Authors: Katja Millay
Tags: #teen, #Drama, #love, #Mature Young Adult, #romance, #High School Young Adult, #New adult, #contemporary romance
My dad tried to come with me a couple of times. He tried, he did. But I wouldn’t hold back for him and he couldn’t keep up. I don’t think pushing himself to the point of heaving was as appealing for him as it was for me. The only reason I ran was to drain every ounce of energy out of myself so that there was nothing left to use for regret or fear or remembering. It takes much more to drain me now. I run longer every day. It’s gotten harder to achieve the body-draining fatigue that I love, because if I’m going to run, I want to feel like I’ve been wrung out and spun dry, but it still does the trick. It’s the only therapy I get now.
My lungs feel okay but my stomach is teetering. I’ve been out of commission for a little while lately, so hopefully, I can tap myself out easily tonight. With every step, I stomp out the shit in my head until it’s all but gone. It will come back in the daylight, when I’m replenished enough to think, but for now it’s away and for now that’s enough. My thoughts drift off with the last vestiges of my energy and adrenaline, leaving me with the all too familiar feeling of nausea I’ve come to know well. I slow to a jog, and then a walk, trying to lull my stomach into submission, but it’s not working.
My feet stop, giving me a minute to scan the street for a gutter or well-placed hedge to throw up in, and for the first time since I bolted through the door, I take note of my surroundings. I haven’t been on this street before. I’m not sure how far I’ve run, but it’s unfamiliar. It’s late. Most of the houses are dark now and I try to slow my already rapid breathing. I bolt for the nearest hedge to heave into. I miscalculate the distance and end up running straight into it. Thorns. Of course. Insult to injury. The thorns slash my legs every time I move but I’m too busy puking to extricate them just yet. When my stomach has been thoroughly emptied, I lift my legs out as carefully as possible, trying to minimize the damage, but it’s already been done. I can see blood just beginning to seep through the torn skin on my calves but it’s the least of my worries right now. I close my eyes, then lift them open again. I force myself to take in my surroundings and to remind myself where I am, and more importantly, where I am not.
The sickness in my stomach is replaced by a new kind of dread. The houses are the same, all the same. I can’t find a street sign, but I know I ran fast and I ran far and I didn’t pay attention to anything. I broke every rule that I have and I’ve gotten what I deserve for it. It’s the middle of the night and I am alone and lost and drenched in darkness.
I instinctively pat my pocket, feeling for my phone so I can use the GPS. Empty. Of course I didn’t bring it. I ran out the door so fast I forgot, because I’m careless and impatient and I didn’t think of anything beyond air and sneakers.
I follow the sidewalk. I must be on the outer edge of the community against the preserve that walls it in. I know that this sidewalk probably circles the whole neighborhood, which can give me some bearings and I should stay on it. But I can’t help it. I want to get the hell away from all of those trees. I can’t see past them and I can’t control what comes out of them and there are too many sounds to process.
There are no street lamps where I’m standing now, but I can see the faint yellow glow of one up ahead. The houses along the other side of the street are shadowed in dark and sleep. Like all sane people at this hour. The churning in my stomach is still there, but it’s being overshadowed by the fear of being lost.
My kubotan is swinging at my side until my keys are nothing but a blur. I listen to the quiet that settles around me. I can hear everything: the hum of the streetlamps from overhead, crickets chirping, unintelligible voices coming from a television somewhere, and a sound I can’t place right away. It’s rhythmic and coarse. Following the direction of the sound, I glance down into the darkness and see light coming from one house at the end of the road. It’s brighter than what could be given off by the front lamps alone. I head towards the house, not knowing what I expect to find there. Maybe someone awake who can give me directions.
Directions you can’t ask for, idiot.
In the distance the rhythmic scratching sound continues. Soft and almost musical and I follow it. The house is close and the sound is louder now, though I still can’t tell what it is, until a moment later I’m there.
I stop at the end of the driveway, in front of a pale yellow house with a brightly lit open garage. I want to look in to see if anyone is inside before I get too close, but my feet won’t stop. The sight of it pulls me in. As soon as I reach the threshold, I am frozen, only one thought forming in my mind.
