“You’re scaring me…”
“Sorry, I just want to try five minutes.”
“What does that mean?”
“I want us to stare at each other for five minutes.”
She grimaced. “Why?”
“Please, Sasha? I just…I need you to try.”
She nodded. “Okay.” During the first minute, we struggled to make eye contact. During the second minute, she commented on how weird being quiet was. At minute three, she dropped my hands. “I don’t get it, Brooks. I don’t get what’s going on with you. I mean, we had such a good night, and then we get back to the hotel, and you’re all weird.”
“I know, sorry.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Is this about the book girl?”
She bit her bottom lip. “You know, the book girl. You think I don’t notice your hands are always either on your guitar or in a book leaving notes you never leave me? Sometimes when you’re reading, I could be naked in front of you doing the hula and you wouldn’t even notice.”
She took a deep breath. “I love you, Brooks,” she said, her eyes filled with hope and a bit of worry.
My lips parted, and as I was about to speak, no words came out. All I could think of was, “Thank you.”
Sasha shifted her body and stood up from the bed. “Wow. Okay. I’m gonna go.”
“Wait? Wait for what? Brooks, I just told you I loved you for the first time, and you said thank you. Jesus! You’re such an asshole!” she hollered. “It’s really hard being third, but I did it because I thought maybe somewhere along the line you’d bump me up.”
“Third in your life. You’ve got your music, your book girl, and then the rest of the world, and no matter how hard the rest of the world tries to keep up with your attention, you’re never fully there.”
I was an asshole. A true asshole. “I’m sorry, Sasha.”
“We’re good together. Everyone can see it. We’re good. We make sense.”
I nodded. She wasn’t wrong. She and I made sense to the whole world. I only wished we made sense to my heart, too.
She bit her bottom lip. “We’re breaking up, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, I think we are.”
“You love her?” she whispered, a few tears falling from her eyes.
My thumbs wiped away the evidence of her sadness, but only seconds later more showed up. “I tried not to. I wanted this to work. I wanted us to work.”
She shrugged. “I deserve better, you know.”
I nodded. I knew.
“And just to be clear, I’m the one breaking up here, not the other way around. I’m dumping you. Because I’m a catch, Brooks. I deserve someone who’s smart, and funny, and charming. Someone who’s not distant when we’re in the same room. Someone who sees me and loves me wholly, fully.”
“You do. You really do.”
She wiped away her tears and stood tall, grabbing her purse before leaving. “But what I deserve most—what everyone deserves most—is someone who looks at me the same way you look at those books.”
For the past few years, I’d stare out my window at Mrs. Boone’s house where she’d sit and drink her tea. Mama never did soften her stance on Mrs. Boone. When Daddy told her she was always welcome in the house, Mrs. Boone declined, saying she didn’t want to cause any more trouble. Still, we drank our tea. She’d always look up at me at noon and smile as I held a cup of tea in my hands. It was my favorite hour of the day, the thing I looked forward to the most.
Lately, she’d been missing.
The first few days, I didn’t think anything of it. Her car was gone from the driveway, and I figured perhaps she had taken a trip, even though trips weren’t something Mrs. Boone ever partook in. The next week, I started to worry when she hadn’t returned.
The more days that passed, the more nervous I became. Daddy went on a search, pulling in a few others from the neighborhood, and reported her as missing to the police, but they were certain there wasn’t anything they could do to help.
It was five in the morning when Daddy woke me with the news. “There was an accident, Maggie. Mrs. Boone was in a car accident and has been rushed to Mercy Hospital. She…”
He kept talking, but I couldn’t hear hi. The words went in and out of my ears. I didn’t cry. I was too shocked to cry. She was unconscious and in pretty bad shape. Daddy said she had been driving a bit wild, and an eyewitness said she had seemed confused and lost.
When he left my room, the more real it became. I had to go see her. She had no one to check on her. She had no family. I was all she had.
So I had to leave.
“Are you sure, Maggie?” Daddy asked while he stood in the front foyer with me, ready to drive me to the hospital.
Mama’s head tilted up, gazing at me standing in the doorway. Her narrowed eyes had an intense focus, almost as if she was waiting for me to fail. Almost as if she wanted me to fail. “She’s not going to do it,” Mama said, a sharp tone to her voice. “She’s not ready. She’s not going anywhere.”
“No,” Daddy said sternly. “She’s going.” He locked eyes with me, his stare filled with hope and compassion. “She told me she was going, and she’s going. Right, Maggie?”
I knocked on the door twice, and he smiled.
Mama shifted around in her shoes and crossed her arms. Her nerves were loud and clear while Daddy once again missed them. “That’s a lie. Watch her. Watch her run back to her bedroom. It’s okay, Maggie. You can go back upstairs. Don’t let your father pressure you.”
“Katie, knock it off,” Daddy scolded.
She grimaced and remained silent, but I could feel her stare on me.
My hands were clammy, and my heart pounded against my ribcage.
Daddy smiled up at me. “Don’t worry, Mags. You got this. You can do it,” he cheered me on.
I stepped backward once, and he noticed, stepping toward me. He rushed to me and shook his head. “No, no, no. Maggie, you can do this. Here.” He extended one hand out toward me and used his other to knock on the door twice. “Yes? Remember? You said yes. You’re coming.”