This Lullaby

Author: P Hana

Page 7

   

Now, everyone looked at me. “Not necessarily in that order,” I added.

“So Jonathan’s out.” Chloe laughed, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of her jacket pocket. She held them out to me, and I shook my head.

“She quit,” Jess said to her. “Remember?”

“She’s always quitting,” Chloe replied, striking a match and leaning into it, then shaking it out. “What’d he do, Remy? Stand you up? Declare undying love?”

I just shook my head, knowing what was coming.

Jess grinned and said, “He wore a nonmatching outfit.”

“Smoked in her car,” Chloe said. “That’s got to be it.”

“Maybe,” Lissa offered, pinching my arm, “he made a major grammatical error and was fifteen minutes late.”

“Oh, the horror!” Chloe shrieked, and all three of them burst out laughing. I just stood there, taking it, realizing not for the first time that they only seemed to get along when ragging on me as a group.

“Funny,” I said finally. Okay, so maybe I did have a bit of history with expecting too much from relationships. But God, at least I had standards. Chloe only dated college guys who cheated on her, Jess avoided the issue by never dating anyone, and Lissa-well, Lissa was still with the guy she lost her virginity to, so she hardly counted at all. Not that I was going to point this out. I mean, I was all about the high road.

“Okay, okay,” Jess said finally. “How are we doing this?”

“Lissa goes to meet Adam,” I said. “You, me, and Chloe hit the Spot and then go on to Bendo. Okay?”

“Okay,” Lissa said. “I’ll see you guys later.” As she drove off, and Chloe moved her car to the church parking lot next door, Jess lifted up my hand, squinting at it.

“What’s this?” she asked me. I glanced down, seeing the black letters, smudged but still there, on my palm. Before leaving the house I’d meant to wash it off, then got distracted. “A phone number?”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “Just this stupid guy I met today.”

“You heartbreaker,” she said.

We piled into Jess’s car, me in front, Chloe in back. She made a face as she pushed aside a laundry hamper full of clothes, a football helmet, and some knee pads of Jess’s brothers, but she didn’t say anything. Chloe and Jess may have had their differences, but she knew where to draw the line.

“The Spot?” Jess asked me as she cranked the engine. I nodded, and she put the car in reverse, backing up slowly. I reached forward and turned on the radio while Chloe lit another cigarette in the backseat, tossing the match out the window. As we were about to pull out onto the road, Jess nodded toward a big metal trash can by the gas pumps, about twenty feet away.

“Bet me?” she asked, and I craned my neck, judging the distance, then picked up her mostly empty Zip Coke and shook it, feeling its weight.

“Sure,” I said. “Two bucks.”

“Oh, God,” Chloe said from the backseat, exhaling loudly. “Now that we’re out of high school, can we please move on from this?”

Jess ignored her, picking up the Zip Coke and pressing her hand around it, flexing her wrist, then stuck her arm out the driver’s-side window. She squinted, lifted her chin, and then, in one smooth movement, threw her arm up and released the Zip Coke, sending it arcing over our heads and the car. We watched as it turned end over end in the air, a perfect spiral, before disappearing with a crash, top still on and straw engaged, in the trash can.

“Amazing,” I said to Jess. She smiled at me. “I never have been able to figure out how you do that.”

“Can we go now?” Chloe asked.

“Like everything else,” Jess said, turning out into traffic, “it’s all in the wrist.”

The Spot, where we always started our night, really belonged to Chloe. When her dad and mom divorced back in the third grade, he’d left town with his new girlfriend, selling off most of the property he’d amassed in town while working as a developer. He only kept one lot, out in the country past our high school, a grassy field with nothing on it but a trampoline he’d bought for Chloe on her seventh birthday. Chloe’s mom had banished it quick from the backyard-it didn’t match her English garden decor, all sculpted hedges and stone benches-and it ended up out on the land, forgotten until we were all old enough to drive and needed someplace of our own.

We always sat on the trampoline, which was set up in the middle of the pasture, with the best view of the stars and sky. It still had some good bounce to it, enough so that any sudden movement by anybody jostled the rest. Which was good to remember whenever you were pouring something.

“Watch it,” Chloe said to Jess, her arm jerking as she poured some rum into my Zip Coke. It was one of those little airplane bottles, which her mom regularly brought home from work. Their liquor cabinet looked like it was designed for munchkins.

“Oh, settle down,” Jess replied, crossing her legs and leaning back on her palms.

“It’s always like this when Lissa isn’t here,” Chloe grumbled, opening up another bottle for herself. “The balance of weight gets all out of whack.”

“Chloe,” I said. “Give it a rest.” I took a sip of my Zip Coke, now spiked, tasting the rum, and offered it to Jess purely out of politeness. She never drank, never smoked. Always drove. Being a mom for so long to her brothers made it a given she’d be the same to us.

“Nice night,” I said to her now, and she nodded. “Hard to believe it’s all over.”

“Thank God,” Chloe said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Not a second too soon, either.”

“Let’s drink to that,” I said, and leaned forward to press my cup against her tiny bottle. Then we just sat there, suddenly quiet, no noise except the cicadas starting up in the trees all around us.

“It’s so weird,” Chloe said finally, “that it doesn’t feel different now.”

“What?” I asked her.

“Everything,” she said. “I mean, this is what we’ve been waiting for, right? High school’s over. It’s a whole new thing but it feels exactly the same.”

“That’s because nothing new has started yet,” Jess told her. She had her face tipped up, eyes on the sky above us. “By the end of the summer, then things will feel new. Because they will be.”

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