CW: transphobia, queerphobia, LGBTQIA+ homelessness
My great-aunt Rose told me stars were air holes poked in the top of a container that huge aliens were keeping us in, like children trapping fireflies. She said we got fireworks when the massive aliens flicked ash from their cigarettes. She wove wonderful delusions to explain the beauty of the world. Even if she was completely out of her mind and knee-deep in the wildest conspiracy theories I’d ever heard, I was happy to spend the summer with her at her Pennsylvania lake house. Night after night, I found myself on the edge of the dock, toes in the water as the small waves dissolved the sun.
My dad told me to look for a rundown shack—the one he recalled from blurred childhood memories and the stories he told me about the magic summers he spent here. Of course, I planned on spending most of my time outside, so it didn’t make a difference whether I found a rundown shack or a mini-mansion. I pulled into the driveway of a rather large cabin and called him to make sure I had the address right. Then, I saw the house; the siding had all been painted shades of pink and lilac. Later, my great-aunt Rose told me that the blush tones of her home made her smile. No one would do that to a place like this other than her. Property value never crossed her mind. Maybe that’s why I liked her. She understood happiness needed to come before all that.
“Aunt Rose!” I called from the driveway. She sat on the porch in a rocking chair, smoking a cigarette in the shade. I ran up towards her. The flowers clustered at either side of the driveway filled the humid air with a sweet aroma, only to be drowned out by the puffs of smoke coming from Rose’s lips.
“Hi, Sweetheart! How was the drive?” She smiled at me and offered me a beer from a cooler at her side.
“You know I’m only 19,” I said as I hugged her, confronted with her perfume. Pressed flowers. Mothballs. Whiskey. Perfectly old lady-ish.
“I don’t see any cops.”
I sat down in the other chair on the porch. It was covered in dust, twigs, and the time my great-aunt Rose spent alone. She cracked open the can and placed it on the arm of the chair. “Our little secret.” She took a drag from her cigarette and patted the top of my hand, rings on most of her fingers—none of them wedding rings, of course. She’d never been married. She denounced the idea of being bound her entire life. I didn’t understand how you could not want to share your life with someone, but she grew up in a time where husbands decided everything—wives were meant to be seen and not heard. She wouldn’t subject herself to the lifestyle of being told she was unladylike for all her swearing and the way her voice carried. The wrinkles around her face painted a permanent smile around her lips—they creased when she smiled for real. When she told me how nice it was to see me, and called me by name, I shuddered.
“Yeah, it’s nice to see you too, Aunt Rose.”
I didn’t know how to tell her about the fact I’d changed my name, and that maybe I wasn’t that girl anymore—how no one has called me that old name since January, except my mom. If I explained it, Rose would understand. It might take her a couple of days but she’d react better than my mom; my mom who called me disrespectful when I asked her to call me Rain like all my friends did. My mom who wanted to kick me out. But my dad had put his foot down, keeping a roof over my head until I graduate next spring. After the spring, I would be on my own so I bought the van from my friend’s sister a couple of months ago after she used it to travel around the East Coast with her band. The band broke up, so she didn’t need it anymore. There was no guarantee about anything at all. Things might not go my way. Finding a job could take years. My dad could change his mind any day, and kick me to the curb. The van was like a safety net to catch me for when life knocked me down.
Home isn’t the right word for a place so suffocating.
My mom has been acting so much colder in these weeks after my stay with Rose. At first, I pretended it was only because the two of them always butted heads. I pretended my mom was just mad at me for going to Rose’s since my great-aunt’s worldviews clashed with my mother’s opinions.
Pretending was a waste of energy, so I pack everything into my van. I throw all my clothes into my suitcase after dinner one day when she brings up how nice it was to have “her daughter” home before “she” heads back to school.
My heart plummeted into my gut when she said it. That was the final straw. I realized she’d never listen to me, so I didn’t have to stick around and keep putting up with her. Why should I?
