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The Falsehood Of My Memories

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PART 1

A deafening noise sounded as the bottle hit the pavement and glass rained down in all directions. JC’s face crumpled up.
“Shoot, Daze,” he said to me. “How the heck am I gonna clean this up?”
I shook my head. “Then why’d you do it, genius?”
“I don’t know,” he said, pushing his matted, sweaty hair out of his face. “I was frustrated.”
“So you smashed a Coke bottle in the middle of a parking lot?”
He shrugged. “You got any better ideas?”
I sighed. “C’mon. Let’s just leave it. I see smashed bottles all over the place. It’ll hardly kill anyone.” Shoot.
“Why?” he asked, throwing his hands in the air. “Why do you have to say things like that, Daisy?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “And how many times have I told you to call me Daze, not Daisy?”
He dropped his hands. “I can’t just leave this mess here.”
“I know. You’re a neat freak, a perfectionist.” I grabbed his hand and pulled. “The store janitor will clean it up.”
JC sighed. “Fine. Let’s just go. I need a pizza or something.”
“I thought you weren’t going to eat cheese. Vegan lifestyle, remember?”
He threw his keys up in the air and caught them easily. “Heck no. I’m gonna actually live my life, now. Not ruin it.”
I nodded my head slowly, making sense of this. And to my surprise, it wasn’t that hard.
*
*
*
JC threw the tennis ball into the air as high as possible, then caught it.
“Come on,” I said. “It’s raining. We should go inside.”
Of course, he ignored me. “Just—one—more—drop!” he said between throws, the final throw being higher than ever. I rode my bike around him in circles.
“We should go inside,” I repeated.
He shook his head, catching the ball another time, and placing it into his pockets. He spread his arms out and spun around in circles, allowing his whole body to get drenched as the rain came down harder. I hopped off my bike and joined him. For two seventeen-year-old people, you’d probably expect the two of us to act a little more civil. If that’s what you expected, you’ve expected the wrong thing from the wrong people.
*
*
*
I swung my feet, brushing them against the floor with every swoosh of the porch swing. JC took a swig of his ice water, then went back to playing Yellow Ledbetter on his acoustic guitar.
“Do you think I could ever get really famous with this instrument?” he asked me, smiling down at the old, scuffed six-string.
I shrugged. “Probably. I don’t know. You’re really freaking good. Maybe you should try to find a band first.”
“No way, man,” he said. “I wanna be like Bobby Jo. No, wait. Jimmy Hendrix. Awe, man, I can’t decide.”
“I didn’t even know who those guys were ’til you told me about them,” I said.
“Naw, that’s not true. You knew all about Jimi Hendrix.”
I sighed. “Ok, fine,” I said, tilting my head back as I swung. “So say you do become like Jimi Hendrix. What then?”
He shrugged, slipping into a deep picking. “Maybe I’d ask you to be my girlfriend and we’d go on the road and play at night clubs and drink as much sparkling cider as we possibly can without our stomachs exploding.”
I laughed. “That’s very vivid,” I said.
He shrugged. “I like it that way.”
“Anyway, you said you’d never ask me out.”
“Did I now?” he asked, tapping his chin.
I nodded. “Yup. After—”
His eyes suddenly darkened. “Don’t say it, Daze.”
I sighed. “Sorry. I forgot.”
“S’okay, I gotta go anyway.” He shrugged it off and stood up. “Besides. That was a while ago. Who knows? I might just change my mind...” JC was out the door.
*
*
*
I picked the clovers out of the grass one by one. “Maybe I’ll be a genetic engineer,” I said.
JC squinted up at me through his Ray Bans shades. “No way. Too boring.”
I dropped the clover onto his stomach. He didn’t make a move to get up from the grass, so I kept picking and dropping.
Pick
“Artist.”
“Too insane and suicidal.”
Drop
Pick
“Mime.”
“Freakishly scary.”
Drop
Pick
“Art thief.”
“That goes along with artist, Daze. Once again, insane and suicidal.”
Drop
Pick
“Teacher.”
“I thought you hated it when people didn’t listen to you.”
Drop
Finally I plopped down next to him. “Maybe I’ll just be a stay-at-home wife and take care of my kids. And cook cruddy dinners and watch soap operas.”
“No, no, no,” JC shook his head. “See, you’re missing the point. Do what you love, Daze, because you love it. Don’t just do something to get money.”
“But sometimes you have to do that in order to make money.”
“Nobody has to do anything.” He rolled on his side and tapped my nose. “Most certainly not you.”
I smiled, then frowned. “I don’t know what I love to do. I have no talents whatsoever.”
He gave me a funny look.
“What?”
“You do have talents,” he said quietly. “And I will find a way to show you.”
*
*
*
“Check this out,” I said, pulling a piece of paper out of my canvas over the shoulder bag. “I’m going out to buy henna tonight, and I’m going to tattoo my arms and stomach and stuff. You can come over if you want, and I can tattoo your epic biceps.”
