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Right Now and Not Later
The day the Beatles landed in America, Janie’s siblings were watching the moment on TV, while Janie was busy cleaning out her closet.
In a box were all the records he’d ever given her. Records from popular rock bands, and salsa music he had let her borrow so he could teach her how to dance and “not that kid stuff you white folks do.” She wasn’t good at either, and he would only kiss her each time she stepped on his foot.
Janie sighed and let the memory go. She held the jean jacket – his jacket, the one he had put on her naked body the night they were caught in his car by the sheriff (How embarrassing. She was grateful the sheriff decided not to tell her father) – and hesitated once before tossing it in the box. She put the box by her door and made a mental to donate it to the thrift shop tomorrow.
She tore photos of him and her off her vanity mirror, and cut them with scissors before tossing them into her trash bin. She stood in the middle of her room, hands on her hips, as she looked around. It was a cool day outside, and yet her room felt abnormally colder. She was cold wherever she went, a constant iciness that never left her shoulders or the back of her neck.
She has cleared out every trace of him in her room, yet she still felt him, lingering, even though he never physically sat a foot inside her house, let alone her bedroom. As polite as her father was, and though he thought the boy treated Janie well, he could never get over the fact she decided to date some Mexican kid.
Well, he needn’t worry anymore. It was long over.
Distant sounds of footsteps were heard outside her door and then, “Janie, someone’s on the phone for you.”
She opened the door to see the back of her little brother’s head as he raced downstairs. She hurried along and went into the livingroom where the phone was. She watched as the TV showed crying girls and she put the phone up to her ear. “Hello?” She already knew who it was.
Or she thought. It wasn’t Will, the voice too deep, with a hint of an accent, to be Will. The coldness intensified along with the omen circling in her stomach. “I told you to leave me alone.”
“But I miss you,” he whispered, and she felt only sickness and not adoration. She shut her eyes and turned her back to the TV.
“Tony.” He hated that nickname, always insisted on being called Antonio. “Go away.”
“What did I do?”
“Just go.” She clutched the phone tight till her palms sweated. “Go away; leave me alone, I never want to –!”
A hand touched her back and she almost slapped the person till she saw it was her sister.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, but Janie ignored her and tried to breathe. On the phone, someone said. “Hello? Janie?”
It took a moment for her to realize it was someone else speaking. Not Antonio, but Will, and she wondered if she imagined the whole conversation.
Janie flipped her hair and said, “Hey, sorry . . .”
Will laughed. “It’s fine. You still want to go to the drive-in tonight? They’re playing Dr. Strangelove.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been wanting to see that.”
“We can go to Winstead’s before that and get something to eat.”
Her smile was wide to the point she was glad her siblings were too occupied to notice and tease her. “Is this a date?”
“I thought what we were doing this whole time was dating?” he chuckled, and the coldness was gone for that brief moment, replaced by a strong warmth in her body. She hadn’t felt like that since – no, let’s not talk about it.
He told her he’d see her later, and with a lovesick goodbye she hung up the phone. She went back to her room and tried to find something to wear and what to do with her hair.
She sat at her vanity desk and brushed the long, blonde mess she had for hair. She had wanted to cut it like Jean Seberg’s hair for months now, something so short that was different, and would make her stand out. Antonio always talked her out of it, claimed he liked running his fingers through it, and how it looked in the wind whenever she got on his motorcycle with him. She had told him if he liked it so much, she would have it made into a wig for him to keep.
Janie mumbled, “Who cares?” and put on a blue, satin headband to hold her hair back. It was good enough. Her eyes were more noticeable now.
“They’re a deep grey like a storm,” Antonio had said. “Like you’re mad at everything.”
Janie saw no one in the mirror, but she looked behind her to make sure, because he was like that. Would sneak up on you when you weren’t looking.
She wasn’t mad at everything, simply irritated at most.
It didn’t take her long to find something to wear. She avoided the pink skirt she wore to her and Antonio’s first date, and the black, collared dress she wore the night they told each other “I love you,” and –
Ugh, was she going to have to get rid of her clothes too? No, no, she wasn’t going to be irrational. Janie put on a white sweater dress and lay down on her bed. She was going to have fun tonight, with no thoughts of Antonio. Just her and Will.
