Named By Fate
A hand grabbed my shoulder and I jumped violently in surprise. Jessica leapt back from me, not expecting my dramatic response. After a moment she rolled her eyes and tossed her perfect blond hair indignantly, regaining her pristine composure.
“Honestly, Alice, are you ever tuned into Earth?” Jessica sighed, handing me the updated game and practice schedule.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, but she had already moved onto the next person.
I stuffed the schedule into my bag.
As I pulled out my CD player, I wondered if people who had different names were destined to be different. I mean, all the smart kids had names like Edith and Edward. Old fashioned names. They could solve math problems that usually required a calculator easily in their heads.Then there were the Hopes and Trinity’s, all such nice girls who talked to everyone and stopped to help a kid pick up his books that he’d dumped all over the hallway. And Quinton would be the only kid in school whose name started with a ‘Q’. He would be the class clown, and would probably be a rich stand-up comedian with a show on Comedy Central before he was thirty-five.
But what about the girl named Mercury who asked to be called by her middle name so she could feel normal? What was my special talent? The ability to be anti-social? I glanced around the bus. As usual, I was the only girl curled up against the window all by her self, while the other twenty-one Varsity and JV girls filled the bus with the awful racket of mindless chatter. On top of that, I was the only one with a CD player, which had been on the endangered species list of technology for at least five years now. Also, there were probably only two or three other girls on the bus who willingly listened to the Beatles. There were the fashionable blonds, the funny brunettes, and the good-time red-heads. Me? Natural black hair. How dreary.
So these are my talents: I’m anti-social (by choice), crappy hair, appreciation of technological dinosaurs, and an eccentric music taste. Great.
My sister’s name was strange too. Andromeda. The farthest thing that can be seen by the naked human eye.
But she was right across the way from me, squished into the seat with her two BFF’s of the week. Blabbing gossip, pausing on occasion to answer a text. Andy seemed normal enough. Lucky girl.
My gaze shifted back to the window, the pine trees, the cornfields, the black and white cows flashing by. Then I was lost in my music, drifting out of Earth’s orbit and closer to Mercury’s.
As much as I love Andy, watching JV volleyball from the eyes of a third-year Varsity player is like watching Modified: dull and frustrating. So I went to the top bleacher seat so I could do my homework. There were only three other people up there. Two other homework-goers, and a native boy to the school sitting on the other end of the seat. I decided on a spot that was a respectful distance away from him and sat.
And of course, when I pulled out my chemistry binder, the corner of my Beatles CD was stuck on it. So it went skittering across the bleacher right to the boy.
I smiled apologetically to him as he handed it to me. He stopped mid-reach and pulled the CD back to his face, his hazel eyes reading the title.
“The White Album? I’ve always wanted a copy of this!” He exclaimed.
“You’re a Beatles fan?” I asked.
“Is the sky blue?” He answered. Sarcasm. This was my kind of kid.
So our conversation started with music. I found it hard to believe that someone was listening to me. My parents never seemed to hear what I say, and Andy has selective hearing. I only have a few close friends, and we either have long conversations or sit in silence. I could have to this guy all day, and I’m pretty sure he would listen to me the whole day. The only other guy I had ever known like that was Sam, my boyfriend. But we were at a point where we had run out of things to talk about. This kid was like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t feel so alone.
The conversation switched to volleyball. He was on Varsity, and he had come after practice to see his sister play.
“Which one is she?” I asked.
“Fifteen is mine.” I said, pointing.
“What’s her name?” He asked brushing a stray brunette lock from his eyes.
“Yeah, it stands for Andromeda.” I replied.
“You’re kidding me.” He laughed. I whirled my head to look at him. I had expected a surprised reaction for her oddball name, but that was a tad rude. I opened my mouth to defend her, but he spoke before I did.
“Are your parents space freaks too?” He sounded excited.
“They both majored in it in college. They love that stuff.” I answered, not sure where this was going.
“I thought I was the only one!” He exclaimed. “My sister’s name is Pandora. I’m Jupiter. Most people just call me Peter though.”
“My name is Mercury. I prefer Alice- it’s my middle name”
By now JV was almost done with their second game, and the realization about our names had sparked a fresh conversation.
“See, Mercury, Andromeda, and Pandora are actually pretty cool names. But Jupiter? That’s just stupid.” He complained.
