No Chinook Chapter 3

No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

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Carly, the high-school sweetheart I took to the prom, rode a motorcycle It was a classic number her dad left behind when he split town, and she was riding it the second she got her license. By the time I came around, it was an extension of her; part of her personality. I never really understood why someone would own a bike in a city with so much gravel on the roads and with an average snowfall of a hundred-and-twenty-five centimetres a year. But some of the best high-school moments were when our leather jackets were pressed up against each other as we roared down some black street with the autumn wind rewarding us for getting through the day. There was always this little spot between her helmet and jacket I could kiss and would; I’d kiss it every chance I got. She usually shrugged me off: I’m driving here,” she’d say, but I knew she loved it.

I’d been in a fair number of relationships for a guy on my side of the spectrum. My father always told me that I needed to find a better group of losers to hang out with, seeing as I’d always date odd girls and hang out with guys my dad found unsettling in ways he would never explain. My father and I didn’t talk too much, but something about what he said stuck with me. As much as I liked my friends in high school, I knew they weren’t exactly the best choice, and while I was really no different, there always happened to be this wall that kept me from being too intimate with anyone I didn’t sleep with.

Anyways, the thing with Carly was that I was in love with her and she was in love with me. We were going to get married and live somewhere together and be really fucking happy. Neither of us had a clue as to what to do with our lives, but we had at least one constant thing that grounded us into thinking about thinking about the future in a way that was more playful than responsible. Maybe we’d go to college or maybe we’d open up a diner in Alaska and serve the folks up there. It was a nice image, solidified in drifting snow squalls and in our bonding together against this world. It’s not even that we hated the world, really. We just liked each other more outside of it.

Carly introduced me to every rock band I love. She showed me that greater thinking happened at four in the morning than at any other time of day. I drank my first beer with her, three blocks away from her place in an abandoned house the cops never seemed to pay attention to. I’d be such a fucking mess right now without Carly; before her, I didn’t think I could make a living writing anything. She taught me to stop chewing my nails. It was one of those formative relationships: she remoulded me into something so much better than I was before.

It was two weeks later; Kate finally called. After the first few days had gone by, I had convinced myself that our meeting was a fluke, that all she’d wanted was a trip down memory lane; perhaps something more sinister. I went to work on the LRT and I told some people there that I’d caught up with an old friend, and I helped Shawn paint his room. Well, re-apply paint, really. All that arguing about what to do, and finally he just decided to paint it the same damn colour. I lived completely ordinarily, almost oblivious to any crazy ideas about Kate.

I could tell she was crying, but at the same time trying to hold it back as much as she could. I asked her the obvious: What’s wrong?”

He fucking left me. That fucking prick.” She embellished the Fs with spit and contempt. She sounded like she had a lisp. I could tell she was pacing around.

When?” I asked.

This morning,” she said. I wake up alone in our bed, and when I come downstairs he’s packing a bag. I ask him where he’s going. He dodges the subject. I follow him around, and he tries to avoid all my questions. He heads for the door, and I block him. Finally, he breaks down and says that he’s been seeing this girl. Some fucking girl. Can you believe that?”

I was crushed right along with her. Everything she said broke my heart.

I couldn’t help but envision the dumbest guy in the world as she kept going: He’s been seeing her for like, a year, for fucksakes, and she was out in his car, waiting to take him up to her cabin where I’m sure they fucked whenever I thought he was off doing business trips. Jesus Christ. I am so fucking angry right now. I trusted him with everything.”

Immediately, I thought: he knows what she does for a living.

For a second, Kate sounded like she had more to say, but she just fell apart mid-breath. I held the phone close and tried to hold her up with imaginative will. Any remnants of the Kate Foley living in my memories were shattered now. Kate would have never let a guy walk over her like that. She’d never fall to the floor because the tears came too fast and too hard. The Kate I thought I knew was brutally strong, even if I had her completely made up.

