A Love Letter to Whiskey(5)


by Kandi Steiner

“That makes two of us,” he said as the light turned green. He didn’t go right away, just kept his eyes on mine, staring at me that way he did that made me wonder what he was thinking. It was as if I were a painting and he a curator. I felt him debating, circling, wondering if he should collect me or pass me by.

I prayed for the first option, even though I knew I shouldn’t.

The Mazda behind us honked and Jamie blinked, the spell broken. For the rest of the ride home, we didn’t say another word, just enjoyed his playlist and the wind in our hair. It was strangely comfortable sitting in silence with Jamie, as if we didn’t need words, especially with a piano version of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables serenading us as he drove.

When he pulled up to my house, I smiled, my head still laid back against the headrest as I turned to face him. “I can play this one.”

“Play it?”

I nodded. “Mm-hmm, on violin.”

“You play the violin?”

“No.”

He opened his mouth, shut it again, and then laughed. “Okay, color me confused.”

My smile grew. “I don’t play violin. But, one day I was sitting next to this kid in band at lunch and he heard me listening to this. He plucked my earbuds out and thought he was so cute, talking in my ear about how he could play this song on violin. He thought his game was smooth.” I shrugged. “But I wasn’t impressed, told him anyone could learn to play it. He gave up on flirting then and started taking offense, told me there was no way I could learn to do it, so we made a bet. And five weeks later, I strode up to the same table where he sat, pulled out his violin that was propped up next to him, and played it.”

“No you didn’t.”

I pulled my lips between my teeth in a smile. “I did. I’m a very competitive person, Jamie Shaw. And I never turn down a challenge.”

His eyes were a sort of golden green in what light was left from the day, dusk settling in around us, and his skin crinkled at the edges as he let his head fall back to mirror mine. “I’ll keep that in mind, Br—” He paused. “B.”

For just a second, I let myself stare at him, then I unclicked my seatbelt and grabbed my beach bag, pulling the strap up over my shoulder. “Thanks for the ride home.” I sighed, shaking my head. “Jenna is going to kill me when she finds out I can’t go to the game tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m going to call my dad to see if he can go get my car and get it into his friend’s shop, but there’s no way it’ll be fixed by tomorrow night. Jenna is cheering in our first home game. I promised her I’d go, but unless my mom gets off work early, I don’t see that happening.”

“I’ll take you,” Jamie offered quickly.

“No, no, it’s okay. You don’t have to—”

“I want to. Seriously. I’m going anyway, and it’d be nice to have someone to sit with.” He smiled, that lazy, crooked smile that made my legs tingle.

“Okay.”

He grinned wider. “Okay.”

Mom was already in her room by the time I’d hung my board in the garage, so I made myself a grilled cheese and ate alone in my bedroom. I didn’t turn on my TV or look through the notifications on my phone. I just ate it slowly, one bite at a time, staring at my closet door and replaying every moment of the evening. Then, after taking as much time as I reasonably could to eat, I called my dad. He must have known when he answered that I needed something — it was the only time I called anymore — and I cut straight to the chase. He told me he’d take care of it, because that’s the kind of guy he was.

But he was also the kind of guy who could rape my mother, and sometimes I had to force myself to remember that. Especially on nights when he called me “baby girl” and my heart surged with the love I’d always had for him.

My vision was blurry, likely from the salt water, so I ran myself a bath as soon as I ended our call. I’d always loved baths, only taking a shower when I was in a rush to be somewhere. It was nice to soak in the hot water, to take time to think. If I only had those thirty minutes to myself a day, it was enough.

But that night, as I wiggled my toes beneath the faucet, the water slowly filling in around me, I felt different. The heat was a little hotter, the lights a little brighter, and my vision still wouldn’t quite clear. I thought a little too hard about the one person I knew I shouldn’t, and a new buzz I’d yet to experience rushed over me as I let him sink into my system.

I should have cleared my mind. I should have called Jamie and told him not to pick me up for the game. I should have pulled up a picture of him and Jenna to remind myself where I sat on this tricycle.

But I didn’t do any of those things.

And I only wished I felt guilty about it.

AS MUCH AS I DETESTED school spirit, there was something to say for the energy of a home high school football game in South Florida. Students were painted brightly in our teal and white colors, cheering loudly and blaring fog horns. The band played upbeat music that was hard not to dance to and everyone high-fived each other when our team did something right, bringing a camaraderie to the stands that I wasn’t expecting.

South Springs High School hadn’t won a single game the season before, but we had a halfway decent team this year, which was great for me since I’d likely be at every game watching Jenna cheer.

Jenna Kamp was the kind of friend you latched onto and never let go of. She was fiercely loyal, hilarious, and driven — which was exactly the kind of person I wanted to surround myself with. She never slept on her dreams and never let me sleep on mine. All that aside, she was the only person in my life who took me for who I was — exactly who I was — and loved me completely. She knew about my parents, about my name, about my less-than-stellar car. She didn’t care that my mom smoked cigarettes in the house and so my clothes smelled like smoke or that I didn’t learn how to do anything with my hair until we were eighth graders. She loved me through the awkward stages and I knew she’d love me through much worse. She was my forever friend.

Which is why I felt supremely shitty that I was focusing on the place where my knee touched her boyfriend’s as we watched her cheer from the stands.

The bleachers were packed, so Jamie and I had wiggled our way into a small open space on the third row up. It was either touch the random freshman on the other side of me or touch Jamie, and I opted for Jamie.