Chapter 19: Liam
It’s hard to deny the awkwardness in the room - especially when Jere goes upstairs to go to sleep. Now it’s just Jimmy, Libby, and me. One would think I am slayed with excitement and absolute joy - there is a friggin’ girl in the same room as me that’s actually here for me - but, really, I’m nervous as hell.
When we had gotten inside after eating at Ben n’ Jerry’s, I faced the inevitable: Libby had to meet Jimmy.
He had opened the door before I could even get the keys out of my pocket, asking quite scandously how our little outing went. And then, without a word, I stepped aside and Libby came into his view. His pursed lips made her giggle, and he nodded his head slowly, as if judging whether she was hot enough or not. And then, finally, he spoke. “She’ll do.”
After coming inside we went straight to work, Libby slipping the package of multi-colored balloons out of her back pocket and Jere running into his room to get a notebook with blank pieces of paper for each of us to use.
“The hell are you doing?” Jimmy asked behind them, peeking over their shoulder as they each sat at different sides of the table and tapped their pencils in concentration.
“Shh!” Jere chaschised, and Jimmy glared, scoffing at the five-year-old. I thought about shooing him off to the couch, but he seemed determined to stay and figure out what we’re doing.
“I’ll tell you later,” a soft voice said from across the table. “Right now we have some business to take care of.”
Jim laughed. “What, are you suing someone?”
Jere’s brows furrowed and he looked up from his paper. “What does “suing” mean?”
Jim smirked. “It’s when you get money from stupid people.”
Jere nodded, as if understanding completely. Libby hid a smile behind her hand, staring down at her paper as to not make any eye contact. Then, all of a sudden, she looked up and met my eyes with her milky brown ones. Heat rising, I grinned at her and then quickly looked down. I could feel Jimmy looking at me - no, staring at me - from the head of the table, smirking that stupid smirk of his.
Then I’d remembered something: I had to reach deep inside for a secret - a secret that I’m too afraid to tell. Rolling my lips inside my mouth, I wrote down the inevitable, folded it up, and then stuffed it inside a deflated balloon. And when I couldn’t take it anymore, I looked to my side and met Jim’s know-it-all stare.
“What.” It wasn’t a question - more like a reprimand.
His mouth curled. “Nothing.” He looked away slyly, and Libby stifled a giggle across from me.
My brow jerked. “You read it, didn’t you?”
He shrugged, reaching over to the notebook and tearing out a piece of paper himself. “Maybe I did,” he said, his voicing portraying innocence. “And maybe I didn’t.”
I sighed, no longer caring. “Whatever, ya douche.”
His eyes widened, feigning shock. “Be careful with your words, Liam,” he kid. “Your son’s right there.”
And that’s when it happened.
The secret on my paper was let out, and Libby’s eyes were locked on mine. Shock. Sympathy. Pity, Anger. Heartbreak. Betrayal. Aghast. Probably thinking every profanity in the book, all pointing straight towards me.
“Holy shit,” Libby breathed, her hands sliding to the edge of the table and her wooden chair screeching on the tile as she slowly pushed herself farther away from the table. Farther away from me.
“Words!” Jere called passively, completely unaware of the drama that’s going on in front of him. Oh, what it was like being so young and oblivious to the world. But now, I’m stuck with this shit. And I have to fix it.
“Sorry, Jere,” she murmured, standing up from her spot and walking to the living room, silent and possibly fuming.
Now it was my turn to screech away from the table, Jimmy wincing and Jere yelling, “Quit it!”
I shook my head, too nerve-wracked to apologize. “Libby?” I call, but she had already broke her pacing in the living room and headed straight up the stairs, muttering unintelligable words. “Lib.”
She swung around and sighed, stopping on the top step. “Please,” she said quietly. “Don’t call me that.”
I stopped midstep, my heart dropping to my stomach. “I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it in both ways. But she didn’t get it - she continued up the stairs. I expected her to turn right - the Jere’s room where the balcony is - but she doesn’t. She turned left - to my room.
Now hesitant, I walked after her, stopping at the doorway as she carefully sat at the edge of my bed. She stared at the collage of pictures of Jere I had up on the wall - of him growing up ever since he was born. Ever since I was left with only him.
“Whare are your parents?” The question came from her, her eyes never wavering from the collage.
Clearing the lump that was stuck in my throat, I responded. “I don’t know.”
