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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Thirty







I opened the oven door and stared in at the turkey. The heat scorched my face and made me pull back for a second before I reached in with my mother’s beat up oven mitts and lifted the steaming bird out, careful not to slop the juice sliding around the bottom of the pan all over the floor.
“It’s too soon,” my father complained. “It’ll be undercooked.” Rob, now nine months old, squirmed in his arms.
“Where’s the meat thermometer?” my mother asked.
“Turn the potatoes off,” Derry chimed in. “They’ll get watery if you cook them any longer.”
Annoyed with all of them, I sighed loudly and was just about to ask why the hell we had all decided to celebrate Christmas together when the doorbell rang.
“Here,” I said pulling the mitts from my hands and passing them to Derry. “You take over. I’ll get the door.”
I left the kitchen and their frantic attempts to finish cooking the Christmas dinner. My mother raked through a drawer trying to locate a thermometer, Rob started crying, my dad burned his hand on the piece of turkey skin he was attempting to “sample,” while Derry shouted for everyone to get out of her way while she dumped boiled potatoes into the strainer in the sink. “If you get burned, it’s your own fault.”
At the door, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and reached for the doorknob just as the door started to swing toward me. A second later, he poked his head in door, “Hello?” he called right before he saw me standing there.
I smiled. “Hello there.”
Still in the doorway, he stood up straight. “Sorry, I didn’t know if anyone would hear—”
I took his hand and pulled him inside. “Don’t be stupid.” I shook my head and reached up to wrap my arms around his neck.
Porter leaned down, wrapped his arms around my waist, and kissed me. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered.
The sounds of everyone in the kitchen still trying to figure out dinner echoed down the hall.
“Thank God you’re here,” I whispered back. “It’s crazytown in there.”
Porter smirked and kissed me again, longer this time, harder. When he pulled away, his eyes still closed for a second before he looked into my eyes. “I love your crazytown.”
“That’s only because you don’t live here full time.”
“I would if I could,” he said.
“Careful what you wish for.” I smiled and reached up to brush his hair from his eyes. “Did you see her?” I asked.
Porter nodded, a soft smile on his lips. The family Paige was being fostered by had invited Porter to come spend Christmas morning with them and watch her open her presents from Santa.
“How is she?”
He shrugged and tilted his head. “Happy.”
“Was she excited to see you?”
“Yes . . . I mean, I think it was hard for her too. She cried a little at first, and clung to me. It worried me, like maybe they weren’t as nice to her as everyone kept saying. But after a while she started showing me her room, her toys, she pulled open every single one of her dresser drawers so I could see all her clothes.”
“So you’re okay? They’re taking good care of her?”
Porter nodded. “Very good care.” He swallowed. “She even looks different, rounder, healthier. She calls their older girls her sisters, and she doesn’t have meltdowns at school anymore. She said she loves school now . . .”
“Well, that’s great. Isn’t it?”
He nodded, “It makes me sad, too. To think about Paige not having that for so long.”
“Or you,” I whispered. “And for much longer.”
His eyes shifted and met mine. “They want to keep her.”
“Adoption?”
He nodded.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing, really. They said it’s a long process, but they were hoping I wouldn’t try to stop them.”
“Would you?”
“I guess I don’t really know. . . . It was a lot to try and wrap my head around all at once. I always imagined that as soon as I was old enough and had a job, I would take care of Paige. That I would be what was best for her. But . . . I don’t know. Maybe there’s something even better for her than that right now. I’ll need to think about it some more.”
“At least you know she’s happy and loved right now.”
“Yes,” he said, the relief obvious in his face.
