Miles to Go

Chapter 9: Him

Either I’d been entirely wrong, or something had drastically changed. Neither of the new siblings were in school today, and I found it odd the two would be missing together. The boy was nearly always in school, and when he wasn’t, it was for the entire day while the sister was inconsistently missing, sometimes for days and sometimes for a class or more. But they’d never been missing at the same time.

I’d sensed their relationship to be dormant, only existent through a blood bond. Even in the hallways, they tended to walk past each other without a hello or a smile or any other form of acknowledgement. I couldn’t have been wrong.

“Hey, Labby, sorry I’m late,” Charlotte greeted the same way she usually did every day, smiling widely. “I had to talk to someone. What did I miss?”

I glanced at our lab paper, disoriented. She was crushing on someone; the taste of infatuation was all over her. It was an extreme change from the boredom everyone else in the class emitted. It wasn’t that everyone felt the same thing here, not by a long shot. The kid by the door was having an adrenaline rush thanks to the escape plan he was thinking up going by the way his body was leaning towards the door; the girl by the window was dealing with some form of heartbreak and was anxious to leave not only the class, but the school and was on the verge of tears; the girl in the center of the room who was smiling widely was actually happy despite the barely detectable suggestion of sorrow under the happiness, and had traces of overexcitement in her system which I could not only sense but also see with the way her body bounced in its seat and her fingers tapped at irregular intervals to no particular beat—but she was usually like that, the center of attention with her smiles and happy aura and buried sadness. But this was stronger than all that, this infatuation, possibly because she sat right next to me, but whatever the reason—

“Labby?” she asked slowly, something she’d taken to calling me when we’d first been assigned as lab partners regardless of my (many) protests. “You okay? You just totally zoned out on me there.”

“Yeah, no. I’m fine. Uh, I think we…” I glanced at the paper again. “Follow directions? I really wasn’t listening.”

She laughed. “It’s understandable. No worries—I’ll copy off of someone, and you can copy off of me, okay?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Sure. Uhm, not to intrude…”

I looked at her curiously. “What is it?”

“Are you okay? I usually get at least one complaint when I call you Labby before you let it go.”

“I’m fine. I just decided to let you have today,” I said easily, not even thinking of it as the lie slipped from my lips.

“Oh, well thank you then. Maybe I’ll let you have tomorrow.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

“Go for it.”

She was certainly pretty, I had to give her that much, but her eyes… there was something missing there that I hadn’t noticed the first few times I’d seen her.

And it wasn’t that normal pretty, it was more of a hidden beauty, something you either had an eye for, or something you had to look for. But it was certainly there. The first few times I’d seen her, she hadn’t been close enough to make out, but now that she was…

Still, I thought angrily and very on edge, what gave her the right to come here, stay here, without permission? This place was mine this time of the day, and mine alone. Did it look like I wanted to share it with anyone, much less some girl with empty eyes?

And worst of all was the way she kept looking over here, thinking she was so subtle. A smack in the face was more subtle than her, which was clearly saying something.

I wanted to ignore her, pretend she didn’t exist and the house beside me was still uninhabited, but it was so difficult with the way the curiosity and emptiness rolled into this ball and hit me. It was cold, this emptiness. Freezing, even. I knew even the water at this time of the day would somehow manage to be warmer than her.

It didn’t seem human, this cold. It couldn’t be. How could a person live like that, with this cold in them all the time?

I shivered as the wind blew my curls into my face and sighed, annoyed. I was being somewhat irrational, I knew, but how else was I supposed to react? The one place I had was no longer mine.

I mentally cursed at myself for ever having spoken to her brother and letting it slip how often I was here. Stupid, really, in its most evident form.

Thankfully, though, I’d decided to sit on the corner of the fence closer to the Wilsons’ house instead of the corner by her. Unfortunately, she’d decided to sit on the corner closer to my house.

And, while I could most certainly get up and leave, this place had always been mine; she should be the one to leave.

On the bright side, I thought dismally, at least she wasn’t smoking like always.

And then, ironically, she pulled out her lighter. But even five minutes later, she hadn’t pulled out a cigarette from the baggy shorts she was wearing tonight, very different from the short shorts she usually wore.