“I like Jupiter better than Mercury. There’s too many R’s in my name. It just sounds like a slur of noise.”
And so it went on like that. It went from names, to our parents, to family vacations, and by the time the third game was over, we were on childhood pets. We were both dog lovers, and with dogs come lots of funny stories.
I said goodbye to Jupiter. Her laughed and said he wanted to stay and watch the Varsity game, so there was no need to say goodbye yet.
The game went surprisingly well. We hadn’t been doing very well at all this season, but regardless we won the first three games. I was immensely proud of myself. I had six kills, four blocks, and I had some great back row saves that involved diving and rolling. I only missed one serve. Coach even complimented me for my awesome playing.
When I went to grab my things from the bleachers, Jupiter surprised me by waiting for me at the bottom with my bag.
“It was nice to meet you, Mercury.”
“You too, Jupiter.” Then he shook my hand like a gentleman and went to retrieve his sister. As my team left the gym my sister raced over to me.
“Who was that?” She giggled, elbowing my side.
“Oh, calm down, Andy. I just met him. He’s not even from our school.”
“Well he was cute! Did you get his number?”
“No!” I cried. “Andy, I have a boyfriend!”
“So? Oh my god, Alice, you are so not boy savvy!” She exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air.
“Savvy? Wow, that’s a big word for you, Andy.” I snickered.
“Ugh, whatever, Mercury!” She jeered, flouncing back to her friends. She loved to call me Mercury as a come back to anything mean I said to her. She knew it ticked me off.I walked ahead of everyone else, eager to get to the back seat on the bus first.
I felt a little empty on the ride home. I probably wouldn’t ever see him again. Going to different schools was like living in separate worlds. I was on Mercury, he was on Jupiter. Andy was right, as much I hated to admit it. I should have gotten his number. I would miss this friendship we had found so randomly. I pressed myself tight against the window, my legs curled up, trying to hide from the world.
And then, like a bowling ball hitting me in the chest, I realized he had called me Mercury and had gotten away with it. There were only two other people on Earth who could do that; my grandpa and Sam.
“It was nice to meet you, Mercury.”
Sam came over on Saturday to hang out with me for a few hours. When he came in he said hello to my mother first, polite as always, then hugged me and kissed my neck. We settled down on the couch to watch a movie, his arm around my waist. I tried to think of something to talk about. I’d open my mouth to say something, then think better of it and stop myself. When I finally came up with a good conversation idea I turned to him, but he was so deeply absorbed in the movie I didn’t want to interrupt.
“Kids, I’m going to the grocery store. I should be back in a half hour. Be good.” Mom said as she grabbed her keys of the table.
“Okay, ma.” I answered, pretending to be focused on the movie. As soon as the door shut, Sam stood, taking my hand, his attention to movie gone. Dad was at work and Andy was at a friends. It was the first time we’d been alone in a while.
He picked me up and carried me to my room in his strong, football player arms while I giggled into his neck. He tossed me gently onto the bed and climbed over me, kissing me deeply. I felt my stomach twist in excitement, but my heart didn’t beat faster like it used to.As he kissed my neck and pulled my shirt away, his fingers trailing over my skin, nothing happened. The tingly feelings refused to present themselves. Something was missing. He’d barely said a word to me the whole time he had been here, and my body just wasn’t responding to him like it used to. I didn’t want to believe it. So, as I helped him remove his clothes, I kissed him with everything I had, hoping that maybe, somehow, it would hide the truth.
A week or so later I was opening up my locker between classes to get my science binder. A hand shot out and slammed it shut as soon as I opened it.
I whirled to see my friend Derek, a big grin on his face, his blue eyes shining under his mop of blond hair.
“Hey, are you coming to the game tonight?”
“Hey, are you ever going to learn how not to be obnoxious?” I laughed, ruffling his hair.
“I will if you come to the game,” he answered, giving me his best puppy eyes. He looked quite ridiculous, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Who are you playing?”
“The Raiders! They beat us last time, so we’re gonna cream them tonight!” He said in the best scary voice he could muster, flexing his biceps.
My heart jumped as I realized this was Jupiter’s school.
“Uh… um, yeah! Yeah… I’ll be there.” I spluttered. Derek looked at me oddly, then shrugged and ran down the hall to attack one of his friends from behind. Normally I would have viewed this comical show and laughed, but I was too excited to care.
