Kirsten Anonymous

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Chapter Nine.

Over the last month or so of summer, I had made decent strides in returning to my very organized and compartmentalized life. Not everything I learned while I was drinking was a bad thing. There was Rebekah me, and family me, and Kirsten me, although I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with giving her a whole, formed “me.” I felt bad, but during that time, I think she was getting mostly the leftover parts I didn’t happen to tell just anyone about. Like I was a spy or something. Sportsnetz, or whatever Rebekah had said.

My parents still really only knew there were people at work I talked to. I made a conscious effort to only mention Rebekah if I had already told some story about the shop guys. I made sure to never mention Kirsten to anyone ever. I’d even eventually deleted all the texts in my phone, reducing her contact information to a simple K. Admittedly, at the time, I’d still sort of hoped I’d have to be deleting a couple times a month, but since she’d sent me her photos, I had barely heard from her over the last few weeks. No meeting appearances. No three am texts. I’d waited four days before I texted her back, which, to be fair, wasn’t my greatest moment, and I probably deserved some of the silence I was getting. Not that I could really tell the difference between “in trouble” silence and “aw fuck I don’t have time for you” silence.

At first I’d tried to play it pretty cool, writing half vague messages with veiled references to her pics, days I thought my folks would be out of town again, times I was heading into town or a meeting or something. After the three or four days it took her to get back to any of those (just ‘hey’ type messages that in no way related to what I’d said) I was about over it again.

God helps those that help themselves, or whatever that saying was.

But, then she’d texted me back out of the blue one afternoon. Just another “hey.”

I’d been downstairs and, being in one of those random good moods I’d been having, responded a lot quicker than I wish I would have.

“There she is. Where have you been, kid?”

She was, thankfully, not busy doing other things apparently. The conversation actually flowed in a half-timely manner.

“Werkin. House stuff. Trying to keep my life from falling apart.”

“That doesn’t sound any fun at all. We’ve missed some good hang out time.”

“Yeah. Everything here is kind of fucked.”

“Oh it could be haha.” I wasn’t sure if the joke totally made sense, but I was in full “cool” mode, and sort of curious to pick up where we’d left off.

When she didn’t write back for a second, I checked myself.

“I’m just kidding,” I said. “Sort of. What’s up? You don’t sound nearly as happy as the night of your fashion shoot.”

A brief lag, then,

“Everything is just going to shit.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything.”

I paused for a second, weighing some options. “That doesn’t sound good at all. Can I help? I was sitting over here hoping to see your happy face again. Among other things.” I thought about it for a second, deleted the last phrase, and sent it.

“I just need to get my shit together.”

I felt like I was talking to a broken computer program.

“Right, but I mean, how?”

“Idk.”

“Cheer up, Kirsten. Things could be worse, right? I know I’m not amazing, but I’m hear for you.” Yet another typo. She didn’t even make me all that nervous anymoreI was trying to fix it when she wrote back.

“Yeah.”

I looked at the screen for a minute. Clearly this was going to be one I had to carry from my side.

“You still at the house? I can swing by later on if you’re free.”

“I just wish I didn’t have to deal with all this shit.”

“Right. Do you want me to come by?”

The phone lit up for a second and then began downloading a picture message. I waited, curious, in spite of what she’d said so far. It seemed like nine times out of ten, what she said had no bearing on what she was going to do anyway.

The screen flicked up and showed a close up of her face, teary eyes, smeared eyeliner, a very empty, straight-forward, non-expression.

“Aw honey. Don’t be sad.” Send.

I waited, debating on sending a picture back. I had never actually sent a picture of myself, one, because I never took any, and two, because I don’t understand how computers work. I operated under the impression that anything I sent would be floating around in space forever, just waiting to come back to haunt me. I thought about the things I had said to her over the course of our (what? Relationship? Not really…) talks. There wasn’t anything blatantly damning, but nothing I’d want my mom to read in the paper either. Then again, if it did ever come to light, I could always claim I thought we were dating.

“I’m just sitting over here in a pair of gym shorts. You oughtta come by.” Send.

It was a gamble. My mom was upstairs and my dad would be home in a few hours, but I felt like, in spite of all the things I didn’t know about her, I had no doubt she wouldn’t take me up on that offer. Not because she wasn’t bold enough, but because this was the one time I was almost sure she actually needed somebody.

After a few minutes of silence, it seemed I had won that bet.

I read through the texts again, becoming more irritated with it all. It didn’t help that I only had this one conversation to go through, but as my mood soured, I almost found it amusing.

After ten minutes, I remembered what I’d always said about helping her, about how I was supposed to be doing this the right way and providing something for her she’d never had. I remembered all the things that (I’d told myself) would have fixed me if someone had just said them. I remembered the old men scoffing at me behind “helpful words” in meetings, and the others who just turned a blind eye. I remembered that I could always be the same, or that I could be entirely different. And if I had learned anything thus far, it was that I was hard pressed to find too many people who liked who I was.

So why not try the opposite approach?

“All right,” I typed. “I didn’t actually expect you to come over, first of all. You seem like you just enjoy stringing me along, or knowing that I’ll sit over here like some jackass and wait around for you to text me. Maybe I do, but you don’t seem to really care about that. If your shit is all fucked up, then fix it. I don’t know how else to help you. You want to talk, I try to talk, then you don’t say anything. You send me all these amazing photos and then disappear for days or weeks at a time. If you want to get it together, then get it together. You know as well as I do, nobody is going to help people like us, so we either do it, or we don’t. I don’t know what else to say.”

Send.

I had almost enough time to start regretting it when she wrote back.

“I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

“I’m not mad. I’m just frustrated.”

“With me?”

I sighed, thinking, yes!

I wrote, “No, just with the way all this has been. I know it’s not your fault. I should be doing a better job. But it’s hard to do when you don’t talk.”

“I invite you over all the time.”

“You invite me over at very odd times. I work, and you work. Supposedly.” I caught myself enough to delete that last bit. “I thought we would at least have the meetings but it seems like you are going to different ones than me, avoiding me or something. And that’s fine. I’m just never really sure what the hell is going on.”

Silence.

“Okay, I was mean. I apologize for that.”

Five more minutes.

I started writing when she said, “It’s fine. It’s what people do.”