“Are you hungry? Should we join the crazy people? Dinner’s almost ready.”
Porter nodded, “But can we go upstairs first? I have something I want to give you . . . in private.”
I raised my eyebrows, “What? Like a present?” I had one for him as well, but it was sitting wrapped and waiting under the Christmas tree in the family room.
“Yes, a present.”
I could still hear everyone in the kitchen. They sounded like they were now debating the most effective way to mash potatoes. “I think we can escape for a few minutes.” I took his hand and started up the stairs. “But you shouldn’t be spending your money on stuff for me,” I protested. Porter was taking online classes, finishing up his remaining credits for graduation, with straight As this first semester, but also working nights and weekends at the Trenton-Mercer Airport as a baggage handler. He made enough money to rent a room in a house and support himself—but only barely. His plan was to finish high school next May and then start taking classes at the community college. When his grades were good enough, he would apply to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in McGuire, New Jersey—half an hour drive from Princeton.
Porter was going to become a pilot—someday.
In my room, Porter closed the door behind us before taking my hand and leading me to my bed. When he sat down he pulled me into the space next to him and then reached into the back pocket of his jeans. He held some papers folded into thirds.
“Do you remember that time you drove me to the airport and watched the planes take off with me?”
I smiled, “Yes.”
“That was the first time you told me . . .”
“That I liked you.”
“And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that a girl like you could possibly be insane enough to want anything to do with a guy like me.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I shook my head and stared into my lap.
“That day, it scared me. I wanted that so much, wanted to believe that it really was possible that someone as amazing as you could want me, too. Even after you said it, I didn’t think, never imagined . . .”
He handed me the papers he had in his hand.
“And I also told you that day that I wanted to fly someday and you couldn’t believe that I had never even been on an airplane.”
I unfolded the pages. It was an itinerary.
“So I figure if I want to be a pilot so bad, then I should probably at least fly somewhere on an airplane, and I was hoping that first time could be with you.”
“San Francisco?”
Porter shrugged, “It’s warm, I’ve never been . . . and the flights were on sale.”
“The flight leaves tomorrow.”
A worried expression settled on Porter’s face. “I should have asked you first.”
“No.” I put the pages down and picked up his hand. “It’s not that.” I smiled. “I just . . . when I woke up this morning, I never imagined, not in a million years, that I—we would be leaving for a trip to San Francisco . . . tomorrow.”
Porter smiled, and pulled me down onto my bed until we were lying face to face. His fingers pushed a stray lock of hair from my face and then traced a line from my temple to my chin. “So, does that mean you’ll come with me?” His lips found mine, soft and full. His hand moved to my hip and pulled me closer.
“Anywhere,” I whispered, and kissed him back. “Always anywhere.”
“I love you, Ruth. Everything . . . that’s what I owe you.”
I gave him my look of disbelief. “What? That’s not true. Everything you’ve done you’ve done on your own.”
“But I never would have believed I could, if I hadn’t seen that belief through your eyes first. When you said I could make my life better . . . that was it. That was the moment I knew it too.”
“You just never saw yourself the way I did.”
“You’re right. I never did.”
His hand slipped to the back of my neck, his fingers tangling in my hair as our lips met again and again.
“I love you, Porter.”
He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Do you mean that, really?”
I moved close again, kissed the corner of his mouth, his cheek, his ear, his closed eye, the middle of his forehead. “Yes. I mean it.”
“Say it again.”
“I love you, Porter Creed.”
“I think I must be the luckiest person on the entire planet.”
“I think we both are.”


