Authors: Todd Hasak-Lowy
Somehow Bo got his hands on four beers, which he had set out on the kitchen table, along with three short White Sox glasses. Bo told them they were going to play a game called “quarter-bounce,” which involves trying to bounce a quarter off the table and into a beer-filled glass. If you get it in, you pick someone else and that guy has to drink the entire glass.
At first Bugs and Darren were kind of excited, but it took about ten minutes before anyone could get a quarter to go in. Plus the beer tasted, as Bugs put it, “like rooster piss.” Still, Bo really, really wanted to play, so he told them he'd drink whenever anyone got the quarter in. By this point Bugs and Darren just wanted to leave, but they both felt kind of bad for Bo, who they could tell thought this night was going to be the best ever. They kept playing until Bo was totally drunk. For a while it looked like he was going to puke, because he kept burping, closing his eyes, and sort of tucking his chin down. But all he did was fall asleep on the floor in front of the TV, so, during a commercial, Bugs and Darren just let themselves out and ran back to Bugs's place.
Â ZOEY LOVELL AND CIGARETTES
It's not like he hasn't seen a lot of other people smoke cigarettes before, but Zoey's really the first person he feels like he knows (even though he doesn't know her that well) who smokes, or the first person he knows who seems like they almost were meant to smoke. It just seems like she really likes to smoke, or really needs to, and not just because she's addicted, which she probably is, since cigarettes are supposedly super addictive.
The truth is, Darren totally can't decide if he likes it that she smokes or not. He knows, somehow, that he's not supposed to let himself think it's cool, but it kind of is, at least when she does it. Who knows, maybe she's just really good at it. But then, it is a pretty dumb thing to do, not to mention the smoke is gross and definitely must cover up her smell to some extent, which is too bad, because he's starting to really like being able to smell her. And the smoke must be on her breath, too, which means that if they ever do wind up kissingâwhich he has no idea if they will or even how much he wants them to (he does a lot in most ways, but it might be a bad idea, especially after Maggie)âhe'll have to taste the smoke, which he'd try not to be bothered by, but what if he can't help it?
Â MARIJUANA AND NATE
Just like with cigarettes, Darren has definitely seen people smoke marijuana before, even if it's mostly in movies. And he's seen it before in person (Bugs found some in his mom's underwear drawer, though he wouldn't tell Darren what he was doing in there) and even smelled it being smoked once (Nate convinced their parents to let him take Darren to see Steely Dan at Ravinia last summer, which was a pretty cool concert, even if Darren felt ten times younger than normal there).
But he's never really seen anyone actually smoke it, especially not his brother, who seems not so much good at it (the whole bong thing looks pretty ridiculous) as just having had a lot of practice, if there's a difference between the two. Plus, it's hard to explain, but Darren can tell pretty quickly that marijuana is hardly a trivial part of whoever his brother is now but wasn't just a couple of years ago. Meaning the hair and the beard and the flannel shirt and the silly way he talks with Kyleâit's not that any of those things really make much sense now, but Darren can sort of tell where they came from or what they're connected to, or even what Nate would say they all have in common.
Stages of an Awkward Exchange between Guests and Hosts
Â Zoey takes out her cigarettes and lighter, gets up off the floor by the stereo, and walks toward the door.
Â Kyle, laughing for maybe a second, asks, “Where ya off to?”
Â Zoey holds up the cigarettes.
Â Kyle looks at Nate and the two of them crack up as if this is the single funniest response in human history.
Â Nate eventually calms down, wipes his nose with his sleeve, and says (from the top of the couch where he's sitting), “It's cool, Zoey, you can smoke in here.”
Â Zoey shrugs her shoulders and leaves anyway.
Â Darren, who almost started laughing with Kyle and Nate, because it was kind of funny (though not even a tenth as funny as they thought it was), gets up to follow her, sort of half saying to himself (and trying not to look at Nate), “I think I'm going to have one too.”
Features of Darren's New Reality That He Tries to Wrap His Head around While Sitting Next to Zoey on the Steps in Front of Nate's Building and Smoking His Very First Cigarette Ever
Â Nate is a pot smoker and I am a cigarette smoker, at least right now.
Â There seem to be few if any actual adults in Ann Arbor.
Â I'm not nearly as good at holding my cigarette as Zoey is at holding hers, probably because I'm too preoccupied with knowing when to tap the end with my thumb so the ash will fall off. Still, I feel pretty cool.
Â I'm more comfortable with Zoey than with Nate, at least right now, even though Zoey barely talks.
Â The clouds have pretty much disappeared, and it's really, really nice out, both because of the shade of blue the sky is and because Ann Arbor is just way mellower than Chicago, including, somehow, the suburbs. Ann Arbor is just really nice. Nice as in peaceful.
Â Kyle's not annoying or mean or anything, but it would still be better if he just went away.
Response from Darren, Which Concludes a Brief Exchange between Him and Zoey, an Exchange Establishing That Zoey Has, in Fact, Smoked Marijuana Before and Probably Will Later Today but Just Didn't Feel Like It Right Now
Possible Types of Sentences That Zoey Speaks to Break the Silence about Thirty Seconds Later, When She Says, “Your Dad's Gay”
Mostly Silent Minutes That Pass While They're Finishing Up Their Cigarettes
Darren is probably supposed to respond to her question/statement, but he focuses on his cigarette instead. His cigarette, plus Zoey and her cigarette.
Zoey takes a big drag and exhales a ton of smoke.