I deleted what I’d written, ignoring how readily I’d agreed when Rebekah had said almost precisely that same thing. I was just ready to fire off another rant, and I was realizing I might be a quiet guy, but apparently I had just gobs to say when the moment was right. You can want sympathy, and that’s fine, but don’t act like I didn’t deserve some too. It wasn’t exactly paradise on my side either.

I looked at the phone for a minute, noticing the white-knuckled death-grip I had on it. This wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. None of this was what I’d wanted, and inspite of how angry I was, a little part of me kept saying it wasn’t anything she deserved either. Trying to find some kind of middle ground, I just answered the way I thought she would. “That they do,” I said, and tossed the phone away.

* * *

A few nights later at work, Rebekah was asking why I was being so weird, if it was about that girl. I told her no, of course not. It was just the job, the way that I had arranged my schedule, how any more I was just tired all the time. I’d always tended toward depression, the spoiled little rich kid like both she and I had said, but for once, it was almost nice to simply try and be world-weary like normal people would.

She’d basically stuck to her crossword after a few minutes, in spite of how I sort of wanted to open up a little, even if it was just to keep complaining. But if she wasn’t going to engage, maybe that was what I needed. She hadn’t steered me wrong yet. I wasn’t going to sit there and try to make her talk, either. If she got curious, she’d know where to find me, if she didn’t, I’d forgive her for it. Not that there was really anything to forgive except for some probably much-needed tough love. We didn’t talk till the end of her shift, when I drove up to say goodbye and start locking up the park.

“Get some rest, tonight,” she said. “You’re gonna be all right.” She looked like she was about to give me a hug, but then just smiled a little and headed out.

* * *

The following week was the end of the long, lingering summer. My job was coming to a close and I had yet to start looking for another one. When was I supposed to, really? Any time I would be available for an interview, I was at work. Other than random Tuesdays or Wednesdays, but who was going to receive an application Tuesday night and want to see me Wednesday morning? Besides, I’d been on that merry-go-round a few times, and was kind of tired of breaking my back, using my time, burning my gas, to drive around and have people tell me what I already knew. I was unemployable. I was not a useful member of society. The funny thing was, I hadn’t even done anything bad enough to get one of those gigs where you go around warning kids not to use drugs or something. I’d even fucked-up my fuck-up.

My last official work day was a Saturday, syncing up Rebekah and I’s schedules almost perfectly for the week. I was becoming aware of how much I’d started leaning on her, even when she wasn’t there other than as a voice in my head. As much as I was frustrated with my position, my self, my past, I was at least getting better at listening to what she probably would have said, and if that didn’t work, just quashing the thought. Talking wasn’t always a good idea for me. And I was just starting to realize that that was true in a completely different way than I’d believed all along.

As we got closer to the end of the week, the main shop guy actually told me I didn’t even need to bother coming in Saturday if I didn’t want to, or I could work a half-day or whatever. They would only need help with any winterizing they didn’t get done during the week, and then the final shut-down of some of the facilities for the rest of the year. In a fit of responsibility, I told them I’d stick around as long as they needed me. Plus, it seemed like the thing dad would expect me to say. Either way, it would give me a gray area in the day where I didn’t have anything I absolutely had to do, which felt like it hadn’t happened in a long time.

Also coinciding, and in a way I was more excited about than I’d initially anticipated, the SHitS had rented out ten campsites that Friday for an overnight cookout get-together extravaganza. I’d helped them get set-up Friday, cleaning, arranging, guiding in a way that made it sound like I had a lot more responsibility than I really did, that the park could barely survive without me. I’m sure everybody saw through that like a plate-glass window, but it was amusing to me at least.

I’d been finding ways to cross paths with Rebekah as much as I could those last few days. It wasn’t like we had any earth-shattering news, on either of our sides really; it was just the looming end of something in the back of our minds. It wasn’t sappy or anything. Compliments and apologies are two things I don’t like getting. Along with presents and attention. She seemed to be on the same page.

It also didn’t hurt that Kirsten had texted with me the Tuesday before. She hadn’t been at the meeting again, which, in spite of myself, I still sometimes continued to anticipate. She’d never been early to a meeting, so, every passing car, every sound from outside, always left me glancing up to the windows or over at the doors, waiting for her to sneak in with that grin on her face like she knew she was late, but we’d forgive her. Which, of course, we would.

A guy named Jeff, who was about my age and I’d sort of started to become buddies with somehow, was back from a brief, unfortunate, hiatus, spending the better part of the initial meeting looking like his dog had just died, truly apologetic to us, a bunch of strangers, for letting us down. To be honest, I was mostly just excited to see he’d come back. He’d originally taken on Trey as a sponsor, something that, by this point, I just treated as a kind of interesting mental exercise. I’d been coming to meetings so long it would just look ridiculous if I asked someone to sponsor me at that point. Besides, I was working my own program. And hell, maybe the cockiness of doing that would actually work. I’d always been headstrong, I had to admit that.

But, one big part of the Trey-Jeff team was that Jeff would occasionally lead the meetings. Some part of me felt like the guy was so despondent half the time, and I’d been there for so long, I oughtta at least talk a little more, make him feel like he was doing a good job. Comment on his comments. “Share my experience, strength, and hope.” Whatever you wanna call it.

The Tuesday he’d led, I knew Kirsten wasn’t there, knew she wasn’t going to come, and even tried to stop looking at the door and sort of listen. Nevertheless, I felt like a complete idiot on the way home when I realized the Little League season was still going on in the park across the street. No wonder so many cars had been pulling in and out of the church lot.

Anyway, Jeff had caught me right before I made it to the door after the meeting.

“You gonna be at the thing this weekend?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well off and on. I work there.” I hoped it sounded cooler than it probably did.

“Awesome, man. That’ll be good. I always appreciate it when you talk. It’ll be good to hang out.”

“Yeah, definitely. I’m glad you’re back around. It’s nice having somebody else under sixty here,” I laughed, not too concerned if the guys heard me. “I don’t know how much time I’ll actually be able to hang out there,” already hedging, I thought, “But I’ll definitely stop in when I can. I think there’s a bunch of shit we have to do to get everything closed up for winter, but maybe I can arrange it so I’ve got some free time. Have some of the other guys do something for once.” I grinned a little. Oh, us working guys.

“Right on. Well it was good seeing you tonight man. Like I said, I feel like I always get something out of what you say. We seem to think the same way.”

I laughed. “Like two guys who ought to act a lot older than they do?”

“Haha kinda.”

