Inconvenient

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“She what?!”

“She said I’m not allowed to call you anymore.”

“And you’re calling-”

“I know, -to tell you this,” Austin says.

“Can she tell you what you’re “allowed” to do?”

“That subject isn’t closed but for now…”

“How did this even become a thing?”

“She looked at the history on my phone and saw that it was just us.”

“So, you’re not supposed to talk to me? It’s not like we’re hiding something.”

“We weren’t.”

“What about email?” I ask.

“She didn’t say anything about that so hit up my old Hotmail address. It doesn’t ping my phone.”

“Oookay…”

“Hey, it’ll blow over or work out,” Austin sounds reasonably assured, but as we disconnect I feel uneasy. How could his girlfriend say we weren’t “allowed” to talk? Was he just sticking to the letter of the law with the phone thing? Did she really mean that he wasn’t supposed to be in touch with me at all?

That was yesterday and I have been unsettled since- part miffed, part scared, mostly confused. Rolling in that headspace, I dress for prom. I put on the white get-up I custom altered from a Goodwill wedding dress.

I had repurposed several dresses for my friends and myself; it’s sort of my hobby to take off the wall old dresses and make them unrecognizable.

I take the requisite selfie and send it to my parents. They are out of town at a weekend getaway my mom won in a raffle. Mom wasn’t overly sentimental knowing that I was going stag with my friends- this wasn’t some big amazing date I’d been over planning for months. I hadn’t even thought about going until after I broke up with my stupid boyfriend.

In other circumstances I might have asked Austin but things have been pretty touchy with his girlfriend, and now this...

But I’m going to have fun. I’ll be meeting my gal pals and their dates at a pre- dance /coffee dive before we head over to the actual prom at the civic center. What I’m looking forward to more is the after party at Goodwin’s house. It isn’t technically an after prom party but I spun it as such to my folks rather than explain that it’s a regular party thrown by my work friends from the pizza shop Gerry Mallozzi's .

I’m startled by a loud knock at the front door. I race through who it could be and latch on to the idea that maybe Austin has come to surprise me. I fly down the stairs and fling open the door, huge grin ready, to find-

“Tim?”

He’s slim, with floppy hair, deaf in one ear from band practice, but a good looking guy. Tonight, he’s spiffed up in black jeans and a button down shirt.

“Hey, Kimmie.” He smiles a sideways smile that normally looks more confident but something about my reception had tipped toward disappointment and was not what he had expected.

Before yesterday he would have gotten the full enthusiasm at my disposal. Just Wednesday, our flirtation had reached a new level of seriousness.

I readjust, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

“I thought you might like a ride over to the coffeeshop to meet up with everyone.”

Tim’s a little older, but is still pretty tight with my circle. He’d have known about our prom junk but I never pegged him as interested in going to the actual dance.

“I was planning to take my folk’s suv since there’s the party on Bent Mountain.”

“I’m going to that, too, so I just thought…”
“Yeah, of course.” This was incredibly cool of Tim and as close to asking me out as I was probably going to get, I realize.

On the ride over flirting gets back on track.

Pulling into the parking lot, I see Meredith and Dionne- both in dresses I made- waving. Their guys are talking beside them, and leaning against his beat-up Malibu is Austin.

I spill out of Tim’s car and run up to him.

“What the fuck?”

“I just got here. I figured I’d already missed you at your house.”

“What are you doing in town, I thought-?”

“Well, I was sent on a mission and thought I’d multi-task you in,” Austin says.

“Gee, thanks,”

Tim strolls up. “Hey man.” They hit fists.

“Hey, Tim and Kim!” Meredith chimes in. Oh god, I hadn’t thought about the rhyming yet.

“Austin is looking for Jackson,” Meredith says. “Have you seen him?”

Austin holds up a phone that isn’t his.

“Left it at my place after the concert last night.”

“He’s probably at home,” I say. Has Austin just driven three hours to bring back a phone? Or has he really come to see me?

“I don’t know where he moved to.”

“I can run you over; it won’t take long,” I offer opening his passenger door. “I’ll catch up to you guys at the dance.” I look directly at Tim so he knows I’m coming back. He shrugs.

“Won’t argue,” Austin says taking out his keys.

As we pull away I turn to Austin. “Is this really about the phone?”

“Partly. And the bag of weed he left with the phone. I didn’t want to say it out there…”

“Jeez, what an idiot.”

“Eh,” Austin doesn’t look too worried. “Heather was kinda flipping out but it gave me a good reason to drive up.” He winks. My heart skips a bit which is totally stupid but I’m gratified his being here is somewhat about me.

