He shrugged. “My dad’s the CEO of a whiskey company, and my mom’s always traveling for fun. They aren’t around a lot. I haven’t seen my mom in a few weeks, and Dad just comes home sometimes and sleeps. Most of the time he stays at the apartment he has in Chicago, though, instead of driving home.”
“So, you’re just alone most of the time?”
“Yup. I mean, before I had Grandpa, but since he passed away…it’s just me.”
“Do you miss them?” I asked. “Do you miss your parents being around?”
“Doesn’t matter. Missing them isn’t going to make them stay. I just always promise myself I’ll be different, you know? I want to be different when I have kids someday. I would never abandon them. I’m supposed to take over the whiskey company when I’m older, but I’d do it different than Dad. I’d make time for my family. I’d show up. My grandpa was able to do both, be a parent and run a business. He showed up all the time.”
“I think people underestimate how important just showing up is.”
“It’s everything,” he agreed.
“So, you’re taking over your dad’s company?”
“Yeah. My grandpa started it. It’s a family tradition, I guess.”
“Is that what you want to do? What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked Greyson.
He effortlessly replied, “Happy.”
“Yeah. That’s all. It’s what my grandpa always told me. He’d say, ‘Greyson, listen close. You can be anything in the world, and it would be good enough. Job title doesn’t matter as long as you have food on your table, and heat on your stove. What matters the most is being happy. So, when you do grow up, make sure you’re happy. Everything else will fall into place.’ So, yeah, I just want to be happy. I don’t care what I’m doing as long as I’m happy while I’m doing it.”
I liked his answer more than I could say.
“What about you, Ellie? What do you want to be?”
“Happy,” I said, stealing his answer. “I think I just want to be happy, too.”
He smiled at me and gently nudged my shoulder with his. Then his head tilted up and he looked at the sky. “I like this place a lot.”
“Yeah. It’s a good escape from the muggle world,” I commented.
He smirked. “You’re really into this Harry Potter stuff, huh?”
“It’s only the air I breathe,” I said matter-of-factly.
I couldn’t really imagine what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t had Harry Potter to get me through the past years. If I hadn’t, I might’ve believed the lies people told about me.
I would’ve thought I wasn’t magical, and that would’ve been a shame.
It was sad that so many people went through life without knowing they were filled with magic.
“I think it’s cool that you’re so into it,” he said. “And I really am excited for the next one to come out.”
“Me too,” I agreed. “I can’t wait.”
We sat there watching the dragonflies buzz around, and I took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “Can I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“What’s the story about Stacey White? Again, you don’t have to answer, but I feel like since she was the one who kind of brought us together…”
He brushed his finger against his nose. “It’s embarrassing.”
“You don’t have to say, really. I’m just curious.”
He clasped his fingers together, rolled his shoulders back, and cracked his neck. “Well, yeah, I’d be curious, too, I guess. It’s really embarrassing, though.”
“I wear crocheted cardigans with dragonflies on them, Greyson. Embarrassing is my middle name.”
He sighed and nodded, turning to face me. He clapped his hands once. “All right. So, Stacey and I were dating for a short period, not long, and I wasn’t even sure if she was someone I should’ve dated, because, well, she’s not really my type. She’s a bit self-absorbed, but, whatever. Everything was going good with her, until she was ready to, well, you know…” His cheeks reddened, and for the first time ever, I witnessed Grey get flustered.
Finally, we were on an even playing field.
“Yeah, I know.” I nodded, trying my best to ease his nerves.
“When I told her I’d never done it, she laughed, thinking I was joking, so I laughed too, trying to play it off. But then when we went to do the act, I couldn’t…” He dropped his stare. “Well, I mean, my nerves…I couldn’t get it…up.” The last words were whispered, and I swore I’d never liked him more.
“I was just nervous, and overthinking, and I know it’s embarrassing that I’m seventeen and I haven’t—”
“I haven’t either,” I cut in.
He looked up to me, shocked, which was shocking to me. The Harry Potter-loving, cardigan-wearer was a virgin?
