Modern Day; July 4th; Cleveland, Ohio; Beth
The sun was blinding me, so I slid on a pair of sunglasses and looked over at Felix, who was sitting next to me on the picnic blanket. He was staring at me. “What? Is there something on my face?”
“No,” he said with a shrug before looking away.
But he was smiling. I pulled my knees to my chest, wrapped my arms around my legs, and looked down at my feet in embarrassment. The red nail polish on my toenails was chipped in places. I would need to repaint them soon.
“Say cheese!” Amber said, popping in front of us with a camera.
I laughed at her enthusiasm and leaned closer to Felix just as he reached over to put his arm around me. I flashed a toothy smile for the camera, all the while aware of Felix’s warm hand on my back. As embarrassing as it was to think about, I loved it when he touched me. I felt closer to him. I always wanted to be closer to him these days. We had been hanging out a lot and every time I got more and more nervous, certain that something was going to happen. I couldn’t deny anymore that I wanted that something to happen very badly.
Melissa was sitting on another blanket next to us, reading a newspaper from a few months ago. The thing was tattered from being read so much. I would swear that Melissa had read the newspaper – or, at least, a certain article in the newspaper – at least a million times. It was surprising that she didn’t have it memorized by now. When I looked over at her, she was reading it again. I shook my head.
“You need to stop living in the past,” I said to her.
“I’m not living in the past,” she said without looking up. “I’m just certain that I’m missing something. I’ve read this article a hundred times –”
“Yeah, I know.”
“– and I still can’t believe it doesn’t say anything about the body. All it says is ‘Vandalism and destruction of the worst kind was committed by an unknown group of students from James Garfield High School, sources say.’ If there was a dead body found outside the same building, don’t you think they would mention it somewhere in the article? Or somewhere else in the newspaper? But no, there’s not a word about it. I swear to God, I pushed her out of the window! I saw her fall! She must be dead! She has to be.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Sweetie,” Amber said, kneeling in front of Melissa and getting her camera ready for another picture. “You’re not supposed to worry during summer vacation. Especially since you’ve been stressing yourself out for eighteen years. You were valedictorian. You deserve a break now.”
“I’m just concerned…” Adam sat down next to Melissa and started unpacking food from the picnic basket he’d carried with him. “What if she’s still alive? That would definitely be a bad thing. She could be anywhere. Planning anything.”
“But we don’t know that for sure, so there’s no sense in losing sleep over it,” Adam said, handing her a wrapped up sandwich.
“Thanks,” she said quietly.
Adam reached over and rubbed her back reassuringly.
“Just think about something else,” he said. “Think about college! You just have a month and a half before it’s time. Are you excited?”
A smile spread across her face and it was clear that Adam had said the right thing.
“Yes! I’m really excited for all the classes I signed up for. Psychology and history and British literature. It’s going to be awesome.”
“I’m excited for you,” said Amber. “Say cheese!”
She snapped a few pictures of Adam and Melissa and then joined them on the blanket. After setting aside the camera, she reached for the picnic basket and began handing the rest of the food out to us. It was just the five of us at the park, but Willow was planning on coming later. He was busy with training, since he was working towards becoming a guard of the Underground. Melissa was a little grumpier than she would’ve been in Willow’s presence, but it was okay because his absence meant that there was more food left over. Amber had outdone herself yet again. She’d made five BLT sandwiches, potato salad from scratch, fruit salad, and lemon meringue pie. We spent the next ten minutes serving ourselves and then sat back to enjoy our lunch. It was delicious and we barely talked while we ate because we were all so hungry.
As he swallowed the last bite of his pie, Felix said, “That was delicious, Amber. Thank you so much.”
“You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure.”
“Sometimes your food is so good I wonder if you actually are an elf and cooking is your ability.”
“You’re going to make me blush!”
“That was kind of the point,” he said with a mischievous smile.
I elbowed him and he laughed at the look on my face.
“Anyone up for a game of Frisbee?” Adam said.
“Um,” Melissa said, “Heck yes.”
Amber jumped up to join them, but Felix and I stayed on the blanket to watch. I couldn’t help but notice that he still had his arm around me.
“Watch this,” he said to me with a smile.
He pointed at the other three, so I watched them begin their game of Frisbee. It began as naturally as any game, but then the Frisbee started to veer off course. Adam would go to throw it to Amber and it would zoom backwards. That confused the three of them, of course. A similar thing kept happening, where the Frisbee would move in a direction opposite of where the holder had meant for it to go. Meanwhile, Felix was shaking with laughter beside me. It actually took a while before I realized what was happening.
