Home > Field Notes on Love(7)

Field Notes on Love(7)
Jennifer E. Smith

She is not exactly a wallflower.

Garrett squints at her, trying to figure out his next move. “Come on, Mae. We both know you’re not the best at—”

“What?” she demands.

He hesitates, then shrugs. “Letting people in.”

“That’s not true.”

“See?” he says. “If you can’t even allow yourself to be introspective in this conversation, how are you ever gonna do it in your films?”

There’s a hint of arrogance in his face as he says this, and for a second, Mae can see what her dads have been talking about all summer. But then his expression softens again, and he reaches for her hand, and she steels herself for whatever he’s going to say next, which is probably that she really shouldn’t be steeling herself against anything at all.

“You’re obviously super talented. But the difference between a good film and a great one has nothing to do with jump cuts and cool techniques. It’s about showing people who you are.”

Mae opens her mouth to argue with this, but he hurries on.

“We both know you have a lot to say,” he tells her, offering a smile even as she untangles her hand from his. “You just have to get out of your own way and actually say it.”

“I did,” she says.

Garrett shakes his head. “You didn’t. Not yet.”

“But—”

He holds up a hand. “Just think about it for a while before telling me I’m wrong, okay? The point of criticism is to help you get better, and that’s all I’m trying to do.”

“Fine,” Mae says with some amount of effort. “Then…thanks. I guess.”

“You’re welcome,” he says magnanimously. He glances down at her phone, which he’s still holding. “Oh, and Priyanka texted while I was watching. I tried to swipe it away and accidentally opened the link she sent.”

Mae’s head is still swimming with thoughts about the film, but she reaches for the phone and stares blankly at the screen, which is open to an unfamiliar social media platform.

“Apparently some kid is looking for a Margaret Campbell to go on a train with him,” Garrett says, leaning forward to look. “Crazy, right? That’s so close to your name.”

“It is my name,” she mutters, already skimming the message.

He shrugs. “I’m sure it’s just some creepy fifty-year-old trying to meet someone.”

Mae bristles at this, though she’s not sure why. He may be right. But there’s something about the tone of the message that makes her believe it.

“I wonder who’ll go,” he says. “It would be such a weird thing to do.”

“Would it?” she asks, looking up.

“To go off with a complete stranger?” he says, looking at her incredulously. “Yeah. Besides, the trains here are the worst. Eurail is really the way to do it. I think I’m gonna start with Amsterdam next month.”

“Cool,” Mae says, but she’s hardly listening. She’s too busy reading the post again. So if your name is Margaret Campbell and you’re interested in a bit of an adventure…

Garrett watches her for a moment, and something in his face shifts. “You’re not actually thinking about this,” he says, and though it started out as a question, it lands flat-footed and certain, a statement meant to convey how ridiculous that would be. “A week on a train with some random dude?”

“You’re not jealous, are you?” Mae teases, but the expression on his face tells her that she’s right. She inches forward so that their knees are touching and gives him a serious look. “I thought we decided—”

“We did,” he says quickly. “But now that I’m leaving, I just…”

“I know,” she says, though she doesn’t. Not really. She thinks again of the way Priyanka had felt about Alex’s departure, the hours of crying and the constant texts flying between them, the two of them desperate to bridge the sudden distance. Mae feels none of that with Garrett, and his words bob to the surface again: We both know you’re not the best at letting people in.

She feels a prickle of something unfamiliar, something a little like doubt.

“I guess you’re right,” he says, but he’s looking at her as if hoping she might disagree with him. “I’m leaving for Paris next week, and you’ll be in California, and it’s not like we were ever…” He fumbles for the right word, unable to find it, while the options scroll through Mae’s head: long-term, compatible, serious, in love.

She closes her eyes for a second, trying to muster up something bigger than what she’s feeling now, which is a mild sadness at the thought of saying goodbye. But when she peeks around it, there’s nothing more.

“It was a really great summer,” she says, taking his hand.

He nods. “I guess now it’s time for the next thing.”

They look at each other for a moment, and then Garrett’s eyes brighten a little.

“We still have a few hours, though,” he says with a grin, and when he leans in, Mae kisses him back automatically. But her mind is miles away, already busy thinking about the next thing.

Hugo knows he can’t pick this girl. He can’t. He only just broke up with his girlfriend, and he’ll be sharing a small space with whomever he chooses, and there’s simply no need to make it more complicated than it already is. He knows this. He does.

But that doesn’t stop him from watching her video for a third time.

“Here it is,” says a voice behind the camera as the shot pans out to reveal a long row of boxy storefronts on a quiet street. “This is where I’ve lived my whole life.”

The way she says that last part, the intensity behind the words—that’s what stopped him cold the first time he watched.

She answers his questions as she walks around the town, but it’s not an ordinary video. It’s like a little movie, the shots changing swiftly from one frame to the next. At the end, she turns the camera to reveal a round white face with a dusting of freckles across her nose. Her brown hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and her eyes are a bright blue behind her glasses.

“My name is Mae Campbell,” she says with a little smile. “And as you can probably tell, I’m in desperate need of an adventure.”

There’s a soft knock at the door, and Hugo is quick to close out the video on his screen. A moment later, his dad steps inside with an armful of laundry.

“I heard there was a sock emergency,” he says, tossing the laundry onto Alfie’s bed.

“I think we’re well past emergency.” Hugo spins around in his chair. “He’s been wearing the same manky old pair since Thursday.”

“Why doesn’t he just borrow some of yours?”

“Mine aren’t as lucky, apparently.”

“Ah,” Dad says, sitting down beside the pile on Alfie’s bed. There’s a ghost of a beard along his jawline, and he runs a hand over it, looking at Hugo with a serious expression. “You know, I wanted to talk to you. I was thinking more about what you said at dinner the other night. The truth is, I was an only child, and all I ever wanted was—”

“—a big family,” Hugo finishes.

Dad laughs. “I suppose it’s possible I might’ve told this story before.”

“A few times,” Hugo says, but he doesn’t really mind. Dad’s father died when he was little, and his mum worked three jobs to keep them afloat. At night, with only the TV for company, he would play a game with himself, imagining a house full of brothers and sisters.

“We had eight plates, for some reason,” Dad says, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. “I suppose you had to buy them as a set. I used to wedge them onto our tiny table and pretend we were about to have a big dinner together. Which was obviously a bit pathetic. But it’s the reason I like to set the table now.”

“You never told me that part before,” Hugo says, and Dad smiles at him. It seems impossible that a man with six kids could have a smile specific to each one, but he does.

And this one is Hugo’s.

“It still feels like a gift to have a person for each plate,” he says, reaching out to place his hand over Hugo’s lighter one. “And you should know I’m going to miss setting yours while you’re away.”

Hugo nods, slightly overcome by this. “Now I’m feeling a bit guilty that we’re all leaving next month,” he says, his voice thick with emotion. “Six plates in one go.”

“That’s different. You’ll be right up the road. I’ll keep them handy for weekends.” Hugo’s face must shift, because Dad gives his shoulder a little pat as he stands to leave. “Everyone grows up dreaming of something different, Hugo. And that’s okay. It’s what makes life so interesting.”

Alfie comes crashing through the door then, dropping his rugby kit and falling onto his bed in the manner of a dying man.

Dad shakes his head, but he looks amused as he points to the scattered laundry. “Clean socks for you.”

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