Chapters 5 and 6

5.

Marc drove us back to my house after we left Rob, intending to leave us for the evening. Ronnie went inside straight away, leaving us alone for the last time before Marc’s departure. He’d had these plans all summer, and would be visiting his father for a week.

“Are you going to be okay, Rowan? I could probably put the trip off,” Marc said, leaning close to me and slipping my hair back behind my ear to kiss me.

I wrapped my arms around him, holding onto him for dear life. “I’ll be fine. You won’t be gone long and you need to see your Dad,” I answered, not feeling fine, and not feeling like he would be gone a short time. But I was desperate not to interrupt his plans. He had been looking forward to seeing his father. And I couldn’t have told him how I felt, anyway. It would have been a kind of blasphemy to tell him I wanted him to stay.

I felt him agree, though he didn’t nod. “I’ll call you as soon as I get back,” he promised as we got out of the car to walk to the front door. We passed by the house. A curtain moved in my brother’s window. Marc reached for my hand. We walked in the warm air, listening to the early evening crickets.

“Rowan, I love you,” he said, sounding anxious. “I feel bad about leaving you now, this way,” he said. But time was unfolding, and so were events. We were walking in rhythm, and his voice was smooth and low. Like summer.

I looked up into his eyes. He met my gaze, his eyes full of awareness and depth. I was in love with him, wanted him deeply as I looked up at him.

We stopped on the walk before we reached the door and my parents’ eyes. I leaned up to kiss him. “I love you, too,” I said, the words making me want to cry. He returned my kiss, first tentatively and then more deeply.

I had to pull away, my head was swimming. Swimming with desire for him, grief for Eva, grief for my lost plans, anxiety at his leaving, the warm summer air. Swimming at the breakneck speed of events. At everything.

When we separated I stood on the walk and watched him get into his car and drive away. Leaving me to whatever was to come next.

6.

Ronnie and I sat quietly together in our family room staring at the cold fireplace. We were both on the couch, our legs pulled up in front of us, beyond exhaustion and full of grief. Mom had left us snacks, drinks, blankets, and pillows. Classical music played upstairs, an echo of my father’s music reaching us downstairs in the family room.

She sniffed.

“You know Mike liked her.” This she related flatly. In high school, liking someone meant wanting to date them.

Surprised, I looked at her. “Your Mike?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, still staring at the fireplace blankly, voice almost toneless. “He wanted to date her, asked her out. But she didn’t want to. So, she set us up instead.”

She shrugged.

Her voice was completely without emotion recounting the story. I realized she was too tired to cry or even speak with inflection, and I had a sense that her fatigue stretched back to events that had taken place long before Eva had so abruptly abandoned us.

She continued, “Senior skip day. She told him I liked him. Told him he should ask me to spend the day with him.” She looked at me then, the faintest smile seeming to want to visit the corners of her mouth. It didn’t quite happen. The would-be smile disappeared. “Funny, huh?”

“Yeah, funny.”

Was it?

Perhaps.

“Had you told her you liked him?” I asked, awe creeping into my voice. I’d never heard this story before. Eva as matchmaker. She’d never told me about Ronnie and Mike.

“No. I thought he was cute, that was all. She did it all on her own. I don’t know why,” she said, looking again at the fireplace.

“Wow,” I said, meaning it. Eva had been right. Ronnie and Mike had fallen in love, stayed together. How had she known?

“Yeah,” she said, reaching for one of Mom’s butter cookies. “Sort of like a gift, or a replacement. Now that she’s gone, I have someone else. I feel like she gave me someone to replace her before she left.” Ronnie fixed her great brown eyes on me. The miracle of Ronnie’s eyes was that their color, almost black, was like a mirror. When you looked into them, you saw yourself.

Mom came into the family room with another blanket. “Are you girls all set? We’re going to bed now.”

“We are,” I nodded. “Thanks, Mom.”

She leaned to kiss my forehead. “Goodnight, girls,” she said, and shut the hall light when she left.

We sat quietly for a few minutes, two girls brought together by a friend each of us loved. Brought together by her loss. I thought about Ronnie’s story, wondering how it had escaped my notice that my best friend had played matchmaker for two other close friends. Wondering at this whole other side of Eva that I hadn’t experienced or been aware of, at events so seemingly close to me and yet unknown to me.

“She was full of surprises, wasn’t she?” I asked, my voice flat to match Ronnie’s.

Wistfully, with a trace of finality, she said, “Mmm hmm. Mysterious.”

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