The Sea of Tranquility(8)


by Katja Millay

I stop at the end of the driveway, in front of a pale yellow house with a brightly lit open garage. I want to look in to see if anyone is inside before I get too close, but my feet won’t stop. The sight of it pulls me in. As soon as I reach the threshold, I am frozen, only one thought forming in my mind. I know this place. I take a tentative step closer, looking around, remembering details of a place I know I have never been. I know this place. The thought invades my brain repeatedly, and as it does, I finally take note of the rhythmic sound, still humming in my ears. There is a figure sitting at a workbench on the far wall of the garage, his hand moving back and forth, sanding down the narrow edge of a wooden beam. My eyes are fixed on those hands as if they’re hypnotizing me. I pull my gaze away to follow the dust falling to the floor, catching the light as it goes. I know this place. The thought comes at me again and I suck in my breath all at once and I just need a second. One more second to process what it means. I know this place. But before I can think, the hands have stopped, the sound has stopped and the person in the garage has turned around to face me.

And I know him, too.

CHAPTER 8

Nastya

Lit up by the fluorescent lights, Josh Bennett studies me across the garage. I haven’t moved or looked away. I don’t see any recognition in his eyes and I wonder if he knows who I am. I’m just now remembering that I probably look like a different person. My hair is pulled back in a ponytail and I don’t have a trace of make-up on my sweat-covered, and probably very flushed, face. I’m in running clothes and sneakers. I’m not sure I would recognize myself if I didn’t already know what I was supposed to look like under the crap I‌—‌just barely‌—‌cover myself in at school. I’m beginning to wish I at least had the make-up on because I’m feeling very exposed under the fluorescent lights with this boy staring at me. He’s skewering me with those eyes. I know I’m being assessed somehow, but I’m not sure on what criteria.

“How did you know where I live?” He’s annoyed and he doesn’t bother hiding the accusation in his words.

Obviously I didn’t, because it would have been the last place on earth I would have come, but I guess now he thinks I’m a stalker. My right hand tightens around the kubotan, even though I don’t feel like I’m in any real danger and my left hand matches it, even though it’s holding nothing. I probably look crazy or confused or both.

His eyes drop down to my legs, which are criss-crossed by the bloody tendrils that infernal shrub left in its wake, and then they return to my face and I wonder what he sees there. I wonder if he senses how defeated I feel. I did not plan for anyone to see me like this, much less Josh Bennett, who apparently I am supposed to fear or revere, though I don’t know why. Is he wearing a ring? Is he waiting for me to kneel down and kiss it?

One of us is going to have to blink first, so I take a tentative step back as if I’m trying to evade a predator, hoping he won’t notice that I’m moving until I’m already gone. I lift my foot to take another step.

“Do you want a ride home?” He looks away before he says it and his tone loses some of its edge. My foot comes down harder than I mean it to. If I had a list of the things Josh Bennett might say to me in this situation, asking me if I want a ride wouldn’t have made the top fifty. His voice is devoid of any emotion as usual. For the record, no I do not want a ride home, but I think I need one. And it sucks to need something from someone who so clearly detests you, but I’m not proud enough to say no.

I nod, opening and closing my mouth quickly because I really want to say something, even if I don’t know what it is I want to say. He stands and walks to the door that leads into the house, opening it enough to reach in and grab a set of keys that must have been hanging on the inside wall. He turns to close the door but looks back in and pauses a moment as if he’s listening for something. I imagine he must be checking to see if his parents are awake, but they probably aren’t. They’re probably asleep at this hour along with the rest of the civilized world. Except for me. And Josh Bennett who apparently likes to do woodworking in the dead of night in his garage. I look around to try to figure out what exactly he was working on but it all just looks like a bunch of wood and tools to me and I can’t tell. I glance at the garage one more time, memorizing it, and as much as I hate to admit it, I know I’m coming back here.

I walk out and wait in the driveway next to the truck parked in it. It’s the only car here so I guess he doesn’t have his own. It’s a beautiful truck, even I can admit that, and I’m not a big truck person. His father must take good care of it. I wish my car was that shiny, but I hate to wash it, so I’m lucky you can even tell what color the paint is at this point.

Josh stops at a small refrigerator that sits on the floor under one of the work benches and pulls a bottle of water out of it. He walks up and hands it to me, wordlessly, before unlocking my door and opening it. I take the bottle out of his hand and look at it, suddenly aware of just how much I must be sweating. I turn to climb into the truck and I’m glad I’m not in a skirt, because I’m seriously short and I have to take a pretty big step up to get into it. He closes the door behind me, then walks around and climbs in the driver’s side. He seems a lot more graceful doing it than me, like he was born climbing in and out of this truck. I’m wondering if I’m allowed to hate Josh Bennett, because I’m thinking I might start.

And then we sit. He doesn’t look at me, but he doesn’t start the car, either. I wonder what the hell he’s waiting for and maybe wandering lost in the dark might not be the worst thing after all. Everything feels endless right now. My stupidity hits me upside the head a moment later when I realize that he’s not sitting here to make me uncomfortable, he just doesn’t know where to go. Looking around the car for something to write on is futile. There isn’t a damn thing in here. It’s the cleanest car I’ve ever seen. When I get in my car tomorrow morning, it’s going to feel like a slum compared to this. Before I can do the eye-pleading thing with him and hope he understands, he reaches across the dashboard and pulls the GPS down and hands it to me.