It was around this time that I began to wonder how much about Kate Foley I really did know. She never talked about her parents or life outside school. I didn’t know if she had any siblings, or if she had asthma like me, or if she’d had an imaginary friend. It was so hard to picture her as a kid. All I had seen was this woman so capable of affecting my stupid, self-centred feelings. And then I saw it. Something about the way she was breathing into the phone told me she was close to the ground. She’d collapsed, but kept hold of the phone. Finally, I said, I’ll be right over.”

Kate took a couple of breaths to slow down, and said Thank you,” in a mouthy, desperate way that really meant she needed me.

Finally, when she needed me, everything was in my way. I couldn’t find the sleeve in my jacket for my arm to go through. I couldn’t find my keys. I couldn’t tie my shoes right. I missed the train. Waiting for a train that comes every four minutes is so excruciating. All I wanted to do was run. For a moment, I considered outrunning the train.

When the train finally reached Kate’s stop, I bolted out the doors and downstairs. It was seventeen below, but my focus kept me warm. I was so preoccupied that I almost missed the car in front of Shawn’s house as I ran right by. But I didn’t.

Mark’s blue Caravan was parked on the asphalt driveway of my lovers’ house. I couldn’t help but stop for a second, immediately feeling sick. That particular car in that driveway meant that Shawn was with him; deceiving Mark and possibly me. I wavered between the two options, trying to decide which was true. Something about Shawn, perhaps his charm, forced me to think that it was simple cowardice, that he’d have loved nothing better than to dump that jerk and rush to my place. But it was four months since I met him and two and a half since we’d kissed, and there was Mark’s stupid childless minivan parked right in front of me. The one time I met Mark was at a party very similar to the one where I met Kate, only it was in someone else’s house and there was much more alcohol. It was a week after Shawn and I had kissed for the first time, and we’d gotten our signals crossed. When he saw me, he flinched. Shawn froze completely, as if fully aware of the fact that his world might come apart right then, in the middle of some guy’s living room.

I didn’t think you were coming,” he said, in the coldest tone, and I immediately sensed that he was hiding something. Before he got another word in, this guy Mark, Mark with the minivan, came over to us, wrapped his thin arms around Shawn and kissed him in the way a teenaged girl would. Somewhere behind me, a beer bottle shattered into dozens of sharp pieces, and people jumped. Unable to say anything, I just turned and walked through the front door, cutting my foot open in the process. I limped home, sobbing. Shawn always added far too much drama to my life. 

The only thing that kept me from crying was the cold; I kept running. I couldn’t linger outside Shawn’s house while his other boyfriend was there. What choices did I have? Causing a scene would jeopardize everything, even if this meant matching Shawn’s flair for drama. I knocked on Kate’s door, panting, doubled over. She answered, crying, though still standing tall. She bent over and touched her face to mine, smiling. We were both spent.

Are you OK?” she asked.

Are you OK?” I asked, and she grabbed me by the shoulders, hugging me very tight, I could barely breathe, but I felt I needed to be strong for her. I came to help; she drew strength from my will.

I’m glad you’re here,” she said, holding me, holding back tears and keeping my shoulder dry for the time being. She let go and said, Come in. I’m a fucking mess.”

It’s okay,” I said. I understand, totally.”

We sat down on her couch. The yearbook was still on the coffee table.

So that was it?” I asked. He just walked out?”

Pretty much,” she said. He said that most of his stuff was packed up, and he was sorry, fucking sorry that he couldn’t explain it better, but he had to leave.”

Did you see this coming?”

I mean, we’d been fighting for weeks now. He’s been away more and more; I guess I know where now. He’s been avoiding me. He’s been eating at weird hours to make sure we never spend any actual time together awake. It’s all so damn clear now. I’m such a goddamned idiot.”

You’re not an idiot,” I said, feeling like I was reading lines from a book. Everything I said was a cliché. We all do this,” I said. We let ourselves believe in everything working perfectly, you know? We let ourselves fall in love. Even if all the signs are there that we maybe shouldn’t.”