All day all I could think of was my spurt of luck. I had so stupidly walked away from the first person in a long time to understand me and listen to me… to really care. I was being given a second chance. I wrote my number on a piece of paper and slipped it in my pocket, promising myself I’d give it to him.
That night when I walked into the gym, I was so intent on scanning the faces in the bleachers that I ran into an elderly woman, who glared at me and walked off muttering about the rudeness of young people.
I finally spotted him, sitting a little ways apart from his team that was waiting on the bleachers for the JV team to finish. I came as close as I dared. I stared at him for a minute while he watched the game, not sure how to approach. My stomach was churning and making me feel sick. I nearly turned and walked away.
“Oh my god, Alice, you are so not boy savvy!” I gritted my teeth and forced myself to walk up to him.
“Jupiter!” I called, wondering too late if I should have addressed him as Peter instead.
He looked towards me, and his whole face lit up. He waved me over and patted the seat next to him.
It didn’t take long to get the conversation started. Again I was amazed at how intently he listened to me as I caught him up on the games I had played since we had first met, his eyes carefully reading my every expression. And when it was his turn to talk, I returned the courtesy. I wondered if he always threw himself into conversation like this. Or was I like a breath of fresh air too? Was I someone who understood and cared in a lonely world?
When the second JV game started, we snuck a ball out of the cart and left the gym. A few of his team mates pointed after us as we left, talking amongst themselves. I led the way to an empty hallway, and we engaged ourselves in peppering. The ceiling was low, and we kept losing control of the ball when we passed it too high and it came hurtling back down at us. But that’s what made it fun. Soon we were diving and leaping. Jupiter even made a save with his foot. Finally, the ball hit the ground when he crashed into the wall in an attempt to save it. I went over to see if he was okay, and he started to laugh. Then I was laughing. We sat there and laughed ourselves into tears. After we calmed down, he scooted a little closer and we switched into conversation with surprising ease, leaning intensely towards each other as we listened to the other’s stories.
After a while of this, there was a pause in the talk as Jupiter ended one of his stories. I caught myself looking into his hazel eyes, and I realized he was looking into mine too. We both had this idiotic look on our faces. My nose was inches from his. My cheeks prickled as I turned crimson, and I jumped to my feet awkwardly.
“Umm… I, uh, we should check on the game. I- I think yours is going to start soon.” I hated it when I stuttered. It made me feel so stupid and… readable.
We arrived at the gym, and not a moment too soon. The Varsity teams were starting warm ups. Jupiter waved to me and hurried to join his team. One of the guys nudged him and nodded towards me, laughing. Jupiter blushed and ignored him.
As I watched the game, I wondered what made us click so well.What was it that we found so interesting? Why did it seem like I’d known him before? It didn’t take me long to realize who the MVP of the team was. Jupiter was all over the court, making sure nothing hit the ground. He had a perfect jump serve and a viscous spike. They won the first two, lost the third, and then won the fourth. His coach put him in for all four games.
I was so busy watching Jupiter’s team pack up that I didn’t notice Sam come in. A pair of arms wrapped around me. I jumped.
“Sam? What are you doing here?”
“I came to pick up Tony.” Of course, his little brother Anthony was on the JV team. I wondered how today would have been different if Sam had come to watch the whole game. “You?”
“I came to watch a friend,” I answered, meaning Derek but knowing it was really for Jupiter. Sam leaned in and kissed me gently, taking me by surprise.
“See you Monday, Alice. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Why did that feel like a lie? I watched him go with Tony.The old Sam would have stayed, stalling until it was absolutely necessary to go. I frowned when I realized he’d called me Alice.
“Ahem.” My head shot up to see Jupiter standing a few feet away.
“Who’s he?” He asked bluntly.
“How long have you been together?” He added too quickly.
“A year and a few months.”
“Ah, so pretty serious then?” Only he didn’t ask it as a question, more of a statement. He looked away. I searched for something to fill the awful quiet.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” He laughed.
“No. I’m not necessarily the choice cut at my school.”
“I find that surprising.”
“Thanks, I guess.” There was something off in his voice. He glanced at the door. His team was exiting the gym, and his coach was waving him over. “I’ve gotta go.”
I was surprised when he hugged me, a lock of his hair brushing my cheek. My breath caught and my heart sped up a little. After a moment I returned the embrace.
“See you around, Mercury.”
