This is from the book Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen. (Disclaimer: I do not own anything)
Chapter 12; page 257- 272
I drove up to the Gas/Gro with newspapers in hand ready to deliver. I saw Auden walking by, and instead of honking the horn to get her attention; I threw a paper at her. I watched it fly in a perfect arch and land right at her feet. She looked up as I pulled the car up beside her.
"So you have a paper route now?" This girl was so skeptic about everything.
"Technically," I replied as she picked up the paper, making a face when she saw the stacks loaded and ready to go in the back of the truck. I felt the need to explain more, "my friend Roger has a paper route. But he also has the flu, so I'm helping him out. Plus, it might apply to your quest."
The quest. If only she new that I had made up the whole quest thing on the spot, so I would have a reason to hang around her more and more. Everything we did had to do with the quest. Her quest. But the thing was, I wasn't even sure if we were both ready for a commitment, being it as we were both starting college in the fall. The quest was all for her, but it was also for me, to get to know her better.
"Delivering papers?" she asked, sounding unsure.
"Sure." I stopped the car and gestured to the passenger door, knowing she would climb in. It was for the quest. She started around to the other side of the car and I continued, "It's a rite of passage. My first job was delivering the Colby Coupon Clipper on my bike."
"I've had jobs."
That wasn't hard to believe. Auden was definitely the type of girl who would have had multiple jobs, most likely boring ones too. "Yeah? What were they?"
"I worked for a professor in the English department one summer, helping with a bibliography for his book. Then I worked for my mom's accountant as an office assistant. And all last year I did test prep at Huntsinger." She said as she slid into the seat. She looked proud, giving me a look, like I was supposed to be impressed. I was, in fact, very impressed. This just went under the long list of things that Auden has accomplished as a teenager that some adults who have been through college have not accomplished yet.
I just looked at her as I stepped on the gas and said, "You defiantly need a paper route. At least for one night."
I drove her and myself around, trying to teach her the proper technique when throwing a paper, showing her how to get the perfect arch when you throw it.
"Eleven hundred," I said, "That's you."
She picked up the paper, throwing it into a pile of lawn clippings. "Woops," she said, before getting out of the car and going to retrieve it. The second time she hit the right side of the driveway, "It's harder than it looks," she told me when she got back into the car.
"Most things are," I said, throwing the next paper, landing perfectly on the front steps. I turned to grab another one, when I noticed that Auden was starting at me, speechless. I shrugged my shoulders, "Colby Coupon Clipper, I told you. Two years."
I drove up to the next house, "Still," she said. She threw the next paper, and it made its way into the bushes. She had to get out of the car again to go find it. "God, I suck at this," she said to herself when she got back into the car.
I looked at her, surprised. "It's your second one," I told her before launching another perfect throw, hitting a lawn-flamingo square on.
"Still," she repeated. I watched her carefully this time as she threw another one. This one hit the front steps before bouncing off into the bushes. She come back moments later, frustration clearly written all over her face.
"You know," I started, throwing another paper, hitting the Welcome mat, "it's okay not to be good at everything."
"This is delivering papers," she said, sounding disgusted at herself.
"So?" I asked as I threw another paper.
"So," she started, "It's all right if I suck at, say, quantum physics. Or Mandarin Chinese. Because those things are hard, and take work."
I looked at her, baffled at the words that just had come out of her mouth, as she totally missed another driveway. I tried to keep my voice level, and not let the amusement I was feeling inside to show through, "And clearly, this doesn't."
"It's different," she paused, turning to me, like she was explaining this to a little kid, "Look, achievement is my thing, okay? It's what I do. It's all I've ever been good at."
"You're good at doing well," I asked, clarifying that I heard her right.
"I'm good, at learning. Because I never had to involve anyone else in that. It was just me, and the subject matter."
"Indoors, working away," I added, receiving a look from her, and I just gave her a paper in return.
She threw it, finally hitting the driveway, so I moved on.
"Life is full of screwups," I started, throwing another paper. "You're supposed to fail sometimes. It's a required part of the human being existence."
"I've failed," she said quickly, trying to defy me.
"Yeah? At what?" I was waiting for this answer, knowing that it was going to be nothing compared to what I've failed at.
She was quiet for a minute. Finally she said, "I told you, I was a social failure."
I turned the corner, throwing a couple more papers, "Yeah, but you didn't try to become homecoming queen and lose, though."
"Well, I never wanted to be homecoming queen. Or any of that stuff," she huffed when she said this, like she was trying to prove a point.
"Then you didn't fail. You just opted out. There's a difference," I calmly pointed out to her.