My dad hugs me before I pull out of the driveway. I don’t hate him for letting me go, even if I wish he’d try to stop me. I wish he’d try to sway my mom. He doesn’t want to fight with his wife though, especially since there’s no way of changing her mind. I wasted months losing that battle already. He promises I can still come home for Christmas if I want a place to spend the holidays.
I stop worrying about what my mom thought and fill that space in my brain with thoughts of the lake house back in Pennsylvania. Those few days were well spent basking in the sun and freedom. Rose said I could stay the whole summer and go swimming every night in the lake.
Sometimes I wish I’d taken her up on that offer instead of stopping at the first campsite I found. It’s better out here anyway. The stars that are staring down at me remind me to breathe. In the warm night air, I crack open the windows and tune into the static lullaby of the cicadas. This van means freedom, if not at least sanctuary.
The lake water cooled my body, which was tense from the long drive, as I held my breath beneath the lapping waves. Rose sat on the dock with her toes in the water. She told me about the painting she’d been working on: a band of stallions passing through an orange grove. I nodded along and struggled to keep myself above the surface. The water was shallow enough. It stopped at my ribs, but a pull towards the bottom—like a gravity all its own—overwhelmed me.
I sank to the bottom and sat with my legs crossed. Rose was entertained enough by her cigarette that I could linger for a few moments. The waves rolled over me and pulled my hair. For those few seconds, I felt calmer than I had in months. My heart rate slowed, and although I couldn’t actually breathe, my lungs filled with a sense of serenity. I stayed there until my head turned fuzzy—until I couldn’t anymore.
I coughed a bit as I bubbled up over the surface like boiling water. My bangs dripped down my cheeks like seaweed. I pushed them off; my fingers felt like raisins against my forehead. Had I been down there so long that my fingers pruned? Rose flicked her cigarette ashes into a bucket at the end of the dock. She barely moved while I shook my lungs out. The water turned from blue to slate-gray around me. Across the lake, the sun faded into the water like a chalk drawing in the rain.
I looked out at the light blinking on top of the water tower. It beamed down into the dark lake. I imagined late-night swims, maybe with my cousin if he showed up to surprise Rose as he promised. We spent our spring semester planning adventures between letters as pen pals.
“How about some grub?” she asked with a towel in her outstretched hand. “I can make anything you want. Went to the store yesterday.”
When she talked, she smiled and didn’t say anything about the piercings I’d gotten since the last time we saw each other. I remembered when I was little she’d let me walk around in her shoes at the family New Year’s Eve party. All the people overwhelmed her, so she’d offer to watch my cousins and I all night in the basement. She was the only adult I wanted to talk to at family parties because she never brushed off my childish questions the way adults loved to do. I wish she had raised at least a question or two about my change in style, so I could use it as an excuse to tell her. It would be easiest if she brought up how different I looked over dinner.
After dessert, when the sun looked like a distant memory in the inkiness of the sky, I got the rest of my things from my van: cut-off jean shorts and Hawaiian shirts from the thrift store; the journal my therapist told me to keep; and my skateboard.
I couldn’t help but stare at the lake. My tail lights shot spotlights like lasers off the surface as I grabbed my skateboard. On Google Earth, I’d found an abandoned mini-golf course a couple of miles away. It had a fake mountain that I wanted to try riding down.
The next morning, as we sat over breakfast, we heard a honk from the driveway. My cousin Neil drove his dad’s old pick-up with his friend Hallie in the passenger seat. She’d made an appearance in almost all the letters he wrote to me. It sounded like she was the only thing keeping him from never leaving his dorm. She wore an instant camera around her neck on a handmade strap. I helped Hallie out of the truck. She brought her dog, a mutt called Ginger, who rode between them over from DC, half pit bull and half something else. We’d never met, but it felt like we’d known each other for years—as cliché as that might sound. From the way Neil talked about her, you’d think that she was a goddess, or that they were in love. Neil and I made jokes about being the gay cousins, especially now that I’d come out to him and told him my new name. I trusted him more than anyone else in our family. He was the first person I told. My parents were the second and third; Rose would be the fourth.
