TEN MINUTES LATER
It was ten minutes later than it had been.
“Patrick, I wasn’t really honest with you earlier, or, at least, I didn’t tell you the whole truth,” Shawna said, coming out of Patrick’s bathroom. Patrick’s high school gym clothes sagged and stretched in places, but overall they fit her.
“You really didn’t have to go to the trouble. I could have done it myself,” she excitedly said, seeing the sleeping bag spread atop Patrick’s couch. In her right hand she held one of Patrick’s combs; in her left, the towel he had given her ten minutes ago. She sat down on the couch and began to dry her hair.
She saw Patrick lying face-up on his bed on the other side of his bedroom, listening to the CD he had bought the previous month. He turned his head to the side to face her.
“It was no trouble. I thought I’d save you some time.”
Shawna continued to dry. A couple of seconds later, smile gone from her face, she continued speaking.
“As I was saying, I didn’t tell you all that I should’ve when I came. I didn’t tell you something important.” Her left hand paused as she stared at her friend.
“What?” she heard Patrick softly ask. Just as softly he received his answer.
“I’m running away.” She laid down the towel and began to style her hair while she awaited his reply. Forty, perhaps fifty, seconds passed as she saw Patrick seeking to find the words that could show her how he felt about the news. Finally, finding nothing, he said the inevitable.
“Running away!? Why!?”
“Calm down—you’ll wake up your family.” It was a lie and she knew it. Patrick’s bedroom had once been the guesthouse many years before, before the two of them with a couple of their other friends had converted it into Patrick’s bedroom. She knew that a gigantic garage away was Patrick’s closest family member and even he would not be able to hear Patrick’s outcry. But he simply had to calm down.
She felt his glare. He needed an answer.
“Running away? Why, Shawna?”
She laid the comb beside the towel and turned her eyes away from him.
“I wouldn’t like to go into that now, Patrick, if you don’t mind.” She got up, quickly turned the lamp off atop his desk, and lay down to go to sleep. The sounds of Patrick getting beneath his own covers reassure her that he had decided to drop the matter as well. She would not have her answers to him tonight. By tomorrow, maybe. By tomorrow she would be ready to tell all to him.
It was ten seconds later he interrupted her thinking.
“I mind, Shawna. I am letting you crash here before your little trip, after all. I think I’m entitled to some explanation.”
Even in the darkness she could tell he was facing her.
“Really, Patrick, I don’t feel like explaining myself. I’d just like to go to sleep.” Now it was she who was facing the ceiling. She heard him get up. She thought he was going to come over and turn the lamp back on. Instead, the music stopped and then she heard him get back into bed. The familiar creak of the mattress preceded his next sentence.
“Please, Shawna, I’d like to help. I mean, you wanted to help me with my problem…” he said, pausing.
Shawna grimaced. She had not done all that much. Taught him a couple things to say, a dance step or two. But that was earlier in the evening, before she had taken her shower.
“…My problem with girls,” he continued. “Now I want to help you with your problem. That’s what friends do; they help each other.”
“I don’t know if you can help.”
“I’d like to try.”
His tone of voice had become gentle. Shawna was amazed this was the same guy who only minutes before had been giggling and beaming over her trying to teach him to slow dance. She decided, once again, to trust him.
“Okay. You know the story of Sisyphus?” she asked, still staring at the ceiling. At that moment it became all a dream to her. She did not want to be telling this. She had not planned tell this to him. But there she was, beginning it.
“Yeah. A man doomed to roll a rock to the top of a hill where it only rolls all the way down again, right?”
“Yes, well that’s my life right now. I feel like Sisyphus, trying my hardest to accomplish so much, but being sent back down to start over.” She took a breath. “Last week Peter told me he was moving to Vancouver and that he thought it would be a good idea if we broke up.”
If Patrick had been surprised, it would not have matched Shawna’s surprise in revealing that piece of information. Peter and Patrick had been acquaintances, but an air of animosity had always hung between them. That he should care now would be too much for Shawna to ask of Patrick.
“Peter and you split up?”
“Yeah. I really liked Peter and things with him were going so well. I was really happy, you know? With him I felt things I never felt before. I honestly thought we’d be married someday….” Cliché after tired cliché they came. She hoped he was intelligent enough to read the feelings beneath the words.
