The Lakes

May 3, 2018

My hand slid through the fast-moving air outside the car window. Little rocks sprung up and brushed my fingertips every once and a while. My curly hair blew around me as I drove in silence towards Chicago. I had been driving on I-94 E for an hour with no intention of turning back to Milwaukee. The highway was bustling with activity even at midnight, but I paid no attention to it. All I could think about was the statement that caused me to pack a duffel bag, burst out of the house and climb into my car. 

“We’re looking at houses on the ocean,” Mom had said. “We want to be by your brother in Florida.” 

It had always been about my brother, Kai. Never in my life had I been put first. Don’t get me wrong, I love him very much, but I despised the way he ignored it. I remember when we were little he would comfort me when Mom and Dad made me feel invisible, but he never did anything but stop my crying. Quickly, I grew used to it, but this was my breaking point. 

I had lived in Milwaukee my whole life. Every summer the family would drive to our house on Lake Michigan. It was my home. I knew the city like the back of my hand. I knew all the hidden treasures and shortcuts. Never in my life had I wished to be somewhere else, and now I was being dragged away. All for Kai. They didn’t even ask me. 

“It will be like living on the lakes but bigger and saltier!” Dad joked, but they would never understand. The “Cream City” had become the family and home I never felt I had. So, without thought, I had run out the front door and into my car. I was so upset that I didn’t even realize I was driving to Chicago until I was halfway there. 

Now, I could see the lights. Being so close the windy city was also a perk to living in Milwaukee. If you drive down I-94 E for about an hour or two, depending on traffic, you’d be there. I had always loved the drive. But now, it only reminded me of what I would be leaving. 

 

____________________________________

 

The clock on my dashboard read 9:00pm. As I drove through the bustling city, I realized I hadn't planned for this. It was a Friday night and the city was alive with lights and music from bars along the street. I rolled down the windows and let my hand dangle out the window. As I tapped patterns on the side of my car, I looked for a hotel. 

Usually, I stayed at the cheapest place I could find. They were usually run-down holiday inns on the outskirts of the city. But tonight, I felt like I needed a change. My grandparents continually gave me money every year. I'm not sure why, but I never complained. Combined with the money I get from working at a popular coffee shop in Milwaukee, I could easily stay somewhere nice. Besides, in was the middle of July and I didn’t know how long I was staying, so I might as well. 

There was a place I always dreamed of staying at. Kai said that when we passed it I almost drooled. It was called The Lanham Chicago. At night, the tall building glowed with the lights of all the rooms. It was set on a river, right by the Navy Pier. Plus, no matter what room you get, you're either looking at the river or the city. The only problem is the price and I don’t think they will check me in at 10:00pm. I might as well drive down there. If I don’t get a room I can just park my car by the pier and spend the night there. So, I drive towards its location in River North. 

As I drive there, I think about moving. I try as hard as I can to see the perks of moving to Flordia, but I just can't. Sure, Kai lives there but I've already gotten used to not having him around. Plus, he always calls and visits when he can. I just can't believe he'd be so selfish. He knows how much I love it here! Why would he ask me to leave? Especially the summer before my senior year! 

"Hey Siri, call Kai," I say, willing him to pick up and the phone starts to ring. It gets to the fourth ring and I'm ready to leave a voicemail, but then he picks up.

"Little sister! It's late, what's the occasion!" He says enthusiastically over speaker phone. "Are Mom and Dad there?" 

"No, they aren't. Actually, I'm in Chicago right now because of them and possibly you," I say angrily. 

"What do you mean?" He asks, and I can hear him shutting a door. 

"Did you ask Mom and Dad to move? Did you suggest it?" I turn on my blinker. 

"Well, I guess I did. I mean, it would be nice to be by your big brother, right?" He says this jokingly, but I can hear the caution in his voice. 

"Nice? Sure, Kai, it would be great to leave my home of seventeen years, right before my senior year, all for my lonely brother who can’t deal with being all alone! I would love that Kai!" I say sarcastically, switching into the center lane. 

