Me: Not even a prom date on the horizon?
John: not going
Me: Got other plans?
John: hang at the lake maybe. What do you think
Me: You’re inviting me?
Me: Cool. Sounds good.
John: We could jump off the rock again
Me: Okay. But just to warn you, I’m wearing a prom dress even though I’m not going to the dance and this isn’t a date. It’ll be something truly sparkly and stupid.
John: Remind me to bring floaties so you don’t sink.
Me: Thanks, I appreciate that.
John: No problem
Me: You seriously wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with me?
John: No. If that’s what you want, go crazy
Me: You’re sure? Because I’m talking big hair, a corsage and fluffy skirts, serious amounts of sequins and tulle.
John: whatever makes you happy. I’ll even buy the corsage for you.
John: I’ll bring the flowers and drinks and you wear the dress.
John: Tell me something good
Me: We’re in our last year of high school.
Me: So time to get the hell out of here.
John: And go where?
John: What about college?
Me: College is out of this town. It’s a start.
Me: You thinking of going?
John: maybe. Been looking at a certification for landscape technology and construction management. But my brothers not doing well so leaving him could be hard
Me: I’m sorry.
John: going to try sleep. Need to keep my strength up for fishing you out of the lake soon
John: How about you?
Me: I might try to sleep too. Night John
John: Night E sweet dreams
The next night, a hand waved in front of my face and I sat upright, screaming. The motion ripped my earbuds out, but Marina and the Diamonds played on without me.
“Hey,” said John, as calm as ever.
“Holy shit,” I whispered, hands clutching at my chest. “I really wish you’d stop doing that.”
“It’s only the second time.”
“Let’s not have a third.”
He lazed on my windowsill, backpack in hand for some reason. “You didn’t answer your door. What am I supposed to do?”
“Okay. All right.” I grabbed a pillow, covering up my baby-blue sleeping shorts. Little could be done about the slightly tight tank. At least it had a shelf bra and nothing was hanging naturally. “So what’s going on?”
“We’re what?” I scrunched up my face, hitting stop on the music. “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday night.”
He just shrugged. “Working all weekend. Now is the time I’ve got.”
No wonder he had such a great tan, mowing lawns and landscaping all weekend. And muscles. Let’s not forget the muscles. I respected him heartily for them.
“You didn’t do that well on the book essay,” he continued. “Better than me, but still.”
“Hey. C-plus is a passing grade.”
“But you usually do better, don’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer. What with my guilt-ridden face, he didn’t need to. I didn’t exactly feel guilty for my own sake. I couldn’t care less if I got an F. But I knew Mom would be disappointed. “Every time I look at you in class, Edie, you’re staring out the window. Not paying attention.”
My heart sped up once more. “You look at me?”
“You’re seated right in front of me,” he said with a smile. “I can hardly miss you.”
Stupid heart. “Right.”
“It’s not like I’ve got anyone else I can study with,” he said, face turned away. “Anders is barely getting by for his basketball scholarship. Anyway, he’s at some party.”
“I would have thought you’d be there too.”
“Nuh. Not in the mood.” He pushed back his hair. “Plus I don’t want to fail English, and you said you’d help me.”
Without further ceremony, his backpack was dropped onto my bed, making the mattress bounce. He’d either packed every textbook known to mankind or a bowling ball. Odds were sadly on the latter. Not that I was even any good at bowling.
“Of course I’ll help you,” I said. “And you’re right, I’ve had issues focusing on books and classes since it happened. It’s stupid; my brain just doesn’t want to seem to do its thing.”
“You still seeing that shrink?”
“You told him about this?”
His gaze narrowed. “Why not?”
“I don’t know.” I turned away, embarrassed. “People died that night and I’m popping pills over issues like night terrors and panic attacks. Poor me.”
“On the other hand, not much point being alive if you’re not willing to get your shit together.” His voice was no-nonsense and his face the same. “Is there?”
“Am I wrong?”
I hung my head. “No.”
“Tell him everything. Let him help you.”
Scowling at the floor, I searched for a change of subject. Anything would do. “And what about you, John? Who do you have to talk to?”
He leveled his gaze at me pointedly.
“I’m not particularly qualified,” I objected. “You don’t talk to me that much, either.”
“So I’ll talk to you more.”
“That a problem?” he asked, tipping his chin.
“No. Of course not.” My heart just about beat out of my chest. “I like talking to you; you know that.”
“No, I don’t,” he said, gaze turned aside. “Half the time I’m not sure if I’m bugging you or what.”
“You worry you’re bugging me? Seriously?”
Not bothering to reply, he climbed in after his bag. He had on his usual attire of a T-shirt and jeans. Immediately, he started pulling off his Chucks.
“Lucky you took those off,” I said, watching him toss them onto the floor with an approving nod. “Mom would be super pissed about shoes on the bed. A hot guy hanging out in my room with me though? Not a problem. Hell, she’d probably give me a high-five.”