“I’m really sorry, Shawna. You and Peter made a really good couple.”
She heard nothing in the voice to indicate whether he understood what she meant to say.
“I think so, too. That’s why I’m going to work my way up there to see him. I want to try and work this out with him.” She did not care if he understood or not. She discovered she wanted to be telling this story.
“That’s all well and good, but why does this mean running away?”
“If everything goes well, I’m planning to live with him. He turns nineteen next month and he said he’ll be needing a roommate while in Vancouver. I could waitress in the evenings or something, then go to a community college after completing high school up there; it’d be perfect.”
“I don’t think it’s such a good idea, Shawna.”
It did not surprise her that he had said this; she expected him to attempt to try and talk her out of it. It was they way he said it, the way he sounded like he knew more than she did in matters of the heart. What bullshit, she thought. He was the one who needed advice not her.
“Listen, Patrick. I didn’t come here for your permission or advice. I came here because your room is perfect for getting away from. I’d never be able to sneak out from my house. It’d cause too much noise.”
“What about your mother?” What if they check on you tonight?”
“I told her Sally, you, and I were going to a concert and then we were going to crash at Sally’s aunt’s house.”
“I don’t know about this, Shawna. Are you sure you want to go through with it? I know how wonderful you think Peter is. Are you sure you’re making the right choice?”
She hesitated for all of a second before answering, “I’m sure.” She had done all her thinking beforehand and her quick reply made clear to Patrick she was going to do this regardless of what he thought. Now all she could hope for was that would stop trying to dissuade her.
“I’m going to miss you, you know?” Ever since fourth grade you’ve been one of my best friends. I don’t know what I would’ve done without yours or Sally’s friendship. When others made fun of me you were always there to stick up for me.”
Shawna thought it a bit much, but that was how he was. Holding so much inside, only to let it out in big spurts like that. With herself it was different. She never held much inside.
“I’ll miss you, too, Patrick. You always made me smile. I never knew anybody who had such a flair for being crazy.” She mused. “I’ll never forget the time in third grade you and your brother threw sandwich bags filled with sand at passing cars. The look on Mrs. Lefler’s face could have melted steel.” Patrick and Shawna laughed. “I didn’t know you then, but word was out all over school by lunchtime.”
“That was fun. We’ve had some times haven’t we?”
Shawna wanted to mention the time Patrick had “escorted” her to the fifth grade closet in order to avoid a very lovesick Sally. That time it was she who had felt awkward being alone with Patrick. Far too concerned in distancing himself from Sally he never realized how close he had been to her. She also wanted to mention the time her father had taken her and her two very close friends to the L.A. County Fair. There, they had been kicked out for freeing three very grateful pigs. She wanted to mention so many instances.
But she feared dwelling on the past would make leaving difficult.
“Yeah, we have,” she whispered.
And like that the conversation died, as Shawna began to remember more and more. Patrick probably was doing the same—she could not tell. It had been quite an adventure and now it was all about to end. With Patrick and Sally beside her Shawna had grown into a relatively level-headed young woman. She did not know how much had been due to herself and how much had been due to their help. She had other friends, of course, but never quite like these two. And after tomorrow they would be all but gone from her life. She did not know how much that would affect her. She did not know if it would affect her. She hoped it would not, but she could not honestly tell herself that. After all, how do you replace something you thought you would never have to?” How do you replace the years of sharing everything, of telling everything, with someone or someones? Then again, that is exactly why she was doing this in the first place, to not lose Peter. She reminded herself not to lose sight of that fact. Nothing else mattered, nothing else was important.
Two minutes later, he spoke.
“Did I ever tell you why I’m so afraid of asking girls out and why I never took the time to learn how to slow dance properly?”
Of course, he had not. But, in his own way, Patrick was trying to save face.
“I don’t think you ever did, Patrick.”
“It was at our eighth grade graduation dance. You weren’t there because of, well, your father. Everyone was there, parents and everything. I was never so scared in my entire life. I had just finished a dance with Sally, when Connie Crawford asked me to slow dance with her. Connie, if you remember, wasn’t the most attractive girl there, but heaven knows I wasn’t the most attractive guy either. Still, it was kind of nice to be asked to slow dance, seeing as Sally was not too shy to ask me to dance.”
