suggested track list here:
- dreams (feat. ELEA) — adventure club
- crickets — big wild
- lone (feat. JOY) — what so not
- i follow rivers — lykke li
- ivy — frank ocean
- visions — cheat codes
- lost (feat. delaney jane)
- divinity (feat. amy millan) — porter robinson
- the lightning strike — snow patrol
- falls (feat. sasha sloan) — odesza
Sitting cross-legged and vaguely shivering in one of the wrought iron patio chairs of my parents’ backyard, I stare down at the phone cradled in my lap and suddenly imagine myself slipping back into the seventh grade.
I remember chewing uncomfortably on my pinkie fingernail when one of the two best friends I had to my name, Kaitlyn, informed us of the church-skate-park-date coming that Saturday with some boy from MySpace. Carly, the first installment in the Three Musketeers trio of friendship we had established (with Kaitlyn coming in photo-finish second, and of course, me trailing as last though certainly not always least), had consistently been the most practical, logical thinker. While I busied myself with the next fingernail, she spoke for the both of us: “Well, that’s got to be the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”
If I text Carly about this, some thirteen years and embarrassing amount of Tinder dates later, I am fairly certain it will elicit the same response. I settle for skipping over her most recent text message and decide on getting back to her if I actually follow through.
Meeting people online isn’t as frighteningly unknown as it was when we were younger and the Internet was magic– besides, if it turns out we went to the same university, does it really count as meeting so much as reconnecting? The pads of my thumbs deftly choreograph ice skater leaps and bounds over the frozen glow of my iPhone’s screen.
A girl down at the other end of the table is stealing glances at me through the meager flocks of half-empty beer bottles collecting between us, while I pretend not to notice. The lackluster party fizzling out in the muted heat of the Fourth of July dusk falls to an even quieter hum as heart-eyed responses from some 500 miles away come vibrating back against my hands.
Facebook to Instagram to Twitter, and back again. We swam together back in school, not that we were particularly friends in any context, but she’s familiar enough that I don’t need to compile detailed research on all her posted pictures to prove that she’s real (I do this anyway).
I have always had a way with words, and somewhere there is a statistic that proves anyone feels braver behind the safety of a keyboard.
Two weeks from now there is a music festival closer to her than me, and through my half-focused attention I recall my friend Lexi begging me to go with her, so without thinking I type up and send off the invitation. The yes that shoots back comes with a trail of tiny multi-colored hearts.
My own flutters in a way that doesn’t feel entirely familiar, and from inside the house I catch my tomcat’s golden eyes watching me like twin, flashing caution signs.
Fourteen days and seven and a half hours of driving finally pass and I am standing, watching her shuffle across an apartment complex parking lot to physically meet me. I realize I can’t think of what color her eyes are when they continually shy away from mine; her mouth flickers with a wispy smile that seems afraid of me, like a toddler who has scribbled on a wall somewhere and is wondering if I will find out.
Still, it seems unfathomable to me that a girl like this finds me attractive. Hugging her is like trying to delicately ease a butterfly into a net. Our knuckles brush together and I persuade myself into thinking I feel static crackling between us.
Panic later grips me momentarily as I’m organizing bitter, powdered snowflakes into shareable lines for Lexi and I in the middle of our festival campsite, but her cotton-soft voice reassures me: “You can do whatever you want! I would never judge you for anything, really.”
In three days, we kiss less times than I can count on both hands but on the twelve-hour-trafficked drive home I work at convincing Lexi (and myself) that it feels like a fairy tale.
2.75 years ago
“How’s your customer doing?”
Christian’s persistent reminder always made my fingernails bite anxiously into the palms of my hands. Mostly because I always knew he was right; as loud and awkwardly outgoing as I usually managed to be, something about extended conversations with strangers at the window brought out the introvert in me.
I caught myself watching the ballet routine of coffees and teas being choreographed on the bar next to me: steaming shots of espresso leaping into puddles of white chocolate and caramel, whipped cream fizzing up in billowing clouds, vivid ringlets of strawberry and blue raspberry curling around ice cubes.
My hesitant tongue could almost taste the symphony of flavors, but I felt Christian’s expectant eyes on me (my shadow pulling itself up off the floor to remind me what I already knew). Thankfully, the last drink my car was waiting for slid across the counter, into my impatient hands, and I passed it hurriedly out the window with the smile that was beginning to make my cheeks ache.