“Really?” he asked, clearly feeling hopeful that he wasn’t the only one of us left on the planet.
“Really, really. It’s not shocking. I’ve never even been kissed.”
“You’re wrong,” he disagreed. “That is shocking.”
I shrugged. “I think people our age make it out to be a bigger deal than it is.”
“Which is exactly what Stacey did. She laughed in my face, and mocked me, saying that the most popular guy in school couldn’t even get her off. So, I broke up with her. She didn’t take that too well and threatened to tell everyone about my, um…performance issues. I told Landon, and he handled it. He had some dirt on Stacey that she didn’t want to get out, so she shut up about it, which led to me owing Landon.”
“Yeah. He’s a dick, but he’s my best friend, so at least he’s a loyal dick.”
“Wow. That’s actually really nice of him…you know, until he forced you to talk to a weird girl at a party by blackmailing you.”
“I don’t regret that,” he said matter-of-factly.
Sigh. “Me either.”
“I owe you thanks, Ellie.”
He cleared his throat and scratched the back of his neck. “The past few weeks since my grandpa passed away, I’ve been really lonely and sad, even when I’m around other people at parties and stuff, it’s been hard. But, when I’m with you, I’m not lonely anymore. When I’m with you, I feel like I belong. So, I owe you for that. I almost forgot what it felt like.”
“You almost forgot what what felt like?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “Being happy.”
“What’s our grand adventure today?” I asked Greyson as he walked up to my house one Saturday afternoon. I really needed the break from reality, because Mom had a rough night. She was currently resting while Dad looked after her.
I asked if she wanted me to stay home, but she told me to go off with Greyson and have fun. She’d rather me be having a good time instead of worrying too much.
Greyson smiled as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I was thinking I’d win you a stuffed animal down at the county fair.”
Sounded good enough to me.
There were so many things I loved about being around Greyson. I loved how when he talked about things, he expressed himself with massive hand gestures. I loved how he hummed tunes whenever he was happy. Sometimes we’d just be walking down the street, and he’d start tapping his foot as he hummed some random song.
I loved how when he looked at me, he really stared my way, as if I were the only girl he would ever look at again. I loved how when I spoke, he listened and responded with questions to deepen the conversation. I loved how he had a small dimple in his left cheek that showed whenever he smiled.
I loved how his hand accidentally slid across mine as we held the bar on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at the fair. I loved how he could eat three corn dogs and then crave cotton candy. I loved his laugh.
Gosh, I loved his laugh.
I also loved his determination to win me a freaking stuffed animal.
“It’s really okay, Grey.” I laughed as we stood in front of a carnival booth where he’d been trying his hardest to hit a bullseye with a baseball in order to win me a stuffed animal.
“No! I can do this.” He huffed, seemingly more resolute than ever, even though he’d already missed the target fourteen times. He picked up the baseball, took a step backward, rounded up his arm, and threw it with all his might.
He missed by a few inches.
“Dammit,” he muttered.
“Five more bucks for five more balls,” the booth guy mentioned.
“It’s not worth it,” I said, lightly touching Greyson’s arm. “These things are made to lose.”
Greyson narrowed his eyes and reached into his wallet, pulling out five more dollars. With the way things were going, the poor guy was going to have to tap into his college fund in order to win me that stuffed panda bear.
He started tossing the balls once more, and, of course, he kept missing. At one point the booth guy even frowned at Greyson’s attempts.
“This is the one,” Greyson said as he held the twentieth ball in his grip. “This is the one that’s going to be different than all the ones before,” he promised.
In a way, he was right.
He pulled his arm back and swung it forward, and in a freak accident, the baseball hit the corner of the bullseye and bounced off of it, flinging the ball directly back at him, hitting him square in the face.
“Oh my gosh!” I screeched as Greying went flying backward and crashing to the ground. I hurried to his side and bent down. “Grey, are you okay?”
“Did I win?” he asked with his left eye closed tight. The redness from the impact of the ball was already in place as I helped him to his feet.