This stunned her. Her body froze, and her hands that were once twiddling stopped. “How long have they been gone?” Her tone was careful.
My jaw locked at the memory. “Almost five years.” Her body crumpled, her legs pulled up to her chest and her head resting on her knees.
“Life is crap,” she muttered, her voice muffled by her position. I nodded, agreeing, not having the voice to say a thing. And then she asked a question that made me freeze. “Was she pretty?”
Without even having to ask, I knew what she meant. Rose. “Beautiful,” I replied, and she nodded understandingly.
“Were y’all the same age?” she asked, her head sliding to where her eyes were focusing on me, and her temple was resting on her knees. I shook my head. She nodded again. “Did she just drop y’all?” Nod. “Just like that?” ... Nod. Her brows furrow and her face twists in anger. “That bitch!”
This was a surprise. “You’re not mad?”
She looked at me as if I was insane. “Are you stupid or something? Yes I’m mad!”
I laughed - just one syllable. “I meant at me.”
Her body stopped for a moment - froze - and then, after a moment of processing, she nodded. “You lied to me.” Her voice was weak - as if she were defeated by her thoughts... by reality.
“I didn’t,” I replied, knowing she was going to catch me.
And she did. “Technicalities, you douche.” She uncurled from her spot on my bed and turned to face me, her posture straight and her body open. Her face beautiful. “You still lied - you didn’t tell me the truth. You knew I thought he was your brother, and you let me believe that! How dare you.” She shook her head. “For some reason, I expected more from you.” She laughed at herself. “More from a stranger.”
She stood up and walked toward me. Expecting her to shove past me, I moved to the side, but she just stopped a foot away from me and looked up into my eyes. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, Liam Nottes,” she breathed.
Rolling her lips inside her mouth and squinting her eyes, as if she were scrutinizing me, she crossed her arms and stepped to the side, leaning against the other side of the doorframe. We stood in silence for a few minutes, just looking at each other and wondering just how the hell we made it this far in each others’ lives.
“Now what?” She asked the inevitable.
“Now,” I grinned, “Jere goes to sleep.”
“So you made a bucket list?”
Libby rolls her eyes and says again, “My friend made a bucket list. I’m just the one checking them off.”
“And you’re doing that why?” he asks, looking at her like she’s mental. “There’s so much other crap you could be doing besides that - especially in the great NYC!”
She purses her lips. “I’m doing it in memory of her.”
His lips turn into an “o”. “Oh. She’s dead?” She nods. “Damn, I’m sorry. Wow I’m such an ass.” I nod in agreement and he shoves me in the arm without even looking away from Libby.
Libby laughs, waving the subject off as if it was only a pesky fly. “It’s whatever. I just want to do this before college.”
“Ooh,” he sings. “Fishy, eh?”
“Ah, memories,” she sighs, looking up at the ceiling as if there was a timeline flying back to her freshman year of high school.
Then something occurs to me. “Where are you from again?”
She looks away from the ceiling and smiles at me. “I never said.” I notch an eyebrow. “Texas.”
Jim laughs, and I throw a pillow from the couch at him. “Don’t be a jerk.”
He muffles another laugh by closing his mouth. His body shakes. Whenever he passes by the urge, he fills the silence. “So how did y’all meet?” Libby’s eyes find mine and her cheeks rush to a soft pink. “Hot mama, this is gonna be a good story, isn’t it?” Jimmy laughs, and I laugh... kind of. It comes out as a “heh.”
“Yeah,” I breathe. Looking up to her, catching her eyes again, I ask, “What number was that on your bucket list?”
I didn’t know she knew it from the top of her mind. “Twenty-two.”
Jimmy still didn’t get it. “What?”
I nod at Libby and she lets out a breath before recalling the memory that happened only two days ago. “I kissed a stranger in Times Square...” He looks at her expectantly. She meets my eyes. “And the stranger was him.”
“Awe,” Jim coos. I can feel his taunting stare at the side of my face. I glare at him. “That’s so romantic. Now,” he leans forward, his arms resting on his thighs and his body just so “interested.” “Liam, did you kiss back?”
My face goes slack. “I don’t think you want to hear the details.”
“Oh, I do,” he laughs, and I restrain the impulse to push him off the couch.
