have to go. No one was holding a gun to my head. I could just stay home, not get on the ferry, never see him again.
Distraction. I needed a distraction. And to stop looking in the mirror. Grace would have been the perfect distraction. Her voice would fill every crevice in my head. But even she would eventually circle back around, inflaming my already fire of nerves with questions.
My eyes landed
on my French book. The essay. Perfect. Foreign words to run interference with spools of crazy English thoughts. I didn’t get far when there was a light knock on the door.
“Come in,” I said not looking up, assuming it was Dad.
“Hello, Miss CeeCee.”
The chimes of Aunt Lucy’s voice tingled the air as she breezed through the door, her peasant skirt swishing gently around her long, slender legs. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I would stop by to see how you all were getting along.”
I spun my desk chair around, grateful for the unplanned distraction. “Same as always. And you?”
“Oh, fine.” Her eyes wandered up and down me, the waves of her long, dusty brown hair br
ushing the top of her tailbone. “Don’t you look nice? Is dressing up a requirement for doing homework?”
Consciously, my hands brushed down my skirt, tucking the ends tight around my legs. “Um, well, yes, as a matter of fact, it is.”
“Mmm.” A single eyebrow lifted slightly as she moved further into my room. “Any other reason for dressing up?”
“Nope, not that I know of.” The guilt of the lie landed like a rock in the pit of my stomach. I could tell her. Of all people, I could tell her. My hesitation hung briefly before I knew I wouldn’t. “Unless you wanted to take me out on the town.”
“Probably not tonight, but I’d be happy to another time.” She stood in front of my dresser, her fingers danced lightly over the items cluttered on top. “The girls mentioned they hadn’t seen you around school recently.”
“I’ve been around. I just don’t have hair that makes me easily noticeable.”
Aunt Lucy’s fourteen year old twin daughters, Autumn and Summer, were both topped with the brightest red hair imaginable, although their sameness in looks were punctuated by opposite dispositions.
“Did you enjoy your night at the Picasso show?” she asked.
Did she know? Did she talk to Evelyn? “It was, um, fun,” I stuttered and tried to change the subject. “Ms. Harris had us do a Picasso-esque assignment for class.”
She looked at me, and I was certain my truth withholding slid across her eyes knowingly. She reached out and lifted a framed picture of my mom off the top of
the dresser. My favorite. The camera shutter had stolen a moment and perfectly captured her essence. Her bare feet were tucked deep in the sand, and a beautiful floral sundress hung stylishly over her lithe frame. Her mouth was curved wide, her head tossed back, and you could almost hear her laughter swirling in the salt air.
“Gretta was a beautiful woman, Cee.” She
gently set the frame down and turned back to me. “I see much of her in you.”
The compliment stung the back of my eyes. I swallowed down the loss, bit my tongue, and muttered, “Thanks.”
Aunt Lucy’s presence proved damaging to my psyche, leaving me befuddled and late as I slipped down the stairs and muttered a “studying at Grace’s house” excuse to Dad.
“Not a late night!” was all I heard as the door clicked closed behind me.
My Ghia whirled like a bee as I raced to the ferry, certain I would miss it. At the moment, I didn’t care. The evening had turned into a mental game of damage control, reining Mom’s memory
in tight enough for me to deal with the uncertainty of what waited on the other side of the water.
I pulled into the commuter lot and ran down to the idling ferry, thankful I only had to pay for the crossing when boarding on the Seattle side.
“Good timing,” the ferry worker said as I stepped aboard. “You’re the last.” He pulled a rope across the back of the boat, ending all other racers from boarding.
The engines roared to life and boiled the water into a frothy foam of mint green. The same green that washed ashore behind my mom in the picture on my dresser. For a split-second, the two scenes merged and the spirit of my mother circled the air around me. I stood, not wanting the trance to end as my hair whipped around in a childish game of peek-a-boo with the receding dock. But with every breath I sucked down, the boat floated further and further from the dock, vibrating the foam into soft rings of murky green. My isolation solidified.
Not a soul knew where I was, save one.