“Oh my God, Felix!” I hit him in the arm. “Are you using telekinesis?”
He was laughing too hard to get any words out, so he just nodded. Then I was laughing too. After the other three figured it out, all five of us were crying with laughter. Felix finally left them alone and they continued with their game while we sat together.
“You smell good,” Felix said to me randomly.
I turned my head to look at him and my heart jumped because he was so close to me and I was overwhelmed by everything. His eyes, his face, his breath – which smelled faintly of lemon. His hair also looked excellent. It was spiky, as usual, but the extra sun exposure from the summer was giving him natural blonde highlights in his normally bronze hair. It was really hot out, so he was just wearing a plain green T-shirt and black cargo shorts with black hightops. Everything about him was perfect to me.
“Thanks,” I said with a nervous giggle. “It’s a new perfume.”
“Your hair smells good, too.” He leaned in a little closer and breathed in deeply. I looked back at my toes, blushing furiously. Felix noticed and leaned back. “Sorry. I’m being creepy.”
“No, it’s okay. I just… Wasn’t expecting that.”
“I like to stay unpredictable.”
Willow appeared out of nowhere then – probably actually out of nowhere – and plopped down on the blanket next to us.
“Hey, guys,” he said.
“Hey,” I said.
“How was training?” said Felix.
“Pretty good. I think I’m getting better. This was the first practice where Frida didn’t make me bleed, so I’d say that’s a good thing.”
“Willow!” Melissa yelled, running over and tackling him so that he fell back on the blanket with her on top of him.
They kissed and I politely looked away, secretly jealous of the way they so easily expressed their affection for each other. I risked a peek at Felix and saw him watching them in amusement. His eyes shifted and we made eye contact. I looked away and my heart beat faster.
“Want to come play Frisbee with us?” Melissa asked Willow.
“That sounds like fun.”
She pulled him to his feet and they ran off to join Amber and Adam, who had been passing the disc between them while Melissa was otherwise occupied. The heat of the day and the large meal I had just eaten began taking a toll on me and my eyelids started to droop with exhaustion. I laid back on the blanket. Felix looked down at me and laughed before laying down next to me.
“Tired, are you?”
“So tired,” I said.
I closed my eyes. The next thing I knew, I was waking up with my head on Felix’s chest and his arm around me. It was dark out. As I sat up, I saw Amber and Adam sitting on the next blanket with their arms around each other, deep in conversation. Willow was running around in the grass nearby, giving Melissa a piggyback ride. I gently moved Felix’s arm and sat up slowly with a little yawn. Amber saw me stirring and smiled over at me.
“Hi, Sleeping Beauty. How was your nap?”
“Excellent,” I said quietly, trying not to wake Felix. “I dreamed that I was riding a unicorn.”
“Well, that’s excellent!” she said with a laugh.
“Yeah, it kind of was.” I looked down at Felix, who was smiling in his sleep. “How long have I been asleep?”
“About three hours,” she said. “We decided to just let you guys sleep since you looked so cute.”
“You should wake Felix. The fireworks are going to start soon,” said Adam.
“Or you could just let him sleep. The fireworks will wake him up.”
Amber smirked and I laughed silently. I looked over at Willow and Melissa as he sat her down on the grass. They were both laughing and they looked really happy. I was glad, after all they had been through. It had been a rough year for all of us.
The first fireworks suddenly shot into the air in a burst of light, making a loud cracking noise.
I looked down and saw that Felix’s eyes were wide open now. I started laughing and he sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“I decided to just let the fireworks wake you up,” I said.
“How thoughtful of you.” He shook his head, but smiled and put his arm around me again. I smiled to myself. A red one flew into the sky next, followed by a yellowish one that made a sound like Velcro. “Those are my favorite.”
“Yeah. I really like fireworks.”
“Me too. It’s like painting or writing in the stars.” I nodded, watching the sky thoughtfully. “You know what else is written in the stars?”
A green one came up and made an especially loud boom that seemed to shake the atmosphere.
“You and me.”