But it doesn’t exist,” she said. It doesn’t. It can’t. I loved him so fucking much, and I thought he loved me. It doesn’t exist. It’s a fabrication we feed ourselves to feel better about giving everything we’ve got to a guy who sneaks behind your back and gets it on with some slut.”

She got up off the couch and picked up the chair in the corner. She was stronger than I thought. The chair was huge and looked like it weighed sixty pounds, but she lifted it up to her waist, swivelling it. She let go in mid-turn, and the chair’s bottom-right corner hit the wall. As it landed, I could hear the wood creak. It finally rested sideways, slightly more crooked than before. Kate moved closer, sliding her hand across the top. Then, in an act empty of any grace, she kicked the chair with everything she had, turning it into a wrecked heap of wood and upholstery.

That was his, huh?”

No,” she said. We bought it together.” She looked around. We bought all of this together. And while the logical side of my brain is telling me that the receipts are in my name and that means he doesn’t actually get to call shotgun on anything here, it was still an us thing.”

So you’re going to kick every piece of furniture in here to death?”

No,” she said. Just that one. That one was his favourite.”

I smirked, supposing that was fair enough.

You want to get out of here? I want to get out of here.” She tucked her hair behind her ears and grabbed her coat. She didn’t wait for me as she left, but I followed close.

With her arms crossed and her pace controlling mine down the increasingly dark and cold street, she asked me if I’d ever dumped a girl. I knew what she was doing and I didn’t like it. I didn’t come here to have her anger toward Ray transferred and flung at me. In these instances it was easy to hate every member of the opposite sex. I began to wonder why I came, but while worrying, I also answered her.

The only time I’ve ever dumped a girl was in the fifth grade. Her name was Dorothy Myers, and she was my first girlfriend. We were together for six months, from September to February. I mean, we never went out on a date, unless you count watching cartoons together, and we never kissed, unless you count that time during her mom’s second wedding when she hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, but the whole thing was really innocent and nice. Then, around Valentine’s day, this other girl, Nikki-something-or-other, gave me a card a few days before the big day, saying she wanted to be my valentine. This was the only time in my entire life that a girl just came up to me and told me she liked me, and it threw me off so much that I just went with it. The next day, I told Dorothy that I was with Nikki, and she cried, right there in the hallway before home room.”

Wow,” she said, You’re a real bastard.”

Don’t worry,” I said. I learned my lesson pretty quick. See, Nikki and I were together a total of two days. The day before Valentine’s Day, I saw her ask Dean Walters to be her valentine, leaving me valentine-less and single, officially, until grade 10.”

I hope you learned your lesson,” she said, understanding that this was a child’s mistake but still digging at me for it. Don’t drop one girl until you’ve picked up another.”

Hey, sorry,” I said. I didn’t mean to bring that up.”

But that’s it, right? That’s the only time?”

Carly dumped me in a way I found disparaging and sick. The entire affair reminded me of an angry mother punishing a child. I nodded, and Kate looked pleased. I think she was happy to be with a guy who appeared to have finished making the classic mistakes at this point.

And with that, I found that I did have it together well enough. I wasn’t with the boy, but I wasn’t sacrificing whatever happiness he must have with Mark in order to achieve my own. I was the nice guy. I knew the consequences of my naivety, knew that I needed to be strong alone before I could stand to be with others. Carly’s way of breaking up with me was cruel, but at the same time, it forced me to become comfortable in my own skin. I gained a few abilities that helped me through what I would face now and later, standing here with what I couldn’t even call an old friend.

I mean, you think you figure out love,” she began, talking mostly to herself. I knew that the best thing to do now was to simply let her talk, allow her this time to vent, and when it was over, say something sentimental and cheesy though ultimately comforting. Words like these never did a damn thing for me, but most people I’ve known ate them up with giant spoons of eager need.

The path we took held seemingly no purpose. I followed Kate without checking what road we happened to be on. We were in the suburbs, and the houses were old and painted funny colours like all the older neighbourhoods in Calgary. The streets wound in semi-circles, inviting people to wander the city. The sky was dark grey save the horizon. A ring of bright sunlight was visible from all directions between the mountains, plains, and the cloud that blanketed the city in a temporary warmth.