"I can deal with being alone! I just wanted--" I cut him off. 

"Do you have any idea how selfish you being? You're the one who chose to go to that stupid school! You had a perfect opportunity here! But, oh no! Your Girlfriend was going there so you left. That's not my fault so don’t ask me to leave!" I yell, slamming my hand down on the hang up sign. I can't stand to listen to his voice right now. 

I shake my head and pull into the Langham parking lot. I grab my duffel out of the trunk and lock my car before heading towards the glowing entrance. 

"Hello Ma'am. How can I help you tonight?" The front lady asks. 

"I was wondering if you have any rooms? I know it's late," I smile, running my hand through my hair and knotting it. 

She clicks through her computer for a minute or two before smiling, "Yes! A family just left a few hours ago!" Then she frowns, taking in my hoodie and leggings. "But, it's about $362 a night." It's expensive, but it'll do. 

"Perfect! Is it available for six nights?" I say smugly as her eyes widen in surprise and she nods. Looks like I got my dream room. 

____________________________________

The next morning, I wake up at 9:00am. The room is amazing. On one wall there was floor to ceiling windows with a view of the city. I sat for about an hour staring at the lights before collapsing onto the plush bed. Now, my hair was wet from the frosted glass shower. Again, this room is amazing.

I stand in front of the mirror and put on some light makeup as I get ready to go to breakfast. Not only did this place have amazing views, it had free breakfast. I quickly threw on some clothes and walked down to the buffet. 

Quickly, I fill up my plate with fruits and pancakes. I sit down at a table facing the window and slowly eat as I decide what I'm going to do. I don’t want to go home but I know I have to at some point. I'm deep into my thoughts when someone sits next to me and turns in my direction. 

"Hey, I'm Jay," The boy says with a smile. He has curly hair in a pile on his head. It hangs over his forehead and slightly over the shaved sides of his head. Typical hairstyle, I think. His eyes are a deep brown ringed with gold and his skin is caramel, like mine.

"Hey, do you need something?" I ask, confused as to why he came over here.

"No, I just tried waving to you, but you couldn’t see me. I really wanted to say hi so I--" he cuts himself off. "Sorry, I'm rambling." 

I let out a laugh before I speak. "No problem, I'm Jas," I stick my hand out to shake his. I turn back to my food but notice that he's still looking at me so I turn back to him. 

"You're not from here, are you?" He asks, a questioning look on his face. "I'm guessing Milwaukee." 

"You are correct, what gave it away?" I ask jokingly. 

"Well for one, you put cheese on your pancakes and two, the Milwaukee sticker on your phone," Jay says smiling goofily. "Who puts cheese on pancakes?" 

"Uh, I do," I say, faking hurt. "Plus, it's better than syrup. Anyways, do you need something?" 

"No, I just... do you want to go to the lake today? Unless you have something else to do because that's totally cool. You seem like—I'll stop rambling," He smiles and rubs the back of his neck. 

"How do I know you're not some crazy kidnapper," I joke. 

"Well I'm not because..." He trails off, not sure what to say. 

"Kidding, my rooms on the 11th floor, room 297. Does 3 o'clock work?" I ask, grabbing my phone and getting up from my seat. 

"Yeah! Yeah that works great!" He says, seeming surprised. 

"Okay, see you at three then," I smile and turn to the hallway. 

Once I'm in my room, I panic. I've never been on a date before! Is this a date? I don’t even know if this is a date! Why did I do this and how did I stay so calm down there? I check my phone only to see several missed called from my parents and a text from my brother. In the text he apologizes and says that he told Mom and Dad where I was, so they didn’t worry, not that I even cared. I also noticed that I had three hours until Jay got here. Get it together Jas, I think.  

I pace over to the chair by the window and stare out of it. Should I show him the spot? No, you just met him. These thoughts run through my head for a good hour. At 1:00pm I finally get up and start getting ready. I grab my duffel bag and pull my yellow two-piece, some shorts, and an oversized Milwaukee Brewers shirt. I quickly change and then try to decide what to do with my hair. 

