And then we both saw it: headlights, in the distance. They came closer, even closer, and then finally swung left, disappearing down a side road. So close, and yet so far.
Wes sighed, shaking his head, then looked at me. “Okay, forget it,” he said. “I drop my case. We tell the truth, or else. Okay?”
I nodded. “Fine with me.”
“Go ahead then,” he said. “It’s your turn.”
I thought for a second, really wanting to come up with something good. Finally I said, “Okay, fair’s fair. What was the story with your last girlfriend?”
“My last girlfriend,” he said, “or the girlfriend I have now?”
I had to admit I was surprised. Not just surprised, I realized, gauging the sudden drop in my stomach, but disappointed. But only for a second. Of course a boy like him had a girlfriend.
“The current girlfriend,” I said. “What’s the story there?”
“Well,” he said. “To begin with, she’s incarcerated.”
I looked at him. “You’re dating a prisoner?”
“Rehab.” He said this so easily, the way I’d told people Jason was at Brain Camp, as if it was just that normal. “I met her at Myers. She was in for shoplifting, but since then she got busted with some pot, so now she’s at Evergreen Care Center. At least until her dad’s insurance runs out.”
“What’s her name?”
Becky. Becky the shoplifting pothead, I thought, and then immediately told myself I was being petty. “So it’s serious,” I said.
He shrugged. “She’s been in and out of trouble for the last year, so we’ve hardly gotten to see each other. She says she hates for me to see her at Evergreen, so we’re sort of waiting until she gets out to see what happens.”
“And when’s that?” I asked.
“End of the summer.” He kicked at a rock, sending it skittering across the pavement. “Until then, everything’s just sort of on hold.”
“That’s me, too,” I said. “We’re supposed to get together in August, when we’ll know better whether we want the same things, or if it’s best to make this break permanent.”
He winced, listening to this. “That sounds verbatim.”
I sighed. “It is. Right off the email he sent me.”
So there we were, me and Wes, still walking, in the dark, on a break. It was weird, I thought, how much you could have in common with someone and, from a distance, never even know it. That first night at my mom’s he’d just been a good-looking boy, one I figured I’d never see again. I wondered what he’d thought of me.
“Okay,” he said, as we started up a hill lined by trees, “my turn.”
I slid my hands in my pockets. “Okay, shoot.”
“Why’d you really stop running?”
I felt myself take in a breath, like this had hit me in my gut: it was that unexpected. Questions about Jason I could handle, but this was something else. Something more. But we were playing Truth, and so far he’d played fair. It was dark and quiet, and we were alone. And suddenly, I found myself answering.
“The morning my dad died,” I said, keeping my eyes on the road ahead, “he came into my room to wake me up for a run, and I was sleepy and lazy, so I waved him off and told him to go without me.”
This was the first time, ever, that I’d told this story aloud. I couldn’t even believe I was doing it.
“A few minutes later, though, I changed my mind.” I stopped, swallowing. I didn’t have to do this. I could pass, and if I lost, no big deal. But for some reason I kept going. “So I got up and went to catch up with him. I knew the route he’d take, it was the same one we always did. Out our neighborhood, a right on Willow, then another right onto McKinley.”
Wes wasn’t saying anything, but I knew he was listening. I could just tell.
“I was a little less than halfway into that first mile when I came over this ridge and saw him. He was lying on the sidewalk.”
I felt him look at me, but I knew if I turned to face him I’d stop. So I just kept talking. My footsteps, our footsteps, were so steady. Keep going, I thought. Keep going.
“At first,” I said, “it didn’t even compute, you know? I mean, my mind couldn’t put it together, even though it was right in front of my face.”
The words kept coming, almost too fast, tumbling over my tongue like they’d been held back for so long that now, finally free, nothing could stop them. Not even me.
“I started running faster. I mean, faster than I ever had. It was adrenaline, I guess. I’d never run that fast in my life. Never.”
All I could hear were our footsteps. And the quiet dark. And my voice.
“There was this man,” I went on. “He was just some random guy who’d been on his way to the store, and he’d stopped and was trying to give my dad CPR. But by the time I got to him, he’d already given up. The ambulance came, and we went to the hospital. But it was too late.”
And then it was done. Over. I could feel my breath coming quickly, through my teeth, and for a second I felt unsteady, as if with this story no longer held so closely against me, I’d lost my footing. Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, to how it holds you to a place.
“Macy,” he said quietly.
“Don’t,” I said, because I knew what came next, some form of I’m sorry, and I didn’t want to hear it, especially now, especially from him. “Please. Just—”
And then, suddenly, there was light. Bright yellow light, rising over the other side of the hill, splashing across us: instantly, we had shadows. We were both squinting, Wes raising one hand to shield his eyes. The car had a rumbling engine, and it seemed like it took forever to pull up beside us and slow to a stop.
“Hey.” A man’s voice came from behind the wheel. After all the brightness, I couldn’t make out his face. “You kids need a ride someplace? What you doing out here?”
“Ran out of gas,” Wes told him. “Where’s the nearest station?”
The man jerked his thumb in the opposite direction. “About three miles that way. Where’d you break down?”
“About two miles that way,” Wes told him.
“Well, get in then,” he said, reaching to unlock the back door. “I’ll run you up there. You about scared me to death, though, walking out here in the dark. Thought you were deer or something.”