They were sitting on the roof of Muz’s car. Gervassi was almost asleep, his eyelids kept falling and his head kept dropping, knocking against Afra’s shoulder. She would have let him sleep, she didn’t mind knowing he was comfortable enough to just be while she was around. She liked being able to sit with him and not think of anything, but she had been thinking about something, and one of the other best things about Gervassi is that he would listen. Undeniably.
“Vassi.” She poked him in the side. “Hey.” He sat up and yawned, wanting nothing else but for the crickets to stop chirping and the sun to stop setting and for Afrassi to stop trying to bring things up that he had interest in talking about, at least not in the moment.
“Mm, yeah?” Gervassi knew what she was going to say. They had gotten home from the hospital two hours ago. Once Eleanor had been safely escorted out of Colorado by her parents, they felt it okay to get back to the Colorado cabin with the rest of their friends. Gervassi and Afra had left the group to finish packing up some things. The upstairs room was quiet and still busy with the scattered new memories the week had brought the two of them. Afra and Muz had to get back home before the weekend was over. School. Parents. Reality. Whatever it was, Gervassi was sad to see it coming to take Afra from him, literally. He leaned on his hands, still sitting on the roof of Muz’s fragile vehicle, and slid shy sideways eyes at Afra. “What’s up?”
“You know when we first met?”
“Of course.” His hand found hers in the cold and their fingers crossed, brushing the fading paint of the car. Muz was meaning to get it fixed, but she hadn’t yet. No one was thinking about the car or the paint, though. They were thinking of goodbyes. “Box and Liberace.”
“Two of my favorite words,” Afra said, smiling and sighing. “And remember I was scared to talk to you because I had just eaten a massive onion sandwich for lunch and I didn’t want to knock you out?”
Vassi moved closer to her. “You had already knocked me out way before that- soon as you got on the bus- and it had nothing to do with your breath.” He traced her jawline and despite the fact that his fingers were numb from the bitingly bitter night winds, it was still a warm gesture. “I was so nervous because you were just staring at me and I wanted to move seats because I thought you were a serial killer.”
“Or a regular bus perv.”
“Yeah, or that.” He could see Muz and Triscin walking back towards the car in the distance but he ignored them and yawned again. He really was exhausted no matter how much he hated to admit it. Emotional stress made him sleepy. “But I didn’t move. I stayed where I was and I’ve never left since.”
Afra rolled her eyes, but it was the way that meant, at least to Gervassi, that she loved his ridiculous brand of John Green romance. She sat up all the way and swung her legs off the side of the car, back to Gervassi. Maybe because she was going to laugh if she looked at him too long, with those deeply gray earnest eyes and orange hair and all the things that made her want to stuff him in the trunk of Muz’s car and take him home forever. Maybe because those same things were going to make her cry. “When we were driving back, earlier, I noticed this huge sale on fresh onions and they smelled just like my horrible breath did on the first hiking day. I was just like, wow, sometimes really pretty things come out of the scenes that seem the worst, you know?”
Gervassi slid across the car and threw his legs over the side of the car too, tapping Afra’s shoes with his socked feet. He had tossed his shoes to the ground, saying that he felt lighter without anything holding him to the earth, and then regretted it very much when he realized things like fingers and toes were one of the first things to snap off when frostbite set in.
“I know.” He set his face in his hands and didn’t say anything else. Muz and Triscin were getting closer and closer, no longer dots on the horizon but now people again; Muz laughing and Triscin the one making the jokes.
“They’re coming for us.” Afra’s voice was dark, ominous, and even though she was just kidding, Gervassi snaked his arms around her and pulled her close, never ever wanting to let go. He buried his head in the soft fabric of the worn jacket he had given to her just months ago, wondering how it was that when he had owned it, it smelled like old socks and desperation but when she wore it, it was oranges and roses and hot cement.
“How am I going to call my dad, Afra?” His voice was muffled but his words were clear and he was worried. He knew she wouldn’t want to talk about his stupid old dad while they were about to not see each other for the next who knows how long, but he had to ask. Afra was all about asking questions, after all. “Do you think he’s like, actually going to listen or what?”
“He said he would.”
“But he’s always said that and it hasn’t gone over well.”
“I don’t know, but you can have me on one phone while you guys talk if you want to.” Gervassi shook his head. Afra arched an eyebrow. “Too much?”
