Read First Comes Love Online

Authors: Katie Kacvinsky

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

First Comes Love (8 page)

BOOK: First Comes Love
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Where are the pictures?” I demand. He looks down at his empty hands.

“You were serious about that?” he asks. I press a stubborn hand against my hip to assure him I was.

I push his shoulder to steer him back toward the house. I follow him downstairs and he turns the hallway corner and flips on his bedroom light. He tells me after Amanda died, he packed away every photo he had of her and shoved them in his closet, where they’ve yet to be touched. He opens his closet and searches deep in the back for his box of memorabilia.

I look around his room. It smells clean, as if it’s recently been vacuumed. His bed’s in the corner and a dark blue comforter is kicked to the side. The pillows are tossed in disarray, and the sheets are untucked and balled up like he’s a restless sleeper, or maybe he doesn’t sleep at all. A few clothes litter the carpet. There are two guitars in one corner with stacks of CDs piled around them. A few sports jerseys and concert posters are tacked on the walls.

His bookshelf catches my eye because it isn’t crammed with books—it’s cluttered with rows of trophies, plaques, and medals. Gray walks over to me with a tinge of embarrassment.

“It’s like my own personal shrine,” he admits. We look at the shiny gold figurines perched on top of miniature wood and marble columns. Tiny heroes. Golden moments. There has to be a hundred of them. I read some of the awards, a few for MVP, some for batting, but most of them are for pitching.

“I didn’t realize it meant so much to you,” I say.

“Maybe it’s time to pack them up,” he says, his voice hard. “I need to move on from high school.”

I know there’s more to it than that. They’re memories of his best times, his glory years. They’re also a reminder of the dreams he’s giving up.

“They don’t make trophies for the right reasons,” I say. I tell him they should award people for owning the greatest sock collection, or giving the best hugs, or being the nicest guy. Gray frowns and informs me no guy would ever want to win an award for being nice.

He sets a brown shoe box down on the bed and I pull off the lid. I wince at the picture sitting on top. It’s a black-and-white headshot of Amanda, with a piece of yarn threaded through a hole punched at the top. He tells me his cousins wore her picture around their neck at her funeral. Amanda looks a lot like Gray, same dark hair, but hers was straight and long. Same wide, entrancing smile.

It’s hard for me to look at her eyes. There’s so much life inside them. I pick up a second picture of Amanda with a piece of yarn threaded through it and hand it to Gray.

“These are perfect,” I say, and pull the yarn over my head. He stares down at the picture and his eyes fog over for a second. I place a photo around his neck before he can argue, and he sighs like he can’t believe he’s going through with this. He grabs an envelope of pictures from the box and I take his free hand.

***

We begin the journey at Tommy’s Café
and order their famous biscuits and gravy. We each offer Amanda a bite. Neither of us is a huge coffee drinker, but Amanda was, so in her honor we both slam two cups of liquid crack. Gray’s so jittery, he can’t stop his feet from tapping, and I attempt to play the drum solo of “Wipeout” on the table with my silverware until the waitstaff’s annoyed stares give us the hint that we’re completely obnoxious.

I sit in the booth next to Gray and he walks me through every photo. He shows me pictures from Christmas, when they used to have huge family get-togethers and everyone had to write and perform an original play. He shows me the picture of the winning year—when he, Amanda, and their two cousins wrote the dark comedy “Pulp Christmas,” about a drug-induced family holiday. We look at photos of a garage band he started with his sister—he was on guitar, she was lead vocals and tambourine, and his neighbors were bongo and bass. They called themselves Lucky Dogs and played mostly Adam Sandler covers, Bohemian-style.

Gray tells me one of his favorite stories. During their sophomore year of high school, Amanda went a day without using her arms. When Gray asked her why she was doing it, she said because it “puts life in perspective.” He told her she was being ridiculous. Why would you want to experience having a severe birth defect? She argued you could lose your arms any day. It makes you appreciate what you have.

So, his mom helped her get dressed and brush her teeth. He fed her breakfast, drove her to school, and hauled her bags to her locker. Her friends fed her lunch and carried her books to class. She got out of doing all her homework. Not fair.