And, still playing with her lighter, she looked over again, and I scoffed, looking up at the sky as if that would give me the answer as to how to make her leave.

It didn’t, of course, not that I expected otherwise.

It ended up being one of the longest nights of my life, even worse than when the family had come over for Christmas then ended up staying for the night because of the icy roads outside.

But, eventually, the sun came out as it inevitably would have to and, after glancing at me again, she slowly pushed to her feet and made her way inside. I watched her from the corner of my eye, watched as she jumped the fence rather skillfully, and stepped inside, putting her lighter back in her pocket.

I followed suit soon after, going inside when I knew I had to or risk being late.

I stepped inside to see not my mother cooking as usual, but instead sitting at the dining table, her face buried in her hands and her shoulders shaking. I stopped in the door, the muscles in my stomach clenching at the sudden change from emptiness to sadness. “Mom?”

She looked up, jumping slightly, and forced a watery smile as she swiped at her face. “I thought you’d already come in. Sorry, miele. Go get ready for school.”

“What’s wrong, mamma?”

She shook her head, dropping her gaze. “Nothing, caro, I promise.”

“Mamma, don’t lie to me.”

“Your father and I arguing. That’s all. It’s stupid.”

I nodded, understanding. My mother, while a strong person, couldn’t bear fighting with the people she loved. It was one of the rare things that could break her down like this and leave her so vulnerable that it was practically painful to watch. “It’s okay, mom.”

“I know, sweetie,” she sniffled and let out a shaky laugh. “I’m being ridiculous. But I just can’t seem to help it.”

“I know.”

She sniffled again, and held out a hand to me, needing the comfort. And, even though I often hated touching people, I stepped to her, and held her hand tightly in mine as I took a seat beside her at the table.

Muttering in gratitude, she let out a soft, almost relieved breath, and rested her head on my shoulder.

And even though my initial reaction was to pull away, I stayed still and let her.

“Do you have any intentions of apologizing?” I asked, crossing my arms across my chest defiantly later that night.

“I didn’t do anything!” My dad cried almost instantly in defense, throwing his hands up in the air.

“Right, that’s why she’s the one crying.”

“You know your mom; she can be a little…”

“Emotional? Yeah. But you’re the guy. Therefore you’re wrong. Even I know this. So go apologize.”

“Stop fathering me,” he said, lips twitching.

“Someone has to. You two act like children. Apologize.”

“It’s not easy when you’re in a relationship—”

“Isn’t it? I think you’re both just being proud. Is your ego really so important to you?”

He sighed in defeat, his eyes rolling up to the ceiling as if searching for an answer. “Fine,” he said finally. “I’ll… apologize.”

I scoffed at the face he made, as if the word alone was poisonous. “Your tongue won’t fall out.”

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s go, old man,” he teased, sidestepping me and heading towards the doorway of his study. “Oh, and old man?” he called back, glancing at me behind his shoulder. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” I mumbled, parting ways with him and stepping into my room. Going to my window, I glanced outside, squinting against the sun. The beach was swarming with people, especially since it was such a nice day out when it was November. No one was in the water, that would be too cold I knew, but the shore was packed for the first time in days. If the weather continued being on good behavior, I knew it would be like this for the next few days to follow. Eventually it would get cooler again, and the beach would stay empty then until next summer, just like every other year.

That was the thing. Even when things changed, there was a normality that eventually came around.

Brow furrowing, I thought of my cold neighbor and wondered when that would fall into familiarity.

I decided that chances were it never would.

“Would you stop staring at me?” I asked, just loud enough so my voice would carry to where she sat.

“What?” she asked just as loudly, as she tilted her head towards me.

“Stop staring at me. Please,” I added as an afterthought.

“I have better things to stare at,” she responded coolly in her raspy monotone, taking out her cigarette.

And, even if she did smoke, her voice didn’t give it away. It just wasn’t that smoker raspy, more natural.

I glared, and bit out, “Try not to be so obvious.”

“What’s your problem?”

“What do you think?” I asked rhetorically.

“I don’t know. Why do you think I’m asking?”

“Just… Our houses can be the border line. You don’t come here, and I won’t come there. We don’t even have to talk to each other, and we especially don’t have to look at each other.”