“Yeah, now who’s John Green? I’m kidding, but yeah, no. This is a thing I have to do alone.” He needed to change the subject soon. Muz and Triscin were getting louder and closer. Afra tucked her fingers into the sleeves of Vassi’s sweater and looked up at the stars. They were blinking in and out, but always there in the sky and she liked that. “What’s something you need to do alone?”
“Be with you.” Muz waved to both of them, probably wanting them to get off the car, but they didn’t respond. Afra let her tears slide down her face but didn’t look at Gervassi so she didn’t know he was doing the same. So close and yet knowing they would have to leave soon made them seem already a million miles away and it was painful. Gervassi hated it. Afra wondered if she had let her guard down too far. She put walls up to not get hurt and here she was, sitting on a car roof and being melancholy with an orange hair boy who most of the time looked like he fell off an indie album. The air was still despite the movement in both their chests; aching and missing someone who they saw right there beside them but who would soon be reduced to pictures and calls and dreams. Afra looked at Gervassi and maybe it was a mistake.
“Why are we both so sad?” He was quiet in asking. Afra could really imagine him being an indie singer now, with his orange hair and sad boy eyes and words that made her feel strange, being the one who made him sad and not knowing exactly why. “I’ll see you soon. Actually,” he brushed tears away and turned to face Afra, “I’ll call you everyday, just like we were doing before. And you’ll tell me about school.”
“And you’ll tell me about work.”
“And you’ll tell me stories about Tim Gunn.”
Afra did miss her dog. “And you’ll tell me stories about your roommate.”
Gervassi didn’t miss his roommate. “And it’ll be good. Not the best, but good.”
“Yeah.” Muz was about ten feet away from the car and she was bringing donuts as a parting gift. Afra jumped off the car. She held out a hand to Gervassi and he took it, hopping down to join her and being glad he wasn’t wearing makeup because that would have made it so obvious that he was being interrupted from a sob carnival. (As opposed to a snooze fest, duh)
“I come bearing gifts, young Padawans!” Muz gallantly bowed low, donut bag presented to Afra and Gervassi as though made of gold. Triscin grinned. While Afra and Gervassi had been recollecting their very first memories, Muz and Triscin were just starting to make theirs. It was unclear where they stood, exactly, but they were friends and sometimes friends can be the best kind of soulmates.
Afra took the bag and peered inside. “Huh.” She handed Gervassi the pink one and took three glazed ones for herself. “Thanks, Muz.”
Muz pointed at Triscin. “Don’t thank me. It wasn’t my idea.”
“Okay, thank you, Triscin.”
He nodded and stuck his thumbnail in his mouth. It had been his idea, but only because Muz was getting worked up about how late it had gotten, and how she and Afra needed to get on the road, and how she blah blah blah blah. To be terribly honest, Triscin wasn’t paying too much attention. He knew she was upset, but after being with Eleanor so long he’d gotten used to tuning people out when they were in a tizzy, mostly because Eleanor’s rants ended in shoes being chucked at his head. He’d suggested they walk down to the nearest donut shop and Muz, much to his surprise, stopped yelling and blinked.
“You’d walk over seven miles for donuts?” She shifted softly in her giant black boots. “You would?”
And Triscin couldn’t help but nod, still a pushover for people he thought he was responsible for making happy, which was everyone. He wanted to give Afra and Gervassi more time. He wanted Muz to stop worrying and have fun. He wanted the other people in the cabin- Ander and everyone- to be able to finish their card game in peace. He wanted himself to move on from Eleanor, and he just wanted Eleanor to get home safely and forget about him. “Sure, I’ll walk if you come with me.”
“Awesome.” She nodded, and they were off.
Now they were back to the cabin and Triscin could feel the walls falling around him. Afra had been crying. Gervassi had been crying and sleeping and crying more, from the look of it. The goodbyes they were saying must be so much heavier, Triscin thought. He and Muz were getting the easy end of the deal.
“So, uh,” Muz bounced on the heels of her black boots, crunching deep into the soft snow that was falling again. “We should get on the road, Afra.”
Afra shoved another donut in her mouth. “We can’t go.”
“Well, why not? You guys literally had over two more hours together and we have to get on the road. You know that. Don’t be disillusioned. All good things must come to and end. Say goodbye for the millionth time and get in the car.”
“No,” Afra’s mind was spinning, “I mean, have you seen the weather?” She gestured to the ground and the sky. “It’s snowing.”
