“What?” Jesse asked.
“I hate reading books.”
Jesse smiled, surprised and satisfied. He put his hand up, offering me a high five. He had confided in me because he thought I was a stranger, only to find that I was a comrade.
I laughed and leaned over, raising my palm to his. We slapped and then Jesse held on for a moment.
“Are you drunk?” he asked me.
“A little,” I said. “Are you?”
“A little,” he answered back.
He didn’t let go of my hand and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was going to kiss me. And then I thought that was an insane thing to think. That would never happen.
Later on, when Jesse and I would tell each other everything, I asked him what he was thinking back then. I’d say, “That moment when you held on to my hand, right before the cops found us, were you going to kiss me?” He’d say he didn’t know. He’d say that all he remembered was that he had just realized, for the first time, how pretty I was. “I just remember noticing the freckles under your eye. So, maybe. Maybe I was going to kiss you. I don’t know.”
And we will never know.
Because just as I built up enough confidence to look Jesse right in the eye in the wee hours of the morning, we were blinded by the stunning bright light of a police officer’s flashlight, aimed directly into our eyes. We were drunk on the sidewalk, caught red-handed.
A litany of half-assed lies and two failed Breathalyzers later, Jesse and I sat handcuffed along the wall of the Acton Police Department waiting to be picked up.
“My parents are going to kill me,” I said to him. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard my dad as pissed as he was on the phone.” In the bright light of the police station, the cut on Jesse’s lip looked burgundy, the bug bites on my ankles almost terra-cotta.
I thought Jesse would react by telling me how much worse he had it, how much more unbearable his parents would undoubtedly be. But he didn’t. Instead he said, “I’m sorry.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. I never realized how often I used my hands to talk until they were constrained. “It’s not your fault.”
Jesse shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “But I’m still sorry.”
“Well, then, I’m sorry, too.”
He smiled. “Apology accepted.”
There was a list of recent detainments on the table just to our left. I kept sneaking peeks at it to see if anyone else had been caught. I saw a few names of seniors I recognized but no Olive, no Sam. I felt confident I’d been the only one of us picked off.
“Are you worried about your parents?” I said.
Jesse thought about it and then shook his head. “My parents have a very specific set of rules and as long as I don’t break any of those, I can pretty much do whatever I want.”
“What are the rules?” I asked.
“Break state records and don’t get anything below a B-minus.”
“Seriously?” I said. “Those are the only rules you have to live by?”
“Do you know how hard it is to break state records and get a B-minus in all of your classes?” Jesse wasn’t angry at me, but there was an edge to his voice.
“But the upside is they didn’t seem too angry on the phone when I called them from the police station at one a.m. So I have that.”
I laughed and then fiddled with my arms in the cuffs, trying to keep them from rubbing against the bone of my wrists.
“Why are they making us wear these?” I asked. “They didn’t even arrest us. What do they think we are going to do? Run away?”
Jesse laughed. “Maybe. We could escape out of here. Go all Bonnie and Clyde.” I wondered if he knew Bonnie and Clyde were lovers. I thought about telling him.
“So your parents aren’t going to take it as well, huh?” Jesse asked.
I shook my head. “Oh, hell no. No, I’m going to be working shifts at the store from now until I’m ninety-two years old, basically.”
“Yeah; that’s my parents’ favorite mode of punishment. Also, they are under the illusion that my sister and I are going to one day take over the store, so . . .”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“Run a bookstore? Are you kidding me? Absolutely not.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Get out of Acton,” I said. “That’s number one. I want to see the world. First stop, the Pacific Ocean, and then the sky’s the limit.”
“Oh yeah?” he said. “I’ve been thinking about applying to a few schools in California. I figured if I’m three thousand miles away, my parents can’t force me to train doubles.”
“I was thinking about doing that, too,” I said. “California, I mean. I don’t know if my parents will let me, but I want to go to the University of Los Angeles.”
“To study what?”
“No idea. I just know that I want to join, like, every abroad program they have. See the world.”
“That sounds awesome,” Jesse said. “I want to do that. I want to see the world.”
“I just don’t know if my parents will go for it,” I said.
“If you want to do something, you have to do it.”
“What? That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Of course it does. If you want something as passionately as you clearly want this, that means you owe it to yourself to make it happen. That’s what I’m doing. I want out so I’m getting out. I’m going far, far away. You should, too,” he said.
“I don’t think my parents would like that,” I said.
“Your parents don’t have to be you. You have to be you. My philosophy is that, you know, you did it their way for a long time. Soon, it’s time for your way.”
It was plain to see that Jesse wasn’t really talking about my parents and me. But everything that he said resonated. It reverberated in my mind, growing louder instead of softer.
“I think you’re right,” I said.
“I know I’m right,” he said, smiling.
“No, really. I’m going to apply to the University of Los Angeles.”
“Good for you,” he said.
“And you should, too,” I told him. “Stop swimming if you hate it. Do something else. Something you love.”
Jesse smiled. “You know, you’re nothing like I imagined you’d be.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him. It was hard for me to believe that Jesse had thought about me before, that he even knew I existed before tonight.
“I don’t know; you’re just . . . different.”
“In a good way or a bad way?”
“Oh, definitely a good way,” he said, nodding. “For sure.”
“What did you think I was like before?” I asked, now desperate to know. How did I seem before that was bad? I needed to make sure I didn’t seem like it again.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
“C’mon,” I said. “Just say whatever it is.”
“I don’t want to, like, embarrass you or something,” Jesse said.
“What? What are you talking about?”
Jesse looked at me. And then decided to just say it. “I don’t know. I got the impression that maybe you might have had a crush on me.”
I could feel myself move away from him. “What? No, I didn’t.”
He shrugged as if this was no skin off his back. “Okay, see? I was wrong.”
“What made you think that?”
“Carolyn, my ex-girlfriend . . .” he said, starting to explain.
“I know who Carolyn is,” I said.
“Well, she thought that you might.”
“Why would she think that?”
“I don’t know. Because she was always jealous when girls looked at me. And you must have looked at me once. And it made her think that.”
“But, I mean, you believed her.”
“Well, I mean, I hoped she was right.”