|The Ballad of Big Nothing
Author: attica PM
You never forget your first love. Bryce/Juli, takes place 4 years after the novel. Complete!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 7 - Words: 22,058 - Reviews: 124 - Favs: 230 - Follows: 50 - Updated: 12-27-10 - Published: 10-05-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6376356
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Title borrowed from Elliot Smith (which I know is hugely irrelevant to this story, but I was stuck on a title so I just scrolled through my iTunes and chose randomly). I've been a huge fan of Flipped ever since I read it ages ago, and I've always wanted to write something that would take off where the novel left off (for a more mature audience). For further clarification, this takes place 4 years after the novel.
Minor edits: June 6, 2011
"So," Chet says to her, only glancing up from the plywood for just a second. "I heard."
She'd come over to help Chet with a cabinet for Mrs. Loski; he was ambitiously endeavoring building one from scratch. He was hammering a nail through the one of the shelves, and then testing it out, checking if it was sturdy enough.
She looks up at him, wondering what he's talking about.
"And I must offer my congratulations. Though I'm surprised, not in the least bit. You, Julianna Baker, are genuinely the smartest girl I have ever met. You make the rest of your generation pale in comparison."
She grabs another nail from the nail box, feeling her face flush with embarrassment. He'd probably found it out from her parents, who were so excited they couldn't keep their mouths shut even though she'd specifically asked them to. At least, for now.
"It's not a big deal, Chet."
He stops hammering and gives her a very serious look. "It," he says, "is the biggest deal there is. Stanford is a big deal, Juli. You deserve Stanford."
She pauses for a second. He asks her to hold the shelf steady as he nails another one in. "And what about Bryce? Where is he planning on going?"
"He got accepted into a school in California and one in New York," Chet replies. "He's still debating between the two. I'm betting on California." Then he falls silent. At first she thinks it's because he's gathered all his focus into the shelf, until he goes, quietly, "You could ask him yourself, you know."
She silently takes in a breath. Unknowingly, she averts her eyes, grabbing another nail from the nail box. "I could, but it's not really any of my business."
"He knows about Stanford. It's not like it would be a one-sided conversation."
She sighs. "It's not that easy, Chet. You know that."
"What I know about conversations is that you have to approach them and talk for them to happen. It sounds easy enough." He looks at her, then, putting down the hammer. She's known him long enough that she can tell when he's about ready to give her one of his little nuggets of experience-driven wisdom. "Julianna, I'm old. I've lived through many difficult conversations, and look at me: I'm building a cabinet."
She finds herself laughing aloud. No matter what, Chet always made her laugh. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means," Chet explains, picking the shelf up again, "that I'm still alive. When you get this old, you start to realize that the things you thought were so important when you were young aren't so important in retrospect. All of those difficult conversations were just training to be able to live through the biggest, most difficult conversation of them all: life itself."
One of the things she liked best about sycamores is their ability to grow through almost anything. Their town had been having one of the worst droughts last year – record-breaking enough to be televised on the news – and everybody frantically tried to save their plants with a morning watering routine. She did the same, but her neighbors had considerably less luck. She watched as their green lawns withered into an unattractive, dry, crunchy brown. Her sycamore, however, remained as unchanged as ever. Even Chet, who still came by sometimes and whom she still helped with numerous projects, told her that it was like she was trying to rescue something that didn't need to be rescued.
It's been four years since the tree had been originally planted by Bryce Loski. It grew sturdy and strong, without disturbance. She still remembered the day he first planted it, too – the way he smiled and waved at her, hopeful. She remembered feeling that same spark inside her, a spark that she thought had long gone out with everything that had happened – the same she'd felt all throughout her childhood ever since she'd laid eyes on those baby blues. Bryce Loski, her true love. Bryce Loski, the boy who could never do wrong.
Bryce Loski, who had humiliated her and her family.
