Authors: Leah Konen
For my mom,
who always believed in me
and who introduced me to North Carolina
The name startles me, as I stand in front of the cooler at the Gas Xpress in West Bonneville, where the beer is cheaper and they don’t card half as much as other convenience stores, fiddling through my bag for my fake ID.
No one’s supposed to know me here. And anyone who does knows I haven’t gone by Lizzie for three years now.
Anyone except for him.
I turn around quickly, and there’s Jason behind the counter, my fears coming to instant fruition. When I walked in, it was a pimply college kid who didn’t look like he’d give me a problem, but now that boy is gone, replaced so suddenly by the last person I ever expected to see. Not here. Not now.
I walk up to the counter nervously. He looks as startled as I am.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“I just started my shift.”
“I mean, but what are you doing
I haven’t seen him in almost two years. Besides in the Bonneville paper, of course. And on the special that brought in the news guys from Raleigh, Jason and other delinquents’ faces splashed across the evening news (
Westboro County cleans up juvenile hall, sets new example for North Carolina’s youth detention centers
“I was released on Monday.” His voice is deeper, and even though he’s my age he could probably pass for twenty-three, his face covered in stubble, his dark hair greasy and thick but neatly cut.
“I thought it wasn’t for another six months,” I stammer. It was meant to be well into senior year. It’s not that I expected his return to cause all that much drama on my end, given that my years as Jason Sullivan’s BFF are long gone, but it seems like I should have been given some kind of warning, been allowed to prepare.
“Parole,” he says.
“Oh. Well, congrats.” I immediately want to whack myself on the head for being so awkward.
He rests his palms on the counter and looks at me with the brown eyes I’ve known for as long as I’ve understood the very concept of eyes, and for a fleeting moment, I see us as kids, my finger a toy gun, me playing the bad guy for the afternoon, him ducking for cover behind the great big magnolia tree that split our backyards in two. The nostalgia hits before I can stop it.
I look behind me to see if anyone else is waiting, for the presence of another human to speed this encounter along, but there’s no one. Just us.
“So you’re working here now?”
“I’m certainly not volunteering.”
He must see the discomfort on my face, because he smiles, almost as if he’s trying to remind me that we were friends once and that we can joke with each other. Can we?
“I just meant it’s kind of far. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
He fiddles with an errant receipt. “It’s only about ten minutes from my dad’s condo. And it’s part of the whole rehab program. This is one of the few places that happily take ex-cons. My parole officer helped set it up.” He grins like that should be funny, but it’s not.
I bend my fake ID between my fingers, no clue what to say.
Jason squirms behind the register, his eyes flitting to the case of Natty Light in my hand. “Are you trying to get that?” he asks.
“Oh,” I say. “Yeah.” I set the unconvincing piece of plastic that says I’m twenty-two on the counter, but Jason hesitates. “I mean, can I?”
Jason’s eyes dart around the store, but even though it’s still empty, he shakes his head. “I can’t really do anything illegal right now.”
And just like that, our whole history has culminated in a standoff over a fake ID. “Of course.” I grab the plastic as quickly as I can.
“I should really take that, too, but since we’re friends, I guess it’s okay,” he says.
, I think. Present tense and everything. Right. I put it back in my bag.
“Er, thanks then.” I grab the beer. “I’ll just put this back.”
“Leave it.” He reaches across the counter, and I hand him the case.
“Well, bye,” I say.
“Later,” he says.
But as the bell dings and the door swooshes shut behind me, I wonder if there ever will be a later.
NNIS IS WAITING
in the car.
He sees my empty hands and his eyebrows scrunch up. “What, did they give you a hard time?” he asks.
I pull the door shut with a slight slam, like I can seal us off from Jason.
“No.” I wonder if I should tell him more. “But the cashiers switched shifts, and the new one didn’t look like a good idea. We have to go somewhere else.”
“Sure. No biggie.” He pushes the start button and pulls onto the road, the car purring like only a BMW can as he moves from first to second gear. “They didn’t take your fake, did they?”
I shake my head.
We find another gas station, a mile or so down the road. I walk in, and all goes off smoothly. When I get back to the car, beer in hand, Innis smiles, rubs his hand over my knee, gives it a light squeeze that gets my heart beating faster. “Thank you very much, Good Lady of the Fake ID.”