On a whim, I told him something I’d honestly been thinking about that night. “You know those drug classes you have to take? You had them, I assume, right?”

Everyone I knew had been required to enroll in a six week course at the local rehab center, complete with videos, worksheets, forced group discussions. All the things I hated but were tangible and trackable and therefore marketable to governmental agencies.

“Yeah,” he said. “A couple times actually.”

“Ouch. That sucks. But you remember how they were always talking about all the fucked up shit that happens to your brain, and how it takes months or years or whatever for your head to get back to normal.”

“I’m in the middle of that right now I’m pretty sure.”

I laughed, as much at the fact that this was a laughable moment, as anything.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get out of it,” I said. “But, I was thinking. So like, let’s say you did like I did, and I think you did, and you pretty much just jumped in whole-hog. You gotta figure our brains have been in some kind of altered state for almost a decade. Like, practically a third of our lives. So, seems to me, you’ve gotta subtract that from your like, chronological age, and that’s our mental age. And if that’s the case, I don’t think we’re doing too bad for a couple of eighteen-year-olds. And even if we are, eighteen-year-olds are all assholes anyway, so we’re right where we’re supposed to be.”

He laughed, “I’m gonna have to remember that.” He stuck out a hand. “It was good seeing you tonight. I guess I’ll see you this weekend.”

“Sounds good.”

I’d driven home in a surprisingly decent mood, even with the Little League revelation.

Later that night, just before bed, on a whim, or a weird offshoot of my positivity, I’d texted Kirsten.

“Hey. Missed you tonight. Hope to see you at the cookout this weekend.”

I’d set my phone down and gone to brush my teeth, surprised to see a message waiting when I got back. I flicked the screen open and walked back to the bedroom.

“Absolutely. Are you going?”

“Yeah. I have to work there both days anyway, so I’ll definitely be around.”

“Kewl. You play baseball?”

I paused for a second. I knew she was sporty, or at least, I had assumed so from her clothes, but I was realizing this was possibly the most normal conversation we’d ever had.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘play.’ Haha. Does pitch and catch in the backyard count?”

“Oh don’t ruin it now, Cole. You aren’t anti-sport, are you?”

“Haha. No. Just anti-making-a-fool-of-myself. Why?”

“I was gonna bring my mitt. Thought we could toss the ball around.”

I looked at my phone, thinking this little half sentence shouldn’t feel as good as it did.

“I’d like that, Kirsten. I’ll be sure and put mine in the truck so I don’t forget. Are you going both days, or?”

“Not sure yet. Def Saturday. I’m excited to see you.”

“Likewise.”

She hadn’t written back after that, but it made sense not to for once. The conversation was over. She’d actually ended it appropriately. Maybe I wasn’t the only one trying to change things up after all.

Friday turned into a fully unpredictable day. There were apparently a hundred times more people involved in the program than I would’ve guessed, even on my most bitter days. They were an exceptionally clean group, which was good, because I did little but point people in the direction of the campsites lined up around the edge of a little artificial peninsula in the lake. By six o’clock Trey had already been up and talked to Rebekah (apparently), reserving five more campsites, “just to be safe.”

I didn’t admit too much to the guys in the shop. They didn’t seem overly concerned one way or the other. The calendar on the wall had shown the bookings ever since Trey had made them, and since it was the last weekend of the year, they’d been expecting something.

“At least it’s not those damn Vintage Camper people,” was the general consensus. The Vintage Camper Club, an extremely entitled group, given their somewhat off-the-wall passion, had overtaken the park in the middle of July. And never had I seen such a disaster. Even worse than when Diesel Fest came to town. (Yes, that is a real thing in Arden.) I did nothing but take out trash and unclog toilets for three days straight. By the time they left, even the actual maintenance guys were running trash back to the dumpster in the park pick-up truck. Which, for once, I didn’t begrudge them the help. After a few months I was starting to believe they didn’t look down on me. Like they almost bought my story.

Regardless, my job for Friday pretty much entailed saying, “Yeah, that’s Trey and them over there,” from various points in the park. Surprisingly, very few other die-hards camped out that weekend so the SHiTs and gang had the park pretty much to themselves.

During one blessedly silent moment, I’d snuck into the entrance shack.

“Good grief,” Rebekah said, without intro. “I knew there were sites reserved, but I didn’t realize it was a party. Though I guess it probably won’t get too crazy,” she laughed.

I looked over at her. “What do you mean?”

“Pretty much everybody that’s come in is asking for the Addicts Group. Unless I misunderstood. I assume they’re here because they want to stop being addicts. It’s not like a how-to-become-one type thing, right?”

“Oh,” I laughed. “Yeah, I think they’ll probably be pretty tame. But don’t let them hear you talking like that. You’ll get an earful about how you can never truly stop being an addict, you just learn how to control the urges.”

“Ah, I see. Thanks for the heads up. I take it these are some of your friends?”

In her Rebekah way, she was able to ask it without me even slightly bristling. Though I swear I was getting a little better.

“Kinda,” I said. “Well, I mean technically, you are probably my only friend,” she rolled her eyes, but looked kind of pleased to hear this, “But yeah, I know some of those guys. Or I recognize them or whatever.”

She laughed. “You’re allowed to know them, Cole. You’ve been going to these meetings for what, six months? A year? At least as long as I’ve known you. If I was going to judge you, I certainly would’ve by now.” She smiled again, like one more joke crossed her mind, but then she thought better of it.

“Is your lady-love over there?” Maybe she didn’t.

“Oh geez.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“I haven’t even looked.”

“Whatever!” she laughed. “I’ve been analyzing every girl that’s come through. And, no offense to these people, I’m sure they are doing their very best. But, I mean, let’s just say I’ve had more than a few make-up tips for the gals I’ve seen so far.”

“Hey, now, maybe they have more important things on their mind.”

“Maybe, maybe,” she grinned. “But I know when I look like shit, I feel like shit.”

“Well…,” I started, explaining the group name to her.

“Oh lordi. Cole!” She grabbed my shoulders (and surprisingly, I didn’t immediately jerk backwards). “We’ve got to help them!”

“Maybe you should open a salon! Rebekah’s Rehab and Do’s!”

“Do’s and Don’ts!” She cracked herself up with that one. We actually had to wait a moment while she tried to settle down a tad. “I’m just saying. You’re a guy, so it’s not as big of a deal. And a lot of these guys actually look pretty good with the whole scruffy biker thing. But, like I said, for girls, or me anyway, when you take care of yourself you feel better.”