I know this place.
I take a tentative step closer, looking around, remembering details of a place I know I have never been.
I know this place
. The thought invades my brain repeatedly, and as it does, I finally take note of the rhythmic sound, still humming in my ears. There is a figure sitting at a workbench on the far wall of the garage, his hand moving back and forth, sanding down the narrow edge of a wooden beam. My eyes are fixed on those hands as if they’re hypnotizing me. I pull my gaze away to follow the dust falling to the floor, catching the light as it goes.
I know this place.
The thought comes at me again and I suck in my breath all at once and I just need a second. One more second to process what it means.
I know this place.
But before I can think, the hands have stopped, the sound has stopped and the person in the garage has turned around to face me.
And I know him, too.
Lit up by the fluorescent lights, Josh Bennett studies me across the garage. I haven’t moved or looked away. I don’t see any recognition in his eyes and I wonder if he knows who I am. I’m just now remembering that I probably look like a different person. My hair is pulled back in a ponytail and I don’t have a trace of make-up on my sweat-covered, and probably very flushed, face. I’m in running clothes and sneakers. I’m not sure I would recognize myself if I didn’t already know what I was supposed to look like under the crap I—just barely—cover myself in at school. I’m beginning to wish I at least had the make-up on because I’m feeling very exposed under the fluorescent lights with this boy staring at me. He’s skewering me with those eyes. I know I’m being assessed somehow, but I’m not sure on what criteria.
“How did you know where I live?” He’s annoyed and he doesn’t bother hiding the accusation in his words.
Obviously I didn’t, because it would have been the last place on earth I would have come, but I guess now he thinks I’m a stalker. My right hand tightens around the kubotan, even though I don’t feel like I’m in any real danger and my left hand matches it, even though it’s holding nothing. I probably look crazy or confused or both.
His eyes drop down to my legs, which are criss-crossed by the bloody tendrils that infernal shrub left in its wake, and then they return to my face and I wonder what he sees there. I wonder if he senses how defeated I feel. I did not plan for anyone to see me like this, much less Josh Bennett, who apparently I am supposed to fear or revere, though I don’t know why. Is he wearing a ring? Is he waiting for me to kneel down and kiss it?
One of us is going to have to blink first, so I take a tentative step back as if I’m trying to evade a predator, hoping he won’t notice that I’m moving until I’m already gone. I lift my foot to take another step.
“Do you want a ride home?” He looks away before he says it and his tone loses some of its edge. My foot comes down harder than I mean it to. If I had a list of the things Josh Bennett might say to me in this situation, asking me if I want a ride wouldn’t have made the top fifty. His voice is devoid of any emotion as usual. For the record, no I do not want a ride home, but I think I need one. And it sucks to need something from someone who so clearly detests you, but I’m not proud enough to say no.
I nod, opening and closing my mouth quickly because I really want to say something, even if I don’t know what it is I want to say. He stands and walks to the door that leads into the house, opening it enough to reach in and grab a set of keys that must have been hanging on the inside wall. He turns to close the door but looks back in and pauses a moment as if he’s listening for something. I imagine he must be checking to see if his parents are awake, but they probably aren’t. They’re probably asleep at this hour along with the rest of the civilized world. Except for me. And Josh Bennett who apparently likes to do woodworking in the dead of night in his garage. I look around to try to figure out what exactly he was working on but it all just looks like a bunch of wood and tools to me and I can’t tell. I glance at the garage one more time, memorizing it, and as much as I hate to admit it, I know I’m coming back here.
I walk out and wait in the driveway next to the truck parked in it. It’s the only car here so I guess he doesn’t have his own. It’s a beautiful truck, even I can admit that, and I’m not a big truck person. His father must take good care of it. I wish my car was that shiny, but I hate to wash it, so I’m lucky you can even tell what color the paint is at this point.