The ride is ridiculously short. It takes only minutes to get back to Margot’s and I feel stupid for having him drive me. I paid attention to everything on the way. I tell myself it’s so I won’t get lost again, but really I need to find my way back there.

I should say thank you, but he won’t expect it and I get the feeling he’s more comfortable with the silence anyway. When he pulls into the driveway, I reach for the door almost before he’s put the truck in park, determined to put us both out of our misery. I jump down onto the ground and turn to close the door. I don’t say thank you. He doesn’t say good night, but he does speak.

“You look different,” he says and I shut the door in his face.

CHAPTER 9

Nastya

Josh Bennett walks in and heads straight for my table in shop and I try not to look, but I really, really want to. I just don’t want him to know that I’m looking. Soon I have no choice in the matter because he’s standing in front of me, staring at my face. I stare back at him and I want to scream What?! I can almost see the word, interrobang and all, floating up from my lips in unspoken fervor, because he’s the only person I know who can appear seriously put out with no expression at all on his face. Does everyone irritate him so much or is it just a special gift I have? He seems disturbed by the fact that I even exist, much less occupy the same space in his precious shop class.

“I sit here,” he finally says, and again, he doesn’t sound pissed, just matter-of-fact, like that’s the way things are and I should know it like everyone else. Does this mean I’m supposed to get up? Move? Where? This is where Mr. Turner put me and I’m trying to decide if I want to have a stare-down with Josh Bennett or get up and move because our near silent dispute already has an audience. Before I can make my decision, Mr. Turner calls Josh over to his desk. He leaves his books on my‌—‌his?‌—‌table in an obvious show of ownership and refusal to concede and walks to the front of the room. I see Mr. Turner look in my direction and back to Josh and I assume he’s telling him that he told me to sit here. I don’t know if Josh is going to get his way or not, but the way things seem to go around here, that’s usually what happens. I’m not going to give him a chance to be smug about it, so before he turns to come back, I move myself.

There aren’t any other empty tables. The one I was sitting at was the last one. There are empty seats at the others but I don’t want to sit next to anyone; it becomes too awkward for me and for the person stuck sitting with me. Plus, I like sitting in the back so I know no one is behind me.

There’s a counter built around the perimeter of the room with storage cabinets underneath, so I take my books and place them on it and hope like hell I can sit up here without flashing the world. I push myself up on the counter and turn to face the front. As I do, I see Josh walking back. He doesn’t look at me but he does speak. His back is turned to the rest of the class and his voice is low so I’m pretty sure no one but me can hear it.

“I wasn’t going to make you move.”

I’m not sure if I should be annoyed that he assumes he had the power to make me move or if I should feel bad for misinterpreting him. I’m thinking I’ll never understand Josh Bennett and then I’m wondering why I try.

***

“There’s a party tonight at Trevor Mason’s. Want to go?”

I look at Drew. We’re sitting in Debate. It’s almost two-thirty and I’m trying to pull the last five facts I need to finish my assignment off of the internet before the bell so I don’t have to deal with it tonight or any other time this weekend. I don’t know what Drew’s working on, other than me, because I don’t think he’s accomplished a thing this entire period. He’ll no doubt procure an A for whatever non-work he did. That’s how things work for Drew around here.

What did he just ask me? It was pretty straightforward and shockingly innuendo-free so I’m momentarily dumbfounded. Go to a party tonight? Not what I was expecting. He’s been tossing all of his sexually-charged material my way since the first day of school. I’d call it banter, but it’s really not, since my contribution is nothing more than pointed looks and hand gestures and even those are few and far between. He tried to get me to resort to note writing a few days ago but I shut that down quickly enough. Note writing is for fact-based, pertinent information only, not conversations.

Go to a party with Drew? Why not? I surprise even myself, but really, why not? Okay, there are probably about a hundred reasons why not. Because let’s face it, he’s probably not asking me for my sparkling wit and entertaining anecdotes. But much to my chagrin, Drew is actually one of the few things in my day that I don’t completely dread, because at least with him, I feel a certain sense of control. I can handle Drew. He doesn’t scare me, and right now, that may just be enough. I find that, in spite of his blatant man-whorishness and put-on cocky smolder, I like him. Not like him, like him. But I do like him and I wonder what that says about me. He’s entertaining, and I am sorely in need of entertainment. I nod to him. Sure, party, of course. He looks surprised for a moment. Hell, I’m kind of surprised myself. Then the surprise is gone and the self-assured, of-course-you-said-yes smile spreads across his face.

“I’ll pick you up at nine?” he asks.

I nod, digging a notebook out of my backpack and ripping a page out of it. I grab the pen he’s been holding out of his hand and write down the address because addresses are acceptable note material.

“You should probably wear black,” he mocks as I write the address. I’ve worn nothing but black in the past two weeks. I hand the paper to him, seeing that conquering gleam lingering in his eyes. I tilt my head to the side and look him up and down in all his preppy hotness until my eyes rest back on his face. Then I shrug and walk away.