Home > Opposite of Always(6)

Opposite of Always(6)
Justin A. Reynolds

I slink back to the room behind him, as he stuffs himself into a three-layer blanket burrito, before collapsing onto my own sleeping bag.

Except I’m not sleepy. At all.

My mind a speedway of competing thoughts.

I nearly call out to Albert, because I want to ask him if he knows Kate—

And if he does, how much does he know about her?

Do I have a chance? The slightest?

I’d be happy with the slightest.

I’m not picky. Slightest hope is still hope.

But I hear a thin wheeze coming from deep within the burrito, so I keep my questions to myself. My pocket hums, a text message, and for a second I imagine it’s Kate, that she wants to see me right now, that she’s waiting outside this dorm, homework and a good night’s rest be damned. But of course it’s not her; she doesn’t have my number.

JILLIAN: Hey, are you asleep?

ME: Nope. You?

JILLIAN: Obviously not LOL what are you doing?

ME: Not sleeping mostly. And thinking.

JILLIAN: About what? Lemme guess. The person you shared that wine with!!!

ME: You think you know me or something

JILLIAN: What’s her name anyway???

I hesitate before replying.

ME: Kate.

JILLIAN: Jack loves Kate, Jack loves Kate

ME: What grade are we in again?

ME: Kindergarten?

JILLIAN: Ha! Just admit you’re in love!

ME: Did you have fun last night?

JILLIAN: Yeah, but I wished you and I got to spend more time together.

ME: You were the belle of the ball.

JILLIAN: Hardly! I kept looking over at you, thinking we should go for a walk or something. When I was about to finally break free from the kitchen, you were preparing to disappear, Houdini.

ME: You know I suck at parties. I’m sorry.

JILLIAN: Don’t be. I’m glad you had a good time.

JILLIAN: And you don’t suck at parties!

ME: You talk to Franny?

JILLIAN: He’s bummed he couldn’t come here with us.

ME: Yeah. He texted me like twenty times. LOL

JILLIAN: Only 20? LOL

ME: A conservative estimate

JILLIAN: Very conservative, I’m sure. Well, I’m getting sleepy now. Thanks for chatting.

ME: Anytime.

JILLIAN: Get some shut-eye, lover boy!! We leave in a few hours!!

ME: Night, J.

JILLIAN: Night, J.

I nearly turn my screen off but instead I tap a blue icon. I hit search, typing in Kate.

Kate what, though? The cursor blinks at me, impatiently. I don’t remember Kate’s last name. Or if I ever knew it in the first place. I search for “Kate” anyway, adding “Whittier University” to narrow the results, but the Facebook gods are not smiling this morning. Kate remains a mystery.

The cherry on top? Albert’s only mildly annoying wheeze turns into a full-on death rattle, and I know that his snoring combined with my worsening case of Kate-on-the-brain, I’m not likely to sleep. I stare at the ceiling, and then out the window, wondering if it’s possible that Kate’s doing the same, looking up at a similarly brown-stained popcorn ceiling, eyeing the same sky and early morning sun, thinking about me.

And I’m not sure when I finally close my eyes.

I’m not sure about anything.

“Wake up,” someone is chanting over me. I attempt to crack open an eyelid, but my eye muscles aren’t cooperating. They want more sleep, too.

“Come on, Jack,” Jillian says. She unzips my sleeping bag. “We’ve got to get on the road. You know my mom is weird about me driving in the dark.”

“What time is it?” I ask, eyes still closed.

“Two.”

“In the freaking morning?” As soon as I ask I realize it doesn’t make sense, but I’m suffering from just-woke-up disorientation.

“Uh, try the afternoon. Ha, I don’t think you even left the party before two.”

“Where’s Albert?” I glance over at the avalanche of blankets on the floor beside his bed.

“Probably somewhere being a functioning human being.”

“Ugh, my body hurts everywhere.”

“As it should, lover boy. Listen, jump in the shower, because you smell like a boy, plus you need to wake up. If we hurry we’ll have time to grab food from the student center and gas up before we hit the highway for home.”