“Y’all,” Libby calls out at us, and we look away from each other for once and remember that she’s in the room. “Chill.” She turns her head to face Jimmy. “Yes, he did, and then he ditched me at Cornelia’s, I caught him at his job, he apologized, and then the rest is history.” She smiles politely, and when Jim looks away from her, impressed, she winks at me. My lips roll inside my mouth. “Anything else?”
“Yeah,” Jim says, his voice intrigued. “How come you kissed him?"
I’m about to do something - anything - to him that will make me feel better, but after processing the question, I don’t. I find myself curious too. I look at her, and she blushes under the pressure. She looks down at her lap and plays with her fingers as she chooses her words carefully. “He...” she sighs. And then out came the truth: “He was sad. I couldn’t help but try to save him.”
After a few minutes of us all processing this news, Jimmy breaks the silence again - it’s as if it’s his duty in life. “Well,” he says, “you did one helluva job. I’ve never seen the guy so bright.” I open my mouth to defend myself, but he cuts me off by saying, “He even made friggin’ cakes the morning after!” He punches me in the shoulder. “You could’ve told me, you ass. I thought you got fired from your job or something, and you were trying to hide it from me like the bastard you are.”
I purse my lips and Libby giggles, and when Jimmy gives me a look, I just shrug and pat his shoulder. “You have a great imagination, Jim.”
“Thanks,” he replies cautiously.
“Oh!” Libby pips, standing up from my recliner and walking to the kitchen table. “We never let go of the balloons.” She grabs hers off the table and slides her scrap of paper into the deflated balloon. Soon enough, that balloon was blown up and she was tying the knot at the end. “Should we let Jeremiah let his go tomorrow by himself?”
My heart hiccups when she says his name like that; like she’s known him - us - her entire life. “Um, yeah I think he’d appreciate that.” She smiles at me and I step up from Jimmy’s couch, him automatically crossing his feet on my now-empty seat.
I pick up my balloon and take out the piece of paper, erasing my secret that Jimmy slipped out and replacing it with a new one. I blow it up, not nearly as fast as she did. I have to have her assistance with the knot-tying, and when it’s all ready, we step away from the table and I open the front door for her. As she walks out the door and onto the steps, I call out to Jimmy that’s passing out on the couch, “Are you doing yours in the morning with Jere?”
He mutters something, but I take it as a yes, and close the door behind me.
After a few moments of taking in the empty night and the clouded sky, her side finds mine and she bumps her hip into mine. I laugh breathlessly, knocking her to the side back.
“What’s in that balloon?” she asks, flicking the balloon almost out of my hands.
I smirk down at her. “A secret.”
Her lips purse, attempting to hide a smile. “What kind of secret?”
“A good one.” She breathes out a hmph. I laugh. “What?”
“Can you please tell me?”
I shake my head. I don’t mean to be stubborn... “I’m just not ready.”
She pauses, and then nods. “I like how honest you can be....”
I scoff. “Like with my son?”
She waves my comment off. “That doesn’t count; you were just nervous.”
I smile down at her, thankful for her patience and understanding. “I don’t know how I was lucky enough to have you in my life,” I find myself saying, my breath just another whisper in the shallow wind. I’m cherishing the wind, taking it in as it is friggin’ hot outside. “But I’ve decided not to question it.”
She looks up at me, her eyes twinkling under the street light, her lips curling up into a smile. “I’m thankful too. I thought I’d be alone for these three months, but...” She sighs, playing with the balloon in her hands. “I’m not.” Her eyes shift to mine and a kindhearted smile reaches up to her eyes. “I’ve got you.”
Before I can even think about what I’m about to say, I ask, “Do you want to come into work with me tomorrow?” I watch as she hesitates, and quickly add, “You don’t have to - I know that three days in a row with me can be too much.”
This makes her laugh, her eyes squinting as she does so. I smile at this feature of hers, wondering yet again how this girl has entered my life. “I’d love to, but...”
“There’s always a but,” I sigh, and she giggles.
"But, you have to help me complete two more things on my list tomorrow.”
“Of course,” I reply, the answer rolling off my tongue naturally. Anything for Libby.
She smiles and I smile, and for once, it feels like everything’s going to be okay.
“Ready?” she asks, holding up her balloon in a gesture. I nod. Yes, I think. I’m ready.
And we let go of our balloons, just like we’re letting go of our secrets that were tying us down on the earth.