Taking You For Granted

Oliver had always been around, and so he would always be around... Just, as a friend. That's all he was, she swore to herself. But, when something terrible happens she's forced to take a new look at her longest standing, never changing relationship.

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15. promises and placeholders

My brain was oozing out of my ears, out of my nose, and down my throat. My ears were satellites, picking up every sound like it was an urgent distress signal.

I pulled my pillow over my head, but someone pulled it off of me with both of their hands.

"You're in trouble, sugar," Carolyn smiled at me.

I blinked away the incessant light of the morning sun.

I opened them again. Oli was standing in the door way.

"You tattled?" My throat wasn't happy with me either. "I thought you loved me."

He smirked.

"He did," Carolyn ran her fingers over my hairline. "And I told him that he gets to come up with your punishment. I won't argue with whatever he comes up with."

"I already have an idea," he said and came into the room.

He was walking around better.

I sat up. The room spun a bit before settling down. Carolyn handed me a glass of water and I drank it.

"I promise, I've learned my lesson," I said. "I'll never drink alcohol again."

"Didn't I tell you once that you shouldn't just write off something with the potential for fun," he said as he handed me a piece of paper and a pen, "just because of one bad experience?"

I took the paper and looked up at him, confused and waiting for instruction.

"You're punishment," he smiled at me and placed his right fist against his hip in a triumphant pose, "is to have a happy and adventurous life. Starting with that paper. Right down a list of five things that currently make you happy, then another list of the ten things you have always wanted to do."

"That's it?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"I'm going to help you accomplish your ten item list," he said. "We'll do what we can before graduation, but I'll help you complete the list of it takes me until the end of my life."

"Why is this my punishment?" I asked, but I was already clicking the pen.

"Because you, my dear Juniper Grace, are not going to let what's happening now take you back to a darker part of your past," Carolyn pinched my chin between her fingers. "And you're not going to let it control your happiness now. Bad things happen. It is an unfortunate part of every person'a life. Some bad is worse than others. But, we each have the strength within us to find the good. To be good. To give and to receive joy. To create happiness, even in a situation where it seems impossible."

I sniffed away a tear that threatened to fall and nodded.

"Take your time to write the list," Oli smiled. "For now, pancakes are waiting for you in the kitchen."

I gagged at the thought, scrambled out of bed, and rushed to the bathroom.

"How much did she drink?" Carolyn asked as I emptied the few contents of my stomach.

"It didn't seem like much," Oli answered. "But, she already had the bottle open by the time I got there."

Carolyn chuckled. At least someone was enjoying this incredibly embarrassing moment in my life.

Oli came into the bathroom and tried his best to hold my hair back with just his one hand. He gave up and resigned to stroking my back.

After I cleaned myself up, I joined them in the kitchen. I drank another glass of water before sitting down at the table. I was starving, but I made myself eat the pancakes slowly.

I spent until noon trying to build my lists. They weren't easy. So far, I had this:

Things that make me happy:

1)Oliver

2)Theater

3)Not seeing my parents

4)

5)

Things I've always wanted to do:

1)Graduate from High School

2)See the northern lights

3)Climb high enough to see the curvature of the earth

4)Live overseas

5)

6)

7)

8)

9)

10)

I gave the list to Oliver after lunch.

"You have to take number three off," he said.

"You won't climb a mountain with me?" I knew he was talking about the other number three.

"Not seeing your parents," he read aloud. "Not seeing your parents isn't something that makes you happy, its just avoiding them because they make you unhappy. The two are not the same thing."

"Fine," I scratched it out and was back to knowing just two things that made me happy without question.

He took the list back from me.

"As for the rest," he smiled. "I think I can at least get you one before graduation. And a placeholder for another."

"You're not made that the lists are incomplete?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Part of the fun is figuring it out," he said. "I didn't expect you to have fifteen items ready at the top of your head. Heck, I'd be mad if you did and still chose to drink last night instead."

I grimaced.

"You said 'things I've always wanted to do' though," I frowned. "If I come up with them along the way..."

"Think there are things we've always wanted to do, but we don't realize it until it strikes us," he said, then wiggles his eyebrows. "Like, how you had always wanted me all along but didn't realize it until recently."

