When I woke up, she was gone.
When my eyes popped open, all I remembered was thinking, I have Bekah. I remembered her arms around me. I remembered the feel of her lips and the odd thing they did when I kissed them. I remembered the funny way she phrased things when she was drunk and how the night before she had gotten drunk for the first time. I remembered telling her that if she regretted getting together with me to not be here when I woke up.
I sat up. “Bekah?”
Nothing but the blood in my ears. I heard it again. My exact wording played itself out for me, the tone, the confident way I felt when I said it. I had felt that I needed her to have a way out that was non-confrontational if she decided I was a drunken mistake, so I closed my eyes and let my exact wording run through my mind again.
“If, when you wake up, you decide you’ve made a mistake and you’d rather be friends, just don’t be here. Just get up, leave me sleeping, and walk away. Get in your car and drive off. And when I see you next, I will ignore that this ever happened. I will not speak on it ever again. We can go back to being friends. This never has to be an issue. This can just be a wild thing you did one night when you were drunk. If you regret, don’t be here when I wake up. And if you are here when I wake up, then we’ll start a new life.”
But she wasn’t here.
I jumped up and ran to the bathroom. It was a short trip, half a room away and I looked in, seeing no Bekah.
I walked to the kitchen and looked in. The kitchen was so small the refrigerator door only opened halfway before colliding with the counter. The stove and oven hid behind the fridge. The entire kitchen was one, very narrow, spot of floor three feet by five feet. She was on none of those feet.
I walked back to the bed and sat on its edge. I braced my elbows on my knees and held my head. I had been so convinced. So convinced she would be here when I woke up. She would be hungry and need lunch. She would have studied my living room and seen all the things that decorated my house. She might have taken a shower, I wasn’t sure, but I had been so sure she would be here waiting.
Then I saw a flash of her face. She looked frantic.
I stood. I closed my eyes and concentrated.
Flash of her face again. Her hands were cradling my jaw. She was staring in my eyes. She was talking.
I opened them and looked around, searching for a note. If she wanted to find paper in this house, she would have had to go into my bag and find my composition books. I didn’t know a lot about her but I knew she wouldn’t do that. I checked anyway.
I closed my eyes again. I tried to focus. She had been talking. What had she said?
“You gotta wake up, baby, you gotta wake up!” She shook my head. “Are you awake? Can you hear me?” She looked so scared, so out of control. “I’m not changing my mind. I’m not. I just remembered that I have to go to lunch with my grandparents. I’ll be back as soon as I can. If you wake up and I am not here…” She kissed my sleeping face. “I’m not changing my mind. I’m so happy to be your girlfriend.”
When a car drives on gravel it has a bit of a grunt to it. The rocks churning under the rubber make a rumbling sound. But when a car brakes hard on gravel, when a car is moving at a good clip and a driver is coming in fast and they slam on the brakes, the gravel snarls. The gravel outside my house was snarling.
Door slammed closed.
My apartment door burst open and there she was. The sunlight moved up around her, cradled her as if it wanted to pick her up and set her in my arms. I felt something move within me and I got myself under control as she stood staring at me.
“You weren’t here, so…” I said.
“I had to, I mean, I tried to wake you—”
“But yet here I am, wide awake and standing in my living room and you were gone.” I held it together so well. Tight check on my face. Tight hold on the smile. Hold back the smile. “Friends then?” I said.
She rushed the distance and I opened my arms to her.
The rest is a romance movie without the lovemaking. We kissed. I told her what I had thought when I woke up and she was gone. She told me about the quickest lunch she had ever had in her life. We talked about the night before and she giggled a lot. It was the perfect new, fun and funny, cute and cuter part of the relationship. This was before it shattered and our hearts broke. Before the breaking of all of it and the pain. The confusion. This was before all of that. We wouldn’t have that for a long time yet.
She told me the next part and I felt my heart sag in my chest.
“I have bad news,” she said. “Well, it’s not bad news, just sucky for us. I wish we had happened earlier this summer. But this is what we have.”
“Bad news. You are about to break my heart. Is it Brett?”
“What?” She looked at me, confusion, her face twisted a bit and she shook her head. “No, God no. Nothing like that. It’s this trip.”
“Well, before you and I got together, me and Bliss, we planned this trip to go see Plan. She is my sister and she is at college in—”
“I know who Plan is. She was friends with Less in middle school. She is actually friends with me now, kinda, sorta.”
“She is going to freak out when I tell her we are together,” Bekah said.
“The trip?” I said. I kissed her. “Stay focused.”
She grinned and kissed me again. “Okay, right, trip. Well, Bliss and I are going to visit her. We are going to drive up there and see her and drive back.”