Kate appeared to be wandering, but only because there were no other options. She took her time, but when an intersection presented itself, she didn’t think before choosing a path. All the while, I thought of Shawn and Mark, and she spoke of Ray and love. You think you’ve got it. That’s what it is, right? The house, the guy, and the job. It’s all there, and it all fits in a package that defines you. It’s as if I’ve shrunk and been placed into plastic boxes, to be sold in the children’s department as a set. Collect the Kate. Collect the Ray. Collect the car and play, you know?”

I did understand, and I knew that what she was saying was coming from a deep place in the spot one keeps leftover epiphanies, but I couldn’t fully focus on her. Seeing that van struck me as something I needed to fantasize out of my mind. I thought that someday soon, a friend of Mark’s would have to saunter in with him down a street he’d never seen before, listening to his laments about Shawn, just the way Kate did it with me. Mark would wonder if Shawn ever really loved him, and his friend would agree with everything and buy him a pitcher of his favourite beer. He would languish in his heartbreak until the enjoyment of his own sadness had worn off. And then he would move on.

Kate continued on without my constant agreeable nods. She exclaimed, And my mother, Jesus, my mother loved him! She’s going to be so heartbroken about this. I probably would be too if I wasn’t so goddamn pissed off.”

I hoped Mark would get over this terrible break up quickly, but I knew this was wishful thinking. I doubt he would take it lightly. Shawn would be leaving him for another guy. The fact that Shawn had found someone better was not the typical lame excuse for this kind of thing. It wasn’t something benign; it would cause wounds. 

You get what I’m saying though, right?” Kate asked. Appearing to comprehend, I agreed without trying to interrupt. The whole idea that there is one guy out there for you, well, I liked that idea. Maybe it’s immature to believe in something most people don’t, but hey, if it gets you by, why not? That’s what it was for me. No matter what happened in my life, I thought I’d always have him, and that was really nice.”

I found myself in a curious position. I empathized with Kate, and this was largely because I knew what it was like to be crushed. It was strange hearing very similar words from her. It was like watching my heart break in someone else’s body.

I thought about the violence that might happen in between Mark and me. I’d pictured the fight before, almost as if my jealousy toward him provoked an interpretative dance. In my fantasy fight, there was broken glass and fire. Shawn wasn’t there, but it happened in his house. We’d break most of the objects in the living room, and knock down all the art. It would be the kind of fight where people cheered, only the house would be empty. I don’t know how it ended, but it wasn’t about winning. My fantasies that included Mark were only ever about confrontation. 

Kate’s tone seemed to match what was going on in my head. Her thoughts were also turning to more sinister ground. I want to burn everything he owns,” she said. I want to torch it. You remember what I did with the chair back there? Triple that. I’ll hire thugs to beat the piss out of his car. Oh, and the girl? She’s dead meat. I’ll obliterate everything she ever loved about life, man. I’ll do it.”

I knew it was pointless to actually pay attention to Kate right now. Her current hate of Ray overshadowed all the good things he probably had. These feelings just don’t go away. She was full of fire. In two weeks, she’d feel differently. Two weeks is all it ever takes to turn your feelings right around, if you know how to do it right. Still, I knew what she was doing and why she was doing it, so I let her release it all into the open air.

I just don’t get how he could love me so much if he was capable of this particular sort of lying. I get the regular lying, you know? I get how someone can lie about how much they love everything but country music, especially in this town. I get it if your hair colour is different and you say it’s natural. I get how you can say that at one point, you were in a rock band that would have made it had the guitarist not been such a dick. All that stuff makes sense.”

It’s all kind of forgivable in the end, right?” I said, knowing exactly what to say in the right moment. I always found it easy to ride someone else’s rant. The difficult thing was always reigning it in.

