“Careful, Will Hollister. You don’t want me to remind you what it feels like to lose to a girl again, do you?”
My chest opens up and my lips stretch into a smile all on their own as Will’s head falls to the side and his eyes narrow on me. Familiar.
“You. Wish.” he says, his mouth careful with every word, uttering them nice and slow—just like he always has.
Were this the past, now would be the point when I would rush past him, and he’d grab my stomach and toss me in the air, each of us pulling on each other in our battle to be first. But this isn’t the past, and while my legs itch to run, my heart doesn’t have it in it. So instead, I chuckle and shake my head. Will turns to walk forward again, and his smile falls just a hint as he does. I think maybe he’s disappointed I didn’t follow through.
Will is an important part of this.
My dad’s words echo as I wait for Will to open the car door. I’m starting to wonder if the whole reason my dad agreed to let Will train here, at home, was because of the push he hoped it would give me.
My arms begin to tingle again, and my legs grow restless at the thought.
Rocket? Or missile?
I can’t help but take the fact that she looked at me—we made actual eye contact—as a sign that things are going to be okay. The single percent of optimism left in me holds on to it. I’m not naïve enough to believe that we can pick up right where life ended for us without ever having a conversation about what happened, about Evan, about my coma, about the shit reality that is my life and how it bled into hers. But at least she’s willing to be alone with me, and that’s…that’s not something I thought would happen ever.
Even with damp hair, denim shorts, and a T-shirt, Maddy Woodsen is still the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. She’s never smelled like anything other than lake water or chlorine, yet somehow those two things have only ever been able to remind me of her.
We don’t talk during the short car ride, and when we get to the diner off old sixty-six, near Pigeon Creek, we both sit still, our eyes forward on the faded-blue doors, the sound of cars whooshing by behind us.
“I haven’t eaten here in years.”
I’m the first to break the silence. I can hear her breathe, long and slow. I hate how hard this is for her. I hate how hard everything probably is for her. That’s why, no matter my urges, I don’t need to say any more than she truly wants to hear.
“I come here sometimes with Dad. Or…at least since I’ve been back,” she says, her hand finding the lever for the door. She pushes it down and climbs from the car; I wait for her door to close before I exit, needing that brief second of time in a space all alone to remind myself that I’m here for her.
She’s waiting in front of the car when I step out, her hands stuffed in her pockets while her feet kick at the loose gravel on the ground. I hate how uncomfortable this all is, but I guess that was always inevitable. That’s why we both stayed away.
“You still at Valpo?” I ask, knowing she is. I look her up all the time. Not…stalking, just…shit, I guess it’s stalking.
“I am. Last year of nursing school, or, it would have been. I took the year off, for…” she stops, holding her arms out to her side, her mouth offering a crooked smile. I gesture for us to walk forward, and her hands slap against her thighs as she drags her feet forward, still kicking the gravel.
“You had to, Maddy. This is your year,” I say.
“You sound like my father,” she says through light laughter.
I hold the door for her, and when she walks inside, she moves her hair from the opposite shoulder to the one facing me. She’s still putting up shields.
The hostess holds up two fingers, and I nod. We both follow her to a booth near the kitchen entrance, and I wait for Maddy to pick what side she wants.
“Coffee?” the woman asks.
“Please,” we both say in unison. She bites her tongue, her cheeks raised with her smile, and I breathe out a small laugh.
The silence is never far away, and when the hostess leaves, we’re instantly back to avoiding eye contact and busying ourselves with straightening the condiments on the table, checking our phones and wiping away lost salt granules from the table top. I start to regret agreeing to come, only because I see how hard it is on her. When she looks up and our eyes catch and hold on, I regret nothing.
“I’m sorry I’m being so…”
“It’s okay,” I break in, shocked she’s even going here. I swallow hard and hold my breath, hoping she doesn’t retract everything and go back to awkward silence. This conversation is too necessary.