I heard Tanner’s back in town,” Dad says while setting the table. “Do you want to invite him over for dinner tonight?”
I set down the last crystal glass exactly one inch away from the plate in the upper left hand corner. We’re using our best China because Mom’s side of the family—including my anal aunt—is coming over for breakfast. I lift a spoon from the placemat and can see myself perfectly in the gleaming silver. Dad always likes to make a good impression.
He tries a new tactic when I don’t respond. “What about college? You can’t take another year off, you know. It’s the first step to the real world.” He pauses and I can feel his eyes on me. “Tanner goes to a good school. Maybe you should apply there.”
I scratch at an imaginary smudge on the silver, trying to hint that I don’t want to talk. He doesn’t take the bait.
“Blake?” He puts down the utensils and looks at me sternly. “What happened with you two? How come I never see his ugly face anymore?”
I don’t laugh at his joke, but take the utensils from him and finish placing them on the mats. Finally, I look up. “He’s changed, that’s all.” Without waiting for a response, I turn around to bring out the bacon.
We threw eggs—that was our thing. Three years ago, in the tenth grade, I somehow convinced Tanner’s bus driver I was also on the bus route just so I could get dropped off at his house. We’d lounge around his living room, eating Pizza Rolls and not doing homework. Mrs. Wheeler would always come home from work an hour later, complain about our smelly feet, but would still call him her favorite son. She said I was a close second.
One day there were no more Pizza Rolls, so we poked around the fridge to see what else we could devour. I ended up pulling out an egg carton, insisting I was a brilliant chef and would whip Tanner up the best batch of scrambled eggs he’d ever have in his life.
Of course, being somewhat of a klutz, I dropped an egg as I was placing them in a bowl. I remember it shattering on the floor and how unnatural it looked against the pristine tile. Globs of yolk stuck to my hands as I tried to wipe it up and Tanner meticulously picked out each individual shard of shell before playfully rolling his eyes at me.
Suddenly, I had an idea. “You know what would be fun?” I think my sly expression gave me away because he started to look concerned.
“No . . . we can’t.” He glanced nervously at the nearly full carton on the counter. “The Thompsons would get so pissed if we did that to their house.”
I shoved his shoulder a bit and some yolk dribbled onto his shirt. “Oh come on, they’re such assholes! And they’re not even home right now—it’ll be fun!” I got up and tossed the egg-soaked towel into the trash before turning to him, pleading with my eyes. “No one has to know about it, just you and me.”
A shy smile played on his lips and eventually he nodded. “Okay, fine. But we gotta be quick—my mom will be home in half an hour.”
Grinning, I snagged the carton off the counter and slipped out the backdoor. We ducked down behind the hedges and hastily picked out our ammunition.
“Ready?” I asked, my hands already positioned to start throwing.
He swallowed hard before glancing over both shoulders—twice—and nodded curtly.
There was something about watching a perfectly round, white egg sail from your hand towards a perfectly traditional, white house. Maybe it was the way it exploded, with cascading yellow streaks splattering effortlessly over the paint like a clumsy firework. It was mesmerizing to watch the delicate wisps of egg white erupt around the yolk in a ghostly dance—it was like I was watching it happen in slow motion.
So, apparently the Thompsons were home. It didn’t take long for Will and Jackson, the two biggest jocks in our school, to storm out and yell curse words and death threats as we raced back into the house.
“Well, shit,” Tanner swore, slamming the door behind us. I took a moment to catch my breath before breaking out into laughter.
“You better watch yourself, Wheeler,” Jackson threatened, his voice muffled by the closed door. “Or else.”
“What, are you gonna tell my mom?” I yelled back.
Tanner whacked me in the shoulder, eyes wide. “Shut up! Stop pretending you’re me!”
This made me laugh so hard, I sank to the floor in absolute hysteria. He shook his head slowly and looked away, his lips pressed tightly together in a thin frown. My laughter eventually subsided and I sat up, finally realizing he was upset.
“Geez man, relax. He’s not really going to come after you.”
He glared at me from the side without actually looking at me. “No, he’s not going to come after you. Jocks don’t hurt jocks.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but decided against it and glanced away again.
“Wait,” I moved into his line of vision. “Tanner, did that dick hurt you?”
