You know, it's one thing to buy someone a cheap card from the store. Hasty and unoriginal, yet oddly comforting to know they care about you.
The sentiment of being tracked down after final bell, thrown into a moving vehicle, and being given a mysterious object? Not so much.
This sounds like the beginning of an action movie. Contrary to popular belief, I am, in fact, not being kidnapped. Of course, I know where I'm going all the same.
Bob clenches the wheel with a bright grin, his faded white shirt with the words "You only live once" meticulously scrawled on its cheap fabric. Maybe it's an ironic reference to the fact if he continues to drive like this, we'll both be dead.
"You could slow down," I fumble with my seat belt, haphazardly dropping the blanketed object. It's contents squawk with protest as Bob turns red.
"What the hell did you do this time?"
"Marshal," he tries to keep the mystery item from falling on the floor, nearly smashing into a pole. "I warned you! I told you you could cut 6th period. Then we wouldn't have to hurry"
I sigh as a reply. School has never been important to me like it is to Bob, but when even he doesn't have qualms about skipping school, it means something.
Besides, I couldn't skip 6th period; I had photography class.
When I tell people, it devolves from there. My parents tell me to focus on my ap courses to help with college.
But to me, nothing is more important than that 1-hour block of the day where I don't have to think about any other classes. I snap that shutter, and the moment is immortalized. When I'm asked to model, I make sure to portray the best version of me. A picture can speak a thousand words, which is longer than the essay Bob was supposed to write in 6th-period government class.
"Why do we have to hurry? Where are we going?"
Bob pulls over onto the sidewalk without endangering the lives of the late holiday shoppers, and pulled the blanket off the small metal box.
A small red bird peers up at me with blank eyes, as if saying "Great, he got you in this mess. Any chance you could let me out?"
"That's your big reveal? Is it some clue? Are we going back to the forest to release this bird you've captured?"
His trademark smile turned into a scowl. "You don't have to be such a dick, Marshal"
"I'm trying to be honest"
"Well, I'm trying not to be mad at you today? Do you know why?"
"Because you need to copy my homework for Ms. Georche's class?"
"No, be sensible. I doubt you did any more than I have yet anyway"
I begrudgingly shrugged. He had me there. "I give up. What is it?"
Bob dropped a quarter between the bars of the cage, waiting patiently for the bird to pick it up. When it did, he carefully inspects it.
"We're turning right," Bob declares.
"You're not angry at me because we're turning right?"
"I like that. Give me some more sarcasm. The good stuff, this time"
"That doesn't answer my question"
"Marshal," Bob twists to look at me before shooting his eyes back to the road. "Tonight, this car will be your guide to the crappy town we've been forced to live in. We will crush our enemies and feast at only the finest banquets!"
"And by banquets, you mean Dunkin's"
He flashes me a grin. Years ago, Bob and his mom were struggling to find food. His dad had left, and his mom's classes were taking up her time. They entered Bob into an acting competition for Dunkin's, landing him a spot in a commercial.
When the director found out his age, he quickly dismissed them. Luckily for Bob, he didn't leave empty-handed. Thousands of coupons come in the mail each month, at least a third of them expired. Part of me wants to believe Bob's sick of the fast-food chain by now, but he keeps ordering there. To dine at such a place requires the fortification only my best friend possesses. At least we live in new England; you turn in any direction, and they're right there.
"Christmas break began today," Bob reminds me.
"Winter break," I chide. "Jewish, remember?"
"Whatever. You know you still celebrate Christmas. You just get twice the amount of presents. Hell, you've gone to church the same amount of times I have"
"I've never even stepped inside one"
"Exactly. And so, to celebrate this fine day, we will travel along with this car, using only coins as our maps"
"I'm sorry, what?"
Bob hands me a stack of quarters. "Whenever I tell you to flip one of these, do it. If it's heads, we'll go right. Tails, we go left"
"Why do we need this many?"
"You can't use the same one twice. Duh!" Bob explains as if the rules are plainly obvious. "Then we free the bird"
The little red bird cocks its head in relief.
"Where did you find the bird?"
"In my ib environmental class," a bit of me breaks as Bob's expression turns hazy. I can't bear to see him as sad as the day his dad left. Before I can wonder what about the incident that made him sad, he continues.
"We were hiking in the woods,” Bob's smile wavers. ”The storm cut this little guy off. I volunteered to get him back to his family by tonight, before the nor'easter”
”That's brave,” I admit. ”Except for the bit about the extra credit. Maybe cut that part out when you mention it to girls”
His grin returns, but there's a forced part to it now.
”Where to first?”
I flip a coin. ”Right,” I dictate. ”Then left”
”See?” Bob brags as he drives, leaning over into the next lane. ”This'll be the most fun anyone's ever had been kidnapped!”
When I flip another quarter, George Washington grimaces up at me.
