Authors: Katelyn Detweiler
Tags: #Young Adult, #Contemporary, #Romance
“I don't need to understand anything you have to say to me. I just need you to leave.”
A bang from the kitchen made us both jump. A very tall, very anxious-looking boy who appeared to be about my age was stumbling through the swinging doors, a big tray of dishes and cups balanced on his forearms. I stared wordlessly at this mystery intruder, sidetracked by his interesting choice in work attireâa bright green newsy cap shoved over messy black curls, and a brown pinstriped blazer rolled up to the elbows under his oil-splattered Frankie's apron.
“Hey. Mina, right?” he said, walking toward me, oblivious of Iris and the tension that hovered over us like a dark gray storm cloud. “I'm Jesse, Carl's nephew. Jesse Spero. Tonight's my first night training in the back.” He grinned at me, and his nervousness seemed to fall away, his whole face lighting up in a flash of two precious dimples and a bright white smile that was made all the more perfect by the tiny gap in the middle of his two front teeth. Had I not been tangled up in one of the oddest conversations of my life, I would have been powerless to do anything but grin stupidly back.
I vaguely remembered Frankie saying something to me about the new kid, though I hadn't cared enough at the time to ask any questions. But in this moment, he was my new favorite person, my savior, and relief surged through my body.
“Jesse! It's so nice to meet you,” I said, rushing forward to grab one side of the tray. “Let me help you with that.”
As soon as I was close enough, I whispered into his ear. “The old woman over there is crazy, seriously crazy. I can't talk to her anymore. I'll explain more later,” I added, though I didn't really mean it. For starters I wouldn't even know where to begin in explaining my conversation with Iris to anyone, let alone a stranger. And for some reason, repeating what she said, even if it was complete nonsense, made me feel uneasy. I'd much rather have just forgotten everything about Iris. Pretended the whole meeting had never happened.
“Would you mind covering for me and making sure she leaves while I go back into the kitchen?”
“Uh, sure, yeah, I guess,” he said, looking over at Iris and then back at me as if I were the crazy person in the room. This wasn't the best first impression I'd ever made, but given the circumstances, I could deal with my less than stellar showing.
“Thanks, Jesse, I really owe you,” I said, grabbing my phone and my purse from under the counter.
! Wait!” Iris called out. “I need your approval, you have to acceptÂ .Â .Â .”
, whatever you need to hear,” I said, without turning back, already trying to erase her face from my memory.
I pushed through the kitchen door and found Frankie in the freezer taking cheese inventory, and told him that I had to leave straightawayâfamily emergency, no time to clean everythingâbut I'd make up for it during my next shift. He waved me off, lost in his calculations. I realized as soon as I stepped out into the back lot that I'd forgotten to grab my pile of tip money from the shelf near the register, but there was no way I was going back to the front of the restaurant. I'd just have to pick it up in the morning. The risk of losing a few twenties was greatly preferable to a second round with Iris. I ran to my old silver Jetta, never more beloved than it was in that moment, jammed the key in the ignition, and drove away from Frankie's and Iris as fast as the car would take me.
I debated driving away from Nate's, too, and just heading straight home, where I could hide away under my blankets and wake up tomorrow pretending that this all had been some silly nightmare. But I needed him close to me more than I needed to be alone. Nate was calm and predictable. Nate was solid, always. The world somehow felt much less scary when I was standing next to him, breathing in the same air he touched.
The street in front of his house and the driveway in the back were already packed in with cars, so I parked a few blocks over in an empty lot next to a hair salon. I jumped out and circled my car a few times, hesitating, before grabbing my phone and calling Nate.
“Mina?” he asked, yelling over the loud music and the laughter in the background. “Where are you? Are you still coming?”
“Hey,” I said, relief flooding through me at the sound of his voice. “Can youÂ .Â .Â . Can you meet me outside quick?”
“Is everything okay?” He paused, the noise around him fading away. “Hold on. I'm already on my way out.” The phone clicked off.
I sprinted for three blocks, stopping to catch my breath at the edge of the sidewalk outside his house. The front door swung open. Nate stepped onto the porch and flicked the light on, his worried eyes searching for me in the hazy darkness stretching beyond his front steps. From where I stood he looked entirely lit up, his golden brown hair and fair skin glowing under the small circle of light.
“Mina! What's going on?”