The music thumping overhead melted together with the flurries of laughter that bubbled up between the walls of our tiny coffee shop, the thrill of simply being there kept my pulse racing at an enthusiastic pace. Through all the noise, without even looking at him, I heard my trainer cue me again as the car pulled away.
“Alright, with this next one let’s stay glued to the window,” Christian’s voice was smooth and stern as a shot of whiskey. “Keep the conversation going, stay engaged with the customer.”
The next car was red, maroon actually, a deep subtle color. Their window was already rolled down and in my head I said something like, Hey guys, how are we? What’s floatin’ our boat today? Instead my mouth fumbled like a drunk, third-string quarterback.
“Hey– I, um hello, how’s it– what can I, we… get for you?” I could feel Christian’s concerned fingertips touch down between my shoulder blades because to any third party bystander it must have sounded like I was suffering from cardiac arrest. My heart skipped a beat like it’d been electrocuted.
There was definitely other passengers in the car, maybe, but I couldn’t particularly focus on anything or anyone other than the blonde girl looking back at me from the driver’s seat. It could’ve been four minutes or four years, but I hung there in the silence of being swept up in her opaque, some-kind-of-teal eyes for too long. I thought of abalone fishing with my dad and suddenly tasted saltwater.
“Yo, Jess! What’s up, girl?” Christian interjected, saving me with his impeccable memory of nearly every customer’s name, and I did my best to hide the way my tongue was turning itself into knots.
I think I might be choking on it.
When I feel the backs of my eyes begin to sear with a tell-tale pins-and-needles sensation, I force them into distraction by picking through the innumerable items packed and overflowing on the flimsy, worn coffee table.
They find a used, still dirty steak knife hiding under a television remote and I sincerely consider snatching it up to feverishly cut out my tongue. It feels like a thick slab of charcoal behind my teeth.
Everything is cluttered, squeezed and crammed all together in the apartment in a way that says there are far too many items here for just one person. A ghostly green digital clock glowers at me from across the room, and the dread scalding in my chest with each passing minute tastes like bile I’ve already swallowed three times over.
7:43 pm. The three flips into another four.
She eases one porcelain hand onto my knee in the same instant the front door barks open.
He’s bigger than I expect, commands up all leftover space until there isn’t any oxygen left for me to breathe. I can admit to myself I am sometimes a shallow girl, but this one is so blatantly ugly, he makes the homosexuality crackle in my chest with the dissatisfaction of a hundred startled rattlesnakes. Her fingers recoil from me just before one of his hands finds a hold beneath her chin and tugs her lips up to his.
I haven’t eaten since 8 this morning but I can feel vomit pushing its way up from somewhere.
When he looks at me–all the while keeping his grip on her, intensifying it even, perhaps establishing dominance–I can feel every individual muscle fiber quiver one at a time, my body attempting to skin itself alive. Simple, matching rings glint between them and I am gnawed by the perplexity of not knowing where hers came from or when it got there.
“Hello,” he talks the way dogs argue with one another. “Long drive? How was it?”
“Seven.” I manage. My voice draws out too thin, wavers as though I am trying to speak through a mouthful of fishhooks. “Seven, hours.”
It’s possible he says more things to me, though I’m not wholeheartedly positive I manage any responses. My lips are pressing themselves into a narrowing white line and I imagine more black ash and kindling filling the space behind them, trying to guess which word will be the spark that sends flames billowing up and out my throat.
At some point he heads down the hall toward rooms I haven’t seen yet and asks when she’ll be coming to bed. Part of a gasp that is not my own leaps from my lungs. Both my hands glue themselves over the lower half of my face. Two words I have tattooed in the dip above my clavicle are searing, furious and indignant: stay wild. Down below the pit of my stomach, somewhere near my pelvis, my autonomous tendencies twist and snarl against my insides like caged ravens.
I imagine myself swallowing all the things I should say as tiny, golden keys to set them free.
“Soon.” is what she tells him.
“I am in love with you… I have been for years,” is what she tells me, after thirty three minutes of my tired eyes silently burrowing into the dingy carpet.
