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Chapter Twenty

     In my room clean clothes are stacked on my bed, my dresser, my desk, and on the floor. I ran out of room in my drawers and closet an hour ago and now am faced with an inescapable fact: I have too many clothes. Me, the nothing-to-wear girl who hasn’t had a clean shirt since September. I sigh and look hopelessly at the piles. It’s time to weed through the whole thing, including the ones I already put away, but I’m not feeling so hot. Dad decided he’s cleaning out the garage so on our “breaks,” his from garage organizing and mine from laundry hell, we’ve been meeting and watching HGTV to inspire us while eating too much Ben and Jerry’s. I leaf through a pile of folded T-shirts. The top one is from Lazy J Ranch. I got it when I went to camp there with Molly when we were nine but the shirt just now fits me; I used it as a nightshirt before. Nostalgia aside, I would never wear it. I kick the empty laundry basket in front of me and drop it in. This is going to take the rest of the day, and it’s that warm-sun-on-the-walls time of day when I usually nap. I remember what Dad says and I set my alarm for one hour from now and lean back to rest my head on my pillows, thinking about The Granddaughter. I wonder how she can visit me. Do we really have that capability now, as she says? A part of ourselves we haven’t tapped into yet? I remember Michael telling me once that we don’t use our entire brains and that some people use even less than that. I don’t get this whole being human thing. Why are we here? What is life, what is death? Where is the meaning? Sometimes it just seems like one of Dad’s movies, a big set where we go around saying our lines and acting out our parts . . . but for what? Is it for the applause at the end of the show? What if no one is watching?

These and other creepy thoughts plague me until my eyes close, and the creepy thoughts spiral into darkness.

After my nap I’m back in the garden checking on the plants. I hear strange crackling noises behind the fence. A shadow blocks the five o’clock sun slanting through the boards. I can tell from the footfalls that it isn’t The Granddaughter, but who is it?

“Jess!” A voice calls me. It’s Jimmy. My heart surges. What’s he doing here? It dawns on me I’ve only broken up with him in my mind. I haven’t actually told him yet that we’re through. In fact, as far as he knows, we’re moving into a really fun new place in our rekindled relationship . . . having sex.

I wedge open a broken board and Jimmy squeezes through the fence, looking around like a spy on a mission.

“I had to see you,” he says, kissing me on the lips. “Last night was . . . amazing. I can’t stop thinking about you!” He gropes for me and starts mashing against me. There’s that amazing scent of his and–yes, there go the eyelashes. Damn him. My body starts its own little dance against his.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, deja vu in my head.

“I had to sneak out. I’ve tried to call you but your dad . . . he’s trippin’. He won’t let me talk to you!”

“He knows about us, Jimmy,” I say in a quiet voice. “He knows we had sex. He heard us!”

Jimmy looks appropriately horrified at this news. “No way! He must be bugging out!”

“I’m in lock down,” I say, looking away from his eyelashes. I notice the mint plant looks taller than it did this morning. Wow.

“Me too. My dad thinks I’m taking out the trash, so I can’t stay. Is there any place . . .” he looks around and I know what he wants. What’s he expecting, some Bedouin tent to miraculously appear so we can go inside and do it? What a jerk.

“No,” I say firmly.

“Too bad,” he says, playing me with his hands, rubbing me to get me horny. I grab his hands in mine and push them away.

“Don’t start something you can’t finish.”

“Who says we can’t finish?” he asks, trying to put his hands back on me. That sick feeling I had earlier after eating too much ice cream comes back. Jimmy makes my stomach turn.

“I said no, Jimmy, my dad’s really disappointed in me. I feel bad about it too, and because of that and everything else . . . I think we should stop seeing each other.”

“You? You’re sorry for what you’ve done? That doesn’t sound like you, Jess.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, that’s the whole thing about you. You try to kill yourself but instead of being all sorry and whiny about it you were in everyone’s face. Almost like you were proud of it or something. You weren’t just some messed-uploser, you were like this . . . chick on the edge. Like daring death to take you or something. Now you’re backing down from what you want because your dad found out you’re not a virgin anymore? That’s not you, Jess.”

“It’s me now, Jimmy. That’s what I’m saying. And I’m not backing down from what I want. This is what I want. I want to break up with you. You’re not good for me anymore.”

“Wait a sec . . . you’re the one who got me in trouble! I’m suspended from school because you asked me to come get you in the middle of the night! How can you be breaking up with me?”

“You’re just mad cuz I finally screwed you and now you want more and you can’t have it.” All these feelings are fountaining up, and words I’ve waited to say puke themselves out.

“I can’t believe you!” Jimmy says, his face flushing with anger. “You were lucky to even get a date with me! So lucky! My friends told me you were all wrong, but no, I gave you a chance! I even let myself love you in spite of what the whole world said about you! I was wrong, you are a jacked-up loser. You’ll never have it as good as you would with me . . . you are a crazy bitch!”

I watch Jimmy’s little rampage and wonder what my next line is in the script of life. I shrug. I feel like calling out “line!” to the invisible director of my personal B-Movie. Maybe someone would write me a brilliant comeback that would leave the audience laughing and begging for more. There’s nothing though, just an empty hole in my heart where Jimmy Becker’s love used to be.

“Sorry,” I say to Jimmy. “Don’t think you didn’t mean anything to me. You really did. You meant a lot to me, Jimmy. I really loved you.”

A strange nasally sigh comes from Jimmy that reminds me of Michael’s unhappy noise and he leaves quickly through the broken fence slat. I’m glad I got to tell him that I loved him. I’m glad I didn’t stoop to his level and resort to name calling. I did love him. My body still loves him, apparently, and I can feel a residual burn in all the places he just touched me.

My imaginary movie director didn’t give me a comeback line so the one I came up with was as good as I could give. I finish watering the plants and head up to the house, picking my way up the rock-lined path.