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The Rest of Us Just Live Here(4)
Author: Patrick Ness

We’ve been friends since we were eight, over half my life now, though mostly with my sister as an intermediary. I’ve been madly, desperately in love with Henna from when we were about twelve. She started dating Tony Kim slightly before then, which was, of course, the thing that made me realize the madly, desperately thing. She broke up with Tony this past New Year and has been single since then.

It’s now May.

So what have I been doing for the last five months? I refer you to “zero times” above.

“Coast is clear,” Mel says, as the four of us come down our driveway, dogs barking eternally in distant yards, and see my mom’s car gone. We live in a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of a city that takes about an hour to get to. There’s nothing out here but woods and the huge great Mountain on the very near horizon that’ll blow up one day and flatten everyone and everything in this part of the state. That could happen tomorrow. It could happen five thousand years from now. Life, eh?

The road to our house only got properly paved last year, and our neighbours are a mixture of professionals like my parents who wanted a bit of land to build a house on and other people who think Fox News is too liberal and build bunkers for their guns. Out here, people either grow organic turnips or vast fields of marijuana. My parents do daffodils.

Don’t walk on them. I mean, seriously, don’t walk on them.

Henna’s parents live down the road, but that’s coincidence because we actually know them from the church both our families have gone to for a hundred years. Henna’s mom is the music minister there.

She and Henna are the only black people in the whole church. That’s our tiny bit of the world for you.

Henna’s dad is a white Finnish foot doctor (so, like, really white) who does mission trips to Africa with Henna’s mom. That’s where Henna is going to spend this summer, the last summer she could spend with her high school friends before leaving for (a very Christian) college. She’s going to be in the Central African Republic, speaking high school French to Central African Republicans who are going to get foot doctoring and music ministry whether they want to or not.

What this means is that five months of a last chance since her break-up with Tony has narrowed down to four and a half weeks of a last chance until graduation. Given my success rate to date, I don’t think my odds are very good.

Mel lets us in the house, and we aren’t two steps inside before Mary Magdalene, our tubby little orange cat, is running a purring streak around Jared’s legs. He touches her nose lightly with his finger. “I see you,” he whispers, and Mary Mags does an ecstatic lopsided spin to the floor, like a falling propeller.

“Anyone want anything?” Mel says, heading to the kitchen.

Jared asks for an energy drink. Henna asks for an energy drink. I ask for an energy drink. “Little help?” Mel calls from the kitchen. I go over. I look at the glass of water she’s poured herself. “I’m fine,” she says quietly. “We’re out of Diet Coke and I hate the taste of those things.” She’s got a point about the energy drinks, which are all called Monstropop or Rev or Lotusexxy and which are, yeah, kinda disgusting, but so filled with caffeine I’m unlikely to sleep until college.

We’re next to the fridge. I open the door. There’s a bottle of Diet Coke in the back. It only has a little bit in it, but still.

“Mikey,” she whispers.

I look into her eyes.

“Sometimes it’s just hard,” she says. “It doesn’t mean anything. And you saw me at lunch.”

I did see her at lunch. And she’s right, it was fine. Home is always harder for her.

I tap the rims of each of the four glasses in turn with my fingers. I tap them again. “Dammit,” I whisper, and tap them again. Mel just waits. Three times seems to be enough, so I shut the fridge door and help her take the drinks out to the couches.

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