JC laughed. “Stop making fun of me for working out at the gym. I want to work as a life guard this summer, so I want to be in shape.”
“Which is exactly why I’m making fun of you. Being a lifeguard means attracting dozens of pre-teen wannabes and distracted swimsuit moms. You won’t have a minute without a girl hanging off your arms.”
“Are you saying you find me attractive?”
I shook my head, laughing. “Oh, man, this is rich.”
He took the paper from my hands. “Oh, I just have to point this out,” he pointed to the first drawing. “Talent.”
“You said I shouldn’t be an artist.”
He shrugged. “No, but you could do interior design or—now hear me out—actually do henna tattoos on people.”
I smiled. “I only do them for close friends.”
He laughed. “Then why are you offering to give me one?”
I punched him in the shoulder and we walked down the hall together.
*
*
*
“Aaaand...action!”
“Hello, this is Daze here. I’m seventeen years old and—I can not do this, JC,” I said.
“Whaddya mean?” he asked from behind the camera. “Shoot. Now we gotta start over.”
“I want to be a storm chaser, but at seventeen, I feel a little weird.”
JC walked around the camera and put his hands on my shoulders. “Look, we’ve finally found something you’re interested in. We’re going to do this. We’ll send these guys our video and do this. I promise.”
I sighed.
“Come on. Most people have to pay to do this stuff. If we send these guys a video, we can go on the road with them for a month or two for free. We’ll say we’re debating whether or not to go to college for this stuff.”
“Ok. But it’s in the middle of the year, right? So we’ll miss school.”
He looked at me. “Dude, name a time when I have ever cared.”
I shrugged.
“Exactly. We’re going to be seniors next year. Besides, both our birthdays are in September, so technically we’ll be eighteen and old enough.”
I nodded. “Ok. Let’s try this again... you know, I’d be more comfortable if you were in this with me.”
He smiled, “Action!” and ran to sit down next to me.
*
*
*
I watched the window carefully as the water droplets dripped down slowly, but with force.
“When’s your shift off?” I called across the empty 24-hour diner.
JC hopped onto the counter, pushed off, and slid to a halt beside me. He shrugged. “I usually get off at about one AM, but since it’s a slow night I could probably leave now if I wanted to.”
“Oh,” I said quietly, tracing the droplets on the window glass with my fingers. “So can we leave now?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s up to you.”
I stood up and we walked outside. I scuffed the soles of my converse against the rugged pavement and said, “Well what is there to do tonight?”
“Technically it’s the morning,” JC said, putting one hand on a lamppost.
I nodded.
“And really, what isn’t there to do, Daze?” he asked, swinging around the pole.
I tilted my head back and gazed up at the night sky, cool air rushing over my cheeks. “Let’s do something drastic. Let’s get in trouble.”
He smiled. “I’m liking the path your mind is on right now.”
*
*
*
“What are you doing?”
“I’m collecting inspirational quotes,” I told JC.
“I don’t get it,” he said, leaning over the library table and looking at the paper I was holding. “So you mean like from famous guys, like Shakespeare and Led Zeppelin and stuff?”
I shook my head. “No. And that’s just the thing,” I said, setting down a pen and closing my laptop. “I’m finding quotes from not very well-known people.”
“How do you find quotes from people who aren’t well known?”
I shrugged. “There are tons of web sites out there that random people create just to get some type of inspirational message out. I think it’s motivational and relaxing.”
JC smiled. “I’m glad to see you’re finally going out and doing something that interests you.”
I shrugged. “They’re fun to read. Look at this one... ok, never mind. It’s not really all that inspirational,” I said, pointing to the paper, “but I thought it was funny.”
“Ok, umm... ‘I always thought fashion was overrated... so I run nude...’ Umm, Daze...?” he said slowly.
I shrugged. “I thought it was funny.”
He put the paper down. “It’s disturbing if anything,” he laughed.
“Hey,” I said, “for an unknown person, I think it’s pretty clever of them.”
He sighed and sat down next to me.
*
*
*
JC was laying on my stained carpet floor, pointing his finger at the ceiling and moving it slowly.
“What are you doing,” I asked, lying upside-down over the side of my bed so that my hair was barely grazing the floor.
“I’m tracing the shadows on your ceiling with my finger—here, give me your camera,” he said.
I rolled over and grabbed my Nikon.
“No,” he said. “The Polaroid one.”
I nodded and swapped the Nikon for the Polaroid.
“I’m really digging these shadows,” he said from behind the camera.
“They’re cool,” I noted, following the wispy, dramatic twists of the shadows that played across the solid white paint of my ceiling.
“Yup. Check this out.” JC held up the photograph that was slowly darkening and turning to a picture.
“Wow,” I said.
“Yeah, wow is right,” he squinted at it. “I wanna be a millionaire so freaking bad,” he sang.
I looked at him. “Really?”
“No. Just felt like singing that song,” he laughed.
“That’s a real song?” I asked.
“Yeah. And a stupid one at that. However, you should know that I am constantly breaking out into random song, whether I like what I’m singing or not.”