He tried to keep a straight face, but I had found my answer.
“Are you serious?” I demand. “Why’d you let us throw eggs at his house!”
He shrugged a bit, attempting—and failing—to keep his cool. “You said no one would know but us.” His voice broke on the last word and he slowly sank to the ground, his hands covering his eyes.
I stared at him, dumbfounded. Most of the time we could communicate with a simple look, but some days he seemed more of a stranger than one of my best friends. Unsure of what to say, I simply put an arm around him—just to let him know I was there.
The most beautiful and destructive person to have entered my life in all my seventeen years was Daisy Kelley. I was standing in line at the grocery store with Tanner, a carton of eggs, a whole chicken, five different kinds of vegetables, and a pack of gum when this short girl with hair so blond, it was almost white bounced in behind us.
I was talking to Tanner when she got in line and actually had to pause mid-sentence the second we made eye contact. Her blue eyes gleamed and she spun me a brilliant smile with the whitest and straightest teeth I’d ever seen.
“Blake?” Tanner tried to see what I was staring at, but didn’t quite catch it.
“Next!” the cashier called, and I dragged my eyes away from her before placing my food on the conveyor belt.
“That girl behind us is checking you out,” Tanner whispered so loudly, the whole store could hear. “She looks like she wants to suck your blood or something.”
“Shut up,” I muttered to him. “You’re so freaking loud.” I snuck a glance back at her and she winked.
“That’s twenty three dollars and eighty-four cents,” the cashier droned, his waiting hand already stretched out towards me.
I was still thinking about the girl when Tanner nudged me, breaking me out of my trance. “Oh, yeah, hang on.” I fished out my wallet from my pocket and dug out a lonely twenty dollar bill. “Crap.” Mom forgot to give me money. I turned to Tanner. “Hey, do you have anything on you?”
He emptied his pockets but came up with nothing.
Groaning, I looked back at the cashier, a lame, apologetic smile on my face. “You can take out the eggs and gum, then. Sorry.”
Sighing dramatically, the cashier pushed the rejected items to the side of the belt and took my twenty. Once everything was bagged, I peeked back at the girl one last time before we left. She wasn’t looking at me but was wearing a sly smirk and idly twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
Just as Tanner and I were halfway across the parking lot, I heard someone calling something frantically to us.
“Hey, wait up!”
We both turned to see the blond girl running in our direction, her small figure weighed down by the bulky bags she was carrying. When she finally reached us, she paused, catching her breath before pulling out the pack of gum I wanted from one of her bags.
“Wow, is that for me?” I reached for the gum. Where has this girl been all my life?
She snatched back her hand before I could touch it, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Whoa there buddy, who said this whole thing was for you?”
Her playful tone made me smile and I watched her take out a piece of gum and pop it into her mouth. She chewed it loudly—to taunt me, I think—and looked back and forth at us. “Well, do you guys have names, or what?”
“I’m Tanner,” he said, reaching out a hand for her to shake. She stared at it for a second and then turned to me.
“Blake,” I nodded—coolly, I hoped—and saw Tanner shove his neglected hand back into his pocket from the corner of my eye.
She grinned and tossed me the newly opened pack of gum. “Cool. I’m Daisy.”
Unprepared, I fumbled with the pack before finally holding it securely in my hands. “Thanks, but I was going to come back for this tomorrow. You didn’t have to buy it for me.”
Her smile widened, as if this was the part of the conversation she was waiting for all along. “Don’t worry, I didn’t.”
I saw her every day for a week after we met. Since she didn’t go to my school, we hung out after my football practices at a local convenience store down the street. Tanner always tagged along, insisting I shouldn’t be left alone with her.
“She just gives me a bad vibe,” he said as we were waiting by the store entrance.
“You’re crazy.” I searched for her blond hair bobbing through the crowds of people on the sidewalk. “She’s awesome. Plus, she’s hot.” What more could you ask for?
He sighed and did that weird thing where he pressed his lips together, but I didn’t really care. It was already four thirty—where was she?
Suddenly, the door to the shop opened and Daisy burst out, laughing her musical laugh. She grabbed my arm and towed me down the street, giggling too hard to tell me what happened. Tanner trailed somewhere behind.