Exactly. But it’s lying about your intentions, you know? I don’t get that,” Kate cried. She sat down, and dropped her head into her curled-up knees. I lowered myself to match. She wiped her eyes, striving to break through her blanketing sadness with as much anger and sweat as she could. She said, That’s when it becomes criminal. That’s when there’s no grace left in your love.” Kate paused for a moment to let some air space out her words. And when there’s no grace, there’s just need, and there’s no beauty in need.”

There was some beauty in need, but I was not going to bring this up. The sun was going down fast, but you couldn’t say it was evening yet, and when you can’t yet say it’s evening, it’s impossible to speak about evening things. Saying I love you” at five thirty just doesn’t have the same levity it does at nine-thirty, but even that pales to identical words in the morning. This was drunken, easy wisdom, but it seemed to work when applied to Shawn, to Kate, and ultimately to myself.

What I didn’t get about both Kate and Mark was their apparent inability to discern what was going on in their relationships. I could tell—at least I think I could tell—when Carly began cheating on me. I didn’t do anything about it, but I felt this interfering presence and slowly realized that it was only a matter of time before I lost her. When you’re in love with someone who’s cheating on you, you’ve got to feel it, at least just a little bit. There has to be at least a minimal knowledge that something very wrong is happening, even if the particulars are muddy. It’s in movies all the time, and if something’s cliché enough to be in a movie, it has to be at least half-true. There’s always that scene where the lovers are in bed together or eating breakfast, and you can tell something’s off much sooner than they do. That’s why I couldn’t completely hate Mark. Like Kate, he’s being victimized. He’s about to lose someone he loves, and it’s because of me, and there has to be a feeling of imbalance hinting to a looming, sad end. 

You’re a good listener,” she said, finally finished. I‘d thought this would’ve gone on much longer. It certainly had when I did it. 

You’re a good venter,” I replied. You’re not torching his clothes. You’re not slicing car tires. You’re not shaving your head.”

Who shaves their head after someone dumps them?” 

Don’t you remember Amanda Winters?” I said, knowing she wouldn’t. Kate shook her head right on cue. 

Yeah, I didn’t think you would. She mostly just smoked her way through high school. Anyways, Amanda went out with Josh Randle, this biker who rode around with Carly and me sometimes.”

Oh yeah,” she said, I remember you two were together throughout high school.”

Yeah, and Carly and Josh were friends, so this is how I know Amanda,” I said, avoiding any conversation-starter about Carly. I wasn’t ready to deal with that particular skeleton-in-the-closet. Josh and Amanda fought all the time, like, every single day. They’d fight, then go somewhere and make up. They were, you know, fight-fuckers.”

Fight-fuckers?” she said, not quite getting the gist of it. 

Yeah, that’s what you call those thermal relationships, you know? One minute they’re ripping each other apart with words, and the next they’re tearing off their clothes. There’s never a boring moment around those relationships. These are the best kinds of relationships to watch.”

I can’t imagine that working,” she said.

Well, it’s like any kind of relationship. Some work out and some don’t. 

Did they?”

No,” I said. But people were surprised that they didn’t. Especially because when Josh eventually got fed up with her, he just took off without telling anybody where he was going.”

He dropped out of school just because he didn’t want to see her anymore?”

Nah,” I said. He’d graduated like four years earlier. There was a huge age gap there, but the maturity level was the same. But yeah, he just split, and after it finally hit her that he wasn’t coming back, she disappeared for about a week too. When she came back, she had no hair and three new piercings.”

I’m almost afraid to ask, but where were they?” 

One was in her tongue, and the other two were on her tits.”

For real?” she asked, not fully believing me. How do you know?”

She showed us,” I said.

Us? How many people did she show her tits to?”

Anyone who wanted to see,” I said. She felt like it was a great revenge, because Josh had been this really protective boyfriendwho never let her hang out with any other guys unless he was around.” 

It was silent for a minute, and that was nice. The sun was finally going down.

Then Kate said, Are you suggesting I pierce my tits?”