She should have been paying attention to his story, but all that kept running through her mind was how dark his room was. She understood the words, and understood what a revelation she was hearing, but she could think of nothing but the blackness. But when he stopped, she knew exactly what was expected of her.
“I would’ve asked you to dance.”
“I’m sure you would’ve, but you weren’t there. Anyway, Connie and I had just trotted out to the middle of the floor. Everything was so right. I felt ready for it. At many parties I could have slow dance, but I always felt embarrassed and too shy to even consider asking, let alone actually doing it. But here was a girl asking me, and someone I knew and actually talked with. Well, just as we were about to start, everyone else in our class, excluding Sally and Brian, started to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ because they all knew how shy I was. Anyway, I felt so ashamed I ran to the bathroom and hid there for fifteen minutes. And I didn’t dance the rest of the night… for the rest of my life, actually. That is, until tonight.”
She was wordless. She was ready to speak, but everything she wanted to say sounded stupid.
“How come Sally never told me?”
“I asked her not to.”
“No wonder you feel a little funny toward girls. I wish you had told me sooner. I could have tried to help you before.” Even thought he could not see it, Shawna’s face was showing her relief in a tiny smile.
“No, I’m fine. Really, I am.”
“So, you’ve never kissed a girl before, have you?” She had not meant to ask it, but she felt so gabby that she had asked the first thing that had popped into her head. To her surprise, he answered and he answered quickly.
“I’ve kissed you and Sally,” he said “matter-of-fact”ly.
“Those don’t count. They were pecks on the cheek or on the hand. And they were all in the spirit of fun or as a good-bye. What I mean is you’ve never kissed a girl on the lips,” There. She had said it. Now it was up to him to decide if the spring cleaning would continue.
“Not before tonight.”
It had not been a long kiss or a terribly intimate one either. He had asked her how and she had shown him. To her it meant nothing. She had forgotten how important firsts were.
“No wonder you were acting so strange when I kissed you. I thought it was just the friends thing that was bothering you, but it runs much deeper than that, doesn’t it?”
“How do you mean?”
“You’re genuinely scared of girls, aren’t you?”
“No, I am not.”
“But you are scared of telling a girl you like her?”
“Well, that’s just plain silly. What about Sally? Have you ever told her you like her?”
“I could never do that. It’d be like telling you the same thing. Besides, I really cannot picture taking Sally out on a date. She’s so nice sometimes, it’s positively revolting.”
Patrick had a point.
“Yeah, she is. What about Jenny or Carisa? I know you’ve had your eye on them for some time now. How come you’ve never asked them?”
“Sure, I’ve looked at them for a time now, but I never actually pictured either of them with me.”
It was sad, really. Shawna would have felt sorry for him if he were not so in love with the idea of looking for love, but, seeing as how he thought it perfection, he needed no sympathy.
“What about me? Have you ever considered me?”
“Don’t be ridiculous! I value your friendship too much to cloud the issue with emotion. I’ve never thought of you in that way.”
Shawna could still feel his eyes on her, but she still lay face-up, looking up at the ceiling.
“Never?” It was not as if she wanted him to like her, but the opposite was something that puzzled her.
“Why? Have you ever thought of me in that way?”
“Are you sure?”
She knew he was teasing her, but she wondered if he knew that.
“Well, there was the time just you and I went hiking to the top of Mt. Wilson from Chantry Flats. I was so tired from walking the twelve miles that all I could think about was getting home. You were tired, too, because you were covered in sweat and dying from hunger. That time I actually thought I could like you as something as much more than a friend because, I have to admit, you did look cute back then.” She had not really thought about it recently all that much, but he had looked cute.
“As opposed to now, right?” he, again, joked.
“That’s not what I meant. It’s just that it was the one and only time you looked like a boy and not a friend to me, the only time I could see you as something much more than you actually are.”
Shawna suddenly felt like changing the subject.
“But then Rich came along, and then Peter—“
“So you and I might have hooked up if they hadn’t?”
