“No,” he said, “you’re right about that.”
I sat back against the side of the truck, stretching my legs out in front of me. Once we left the party, Wes had stopped at the Quik Zip, where I’d bought a big bottled water and some aspirin. Then he drove me back to my house, rebuffing my half-hearted protests by promising to get me back to my car the next morning. Once there, I’d expected him to just drop me off, but instead ever since, we’d been sitting in my driveway, watching fireflies flit around the streetlights and telling Truths.
But not the one about why I’d grabbed his hand. Everything had been such a blur, so hot and crazy, that there were moments I wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing. But then I’d remember Monica, her flat skeptical look, and know it had happened. I kept thinking about Jason, how weird he’d always been about physical contact, how reaching out for him was always like taking a chance, making a wish. With Wes, it had come naturally, no thinking.
“I wouldn’t be so afraid,” I said now. Wes, watching a firefly bob past, turned to look at me. “If I could change anything about myself. That’s what it would be.”
“Afraid,” he repeated. Once again, I was reminded how much I liked that he never judged, in face or in tone, always giving me a chance to say more, if I wanted to. “Of . . .”
“Of doing things that aren’t planned or laid out in advance for me,” I said. “I’d be more impulsive, not always thinking about consequences.”
He thought about this for a second. “Give me an example.”
I took a sip of my water, then set it down beside me. “Like with my mother. There’s so much I want to say to her, but I don’t know how she’ll react. So I just don’t.”
“Like what?” he asked. “What do you want to say?”
I ran my finger down the tailgate, tracing the edge. “It’s not as much what I’d say, but what I’d do.” I stopped, shaking my head. “Forget it. Let’s move on.”
“Are you passing?” he asked.
“I answered the question!” I said.
He shook his head. “Only the first part.”
“That was not a two-part question,” I said.
“It is now.”
“You know you’re not allowed to do that,” I said. When we’d started, the only rule was you had to tell the truth, period. Still, ever since, we’d been bickering over various addendums. There had been a couple of arguments about the content of questions, one or two concerning the completeness of answers, and too many to count about whose turn it was. This, too, was part of the game. It was considerably harder to play by the rules, though, when you were making them up as you went along.
He looked at me, shaking his head. “Come on, just answer,” he said, nudging my arm with his.
I exhaled loudly, leaning back on my palms. “Okay,” I said, “I’d just . . . if I could, I’d just walk up to my mother and say whatever I felt like saying, right at that moment. Maybe I’d tell her how much I miss my dad. Or how I worry about her. I don’t know what. Maybe it sounds stupid, but for once, I’d just let her know exactly how I feel, without thinking first. Okay?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d felt a wave of embarrassment pass over me in giving an answer, but this was more raw and real, and I was grateful for the near-dark for whatever it could hide of my expression. For a minute, neither of us said anything, and I wondered again how it was possible that I could confess so much to a boy I’d only known for half a summer.
“That’s not stupid,” he said finally. I picked at the tailgate, keeping my head down. “It’s not.”
I felt that weird tickle in my throat and swallowed over it. “I know. But just talking about anything emotional is hard for her. For us. It’s like she prefers we just not do that anymore.”
I swallowed again, then took a deep breath. I could feel him watching me.
“Do you really think she feels that way?” he asked.
“I have no real way of knowing. We don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about anything. That’s the problem.” I ran my finger around the edge of my water. “That’s my problem, actually. I don’t talk to anybody about what’s going on in my head, because I’m afraid they might not be able to take it.”
“What about this?” he asked, waving his hand between us. “Isn’t this talking?”
I smiled. “This is Truth,” I said. “It’s different.”
He pulled a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. The vomit story alone was huge.”
“Enough with the vomit story,” I said, exasperated. “Please God I’m begging you.”
“The point is,” he continued, ignoring this, “that you’ve told me a lot playing this game. And while some of it might be weird, or heavy, or downright gross—”
“—it’s nothing I couldn’t handle.” He was looking at me now, his face serious. “So you should remember that, when you’re thinking about what other people can deal with. Maybe it’s not so bad.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Or maybe you’re just really extraordinary.”
As this came out, it was like someone else had said it. I just heard the words, even agreed with them, and a second later realized it was my voice. Oh, my God, I thought. This is what happens when you don’t think and just do.
We sat there, looking at each other. It was warm out, the fireflies sparkling around us, and he was close to me, his knee and mine only inches apart. I had a flash of how his hand had felt earlier, his fingers closing over mine, and for one crazy second I thought that everything could change, right now, if only I could let it. If he’d been any other boy, and this was any other world, I would have kissed him. Nothing would have stopped me.
“Okay,” I said, too quickly, “my turn.”
He blinked at me, as if he’d forgotten we were even playing. So he’d felt it, too.
“Right,” he said, nodding. “Go ahead. Hit me.”
I took in a breath. “What’s the one thing you’d do,” I asked, “if you could do anything?”
As always, he took a second to think, staring straight ahead out at the clearing. I had no idea what he’d say, but then I never did. Maybe he’d reply that he wished he could see his mom again, or suddenly be granted X-ray vision, or orchestrate world peace. I don’t know what I was expecting. But it wasn’t what I got.