The silence waits as you inspect your cuticles and he turns the key in the ignition. “Buckle up for safety!” you say, your voice hollowly cheerful. He chuckles, acknowledging you and clicking his seatbelt. “Only 185 miles to Rochester!” The exclamation point falls dully on his mandatory chuckle. Silence stretches before you, longer and flatter than the road.
You stand quietly by the wall as colorful skirts twirled before you. You think of his voice, asking if you are that girl from 7A in college. You remember laughing, asking if he is the guy from 7B, already knowing the answer. That apartment was a dump, he said. You shake your head, remembering the windowless hallway of the windowless walk-up.
“Can I put something on?” you say, gesturing to the radio.
You wait for him to say something more, staring at his hands wrapped around the steering wheel. He remains silent. “Awesome. Country?” You are joking, of course.
“Sure,” he says. The sarcasm did not read. Does he like country music?
So you turn to the dial to Country Lite FM, and sit through a scratchy “Achy Breaky Heart”. You hate country music.
You look at his hands, sturdy, on the steering wheel and remember him pulling you onto the dance floor. You listen to the twang of bluegrass crunching out of the radio, and think of the fiddle last night. You think of how you whirled in his capable arms, your blue dress flying out behind your heels. You touch your hair, crinkled and sweet-smelling from the elaborate braids that weave lilacs around your face.
“20 percent of the way there!” you say as the odometer crosses the 37-mile mark.
“Only 148 left.” You are surprised he did that calculation in his head, surprised that he is continuing the conversation. “What’s your major?” he asks.
“Oh,” you say. “I’m double majoring in French and Poetry.”
“You?” Your palms are sweaty.
“Awesome.” The conversation dies with 80 percent more of the ride ahead.
He walked you home last night, after spinning you around the dance floor. The hem of your long, blue dress trailed after you put your heel through the dress. After the hem came off, you decided to use it as a headband holding two feet of black hair away from your face. He hasn’t noticed yet.
You remember him leaning against your creaky, white picket gate, a predictable banality on this storybook country road, tentatively offering you a ride back to your parent’s house in Rochester. You are both shy in the moonlight, suddenly quiet after shouting over the music. You remember him leaning across the gate and kissing you on the cheek, a butterfly’s wing, dewdrops hanging on every cowslip’s ear.
“Want to take the scenic route?” he asks.
“If you want, I can drive,” you offer. You are crossing your legs over your full bladder, hating the button of your jeans as it cuts into your stomach.
“No, that’s okay. I like to drive.”
You uncross and recross your legs, unbuttoning the jeans, relieving pressure.
You think how you shut your front door behind you, and sagged against it in the dark, living a hated romantic comedy cliché. The doorbell rings and you open it eagerly to see him sheepishly standing there, holding the ripped hem of your skirt in both his hands. It had come off on the path, the last fibers holding it to the skirt giving in to the mud. You laughed, and made him hot cocoa as a summer storm broke overhead, inhibiting his long walk home. He helped you pull the shutters on the windows, and quickly shove buckets under all the leaks. He smiled as you handed him blankets and a pillow, and you smiled because he expected nothing more than sleeping on the couch.
“I like this song.” His flat-nailed fingers twist the small radio knob and “Waterloo” rings out through the car.
“Waterloo”. It’s too cruel. You almost laugh. You have to water, you need the loo. “Pit stop?” Your pride caves to your kidneys.
You return to the car, languid and relaxed.
This morning, he was very different from how he was last night. He did not speak as you made eggs and hot cocoa while he packed the car. No “good morning”, no “ready to go?” no “last night was magical”, no “I want to kiss you”, no “thanks for letting me sleep on your couch”. Nothing.
Before driving, he pulls a bottle opener from his car and pulls the cap off his soda. “Here,” he says, holding it out to you.
In reply, you grasp the cap in your teeth and twist; a party trick learned on a damp tile floor, your sisters’ friends giggling at your wide-eyed pride. You daintily spit it out, the Heinekens and Budweisers mocking your innocent ginger ale.
“Impressive,” he grins.
“Thanks.” You hide your blush in the scenic views.
You think of how you clunked up the stairs to 7A, perspiration staining your white shirt, the right wheels snapped off your suitcase. How he smiled as he carried it up the last four flights of stairs, effortless in his strong arms and brought you hot chocolate, the real stuff, with steamed milk and melted chocolate, as a housewarming present.
You daringly brush your hand over his, inviting him to turn his palm over. He does. “Your hot cocoa was better,” you say.
He laughs. “The best remedy for homesickness.”
He squeezes your hand playfully.
You squeeze back.
He looks at you, green eyes shy under blond lashes.
So you, the girl of the library and one tube of lipstick, for the first and last time in your life make the first move. “You can kiss me if you want.”
So he does.
Amelia Jane Nierenberg is a junior at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York. She is a Fiction Reader for The Adroit Journal, and spends much of her free time painting and writing. Her work either appears or is forthcoming in Amazing Kids! Magazine, TAP Magazine Issue 25: Bare, Prick of the Spindle, The Blue Pencil Online, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Emerge Literary Journal, The Rusty Nail, Black Fox Literary Magazine and Blue Lake Review. She received five regional Honorable Mentions, eight Regional Silver Keys and three Regional Gold Keys from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.