“Onto the highway!” Bob reports. “I know where to go”
His exuberance can only take us so far. Bob ends up cranking the holiday station up to the max, trying to drown out the quiet between us. While I'd like to say our friendship is the type that doesn't require forced chats, that isn't true. Bob's always ready to strike up conversation.
He finally makes a turn off the highway at an exit I've never ventured off of. The candy sunset is set aflame by this new array of lights, splashing up into the sky with greedy anger.
“I wanted to take you here first,” Bob tells me, staring at the mess of string lights before us.
It's a maze, I guess. Each hedge wall is adorned with multicolored sparkling lights, leading us down.
Bob buys two tickets, smiling at me. “Are you ready for this?”
I pull on a sour expression, despite my amazement at this blinding labyrinth. “I'll try”
We can only make it a few feet before Bob takes out the quarters. “It'd be cheating if we didn't use these”
“Of course,” I snort. “Because using simple logic to solve a children's maze is ridiculous. You're trying to stall”
Bob gestures out to the maze, revealing an assorted cast of other teenagers. In fact, the place seems to be devoid of kids.
“There's supposedly going to be a party at the end,” he promises. “Beer. Music. Girls?”
I laugh at the last one, poised as a question. “Girls”
“Girls?” Bob feigns a pout.
“Girls,” I playfully punch his arm.
“Girls it is. Where to first, captain?”
“Left,” I sigh, staring down the illuminated hall, already suspecting the dead-end staring us straight in the face.
I swear Bob nearly skips down its length, dragging me along by my hand.
“C'mon!” he says, turning around to face me. “If you want to get there and back in time”
“What about the bird?”
A playful half-moon plays on his face as we turn down a different stretch of the maze. Turns out it wasn't as simple as I thought.
“That's the thing,” he confesses. “There's gonna be a road out to the forest. We can take it out there to release the bird”
“That's simple enough,” my feet drag across the ground. “We're taking a right next”
“Roger that,” Bob salutes me, dancing into the next aisle. A dead-end greets us almost immediately.
“Shit,” the quarters failed us again. When is he going to learn? “We need to find a way to speed this up”
“Maybe not use the quarters?” my voice sounds dry in the cold air.
“No,” Bob pushes the idea off as if it's insane. “Maybe just throw them around in the bag? If you didn't keep dropping them...”
“Do you expect me to be able to keep flipping them in this weather?”
“Listen,” Bob slides off his gloves. “Use these. You'll fit in them, I think”
“Thanks,” I grumble, only slightly content. At least he's trying. It still doesn't help our strategy. Before I can use my newly warmed fingers, a shriek pierces the air.
“Jaime!” A girl's voice breaks the quiet between us as a large girl smashes into me. “Sorry!”
I turn to stare at her. Her eggshell trench coat pulled over her shoulders compliments her dark skin in a way my own wardrobe would have approved. Her curly pink hair is piled under a thick woolen hat.
“That's my bird,” she points toward the cage in Bob's hand.
“Huh? I found it in the woods. We were just about to release it-”
“No!” She cries, gloved hands put on either cheek as if the thought is too much to bear. “Please don't! I lost him a few days ago, and it'd really be a hassle to get him back”
“I found him in the woods,” Bob points out plainly.
“Didn't you even notice he's a tropical bird”
Well. That explains a lot. I look back at Bob, mimicking his stupid grin. “Whoops”
“Are y'all headed to the party?” she takes the bird from Bob with a warm smile, generous and clean.
“Yeah,” Bob elbows me. “We were just about to get there”
“Why'd you two go down this wrong turn? Doesn't seem like you're really trying”
I scowl at Bob. “I told you we didn't have to use the quarters”
“What?” She yanks us out into the main corridor, eyeing the back. “Did y'all really use those?”
Her southern accent pierces through any attempt at subtlety. “Yeah. This dumbass thought it would work”
“And,” Bob continues. “This dumbass's name is Bob. That's Marshall”
“I'm Agnes,” she stands proudly, leading us through the maze. “My brother works here. That's why I'm up here. I could get y'all out”
“Perfect,” I nod towards Bob. A little bit of him deflates, but the sounds of the party as Agnes quickly takes us through the maze lifts his spirits. Each turn winds us through the snaking lights, the rainbow streaking past our eyes in a whipping blur.
"Here!" Agnes proudly stands, showing off the party. I didn't know what I expected, but I guess string lights are in.
In fact, the entire place seems to be glowing. Fairy lights bundled up in balls like tumbleweeds, strip lights slashing x's through the snowy walls. the gazebo is probably brighter than it is during daytime. Before I can even picture the carbon footprint, Bob pulls me in to dance.
"C'mon!" he says, dragging me in. I follow reluctantly, drawing an odd look from him.
"Indie shit," I mumble, hearing the soft drumset bring me into the jumble of teens all thrashing. Of course, Bob's loving it.
"What's wrong?" he asks, hand wrapped around my hair, pulling at my ear. "I thought you loved dancing"
"I do," I begrudgingly reply. "With other people who are actually good"
He hiccups a little, pulling me in. "How drunk are you?"