I shoved my arm into his shoulder and he curled in on himself.

"Oh, god, Oli, I'm so sorry!" I stammered and fretted over him.

He started laughing and I punched his shoulder, albeit softly.

"You shouldn't beat the infirm!" He shouted, but he kept laughing. "It isn't ladylike."

"What does ladylike have to do with it?" I snorted.

He asked for a week to plan a trip and I told him that was fine. He proceeded to have phone and text conversations with Hedy that I was not privy to. They even named the conversation on their phones JUNE, EYES OFF, just in case I got any ideas. Oli had five more weeks to keep his arm in its cast, so they planned to sweep me off to who knows where the weekend before graduation.

School continued to be quiet in the time that passed.

I think it helped that the kid who got pinned for Oli's beating was sent to juvenile detention. Eddie skipped school a lot. There were rumors that his truancy might cost him his diploma, but I doubted that.

Somewhere in all of this we're a few hearings that we had to attend.

They were rough, and Carla told me they were just the beginning. The jury seemed charmed by Eddie's smile. They didn't seem to sympathize with the slightly sad looking drama girl. Carla said we just had to wait and see.

She also said the evidence was on our side. After the guy who approached us at Jude's (who turned out to be named John Kemp) spoke with Carla, he also led private detectives she'd hired to find the IBC bottle with traces of chemicals I couldn't pronounce and my DNA. Some kid also happened to be filming the party with his drone that night and you could see Eddie shoving me into the back of his car.

So, yeah, the evidence was on my side.

But I still hated having to talk about and hear about that night so much. It seemed counterproductive to moving beyond it.

The day finally arrived that Oli's cast came off. We celebrated by going to the café and having a dance party with Jude, Lucy, Lee, Hedy and Will.

I added a new number three to my list:

3)Cutting loose with my friends

Jude couldn't seem to stop himself from putting his arms around me, or picking me up. I guess he'd missed it. I'd missed it, too.

We climbed into the treehouse that night, now that he could climb the ladder again. We took turns reading dialogue in his favorite book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We laughed hysterically the entire time.

We went back to my room and he directed me in what to pack for our trip. All functional clothing, basically. Shorts and tank tops and tshirts. No skinny jeans because they limited your range of movement. He was very serious about that particular mandate.

He demanded I fill a backpack with granola and bottles of water.

Saturday morning, we loaded into Will's inherited minivan. He hated it, but it came in handy for occasions such as this. Will drove west down I-20 for what seemed like an endless amount of time.

"I don't know what I put on my list that made you say, 'Yes. West Texas. That's the ticket.'" I remarked as I stared out the window at the pure and absolute desolation passing us by.

West Texas was dusty and flat, speckled with shrubs and enormous white wind turbines. But, that was it.

"You will see," Oli said. "You've never been this far west before. Despite what you think, you don't know everything, June."

I pinched him for that one.

Eventually, mountains became apparent on the horizon. Will turned south and we headed towards them.

A sign told me we were headed to the Davis Mountains.

"Everyone has water, right?" Oli asked and we all nodded.

"Alright, let's hike," he said and led the way toward a trail marked with a green arrow.

We hiked for hours, stopping to snack from time to time. Oli stopped us when we got near the top on the mountain.

"Okay, Hedy, did you bring what I asked you to?" He asked, to which she nodded enthusiastically and unzipped her backpack.

She pulled out an opaque blue scarf and handed it to Oli. He came up behind me and tied it over my eyes.

"I don't like this," I grumbled.

"Just trust me," he whispered beside my ear.

I gulped and let him take my hands to lead me the rest of the way, stumbling on rocks and roots and few times.

"Okay," he announced, "this is it, and, yup, it'll do."

He turned me by my shoulders and pulled the scarf down from around my eyes.

I couldn't believe it. Miles of uninterrupted flat land spread out before us as the sun was setting, bowing up perfectly in the middle. It was the curve of the earth.

"So?" He asked.

"It's massive," I said. "The earth just... continues. For some reason I thought it would feel smaller, but it's the opposite."

He simply nodded and wrapped his arms around my waist as we watched the sun drop beneath the bowed horizon.

