At first, the chirping didn’t register, but when Weston tried to carefully maneuver out from under me, I woke up.
“Sorry,” he whispered. “It’s four in the morning. Go back to sleep.”
“What’s going on?” I asked, wiping my eyes.
“I don’t know. Someone is blowing up my phone.” Right when he reached for his cell and unplugged it from the charger, it rang. “Shit, it’s my Mom. Hello?”
I could hear Veronica on the other end, her voice high-pitched and desperate.
“No. Calm down, Mom. No, I told you. I’m in Blackwell. I stayed here, remember? Mom. Stop crying. What’s going on?”
The voice switched to a deep tone, and I could tell it was Peter, Weston’s father. Weston wiped his face, his eyes were wide.
“Holy shit. Are you sure? Who told you?” He paused, listening to Peter. “Oh, man. Both of them? I don’t . . . Jesus. No, don’t come back. I’m fine. No, I’m sure. You guys try to have a good time. I’m at home, safe in my bed. Okay. Love you, too.” He hung up the phone and looked down at me.
“What is it? Are they okay?”
“Yeah, they’re fine. It’s the Erins. They were on their way to South Padre, and Alder was driving. She fell asleep or something and crossed the median. They hit a semi head on. They’re dead.”
“They’re . . . dead?” I said in disbelief.
Weston wiped his face again and held his hand over his mouth. “They’re dead. Sonny and Alder are dead.” His eyes were wide, and my mouth hung open. We sat in silence for the longest time.
Weston grabbed his phone and checked his messages. He sighed and shook his head. “The rumors are already starting.” He put down the phone. “Should I take you home?”
“Whatever you want to do. If you want to be alone, I can walk home. If you don’t, I’ll stay here.”
He pulled me against him and leaned back against the pillows, but we didn’t sleep.
The funerals were held together the following Saturday. I didn’t go, because it didn’t feel right, but Weston stopped by the Dairy Queen afterward to fill me in. He told me Sonny’s parents and Sam and Julianne seemed to be holding up well and leaned on each other for support. He talked about what the funeral looked like, who ran the service, what songs they played and who was there. But he seemed lost.
“Why don’t you go?” Frankie said. “He needs you today.”
“I . . .” I looked to Weston. “Do you want me to take off?”
He looked pitiful. “Please?”
I pulled off my apron and tossed it on the counter. “Thanks, Frankie.”
She winked at me, but her expression was sad.
I pushed through the back door, and went immediately into Weston’s arms. He held me tight, burying his head in my neck. I held him for a long time, but when I pulled away, he hung on, so I kept my arms around him, squeezing tighter.
Once his arms relaxed, he handed me his keys. “Would you drive?”
I froze. “I’ve only driven the Driver’s Ed car, and that was over two years ago.”
“You can do it,” he said. He opened the door and helped me into the driver’s seat; then he jogged around and climbed in next to me.
I nervously turned the key in the ignition, adjusted the seat and mirrors, all while trying to recall everything I learned about driving. I pressed on the brake and then pulled the gear into drive, pulling forward. I paused at Main Street before driving out of the parking lot. “Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere. Just drive.” He reached over and took my hand into his. As I turned right and headed out of town, Weston rested his head against the seat. “Everyone was apologizing to me today. It felt so weird, because I don’t feel like I lost anything. I should feel different. Is it weird that I don’t?”
“I don’t know how to feel either. I try not to think about it.”
“Maybe it’s not acceptable, or maybe others wouldn’t understand.” He turned to look at me. “But we get it. We can talk about it to each other.”
I waited for him to expand on that thought. The Erins couldn’t make good on Alder’s promise to make me miserable, now, and that was a good thing. But I didn’t want to be the first one to say something so appalling out loud.
He looked up. “I’m sorry they were hurt. I’m sorry they lost their lives, but I feel sort of . . . relieved. It feels like such an ass**le thing to say, but it’s the truth. Don’t you feel the same?”
“I’m not glad they’re dead.” I took a deep breath. “But it’s a relief to know they can’t torture me anymore.”
Weston squeezed my hand, and after that. We didn’t talk much. I drove until the gas light lit up on the dash. By then we were an hour south, in Stillwater. Weston directed me to the nearest gas station and showed me how to pump the gas.
“You hungry?” he asked.
“Okay, I’ll grab some chips and a pizza pocket or something. Mountain Dew?”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
He hung the nozzle on the pump, and then ran into the station. I stood there, not sure which door to get in. When Weston returned, he watched me, puzzled.
“What are you doing, babe?”
My purpose, where I was, and even my own name were lost on me, because of what had just come out of his mouth. I’d heard other couples call each other sweet terms of endearment, and I heard mothers say such things to their children, but no one had called me anything but my name, and a few colorful slurs. I’d always imagined what it would feel like, to hear someone who loved me call me something simple and sweet, and it just came out of Weston Gates’s mouth.
I tried to speak, but nothing came out.
“Do you want me to drive?” he asked. When I didn’t respond, he took another step toward me. “Are you okay?”
I took a few quick strides and jumped on him, wrapping my legs around his middle and my arms around his neck, kissing him hard.
He kissed me back. The sacks he was holding crackled as he hurried to wrap his arms around me.
When I pulled away, he smiled. “What was that for?”
“I don’t know. I just needed to.”
“You should follow your gut more often,” he said, kissing me again.