Math was a class I always failed in school, but even without a calculator I know this: she and the man down the hall have been married for 1.5 years, it has been 4 years since the college we both attended has seen either of us, and if I were to just get up and run home now, 522 miles doesn’t feel far enough.
For the rest of the night I lie awake in a spare bedroom with two cats and a bicycle, hoping the sorry, snaking lines of water that keep slipping down my temples will fill the room and drown all of us.
In the morning we walk through the ocean air to get breakfast, and she watches me nibble anxiously at my food while she eats none of what she’s ordered. The waiter brings the to-go boxes she asks for and she forces both of hers into a trash can fifteen steps outside of the restaurant.
Her collarbones scowl at me, sharp under her skin.
1.25 years ago
We’d been on three dates approximately, depending on what really constituted a date and just hanging out in this weird new millenial dating world, but regardless– it was a record for me.
Generally, my Right Swipes™ hardly garnered much more than a handful of exchanged messages. By chance I recognized her from some semi-pro soccer game a friend talked me into attending once, which was enough to convince me that it was more than just coincidence that brought her popping up on my phone. I couldn’t lie, she was cuter than most girls. She wasn’t boring to talk to, and she fit into the tomboy-esque category that Carly declared was “my type.”
I was working the espresso machine at the shop when a text message vibrated in my back pocket, and I snuck a peek because I thought it might be her. Turned out I was right, but I barely read anything past her name before my coworker jumped off his window to dart to the bathroom, and I was sliding over to cover his spot.
I nearly fell out and face planted into the concrete because Jess was three cars back in my line and I was already sinking into those aquamarine eyes from here.
It was just another boring weekday afternoon shift, hardly stayed busy after the 3 pm school rush, but I got to slinging out drinks so fast you’d have thought I was shooting to set the next Friday-night-post-Homecoming Stand Record.
Seven minutes later she was pulling up and looking at me with half a smirk that literally caused me to forget every single word in the English language simultaneously. Sinking was not nearly an adequate enough verb; I made the Titanic look like a lazy Sunday brunch with how fast I absolutely capsized head over heels.
“Sooo, how’s Doss?” she asked me, and the electric effervescence of her voice was so instantaneously distracting I didn’t feel my phone vibrating in my pocket a second time.
I flashed back to scrolling through Stephanie Doss’ Instagram (the High Score of Three Dates girl), finding pictures of her and Jess, remembering how I assumed they were dating until I pieced together that they were actually best friends. My teeth started acquainting themselves with my heart as it decided to suddenly leap and take up residence in my mouth.
“Oh! Well, um…” Both of my shoulders pinched up toward my ears. I felt my eyelashes flutter a couple heartbeats too long, my flustered ADD brain abruptly recalling the definition of the word limerence. “I dunno? Honestly, I haven’t talked to her in a sec.”
Jess’ eyebrows arched expectantly into her forehead then, and she definitely started going on insisting that I went out with Doss again, and soon, though I was too distracted trying to figure out if I wanted to have her sunshine-sweet Rapunzel hair or if I just wanted my hands tangled in it.
Two hundred and fifty dollars to buy a 3-day Bumbershoot pass from a stranger on a ravexchange ticket website. Three hundred and nineteen dollars for a roundtrip flight from Long Beach to Seattle. I don’t bother doing any calculations on the gas money it takes us to drive across the 817 overnight miles and three state lines to Washington from California.
Without even adding them up, each individual number makes me nauseous. But this is what I want, I am so certain, and quite literally, this is what I ordered. I’ve paid for this in full.
I figure if The Love Of Your Life is simply a shop I can pull up to on any given day, I might as well take the girl who catches my eye and swipe a credit card before my hesitation gets the best of me. There are no details on return policies and by now the receipts have long been torn up, so I should get to watering my gardens instead of looking to exchange for a prettier, more affordable pasture. Lexi skeptically curls her lip at the prices of the plane tickets alone, (it doesn’t occur to me that if any of my imagination’s ideas were true, wouldn’t my True Love™ be trying to steal herself off the shelf for me)?
After I drop everyone else off to check into the Airbnb, I drive another 35 minutes through rain-induced traffic to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Last year, I walked myself out of the terminal and onto a train alone, spent an hour with my headphones in Frank-Ocean-soundtracked bliss as I floated through my favorite city, buzzing with the anticipation of new festival friends.
