“No, thank you,” Jared says, getting up, downing his energy drink in one. “We were just heading out.”
“You don’t have to leave on my account,” my mom says, meaning that yes, yes, they do.
“Homework,” Henna says, gathering her things quickly. She leaves her energy drink on the coffee table. It’s already sweating beads of water down the side, and I can feel my heart start to race at the need to either put a coaster underneath it or wipe the water away or something.
One glass of energy drink. One.
Mel sees me staring at the glass, picks it up off the table, and drinks it down, even though she particularly hates Lotusexxy.
I give her a pleading look of thanks.
While I’ve been trapped, Jared and Henna are at the door already, waving their goodbyes. The door shuts behind them. It’s just us family now. Embrace the warmth.
“It’s bad enough you’re friends with that boy–” my mom starts.
I get up so fast, she stops mid-sentence. I don’t put on my jacket. I don’t take anything with me except the car keys I’ve already got in my pocket. I’m out the door before she can do anything more than give me a shocked look.
I catch Jared and Henna out on the walk. “Ride home?” I say.
It takes about three seconds to drop Henna off down the street, though I do get a full eye-contact thank you from her as she gets out. My mad, desperate head thinks of mad, desperate things to say to her, but of course I don’t. Then Jared and I are driving, even though his own car is still parked at my house. I turn the opposite direction from where he lives.
He says nothing.
We drive until the sun sets. There are more back roads into and out of these woods than anyone can count, than are probably on any map. You can drive and drive and drive and just see forest and fields, the occasional cow, the occasional elk, the even more occasional moose (the animal Patron Saint of Perpetual Embarrassment; I can relate, though not to being Catholic, which I’ve apparently decided mooses are). The Mountain glows in and out of view, turning pink, then blue, then shadow, as it watches us wander.
I finally stop in a turn-off by a glacial lake. Huge, crystal clear, cold as death.
“Is it Henna?” Jared finally asks.
“It’s not Henna,” I say, into the dark. “Well, it is. But not just that. And not my parents either.”
“Good, because I’m fine about that. The bad feeling between me and your mom is entirely mutual.”
I stare out into the really amazingly dark night. There are more stars over my part of the world than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. “Four and a half weeks to go.”
“Four and a half weeks,” Jared agrees. “Graduation.”
He waits. I wait, too. After a long minute, I turn on the cabin light and hold up my hands to him.
“What am I looking at?” he asks.
I point to my fingertips. They’re wrinkled and cracked. “Eczema.”
I turn off the cabin light. “I washed my hands seventeen times this morning after taking a piss before History.”
Jared exhales a long, long time. “Dude.”
I just swallow. It’s loud in the silence. “I think it’s starting again.”
“It’s probably just the pressure of everything,” Jared offers. “Finals, your massively unrequited love for Henna–”
“Don’t say unrequited.”
“…your massively invisible love for Henna…”
I hit him on the arm. It’s friendly. More silence.
“What if I go crazy?” I finally whisper.
I feel Jared shrug. “At least it’ll piss off the Senator.”