 “I’m not sure you’re the sort.” I wondered then what Mark would do to himself once everything unfolded and he was left with nothing. What section of his body would he disfigure? 

You’re right,” Kate said. He’s not worth anything so drastic. The broken chair will have to symbolize all of my violence.”

As Kate and I sat on the grass, I fantasized about how Shawn would break up with Mark. He’d invite us both to his place and sit us down, laying out the whole truth. Mark would weep like a schoolgirl, Shawn and I would achieve an honest embrace amidst the tears. If this were a movie, it would happen like that. 

In reality, I knew the whole situation would be a little more awkward. Mark would find out through cheaper means, then accuse Shawn of sleeping around, and make him promise to never see me again. What would Shawn do then? He wouldn’t promise anything. He wouldn’t apologize. He’d tell Mark to leave, and then Mark would leave. 

I’ve got to think,” she said. about how much I really loved him. Was it just safety? Was it just that he was my first big relationship? Was I just afraid to branch out and try other things?”

At somone’s party in the near future, the three of us would be there; Shawn and I there together, Mark with someone unimportant. We’d bump into one another, and immediately, Mark would know how it was between us. He would see how happy Shawn and I were, concluding that it was best this way, that he never should have been with Shawn in the first place, that the best place for him to be was far away. We would be happy, and Mark would have the common sense to leave it be.

Kate was wearing a bracelet on I hadn’t really noticed until she started playing with it, passing it between her fingers, like a rosary.

We’re pretty close to the river,” she said, getting up. Come on, there’s this little spot I love going to.”

We dusted off our butts and I followed her. I thought about the things Mark would have to give back to Shawn. They’d have to spend an hour or two a week after their big fight exchanging everything they’d ever left with one another. Maybe it would be ugly enough to involve gifts: old Christmas cards, photographs. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it say so much if there were nothing? I knew they had been together a long time, but it was so telling to know that in all that time Shawn never felt comfortable enough to leave a comb or a CD, and because of that, he wouldn’t allow Mark to do the same. It would make the break-up so much smoother, sure, but what it really stood for was a stance against being together. It would be as if Shawn were simply waiting for someone better to come along.

Ray gave this bracelet to me on our first-year anniversary,” Kate said. Except that he didn’t actually present it to me or anything. It was waiting for me on my dresser. He couldn’t be there because he was out of town for an away game with another school. There was a little note: I love you. I guess it was nice, but the gesture itself was sort of empty. Like, he couldn’t skip one damned game to spend our one-year anniversary with me? That wasn’t important enough? It’s not like he was going to marry hockey or anything.”

We’re you two getting married?” I asked.

Maybe someday,” she said. Not anytime soon. But, I don’t know, it was in the cards, I thought.”

We walked down a small path between two identical houses. The fence on both sides was wire and busted through, as if dogs had chewed it to escape. The path was narrow, and I had to walk behind her. When we reached the end, I saw a field that stretched forever. A row of energy towers stretched up above us, reaching as far as we could see in both directions. On the far side, near another set of trees hiding fences and suburbs, there was a drop. There’s a small river right here,” she said.

The field was calm. It was this little patch of nature where nothing could be built. Because of the power lines, nobody could ever live here except squirrels.

I don’t want you to think this is sad, because it’s actually really important to me.

Kate and I crossed the field and came to the river. The pond was only a few feet across, but it was oddly deep and swift for a half-frozen current. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from or was going to the Elbow. I’ve seen fish in here,” she told me, but she had to be lying. We sat down a few feet from the current. I began to play with the patchy, thawing grass. A Chinook was coming, and would be a a sad little tease for all of us, nature included. Kate kept twirling the bracelet between her fingers.

Tell me something, Scott,” Kate smiled, hopeful, Am I crazy? Am I overreacting?”

Not even close,” I said. I’ve seen a few crazy break-ups. Hell, I’ve been in a few. This is not one of them. At least, not on your end.”

Kate smiled like she used to, when you knew she only had happiness in there. Seeing her frustrated all night showed me that there was so much more to her, but I was happy to see her like I remembered her, even if her hair was longer and she wore skirts.