I rolled my eyes and fell onto the carpet next to him.
*
*
*
“Where do you think we go when we die?” a little girl asked me at work one day.
JC walked over and cleaned up the paint that had dripped onto one of my shoes from the girl’s easel.
“Thanks,” I told him. Then I turned back to the girl. “Death is a very prestigious thing, Hannah,” I said quietly. “There’s no knowing when or where it’ll happen, and most definitely where we go afterwards.”
Hannah smiled sadly. “My ma said that when I die, I’m going to heaven to eat ice cream and paint pictures with God. Is that true?”
I smiled down at the small girl. She was no older than eight years old. I saw her every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the Children’s Care Unit’s art room. I helped her paint and watched her grow. I knew she was a cancer patient, not only because her mother told me, but because of the way she cherished life and didn’t seem afraid of death.
One of the regular boys, a tall fourteen-year-old named Marcus, snorted under his breath. “Please. You’re ma is an idiot. We go into a hole and we rot until—”
JC shot him a look that could’ve killed, gritting his teeth as he said, “I think that maybe we should take your artwork over there, Marcus, don’t you?”
Marcus glanced quickly at him, but listened. He grumbled as he gathered his things and moved to an easel across the room.
“Thank you,” I whispered to JC.
He shrugged. “I don’t like it when kids do things like that, especially if they’re in the same situation as the other kid.”
I nodded, glancing at Hannah. Thankfully, she hadn’t seemed to hear what Marcus said.
I patted her on the back. “That’s probably the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen!” I exclaimed.
Hannah beamed with pride, her face lighting up like the sun. “You really think so? Thank you so much, Daisy.”
She hugged me. Hannah was the only person I ever allowed to call me Daisy instead of Daze. “I know so,” I said.
Hannah literally was also one of the best artists I’ve ever seen. I looked down at the painting of her and Jesus, happily smiling and licking ice cream cones.
*
*
*
I watched as the red dot got smaller and smaller as it faded into the deepness of the sky.
“What’s that?” JC asked, holding a hand to his forehead to block the sun.
“It’s a red balloon,” I squinted at it. “I’m pretty sure it’s a red balloon.”
“Have you ever seen that movie?” he asked.
I turned to him. “What movie?”
“The Red Balloon.”
“It sounds vaguely familiar,” I said thoughtfully, turning my attention back to the balloon.
“Well, it’s a short film that takes place in Paris, France. Le Ballon rouge. I wouldn’t really even expect you to have heard of it at all. I mean, it won an Oscar, but—” he stopped when he noticed I wasn’t listening. Instead of continuing, he said something else. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if you saw someone holding onto a whole bunch of balloons up there?”
I smiled. “It’d be pretty amazing. I’d probably—” We suddenly both gasped in surprise as a bunch of colored balloons began to rise up over the thin line of trees.
“You don’t think—” JC began, shaking his head, clearly unable to finish.
“No,” I said, still shocked and delighted at the same time.
To our dismay, when the bunch of balloons fully came into view, there was no person gripping onto the strings that tied them all together, but it had been a good feeling of butterflies; some type of irony you just don’t feel every day.
“Come on,” JC said, pulling my hand.
“Were are we going?” I asked.
“To get you a red balloon,” he said, “and then back to my place to watch that film.”
*
*
*
I looked at the reflection of my hand in the water as it rippled slowly.
“That’s pretty cool,” I said, turning my hand over.
JC leaned over to take a look. “Yup. It makes it look like there are even more veins in your hands.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Umm, ok JC. That’s strangely artistic, but cool, I guess.”
He chuckled. “I specialize in that type of stuff. You know, where I confuse you to the point where you have no idea what to feel or think.”
“Mmm hmm,” I said.
“Not to change the subject or anything, but what are you doing for that public speech assignment?”
I turned to him. “I hate public speaking. To me, it’s completely pointless.”
“Not necessarily. Public speaking could be taken several ways. Think about it. When you’re speaking to me out in a public place, you’re speaking in public. Or when you speak to a group of people in public, you’re publically speaking. Really, you could do your assignment the way you’re supposed to, but also contribute your feelings about public speaking at the same time.”
I looked at him, not really knowing what to say. I stood up and padded barefoot across the grass to retrieve my shoes.
“You have no comment, do you?” JC asked.
I smiled to myself. “No, but it’s a good thing,” I said. “It means you’ve gotten me thinking.”
*
*
*
I swung my legs over the horse and sat up. “This is one heck of a lot higher up than you’d think,” I mumbled into the horse’s mane.
JC laughed. “That’s because you’re leaning forward. You need to actually sit up straight. Straighten your back.”
I did so. “You wanna know something funny?” I asked. “This is higher up than before!”
JC shook his head and smiled. “Daze, it’s not that bad. Mae is a lot sweeter than you’d think.”
“Mae?” I asked.
“Yeah, Daze. Horses have names, too.”
I glared down at him. He didn’t seem to notice.
Suddenly my whole body lurched forward.
“Slow the heck down!” I screamed. There was an abrupt stop.
