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Authors: Lexa Hillyer

Proof of Forever

BOOK: Proof of Forever
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For Ellen Byer Friedlander,

who has always inspired me to read, to write,

and to rage against the dying of the light


“Your past is always your past.
Even if you forget it,
it remembers you.”

—Sarah Dessen


Just do it. Now, now, now,
Zoe thinks as she blows loose strands of her blond hair off her sweaty forehead. Don't frogs die like this, from too much heat? One minute they're sleeping, dreaming froggy dreams, and the next they're just . . . fried.

The rickety box fan propped up on the porch railing divides the sunlight into flashes and shadows, its thick blades hacking the sky—before, after, before, after—pulling in the smell of freshly cut grass. Zoe can't help but think of the propeller on a fighter plane. Except no one's going anywhere, and no one knows of the little war inside her.

In the deafening whir, she almost doesn't hear him say it: “This isn't working.”

It takes a minute to realize he means the bike.

Calvin has apparently given up on Operation Revitalize Zoe's Wheels. Her bicycle has just fallen in a mangled-looking heap of blue and white metal, half on the porch stairs, half on the
concrete path that cuts his front yard down the middle.

“Shit. Sorry.” Calvin wipes his greased fingers on his cargo shorts as he straightens to his full height, then swipes his almost shoulder-length brown hair out of his eyes. He is the very definition of floppy. “The chain is too rusted, Albright. Not sure there's much more I can do.”

“Well, thanks for trying, I guess.” Zoe forces a smile—the kind you give the dental hygienist while biting down on a cold, metallic-tasting X-ray slide. Her cutoff shorts stick to her thighs in the August heat. The maple trees along Jefferson Street wink green and yellow in the faint-but-not-nearly-enough breeze. Down the road, she can see the local church, where she used to go for the free doughnuts. If it's a toss-up between believing in a cozy place in the clouds where you go after death, or doughnuts, Zoe knows which side she's on. When you're dead, you're dead.

Say it, say it, say it,
she wills herself. Normally she can't stop talking.

Calvin comes over and kicks the side of her foot. “I can see if my mom will lend you her old one,” he offers.

“Don't worry about it. The thing's a piece of thrift-store crap anyway,” Zoe says. She feels like she can't breathe. It must be the weather.

“Then what's the matter?” Calvin shades his eyes with his hand, staring down at her from his six-foot-two frame.

“Nothing,” she says, too fast. She feels her cheeks getting warm and her throat getting tight. She wants to go back. She
wants to go back to three months ago, before prom, before all of this happened.

They were supposed to have gone together just as friends. But then there was the fumbling, sweet, after-party kiss. And everything changed.

Now things
to go back, somehow, to the way they used to be. And though she's not sure she'll ever be able to connect the dots and explain why, her unexpected call from Joy today has made this all the more clear. Joy's words still ring in her ears:
I need to see you. Will you come?

Joy isn't the kind of person you can say no to. Not with that lilt in her voice, that way it has of breaking midsentence from soft to rough, from high to low. Not with that power she has to convince you anything is true, even the idea that life is okay when it really isn't.

Even when she abandoned you two years ago and you haven't heard from her since, until this morning. Even
, you can't say no.

Cal raises an eyebrow. “Nothing? Really? I've seen a llama spit more convincingly.” He's full of odd phrases like that.

“No, you haven't,” Zoe replies, pushing him out of her way so she can sit down beside her bike.

Then his face quirks into a grin. “I know how to cheer you up.” He darts around to the side of the house.

“Cal, what are you doing? I have to tell—” Before she can finish, Cal reappears holding the end of the garden hose.

“Never send a human to do a machine's job,” he announces, faux-menacing, quoting their favorite movie. He grins again,
big. That adorable crooked-toothed grin. Zoe's chest clenches.

“I will kill you if you—”

“Two words, Albright. Dodge this.” Cal lets loose.

The water hits her like cold, hard bullets and in a second her top is soaked. She squeals and instinctively goes to tackle him. “No fair!” she cries, trying to wrestle away the hose.