I hurried up to the porch and grabbed his hand, pulling him down with me as I slumped onto the steps. He settled beside me, and I wrapped my arms around him, burying my face in his warm, familiar chest.
“I justÂ .Â .Â .” I started, my voice faltering. I could feel the tears spilling out, soaking into his T-shirt. “I just had a long night at work.”
“Meen,” he said, pulling back to face me. “You're crying. What happened?”
For one crazy irrational second I wanted to tell him. Iris's name almost rolled off my lips. But I bit down and shook my head. Nate was too logical for this, too sure about the world around himâa world that could never include someone like Iris. She would just be a demented old lady to him, nothing more, and I would be demented, too, for letting her get to me. It was easierâsaferâto say nothing. “The last day of junior year,” I said, seizing whatever excuse I could think of fast enough. “I was lonely at work tonight, and it just made me think about this time next year. Everything will be so different.”
“Oh, Mina,” he said, his concerned frown lifting into a big little-boy smile, the same smile that still made my cheeks flush and my heart race after nearly two years of being together. Nate's face was strong and angled, “classically handsome,” as my mom had always said. But his smile was goofy; it didn't quite match up with the rest of him. His smile made him softer. It made him mine. “Everything will
be so different. You'll have Izzy and Hannah no matter what. And you'll have me. Always. You and me, we're not meant to be in Green Hill forever.” He squeezed me tighter and rested his chin on top of my head. “This is just the beginning, so no more tears.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and nodded against him. I
My life was on track. I was going places.
were going places.
And no strange old lady would have the power to change that.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
That night I dreamed in bursts of light and explosions of colors like magical fireworks that would put even Disneyworld's most spectacular displays to complete shame. And when I woke up the next morning, Iris somehow felt like more of a dream than those colors, those brilliant colors that I could still see every time I closed my eyes.
“Mina, wake up,”
Nate called out, splashing me from the edge of his round, stone-lined pool. “You look like you're burning, and I have to head out soon for DC, anyway. I'm meeting the rest of the debate team at the high school in an hour.”
The cool water dripped down my hot, sticky arms, pulling me out of the hazy almost sleep I'd been slipping into. I peered up at him from behind my dark sunglasses. My eyelids felt so heavy, though, too heavy to hold up as the blazing August sun beat down on me.
“Can't I just lie here a little longer?” I asked, my eyes already closed again as I let my tube drift farther away from him. “You can go finish getting ready and come to get me when you have to leave.”
“Are you okay, Mina? Seriously, it seems like you're tired all the time lately. Maybe you should see a doctor or something.”
The massive, cloying knot that had been building in my stomach for the past few weeks tightened. “I'm fine,” I said quickly, turning to hide my face.
“Are you still upset that I'm going to be away tomorrow for our anniversary?” Nate asked, and my whole body tensed at the edge of frustration in his tone. “I've told you already, Meen, I'm sorry that the schedule worked out this way. I really am. We'll celebrate as soon as I'm back on Monday. Trust me, I'd rather be with you than stuck in a conference room with a bunch of strangers in suits, but I promised the team. I can't let them down. You have to understand that.”
But you can let
, I thought, instantly glad that I hadn't said the words out loud. Nate was right. I had been pouting, and it wasn't fair to him. He'd be back in a few days, and we'd celebrate then. It was just a date on the calendar, and we had plenty of more monumental anniversaries ahead of us. Two years was nothing, really, not when we had the rest of our lives to celebrate milestones.
“I'm not mad. I promise, Nate. Just tired from the sun. Give me five minutes, okay? I'll meet you inside and help you with the rest of your packing.”
“Okay,” he said, “five more minutes. But then I want to hang out for a little before I have to leave.” I could tell from his voice that he wasn't convinced everything was fine. I kept my eyes closed, but I felt him watching me, lingering by the edge for a few more seconds before he started off for the house.
been tired latelyâevery day, really, for the last month or two. More than tired, I was completely exhausted, drained of all life, no matter how many hours of sleep I got each night or how many cups of coffee I chugged each day. At first I hadn't tried to hide it from anyone, but the longer it went on, and the more that otherÂ .Â .Â .
started cropping up, the more I'd been keeping most of my observations to myself. My lower back ached for no reason, I'd suddenly been peeing more than I ever had in my entire life, and my boobs were weirdly sore and sensitive. At first I'd been happy about that last oneâI was convinced that I was finally going through a much-hoped-for growth spurt. But then I realized that my hormones must have been
out of whack because I hadn't gotten my period in two months either, and I was usually always regular to the day.