“Anything’s possible.” The whole conversation had taken on much more meaning than she had wanted it to.
Another pause ensued. During this time, Shawna thought of telling him the truth, that she could never see him as anything more than a friend. Before she could speak, though, he had begun.
“There might have been one time I saw you as being ‘something much more than you actually are.’ When you, sitting on that very couch, told me your father had died and you came crying to me and Sally I thought you were cute.”
“That’s disgusting, Patrick.”
“Well, maybe it is. I’ve always found something so feminine in crying. You know I cry a lot—at least more than most boys—so I can appreciate the effects of crying. It’s healthy to let go of your feelings. With those tears streaming down your face and the little strain in your voice, I could have told you I liked you there and meant it too. And it wouldn’t have been me just feeling sorry for you either or me trying to cheer you up. I really did think you looked like somebody I…”
“Somebody I could love in that way. I mean, I love you now, but it’s a different kind of love. Something more along the lines of how you love a pet or live a car, but not a girlfriend or wife.”
“So you’re comparing me to your dog, Kirsten? Is that it?” She laughed again.
“No, you are more important to me than almost anybody in my life other than Sally. You can even ask my cousin about that. I’ve told him the same thing time and time again when we’ve had these midnight chats.”
“I never knew you felt like this, Patrick.”
“I don’t feel like anything, Shawna. Back then, maybe I could have asked you out but you started dating Rich and then there was nothing I could do about it.”
At the moment I occurred to Shawna that the only reason he was telling her all this was because she would be leaving tomorrow. But at the moment she did not care.
“Perhaps if I knew how you felt…”
“But we’ll never know, will we?” You’re leaving in a couple of hours, right?”
“Yeah, I’m leaving after our shopping trip.”
Another silence fell, this one much longer than before. During this time Shawna tried to make out Patrick’s figure on his bed. But she could see nothing, hear nothing; it was as if he didn’t exist. If Patrick was there he was not noticeable.
But Patrick had never been all that noticeable to her. He always preferred to remain as unobtrusive as possible, to not get in anyone’s way. And that was how she had failed to notice him. He had not done anything, said anything, to give an indication of how he felt. She would have not bothered to come here had she known. It was not as if she could not like him; he was actually very appealing to her at the moment. But he had told her far too late. She had Peter to consider. And, more to the point, she had Peter. Peter was everything she had ever wanted; Patrick, everything she did not need. With Patrick all the attention would be on her, she would have to make all the decisions for the both of them. With Patrick she would never know where she stood. With Patrick she would have to mean everything she said. Patrick never knew the difference between paying a compliment and being kind. She had hated doing it to him time and time again, but she had figured lying to be the best course of action. But tonight was different. She meant most of what she had said.
Seven minutes later neither of them had fallen asleep and Shawna once more heard Patrick speak.
“If you didn’t know who I was or what I was like would you ask me to go out to a movie?”
“That’s a hard question to answer, Patrick. It’s almost impossible for me to answer a question like that. I’ve built up too long a history with you for me to forget everything.”
Shawna felt the pressure building up. This was exactly what she did not need with her last night with Patrick.
“If I didn’t know who you are or what you were like would I ask you out on a date? Hmm. Yes, I think I would.”
“Why? What kind of question is that?” She just wanted to know where all of this was leading. If she knew that she could answer him.
“A simple one. What about me would attract you on first impression?”
“I don’t know.” She stumbled for something to say. “The way your hair just sort of flops about your head, as if you couldn’t care less.”
“Go on? Geez, this is really hard for me. Well, the way you can just stare at somebody as if you were reading his or her face like a page. And there’s the way you can stand as if nobody bothered to tell you to unfreeze in a freeze-tag game that makes you look almost statuesque. And there’s the way you can laugh without laughing.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I could list everything about you I find attractive.” Oh God, the moment she said it she realized her mistake.
“So you find me attractive?”
“If I were forced to choose between attractive and unattractive, yes.”
After a short period of waiting Shawna grew upset. Patrick did not seem to understand how these things went.
“What about me, besides how I cry, attracts you?”
“No, I can’t.”
“No fair, I answered your question. You have to answer mine.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Fine, I’m going to sleep then.”