Hallie had big brown eyes—dark like the wood of the table inside. Dark circles drooped beneath them, like the shadow of the night as the sun slipped away. I found myself stealing glances as we helped Rose with lunch. Neil took the hose out from her garage to spray the mud off his dad’s pick-up as if it would stay clean on the dirt roads leading to town.
That night, Rose went to bed early. She blamed the heat, saying how it drained her and that’s what happens in old age. Neil and I knew it was less the weather and more the being around people that exhausted her. It wasn’t us in particular—she just liked to be alone. Some people were special enough. I think it was how we saw the world. Most people, in her opinion, had it wrong. Somehow, the three of us managed to pass whatever test that was. The next day, she took us on a hike in the afternoon. For an old lady, she had quite the stamina. The whole time, she and Hallie walked ahead with Ginger. Neil and I lagged behind, panting, and trying to keep up.
Hallie and I started a little campfire on the beach. The three of us stayed up, sprawled around it. I could see so many stars shining through the velvet sky. Hallie’s dog put her head in my lap and whimpered until I rubbed between her ears. I kept staring at the sky while Hallie and Neil talked about something I knew nothing about. Even if I’d had any idea, I probably would’ve kept staring up and drowning them out. I favored the soft cough of the waves. If their talking hadn’t kept me there, I’d have cannonballed off the dock. The water drew me in again as I heard it murmur along my side.
“Do you guys think Rose could be right about that whole alien thing?” Hallie asked. She too was staring up at the little holes in the velvet backdrop of the night sky. “Like that scene at the end of Men In Black?”
“I don’t think she’s ever seen that movie.” Neil snorted and rolled his eyes. “Trust me, Hallie, our great-aunt Rose is just delusional, or at least she acts that way for attention.”
I scowled at Neil. Maybe Rose was delusional. I mean it certainly wasn’t just for attention; she moved out here to avoid it. Maybe Rose wasn’t all there, but that didn’t give him a right to be so rude.
“Well, it’s more fun than burning balls of gas,” Hallie suggested, maybe just to bug Neil a little more. “Right, Rain?”
I nodded because it was fun to think that we could be in a jar like bugs. It would mean none of this really mattered; it was all just for them to watch. It would make the world a little less scary. I could be the aliens’ favorite pastime. It could even mean someone was rooting for me. Someone much bigger and more powerful. I kept staring at the stars, searching for a sign. “Hey Rain,” Hallie shouted.
My name sounded like a drumbeat in her mouth, perfectly timed and paced with her breath. I swear it synched up with the thump of my heart. I couldn’t help but smile and glow from the inside out at the sound of my name on her lips. Not because she was beautiful, which she was, but because she didn’t know any better. Because for once, I felt like someone saw me as Rain rather than “Rain” (that used to have some other name).
“Neil said you came up with cool plans for us?”
“Hell yeah.” I snapped forward and looked at her, smiling and adjusting her septum piercing. “I’ve got a lot of plans. I passed a fireworks tent on the way here. I thought we could light ‘em off over the lake or something.”
“That sounds awesome, I forgot they were legal here!” Hallie’s face lit as if by the very sparks we were talking about. Her excitement woke Ginger, who’d been curled up between our chairs.
Neil made a joke about Hallie being a dumbass and punched her in the arm. She flipped him off and scooted her lawn chair closer to me. Her fingers brushed against mine, which sent all the stars overhead into the pit of my stomach.
I laid awake for a while, listening to the old house move beneath an orchestra of crickets. Neil and I slept on the couches in the living room so Hallie could take the spare room. The moonlight streaking through the skylights brought my eye to the painting Rose had above the fireplace. It was a scene of the forest with a family of bears in the center of a clearing surrounded by the fire of autumn leaves.
