Home > Opposite of Always(4)

Opposite of Always(4)
Justin A. Reynolds

It’s Jillian.

“Having fun?” she asks.

I shrug. “You?”

“It’s okay. Was considering leaving soon actually.”

“Yeah?”

“Maybe grab a burger.”

“Oh,” I say. “Yeah, we could do that . . . um . . . I was just gonna . . .”

She nods to the bottle of wine in my hand. “Where you going with that?”

“Oh, uh, nowhere, um.”

“Nowhere?”

“Well, not nowhere. That would be silly. No, I was gonna go to the porch. The, uh, back porch.”

“You shouldn’t drink alone, Jack,” she says, smiling.

“I wasn’t planning to,” I say, clearing my throat. “I’ve, uh, made a friend, I guess.”

Her face flashes something I can’t compute, but it’s gone before I can consider it. “Oh, I see,” she says, her smile now somehow different. “Jack’s made a new friend.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“No, I’m happy for you, J,” she says.

“Thanks, J,” I reply. A thing we do. “We can totally get a burger, though, like I’m down for whatever . . . just let me, um . . .”

“No.” She shakes her head, already backing away. “You go do your thing. I’m gonna probably head back to the dorm anyway. Gotta call Franny, so.”

“Oh, yeah, okay, cool.”

“Cool.” She nods. “So, have fun, man.”

“You too. Tell Franny hey,” I say, because what else can I say. Because for maybe the first time the words aren’t easy between us.

Five minutes later Kate and I are drinking from a disgusting bottle of red wine and splitting real estate on the warped porch steps. Already we have Our Thing. Steps. Only this time we don’t budge the rest of the night. Not even when the party’s over, not even when the only lights still on are for security, not even when the moon’s a whisper against brightening sky.

“I think we’re the only people still awake at this house,” Kate says.

“Damn, what time is it?” I say, not actually concerned with the time.

“Who gives a damn about time, right?” Kate says, stifling a yawn.

We move for nothing and no one.

“Tell me about your family,” I say.

“What about them?”

“Anything,” I tell her. “Everything.”

She’s quiet. Crosses her legs, then uncrosses them. She passes me the wine, and I take a sip. It’s still not very good, but somehow less not very good than before.

“My parents are basically professional arguers these days, and it’s mainly because of me.”

“Oh.”

“It’s odd, you know, seeing people who you remember sharing so much love, who once couldn’t get enough of each other, and then one morning you’re lying in bed wondering how soon before they start fighting.”

“You said they argue because of you?”

“Yep.”

“How come?”

She shrugs. “They can’t agree on how to take care of me.”

“That sucks. I’m sorry, Kate.”

“Why are you sorry?” she asks. She bites her lip, reaches for the bottle, and puts it to her mouth, but she doesn’t drink. Brings it back down, lets it rest between her knees. “If anything, I’m the one who should be sorry.”

I’m not sure if I should ask what she means, although I want to, so I settle on silence, leaving her space to continue if she wants.

“I don’t know. Maybe they’ll stick it out, if only because starting over is scary and complicated and messy. And who wants that when you’re old? Hell, who wants that when you’re young?” She takes a sip, holds the bottle out for me, and our fingers brush, and I don’t know, it’s like a zillion bolts flow into me.

“Yeah,” I say, her touch still stunning me.

“So, what about you? What’s your family like?”

“Well, I’m an only child, for one thing.”

She nods. “That explains everything.”

“Hey now!”

“Just saying.”

“Let me guess, you’re a middle kid.”

She turns to look at me, which is not without difficulty considering how close we’re sitting, and our faces nearly touch. “What makes you say that?”

I shrug.

“Whatever, Jack. But you’re right. I have an older sister. Kira. She’s a stylist. And I don’t know exactly how she’s done it, but she has like a million YouTube subscribers. Like, people clamor for her videos. It’s weird, but it’s cool she’s doing her thing.”

“Maybe she could style me,” I say. I smooth the front of my shirt. “I could use some help.”

“I don’t know,” she says. She taps my collar with her finger. “You’re doing okay.”

“Thanks.” I’ve never been happier with doing okay in my life. “So, your younger sister or . . .”

“Brother. The terror.”

“Oh, wow.”

“No, he’s all right. Just hyper.”

“Oh, sometimes I have trouble focusing, too.”

“No, like hypervigilant. He’s forever in everyone’s business, but he specializes in mine.”

I laugh. “Sometimes I wish I had more family. Even if they were annoying, just knowing they were there. I mean, my parents are pretty great. I’m lucky that way. And they’re still crazy for each other in a way that almost seems sick. But sometimes it’s like they want so much for me, they’re planning on me doing all these cool things, and I don’t know, like, I worry about letting them down. I mean, they’ve funneled so much of their energy and love into me, while doing their best not to seriously screw me up, but sometimes I still feel like I’m just a screwup waiting to happen. Uh, wow, I can’t believe I just shared all that.”

“I’m glad you did. And that screwup feeling, Jack? I think that’s called youth.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“The fact that you care so much, that’s good, though. That means you’re gonna try hard to not mess up. But you also gotta leave room for your hopes, your dreams, too.”

“What do you hope for, dream about?”

“Man, I just want to live.”

“Like, live life to the fullest?”

“That too, yeah.” She hesitates.

“What else?”

“I want to be an architect.”

“What made you choose that?”

She smiles. “You’re gonna think it’s really corny.”

“No way.”

“No, you will. And you’ll be right, because it is corny. But . . . I don’t know. Something about the idea of designing something that will be there, still standing, even when you’re long gone. Like, this thing that came from your brain just keeps on being for years and years, for decades, maybe longer, like, somehow that just does it for me.”

“Okay, that’s literally the least corny thing you’ve said all night. I don’t think you understand what corny means. Like at all.”

She laughs, leans into me with her shoulder. “Stop.”

“I’m serious. You’re officially banned from the word.”

“You can’t ban me.”

“Okay, maybe not ban, but we definitely have to impose a moratorium.”

“Oh, do we?”

“Yep, for like two weeks. You can’t use the word corny.”

“Hmm. We’ll see about that.”

“I’m sorry, but the Word Committee has spoken.”

“Well, I’m filing my appeal.”

“Noted. The committee will take it under advisement.”

“Why do I get the feeling this is a committee of one?”

“The committee does not comment on its membership.”

“Huh, why am I not surprised?”

“Strict policy.” I hunch my shoulders, bring the bottle to my lips, but it’s empty.

“You killed that,” she says.

“I had help.”

She shakes her head. “Okay, your turn now.”

“For?”

“What are Jack’s hopes and dreams?”

“Uh-uh, no possible way I can follow after hearing yours.”

“Just try.”

“Okay, uh, let me think.” I clear my throat, clasp my hands. “Let’s see . . . uh, I sorta want to write a book, or several books, I guess.” I laugh because hearing the idea out loud sounds preposterous. Like, if the walls could talk they’d be echoing nevergonnahappen nevergonnahappen.

Except Kate doesn’t flinch. “What kind of books?”

“Uh, fiction, I guess. Maybe young adult books.”

“Why young adult?”

“I’ll tell you, but remember, you can’t say corny, so . . .”

“Just tell me.”

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