Josh stops at a small refrigerator that sits on the floor under one of the work benches and pulls a bottle of water out of it. He walks up and hands it to me, wordlessly, before unlocking my door and opening it. I take the bottle out of his hand and look at it, suddenly aware of just how much I must be sweating. I turn to climb into the truck and I’m glad I’m not in a skirt, because I’m seriously short and I have to take a pretty big step up to get into it. He closes the door behind me, then walks around and climbs in the driver’s side. He seems a lot more graceful doing it than me, like he was born climbing in and out of this truck. I’m wondering if I’m allowed to hate Josh Bennett, because I’m thinking I might start.
And then we sit. He doesn’t look at me, but he doesn’t start the car, either. I wonder what the hell he’s waiting for and maybe wandering lost in the dark might not be the worst thing after all. Everything feels endless right now. My stupidity hits me upside the head a moment later when I realize that he’s not sitting here to make me uncomfortable, he just doesn’t know where to go. Looking around the car for something to write on is futile. There isn’t a damn thing in here. It’s the cleanest car I’ve ever seen. When I get in my car tomorrow morning, it’s going to feel like a slum compared to this. Before I can do the eye-pleading thing with him and hope he understands, he reaches across the dashboard and pulls the GPS down and hands it to me.
The ride is ridiculously short. It takes only minutes to get back to Margot’s and I feel stupid for having him drive me. I paid attention to everything on the way. I tell myself it’s so I won’t get lost again, but really I need to find my way back there.
I should say thank you, but he won’t expect it and I get the feeling he’s more comfortable with the silence anyway. When he pulls into the driveway, I reach for the door almost before he’s put the truck in park, determined to put us both out of our misery. I jump down onto the ground and turn to close the door. I don’t say thank you. He doesn’t say good night, but he does speak.
“You look different,” he says and I shut the door in his face.
Josh Bennett walks in and heads straight for my table in shop and I try not to look, but I really, really want to. I just don’t want him to know that I’m looking. Soon I have no choice in the matter because he’s standing in front of me, staring at my face. I stare back at him and I want to scream
I can almost see the word, interrobang and all, floating up from my lips in unspoken fervor, because he’s the only person I know who can appear seriously put out with no expression at all on his face. Does everyone irritate him so much or is it just a special gift I have? He seems disturbed by the fact that I even exist, much less occupy the same space in his precious shop class.
“I sit here,” he finally says, and again, he doesn’t sound pissed, just matter-of-fact, like that’s the way things are and I should know it like everyone else. Does this mean I’m supposed to get up? Move? Where? This is where Mr. Turner put me and I’m trying to decide if I want to have a stare-down with Josh Bennett or get up and move because our near silent dispute already has an audience. Before I can make my decision, Mr. Turner calls Josh over to his desk. He leaves his books on my—his?—table in an obvious show of ownership and refusal to concede and walks to the front of the room. I see Mr. Turner look in my direction and back to Josh and I assume he’s telling him that he told me to sit here. I don’t know if Josh is going to get his way or not, but the way things seem to go around here, that’s usually what happens. I’m not going to give him a chance to be smug about it, so before he turns to come back, I move myself.
There aren’t any other empty tables. The one I was sitting at was the last one. There are empty seats at the others but I don’t want to sit next to anyone; it becomes too awkward for me and for the person stuck sitting with me. Plus, I like sitting in the back so I know no one is behind me.
There’s a counter built around the perimeter of the room with storage cabinets underneath, so I take my books and place them on it and hope like hell I can sit up here without flashing the world. I push myself up on the counter and turn to face the front. As I do, I see Josh walking back. He doesn’t look at me but he does speak. His back is turned to the rest of the class and his voice is low so I’m pretty sure no one but me can hear it.
“I wasn’t going to make you move.”
I’m not sure if I should be annoyed that he assumes he had the power to make me move or if I should feel bad for misinterpreting him. I’m thinking I’ll never understand Josh Bennett and then I’m wondering why I try.
“There’s a party tonight at Trevor Mason’s. Want to go?”
I look at Drew. We’re sitting in Debate. It’s almost two-thirty and I’m trying to pull the last five facts I need to finish my assignment off of the internet before the bell so I don’t have to deal with it tonight or any other time this weekend. I don’t know what Drew’s working on, other than me, because I don’t think he’s accomplished a thing this entire period. He’ll no doubt procure an A for whatever non-work he did. That’s how things work for Drew around here.