This year, now waiting at the JetBlue passenger pickup with Frank Ocean crooning in harmony with my car’s exhausted, road-tripped humming, I look up at the storm-heavy blue sky and catch myself daydreaming of abalone shells and coffee shop parking lots.
My eyes scrape back to my review mirror and find her shuffling through crowds of people and luggage; the smile her lips curve into feels pointed like rose bush thorns.
When I get out to open the door for her, to pick her up and swing her around like they do in the movies, she refuses to let her feet leave the ground. Her mouth flicks to mine too fast, a bee with too many flowers to pollinate. My hands, now too nervous to reach for hers, glue themselves to the steering wheel like they are covered thick and viscous with honey.
On the drive back to my friends, I count the white lines along the roads while she lowers the brightness on her iPhone screen, so I can’t see who she texts the entire way (I already know).
We wake up to a drizzly September sunrise on opposite sides of the bed, and the squirming sense of adventure I had felt building up to the first day of the festival is cut down by the thin, swollen lines drawn fresh in her forearm.
My mouth could be made of goose down feathers with how gently it forms my concerned questions. Her words are flat and edged in the way a teacher speaks to children she thinks are unforgivably stupid.
“Neither of you can get your shit together and just be with me.”
An Instagram direct message from her time stamped July 4th, 2017 reads Haha green card and it’s on a timer, as soon as we’re done he’s the last guy im with, but sitting here in front of me with my hand cuffed in hers she says: “I want my kids to have two moms and a dad.”
She started off calling him her roommate, now she reminds me he is her husband.
1 week later
Getting Jess hired is easy.
She’s already put away a year or so working at Starbucks, and that in combination with her reputation as a twice-a-day regular customer gets her invited to group interviews without question. I snap pictures of the resumé she brings by the shop and send them off to both my regional managers for good measure.
Maybe it’s a bad idea. Dating another barista who works at your same stand can be equated to Hogwarts First Years sneaking into the Third Floor Corridor (punishable by death, or worse… expulsion), but she’s had a girlfriend now for almost as long as I’ve known her, so most of me resigns to the fact that I don’t stand a chance anyway.
Another fractional part dangles on the hope that they’ll send her to one of the three I don’t work at. Her ocean-envious waves of hair are long gone, but my elementary-school-crush hurricaning butterflies are not.
The stand I call home operates 24 hours a day–and graveyard shifts are the most in need of willing, night-owl bodies–so two and a half weeks after her hiring date, we’re both back in our coffee shop parking lot with the moon overhead as a milky chaperone.
This time, we’re both on the same side of the window.
It might be the spritzed clouds of 409 and bleach I keep breathing all shift, or it might be that I’ve never been in such uninterrupted, close proximity with her before, but either way my head spins delightfully dizzy until we’re both off at 5:09 am the next morning.
Over the three days of Bumbershoot, she leaves me four times.
The first time: she snaps that she has to go to the bathroom and insists I don’t follow her. For thirty-five minutes I wait obediently between the paper towel dispenser and the hand dryer, watching streams of sparkle-splattered girls go rushing by, wondering where she went while the echoes of my favorite artist thump through the faded, yellow tiles.
My phone buzzes with all of my friends’ begs and pleas to just give her some space, come back and have fun with us. I don’t open any of them. Another hour goes by before I find her sitting alone beside a fountain outside an entirely different stage.
I don’t feel myself begin to cry but my cheeks are hot and dewy when she stares down at her phone instead of me and says, “You can go now.”
When I try swimming away through the rivers in my eyes, she fires off subtweet after subtweet detailing the evidence of me abandoning her.
The second time: it is still only the first night. I remember her once promising she held no judgement for me, but she sits cross-legged on a tree-shrouded bench above me, while I kneel before her with gravel biting punishingly into my palms. Her questions are the gnarled, wicked challenges of a snapping whip.
“What is wrong with you? Why are you so fucked up? How do you think you’re going to fix this?”
There are storm clouds collecting in the air, I can taste them, but I am the only one pouring rain.
She laughs down at me before she rises and stalks away again.
I begin to repeat reminders to myself– this is what I want, I can fix this, I am wrong, I should work harder. This is what I want, I can fix this, I am wrong, I should work harder.