“What’s the matter?” JC asked, looking at me worriedly and coming over to check the saddle. “You look fine to me,” he said, reaching close to my lower back to straighten the saddle. I felt a ping of something in my stomach—whether it was from the nervousness of riding or JC’s touch, I didn’t know.
“The horse was running. I don’t want to do that. Can’t we just walk really slowly?” I asked.
He gave me a funny look. “Dude, we were just walking.”
“Ok, so it’s higher up and faster than it looks,” I muttered, swinging one foot over to jump down. JC obviously hadn’t been expecting my quick escape, and I nearly fell. Thankfully, he caught me easily and set me down. I planted my boots firmly on the ground.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
I sighed. “I wanted to get off. I didn’t know you weren’t helping me down.
He laughed and put an arm around me, smiling as we walked back to his aunt’s house.
“What are you smiling about?” I asked him.
He chuckled. “I got you to get on one of my aunt’s horses. I feel so accomplished.”
“Ok, I’m not that stubborn,” I smiled a little.
He laughed.
*
*
*
I took my fingers off the guitar strings and the instrument made a gonglike sound. I rubbed my sore fingertips. “That hurts way more than it looks,” I said.
JC took the guitar and started playing rapidly. When he took his fingers off, it didn’t make the weird gong sound. I felt somewhat stupid.
He shrugged. “It hurts a lot at first, but you get used to it. Your fingers get rough, build up to it.” He held out his hand for me to feel his fingers. They were smooth and thin, but strong at the tips. I ran my red fingertips over his perfect hands.
He looked at me intently as I did this.
“What?” I asked.
He smiled. “Nothing.”
I’d never really thought about what was in JC’s head before that moment. He’d always been so perfectly calm and so smart and wise, but I’d never even considered for one moment that he was also just a regular guy. He felt things. Why hadn’t I seen it before? The way he was looking at me, the way his fingers curled around mine and gently rubbed the flesh of my palms… it was all leading back to one thing.
I slid my hand out of his and cleared my throat. He didn’t look startled by my action, but I could see it in his eyes. I never acted like that. It was entirely different, and he knew.
*
*
*
It had been weeks since I’d seen JC last, and I was a nervous wreck when he showed up in my bedroom one morning. I was gently snoozing under my covers, and I heard the familiar creak of my floorboard. Usually my dog Charlie would pad in and hop on my bed in the morning, so I slipped my hand out from under the covers and patted the bed, my face still in the pillow. However, instead of a wet dog nose, I felt a hand gently gripping mine.
“Daze,” someone said. “We need to talk.”
I recognized the voice immediately and shot up. My hair was a flying mess, and I was sure that my pajama shirt was too tight. I wrapped the covers around myself and ran my fingers through my hair.
“How’d you get in?” I asked, my voice coming out in my usual morning rasp.
I looked at JC—clean, freshly shaven, hair its usual mess, and jeans, a tee shirt, and his regular converse chucks. He was carrying a plate of pancakes and a glass of orange juice.
“The screen door was unlocked,” he said. “Your mom was just leaving for work. She told me to bring you some pancakes.”
“I haven’t seen you in forever,” I said, crossing my legs under the covers and taking the plate from him. What was my problem? He’d seen me in my pajamas so many times before. But this felt different.
“That’s what I came here to talk to you about,” he trailed off.
“What’s wrong?” I asked worriedly. “Shoot, are you going to enroll in the army or something? What’s going on?”
He gave me a look. “No, Daze. Nothing’s wrong. I just—you remember when we sent that video to the storm chaser guys?”
I nodded.
“Well, I was gonna tell you that night that you tried to play the guitar, but you left too quickly. I got a letter in the mail from them that said they’d take us for this season for free.”
“Ok.”
“So I wasn’t sure if you still wanted to go,” he prodded.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, yeah, I mean, it’d be fun, right?”
“Great,” he said quietly, smiling just a tiny bit. “We leave in three days. He said to pack light and we’ll be gone for about three months.”
“What should I tell my parents?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Don’t say anything. Do they really pay any attention to you anyway?”
I looked at him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way—” he said quietly.
When I was ten, my little sister died. That’s all my parents thought about since then. They rarely paid attention to me, and when they did, it was because I got arrested or something (it only happened once, because JC decided to trespass in an abandoned school, and I was waiting outside for him).
“No,” I waved it off. “It’s fine.”
“Seriously, Daze. I’m sorry. Not just for that, but for everything.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”
“I shouldn’t have acted weird around you like that,” he said. I let the sheets slip from my hand as I offered him a pancake.
He shook his head and pushed it away.
“I was just—I don’t even know,” he sighed. “I was trying to send you messages or something. It was just like for the first time in forever you were finally getting it.”
“Getting what, JC?” I asked, stepping out of bed, not caring what he thought, and walking over to him.
He looked up at the ceiling and breathed out heavily. “I thought you were taking the hints. That you were actually understanding what I was trying to tell you. Are you really so naïve?”