“We will be gone for two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” I said. I stood up and she grabbed my hand and pulled me back down.
“Two weeks and then I’ll be back.”
“How long before you start college in Springfield?” I said. Springfield was an hour and fifteen minutes away and I had no car. I could not afford to make the long-distance calls.
“Two weeks after I get back from the trip, I am headed to school,” she said.
“How long before the trip?”
“Three days,” Bekah said. She winced. “It’s bad, right?”
“You’re telling me we get three days together before you are gone for two weeks, then when you get back, you are here for two weeks before leaving for Springfield?”
“It’s not ideal.”
“It’s terrible. I have you for two and a half weeks before you are gone?” I felt that hollow place within me toll as if someone had just struck me like a bell.
“I’m not going to be gone. I will be in Springfield. I will come back every weekend,” Bekah said.
“Until you don’t,” I said. It was all falling apart.
Now let’s take a break and look at what I was expecting. I had her. I had my dream girl. I held a place for her since her freshman year of high school. I had always been tied up with someone when she was free and she was always dating someone when I wasn’t. She had been the ship passing me in the night and never did I think she would be much more.
Bekah was Waynesville royalty. Her family was the family. Her grandparents owned half the town. She was not only from a rich family, she was smart, too. I had barely graduated high school. I was working two jobs to afford my shitty apartment. She was valedictorian. She was smarter than me and we all knew it. She was going to college and had a future. We all knew it. She was going to go off and do great things. Be with better, smarter, and more artistic men, and I had her for the rest of the summer before that kicked in.
My expectation was that after a few weeks back at college she would get tired of the uneducated street rat back in Waynesville and find a more suitable person. I had her for the rest of the summer. And that summer was cut two weeks short.
Now if I had been given two and a half weeks straight, I could maybe have sunken my claws in and she would have come back from college for longer than a few weeks but that time was not straight. I would get her close, then she would leave, and I would have two more weeks to let her know how much I already cared for her before I lost her again.
What I needed was a month. I had always been able to bind a girl to me by the end of a month. If my relationships lasted more than a month, then usually, I was the one that broke it off. It took one month to become addicted to me.
The first three days were a wash. Those might as well not even be there. That was wasted time because I would not get her in tight before she was gone. Then I would have her for two weeks before losing her again. This was never going to work. I would never be able to make her see. I needed time to make her see how crazy I was about her. How badly I wanted to be with her. I needed time to let her see me. None of that would be given to me. I had already lost her.
“Let’s not think about it. We have a lot to do today,” I said.
“What do we have to do?” she asked.
“I have to introduce you to my family. I have to introduce you to the crew of Pizza Hut. We have a lot to do. So, let me get dressed and we will get started.”
She looked at me and bit her lip.
“You stay in here. You don’t get to watch me get dressed.”
“You haven’t even taken me out on a date yet. You don’t get a free show,” I said.
“I’m a man of class. You can at least buy me the lobster first.” I pulled the British flag that served as a door closed and jumped into some clothes.
“You can have the lobster,” she said. “I hate lobster.”
I poked my head out of the room and stared at her, mouth open. “You have eaten lobster?”
“What does it taste like?”
“If styrofoam was meaty. That is what it would taste like.”
I pulled my head back in. “Well, I have never been a lobster guy. Don’t think I have even seen lobster meat, to be honest. But I know they live in tanks just hoping against hope to be picked. For what, they don’t know.”
She giggled. When she laughed, I noticed that when she ran out of breath, she laughed her way back in. She laughed on the inhale and the exhale. I had never heard that before.
I took her across the driveway to Rose’s and Mumble’s house. Rose’s eyes dropped on me, then scooted to Bekah. She stared at her as we walked in before she pointed at her. “You’re Bekah Lynch.”
“This is my new girlfriend,” I said.
“Your new girlfriend is Bekah Lynch?” she said.
“Bekah, this is my mom, Rose.”
“How long have you been dating?” Rose said. “I saw you yesterday and you never mentioned a girlfriend.” Rose wrapped Bekah in a hug. “You’re cute as a button, girl. Sit down. Can I get you a drink?”
“We started dating last night,” I said.
“Last night, at that party you had?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Did you get drunk?” Rose asked me.
“No, I don’t drink. You know this.”
“Did you get drunk?” Rose said, pointing at Bekah.
“I drank for the first time last night,” Bekah said.
“And ended the night with my son.” Rose handed Bekah a glass of orange soda.
“Yes, but I have known her for years,” I said.
“I have never met her.”
“We didn’t hang out much. She is Bliss’s sister.”
“You got drunk and woke up in a relationship, huh? Is that what you are going to tell your parents?”