The third time: Back at the Airbnb the second night her phone never leaves her hands, but something I say about wanting her and only her sends her reeling into the bathroom with the door slamming viciously back at me.
I have always been strong, but the girl I have tried to make myself become breaks as easy as shattering glass. When I whisk downstairs to Lexi and our friends, my words hiccuping and fractured, she roars down after me like a tornado, throws herself out the garage door and into the Seattle night. Thirteen missed calls and she answers none of them.
It is 12:49 am in a city that neither of us belong to and I have no idea where she goes.
But my heart surprises itself with the way it stutters frantically at the name that finally flashes my phone back to life. I read it four or five or six times to be sure: Jessalyn.
The snapchat lasts hardly more than five seconds, but the caption says something along the lines of Well, it looks like I’m single now. My response shoots back a mascara-streaked, red-eyed selfie with Honestly… same.
No crying, buzzes Jess. None of that.
At some point before the sun rises again, she comes back, and there could be an entire awards show conducted solely for me in the wake of my Oscar-worthy performance when I trick everyone (and myself) into thinking I am grateful that I have her again.
The last time: part of me knows I shouldn’t, but it is only a small part. The majority of me listens to my friends, because that is something I’ve never done, and after everything I have paid for this weekend it only seems fair that I have some of the fun I came for.
We all drop the paper tabs on our tongues together, but it is the way she wilts into disgust and refuses to touch me that poisons my insides with nausea, rather than the psychedelics that are mixing with my saliva.
I know this because within ten minutes and before it has dissolved, I spit the tab into the grass and grind it under the toe of my shoe.
Two hours drag by and I throw up four times.
Not once does she ask if I’m alright, but I lose track of how many times the question falls out my frightened mouth in different ways. The world has been twirling and splicing into itself for what feels like too long now; through everything crashing, turning, swirling together like an Alice in Wonderland washing machine, she makes me feel like Medusa with the way she slowly turns to stone.
I know my hair is not made of snakes but I think there might be a nest hatching in my stomach. Every time I look at her now, they hiss and spit and flick their tongues hungry at my racing heart.
This is what I want, I can fix this, I am wrong, I should work harder.
“We don’t have to stay with my friends,” I try, desperate as straining cobweb strings. “If you want to go, we can? Do you want to leave? Go somewhere else? Whatever you want to do… ”
And then she leaps from her seat and is running.
It feels like three hours of chasing after her, weaving through a tumultuous sea of people, her name like a cold, singing wind in my throat, until I find the bravery to reach out and wrap my fingers around her wrist. Her narrow arm snaps back, her flat palm bites my temple.
My friends find me, somehow, finesse my phone out of my hands and settle my sickness with bottles of water and reassurances. Texting seems like an impossible exercise, so I let Lexi wind her hand together with mine and follow her back into the music.
Halfway through the forgiving, fairy tale-hum that is Odesza’s closing set, Lexi and our friends hug me tight enough that the ache in the center of my chest numbs away. The “Line of Sight” drumline resets the pace of my heart and Lexi strokes my hair as she whispers to me.
“See, you can learn from her. You’re okay. You can learn from her, babe.”
Swaying in the laser-lit night, it occurs to me suddenly that I have been thinking of someone and it hasn’t been her.
On the drive back to the Airbnb, the entire car is thick with a mix of fear and disappointment.
I am trying to be respectful, to be civil and understanding of the night’s events as I sit untying my shoes at the end of the bed, my voice low and apologetic and even when I offer to pay for an Uber to the airport if she wants to leave now.
There is no way to prepare, or anticipate. It surges into existence the way a wisping breeze breathes handfuls of sporadic cinders up in a wall of starving, incensed wildfire.
“OH, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN JUST GET RID OF ME THAT EASY? THIS IS YOUR PROBLEM NOW, FIX IT.
WHY ARE YOU CRYING? YOU’RE NOTHING, JUST A PATHETIC, WHINING BABY. GROW THE FUCK UP.
I RUINED MY MARRIAGE FOR YOU. I’M GOING HOME TO A DIVORCE, BECAUSE OF YOU! BECAUSE I FUCKING LOVE YOU!