The End

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Nine








By mid-November it happened. Brian Cardwell asked me if I would go out with him that Saturday. We had just finished reviewing chapter ten of our organic chemistry textbook at our usual table near the back of the campus library. Packing up our things, books, notebooks, stray papers, Brian had taken a deep breath and I swear to God I knew it was coming. Once he managed to fumble out the initial question, forever altering our current arrangement, a deep and uncomfortable silence settled around us while he waited for my answer.
Seconds ticked.
Brian shrugged. “It’s just a house party . . . my friend said . . . if, you know. I mean . . .”
Christ, make it stop. “I’ll go,” I suddenly blurted. Whether it was to make him please shut up or whether some deep unacknowledged part of me actually did want to go, I had no idea. Whatever the reason, it was good enough for Brian. His entire face lit up. “Great!”
I gave him my now-signature weak smile.
“I’ll walk you to your car.”
Ugh. “Thanks.”
By the time we were halfway to the parking lot, I realized I’d made a mistake. It’s not that there was anything wrong with Brian; he was a really nice guy. He was also really, really smart. Even good-looking in a squeaky-clean, ultra-wholesome way. One look at Brian, and you just knew he had a million friends back home in Iowa, a sweet ex-girlfriend, and a fully intact family that went to church every Sunday and ate dinner together every night.
One look at Brian and you knew there were too many facets to my screwed-up personality that his background had simply not equipped him to understand. To date Brian, seriously, would be to never be myself. Being with him was being forever careful to keep the ugliest parts of myself hidden from his view.
Honestly, as messed up as it was to think, he was too good for me.
Plus, I hadn’t gotten as far as I should have with the whole “moving on” thing. Brian’s biggest flaw, as far as I could tell, was that he was not Porter. For the hundredth time, I thought about calling my mother and telling her I had changed my mind—I was wrong, please tell me where he is.
I turned my head to look at Brian. His mouth was moving but I had no idea what the hell he was saying.
It was November. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Porter since April. How much longer? Would I be over him by Christmas break? New Year’s Eve? Next April?
Ever?
Was I ever going to get over Porter?
“Ruth?” Brian asked.
I looked at him. “What? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” We had just pushed through the double glass doors that led out to the parking lot where Vader had been parked all day.
The space between his eyes wrinkled—he knew I wasn’t listening to him. “Before the party,” he repeated. “I thought we could grab something to eat?”
I was about to give him another, sure, then stopped. Why? To make him feel better? To make the situation worse than it was already going to be because I’d said yes to the first question. Still, I didn’t have a good reason to say no. I needed some time to think of a nice excuse. “Let me see, okay?”
It was so passively lame, I hated myself for even uttering the words. I didn’t want to go anywhere with Brian—why not just say so?
Because, despite his major flaws of being practically perfect in every way, I still didn’t want to hurt Brian’s feelings.
Sometime in the last year I must have accidentally become a human being.
“Oh, yeah. Sure,” Brian said, the hurt in his voice glaring.
Thankfully we were almost to my car. “I’m just a few rows over,” I said. “You don’t have to walk me the whole way.”
Brian looked up at the sky. Pink streaks colored the soft blue that was fading with the setting sun. One of the parking lot lights hummed to life. “It’s getting dark,” he said. “I’ll feel better if I know you’re safe.”
It was sweet. Really, it was. “Thanks,” I said again.
When I had first parked earlier in the day, I’d had a hard time finding a space, but now most of the cars had cleared out. Not many people, even at Princeton, chose to hang in the library past five on a Friday. I lifted my eyes toward Vader. “I’m just parked—”
I stopped dead.
Two steps later, Brian stopped too and looked worriedly at my face. “Ruth?”
My eyes—they were making a mistake. It wasn’t what I thought.
Was it?
The blood drained from my limbs.
“Ruth, are you okay?”
My heart worked hard in my chest to keep me upright.
My head felt light. “I might pass out,” I whispered.
Brian lunged for my arm to hold me up just in case.
I couldn’t even feel him there.
My eyes were locked on one thing—the person sitting on the hood of my car.
The heels of his black boots used my bumper as a foot rest so he could lean forward, his elbows rested on his knees, while he locked eyes with me from under his mop of disheveled brown hair.
He didn’t move.
I didn’t breathe.
And Brian stood at my side, holding my forearm up like I was a Victorian lady aiming for the swoon couch. “Ruth?” he asked as his eyes eventually followed mine and noticed what had frozen me in place. “Is that your car?” he asked.
I gasped, “Yes.”
“Should we call the campus police?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It’s okay.”
“You know that guy?”
I nodded. “You should go. I’ll be okay.”
Brian didn’t want to. Maybe he thought I was in danger. Maybe he realized there was probably no hope in hell of me going to a house party with him on Saturday now—but he must have eventually taken a clue and evaporated into the background.
I didn’t even remember him leaving, but by the time I was able to take a step, he was gone.
Porter watched me walk the entire distance between us. His hands hanging between his knees. When I was only a few feet away, his eyes moved to the ground. “I thought I’d stop by,” he said. “See how college was treating you.”
When he looked back up, his questioning eyes on mine, my heart stopped as a million emotions fought for space inside me. I wanted to kiss him, slap him, throw myself into his arms, pull his hair, and shake him hard.
I wanted to hold his face. Punch his chest. Was this real?
I had no words to start with, nothing that made sense would come.
So instead of the logic of words, my body defaulted to tears. It started with my chest, hot and tight, then all the relief and confusion of seeing him here clawed its way up my throat, warped the shape of my mouth until the whole hot mess of emotion found its way to my eyes and finally spilled down my face.
Porter stood up. “Ruth . . .” Watching me, seeing me fall apart, he was trying to figure out what to do. He stood with his arms limp at his side while I cried.
I swallowed hard and found a single point of mental clarity to throw at him. “Where the hell have you been?”
He searched my face then fell back against Vader’s hood. For the first time, I noticed the piece of paper he had cupped in his hand, and I watched as he unfolded the tight square one section at time. When he finished, he flattened the worn sheet of notebook paper against his thigh then handed it to me like it was an answer.
I recognized my handwriting immediately.

