***Hey all! Sorry I haven’t posted for so long! No one is more disappointed than I that I’ve stopped writing anything, even my book! But I’m slowly getting back into it and since I missed out on so much these past couple of months since I’m supposed to be writing about things in real time it took me forever to write this post. It’s soooooo long (over 11,500 words!! I always aim for 500-1000 words so this is the longest post I’ve ever written!!) and I didn’t want to cut it up and post it separately so here you have it in one lump sum! I hope you enjoy! Soul xo***
The week of Mother’s Day the whole town was covered in pink. Pink intertwined lamp posts, businesses decorated their shops with pink, and florists only displayed pink flowers and kept the colourful ones inside. I thought everyone was going mad (or I was) because I couldn’t understand what was going on until I was sitting with the girls having the usual breakfast.
“I guess I should’ve known,” I said. “How could I not figure it out?”
Lucy shrugged. “A lot of people forget.”
“What are you talking about?” Katya said. “We literally have a week long daily reminder.”
“Have you guys ever thought about changing this ritual to a daily lunch?” I asked, my eyes heavy and concealed behind dark sunglasses.
Katya shrugged. “Never thought about it.”
“Yeah,” Lucy added, “we’ve been doing this for so long we’ve become accustomed.”
“We used to be like you,” Lucy pointed at me.
“Accept add drool and you’d be identical to Lucy.”
“It was one time, dude!” Lucy rolled her eyes and Katya laughed. “God you’re like an elephant!”
“Apparently memory is a detestable thing,” Katya said to me.
Lucy shook her head. “Nope, it’s the size.”
That woke me up. I thought Katya would be horrified and lash out but she just laughed it off with Lucy. It was refreshing that a simple shit-talking relationship wouldn’t have girls admonishing each other over an itchy comment, but I guess it all depends on who your friends are. I mean, I don’t see that kind of interaction flying between Katya and Jasper’s girlfriend, Julie.
“So,” Katya slapped her hands together, “Mother’s Day, what’s everyone doing?”
“I’m most likely getting drunk,” Lucy said.
“You?” Katya pointed her shellac fingernail at me.
I shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I never know what to get my mother. She’s too picky,” Katya said, scrunching her nose.
“I can help.” Lucy offered.
“Ugh that would be great. What about you, Anna? You need help?”
“Oh, no, I’ll just find something on my own, I guess.”
“Flowers are in these days,” Lucy noted.
“They’ve never been out,” Katya shook her head.
“No, they’re in on Valentine’s Day, much more so than any other day, hardly on birthdays, but Mother’s and Father’s Day, presents are in and all.”
“I highly disagree…”
I was glad the discussion had diverted away from me and gone onto a debate about when flowers are “in” and the appropriateness of which to use on what occasion (funeral flowers was a dark talk). We’d somehow delved into history and thank God for free Wi-Fi in this diner otherwise we would’ve toasted our services. I guess I didn’t have the heart to tell these girls that I haven’t spoken to my mother and her hubby in a long, long time. Even though we were friends, we were still fresh, everything was still light and bubbly and more often than not superficial. The nitty and gritty will come later, for me at least. I didn’t want them to think I was a bitch for not talking to my mother, or being there for the birth of her son and my step-brother, much less seeing him at all. I didn’t open any emails regarding anyone as if they were a separate family, as if they were those relatives everyone has in their family that no one speaks to. Every time I think of the distance and the time away—or lost—I feel as if Prometheus’s crow were pecking away at my core, paining me to the point where I’d forget why I was in pain only for me to remember the faraway distance and time again. The only antidote is for me to kill time and distance but murder has never been my strong suit.
It’s a simple phone call you know?
Yup. I know.
Soooo….what’s the problem?
I don’t know.
Pick up the phone.
Pick up the phone.
My heart thumped in my chest as I sat in my living room and reached for my cell and dialled my mother. I don’t remember the last time we spoke but something tells me we—or, I should say, I—didn’t leave it on a good note. The longer the phone rang out the more my heart pounded.
“Hi honey!” she beamed.
“Oh, hi mom.” I don’t know why I sounded confused, it’s not like I wasn’t expecting her to answer the phone.
“How are you, sweetie?”
I smiled. “I’m good. I’m good. And you?”
“Oh, everything’s good.”
“How is everything?”
“Everything’s good, everything’s good.”
I chuckled. “I mean, how is Joe and—” I breathed in deeply and exhaled.
“Evan is good. He’s adorable and healthy and all the things I mother wants for her children.”
“Yeah,” I looked down, “good, good. Good.”
“So anything new?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess a lot. I moved to a small town.”
“Wow,” she breathed. “I wish I’d known.”
“I wish I’d known a lot of things, too,” I jabbed.
“I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so, so sorry.”
I’d always presumed I’d be rightly mad that she’d kept my father’s death a secret from me. That something so despicable couldn’t be cured by forgiveness or time. What bothered me more is that she never defended herself as I expected her to do. I wanted her to brush me with excuses so I could angrily fight back. But no, she’d always say she was sorry. Always. Different perspectives have never offered me insight as to why until now. As I sat here, in my new room, in my new house, I pondered my visits with my father; my contact with him; how much I had put into our relationship, and it was shamefully slim. So much so that when he died and I didn’t know about it, I had no one to blame but myself, but couldn’t. Hence, my mother willingly taking on the role of scapegoat. She never tried convincing me that I had it all wrong, that it wasn’t her fault; she just took the beating and carried on. I wasn’t fair to her; I should’ve been better.
I gulped. “I’m sorry, too.” For everything. Only silence followed, with the slight crackling of the phone as she gripped it tighter. That was response enough. I cleared my throat. “I want to meet Evan.”
“Oh, nothing would make me happier,” she sniffed, a slight rustle of a tissue. “No rush. Whenever you can.”
“Okay,” she chuckled.
“I love you, mom. Happy Mother’s Day.”
“You’ve given me the best present ever, sweetie. I love you, too.”
I was doing my nightly skincare routine of exfoliation, toner, clarifying lotion, essence, serum and moisturiser earlier than usual. My addiction to skincare is lesser than my addiction to makeup in that I actually use the skincare I buy way more often than makeup, but that’s a whole other story. The fact that I use 6-to-8 skincare items on any given day\night is mainly because of my obsession with Clinique, Kora, and Koreans. Well, the Japanese and Koreans. I love cultures who consider skincare like a ritual or a 10,000-year-old tradition. Asian beauty standards are so simple and refined yet a lot of other times creative, Western beauty standards are creative and blended to oblivion but sometimes I don’t want to beat my face like NikkieTutorials even though I can’t stop watching her. Lately I’ve been watching Violette_fr, a French woman who is the Global Beauty Director for Estee Lauder, on YouTube; she was playing in the background through mid-moisturiser application, and my will to play with my makeup and do looks like her or Pony Makeup, when the doorbell rang. I seem to be interrupted by the doorbell a lot, but this is the first at night.
“Told you she was home,” one of them mumbled.
“Anna, it’s me and Katya, open up!”
I opened the door. “Are you two on the run?”
Katya laughed and Lucy rolled her eyes. “Katya kept saying you’d know, but I didn’t think you’d know because you’re new and new people usually don’t know and lo and behold, you don’t know and—”
“Okay, the unknown is officially freaking me out right now,” I said, raising my hands and bracing myself for someone to pop up out of the bushes.
