Let's take the back roads

It was evening in Tennessee, and hot. Early summer. Twenty minutes earlier, I'd tossed my graduation cap into a cloud of two hundred and fifty other caps, and lost it.

 

I cared a little, but not that much. High school was over.

 

I was moving to Georgia in the fall, but I still had some unfinished business.

 

He was sitting on the roof of his jeep in the rear parking lot. The guy I'd sat next to in first period for half a year. Sometimes we'd joke around; I was studious, he was a slacker; I made good fodder. Was it flirting? I'd wonder that, off and on, for the next thirteen years.

 

"What are you doing tonight?" he asked me now. We didn't hang out, by the way. I didn't have guy friends, then or now.

 

I was going home for cake with my family, then over to a friend's house.

 

"Come play cards with me on top of the truck," he said. I couldn't tell if he was joking or making fun of me. Probably both.

 

I laughed. Declined. Said good-bye.

 

"I like your pants," he said.

 

 

It's probably normal to occasionally wonder about your high school crush later in life. To catch a glimpse of what he's up to when he adds you on Facebook, to idly wonder again if that comment about your outfit was supposed to be flirtatious.

 

It's perhaps a little less usual to find yourself at thirty, back in your hometown for a long weekend, perched on a roof with a bottle of wine and that same boy and the stars. Taking a chance that you'd been too scared or too young to make when you were 17.

 

 

Have you ever had the chance to make a memory that shouldn't have existed? The next day, he put me in the driver's seat of his pick-up truck, even though I'd never gotten my license. His fingertips on the steering wheel. My eyes wide in the rear-view mirror. A playlist of Blink-182 and Taking Back Sunday playing from my phone, one I'd made for running, but it also happened to be our shared high school soundtrack.

 

It was a stolen moment. It was an afternoon that meant something, contained within a relationship that needed to be a fling for my sake and needed to be real for his. I'd crush him before it ended, cruelly, like one of those backstabbing girls Adam Lazzara loved.

 

 

He was a songwriter, too, so sometimes I try to tell myself that I was being generous. Playing the harlot. Writing him a story with a tragic ending.

 

 

But really –

 

The story is for me.

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(2018)