“Well, maybe that’s easier for somebody like you.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Nothing bad. I just mean, you have less to do than somebody else maybe.”

She laughed again. “I think I might be the one offended this time.”

“Why?”

“You mean I’ve spent every day actually getting ready for work when you’re here and you haven’t even noticed?”

“Oh geez. You have not.”

“Okay, now I really am offended,” though her smirk said otherwise.

“I don’t mean it like that,” I scrambled.

“If you’d have come in some day when I wasn’t expecting you, you might be singing a different tune.”

I smiled. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”

Another car pulled up, a lady hanging out the window with a cigarette in her hand and every seat packed with her doppelgangers. “Ya’ll know where the addicts are?” she hollered toward the screen door.

“Wow, they are pretty transparent,” I laughed.

“This one’s yours,” Rebekah said. “It’s your people.”

I shook my head and stepped outside. “Yeah,” I said to the lady, giving her directions around the lake to the campsites.

Toward the end of the night, after Rebekah had skipped out to go pick up her kids from her sister’s, I drove the cart over to the group. A fire was going, picnic tables and lawn chairs had been pulled into groups, the fifteen or so campsites had turned into one giant wandering reunion. I looked around for a familiar face and was still surprised by how few I actually knew. Jerry was over at a table, trying to play euchre by lantern light with three other guys.

“Hey,” I said, walking up.

“Hi,” he said. “We being too loud?”

“No, not at all,” I paused for a second, looking at him. “No, I was just stopping by to say hi.”

“Well everybody’s welcome,” he said, smiling and offering me his hand. “Grab yourself a bite to eat. There’s cokes in the coolers.”

“Thanks,” I said. I spotted Jeff a few sites down and walked back to the cart, realizing my spells of silence had hidden me in these meetings more than I realized. Jerry didn’t even know who I was.

I drove a few spaces down, leaving the headlights off and then walking up to Jeff, saying his name so he’d at least be aware that I knew who he was, in case he didn’t recognize me at first either.

“Cole! Hey man.”

“Hey. How’s it going?”

“Great, really great. I haven’t been camping sober in….” he paused.

“Ever?” I suggested.

He laughed. “C’mon now. I was gonna say like...since I was ten? Maybe? I was actually nervous about it.”

“Eh, you get used to it,” I said, wholly without authority on the topic.

“You hanging out for a while?”

I checked the time on my phone. “Actually I can’t. My shift is over in a minute and I have to lock all the gates on my way out. Hopefully everybody is here, and you guys don’t need to go anywhere. You’re pretty much stuck till six am.”

“Seriously?”

I shrugged. “There’s a security guy, but I don’t think he actually does anything.”

“You oughtta stay. Just lock up and stay inside. You’ll be all ready to go tomorrow. Haha.”

“Yeah,” I realized he was actually right. “If I’d’ve planned better I probably would have.” This was entirely not true, but it sounded nice enough. “I’ll be back tomorrow though, so don’t like, wipe shit on the walls or I’ll be bringing you rubber gloves and bleach first thing.”

“Do people actually do that?” he laughed.

“You have no idea.” I stood for a minute, remembering the first cookout, feeling like, in three minutes, I had already done a better job than before. “Anyway, man, I gotta scoot. Just wanted to say hey.”

“All right. Well I’ll be here. See you tomorrow then.”

“Sounds good.”

I drove the cart back to the shed, thinking I really could just stay. It wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe fun even. One call to mom and dad so they wouldn’t worry. I could sleep in the truck. Sneak out at six before any staff realized I had hung around... I locked up everything but the back gate and sat in the truck, completely split on what to do.

Then again, I thought, I had left the keys in the lockbox inside the shed, which was also locked. If I changed my mind at 1 am, I too was stuck. For a second I thought about just pulling the truck through the gate and leaving myself an out, but, by that point, it felt like it’d been too long. What was I gonna say? “Oh, hey I changed my mind. But I might change my mind again later. Just don’t pay any attention to all that stuff I said before; I was lying.”

I clicked the padlock shut on the gate chain and headed home. Baby steps. Baby steps. I texted Rebekah when I got back. “I’m so very excited to see you tomorrow, knowing that you will be dressed to the nines, just for me.”

I waited a second and then, realizing that while she was indeed my friend, she was also still a mom. “Hope you’re sleeping tight, ma’am. Night.”

I plugged my phone in, got ready for bed, and fell almost immediately to sleep for once.

The next day, just for the hours, considering it was the last possible day for me to go in, and it’d give the other guys an extra day off, I’d agreed to go ahead and show up at 8 am instead of 2 pm, and work till the work was done. The group didn’t have to be gone till 4 pm; they’d been given a few extra hours since nobody else would be coming in. I wasn’t really sure what their plan was, but I figured I could have ninety percent of my stuff done by noon and then just hang out with them. Toss the ball around with Kirsten. Be a regular person. Or at least regular-ish, considering I’d actually be hanging out at the campsites in the park.

As usual though, my estimations were way off. I was done with everything by half past ten. Thankfully, Rebekah had volunteered to come in as well, just to tidy up around the office and be another body in the park to open the gates in the morning, answer the phones all day, and tell people we weren’t taking campers anymore.

I stopped in to say hey to her around eleven, and somehow ended up staying in the entrance shack for three hours. It wasn’t exactly like the last day of school had always been, but we were both close to the giddy kind of happiness one feels at the end of an awful experience. And of course, during the final few hours, nothing seemed as bad as it had during the first few, driving around the park by myself in a gator cart, trying to avoid dripping garbage juice on myself, and still completely ignorant of how much poop lay in my future.

Plus, in the shack I could keep an eye on the cars that came in, just in case Kirsten happened to be riding along with someone.

Rebekah had brought in her computer from home, attempting to listen to her cleaning playlist while I constantly fought against the spotty internet to change songs to one she “just had” to hear. At first I thought she didn’t really notice, but later on I realized she was just being Rebekah and keeping her mouth shut about how every song I got really excited for had been popular almost ten years previously.

“I know it’s dumb,” I was saying, about an hour in, “but you can’t deny this song just somehow makes you feel good about yourself.”

“I never knew you were so emo,” she laughed from inside the tiny bathroom where she was cleaning the sink.

“Oh come on,” I said. “All I ever do is whine, what else could I be?”