A man in a uniform came out to meet us.

"Mr. Galaviz," he called. "I'm Liam, with the observatory. Is this your party?"

Oli shook his hand when he was within reach and smiled, "This is us."

"Great," Liam smiled. "Please, follow me."

Liam led us into the observatory as the rest of the guests seemed to all believing.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"I've arranged for a private tour," he told me. "And another treat later."

Liam showed us several enormous and complicated telescopes, allowed us to peer into them, explained how they worked, what differences existed between each one. After the tour, he led us out to a wooden deck with several smaller, somewhat standard telescopes. Telescopes like you'd see in the movies. Sleeping bags and pillows were laid out on the deck, an unlit fire pit in the middle.

Liam handed a book to Oli. It had illustrations of constellations and instructions on how to spot them.

"Alright, the deck is yours until tomorrow morning," he said. "A few security guards will be on duty in the building tonight. If you need anything during the night, you can buzz the door. Our staff will arrive at eight in the morning and we will open back up to the public at 9. Please be ready to check out by then."

"Can do," Oli smiled. "Thank you again for arranging this with me."

"You're very welcome," Liam shook his hand again. "Enjoy yourselves."

With that, he left, and I was struck with marvel over the events of today.

"Who's ready to gaze at stars and eat some s'mores?" Will asked.

Hedy started laughing.

When she noticed us staring, she explained, "That was a redundant phrase. Some s'mores. Some some mores."

We all nodded in understanding, not finding it quite as funny as she did.

"Well, I want some some mores," Oli announced and helped Will get the fire pit set up.

Hedy and I went to a telescope and started fiddling with it, trying to compare the diagrams in the book to the endless array of twinkling lights on the other end of the looking glass.

We ate s'mores and watched the stars for hours, the small fire eventually burning out. We curled up in our sleeping bags and talked until we fell asleep.

I woke up to Oli packing everything back up before the sun rose.

"What are you doing? They said we had until eleven," I grumbled.

He shook his head, "We've got to hit the road for our next stop."

I frowned, confused.

"We aren't going home today?"

He shook his head again.

"I got Mr. Evans to cover for us at school," he smiled. "It's not hard since we're only supposed to be there for body count at this point. We're heading back tomorrow."

I looked around. Will and Hedy were missing.

"They buzzed the security to let them in to use the bathroom," Oli explained, reading my mind.

I nodded and pulled myself out of my sleeping bag. He came over and hugged me, kissing my cheek.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning," I yawned.

We made sure to leave everything as we found it before leaving a note for Liam with security and finding our way back to the trail. A few hours later, we were in the car heading south.

We spent the afternoon in Marfa. Again, a place I was not expecting. Part of me thought Will was going to drive us all the way to Mexico. We ate delicious food and walked around several shops and art galleries. Oliver and Will split of from me and Hedy for a little while before we met back up at an ice cream parlor.

When the sun began to set, we headed out to about 10 miles east of town and pulled over on a widened shoulder. Oli and Will pulled a few camping chairs out from the back of the van and placed them in the grass right beside the shoulder of the road.

"More stargazing?" I asked as I sat in Oli's lap instead of the chair he'd unfolded for me.

He wrapped his arms around me and said, "You'd think with as long as you've known me you'd give up on asking about surprises."

I rolled my eyes, not that he could see.

Will took an ice chest from the back of the van and opened it, handing each of us a can of Dr. Pepper.

We cracked the cans open, the sound unnaturally loud in the silence of the desert. The sun dropped behind the horizon and it was pitch black. Our eyes adjusted, everything developed a silvery glow under the light of the moon.

And then I saw it.

A strange light flickering, zipping upward, then disappearing.

"What was that?" I asked.

Another light shook as it sped westward. And more lights appeared in the distance, moving like specters.

"These are not the northern lights," Oliver sighed. "But, they are the Marfa lights."

I let this sink in.

He'd called it a placeholder.

I watched the light show in awe.

"I didn't even know this was a thing," I said. "Hedy, did you know this was a thing?"

"Not until Oliver told me it was a thing," she admitted. "Do you like it?"

I nodded, then realized they may not have seen the gesture. "I do."

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