“So what? It’s Colorado. It snows all the time and we’ve been driving in it for a week.” Muz stepped forward and Afra backed into Gervassi. “Dude.” She glanced at Gervassi over the top of Afra’s hair. “Her parents are going to kill me if we stay any longer.”
Gervassi knew this all too well. “Afra, hey, let go. Call me the whole drive there if you want but you have to go.” He realized the pink donut was still in his hand and was now getting frosting all over Afra’s jacket. “Afra.” She turned around to stare right at his stupid fantastic face.
“I love you, is all.”
She sniffed. “Okay.”
“Yeah, well, I love you too.”
“I’ll still love you when you’re not here.”
“Man, I’m not dead yet.” Afra pulled the strings of Gervassi’s hoodie together, tied them in a bow, and stepped on his socked feet with her shoes. “We’re not actually John Green characters.”
“Ow.” Gervassi didn’t have all that great bone structure, the tops of his feet were slowing unnumbing and the blood was rushing back, but he didn’t tell Afra to get off. He kissed her and set her back on the ground. “Okay?”
She shrugged. “I guess.” She kissed him back and Muz stomped her foot and Triscin wandered off to go look at some trees. He felt intrusive. “Better?”
“Mm hm. You’d better go now.”
“Okayyyy. Eat your donut, though.” Afra waved at her new friends, watching her from the window. “Okay, bye.”
Gervassi let go of her fingers. “Bye.” She pulled the car door open and jumped in before she could change her mind. Then she rolled down the window and rested her elbows in the frame. “Bye.”
Muz yelled, “Adios, champ!” to Triscin, who grinned and waved to her, and then she nodded to Gervassi and thanked him for the nice trip before getting in the car. It was time to go home.
They pulled out of the Colorado cabin driveway, past the broken tree where Eleanor had crashed Triscin’s car, past the donut shop Muz had walked to. They drove in silence past the hospital Eleanor had been brought to after her accident, where the power had gone out. The Colorado mountains fell behind them in deeply snowy peals. Afra eventually tried to turn on the radio to fill up the silence, but Muz swatted her hand.
“I’m driving. Passengers don’t get a music choice. And besides, you have to talk to me sooner or later. We’ve only been in the car thirty minutes.”
“Oh.” Afra stared out the car window. She caught herself in the side mirror and laughed because her hair was sticking out every which way and her lipstick was all over her teeth and her jacket had pink frosting drying on the sleeves. “I’m not mad at you.”
“You seem mad.” Muz kept her hands steady on the steering wheel, ready to turn onto the highway exit in a few miles. “And I already said I was sorry, even though it’s not my fault we had to go and it’s not my fault you’re so clingy.”
“What?” Afra wasn’t intending to fight with her best friend. In fact, though the two girls teased each other relentlessly on a daily basis, they weren’t too bad when it came to actual arguments. She didn’t want to start being good at it now. “I’m not clingy. He’s my boyfriend. It’s natural to miss someone you love when you know you won’t be able to see them for a while. You should know that.”
“I do know that, and that’s why I’m saying it worries me that you seem so miserable already. You weren’t this mopey sad when you couldn’t see Gervassi before. You told me yourself, it was for fun.”
“But I lied.” Afra rubbed at the lipstick stains on her front teeth. “It was never just for fun. But,” she decided to change the subject, “I know you had fun so don’t pretend you weren’t sad to leave either.”
“Fine, I was sad, but I didn’t have a Mayday Parade fest like you. I brought you donuts and you almost jumped across the country. Gervassi may be cool, I agree, but I’m me. I’m forever.”
“I know!” Afra knew that. She knew Muz would outlast Gervassi even if they got married and moved to the North Pole. “I know.”
“Good.” Muz turned on the radio and her Oliver! CD played so loud it rattled their teeth. “Now, where do you want to eat?”
Afra’s phone buzzed with a message from either her parents or Gervassi, but she left it where it was. “Let’s eat at Waffle House.” Muz approved. She loved Waffle House more than she loved her own mother.
“Yes! Let’s.” She turned off the highway and started her maps towards the nearest Waffle House. The roads took them into a small, buggy buzzed town and the Waffle House sign was broken, missing a f in the middle. The girls climbed out of the car and walked into the restaurant, the smell of onioned hash browns filling the thin air.