It earned me a good hard laugh from her, and I was smiling as I walked out to offer directions to another car. Somehow, maybe it was just a latent learned skill, I could pretty much tell which arrivals were looking for Trey and which ones were about to be pissed that they couldn’t camp.

I directed this one back around to the campsite, doing my best to not stick my head in and look for Kirsten. I glanced toward the backseat as they drove by. Two girls up front, two older guys in back with a kid between them. Not an attractive, or even an unattractive, blonde in the mix.

Before I could make it back inside, two more cars had pulled up, the first of which I sent on with a “Just follow them,” before they even had time to ask. The second was a pair of furry guys with a pop-up attached to their rusted out pick-up.

I stumbled my way through an apology, being extremely thankful that, as far as anyone was concerned, Rebekah and I were the highest ranking people in the park. Which basically meant we could just pass the blame along, commiserate some, use the old “if it was up to me” and “yeah I don’t get it either” lines, then shrug, and still come out looking okay.

I walked back in the shack to country music. “Really? I was gone, like, twelve seconds.”

“Snooze ya lose. Besides, you didn’t call Ghost-man.”

“On the radio?”

“Ghost-deejay.”

The next hour whisked by without either of us really noticing, then, thankfully, began easing into an almost peaceful few minutes for the first time all day.

She’d been kind of absently twisting back and forth in the swivelling desk chair when she paused and looked at me. “So, pal. What’s your plan?”

“For what? Like, life?”

“No, haha. For today. Weirdo.”

“Ah. Well, I don’t really know, I guess.” I looked at my watch. “I’m basically done. Figured I’d wait for those guys to go, haul up their trash, and that’s about it. Lock the keys in the shed and kiss this place goodbye.”

“Oh, you’re not coming back?”

I laughed. “If I’m back here next summer, I will probably actually shoot myself.”

She rolled her eyes. “You can’t. Because if I’m back here next summer, you better be too.”

“All right, I’ll make that deal.”

She looked at me like she couldn’t tell if I was serious or not. Even I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but it definitely felt like, for once, I was being completely honest.

“Well, if you’re gonna be all nice about it, I should probably encourage you to go say hi to your ‘acquaintances.’”

“Eh, I stopped by last night. Actually, I don’t think they even recognized me,” I laughed.

“Cause you’re a workin’ man,” she said, echoing the song that had just finished.

“Mm-hm. You know me so well.”

“I’m afraid I do, which is why I’m telling you to go say hi to your friends. I’ll wait till you’re done.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Hey, they’re paying me aren’t they?” she smiled.

“Too true. All right,” I grabbed my hat off the desk. “Back in a second.”

“Better not be,” she called out as the screen door banged behind me.

I drove back to where I remembered Jeff lingering around the night before. He was in the middle of a card game with Trey and two other guys whose names I didn’t recall. They’d been in and out of meetings, but somehow with a regularity that made you not worry about their sobriety. I thought one was an electrician, or maybe both for all I knew. Some story about soaking up union hours while they could in the back of my mind.

I stopped and talked to them for a second, feeling, probably rightly, that I was distracting from the game, and then wandered off to make a loop of the group, not really sure who I was looking for but thinking there might be some sympathetic person I could kill a few minutes with. Rebekah’s tone may’ve been playful, but I wasn’t about to head back early.

As I made the turn at the last camper, moving extra slow to kill time, I saw one of the girls who was somewhat in Jeff’s and my age group and had popped in for a SHitS meeting once or twice. She seemed to be walking toward an empty circle of chairs, a sweating coke can in her hand. I slowed even more as we were about to pass on the path.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I said, figuring I could either just play it off as being a great park employee, or maybe actually chat for a second if she seemed like she knew who I even was.

“Not bad,” she said, pausing for a moment. “You?”

“Pretty good. Last day here.” I looked out over the lake, pretending for a second this was my park, that it was always this empty because nobody was ever here except people I’d invited. Very Gatsby.

“You’re Cole, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, surprised, and also hoping she wouldn’t expect me to know her name.

“I thought so. Kirsten talks about you sometimes.”

“Oh yeah? I wondered if she’d be here today. She was talking about playing baseball or something.”

“Yeah, she’s around here somewhere.”

I cocked my head to the side. “Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. I mean, I’m just surprised. I’ve been up front most of the day and didn’t see you guys come in.”

“We got here pretty early.”

“Ah, well that would explain it.”

“There she is,” she pointed off to the water’s edge, an instantly recognizable slim blonde figure walking beside the tall water grasses. Next to her was an even taller, even slimmer guy in skater shorts and a beater. He didn’t have to give me a full profile for me to tell his ball cap had a completely flat bill, and likely still sported a sticker.

“Oh yeah,” I said, almost laughing to myself.

I watched her walk with whoever the guy was, almost asking this new acquaintance about him, but realizing suddenly, I didn’t care. Not in the least.

“Well, cool,” I said after a minute. “I’m glad you came out. I need to get back and finish up a little work around here before we close up for the year, but….yeah. I hope you have a nice time. Maybe I’ll see you at a meeting or something.”

“Yep,” she started toward her chair again, apparently completely unaffected either way by her surroundings.

I went back over and found Trey and Jeff, it dawning on me that I’d completely forgotten to ask this new girl’s name. Next time. I pulled up a stray lawn chair with the guys and commenced shooting the breeze with them for a record-breaking almost twenty minutes as the rest of the group began packing up.

Trey and Jeff finally hopped up to help disassemble tents while I wandered about with a trash bag collecting empties, doing whatever meaningless thing seemed to be slightly helpful. After all, they were good campers, at least compared to what I was used to.

Not long after that, I waved the last car out from the side of the cart, the back compartment and passenger seat full of trash bags. Looking around the site when they’d gone, you could barely tell they’d been there. In a way, it was a good thing. I had done my job well; everything looked the same and it was almost like no one had touched the place all summer. I took the bags over to the dumpster, locking up the cart and the keys in the shop, a feeling of completion making things seem almost bittersweet.

Just before I’d finished college, my dad made me promise I would take one afternoon and walk the campus, remembering the good things, appreciating what it had given me. Reliving the ups and downs of what was supposed to be the official end of any remaining childhood, the beginning of my adulthood.

It was a nice idea, but I’d been caught up in other things at the time. There was, of course, a get-together that evening, and I hadn’t felt like I’d be able to fully appreciate the melodrama of it all if I were sober.

At the park that afternoon, I almost felt like I almost understood what he’d been getting at.