Lucy shook her head. “There’s a town meeting happening.”
I paused and furrowed my brows. “Meaning?”
“Why is your face glistening?” Katya asked.
I rushed to the mirror in the entryway and the girls followed in. “Ah, shit, I think I put too much on.” I started wiping at my face but it wasn’t having at it.
Katya put her hand on my shoulder. “Blot darling, blot.”
I went to the living room and plucked two tissues and dabbed away. I felt so extra.
“So are you coming?” Lucy asked.
“To the meeting.”
“Oh,” I thought, “I don’t know,” I shook my head and scrunched my nose, “I don’t see why I have to go.”
“Well, Lucy goes because she owns the hair salon. I sometimes go because I like to give a hard time to a lot of people there.”
Lucy rolled her eyes and shook her head disapprovingly. “She doesn’t always make fun.”
“You should come. A lot of townspeople go and not just entrepreneurs.”
“It’s sort of like a collective awakening.”
Katya furrowed her brows. “Except without the orgy insinuation.”
“Are you sure I’m allowed to go?” I asked.
“Totally, unless you and—” Lucy squinted at my laptop— “Violette want some alone time.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled. “Yup, yup, okay. I’ll be five seconds.”
Katya’s countdown faded into the background along with Violette’s voice as I ran upstairs to get changed. I’d already prepared to spend the rest of the night in my pyjamas I didn’t realise a town meeting was in the cards.
Thirty minutes later and we were walking down Main Street on our way to the town meeting. Lucy was filling me in on the regular attendees including the third wheelers. Generally it’s permitted to have other people who aren’t entrepreneurs to tag along until there’s no room, but apparently that hardly ever happens, the extras I mean. A member of the town’s council is to hold the meeting and it’s the same guy every time. He’s the liaison between the people and the council. A man named Ted.
“He’s super nice but has a way of placing blame anyone but himself.”
“Not that anything’s his fault as he so kindly reminds us constantly,” Katya added, rolling her eyes and reminiscing over what could only be a thick dossier of memories.
“Oh!” Lucy clutched my arm. “Did I tell you I bought an Instax camera?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Totally cute,” Katya said.
“It’s a camera that prints out instant Polaroids. I love it. I’m going nuts over it. Actually,” she mused, placing a finger over her mouth, “I should’ve brought it with me tonight. We could’ve gotten in some good shots.”
Katya nudged Lucy at the elbow. “Especially if Ted got agitated.”
“True,” Lucy agreed, “capturing those candid moments are honestly priceless.”
I laughed with them as I began to notice people folding into the same spacious building. But there were two people my eyes zeroed in on in particular.
“Oh, hey guys!” Lucy waved Julie and Jasper down. They stopped in their tracks and turned. Jasper turned first and Julie was still angled away from us and towards the building looking like she needed a little more convincing. I swear I even saw her roll her eyes.
“Hey Lucy, hey Katya,” he leaned in to hug the both of them and didn’t even acknowledge me. I felt awkward for a moment until Lucy mentioned me. “Yeah, of course I remember, Anna,” he laughed and nodded, his hands deep in his pockets they practically were about to peek out from underneath the hem of his pants. No hug for me but I guess I could understand why. Maybe not.
“How’s the mothership, Julie?” Katya asked.
Julie squinted and smirked, unimpressed. “I’m just busy all the time. Small towns seem to have big issues lately.”
“Oh, what? Someone’s sprained their ankle on the curb?” She pointed to Lucy. “I think Martha did that last week. I’ve been meaning to ask—” she looked at Julie— “how is Martha?” Lucy and Katya broke into a childlike giggle.
Julie sighed. “Some of us have more important things to do than running a hair salon.”
Katya scoffed. “What do you badger the witnesses too?”
“Ladies, ladies, all in good form, eh?” Jasper ushered, trying to keep the peace.
Katya drew an infinite symbol across her chest. “Scouts honour.”
“I’ll meet you inside,” Julie said to Jasper.
“Yeah always a pleasure Colonel Jessup,” Katya saluted.
Lucy chuckled. “Wait, where’s that from?”
“A Few Good Men.”
“Oh, right, good one…”
Their voices faded as they walked away, unbeknownst to them that I wasn’t following.
“Hey, so, I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” I brushed away the strands of hair falling around my face.
“Oh, yeah?” Jasper smiled.
“Yeah,” I breathed an awkward chuckle, “so, umm, the other night, that was an accident. I didn’t know you were with someone and I thought it was just—” I shrugged— “harmless fun.”
He furrowed his brows, his expression stern. “Hmm what do you mean?”
“I mean to say I’m sorry, I was so careless,” I chuckled again; nothing was funny.
“Mmmm,” he mused, squinting into the distance, “nope, don’t know what you’re talking about. Refresh my memory?”
“Umm, the kiss,” I said, confusedly, as in his reaction was confusing the fuck out of me.
“Mmmm,” he mused again, “nope,” he shook his head. “Don’t remember any kisses.”
“At the party. It was like my first week here. I was drunk and saw a guy i.e. you and kissed you. Katya and Lucy didn’t notice me let alone warn me.”
He sighed. “I don’t know, maybe you have me confused with someone else.”
“What?” I’m seriously going insane right now. “Are you serious?”
“Maybe it wasn’t a memorable kiss,” he grinned, biting his bottom lip and enjoying seeing the shock on my face.
“Umm, I’m pretty sure it was a pretty good kiss.” His lips drew wider. “I mean,” I shrugged, “it wasn’t bad.”
“Not sure I even saw you there, Anna.”
“Twilight Zone, anyone?” I mumbled. I had nothing else.
He leaned over. “A little advice: next time you go to a party where it’s outdoors on dirt, 3-inch designers might not be the best shoes to wear.” He winked.
As he walked away, I was so agitated that he put me through that run-around that it took me a minute or two to shake the freeze off and find my spot in the building with the girls. Oh and guess where we were seated? Right behind yours truly. Yay life.
“…now, moving on to Memorial Day Weekend,” Ted started. “I know everyone is keen to go home but please spare just a few more minutes. It’s my duty to remind everyone that the church bells will be ringing every hour on the hour for Memorial Day Weekend to honour those that sacrificed their lives for the greater good of the American people. Now, we wanted to add a little more sentiment to those days that we’ve decided to ask everyone to have candles burning at the window of their homes and perhaps businesses. In colonial times candles by the window signified warmth and evoked a family homey life, it represents comfort and hope, and it was especially lit for members of the family that were away and so the members of the council thought it a great idea. As you all leave you will be handed a pamphlet on all the fire safety and hazards to keep yourselves from harm. Now, next order of business,” people shifted in their seats and uttered sounds only disgruntled, impatient people make, “oh now, please, don’t groan, the pressure to go faster only makes me go slower. Now, moving on….”
“Twizzler?” Katya asked, whipping one out of a paper bag I thought was reserved for alcohol.
“Nah, I’m good,” I said.
“Dude,” she pushed one at my face, “have one.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, taking the red twisty and thinking that I was offending her when I declined.
“Shh! You’re chewing loudly,” Jasper turned around to hush me. “We’re trying to listen to something very important, or Julie is and she’s going to relay it to me later.”
