“I’m so glad you could make it!” I heard Sarah say from the door. “Nobody else had hope you’d come, but I did!” The response mumble was too low for me to neither hear nor understand. What was up with Nash? Suddenly I heard a phone ring from the kitchen. “I’ll get it! You wait here.”
“What is going on?” I asked Emily nearby.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” she replied, shrugging.
“Hello?” Sarah said into the phone. “Yeah, it’s Sarah. You can’t come? Really? Your parents won’t let you? Oh. Uh-huh. Yeah…oh. I’m sorry. Please, give them my best. Yeah. Bye.”
“I’m really confused,” Emily muttered.
“Nash can’t make it, you guys!” Sarah called from the kitchen.
“Why can’t she?” Hanna asked.
“Her parents got in an accident, and neither of them have woken up yet. She’s going to Toronto to see them.” Sarah crossed through the arch that opened the entertainment area, arms crossed. Her face was lined with worry, something that tended to happen to her when she was deeply worried.
“That’s so far away!” Anna, who had all but vanished into the background, commented.
“Yeah,” Sarah mumbled, sounding melancholy. “Poor Nash. I hope her parents get better. Oh, but Christian’s here!” She reached to the side and pulled him by the arm, and for the first time today, what I hoped would not happen, happened.
Eye contact—first thing his eyes fell on was mine. I swallowed. Christian looked like and epitomized the grungy 90’s rocker. He had long blond hair that covered a lot of his face. His skin was somewhere between naturally tan and white. And his clothes were baggy, but not to the degree of Wes’ garbage bags. He looked at me with a purposely neutral face.
“Yay, Christian’s here,” Hanna said from behind me. “Isn’t that great, Jared?”
“It’s marvelous,” I said dryly.
“Hi, Hanna,” Christian said. Just by talking it was plain that he had the voice of a singer—you know, smooth all the time, like he would break into song at the drop of a hat. “Hi…everyone.”
“This is Anna, Emily,” Sarah said, waving in their general direction. “This is Danielle, she’s new to our school.”
“Hi,” Danielle said, barely looking at him.
“And you know Hanna. This is Jared.”
“Hey,” he said, trying to look at me. I just nodded at him.
“Wonderful, now we’re all acquainted! Can I put in a movie now?”
“Sure,” Emily said. “Let’s watch Across the Universe!”
“Yes!” Sarah went to the unbelievably tall stack of movies and stood on a stool to where the DVD was. “Oh, but wait…do you guys wanna watch it?” She was looking in mine and Danielle’s direction.
“Never heard of it,” Danielle said.
“Sure,” I said. Not that I really gave a damn about Across the Universe. It was okay for a while, I suppose, but I didn’t really care for nor pretend to care for the music of the Beatles.
“Christian? What about you?” Sarah asked, precariously perched on the stool.
“Yeah! I love the Beatles.” He smiled widely, exposing those perfect white teeth of his.
“Yay!” Sarah pulled the DVD out of the shelf and by some quick and blurring action I knew she was so fast at because she was used to it, the DVD was whirring away in the player. The opening credits came on and I made myself more comfortable for the movie. Christian sat himself down beside Danielle—just a little space away from me.
“I absolutely love this movie,” I heard him say to Danielle. “Real artistic. And the way they sing is just amazing.”
“Awesome,” Danielle said plainly, obviously put off by him. I could see his good-boy try-hard expression die right there. “Oh, wow am I ever thirsty. Sarah? Um, can I have a drink?”
“Sure, go look in the fridge,” Sarah replied without turning around.
“Be right back,” Danielle said, standing up and turning on her heel. Thank you, Danielle Layton. I started hyperventilating into the large plant—thank God it was there—that was in front of me.
“Sarah’s really rich isn’t she?” Christian asked me.
“Yeah, she is,” I replied. Did he not see the glaringly magnificent waterfall out front?
Danielle returned, deliberately sitting behind Sarah, so it was me and Christian in that corner of the room. When she sat down, Sarah seemed to look at me, but then I realized she was looking past me—at Hanna. What kind of a plan have these madwomen formulated? I grimaced visibly.