I drove back up to the entrance shack in the truck, already clocked out and assuming it would be an awkward “see ya later” type goodbye with Rebekah.

The front gate, however, was already chained and locked, basically trapping me inside. I walked over to the entrance shack, hoping she had left the keys somewhere accessible. Taped to the screen door was a note. “Meet me at Sunset Beach.”

It was our sarcastic tagline for the ratty swimming section of the lake, a place both of us swore we would never actually swim, as it seemed to serve a greater purpose as a large bathtub for the campers (among others) during its open months. Neither one of us remembered who’d come up with the phrase, though we both claimed it. Either way, as the summer had progressed it had somehow become a little secret slogan, a line to wind up conversations with, even kind of an odd insult at times, like, “Yeah, okay. I’d rather meet you at Sunset Beach than…”

I drove down to find her, wondering if she also knew we were basically trapped. The road curved and dipped its way around, trying to stay as close to the water as possible. Cresting the last little hill, between the “Sunset Beach Hilton” (the lifeguard shed) and “The Sunset Beach Shitters” (self-explanatory), I could see her out on the sandy area, two of the lifeguard chairs pulled out about midway between the buildings and the water.

I parked, slamming the door extra hard so she wouldn’t be surprised when I suddenly showed up beside her.

“Hey,” I called from a few paces back. “I know you love it here and all, but you know we can’t get out now, right?”

She held up a hand, the ridiculously full keyring to the park hanging from her finger.

“Ah. Always thinking.”

“Exactly. We aren’t trapped in. But nobody else can get in.”

I took the chair beside her, looking over the water at the empty campsites, the empty playground, the six or eight buildings that had been brought in and arranged for the “Pioneer Village” (we actually didn’t make that one up, though in hindsight I sort of wish we had christened it something).

“Here,” she handed me a sweating paper cup. “It’s a little melty, but you’ll just have to deal with that.”

I looked in the cup. A chocolate milkshake.

“You really know how to live it up.”

“Hey, I’m happy,” she said. “If you aren’t, I’ll eat yours.”

I laughed. “Right, because you could really pack away two large milkshakes.”

“It is a challenge I would dutifully accept.”

I smiled again, taking a bite. “Thanks, Rebekah.”

“My pleasure, Porter.”

Despite the sun not being even close to setting, there was a trite peacefulness to it all. The quiet of nature or something. Birds, water. A breeze in the tree branches.

“So what is your plan?” she asked.

I shook my head, still smiling. “Well, now that I’m finally getting to relax on Sunset Beach, instead of combing it for broken glass, I feel like I’ve really made it in life. I mean, what else could a guy ask for?”

“So, no plan?”

“Yeah. I have no idea. You?”

“Same.”

“We are quite the pair.”

I leaned back in the chair, looking between her and the water. “Did I ever tell you about the twenty-six blacks?”

She looked over at me. “Do I want you to? Bc if this is like the midnights thing I don’t know if I need to hear it.”

I laughed. “No, not like that. It’s a story I heard one time. I can’t for the life of me remember who told it to me, a professor or somebody I think, because I know I never doubted it was true.”

“Oh well that’s water-tight then for sure.”

“Fine. Maybe it isn’t true-true, but I think it is, so just trust me for once.”

She grinned a little. “I’ll do my best.”

A few minutes later, I’d done what I hoped was an admirable job of rambling through something I still wasn’t completely sure I understood, but something that at least had always felt right. I played with my empty milkshake cup, feeling more stupid the longer she didn’t say anything.

“Anyway,” I said, “Maybe that was kind of hokey. It seemed like it fit the moment or whatever. You can just forget I said it.”

She didn’t look at me, just gestured over to the village with her spoon. “You ever go in those?”

“Actually,” I laughed. “Yeah. I had the same keys you do, and before me and you started hanging out I had a lot of free time. There’s not much in them.”

She nodded.

“But I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting. After you see it, it’s exactly what you would think would be in a pioneer cabin. Some crappy chairs, a crappy bed. Oh and a crappy table. Did you wanna go?”

“How could I not with a description like that? Besides,” she smiled, “it’s a choice to make.”

She hopped down from her chair and we spent two more hours exploring the empty old homes. A combination church/schoolhouse/town hall, the biggest of the buildings, boasted almost a dozen long pew-type benches, a lectern in the corner. The mill, supposedly in functional condition, had never run since I’d been there. We wandered back and forth on the footpaths, making one final loop to double-check we’d relocked all the padlocks and then turned toward the beach again.

“I couldn’t do it,” she said, kicking a rock ahead of us on the gravel path.

“What? Live in the buildings?”
“Yeah. I’d get too stressed out with that much stuff to do for, like, a salad.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “You figure, if you really lived in those buildings, it would be pioneer times, so you wouldn’t know any better. I mean, you don’t sit here now thinking you can’t survive this wretched time we live in, do you?”

She laughed, “Well….”

“Okay. Poor question. But you know what I mean. If you were alive back then, you’d just deal with it. Like, that was your life and you either made it work or you didn’t. And I’m sure you’d still be spoiled.”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Yeah, I’d be spoiled.”
“Plus,” I said, kicking the rock back over to her side. “I bet you’d look smoking hot in a hoop skirt and bonnet.”

“Oh lordi.”

“What? I’d be like, the definition of dapper in a pair of trousers and a scratchy cotton shirt. I wouldn’t shower. I’d have a really gross patchy beard. Maybe a straw hat. And a fancy bowler hat for big events, of course. I think the only thing you would really struggle with was having to see how dashing I looked while blacksmithing or cobbling all day.”

“Oooookay. Picture painted.”

“Just sayin’.”

We followed the edge of the water back to the beach, sitting on the sand and tossing pebbles into the lake.

“Not to be all hokey, or whatever,” I said, finally breaking the calm silence, “But I’m glad you were here. You made this a thousand times better than I would’ve ever thought. So, thanks, I guess.”

I glanced over at her, the milkshake cups stacked inside each other and pressed into the sand between us. She had her knees pulled up to her chest, looking out over the water, almost as if she hadn’t heard me. I’d read the phrase a thousand times, but this was the first “faraway” gaze I’d ever experienced.

“You all right?”

“Yeah,” she said, and it felt like she was answering me not just about the moment, but in the context of her life, her future, her burdens, her goals. Her past, her present. “You?”