Neil choked on his tongue while he slept. Every five minutes he snored himself awake for a half-second, interrupting the symphony of the night. No wonder he and his boyfriend hadn’t moved in together yet. I threw a pillow at him. He groaned in his sleep and rolled over onto his back, then choked again.
Eventually, I moved to the couch on Rose’s screened-in porch. It was shorter, so my feet hung off, but I couldn’t get any sleep inside. Out there, I could listen to the roll of the waves and all the crickets in peace. I pulled the blanket up to my chin and took a deep breath. I tried not to think about how my mom scoffed at me, or how my great-aunt Rose might react. Instead, I just focused on the lake like a lullaby and recalled the feeling of stillness at the bottom.
In the morning, I woke up to Ginger’s damp, leathery nose inches from my face and Hallie behind her trying to scold her off of me. She apologized a thousand times when the dog finally jumped off my stomach.
“Don’t sweat it,” I said as I sat up. Ginger chased her tail and Hallie sank next to me on the couch. After Hallie offered me a mug of hot coffee, she slumped against my side. She must’ve been tired, or still shedding the weight of sleep from her limbs. Her pink hair felt soft on my shoulder as she leaned against it. The smell of mint and menthol cigarettes lifted from her scalp. The inside of my body swelled with nerves as she rested there. I cleared my throat. “So, did you sleep okay?”
Outside now, I can hear a dog bark and I’m thinking of her. Lightning splits the sky; autumn storms are my favorite. There’s a polaroid on my wall from that day of me in a floral top and Hallie in a jean jacket and bare feet.
I watch the rain splatter against my windshield. A drive back to Pennsylvania would only take a few hours. It wouldn’t be the same. My great-aunt Rose would be overjoyed, even if I showed up unannounced. But it wouldn’t be the same now that the leaves have started falling and neither Neil nor Hallie would be there. They were really what made that week. Not the fireworks or the magnetic pull of the lake.
Rose puffed smoke into the night. She wore a pink cheetah print jacket that would be questionable on anyone else. Before I could say anything, she pointed up at the stars and reminded me how we were all trapped in this jar, breathing through the little holes in the top. The lid was screwed on so tight, no one could escape. She wanted to talk about living in captivity, huh? I folded over the railing of the porch. For the past few days, I’d felt like I could breathe for real—like our alien overlords unscrewed the lid. Being here, waking up to the draw of the waves and the crackle of Rose’s old radio must’ve pried it open. What if I could stay here? I could float away on the lake until there was nothing left of my body. The moon beamed up off the water and the night offered infinity. And next to me, Rose offered a cigarette.
“Just like fireworks,” she joked to herself as she flicked ashes into the dirt below. I could see where she got the idea from as they faded in a shower.
“Hey, Aunt Rose?”
She turned to me, her lips pressed into a line around her cigarette.
“Y’know how you used to say that our bodies are just illusions?” I felt my heart leap into my throat at the realization that I was really about to do this. Rose would be better than my mom about it, at least in my head that was the case. Still, she was old, and sometimes people her age weren’t too keen to change. Her wild theories might just make this easier. If I used her language, I hoped it would click in her brain.
She nodded. “People see us how they want sweetheart, not how we are. It’s all an illusion.”
“I’m not the girl you watched grow up,” I stammered. “Well, I am, but like, not anymore. I’m not a girl. I’m just a person. That girl was just an illusion I thought I had to keep up for the past nineteen years.”
She let her cigarette dangle. Ashes showered into the dirt. I couldn’t tell if she understood. My chest wound in knots as she took a drag. “It was an illusion?”
“Yeah, an illusion. The greatest magic trick of all time.”
“I always knew there was something magic about you.” She chuckled and placed a wrinkled hand over mine. She’d taken all her rings off to show the tan lines left behind. It looked like they were tattooed there. “Does the real you have a name?”
“Could you call me Rain?”
The wrinkles on her face melted away when she smiled. “I think that’s a lovely name.” She pulled me into a hug. Her perfectly old lady-ish aroma tickled my nose and welcomed me.