Porter,
I know your life sucks right now.
One day, you will make it better.
I believe in you, Porter Creed.
And I love you,
Ruth 

I held the letter and shook my head at him.
“I couldn’t . . . I needed to make my life better. At least start to. Ruth, I needed to do that first. For me. For Paige.” He stood up and moved toward me. He reached out his hand, unsure, waiting for me to let him know it was okay. “For you.”
I stared at his waiting hand, then reached out, touched the tips of his fingers.
His shoulders sagged. He curled my fingers into his and pulled gently until the space between us disappeared. His other hand reached up and cupped my face and his thumb brushed the wetness from my cheek.
My hands moved to his chest and I looked up into his eyes with a ragged breath. I didn’t know what to say.
Porter closed his eyes, wrapped his arms all the way around me, and bowed his head until his face was buried in my hair. I could feel his body shaking, his lips moving against my neck.
“I’m trying Ruth,” he breathed. “But I need you. It’s too hard without you.”
All the worry, fear, doubt that I’d been carrying, like a brick pressing on my chest for months, started to crack and break apart. The reason he stayed away from me for so long—it wasn’t because he didn’t want me.
It was because he did.
He pulled me back with him, against Vader’s hood, and in each other’s arms, the sky grew darker, the air colder—we didn’t care. I kissed his eyes, his mouth. His lips, soft and warm, on my neck. Whispered words in my ear.
“Don’t ever disappear on me again,” I breathed.
“Never.”

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Eight








Princeton was hard.
Harder than hard.
The end of high school had introduced me to my first Bs, but the beginning of college was a new low—all Cs. This new reality made my inner perfectionist squirm. Made me doubt myself, my abilities, my choice to come here in the first place.
School had always come so easy for me. In high school, I’d been the best of the best—at least until the Porter thing had thrown me off the tracks—but here, I was surrounded by students just as smart.
And smarter.
In the middle of all these brains, I suddenly felt very average. 
Just like my dad had at Harvard.
At home one weekend, I shared this with my mother over leftover lasagna.
“So I’m thinking about getting pregnant so I can blame dropping out of college on the kid.”
My mother didn’t look up from her fork that was trying to cut through the huge wedge of noodles, cheese, and meat. “That’s funny. Can I take this to mean that you are dating someone?”
“Now who’s the funny one?” I asked before taking a bite of my garlic bread. I was not dating anyone. I had been out, as a group, with people from my dorm. And there was a regularly scheduled study session with Brian Cardwell, who I highly suspected would like us to be more than friends if I ever gave him even the barest hope that I wouldn’t verbally castrate him should he suddenly gather the nuts to ask me.
And I had no intention of ever giving him hope in that department.
But there were plenty of good-looking, very smart guys at Princeton. And not a single one of them was Porter.
My mother was thoughtfully mopping up the remaining sauce on her plate with her wedge of bread. She was thinking about something she wanted to say before she said it.
“What?” I asked.
She looked up at me, wide-eyed, faking confusion over my question.
“I know you’re going to ask me something. I can tell by the look on your face.”
Her mouth twisted to the side in the way that told me she was almost ready to spit it out.
I sighed and took a sip of my water—really, I already knew what she was going to ask.
“Don’t you think it’s time?” she finally blurted.
“Yes.”
“You don’t even know what I’m talking about yet,” she added.
“Yes, I do. You think it’s time I let go of Porter, get past it, move on, find someone new, open my heart to another, finally use some of those condoms you can’t get rid of upstairs.”
“Ruth!”
I smiled and put down my fork. “Yes, I do think it’s time. I’m just waiting for the rest of me to get on board with my brain.”
Her eyes shifted out the window and she picked up her glass of wine. She sat there, quiet, not drinking, not eating, just staring out the window.
My mother should never, ever play poker.
“What else?” I asked her.
Her gazed shifted to me and her eyebrows raised.
“There’s something else,” I said.
“It’s like sitting with a detective,” she balked. “Why are you studying neuroscience instead of criminal justice?”
“I’ve lived with you a long time. I know all your tells. So what else?”
She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose. “I can’t decide if I should share this with you or not.”
“Well, there’s absolutely no way you’re not telling me now that you’ve said that.”
She nodded. “Yes. I’m familiar with your level of persistence.”
“It’s one of my greatest strengths,” I added.
“And faults,” she countered.
“It’s about Porter,” I guessed.
“We got a request for his records yesterday.”
I let this information sink in, not entirely sure what it meant.
“I wasn’t sure if I should tell you. If it would possibly start you all over at square one. Maybe it was better to just let you keep moving on.”
“Wait, someone requested his academic records from the school . . . so you know where he is?”
She hesitated, then nodded.
If I asked her, she would tell me.
Now it was my turn to stare out the window and think about this. It was true: ever since those days I’d driven up to Tennyson, and Porter had refused to come down, I had desperately hoped to see him again. Talk to him again. Make sure he was okay. When they moved him, and I had no idea where he was or how I could find him, my desperate hope had shifted. Every ring of the phone, every knock at the door, every day the stupid mail was delivered—opportunities for Porter to be contacting me.
Because it occurred to me, I didn’t know where Porter was—but he knew exactly how to find me. My house hadn’t moved. And when I did go to Princeton, less than half an hour from my mom’s house, it’s not like I had flown to the other side of the world. Porter knew where I was going to school in the fall.
He could have contacted me anytime—and didn’t.
“No,” I said, even though the word, and what I meant by it, caused me physical pain. I was closing the door on what I really wanted. “I don’t want to know.”
My mother watched me from across the table, then nodded. It was the right decision. Yes. It didn’t matter how much I wanted her to tell me, to jump in Vader right now and race off to wherever he was. The reality was that a relationship takes two, and the other side of our sad equation was a Porter that didn’t want to see me back.
The clarity of that thought was a bullet piercing my heart.
I gave her a weak smile and looked back to my half-finished lasagna. I suddenly couldn’t eat another bite.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty Seven

