The Truths and Lies of Happily Ever Afters

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Chapter Ten

Two weeks after the dance, Miranda’s random appearances at The Funk have become some sort of normal occurance. She uses most of the time she’s sitting around to study, her books spread across the formica table top as she sips at glasses of iced tea. We don’t get much of a chance to talk while I’m working but it’s just a reassurance to have her there, to remind me this is real. And she gets a kick out of scrawling little notes on the napkins for me to see when I come to refill her glass. It’s isn’t much in the way of romantic but it’s fun and manageable and, most importantly, low-key.

I take a stack of used dishes back into the kitchen and then slip over to give Eric another order sheet. He glances at it and rolls his eyes.

“I know, picky, right?” I agree, cocking a hip against the countertop next to him. “She’s not much for niceties either. Why a snippy businesswoman like her would come into a disco-themed diner in the first place is beyond me, but I’m pretty sure it’s just to make the last part of my shift as miserable as possible.”

Eric chuckles. Then he turns and looks through the opening between the dining room and kitchen. From here we can see Miranda sitting at her favorite table, a paperback novel open in front of her. Eric glances from her to me and then raises an eyebrow.

“We’ve got plans for today. We’re planning to spend a little quality time together, away from prying eyes,” I admit with a grin. At his curious look I add, “And nosy co-workers. Seriously, did Brenda put you up to this?”

Eric snorts derisively and I nod. “Right, like she’d delegate something so important,” I say.

Eric sets down the spatula and signs the letters R-A-Y before shooting me another questioning look. “She’s good, just busy with the play,” I say. “I’ve hardly seen her except when I went to watch her perform last night. And even then I only got to talk to her for a minute. She’s really throwing her all into this one. I think since it’s her last play before college she wants to go out with a bang. Which she did, the play is fantastic.”

Eric nods and then points to the calendar on the wall. In the little square for Monday he’s written “Z’s play” inside of a lop-sided star. “You’ll love it,” I say.

It looks for a moment like Eric is going to say something more but then Brenda comes into the kitchen and shoots us a reproachful glare for standing around. “It’s a good thing business has tapered off for the day,” she says.

“I wouldn’t be back here if it hadn’t,” I point out. “You know that.”

“Well you go finish collecting up all the dishes and you can go for the day,” Brenda says, not able to keep her stern expression entirely intact. “Michelle should be here any minute now.”

“Great, thanks,” I say eagerly and step around her to go back to the dining room. I catch Miranda’s eye as I walk passed and nod, and she takes the hint to start gathering up her things. I make my way around the room, making one last check of all of my customers and clearing up what I can. By the time I’m heading back to the kitchen, the table where Miranda is sitting is vacant.

I deposit all of the dishes in the kitchen and shake my head at the imploring look both Eric and Brenda are giving me. They’ll have to wait until later to be filled in on my plans for the day. I have more important things to do with my free afternoon. I grab my backpack from beneath the counter, quickly change from my work clothes into something less retro, and then walk out of the diner as casually as I can manage.

Trying not to show my anticipation, I walk around the corner and halfway up the block to where a dark blue Volvo is parked at the curb. I cast a quick look around to make sure that no one I recognize is nearby and then slide into the passenger seat, glancing to the left to grin at Miranda. “Nothing like sneaking around just to go out on a date, right?” I say with a laugh.

“You know it’s actually kind of fun,” she answers as she turns the ignition and pulls the car into drive. “It makes me feel like some super spy or something.”

A rather-too-loud laugh escapes me as another quote comes to mind. I always love a little espionage before bed... It makes me wonder what Ray would say about a secret spy date and I regret not being able to ask her. Miranda flashes me a bemused smile and I raise my eyebrows. “Nothing,” she says a bit too quickly and then adds, “I just didn’t think it was that funny a comment.”

“No, sorry, I was thinking of something else,” I say and then grimace. “Not that your comment wasn’t funny, that wasn’t what I was saying. But your spy comment made me think of something Ray said and that’s why I laughed like a crazy person instead of a normal one. And I’m going to stop talking now because I think I’m just making this worse.”

Miranda chuckles lightly and then turns off the main road, onto the route that leads down toward the beach. The road narrows the further we get from Main Street until it’s hardly more than a single lane winding down through the trees. Miranda rolls down the windows and I lean on the sill, letting the pine-scented, salty wind tangle in my hair. It’s comforting to be away from people and the smell of the city buildings for a little while.

