People We Meet on Vacation

Page 93

I buy myself a plant, a book about plants, and a small loom. I try to teach myself how to weave with YouTube videos and realize within three hours that I’m as bored by it as I am bad at it.

Still, I let the half-finished weaving sit out on my table for days, and it feels like proof that I live here. I have a life, here, a place that’s mine.

On the last day of September, I’m on my way to meet Rachel at the wine bar when my bag gets caught in the subway doors of a crowded train car.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I hiss, while on the other side, a few people work to pry them open. A balding but youngish man in a blue suit manages to get the doors apart, and when I look up to thank him, recognition flashes clear and sharp across his blue eyes.

“Poppy?” he says, pushing the doors a little further apart. “Poppy Wright?”

I’m too stunned to reply. He steps out of the train car, despite having made no effort to get out the first time the doors opened. This isn’t his stop, but he’s getting out and I have to step back to make room for him as the doors snap closed again.

And then we’re standing there on the platform, and I should say something, I know I have to—he got off the freaking train. I manage only, “Wow. Jason.”

He nods, grinning, touching his chest where a light pink tie hangs from the pressed collar of his white shirt. “Jason Stanley. East Linfield High School.”

My brain is still trying to process this. It can’t reconcile him against this backdrop. In my city, in the life I built to never touch my old one. I stammer, “Right.”

Jason Stanley has lost most of his hair. He’s put on some weight around the middle, but there’s still something of the cute boy I once had a crush on, who then ruined my life.

He laughs, elbows me. “You were my first girlfriend.”

“Well,” I say, because that doesn’t seem quite right. I’ve never thought of Jason Stanley as my first boyfriend. First-crush-turned-bully maybe.

“Are you busy right now?” He glances at his watch. “I’ve got a few minutes if you want to catch up.”

I do not want to catch up.

“I’m actually on my way to therapy,” I say, for some fucking reason. It was the first excuse that came to mind. I’d prefer to have blurted out that I was taking a metal detector to the nearest beach to look for quarters. I stride toward the steps, and Jason follows along.

“Therapy?” he says, still grinning. “Not because of that shit I pulled when I was a jealous little prick, I hope.” He winks. “I mean, you hope to make an impression, just not that sort.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lie as we climb the steps.

“Really?” Jason says. “God, that’s a relief. I think about it all the time. Even tried to look you up on Facebook once so I could apologize. You don’t have Facebook, do you?”

“Not really, no,” I say.

I do have Facebook. I do not have my last name on Facebook specifically because I didn’t want people like Jason Stanley finding me. Or anyone from Linfield. I wanted to vanish that part of me and reappear fully formed in a new city, and that’s what I did.

We emerge from the subway onto the tree-lined streets. That same nip is back in the air. Fall has finally swallowed up the last bites of summer.

“Anyway,” Jason says, the first signs of embarrassment kicking in. He stops, rubbing the back of his head. “I’ll leave you alone. I saw you and I couldn’t believe it. I just wanted to say hi. And sorry, I guess.”

But I stop too, because haven’t I been saying for a month that I’m done running from problems, damn it? I left Linfield, and somehow that wasn’t enough. He’s here. Like the universe is giving me a hard shove in the right direction.

I take a breath and wheel toward him, crossing my arms. “Sorry for what, Jason?”

He must see it in my face, that I was lying about not remembering, because he looks hugely embarrassed now.

He takes a stiff, stuttering breath, studies his brown dress shoes guiltily. “You remember how awful middle school was, right?” he says. “You feel so out of place—like something’s wrong with you and any second everyone else is gonna figure it out. You see it happen to other people. Kids you used to play four square with suddenly getting mean nicknames, not getting invited to birthday parties. And you know you could be next, so you turn into a little asshole. If you point at other people, no one will look too closely at you, right? I was your asshole—I mean, I was the asshole in your life, for a while.”

The sidewalk sways in front of me, a wave of dizziness crashing over me. Whatever I was expecting, that wasn’t it.

“I honestly can’t believe I’m even saying this,” he says. “I just saw you on that train platform and—I had to say something.”

Jason takes a deep breath, his frown drawing tired wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and eyes.

We’re so old, I think. When did we get so old?

Suddenly we’re not kids anymore, and it feels like it happened overnight, so fast I didn’t have time to notice, to let go of everything that used to matter so much, to see that the old wounds that once felt like gut-level lacerations have faded to small white scars, mixed in among the stretch marks and sunspots and little divots where time has grazed against my body.

I’ve put so much time and distance between myself and that lonely girl, and what does it matter? Here is a piece of my past, right in front of me, miles away from home. You can’t outrun yourself. Not your history, not your fears, not the parts of yourself you’re worried are wrong.

Jason darts another glance at his feet. “At the reunion,” he says, “someone told me you were doing great. Working at R+R. That’s amazing. I actually, um, grabbed an issue a while back and read your articles. It’s so cool, seems like you’ve seen the whole world.”

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.