Filed under: Chapter 20 | Tags: Carrie Rollwagen, Corsets, Dear Daniel, Hello Kitty, hot topic, Second Life, Some New Trend, Twilight pens, werewolves, World of Warcraft
JOSH AND BRYANNA, MAKING OUT on the roof.
The image is burned into my mind like a solar eclipse you can’t look away from—one moment, everything is bright, and then you’re left with total darkness.
I thought Josh really liked me. I’d felt a connection with him tons of times before, but after the fountain I was sure I wasn’t imagining things. His feelings were the same as mine, and they were as real as the penny I fished out of the fountain and put in the little jewelry box on my dresser.
That is, until last night. I stayed late at Hot Topic to do inventory, counting glitter eyeshadows and punk hair dyes. When we finally finished, I waited in the parking lot for my mom to pick me up and I heard voices above me, on the Macy’s rooftop. I thought I was imagining the voices, and I’d look up and find the roof empty, as usual. But I was wrong about the roof being empty. I was wrong about everything.
For the first time, I’m glad summer’s almost over. I’m glad Josh and I don’t go to the same school, and that I can go through my classes without seeing him, immersing myself in the French Revolution and forgetting all about fountains and Frappuccinos and Josh groping Bryanna on the roof of the mall.
For now, though, I still have to work. You know all those songs that say the world doesn’t stop when your heart does? Turns out, they’re right. I know there’s a God, at least, because Candy isn’t working and there’s no one to yell at me for staring into space instead of organizing hangers.
But I still have to listen to Mike’s monologue all day about his current obsession, which, just my luck, happens to be love. He’s already asked me if I think Charlie the Unicorn has a girlfriend, and I heard him asking Chad what Hello Kitty’s boyfriend’s name is (it’s Dear Daniel, but I’m not volunteering the information). I still have to stand behind the register and talk to customers, convince them to buy buffalo plaid shirts and fake Doc Martens. I still have to sell World of Warcraft energy serum to Casper.
“You know why we call him Casper?” Mike says conspiratorially.
Casper’s real name, which I know from running his debit card, is Louis Baldwin. He’s freakishly pale and he dresses like a cross between a hipster and my Algebra teacher.
“It’s because he’s so pale he’s ghost-like,” Mike explains. “I mean, that kid is almost transparent. He should really lay off the Second Life.”
I almost correct Mike, letting him know that Louis is into WOW, not Second Life. Then I realize it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
“So, I told her if I had to scan one more Twilight novelty pen I was going to walk out,” Mike is saying, moving the package of Edward-and-Bella-themed pens from one endcap to another. “I just had to put my foot down.”
“And then she let you go home?” Chad asks skeptically.
“Well, not exactly. But she let me go on break.”
“Score one for the working man,” Chad says.
“Damn straight,” Mike replies, not realizing Chad is mocking him.
Mike is examining the characters on the pens. “So, I don’t get it,” he says. “This Twilight chick is in love with the werewolf and the vampire?”
He’s talking to me. Since Chad and Mike discovered I’ve read the Twilight books, they’ve been quizzing me for details daily.
“No, she only likes the werewolf as a friend. Well, basically.”
Chad’s listening to our conversation, but his only contribution is a lot of eye rolling.
“But you like the werewolf. You’re Team Wolf.” To illustrate, he holds up a shirt reading “Team Jacob” over a series of claw marks.
“Not exactly,” I say, feeling stupid like I always do when discussing Twilight as if it’s real life. “The werewolf isn’t as protective as the vampire is. He takes her cliff diving and motorcycle riding and stuff.”
“But she still ends up with the vampire? That’s not fair. This wolf seems like he planned better dates.”
I’m finally feeling a little more comfortable, settling into a long day of hating myself and listening to Mike ramble, when in walk Josh and Bryanna.
At first, I don’t believe they’re really here. I’ve been thinking about seeing them together all day, their rooftop image lurking everywhere, torturing me. When I realize they’re real, tunnel vision kicks in and all the corsets and punk jackets and CDs around me fade to black. All I can see is Josh and Bryanna.
He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt. She’s wearing a skinny scarf and a Union Jack shirt that’s supposed to look like it came from the thrift store, but I happen to know is from Urban Outfitters. All I can think about is how stupid I think that scarf is, how stupid I’ve always thought it was, and how I’ve been pretending to like it all summer.
They stand at the counter, right in front of me, but my brain is in self-protection mode and won’t process their presence. I just keep thinking about how I don’t get the point of a summer scarf. It’s too hot to wear outside, and still leaves you cold in the air conditioning.
“June, we’ve been looking for you all over. Can you take a break, hang out for awhile?” Josh asks.
“I’m really busy with work,” I say, looking around on the counter for anything to give me an excuse not to talk to them. For once, there’s nothing to do.
“We’re headed to the movies,” Bryanna says. “Whatever that new Seth Rogan movie is. Josh thinks he’s funny.”
