Authors: Katie Kacvinsky
Tags: #Romance, #Young Adult, #Chick-Lit, #Contemporary
I can’t sleep tonight.
The moon is full and it makes my feet shift and shuffle restlessly under the sheets. My thoughts are chasing me.
She’s not my type. She’s bizarre and awkward and she dresses like one of the bums on Mill Ave. But, that’s the problem. She isn’t awkward at all. She’s a tomboy. And she dresses normal. She doesn’t expose every piece of flesh to the world. And she isn’t weird. She just doesn’t go out of her way to impress people, which is impressive. And admit it: she’s sexy.
I roll over onto my back and stare at the ceiling. I replay the faces of other girls in my memory. Girls I used to think were gorgeous. What did I find attractive about them? I can’t remember. They’re all artificial, too perfect, too similar, like cardboard cutouts molded into plastic shapes and sizes. They don’t have the crease between their eyes when their imaginations are hard at work the way Dylan does. They all have blue or brown eyes, not Dylan’s, with colors pooling together like swirls of paint blending in a drip of water. They don’t have her busy hands and bouncy walk.
Most of all, they don’t have Dylan’s mind. They don’t ask questions, don’t explore the beauty hiding in sidewalk cracks or in lonely desert hills. They’re too busy obsessing over themselves. They take themselves so seriously, and it contaminates the energy around them, because in their presence, I’m more self-conscious. I become sterile as I try to hide all my imperfections along with them. And that’s a waste of time.
I look for Dylan after class
the next day and find her spread out on the dry grass under the sparse shade of a tree. She has baggy jeans on again, and an army camouflage T-shirt with a white peace sign stenciled on the front. Her hair is tied back in a blue bandanna. I approach her because it feels natural.
“Want to grab lunch?” I ask quickly. It’s not a date, I want to add. “Unless you have some peace rally to go to,” I say, nodding to her shirt.
She smirks and hands me a folded piece of paper. I stare at her curiously and open it. The message is scribbled in her unique writing style—half her letters written in cursive, half of them printed, and all of them messy.
Hi, Gray. I thought I’d run into you. You look great today. Especially your hair. Oh, wait you’re wearing a baseball cap.
I look away from the letter long enough to glare at Dylan.
“Funny,” I say. She nods with a knowing smile. I focus back on the note.
So, during my photography class my teacher dared me to go a day without talking. Apparently, I’m too vocal. I accepted the challenge. I can’t say a word all day. Want to grab lunch?
I fold the paper and hand it back to her. She can’t be serious.
“Are you serious?”
She doesn’t look up. She focuses on drawing a picture of a Kokopelli on her sketchpad.
“Can’t you go a day without doing something insane?”
Dylan opens a notebook lying next to her on the grass and flips to a blank page. She writes for a few seconds and hands it over to me, meeting my eyes for the first time. Her fingers brush mine as I take it, and the touch makes my stomach clench. I yank my arm away because the reaction caught me by surprise. I look down at the notebook.
I try to do one random thing every day.
I read her comment with a frown.
“Just one random thing?” I ask. I sit down next to her in the grass because I have to admit, I’m intrigued. “What did you do yesterday?”
While she writes, I think back to our hiking trip. Every second of it was random. How can she narrow it down to one thing? She hands the notebook back to me.
I bought two magazines I’ve never read before.
I don’t have to ask why. I watch her write a single word.
I stare at Dylan and feel a tug on my heart, like she’s holding a string attached to it and is giving it a yank. She reminds me of someone I used to love. Someone so incredibly original, I was positive no one else like her existed in the world.
Gray takes me to his favorite place for Mexican food, Taco Boys.
He says he wants to introduce me to the local ethnic cuisine in Phoenix; he just hadn’t anticipated my being mute as part of the experience.
When we get inside, I write down my order for a middle-aged woman standing behind the register. She studies me with a patient smile and assumes I’m deaf. She reads my order and gives me a sympathetic nod. And a free soda.