“Twizzler?” Katya whipped out another one.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Jasper chuckled. I rolled my eyes, he thinks he’s so cool and funny. He’s not. He’s annoying.
Julie leaned into Jasper. “Do you know how many calories and how much sugar that has?”
“Wait a minute,” he said sternly, “this has sugar in it? Is the red even real? What is the meaning of life!?” He sank back in his chair and bit off an inch.
Ted scoffed. “Please, can we have some peace and quiet, we’re nearly finished.”
“Sorry, Ted,” Jasper shouted, “we just got caught up with the new girl back here.”
“The new girl?” he asked, bobbing his head up to see me.
“Oh shit,” I muttered.
“Hi, girly!” a stocky woman in her 40s waved. “How ya doin’ love?”
I smiled, painfully. “Fine.”
“I was the second one to meet her,” Ricky said.
“Where?” someone asked.
“In my shop,” Lucy chimed in. I shot her a sad look and she shrugged and mimed ‘sorry’.
“What’s she like?” stocky 40s asked Ricky.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please, let’s focus on the task at hand,” Ted begged.
“This town’s curiosity is getting the better of them, Ted,” Jasper said. “I think there’s only one way to get things back on track.”
“Oh, yes, well, young lady—” he pointed at me— “what is your name again?”
“A—Anna,” I stuttered.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Anna to the podium,” he clapped, sending a round of applause.
“Wha—What!? No!” I shook my head, absolutely mortified by the storm of attention. They can’t possibly do this to all the new people that arrive in town! I squirmed in my seat. “That won’t be necessary.”
“It isn’t,” Ted agreed. “But this town has a way of convincing me to play at their will and when Jasper told me before to get the new girl up on the podium and get it over and done with I didn’t listen, and now I know why.”
Lucy leaned in and whispered. “See how he subtly blames the town?”
I couldn’t hear above the flames of my burning hatred towards Jasper. He was laughing and I narrowed my eyes onto him hoping he’d stop once he saw my angry face. Nope, it just made him laugh more. Julie on the other hand crossed her arms over her chest and tightened her lips, shaking her head at me like I orchestrated this with Jasper.
“H-Hi,” I said at the podium in front of everyone. “My name is, uhh, Anna.” The response was quiet. Dead silent. I could’ve heard a pin drop, no wait, that’s my dignity thudding against the floor, BADONG! “Okay,” I nodded and smiled, ready to hop off.
“What do you do, sugar?” I heard a woman ask.
“Oh, I’m a writer.” People shifted in their seats and ohh’d.
“Now that we’ve seen the new girl—” Ted lowered his voice— “sorry, dear, we never ever do this with newcomers but people are suddenly obsessed with the new girl.”
“We can hear you, Ted,” Jasper said, locking his hands and putting them around his neck.
“Alright, Jasper, you had your fun—” Ted said. I shot Jasper a mean look and he laughed— “Now can we please get back to the issues at hand?”
“Yeah, everybody pipe down before Ted has a conniption,” one woman said.
I sat back down in my chair like a petulant child having been humiliated in front of her whole class. At least I’m introduced to the whole town. Thatta girl, bright side, always look on the bright side.
Mother’s Day was the one day I didn’t get any emails or letters from work or friends. People were definitely occupied with their time and it was almost like the one day off for me. I was so grateful for that fact because I didn’t have much written down other than the town meeting and the freak show it turned into, me being the freak, Jasper being the ringleader.
The girls told me about a mechanic to take my car to and I was even more intrigued when I found out it was Jasper’s brother who ran the joint and their father who owned it. I’d come to know that the only reason Jasper came back to town was because his father was sick. Still is, in fact. Bed ridden. That tiny little titbit softened my cold exterior to Jasper ever so slightly. Beneath that playful devilish demeanour there lied a grown man who gave up his life in another city for his father.
As I approached the desk I expected to see an exact replica of Jasper. Tall, handsome, dark, coiffed hair, smells just as good as he looks. What I saw was the exact opposite. It appeared the birth of Jasper came way later?
“Hi, Nathan?” I asked, gesturing for a hand to shake.
The man with bottle glasses shook his head and smiled a toothy, adorable smile. “Oh, no,” he chuckled. “I’ll get him for you, sweetie.”
Those types of nicknames for me were a common occurrence in this town. Sweetie, honey, sugar, the list goes on; so far gone it’s about to make me abstain from any type of soluble carbohydrates. I’d be disappointed for the chocolate division I was their key consumer.
“Hi, I’m Nate—” He popped out from around the corner and looked dirty, in a good way— “and you must be Anna.”
“I am,” I nodded.
“I’d shake your hand but, as you can see…” he removed the cloth and held up hands half covered in miscellaneous grime and dust.
“Well, then I should say thank you.”
Nate chuckled. “So, your car?” He pointed.
“Yeah, it’s due in for a check-up.”
“As most babies are,” he joked and I laughed.
“Well—” he did a superficial check, bobbing his head this way and that— “I can call you and let you know when it’s ready, but it doesn’t look like it’s desperate for a re-working so your bank account should be fine.”
“That’s exactly what I like to hear, thank you,” I smiled.
“Going anywhere special?” he asked as we walked to the reception area, that consisted of a high desk right next to cars propped on stilts.
“I mean to ask if you needed the car for any particular day.”
I shook my head. “Nope. You can pretty much get anywhere in this town with a few steps.”
“That is true. So how are you liking it so far?” He leaned in, using his elbow to prop himself over the desk casually.
Oh, small talk. “It’s great. I’m surprised I’ve never been to a small town before, it’s not what I expected.”
“Hopefully not deadbeat hicks?”
I pretended to muse. “Mmmmm, nope, none that I know of.” We laughed at my lame joke when someone called out something in the distance.
Nate’s smile dropped and he straightened himself upright. “Hey, Jasper.”
“Hey little brother.” He glanced my way and then back at Nate. “Oh, I’m sorry, am I interrupting a merging of the hearts?” He laughed.
Nate and I squirmed, not knowing what to do about a man who seemed to get off on making people (or just me) uncomfortable.
“Don’t mind Jasper,” Nate finally said.
“Yeah, don’t mind me. I’m only the other, disappointing, brother.”
Nate turned to Jasper. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” His jaw ticked and Jasper smiled as they squared off, the tension suffocating and making me feel like we were under ten cars.
“That’s fine,” I said. “I should be going anyway.”
“Aww, missed ya chance there buddy,” Jasper chuckled. Nate rolled his eyes, stone cold, and his sharp jawline still ticked.
“I’ll see you later,” I said to Nate and ignoring Jasper.
“Yeah, see ya.”
I decided before going home and getting some real work done I’d stop by the town’s bookstore. It was an amazingly serene walk from the mechanic’s to the bookstore and I’m almost convinced there’s some sort of witchy charm to this town it’s hypnotic. Or maybe it was because I was new. Either way, I was already falling in love with this place.
The bookstore was sized modestly and was run by a man who looked and dressed like an extra in Harry Potter. He left me to my own devices and I began wandering around aimlessly, seeing if anything would catch my eye. I must’ve spent hours in there that I didn’t notice anyone coming or going.