Chilled, I staggered up the stairs into the protection of the cabin and dropped down into a booth near the front. The city was a blaze of golden brilliance. The autumn sunset shimmered back like fire against the towering skyline. It was stunning, blinding — thawing my chills of uncertainty until the ferry horn blew and jolted my body to attention, the Seattle terminal within striking distance.
Trepidation kept my pace slow as I crossed the upper deck, my heart pounding in my ears. I merged into the folds of the other people congregated on the small outer deck as we waited for the foot passenger bridge to be lowered into place, the warmth of bodies a false solidarity.
What was I doing?
I jostled forward with the group and walked the plank before we stepped through the first set of doors. My breath caught as I spied him leaning casually against a post in the back of the room. I watched him look for me, only the subtle movement of his dark hair giving away his search. Dark, inky waves that perfectly framed the lines of his face.
Our eyes connected instantly as I stepped through the second set of doors. Everything came to a silent standstill. Vanishing. Only the sound of my blood pulsing behind my ears interrupted the frozen scene.
Quentin pushed off the post, his steps deliberate, closing the gap between us.
“CeeCee . . .” he hesitated inches from me, as if not knowing what to say.
My mind stumbled in a panic and blurted out the first nervous thought it latched on to. “How did you get my number?”
His mouth pulled into a tight line. He put his hand behind my elbow and moved us out of the flow of passengers coming off the ferry. A patch of heat blossomed from his touch sending zings of electricity up my arm as he guided us out of the terminal. We followed the crowd to an outside breezeway and continued across a footbridge that led to First Avenue.
His silence was deafening in the loud city. “You said if I was free tonight, you would tell me how you got my number.”
Leading us south on First Avenue through a small triangle shaped park, he finally broke his silence. “Yes, but the night is not over.”
“It’s about to be.” I quit walking, breaking his grip from my elbow as I stopped on a corner under a large L-shaped scrolling iron bus stop. A glass canopy bubbled through the hard lines of metal, reminiscent of another time.
He turned and stared down at me, his sharp green eyes prickling a layer of unease across my skin. “How do you know Eveyln?”
The question caught me off guard. My defenses soared. Unable to hold his cold gaze, I turned my head and said, “I don’t.”
” his voice filled with sarcasm, “according to the SAM guest list, there were two Vanderbie’s in attendance the night of the Picasso show.”
My head started to spin. Is this why he invited me? So he could call me a liar to my face? “Is that part of your job description? Guest list screening?”
He didn’t answer.
My eyes traced the scrolls of the iron structure, following it to the canopy, the last of the golden sunset rippling across the glass. “What is this thing? Is this a bus stop?”
My eyes were back to him.
The question threw him off, uncorking whatever steam he’d built up. “It’s not a bus stop. It’s a pergola, built in the late 1800’s.” His own eyes softened as he took in the structure.
“And you know this because . . .”
“Because I went on the Underground tour.” Finished with the distraction, he asked again, “How do you know Eveyln?”
“So, what’s underground and why would one go down there?”
The light changed and he guided us across the street. “What’s left of Pioneer Square after a fire in the late 1800s.” I was about to make a sarcastic crack, but he circled us back one more time. “Why did Evelyn ask me to introduce you to her?”
“Because I’d never met her before,” I said in hopes of ending his questioning. “You still haven’t told me how you got my number.”
“Are you telling me that it’s a coincidence that you have the same last name?”
Deflated, my shoulders dropped and I softly replied, “No, it’s not a coincidence. She’s my grandmother.”
“Did you not know you had a grandmother?” I could hear the skepticism in his voice.
“I knew, but we’d never met before that night.” I couldn’t look at him, embarrassed to be talking about my family garbage, which, even I didn’t understand. I looked around and noticed more people walking up and down the streets. “Are we done? Because the rest of this story would take more minutes than are left in the night.”
The pause was long, but he finally answered, “For now.”
“Where are we going anyway?”
“It’s First Thursday art walk,” he said as we walked deeper into the Pioneer Gallery District. “I thought you might like to see some art.”
Dubious, I looked up and asked, “Was this before or after you found out my last name was Vanderbie?”
“Before.” I wasn’t so sure, but he didn’t ask any more questions.