“You all right?” he asked. “You kinda look like you need to…you know, use the facilities.”
“Yeah,” I replied, maybe a little too enthusiastically. “Will you excuse me?” I stood up and stepped out of the entertainment room, letting the bare light of the kitchen area was over me. It was a change from the dark red ambiance. From behind me I heard “Did I say something wrong?” coming from Christian; not sure who the question was directed to nor the answerer.
I stumbled into the massive foyer; I heard the waterfall splashing down into its basin, restarting the cycle. Now where was their washroom? You’d think in a house this big they’d put a map somewhere. Judging on my best impulses, I went up the stairs and down the hall.
The upstairs was entirely bathed in dark. It was a little ominous, what with darkness and a massive house where the nearest hope of escape was attempting to dive into the right room. I went into a room that looked like it could be a washroom and looked inside.
“Oh, Jared,” Allie said, blushing a furious crimson. She put her arms in front of her; she’d been changing before I interrupted. The sweater she was wearing before was now on the floor.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” I closed the door, not trusting myself to linger longer.
When I found the washroom, finally—it was at the very end, can you believe that?—I turned on the lights and locked the door. I focused on the stone sink and turned on the cold water. Splash—once, twice, thrice, four times…. Still my mind was not any clearer.
Why would he come here? Why would Sarah, first of all even invite him? It was probably Hanna, that conniving little pixie. She’s a living, breathing ode to the adage, “looks can be deceiving”. Girls can plan rather thoroughly, I’ve noticed in my eighteen short years. Splash—five times.
It probably was Hanna’s doing. She’s the one who’s such friends with him. And she would have spent time carefully planning this, hammering out every detail. But wait! I had a car. I had the keys. I could just bolt…. But then I’d have to tell Sarah I was going. And then I wouldn’t have a good excuse. I could make one up…. But what could come up while I was in the washroom? Certainly nothing at home…damn it, they got me there. Splash, six times.
Maybe I could just leave. Hopefully they’ll understand. And they certainly wouldn’t talk about it at school! Yes! That’s the perfect plan! Just leave, don’t make a scene, get in the car and head home. Let no questions be asked. All right! I could do this! Splash, seven times—after all, seven is a lucky number. I pulled the plug and opened the door, shutting off the lights. Allie was nowhere in sight. In spite of myself, I ran like an excited girl down the hallway and down the stairs. I tried to pick up my jacket as quietly as I could and fumbled for the keys in the pocket. Where were they? I quickly felt every pocket in the jacket—there were. No. Keys.
Did I lose them? Shit! I’ll be killed.
“Are you looking for these?” Sarah asked, coming out of the shadow. I heard a jingle; her key was in my hand.
“How? Oh, I see.” I groaned loudly when sparse light glittered onto the metal of the key. I realized now that was why she was feeling up my jacket before. “You’re really, really…really smart. You know that?”
“I try.” She smiled, but there was no humor in it. She crossed her arms, and by the set of her liquid crystal eyes, she was going into serious mode. “Jared, why are you going to all this effort to avoid Christian?”
“For my own good. For his good? Look at me, Sarah. I’m not—”
“Yes, you are. You just have no confidence. Why, Jared…if you weren’t like my best friend I would date you. You’re pretty darn good to look at, you know.”
“Maybe. Didn’t expect to hear that from you.” I put my hands behind my head and considered what she said briefly. Wow, that’s quite the compliment.
“I’m serious though. You have zero self confidence. Do you see this ‘O’ on this key? That is your confidence level. A big goose egg!”
“I know that—”
“You obviously don’t if you’re letting yourself rot away like this. Take my hand, friend of mine.” I did that; she looked away in a mock philosophical look. “Now repeat after me: ‘I will break my goose egg’.”
“I will—what? Think before you talk, Sarah, please.”
“I will break my goose egg. Say it!”
“I will break my…goose egg.” I thought of Mr. Romney.
“I will break my goose egg by talking to people.”
“I will break my goose egg by talking to people.”