Ginger came with us to the old mini-golf course, still full of neon colors even in its decay. Rose didn’t want to take care of Hallie’s dog while we were gone. She’d always been more of a cat person. To my surprise, Ginger didn’t run off when Hallie dropped the leash. She trotted over to a pink plastic hippo and plopped down against it and then stared at me with my skateboard. Hallie stared too. She looked up the tiny cement mountain with the tip of her polaroid camera lens as I climbed to the top.
“Go Rain! Woohoo!” Neil shouted. He’d brought his skateboard for the skatepark nearby, but he thought my idea was incredibly lame. Still, he cheered me on from the ground, no matter how many times he complained about it. It might’ve been half sarcastic but I couldn’t help but smile as I climbed up. In the middle, there was a plateau with a divot at the center for the golf balls.
The world didn’t look small from up here—then again, it wasn’t that high, so I didn’t expect anything to really shrink. As I stood there, I surveyed the land below me like a royal surveying their kingdom. My kingdom was an abandoned mini-golf course, overrun by moss and chipped paint. I faced down the slope, locked eyes with Hallie’s camera, then her, and set my board down. I guess this whole thing was kind of lame, but I didn’t care about that as my wheels whirred down the slope. The breeze swept my bangs off my face. I felt a rush in my chest.
The wind kissed my skin. It pulled at my clothes and I was flying, soaring, cutting down the mountain like the tail of a firework rising into the sky just before it burst. I whooped and hollered, even as I rolled to a stop. I felt like I could be on top of the world, reigning for a few seconds as the happiest in the world. Ginger barked back at me. My face got sore from grinning.
Hallie ran over, shaking a fresh polaroid. There were hummingbirds tattooed on her arm, poking out from the rolled-up sleeve of her jean jacket. “That was awesome.”
I was a blur in ink, save for the red floral pattern on my shirt; it was my favorite. I smiled at her, at the photo. I even smiled at the ground. I felt like I could survive again. “Do it again. I’ll do it with you this time,” Neil insisted. We hiked back up the hill. Hallie had taken out her phone to record us. She made a joke that Neil would eat shit while I was incredibly graceful, which was only half true. I used to skate a lot in high school, testing my limits by jumping stairs and grinding the rails outside the library until they banned me. Now, I’d been reduced to the rolling landscape of my college campus, picking up my board at crosswalks, losing all the grace I’d had. I didn’t miss high school, but I missed the rush, the feeling of flying with my board glued beneath my feet.
The warm breeze tickled my skin as I stood at the peak. I looked across the patchy Astroturf, then down at Hallie, who’d perched herself on the snout of the almost life-sized plastic hippo that Ginger leaned against. From the height of the sky, the sun struck the course, illuminating it all technicolored and vivid. The astroturf was glowing in shades of neon green. Neil had either decided he’d take his time climbing up the hill, or he was absolutely struggling. He’d picked the worst side to climb too in an attempt to show off to no one in particular. While I ran up the incline, he tried to find footing in the fake rocks that stuck out the side. It only stretched a few feet off the ground, but it wasn’t meant for climbing. I carried his board for him and peeked over the side as he tried to jump just a few inches to give himself a better start. He eventually gave up and took the same route I had.
“What are you guys doing?” Hallie shouted with her phone pointed at us. She’d wanted to get all the little moments like these on camera like her memory would give out the next day and she’d need to prove to herself she’d ever lived.
“We climbed up this mountain.” I adjusted my footing and looked down at Neil. His face turned pink with sun and frustration. “Now, we’re going to ride our skateboards right back down it.”
“There’s a skate park a couple of miles from here, Rain just needs everyone to think they’re the main character in an indie movie,” Neil butted in, loud enough that Hallie’s phone would pick it up. He grabbed his board from my hand and scowled. Little trails of sweat glittered along his hairline.