“Bye, Peter.” I don’t know why I called him Peter. But I could tell by the way he glanced at his feet with… disappointment, that he hadn’t wanted me to. So I was one of the rare few people in the world that could get away with calling him Jupiter.
I watched him go, the slip of paper in my jeans burning a hole through my pocket. But my feet were rooted to the ground, and I felt sick. As he walked out the door I saw him reach into his pocket and throw something small to the ground.
I went and retrieved it. It was a crumpled up piece of paper with a number on it.
I stared at it for a long time.
Finally, I let the little paper fall back to the ground, and I left the school.
I thought about Jupiter a lot after that. Something was missing without him. My friends suddenly didn’t seem like friends compared to him.
That weekend I went to Jayda’s to spend the night along with my other best friend, Carrie.
At first it was fun. We walked around town and messed around, skipping across the crosswalk and giving each other piggy-back rides down the sidewalk. We stopped at our favorite café and bought smoothies and cookies. Carrie’s sister was the waitress, so we got a family discount.
But after we returned to Jayda’s house, it all went downhill. Jayda sat us in front of the T.V. to watch one of her favorite teen soap opera shows that Carrie was into too. I wasn’t into the whole teen pregnancy drama thing… so I wandered up to Jayda’s room to read one of her Manga graphic novels. I remembered back to the day’s before Carrie had moved here. Jayda and I would spend hours discussing our story ideas (we’re both aspiring writers), and we would trade books and talk about life and draw. Then, when Carrie moved in, the three of us would go to the park together. Carrie liked to draw too and we would spend our time drawing and doing crafts together and singing along to our favorite songs.
But they had changed. Or maybe I had. I wasn’t sure. They liked spending more time in front of the T.V. now. My quiet, intellectual personality usually remained quiet around them, when it used to be shared and appreciated by them. Not to mention Jayda showed a tad bit of favoritism towards Carrie. I wasn’t jealous, because I loved Carrie, and I wasn’t angry at Jayda, it’s just how life goes. But… it just made me feel bad, especially since I was Jayda’s friend first, since fourth grade. I tried not to think about it too much.
Eventually they came upstairs.
“Why are you so anti-social?” Jayda demanded jokingly.
“I don’t like watching a bunch of snotty girls get in cat fights and have mindless sex with douche bags. It’s kind of insulting and gives teens a bad rep. Not to mention it makes it seem okay and normal to viewers who look up to the actors.” Jayda rolled her eyes at my response and flounced over to the mirror.
“Make-over time!” She chirped.
“You alright, Alice?” Carrie asked. It was funny how different Jayda and Carrie’s personalities were, yet how well they got along.
“Of course!” I said from the bean bag chair in the corner of my room, not looking up from the graphic novel.
“Carrie, she does this all the time. She’s not sad.” Jayda said, rolling her eyes. I felt my face grow hot. I felt like telling them that they do that all the time and I’m the normal one of the three.
“C’mon, Car, let me do you first. I just got a new shade of purple that’ll look great with your hair!”
Jayda never used to care about make-up. Now, she tried to give me a make-over every time I came over, no matter how much I told her I didn’t want it.
“You guys don’t need make-up.” I sighed. “You’re beautiful already.”
“Oh, don’t give us the whole doom and gloom speech about how stupid make-up is again. It’s just for fun.” Jayda moaned.
“Yeah, and I’m sure you guys wear it to school for fun too. Not to impress guys who don’t deserve you anyways. No, not at all.”
“Honestly, Al, have you seen me without make-up?” Carrie asked rhetorically. “Believe me, I need it.”
“Yes, Car, I have seen you without it. And you still look gorgeous.”
Carrie barked a sarcastic laugh.
“And that’s why I hate make-up. Because it becomes a self esteem thing and you feel like you need it to be beautiful. That’s how the whole damn world is today. Self-conscious and materialistic. No one can just be themselves anymore.”
“Why do you do this every time we have a make-over?” Jayda said. She wasn’t mad, she asked it jokingly.
This lighthearted argument occurred at almost every sleep over. And we usually just laughed about it and agreed to disagree. But for some reason, this time I ticked.
“Because I hate how you guys are changing and you aren’t the two girls I knew and used to have fun with!” I exclaimed, getting to my feet and throwing the Manga book to the floor.
Carrie and Jayda stared at me, dumbfounded.