SORRY? WHY ARE YOU SORRY? YOU’RE SORRY FOR NOTHING! YOU ARE NOTHING!
LOOK AT ME! WHY DON’T YOU SAY ANYTHING? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, FUCKING TELL ME WHAT YOU DID WRONG.
My collarbone tattoo is shrieking under my skin as though I have carved it in just now. Fingernails dig into the carpet because the ground is still spinning and I am trying to hold it still. I think maybe, maybe if I can make everything stop moving, if I can hold my breath and be quiet long enough maybe, she will stop eventually.
She screams louder than I could have imagined her capable of, an endless cacophony that lasts for what I know is a handful of hours but what feels like weeks.
The balcony’s sliding glass door is open and I can hear my friends from downstairs beginning to softly interject, then howl back in protest. When she lunges to force it shut, I clamber desperately over the floor with both hands and let her smash all of my knuckles trying to keep it open.
Then the bedroom door kicks wide and all of them are standing there, to save me perhaps, but I am too swallowed in the shame and terror of sitting in a puddle at her feet. Her finger, pointed sharp as an arrow, aims down at the space between my eyes and I beg them to leave.
Thunder keeps rolling through my head even after my body has run out of rain.
At some point, abruptly, her voice levels out, normalizes. She tells me something about a set she saw. I can still feel the walls gasping for air, fight or flight instincts scalding in my limbs, so I grasp onto it for need of survival alone.
“Yeah, babe? Tell me how was it… what else did you see?” I don’t recognize the shaking voice that leaks from me, but I know it is trying to get me out alive.
When I go downstairs, still shuddering, to get her a glass of water, the trilling noise of my friends’ conversation ceases instantaneously.
“I know… I know that you guys are tr-trying to be, be good friends, but, I’m w-w-wrong. I did the wrong th-thing, I know I did, and you don’t, don’t know all of it, but I’m wrong–”
Time stops cold as Lexi stands across the room and tells me, “This. This is abuse.”
My grip turns white around the glass in my hand and still I go back upstairs.
This isn’t what I want, I think I can make it, I don’t know what’s real, I need to get home.
4 weeks later
My parents are out of town for the weekend. I bring in a collection of leftover beers from the refrigerator in the garage and open a forgotten bottle of tequila in the liquor cabinet. Even though my laptop is on the verge of dying, I click on some music to keep the room from getting too quiet.
They are Jess’ friends, really, I’ve only barely met them, but they’re funny as hell and somehow I fit in easily, so I invite them all over without second thought. I know that means being suffocatingly close to Jess again (and that’s the point really), but while I might be single now, she isn’t.
Not that it matters particularly, despite the 409-feeling back in my head, just being around her is quite honestly enough for my secret addiction.
Doss is here too, but our Tinder-date past feels pretty long lost in a comical kind of way. We trade stories of horror-movie exes and chase the tequila with beer. When someone opens the back door to check out the nighttime backyard and my parents’ dogs, Doss announces she and I have something to talk about and shoos everyone else outside.
Suddenly it’s just the two of us, sitting on opposite ends of the too-big kitchen island’s counter.
“Sooo, Jess?” Doss smirks at me.
I cough out a laugh when the sting of deja vu and hard liquor start mixing in my mouth.
“Umm, yeah? Yeah. I kind of like her a lot. Like, a lot. But I mean–”
Then Doss starts going on about me making my move, how I need to shoot my shot, because we’re pretty much perfect for each other, and I’m eating up everything she’s saying. But in the same instant my eyes skip over her shoulder, out the giant dining room window, and find Jess’ like they always do.
I know Doss is still talking but for some reason the music thrumming from my computer gets too loud and I can’t hear her. It’s twinkling and glittering and thumping between my lungs all at the same time, and I still can’t stop looking at her, the flowing synths of what I now recognize as one of my favorite Porter Robinson songs filling my ears and charging my ribs with static.
“I love this song,” I mention absentmindedly.
Doss’ forehead furrows at me in confusion: “Dude, your computer’s been dead for like 15 minutes.”
From the other side of the glass Jess grins at me, and the imaginary music orchestrating itself in my brain ignites into heart-stopping thunder, turns over and strikes through me like lightning.