She figured something could have happened that summer he'd tried to patch up every screwed up thing he'd done to her by planting her very own sycamore. He'd changed, sure. But that summer she'd gone away to camp, and when she came back – things just weren't the same between her and Bryce. Having time to think it over and slowly grow up, she realized that maybe she didn't want anything with Bryce Loski after all. Maybe Bryce Loski had just been a phase. A very, very long phase.
When she came back after camp, he made an effort to talk to her – to be her friend. He'd even kissed her again. But even after everything, she knew they were two very different people, who lived in two very different worlds. He agreed to be friends, but when they got to high school, they eventually fell out of talking. It wasn't just his fault, of course – it was hers. She didn't make the effort when she saw him pulling away because, for once in her life, she didn't want to be the girl who chased after Bryce Loski anymore.
Yet, every night she looked out of her window, or came home from school, or left the house – there it was, her sycamore that Bryce had planted just for her in eighth grade, the sycamore that was supposed to be a testament of how things had changed.
And it was true, for the most part. The more it grew, the more things changed. She guessed that was just how life was. Nothing was meant to stay the same forever.
It was somewhere in August when she saw them.
She had gone for a late night run. Her parents hated it when she did this, but sometimes her mind got too restless and over-stimulated with thoughts. Runs always helped her get her focus back.
It had been a hot day and only cooled down at around eight o'clock in the evening, but even though the sun was gone, it still left behind that hot, humid summer air.
She'd hit the one mile mark, running around the silent neighborhoods, focusing on the rhythm of her breathing and the tattoo of her pulse. She was exhausted but determined to make another mile before she ended the night.
She had just turned into Glendale Street when she saw him.
Bryce had inherited his father's old BMW. It was black and still in impeccable condition, as Mr. Loski, to match his big shot attitude, had always been big on maintaining expensive cars. It was definitely a step up (or twenty) from her beat-up blue truck that her dad had bought for her from a coworker that was leaving the state. Nevertheless, living across the street from him, she had watched him leave and come back in the car too many times to not recognize every bit of detail of his BMW.
So it made sense that it was the car she recognized first. Then she recognized who was inside.
It was Bryce, sitting in his car, making out with Cindy Frisch. His lights were off but she could see them clearly from the dim light of Cindy's front porch. She knew Cindy. Cindy was on the cheerleading team. She went out with football players and had a reputation for wearing jeans that were two sizes too small.
She didn't realize that she'd stopped dead in her tracks and had been staring until Bryce suddenly opened his eyes and saw her. He looked at her and continued to kiss Cindy, as if he didn't care at all that they had an audience. Staggering backwards, she quickly turned around and ran back.
That night she ran until she passed out. She didn't want to remember anything about that night, anything at all.
Prom is two weeks away. She sees the banners in the school hallway and notices the excited sparkle in girls' eyes when they talk about it, the details of all the chiffon and satin and rhinestones. Sometimes she envies the girls who were so consumed by the notion of prom itself – she imagined that it would have been liberating, and maybe more normal, for a girl her age.
Even her mother isn't oblivious to what's happening. Everywhere, storefronts were dressed up in glamorous, slinky ensembles. Sooner or later, she knew it would be brought up, somehow.
So it doesn't surprise her that her mom chooses to bring it up now, as Juli is helping her bake the apple pie for dessert.
"The prom's coming up," her mother casually mentions to her one afternoon, prepping the pie crust.
Juli doesn't look up. "Apparently so," she says, slicing up apples.
"Have you been asked yet?"
She doesn't want to look up into her mother's hopeful and expecting eyes, even though she can feel them burning into the side of her face. She keeps her focus on the apples, slicing them with more than enough precision. "I've been asked."
"By a few guys, but I haven't really. . . responded."
