Authors: Katie Kacvinsky
I glance at Gray and a memory snaps on in my mind. After a birthday party when I was little, my favorite helium balloon slipped out of my fingers and floated away in the sky. I screamed and cried helplessly as I watched it go. It was my first experience with loss. My mom was calm and consoled me and told me there were hundreds more like it. She told me I might even find one I love more, waiting somewhere for me to discover it. She told me, “Let it go, Dylan.” I always remembered that story because I’ve used it before in my life when I’m letting go of a place, or a person that I love. But looking across the table at Gray, I’m starting to lose faith in that fable. Experience is a valuable messenger of truth. There aren’t a hundred more people like Gray. Maybe what my mom should have said was, “Dylan, the next time you love something, hold on tight.”
takes my hand and examines my fingers.
“Couldn’t get the grease out?”
“I hear the grunge look is in,” I say and my hand slips out of his. I pick up the menu and open it like I’m opening a treasure map. Emotional drama is an excellent appetite stimulant. I’m starving.
“You’ll love this menu,” Nick says. “Breakfast is served all day.”
“As it should be,” I say.
The waitress comes by to take our orders and Rachel is showing
Gray some photos on her phone. He’s leaning close and they’re smiling and laughing at some inside joke and I hate sitting here. It’s like sitting bare naked under a hot sun, feeling your skin burn.
I watch Rachel’s eyes and when they aren’t staring into her phone they’re focused
adoringly on Gray. Just like he deserves. Maybe she isn’t a rebound. Maybe he finally found his constant sun.
Nick nudges my arm and
the waitress is waiting for my order. I order a grilled cheese sandwich and curly fries. Gray and Rachel’s dad order the bacon scrambler. Rachel asks for a garden salad with dressing on the side. I try not to gape. Who orders a salad at a greasy spoon diner? Another huge strike against her. I wait for Gray to state the same fact, but he just ignores her ordering misdemeanor.
Rachel explains my situation to her parents and they nod and seem concerned and relieved.
I glance across the table at Gray a few times while everyone’s talking. His eyes never once meet mine, as if he’s immune to my presence. Or highly allergic. He’s mostly staring at the white, paper table covering. He’s changed over the past year. His arms are more muscular and defined. His chest is broader and thicker and fills out his t-shirt. Any boyish looks Gray had before have vanished. His hair is the shortest it’s ever been, almost buzzed. All the curls are gone. It’s thick and dark and he’s as tan as teak wood and his blue eyes stand out, like two pools of sky. I wonder if his hair is still long enough to run my fingers through. Wait, scratch that. I wonder if it’s long enough for Rachel to run her fingers through. Gagh.
from Rachel to Gray and jealousy kicks at my heart. She must wear pointy high heels because her kicks are sharp and they hurt. But my mind fights back. Have they listened to every single Ryan Adams’ album in the dark? Have they dissected the seven voices of a harmonica (depressed, angry, happy, exited, withdrawn, reminiscent, melodramatic and heartbroken)? Highly doubtful.
slips into quiet mode. A ‘closed’ sign snaps on over the door of his mouth and when he’s like this, he’s doing one thing: thinking. I’m curious to know what he’s thinking about.
Nick takes charge of asking questions and most of them are directed at Rachel.
“What did you do this summer?” he asks her.
“I had an
internship with the baseball team. I want to go into sports journalism,” she says and starts discussing baseball team statistics over the summer. She actually sounds like a sideline news reporter.
Blah, blah, sports talk. I love watching sports but talking about them is about as exciting as listening to someone list the contents
of their refrigerator. My eyes wander and I notice a cup of children’s crayons in the middle of the table. I grab the cup and color on the paper tablecloth.
Without realizing it, I draw a cactus, a green saguaro like the one
Gray and I used to take pictures of in Phoenix. I have an entire album dedicated to the strong personalities of saguaros.
I look up at
Gray and he notices what I’ve drawn and for the first time since he’s seen me, he meets my eyes and smiles. It’s one of his signature slow smiles. It’s like a big thaw, and my entire body heats up in response. I feel my mouth drop open and my heart knock against my ribs. All the old feelings rush back. One familiar smile can do that, it’s like a zipper loosening you up, opening you, spilling out all the old feelings you neatly folded and packed away.
I tune back into the conversation when Nick touches my hand.
“Dylan?” he says, “Channel 2, please.”
From the confused stares that pass around the table, I explain that my brain is like a remote control, always surfing the channels.
“Nick is Channel 2,” I say. “When he wants my attention he switches me back.”
Rachel and her parents smile at our inside joke but when I look at
Gray he’s glaring at Nick.
“What do you do,
Dylan?” I look over at Rachel-the-Rebound’s mom and think about her question. What do I do? Saying I take pictures is so prosaic. It doesn’t touch on what a photograph captures, on the compelling story inside every shot. So, I explain it the best I can.
“I build bridges,” I say.
“What?” The entire table says at the same time. Except for Gray. His mouth is tight.
“You build bridges?” Rachel repeats. “You’re a construction worker?” she asks and I shake my head at her literal translation. Doesn’t she have any imagination?
“Architecture?” Rachel’s mom guesses and I love this game.
“Closer,” I say.
“She’s a photographer,” Gray says.