“Here, deary,” the old man waddled over with a styrofoam cup of coffee, “you look like you’re going to be in here for the long haul.” He laughed throatily.
“Aw, thank you so much!” I said. He was so sweet that I didn’t even care I was drinking something I didn’t like, the thought and gesture alone were so kind. That’s it. I’m done. I’m living here forever.
I turned the corner and felt a presence following behind me. “You’re lucky,” Jasper said, leaning against the bookcase. “That never happens to me.”
I narrowed my eyes. “And you wonder why?” I took a sip.
He grinned. “What book are you looking for?”
“You wouldn’t know.”
“And why not?” he asked, walking behind me.
“Wouldn’t be your thing.”
He chuckled. “You think you know me so well.”
I turned around. “Do you hate me or something?”
“Do you have some sort of vendetta against me? Some score to settle? Perhaps on a witch hunt for your girlfriend?”
“Never you mind about my girlfriend.”
“Now there’s a thought. I’m surprised you mind at all.” I paused. “Why are you even with her?” He only sighed in response so I turned back around.
He moved closer, I could practically feel his face by the curtain of my hair. “That kiss that I don’t remember, I liked it.” I remained quiet. He sighed and pulled back. “He likes you, you know.”
“My brother. I don’t think you deserve him.”
I put a hand on my hip. Here come the insults. “Oh?”
He nodded. “Yeah, you’re better than that.”
I stopped my animosity in its tracks, but broke into a cackle. “The fact that you think you know me at all is laughable.” I turned back to the bookcase and grabbed a book, hoping he didn’t see I completely turned his compliment upside down and inadvertently deprecated myself.
“I bet I have you all figured out,” he shrugged, impressed with himself.
I slapped the book I was going to buy across his chest. “I don’t.”
He held Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man as I turned away feeling like Julia Stiles with the Feminine Mystique, hoping this time he wouldn’t follow me out. I got my wish.
I was feeling a little restless that night. The town was quiet despite it hustling and bustling during the day. Either people were itching to get last minute gifts or that’s just the way the cookie crumbles here (yes, I really did use that line!). I decided to take a walk during the night, and when I mean night, I mean at the dead of night. No one was around and nothing was on except lampposts to mark your way. I would’ve been a little wary in a big city but I felt calm here.
I went around the town square a couple of times before growing some balls and taking on a different path that wasn’t in a hoop. It led me to a place I didn’t know this town had. A woodsy area with slim lighting; it was just dimming the deeper I got until I saw a large gazeebo that housed a light that lit the lake occupying the area. When I got closer to the lake I practically nearly shat myself with fear as I saw a figure standing motionless across the bridge at a point where the lake thinned. I wanted to run but oddly enough I didn’t want to offend the person there just in case they were totally normal. Ain’t that strange? Here I am, in the middle of the woods standing a few feet away from a complete stranger who for all intents and purposes could be a serial killer, and I’m considering their delicate sensibilities. My epitaph would read: manners: high; brains: none.
The dark figure began to emerge from the darkness and my knees started to buckle and my fingers stretched out and froze with panic. He came closer, and closer, and closer until…the hunched old man wearing a black suit and a hat shuffled past me with his hands behind his back. I felt like an asshole. I felt like I interrupted something. I stayed long after he’d left, and suddenly, it seemed darker and I didn’t know which way was back home.
I climbed the gazeebo and phoned Lucy a million times to no avail. I didn’t have anyone else’s phone number besides Katya’s and now the mechanic (for which I’m sure was closed at a time like this) so I hoped Katya would answer, otherwise, I’d be sleeping here tonight. And I really don’t want to sleep here.
“Mmmmm,” Katya groaned.
“Katya, it’s me.”
“Whoever this is I’m going to kill you for waking me up,” she whined in a mumbling monotone.
“Sorry, but I’m stranded.”
“Who is this?”
“Anna. I got to a lake with a gazeebo and I have no idea how to get back.”
“Come pick me up, please?”
“Naaaawwwww,” she groaned again.
I laughed. “Oh come on! Are you really going to leave me stranded here?”
“I’ll give you the number of Nate and he’ll come pick you up.”
“I don’t think you can afford to be picky in this situation, dude.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. What’s his number?”
I hung up with Katya and quickly dialled for Nate.
“Hello?” He answered. He didn’t sound asleep which is good, just confused.
“Hey, I’m so, so, sorry to be calling so late, but it’s Anna and I’m stranded at some gazeebo place by the lake and an old man sort of freaked me out and I have no idea how to get home,” I chuckled awkwardly. “I’m completely lost. I mean, it’s a fine night but I want to get come eventually so can you do me a huge favour and please come get me.” God, I sounded so desperate and regretted the words the instant they popped out of my mouth. “I can make it up to you.” I tried sweetening the deal. I know, low point.
He chuckled. “Yeah, I think I know where you are. I’ll be there soon.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” I sighed in relief.
I can’t say sitting here waiting all by my lonesome was bad. Knowing that someone was coming actually gave me a little comfort and allowed me to focus on the finer things, including the fact that this gazeebo light was way too bright and sort of ruined the integrity of a portion the lake. It’s like it was battling with the moonlight for attention. Other than that though, I started to note lilies and a walk bridge out onto the lake where a larger gazeebo was. There was a little boat docked and beyond I could only faintly make out gigantic trees, its leaves pronounced and shaking against the breeze creating a tranquil sound.
I was lost in the whole ambience of the night that I didn’t notice any footsteps of approaching company until they literally popped out of nowhere and I let out one of the loudest gut-wrenching screams of my entire life. The fucking wolves would’ve been scared of me; they would’ve looked at each other like, ‘who the fuck is this bitch thinking she can howl like that at night?’
Jasper couldn’t have laughed his ass off even more, it was embarrassing. “Did I scare you?”
I pretended to think for a moment. “Mmm-no, not at all. What makes you say that?”
“I have to tell you, Anna, that greeting doesn’t give me much confidence in my abilities to provide comfort.”
I chuckled. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”
“So you ready?”
“Or do you want to sit by the moonlight a little longer?”
“Oh, I’m expecting someone else.”
He grinned. “I know. You really need to make it a little less obvious that you like Nate, you know.”
“What?” I squinted.
He placed a hand over his heart and lifted his shoulders. “’Oh—‘” he fluttered his lashes comically— “’I can make it up to you, booboo.’”
I widened my eyes. “Shhhhi-Eisenhower.” I’m going to murder Katya in her sleep.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell. It’ll be our little secret.” He nudged his head backwards. “Come on, let’s go.”
I reluctantly followed, tossing between that and the idea that crashing in this gazeebo didn’t look too bad now. “I didn’t even hear a car. Where’d you park?”
“I got here the old fashioned way. The way Lincoln got around.”
“By carriage?” I joked.
“Actually, by using a technique where you put one foot in front of the other and repeat until you’ve successfully gained a repetitive rhythm called walking.”
“Oh, what a fascinating, genius idea, do tell me more,” I said sarcastically.
Jasper grinned. “If it’s an education you seek I’m not sure this walk will give us enough time.”
“Shut up,” I smiled and pushed him at his arm as he laughed.
“So, what were you doing here anyway?”
“I was checking the area out. Then I came across a random old man at the bridge and he scared me—”
“Wait. Was he throwing flowers into the lake?”