And now, most recently, the nausea. Every morning, like clockwork. I kept the water running, either the shower or the sink, so that my parents or Gracie wouldn't overhear and ask any questions, but the charade was just as exhausting as the actual puking. I'd tried doing some online research, but that only made everything infinitely scarier: diabetes; chronic fatigue syndrome; multiple forms of highly rare, highly untreatable cancers; depression. Nothing fit, not really, but I was still terrified. I wasn't ready to talk about any of it yet, not with Nate, not even with Hannah or Izzy, my two best, closest friends in the universe. To put everything into words out loud for anybody else to hear made it feel too serious, too significant. Too real.
But if Nate was starting to pick up on something, maybe I wasn't as good at hiding everything as I'd hoped. Or maybe Nate just knew me too well.
I was heading to Hannah's house after Nate's for a much-needed sleepover with her and Iz. Maybe it was time to talk about some of this with them. OrÂ .Â .Â . no, maybe later would be better. I'd know when the time came, if it came. If it didn't all blow over first.
I sucked in air and slid down through the tube into the icy, tingling water, letting my whole body feel numb and weightless for a few seconds before paddling toward the stairs. I wrapped my towel around me and started slowly up the cobbled walk, trying to make my face look relaxed, carefree.
I was suddenly glad that Nate would be away for the weekend, off to DC with the school debate team for some prestigious national competition, even if it was our anniversary. I had no doubt he'd come home in a few days with a heaping pile of awards. Because that was Nate, always off achieving and succeeding and making his mark on the world. I mostly loved him for it, though a tiny part of me had always resented it, too, even if I had to keep that part to myself.
My boyfriend's just too ambitious and dedicated
didn't seem valid, not when other girls were complaining that their boyfriends smoked too much pot or only cared about video games and beer and baseball. But I still couldn't help wondering sometimes if he cared about his tenâor was it eleven? I'd lost countâextracurricular activities more than he cared about me.
I'd miss him, of course, but I could probably use the time to focus on me. I needed some space to sort out everything happening to my body, everything I was feeling for no clear reason.
I slipped in through his back door and made my way along the familiar path up to his bedroom. Nate's back was to me as he leaned over his keyboard, typing, and I paused in the doorway, admiring himâhis perfectly tousled chestnut brown hair, the summer freckles that sprinkled over his warm golden skin, the way the sleeves of his old soccer jersey stretched over his strong, athletic arms.
No matter how long we'd been dating, I still couldn't always believe that
was actually my boyfriendâprobably because I'd had a crush on him since the very first day of kindergarten, a crush that I certainly never thought would come to anything at all. I was the nerdy, chronic overachieverâthough nerdy in an
way, I hopedâthe highest ranked in our grade and likely valedictorian next year. But Nate was the wonder boy of both academics and athletics: straight As, captain of the basketball and soccer teams, president of our graduating class, head of a community service group that he had started up during our freshmen year.
Somehow, regardless of any social imbalances, we had become the power couple who everyone assumed would last long past high school and college. I had visions of us going off to some Ivy League school together, maybe Princeton or Brown, and of the late nights studying and having sleepovers in each other's dorm rooms, traveling for our semester abroad in the same city, making new friends who we'd have for the rest of our lives. After graduation, Nate would go to law school, and I'd follow him there. I wanted to be a writerâor an English teacher to start maybe, with novels later down the roadâand teachers and writers could live anywhere. Nate and I didn't talk about the plan much, but that was because we didn't have to. That was just how it would be.
I stepped lightly across the room and slid my arms around his waist. “Hey,” I whispered, hugging him closer as he jumped, startled. “Sorry for being so spacey lately. It's just thinking about our last year, college, all the applicationsÂ .Â .Â . But I'm fine. Really.”
It felt like a lie as soon as it was out of my mouth. But at least Nate seemed satisfied, squeezing me closer to him and pressing us together, hip to hip. And I
fine. Probably. Or at least I felt fine then, with his arms around me, and that was what mattered.
He bent down to kiss me, easing me backward until I was on his bed, my legs wrapping around him. His hair tickled my forehead as he dangled over me, and I closed my eyes, letting the total happiness of the moment fill me.
No, I definitely had nothing to worry about.