I looked at him. “I know,” I whispered.
He looked down abruptly.
“You—”
“The way you’ve been acting lately—it just makes sense,” I said. I sighed.
He was still standing awkwardly in front of me, breathing slowly, and watching my face.
“And what exactly makes sense?” he probed.
I hesitated for a second. I was about to say it, and as ridiculous and clichéd as it was, it was true. “That you love me,” I whispered. “And that I—I love you too. We always have, always will.”
He looked down at me, clearly bewildered. “I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.
For a split second my heart stopped—what if I had guessed wrong. Maybe he was trying to tell me something else, like that we shouldn’t be friends or something. But all my suspicions—all my fears—melted away when he moved forward to kiss me. It was the first time I’d ever kissed someone, the first time I’d ever kissed him. I was in my pajamas, and I probably looked like a piece of mud, but JC didn’t seem to care. He was careful and conscientious, and didn’t go too far. He pulled back after a little bit.
We didn’t say anything, and we didn’t have to. We had to pack and leave. Something told me this was going to be more than just a three month trip. It was a beginning—a start of something between JC and myself.
*
*
*
“What the heck is that?!” I screamed over the howling wind as hail crashed against the windshield and rain poured in the window that Jack M. Donally was holding a weird contraption out of.
JC had a hand around my shoulders and the hood of his semi-poncho jacket was over his head.
“It’s a high-res, waterproof video camera. Just got it yesterday,” Jack called over his shoulder. The car was shaking—definitely not like most storm chaser shows you see on TV.
“This is ridiculous!” I said loudly to JC.
He grinned down and squeezed my shoulders. “Yeah, ridiculously awesome!”
I laughed and bumped into the door handle, thus opening the door and throwing us out onto the cold pavement.
“Holy crud!” JC howled. “TORNADO!”
Jack’s head whipped around from inside the car and he flew out to shoot the twister only a short mile or two away.
“We gotta go!” Ray called from within the car, revving up the engine.
We all hopped in, soaking wet, and sped off. Jack’s window was now rolled up and he was towel drying his hair.
“That,” he huffed, “was epic.”
*
*
*
The winding roads of Kansas and other various states in the “Tornado Alley” seemed to go on forever. JC and I were strategically placed in the very back (aka- trunk) of the large SUV and sat patiently with the probes—no seatbelts, might I add. Jack and Ray sat in the front, speeding up to keep up with storms that Amy and Dave were tracking on their laptops.
“Dude, we have to pull over. I gotta pee real bad,” Dave called up to Ray, who was driving at the moment. “In fact, I might very well explode.”
“I second that,” JC said, raising his hand up to signal his vote.
“Just go on the side of the road,” Amy said, clearly irritated. We’d been driving for the past four hours, and the digital clock at the front of the car said six o’clock in the morning. You do the math. There was supposed to be a large outbreak of storms in some weird state, and we had to get up and go, go, go. “We don’t have time to find a gas station,” she added.
Dave groaned. “Fine, pull over Ray.” Before the car had completely stopped, Dave jumped out and headed for some trees on the side of the road. We’d been driving for hours, and there’d barely been any trees, but thankfully there were a few here. JC shrugged, popped open the trunk, and hopped out as well.
I sat there and looked at Amy as she opened up a Word document titled “Memories.” She left a space and began typing, “Well, there it is. Mark 50. Dave has officially jumped out of the car 50 times to pee.”
“He does this often?” I asked.
Her head slowly turned towards me and nodded. “Yup. Every time. We’re storm chasers, so we’ve gotta be fast. And apparently some of us have weak bladders. It’s a life thing.”
I smiled in understanding and crouched back against the probe, opening my water to take a sip.
JC climbed back in and sat next to me. “Trees aren’t that bad of a public restroom. They aren’t nearly as dirty as most of them, and the cool, fresh wind feels—”
“Ok!” I said. “Don’t want to hear it!”
He laughed. “Just saying. The first humans didn’t have porta-potties, did they? Didn’t think so.”
*
*
*
“Why on earth are you putting tomatoes in that?” I asked with horror.
We were at Dave’s house, and there was flour everywhere. JC looked down at the cake we were making, then at the ingredients list.
“It says so right here,” he pointed. “It’s supposed to make the chocolate richer or something like that.”
I squinted. “Oh,” I said and kept mixing as he added more required ingredients.
“I think you should trust me more,” he said.
“I think you should think before you act and then I’ll trust you more.”
“Touché.”
As we poured the mix into the cake pan, I said, “Tell me again why we’re making this.”
“It’s called thunder cake. It’s a family thing. You do it when it thunderstorms. I figured since we can’t make this on the road, we could make it at the house.”
“Well, it is in the middle of a thunderstorm here, so I guess it still applies.”
He smiled. “Yup.”
*
*
*
In a hotel somewhere in Nebraska, JC and I were forced to share a room—money isn’t cheap, as my great grandmother always said. He stretched out on the small bed in the center of the room.
“So what do you think about all of this?” he asked.