The sedan stops at the lot by the open beach and we both get out. I grab my bag from the backseat, Miranda grabs a tote bag and a blanket that has clearly seen better days, and then she looks at me expectantly. “Okay, where are we going, Mister Mysterious,” she asks, hitching the bag more comfortably onto her shoulder.

“This way,” I respond, gesturing off to the west. She wrinkles up her nose at my vague answer but she takes my hand and follows as I start walking. We slip into the sparse forest that edges the beach and walk until we stumble across rusted, disused train tracks that are in the process of being reclaimed by climbing weeds.

“This better not be one of those things where the guy leads the girl far away from civilization and then kills her where no one will hear her scream,” Miranda chips in from behind me as the trees crowd closer to the edges of the tracks and force us to walk in single-file for a minute.

“Oh please, do you really think so little of me?” I ask, faking pain at the joke. Then I glance over my shoulder and, grinning, add, “Besides, I hate to admit it but you could probably kick my ass if I tried something stupid. My entire body only contains like two-percent muscle.”

Miranda laughs and her grip tightens on my hand as the path curves and pitches upward slightly. “It’s just a little further, I promise,” I say as we hike up the inclined tracks. Just like I said, we only have to walk a few more minutes before the trees suddenly disappear on the left hand side. There’s an open grassy area that goes all the way to the edge of the cliff, overlooking the ocean. In the middle, resting on the broken tracks, is a dilapidated train car, its yellow paint chipped off and the wood warped with time.

“Oh my God,” Miranda says in awe, letting go of my hand to wander into the clearing and look around curiously. “What is this place?”

“Part of the old railroad that used to run through here,” I explain, setting my bag down on one of the tables. “Abandoned after they rebuilt the new Puget Sound rails. After that this place basically got deserted and this poor car got left behind.”

“How do you know about it?” Miranda asks. “Are you secretly an abandoned train aficionado?”

I laugh, sitting down in the open doorway of the train car. “Nah, my mom found it while looking for places to paint. She used to bring me up here on weekends for picnics. I haven’t been up here since sometime last summer. I’m just glad they haven’t moved it out of here. That would’ve been real buzzkill.”

“This place is amazing,” she declares enthusiastically. “So is that our plan then? We’re having a picnic?”

“Our plan,” I start with an over-dramatic flourish, “is to have no plans. With all the stress of finals and graduation, I thought it would be nice to have a day where we don’t have to worry about any of that. So we’re going to just relax and enjoy each others’ company and not think about anything related to school or our incredibly daunting futures.”

Miranda grins and perches on the edge of the car beside me. “I think that’s the most fantastic idea I’ve ever heard.”

“I do have my moments,” I admit with a playful shrug. “Although I should mention, since you seemed so interested in that picnic idea, that I did pack a lunch. It’s one of the only nice things about working at a diner; free food. The downside is right now I’m pretty sure I smell like stale grease.”

“Yeah, a little bit,” she agrees. “But you know what? This place is so nice I think I’ll forgive you.”

I laugh, bumping her with my shoulder. “Thanks, that’s so charitable,” I say teasingly.

“You’re welcome,” she responds with a bright smile. She hops down off the train car and grabs the folded blanket, looking around appraisingly. “Alright, what do you say we get our relax on?” She unfolds the blanket and gestures for me to move out of the way. She spreads it out on the floor of the train car and then sits down, facing the ocean. I sit down beside her and stretch my legs out in front of me, leaning back on my hands to take in the view. Miranda sprawls out across the blanket, resting her head on my knee and looking up at me with a sort of innocence that makes her eyes seem wider.

“So does this mean I’m allowed to take a nap now?” I ask jokingly. “Because honestly that sounds like a really tempting idea right now.”

Miranda smirks at me. “Only if you’re willing to risk having a moustache drawn on you when you fall asleep,” she says conversationally. I gasp in mock indignation. “Hey, that’s the rules. First person to fall asleep gets doodled on.”

“The rules to what? I’ve never heard this rule before,” I say.

“Oh you’ve got to have heard them sometime. Haven’t you ever been to a party or something?” she responds. I give her a sarcastic look and she props herself up on an elbow, frowning at me. “You have been to a party before, haven’t you?”

“I’m not the sort of guy who scores spots on the VIP lists,” I say flippantly. Miranda looks completely horrified by the very idea. “It’s not a big thing. Parties aren’t really my style anyway. Me, personally, I prefer things like this. Quiet, peaceful. Intimate.”

Miranda sits up and her piercing blue gaze is regarding me thoughtfully, like I’m some sort of puzzle that she just can’t figure out. She cocks her head to the side, chews at her bottom lip, and then smiles. “You really are a romantic, aren’t you?”