He holds the hose above his head, gazing down at her waterlogged shirt. All his references to
The Matrix
seem to vanish from his vocabulary. There's a pause. “You're wearing my favorite bra,” he says. He reaches out to flick the neon yellow strap that's peeking out of her V-neck T-shirt, and in that moment she finally gets one hand around the nozzle. But then he grabs her and swings her around so her back is to him and her arms are trapped at her sides. On any other day, this would be normal. This would be fun. This would be fine.

But today Calvin is the only one laughing. “I give up,” she says, feeling a sting in her throat.

He continues to swing her around, his face happy. But his expression changes fast when he sees hers. He drops the hose, and it gives one final gush into the grass around her feet. “Seriously, what's up with you? You've been weird all week.”

“I just . . . I . . .”
Just. Say. It.
Zoe has done this before. Just not to anyone who mattered. Not to Cal. With Steve Hutz it was easy. Same with Jared Weinbeck. This is different.

“I . . . I don't want to lose you as a friend,” she manages to say.

“What are you talking about?” His face turns guarded. “What is this about, Zo?”

Do it.
“I don't . . . I don't want to be this. A couple. With you. I don't want that.” Zoe takes a huge breath. She feels light-headed but much better. Relieved. She did it.

“What?” Cal blurts out. “Why?”

Zoe doesn't respond. She just stands there, helplessly, wishing she knew. Calvin is her best friend. They've spent hours together, driving around in his Ford, listening to music and talking about nothing. He's been her solace ever since the days when her friendship with Joy came to an abrupt halt. He was there when Joy wasn't.

And yet all it took was one phone call from Joy this morning to send Zoe's head reeling, convincing her that she has to go to reunion night, even though it makes no sense, even though she
Cal they would get pizza tonight—one of their remaining few before college.

“I can't believe this.” Calvin starts pacing the yard. “You're
me? You're dumping me.”

“Maybe I'm not made for relationships,” Zoe says weakly.

“Zoe, that's bullshit. We're good together,” he says, his hazel eyes big and round. “You're seriously going to run away from it now?”

She feels a tiny tide of anger peak and fall. “I'm not
, Cal.” She moves away and starts fumbling to pick up her bike, but it falls again, the left pedal nailing her in the shin. “Ow.
Damn it.
I don't, you know . . .”

“No, I

She has the bike righted now, the blue, paint-chipped
handlebars firm in her hands, which fails to keep them from shaking. “I don't feel it. Anymore. Or ever. I'm not sure. Remember at graduation how you said I was your best freaking friend in the world? That I could always be your metaphorical front man even though I can't sing for shit? What happened to that?”

Calvin stares at her for a second. “What happened to that?” He barks out a laugh. “I'll tell you what happened, Albright. We started
. I started
you. I
it was mutual. But I guess I'm just your backup guy, right? Your King of fucking Convenience.”

“Cal, you know that's not true.” She stands there, holding on to her broken bike, wishing she could run, wishing they had never kissed, wishing he wasn't so . . . him.

“So that's it?” he says dully.

She doesn't answer. She swings her right leg over the bike seat and tries to nudge the bike forward, but the misaligned chain causes it to wobble.

Cal hesitates, then reaches forward to catch her. “Zoe, you can't ride that. It's completely busted.” He helps her off the bike and she lets it fall behind her, lets him wrap his arms around her. A beat passes where they both just breathe like that, and Zoe tries not to feel trapped.

But she always feels trapped.

“I'm going to miss you,” he whispers into the messy knot of hair at the top of her head.

His damp T-shirt presses against her face.

“I should go,” she says. Her throat is raw, as if she's been shouting.

Cal lets her pull away. His eyes are wounded, confused. “Let me give you a ride.”

“You sure?” Zoe's stomach clenches. She wishes he would yell or something.

“You can't exactly take
,” he says, managing a quick smile that doesn't touch his eyes.

