Forever & Always: The Ever Trilogy (Book 1) (4 page)

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Wind blew in the trees around us, and the sun filtered lower and lower, and somewhere voices echoed, laughing and yelling. The scent of pine trees was thick in the air, a smell so pungent it was almost visible. It was the scent of a northern Michigan summer, to me.
 

I didn’t know how long we sat there drawing each other, and I didn’t care. I had a sense of complete peace, soul-deep contentment. Our knees were touching, just our kneecaps brushing, and that was enough to make me feel euphoria. Then Ever shifted, and my right knee touched her left shin, pressing close and making my heart skip more beats than could possibly be healthy.

Finally, I knew the drawing was done. I examined it critically, adjusted a few lines and angles, and then nodded. I was pleased. I’d captured her face with as much realism as I possessed, her hair hanging in loose waves around one shoulder, head tilted, eyes downcast. The farther down her torso the drawing went, the more blurred and abstracted it got, so that her feet and knees were charcoal smudges on the paper.
 

I stood up, leaving the pad on the pine-needle-carpeted ground, and paced, working the blood back into my legs and numb backside. When I returned to my seat in front of Ever, she was holding my sketchbook and staring at it, an oddly emotional expression on her face.
 

“Is this how you see me?” she asked, not looking up at me.

“I—sort of? I mean, it’s just a drawing. I was trying to mimic the way you did that landscape, you know?” I reached for my book, but she held on. “Are you…I mean, you’re not mad or anything, are you?”

She shook her head and laughed. “No! Not at all. I was just expecting it to be a profile or something, you know? And this is totally not that. I don’t know, Caden. You make me look—I don’t know…prettier than I am.”

“Not—um…I kind of think it doesn’t do you justice. It’s not good enough. You’re…you’re prettier than that.”

“You think I’m pretty?”
 

I was beet red, I could feel it. Once again I wished I could say something debonair like James Bond would say in the old Sean Connery movies Dad watched every weekend. “Yeah.”
 

Nice. Might as well have grunted like a Neanderthal.

Ever blushed and ducked her head, smoothing her hair over her shoulder with one hand. “Thanks.” She glanced up at me, and our eyes met, locked. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. Her eyes were mesmerizing, green and almost luminous. “I almost don’t want to show you my stupid drawing.”

I reached for the drawing, but Ever didn’t let go of it. Our fingers touched, and I swore actual physical sparks shot up from where our skin touched. Neither of us pulled away.
 

After a forever that could have fit into the space of a single breath, she let me take the sheet of paper, and touch became loss.

It was an amazing portrait of me, ultra-realistic. I was sitting cross-legged with my pad of paper, pencil held in my fingers, head down. You could just barely see the upper portion of my face, the frown of concentration.

“It’s incredible, Ever,” I said. “Really amazing.” I was torn between admiration and jealousy. She was
really
good.

“Thanks.”

She held my drawing, and I held hers. A cicada sang somewhere, the loud buzzing sound of summer.
 

“I have an evening composition class,” I said. “I should probably go.”
 

“Yeah. I should, too.” She stood up, brushing off her backside, an action I tried not to watch, then handed me back my sketchpad. “I had a good time today. Maybe we could do this again. Another day.”

I tore my drawing of her free and gave it to her. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

“Cool.”

“Cool.”
 

She gave an odd, half-circle wave, then looked at her hand as if to question why it had done such an awkward thing. Then, before I could say anything, she gathered her things and left.
 

I watched her go, wondering what this thing was between us. Friendship? Something else? We’d only hung out twice, but it had felt like more than that. Like we knew each other somehow.

I went to class and then back to my cabin, where I stashed her drawing of me.
 

~ ~ ~ ~

I didn’t see Ever again until nearly the end of camp, even though I went out of my way to find her. Every time I went by her cabin she was gone, and I never saw her in any classes or workshops, or at dinner. I got a glimpse of her once, swimming with her cabin-mates, laughing and wet and beautiful, but I was with some guys from my own cabin, on the way to shoot hoops in the gym.

It was three days until the end of the camp. Late at night. I was supposed to be in bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I had an unsettled feeling in my stomach, a restlessness that had no source or definition, just an anxiousness that I couldn’t seem to dispel. I sneaked out of the cabin and went down to one of the docks.