She considered this for a minute, before asking, "What about you, then? What did you fail at?"
"The better question is," I stopped for a stop sign, looking both ways before continuing, "is what didn't I fail at."
"Really," I could her the surprise in her voice when she heard this, but what she didn't know is how openly honest I was being with her. Or how openly honest I was with her all of the time. I never once lied to her or tried to deceive her. In the short time that I knew her, I already felt this small connection to her. I felt that if I tried to play with the binding that held us together, something was going to go wrong. So I did what I always did. I played it cool and composed, so she couldn't really see the confusing emotions that were bouncing around inside of my head.
I ended up nodding, listing some things on my fingers, "Algebra. Football. Lacey McIntyre. Skateboarding on a half-pipe..."
"Lacey McIntyre?" she interrupted.
"Eighth-grade," I explained. "Spent months working up to asking her to a dance, and she shot me down cold. In full view of the entire lunchroom."
"Tell me about it," I told her, remembering the embarrassment that I felt that day when she shot me down That day a vowed to never ask a girl out again, and yet here I was, with Auden.
"Winning over Belissa's dad, who still hates me. Convincing my little brother not to be such a chump. Learning to fix my own car," I continued while throwing more papers.
"Wow. That's a long list," Auden said, surprised that I actually had pretty much failed at everything.
"I told you. I'm very good at being bad at things."
She glanced at me while I threw another paper, "So you never get discouraged."
"Of course I do," I said. "Failing sucks. But it's better than the alternative."
"Which is?" she prompted.
"Not even trying at all." I looked at her straight on, trying to get her to understand what I was trying to say. "Life's too short, you know?"
The car was silent, my thoughts moving to Abe. I don't even flinch when I think about him anymore, the empty feeling I always feel when I think of him started to fill me up inside. Even in Auden's presence, which normally filled me up and kept me going for hours, there was still always that one gaping hole which I knew would always be Abe's.
Auden pulled me from my thoughts, "Okay. This one's mine."
I hadn't even realized that we were in her neighborhood, and she grabbed a paper and threw it. It ended up hitting the windshield of Heidi's car.
"I know it's family, but that one demands a do-over."
Auden got out of the car and picked up the paper, walking over to the porch and setting it down in the middle of the mat. She got up to leave, but paused. She leaned against the door, listening to what was going on inside. She listened for a minute then sat up straight as pin, backing away a step form the door. She stood staring at it for a minute, not moving.
She turned quickly and ran back to the car, slamming the door shut. I looked at her, her face pale and unreadable.
"Hey. You okay?" I asked, concerned for her. I wasn't like Auden to act like this.
The minute I asked that question, she shook her head yes. The next thing I knew, she burst out into tears, shaking her head no. She hunched over, and hands covering her face, sobbing. I looked away quickly, not sure what to do. I continued on my route, throwing paper after paper, not saying anything. I knew she wouldn't want me to comfort her, for that would most likely insult her, knowing that I thought that she needed any help. It was hard for me not to wrap me arms around her and protect her from whatever had hurt her so badly. The pain of ignoring her only worsened as I finished the route, the sound of her sobs finally started to die down as we reached my apartment.
I pulled up to my parking spot and climbed out of the car. "Come on." I got out of the car and walked up the narrow flight of stairs to my door. Auden followed shortly, tears still rolling silently down her cheeks.
"Forgive the mess," I told her as a opened the door and turned on the lights, "Housework is another one of my failings."
She walked in, standing in the middle of my small one room apartment.
"Have a seat," I told her, going into the kitchen, rummaging around for the box of Rice Krispies cereal. "There's a chair."
She looked at the chair, then back up at me. "And only a chair. What do you do when you have company?"
"I don't," I said simply, getting out the butter and the saucepan. I stuck a piece of butter in the pan before putting the butter away and putting the pan on the stove.
"Look, what happened back there-"
"It's okay," I said quickly. I didn't want her to feel like she had to explain herself to me, "We don't have to talk about it."
It was quiet for a minute, while I tipped the pan from side to side to spread the butter. I felt her watching me, grateful that I had told her she didn't have to explain herself to me.
"Remember how you were asking me what I'd failed at earlier?" I suddenly heard her say.
I nodded my head, not knowing what I was going to hear from her next, "Yeah. The social thing, right?"
"That," she said, pausing for a minute. She continued quietly, "And keeping my parents together."
I paused, the box of Rice Krispies cereal in my hand. I turned to look at her. She was sitting there, a far-a-way look in her eyes. She looked like she had just come to realize something. She blinked a couple times, tears rolling down her cheeks. I leaned against the island across from her, not touching her and giving her space to think and to breathe.