“Well, Rose, I’m sober now,” Bekah said. “And we didn’t do anything more heated than kiss last night. Your son was a perfect gentleman.” Bekah wrapped one arm around my arm and sipped her soda.
“Well, that is right. I raised a gentleman for sure. How long is this going to last with you two, do you think?” Rose said.
“It’s been—” I looked at my watch.
“It’s been twelve hours, Rose. So far, we are going pretty strong. So far, looks like it will last.”
Everyone laughed. I laughed. Bekah laughed. Rose laughed.
Her eyes didn’t.
About an hour later I saw from my mother’s window that Bell and Burg had just arrived in Burg’s truck. They pulled up to my house and walked right in.
“They just walked into your house,” Rose said.
“Yep,” I said.
“I didn’t even see them knock.”
“They are my crew, mom. They don’t have to knock.” I hugged my mother, kissed her cheek, and headed for the door. She hugged Bekah.
“It was nice to meet you, sweetheart. Come back anytime,” Rose said. “Jesse…”
I looked up and she was beckoning me with flapping fingers. She does this thing where she makes a hand as if she is about to slap someone and she bends her fingers in a flapping motion. It’s her come here this instant and don’t make me ask again gesture. Well, she did that.
I walked to her and she grabbed my shoulder. “You go on now, honey,” she said to Bekah. When Bekah was gone, she turned to me. “You don’t have to pay for everything with her.”
“What?” The notion was so foreign. So bizarre. No girl had ever paid for anything when they dated me. No girl even bought her own food. The idea of letting a girl buy anything was an insult to everything I had been taught. “What do you mean by that?”
“She is a Lynch. I don’t want you spending all your money. Let her buy for you.”
I was out the door. I brushed that off as ridiculous and caught up with Bekah. I took her hand.
She didn’t ask what my mother had said to me. She just let it go. So did I.
When we walked into the house, Burg and Bell were waiting for us.
“Is it sticking?” Bell said.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
“There are rules,” Burg said.
“This ought to be good.” I dropped in my spot on the floor and Bekah dropped down next to me.
“We are his Droogs,” Bell said.
“The Droogs, I know,” Bekah said.
“You probably don’t, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. You’re sweet and we all love you and Bliss, but we are for him,” Burg said. “Just be good to him.”
“Second is, we are his Droogs,” Bell said.
“You said that already,” Bekah said with a giggle.
“We are saying it again. You are his girlfriend but that does not push us out. We still come here whenever we want. We still control the place when he is gone. Your friends will still listen to us when he is not here,” Bell said.
“We keep order. Make sure no one messes with his place,” Burg said. “Now we are happy you two made it. You will be great together, but let’s be clear. Your friends and your sister will take advantage if we let them. Therefore, when he is gone, we are still in charge.”
“No one kicks her out,” I said. “If she says it and it does not sound wrong, you two make it happen.”
“Done,” Bell said.
“Look,” Burg said, “Listen, this place is sacred. It is safe ground for anyone who needs it. But people will take advantage, it has happened before. We had to set things right. We will do it again. If things get out of hand, even if they are your friends or your sister, we will toss them out on their ass.”
Bekah looked at me.
“Droogs,” I said. “They are my crew. They would take a bullet for me. Me for them.”
“Good, he needs friends,” Bekah said. “Now, you are all very scary, but you know me, have known me for years, so stop grunting at me.”
Few more hours and she was dropping me off at work. I introduced her to everyone. They were all very nice. When she walked out the door, the place exploded.
“You’re dating a Lynch Girl!” Court said. “A Lynch Girl. Shit, she has an ass, too, doesn’t she?”
“Guys,” I said.
“Damn boy, don’t tell me you didn’t notice,” Bat said. “Can’t bear to watch it leave. Man, you gotta name that thing.”
“You’re gross,” Bubbly said. She leaned in close and hugged me. “She is cute.” Bubbly pointed at me and sneered. “She is not better than you.”
“Get in uniform and get to the back. I need boxes folded,” Business said. “She is a Lynch Girl, and everything that comes with that, but that does not matter. You are Jesse. Fucking. Teller. Don’t be afraid to let her know.”
Court looked at me. “What does she drive?”
“Mustang,” I said.
“Fuck, man! A mustang and an ass like that. A rich girl and cute. Fuck Jesse, you hit the big one.”
“Stop talking about my girlfriend’s ass.”
Business pointed at a stack of unfolded boxes. “Fold, boy,” she said with a smile. “Congratulations, good luck. Now get to work.”
“Lucky bastard,” Bat said as he walked by. “That was an ass.”
I was starting to get a little intimidated.