I thought for a second. “You know, it’s starting to feel that way. How’s that for horrifying?”

I drove us up to the gate, her waiting while I made one final pass through the park to make sure everything was as buttoned down as I could make it. Back by the campsite the guys had used, I saw something underneath one of the picnic tables that had escaped all of our eyes in the packing and send-off. I climbed out of the truck and walked over.

Black and worn and half-hidden in the grass, was a girl’s baseball mitt. I had no reason to be sure, but for some reason also knew exactly who it belonged to. I tossed it in the passenger seat of the truck and headed back up to where Rebekah was waiting by the entryway, her car running at the edge of the little asphalt road, the driver’s door and the gate both open.

I pulled out beside her. “You ready to wind this thing up?”

“Yes, sir.”

I helped her swing the low gates together and finagle the chain and padlock closed, then waited while she locked the keys in the shack. I scooped her back up over the gate, somewhat surprised to realize that, outside of her grabbing my shoulders the day before, this was basically the first time we’d ever touched.

She was laughing as I set her down. “Not as scrawny as you look, huh?”

“What? You mean you’ve been secretly scoffing all these times I told you I exercised before I came in?”

“Hey,” she said. “I’ve never secretly scoffed at you. I always do all my scoffing right to your face.”

“Allllll right.”

We walked back to the cars, leaning on doors and lingering for a minute longer.

“Well...” I said.

She laughed. “Fine. I’ll do this one for you, too, but you’re gonna have to start dealing with all 26 of these on your own someday. Go home, friend. I’ll text you later.”

I sighed. “Do I haveta?”

“Y’know, I don’t know which thing you’re referring to, but yes to both.”

“Guh.”

“Hey, you’ve been doing pretty good as far as I can tell. Have a little confidence.”

“Fiiiiiiine. But I’m holding you to that text message.”

“Deal. Now scram,” she climbed in the car, then turned back once more. “And, hey, thanks to you too, Cole. For all of it.”

“My pleasure, my dear.”

She closed her door, turned up the radio, and pulled out onto the country road that led us back to town. I followed her for about three miles before turns directed us in different directions.

I glanced over at the passenger seat, remembering I had one more stop to make before I went home.

Twenty minutes later, experiencing another first, I was pulling into the parking lot of the halfway house. I’d never actually set foot in the place and was just doing my best to act like I knew which door I was supposed to go in.

Immediately inside, in a very familiar way, steps led either up or down. The most noise seemed to be coming from downstairs so I followed the wide staircase down, walking into a large, surprisingly welcoming area. A coffee bar was off to one side, a bank of computers along one wall. Some couches were arranged in the middle, with another small computer lab set up through some doors across from me.

I glanced around for a minute, looking for a familiar face. In the computer lab I saw one guy who’d been popping in and out of the SHitS for a few weeks. I walked over.

“Hey man,” I said. “How’s it going?”

“Uh, not bad.”

He was older than me, or at least looked that way. But looks, in this setting especially, can be deceiving.

“Were you out at the camping thing?” I asked.

“No,” he gestured toward the computer screen. “I been job huntin’.”

“Ah, that sucks man,” I realized, somehow calmly, that I was now officially unemployed again. “I need to do that myself.”

He nodded, looking at me.

“Oh,” I gestured with the mitt. “I was looking for Kirsten. She left this out at the park.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Um, blonde. About my age I think? Pretty outgoing…”

“Yeah, that’s who I thought you meant,” he said. “But I don’t know, man. She moved out of here two or three weeks ago.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. If that’s who you mean, I mean. She’s got the scars?”

I almost laughed. Like that was supposed to narrow it down, emotionally speaking.

“Yeah, that’s her,” I said instead. I looked at the screen for a minute, then felt like I was snooping. “I guess I need to get better information. Thanks man. And good luck with the job hunt.”

“Mm-hm.”

I walked back up the stairs, out to the truck, almost laughing at the whole thing. Of course she was gone. Of course I didn’t know that. What did I really know, after all?

I drove home, leaving the mitt in the truck, assuming I’d pass it along some day or another. Or maybe, if she was really so full of surprises, I could convince her to meet up with me, at least to get her stuff back.

From the basement, I sent her a text.

“Hey, thought you might be missing your mitt. It got abandoned under a picnic table, but I’ve got it if you want it back.”

I realized it sounded more like a ransom note than I probably intended, but I tossed my phone on the couch and hopped in the shower, enjoying the feeling of washing the garbage away for what I hoped was the last time.

Out on the back deck, mom and dad had set up a surprise celebratory dinner (yet another cookout in what was apparently The Summer of the Hot Dog). Chris and Christy had come over and somehow, I didn’t feel like the black sheep for a moment. Afterwards, we all stretched out in the living room, taking up furniture and time, shooting the breeze like a completely normal family.

* * *

The following week I was back on my usual routine. Nothing but job searching during the days, meetings on the old schedule. I’d headed over to the SHitS one night, surprised at how much my mind kept wandering, trying to think of a non-weird way to ask if anybody knew where Kirsten was.

She’d finally texted me back earlier that day, saying she’d be happy to meet sometime to get the mitt, but hadn’t been very specific. Basically a hundred percent Kirsten. I’d mentioned seeing her at the park, asking if the guy she was with was her boyfriend.

“Oh he was pissed,” she said, adding a laughing emoji. “Like panties in a full bunch.”

“Why? I didn’t think you even knew I was there.”

“No he saw you. He was all ‘THAT’S your fucking friend?!’ HAHA.”

“So are you guys dating then?”

A pause. “It was so hilarious.”

I shook my head and tried another option. “I hear you’re not at the house anymore.”

“Ooohh been missing me?”

I was suddenly unsure if she even remembered I didn’t live at the halfway house.

“I went by with your mitt after the cookout. They said you’d moved.”

“Yeah.”

“So...what’s your new plan?”

She’d paused, and I waited her out, curious to see what kind of answer I’d get.

“Just doing the damn thing my own way,” she said.

I thought about it for a second. “Yeah, I can understand that.”

She didn’t write back again, so I re-texted. “Are you still gonna be at the meetings?” Then added, “I can just bring the mitt with me.”

“Yeah man. Of course. When else will I get to see you?”

I started to reply, then deleted it all. There was no point. “Ok, cool. I’ll bring it with me tonight then.”

She hadn’t replied, and, naturally, she hadn’t shown up.

After the meeting, after the readings and the prayer, while everyone was still loosely circled but not holding hands anymore, I spoke up.