“Yeah, he’s hilarious,” I say. I’m shocked at how normally I can talk to them.
“Oh, you like him too? You and Josh have a lot in common.”
“No we don’t,” I say defensively, and my body decides to betray me, my eyes filling up with tears. I blink them away, and Josh doesn’t notice. Bryanna does.
“June, go ahead and take a break with your friends” Chad says, trying to be nice.
“Yeah, come get a coffee with us,” Josh says, and Bryanna looks at me apologetically.
“I shouldn’t take a break yet,” I say. “Mike hasn’t had one and he came in first. Sorry.”
Chad opens his mouth, probably to say that Mike already had his break, but I shoot him a “shut up” look.
“Oh, right,” he says.
“Look, you guys better get out of here, I’m going to get in trouble,” I tell them, and Josh finally concedes.
“Okay, I’ll text you later,” he says to me, putting his arm around Bryanna.
Fifteen minutes later, Josh makes good on his promise and texts:
Want to see the movie? We can wait for you.
I honestly can’t think of a response to this. Does he not realize I don’t want to see him anymore? That there’s pretty much no way I’d want to see a movie with him and Bryanna?
I realize Chad is looking over my shoulder at my fingers, which are frozen over the keypad while I try to think of response.
“Is that the goofball who’s always hanging around here?” he asks.
“Mmmhmm.” I nod.
Chad grabs the phone out of my hand and shuts it.
“No,” he says.
“But I have to respond,” I say. “They might wait for me if I don’t and …” Chad’s look says I should stop talking.
“That’s their problem. They aren’t your problem anymore.” Instead of giving my phone back, he walks it into the stock room and leaves it with my stuff. I have to admit, I feel freer without having it in my pocket. When did Chad get so insightful?
When my shift is over, Steph shows up to hang out for awhile. She’s acting kind of overly careful, so I think she probably knows about Josh, but we don’t talk about it. Like usual.
Stephanie is examining our new merchandise—she has her eye on some Mary Janes that have kitten faces on the toes—when Will comes in.
“How’s it hanging, Junebug?” he asks.
“Long day,” I say. “I’m almost off, though.”
“Sweet,” he says. “Perfect. Let’s go see a movie.”
“Sorry, can’t,” I tell him, and nod in Stephanie’s direction.
“Works for me,” Will says, winking. “We’ll all just hang together.”
I’m torn between what Stephanie wants and what I want. She usually hates hanging out with Will, but, to my surprise, today she agrees.
“Okay, scumbag,” she says, but “scumbag” seems less like an insult and more like a term of endearment. “If you’re coming, let’s get out of here. I need some coffee.”
I punch out and Will puts his arms around both me and Stephanie.
“Come on, ladies,” he says. “I’ll treat you to Frappuccinos.”
Will and I sit down at Starbucks while Stephanie waits on our drinks, taking every opportunity to flirt with Dylan.
“So, Juniebug, why the long face? Why such a glum chum?” Will says.
“Josh and Bryanna came into today, and it kind of bummed me out,” I tell him.
“Oh,” he says knowingly. “I get it.”
“What do you get?” Steph says, putting our drinks down and sliding into a chair.
“Your brother and his girlfriend, Chipmunk Face. You know, Bryanna,” Will says.
“She drives me nuts,” Steph laughs, finally bonding with Will over their mutual hatred of Bryanna.
“Let’s forget about the lovebirds,” Will says. “We don’t need ‘em. What do you two ladies want to do for fun? Shoplift? Set fires on the beach?”
“Maybe not shoplift,” I say. It could be my imagination, but I think Steph looks disappointed.
“Beach!” Will says, and jumps up, knocking over his Frappuccino in the process.
The beach does sound like fun, and even Stephanie admits hanging out with Will is worth it if we can get a ride.
It’s already getting dark when we get to the beach. We park in a secret spot of Will’s, deep in a residential neighborhood and away from the boardwalk. We splash around for awhile, then make a blanket of our hoodies and some old towels Will had in his trunk. When he starts to light the fireworks, he’s as giddy as a little kid.
For the first time all day, my tunnel vision is expanding, breaking apart with each explosion of red and yellow and white. The sparks fade into trails of smoke and the wind blows it into our faces, smelling like saltwater and gunpowder.
I don’t feel much like partying, but Will and Stephanie understand. For now, it’s nice just to sit in the sand. It’s only on the beach that Florida weather makes sense, the rhythm of the waves soothing the mania that hasn’t left me all day.
Will lights another fuse, and we can see his face light up as he anticipates the explosion, this simple thing that makes him so happy. I look over at Steph and, for once, she’s not trying to get someplace else. The cardboard paper burns red and white, lasting only just long enough to be a memory.
When I close my eyes, I can’t see the colors, but I can still see bright ghosts of the lights. Slowly, the light fades, and I let it go as it disappears. Between the wind and the fireworks and Stephanie laughing by my side, it finally starts to feel like a celebration.
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