It's true. She's been asked by at least three different boys at her school. There was Bryan Tuft, who had been her biology partner and who she'd gotten along with fairly well. There was Shawn Motts, who was on the track team and had dyed his hair blue in sophomore year. And there was also Nick Sansford, the debate team captain that had been crushing on her ever since they'd paired up for a debate in junior year. She likes all three an equal amount, but the idea of prom was just so. . . so. . . not special. Not to her, anyway. Sure, she wanted to go, but she feels like she lacks the energy and enthusiasm that a normal girl would have for this kind of thing.
"Oh? And why is that?" Her mother gives a hesitant pause. "Is it because. . . ."
"I'm just not sure who to choose," she says quickly, plastering on a smile. She knows where her mother was going to go with that sentence, and she's relieved she didn't go on.
"Well," Mrs. Baker says, putting on an uneasy smile, "I'm sure they're all nice boys. Just let me know when you want to look for a dress."
That night she goes outside and sits down by her sycamore. She'd come out with a book, but instead she finds herself watching the sunset. Sycamores grow fairly quickly, but she finds herself always wishing this one grew faster. It isn't large enough to climb up in yet, and sometimes all she needs is to climb, and keep climbing, getting lost in the branches and the leaves only to let out a deep breath of air once she got to the top. Up there, she feels like nothing can touch her.
She watches the Loskis' house across the street. Their curtains are pulled open and she can see bodies moving around in the house. She sees Chet's tall and skinny body, energetic yet graceful for an old man, walking back and forth. They were getting ready for dinner. For a quick second she wishes she could see Bryce, and she doesn't exactly know why.
She wonders who Bryce is taking to the prom. She wonders if he's going to take Cindy Frisch. She wonders if the two of them could actually carry on an actual conversation without sticking their tongues down each other's throat, or if Bryce would ever consider planting a tree for Cindy. She wonders if Cindy would even appreciate that.
She sighs, closing her eyes and resting her head back on her tree. So this was still how it was going to be.
She wonders if it's too late for her and Bryce, even if it's just to be friends.
She works at the used bookstore. Last year she'd worked at the community garden but as much as she loved being outdoors, she opted for a little variety this time. She loves her job and loves reading even more, so she relishes working. Just being surrounded by books gives her a sense of peace – in a different way climbing up a tree did.
She's re-shelving some books and adding sale tags when she hears the bell ring. They have more than a few regulars, mostly bookworms and the elderly. Chet came by some days to chat or to browse the selections – he liked the classics, particularly Hemingway.
She was in the process of marking down Bram Stoker's Dracula when she hears him, and it doesn't even register to her who it is until she looks up.
"Hey," he says.
It's Bryce, standing just a few feet from her. For some reason, she feels like this is the first time in a long time that she has ever seen him this close. He looks taller. His hair has gotten minutely darker, and his face has gotten thinner. But his eyes look as blue as ever, as blue as the sky in springtime, and for a second she feels a faint quiver down her spine.
"Hey," she finds herself saying back without realizing she'd opened her mouth.
"Chet told me about you, and Stanford," he says. He seems hesitant, but his eyes are serious, and determined.
She looks down for a second. She can feel her heart start to race. If she pressed her finger right up against her wrist, she would feel her pulse, drumming faster and faster as the seconds ticked by. "Yeah," she says, sliding the book right in. "I guess my parents told him."
"Have you decided whether you're going?"
She tries not to act so shocked at his sudden curiosity with her college plans. "Not yet. I mean. . . I'm still kind of wrapping my mind around it, too."
Then he looks her in the eye, and says, "I think you should go."
She stares at him. She's confused at the tangled array of words inside her mind. She plays his words back again. What does he mean? Does he really want her to leave that badly? She feels her stomach drop but also feels that familiar swell of anger.
She doesn't know what it is about Bryce Loski, but when she's around him she has a tendency of doing things without thinking twice.
She shoves Dracula back into the shelf.
"Look, if you don't want to see me around that badly, then why wait for me to make a decision? Why don't you leave?"