~

Austin had already been working at the pizza shop when I first started. I didn’t think much about him at first, but as I started getting to know everyone and staying behind to hang out more he began to hit my radar as pretty cool.

The night we all went over the Jackson’s old place after the poetry slam was when it really started. There were about ten of us hanging out, drinking, and talking. I don’t drink but when the joint was passed my way I hit it and passed it to him. How Austin had managed to get that far without realizing that pot made him sick, I’ll never know, but it messed him up. He’s never touch it again.

That night he lay with his head in my lap for hours until I felt clear enough to drive him home. We talked the whole night and haven’t stopped since. The next morning I went back to give him a ride to his car and after that we were inseparable, up to the day he crammed all his belongings into the Malibu trunk and left for collage.

Summer was ending, we had just connected, and he was off while I was stuck starting junior year. We didn’t even discuss being ‘a couple’ even though for the next few months anytime he was in town we spent every moment of it together.

Eventually classes and miles set in and weekends together became phone calls and messaging. We wax and wane as others come into and out of our dating spheres but through it all we’ve had each other. I hadn’t paid much attention to his girlfriends really until this Heather thing had cropped up.


“Her parents are coming to visit tomorrow and she ‘wanted the drugs out’. She wasn’t too happy about Jackson showing up to crash in the first place.”

“Was that after you called?”

“Yeah, it kinda curtailed further discussion on, our,” he twitches his finger between us, “issue.”

“How is her issue ‘ours’ in the first place?”

I wanted to say: How are you letting this happen?

“She’s really great in every other way, she just, I don’t know, couldn’t handle the idea of me and you maybe being…”

Being what?! I want to scream. I roll down the window and hang my arm out instead. We had never been “together” so I guess we never broke up either. It sort of weighs down over us.

“Turn here,” I point.

Jackson isn’t there. His new roommate says he might be over at another pothead’s place. We don’t know the roomie but we know the other pothead. We look at each other- if were just the phone we’d leave it.

“Should I drop you off at the prom?”

“Nah, just head on over and see if we can catch Jackson.”

“Alright,” Austin reaches over and gives my hand a squeeze then doesn’t let go. I’m happy to hold on too. What happens after we find Jackson? Will Austin just drive back? When will I get to see him again after this?

~


I remember us laying on a picnic blanket, holding hands like this. I had just started seeing my now ex-boyfriend and Austin had come up to visit. I hadn’t seen him in months. We had hugged and held on, probably too long. Afterwards, we had been so self conscious of wanting to touch and be like we always had been but now we were aware that we were suppose to do something different. Holding hands had been our compromise. We knew even this was probably verboten but it was the best we could offer to the gods of propriety.


We drive across town, but Jackson isn’t at the other place either.

“I’ll take you back,” Austin gives in. “Tim’s probably waiting up? When did that happen anyway?”

“It hasn’t yet,” I answer. We talk about everything, even our dates, but I tend to run more vague on those subjects, especially early on. I’m more prepared to complain about the end than to gush about the beginning.

“Oh yeah?”

“He just showed up at my door.”

Austin glances at me, taking in my dress. “Lucky him.”

“Might have been better if it had been you. I feel a little bad bailing on him but…”

“Sorry!”

“No! I wanna be with you but it’s just sort of awkward timing I guess.”

“Our story,” he laughs and I can’t help laughing along. We sing to the radio back to the civic center. We get there before the end but our friends are just heading out. Meredith runs up. “We’re ditching this show and heading over to Goodwin’s. Are you going to change?”

“Are you?” I had been derailed in that planning when Tim showed up. “Tim?”

“He already went over to help set up the band.”

“I guess I’ll just keep this on,” I say.

“Then I will too. Dionne?”

“Sure.”

Then I won’t look completely out of place. Austin smiles and hooks his pinky around mine. He could always read my thoughts.

“Austin, you should come over too. Everyone would love to see you! Hell, Jackson is probably going to be there come to think of it.”

Austin dramatically face palms and everyone laughs.

We caravan over to the party on dark windy roads. “How much pot are we talking about?”

“Too much to give away without feeling like an asshole.”

“Fair enough.”

“Hit it if you want, I wont feel that bad after driving all over creation with the shit. There’s a pinch hitter in the bag.”

“Jesus, hope to hell you don’t get pulled over.” But he’s obviously not worried about it.

Maybe after we get there I’ll do a little before we go in. I’m feeling nervous already thinking about Tim. I should really make an effort to make up for bailing on him. Austin was going to go back to Heather who wouldn’t “allow” him to call me and Tim was still going to be here.