Even down there, Hallie looked beautiful. I wished I had my own camera to capture it, but pictures wouldn’t do it justice anyway. There’s still a snapshot of her in my memory that tattooed itself to my eyelids for when I heard a song or someone laughed in a way that made me think of her. Maybe it was just the trip, the visit to Rose’s little paradise, or maybe it was Hallie—the way she smiled at me and laughed at my jokes—but for those few days, the world was glowing with opportunity. I was glowing with life and the warmth in my stomach that formed whenever Hallie laughed at my jokes.
I should have said something.
All that eyeliner, the spots on her forehead stained with pink hair dye, and the little scar on her right cheek made me soft in the stomach. Don’t even get me started on the way she laughed; just listening to that sound, I could float away. That weekend seems like a lifetime ago, or even a parallel universe, separate from the worry of jobs and being kicked out. I don’t know why I’m thinking of her. It’s Halloween and my friends are throwing a party. They tried to set me up with a girl in bunny ears. Then with some guy whose costume was just a hazmat suit. Neither of them took much interest in me. I wasn’t really into them, so it didn’t make a difference. My friends want me to get out there, start dating, or at least fuck someone else. They think some affection from someone else would, I don’t know, save me? Perk me up?
Hazmat-suit-guy came up to me with a drink in his hand. What was he even supposed to be? What a lame costume. He passed the drink to me then dropped onto the couch, landing inches from me. Right then, I wanted him to go away or even just move over. Not because I keep thinking about Hallie, but because I couldn’t stand him. He smelled like chlorine and cigarettes and kept telling me bad jokes.
I can’t stand parties. Hazmat-suit-guy didn’t say anything when I stood up and walked away. He just pushed himself to the other end of the couch and smiled at another boy with glitter on his cheeks.
On the ceiling of my van, I’ve taped up polaroids in a web of neat and tidy memories—unlike the patchwork of my brain. Only three of them were ones given to me by Hallie. The rest were all from friends here. I wanted to be back there again—to feel the pull of the lake and the warmth of her smile. As I stare at the polaroids, they change from pictures into living images, dancing before my eyes. I see a snapshot of Neil and I, with Ginger in a blur between us, shakes to life. Suddenly, we’re laughing on the dock as if I was watching it firsthand. Then the same with the picture of me on my skateboard. Finally, it happens to the one Neil snapped of Hallie and I—her smile leaps forward from the photo, lighting up the inside of my van.
I should have said something.
The moon’s reflection blinked on the lake’s black glassy surface like an eye—like the aliens from Rose’s theories really were watching over us. At the edge of the dock, Neil hummed the Jaws theme song over and over again. He liked getting on my nerves, which is exactly what family is for. In return, I pushed him off the dock and Hallie laughed. It was the best sound I’d ever heard—even better than the way she said my name. She sprinted off the dock and somersaulted through the air before breaking the surface. The dye from her hair bled out and trailed down her back. She looked magical as pink dye on her skin reflected in the light. I cannonballed in after Neil—the water cold against my skin without the sun to bake it. The chill snapped me back to reality; I didn’t know Hallie. It wasn’t a crush. These feelings were fleeting just like the day, I told myself.
Beneath the dock, the posts were covered in a carpet of algae. I bumped my head on the planks of wood as I came up for air. Maybe night swimming wasn’t as good of an idea as I originally thought. Neil and Hallie must’ve agreed with me in an unspoken way. From under the docks, I watched their heads rise out of the water and get replaced with dangling feet as they perched at the edge of the dock.
“I think I like them,” I overheard Hallie say. My heart jumped into my throat like I was drowning. Then I stopped, and almost laughed to myself—there was no way she was talking about me, right?
Neil laughed and kicked the water. “You’ve known them for like two days.”
“Yeah, but,” Hallie started. I shouldn’t keep listening, I thought. Whether or not she meant me, her private conversation with Neil wasn’t my business. Her toes created ripples as she poked the water while they talked. I sank back down. It would be better not to know. As Neil said, we’d only known each other for a couple of days. We didn’t really know each other at all.
I swam out from under the dock on my back, ready to intrude with a joke. “Hey, stop making out, you guys.”