It was a clear night, moonless and dark, lit only by a sky full of stars. The air held a touch of coolness, whispering over my skin. I hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt, wearing a pair of gym shorts and sports sandals as I stepped lightly on the creaking wood of the long dock.

I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I didn’t see or hear her until I was nearly on top of her.
 

Ever sat on the edge of the dock, feet dangling. I opened my mouth to speak, but then I saw that her shoulders were shaking. She was crying.

I didn’t know what to do, what to say. She’d come down here to be alone—I mean, that much was obvious, right? And asking her if she was okay seemed stupid. I hesitated, turned to leave. I didn’t know how to even begin comforting her, but I wanted to try. So I sat down next to her, dangling my feet over the black, rippling water.
 

She wasn’t sobbing, just quietly crying. I put my hand on her shoulder and squeezed, a gentle touch that let her know I was there. A short hesitation, and then she turned into me and my arm went around her and held her. I felt wetness touch my shoulder, her tears on my skin. I held her, let her cry, and wondered if I was doing it right. If there was something I was supposed to be saying that would make it okay.
 

“I miss her, Caden.” Her voice was tiny, barely audible. “I miss my mom. I—I miss home. I’m homesick. But most of all, I wish I could go home and see Mom again. Dad doesn’t talk about her. Eden doesn’t talk about her. I don’t talk about her. It’s like she died, and now we pretend like she never was.”

“You can talk to me.” I hoped that didn’t sound too cliché.

“I don’t know what to say. She’s been dead a year and a half, and all I can really say is…I miss her. I miss how she made our family a family.” She sniffled and straightened away from my shoulder, although our bodies were still flush against each other, hip to hip. I left my arm around her shoulders, and she didn’t seem to mind. “Now it’s just each of us by ourselves. Eden and I…we’re twins, did I tell you that? We don’t even really talk about her, or about missing her, or anything. And we’re twins, we almost share a brain sometimes. Like, legit, we can read each other’s thoughts sometimes.”

“Nothing like that has ever happened in my family. I don’t know how we’d handle it if it did. I know my dad probably wouldn’t talk about it. My mom might. I’m like Dad, I think, and I’d have a hard time talking about things. I already do. I’m sure you can tell. I never know what to say.” We were quiet for a while. But Ever needed someone to talk to. And I thought about last week, the two of us sitting by the lake, drawing—both of us knew how to speak with our hands and pencils. An idea came to me, and I said it without thinking. “What if we were pen pals?”

God, that sounded stupid.
 

“Pen pals?” At least, she didn’t laugh at me outright.

“I know that sounds dumb, or whatever. But it can be hard to talk on the phone. And we don’t really live close to each other, and…I just thought maybe if we wrote letters, we could talk about whatever we wanted, but on our own time.” She hadn’t said anything, and I was starting to feel intensely self-conscious. “I guess it’s dumb.”

“No, I…I like the idea. I think it’s awesome.” She turned and looked up at me. The starlight shone dim silver in her green eyes, and I felt like I could fall into them if I stared long enough. “Like, we’d write actual paper letters? Every month?”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Or it could be more frequently, if we wanted to. Whenever, you know? Whenever we needed to say something.” I ran my thumbnail in the grooved grain of the faded wood.

“I really…I think that would be awesome.” She rested her head against my bicep.

We sat like that in the silence of a northern Michigan summer midnight, close and touching, but not embracing, not talking, lost in our own thoughts.

I heard voices behind us, turned to see two flashlight beams bobbing toward us. “We’ve been found,” I said.

Just before our respective cabin staffers found us, Ever clutched my hand in hers. “Promise me you’ll write?”

“I promise.” I squeezed her with my arm, an awkward hug. “Good night, Ever.”

“’Night, Caden.” She hesitated a beat, and then turned into me, making it a full-fledged hug, bodies pressed against each other.

Totally worth the trouble I got in.
 

~ ~ ~ ~

Pickup that Saturday was chaotic, a thousand cars, parents and campers reuniting. I found Dad leaning against the door of his truck, arms crossed. I spotted him from a distance, held up a finger to signal “one minute,” then wove through the crowd, duffel bag on my shoulder, looking for black hair and green eyes and a body that had featured in more of my dreams than I cared to admit.
 