“Uhh, yeah, come to think of it, he was.”
“Oh, shit. You disturbed, Phil?”
“I—I don’t think so.”
He took my surprised face in and chuckled, shaking his head. “It’s fine, it’s fine.”
“He comes here every Mother’s day to lay down pink roses in the lake. One for his mother, his daughter, and his wife. They all passed away way too soon. This area is sort of his place on Mother’s Day for them.”
“Wow,” I looked down, feeling shit.
“It’s okay. I’m sure he knows you’re new.”
“I hope I didn’t ruin anything for him.”
“You? Ruin things? Nah!”
I smiled, half-heartedly. “Thanks for the comfort, but I still feel bad.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
The next couple of weeks went by fast. My editor was enjoying my big-city-girl-in-a-small-town experiences and so he was becoming light on the emails. He even started to slip in a casual hint at me being a stand-in to write fiction for the website until they hired someone. I didn’t hate the idea and the use of extra money for 2-3 short posts a week wasn’t a bad deal either. It wasn’t set in stone yet.
Wonder-boy Nate fixed my car faster than I expected and our interactions were reduced to simmering flirtations; subtle but still delicate to the taste. Jasper was mostly occupied with his girlfriend needs, though whenever we’d all bump into each other, Katya and Julie would dive straight into the backhanded insults that I’ve taken to watching on the sidelines like a referee. Catfights are unheard of in this town, but everyone knows Julie. I didn’t know what separated her from Jasper and I though. We were all big city to small town people. Why was Julie the villain? Did they make her one, or did she make herself one?
Nah, she definitely did it to herself.
When Memorial Day Weekend came along, Ted, the council headmaster, ran around the town to assemble American memorabilia. Flags, pictures, red, whites, and blues; the dedication was something else. He made sure everyone got a candle to place at their windowsills and the church bells were having a ‘test run’ between 12PM and 3PM. I didn’t even know church bells could have a test run. I can’t say I wasn’t enjoying the patriotism celebrated in a unique way.
“So,” Lucy rubbed her hands together, “sleep over at my house or yours?” she asked Katya.
Katya turned to address the confusion plastered on my face. “It’s a tradition we’re trying out.”
“Yeah, we’re thinking of taking one day out of Memorial Weekend to come together.”
“The idea of bringing candles together seems to be symbolic, too,” Katya added.
“Oh, right. Well, I’m in.”
“Good,” Lucy nodded. “Hey, why don’t we bunk at yours?”
“Mine?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’ve barely seen your place.”
I thought about it for a split second. “I actually wouldn’t mind.”
“Great, it’s settled then.”
“Am I supposed to prepare something in particular?” I wondered.
Katya shrugged. “Nah, just be there.”
“Or be square,” Lucy joked.
“But also have some food in the house because we’re, you know, human.”
I visited the bookstore to grab a copy of The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier but when I got there to search through I couldn’t find it anywhere.
“Henry?” I walked over to him. He was riding a ladder high and it always frightens me. My combination of fear of ladders and old people hurting themselves was making my skin crawl. “There’s a book by Sidney Poitier called The Measure of a Man, do you have it?”
“Two mentions of Mr. Poitier in one month. He’s a busy man.”
I furrowed my brows. “What do you mean?”
“We only had one copy, dear, and it’s sold a few weeks ago. The first time you came in here actually.”
I handed the book to Jasper in the form of a comical gesture. Did he really buy it?
“Are there going to be any more copies coming in?”
“Probably not for a while, dear, I’m sorry.” And he honestly looked distraught for me.
“Thank you, Henry.”
“He’s a good man you know?”
“Yeah,” I looked out the window, “that’s why I wanted to read his book.”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Poitier, that’s who I meant.”
I looked at Henry and he plastered on a knowing smile, but he’s too sweet for me to get irritated that I simply smiled.
After chatting with Henry, I headed over to the mechanic in the hopes to see Nate over Jasper so I could just have the message passed on, but of course, Nate was nowhere to be found. Jasper, however, was front and centre as if he’d been there all along and Nate was just a figment of my imagination. He looked suave, albeit, slightly dishevelled. He wore a black shirt that had a gaping hole at the hem of the neck and dark jeans. Is this the type of spring\summer on trend look in a small town?
“Well, well, well, if it ain’t my favourite girl,” Jasper said, greeting me with a smile.
I tightened my lips to keep them from stretching wide but I couldn’t help keeping my composure down on lock and revealed a little uncomfortable smile. “Hey.”
“Nate’s not here.”
“No, that’s not why I’m here.”
He leaned over, intrigued. “Oh, so you’re here for me?”
“No!” I said all too sharply. He was taken aback, but not too far back that he didn’t laugh. “I mean, you know—” I shrugged— “Whatever.”
“What can I do you for?” he chuckled.
“That book you bought…” and then I started to hear the sentence before I uttered the words. That book you bought, can I have it since they only have one copy? I’ll reimburse you. The result would be interesting.
“That book I bought…?” he urged.
“I was wondering if you really wanted it?” I bit my tongue at the alteration, honestly I didn’t know which phrase was better.
He paused for a moment and grinned. “What book?”
I nodded and rolled my eyes. “Got it. Say no more.” I’m not going through this again. He can pretend all he wants, to what end I will never know, don’t want to know, and can’t be bothered finding out. I didn’t know what his deal was but he seemed to really enjoy putting me through a loop. He’s insufferable and for no reason at all besides to annoy me. Well, I’m not going to let him annoy me. I mean, starting now.
Later on, I was setting up food and drinks when Lucy and Katya arrived. They brought some food and drinks of their own that I was truly wondering who was going to be eating and drinking all of it. When we got to it, we sat on the floor and put on a war movie while drinking wine. Everyone was to bring in a war movie, about any country and in any language. It was perhaps the least enjoyable time only for the simple fact that the reminder of war and those who sacrificed themselves for it made me think it was such a senseless fight. People had to fight for freedom, and not just here but everywhere. War in general was senseless and the more we thought of that the more we drank. I told the girls that I was reading up on a Japanese nationalist named Yukio Hishima and read out something I saved as a picture to my phone:
On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of the Tatenokai, under pretext, visited the commandant of the Ichigaya Camp, the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto and a banner listing their demands, Mishima stepped onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire a coup d’état to restore the power of the emperor. He succeeded only in irritating the soldiers, and was mocked and jeered. He finished his planned speech after a few minutes, returned to the commandant’s office and committed seppuku. The assisting kaishakunin duty at the end of this ritual (to decapitate Mishima) had been assigned to Tatenokai member Masakatsu Morita, who was unable to properly perform the task. After several failed attempts at severing Mishima’s head, he allowed another Tatenokai member, Hiroyasu Koga, to behead Mishima. Morita then knelt and stabbed himself in the abdomen and Koga again performed the kaishakunin duty. This coup is called ‘Mishima jiken’ in Japan.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to revive harakiri itself … I wanted to inspire younger people, give them a sense of order and responsibility’,” I ended.
Lucy shook her head in thought. “Can you imagine fighting for an entire country of people you don’t know?”
“Well, they didn’t just fight for them, they fought for what they believed in as well,” Katya said. “People do it all the time, it’s just when things get physical and lives are lost for an ideology, whether it be good or bad, is unfathomable to me.”
