“Olive…” He repeated my name, this time it was without question. Hearing his voice again gave me a warm feeling in my chest. It was just like when we first met. I felt like I was sixteen again, bumping into him in the astronomy section of the school library. “You look…different.”
“So do you.” A far cry from the smooth-faced, skinny boy I remembered. He was checking me out. I could tell he was trying to be discreet about it but I noticed.
“What are you…why are you here?” He asked.
“I…um…” I stammered, still trying to process the fact that he was really standing right in front of me after not seeing him in seven years. “I’m here…waiting for the ferry to Willow Creek.”
“Y-Yes. Uh, the five o’clock.”
He smiled at me. The same way he used to smile at me back in the day whenever he was amused by something I said. “There’s no five o’clock ferry here, Olive.”
“Yes, there is.”
“Nope, there’s not.” He said with a light chuckle. “You probably got the schedule wrong. The only ferry that works now is the one that comes back from the lighthouse and that’s it. Nothing goes to Willow Creek after 4 pm. You’ll need to take the bus or drive back.”
“Shit!” The lady I spoke to assured me there was a 5 pm ferry back to Willow Creek. I knew I should have bought that ticket right after I asked. Then I’d know she was giving me bad info. “That ferry was supposed to shave hours off my commute!”
“There’s another way, if you want?”
“There’s a guy close to where I live. He rents speedboats, takes tourists in between the island and the mainland. Sometimes he goes as far out to Willow Creek if they want. He can take you to Willow Creek, it’ll just cost you.”
“I’ll pay whatever. I can’t do a four hour commute right now.”
“Okay, well…it’s not far from here. We can walk, if you want?”
“Sure, that’s fine.”
The walk was a lot longer than I expected for a place that was supposed to be nearby. My heels sank into the slightly damp sand of the beach with every step, slowing me down. He didn’t walk ahead of me even though I knew he hated walking slow. He stayed by my side though he said nothing the whole way.
It felt like I was walking next to a stranger even though he knew me more intimately than anyone else. There was so much I wanted to say to him. So many questions I wanted to ask but didn’t know where to begin. Finally I said the first thing that came to my head. “You live here now, huh?”
“Right after I got out.”
I wrote him a letter months before his release date two years ago. I stayed away and didn’t contact him during the five years. I did my best to move on like he told me to. But I just had to reach out when I learned he was about to leave the juvenile detention centre. I offered to help him out with a place to stay. I wanted us to reconnect as friends. He didn’t respond. I took that as a ‘no’ and backed off. And now we were walking side by side after a serendipitous meeting.
“How are you, Eli?” I always wished that wherever he was, he was safe and happy. He certainly looked like he was doing okay for himself. “How’s life?”
“Fine, I guess. Got a job, a place. Brindleton Bay is nice and quiet, not as exciting as Oasis Springs.”
“Oasis Springs is not exciting.” I laughed. “It never was.”
“Really? Hm…maybe it was only exciting to me because of you.”
“Because of me?”
“Yeah, little miss trouble maker making me tag along to all your protests, parties, and acts of vandalism around town.”
“Ha! My graffiti were works of art, and don’t blame me because you succumbed to peer pressure!”
“I have no regrets.” He stopped walking and turned to face me. “Besides those months with you was the best time of my life.”
My cheeks warmed and I had to bite my lip to stop myself for smiling like a giddy schoolgirl. “You’re just saying that to flatter me!”
“Maybe…” He said, with a playful wink. “But it’s true. It’s not like being in juvie is all that exciting.”
“Even with Chili Wednesdays?” I said sarcastically, remembering the one time I went to visit him and he seemed so excited about getting to eat his favourite food.
He let out a loud laugh as we started to walk again. “Chili Night was on Thursdays, by the way. I spent most of my time keeping my head down to avoid the ass-kickings so…”
“What? They…they beat you up in there?”
“Relax,” He waved his hands dismissively. “It’s no big deal.”
It was a huge deal to me. Knowing everything he went through with his Dad…I teared up a little at hearing someone else laid hands on him but I managed to suck it up fast. Eli wouldn’t want my sympathy. He never wanted me to pity him. It’s why he kept the truth about the abuse from me for as long as he did.
“It’s kinda like a right of passage in there.” He continued. “And I won some of them so don’t feel too bad for me.”
“Okay, Mr Tough Guy. No wonder you’re all swole now!”
“I’m not swole.”
“Yes, you are!” I made it a point to let him see me check him out now. “You look like a bodybuilder. I’m sure you have a six-pack and everything.”
“Not bragging but yes, as a matter of fact, I do.”
Hmm. I’d like to see that! “See, you’re the cliche nerdy duckling turned swan on steroids, Munch.”
“I’m not on steroids and my transformation wasn’t much of a choice.”
“What do you mean?”
“The training was intense and…um..”
“What training?” I asked, wondering why he stopped short.
“Shit.” He mumbled as he looked over his shoulder. “He’s not there and I know why. The weather’s changing.”
I looked up at the sky and saw only dark clouds. I thought it was so dark because night was falling. Then a drop of water smacked me right on the forehead, soon followed by a few more drops. “Oh no!”
“I guess you’ll have to take that cab to the bus station after all, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I had no other choice now.
“That’s my house back there.” He pointed to the beach house behind me.
“Right on the beach?” I eyed him curiously. “That’s some prime real estate. You must be doing really well at your job.”