Right now, it all puffed up in a frizzy afro surrounded my face. This is going to take a lot of work. So, I tug and pull for about thirty minutes before getting it into two braids that reach to the middle of my back. Then I scrub of most of my makeup, do my eyebrows, and put on some waterproof mascara that took me twenty minutes to find. Finally, I'm ready with 30 minutes to spare. At least I thought I had 30 minutes. 

I'm turning off the bathroom lights when I hear a light knock at the door. I furrow my eyebrows and walk towards the door. Quickly, I raise on my tiptoes to peek through the little hole. Oh no, he's too early! I put my hand on the knob and quickly turn, not allowing myself to hesitate any longer. 

"Hey! Is it already three?" I ask, faking confusion. 

"Oh! No, it isn't. I just was ready, and I thought maybe you were too, so now I'm here," He says this quickly and rubs his neck afterwards, looking down at his shoes. 

"Yea, sure. Um let me grab my bag," I mumble, wandering to my bed and grabbing my bed. I touch my hand to the window and notice it's hot, probably in the 90's. We better take my car. I grab my key's and walk towards him, smiling. 

"What?" He asks as I close the door. 

"Let me drive," I smile. "And don’t ask where I'm going until we get there." 

Five minutes later, he's drooling. "If this is what I'm thinking than it’s a classic?" He asks, running his fingers along the smooth red paint of my car. 

"If you're thinking it's a 1963 Chevy Corvette, then yes, it is a classic," I smile and climb in, starting it and putting down the top. I turn on the radio and gesture for him to sit down. Immediately he hops into the car, exploring every detail. I sit my bag in the hidden cove towards the back and pull out of the parking lot. 

"Where did you get this? I haven't seen one of these since a convention in Madison!" He turns to me, his eyes wide. 

"No, it was my grandpa's. It goes to the oldest child, but my brother didn’t want it, so he gave it to me," I frown, recalling my brother's stupidity. Who wouldn’t want this car? When I was twelve, we repainted it a cherry red and it still glistens. 

As if he can read my mind he says, "I don’t know why he wouldn’t want this car!" 

"I know right?" I laugh, glancing over at him as I drive along the lake on North Lake Shore Drive. We pass the Navy Pier and Jay furrows his eyebrows. I shake my head at him, reminding him not to ask where we're going. 

"You know, usually the guy chooses the date spot," He laughs, running his hand through the air. 

"Oh, so this is a date?" I ask calmly even though my heart is pounding. I laugh lightly, fumbling with a loose string on the steering wheel. 

"I mean, if you want it to be. That's kind of my I came over to you in the morning," He says, still looking around the car, "To ask you out on a date." 

"Well, then I guess it is," I reply, continuing on the road. Soon, I'm pulling to the side of Oak Street beach and climbing over to door. Jay gives me a weird look and I shrug, telling him that the door sticks. He follows me as I walk down to the shore. 

"So, here?" He asks, gesturing to my bag. 

"Nope!" I say, smiling. I pull a waterproof cover bag out of my backpack and place the backpack inside. "We have to swim there!" 

"What do you mean?" 

"There's a small little island east of the shore and out into the water a bit. Don't worry, we're not going the whole way," I chirp as I lead him to the right. We walk about 100 feet down the shore before having to wade into the shallow water to a small hidden patch of sand. There was a kayak that I had hidden years before. 

"Wow, you come here a lot?" He asks, surprised at the sight of the kayak. 

"When I can, yes, but only on special trips," I reply, stripping off my shirt and throwing it into the sand. I put the bag into a little space at the front of the kayak and pull it into the water.

"So, why are you here now?" He asks, helping me drag the kayak out. 

"Not yet," I reply shortly. Later when we are paddling out to the island, I start talking. It was odd that I did, since I just bet him, but I was already bringing him to the secret spot.

I was paddling quietly when I finally spoke. "My parents want to move for my stupid brother," I blurt out. I hear him hum behind me, signaling me to keep taking. "It's just that they always put him first! I know it's an exaggeration, but I just feel kind of parentless. I mean, it's my last year!"