We were quiet and slowly diverted our attention to the black and white film. It was a tense scene. The soldier had died and the coloured butterfly landed on his helmet. The only colour in the film. I teared up. There’s no happy reaction when watching these films; the emotions are always tense, or scared, or distraught, or sad; and then our minds start to wonder about ourselves in the moment. I once saw a picture of a soldier smiling from ear to ear and that was when I learned about shell shock. The haunting image remained in my mind’s eye when a knock on the door startled all three of us.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Katya said. “How about we take a break, yeah?”
“Yes, please,” Lucy agreed. “Oh! We actually forgot to light the candles.”
“Oh shit,” Katya breathed.
“I’ll get the door,” I said. “Everything’s in the kitchen.” I wanted to check through the curtain who was outside since I was still a little shaken but I decided against it. Honestly, when I opened the door and found Jasper standing outside I sort of regretted the decision not to check and ultimately pretend no one was home. Although, that façade wouldn’t have worked for long and especially with Katya and Lucy here.
“Hey,” he smiled.
I closed the door behind me and he staggered backwards. “What are you doing here?” Don’t tell me he was going to sit with us. You can’t sit with us!
“Nate’s back, if you were wondering.”
I rolled my eyes. “God, I don’t—I never said I liked him.”
He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “Mmm.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Is there any particular reason why you’re here?” Not allowing him to annoy me lasted all of ten seconds.
“Indeed,” he shuffled through his back pocket and pulled out a book with a white rose wedged in between the pages, “I believe you want this?”
I just stared at it. “Why now?” And why with the addition of a rose?
“It was an insightful read. Smart man.”
I shook my head. “You can never answer my questions, can you?”
He laughed. “I kept thinking how much you wanted it that I started to feel like I stole it from you. I couldn’t handle the guilt. Is that so bad?”
“Why the rose?”
“Well, because, you’re…” he took a couple steps forward and my heart jolted. His face seemed to light up and glow softly. He’d never looked more beautiful with his dark brown eyes glowing amber. Then, his eyes shot to the side and he abruptly pulled back. “Your house is on fire!”
“What!?” I followed his line of sight to my curtains lit in flames. I gasped and ran back inside. “Katya!”
I didn’t know what to do so I just stared at my curtain, my attention going back and forth between Katya and Lucy who were running in from the kitchen and Jasper who jumped on top of my table to rip the curtain off the wall and throw it on the floor.
“Step on it! Step on it!” he urged.
The three of us began stomping our feet on the curtain. I accidentally stepped on Katya’s foot and she hopped away in pain as I apologised profusely. Jasper jumped in at the tail of the last flame burning out.
In the midst of the ceasefire Lucy looked up, panting and pushing her hair out of her face. “Okay, so, drinks anyone? I think we need drinks, yup.”
In the month of June the town was preparing for its annual drive-in movie and apparently they were in talks of making drive-ins a permanent opportunity. I revelled in the idea of driving a red lacquered drop top to see an old movie Grease lightning style. Although, I’m sure some details would be altered in reality. It was my first time doing a drive-in anything much less a movie so I had planned to get my break lights fixed since it was going to be late at night and in the middle of nowhere. Much to my dismay, though, Nate was out of town and Jasper was filling in. I wondered what he did for a living before he came here. He definitely wasn’t a mechanic back in New York, otherwise, he’s the cleanest mechanic I’ve ever seen. Not that cleanliness was an issue nor an accurate indicator of one’s profession, but in Jasper’s case, it was.
“It’s not done yet?” I asked, surprised.
“It’s an art form,” Jasper said.
“How much longer can this art go for? It’s just the brake lights.”
“Are you suggesting you could’ve done this?”
I nodded. “I probably could have with the time it’s taking you.” I groaned. “I really wanted to go to the drive-in movie tonight.”
“You’re a fan of the oldies?”
“Jasper, the car. The light. When can it be fixed?”
I sighed. “Promise?”
He chuckled. “What?”
“Look, Katya and Lucy are going to be there before me since they’re going straight from work. I’m planning a little overtime to catch up on some things.”
“I thought you worked from home.”
“Yeah, not everyone’s Carrie Bradshaw, we actually put in a nine-to-five.”
“Doesn’t matter. Just—doesn’t matter.”
“Alright,” he held up his hands to calm me, “by tonight. Cross my heart.”
I almost wanted to ask him if he hoped to die too but I thought it’d be too morbid considering the general playfulness of his attitude contrasting my dismay.
“Okay, by tonight.”
I barely got any work done. I was too anxious to think because I didn’t trust Jasper at all. I felt like this was the perfect opportune moment to completely sabotage my positive experiences and push me over the edge. Whatever the anti-suicide watch was, that was Jasper.
On the other hand, I thought of the rose he gifted me that now sat upon my window sill where the burnt curtain was. Yeah, I still haven’t gotten a replacement for the curtain, but I hear photosynthesis is in these days. The flower—white, tall, proud—flexed its petals to a maximum degree. From time to time I would look at it and think of Jasper, I would smell it and think of Jasper, I would feel its presence and think of Jasper. It was almost as intoxicating as he was. The white plague.
I don’t like him. I can’t like him. I like Nate. At least, I think I like Nate.
That night, I approached Jasper with worry peppering my thudding heart. “So, is the car ready?”
He nodded. “All done, Miss Parker.” He turned to grab the keys and brushed my finger as he passed it over.
“Thanks,” I looked down.
“Have a nice night at the movies,” he smiled.
“You’re not coming?”
“Well, don’t mind if I do, thanks for the invitation,” he said, snatching the keys out of my hand faster than I could register.
“No, no, I don’t mean—”
“You are so generous, thanks for the invite. Let’s go.”
He harrumphed. “Julie doesn’t give a shit about these things. Come on. Do you even know the way?”
“We have GPS for these things.”
“I know the way.”
I sighed. There’s no changing his mind. Not that he was forcing me but I didn’t care either way. He’d be alone while I’ll be jumping ship and joining Katya and Lucy. I wonder how cocky he’d be then. The thought of ditching him made me giddy.
We barely made it pass the school when the engine began to grumble and the car slowed to a crawl.
“Why are we stopping?” I asked.
“Uhh…” he stared at the dashboard.
“Yeah?” He turned to me.
“Is the tank empty?”
“You see, this is why I’m not the mechanic and Nate is—”
“It’s okay. It’s easily fixed. We just have to walk back—”
“The drive-in, Jasper! I’m going to miss everything!” I sighed and threw my head back over the seat.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed.
“What?” I lifted my head in shock.
“I honestly wasn’t hoping…I want this to be…” he paused.
The suspense was killing me. “You wanted what to be what?”
He shook his head. “Ah, nevermind. You’re so sensitive. This is easily fixed.”
I sighed. “I don’t see how. Everyone is gone. The whole town is practically empty and the movie isn’t going to stop for us.” I looked down and picked at my short nail. “Oh well, no use crying over spilled milk or whatever it is they say.”
“I believe ‘shit happens’ is the millennial version.” I laughed. “That’s better,” he said.
I breathed in deeply and refrained from looking at him. “I guess…I should go home now.”
I furrowed my brows. “Well, night’s over. There’s nothing else to do and—”
“Wait a minute. I have an idea,” he interjected, getting out of the car.