“Slow down!” I protested as she pulled me farther along. “You’re going to rip my arm off!” I inconspicuously tried to flex my bicep when she looked back.
“Stop whining, my house is just around the corner.”
“I’m supposed to be home for dinner soon,” Tanner called, a few yards behind. We ignored him.
Once we reached her place—a white colonial house that looked on the verge of collapsing—she showed us this secret burlap bag she kept in her bedroom closet. It was filled with these random items that were tagged with some sentimental value—a pair of scissors to symbolize the time her ex-boyfriend cheated, a puppy Beanie Baby for when her beagle died at eight months old, tanning lotion as a token to never be fake, and so much more. Each item was either packaged or still had the price tags on them, almost as if they’ve never been used.
She dropped a handheld mirror—stolen today from the convenience store—into the bag, adding it to her collection. A reminder to self-reflect, she said.
Curious, I was reaching into the bag for the mirror when she slapped my hand, her eyes piercing right through me.
“You can’t just take things out,” she said sharply. “This is all about constraint. Some things are left better in the dark.”
“You’re an irrationally metaphorical person,” Tanner finally concluded. “Plus, you shouldn’t steal.”
She shrugged. “I think it’s fun.”
“I think it’s breaking the law.”
In a swift movement, she had the string around the hefty bag, her fingers working furiously to secure an intricate knot. “This is how I cope,” she said softly, staring at nothing in particular. She double checked the knot as if it might come undone at any second.
Tanner watched her with sullen eyes and I sensed that if it was his bag, he would let all of the demons come spilling out.
When it was dinnertime, Tanner drove me back to my house. He pulled into the driveway behind my M3 Sedan and cleared his throat a little when I didn’t get out.
My eyes remained fixed ahead.
The back windshield—my windshield—was completely smashed. Several dents decorated the trunk and a side mirror was crushed. A single egg lay broken amidst the shattered glass.
“Well,” I said, breaking the silence. “I guess jocks do hurt jocks.”
Tanner looked at me, his eyes filled with empathy. “At least it wasn’t your face.”
I didn’t respond, but just stared out at the wreckage in front of us. After a few minutes, he reached out and took my hand, squeezing it gently.
I squeezed back.
My biggest mistake was thinking I could manipulate time. A week after the car incident, Daisy and I were sprawled out on Tanner’s couch one night when he walked in with a thick envelope and a beaming smile on his face.
Daisy glanced up from her magazine. “What, is that like your tenth acceptance?”
“Seventh,” he corrected as he plopped down next to me. “And it’s my number two school.”
Rolling her eyes, she turned back to the plastic pages in front of her. “Thank God I’m a junior.”
I continued to scroll through my phone as if I hadn’t heard the conversation. I didn’t even want to think about colleges right now. It was late December and I missed all of the early application deadlines—I didn’t even know if I’d make the regular-decision due date on time.
“Blake, weren’t you going to apply to this school, too?” he started to open the envelope. “Wouldn’t it be great if we went to college together?”
Shaking my head, I dropped my phone in my lap and rubbed my eyes. “I don’t think they would take me.”
His eyes softened. “You just need more confidence.”
“I just need more time.” I stood up and walked into the kitchen. I didn’t want to see his acceptance letter.
Daisy followed me, a coy smile on her face. “I know just what you need.”
No one spoke as Daisy drove us to the shopping center. She refused to tell me what she had in store for us, but Tanner started to make the connection.
“We’re not going to do something illegal, are we?” He was clearly referencing her knack for stealing.
She didn’t answer, but when I looked over, she was beaming like a little kid on Christmas.
Tanner put a hand on my shoulder from the backseat. “Blake, don’t do it. This is stupid.”
My eyes flicked nervously to Daisy before staring back out at the road. “It’s not a big deal.”
“You’ll get in so much trouble,” he continued. “Do you think colleges accept convicts?”
Sensing my reluctance, Daisy glanced at me. “Really? Jesus. Man up.”
My hands balled up into fists and we fell into silence as we reached the shopping center.
Daisy hopped out and marched straight ahead as if she’d continue on with or without us. Tanner and I were alone in the car.
“I’m going to do this,” I said. “If you don’t want to come with me, that’s fine.”
