Chapter 42: Libby
Even though it’s December 11th, the university has let out for holiday break.
Graham and I are on our way to his house, a seven-hour trip, with pounds of suitcases and barely-closed cardboard boxes in the backseat and trunk - most of them mine. To passerbys, it looks like I’m eloping, but to just Graham and me, I’m moving to his apartment down the street from my dorm. The plan is to take them with us to his home and then unload them at the campus, but never in my life have I heard such a stupid plan before.
We’re holding hands, them resting on the bench between us, and I gaze at his tattoo-ed sleeve. It’s full of reds and blacks and deep yellows and every time I can’t help but awe at its intricacy. I glance up at him in the driver’s seat beside me and he meets my gaze momentarily with a small smile and the squeeze of my hand before focusing back on the road. “What?”
I shrug even though I know exactly “what.” After a few moments of silence, a song comes onto the radio and he switches it before I can even comprehend that it’s The Beatles. My heart hammers a bit in guilt, because it’s been clear to me that he hasn’t been able to listen to them for the entire course of us being friends - and all because I can’t stand to hear their songs without being reminded of that one goddamn summer.
His truck is old, a Chevy pick-up, but it runs just fine and the radio is great - but mostly because it’s new. About three weeks ago we left the record shop together and he was going to give me a ride back to the dorms when we realized that something was missing.
“Um, Graha-” I tried to say, but he had already burst.
“Son of a bitch! Who in the hell just steals a piece of junk radio from a piece-of-junk truck?” There was more ranting before I finally settled him down enough to talk.
“We’ll just buy a new one, yeah?” I offered, and he sighed reluctantly. “It’s not like we’ll find it.”
He groaned at the thought of never seeing the radio again and I couldn’t help but laugh. He still hates me for that.
I find the new AUX cord we’d bought on the floorboard and plug my phone into the new stereo - that fits perfectly into the truck, might I add - with my free hand.
Without hesitation, I tap the first song that comes to mind.
Graham just looks over at me, notching his pretentious sunglasses down on his nose, and looks at me with his brown eyes. “Janis?”
“Yes, Graham?” I laugh, and he just rolls his eyes and shrugs the glasses back on as he looks back at the road.
“I meant Ms. Joplin, you goof,” he corrects, and I nod.
“Ah, okay. So not me, Janis, but Ms. Joplin herself?” I kid and he groans.
“You’re making this confusing,” he mutters, but his hand intertwines with mine once more on the bench between us.
I sigh in content and lean my head back on the headrest. “Yes, this is Janis singing on the radio, Mr. Nguyen.”
I watch the road with him when I suddenly hear an atrocious noise. Of course, it’s Graham singing.
“What are you doing?” I ask dully, and he gives me a sly wink through his glasses before singing louder.
"‘Good enough for me and Bobby McGee,’" he sings with Janis, and I giggle. I’ve always known he’s a decent singer, but every time it still seems to shock me. “C’mon, sing with me!”
I sigh loud enough to be heard over the radio. “I don’t want to steal the show.”
He shrugs. “Might as well.”
I crack a grin and begin to sing along, when we suddenly hit a speedbump that I don’t think either of us saw coming. “Was that an animal?” I almost screech, but he just shakes his head and consoles me.
“It was a speedbump, babe, don’t worry about it.”
My heart is still racing even when I glance out the back window and see that, yes, it was a speedbump we had sped over. When I turn back around I see that we’re pulling into a McDonald’s parking lot.
“Want a happy meal?” he guesses, and I nod eagerly.
We step out of the truck when we come to a halt and set the gearshift to park, childishly racing to the front door. Of course, he wins. He opens the door with a suave hop to his step and grins mischievously. Weirdo. “Thanks.”
When I step through he meets me at my side, his hand intertwining with mine once more. My heart bounces, and when he squeezes it once before we step up to the counter, I nearly lose my balance. We give our order to the woman behind the register and we argue who pays, as usual.
But the ringing of my phone in my back pocket causes me to back down, much to his satisfaction.
I back away from the counter and slip the phone out of my pocket, my breath catching when I see the called ID.
I glance back at Graham and see that he’s already found a booth for us to sit. When he looks up, I give him a nervous smile that obviously catches his attention, but when he stands up hurriedly I tell him to, “Wait for me,” and I step out of the restaurant.
The call is about to drop when I finally answer.
I’m silent, but Jimmy doesn’t sway. “Hey Libby,” he greets, his voice not as yippee-ki-yo as it once was.
The sound of him, though, nearly makes me fall to my knees. “Hi.”
I can hear a smile in his voice when he says, “I’d love to talk, but I need to be somewhere soon. But maybe we can catch up later, y’know, over a cup of coffee?”
I raise an eyebrow. “I thought you hated coffee.”
He chuckles. “Okay, over a beer.”
I crack a small grin. “Sounds more like you.”
We’re silent until he finally clears his throat and whispers, “Bentley’s dying, Lib.”
My heart lurches. “I thought he was just sick?”
I don’t know what to say. “Um...”
He sighs over the phone. “You need to be here, Libby. He needs you right now.”
I gulp down my heart’s pleas, and ask, “He?”
Another sigh. “Liam.”
The sound of his name brings back so many unwanted memories that make me want to crumble. I try to huff out a laugh. “He doesn’t need me. He’s a big boy.”
He groans. “If not for him, then at least come for Bentley. He needs you, too.”
I open my mouth to say something, but come up with nothing at all.
“Come on,” he murmurs. “We all need you.”
I need you, too, I want to reply, but I don’t. Instead, I tell him, “I’ll call you back. Bye, Jimmy.”
I don’t wait for his goodbyes but end it myself. I don’t realize that I’m not alone until I hear the glass door swing open. I hesitantly look up from my spot on the filthy concrete, not even trying to remember how, nor when I got down here, and see Graham looking down at me with a sad smile.
“You okay?” he asks, and I almost laugh.
“What do you think?”
He walks closer to me and slides down the brick wall to where we’re sitting side-by-side. “Well you’re not crying, so something has to be at least somewhat okay.”
I shrug, and after giving up on replying, I feel him wrap his arm around my shoulders and hug me close to him. I let him because I want to be consoled and be told that everything will be okay, because that’s just what Graham does for me - he’s the one who knows that everything will be just fine.
He kisses the top of my head so lightly to where I’m not really sure if he does, but at this moment, I don’t mind. He’s here for me, and that’s all that matters right now.