We sit in a booth, and while we wait for our food, Gray finds it only appropriate to teach me all the swear words he knows in sign language (which sums up ninety percent of his understanding of the language, he claims). He also knows the signs for
both of which he learned in Sunday school (one from his teacher and one from his classmate), and he demonstrates each to me. By the time the food comes, between our collective knowledge we’re able to sign the expressions, “I call bullshit on that one,” “Pay up, bitch,” and “Jesus loves you.” I can only hope we’ll have plenty of opportunities to use them.
When Gray starts to eat, I grab a spiral notebook out of my backpack and write for a minute before I hand it to him.
I’ve been craving advice lately, a piece of wisdom to follow. I went to a book signing the other day for this travel writer. He’s been around the world and met thousands of people. I asked him to give me advice on the meaning of life, and all he did was laugh and say, “You’ve got me!”
Gray reads my comment and raises a single eyebrow. “Leave it to you to start a deep conversation right now,” he says. “Your problem is you think too highly of people. I just want to be left alone.”
I write down a single word and flip the notebook over so he can see.
He stares straight into my eyes—a level stare, as if I’ve just opened up a topic he’d rather avoid.
“You really want to know?” I nod slowly and he pauses to give me time to reconsider. Then he sucks in a deep breath. “People annoy the crap out of me,” he says. “I think people are nervous and loud and rude and selfish and stupid pretty much all the time.”
He watches me closely to gauge my reaction as if he’s afraid I’ll whack him with my notebook. But I feel myself grinning. I take a bite of my quesadilla and roll my hand to motion for him to continue. He doesn’t hesitate this time.
“If they’re beautiful they know it, so they don’t bother having a personality or associating with people that don’t fit into their league or can’t afford their company. And, somehow these people are the most popular, which makes absolutely no sense. People try so hard to be accepted, they turn into a walking stereotype. They’re pathetically easy to predict. They’re insecure and try to mask it with whatever product corporate America is currently marketing. And they
let you down. Just give them enough time, and they will.”
He meets my eyes again as if to warn me the flood gates are open and now’s my chance to run. Somehow I have the power to make him spill his mind.
“Want to know what else I think?”
“I think everyone’s caught up in these narrow-minded worlds and they think their world exists in the center of the universe. Relationships only happen when it’s convenient. You have to walk on eggshells for people because that’s about how strong they are these days. And you can’t confront people, because if you do, that brittle shell of confidence will crack. So we all become passive cowards that carry a fake smile wherever we go because God forbid you let your guard down long enough for people to see your life isn’t perfect. That you have a few flaws. Because who wants to see
He takes a huge bite of his burrito to mark the end of this cheerful speech.
I write down a few words and slide the notebook across the table.
Interesting theory. What’s your conclusion?
He meets my eyes. “My theory is everybody sucks. So, my conclusion is I don’t need anybody.”
I roll my eyes, which only encourages him.
“It’s true,” he says. “I have music. I have books. I have cable.”
in sign language and he laughs.
“I’m fine with being alone,” he insists. “I like the company I keep. Most people need constant distractions, because if they slow down long enough to evaluate their lives, it makes them internally combust. Like if you folded them inside out, you’d find a huge monster inside. A train wreck.”
Too much independence isn’t a good thing,
I lean toward him over the table as he reads. He leans away.
“People will drive you crazy,” he says, accentuating each word.
Not having people in your life will drive you crazy, too.
“I disagree,” he says, and I start writing again. He smiles at my tenacity. I’m determined to change his mind and he’s equally determined to fight me. I slide the journal across the table.
Look around you. The earth wouldn’t exist without the sun. Plants would die without rain. We’re all meant to lean on something. Or someone.
I smile. He frowns. He glances around the restaurant and eyes a table of girls watching us, probably listening to his slightly cynical rant. He surprises me and grabs the pen out of my hand. He starts writing something down in his neat block letters.
He slides the journal back to me.
I build walls around myself. I lean on those.