I shrugged from my chair at the desk as sipped a coffee. “Storm chasing is a lot different than they make it out to be—just as dangerous, but a little more boring at times.”
“Agreed. The season’s almost over, though.”
“I know,” I said. “We’re leaving in five days.”
“I thought it was ten.”
“It was ten, five days ago when you last counted,” I laughed.
He nodded, smiling a little.
We’d just gotten to this new hotel and it was pouring outside.
“I’ll take the floor tonight if you want me to,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “Thanks.”
“No problem.”
*
*
*
My phone buzzed when I turned it on as Dave drove us to the airport that was only about ten minutes away from where we were staying.
I checked the caller ID. My phone had been dead for almost the entire three months we’d been out here. In fact, this was my first time really having it on.
“Oh my god,” I said.
“What?” JC leaned over my shoulder.
I had twenty-seven texts from my mom, thirteen from my dad, and seventy-two phone calls from home.
There were only ten voicemails.
I listened to each one carefully. I’d been generous enough to leave a note at home that said I’d be back in a few months and I had to do this, and yada, yada, yada. But as much as my parents ignored me, they did notice when I was gone for extensive amounts of time, and they did worry—quite a bit, actually.
Seeing the creased brow and frown on my face, JC put an arm around me and squeezed. Our love life hadn’t gone vary far since our first kiss. In fact, we hadn’t kissed or done anything romantic. Granted, we were out storm chasing, but still. I had this sinking feeling inside of me that it was just a one-time thing. The way that JC hugged me, though, provided a bit of hope.
*
*
*
The airport was crowded, and the drive was still several hours from there. JC and I walked to where we’d parked the old truck. I moved to get in, but he took my arm.
“Wait,” he said.
I looked at him, slightly raising an eyebrow in confusion.
He smiled and brushed a piece of hair out of my face. “This’ll only take a minute, I promise.”
I nodded, waiting, while he walked around to the other side of the car. He appeared a few minutes later with his camera bag.
“Ok,” he said quietly. “I was sort of planning on doing this while storm chasing, because—well, that’s what we were there for, and it was cool, but it never really worked out, so...”
JC pulled another tiny velvet bag out of his camera bag.
My mind searched for what it might be... film from our adventure? Maybe pictures from our lives on one strip of film? A new memory card for my digital camera?
JC suddenly lowered himself to the ground as if he dropped something. I moved to help him look for it, but he stopped me, putting a hand up as he stayed on the ground. He shifted his weight to one knee and looked up.
“Will you marry me?”
*
*
*
I didn’t know what to say—I wanted to marry JC, but I felt so strange. I was eighteen. I hadn’t even started college yet. And I was about to spend another four hours in the car with him, so if I didn’t give him an answer, it would have been extremely awkward.
“I—I want to,” I said quietly. “But I don’t see how this could possibly work...”
JC’s eyes searched my face, and for a split second, I was in the dark. I had no idea what he could possibly be thinking, but then it hit me hard.
His hair was wild, and his tee shirt was sticking to him from the rain that was starting to come down. It wasn’t romantic, and by no means was it a fairy tale scenario, but it was perfect in my book, even as he whispered the words that I feared most.
“Run away with me.”
*
*
*
I am almost positive that at some point in your life you’ve read a book or watched a movie where the boy asks the girl to run away with him (or, in some cases, vice versa). Finding the courage to answer this question is a lot scarier than it sounds. Not to mention—well, at least from my experience—most of the books where this happens take place in older times or villages or something of that nature. It’s hard to run away in this day and age. But for some reason, my hands had found his and squeezed hard while my lips whispered yes.
In the car, JC watched me, and the road, while talking over his plans. It seemed ridiculous, but brilliant. It could work. JC was somehow different now. He was more careful and cautious. He didn’t try to get arrested for fun or something, like he once had. Don’t get me wrong, JC had always been a nice, caring, amazing guy, but he always liked a risk. He and I both now knew that this was not the time for risks.
*
*
*
JC and I were sitting in his living room, talking quietly.
“JC, I know it’s been a while since it happened, but I feel like we should talk about it, because—well, if you’re going to marry me and if we’re really going to run away, I need to know the truth...”
“About what?” he asked.
“About Jane.”
“Daze...” he said, his eyes darkening.
“Please,” I said. “I trust you, but I need to know that you trust me. I need to know the truth, JC.”
He nodded. “Could you go home for a while? If you really love me, you’ll understand that I can’t tell you right now. I promise, though, that I will tell you soon. Just not right now.”
“Ok,” I said, and left. Part of JC’s plan was to go home and pack, then to leave one day and never return. And I intended to do so with him.
*
*
*
“It was dark out, and the fog was extremely thick. You have to understand that it was very hard to see. There was another car coming, and only too late did I realize that I was in the wrong lane. I swerved, and everything seemed to be fine, no terrible damage or anything. I noticed that Jane had rolled her window down and after I had swerved off the road, we had run over something—it was either a very sharpened branch or a metal post. Either way, it went clean through the opened window and had pierced her stomach. She was pinned to the seat, and making awful sounds in pain. I was bawling by this moment, cursing at myself and calling 911. They came, and as soon as they got her out of the car, she died.