“It’s a lot like building a bridge,” I
point out. “You know, it connects people to other places. It brings us closer. It allows us to see places we never had access to before.”
Nick smiles and rubs his fingers over my hand.
Rachel’s mom grins. “Where did you go to school?”
tell her and she asks if that’s the University of Texas. I shake my head.
“The University of Traveling,” I say. “It’s a wonderful academy.”
Nick laughs next to me.
“She’s self taught.”
Gray translates my words into normal conversation. I’m a little disappointed.
“She’s brilliant,” Nick says. “She just sold an entire stock of photos to a children’s book illustrator. They’ve already hired her for another job.”
“Dylan, that’s an unusual name for a girl,” Rachel’s mom comments.
“I was named after Bob
Dylan,” I say with a shrug. “My parents were hippies.”
Gray says. “You never told me that,” he insists. His voice is mixed with admiration and disgust.
“If I was a boy they were going to name me Bob,” I say and shudder. “I much prefer
Dylan. I’m not a fan of monosyllabic names ending and beginning with the letter B.”
“Are there any other than Bob?”
Gray asks me.
“I hope not,” I say.
The waitress walks up to our table holding six dishes in
her outstretched arms. It’s an impressive balancing act. She slides a plate in front of me, piled with hash browns, eggs, sprinkled with salt, dressed in ketchup, marinated in grease and splattered with orange droplets of cheese. And the crowning glory: six slices of bacon crisscrossed over the top. My mouth starts to water.
I glance at
Dylan and she’s staring at my plate with jealousy. Our eyes meet and we have a telepathic conversation.
Thanks for the recommendation,
I say with my eyes.
, her wide eyes say back.
I nod slowly.
I know. Have you ever seen such amazing food display?
She shakes her head.
It looks like art.
Worthy of a museum exhibit,
Can I try it?
Her eyes are pleading.
I shake my head.
Her eyebrows crease.
I narrow my eyes.
You should have ordered it when you had the chance. I can’t make your choices for you.
My eyes cut over to Nick and back at her.
Just one bite?
I sigh and scoop up a spoonful of scrambler onto my fork and drop it on the edge of her plate.
“Thanks,” she says and grins but I don’t return the smile. I lean my shoulder into Rachel’s.
“You want in on this?” I ask her and point to my meal. She looks between my plate and her dad’s and grimaces.
“I’m not into heart attacks,” she says. “No thanks.”
I pop a slice of bacon into my mouth and shrug. My heart has already been stomped on, kicked, and sewn over. It probably resembles the shape of a something really pathetic, like a giant teardrop. A little bacon grease isn’t going to do any damage that Dylan hasn’t already inflicted.
“Nick, what do you do?” Rachel’s mom inquires. I look at him and assume, if he’s friends with
Dylan, he’s going to invent a metaphorical job description like, “I produce oxygen and help the world to grow and photosynthesize,” when really, he does landscaping.
“I’m in my second year of vet school,” Nick boasts. I glare at him. In
Dylan’s dog-obsessed world, that means he’s a superhero.
a fascinating field,” Rachel’s mom says.
I stare down at my plate. Yeah,
fascinating. I bet he’s all the fun and spontaneity of a medical textbook.
Nick smiles and studies
his hand with this sweeping motion and for a split second I think he’s gay. Wow. My brain is reaching for anything to wish this guy out of Dylan’s life. More specifically, out of her pants.
Dylan and I met,” Nick says. His eyes look whimsical for a second, recalling the magic moment that Dylan appeared in his life. “I was interning at an animal shelter,” he begins, “And Dylan was there, volunteering.” He rubs his hand over her shoulder. “I took one look at her, holding a pug like it was her own baby, and I knew she was the one. I had just finished assisting on an emergency surgery for a golden retriever puppy that was hit by a car. We saved his life.”
Rachel’s mom presses her hand over her heart and gives Nick this adoring smile, like he’s some kind of messiah.
I look over at Nick. One word: Tool. He’s mister wanna-be-outdoorsy, but he’s just a textbook nerd. Vet students are like doctors. They have one routine in their schedule: Studying at the nerdatorium and then eating at the nerdery with all their fellow nerdites.
“Well, what an interesting lunch,” Rachel’s mom says. “Eating with a veterinarian and a professional photographer and a professional baseball player.” Nick perks up at this. I feel his eyes on me.
“You play pro ball?” he asks. He looks impressed. Are you intimidated, Dr. Boy? Afraid muscles might be sexier than degrees?
I take a bite of my
hash browns. “Minors,” I clarify. I don’t really want to talk about baseball. I don’t want to talk, period. I want to get the hell out of this situation.
Nick unrolls the paper napkin and sets it on his lap. Did he seriously just put a paper napkin on his lap? I’m calculating all of his movements, storing them away so I can overanalyze them later, and rip him to shreds in my mind.
“This summer was the best team we ever had,” Rachel’s dad brags. “Won the conference. Gray got MVP.”
“I had a great team around me,” I say.
“You worked harder than anybody,” her dad argues. “The Dodgers noticed.”
Nick asks me.
I shake my head. “We’re still negotiating,” I say. “I’ll probably play one more year in college.”
“It must be a lot of traveling, a career like that,” Nick says.