She hadn't been planning to say that to him, but she did. She wasn't aware of how sharp and brusque her words had sounded were until afterwards, when the air between them suddenly got very cold and tense. His face hardens and his piercing blue eyes narrow, as if he hates her. And all of this time that she'd spent chasing him, then hating him, and now avoiding him – she's never seen him look like he genuinely, truly hated her.
And then, without another word, he brushes past her and leaves. She hears the lingering ring above the door as it swings open, then closed.
Just as quickly as he appeared, he's gone.
That night, she's unable to sleep. She lays awake and finds herself picking apart what had happened in the bookstore, filling in the details of his messy blond hair and the square of his jaw tightening when she'd lashed out at him. In her mind she keeps watching it happen, over and over again, and each time she feels the same pang of pain and anger, clouded by confusion. Did he come just to tell her to leave – that he didn't want to see her around anymore? This was the first time they'd talked in years, with the exception of a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year's, and he couldn't wait to tell her to get lost.
Maybe he feels humiliated, knowing that he'd ever tried to pursue her. With Bryce Loski, she doesn't doubt it.
Knowing that she wasn't going to get any sleep with her thoughts racing like this, she gets out of bed, pulling on her running shoes. She slips out of her window, not wanting to disturb her parents.
She ends up at the park. When she was little, she'd loved this park almost as much as she loved the old sycamore tree by the bus stop. It had a little swing set and a dug-out, with climbing bars. Further back there's a thick area of woods where older kids used to go to make out. She remembers how big it had all seemed before – the way the climbing bars towered over her and how the feel of the cool metal against her palm always gave her shivers. How going so high on the swings had always been her number one goal, to feel the flutters of flying in her stomach. But now, as she stands there, everything seems so small, and insignificant. She knows from the patches of overgrown grass and rust from years of disuse that it has been abandoned.
But it isn't just the years of innocence she'd spent here that always made her come back. She'd been kissed here. Bryce had kissed her in this very park when she'd come back from camp. His palms had been moist against her shoulder, and his lips were nervous but soft with inexperience. The way he'd kissed her had been tentative and gentle – just the way every girl's first kiss ought to be. She wonders, if he were to kiss her again, if it would still feel the same.
Sighing, she continues her route past the park.
On the way back home she takes the same route. She sees the park sign coming up ahead and she almost wants to pass it without looking – when she sees a figure. As she comes nearer she finds that she recognizes who it is. The moon is full tonight, and it casts an ethereal glow down at the park. She sees the blond hair and those broad shoulders, and her breath catches.
As much as her heart is telling her to stay, she runs even faster, hoping that he doesn't see her. She runs home in what seems like one single breath.
That night she doesn't sleep at all.
One morning, as she's at her locker, shoving her books in, she is greeted by Diana Littleton's familiar scent of bubblegum and Strawberry shampoo.
"I heard," she says to her, hugging her Chemistry book close to her chest as she leans on the locker next to hers, "that Bryce Loski hasn't asked anyone to the prom yet."
Juli's known Diana since kindergarten. That was the thing about small towns – you knew everybody, and everybody knew you, which meant that every single thing you did was always going to follow you for the rest of your life. Diana, along with most of the student body, had been in the same cafeteria when Bryce had tried to kiss her in the eighth grade. Diana had also been her PE partner, her biology desk partner, and a member of the Environmentalist Club, of which she was part of. This was plenty of time for Diana to let Juli know – according to the note she had passed to her one morning during fourth period – that she was a "big fan" of her and Bryce.
"And you haven't said Yes to any of the guys that have asked you yet, either," Diana says, giving her a little knowing smirk.
"That," she says, not looking up from her study sheet for history, "has nothing to do with Bryce."
Diana rolls her eyes and slams her locker shut, before leaning in to whisper something to Juli.
"Deny it all you want, Juli. But this could be your last chance to find out what could have really happened between the two of you." And then, a perky, "See you in third period!"
