“We could do it, you know.”
I freeze for a second, still looking through up at the tree branches through the empty wrapping paper roll. The overgrown grass tickles the side of my face as I turn towards him. He’s sprawled in the lawn just inches from me, close enough for my arm to bump against his as I drop my cardboard tube to the ground.
He’s still holding onto his cardboard tube, bent and battered from our swordfight with his little brother and sister, turning it over and over in his hands.
“We could get out of here. We graduate next year and then you know, it’s like they say, the world is our pearl.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how the saying goes. It’s oyster. The world is our oyster,” I respond.
“Whatever. I like mine better. Oysters are way less valuable than pearls. You’ve got a what, one in a thousand chance of finding a pearl in an oyster? But if the world is your pearl, you know you’ve got something good ahead,” he says, turning to look at me. “And we’ve got something good ahead.”
I sigh, looking back at the sky. We’ve been over this a million times, ever since we were little kids and realized that at some point, we were going to grow up and be able to make our own decisions and maybe, just maybe, get out. We’ve been scheming about road trips and Europe and oceans and endless sky and new faces. Holding onto hopes of escape.
But we can’t.
“Your relentless optimism is really annoying, you know that?” I sit up, wrap my arms around my legs and hug them close, curl myself into a ball. It’s easier if I just don’t let myself dream those dreams anymore.
“Amy, we can do this. We’ve known each other since third grade and we’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. Come on. We’ll graduate, we’ll go to college, we’ll get out of here. We’ll go somewhere, anywhere! There’s a whole world out there and I am determined to be someplace where people have bigger dreams than becoming night shift manager at the Wal-mart.” He sits up too, turning to face me, crossing his legs underneath each other like he used to in third grade, during storytime, when we first met. When our mutual distaste for the read-aloud book choices (Magic Tree House, really? Those books stopped being cool in second grade) caused us to bond together against a common enemy. We won, and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was our next read-aloud book, and we’ve been best friends ever since.
Best friends going nowhere. Stuck in this little town.
“You know I can’t leave my grandparents. They’re getting older, really old, and I don’t know what they’ll do without me. They’re barely able to pay rent, and that’s with me working overtime at the diner. And you know you won’t leave your mom and Joey and Sabrina. Not with him.” I grab pull pieces of grass out of the ground as I speak, tying knots in them, pulling the knots tighter and tighter until the grass breaks. It’s an old habit.
“She’s leaving him.”
“What?” I drop my grass and look up, look into his face. He looks excited, really excited. There’s no way. He should know better.
“She’s leaving my stepdad, Amy. She told me last night. She applied for a job at the mall and she had an interview and she’s pretty sure she’s going to get it. And once she does, she’s leaving him.” He’s waving his hands in the air, gesturing like he’s giving a speech. He’s always been quick to jump into action. Overexcited. I’ve always liked that about him. I’m the farthest thing from jumping into action. He’s the one who gets me to jump off the tire swing into the lake, to climb the tree, to laugh and smile and let go a little bit.
“Don’t you see?” He grabs for my hand, squeezes my fingers. “This is our chance! She’s going to be okay. The kids are going to be okay. I can leave. We can leave!”
“But we can’t,” I say. I can’t watch as his smile fades, the confusion creeping into his eyes. “At least, I can’t.”
“Amy, your grandparents will be okay. They have friends here, it’ll be fine. You know it will. This is all you’ve ever wanted – to get out, to travel! This is your dream.” He’s still looking at me, leaning forward, insistent. He knows, he’s the only one who knows about the map on my wall. The map full of pushpins and hopes. But it’s time to pull out the pushpins and untack the dreams from the wall and face reality.
But I can’t leave. I know I can’t. My grandparents are here. They raised me and they’re all I’ve got left. I can’t just up and leave them. I don’t how they would manage, not since my grandad’s stroke.
“I can’t,” I whisper.
I can barely handle the disappointment in his face as he leans back, settling his weight onto his hands. “Well,” he manages, “I guess you’re right. Your grandparents need you. My mom probably needs me, too. I should stay with her. Make sure the kids are okay.”
It’s always been my dream to get out of here. But more importantly, to get out of here with him.
And when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to leave, the only thing that’s kept me going is the thought that he’d be here too. I’d take care of my grandparents, and he’d take care of his mom and his brother and his sister. We’d get through it together, like we always did, sharing inside jokes and candy bars to make the bad days just a little bit better.
We’re get through it together, and maybe one day that together would turn into an us.
But that’s the secret dream, the one he doesn’t know about. I can’t tell him now, not when he can leave. Not when he’s got a possibility, a perhaps.
“I can’t leave,” I tell him, dropping my face so he won’t see me trying to frantically blink back tears. “But you still can.”
He would stay, if I asked him to.
“It’s okay,” I say, meeting his eyes and forcing a smile. “You should leave. We don’t have to do it together.”
and today, we’re smashing 31 days into five minute friday (where we link up Lisa-Jo to write for five minutes) into 1000 words (aka Megan’s 31 days where we get a picture and then fiction about it) because I can. #honeybadgerblogger. also hello long blog title. sometimes I think I’m clever. trying my hand at some longer fiction and not sure how I feel about it but it’s words and it’s not words about not wanting to write so I’m going to consider this a definite improvement over the past few posts.