He shoots me a teen-model smile, and I focus on how good things are going with Innis. Not whether Jason knows who I came with, or what he thinks of my fake, or the fact that I’m not goodie-goodie Lizzie Grant anymore.
It doesn’t work. I wait until we’re back on our side of town, until the houses are bigger and older, flanked with columns, wedding-cake white. That’s when I spill it. “Jason was in the Gas Xpress.”
“Jason Sullivan,” I say. “That’s why I didn’t get the beer.”
“I know who you meant,” Innis says. I can tell he’s trying to control his temper but it’s not working—his knuckles go white against the steering wheel, and there’s a sharp intake of breath—Innis can go from zero to sixty quicker than his car.
Then his voice softens a little: “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I start to pick at the skin around my fingernails. “I
“I mean back there.”
“What would you have done?” I ask.
“I don’t know.” His face reddens.
“That’s why. I didn’t want you to start something.”
He slams his palm against the wheel. “I knew he got out on Monday, but I was sure it’d be at least a few months before he showed his miserable face.”
I stop picking, clasp my hands in my lap. “How did you know? I didn’t hear anything about it.”
Innis waves my question off with a flick of his wrist. “My dad knows the DA or one of those guys. He was fuming about it last week. Apparently Jason has been nothing but a model prisoner. My dad tried, but there was nothing he could do to stop it.” He turns to me. “If you ask me, it’s just the broke-ass government letting another monster out. Did he say anything to you?”
I ignore his question. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Innis turns to face me. “You’re a good thing, Liz. I don’t like mixing good and bad things together. Plus, why would you care? He’s my problem, not yours.”
I pull out my phone and pretend to be entranced. There are a lot of reasons I would care—I did care—but they’re hard to explain to Innis. They’re even hard to explain to myself.
His eyes are back on the road. “So what did he say?”
“Nothing. He just made it clear that I should go somewhere else. He could have taken my ID, but he didn’t.”
Innis laughs, loud but hardly jovial. “What a pal.”
We get to my house, and he pulls into the driveway, right behind Lyla’s beat-up Honda, the one she’s driven since high school.
I catch his gaze before I get out of the car. “Whatever you’re thinking about, it’s not worth it.”
“He shouldn’t be here,” Innis says. “He really shouldn’t be here.”
“He’s not here.” I rub his shoulder to calm him down. “He’s living in a condo somewhere and working at a gas station that doesn’t card. There are plenty of others. We’ll just take it off our list.”
Innis stares straight ahead, his hands squeezing the wheel again.
“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” I say.
Dad comes out of the garage then, pruning shears in hand, and Innis plasters on a smile, gives him a polite wave.
“I promise,” he says, finally looking over at me. “But only if you agree not to see him.”
It’s a boyfriend-y thing to say, I know MacKenzie would agree, the kind of words that make me think I could be more than what I am now: his go-to beer buyer, who he’s made out with exactly five times. The words are nice.
“Believe me. I honestly have no reason to see him.” I step out of the car.
“All right. Then I’ll leave him alone.”
“Good.” And then in a low voice, so Dad won’t hear: “See you tonight.”
His smile comes back then and my heart takes a little leap as he waves at my dad again and pulls away.
I walk up the driveway, glance quickly at the “For Sale” sign in the next yard—Jason’s old yard—the one that to this day sends Mom into a tizzy. “Having a house sit so long on the market drives down the property values for
all of us
,” she always says. “It ruins the look of the whole neighborhood!” As secretary of the Alexandria Fields Homeowners’ Association, she’s even sent letters to Jason’s dad, demanding he do something. The sign swings back and forth.
Lucy meets me as soon as I get in with her signature greeting, three soft licks to my leg. I scoop her up and nuzzle her close, her fluffy head resting snugly on my shoulder like a baby’s. I give her a scratch. “Did you miss me?”
Her long fur is white and gray like cotton, and her huge brown eyes and floppy ears seem to say yes. I plop her down, and she scuttles into the kitchen, the
tap tap tap
of her paws sounding more like home than anything in the world.
Mom and Lyla are at the kitchen table, stacks of
between them. They’re practically doubles, old and young, Perfect Thing 1 and Perfect Thing 2.