Juli doesn't look up until she can hear Diana's shoes all the way down the hall, and when she does, she can still smell her sickly sweet perfume. She shoves her study sheet into her bag and heads to class, her palms suddenly moist against the torn spine of her textbook and her face a little warm.
Once, when Chet was helping her recycle the chicken coup wood, he had mentioned that Mrs. and Mr. Loski were having some problems. Chet wasn't one to talk about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Loski, so she knew that even though he'd only mentioned it in passing, it was serious.
Lynetta had moved out of the house after graduation and was away in California at UCLA, leaving only Bryce there, with his grandpa, along with the Loskis. Not much was ever said about how life at the Loski house had changed, but she had been living across the street from the Loskis long enough to be able to sense when something wasn't quite right.
One night, having come home late from work, she was taking out the trash and she'd heard shouting from the Loski's house. This was the first time she'd ever heard them fight like this; the first real time she had any reason to suspect any bit of ugliness inside their perfect house. Then, suddenly, the front door opened and slammed shut behind Mr. Loski, who had gotten into his car and driven away.
After that, she stood there for a few minutes, watching their house. It suddenly became eerily quiet. Her eyes flickered up to Bryce's window. The lights were off, but she knew he wasn't asleep. Somehow, with some things, she just knew.
One day Juli comes home and finds Mrs. Loski and her mother sitting together at the kitchen table. Before, it would have been rare to find her mom and their neighbor sitting down together, but ever since Mr. and Mrs. Loski's marital troubles had intensified Juli had become used to seeing her take refuge at their house. She had always liked Mrs. Loski – she was a kind woman, who really made an effort to make friends with her family after the whole egg incident. It was Mr. Loski that still hit a sore note every now and then.
Mrs. Loski had been crying. Juli had walked in on them like this before, with her mother comforting her with a box of Kleenex between them on the table, but that didn't mean it made things any less awkward.
Startled, Mrs. Loski, who had red watery eyes and a pink nose, quickly dabs her eyes. She offers a gentle hello to Juli, which she politely returns.
"Juli," her mom says with a forced smile, "how was school?"
"It was fine," she says. She knows well enough not to stick around, so she heads up to her room to give her mom and Mrs. Loski some space. "See you later, Mrs. Loski."
She finds herself fighting the urge to eavesdrop as she heads up the stairs. It wasn't that she was curious or nosy – she was worried. About Mrs. Loski, about Chet. About Bryce. From the way she saw things, things weren't getting any better at the Loski household, but worse.
It's later on that evening, long after Mrs. Loski had gone, that her mother steps into her room. Juli closes her textbook, watching her mom slowly move toward her bed, her face heavy with concern. She sits down.
"I know that you must know by now that things aren't going well at the Loski household," she says. "Rick and Patsy. . . well, things haven't gotten any better. They've been fighting a lot and they're seriously considering getting a divorce."
She stares at her mother and lets the words sink in. Divorce. Mr. and Mrs. Loski, Bryce's parents, were getting a divorce. Of course, with Mrs. Loski often at their house with red eyes and their depleting supply of Kleenex, she isn't exactly shocked, but she worries about what it will do to Bryce and Mrs. Loski. Did Bryce know? Had they told him? How did he feel about everything?
She hated to think about him, being there, having to see and hear his parents fight. Her parents rarely fought, but when they did, and she was here, she felt like crawling out of her skin. She could only imagine how it felt to be in the Loski house these days – to be in a house so seemingly perfect on the outside, yet quickly crumbling on the inside.
"Patsy was wondering. . . and she knows it's a lot to ask, considering your history with Bryce. . . but she was wondering if you could talk to him." She pauses, her eyes flickering across her face, as if gauging her reaction. "She's worried about him, Juli. With all of the fighting and hostility at the house, he disappears a lot and she's worried about the toll it's taking on him. Chet's already tried talking to him, and so has Patsy, but it's difficult when he's so closed off."
