Jules

My middle name is William. Not many people know it.
In fact, I’m willing to bet my situation is common. Middle names tend to hang in the balance between first and last--unless you’re an exception, of course. There’s always the exception--the person who goes by their middle name. In my seventeen years, I’ve never wanted to be one of those people.
* * *
So when Samantha Jacobson answered the question “What’s your name?” with “Samantha Jules Jacobson,” I was taken aback. I had never thought of an alternate exception to my rule. She went by Samantha, but liked her middle name--so much so, that when we were together, I’d call her Jules without her asking and she’d beam.
I’ll always remember her. She had the kind of face that came alive at every angle. Even at dusk--the most ill-lit, dreary time of day--her hazel eyes had life. Her hair was visibly unremarkable, but it always smelled of heavenly, herbal shampoos.
“How about you?” she had said.
“Ryan Callahan.”
She smiled, taking out her phone.
“Number?”
After the exchange, we walked over to the boat’s pool. She stretched out and I sat next to her, losing myself in the heat of the sun.
“Nice day out,” she said, dressing herself with a pair of shades.
“Yeah.”
She swept her dirty blonde hair over her shoulder and began plastering sunscreen on her arms and stomach. I asked for some, too entranced to remember that I had a stronger bottle in my bag. She arched her neck towards me. I looked into her sunglasses, where I thought her eyes would be, and she smiled.
“Sure.” The word eased all tension in my muscles and I sank into my seat, powerless.
That was in May. It could have been yesterday, for all I know, because I can still see her. Even the way she walked--her feet flat and her arms swaying with each step--burns in my mind. The pool became a sort of meeting place for us. Neither of us cared about any other part of the ship. The pool possessed an aura of relaxation and freedom. I enjoyed that freedom, and though my parents and younger brother pulled me to dinners and shows every so often, I always found myself back at the pool with Samantha Jules Jacobson.

“Strictly friends,” she said the next day.
“Of course,” I said.
Her pale skin browned over the course of a few days. The sunscreen protected her from sunburn, but she never stopped tanning. I didn’t know if she intended to tan or not, because when I first met her on my venture about the boat, she was as pale and bright as the sun’s reflection on the ocean.
“Is this your first time?” she asked, raising her hand and dropping a green grape into her mouth.
“No, second,” I said. “But the first time was in the Caribbean. You?”
“First. I’ve always wanted to go on one of these.” She twisted her body to face the front of the boat. “It’s just like I pictured it, you know?”
I nodded, mostly because her voice lulled me.
“And the food’s not half bad,” she said. We laughed, and I offered that we jump in the pool to cool off. She agreed, but only under the condition that her hair stay dry.
“I won’t splash your hair, Jules.”
A grin crept across her face as she shifted in her seat, and her eyes smiled, too. My face mirrored her’s.
“So I’m Jules now? Okay, I’ll take it. But I get to call you by your middle name.” Her eyes sharpened--at least that’s what I imagined took place behind those large, tinted glasses.
“No, my middle name’s boring. Trust me.”
“No way.”
“And average. The worst combination possible,” I said.
“Come on, just say it,” she said.
“No.”
“Then don’t tell me. But I’ll find out before the week’s over.”
And that’s where our conversation stopped. I played with my fingers and stood, taking a step towards the water, but she remained seated, eating grapes. My forehead itched so I scratched it, and she looked up, expressionless, before turning from me. I frowned.
I didn’t see her again that day, after I left to go eat lunch. I remember scarfing down a plain sandwich and chips, then taking a walk on the upper deck. It passed right above the pool area. Many vacationers had chairs set up along the railing. They held closed magazines in their hands, but the hands rested in their laps, uninterested in the pictures and articles within.
Leaning against the rail, I surveyed the crowd below. I couldn’t find Jules in a pool lounge chair, so I diverted my gaze to the chlorine water. In the corner, by the shallow end, I saw her, splashing water on her neck. My face glowed and I ducked under a nearby canopy.

