Without Jeremy, Ch 17: Into the Sunset

“Look at this one.”

Jenny pulled a big, ripe tomato off its stem.

“How’d I miss this one? It’s bigger than a goat’s fist!”

Jenny didn’t see the questioning eyebrow I shot her, just threw herself back in among her stalks and stems and fruits and veggies. She somehow made overalls, a white ribbed tank, and a straw hat look phenomenal. Goddamn, if she wasn’t so cute, I probably wouldn’t have gotten mired in her for so long.

“So you’re all packed then?”

“Yessir, train leaves tomorrow.”

Train? I knew she was going by car, but I remembered something about a train.

“Just going to tend the garden till then?”

“No, Lucy and Kara and I are going out tonight. Hit the diner one last time; stay out too late so we’re all tired for our trips tomorrow. You’re welcome to come.”

“Nah, I think I’m hanging with Lizzie tonight.”

She didn’t see me wince. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Or, maybe if I was a good friend, I would have seen my friend off.

“Do you like green beans, Casey?”

Not really. “Sure.”

“I’ll pick you some.”

Jenny and I hadn’t really hung out since the party. Although, we hadn’t really hung out much there either. After I got off the roof, I did go and find Lizzie. My ability to express my sudden feelings for her materialized no better than my ability to talk to Jenny had, but where I was always studying Jenny from afar, I was studying Lizzie right up close. I couldn’t pull myself away from her; I was the mosquito to her zappy-thingy. Not that she needed me there; she didn’t know anyone at the party except Steve, Chris, Jenny, and me, but she was right in the middle of things: joking with people, listening to stories, making a red Solo cup look like a scepter. Big Rich and Tom Bowman seemed to take particular interest in her, and I even saw Artie walk up next to her and then walk away when he seemed to realize he had nothing to say to her.

I didn’t worry about those guys though, especially Bowman, who had a habit of making a complete douche of himself. When Suzie and Andrew finally ended their make out session and rejoined the party, Bowman half-shouted, “Who invited numbnuts? I didn’t know it was that kind of party!”

I wasn’t excited about having to kick Bowman out; the party was really going well up to that point, but I wasn’t going to let him talk to Andrew that way. I did feel bad for Steve though; I didn’t think he’d gotten his five bucks yet. But before I made my move, someone spoke up.

“I’d rather have numbnuts than no nuts, you greasy sack of shit.” Everybody but Bowman laughed.

“Eat a dick, Chris.”

“That’s alright, dude; I don’t want you to go without supper.” Bowman turned around, sipped his beer, and shook his head. He knew he was outgunned. I gave Chris and Andrew each a nod, and I saw Chris give Andrew a thumbs up. Behind him, I saw Brenda looking at him like he was a superhero, so I knew it would be making out for them that night instead of fighting.

As people started to leave, all the beer proved too much for me, and I flopped on a couch, unable to move. Lizzie sat down next to me and almost immediately fell asleep. Her head was on my shoulder, and the back of her hand was on top of the back of my hand. I didn’t move it away.

As people filed out or found tents or floor space, that’s where Jenny found me. She and Dana whispered their goodnights, and I smiled and waved goodbye. Not sure if it was my imagination, but I thought Jenny sort of turned away too quickly, walked away too quickly. Dana had to jog to catch up to her as they reached his car.

If I was a better friend, I would have ditched Lizzie and spent one last night hanging out with Jenny before she left for Amherst. We could have told each other one last funny story; we could have split one last dessert that I actually wanted to eat by myself. We could have said sleepy goodbyes in the parking lot of the diner, and maybe I could have finally asked her why we’d never gone out or kissed or anything. Maybe all that scared me, or maybe I wasn’t that great of a friend.

“What about zucchini?”

Jenny’s voice brought me back to reality. I knew I had hurt her feelings about tonight, but I couldn’t lie about the zucchini. I made my best gag face.

“Come on, I’ve got to give this stuff to somebody. Mom has good intentions, but this will all go to rot before I get to come back. Should have thought ahead; I shouldn’t even have planted those.” She pointed to a bunch of flowers sprouting off a long vine.

“What are they?”

“Pumpkins.”

 


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Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.