“It’s a fixer upper.” He shrugged. “This rain is gonna come down heavy. We should get inside before we get soaked.”
Then suddenly there was a bolt of lightning in the sky that made me jump, followed shortly by a low rumble of thunder. Within seconds the few wet drops turned into an icy shower. “Too late for that now!”
I didn’t think the rain water would feel so cold against my skin but I had to remember this wasn’t the desert rain I was used to back home. I kinda liked the feel of it. I loved playing in the rain, but only when I had access to a change of clothes.
“Why are you still standing there?” I asked.
“…huh?” He looked at me like he was lost in thought or something.
“You’re just standing there getting wet!” I laughed as I started to run towards the house. “Move your ass Munch!”
There was another flash of lightning that lit up the area followed by thunder louder than before as the rain fell heavier and heavier. This was a full-on thunderstorm. We rarely ever got those in the desert during the summer but when we did we knew better than to stay outside because of the risk of getting struck by lightning. I started running faster.
“Slow down, Liv,” he called out to me. “Be careful!”
I already got to the house and there was still a huge gap between us and I couldn’t understand why he didn’t have more pep in his step. Pretty soon I understood why he was taking his time.
It was too dark to see the ground properly so I didn’t realise what I was walking into until it was too late.
“FUCK!” I yelped.
My clothes were ruined for sure. At least it was a big ass mud puddle so the squishiness of it broke my fall and I didn’t get hurt.
Still, it was embarrassing. I heard him laughing at me as he got closer. “I told you to slow down. The soil is too loose. Mud puddles form quickly out here.”
“Don’t rub it in and just help me!”
I was almost up by the time he got to me. “Are you hurt?”
“My butt hurts a little but I’m fine.” He was still snickering even while he was helping me up. “Don’t laugh!”
“I’m sorry but you kinda looked for it, I told you to slow down down and…whoa…!” I turned around to find him flat out in the puddle himself.
“Ha!” I gloated. “Be careful Eli, slow down!”
It was my turn to help him up now. The rain was so heavy the mud on our clothes didn’t have time to set before it was washed away. Still, our clothes were filthy. I would definitely have to wash and dry them before I traveled back home. And take a hot shower too. I knew Eli wouldn’t mind. I couldn’t wait to get inside and get out of my wet, muddy clothes. But once we were inside, Eli tried flicking on the light switch but the lights weren’t coming on.
“Shit!” He grumbled. “No! Not tonight!”
I could clearly see the glowing street lights from out a window so it wasn’t a neighbourhood blackout. Did he forget to pay his electric bill? “What’s wrong?”
“This old house, that’s what’s wrong!” He groaned. “I’m sorry Liv, this happens sometimes. Faulty wiring. I can’t fix it with all the lightning right now so…”
“It’s fine.” I wasn’t fine. I was freezing. My body was trembling, my teeth chattering. Somehow it was a lot colder inside than it was outside in the pouring rain.
“I’ll get a fire started to keep us warm.”
I looked around while he was by the fireplace and from what I could see in the dark, there were a lot of stuff in boxes and crates around the room. “Did you just move in?”
“Uh, no, I’ve lived here for over a year now. Don’t mind all this stuff. It’s a long story.”
A year and his house doesn’t even looked lived-in. That was odd. “Okay…”
More bad news was that because of the lack of electricity, I couldn’t use any appliances to get my clothes clean and dry. Eli was so sweet to wash my clothes for me in the sink while I showered. He even gave me one of his t-shirts to wear.
Unfortunately, it was the only clean item of clothing he had since he had to do laundry. Typical of Eli to wait till the last item of clean clothing to wash them. I remember that one time he came to school wearing a too-small Llama Man t-shirt and sweatpants. Even this t-shirt he gave me to wear seemed like it was too small for him since it barely covered my butt. It was probably the last clean item in his drawer.
Or he gave it to me on purpose so I’d be forced to walk around like that in front of him. I mean, he was still attracted to me. I could tell from the way he looked at me earlier. I was still attracted to him too, especially now with his body like that. If the roles were reversed I’d probably do the same thing to get to see what he looks like under that sweater…
I had to stop! Just because he’s attracted to me doesn’t mean anything. It’s been seven years, and with my luck he probably has a girlfriend. He’s probably not even interested.
But am I interested? Maybe it’s nostalgia making me feel all these feelings. We did have history and a lot of great of memories in spite of everything.
“I think you’re stuck here for tonight!” He shouted from in the kitchen.
“I figured as much.” I answered back. “I called my parents and told them I’d stay at a hotel. I’ll call a cab as soon as I warm up.”
“You can’t go anywhere in this thunderstorm.” He said. “It’s not safe to be on the road. There could be flash flooding, landslides. Plus your clothes are wet, remember?”
Good point. I forgot all about that. We laid them out on the floor by the fireplace to dry which would take much longer than if we used an actual dryer. When he said I was stuck here, he meant at his house and not just stuck in this town. Given the thoughts running through my mind, it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to stay here with him.
“Don’t worry, I’m happy to let you stay the night.” Then he came out of the kitchen wearing nothing but a warm smile and his underwear looking like a whole snack.
I felt the blood rush to my cheeks and also to other places. Damn! He was so…
“How’s your hot chocolate?” He asked as he plopped down next to me.
“Hot. Very hot!”
Yeah, it was NOT a good idea for me to stay here. But what other choice did I have?