“Whatever.” She nonchalantly looked away, the unlit cigarette in hand. A minute later, she said, “Was she your sister? Bella?”

“Close enough,” I answered slowly, wondering why she was asking. All I could sense from her was her emptiness. The only hint I got from her at all was the way her body seemed to be unconsciously leaning towards me. Normally she sat as straight as humanly possible, but right now… “Why?”

She shook her head. “She was nice.”

“Yeah. She is,” I said shortly. There was curiosity mixing in with her emptiness again. I wondered if she ever felt anything else or if that was it.

She nodded, and silently turned back to face the ocean.

I hesitated and, feeling kind of bad even if I couldn’t stand her, I said, “She didn’t bother you too much, did she?”

The girl glanced at me and shook her head. “No. She’s a very happy child. She kept talking about you.”

I uncomfortably played with the sand at my feet. “She does that sometimes.”

She nodded. “She seems to be very in love with you.”

I half smiled. “She considers me her brother.” After a slight pause in conversation while I tasted the air around her and still found it unnaturally cold, I said, “I’m Desmond.”

She didn’t look at me, but her chin tilted just a fraction of an inch towards me. “Rylie.”

Not knowing what else there was to say, I turned to gaze at the seemingly black ocean again that was peculiarly calm tonight.

And for the rest of the night until the sun rose, it was me who was staring.

It was solely because of that and no other reason whatsoever that I noticed the change in her when the sun hit her. I certainly wasn’t looking, not for the changes or anything else really.

Her already reddish brown hair turned redder and as her features were accentuated, I saw I’d been wrong. She was pretty, but not in a hidden beauty sort of way. She resembled an ice queen almost, with her composed structure and frozen eyes. Her body didn’t help the comparison either. She was mostly bones, in a willowy sort of way and she quietly screamed attention.

I was sure she received it, too. How could she not, looking the way she did? Even if you didn’t find her stunning, it would be hard to not do a double take were you to see her on the street. And it wasn’t just her face, either. It was in the way she carried herself, the aloof air that surrounded her.

She got to her feet then, and as she did, our eyes locked for a moment. And then she was turning away, going back into her house.

And… unusual as it was, I was actually hoping she’d come to the beach tonight. There was something about the cold around her that, once you got used to it, intriguingly drew you in.

And, suddenly, I wanted to know what it was. I wanted to know why exactly it was that whereas everyone felt so much and I felt too much, she felt not enough.

I lucked out. She did come back again that night, right around two am from between our houses. She’d clearly used the front door tonight, and, even though it was colder than yesterday, wore a black short sleeved tee-shirt and black short shorts.

She spared me a glance as she took a seat exactly where she had yesterday. I, on the other hand, had decided to risk repositioning myself a couple of inches closer to her. It wasn’t healthy, this curiosity I felt when it came to her, but I needed to know. I needed to know if I was right, believing there was something else there.

It wasn’t any of my business, and, by looking at her, I knew she was more than likely comfortable with herself, living in the oblivious state of mind she’d landed in where she couldn’t hear any of what was said about her, but… it just wasn’t in human nature, not caring the way she did. Inquisitiveness, however, was an element of human nature.

“You’re staring,” I heard her say suddenly as she met my gaze, making me quickly look away.

“Getting even,” I said off the top of my head, not knowing what else I could say.

One corner of her lips lifted, in not exactly what most would consider a smile, but close enough, I guess. The air around her was still frozen though. “Reasonable.”

I nodded. “I thought so.”

We lapsed into silence then, which was broken not too soon after.

“Is the not talking to each other rule still in place then?”

I winced. “It wasn’t a rule, per se.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

“The line is still in place, though,” I said, just because her last statement bothered me.

And, as if to annoy me further, she pointedly looked down at the space between us before looking at me again. “As far as I can see, there’s no line there.”

“It was metaphorical,” I muttered, brow furrowing.

“Really? Because to me, it seems like you’re just being a coward. Afraid of me, are you?”

My eyes narrowed then so I was glaring at her. “What’s there to be afraid of? Have you taken a look at yourself recently?”