I can’t help but laugh. “What tipped you off?” I ask teasingly. When she keeps staring at me, I shrug uncomfortably. “I guess I just like to believe in a world where beautiful things can happen. Like true love and happily ever after. Those things you hear about when you’re a kid. I know things aren’t always good, and honestly they rarely are, but I believe those good things do exist and if we just keep trying, they’ll find us. You know, like you found me.”

Tears sparkle in her eyes and I wonder what I did wrong. I open my mouth to apologize for whatever thing I said that made her cry, but then she sort of lurches forward and kisses me so hard my arms buckle under me and I wind up flat on my back. Miranda doesn’t seem bothered, or at least she never breaks contact with my lips. And then my brain sort of implodes when I realize that Oh my fucking God, she just like pounced on me and is kissing me and I’m just laying here like a dumbass!

Once my brain reboots, I kiss her back and she seems encouraged by the fact that I’m not just being stupid anymore. Her kiss is insistent and she molds herself against my body. My head is reeling. Before the dance, I’d never even been kissed before and now this? It’s a good thing she’s taking the lead because I’m too flabbergasted to do much more than just go along with it.

By the time she finally pulls back, I’m pretty sure the reason the world is spinning has more to do with oxygen deprivation than the romantic factors. Also I’m not sure how but my shirt is pushed halfway up my torso, which would be okay if I wasn’t a pale skinny kid. I flush and shove my shirt back down, nearly knocking Miranda sideways in the process.

“Sorry, did I do something wrong?” she asks anxiously.

“No, nothing,” I answer quickly, blushing darker still. “I just - I don’t have much experience with all of this. It’s a bit overwhelming, I guess.”

“Oh, okay,” Miranda says and then smiles again. “If it makes you feel better, you’re pretty good at it.” At this point, the red in my face cannot possibly become any darker without combusting my skull. Miranda laughs and nudges my arm with her shoulder. “C’mon, let’s just relax. I’ve got a good book in my bag. What do you say?”

I glance over at her bright grin, the way it makes her cheeks bunch up, and nod. “Sounds fantastic.”

As Miranda produces a battered and worn copy of To Kill a Mockingbird from her backpack, I dig out the styrofoam cases of snacks and we make ourselves comfortable. She lays down on the other side of the blanket, spread out on her stomach with the book between her elbows, and I stretch out next to her. She clears her throat and then starts to read aloud.

It’s fascinating, watching the change that comes over her face the moment she starts reading. The words seem to spark something in her and even though she isn’t particularly smiling, it’s like there’s this internal happiness glowing out of her. She looks more real and more beautiful.

Reaching over, I grab my notebook from my bag and pull out one of the cheap brillos rolling around in the bottom. She glances up at me curiously in the middle of a sentence but I shake my head and she goes back to reading again. With my tongue between my teeth I start writing down everything about her; the length of her body, the curve of her back, the way she has her crossed ankles folded up behind her body while her toes twitch in time with her reading. Her hair is falling over one shoulder, pushed out of the way so it doesn’t impede her view of the book and it’s lit from behind by the weak sunlight. My fingers fly over the page as the inspiration takes over.

I don’t realize that Miranda has stopped reading until I finish and lean back to reread, only to notice that she has sat up directly in front of me. She bends forward over the notebook, gently prying it from my hand so she can see it better. “Jake, this is... ′Her eyes, like the clearest mineral pools, glimmered with hidden happiness as they flew across the pages... Sunlight cast an ethereal glow through her golden hair, illuminating her like its entire purpose in existence was to bestow her with the halo an angel like her deserves...’” She pauses and when she glances up at me her eyes are moist. “This is - you made me sound like - like an angel.”

“I just wrote what I saw,” I say with an indifferent shrug. My eyes gloss over the hastily scribbled freeform and then up to the subject in reality. Only in reality there is a tear streaking across her cheek. Panic wells up in me because this is the second time today I have seen tears in her eyes and what the hell am I doing wrong that keeps making this happen?

“This is the way you see me?” Miranda asks, her voice thick. Unsure of what to say, I simply nod. In a flash she tosses aside the notepad and throws her arms around my neck, kissing me again. This time I’m a little quicker to respond and I pull her into my lap, burying a hand in her hair as she eagerly deepens the kiss. I still have no idea what exactly I’m doing but it feels good and she doesn’t seem to have any complaints either.

I still have no clue what this weird connection is between crying and making out, but whatever it is I can’t object. This is undoubtedly the best Saturday of my life.

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