She went to track practice after school and ran with the team, but she kept her arms tucked close to her sides. That’s the picture he’s holding as he’s telling me this story—a photo of Amanda running around the track with her arms held tight against her hips. People stared at her, he said, but she was too busy sprinting past them to notice.

“I don’t even want to know how she went to the bathroom,” Gray added. “I never asked.”

She wrote an essay about her experience and published it in their school paper. It won an award for the most creative essay that year. People still talk about it. I tell him I’d love to read it.

We leave Tommy’s and drive out to Scottsdale to visit an art gallery where Amanda worked part-time. We walk in and he points out a piece she made that still hangs in the store, in memory of her. It’s a mosaic. Amanda always found beauty in the most random things, he explains.

“You two have that in common.” He tells me she collected rocks, glass, or anything chipped and tattered that most people overlook. Where most people saw trash, Amanda saw potential and she could somehow string broken pieces together to create something beautiful. He says she sold one of her pieces, when she was fifteen, for four hundred dollars.

“Amanda wanted to go into art therapy,” he explains. “She wanted to work with people with disabilities and open her own art studio. She would have been great at it.”

I smile sadly at the idea of her. It’s hard to accept that you’ve missed out on a
person,
that all you’ll ever know of them are pieced-together stories. It’s not like missing out on a party or a concert—those are temporary experiences, and you’ll have other opportunities. But this is permanent. It’s like being robbed of something valuable you never had the privilege to own.

“I wish I could have known her” is all I can say.

“You would have loved her,” he says. “It’s scary how well you two would have gotten along.”

We walk across the street to Nella’s Irish Bar and Restaurant and I follow Gray to the back, where there’s a Ms. Pac-Man video game, one of his and Amanda’s favorite and most addictive pastimes. He lays a stack of quarters on the table next to the game and crosses his arms over his chest.

“Another quintessential test of any friendship,” he says, and nods at the screen. “Do you appreciate old school video games?” Instead of answering him, I grab a handful of quarters. It just so happens that I not only appreciate Ms. Pac-Man, but share his obsession. By the time we leave, I have a blister forming on the back of my thumb from playing so long. Gray has to pull me away from the machine when I almost dislocate my shoulder from taking a hard right to escape a ghost. When I make it to level two, he’s impressed. When I make it to level four, he just gawks.

“Okay, I’m seriously turned on,” he says with a smile, and I can feel myself blush.

We head down the street and walk into the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, where Amanda stopped every day for a Vanilla Ice Blended. We each order one and drive out to today’s most sacred destination spot: the Tracks. Gray makes me swear on Pickle’s life that I’ll keep its location a secret.

We pass a warehouse district, and when the road dead ends there’s a rough gravel path, camouflaged inside a sandy field. You wouldn’t know it’s there unless you were looking for it. The gravel road loops around the back of an old concrete factory. We drive down the path, Pickle bouncing angrily underneath us, until we reach the bottom legs of a shallow bridge, built to allow railroad tracks to pass under the city streets. Gray says this is where he spent most of his weekends in high school. I don’t need him to explain why he’d want to hang out under a bridge next to railroad tracks. I get it. It’s an escape. Too much one-on-one time with reality is the fast track to despair. I open up the car door before he has a chance to say “We’re here.”

We crawl up the steep concrete slope to a shaded ledge carved out where the support beams meet the road above. We sit down, perched high off the ground, and look out at the dusty railroad tracks below. Cars speed by overhead to remind us that life keeps moving. But under this dark shelter it’s easy to hold the world over your head so no one can watch you, no one can judge you. No one can say you’re doing it wrong.

Gray tells me Amanda discovered this spot. It’s invisible from the street above, blocked by the warehouse buildings. This makes it completely private, open to only a few worthy patrons. This is where he came on the weekends with friends. For a brief period of time on a Friday or Saturday night, they called the shots, and no one could bring them down. Life was theirs to control, not structured and mandated by parents and teachers, coaches and schedules.

He says after Amanda died, he skipped class sometimes to come out here by himself and smoke.

“I didn’t even like smoking,” he says. “But I needed something to force me to breathe. Sometimes it took effort just to breathe.”

“No one else comes out here?” I ask.

“After she died it became a memorial. I still find letters left for Amanda, from the few people that know this place exists. People leave photographs and flowers. Once in a while they leave letters for me.”

