Belissa Norwood was standing in front of him, her hair blowing around her face, hands in her pockets. She wasn’t dressed up like she’d been at the party, now wearing just jeans and a simple blue sleeveless shirt, a sweater tied around her waist, and I was struck, immediately, by how much prettier she looked. Less is more, indeed.
She was saying something to Eli, who wasn’t looking at her, instead just leaning forward on the bench, his head propped in his hands. Then she said something else, and he looked up at her and nodded. I just stood there, staring, as she slid down to sit beside him, her knee resting against his. After a moment, she leaned her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes.
‘Auden?’ Leah said. Seeing my face, she turned, looking behind her, just as a group of big-shouldered guys in tracksuits came out of the adjacent Jumbo Smoothie shop, blocking everything behind them. ‘What is it?’
‘Nothing,’ I said quickly. ‘I’m in.’
Wallace’s apartment was the lower level of a green house two streets back from the beach. The yard was mostly dirt with a few clumps of grass; there was a washing machine on the side porch, and a sign hanging over the garage read, inexplicably, SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY.
‘Interesting name choice,’ I said as I followed Maggie and Esther up the driveway, the bag of condiments we’d bought at the Gas/Gro – ketchup, mustard, mayo, and chocolate sauce – in my hand. Leah was lagging behind, her phone to her ear, still networking in hopes of finding a better destination.
‘It wasn’t up to the guys,’ Maggie explained over her shoulder. ‘The landlords picked it. It’s a beach thing, you know, naming houses. The last place Wallace lived was called GULL’S CRY.’
‘Which was a terrible name,’ Esther said. ‘Hey, Mags, remember when Eli and Abe were living over in that dump on Fourth Street? What was that –’
‘SUMMER LOVIN’,’ Maggie finished for her as we climbed the front steps. ‘And there was nothing to love about it, let me tell you. Such a dump.’
Just as she said this, Adam appeared in the open door, an oven mitt on one hand. ‘Hey,’ he said, holding it over his heart, offended. ‘You haven’t even come inside yet!’
‘I wasn’t talking about this place,’ Maggie told him as he stepped aside, letting us in. ‘This is… very nice.’
Which was kind of an overstatement. The living room was small, crowded with worn, mismatched furniture: plaid couch, striped recliner, very beat-up coffee table, stained with rings upon rings upon rings. Clearly, though, someone had taken steps to spruce it up, as was evident by the bowl of nuts on the table and what looked like a brand-new scented candle burning on the bar that led to the kitchen.
‘Decor,’ Adam said, having caught me noticing this. ‘It really makes a difference, don’t you think?’
‘Still stinks like beer,’ Leah informed him as she came in, dropping her phone in her purse.
‘Does that mean you don’t want one?’ Wallace yelled from the kitchen.
‘No,’ Leah said.
‘Didn’t think so,’ he replied, emerging with a twelve-pack of cans. He moved down the line, handing them off. I was going to pass but ended up taking one anyway, if only to be polite.
‘There are coasters to your left,’ Adam said to Leah as she popped her can.
‘Coasters?’ she said. ‘On this coffee table? It’s already covered with rings.’
He glanced at it, then at her. ‘Just because something’s damaged doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated with respect.’
‘Ad,’ Wallace said, ‘it’s a coffee table, not an orphan.’
Esther snickered. But Maggie, true to form, reached over and set a coaster on the table before putting her beer down. As she did, Adam reached behind him to the island, grabbing a camera sitting there. ‘Our first hot-dog party,’ he said, raising it to his eye. ‘I have to get a shot of this.’
The reaction in the room was swift, and unanimous: every single person except me raised their hands at once to cover their faces. The accompanying utterances, though, were varied. I heard everything from ‘Please no’ (Maggie), to ‘Jesus Christ’ (Wallace), to ‘Stop it or die’ (I’m assuming it’s obvious).
Adam sighed, lowering the camera. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘can you guys not allow one shot, once in a while?’
‘Because that was the deal,’ Wallace replied, his face muffled by his fingers, which were still over his mouth.
‘The deal?’ I asked.
Maggie separated her thumb and forefinger, then said through them, ‘Adam was yearbook editor for the last two years. He was relentless with the camera.’
‘I only had one person on staff!’ Adam protested. ‘I had no choice. Somebody had to take pictures.’
‘So we told him,’ Wallace continued, around his palm, ‘that we would tolerate it until the yearbook was done. But after that…’
‘No more pictures,’ Maggie said.
‘Ever,’ Leah added.
Adam put the camera back on the island, a glum expression on his face. ‘Fine,’ he said, and everyone dropped their hands. ‘But years from now, when you’re feeling nostalgic about this summer and yet can’t really reminisce because of a lack of documentation, don’t blame me.’
‘We’ve been fully documented,’ Maggie told him. ‘The yearbook candids were of nothing but us.’
‘Which is great, because you’ll never forget anything,’ he told her. ‘But that’s already history. This is now.’
‘The now in which we are spared being photographed.’ Leah picked up her beer – no coaster – and took a sip, then said, ‘So who else is coming to this shindig?’
‘You know, the usual suspects,’ Wallace replied, sitting down in the armchair, which sagged noticeably beneath him. ‘The guys from the shop, some of the locals from the bike park, that cute girl from Jumbo Smoothie, and –’
This thought was interrupted by the sound of someone banging up the steps. ‘Yo!’ a voice bellowed. ‘You guys better have some beer, because I am ready to get –’
Jake Stock – in a form-fitting black tee and a deeper tan than ever – stopped talking and walking the minute he came through the door and saw me and Maggie, side by side on the couch. Talk about a buzz kill.