She shrugged, a smirk playing on her lips as she took out a cigarette, placing it between her lips before lighting it. “Sure I have. That’s why I’m thinking you’re a coward. After all,” her empty eyes met mine with a challenge, “what’s there to be afraid of, right?”

Feeling my anger at her indifference get the best of me, I swiftly got to my feet and made my way beside her as calmly as I could, pushing myself onto her fence and sitting there. “Put that out.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your cigarette, put it out.”

“I would do that why? It is a public place, you know.”

“Yes, but it’s also inconsiderate, smoking next to someone who doesn’t, you know.”

“I didn’t ask you to come here,” she answered easily, moving her legs from under her and sitting cross-legged instead.

“Might as well have,” I snapped under my breath, resting my elbows on my knees as I leaned forward, towards the ocean and unfortunately closer to her.

She glanced down, then up at me, and back down again before sighing and, like she was doing me a huge favor, pressed the burning end of the cigarette against the sand.

Surprised, I stared at her in awe for a moment while she didn’t meet me gaze before finally saying, “Thanks.”

“Whatever.”

I’d spoken to her once before, and I’d already gathered that this was a predictable response.

It was almost sad, when you thought about it.

“I go to your school, right?” Rylie asked as she leisurely got to her feet, and I looked at her, surprised with her choice of wording. I didn’t know why her complete lack of ownership surprised me. She had yet to do something normal—it was only normal for her to not lay claim on the school or anything else in her life.

Then I realized that even though it had to have been at least over a month she’d lived here, she didn’t consider herself a part of this community, or our school. “Yeah,” I answered finally, still thinking about the way she’d chosen to pose her question. Had it been done purposely, or had it just slipped? Did she even realize what her words had implied, or was it done unconsciously?

Normally the way a person was feeling would be enough to give me the answers to my questions, but even if she had noticed, her emotions would be the last thing to give her away.

“Cool. See you around.”

“Sure.”

She nodded once before climbing over her fence into her yard and sending me this half wave sort of thing as she went inside.

Well. That was… interesting, to say the least.

I pushed myself off her fence, relaxing as I went back to my house, putting a little distance between us. She remained cold, but after a while, I’d gotten used to it, in an odd way.

It still put me on edge though, managing to leave me there even when I’d gotten my bearings back.

Or so I thought. Eventually I’d realize that the thing with Rylie was you could never get your bearings back, not while she was still around.

I could taste her even before I looked up and saw her taking a seat beside me. “Hey, Labby. Where were you yesterday?”

“Home,” I answered honestly for a change, “I had some stuff to do. And don’t call me Labby.”

She grinned. “Back to normal, I see. I told you I’d give you yesterday. Luckily for me, you weren’t here. Maybe I’ll give you another day, eventually. And stuff to do? Not vague at all.”

“I know.” I smiled, welcoming the taste of teenage infatuation. In fact, I was welcoming the taste of just about anything right now after spending the night cold and empty with a hint of anger.

She laughed. “So, listen. I’m throwing this party tomorrow night. And,” she added quickly went I went to protest, “while I know you hate parties, I’d really like it if you came.”

I hesitated, only because she sincerely wanted me there. And, though we weren’t friends exactly, just two kids who were assigned to each other as lab partners and sat next to each other in science, we were on good terms.

Taking this as a good sign, she continued. “And it’s my first party ever. I’m nervous as hell. I need all the friends I can get to come.”

Okay, so maybe I’d been wrong to think we weren’t friends. As if saying no hadn’t been hard enough. “You’re not exactly a party person either. So why are you throwing one again?”

She blushed. “Well… there’s this guy. And we’re cool and everything, don’t get me wrong, but… you know what I’m getting at, right? I can’t really dress up for him at school. At a party on the other hand…”

“So why don’t you just invite him to go to one? Why throw one?”

Her nose scrunched as she feverishly shook her head no. “Not a party person, remember?”

I laughed at her logic and, tentatively said, “Uhm, okay. Yeah. I’ll come if you want.”

I didn’t want to, no way in hell, but she was one of the few “friends” I had. It was the least I could do. Ever since the beginning of the year, she’s been completely friendly to me and after ignoring it for weeks, I’d decided what the hell. But I still didn’t go out of my way to talk to her.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was just that I didn’t know how to.