~


Last weekend we had caught each others attention selecting songs at the jukebox and then Meredith picking up on the vibe had oh so conveniently pointed out that we were both single. Then Wednesday I had walked out of the stuffy bar where everyone had met up for open mike night. Various types were loitering outside, smoking and talking and Tim was sitting on the curb with a rough looking acoustic missing some strings. He strummed an A chord, then started singing softly in a rich tenor. I’d been pretty sure he hadn’t noticed me yet when he looked straight up into my eyes. I admit I melted a bit and sat right across from him to listen.

I had been heading home so as not to miss my weeknight curfew but I consciously said screw it. Being there in that moment was more important than any consequences.

“That was incredible. Did you write that?”

“I wish,” Tim said wistfully.

“How did that sound so good without all the strings?”

“Simple chords. I could show you?”

I scooted over next to him and he put the guitar in my lap. He leaned around behind and helped set my fingers in the right configuration.

I was pretty sure he had felt the same electric buzz I had.


~


Austin’s phone rings. He fishes it out of the dash and glances at the screen. I see it too.

“I better.” He says then picks up.

“Hey. Yeah. I haven’t found him yet. He wasn’t home. Well, I didn’t get here until pretty late. No, I’m heading over to a party where he’s supposed to be. The old gang from Gerry Mallozzi's are having a house party.  I told you, I don’t just want to leave it with someone else. I’ll be home, it’s just taking a little longer than expected.”

I try to look out the window like I’m not listening, not waiting for him to have to lie.

“Me too,” He says. “Goodnight.”

I don’t know what difference it would have made if he had said ‘I love you’ but I’m still relieved that he didn’t. He surely says it to Heather and has to other girls and it hadn’t changed things between us and vice versa.

Maybe it should though, I think as the gravel drive down to Goodwin’s rattles my jaw. I need to remember to turn my attention to Tim, maybe a pinch hit wouldn’t be such a bad idea. At the edge of the wooded lot I sneak a quick drag.

We go in and directly part; Austin to look for Jackson, me to find Tim.

Tim is sitting in the reading room recliner working on a 40 and talking music with some other garageband types. I go in and perched on his chair arm like I had only left the room for a minute.

“Well hey there,” he looks glad to see me. I just grin back. I might be a teensy bit high.  

“So you found Jackson?”

“Nope.” I shake my head a little too vigorously and slip. Tim catches my hand and pulls me down into the recliner with him, chuckling.

“Your condition suggested otherwise.”

“Fair. But so is he not here?” At this point I guess I just assumed he would be.

“Don’t think so,” one of Tim’s bandmates says. Then I notice that they are sort of dressed alike in black jeans and gray button down shirts. I pick up the end of the loose tie Tim is wearing now.

“OH! I get it, stage wear!” So he hadn’t dressed up for me. Had he?

He puts on fake Buddy Holly glasses he had tucked in his pocket. “What do you think?”

I put my face closer to consider. I think I like it. But I’m not sure if I said that out loud or not. So, I say it again.

His pupils do this thing, and then he covers by taking a swig from his beer.

I’m not sure how long we hang out like this. I’m practically sitting in his lap and he has a hand on my foot. I think my shoes are on the floor next to the chair. We are all talking about new songs and the latest mini series and other random miscellania, when another black jeaned musician pops his head in to announce sound check. I start to hop up.

“Sit tight,” Tim says and gently untangles himself. “I’ll be back.”

When they all wonder out, I see Austin standing by the doorway talking to Dionne. He catches my eye and I hope I haven’t turned scarlett. How long has he been here. He makes his way over.

“Jackson?” I ask.

“Not here but waiting is probably my best chance of catching him,” he says and flops down on the opposite couch. The reading room has emptied out but plenty of people are moving around in the kitchen opening beers, and shuffling around equipment in the living room. There are no nearby neighbors to complain about the loud voices on the wraparound porch or the bond fire out back.

Austin is drinking a soda and my high is leveling out. I’m starting to wonder what comes next. If Austin wasn’t here I’d probably go find Tim. If Tim wasn’t a thing that might be happening I’d probably settle down next to Austin and make the most of our limited time together.

He reaches for my hand, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just...” I don’t finish. I don’t have the words.

“I know.” he says and just holds my hand.

Tim walks in. “So…”

I try not to drop Austin’s hand too quickly. I don’t want to look like I was doing anything I should feel guilty about.

“You guys playing soon?” Austin asks.

“Pretty soon.”

“I’m going to check around outside again and see if anyone’s heard from Jackson.” Austin says getting up.

I stare at my lap as Tim walks over.

“So uh Kimmie, am I like barking up the wrong tree here or-”

“No!” I look him in the eyes.

“I mean if you and him are a thing, I don’t want to step on anyone else’s …”

“Austin has a girlfriend,” I start, sort of ashamed to use that as a mark of reassurance. “He’s my best friend. I haven’t seen him in awhile and I guess it’s complicated, but he’s going back home tonight and it’ll be less...”