“Where are you going?”
“Come on, let’s go, night’s not over yet.”
I sat in the car for a split second and then hopped out. Why not? I want to have some fun and do town things. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was breaking in and entering. And into a school of all things.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We won’t damage anything, we won’t steal; it’s nothing but a little harmless fun.” He winked.
“What about the alarm? Won’t it go off?”
“Pfft in this town? No way.”
“Well, maybe after this they’re going to start thinking of one,” I joked.
Jasper chuckled. “Alright, if you don’t want to do this. I’ll walk you home—”
“—I don’t need an escort—”
“—but—” he continued on, ignoring me— “if you do then, in the words of Abe’s Odyssey, follow me.”
I had a hit of nostalgia as I remembered playing that game with a friend of mine all the way back when.
I followed him through a conveniently unlocked window and began to wonder if he had planned this all along. Jury’s out on that one. Apart from being exciting and fun, I inadvertently scared myself by thinking that this was exactly how all scary movies happen. You walk through a dark school hallway and then suddenly a man with a hatchet jumps out from an inconspicuous darkness and is ready to turn you into sashimi.
“Are we getting close to…wherever it is you’re taking me?” I asked.
Jasper laughed. “Are you scared?”
Damn straight! “I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m scared.”
“You can hold my hand if it makes you feel better?” he grinned.
I thought for a second. “This isn’t a ploy just so I can hold your hand, you know.”
He stretched out his hand before I did. It was soft and surprisingly cool in this heat. Though I wondered if that had anything to do with the fact that we were in a school.
We approached a light blue glimmer fluttering through the window of a door. I couldn’t quite make out what was beyond until we got closer. Jasper opened the door and led me to a large swimming pool.
“Wow. Didn’t think this town had a school with one.”
“Oh, we’re very progressive here,” he joked.
I leaned over to touch the water and it was nice and cool. I wanted to dive head first. “Okay, this is pretty cool,” I said, taking off my flip-flops and sitting on the edge, dipping my legs and submerging it halfway.
Jasper came to sit next to me. “I thought you’d like it.”
“Well, it’s no drive-in movie.”
“Oh, that it isn’t,” he said, pretending to be as serious as I pretended to be.
“But it’ll do just fine. Thank you.”
No serial killer, no hatchet; just me and Jasper. And in between the silence I could hear the miniature waves calling my name, and I was tempted to give in.
“I didn’t think it was possible for you to look more beautiful,” Jasper said. And just like that, he brought me out of it. “And yet here you are.”
I stared at him silently, confused. “Why do you like Julie?”
He laughed. “Why do you like Nate?”
I shook my head. “I don’t—”
“Oh, no, of course you don’t.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not the same thing.”
“Yeah, well, for one, I’m single.”
He sighed, staring into the water. “It’s complicated.”
“Love shouldn’t be.”
He chuckled. I know, I sounded like a child. “Well it’s no fairytale. Besides, it’s not about love.”
“In fact you can’t stop falling in love?”
He looked at me. “Fiona Apple.”
I chortled. “Didn’t think anyone else knew who that was.”
“I didn’t think anyone could tell I was referencing her.”
“I am. No one has ever.”
“No,” I shook my head, “about you. And Julie. And me.”
“What about you?” He bit his bottom lip, eyeing mine.
“What are you doing to me?” I shook my head.
He placed his hand on the edge and leaned closer towards me, grinning. “What am I doing to you?”
I smiled. “Jasper—”
“Oh, yeah, say my name again,” he joked, laughing.
“Jasper!” I pushed him away at his arm, intending to playfully and lightly nudge, and instead he felt into the pool, splashing water all over my dress. I gasped, covering my mouth with my hand. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. I’m so, so sorry.” I was sorry, but I couldn’t help but laugh either.
He pushed back his hair. “What…happened?” He wiped his eyes and pinched his nose.
“Accident. Complete accident,” I laughed.
He held out his hand. “Help me up.”
“Here.” As soon as I stretched out my hand he lunged for it like a viper and pulled me under. I yelped and then laughed underwater, bubbles in the billions. I gasped for air as soon as I popped up. “Traitor!” I shrieked. He laughed. “The betrayal!”
“Well, that’s what you get!”
“Accident!” I reminded him. We both laughed. He began to swim closer to me and I hadn’t known I was reacting by swimming backwards until I hit the wall behind me. “This was fun.”
“Yeah,” he said, simply. Fluttering his dark eyes between mine and my lips.
“We—I should get back.”
“We have the whole pool to ourselves. You sure you want to take it for granted?”
I smiled. “I’m sort of scared of dark things underwater.”
“I thought that’s only in the ocean.”
“The black lines,” I said, nudging my chin downwards. “They scare me too.”
“Well, you can hold my hand if you want. Promise I’ll keep you safe.”
I smiled and as silly as it may have seemed, I held his hand. We twirled like Jack and Rose in Titanic and we made it to each end of the pool a couple of times. Last time I made it to the end, he came swimming towards me, keeping my attention, his smile dipping below the surface of the water from time to time. He got closer and closer until he placed his hands on either side of my head, angling himself upright.
“Jasper,” I breathed.
“I should get back now.”
He nodded, backing away. “Okay.”
I sneezed profusely when we got out of the building and into some breezy warm weather battling our wet bodies. The entire drive home was quiet. Not an uncomfortable silence, but a silence no less. I got out of the car once he parked and he followed suit.
“Oh, you don’t have to escort me to my front door,” I said.
He ignored me and kept going.
We stood before my front door, neither of us knowing how to end the night. “Well,” I began, “this was fun.”
Jasper smiled. “You said that before.”
“It’s still true.”
He chuckled. “I had fun too.”
“Breaking and entering just might be my new calling.”
“You’re a regular Bonnie to…someone’s Clyde,” he laughed awkwardly. I don’t think he meant to make it sound dreary in so many ways.
“Okay,” I nodded. “Goodnight.”
I had the biggest urge to invite him in but I resisted. We both walked away unscathed, and soaking wet.
The following day, I was meeting the girls for our regular lunch date and was looking forward to more pancakes. I don’t think I’ve eaten anything else at this place besides pancakes since I got here. It’s insane. I need to switch it up. Switch something up.
“Where were you last night?” Katya asked.
“Huh?” I asked.
“We waited for you,” Lucy said. “I mean, food-wise.”
“She waited,” Katya pointed at Lucy. “I was hungry.”
“And leaving barely any popcorn left for me,” Lucy said.
“Told you to join me.”
“I was waiting for, Anna.” Lucy turned to me. “Where were you again?”
“I was out picking up the car, I guess,” I said.
“It took you all night to pick up your car?” Lucy asked.
“Dude!” Katya grabbed Lucy’s arm to Lucy’s surprise. “Jasper was working.”
Lucy gasped. “You and Jasper?” She whispered.
“No, no, no, nothing happened,” I said.
“So what did happen?” Katya said, leaning in with Lucy, eyes wide and bulging with curiosity.
“You guys,” I whined.
“Please tell me you did something nasty,” Katya said.
“Although,” Lucy added. “I would feel a little bad for Julie.”
“I wouldn’t. She’s a complete bitch,” Katya furrowed her brows.