“Hey, before I forget. Somebody left a baseball mitt at the park. I didn’t know if it was any of you all’s.”

Surprisingly, of all people, Jerry answered. “Oh. Yep. That’s the kiddo’s. She said she thought she left it there.”

I looked over at him, pieces falling into place.

Yes, she’d left the house, but with no job where was she going to go? A kind-hearted old surrogate grandpa would be perfect. In hindsight, he’d mentioned driving “the kids” around, going to the house, taking them to dinners. I wanted to ask why she wasn’t there, but he filled it in for me.

“She was gonna come tonight, but she had something she had to do with her boys. I can take it to her.”

I nodded, grinning a little in spite of myself “Cool. It’s in the truck.” I glanced around the circle at the other guys, trying to gauge how out of the loop I actually was, and for how long it’d been that way.

“You better be careful with that one,” Trey said, but I couldn’t tell if he was talking to me or Jerry.

We met out at the truck, passing the mitt along during an awkward exchange of chitchat in which I deemed it best to not mention that he was explaining a cookout I’d helped clean up. Again, though, he covered it for me.

“That wasn’t you out there that night, was it? Somebody said they’d seen ya.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But I was in work clothes. Pretty filthy. Or at least I hope I don’t look like that all the time.”

“Well shit man. Why didn’t ya say something?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. You looked like you were pretty into your cards. And I figured I’d see you around.”

“Don’t be such a stranger next time. You know how it is with us old folks; the brain just needs a little jump-start every now and again.” He laughed and walked off to his car, waving with the mitt as he climbed in.

Just before I got in the truck, Jeff hollered at me.

I waited for him. “What’s up?”

“Hey, this is a little weird, but I wanted to ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“So, uh...shit, I guess I’ll just jump in. How well do you know Kirsten? I heard you guys were kind of buddies or something.”

I paused, wondering who in the world had been talking about that, but he barrelled forward.

“Because like, this is probably weird. Well it’s gonna be really weird if you guys are dating, I guess.”

“No, man. We’re not. At least not that I know of anyway. Though it sounds like your info is a little better than mine.”

He laughed. “Okay, I didn’t think so. But you know how it is; you just hear stuff. Man, that makes this so much less uncomfortable. Haha. So, anyway, here’s the thing. She’ll text me every once in a while. And I know that doesn’t seem like much of a big deal.” I almost finished the story for him here, but was curious to see if his version varied at all. “I mean, at first it was a lot, and I’ll be honest, I was excited to have somebody to talk to. But then she started to just kind of like, disappear. For days. Or I get these messages that I don’t know what to do with. A while back she wrote me and it just said ‘Everything is fucked.’ And so I’m freaking out, like trying to think of what to do or say or whatever. I mean, it’s not like she keeps her arms and legs, her scars, a secret. I was about ready to drive down to the house y’know? So I’m up half the night trying to talk to her, and thankfully she seems all right by the end of it. The next day I text her, like, ‘hey just wanted to make sure things were going all right,’ but apparently she’s back to not writing me for two or three days at a time again.

“And I guess, I don’t know. It’s frustrating. I probably shouldn’t even be worried about it. And it’s not like I’m wanting to date her, or anybody right now. I’ve got so much other shit I need to focus on there’s not even time if I wanted to. But, I don’t know. I’d just heard you guys were close or something.”

I smiled. Not in a condescending way. Not even in an older brotherly way. I’d never been able to do that anyhow. My younger brother was my older brother, after all. So, I just tried to be light.

“Yeah, she’s like that,” I said. “I don’t really know that much about her, to be honest. The fact that people think we’re a couple is as surprising to me as anybody. It’s actually sort of funny, in a way. But we’ve, like her and I, we’ve had those same types of talks a time or two. And really,” I paused for a second, trying to think of how to say it right. “The thing with Kirsten is, she’s going to make you want to do everything in the world to take care of her, but then she’s also going to do her damnedest to make sure that you can’t.”

“That’s it!” he said, surprising both of us a little. “It’s like, I’m bending over backwards to help you, and then you can’t even write me back. It drives me up the walls.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean, man. But, you’re a smart guy; I think you’ll be all right. If not,” I laughed, “we can start our own support group.”

He beat me to the punch. “KA?”

“Exactly. Haha. Honestly though, and I’m not trying to throw her under the bus or anything, of course I’ll help if I can, but I certainly can’t force anything. And like you said, too, man, you’ve got more than enough on your plate right now, y’know? Hell, I’ll be pushing a year here pretty soon and I still don’t have any idea what I’m doing.”

“Well,” he said, “we are only eighteen.”

I laughed again. “You got that right.”

Driving home, I couldn’t stop laughing to myself. Not in the “life is shit and I’m gonna go out laughing like a hysterical whack-job” way, either. Somehow, things had snuck up on me. Things that even felt sort of good. Maybe not perfect, but I had hope. The one thing I’d always thought so dangerous to have. No, I still didn’t understand a damn thing, and had no clue what I was about to do, but I was starting to think I’d at least accidentally already made two potential friends. Maybe I could start being a little more intrigued. Give it a dry run.

And, jiminy, she’d moved. If that wasn’t a perfect practical joke from the Fates, it sure wasn’t a bad try.

Later that night, I’d almost texted her, just out of habit, I think. I sat my phone aside and pulled up Facebook on the computer instead. I still hadn’t ever searched for her, which was maybe a half-stalker-ish move anyway. But I wondered how many questions it could’ve saved me over the last few months. Or if, anymore, I really wanted or needed answers. But at the same time, I was curious.

I clicked on the search box and typed “Kirsten,” then corrected myself. She was “Kristen” on all legally-binding documents, and, I assumed, social media. I watched the cursor blink, thinking. She’d been Kristen so briefly, it almost didn’t seem like her real name. Then she’d been Kirsten for so long, longer than the days seemed to account for, and certainly longer than the words of our conversations would add up to. The crazy, missing, infuriating, sexy, ornery, addictive girl that had slowly been reduced to and almost deleted so many times as the slender, somehow fitting “K” in my phone.

And then, looking at the box, watching the cursor prompt me for more, I realized, after all that time, all the heartache, all the mystery and all the intrigue, I didn’t even know her last name.

I had to laugh; some boyfriend I’d turned out to be.

I leaned back on the couch, turned on the tv, and logged out, thinking of other names.

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