"Hey. Auden," I said, breaking the silence after a few minutes.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, still crying. "I just... I don't even think about this anymore, but then when I went to throw that paper, they were fighting, and it was so..."
I placed down the Rice Krispes box on the island near Auden, after pouring some into the pan.
"Who was fighting?" I asked softly, trying not to push, but trying to make her talk to me. It touched me that she was confiding in me, and that she trusted me enough to allow me to see the fragile side of her. I stood there, leaning across the island, close to her but not willing to touch her just yet.
"My dad and Heidi. Things have been pretty bumpy since Isby came, and tonight I guess things just blew up, or something." She wouldn't look at me, and her voice was still chocked up, her words coming out in little sobs.
"Just because people fight doesn't mean that they're splitting up," I told her. Not quite sure what else to do to comfort her than what I was already doing. I didn't want to reach out and touch her, for fear that she would close up the minute I lay a finger on her.
"I know that."
"I mean, my parents used to go at it sometimes. It just kind of cleared the air, you know? It was always better afterward."
"I know my dad, though," she started, sounding disgusted. "I've seen him do this before."
"People change," I said softly. I would be the one to know. I was a wreck before she showed up in my life, and she helped me change back to my normal self. I was happier when I was with her, I felt alive. I felt as if I had some sort of purpose on this earth. I knew that she may not be able to tell, but then again everyone else around this town could tell that something was different in me. When I looked in the mirror, I even noticed that my haunted face didn't look as haunted as it did before.
"Or they don't," she replied, finally raising her eyes to meet mine. There was so much sadness that filled them, that it was heartbreaking. "Sometimes, they don't."
I held her stare, staring into their depths, trying to tell if she really meant what she was saying. The quiet night wrapped itself around us, surrounding the room in silence. It was just us two in this one moment. It was peaceful, and I slowly come to realize that I could stare into her eyes forever.
A crackling pop brought us out of our peaceful reserve. "Whoops."
I looked over my shoulder, running over to the stove and turning it off. I lift the saucepan off the stove. "One sec, let me just finish these."
"What are doing over there, anyway?" She asked, and I was glad to hear that her voice was back its normal composure. I finished making the treats, setting them aside to cool.
"Making Rice Krispies treats."
My answer sweet and simple, but she still had to ask, "Why?"
"Because it's what my mom always did when my sisters were crying," I glanced at her, nervous of all a sudden that this was a horrible idea. "I don't know. I told you, I never have company. You were upset, and it just seemed..."
I trailed off as she looked around the room, taking in everything. She looked at the plain bed, the one chair, the yellow light outside the door that always glowed into the night sky.
"... perfect," she finished for me, giving me a small smile. "Its perfect."
Later that night, we both sat around the one chair, having eaten half a pan of the Rice Krispie treats, each having a cup of coffee.
Auden looked around for the millionth time, placing her coffee mug at her feet. "So let me guess, you're a minimalist."
I glanced around the room. I had never thought of it that way. "You think?"
"Eli, you have one chair," she informed me, her voice flat, pointing out the obvious.
"Yeah. But just because all the furniture at my old place was Abe's."
I looked up at Auden, her face full of surprise. She picked up her mug and took another sip of her coffee, "Really."
"Yeah," I said. I tried to distract myself by picking off crumbs from the side of the pan. "The minute he made some prize money riding, he was all about decorating our place. And he bought the stupidest stuff. Huge TV, singing fish..."
"You know, those plastic ones that you hang on the wall, and when you walk by they start singing, like, some Motown song?" She just looked at me, her expression blank. "Okay, so you don't know. Consider yourself lucky. Ours was, like, the center of our apartment. He put it right by the door, so it went off constantly, and everyone had to listen."
She smiled. "Sounds interesting."
"That's not the word I would choose." I shook my head and all of a sudden everything came spilling out of me before I had a chance to stop it. "Plus, he insisted on buying these big papasan chairs, you know the ones that are circular, filled with squishy cushions? I wanted a plain, normal couch. But no. We had to have these stupid things that everyone was always getting sucked down into. No one could ever get up and out of them on their own. We were always having to pull people out, like a freaking rescue mission."
"I'm totally serious. It was ridiculous." I sighed, letting myself open up to her even more. It was frightening, how comfortable I was with her in just the short amount of time I've known her, "And then there was the whole water bed thing. He said he'd always wanted one. Even when it leaked, and gave him a crazy backache, he would not admit it was a mistake. 'I must have spilled something,' he'd say, or 'I really pulled a muscle on that last ride.' He was hobbling around like an old man, complaining constantly. All night long, all I could hear was him thrashing around, trying to get comfortable. It was, like, an endless squishing."