"Just a few drinks," Bob admits. "Aren't I always this weird"
He has a point. There isn't much needed to bring him even farther off the deep end. The beat grows infectious, each tap swallowing me whole until I'm one of the crowd, right beside Agnes and Bob, mingled with thousands of people I don't know.
And honestly? I have to like it. Everything screams at me to hate it, but I love it.
'It was a bad idea' the song screams at me like a siren, every warning call pulling me closer and closer to the huddled mass. Sweat and perfume stink the air, covering up every inhibition inside of us.
"How great is this?" Bob yells over each looping guitar riff. "Better than spending the night at your mom's house, right?"
'Calling you up'
I have bob my head back to him. How many drinks have I had? "Obviously!"
'Was such a bad idea'
And then it kills me.
Bob's face is right next to mine, each dimple pressed near my cheek, each slow-motion destroy every panic attack I have. Every cell screams to fight it.
But he brings me closer anyway.
'I'm totally fucked!'
"I wanted you here," Bob decides. "I wanted you"
'It was a bad idea'
And then he's kissing me. His lips caress my own, sweat from his forehead dripping down onto my paler skin. Our bodies are quickly tangled, my shirt lifting higher and higher as his hands venture farther than I've ever gone.
'To think I could stop'
"The hell?" my shouts barely reach over the music, but Agnes catches my eye, moving off from the boy she's been chatting it up with since we got here. "Did you think that was good?"
'Was such a bad idea'
His voice trails off before I slap him. I didn't ask to have a crisis like this. I don't fucking need this.
'I can't get enough!'
"You fucking ass," my hand slaps the rosy cheeks that once swept across my bleached blonde bangs. "What were you thinking"
"That's the thing," Bob's voice drops an octave. "I wasn't. I just wanted you"
"Fine," I scoff, heading down to the forest trail. "Here's some fucking advice; pine after a guy who actually wants you"
And with that eloquence, I twist off, the final chords of the song winding my entire heart down. I don't have to feel bad, do I?
I'm straight. I liked every ex I've had. Bob's own crisis doesn't have to be mine.
"Listen," a spunky voice finds its way into my ear. I already know the face attached to it. "You didn't have to be a bitch about it"
"For someone I've just met," I spit back at Agnes, staring up at the towering pines above me. The light from the party still casts an eerie glow onto my forehead that I try to ignore. At least the music's faded off into familiar territory. I can completely relate to Conan's wish to be sober. "You sure know how to invade someone's life"
"I think you should go back," Agnes advises. "You don't have to love him. But you shouldn't ruin your friendship like this"
"I ruined it?"
Her fist collides with my jaw. "Try that again, punk, and they won't find your body in the forest"
"Now you're threatening me?"
My voice comes out higher than I'd want it to. "No," Agnes confines to the outer reaches of the path, where the lights only splash across a small stretch of her face. "You brought Jamie back to me. I'd never attack someone who helped me"
"You literally just hit me!"
"That was a weak punch," Agnes clenches her jaw. "Want me to really try?
"Listen, you don't have to listen to me. I don't even know if you like guys. But here's the cosmic question; what if you did?"
"You're a male model," Agnes lists my grievances out on her hand. "I saw you dancing to Conan Gray and Girl in red. You're dressed like that, for fuck's sake!"
I stare down at my black designer t, a thousand vaporwave rainbow fronds splayed in a dizzying array, tucked in neatly with my dark skinny jeans.
"That's a stereotype," I turn away from her, walking farther down the path. "You're basing it all off of what you think gay people are like"
"I don't even think you're gay," Agnes grabs my shoulder. "Have you ever either considered the thought of being bi?"
"Of course," I scoff. "But not with Bob!"
It comes out more like a command, one that doesn't betray her furious face. "I..."
"You don't know. You're scared of doing it wrong? Scared of something new"
"Listen, you should just mind you're own-"
"Marshal, I'm sorry"
Bob moves into the scene, clenching his arm awkwardly. "Great," I mumble. "Why did you even do that?"
"I thought you were bi, I swear. I even asked Agnes"
"My gaydar has never failed me," she promises. "Never"
"Anyway," Bob tries to reach out for my hand. "I didn't want to ruin anything between us. But we've been friends for so long. I thought you were ready for..."
"I," my voice catches in my throat. "Listen; I'll admit it. I have thought of you. I've thought of many people. But I never wanted it in life"
"You were a closet-case" Agnes shrugs. "Listen, lots of people have all been there"
"Why does having gay thoughts make me bi?" I ask, cursing when I realize how ridiculous it sounds. "Sorry"
"I don't want to force this on you," Bob leans closer to me. "So I'll ask. Can I kiss you?"
"I'd love that," I confess, watching as he draws nearer. His love eclipses my own, the moon acting as our own personal spotlight. The halo of light from the party surrounds us, a hazy aura, a mix of a thousand different colors.
And for once, I'm ready for the future.