TUESDAY NIGHTS ARE THE slowest nights to work at Sunken Treasure. The dinner rush never exceeds a five minute waiting period, and things are relatively quiet, save for the clinking of glasses and low hum of voices.
While it’s always refreshing to keep the number of annoying tourists or loudly opinionated regulars to a minimum, it is kind of disappointing to miss out on making money. But on the bright side, my second favorite people that work here—behind Jasper, of course—are both on shift tonight, making the night immensely more tolerable.
“The woman at table fifty-three will not stop talking with her mouth full. I came over to ask if they needed anything, and she goes, ’Some more Coke would be great,’ and the whole time I’m just staring at her green beans swishing all around in her mouth. Why. Me.” Olivia throws her hands up in a dramatic gesture and Quinn and I exchange amused glances.
“You should’ve asked her if she prefers ice or backwash with that Coke,” Quinn jokes.
Olivia shoots him a dry wow you’re so funny look.
Olivia, a twenty-one year old who works at Sunken Treasure every summer when she’s not attending college at ECU, is the closest thing to a girl best friend that I have. She is everything that I wish I could be, and I would give anything to have even a fraction of the confidence she exudes. Her hair is just long enough to skim her waistline, and it’s this gorgeous shade of dark brown that is so shiny, it looks like it belongs in a shampoo commercial. Her eyes are a deep, tropical shade of blue that remind me of the Mediterranean Sea, unlike my dull, lifeless gray-blue irises. She’s tall and slim and has a killer tan, not to mention a really cute tattoo of a flower with her grandmother’s initials inscribed in the center on her wrist.
She’s going to college to be a physical therapist, which is appropriate because back when she went to school at Abilene, she was our school’s best female athlete. Basketball was her main sport, but she also played volleyball and tennis. Her picture hangs in our school’s athletic hall of fame showcase window, an eternal legacy.
She’s got a wicked sense of humor and an approachable personality that reels people in, and she took me in under her wing on my very first day here. I’m openly invited to hang out with her and her friends whenever I want, and while most of my classmates would dive headfirst into this possibility without second thought, I rarely take her up on the offer. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I feel out of place when I’m with her and her friends who are actually her age. They all have high school memories and college and boyfriends and drama to talk about, and I just sit there quietly, having nothing to contribute. It’s awkward and I can tell that her friends don’t really want me there and I would much rather hang out with Olivia alone when she’s not distracted by her friends, anyway.
Quinn, on the other hand, is twenty, and probably the cutest guy I know. Not hottest, but definitely cutest. He goes to Washington and Lee University and wants to become a lawyer, which is wildly appropriate because he can convince people of anything. One look at his curly blonde hair, innocent brown eyes, and enchanting smile and you’re already captivated under his spell. One little known fact about him is that he’s a pretty good drummer, which is probably a good way for him to channel his seemingly unlimited energy. Besides that, he is hilarious, like Olivia, but while Olivia has a mean bone in her body that she is not afraid to pull out when need be, Quinn is the biggest sweetheart. I don’t think I’ve ever once heard a customer complain about him in the five months I’ve been working here. I don’t see how it’s possible to have a single complaint about him. He radiates sunshine and happiness and can lift anyone’s spirits within seconds.
I’ve had a suspicion that Quinn and Olivia like each other since my second day here, and that suspicion only heightened when I overheard the kitchen staff discussing their obvious thing. It makes sense since they’re around the same age and both of them are as close to perfect as two humans can possibly get.
Despite the constant air of sexual tension floating between them, they get along like best friends, despite only having known each other for the several months they’ve both been working together, which makes it even more worth rooting for them to get together. Everyone here seems to know that they are perfect for each other, except them.
Quinn is much more obvious about liking Olivia than she is about liking him, though. He’s like a puppy dog following its owner around and finding any excuse to talk to her. It’s simultaneously pathetic and heartwarming.
“How’s Jasper holding up?” Olivia asks me as we stand around the drink machine, all a little bored and tired. “Is he nervous about the big move?”
After Olivia and Quinn, Jasper and I are the other pair who everyone at work likes teasing about romantic sparks. Even though that is never going to happen.
I sigh. “Yeah. He tries to act like he isn’t so people don’t worry about him, but I know that’s not true. He’s worried that Australians aren’t gonna be as accepting of teenage guys with service dogs as the people here are.”
Quinn shakes his head sympathetically. “Man, gotta give the guy props. If that was me, I’d probably start bawling to my mom asking not to go.”
This isn’t a stretch; Quinn is a pretty emotionally open guy. He’s not afraid to admit when something upsets him. Which only adds to the Puppy Dog Effect.
“You totally would,” Olivia agrees, smiling the tiniest bit. “That Reynolds kid is way tougher than you are.”
“But you like me better,” Quinn singsongs.
“Actually, I don’t.”
“Actually, you do.”
“Actually, you repulse me.”
Quinn gets cut off by Marcus, one of the bussers. “Quinn, seventy-nine says they ordered Diet Coke and were given regular.”
He curses under his breath as Marcus trots back into the kitchen, and Olivia and I smirk at each other. “I definitely gave that girl Diet,” he mutters.
“How are you supposed to be a lawyer if you can’t even pour the right drink?” Olivia teases.
“Shut it, Weber,” he mock-threatens, using her last name.
As he fills a new cup, this one Diet Coke, and carries it over to table seventy-nine, I watch as Olivia’s eyes follow him, remnants of a smile etched onto her face at his retreating figure.
I can’t help but think how lucky their future kids would be to have them as parents if they ever did get married.