His jaw went taut and he waited a while before answering. “I can’t just sit here and wait for you to screw up.” He smiled wryly at me. “If you’re going, I’m going.”
I grinned back and we got out of the car. Making our way through the parking lot, we crouched behind a big truck where Daisy was waiting that was just out of sight from the store.
“Okay, so here’s the plan,” she made us huddle like it was a football play. “There’s this supervisor chick who thinks everyone is a thief. Look out for her. The watches are on the right side of the store in the accessory section.” She smiled at me. “Pick out any one you like—it’s yours to keep.”
I glanced at the store and could see the supervisor through the windows. She was this large, bulky woman who was scanning the entrance, her eyes darting suspiciously to each customer as they left the building. She looked like she needed to get laid.
Tanner breathed out a heavy sigh. I wondered if he knew his hands were trembling.
Daisy offered a confident smile. “I’ll create the distraction. When you see Beefy follow me to the courtesy booth,” the supervisor, I assumed, “go to the stockroom. The maintenance guys should be stocking shelves at this time, so don’t worry about running into them. From what I remember, the exit is next to the trash chute. Don’t look back.” She stared pointedly at Tanner. “Relax. It’s exhilarating—you’ll see. Now, there are a ton of woods behind the building so just hide out and I’ll meet you there.”
Tanner wiped his hands on his jeans. “Let’s just do this.”
Daisy walked in first, immediately attracting the attention of the stock boys. She batted her eyelashes and they flocked to her side.
After waiting five minutes, Tanner and I casually strolled in and headed straight for the accessories. We scanned the shelves for the watches before spotting a faux leather one next to the sunglasses. It was the last one.
I stood guard at the end of the aisle, making sure we weren’t followed. Once Tanner had pocketed the watch, I peered around some shelves at the front end. Daisy was talking to Beefy, and after a few gestures and concerned looks, they walked together to the courtesy booth. The stock boys looked on, staring dreamily in Daisy’s direction.
That was our cue. We weaved through the various aisles before reaching the stockroom. Glancing around once more, we slipped through the doors, past the trash chute, and out the exit.
Finally! The night sky and dense woods welcomed us as we scampered down the stairs and into the cover of the trees.
Tanner turned toward me, his lips stretched out into a wicked grin as he pressed the watch into my open palm. His fingers grazed mine as he pulled away, his eye sparkling with our shared secret. I smiled back, triumphant of our success and he laughed heartily.
“Shhh!” I lunged forward and clasped a hand over his mouth. It took everything I had to hold back my own laughter. “They’ll hear you, you idiot!”
His eyes twinkled impishly and in response, I felt his lips press against my fingers.
“Ugh, gross.” Smirking at him, I pulled back and made a show of wiping my hand on his arm. “You slobbered all over me.”
Before I knew what was happening, he was holding my hand in his, the twinkle suddenly gone from his eyes. A chill ran down my spine as he walked right up to me—right into my space—and kissed me. His lips were soft, tender and confusing. My brain felt like cement and no thoughts seemed to register as his hands found their way to my hair, down my neck, and to my cheek.
I couldn’t move. I was too scared to move.
When he pulled away, it took a few seconds for my head to start working again. Taking a step back, I looked down, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
“Blake,” he whispered.
“No,” I put up a hand to stop him and stared him dead in the eye. “No. Fuck this.” Turning around, I walked farther into the woods without a backwards glance. Once I was a good ten feet away, I walked faster. Twigs and sticks snapped nosily under my steps, but I didn’t care. I broke into a run, putting as much distance between us as I could. He didn’t come after me.
“Blake?” I hear Mom’s voice from the other room. “Can you help me out in here?”
Setting down the bacon, I amble back into the kitchen, expecting there to be another dish to bring out.
Mom is standing in the corner of the room mixing pancake batter in a bowl, a phone cradled between her cheek and shoulder.
A carton of eggs sits waiting on the counter.
“Honey, can you fry those up for me?” she gestures towards the carton. “Your aunt needs me to pick her up.”
Nodding, I walk over to the counter and pick out a single white egg. I turn it over in my hands and marvel at its smoothness and blank complexion, wishing I were the same.
Christina Sun is currently completing a specialization in creative writing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with hopes of pursuing an MFA after college. This is her first publication.
© 2014 Christina Sun