"I have a new philosophy. I’m only going to dread one thing at a time."
The affliction that consumed me was summer, and its symptoms were irritability, loneliness, and fever. There was no known cure.
“It’s only been a week,” my mom reminded me. Helpfully. “Maybe you should get a job.”
Maybe I should. I hated summer, so getting paid to waste it slaving away in some minimum wage job might wise. I told my mom this. She fixed me with a look and told me, “Don’t be like that.”
I was like that.
“Can I at least turn the A/C on before I die of heat stroke?” I grumbled as I poured myself a glass of water. Usually I timed leaving my room to avoid her and Steve, but she was working so silently at the kitchen table that I hadn’t heard her from upstairs. I was never allowed to escape Kim without communication.
“No,” she told me, looking up from her paperwork. “We’re on a spending hiatus. No spending money for the next two weeks.”
I wasn’t alarmed. This was something she said roughly once a month, and stuck to for about two days. “Really,” I commented, pulling open the refrigerator. “So a bag of spinach, a half a gallon of milk, a block of cheese, and various condiments are going to last us for two weeks?”
I was being dramatic. She knew it. “Yes,” my mom answered.
With a half shrug, I shut the door. “Okay.”
Kim looked up. She leaned back a little, released her long, black hair from its messy bun, and assumed the Mom Look. “You’re angry.”
“I’m not,” I replied as I edged towards the doorway like a baseball player trying to steal a base. This was why I avoided her and her conversations. More often than not, they turned into confrontations.
Kim took off her reading glasses and set them on her paperwork, then stood. I considered making a run for it, but a moment of hesitation was all she needed to round the counter and face me. “You’ve seemed off ever since you came home from college. I thought you had friends there?”
“I do.” Or I did. They were the kind of “friends” that were great to call up at 2AM to drink and smoke weed, but by fall they wouldn’t even remember my name. It was a blessing and a curse, more one than the other. I wasn’t sure which.
“So you just don’t want to be home, is that it?”
Talking with my mom was like an interrogation; she’d fire questions off, file the answers away for future analyzing. I hated being asked questions.
“No,” I answered. I prayed to every dead god that she’d let it drop.
She didn’t. “Then what’s wrong?” After an excruciating several seconds where I took slow sips of my water and avoided eye contact, it became clear I wasn’t going to respond. “Maybe you should go out with your friends.”
“What friends?” I mumbled before my brain could warn me against saying anything that enabled the continuing of this conversation. Confrontation.
Kim gave me a weird look. Oh, concern. She was concerned. “What about Anita? She used to practically live here, but I haven’t seen her since last year. Are you still friends with her?”
What a question. There was no reason for Kim to expect a year apart to destroy a lifetime of friendship. There was no reason for me to expect it either.
“I thought you had work you’re supposed to be doing,” I deflected. My mom was no idiot; she knew I was avoiding the question. I left before she could call me on it, heading to my room and shutting the door in relief. Alone with my thoughts once again, what a life.
I set the water on my desk and flipped open my laptop. Anita’s Facebook profile was already open, her blinding smile directed at me from that little profile picture of her in New York City. I only knew where that was taken because I had been there too. I had stood next to her, her slender arm slung across my shoulders, her gorgeous dark hair blowing in my face, her smile eclipsing my existence. And I hadn’t minded at all. That was the miracle of it.
All you could see of me was the shoulder of my gray jacket and a lock of straight back hair. My face was out of the cropped frame. I didn’t blame her; next to her, I looked like someone she’d pulled off the street for a photograph of her helping the homeless.
My eyes drifted again to her latest post, from almost a week ago.
So excited to be back home for summer! Can’t wait to catch up with all my friends :) :)
A week, and my phone still sat silent on my desk, a dead weight. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe a text from my best friend of eighteen years? Maybe a “hey,” a “how are you?,” a “wanna get coffee?” I hated waiting for her to text, and I hated hoping she would. After the way we left things, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to talk to her, or how awkward it would be, but I couldn’t help but stare at that little screen and hope it would light up.
I hated her. I hated myself. I hated a lot of things.
I sighed and closed the tab. My room was on the second floor of our house, and it served as a nice little pocket of heat. My windows were as far open as they would go, but there was no breeze to flush out the hot air and replace it with the cool evening air. I peeled myself off the leather desk chair and flung myself on the bed.
Summer. Summer meant plenty of time to indulge in my favorite pastime of sleeping, and an equal amount of discomfort while trying to do so. The sweat formed on my skin in record time, dampening the sheets beneath me. I hated summer.
It was rebellion that drove me outside. Rebellion against the heat, rebellion against my mom’s war on air conditioning, rebellion against the stifling cage I’d made my room into. Outside, I was free - free to do anything I wanted. If only I had something I wanted to do.
I sat under a tree. I shredded some grass, killed a few ants with my heel, leaned back against the rough bark and thought about life. That lasted only a few minutes until I decided it was better to think about nothing. It’s almost always better to think about nothing.