We were silent, staring at each other. The quiet was straining. Carrie made a choking noise, like she was trying to say something but it didn’t come out right. Suddenly Jayda’s expression grew dark.
“Maybe you’d have more fun with us if you didn’t spend so much time being anti-social.” She said it quietly, but her words were harsh and deliberate, cutting deep.
I felt my blood start to boil.
“I’m not anti-social with my friends. The ones I used to share interests with and be able to talk with all day. But apparently they left the building and were replaced with a couple of girls that got caught up in the high school bullshit like everyone else. God forbid anyone in this world have any self-respect or intelligence anymore.”
Carrie started to cry. She was much more sensitive than Jayda, who at times seemed like she had a heart made of steel. Carrie’s tears pissed off Jayda even more.
“Are you calling me stupid? And how dare you think I hate myself like those wrist cutting emo’s at school? I’m quite happy with who I am! You have a piece of mind, Mercury!” I hated it when Jayda pulled the Mercury thing like Andy.
“Scratch that. Caught up in high school bullshit and judgemental.” I balled my fists. “I’m friends with one of those emo’s. I’ll have you know that she doesn’t cut her wrists. In fact, I’ve had more fun with her than I’ve had with you for a while now! That’s all it takes doesn’t it? Dress in black and suddenly you’re a dreary Goth who cuts themselves.”
“With how you’ve been acting lately I almost feel like asking if you cut your wrists.” Jayda sneered. Carrie sobbed.
“Guys, stop!” She whimpered.
“You know what? I do have some issues I’m going through right now. I don’t cut myself, but you wouldn’t know, would you? You never feel like asking me about my life any more. It’s all about you and how you’re mom’s a bitch and you’re sister is a slut and your brother smells and your latest one-week-long-relationship was a waste of time and the guy was a douche. When really, you’re mom is a bitch to you because you never do what she asks. You’re sister isn’t a slut, but she could probably use some family support that you aren’t willing to give. Your brother is neglected and pushed away and no one ever wants to play with him. He’s eight, for God’s sakes! And the guys you date realize a few days in that you’re just like every other catty girl in the school and they bail early. I don’t blame them!”
Jayda glared at me, her eyes blazing and her face red. Her fists were clenched.
She snatched the door handle and stormed from the room, slamming it loudly. I heard her footsteps on the stairs.
I stood there for a few minutes, listening to Carrie cry. Finally she stopped and stood.
“You hit a rough spot with Jayda.” She sniffed. “And you know how she holds grudges.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I’m sorry, Alice.” Carrie said. “I- I miss the old times too. And… you’re right, to a point.”
“I’m sorry for making you cry.” I muttered stupidly.
“It’s okay… I think I needed to hear it. And I think I should go find Jayda before she does something stupid.”
“I think I should leave.” I whispered, suddenly feeling like I needed to puke.
“That’s probably best.” Carrie said.
When we got to the bottom of the stairs, we stopped and looked at each other. I thought about hugging her. But although Carrie had said she needed to hear it, I could tell my words had cut her. I could see it in her eyes. So I just uttered an awkward goodbye and left, wondering if this would be the last time I’d be in Jayda’s house.
My tires squealed as I pulled out of the driveway. I wasn’t even angry anymore… I just had to get out of there.
When I got home I sat in bed for a long time, thinking about Jayda, trying to figure out where it had gone wrong. While Carrie was guilty of some of the things that I had accused Jayda of, she wasn’t all bad. And I hoped we could come out of this as friends still. But I knew Jayda was a lost cause. Once you pissed her off, there was no going back. She’d hate you for the rest of your life and try to turn people against you. I’d seen it happen to most of her friends, and I’d always prided myself that I hadn’t been rejected and was probably her only real friend. Now I realized that maybe not being her friend was healthier.
I thought about Sam, and how more and more being with him was becoming an instinct, not a want. I’d been with him for so long and had given him everything, and I mean everything, safely, of course. So the thought of throwing it away and trying to find another decent guy in a sea of sexist, egotistical, jackasses scared me. The thought of trying to find someone else I could trust enough to give myself to. It almost seemed preferable to fake it.
But what scared me more and that I didn’t want to admit was that deep down I knew that I would have to start over, because there wasn’t anything left to Sam and I anymore, and there was nothing worse than trying to pretend that something was there when it wasn’t.
