Authors: Mia Garcia
For all those who kept me going
“I love you the more in that I believe
you had liked me for my own sake
and for nothing else.”
“Awake, dear heart, awake!
thou hast slept well; Awake!”
of relaxing. Okay, I can do better with that last one.
But if I had to pick five adjectives to describe my past week in New Orleans, it would be those. Granted, they all mean the same thing, but they're all trueâand technically, the opposite of what this trip is supposed to be. I believe what our church's youth coordinator promised my parents was a period of introspection and serenity seasoned with a dash of soul-searching, all wrapped in a tortilla of community outreach.
What I got was a week of hand-holding, spontaneous hugging, and people pretending they know just how I feel when they don't.
I cope by diving into my volunteer work, attempting to
nail together a wall or floorâI'm actually not sure which, but it's supposed to be flatâin this crazy heat and listening to the conversations of peopleâwell-intentioned strangers, most of whose names I haven't bothered to learnâwho are way too happy way too early in the morning. The chatter and the
thud, thud, thud
of my hammer against the wood form an odious melody, the kind that sinks under your skin and echoes long after you've tried to shake it. Before I know, I am drowning in it.
“âFear no more the heat o' the sun, nor the furious winter's rages.'” For some reason, the words feel right as I let the hammer fall one more time, forcing the already secured nail farther down into the wood. “âThou thy worldly task hast done, home art gone and ta'en thy wages.'”
“What?” a voice inquires behind me.
I turn to find Tavis staring at me, head turned to the side, examining me as if I were some odd creature. Considering I've been hammering down these planks of wood for the last hour like a madwoman, the wind tossing my hair every which way, a creature is probably what I look like.
“Well, nothing sounded kinda weird.” He smiles, running his fingers over his hair, damp with sweat, and just lingers . . . waiting for God knows what. I sigh, letting the heat sear me to a nice medium rare. He's closer than I'd like him to beâwhich is at least ten feet away at all timesâbut Tavis has a proximity issue.
I walk farther into my work area and away from Tavisânice, cheerful, hovering Tavis, who is not entirely unpleasant but likes to drone on about . . . actually, I have no idea. I mostly space out when he's around. Still, Tavis believes he knows more about the world than I do, because he's nineteen and has been out of state or whatever. But even worse than his self-entitlement is that he's a hugger, a prolonged embrace sort of hugger that makes me feel like I'm promising something I never agreed to. He's also a “friend” of my brother, Adam, but not really. If I mentioned Tavis, Adam would probably have no idea who I was talking about.
Tavis is in charge of our ragtag group of . . . well, I guess you could call us a Christian Habitat for Humanity? Is Habitat already Christian? I don't know. I don't care. I'd needed a way out of . . . well, everything. So, when the opportunity presented itself to head out to New Orleans to help build houses for a couple of weeks, I jumped-slash-ran-slash-practically threw myself at the chance. But if I have to answer “Isn't it a beautiful day?” as sweat stains become a permanent addition to my wardrobe one more time I might just . . . just what?
I count to ten.
Tavis doesn't get the hint that I'm not interested. Though nowadays I'm not much interested in anything.
When I look back, Tavis is inspecting me, and a shiver travels up my spineâI hope he doesn't try to continue our
earlier “let's talk about our feelings” conversation. He does. I feel him inch closer to me as his questions get more and more detailed.
“But truly, Julie, have you even talked about it since it happened?” The heat from his skin is more stifling than the sun. It closes the world around me, walling me in.
“Maybe it will help to imagine yourself on that road. What if you'd been behind the wheel?” His hand reaches toward mine. “In a way do you feel like you were behind the wheel?” I bend down to pick up a saw, a move I hope seems casual, before I realize it's a mistake. Tavis squats down beside me, and I feel his fingers graze my skin. I stand, brushing the hair off my face.
“I've got to go meet my team.” My eyes dance around the half-built frame of a tiny house: all bones and angles, on the cusp of becoming something of value. “Um, Nancy is waiting for me to go over . . . hammering techniques.”
“I'm not sure I know a Nancy.”
“Really?” I shrug. “She loves you. You and Nancy should elope.”
I flee to the other side of the construction site.
I stare up at the sun, back out after disappearing behind the clouds, letting the bright rays pierce my vision. Despite the constant gusts and the promise of rain later in the day, the heat is palpable, and for a moment I let the burning sink deeper and deeper. Hell, I forgot the sun could be so . . . violent.
I bristle. No one but my brother and friends call me Jules. No one. Especially not Tavis.
“What I was saying before. It's a quote. From
. . .”
“You know, Shakespeare? I performed it one summer in my drama class. It's about death and how once you're dead you don't really have to worry about anything anymore. Not the heat of the sun or anything. You know?”
Pitying smile. I turn away and stumble into more smiles and soft eyes that ask whether or not I need a hug. Goddammit.
“Never mind.” I wipe the sweat off my brow. “Just popped into my head while I was thinking of the heat.”
“Yeah.” Tavis covers his eyes with his hand as he peers at me again. “Louisiana heat is no joke.”
He tosses a cool water bottle my way.
“Don't forget to stay hydrated, right?”
“Right!” I say too cheerfully because Tavis is nineteen and a multistate traveler.
I know he has more to sayâhe always doesâeach breath he takes is in expectation of something, and I can't shake the feeling that the something is me.