She becomes silent, and Juli thinks about what she said. There's no doubt in her mind that she would help out Mrs. Loski any way that she could, even considering the fact that Bryce could very well hate her.
"Patsy was here today because. . . well, last night, Bryce got into it with Rick. Yelling at each other – she said that she had never seen Bryce like that before. So angry. It scared her. Bryce was telling Rick just to leave and never come back. She thought one of them would throw a punch, but Rick ended up taking off."
Juli almost feels herself choke up at her mother's words. She wants to look across the street to the Loskis' and tell herself that everything was going to be fine, but she knows too well that everything is different now. Even from outside, she can tell their house isn't the same. Mrs. Loski wasn't outside in a bright yellow sundress, trimming her roses or waving hello or talking with the neighbors. Instead she was inside, cooped up, crying over her marriage. Her roses, once the proud blooms of the neighborhood, were dead and wilted now.
"I'll talk to Bryce," Juli says to her mother. She knows that it is probably going to be difficult, but she doesn't care. If this was the one thing she could do for Mrs. Loski, then she would do it.
"Thank you, Juli. I'm sure Patsy will be so grateful." Her mother sighs, putting on a small smile. She gives her a kiss on the forehead, before heading back downstairs.
Juli sits there for a minute, staring at the senseless block of text in front of her. She remembers there had been a time, when she was younger, that she had wished her parents were more like Mr. and Mrs. Loski. They would have a nicer home, with a nice yard, and money to buy nice things. She hadn't cared about any of that before until Bryce had let her know exactly what an eyesore their home and yard was, and for a while afterwards it was all she could think of. Their lives must have been easy, she'd thought. They could have anything they wanted.
Now she feels guilty – guilty for ever wanting a family different than her own, and guilty because she'd ever thought the Loskis had a perfect life. Now she knew just how wrong she was.
The next day at school all she can think about is Bryce. Her classes whiz by in a blur, and for once her mind is anywhere but on her studies. In the hallways she manages to snap out of her trance to look through the passing crowd, searching for Bryce, but she doesn't see him once.
During lunch she sees Diana walking out of the bathroom. She stops her.
"Diana, have you seen Bryce?"
She knows that Diana has a big mouth and has friends with equally large mouths, but she's no longer thinking about the reputation she's tried so hard to leave behind. She's going to be graduating in a few months and all of this would be behind her. It was an easy concession for moving on.
"No, he didn't show up for school today," Diana says. Then she gets a familiar glint of suspicion in her eyes. "Wait a minute. . ."
Juli turns and walks down the corridor, towards the school's exit. Behind her, she hears Diana call at her back, full of wild curiosity.
"Juli, did Bryce Loski ask you to the prom?"
When she arrives at the Loskis', she notices that Bryce's BMW is not parked in the driveway. She puts her truck on park and walks up to the front door, ringing the bell. Her hands are jittery, and her palms are sweaty. She licks her dry, chapped lips.
Mrs. Loski answers the door.
"Juli," she says, looking surprised to see her on her doorstep. "Hi."
"Hi Mrs. Loski, is Bryce home?"
"Actually, he's not. He went to California to visit Lynetta at the university for a few days."
When she hears this, she wants to let out a big breath of air. She feels a release of tension in her body, and suddenly her mind feels exhausted.
"Oh, okay. I didn't know. I'm sorry for bothering you, Mrs. Loski."
"Don't apologize, Juli," she says, very sincerely. "I know what a big favor you're doing for me. You're welcome any time. I'll be sure to let you know when Bryce is back."
As she stands there in front of a grateful and smiling Mrs. Loski, who used to look like one of those women who would get picked off of the street to model clothes in catalogues, she notices how weary and fatigued she looks. There are wrinkles on her face where there never used to be, and her blue eyes look sad. She wants to tell her that she doesn't consider this a favor. I care about your son, she wants to say to her. I've cared about your son ever since you moved in here all those years ago. But she knows that she doesn't need to. Mrs. Loski had always somehow known. That's why she had asked.