I was arrested, because there was no damage to the car and they thought I had just murdered her. In truth, I thought I did, too. I blamed myself. I was a wreck—you know that. You and I had been sort of long-distance friends for a while, and I had just moved to this area after the accident. I feel really bad for not talking to you for months, though. I was just so upset. She had been my life. I was hard-core and strong, but I tended to fall in love easily. I had intended to marry her. After she died, I was afraid to do the same with you. That’s why I was such a jerk for all those years.
Now that we’re here, I don’t want to mess it up.”
The fact that JC told me this—confided in me—made me sad. He really did trust me, but I had pushed him. I felt horrible. But at the same time, all I wanted to do was make this work.

PART 2

I hear voices around my head, floating like ghosts in the distance. My eyelids are heavy, and I wonder where I am. Finally, my body begins to respond. I open my eyes, but it’s hard. They close again, and I fade into darkness.
A sudden jolt surges through my body, and my eyes fly open.
“She’s coming around!” someone yells. “Check her pulse, give me a wet towel!”
I feel a wet coolness come over my head, but everything is blurry. My arms and legs hurt. I can now feel my head, and it is dizzy. When my lips part to speak, I don’t hear any sound. My throat is dry, and my chest hurts. Finally, I am awake.
A man I do not know looks into my eyes. “Are you with me?” he asks. A strange question, muffled to my ears, as if I am underwater.
“Yes,” I want to say, but it sounds more like a helpless moan.
“She’s responding,” a person next to me notices. They rush out of the room.
A few minutes later, more people enter the room. I move my head to see them. They are my mother and father. Who is the third person with them? And the fourth?
Now I recognize one of them. I call out. “JC.” I reach for him. He looks at me in a strange way.
“Hazel, it’s me... Aaron...” he takes my hand.
I am fully functional now—as far as I can tell—and I detect a hint of sorrow in JC’s voice.
“Aaron?” I ask.
“Yes, remember me?”
“JC,” I insist.
“No.”
“Yes!”
“Hazel!” he says. He does not understand my confusion.
“Who is Hazel? I’m Daze!” I say, my voice rising to a raspy tone.
“Haze, not Daze,” he says, making a sad face. He holds my hand carefully. I notice the bruises on my hands first—then the wrist cast and the IVs.
“Mom?” I look up at her. She is crying. “Dad?” he is on the opposite end of the room, yelling at the man who asked me whether I was with him or not. Dad is yelling about memories and names.
“Who?” I ask, pointing a crooked, shaking finger to the lean girl who is standing next to mother—the fourth person. She throws her arms around me and weeps. I cringe from the pain and the sorrow I feel for her.
“This is Anna,” she says to me. “I am Anna. Oh, Hazel, don’t you remember?”
I shake my head. “Anna?” I ponder the name. My head hurts.
“Your sister,” she urges.
“Sister?” I don’t have a sister...
Anna’s brown eyes cry. Her dark hair is falling into her face as she backs away from me in horror or sadness—whatever emotion she is feeling.
“You don’t remember me,” Anna says, sadly.
I feel horrible. I want to remember, but I cannot. “I do not.”
“Do you remember anything?” the strange man walks to me again, while dad stays at the other end of the room.
“I remember the storm chasing and my time with JC,” I point to JC, who has insisted his name is Aaron. “And I remember taking pictures and painting with sick children and playing ball in the rain.”
JC looks lost. “My name is Aaron,” he says. “And I have never been storm chasing in my life.”
I cry out in pain as the man injects me with something.
“This is going to stop the pain in your arms and legs,” he says.
I look at him gratefully. “Why are you not remembering anything, J—Aaron?”
“Me? You don’t even remember my name!”
Mom puts a hand on Aaron’s shoulder, calming him. She motions towards the man and says, “This doctor has been very king, and you need to listen to him. He will tell you what is going on.”
“Before I begin,” the doctor says, “I’d like to ask you a few questions, Hazel. Is that alright with you?”
It takes me a second to realize that he is speaking to me.
“I think so.”
“What is the last thing you remember?”
“JC—err—Aaron was talking to me about an accident,” I say
“When exactly was this?”
“I—I can’t remember. It feels like yesterday, but I don’t remember going to sleep or anything. That was in the middle of the day. I don’t even remember what I did after that,” I say, thoughtfully, pondering my own confusion.
“Just as I suspected. Aaron,” he says, turning to Aaron. “Do you recall talking to her about this? Was there any time before this accident happened that you were talking about another accident?”
“No,” he says.
“What accident?” I ask.
Everyone in the room falls silent and turns to me. The doctor decides to do the dirty work and explain to me.
“It’s been several weeks since it happened. This young man was driving you to visit your sister at her boarding school. That’s the background of the story as far as I know. You got into an accident. As you can see, there wasn’t much damage done to him, but you on the other hand... You were in a coma for these past weeks, which was not nearly as bad, considering.”