“I looked for you after lunch,” Jules said, turning to me.
“My parents told me I needed to be with them for the day,” I lied.
“You could have sent me a text.”
I brought out a box of Ritz crackers. She reached out a hand and I placed four crackers in it, observing the chunky bracelet on her wrist. Pleased, she drew her hand back and thanked me half-heartedly. I murmured a “you’re welcome.”
Today, the pool was less crowded. After days on the boat, many passengers had found other time-consuming pastimes to pursue. But I enjoyed the lack of bustle--it felt more secure.
“I’m guessing this is a family vacation for you,” she said. I nodded.
“How about you?”
“No, I’m by myself. The parents are in Ontario and my brother’s back home for me.”
I nodded again, chewing on a Ritz. Slapping the arms of my chair, I jumped up and said:
“There’s a dance— ”
“I heard about that. It’s on the other side of the boat, by the arcade, right?”
“Yeah. Lucky for us, it’s seventeen to nineteen, so I can get us in,” I said, puffing out my bare chest and leaning my face towards the sun.
We swam together for the first time that day--the third day. She kept her chunky bracelet on. It served as the only accessory to her two-piece, brown bathing suit. I, in my old swim trunks, floated on a plastic tube. We spoke of the trip thus far and gossiped about those around us, poking fun at the occasional obese woman, who, more than not, had ankles like twigs.
“It’ll be more like a rave,” I told her as our conversation began to dwindle. “But it should be fun. I think the flyer said it’s techno-themed.”
“Ok, I’ll go. I’ll meet you there, actually,” she said, patting at her hair bun, testing its ability to hold tight above water.

I arrived at the dance ten minutes early, clad in plaid shorts and a t-shirt. An employee had taken post at a table outside the entrance. Neon paint and stickers sat neatly on top of the table, with a pricing list hanging off of the front. I walked up to it and bought one tube of neon blue.
The party droned on as I waited for Jules to arrive. Bright lights flashed behind me, but I ignored them, keeping watch of the far hall and the door that opened up to it. Time after time the door would open, I’d put on a smile, and it’d drop after a group of friends or a strange teenage couple walked through.
Sweat dripped off my hands as my muscles tensed, waiting for the moment when her voice would enter my head. The soothing sound never came, and when thirty minutes had gone by and countless texts went unanswered, I left, returning to my room.
Thirty minutes transformed into two days. I saw her once the fifth day, but she avoided me, so I avoided her. Before I knew it, the trip had gone by and I could only remember the first half of it. Jules and her perfect smile--her brilliant eyes and flawless skin, even--taunted me. The hours spent poolside consumed my thoughts and overtook my sleep.

On the last day of the cruise, a maid knocked on my door. I answered it and accepted a package. I kept it hidden until my parents were out of sight. When I began to rip the package open, my hands slipped and slammed against the wall. I grimaced.
There were two items inside. First, I noticed the chunky bracelet. Second, I found a small note, buried at the bottom of the container.
Ryan Callahan, it read. I’m sorry. I’m afraid you never saw me for who I am. In a way, I couldn’t allow myself to show you before. Here’s my chance to show you now.
I turned the paper over, but the other side was blank. Clutching the bracelet in my hand, I smiled. But the smile faded as I looked at the inside wall of the bracelet. Crusted blood lined half of it. I jumped back in bed and stayed there until the ship reached land.
When it had, I saw Jules, exiting the ship in a sundress with a suitcase in tow, for the last time. Her hair slid over her shoulders like it did when I first saw her. I only recognized her because of that hair.
She strode off the ship and met an older man who, unlike her, wore dark clothes and boots. Tattoos slithered up his arms and reappeared on his neck. A small bundle rested in his grip. He handed it to Jules, who cradled it with care.
Jules kissed it, but her face remained as hard and cold as concrete.
* * *
I have yet to hear from Samantha Jules Jacobson. When I call her, the dial goes straight to the answering machine--an automated one that recites the number and leaves out the name. Nonetheless, I leave a message every time. I sent my last message two weeks ago.
“My middle name’s William.”





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sleeplessdreamer said...
Aug. 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm
LOVED IT!!! Ugh, I usually am critical and like to point out the flaws I kind find. (not that I'm mean, I just like to help people out) But this is stunning and perfect. FABULOUS!! Good job. 
 
Nevermore replied...
Aug. 4, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. 

Spread the word :D

 
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