“And I will talk to people by sharing with them my interests and going on from there.”
“And I will talk to people by…ugh, Sarah this is really lame.” Death stare. “By the sharing with them my interests and going on from there.” I said it quickly. When a girl gives you a death stare from the side, you’d better listen. It’s quite an intimidating force, really.
“And I will start by talking to Christian Blanchard.”
“And I will take my keys and go home.” I reached over and easily plucked the key from her unsuspecting hand. “Thanks Sarah, it’s been tons of fun and we should do it again sometime!” I didn’t even bother to put on my shoes. I picked them up and stuffed them in my jacket, quickly opening one of the doors. The cold snow was nothing to the feeling of being free, finally—though after a few steps I noticed it.
“Wait!” I heard Sarah call. “Jared Alphonse McGrady! Come back here!”
“My middle name isn’t Alphonse!” I called back.
“I know, but I forgot it!”
“Colin! Jared Colin McGrady!”
“Okay!” She turned to go back inside. “But you’re getting it later tonight Jared Colin McGrady!” With that, she shut the door; the dead iron trellis shook, its ringing echo piercing the dry, cold night.
“Okay,” I muttered when I opened the door of my car and turned on the heat. It was only then I realized how cold it was. The ice and snow melted readily off of my feet, becoming a puddle that would dry later on. I didn’t even bother to turn on the radio or the CD player, I pulled out of the driveway and turned around and left. I caught the familiar sight of Sarah’s dad’s white Escalade pull into the drive when I turned into the next road, and breathed heavy relief.
I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I hadn’t left when I did.
I drove a certain distance down Green and turned onto Neville Court. When I saw the brown stucco face of my house, I pulled into the drive and quickly put my shoes on so mom wouldn’t harp at me. I pulled back the storm door and went inside. Someone was inside the living room, watching TV.
“Jared,” my dad said, surprised. He muted the TV and stood up, facing me. “Where have you been?”
Dad was thoroughly a city kind of guy. He had been born in Ireland, but you couldn’t tell; he seemed Canadian from his Irish-auburn hair down to the soles of his shoes. He was a science fiction author and had a business-domineered mind. It was often his way or the highway, and when it was that way, it was hard to get your way.
“The O’Leary’s place,” I said. “Didn’t mom tell you?”
“Ah, yes that’s right. Sorry, my memory is failing me. Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah.” For the first part of it, anyway. What did Sarah mean by, I’m getting it tonight? That was still partially confusing.
“Were Sarah’s parents there?” His face turned a little hard; just a twitch in the set of his mouth, changing his entire expression. I knew that tone of his; his “if he says the wrong thing, then I have no son” tone.
“No, but Allie was.”
“Ah, okay.” That was good—he trusted Allie. Who didn’t?
“Actually, Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary got there as soon as I started to drive away.” I said this as I was backing up into the stairs, staring to ascend.
“I see. I guess I’ll call them tomorrow….”
“Yep, you do that, dad.” And then I bolted up the stairs two at a time. I passed Wes’ room where loud and obnoxious music was blasting across the hall and went right into my room. Ah, familiarity, closeness, home. I closed the door and turned on the lamp—red light washed into the room, coloring the usually-white walls in a fiery shade. It was incredibly relaxing, even helping to drown out Wes’ crappy music.
I turned on my computer, not really in the mood for anything else but to listen to my own music. I plugged the headphones into the speaker and waited for the computer to load. When it finally did, I went to the media player and turned on a song that had been on my mind the whole day. The now-familiar singer’s voice flooded the earphone.
Sometimes I’m glad mom orders stuff from her sisters in Tokyo. I’ll have to remember this artist’s name later; someone Hamasaki? Her voice vibrated too much, but wow, could she ever do things with it. I lay down on my bed and let the music just fill my ears.
Maybe an hour passed. The album eventually finished and I closed the media player. Eventually I got really curious and signed onto an IM program. What could Sarah have meant by getting it? When the loading screen finished, I looked for Sarah’s name in the list. Double-clicking her name with a vengeance, I was typing even before the window opened.