“Considering what?”
“Well,” he says, “You hit your head extremely hard, and lost a large amount of blood. Your seatbelt hadn’t been connected properly, and you’d gone flying through the dashboard. Your left knee and both wrists were broken. It’s a miracle that you’re still alive, really, and that you didn’t have more damage done to you. However, the physical conditions—well, they’re not the biggest problem. It has come to my attention that you may be suffering from amnesia. How strong the amnesia is, we don’t know, but we do intend to fix this.”
“I have amnesia? How is this possible?”
“Like I said,” he says, “You hit your head very hard.” And now he leaves the room.
I stare after him, my mind blank. Amnesia. How will I fix this? I feel a wetness on my cheek, and lift my hand up to feel. I am crying. The saltwater is running down my face, faster than a train running full speed across the tracks.
A strange, delayed realization sets in. “Weeks?” I ask, louder than necessary.
Mom and dad nod simultaneously. Aaron steps forward and puts an arm on dad’s shoulder, whispering something in his ear.
Dad nods grimly and takes mom and my sister—Anna, Abby? —by the hands, leading them all out of the room, leaving one—Aaron.
“Haze,” he whispers. The room is silent besides that word—the unfamiliar name, by which I am called.
I look into his eyes, searching for some truth in this mess. How could I remember everyone but my sister? How could I remember their faces and voices, but not recognize their names? How could I make up an entire lifetime without knowing it wasn’t real? How could I remember, without doing anything to remember?
“Oh, Haze,” Aaron says. He is next to my bed now. “What have I done to you?” His arms embrace me, and I feel a new wetness on the side of my face—his tears.
“Aaron,” I whisper quietly.
He looks up at me. “You said my name—my real name, I mean.”
I nod and he leans in to hear me better, as I talk quietly. “I may not remember, but I can learn.”
He smiles weakly. “It’s been weeks,” he says, sniffling. “I—I hate this. It’s going to have a permanent impression on you.”
“But the doctor said my legs and arms and—”
“Not your body,” he says. “Your mind. You’ve got amnesia. The doctor already told us this isn’t curable. We can take you through your life with pictures and videos and stories of memories, but we can’t bring it back to you. It will never come back. You’ll have to start over.”
“So I’ll start over,” I say.
“You make it sound so easy.”
“I know it’ll be hard,” I say, “But I will make it work. I promise. Help me sit up.”
He nods and adjusts my pillows.
“I have a story to tell you,” I say, “About what happened while I was gone from this place. I don’t want to call it a dream. It was like memories from a different me. I know they must not have been real, but they were wonderful.”
“At least you weren’t in pain.”
“Oh, but I was in emotional pain some of the time,” I say quietly. “Tell me, have we ever dated before?”
“No,” he says, shocked. “Why—”
“In my—world, let’s call it—you proposed to me. You were soft and cool, too. We loved each other. I suppose we were friends for a long while, and then you finally decided to tell me. I have a feeling that you’re just like JC. You’re all the same people, but with different names. I can tell. Except mom and dad seem to really care about me here.”
“What do you mean?” he asks, a piece of hair falling over his eyebrow. He gently pushes it back away.
“Mom and dad cared, but they were jerks in my world. I suppose now that I live here—well, I feel like life will be more precious. I won’t take things for granted anymore, you know.”
Aaron nods. “I have a feeling this JC is nothing compared to me,” he grins.
I laugh, and he smiles, obviously becoming more reassured by the sound echoing in the room.
He is still close to me so that he can hear, so I lean in and kiss him for a while. He sighs and sinks into the depths of the kiss, then goes rigid.
“Why?” he gasps. “I—I caused—” he pauses and motions towards me, “This.”
“Aaron, don’t you see? I can deal with this. My body will heal. My mind—I’ll mend as best I can. All I want is to go home now. I want to look at my baby pictures and read old school reports. I want to sit with you on the couch and watch old movies. I want to take walks in the park and go to school. It’s time I start living. I’ve screwed things up once in my ‘world,’ and I don’t want to do it again.”
He smiles, “Sounds good to me,” and kisses me again. This time he doesn’t let go.

PART 3

I walk through the heavy doors of the school building and look around nervously. “This is so—different,” I say. “From my world, I mean.”
Aaron nods. “I can only imagine it would be.”
I sigh. “You’re going to walk me through this, right?” I ask quietly.
He shrugs. “I guess so. I mean, I’ll miss some of my classes, and I do have a test today—”
I grip his arm as a large boy with a football barrels through the halls. I shrink closer to Aaron and a strange sound escapes my lips.
He chuckles deeply. “I take it you kind of need me to watch over you, huh?”
“Please,” I say, nodding vigorously.
Again he sighs. “Oh, all right. We should probably go to the office first, though. Teachers are very—touchy when it comes to missing class.”
“You know,” I say quietly, “I almost don’t mind anymore. It’s really, really good to be back. I feel like now everything is even more real.”
“With you back, it is.”



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