My heart was beating so fast now I almost felt like I was going to be sick. I turned my head and saw that he was looking at me instead of the fireworks. Before I had time to process what was happening, he was leaning towards me. And then his lips were touching mine. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. His kiss was so gentle and nice that I almost felt that I would fly away. Everything else seemed to fade away – even the fireworks that were cracking and booming in the background. It suddenly occurred to me that Amber and Adam were sitting on the blanket next to us, just a few feet away, and I prayed that they wouldn’t look over and see us. But then I realized that I didn’t care. I had been wanting this happen for so long – even longer than I previously realized – and now that it was finally happening, nothing else mattered.
We pulled away at the same time and my heart fluttered as we looked into each other’s eyes. He smiled and I beamed at him.
“That was okay, right?” he asked.
“That was the most okayest thing ever,” I said.
I didn’t even care that I sounded like an idiot because he laughed and clearly didn’t mind.
“Great. That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time, and I was pretty damn pleased when Lady Catherine died.”
“Me too. This definitely tops that.”
“How about we do it again, then.”
I didn’t even have a chance to nod before his lips were back on mine and we were at it again. This time it was even better because there was no hesitation and we both knew for sure how the other felt.
“I’ve wanted to do that for such a long time,” I said.
“Me too. Since the day I met you, practically. When we were at that play and then went to get ice cream.”
“Really? Even though you hardly knew me?”
“I felt like I knew you. I feel like I’ve always known you.”
I couldn’t stop smiling. His words were making me so happy. I’d never been this happy before.
“… I feel the same way.”
“Like I said, we were written in the stars.”
I put my head on his shoulder and we turned to watch the rest of the fireworks show. I was still smiling when it was over.
Even though they acted like nothing had happened, I had seen them. I couldn’t help myself, so I teased Beth mercilessly once we got back to the house. I followed her into her room and sat on her bed with my legs crossed. Usually she did this to me, so it was comical that our roles were reversed.
“Soooo, how was it? Exactly how you imagined?”
“Better,” she said, looking at me with wide eyes. “I can’t even believe this is real life. I feel like I’m still dreaming. Pinch me, would you?”
She offered me her arm and I seized some of her skin between my thumb and index finger. She winced, but no one woke up.
“Not entirely, but I’m sure I’ll come to grips with it eventually. It might take me twenty years, but…”
“I’m so excited for you,” I said. I held my arms out to her and she came over to let me hug her. “I’m so glad you’re my sister now.”
“Me too. This has been the best year ever. Aside from the whole Lady Catherine thing.”
“Don’t remind me. I’m trying not to think of her.”
“There’s really no reason to worry,” she said.
“You really think I’m just being crazy?”
“Definitely. You pushed her out a window. That building is pretty tall.”
“I know, I know. You’re probably right.”
There was a knock on the open door and we looked over to see Amber standing there. Her eyes went to Beth and she smiled, raising her eyebrows questioningly.
“So? Is it official?”
“Oh my God,” Beth said, covering her face with her hands as she turned red. “I can’t handle this right now.”
“Do you want us to get out of your hair?” I said.
“Kind of. Especially since I’m tired and I want to go to bed.”
“Even though you took that three-hour nap with Felix.”
I laughed at her and she scowled. She threw a slipper at me and I had to duck to dodge it as I left the room with Amber. Beth closed her door once we’d left.
“How are you doing, Sweetie?” Amber asked, followed me into my room.
“Good. I’m so happy for Beth.”
I changed into my pajamas and Amber sat on the edge of my bed.
“Me too. She’s such a good girl. She deserves a good guy like Felix. Just like you deserve Willow. I’m really glad you met him and Cierra this year.”
“Things would be really different if I hadn’t. I would never have met Adam, probably. And I wouldn’t have a best friend or a boyfriend.”
“It’s crazy the things that can happen when you actually listen to your mother.”
She winked and I laughed at the truth of her statement.
“I definitely don’t regret doing that.” I kissed her head. “I love you, Amber.”
“I love you too, Melissa. I’m so proud of you. I don’t think I can say that enough.”
I hugged her and then pushed back the sheets to get into bed.
“No offense, but I’m really tired now. I, unlike Beth, did not have a chance to take a nap today.”
“I should probably head to bed, myself. Adam is probably already asleep.” She got up, but paused in the doorway. “Promise me that if any other big things happen in your life, you’ll let me know right away.”
She left the room after turning the light out and closing the door. I laid down and pulled the sheets up. It was hot outside, but the air-conditioning made it nice and cool in my room. I closed my eyes and smiled once I’d found a comfortable position. Life was good.
I sighed and allowed myself to drift off to sleep. That night, I only had good dreams.
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