A Love Letter to Whiskey(14)


by Kandi Steiner

He smirked, but offered a single shrug. “Yes and no. Remember our talk over Christmas break?”

I nodded.

“I’m still feeling a bit of all that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for this next chapter and all that, but it’s still a little scary.”

“It’d be weird if you weren’t scared,” I reminded him, and he gave me a small smile. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about the future anymore, and in a way I didn’t blame him. Up until that point in our lives, high school had been our biggest and best experience. It was hard to imagine a future where the things that mattered to us then would only be a distant memory.

When we finished our burritos, we both leaned back on our palms, watching as the sun began its slow ascent. There was always so much hype around sunsets on the west coast of Florida, but I found even more beauty in the sunrises on our coast. There was something about being so close to the ocean at the dawn of a new day, filled with new possibilities.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” I said after a while, keeping my eyes on the horizon just past my toes.

“Not just you.”

“I know,” I clarified. “I just thought maybe you’d call me. Or want to go for a drive. Or…” I didn’t know what else to say, so I let my sentence fade on the breeze.

“I wanted to,” Jamie said, adjusting the weight on the heels of his hands. “I don’t know. Jenna hit me at a time that was already so hard for me, you know?” A line formed between his brows. “My parents were high school sweethearts.”

The weight of that statement hit me hard in the chest. What he meant to say was that he wanted what his parents had, and he thought Jenna was the key to that. I suddenly realized her breaking up with him was the best thing that could have happened to me. Even then, when I was still in denial about my addiction, the thought of him marrying my best friend nearly caused me to gasp out loud.

“It’s okay that Jenna wasn’t the one.”

“I know,” he said quickly. “I think I always knew. She was fun, we clicked, had some great times together. But there was something missing.” He turned to me then, eyes boring into the side of my face because I refused to meet that stare.

“You’ll find someone,” I said softly, eyes still on the waves. They were bathed in a pinkish-orange glow as the sun struggled to wake up our part of the world.

“Well,” he said loudly, sitting up straighter. “I don’t like leaving my life to chance. So, I have a proposition.” I met his eyes then, and they were playful — mischievous. “If you’re game, that is.”

“Why do I feel like I should run right now?”

Jamie laughed, and it was the first time I’d seen his real smile break through that night — teeth bright, skin wrinkled at the corners of his eyes. “I say we make a pact.”

“A pact?”

He nodded. “If neither of us are married by the time we’re thirty, we marry each other.”

“Oh my God,” I scoffed, leaning up to mirror his new posture. “That is so stupid, Jamie. It’s also the plot line for every cheesy Rom Com ever.”

He shrugged, wiping the sand from his hands and gazing back out at the water. “Sounds like someone is scared.”

“I’m not scared. It’s dumb.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I’m going to be married by thirty, Jamie. And you’re definitely going to be locked down by then.”

“So then you have nothing to worry about.” He challenged me for the second time that night, eyes sparking to life as they met mine. He extended his hand. “If we’re not married in twelve years, you become Mrs. Shaw.”

I swallowed hard at his words. Mrs Shaw. “That’s not fair. You turn thirty before me.”

Jamie shrugged again. “My pact, my terms. Do we have a deal?” He thrust his hand out farther, and I stared at it, brows bent as I chewed my cheek. Finally, I rolled my eyes and gripped his hand with my own, shaking it three times. “Fine. But this is dumb, and pointless.”

Jamie just grinned.

“You’re so weird,” I said, getting in the last word on my feelings about the stupid pact.

“Yeah, but you love me anyway.” He winked, stealing the Vitamin Water from the space between us and draining the last of it before leaning back on his hands again.

I didn’t think too long about the fact that he’d said I loved him, or the possibility that he might be right. I didn’t think about the pact or what would happen in twelve years, because Jamie was leaving, and I was staying.

Mom grounded me for the first month of that summer and I had to pay to replace the carpets, but I didn’t even care. It was worth it to have that first shot of Whiskey, to eat breakfast burritos on the beach and make stupid promises we wouldn’t keep.

That was supposed to be the last night I saw Jamie Shaw.

I let him go, just like I was supposed to, and I did my best to never think about him again. Not that summer when I saw him around town, not that fall when he left for California and I stayed behind, not even when I applied to Alder University knowing it was in the same city as the University of California San Diego. I avoided looking at his social media, too. Eventually, as senior year kicked into gear and my focus became my own graduation, I really did start to let him go.

But as fate would have it, that wasn’t my last night with Jamie Shaw.

Not even close.

THE THING ABOUT WHISKEY is that the longer it sits in the barrel, the more it changes — and it never stops. Whiskey aged for two years is different from whiskey aged for ten, and no matter what year you decide to throw the towel in and pour up a glass, you can’t go wrong. Whiskey at a ripe age, young and full of character, is buzz-worthy. But whiskey aged, even just a little bit? Pure bliss.

And don’t let the fact that some of the alcohol evaporates over time fool you, because when you taste that aged whiskey, it’ll burn just as deliciously as it did when it was young.

I was strolling the rows of tables lining the student union walkway at Alder University in San Diego, taking fliers from a few of them, passing by others, when the barrel cracked open.

“Hi!” the blonde seated behind the Campus Housing table said excitedly. “Are you picking up your housing information?”

I did my best impression of Ryan Atwood from The OC, channeling the lip tuck and eyebrow raise of indifference. I was in California, after all. “Indeed I am.”