Nate pulled back, a lazy grin on his face. “Your nose is bright red, Meen. I warned you.” He leaned down and kissed the tip of my nose, a soft brush of his lips that then traced up to my forehead, my hairline. “But luckily, it's adorable on you.”
The front door slammed, and his mom called from below. Nate sighed, pushing himself up. Our kisses usually ended with him sighing these daysâsighing because that was all there ever really was. We'd fooled around a little, of course, but we'd still never even rounded third base. I had been scared to take it any further, scared that if we did, we'd both let it go all the way. Nate didn't pressure me, but I wasn't naive. I knew that he'd be more than
with it if I decided I was ready. But I'd always wanted to wait until at least college to lose my virginity, until I was living on my own and old enough to make the right decision. Now that we had been together for almost two years, though, I was starting to reconsider. I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, it
happen soon. That I actually
it to happen soon, and waiting for college was a pointless and outdated notion. An arbitrary moral rule created by a much younger, more innocent Mina. But I wasn't ready to tell Nate, not yet, just in case I changed my mind again.
He tugged me up and gave me another quick peck on the nose. “I guess I should finish packing anyway. You shouldn't distract me like that, Meen. I have important things to do.”
I laughed. No one could distract Nate. Not really. He was too determined for anything to throw him off track. Ever.
But that didn't mean I would stop trying.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
I woke up at Hannah's house the next morning to the smell of bacon and eggs wafting up from the kitchenâand the immediate urge to retch out my insides all over the side of her bed. I was, very unfortunately for all of us, squeezed between Hannah and Izzy, and therefore prevented from any easy access to the floor, let alone a trash can or a toilet. And so I was forced to take the only possible option availableâI threw up on myself. All down the front of Hannah's old YMCA T-shirt that I'd borrowed the night before, and all over her bright pastel paisley comforter.
“Jesus, what the hell, Meen?” Izzy said, throwing the covers back and launching herself off the bed. Her already very large, very pronounced brown eyes were wide open and staring at me with horror. “That's so completely nasty. Why in God's name didn't you go to the bathroom?”
“She's obviously sick and couldn't help it, Iz. Don't yell at her,” Hannah chimed in from my other side.
I ignored them both and proceeded to puke, once again, right onto my lap.
“Izzy! Get the trash can! Don't just stand there staring at her,” Hannah said, her instinctive need to nurture kicking in. She grabbed a wad of tissues from her nightstand and started dabbing at my chin and lips.
Izzy sighed dramatically as she pushed back the hood of her Green Hill High basketball sweatshirt and pulled her stick-straight black hair up into a ponytail. She picked up the trash can as commanded and held it out to me, arms stretched, refusing to get any closer.
Hannah leaned over me and grabbed the trash can with one hand, keeping the other on my shoulders as she rubbed gentle, calming little circles.
“What's wrong, sweetie?” Hannah asked. “Did you just wake up feeling sick?”
I wanted to lie. I'd planned on lying, actually, the words all set to pop from my lips, when suddenly tears burst out and made my decision for me. Not just tears, but the type of heavy, racking sobs that make any sort of intelligible speech impossible.
“Mina? What is it?” Izzy asked, her voice softening, the tough girl from a minute before immediately gone and replaced with the best friend I'd known since second grade. She balled the infected comforter into a heap at the bottom of the bed and sat down next to me.
It was a few minutes before I could slow down, take some deep breaths, and pull myself together, and in the meantime Hannah and Izzy patted my back, pushed my knot of hair behind my ears, and covered me in a fresh, untainted blanket.
“What's going on, Meen? Talk to us,” Izzy said, staring straight into my eyes with her trademark blend of concern and impatience.
“I don't know,” I whispered, shifting my gaze down to my pale hands, still clasped and shaking around my knees. I focused on the dull, rhythmic hum of the air conditioner, whirring from Hannah's window as it blasted frigid puffs of air into the room. I pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders, though it wasn't just the cold that was making my body tremble.
“Well, you obviously know something to be crying like that. Right?”
“Isabelle, stop pushing her,” Hannah said with an unusual edge to her voice that caught me by surprise. “She'll tell us when she wants to tell us, okay?” I turned to look at Hannah, her soft blue eyes so full of love and worry. She had a stray blonde curl tucked in between her small pink lips, a nervous habit she'd had since the first day I'd met her in preschool.