**New chapters posted Wednesdays**


“Can I skip it?”
My mother gave me an exasperated look, “You’re the only kid I have, Ruth. Humor me.”
I nodded and put the cap on so she could bobby-pin it in place. I’d never realized how completely idiotic these caps were, the cheap, wrinkly fabric hugging your skull and flattening your hair. When she finished, she stood back and smiled at me, tears filling her eyes. “I just can’t believe it,” she shook her head. “It seems like just last week . . .” Then her face crumpled completely, and my mother broke down into full-blown crying. “Just last week, you were only a tiny baby—I was holding you in my arms.”
“That was actually about nine hundred and forty weeks ago.” I reached forward and wiped her face. If she didn’t stop this, she was going to make me cry too. And seeing as how I had probably cried more in the last couple months than I had in my entire life, it was something I had promised myself I would get a grip on.
She smiled. “Smart-ass.” She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. “Let’s go or we’ll be late.”

As I sat in my alphabetically arranged folding chair, sweating in the blue polyester gown, a profound sense of anticlimax settled in my gut.
I had probably envisioned this moment several hundred times over my mostly illustrious academic career, and this particular scenario was never a picture my brain created.
At the moment, I was trying my best to ignore Helen Nyugen’s demonstrative valedictory speech.
Later, I would try to not throw up when I had to stand on stage while they announced the honors students. For the last four years, I’d been on track to graduate summa cum laude. With straight As my entire life, my GPA always a perfect 4.0, graduating at the very top was always how I had seen this moment.
However, since acquiring my first two Bs ever, I was wrapped in the second-best cord for magna cum laude.
Up on stage, Helen finished her moment off with her hands in the air, and a roar erupted from the rest of the graduates around me and all the parents and family in the stadium behind us. I was fairly certain that 85 percent of our graduating class had no clue who Helen Nyugen even was. Like me, she had spent the better portion of the last four years ferreted away in the highest-level, least populated academic classes.
I clapped for her.
Five months ago, it could have been me up there—and maybe it should have been. But I couldn’t deny the sense of relief I was currently experiencing. I was happy to not have to get up there and rise to the emotional heights of being inspirational.
Just lately, getting out of bed every day had been a strain.
Even though, ten years from now, I would probably end up regretting letting myself drop the ball so close to the end, right now, I was still preoccupied with thoughts, and worries, of Porter.
They started calling off the names, and after the first fifteen, my palms started to itch from all the monotonous hand clapping. When they announced “Bella Blake,” another roar erupted from our class, and the stadium behind us for no special reason other than that 98 percent of our class did know exactly who Bella was simply because she was genetically gifted all the correctly positioned and pleasing anatomical parts.
I clapped for her.
Up until age twelve, I had loved her too.
I didn’t have the energy to hate her anymore.
When they got to the Cs, I made the mental note that there was no “Creed” called.
I turned in my seat and scanned the stadium crowd for the tenth time. Even if Porter hadn’t been hauled off to a residential home, he was missing too many credits to graduate. Still, I had hoped he might show up today.
My row stood up and headed for the stage stairs.
Porter’s birthday was last week. He was eighteen now, and could have left the home if he wanted to.
“Ruth Robinson,” the principal announced. “Magna cum laude.”
I made my way up the stairs, didn’t trip. I was pretty sure only my mom and dad could be heard clapping in the audience. Hand shake with the principal, accept the fake diploma, the real one would be mailed in three to four weeks, smile for the camera, flash—and it was over.