“Complicated?” Tim asks. I nod. “Good. ‘Cause I don’t do complicated,” he says and steps closer. “I don’t like trouble, but I like you.”

I’m surprised and thrilled to hear those words. “I like you too,” I whisper our foreheads almost touching.

“HEY TIM!” Someone calls from the living room. He steps back.

“Find me when things are done being…” he shrugs.

“Yeah.”

I go outside to find Austin. He’s talking to some old friends from Mallozzi’s by the fire pit.

“Any luck?”

“I was going to ask you the same?” He winks. Then we both heard Jackson’s name from across the fire. Our heads snapped to, like locking on a signal.

“Jackson?” Austin asks.

The stranger answers, “He’s up on the parkway to see the meteor shower, I thought about going but eh, astronomy stuff is kinda weak.”

“Shit, he did mention that last night,” Austin remembers.

“Do you know where on the parkway?” I ask.

“I can call Amy and see.”

“Please!” We say in unison.  

“Lost Mountain Overlook.”


I catch a glimpse of Tim’s band as we squeezed through the house to say good-bye. I grab Meredith and yell into her ear to tell her where we were going. Then back in the Malibu with my Maps on we are underway.

“You didn’t have to come,” Austin says as an afterthought.

“You know I did. I mean, how could you be in town and I not be with you?” I’m already regretting our time apart at the party.

“Same,” he agrees. It feels so much better to be back alone with him where we can be ourselves. I lean my head on his shoulder. He rests his hand on my knee.

When we pull into the overlook there are three cars and one is definitely Jackson’s VW van. Some kids have a telescope set up and others are sitting out on picnic blankets on the hoods of the cars for the warmth of the engines.

“Austin, man! Did you come all the way up here to bring me my shit?”

Austin looks at me and then I’m finally sure that he hadn’t. “Sure did. Just for you man.”

“You are a true gentleman, a knight! I owe you one and you m’lady Kim.” He doffs his invisible hat. “Stay and check out this awesome lightshow mother nature is putting on tonight. It should really be gearing up here in another half hour.”

I was afraid mission accomplished, Austin would need to go straight back to Greensboro but he wants to stay. We roll out our own blanket on his car hood and stare up at the star strewn blackness. There are so many this far from the city, it’s dazzling. We’re in our own little pocket of time and space.

“I kinda ruined your prom night.”

I squeeze his hand. “This makes up for it.”

But then I get melancholy. “What are we supposed to do now?”

He knows I mean Heather’s bar. I think he wants to promise to fix it but it’s time for being deadly honest now. We lie silently listening to the murmurs of strangers, smelling the drifts of smoke, feeling the chill of the air. Someone’s radio starts Lord Huron’s The Night We Met.

Austin pulls me up. “I owe you a dance.”

I put my head against his chest and swallow my tears as we swayed to the haunting tune.

I think I finally understand what people mean by bittersweet.

 

We drive home without saying anything.

“LOOK OUT!”

Austin swerves.

We run off the side and rumbled over the grass and gravel before slamming to a stop.

His arm is across me. I’m panting and my nails are dug completely into the upholstery.

I see the doe before it bounds the rest of the way out of the road.

“Are you okay?!” Austin panicked, unbuckles and grabs my shoulders.

“I’m okay.” I put my hands to his face to calm him. “I’m okay.”

“Thank god,” he embraces me.  

We’re holding each other. I can feel our hearts thudding against each others’ and our intense heat against the cold. I can’t stand for him to go.

Eventually we regain our composure and he pulls back onto the parkway.

In my driveway he turns off the engine; walks around to my side. I get out too and lean back against the car, wishing the world could just stop here and he won’t have to drive away from me. I know I can’t watch it.

“Hey,” he says softly. I go to give him a quick hug. It’s all I can manage to make it past this point without breaking, but he won’t let me pull away. He holds me fast-

Crossing lines but not crossing them.

“Stay.”

“I wish I could,” he mouths into my hair.

“Why not?” I push tighter into his arms that close in to fill the gap.

“I have to be back,” Austin whispers.

“Heather is waiting.” I slowly pull away as he goes on. “She’ll kill me as it is.”

“So?”

“So,” He starts sadly, “-you have three more months here, graduation, I’ve got two more years there. So, you’ll probably be together with what’s-his-face by the next time we see each other.”

“Tim.”

“We both suck at being alone. We’re in relationships of convenience.”

We love each other but it’s still bad timing.

“If we thought we could wait for each other we’d already be doing it.”

I know he’s right. I turn away and walk into the darkness of my doorway.


 

 

 

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