Jared says: what did you mean by getting it?
No response yet. There wasn’t even one in five minutes. Eventually I got tired of waiting.
Jared says: I know you’re there, Sarah.
Sarah says: oh sorry! I had to go clean up and such! :P
Jared says: …LIES.
Sarah says: LOL! :D
Jared says: what did you mean earlier?
Sarah says: I did a lot of things earlier! And earlier is a pretty broad term!
Jared says: =_=…
Jared says: what did you mean by, “You’re getting it later” ?
Sarah says: oh! That! Well that was just empty threats, you see!
Jared says: was it? …
Sarah says: of course! :P
She was definitely hiding something from me, I just knew it. I stared at the screen, which had been saying “Sarah is typing…” on and off for the past ten minutes. What was with her?
Christian <email@example.com> has added you to his/her contact list.
Holy crap holy crap holy crap holy crap holy crap! Most terrorizing pop-up of the century. Jesus! So that’s what she meant. Conniving snake. I always knew they’d turn me in! This was problematic. He’ll probably think I hate him if I block him. And I don’t…. What were my options here?
Block or Add
Those two buttons seemed surrealistically distant and impossible to press. I couldn’t think of one. Isn’t there a third button? “Reverse time”? That would be a hundred times easier. I closed Sarah’s conversation window. I didn’t trust myself to keep my thoughts to myself right now.
Swallowing my pride, I clicked the button on the right. His name appeared in my list not long afterward and I sat staring at it. Suddenly a new window came up.
Christian says: hi
Jared says: hey
Christian says: why did you take off so early?
Jared says: no reason
Jared says: just kind of wanted to be home, I guess.
Christian says: yeah I know the feeling
Christian says: what made you leave?
Didn’t reply to that.
Christian says: was it me?
Jared says: not at all
Christian says: really?
Christian says: I kind of got the feeling you didn’t want to have to sit beside me…
Christian says: so I tried talking to you see if you really did hate me
Christian says: I’m sorry, am I creeping you out?
Jared says: no, it’s understandable
Christian says: okay
Christian says: I’m sorry if I’m talking too much
I didn’t reply to that either. I waited for his response, which was incredibly odd. It showed him as “typing…” on and off for maybe ten minutes. What was with everyone today? If you had something to say then say it already.
Christian says: anyway I have to go, bye
“Bye…” I muttered aloud, and he was gone. What was that? Really I’d have to classify that as most awkward conversation I’ve ever had with anyone, ever. First he adds me on IM, rants and then apologizes for ranting like a fool, and then signs off after a long session of capricious wavering. He’s weird.
Weirder still is how he could have gotten my email. How? But then I thought of Sarah and Hanna, and a flat expression crossed my face, because it simply was that obvious. What else did they give him? My phone number? Good Lord in heaven above that would be unbelievable. What would I even say? I’d stumble all over myself. I’d say the wrong things out loud….
Slowly, as if my actions were as mechanical as this morning’s—how the time flew…—I turned off the computer monitor and went to lie down in my bed. The red light on the walls started to make shapes, or rather, I found shapes in them. They danced like that, red and orange, orange and red, all over the place. I thought it would help me sleep, but did next to nothing. Though, I felt as if I could sleep for days without interruption.
“Damn you, Christian Blanchard,” I said quietly, refusing to let my thoughts, which were crowding behind a dam in my head, break through.
I don’t know what made me do it. But suddenly my arm fell off the side of the bed and tapped the garbage can. It hadn’t been emptied yet, so stuff that was in there came out as it tumbled over. I leaned over and put it all back—a juice box, used tissues and…an ink-smudged sheet of crumpled paper. Is it? I unfolded it and read the last couple of lines.
I…love…you…. Love. You. I love you. I love you? You. Who? Who do I love?
I unfolded it more, my eye caught by the fingerprint-smudges that littered the pages. I fell back down on the bed. Ah, whatever, I’ll let my stupid mind win tonight.
Mentally, I filled in the blanks that I had purposely left in the page.