I walked down the stairs on the other side of the stage, looking at my feet until they were on the grass, then up into the stands with hope in my chest that he was here. That like a scene out of an eighties teen movie, Porter Creed would be spotted, maybe high up in those empty seats, standing alone, eyes on me—only waiting for me to lock eyes with him.
But the empty seats were just empty, and the only person I immediately recognized was my dad, in a shirt so bright orange he could have used it for traffic safety, and my new baby brother, Mountain Stream Robinson, strapped to his chest in a sling. His hands were over his head as he waved at me before cupping them over his mouth to yell—which must have upset the baby because then he looked like he’d made a mistake, and Derry stood up and was trying to get Mountain out of the carrier contraption while my dad continued to wave at me one-handed.
For God’s sake, what a frickin’ disaster that cluster was. In the hospital, Mountain Stream had been Derry’s bright idea for a baby name, but my dad had beamed at her like it was the most inspired thing he had ever heard.
“He’s going to get his ass kicked.” I thought they should know.
“We’re not going to send him to a school with kids like that,” Derry informed me.
Right. “Oh . . . well.” I said holding the poor thing in my arms, already pretty sure I was going to have to spend years running interference for him with both of his parents and every typical kid that crossed his path. “If normal kids won’t be at his school, it’s probably perfectly fine to give him an asshat name.”
What the hell was he supposed to put on a resume when he was older?
In the attempt to lay some normal foundations for the kid, I called him Robinson, Rob for short—Derry corrected me every time. “Ruth, please. His name is Mountain.” She didn’t seem to understand that I was absolutely going to win this power struggle. With the parents he’d been dealt, someone had to give this kid a fighting chance.
Back on the field, in my folding chair, I waited while Roosevelt High filed through the rest of the graduating class. “Eli Tanner,” the principal announced.
I stood up and clapped for my best friend and when he came down from the stage, he defied all the pregraduation rules we’d been given, stepped out of line, and gave me a hug so big he lifted me off my feet.
“We did it, you big bitch!”
I laughed and kissed his cheek, but Ms. Harris was coming over to break up the disruption of order we had created. I pushed him back to his line so we wouldn’t get yelled at. “See you after!”
After Tom had told me Porter was being moved from Tennyson to God knows where, I had broken down and simply begged Eli, Please, this is me on my text knees—I’m sorry, I suck, I miss you, and I really, really, need you right now.
When he didn’t text me back, I imagined him showing the depths of my desperation to Bella and them both having a good laugh—but five minutes later, my doorbell rang.
When I opened the door and saw him standing there, I burst into tears and fell into his arms.
“You are the most stubborn person I know,” he said.
I nodded. “I know.”
“I don’t ever want to do this again.”
I shook my head. “Me either.”
“Where the hell have you been?”
“Suspended.”
Eli looked like I had slapped him. “You?!”
Upstairs in my room, we lay on my bed and stared at my ceiling, eating cold chicken lo mein and telling each other everything that had happened since we hadn’t been speaking.
“I have no idea where Porter is.”
“Bella Blake is as deep as a rain puddle.”
“My dad is trying to act like a human.”
“Jordan moved to New York.”
“I missed you.”
“Me too.”
So my world sucked, but at least it sucked with Eli back in it.
At my house, after Eli and his parents left for their own post-graduation family celebration, I was left with a cake shaped like a graduation cap, too many hoagie sandwiches, my mom and Derry making awkward small talk, my dad feeding Rob a bottle—and my stupid hope that the doorbell would ring and Porter would show up.
He never did.