"I know what you mean. I have five older siblings," he says from behind me. "You'd think, as the youngest, that I would be a point of interest. Apparently, it's the complete opposite. That's why I'm here now, to think." Jay says.

"Oh? Where are you from?" I ask, curious because I thought he live here. 

He laughs, "I live in North Milwaukee." 

My eyes widen, "North?" I cringe. We used to live there, but as soon as we could, we got out. He hums a yes behind me and keeps quiet. "I used to live there too, but Dad got us out." 

We ride in silence the rest for the next 15 minutes. Finally, we arrive, and I lay towels down. Jay doesn’t talk much about living up north, but I don’t blame him. If people at school knew I was from there, I'd be with a much different crowd. For about an hour, we splash and play around in the water. Eventually we get out to eat and rest. 

I'm plopping a strawberry in my mouth when he brings up earlier. 

"Just don’t leave," He says, eating a sandwich that he brought, "If you don’t leave then they won't."

"What do you mean?" I said, furrowing my eyebrows.

"It's your last year in high school! You'll be able to move out in what?" He says, asking for my birthday. 

"Six months," I say. 

"See? It's really not that bad!" He says with a gleam in his eyes. "Just stay and then we'll go to college to--" He cuts himself off blushing. 

I smile, knowing where he was heading. So, I finish for him. "We'll go to college here, in Chicago. We'll go on more dates and drive around in my car all the time. Yeah, I like the sound of that." 

"Really?" He asks, looking up at me from where he's lying.

"Really, and then we'll go home every once and a while and visit the North side. It sounds perfect," I smile at him and pluck the sandwich out of his hand. He laughs and throws a berry at me. At the sound of his laugh, everything suddenly seems okay. Not great, but okay. So, I get up and go to the water with a cup. I fill it up and head back to him. I know, he'll be faster than me, but it'll be worth the laugh. So, I dump it.

"Are you serious?" He says, spitting out water. Then, he jumps up and quickly grabs me. He throws me over his back and runs to the warm water. I laugh against his back as he drops me into the water and splashes me. 

"Okay! Okay! I surrender to King Jay!" I yell, giggling uncontrollably. He breaks into laughter in front of me and tucks a strand of wet curly hair behind my ear. My eyes lock on his and suddenly the butterflies are back, but I ignore the part of my mind that tells me to step back. Instead, I quickly step forward and press my lips to his for a split second, before pulling back and smiling sheepishly. 

He does the same thing but says, "Yeah, you should definitely stay," He laughs. 

"Well, I'm glad you think that, because I'm not leaving." 

____________________________________

The rest of the trip was spent exploring. But this time I wasn’t alone. Jay came to my room every morning with a new place to see, and I showed him all the hidden treasures. When we finally had to leave he followed behind me, occasionally honking weird tunes at me, annoying all the other drivers. 

Eventually, we made it back home and I drove with him to my home in the North. We still owned it, so I went inside for the first time in 2 years. I showed him my old room and the laundry chute. I told him all the funny and ridiculous stories.

Then, I went home and really talked to my parents for the first time in years. We yelled and cried but, in the end, we hugged. It felt good, actually being listened to. I told them that the can leave, but I won't. I told them about Jay, laughing at my mom's excited eyes and my dad's panicked and possessive one's. 

Finally, I went into my room and sat on my bed. Appreciating this city and the people in it. Mostly, I thought of how grateful I was for that hotel buffet and the person I met there. I was lying in my bed, about to close my eyes, when I remembered that I hadn't even asked for his number. I grabbed my phone and almost jumped up to find the old dusty phone book when my phone lit up in my hand. 

"You didn’t ask for my number," it read, "so I generously gave it to you before you left. Also, you should put a passcode on your phone. Love, The Boy You Kissed on The Secret Island."

That night, I fell asleep with a smile on my lips and love in my heart for the beautiful city of Milwaukee.






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