My phone beeped again. This time, I didn’t even look at it. Later, though, back at home, I studied my phone, reading over Jason’s messages again. Maybe it would be my own kind of do-over to answer back, go meet him, try again for something I didn’t get before. But unlike bowling and food fights and breaking curfew, I didn’t feel like I’d missed out on Jason. Instead, what had happened – or not – with us was just a twist of fate, meant to be. Like we hadn’t even needed a first chance, much less a second one.
A week earlier, at eleven thirty P.M., I would have been out already an hour, just starting the night’s adventures. These days, though, I was usually back at home, in my room, hitting the books.
That night Eli had walked away from me, I’d come home around midnight to find the entire house quiet. Isby was asleep in her room, and Heidi was down for the count, although she’d left her bedside light on. I’d gone to my own room, planning to just grab a few things before heading out, but then I’d remembered what Jason had said about reading ahead and hitting the ground running. The next thing I knew, I was pulling my suitcase out from under my bed.
When I opened it up, the first thing I saw was the picture frame Hollis had given me, which I promptly pushed aside. Beneath it was my econ textbook. Within ten minutes, I was reading chapter one, a yellow pad half covered with notes beside me.
It was so easy. Academics, like an old friend, had just waited patiently for me, and returning to it felt safe and right. Unlike all the things I’d been doing with Eli, which were new and challenging and way out of my comfort zone, studying was my strength, the one thing I did well, no matter what else was going badly.
So instead of driving around that night, I stayed in my room, the window open beside me, reading chapter after chapter as the waves crashed below. Still, whenever I took a break to go get more coffee, or hit the bathroom, I’d find myself glancing at my watch, wondering what Eli was up to. At midnight, probably the Washroom. By one thirty, Park Mart. And then, who knew? Without me and my stupid quest to deal with, he could have been anywhere.
Where I ended up, though, surprised me most of all. At seven A.M., I jerked awake, lifting my head off my legal pad, where it had apparently dropped when I actually fell asleep at some point the night before. My neck was aching, and I had ink stains on my cheek, but none of these felt as odd as the sensation that I had actually slept at night for the second time in a row. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know why.
Whatever the reason, this sudden change in sleeping habits – which continued over the next three nights – completely threw me off my schedule. For the first time in recent memory, I was awake and lucid in the morning. At first, I tried to just keep studying, but by day three, I decided to go to Clementine’s.
‘Oh, my God,’ I heard Maggie say as soon as I walked in. ‘This is unbelievable.’
I rolled my eyes, then slid off my sunglasses, bracing myself for the inevitable questions, and required explanation, of what I was doing there so early. Then I realized that she hadn’t seen me at all. Instead, she, Leah, and Adam were crowded around a laptop open on the counter, watching something on-screen.
‘Tell me about it,’ Adam said. ‘None of us had any idea. Not even Jake. He just got a text from someone saying they’d seen it online, and so he looked it up.’
‘What’s the date on it, again?’ Leah asked as Maggie hit a button, leaning in closer.
‘Yesterday. It was the Hopper Bikes exhibition thing, in Randallton.’
They all focused on the screen again, not seeming to notice me as I came closer, picking up the previous day’s receipts. I glanced at the screen: there was a bike going up a ramp, then down the other side.
‘He looks good,’ Maggie said.
‘He looks great,’ Adam told her. ‘I mean, it was his first competition in over a year and he placed second.’
‘Look at that,’ Maggie murmured.
‘No kidding. It’s serious vertical.’ Adam shook his head. ‘I can’t believe Eli just got on the bike after all that time and did that well. It’s crazy.’
I looked at the screen again. The figure on the bike was small, but now I noticed the longer hair sticking out beneath the helmet.
‘Well,’ Maggie said, ‘maybe he didn’t.’
She didn’t answer at first. Then she said, ‘Just because we didn’t see him riding didn’t mean he wasn’t.’
‘Yeah, but,’ Adam said, ‘to be that good, still, he’d have to have been practicing a lot. Someone would have seen something. Unless he was, like…’
‘… doing it in the middle of the night or something,’ Leah finished for him.
I glanced up. Both she and Maggie were looking at me, straight on. Adam, seeing this, looked at me, then back at them. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘What am I missing?’
‘Did you know about this?’ Leah asked. ‘About Eli competing again?’
I shook my head. ‘No.’
‘You sure about that?’ Maggie said. ‘You two seem to have a lot of secrets.’
‘Yeah,’ I told her. ‘I’m positive.’
They were all still watching me as I picked up my receipts, then went back into the office, shutting the door behind me. I listened as they watched the video again and again, commenting on how impressive Eli looked, how much he had surprised everyone. Especially me. It made me realize how lucky I’d been to get the tiniest glimpse into what was in his head, like pushing a door open just enough for a sliver of light to fall through. At the same time, though, it made it clear how much still remained unexplored, unseen.
Aside from glimpsing the video, I didn’t want to see Eli. In fact, I was so embarrassed about how I’d acted and what I’d said that I took great pains to avoid the bike shop whenever possible. I came and went from Clementine’s by the back door most of the time, claiming that way got me home faster. I wasn’t sure whether Maggie and everyone else believed me, and didn’t really care either. In a couple of weeks, I’d pack up for home, and then from there, Defriese. This part of my life, strange and transitory, was almost over. Thank God.
Later that night, when I took a study break, Heidi had pulled the rocking chair to the sliding glass doors, and had Isby swaddled and asleep in her arms, her phone at her ear.
‘I don’t know,’ she was saying. ‘Whenever we talk, he just sounds so defeated. Like he’s convinced this won’t work no matter what we do. I know, but…’