My breath feels like a solid mass as it travels from my lungs into a whisper. “Bye, Jackson Gray.”
I always call him by his first and last name. It makes him sound like a movie star. And he hates when I call him that. A film of tears coats my eyes, making his face blur like I’m staring into a funhouse mirror. Even blurry, his smile is always so perfect and sincere. I wonder if mine will ever look as endearing as his, especially while I’m faking my way through the rest of the day.
He crooks his mouth to the side and gazes at me like I’ve grown horns. “Are you crying? I know leaving me is hard, but . . .” he says, letting the sentence fade out like he always does. He displays a goofy grin, showing white teeth that contrast with his olive-toned skin.
I clench my fists, urging the tears to dry. “It’s the wind.”
He searches around the parking lot as if trying to catch sight of the breeze before narrowing his gaze back to me. “Okay.” He shrugs.
The tree branches stop swaying in the wind, and my hair suddenly lies flat from its previous wild abandon. I push it out of my face. Jackson gives me a confused glance, looks down at his cell, and takes off. “I’m coming over,” he yells halfway to his car.
I chase after him. “What?” I try to mask the tone in my voice so it sounds more normal.
He whips around, his nose still in his phone. “Jaclyn called me and said we needed to talk. I need to know what to do.”
I give him my you’re an idiot expression. “Talk to her?”
He looks up and laughs, rubbing his stomach like he’s hungry, which he usually is. “Okay, okay,” he says as a concerned expression takes over his face. “Hey, are you really all right? You seem a bit . . . .” His voice is laced with worry. Maybe he’s figured out I’m saying goodbye for the last time.
I laugh because that’s what Happy Ellery is supposed to do. “I’m fine, you doof.”
“Look.” He punctuates the word with his hand for emphasis. “I need your advice and I don’t want to talk about it in the parking lot. I know you said you were busy tonight, but, it’ll only be for a sec—”
“No,” I say too quickly, cutting him off.
“Yes,” he says with a smirk on his face, his dark hair blowing in the wind.
“No.” We always do this—go back and forth until the other one caves.
He narrows his eyes and folds his arms across his chest. “Yes.”
I sigh. He’s changing my plans. This is our goodbye, not at my house where memories creep around every corner. “No.”
He smiles at me again. “Yes,” he says, soft and sincere.
He’s not going to fold. I can tell. I groan, and he knows he’s got me.
“See you in a few,” he says, cranking open the door to his rusted, piece-of-shit car.
Just a year ago the world cornered me, but now it’s swallowing me whole, digesting me slowly, like the gum I swallowed at lunch. I look down at my shoes as they make ridges in the soil, one deeper than the other. I spot my Ford SUV in the parking lot, and stand in front of it for a moment to remember all the times I’ve had in it; the time Jackson taught me to drive, the time . . . . Is this what today’s going to be like—me standing in front of my life, breathing in memories and saying goodbye to inanimate objects?
Sliding into the front seat, I wrap my hands around the wheel, squeezing the leather, taking in the last drive I’ll make away from school. It’s Wednesday. I would have picked to kill myself on a Friday, but Mom works the weekends, and I don’t want her to have to worry about cleaning up my dead body on a Friday. A Wednesday is better.
I flip on the radio and listen to my favorite song. It’s full of loud guitar chords and yelling. It’s perfect. I turn it up and roll the window down, letting the cool wind of Grand Creek, Indiana, whip brown strands against my face, slicing into my skin like little hairy knives.