I don’t need to ask him why. Everybody builds walls—it’s for protection. Gray’s are just higher and more reinforced than the average person’s.
I scribble quickly.
Maybe you should break the walls down once in a while.
I look back to see the table of girls still watching us while he responds.
I’ll just build them up again,
But maybe you’ll add a few windows the next time around. Or a door?
He slides the journal back to me and speaks out loud. “You’re strange. Has anyone ever told you that?”
That’s a compliment. I’d rather be noticed than blend in.
“It’s getting hard not to notice you,” he says, and our eyes latch for a couple seconds until he looks away. I tap my pen on the table and write a single sentence. I push it over and watch him carefully. He looks down at my question.
If someone gave you a magical eraser that could wipe out one thing in your past, what would it be?
From his hard expression, I see I hit too close to a nerve. He pulls his baseball cap low over his eyes. It’s his way of shutting me out. The topic’s officially closed. He pushes the paper back and shakes his head.
“I don’t want to go there,” he says.
He finishes his burrito and nachos while I compose a letter to the manager of Taco Boys, expressing how much I loved my chicken quesadilla. It ends up being three pages long. I draw hearts and rainbows at the end, around one distinct signature, Gray Thomas. I show it to him with a proud smile and he just shakes his head. I hand the letter to the cashier before we leave.
Gray frowns at the clock on his dashboard when we get in the car—we spent more than two hours in Taco Boys. He tells me I have the power of making time disappear and it’s going to make him late for work, again. He turns up the stereo and I lean my head back and look out the window at the dusty landscape and endless strip malls and it suddenly makes me crave water and trees and clouds and all the things this desert city lacks.
While we drive back to the Mesa CC parking lot, I write down another question.
Tell me what I should know about Phoenix.
He rattles off ideas that come to mind. He tells me the trick to surviving a summer in the desert is to dodge the sunshine. And avoid blacktop.
“Don’t touch the metal clasp of your seat belt when you get in the car,” he says. “You’ll get third-degree burns. And don’t bother looking for parking with shade. There isn’t any.”
He warns me not to run outside during the day. The air baking on the streets gets so hot, it can literally burn the inside of your throat and make it blister. Try not to walk farther than a block if you have to. Drive everywhere. Carry water. He recommends a gallon jug. It’s a dry heat, so your sweat evaporates. You don’t realize how much water you lose. You’re always dehydrated.
He tells me to keep an eye on my car tires. The heat makes the rubber expand and tires can blow pretty easily. Keep the pressure low. Remember, rattlesnakes can’t hear—that’s why it’s easy to sneak up on them. They sense by feeling vibrations. If you’re on a sandy trail, throw a handful of rocks on the path to warn them you’re coming. They’ll slither away. The fear is mutual.
I start to write while he talks.
Don’t worry about scorpions, he continues. They’re around, but unless you’re flipping over rocks on a hiking trail, you should be able to avoid them. Carry sunscreen wherever you go. And Chap Stick. Get a tattoo. Since I’m a girl, he suggests my lower back. For guys, he recommends the bicep, some kind of a tribal pattern. Dye your hair blond with even blonder highlights. Get a deep tan or spray your skin until it turns orange, because that looks
natural. Drive a convertible. Mustangs will make you instant friends. If you’re the rugged type, buy a Jeep Wrangler. It’s a lust magnet for any gender. Own sunglasses. Flashy ones, with the brand prominently displayed. If you don’t have an outdoor pool where you live, know someone who does. Eat lots of sushi. It’s satisfying without all the loaded calories. And reduce, reuse, recycle.
He pulls up next to Pickle in the parking lot.
“You’re a really good listener,” he points out.
I hand him my journal.
Just one more question. Is there anything you like about living here?
He studies my eyes and I get the impression there is something he likes. Or someone. His face breaks into a smile.
“Enough questions for one day,” he says.
I don’t see her on campus the next day,
and I try to convince myself that I’m relieved to be spared a day from witnessing her “do one random thing.” She still annoys me. A little.