My vision is still blurry around the edges, Jillian hovering over me like a midafternoon angel, her necklace pendant swinging back and forth just above my chin, a silver palm tree I got her for her birthday last year. No one loves the beach more than you. Now you’ll always have it with you, I’d said, watching her unwrap the slender box. She’d made a weird face. A face I hadn’t seen before, which was strange because I was certain that I’d seen all her faces. Total cheesiness, right, I’d said, embarrassed and unable to meet her eyes. But she’d planted the softest kiss on my cheek. The exact opposite of cheesy, she’d said.

“But we can’t leave yet. I have something I need to do.”

“Sorry, Charlie. No time.”

“I promise I’ll be quick.”

Jillian grins with her entire face. “Jack, us girls don’t like that sorta thing quick.”

“You’re sick,” I say. I swing my pillow at her, but she ducks, and it sails harmlessly across the room.

“Shower, Jack,” she barks, hopping to her feet. “And maybe, just maybe, we have a few minutes to stalk your new girlfriend.”

I’ve never showered quicker in my life.

Okay, maybe that’s not true.

But I’ve never showered with purpose quicker in my life.

“So how do we even find this Kate person?” Jillian says. We’re standing in the quad—at least I think this is the quad. In any case, we’re standing in a busy part of campus. Which seems odd for a Sunday. But what do I know about end-of-the-weekend college life?

Kids blanket the lawn, reading on tablets, a few holding actual books, a handful talking into their phones. A Frisbee’s whipping back and forth between two guys. A girl effortlessly executes a series of somersaults, and her friends eagerly applaud.

“I know the building if I see it,” I tell Jillian. “It has glass and stone. Oh, and a front door.”

Jillian slaps her head. “I thought you walked her home.”

“I did.”

“And you don’t remember her dorm?”

“I had other things on my mind.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

I shrug.

She winks. “So, what then?”

“I was not thinking about . . . that!”

“You can’t even say the word. Oh my God, Jack! I can’t believe you didn’t at least get her number.”

“Preaching to the choir,” I say. And then it hits me. “Hawthorne.”

“What?”

“That’s the name of her dorm . . . I think.”

Jillian studies the campus trifold map. “Sorry, kid, but there’s no Hawthorne.”

“Damn it,” I say, just as the Frisbee zips astray and lands at my feet. The Frisbee-ers yell for me to toss it back. I fling it with as much finesse as I can conjure, and then watch as it sails a good twenty yards over their heads.

“Gee, thanks, man,” one of the guys says.

But even my Frisbee ineptitude matters not, because all I want is to see Kate.

Jillian wraps her arm around my shoulders. “But there is a Hawkthorne.”

“You’re screwing with me, right? Please tell me you’re not screwing with me.”

“I do love to give you a hard time,” she says, grinning. “But that would be the worst joke ever.”

“I love you.” I kiss her on her cheek. “I love you so hard.” I snatch the map from her hands and sprint across what I think is the quad.

“Hey,” Jillian calls after me. “Maybe don’t leave your ride behind!”

But I’m already tearing toward Hawkthorne dormitory.

Naturally, when I get there, Kate’s nowhere to be found. “Out for the day studying,” her roommate informs me.

“Any idea where?” I ask.

She’s already replacing her headphones. “No clue.”

But then I hear my name.

“Jack, what are you doing here?” It’s Kate. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Her black hair is pulled back, a few curls dangle near her temples. She’s perfect.

My throat clenches. “Looking—looking for you,” I stammer.

“Figured you’d be back in the township by now,” she says, smiling.

“I wanted to say goodbye. To you. And. To. Tell you. How. Much. I. Last night was . . . super. Uh, great, I mean. It was super and great. It was super great. And I wanted to give you my info. If that’s okay?”

She walks into her room, returns with pen and paper.

“I could just text it to you. If you give me your number.”

Kate grins. “Pretty smooth, Jack. I bet the township ladies love you.”

I laugh. “Pretty much the opposite.”

“Well, I prefer pen and paper. Something about words on actual paper. There’s a romance to it.”

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