Ever was standing in the open door of a boxy silver Mercedes SUV, looking around almost frantically. She saw me and flew toward me, slamming into me and hugging me. I was so surprised that I didn’t react for a moment, and then I dropped my bag and my arms went around her shoulders and I was hugging her back, holding her, smelling the shampoo in her hair and the faint, indefinable scent that made a girl smell like a girl.
 

When we pulled apart, I handed her a folded slip of paper on which I’d printed my name and address as neatly as I could. The paper she handed me had a heart on it, my name written in a curving, looping script within the heart. Did that mean something? Was the fact that she put my name inside the heart significant? Or was that just something girls did? I wished I knew, and I tried not to read too much into it.
 

“You’d better write me,” she said.

“I will. I promise.” I held onto the folded square of paper, not wanting to put it in my pocket in front of her. That would just feel rude somehow.
 

“Good. And I promise I’ll write you back.”
 

“You’d better.” I heard her father say something to her sister Eden, and I shuffled back a few steps. “Good luck. You know, with…everything we talked about.”

“You, too.” She gave me a half-wave, a stiff semicircle of her arm. Her eyes were on me and her lips were smiling, and it was all I could do to tear myself away, grab my duffel bag, and trot back toward Dad and the truck. My head was spinning, and my heart was doing strange sideways cartwheels.
 

Dad was waiting for me in the driver’s seat, the engine idling, staring off out his window. His expression was pensive, brooding, and dark. I made sure to wipe the goofy grin off my face as I tossed my bag into the bed of the truck and ran the aged black rubber bungee cord through the handle, slipping the hook securely under the lip of the bed rim. I had Ever’s note in my palm, and I slid my hand against my thigh to hide it.

“Got a number, huh, bud?” Dad’s voice was amused.

I glanced at him, stifling the urge to roll my eyes. “Sort of.”

“How do you ‘sort of’ get a number?”
 

“It’s not her phone number—it’s her address.”

“Her
address
?” Dad sounded incredulous. “You must have some serious game, Cade. Where does she live?”

Serious game? My dad was trying to be hip again, apparently. I lifted one shoulder in a shrug, not wanting to tell him about the pen pals idea, but knowing he’d pester me until I did. “I dunno where she lives. I haven’t looked at it yet. Somewhere in Bloomfield, I think.”

“Bloomfield, huh? The ritzy area. Her pops must be loaded.”

I shrugged again, my standby response to pretty much everything. “I guess. I think he works for Chrysler or something. An executive or vice president. Something like that.”

Dad huffed in sarcastic laughter. “‘Something like that.’ How informative. Did you learn anything definite about her?”

“Her name is Ever Eliot. She lives in Bloomfield. She’s into painting and sculpture. She has a twin sister named Eden.” I wasn’t going to mention the fact that her mom had died in a car accident. It seemed like it would be a breach of confidence to tell him. “She’s beautiful.”

“You like her?”
 

I shrugged yet again. “I guess.”

“You guess.” He shook his head in frustration and then turned up the radio as “Springsteen” by Eric Church came on, and we both tuned in to listen. When the song ended, he turned it down again. “So this Ever girl aside, how was Interlochen?”

“It was good.”

He waited a few beats, glancing at me expectantly. “Thousands of dollars and three
weeks
, and all I get out of you is ‘it was good’?”

Ugh. Adults always wanted more information from me than I ever knew how to give them. “What do you want, Dad, a day-by-day breakdown? I don’t know. I learned about all sorts of artistic bullshit. Angles, shading, perspective, composition. I tried my hand at oil painting and watercolor. Even tried clay sculpture, which I suck at. I took a class on drawing anatomy, which was pretty awesome. It was camp. I swam. Played basketball with some of the guys from my cabin.”

“And met a pretty girl.”

“And that. Yeah.”

“Sounds like a great time.” He grabbed my shoulder in his iron-hard fist and shook me, which was meant to be affectionate, but ended up feeling rough, like he was trying to be casual, or playful. “Think you’ll go back next year?”

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