She laughed, making me smile at the sound. "So what happened? Did he finally give it up?"
"No." I said. "He died."
She looked at me, guilt plastered all over her face. "I'm sorry. I –"
"See, but that's the thing, though." I sat back, shaking my head. "Everyone always wants to tell these stories, all the stories. It's all anyone wanted to do at the funeral, and after. Oh, remember this thing, and this, and what about after this? But the ending to every story is the same. He dies. That's never going to change. So why even bother?"
We were both quiet for a moment. "I guess," Auden said, "that for some people, it's how they remember. You know, by telling stories. It keeps the person close."
"But I don't have that problem, not remembering," I said quietly, almost bitterly.
"I know," she told me, just as quietly, looking at me intensely.
"You want to know about failure?" I looked up at her, her eyes meeting her eyes. "Try being the one who was driving. Who got to live."
"Eli," she started. Her voice was low and reassuring. "It wasn't your fault. It was an accident."
I shook my head. "Maybe. But the bottom line is, I'm here and he's not. And everyone who sees me– his parents, his girlfriend– they know that. In all the uncertainty, it's the one thing that they know for sure. And it sucks."
"I'm sure they don't hold it against you," she said, still trying to reassure me.
"They don't have to." I looked down at my mug, blinking back the tears that always come, before looking back up at her. The hole that I felt when I thought about this started to fill me again. When I looked up at her, her face was filled with genuine heart-felt for me. "The whole do-over thing, that's all I think about since it happened. What if we'd left that party earlier, or later. If I'd seen the car coming at us and not stopping, a moment sooner. If he'd been driving instead of me. There are a million variables, and if even one was different... maybe everything would be."
We were both quiet for a moment, then Auden finally said, "You can't think like that, though. You'll make yourself crazy."
I gave her a wry smile. "Tell me about it."
She opened her mouth to say something, but stopped when I got up to take the extra treats to the kitchen to put away for a separate time. I needed some time away from her to collect myself. I wasn't going to break down in front of Auden, no matter how much I trust her. I was in the kitchen washing the pan, when I heard a thump on the wall from next door. Auden looked at the wall, slowly walking towards it, listening closely.
"That's the McConners," I informed her.
I walked over to stand behind her. "The McConners. They own this house. Their son's room is right through that wall."
"He usually wakes up once or twice a night. Asks for water, you know, the whole thing." I sat down on my bed, the springs squeaking. "If it's really quiet, I can hear every word."
She came to sit down beside me, listening with me. You could hear two voices murmuring, one high and one low.
"I used to do that," I whispered to her. I never understood why I felt compelled to tell Auden every little thing there is to know about me. Every time there was a story to tell, I was jumping at the bit to tell her my story, to let her get to know the real me. "The whole waking up thing, when I was a kid. I remember it."
"Not me," she told me just as quietly, "My parents need their sleep."
I shook my head, lying back on my pillow, getting comfortable on the bed. Whenever she said something like this, it just reminded me how this girl, the girl that filled me with so much happiness whenever I saw her, never had a childhood. "You were always thinking of your parents, huh?"
"Pretty much," she said, stifling a yawn. She looked down at her watch, to the wall, then to me. She finally slid down, resting her head on my arm. I froze, not sure what to do.
"It's late. He should go to sleep," she quietly, her voice low.
"Not always so easy," I said back, equally as quiet. I felt her finally relax near me. I turned and brushed my lips across the top of her head, trying to push down the happiness that I felt that she was staying here, with me.
The small light in the kitchen was still on, but I didn't care. I looked down at her, seeing that she had closed her eyes, looking as peaceful and innocent as I've ever seen.
"It's not your fault. You're not to blame," she said suddenly, her voice far away.
"Neither are you," I answered.
It was late, I realized. Late for anyone to be up, with anyone they cared about. Auden turned and fit herself into my side, her head on my chest and her arms and legs wrapped around me. I allowed her warmth to spread all over me, letting the feeling spread from my head to my toes. I smiled, and for the first time in my life I allowed the love and passion I felt for one girl fill me up to me the brim. Her breathing was shallow, and I knew that she had fallen asleep. I wrapped my arms around her, wanting to protect her and never let her go.
I could love you, was my last thought before the thick, heavy darkness pulled me under- making me wait to see her face again, when the sun rises.