“Literally nothing happened,” I laughed.
“Spill,” Lucy nodded.
I rolled my eyes and told them every little detail. It was a short story and I was sure they were going to be unimpressed or blame me for talking it up or something. “…and that’s it. Nothing happened.”
They leaned back simultaneously. “So much happened it’s blowing my mind,” Katya said. Lucy and I laughed.
I was glad the girls left the talk about my swimming rendezvous with Jasper, but I couldn’t help but think about it afterwards. Even after Katya’s friend came back from out of town. Apparently she’d heard a lot about me. Vivian wore a buzz cut and a choker with a cute floral dress; she came back from visiting her family in Japan and she looked like the epitome of androgyny. Katya spared no time filling her in, and I noticed a calmness in Vivian that was lacking in the three of us. Either, Katya and Lucy were hyped up on caffeine, or Vivian was just the polar opposite.
Katya and Vivian left together while I walked back home with Lucy since her salon was in my way. She was filling me in on some details about Vivian since I couldn’t say I heard much about her.
“…that was when she and Katya were in a threesome. But—”
I blinked twice. “What?”
“Oh, yeah,” Lucy laughed. “I just slipped that in there with no explanation. Umm, so ages ago they met a guy at a club, and that night they decided to have a threesome with him.”
“Lucky guy,” I chuckled.
“Yeah, right? The way they told me was at first he didn’t believe it so, I guess he thought he was lucky too.”
“So Vivian and Katya are together?”
“Oh, no, neither of them are lesbians. They just had fun. Apparently it’s a little difficult at the start because it’s harder to include the other person.”
“Why? Are you thinking of having a three-way with Jasper and Julie,” Lucy nudged me at my elbow and laughed.
I chuckled awkwardly with her. The more Julie’s name was mentioned the smaller I felt. What is Jasper’s deal too though? He’s saying it’s complicated. In what way? Why doesn’t he just outright and say it, or is it some big secret that he’ll die with. What if there was no secret at all? I’d feel small and like an idiot for believing him. I’m glad no one knows where I write, because I have a lot to say, that’s for sure!
July 4th decorations were scattering the town with red, white and blue. Flags were drawn, buttons were worn, and food and drink stalls were parked around the town square. There were mounds of hay here and there and festival music filled the warm summer air. Barely a hint of a cloud was shown through sunny skies and everyone was roasting outside. I went straight for the lemonade before I hit the hot dog stands. I met Katya first, Lucy and Vivian came way later. Vivian put her long, slender legs in shorts and Katya and I were the only ones in dresses.
“These hot dogs are to die for, thanks Irve!” Lucy said.
“Yeah thanks Irve!” We all said together. He started to blush and wave as we walked away.
Could it get any better than this?
“Oh my God,” Katya said. “Look at Julie!”
“Where?” I asked.
“Well, well, well, looks who’s with her,” Lucy added.
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, relax guys.
“Aren’t you going to go say ‘hi’?” Lucy nudged me.
“I don’t think so,” I said, squinting.
The truth is I’d been avoiding him lately. My car was up to par and I didn’t need any books, though I was sure those weren’t the only places he visited. The diner, thankfully, was absent of his presence for the short time I was there and I spent most of my free time with the girls.
“Why not?” Vivian asked.
“Are you allergic to him now?” Katya joked. They laughed.
“Alright, alright, alright.” I glanced at Julie who was, of course, wearing her suit. Does she wear anything else? Jasper hadn’t noticed me at all. Maybe he hadn’t noticed I’d been avoiding him either. “I’m going to go get some ice-cream. Anyone want any?”
“We haven’t even finished our hot dogs yet,” Vivian said, taking a huge bite that covered her top lip with sauce. “Yours disappeared in like two seconds.”
“I guess we know what Anna’s thirsty for,” Lucy winked. She and Katya laughed and Vivian nearly choked on her food.
“Holy shit!” I cackled, while the girls started to laugh at Vivian who was trying so hard not to so she could swallow first. “I’ll see you guys in a second. I’ll be back!”
There was a huge line at both ice-cream stalls. I guess this town loves their icy treats. I was in the middle of deciding between a cookies and cream ice-cream or a mango flavoured one when Jasper nudged me, knocking me out of my balance.
He burst into a short laugh. “Sorry. Didn’t know you’d stagger so badly.”
“Hi.” It went quiet. “So, I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“How are things?”
“Fine,” I nodded.
He nodded. “That’s good.”
It went quiet again.
“Where’s Julie?” I asked.
“Sitting on the bench, waiting for me to be at her beck and call.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Yeah, there’s nothing like being someone’s bitch in a thousand degree weather,” he chuckled.
I smiled. I didn’t know how else to react but I didn’t want to give the same, short, cold response. Especially in a heat where it’s conspicuously detectable. I looked back and found the girls staring at me, smiling and only missing popcorn for their little party.
“Hey honey,” Julie said, popping out of nowhere. “Let’s just go.”
“What about the ice-cream?” Jasper asked.
“Just forget about it. Jeez, these boring, primitive town, so-called, festivals are so stupid,” she rolled her eyes. Then she pretended to just notice me. “Oh, hey, Anna. Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Like the Neanderthal that I am, Julie!” I smiled.
“That you are,” she said, pushing out a rough laugh to make it seem like she was joking when she clearly wasn’t.
“Well, see you guys later then,” I said. “Have fun, Jasper.” I turned back and ignored his gaze. Couldn’t he just say ‘no’ to his girlfriend? What’s the problem!?
The girls were talking amongst themselves when I got back and quieted as soon as I approached. “Nothing happened!” I said. “Let’s go!”
The rest of the day filled out perfectly. We couldn’t stay in the heat for too long so we started to leave one by one until I was left standing. I walked home with a bottle of water that quickly turned lukewarm but I drank anyway. It’s water; it’s still good. The best part was entering my home and feeling the coolness wash over me. I breathed out in relief and plonked on the couch, slipping into a mid-afternoon sleep.
I was awoken by an incessant knocking on my door. I checked my phone and saw I had only slept for almost 45-minutes, and a message from Lucy telling me Nate was back mixed in with an eggplant and the sprouting water emoji. The knock continued on.
“Yeah! I’m coming!” I yelled. I opened the door and Jasper looked up, with his hands on his hips and panting. That woke me up even more.
He walked in and closed the door behind him, I took a few steps backwards. We remained frozen for a minute—but my heart and blood beat hard—until he slowly cupped my face and pushed his lips onto mine. I didn’t touch him at first, but I couldn’t resist any longer and ran my hands through his dark hair, pulling him closer. He gently pushed me backwards until I hit my entryway table filled with keys and letters. He pushed them aside, clutched my thighs and lifted me up, fitting himself between my legs. He kept his hands on my thighs, gently moving his hands upwards and downwards, slowly kissing me, his tongue eager, his lips soft. He moved down to my neck, and I wanted to undress him, but when I opened my eyes I acutely felt another woman’s man on me. I pushed him back, his eyes hazy, wanting more. I wanted more, I softened my horrified face, but I hopped off the table and pushed him back until he hit my front door. I opened the door and pushed him out. He didn’t even look confused.
I closed the door and slid down to the floor, panting. I listened to him finally stepping off my porch, getting into his car and driving away.