She fully intended to sleep for she had been happy where the conversation had brought her and her friend. She never really expected him to answer. She never really expected him to care so much for her. She was feeling very strange at the moment. Sleep, she figured, would make her forget. He was not supposed to be like this. He was not supposed to be wanting to talk to her. So when, three minutes later, he spoke again she was a little groggy.
“Your eyes, how blue they—no… And your hair, how brown… And your hands, how long and slender your fingers are. And your feet—“
By this time Shawn was very confused, less from being on the verge of sleep than being on the verge of bursting out laughing. It was not that she felt particularly like laughing, but she knew of no other response.
“Oh, yes. Feet are just as lovely as hands although they never get the recognition hands do. You can tell a lot about a person by how well they take care of their feet. And you have lovely feet. Not like Sally’s. Although she has nice feet, yours are well-formed while Sally’s are a little on the pudgy side.”
It was very cute. She could tell Patrick’s admission was genuine.
“I’d never really noticed.”
“Sure, I’ve always noticed how lovely your feet are. I’ve noticed a lot about you these past few years.”
“So have I, Patrick.”
Shawna took another breath. She needed to change the subject again.
“Did Sally ever tell you what the two of us talk about when you’re not with us?”
He sounded confused.
“Has she ever mentioned what we talk about when you’re not there?”
Once again, the conversation ended abruptly.
It was laughable, really, this not know how the other felt. She wanted so very much to break the tension in the room. But it just hung there. She heard his eyes searching for her. She felt her own locked upon the ceiling, staring at nothing in particular, but not daring to look over to his bed. She could remain here, not moving, not twitching, until she went to sleep. And she knew she had nothing to fear when it came to Patrick. He knew his place. He had always known his place. Patrick was her friend and nothing more. She closed her eyes for a second, saw Peter’s face, and opened them once more. She still remembered what he looked like, like the darkness it had returned to her. She had talked too long with Patrick already. She needed to get to sleep. And yet try as she might, her eyes did not want to close. They remained open, staring at the nothing above her.
Ten minutes she spoke again.
“Geez, it’s cold in here. Is it always this cold in here?” Shawna asked, fearing that all the truths each had to tell had come out, but the energy not having worn off yet.
“No insulation. It make it absolutely terrible in the winter and summer. But I’ve gotten used to it.”
“Geez, this is such a cool room. You’re so lucky to have it. My room is so small and so close to my mother’s bedroom. I’ve always wanted a room like this. My father had always planned to add one on the house for me.”
“I’ve always liked it.”
“Why, it’s practically an apartment. I bet if you wanted, you could live out her for a while without ever having to go into the main part of the house.”
“I suppose I could, but I never really thought about it that much.”
“Do you ever think about what it’s going to be like once you get away from your parents? Don’t you ever imagine what your life is going to be like once….” Shawna stopped again. She did not know how to finish. So Patrick finished for her.
“Once I grow up, right?”
“You know what I mean. I can’t wait till I get up to Vancouver. No more pushing the boulder for me. It will just be the easy life for me and Peter.”
“I can imagine.”
“And you and Sally are invited to drop by any time you like. There’ll always be an open door for you two. I’m sure Peter won’t mind.”
“Shouldn’t you ask Peter before you start planning all this? I mean, he might have broken up with you for more than just his moving away.”
Shawna heard the desperate voice, but paid it no attention.
“No, I can’t really believe that. I won’t believe that. It just isn’t possible. He and I were meant to be together. He said so.”
“If he really believed that then why—“
“If he really believed that then why is he moving away, right? Then why did he break up with me, right? I don’t know. The heart has reasons that reason cannot comprehend. It’s beyond me how he could just leave me like this, but I’m not about to let him go without a decent shot at patching things up.”
“If that’s what you want.”
It hurt her that he hurt, but that was they way things had to be.
“You bet it is.”
“Shawna, can I ask you something?”
“What makes you so sure Peter, even if he wants to get back together, will want you to move in with him? You are still pretty young and it would involve some sort of arrangement with your mother to arrange for you to stay up there with him.”
“Oh, I wasn’t planning on telling my mother.” And she had not, but he did raise an interesting point.