So she swings her bike into the bed of his old Ford truck, then slides into the passenger seat. As soon as he starts the engine, a mix she made for him pours out from the speakers. Calvin punches the music off quickly, and they drive in silence. Out of long habit, Zoe props her feet on the glove compartment, where there are permanent scuffs in the shape of her flip-flops, and stares out the window at the pastel clapboard houses of Liberty, New Hampshire—the town she's known all her life—flashing by. With a population of about fifteen hundred, they don't even have their own high school; they share Kennett High with a few other towns.
Tiny, tiny, tiny.
This place. This car. Her entire life so far.

“So, back home I presume?” Cal asks, automatically hanging a right onto School Road.

“Actually . . . ,” Zoe says, then hesitates.

Calvin sighs heavily. “I hate how you do this, Zo.”

“Do what?” she asks.

He turns to face her. She can see the hurt in his wrinkled brow, the pinched corners of his eyes. “That thing,” he says.
“When you're all broody, but I know there's something you
. So just ask me already.”

Zoe picks at her frayed jean shorts. Why did she break up with Calvin? Why does she always screw everything up? They should be playing video games in his basement—the coolest room in the otherwise sweltering house. Ordering pizza and watching a
Doctor Who
marathon or working on one of Cal's band's songs, like on any other normal Friday night. Instead, she feels like a little kid who's been put in time-out.

She begins to ramble. It's what she does in uncomfortable situations . . . what she does in
situations. “It's Joy. She wants to see me tonight.” There's a pause—Calvin knows Joy from freshman and sophomore years, before she moved away and dropped all contact with her former friends. Cal always took Zoe's side, protectively, claiming Joy must've lost her mind to want to ditch her friends like that.

“It's weird, I know,” Zoe pushes on, “but that's part of why I think I should go. It's reunion night at camp. She's drawing
of us together.” She knows he knows what she means—her, Joy, Luce, and Tali. The inseparable four. Once upon a time, anyway. “Except my parents are working. Mom's been stressed. I could text Tali, but you know what the girl thinks of me these days. It's too far to bike and my bike's out anyway and . . . And I need—”

“A ride there,” Calvin finishes her sentence.

“Well, yeah. That.”

“So what you're saying is you don't want to date me, you just want to use me for my wheels.”

“No, Cal, that's not—”

“Relax. I'm kidding.”

“Are you sure? Because you're talking like a robot. Or Keanu Reeves.”

He smiles now, a little. They mutually hate Keanu but nevertheless consider
The Matrix
the pinnacle of late-nineties filmmaking. “I'll drive you. All right? I've got nothing better to do anyway.” Calvin turns his attention back to the road.

Zoe smiles and punches his arm lightly. She tries to let the breeze from the window dry her drenched T-shirt, once again unable to get her phone call with Joy out of her head. The pleading in Joy's voice. Joy never had to
them to listen to her—they always just did. Followed her with a blind faith. She always seemed to be at the center of them, tying things together invisibly. They had this running joke that Camp Okahatchee—aka Camp OK—was the epitome of okay-ness. Even the good stuff was merely okay. “This is all just purgatory, I swear,” she'd say. “One day things will be better than okay. They'll be Fantastic.” She always said “Fantastic” like it had a capital F, like it came with jazz hands.

But ever since Joy moved away the summer after sophomore year, right after camp ended, mysteriously dropping off social media and changing her number, it's like they all fell apart. Tali and Zoe still go to the same school, but they drifted so effortlessly they almost didn't notice it happening at first. As for Luce, it was easier to lose track of her as she became swallowed in her busy private-school life, even though her hometown of Wolfeboro is
barely a half-hour drive from Liberty.

It hits Zoe how much she misses Joy—misses all of them, as a unit. She leans back in her seat, hearing the vinyl squeak beneath her legs.

Calvin punches her arm back. “I said I'd give you a lift to camp so you would
brooding. It's seriously tripping me out.”

She makes a goofy face caught somewhere between a smile and an eye roll, causing him to snort.

He turns back to the road. “I mean, dude. What would you do without me?” he jokes, though there's an edge to his voice. He taps the steering wheel like a drum.

Zoe shakes her head, watching her hometown turn to a blur. “Ignorance is bliss.”

BOOK: Proof of Forever
3.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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