She met Will three weeks after she broke up with Antonio. A simple friendship that started when she and her friends frequented the restaurant he worked at. She hadn't fallen for him till a month after the incident, and after Antonio wouldn’t leave her alone . . .
All that was over. Maybe after tonight Will would call her his girlfriend, since she had already been referring to him as her boyfriend in her mind.
Boyfriend. He would be her second.
X X X X
At some point, Janie’s thoughts lured her to sleep, and when she woke up she had half an hour till Will came over. She checked her appearance in her mirror, and tried to do some eye makeup that would make her seem more awake. When she was done, she had a rare moment where she liked the way she looked, and thought she looked kind of pretty.
“You’re always beautiful. I tell you that all the time.”
The words set a cold drift that caused Janie to jump up and whirl around. Antonio stood by her window, slick as ever. He had his motorcycle jacket on and a smile. His smile used to mean everything to her. Now she only wanted to scream as a whimper stumbled out of her mouth.
“No, no,” she moaned. His smile faded and he walked up to her.
“I told you to leave me alone,” she cried. He was always hard-headed, and would never listen to her or anyone. His hand stroked the side of her face down to her neck, and she felt her blood turn cold.
She stepped back. “Don’t touch me.”
His eyes glowered darker, and she questioned if he would hit her. (No, he wouldn’t, she knew that. No matter how angry he got that he would scare her sometimes, he would never hit her because he wasn’t a “pathetic, drunken wife beater” like his father.)
He suddenly laughed as the tears came to her eyes. “How many times must I say I love you,” he said slowly, “before you finally understand?”
”If you love me you’d stop,” she sobbed. She did love him. No matter how many things she threw out that reminded her of him, there would always be a part of her that loved him. She still cared for him, even after she broke up with him. But things had changed and she had moved on. She’s been moving on since that day, and she thought he had too.
Till he began appearing everywhere, calling her phone, visiting her dreams and thoughts.
She couldn’t get away.
Janie said nothing as Antonio held her hands and kissed them.
“You’re making it worse for yourself,” she said, and he frowned.
“You can’t move on till you get over me.”
“The hell that means?”
She snatched her hands away and screamed till she thought her throat would bleed. “You’re dead, Antonio! How many times do I have to tell you? You’re deaddeaddead, and you need to stop haunting me and leave me alone!”
The air stilled, and she could hear only her heartbeat. Slowly, the scene shifted, and there was a wet puddle under Antonio. He was drenched in rainwater, hair and clothes hanging limply on him. A puddle of blood dripped from the stump that was once his left arm and stained the carpet.
Janie hunched over and vomited.
December 30th was the date the newspaper had, and in it, it read: "Teen Boy Dies In Motorcycle Accident. Antonio Hernandez, 17, was riding his motorcycle late last night when he struck an incoming car. It is believed that the heavy rain storm obscured the views of both Hernandez and the driver of the vehicle, causing them to not see each other. Hernandez was dragged under the car, which tore off his left arm. He died later at the hospital of blood loss and damage done to his internal organs . . ."
A few hours earlier, Antonio had called Janie, wanting to talk. She couldn’t because it was late, and her father was yelling her to “shut the phone up.” She told Antonio she’d speak to him in the morning, and she hung up before he could say goodbye.
The next day, Janie stayed home all day and never got out of bed.
The next day, the coldness came, and then Antonio appeared the following day.
Hot tears rushed down Janie’s face and joined the mess on the floor. Her lungs burned from breathing heavily, and she wanted everything to stop. Antonio stepped closer. She never knew the smell of blood till then: a metallic, coppery scent. She almost puked again.
Antonio rested his right hand on her cheek, and leaned down to kiss her. Cold, wet lips that froze her and did not make her heart flutter or her body feel as if it was drifting away. Like when he was alive. He brought his lips to her cheeks, before resting his forehead on hers.
“I’m your forever man,” he said, “and you’re my forever woman.”
Janie didn’t need to ask what he meant.
She already knew.
X X X X
“I’ll get her,” David said as Will down on the couch. He raced up the stairs to fetch his sister once more.
He knocked once on her door and called, “Janie! Will’s here.” He waited for her footsteps, but nothing happened. He knocked again and finally opened the door.
He saw Janie lying on the floor, not breathing and her eyes closed.
X X X X
After the coroner examined her body, they listed the cause of death simply as: "unknown; natural causes."