My neighbors were loud, but it didn’t annoy me. It wasn’t often that they had parties, and at least their music was good. “Ophelia” drifted across the night, and I closed my eyes, tapping my foot with the beat. It was oddly relaxing, listening to the music and the indistinguishable chatter of people having fun at a party I was separate from. On another day, I might have been jealous; I might have wanted to join them. But today, being alone was the only way to stave off the loneliness.
I think I had almost fallen asleep when a voice woke me up. It was fully dark, and the only light came from the house next door. “I told her I didn’t want to do long distance,” a boy was saying to another on the sidewalk.
The second one had his back to me, and I could see the speaker’s face over his head. The shorter one replied, “That’s fair, though. How’d she take it?”
“Two broken plates, a ripped up t-shirt, and this,” he said, holding up his arm, “later, I’m free of a girlfriend.” There was a smile in his voice.
The short guy huffed a laugh and shook his head. “Why do you always date psychos?”
“Because I haven’t found a nice girl yet,” the first guy said. I thought he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him.
“You mean you haven’t found a nice girl who’ll put up with your ugly ass face,” the other corrected. They laughed. “Whatever, man. I have to get going. Congrats though.”
They exchanged one of those manly half hugs, and the short guy got in his car and pulled away from the curb. I was still staring at the other, wondering where I knew him from. He turned around, hands in his pockets, and looked directly at me. I glanced away, closed my eyes, willed him to go away.
“Hey,” he called.
I wondered how hard pretending to be deaf would be.
“Hey,” he said again, coming closer, stepping into my yard. “I know you,” he declared.
“Lucky you,” I deadpanned.
He ignored me, stopping about five feet away. One of his hands came from his pocket to gesture with. “Yeah, you were a grade above me. Hana… Shaw?”
“Bingo,” I muttered. It felt weird that I was sitting and he was standing. I didn’t correct it. “And who are you?”
“I’ll give you three guesses,” he replied, half grinning.
“Usually people only say that when the answer is obvious.”
“What if I give you three clues?” he bargained. Just tell me your goddamn name, I wanted to reply, but I didn’t. I was too exhausted and annoyed to even argue. He seemed to take my silence as acceptance. “I was a year below you at Carver High, am apparently your neighbor - though I don’t know how I never noticed before - and was the guy who switched places with one of the cheerleaders at last year’s homecoming game.”
I looked at him. “That was you?”
“That was me,” he confirmed.
“Kudos to you, Sebastian Reynolds.” I remembered him now.
Sebastian grinned, either missing or ignoring the disdain in my voice. “You didn’t even need the three guesses. That’s what I like to call making an impression.”
I leaned my head against the trunk of the tree. “Yeah, if you want people to picture you in a cheerleading skirt when they hear your name.”
He shrugged. “It’s cool. Call me Seb, though. Cheerleading skirts are acceptable, but ‘Sebastian’ is not.”
I considered smiling, but decided against it.
Seb toed at the ground, disrupting the shredded remains of the patch of grass I’d decimated earlier. “So, uh, you probably noticed that I’m having a grad party next door. You’re welcome to come, if you want.”
There was the invite I wasn’t looking for.
“I’m good, thanks,” I replied.
“Not one for parties?” he asked, like he actually cared. I looked up at him, searching his face for the catch. A moderately cute guy trying to sustain a conversation with me was not something that happened. Ever. Not because I was unattractive; I was pretty average looking, and my half-asian metabolism kept me within the range of traditionally “thin.” But looks aside, it was more the air of standoffishness that made me unapproachable, and I knew it. I wanted Sebastian to know it too, to get the hint and leave.
“Not ones with strangers, no.” That was a lie. I loved parties with strangers where hookups were never followed up, where names were never given, and the whole thing was forgotten a day or two later.
Sebastian shoved his hands back into his pockets. “I bet you know some people. I invited some from your grade. Uh, Kasey, Greg, Marty, Eryka, Anita-“
“Anita?” I blurted before my sense could stop me. Something akin to betrayal coursed through me, but I buried it swiftly, saving it for a time when I was alone.
“Yeah,” Sebastian replied, tilting his head. “You guys are friends, right? I saw you together a lot.”
Everything made sense then. He knew me through association with her. I almost laughed, but it would probably have come out sounding a little unhinged. Everyone knew me in relation to Anita. Without her, what was I?
Who was I?
I folded my arms across my chest. “Thanks, but I’m gonna pass.”
“Are you sure?”
Sebastian shrugged. “Okay, then. I can’t force you.” He took a step away, and I felt a surge of relief that he was going. But then he paused, and the relief evaporated. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but… are you okay?”
I scowled at him. “Yeah?”
“I just mean- you look like you’ve been crying, and I’ll stay here if you want. Keep you company. I’m in no hurry to get back, the party is kind of exhausting-“
“I’d rather you didn’t,” I cut him off.
Sebastian stopped. “Oh,” he said. “Okay.” He nodded, and a lock of his tawny hair fell into his eyes. “I’ll, uh, see you around, then.”
I didn’t respond. The moment he disappeared behind the palisade fence that separated his property from mine, I wiped at my eyes. I hadn’t been crying. I wasn’t lonely. I was okay.
I was okay.
I was okay.
If you tell yourself something enough times, it becomes true.