“I can do so much better than him,” Hallie joked back. Her smile glowed in the moonlight. Her hair curled against her shoulders, some of it caught on the straps of her bikini. She kept laughing at her joke, though it was small and silly.
Neil scoffed and shoved her in the water. “Ugh, gross. Girls have cooties.”
“C’mon Rain, help me take him down!”
The next day, we went out to a tent that sold fireworks. I used some of the money I had set aside from working at the liquor store during the semester. It had sat hidden in an envelope in the box of my van marked as “impulse purchases.” Neil teased me when he saw that I had money set aside for that. He claimed it defeated the purpose of impulse purchases. I spent all the money inside the envelope, which wasn’t much to begin with. When I came back to the truck with a big bag of fireworks, Neil stopped making fun of me.
Rose said the lake had a policy against them because of the noise, so Hallie suggested we go to the skatepark. Neil drove us in his dad’s pickup. Thank God he did, too. I didn’t want Hallie seeing my pigsty of a van. I guess the skatepark was as good a place as any to light them off. All the sides had already been covered in graffiti so we couldn’t damage the property any further.
Hallie sat down next to me with only a few inches between us. Too many inches apart. I wanted her to get closer to me, for her to slouch against my side again; to smell the menthol in her hair. Neil crouched in front of us with her camera. I saw the flash of the camera, followed by a dozen more from the can of fireworks. Hallie cheered. I couldn’t stop staring at her smile as it grew with each bang of light. I remembered what great-aunt Rose said about the aliens and their smoking habits.
I’d never been so confident in a purchase as that bag of fireworks as they lit up the cement palace we’d settled in. I felt the same way as I had a couple of days before, at the bottom of the lake.
“Can I kiss you?” I whispered just loud enough that she might hear. Just loud enough that she could ignore me and pretend she didn’t hear it if she wanted. Maybe she really didn’t hear me. Maybe I should’ve been louder. All my insides exploded like the shower of sparks in front of us. How could I savor each one as it died in its glory? How could I savor her?
Someone is lighting off fireworks. They’ll probably get in trouble with the cops if they get caught. Fireworks aren’t allowed in Jersey, especially not near campus. Maybe they’ll get lucky since it’s a ghost town around here now. Most people have gone home for the holidays, but I’ve decided there is no point in going somewhere I’d feel unwelcome. I call Rose, thinking she’s probably as lonely as I am. It would be a better use of my time than festering in how I feel.
She picks up after three rings. “Evening, Rain.” Her voice is bright and energetic. I can hear the smile on her face. “How are you doing?” I can hear voices around her too. It sounds like she’s somewhere crowded.
She remembered my name. She called me the right name. I smile to myself—happy is an understatement.
“Hi Aunt Rose, I’m alright. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Oh, is it Thanksgiving?” she asks. In the background some glasses clink and people cheer.
“Yeah,” I say. I guess it’s not surprising she didn’t realize. Why would she remember if she’s busy with anything other than family? “Where are you, Rose?”
“I’m at a party, Rainy. Can I call you later?”
“Sure,” I say, trying to smile despite the fact she can’t see me. Rose at a party surprises me, but I suppose I shouldn’t expect her to sit at home and waste away. The call ends with a series of bleats and I sink into my seat. I turn my keys in the ignition and start to search for the source of the fireworks.
Hallie came back to my mind. I couldn’t write to Neil about it. How do you even say that? Especially now that it’s been six months since I saw her last. Neil would probably be at Christmas. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Hallie again. I don’t know what I’d say to her if I did. Maybe I could have Neil give me her number if that weren’t too creepy.
I roll off the mattress and push myself out the door. The early evening darkness makes the world much colder. I put on the ski coat I bought at the thrift store.Every time I climb inside my van, it seems warm, no matter how frigid the air outside gets. I crack my window open and keep the radio off. I wonder if I can find the firecrackers like they might lead me back to the lake. Back to her.