Over the next few days she slowly starts to submerge herself back into her schoolwork. She does this in hopes of regaining her focus. Yet somehow she finds herself always looking out of her window at the Loskis, checking to see if Bryce's BMW was back in the driveway.
"Patsy told me you stopped by the other day," Chet brings up one day, as he browses through the classics at the store. "She said you were looking for Bryce."
She wonders what Chet wants to hear from her. Did he want her to finally admit out loud that she cared about his grandson? That after all of this time, it had never really been over for her?
"I was," she says instead. She has an armful of books to re-shelve and she distracts herself with that. "He wasn't at school."
"She told me what you're doing for her. She's very grateful, and so am I."
She pauses at his words for a just second before continuing. "It's really no problem."
Towards the front of the store, she hears the bell ring as Mrs. Fletcher enters, giving her a small wave.
"I've tried talking to Bryce, myself, you know. I managed to get him to open up a little, but then he shuts down. He's got a lot of anger pent up inside and we're all worried that if he continues to keep it all inside, it will. . . well. That he'll do something reckless."
That's when Juli stops. She stares at the spines of the books in front of her. They become blurry, and she has to blink them back into focus.
"Chet. Why didn't you tell me?"
He sighs. "It wasn't for me to tell."
"But I mean, I could have. . . I don't know, I could have done something. For Bryce."
"Juli," Chet says, very seriously, "this is not your responsibility. Bryce is not your responsibility. I was hoping that, in the midst of all of this, he would finally muster up the courage and talk to you, forge a friendship. Instead he ran away. A trait, I'm sad to say, he inherited from his father."
She surprises herself by whipping her head around, her eyes hot and angry. "Bryce," she says to Chet, "is not Rick. He could never be Rick."
Chet watches her silently. "No," he says softly. "No, he couldn't."
Bryce Loski had always had the face of an angel. He was the star of the baseball team and a first-place sprinter on the track team. He got good grades. He didn't bully, or tease, or say mean things.
She had dreams about him sometimes. When she woke up she tried to convince herself that she didn't remember them at all, but she always does. Every single detail, she always does.
It's late when she comes home. It's always a late night when the store gets stock in, and the library at their school had donated boxes and boxes of old books to make room for the new ones they were getting from the district. She had spent nearly four hours going through books. Her hands feel papery and dusty.
She notices Bryce's BMW in the driveway, and suddenly all of her exhaustion has fled away. Her palms become moist against her steering wheel and she finds herself sitting in the driver's seat, watching their house from her rearview mirror. The light is on but she doesn't see him inside. She wonders if he had a good time in LA. She wonders how Lynetta took the news.
Slowly, she gets out of her car. She can hear the rambunctious calls of the crickets in their otherwise silent neighborhood. Inside her own home, she knows her parents are in bed, falling asleep after a long day.
She knows it's late but she feels the need to talk to Bryce – or, hell, even just to see him. But what could she say? Hi, Bryce. Hey, Bryce. How are you? How do you feel? How much do you hate your father? Did you meet anyone in LA? Why won't you talk to Chet? Are you taking Cindy Frisch to the prom? Do you ever still think about when you kissed me at the playground? Do you really hate me?
Do you regret planting the sycamore tree for me?
Do you miss me?
She feels physically paralyzed about the decision she has to make, but then she sees him pass by his window, and she feels like her heart jumps six feet into the air. She stands there, waiting for it to return to her from whatever galactic orbit it reached, and while she waits, half of her prays that he'll look out and see her, and know that she's there.
She enters her house, quietly sneaking up to her room. Even though she knows she'll get very little sleep tonight, she tries, anyway.
He only has the guts to look outside his window when he sees her figure turn and walk towards the door. He knows that she works late when they get stock in at the store. That's why he had kept his window open.
He watches her disappear behind the door, and for some reason, he can't help but think about how he's only ever watched her walk away.