She grinned widely, turning in her seat so she could very possibly give me one of the most awkward hugs of my life, considering that we were both still seated. “Oh, my god. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was so sure you’d say no. I even braced myself for it. But you didn’t! That’s awesome. Thank you!”

I laughed uncomfortably as I uneasily patted her back with one hand and pulled away. “Sure, Charlotte.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, Desmond. Not a very good hugger, are you?” When I only stuttered, she laughed, reaching up and softly pinching my cheek. “Deprived as a child, Labby?”

I swatted her hands away, making her laughing again as I rubbed my red cheeks. “I was not.”

She shook her heads, still smiling. “If you say so. Anyway, the party starts tomorrow at like eight. You know where I live, right? Just a little further down than you on our block.”

“Yeah, I know. But, since I’m going to your party, do I get to know who this guy is?” I asked curiously.

“Only if you promise not to tell.”

“I promise.”

Blushing again, she smiled shyly, and muttered, “Seth…”

My eyes widened. “The new kid?”

“Yeah. He’s your neighbor, right?”

I stared at her, surprised, for another moment before finally nodding.

“What, what is it?” she asked, suddenly worried.

“No, nothing.”

“Liar. What’s wrong with him? Do you two not get along?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” I said quickly. “I just didn’t… expect that.”

“Why?” she asked, biting her lip.

“It’s nothing bad, relax,” I soothed, waiting until she had before saying, “You two are just very different, that’s all.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I just thought he was a little too serious for you.”

She shook her head. “Are we talking about the same kid?”

Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. “Guess we’ll find out tomorrow night, won’t we?”

She slowly nodded. “Yeah, guess so. But if there was something wrong with him, you’d tell me. Right?”

I nodded, feeling the guilt slowly crawl up my spine. “Right.”

“Okay,” she said almost doubtfully even though I could sense that she trusted me entirely. “Good.”

“Figlio!” my father called mockingly as I stepped into the dining room for dinner.

I paused, staring at him. “Yeah, you’re way too Irish to do that.”

He laughed, gesturing to the empty seats at the table. It was almost funny, how empty this house was sometimes. Normally, there wouldn’t be place to stand, much less eat because of the size of our family, but when they were gone, and it was just us three, there was nothing but space. “Sit. Help yourself.”

“Thanks. Did you two get over yourselves?” I asked, glancing up at my parents before looking back down to the pizza pie that sat between us and grabbing a slice.

“Yes, we did. Thank you for stating that in such an endearing way,” my mom said sarcastically, watching as my dad got her a slice before helping himself.

“Sure. So my friend’s throwing a party tomorrow night.” The two froze, staring at me as though I’d grown an extra head in the last five seconds. “And I was thinking of going…?” I added slowly when they still had yet to say anything.

“You hate—”

My mom’s elbow shot out, connecting with my dad’s stomach and shutting him up with a groan. “That’s great, honey. Which friend?”

“Charlotte. She lives further down the block.”

“Yes, I know her parents, right?”

I nodded. “So can I go?”

“Yes, of course!” my mom said excitedly, smiling as widely as she could. “What time is it?”

“Like eight.”

“Don’t we have a—” Dad was promptly interrupted by the only female in the house, and therefore the immediate dictator as I’d learned from a very young age.

“He’s excused. You wouldn’t mind missing another social gathering, right, Desmond?”

“No,” I said quickly, “of course not.”

“Great. So you’ll go.”

“Okay.”

“Uh, Desmond,” my dad started, glancing at my mom as if to make sure he wasn’t going to be interrupted again. “No drinking.”

I scoffed. “Obviously.”

“Well, you are a teenager.”

“And you’re half Irish and half German. What’s the point?” Now, while I knew most parents would be furious if their kid told them that, my parents, especially my dad, found it pretty funny when I said things like that, if only because despite the fact he was Irish, he’d only ever drank once in his entire lifetime.

“Okay, I’ll give you that one,” he said, laughing as he shook his head.
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I'm so excited about this chapter! Rylie finally meets her neighbor and we finally have a name for him! Awkward Desmond is adorable and I love him. Let me know what you liked or what you didn't! Constructive criticism is appreciated around here(: