Read First Comes Love Online

Authors: Katie Kacvinsky

Tags: #Romance, #Young Adult, #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary

First Comes Love (2 page)

BOOK: First Comes Love
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4. Music is his thing. It’s always on. He zones out to it. And he always wears a hat. It’s like he hides behind it, as if he’s trying to escape or shut out the world.

 

I unzip my backpack and pull out my inspiration log (a hand-size journal I carry everywhere). I flip through the pages until I find my list of
oughta
s—weekly goals I assign to myself. In the year I’ve been making them, I’ve seen every single one through. This week’s goal is Make a Friend. I squint out at the bright concrete and watch two girls walk through the courtyard, their high-heeled shoes clicking noisily on the sandy pavement. They glance in my direction and take in my jeans and my tennis shoes and I can almost hear the fashion police sirens wailing in the distance.

Make a Friend. This challenge is no easy feat, but I’ve been holding my own secret audition—listening to people’s conversations and studying their mannerisms and waiting for someone intriguing to come along.

I look back at the English building and smile, because now I’m convinced.

This guy is perfect.

On the surface he might be callused, but looking through a creative lens, I see layers and textures. He reminds me of a folding chair, closed up and waiting to be shoved in a storage closet. I’m determined to see him unfold.

First Try
Gray

Poetry is almost as bad as math
—a second language that only a select few can appreciate. I signed up for Creative Writing to get an English prerequisite out of the way. I also heard this professor was a stoned hippie and would pass a second-grader as long as he turned something in. I figured I’d just keep a journal and write a few autobiographical essays to coast through the elective. Now I’m forced to write poetry and think like a girl for four weeks, all poignant and deep and… pretty.

I sit down at the back of the room, fashionably four minutes late to class. Every class period we meet in small writing groups—groups of four and we’re forced to awkwardly share our writing for measly participation points. We take turns reading our half-assed attempts out loud. I’m willing to bet most of us wrote in between classes or scribbled something lame over breakfast. One kid in my group actually wrote a love poem to sausage McMuffins. Mrs. Stiller, our overly sensitive instructor, encourages us to be honest in our writing, to expose our inner secrets. Writing is a window into our souls, she preaches. I take the other route and keep it safe. I wrote about winning our state baseball game in high school. I wrote a poem about kayaking. It was crammed full of clichés and borrowed expressions. I tried to rhyme. It was humiliating.

After a half hour of brainstorming similes with a partner (mine texted her boyfriend the entire time, so I had to do all the work) and being assigned yet another poem (I’m beginning to think Creative Writing is a karmic punishment for something awful I did in a past life), class finally wraps up.

I shut my notebook with relief until I remember who’s waiting for me outside. That annoying girl who up close, I have to admit, was cuter than I expected, but her weirdness overshadows her looks. I walk down the hall and consider taking the north exit doors, where coyote-girl can’t see me and I can duck out to the parking lot and resume my safe afternoon plans of playing Madden Football. Then a thought eases my mind. Maybe she sat in the shade long enough for her brain to cool down so she can think rationally and realize it’s rude—and probably dangerous—to bum rides off complete strangers.

She can’t seriously think I want to be her friend. I give off all the warm welcomes of a Keep Out sign.

But when I walk outside, there she is, sitting in the grass and grinning up at me like I should be excited to see her. I acknowledge her with a single nod and head straight for the parking lot. She slings a red backpack over her shoulder and half skips, half springs across the courtyard to catch up to me.

She slows down and walks close to my side, too close, as if we’re friends. I inch away onto the grass and tug the rim of my cap lower on my forehead.

“So, what’s your story?” she asks as we walk to my car.

“I don’t have a story,” I grumble.

“Everyone has a story. At the end of the day, you do something,” she says.

I open the passenger door of my hatchback to let the confined air escape. I walk to the other side and open the driver door, careful to avoid touching the metal handle since it would scorch my fingers. We stand there for a minute, facing each other across the car, waiting for the air inside to cool down to a degree below Hell. Being a slight coward, I turn the question back to her and ask what her story is.

“It always changes,” she says. “These days, I’m a novice photographer.” She catches a piece of loose hair and tucks it behind her ear.

I widen my eyes with mock surprise. “Oh, you’re only a novice? You mean, you weren’t professionally hired to capture the stunning cement courtyard?” I slump down in the car and she sits next to me. We’re both quiet for a few seconds while we suffer in the heat.

“Sarcastic. Good to know,” she says thoughtfully, as if she’s tallying observations about me.

I grab my water bottle and take a swig from it. When I’m finished she reaches over, without asking, takes it out of my hand, and helps herself to a drink. So I’m your tour guide, chauffeur, and beverage provider? I shake my head and start the car, blasting the air conditioning. It feels like a furnace blowing heat in our faces, but at least it gets the air moving. She makes herself at home, stretching her skinny legs out and resting a dirty sneaker on top of my dashboard. I raise an eyebrow at her sneaker and ask her if she’s comfortable or if she’d like a pillow or maybe a strawberry margarita.

She thanks me but tells me no, she’s just fine, and I tighten my lips together to fight a smile because I won’t give her the satisfaction of thinking she’s amusing me. We pull out of the parking lot and I drive toward Tempe, a town close to Mesa and Scottsdale—suburbs that make up the sprawling metropolis of Phoenix.

She rambles on, telling me she doesn’t have a story yet. That’s why she drove out here for the summer, to find one. She tells me life is a story. We can make it a Harlequin romance, a mystery, a memoir. We can make it pamphlet-size or an ongoing series.

“I want mine to be exceptional,” she says. I tell her good luck with that.

“How long have you been playing guitar?” she suddenly asks, and again I question this girl’s sanity. Am I escorting my stalker on a tour of the city?

“How’d you know that?”

She shrugs at my inquiry, as if it’s obvious. “Your hands,” she says. “The fingertips on your left hand are callused.”

I stare down at my hands, impressed with her observation. There are rough calluses on the tips of each finger from hours of practice—one of them is starting to peel away. If she weren’t sitting next to me, I’d chew it off.

She studies my hands. “It looks like you’ve been playing a lot,” she notes. I don’t argue because she’s right. I’ve been playing more than I care to admit—four to six hours a day. It’s a little sad that my closest relationship in life is with a guitar. It’s an escape, a way to avoid my parents.

I look back at her and imagine her analyzing thoughts (a superpower all women appear to be born with).
He has no ambition. Or maybe he has no friends.
Earlier today I’d thought her eyes were brown, but now I notice they’re layered—dark brown on the outside, golden brown inside, and an unmistakable ring of bluish-green near the center. Her brown hair has tints of red in it, when the sun catches it right. She has dots of freckles on her nose and a dimple in her left cheek. Her front bottom teeth are a little crooked. She doesn’t wear any makeup that I can see, except for Chap Stick that she’s now applying over her dry pink lips. She always looked ordinary from a distance, even odd. But as I gaze at her now, there’s something about her that’s striking.

“What’s your name?” I ask her, because for the first time I want to know. She grins at me and her one dimple stands out.

“Dylan,” she says.

“Dylan,” I test the word on my tongue. “I’m Gray.”

I half expect her to already know this about me, but her eyebrows crease in puzzlement.

“What’s your first name?”

I roll my eyes. “That is my first name. Who introduces themselves by their last name?”

She argues that plenty of people do, like James Bond, and doctors, and she’s pretty sure in some remote villages in northern England they still do, places where they wear smoking jackets with elbow pads and wool bowler hats.

What the hell is she talking about? I just frown and point out that none of those examples relates to the current situation.

Dylan insists on knowing the history behind my name. I sigh and recount the story for the hundredth time. My mom named me Gray, I tell her, because she’s from the northern coast of Oregon, where it rains every single day. The sky is a continual gray. The ocean, the ground—even the air is saturated in thick gray fog. She named me Gray because it reminds her of home. I thought I’d grow into the name, but I hate having to assure people that my mom made this decision in a marijuana-free state of mind. Dylan tells me she loves it. It’s unique. Girls have always liked my name. I guess that’s a bonus.

“Gray,” she says. “Blue-eyed Gray.”

“So, where do you want to go?” I ask to get the subject off me.

“Anywhere,” she offers. “I want to see everything.”

I thank her for narrowing down the options and decide to take her where every girl in the city flocks—Mill Avenue. I promise Dylan its blocks provide endless boutiques stocked with jeans that cost more than some people’s rent, restaurants with linen napkins and second-story verandas so people can look down on the world while they enjoy a thirty-dollar bowl of lettuce, and coffee shops that sell certified organic, free trade, gourmet, locally roasted, freshly brewed, gold-infused coffee (I’m not sure about the gold-infused part, but I wouldn’t be surprised). One cup. Five bucks. Savor the taste of a liquid rip-off.

I pull up to the curb and park alongside a sushi restaurant with outdoor seating. We look out the window at groups of couples meeting for a late lunch, enjoying mists of water spraying continuously overhead to relieve the cooking stale air around them and to create a cooler Mediterranean climate for their dining experience. The women wear huge bug-eye sunglasses and the men fondle their BlackBerries.

Dylan turns to me and waits. I nod toward the street and tell her to have fun. “I’ll meet you back here in an hour,” I say. I figure she can blow money galore while I hide in the shade. Her face falls, and the disappointment in her eyes makes me give in and agree to walk a few blocks.

We head down the sidewalk and her camera bounces against her chest, hanging around her neck from a black cord. I want to point out she looks like a tourist, but from my brief observations of this girl one thing is evident: she couldn’t care less what people think of her. Few people are born with a judgment-proof shield that repels critical looks. Dylan’s shield is pretty thick.

We peruse store windows trying to lure us with sale signs and racks of clothes. I expect Dylan to dive inside, but she’s more interested in people watching. Lines of grubby vagabonds and weary travelers line the street, begging for food and money. Some play beat-up instruments, some have skinny dogs lying around their feet. It always amazes me that homeless people have dogs. If they can barely feed themselves, what kind of scraps are their pets eating? On second thought, I don’t want to know.

While we walk she asks me questions. Not your standard interview questions, like
What are you studying?
or
Where do you work?
or
Where did you grow up?
I don’t know where she pulls these from.
Do you think the army should start training for intergalactic warfare? Who invented liquid butter and why? Does anyone actually find wool clothing comfortable?
We’re arguing about the pros and cons of leaf blowers when I check my phone and realize we’ve been walking for almost an hour.

On the street, shiny convertibles parade by and determined shoppers weave around us, reeking of perfume and cologne, their hands pressed protectively around purses and bags.

We pass a homeless man holding up a sign that asks
CAN I HAVE A JOINT?
I lean toward Dylan and whisper, “At least he’s honest.”

Dylan stops and asks to take his picture. He nods and she takes a few shots while I watch from the side. She asks the man where he’s from and, to my surprise, he sounds competent. His blue eyes are bright and his silver hair is tied back in a ponytail that runs halfway down his back. He tells us he hitchhiked from Colorado, where he was working on an organic farm. He tells us he has a college degree but he hates the Man, because the Man invented the System, which invented Capitalism, which invented Consumerism, which is destroying Mother Earth. He’s never paid taxes but he’s never stolen a thing in his life. He lives one day at a time, he says. He lives better than most people. He smiles a goofy grin at us, gaping with missing teeth.

Dylan hands me her camera and asks me to wait a minute while she sprints inside a swimsuit store. I stand outside next to the bum and stare at the ground. Now she gets the sudden impulse to shop? Two minutes later, Dylan runs back holding a pair of blue flip-flops. She hands them to the shoeless man and asks him what his name is. He looks surprised, and then he grins and tells her it’s Sam.

“Here, Sam,” she says. “I think these will fit.” He grabs the sandals and sticks his brown toes between the thongs. He nods and thanks her. He calls her an angel. I raise an eyebrow at the compliment. I still vote for “crazy” as a fitting description.

We continue down the street and Dylan stops only to catch photographs of people when they’re too distracted to notice. She snaps a picture of a mother and three daughters who are window shopping, all wearing matching pink capri pants with bright white tennis shoes. “Team Capri,” she whispers to me.

I almost smile, and just when I discover I’m enjoying myself, I catch sight of someone down the block. Standing under the shade of an awning is my old high school best friend, Brandon Stack, with a tall blonde. He waves and my mouth tightens into a frown. I knew he still lives in Phoenix; he got a full ride to play baseball at Arizona State. I exhale sharply and walk toward him. Brandon extends his hand and thumps his fist against mine.

BOOK: First Comes Love
5.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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