Home > Opposite of Always(7)

Opposite of Always(7)
Justin A. Reynolds

I nod, because I like paper too. Especially the kind that makes Kate say romance. “Keeping it old-school, I likey,” I say for no apparent reason other than to make myself look stupid. She laughs, and I have to assume at me.

I scribble my number and email.

She takes it and smiles. “Well, I’m glad you stopped by. It’ll be cool to see you next year around campus. Maybe we’ll grab some more random cereal.”

“I’d like that.”

“Me too.”

And I must make a face, because she adds, “What are you thinking?”

“Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

“Next year’s far away.”

For a few seconds we’re silent until Kate’s roommate, headphones out and draped around her neck, giggles. And then Kate’s giggling, and I figure that’s my cue to leave. I wave weakly and turn for the exit, wishing I had some cool parting wisdom for her. Something like remember, Kate, don’t be afraid to take chances. But I’ve got nothing, and then it dawns on me that I didn’t write my name on the paper. What if she forgets whose info she has and throws it away? What if she wants to call me, or email me, but decides against it because she can’t remember my name? (Okay, I admit the second of those questions is less plausible, but still.)

I pivot slowly. “Hey, I think I forgot to write my name—”

But Kate holds up her notebook. She’s already written my name and even doodled a marquee around it. My name, in one-dimensional flashing lights. On Kate’s notebook. In Kate’s hands. Which incidentally are, in this moment, inches from her heart.

She leans against her door. “Drive safe, Jack Attack.”

My cheeks warm, I nod, and then dedicate every ounce of my concentration to walking away without tripping.

Jillian’s parked in front of Hawkthorne. I slip into the passenger seat, but she stops my hand before I can fasten my seat belt.

“No way,” she says. “After deserting me, at least tell me it was worth it.”

But it’s like I’m in a trance. Or a powerful tractor beam that has my lips hermetically sealed and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

“Hello, paging Jack King,” Jillian says. “How’d it go, man?”

I’m buzzing. Were I standing on the coastline, ships could use me to avoid running into rocks, that’s how bright I feel.

“It went,” I answer. “It definitely went.”

Doesn’t even matter where.

On the ride home Jillian is all about Whittier—

How she can’t wait for high school to end and for us to start our new college lives.

How she knows we’re about to embark on the most important chapter. Our formative years, she keeps saying.

How she’s so happy that we’re going there together.

How she can’t imagine going with anyone else. I almost ask, What about your boyfriend, and my best friend, Franny? But I’m caught up in the Whittier euphoria too, so I let her continue on her passionate discourse, uninterrupted.

But then Franny comes up anyway.

“I feel sorry for him. That he didn’t make it in,” Jillian says. “Ever since he transferred to Elytown with us, he’s worked so hard to get his grades up. He deserves a shot.”

And she’s right. Sometimes I forget how hard Franny has worked. Is still working. Before Jillian started picking him up, he spent forty minutes on the city bus, one way, just to get to school. It’s crazy how you can live less than ten miles apart, and everything—the schools, the houses, even the grocery stores—can be different worlds. For the past four years, Franny has moved between both.

“It sucks. I mean, there’s still a chance he gets in, though.”

“A small chance.”

“Well, State is still a good school. Plus, they have a far superior sports program, which I know he’s geeked about. Not to mention we’ll be living within ten miles of each other, so our trio lives on.”

“Right,” Jillian says. But I sense something else is bothering her.

“You okay?” I ask.

“Things are changing fast, I guess. I mean, look at you this weekend. Hooking up with a college girl already.”

“We didn’t hook up.”

“It’s just strange. Like, what else is going to be different? It’s crazy how all the things you think you know, the things you think are certain, turn out to be not so much.”

“Uh, what are we talking about here? Specifically?”

Jillian fiddles with buttons on the steering wheel. “So, are you going to call her later?”

“Call who?” I say.

Jillian shoots me a look.

“I don’t exactly have her number.” I glance out the window in time to see a family of deer flash out of a patch of trees. “Besides, even if I did, I don’t want to seem desperate.”

Jillian laughs. “Aren’t you?”

“Hey!”

“I’m teasing. You don’t realize it, but there are plenty of girls at Elytown who would pay to jump your bones.”

I laugh. “Unless you mean literally jump over my rotting bones, you’re right. I don’t realize it.”

But her face doesn’t crack and she keeps staring straight ahead at the road. “Well, it’s true. You just never gave them a chance.”

And I don’t know what to say to this, because Jillian knows that that’s not true. She knows this more than anyone. She knows because I’ve told her, because she’s had a front-row seat to Jack’s Heartbreak for the last three years. Heck, she’s had a backstage pass, too. How many times have I confessed to her how lonely I’ve felt—and now she’s pretending that I’m Casanova in disguise. What gives? Sure, I’ve had a couple of girlfriends, but nothing that lasted. I was too busy wanting someone who I couldn’t have. Who never wanted me back.

“It’s like you don’t realize how great you are, Jack. Because you are. You’re smart and funny and corny, but in a non-annoying, mostly endearing way.”

“‘Endearing’? That sounds like a great-grandmother compliment. Gee, Jack, you’re so mostly endearing.”

“I’m being serious here. Can’t you ever just be serious for one goddamn minute?”

“Whoa,” I say. I throw up my hands in surrender. “What’s happening right now?”

She reaches up to adjust her rearview mirror. “Nothing,” Jillian says. “Nothing at all.”

“Is this about Kate?”

She scoffs. “Do you even know her last name?”

She turns up the radio. I almost turn it back down, but I stop myself, because I’m not sure why she’s upset, how the conversation turned so quickly. One moment we’re planning our collegiate lives together, and the next she can’t even look at me. And for a split second I let my mind drift there—

But I sweep the thought aside, because if a planet where Jillian likes Jack like that exists, humans have yet to set foot on it.

I lean into my seat, try to lose myself in the music, in the road streaming by. Jillian’s foot is heavier than usual, and we make great time.

I retrieve my bag from the back seat. “See you in the morning,” I say.

“Right,” she says. She already has the car in reverse before I can shut the door. “Back to our fabulous high school lives.”

“Text me and let me know you made it home safely.”

She nods and backs out of the driveway.

I barely have my key in the door before my parents yank me into the house and blister me with questions. When I’ve finally satisfied them, and munched on Mom’s dinner, I settle into my bed and unlock my phone. There’s a message from Franny—Welcome back, man—but no one else.

Thanks, bro, I reply. Good to be back.

A part of me feels bad for Franny, maybe even guilty, and I don’t entirely understand those feelings because I haven’t done anything wrong. Not exactly, anyway. Maybe I had been contemplating it. You know, the whole confess my undying love to Jillian thing. But I hadn’t followed through. And lack of bad-idea-follow-through counts for something, right?

I open my text string with Jillian and start typing.

ME: Hey, you made it home okay, J??

A second later I see those three dots like she’s typing me a message back, but in the end, nothing. She never replies.

And who knows—maybe her silence says everything.

Overthinking Overthinking

I spend the next three days waiting for a text, an email, a call from Kate, anything. I refresh my email (just junk), send a few test texts to make sure my phone is working (it is), check the ancient house phone caller ID even though there’s no way Kate has our house number (I don’t even know it), but nothing. Whoever said silence is deafening must’ve been waiting for Kate to contact him, too.

And the extra layer of icing spread thick atop my Loser City cake?

Jillian’s award-winning, one-woman I’m super annoyed with Jack show is still playing in theaters everywhere. And there appears to be no end in sight.

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