I blasted music so my family wouldn’t hear me break down into my pillow.
Everything I knew and had built myself on was crumbling. I was falling.
As I sat there crying with snot streaming down my face, I found that I wasn’t missing my love with Sam. I wasn’t missing the old days with Jayda and Carrie.
I missed Jupiter, because he was the only one that would understand all of this and care enough to help me.
What are the odds that my last game was against Jupiter’s school?
My mind was spinning as I drove to our school, Andy in the passenger’s seat. Would he be there? Would he bother to drive all the way out to my school to watch his sister play?
I smiled without thinking when I saw him in the stands. Why did my heart flutter?
As I walked towards him, I thought about Sam. I had fallen for him for a reason. I loved him for who he was. I didn’t understand why that was changing. What had changed? Our infatuation with each other had faded to… well, boredom. But I still loved him, didn’t I? My heart shouldn’t be skipping beats at the sight of Jupiter if I loved Sam. But it was as Jupiter turned and saw me walking towards him, a smile breaking across his smooth face.
“I can’t believe you drove all the way out here for your sister’s game!”
“Well, my parents were too busy to bring her… so I volunteered.” He said.
“Well that’s nice of you.” I said, trying to hide my disappointment. He smiled at the look on my face.
“Well, um… I think I would have come anyways.” I looked at him, my breath catching. He had this crooked smile on his face that made me want to explode.
And it was like we had never been apart.
We picked up conversation so easily, right where we had left off. Why was he so easy to talk to? Since when did a guy actually enjoy chatting the day away with a girl?
Again, we snuck off with a ball.
We had been peppering for a good five minutes when I tripped on my shoe lace, sprawling across the floor before I could get the ball. Then it bounced right off my head.
With anyone else, I would have been utterly embarrassed.But with Jupiter, I started to laugh. He laughed too, and soon we were gasping for air, our sides still heaving with glee.
He came and sat next to me, and after we had a chance to catch our breath he said; “You know, I’ve never met someone quite like you.”
“Is that a compliment?” I laughed. He grinned.
“Of course it is.”
“I just find it hard to believe that you actually listen to me and care about what I say. Everyone else in this school doesn’t even see that I’m here except Sam and my two…” I stopped before I said friends. “Except Sam.”
“Same here. Sometimes I wonder if I actually came from Jupiter. I thought that there had to be something wrong with me. I only have a few close friends who understand me. You proved me wrong, I think. How can there be something wrong with me if I can make friends with someone like you?”I didn’t know what to say to this. I opened and closed my mouth.
“I guess… I guess you just need to find the right people in life.” I finally reasoned.
“Oh, I think I have.” He said softly, brushing a strand of raven hair from my face.
As his fingers brushed my cheek, something bloomed inside my chest, a something I can only describe as a flower of passion. It started in my core, and then spread through my limbs and left my fingers, toes, and scalp tingling. The last time I felt that… was with Sam, when we were first together. Maybe I wasn’t remembering it right, but this seemed different somehow right now with Jupiter. Better.
In that moment I knew that I wanted him. He was so perfect that I couldn’t help but wonder if we had met by chance or for a reason. He was right here, so close to me, waiting.Holding his breath. He wanted me too.
“I know that you have Sam… but Mercury, I still have to ask. I’d be a fool if I passed you up. You’re… you’re perfect, and I promise, I’ll give you all I have. I’ll treat you right and I’ll…” He paused, smiling and shaking his head. “I’m babbling. Mercury, is there… is there any part of you that wants me?”
I took a deep shaky breath, my mind reeling. I wanted to reach out and touch his cheek. I wanted to tell him that he was perfect for me.
Then I saw Sam’s face in my mind. Even if there was nothing left to us as a couple, Sam had been my friend for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t end our relationship, not like this. It had to be the right way. With respect.
“Jupiter… I like you, a lot. I do want you. But I just can’t do that to Sam. Plus, we’re so far away…” I choked on my words, a tear escaping my eye. “I’m sorry, Jupiter. I- I have to go…” I dashed to the bathroom and curled up in the corner of the stall. I sobbed quietly until I heard the warm-up music start for Varsity. I gave myself a few moments to breathe and wash my face.
When I walked into the gym, Jupiter wasn’t in the stands.
Time after that went by quickly. It was my senior year of high school, it was expected to happen. Before I knew it December had come around. I didn’t play a sport in the winter, and I found myself missing volleyball.