2 weeks ago
I don’t want to drive home, partially because my legs are sore enough that the act of driving feels moderately taxing, but mostly because I don’t think I want to be alone.
Back in California and leaning against my sleepy car in my coffee shop parking lot, you’d think I would finally be some semblance of “okay.” But the tips of my fingers are starting to quiver against the hot paper cup clenched in my hands, and I can feel the fear seeping down into the marrow of my bones again. 522 miles never seemed far enough.
It comes in waves, I’ve noticed.
My repetitions sing to me again: It’s over now, I made it home, I do know what’s real, I am stronger than this.
One stray drop flecks onto the plastic lid of my americano.
I’m doing a pretty decent job pretending it’s the preemptive, stray messenger of an incoming rainstorm, until an all-too familiar voice hollers my name from somewhere and I feel the tears throwing themselves down along my nose.
A deep breath sucks in through my mouth because I already recognized the maroon car that’s pulled into the lot, and I’m trying to keep my response from coming out as thin and watery as it feels.
“Hey! Whatcha doooing?” Jess hollers, there’s another girl in her car that I don’t recognize (thankfully, not her girlfriend).
I think about saying going home, but instead all I manage is, “N-nothing?”
You can hear it, I know, and using the collar of my flannel to wipe at the bottoms of my dripping lashes isn’t making it less obvious.
“Hey! Hey, nooo. Come over to my house, it’ll be fine, we’ll do something fun.” When I don’t respond right away she adds, “My friend says you’re too pretty to be crying!”
Somehow, she pulls half a laugh out of me and I shake my head.
“You’re coming over!” She’s instructing me as she drives away, and more than anything I just want to cross the asphalt and get in the back of her car now.
While I drive back to my parents’ empty house to curl up with my tomcat and his I-told-you-so eyes, once I fall asleep all I dream of is straw-blonde hair and cracking open abalone shells.
We try keeping it such a secret, I think for awhile we’re even keeping it from each other.
There was always some excuse to hang out or do something, even after 8 hour shifts in the shop together; I think I talked her into starting Game of Thrones from the beginning with me only because it felt like the most endless show in television history.
The moon peeks ardently impatient into her room the night we somehow end up nose-to-nose, lying on her bed in the inky darkness. I don’t know how long we spend with our lips so close and so far, but it feels longer than all the days I’ve spent watching her through windows combined.
I wrote a poem once about kissing a girl for the first time and the fireworks I tasted.
All the Fourth of July’s in the history of humankind couldn’t come close to matching the lightning storms Jessalyn brings crashing to life inside my mouth.
I invited her to Odesza’s Sacramento Halloween show two months before (when we were both taken by other people), and I never anticipated anything other than going along with everyone else, just friends.
We walk into the spooky shadows of the venue just before Illenium’s opening set, and for a moment, with Jessalyn’s hand in mine, the whole world collectively hushes and holds its breath.
For three years I have thought she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, and for every day of those three years, I have thought that I might be in love with her.
Just as the entire field explodes into a vibrating sky of rainbow spiderweb lights, I look back and see her and know there isn’t a might anymore.
I don’t think there’s been a might for awhile now.
The entire night I spend more time looking at her than the magic twisting into existance up on stage. Each time we sway close enough that the ends of our noses brush together, the universe itself and all the galaxies clustered inside it forget to spin for a moment and watch.
A girl disguised as a unicorn flashes up from nowhere, catches us when I am dancing just an arm’s length too far away, and tries to fasten herself to Jessalyn. Our hands find one another and I twirl back into her, press my lips to the corner of her mouth with a smile.
Unicorn girl flutters her lashes and wags a pink finger at me.
“She’s absolutely adorable,” I can’t decide if she’s imaginary or not. “You better thank your lucky stars!”
I figure since I’ve been wishing on stars for who knows how long, it’s probably about time I got to thanking them.
My forehead meets Jessalyn’s just as she winds one arm around my lower back, tightening me closer to her in a way that feels like planned puzzle pieces– matching like thunder & lightning. For a moment I slip back into a middle school science class, reading something in a too-thick textbook about the likelihood of electricity dipping from the sky to kiss the same piece of Earth more than once.
When we were really little, they told us that kind of silver-forked luck never strikes the same place twice.
Wrapped up with her, I realize: given enough time, we are inevitable.