“I found out yesterday,” he finally says.
“You didn't know?” she asks him.
“No,” Darren says slowly, maybe checking with himself that he really didn't. Yep, he had precisely no idea. Darren's looking straight ahead, but he can somehow tell that Zoey is thinking about this. About what that kind of surprise might do to you.
“That sucks,” she says.
He turns to her. She's looking ahead and nodding slowly.
“Yeah, I guess it does,” he adds. He has about half a cigarette left, but he's kind of gotten the point for now. Still, he keeps holding it.
He steals another look at Zoey. She's got her arms wrapped around her knees, which are up by her chest.
“SoÂ .Â .Â .” She looks at him, and he doesn't look away. This almost makes him feel better. Her eyes are smarter than he realized before. Would he want a girlfriend smarter than him? And what kind of smart girlfriend is stupid enough to smoke? “That's why they got divorced?”
“And why you wanted me to take you to the train.”
“Zoey,” he says.
“Why'd you get on the bus?” Zoey puts her cigarette in her mouth and lets go of her knees. “I mean I'm glad you did and everything. But, you know, it was kind ofÂ .Â .Â .”
Darren can hear her breathing, maybe a bit louder than normal. He almost feels bad about asking, but it sure seems like a pretty reasonable question.
“Where'd you even put your car?”
Zoey pulls Darren's sleeve up a bit, exposing some of the design she drew on him.
Faraway Planet Zoey Tells Darren About
Â “There's this other planet,” Zoey says. “It's really far away. But it's still a lot like ours.”
Darren fights off the urge to ask, “What?” like she's insane, but his face probably says as much.
“There is,” she insists. “I swear.”
“Okay,” he says slowly. “What about it?”
“Well,” she says, “there's this one way it's different.”
“Uh, no idea.”
“I don't know. The people are green.”
“No,” she says, like she's embarrassed he actually guessed that. “What's different is that one in every million people, they have this special mark somewhere on their body.”
Darren can feel his face smiling. “A special mark?”
“Yeah.” She doesn't smile back. “Around the time you hit puberty it shows up.
it shows up. Because for most people it doesn't.”
“So it's part of puberty for some people?”
“Sort of. But not exactly. And it can be anywhere. On your back. Your legs. Even your face.”
“Can it be on your forearm?”
“Yeah, it can be there, too.” She says this like she has no idea why he asked about forearms of all places.
“Only one in a million people get a mark.”
Zoey starts to say something but stops.
“And?” Darren asks.
“That's it.” Zoey nods quickly. “That's all I know. All anyone knows.”
Darren looks up at the sky for a bit.
Maybe he should be an astronomer. He wonders what the hell Zoey is talking about and why she suddenly got quiet. Wonders if he should ask her again about why she got on the bus or where her car is or what the hell. Wonders if she seems more weird or less weird now that he knows her a little better. Wonders if he actually knows her a little better and if he's going to keep wanting to touch her like he wants to touch her right now.
Predictions That Darren Makes After Zoey Leans Over to Put Out Her Cigarette on the Underside of the Bottom Stair, Because Immediately After She Does That and Sits Back Up, She Smiles at Darren in This Impossibly Straightforward/Friendly/Kind/Open/Supportive/Sympathetic/Reassuring/Optimistic Way
Â Darren will fall in love with Zoey.
Â Zoey will welcome this development.
Â Meaning she will too (fall in love with him).
Â Darren will smoke cigarettes with some degree of regularity for the last couple years of high school.
Â Zoey will remain a bit unusual, but Darren will learn that she's not really such a freak overall.
Â Darren's running off to Ann Arbor with her will prove to be the best decision he ever made.
Â Everything will be different from now on.
Possibly Additional Features of This Faraway Planet
Â “Do you thinkÂ .Â .Â .Â ,” Darren says. “Like what if everyone who gets oneâa markâwhat if there's someone else who gets that one too?”
“The same one?”
“Yeah, the exact same one. And they both get it around the same time.”
“Maybe,” Zoey says. “Yeah, maybe.”
“And then if you have one, that means you have to find the other person, right?”
“Right,” Zoey says with quiet conviction. “You have to leave your home and your family and your friends and everything and go find them.”
“The other person.”
Â Darren can feel himself blinking a lot, trying to think. “And then, when you do, when you find themâ”
“If you do.”
“Right, because some people don'tâ”
“Most people don't.”
“But if you do, when the two of you are finally together”âDarren pauses, and suddenly wishes he had a cigarette, which terrifies him a little, but whateverâ“then you have to stay together. Once you find each other.”
Zoey crosses her arms and nods these small, little nods, like she's verifying his theory against all the other information she has on the subject.
“Together,” she says, as if she's suddenly unsure if she knows what the word means.
“Yeah, well, but not necessarily
“Because sometimes the other person with the mark, they're the same gender.”
Zoey looks at him like he is the very opposite of intelligent.
“Oh, yeah, right,” he says. “Whatever. The important part, it's just, you know, being together. You have to stay together. If you have the same mark.”
“Like the planet or the people won't survive unless you do,” Zoey says.
“But it's hard”âshe says this like it's actually much harder than you might thinkâ“because if you get a mark, it basically means that the whole life you thought you were going to have for the first twelve years or whatever, you're not going to have it at all.”
Darren thinks about this, really wishing his cigarette hadn't gone out.
“So,” he says eventually, “having a mark means you're super special, but it kind of sucks a little too.”
“Yeah,” Zoey says.