It was a week before Christmas break when Sam pulled into my driveway on a Saturday, unannounced. I pulled on my coat and came outside, the cold air biting my skin, and the thin layer of snow on the ground crunching under my slippers.
“Sam?” I asked blearily. I had only just woken up a few minutes ago. I clutched my coffee cup tightly in my hands, shivering in the cold. He came forward and hugged me.
“You look so cute when you first wake up,” he said with a slight smile. I smiled back, not sure what to say. It had been a while since he’d complimented me like that. He had been so quiet lately. Andy had started calling him the King of Quiet.
“What are you doing here, honey? I just got up, I-”
“That’s okay. Will you, um, come for a ride with me?” He asked, gesturing to his Jeep that was idling quietly in the driveway, melting the snow around the exhaust pipe.
I knew it then, by the tone in his voice, the worried look in his eye, how he hadn’t kissed me when he greeted me. I stared at my feet for a few seconds, then looked at him and nodded. We climbed into the Jeep and he pulled out of the driveway. I shot my Mom a quick text to let her know where I was in case she woke up soon. But she and Dad would probably be asleep for another hour or two. It was only nine o’clock.
He pulled out of the driveway and found the back roads. He drove for ten minutes without saying a word. I could feel the blood rushing in my ears. But I waited patiently. When it came to emotions, Sam needed time to find his words, if he found them it all.
Finally, he took a deep breath and reached over, taking my hand. I gave it an encouraging squeeze. He smiled a little at this.
“Mercury, it’s been… it’s been great. My life is better because of you. You’re my first love. You’ve taught me so much. But lately, it’s been…. It’s been…” He stuttered awkwardly.
“It’s been different.” I finished for him. “I know, Sam. I feel the same. It hasn’t been quite right lately.”
Sam pulled over. He turned to me and reached out, holding my cheek in his palm.
“I’ve been telling myself for weeks that I need to do this. That it’s better this way. Whatever we had, it’s faded, too much for it to keep working. But now that I’m here, it’s harder than I thought it would. It’s hard to let go of something that’s become such a big part of my life, such a big part of me. I want our love to still be there. But, in truth, I know it isn’t.”
I had never seen Sam cry before. But his eyes were watering now. Up until now, I had felt nervous, but not scared or sad enough to cry. I had accepted a while ago that this day was drawing near, and I had prepared myself for it. But seeing Sam- this big strong guy with emotions that he hid so well- tear up like this made something inside me break. Moisture came to my eyes, and I felt tears fall down my cheeks.
“It’s okay, Sam. I’m scared too. You’re my comfort zone. It scares me to think I’m going to have to go through so many thorns before I find another rose like you.”
He pulled me gently over the center console into his arms and held me tight. We cried together for a while, I’m not sure how long. We both stopped at about the same time, and he let go of me so I could crawl back into the passenger’s seat. Then he leaned over and kissed me softly, carefully. His lips were warm and soft on mine. A small part of me hoped that maybe this kiss would be different from all the ones in the past few months. That it would be meaningful, that it would cause little flutters.But it didn’t, and when I pulled back and looked in his brown eyes, I could tell that he hadn’t felt anything either.
He dropped me off at my house, and I stood there in the driveway and watched him pull out and drive down the street till he was out of sight. I stood there for a few minutes afterward, clinging to my now cold coffee cup, until the cold was too much to bear and I went inside.
The house was still quiet as my family slept, unaware of this morning’s excursion. Unaware of the emotions spinning inside me.
As I walked into my room, I picked up the picture frame from my bedside table and sat on my bed, pulling the covers over my cold legs. I stared at the photo of Sam and I for a long while, remembering the day we had taken it. When our love was still fresh and beautiful. In the picture, I had my head on his chest, and I was looking up at him while he was looking down at me. Our eyes were dreamy and sparkly, and our whole faces were smiling, not just our lips. We were so wrapped up in each other in that moment that nothing could have interrupted our infatuation with each other, no even an explosion or a herd of elephants.
I unhooked the back of the frame and pulled it off, carefully removing the picture from the glass. I re-attached the back onto the frame and tucked it away in my closet. I pulled my photo album down from my bookshelf and added the picture, labeling it:
First Love Sam Cooper
I closed the album and put it back in its place on the shelf.
And so ended my relationship with Sam.