When I get home, I barely make it out of my car before Jasper comes sprinting out of his house, Champ in tow. Watching his T-shirt flap in the wind as he runs, I’m reminded of a little boy who waits by the window until his family gets home to run and greet them.
I cock an amused eyebrow. “Someone’s excited to see me.”
“Sleep over,” he says, somewhat desperate. “Please.”
“I know, you just got off work and you’re exhausted. That’s okay. I don’t care if you pass out right away. My mom made me box up everything in my room today and it looks so foreign and empty and not mine and I just really don’t wanna sleep in there alone tonight with it looking like it does.”
My spirits drop at the sight of his genuine desperation. “Okay. I’ll go change into pajamas and meet you in a couple minutes.”
His eyes shine with gratitude.
I head up to my room, change into comfortable shorts and an oversized T-shirt, brush my teeth, and leave a note for Aunt Colleen, all in three minutes flat. After signing the note with my loopy signature and a heart, I quietly slip out my window and climb down the tree, silently wondering when I’ll grow out of things like climbing trees and needlessly sneaking out the whole way down.
Since the lights are off in Jasper’s house, I assume that his parents are asleep and let myself in. He’s waiting on the couch in the living room, which is surrounded by brown cardboard boxes stacked everywhere. It’s the first time I’ve seen the inside of Jasper’s house since his mom started packing everything up, and an overwhelming wave of realization rushes over me, not for the first time, of how real this is. Jasper is leaving.
I take in the sight of Jasper and note that he looks really sad. This is the first time I’ve seen him look this upset about the move, and the impact from this realization smacks me in the face. He’s just as scared as I am.
I extend a hand and he takes it, curling his fingers through the gaps in mine and hauling himself up. Wordlessly, he leads me to his bedroom, and when I step inside, I realize how bad it really is.
Jasper’s room doesn’t even look like his anymore. Gone are the movie posters and soccer trophies and framed pictures and piles of clothes, and in their place are countless ugly brown boxes, brimming with things that once had a place in this bedroom. The only thing remaining in its place is his bed, but the headboard has been taken apart and is leaning against the wall, so his bed is just a mattress on the floor with some blankets and pillows.
“This is the most depressing thing I have ever seen,” I admit.
“I hate it,” he mumbles.
He sits down on his floor and pulls out one of the countless boxes, sliding it closer to him and opening the flaps. He gingerly reaches inside and pulls out his coveted video camera, holding it close to his chest and wiping a speck of dust from the viewfinder.
“It’s so weird,” he says, somewhat numbly. “It’s so easy to physically leave a place; you just pack everything up and take it someplace else. But I don’t think my mind will ever live anywhere but Abilene.”
I stay quiet, unsure what to say.
“One year.” He shakes his head. “They had one more year they had to get through, and then I’d be in college and it wouldn’t affect me if they moved or not.”
“It was a chance of a lifetime,” I say, feeling somewhat obligated to defend his parents, even though I’m one hundred percent on his side of this. “They’re getting to live out their dreams and make so much more money while doing so.”
On the floor beside Jasper, Champ sighs, dreaming.
“It’s not fair,” he mumbles plaintively, like a child.
“No, it isn’t,” I agree.
He stares into space for a minute. “They’re coming tomorrow,” he continues rambling after a while of quiet contemplation.
I pause, losing him. “Who’s coming tomorrow?”
“The people who bought the house. They bought a storage unit and they’re coming to bring some of their stuff down, and while they’re here Mom and Dad invited them over for dinner.”
“Haven’t you met them yet?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “I don’t want to. They’re going to take over my home from the past seventeen-and-a-half years and make it their own and I feel like meeting them is going to make me hate them more than I already do.”
An involuntary yawn escapes me, and Jasper glances over at me, as if only now remembering that I’m here.
“Hey. You should get some rest. You worked an eight hour shift tonight; those suck up a ton of energy.”
“You need to get some rest too,” I point out drowsily.
“Yeah.” He climbs beside me on his mattress, getting settled under the blankets. He reaches up and flips off the light switch, and the room is suddenly bathed in darkness. He shuffles a little to get comfortable, and his leg brushes mine.
“Goodnight,” I murmur, cradling his pillow close to my head.
He’s silent for a beat and then: “Lex?”
“Remember that day when we first hung out at the carnival? With Meredith and River?”
Even though he can’t see me, my eyebrows scrunch together. He never brings up that day. “Yeah . . .”
A puff of air exhales through his nose. “I’m really glad that that day happened. You’re one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
My heart soars, and I fight the urge to attack him in a bear hug or something. Instead, I reach my arm over into the darkness, searching for his hand. There’s something intimate about hand holding that kissing or hugging could never quite encompass. Not in the same way that two hands molded together do.
He takes my hand in his, gently drawing circles onto my palm with his thumb. Forget butterflies, a whole jungle of emotions erupts in my stomach, squeals and chirps and roars harmonizing together and sending an odd tingling sensation tremoring up and down my body as I find myself craving his touch, now and forever.
“You’re definitely the best thing that ever happened to me,” I manage to say, sleep dragging out every syllable like an anamorphic drawing.
He inches closer so our bodies are just barely touching each other and, judging by the slight dip in the mattress, props himself up so he has a clear view of my face, illuminated by the crescent of moonlight outside his window.
My tired eyes have to fight to stay open, and he sees this.
“You’re meant to do great things, Lexi Callaghan. Don’t ever forget that.”
I smile softly at this. “So are you.”
I’m not sure if he says anything else after this because not too long after, sleep takes over my tired body and I’m out cold.