I’m sorry if I was mean to you, ever,” she said.

It’s okay,” I said, and it was. Back when it happened, I was a little hurt, but really, she wasn’t in any way responsible for my feelings.

Kate began to cry. I won’t regret this, because I feel strongly about it. I can say that I’m sorry. I know that I hate him, now. I know that I can’t forgive him or let him back into my life; I can’t ever let him trick me into loving him, so I have to do something permanent. It was good for a while, and even if that was just in my head, it’s still real to me.”

As she went on about Ray, it all sounded a little rehearsed, as if she knew some bad break-up song really well and wanted to use the words for her big moment. While she went through it, I looked into the tiny river and pictured getting my own toothbrush for Shawn’s place, keeping a stick of deodorant there, maybe leaving an extra change of clothes. All this fantasizing about a great, brand-new relationship while Kate waxed on about hating her last. I didn’t know which one of us was being more selfish.

Eventually, it all means nothing,” she continued. It’s all just dust. And this, this bracelet, it’s the worst reminder. So here,” she said, tossing the bracelet into the river. Instantly it was swept up, and in a few scant seconds it was gone. Ever since we’d got here, I‘d been waiting for her to do that. Did she expect me to stop her? Ever since I first saw her playing with the thing, I knew the entire journey was meant to dispose of the ugly little chain. I just didn’t expect it to be so pedestrian.

I wanted to tell Kate that in ninth grade, Linda Jacobson did the same thing to her boyfriends’ necklace. I wasn’t there back then, but she told me the day after. I thought it was a pretty immature thing to do then, and I felt the same now. But she was sad enough without the knowledge there was no originality in what she’d done.

The thing was, I imagined people like Kate were everywhere. The popular girl with the popular boyfriend blazed forward out of college, and a couple years later, she’d be miserable. Meanwhile, all the people who couldn’t have cared less about popularity (or couldn’t seemingly do anything about it) ended up striking it rich or having the time of their life when the pressure was off. The spectrum promised that everything would even out, and seeing Kate here all heartbroken in ways others had been before made me more comfortable in my own skin.

It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong about any of this, Kate,” I said. Because you’re going to be right in your own mind no matter what you do. Even if other people think you’re wrong. But you know what? Other people’s opinions only get you in trouble.”

And then, Kate did the one thing that made her unique. At any moment, Kate had the power to destroy my entire reality, every philosophy I had ever thought of, and every truth I had believed in, Kate had the ability to crush my world, and when she did, all I could do was hold on to the tiny fragments as best as I could, hoping to have time to super-glue them back together.

Right at that moment, when Ray’s bracelet was lost in the water and Mark’s car still sat in Shawn’s driveway, Kate did the last thing I ever expected: she fucking kissed me. It was sudden, more akin to a snakebite than anything human. I recoiled, instinctively.

What are you doing?” she asked.

I’m sorry,” I said, I just didn’t see that coming at all.”

Don’t reject me,” she said, suddenlty not sounding all that depressed. Not right now. I need someone right now.”

I inched forward, knowing precisely what I was doing, what it meant, and who it would eventually hurt. Still, I couldn’t stop. It was everything one version of me had ever wanted. She touched my cheek, and we kissed along the river, below the overreaching clouds. She was an inexperienced kisser; rough, trying to consume me rather than play the situation. Not a minute had gone by before she was on top of me, thrusting her tongue into my mouth. It hurt. It wasn’t special, but she was right: you don’t reject someone who’d just had her world shattered. Sometimes you have to kiss people to let them know that everything is going to be all right.

After a few minutes, I calmed her down and she began kissing me with recovered feminine grace, though she still kissed like a rookie. I wanted to ask her if Ray was her first boyfriend, but her hair was all over my face and her lips were all over my lips and her breasts touched my chest and her hand was on my hand. I couldn’t think of anything I didn’t daydream about when I was eighteen.

March 1, 2008