“I doubt that will fly for very long. Even in Canada, I still think it takes some doing to explain why a sixteen-year-old is living with a nineteen-year-old. There’s got to be some law against it or something.”
“No, I don’t think so; Canada’s pretty lenient about these things. You only have to be nineteen to start drinking up there.” Shawna knew her choice was right. It had to be because it was the only one she had.
“Well, drinking and living together are two different things entirely.”
“I guess. So I’m taking it you wouldn’t do the same thing if you were in my place?”
“Of course… well, I don’t know, maybe, you know. It’s difficult to say. I mean, if there person I met was right and I was really in love with her, but it’d take a whole lot of convincing for me to take such a big leap. As it stands now, I can’t even imagine myself taking such a step. I mean, aren’t you the least bit scared?”
Of course she was. Of course she had doubts. But that was no reason to call it off.
“Yes, I’m scared of going up there and finding out that he doesn’t want me. Or if he does want me, I’m scared that we don’t stand a chance of living on our own. But you know what, Patrick? I’m more scared that if I don’t take this chance right now to get him back that I’ll be scared for the rest of my life—scared of ever trusting someone ever again, scared of loving someone, just plain scared of ever taking any sort of risk.”
She heard Patrick stifle a weak laugh.
“Story of my life.”
“Yeah. I don’t know, it’s weird, you know?” You like someone so much that it just seems natural for them to like you back. And then when you find out they don’t, that they couldn’t care less about who you are and what your feelings are, your whole world just seems to crash in upon you. It is kind of scary.”
About two minutes passed before another word was said. During this time Shawna had begun to think of options, possibilities, outcomes. She began to weigh some facts in her life—some she had known all her life, some she had recently found out. Patrick’s friendship was very important to her, but was it as important as Peter? Only after this internal debate did she speak.
“Hypothetical situation. I go to Vancouver and Peter says it’s all over between the two of us, says that he has moved on with his life and that I should move one with mine. I somehow manage to come back here… and to you. Would you, that is, could do anything to help me?”
“I’m your friend, Shawna. Of course, I’d help you.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything I could say that would make anything better….”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind talking if something like that ever happened….”
“And I suppose something so simple as just holding you wouldn’t work either….”
“Being held by you, by anyone, would help, I think….”
“I just don’t know, but I think I’d figure something out… if it ever happened.”
“That’s reassuring to know, that I could just come back after my life had ended and have someone---“
“Someones. Don’t forget Sally.”
“Someones to help pick up the pieces of my life. But I don’t think it’ll ever come to that.”
“I hope it doesn’t.”
“I’m sure it won’t.”
“I’m sure, Shawna.”
She looked up at Patrick’s alarm clock. It read about an hour after she had promised herself she would get to sleep. She decided now was as good a time to turn in as any other.
“Well, I’ve got to get rested before our day tomorrow so I think I’ll turn in. I’m really glad we had this conversation, though. I’m sure going to miss talking to you when I’m gone.”
“As will I….”
Then Shawna heard the frightened voice of Patrick’s from earlier that evening.
“Shawna, seeing as you’re leaving tomorrow and probably will be gone forever, can you do me one last favor?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“If it isn’t too much trouble and if it won’t weird you out, can I try kissing you now?”
Shawna laughed once more. And that is when she heard Patrick’s head turn away from her for the first time.
“Never mind. Forget I asked.”
She had hurt him and she had not meant to do that.
“No, no. Sure you can, Patrick.”
She heard him approach, felt his breath as he knelt down beside her, felt her own heart beating….
“Now remember I’m not too good at this.”
….and then everything stopped.
It was an awkward kiss. She felt the insecurity in his lips. Somehow it did not bother her. She tried to look into his brown eyes. She could barely make them out. He was real. The voice again had a body, but whose was it? This was not the same Patrick who had sheepishly allowed her to kiss him earlier. No, that had been the Patrick of old. This dark stranger was composed, albeit hesitant. And just as she thought it would never end, he stopped. She him scurry back to his bed.
“Well, good night, Shawna.”
“Good night, Patrick.”
Ten minutes later, after making sure he had, in fact, gone to sleep, Shawna left his room silently, neglecting to close the door all the way behind her.