We’re quiet for a few minutes. The only sounds are cars speeding by overhead. But they feel distant, like memories, like we’re worlds away from everyone.

“Amanda was cremated,” Gray says, his tone almost emotionless. We look out at the dusty tracks below us. The sun is blinding bright.

“This is her tombstone to me,” he says.

***

We grab a late lunch at a café
his sister loved called Gecko Grub in Tempe. We sit at the outdoor patio, where Amanda used to spend hours people watching. We order burgers and curly fries and milk shakes.

“Amanda had excellent taste,” I say as I pop a fry into my mouth. I haven’t spoken very much today. I only ask questions. I listen. Learning about Amanda is like getting to know another side of Gray—his adventurous, ridiculous side. His happiest side. People become pieces inside of you. They can fill you up and make you whole. I think Amanda is his favorite piece, the one he is most proud of. Now I can understand why he caved in.

“How do you feel about all this?” I ask.

Gray picks at his fries. “I wouldn’t call today fun,” he admits. “But it wasn’t awful either. I didn’t know what to expect.”

I nod slowly and wait for him to continue. He looks up at me and realizes there’s more to my question. He sits back in his chair and looks out at the street. Today was all about the past. It was about bringing Amanda back to life. But it’s time to come back to reality.

Gray speaks slowly, like he’s trying to hold himself together.

“I’m just trying to figure out how to live without her,” he says. “That’s the hardest part. I know you’ll never meet her. I know she won’t get married or go to school or have a family—all the things she deserved to experience. I just can’t accept that she’s only a memory now. She deserves so much more than that.”

We’re both quiet for a few seconds. I feel my forehead crease, and start fidgeting with my napkin. Gray’s watching me.

“What is it?” he asks.

“I don’t know what to say,” I admit. “I hate that. I wish I had all the answers for you. I wish I could explain why this happened.”

He shakes his head. “Don’t. Don’t say anything. I’d rather you say nothing than say something stupid, like ‘Oh, now she’s in heaven, where she belongs because she was too perfect to live on earth.’ I hate it when people say that.”

He exhales sharply and I can see the anger filling his eyes.

“I mean, there’s no one like her. No one. She touched every person’s life that was lucky enough to know her. Everyone loved her. Of all the stupid, selfish, people that get to live, every day, she had to die. Why? Because she’s an angel and she belongs in heaven?”

I shake my head.

“Well, fuck heaven,” he says. His eyes start to water but he’s too angry to care. “We need people like Amanda here, on earth. Because there aren’t enough good people left. Heaven can wait.”

Gray sucks in a deep breath to try to calm down. He’s waited too long to talk about Amanda. To open up his memories. He wasn’t doing Amanda any honor by letting himself shrivel up and drown in anger and denial and depression. Now I know why his face looked so blank when we first met, why his eyes were so vacant all the time. He wasn’t even living. He was just hiding away to avoid the pain.

But pain’s like water. It finds a way to push through any seal. There’s no way to stop it. Sometimes you have to let yourself sink inside of it before you can learn how to swim to the surface.

***

Our last stop is one of Amanda’s favorite music stores,
Happy Trail Records. It has a mix of new and used music, but it’s best known for its selection of vintage concert T-shirts and posters in the back of the store.

While Gray’s looking through CDs, I tell him we should do something for his mom.

“Like what?” he asks.

“Let’s surprise her,” I say. “Want to make her dinner?”

His mouth twitches like he’s trying to fight a smile. “Do you cook?” he asks.

“I prepare an amazing frozen pizza,” I offer.

“Wow,” he says. “I heard preheating an oven is an acquired skill.”

I nod. “What’s your specialty?”

He leans against the CD rack and admits his own culinary expertise involves microwaving leftovers. “And I make exceptional turkey sandwiches,” he adds. “The bread to turkey to mayo ratio is tricky, but I’ve mastered it.”

“Okay, scratch dinner plans,” I say. “We can get her a card. What about chocolate? Does she like chocolate?”

BOOK: First Comes Love
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
The Bone House by Stephen R. Lawhead
Bereft by Chris Womersley
Avalanche Dance by Ellen Schwartz
The Ferryman by Christopher Golden
Finding Home by Ninette Swann