Say Hoo

In this final fiction story of the 2019 season, Meg seeks meaning and love. 

By Jaime Leon Lin-Yu

Meg fell in love with his handwriting, which was a combination of cursive and block print. She felt it exuded intelligence and kindness—and a playfulness that tugged at her heart. She had read somewhere that you can learn a lot about someone from their handwriting, and Shawn’s was no exception. From the lower swoops of his y’s to the straight backs of his d’s, Meg could tell Shawn was earnest, thoughtful–and lonely.

He had been new to their school that autumn and had initially kept to himself. Meg sat beside him in AP Bio. They never exchanged more than a couple of shy smiles. She sometimes saw him chatting with her best friend Paul in the parking lot, but beyond that, she did not think much about Shawn. Later, when Mrs. Reynolds took over for Mr. Allen, Meg began to glance at Shawn’s notes whenever she missed something. Mrs. Reynolds spoke quickly and breathlessly, as though she was going to forget the day’s lesson if she didn’t spit it out fast enough. Meg could barely keep up as she tried to scribble every fact thrown at her. At night, she squinted as she leaned in to read her notes. Was that “b” or “d”? “Exodermal” or “endocrine”?

After a while, whenever Meg could catch Shawn’s eye, she would gesture to her paper, look back at the board, and raise an eyebrow, as if to say, “What does this all mean?” Shawn would smile, nod, and sometimes roll his eyes. Soon their shy smiles turned into real conversations both in school and out.

That summer Shawn went away to camp upstate. He confided to Meg how much the place meant to him. It was a chance to escape his step-brother’s homophobic taunting, his sister’s pot haze, and his step-dad’s misogyny: “Remember, if she’s on the rag, you still have a chance.” Mostly Shawn said he needed a break from his mother’s face. Her laugh lines had turned into roads to nowhere, her eyes red-rimmed as she crushed her cigarette into the many ashtrays lining the countertop.

“Envelope” © Randall McRoberts http://www.flickr.com

While at camp, Shawn wrote to Meg almost every day. Long letters full of humorous anecdotes and doodles of rabbits and chipmunks with an occasional bobcat thrown in. Sometimes his handwriting was pristine, the paper crisp. Other times it was crumpled, his handwriting askew, as if he had fallen asleep mid-sentence. Meg loved those messy letters the best; it was if she was the last person he spoke to before bedtime, when all his defenses were down, when he was at his most vulnerable and innocent.

Every day Meg ran outside as soon as she heard the putter of the postal truck. The humid air was thick, and sprinting to the end of the driveway felt like swimming in invisible sludge. The thrill of finding a flat letter with her name in the box was often the highlight of her day—and that happiness sustained her on the days when the mailbox was empty. By August Shawn’s letters had become somber. He worried about his return home: the start of their senior year of high school, impending college applications, and how uncomfortable he was in his house. He just hated all the smoke! And the sexist crap from his step-father…It was just gross. Shawn couldn’t wait to leave for college; all he had to do was make it through senior year.

Meg assured him they would do it together.

 


 

The first time Shawn met Meg’s parents, his white oxford shirt had a fine line of grime at the cuffs. His pants were held up by rope, knotted Boy-Scout style. He said, “Yes, please,” and “No, thank you,” and ducked his head a lot. Meg’s mother dismissed him as soon as she saw his blond hair. Bai-ren, she had muttered under her breath. Meg’s father rolled his eyes when Shawn admitted he—at age 17—did not have a clue what he wanted to do with his life. He just wanted to be “happy.”

“Happy won’t put food on the table or keep a roof over your head,” Meg’s father said. “When I left China, I had 50 dollars in my pocket, worked as dishwasher and newspaper boy to put myself through grad school.” He glared at Shawn, and then at Meg. Later Meg overheard him mumble to her mom, “Who is this kid? I thought Meg had better sense.”

Ashamed, Meg avoided Shawn for a week. She refused his calls and ducked into the girls’ room if she saw him in the hallway. Finally, Shawn caught up to her at her locker.

“What’s wrong? Did you get a B on a test?” Shawn paused thoughtfully, then blurted, “Are you angry with me?”

“No, no…don’t be silly,” Meg said, twisting her hair around her finger. Guilt made her realize that he was just a kid; her father had no idea how kind Shawn could be or how sensitive. Unlike her parents, Shawn always asked about her day and seemed to remember every story she ever told him. Grades and ambition weren’t everything. It’s possible her father was wrong about him.

So, when Shawn mentioned his entire family would be away that weekend, Meg didn’t hesitate to suggest they hang out at his house instead of meeting Paul at Coney’s on Saturday. Shawn stared at Meg as he repeated, “My family won’t be home.”

Meg nodded. “I heard you.”

 


 

The air in Shawn’s room was damp, thanks to the window he had opened just a crack. If asked now, Meg would not be able to recall what song had played on the stereo, only that it was some 80s and 90s alternative jam that could have included the Cure, Depeche Mode, or the Smiths. Shawn had over a hundred CDs, crammed into his closet-sized room. His bed was actually in his closet, fitted into the corner to accommodate a desk, dresser, and a modest bookshelf.

Meg would remember the pain the most, mixed with disappointment and ruthlessness. In that moment she hated Shawn, hated how he made her hurt, hated how thoughtful and tender he could be. If he smiled at her one more time, she silently — and violently — swore to punch him. Sex with Shawn was awkward, cold, and worse, his feet smelled.

She should have seen the signs then: the way his hand held hers too tight, the hugs that lingered too long, and his big eyes magnified in the dim light. She closed her eyes to the adoration, afraid to fall and drown. Her father’s words hovered outside of her conscious mind, even though she tried to shoo them away. But even without her father’s words, Meg knew Shawn was not the one for her. He was right for right now, but for forever?

No.

 


 

Meg didn’t want her dad or her mom to teach her how to drive. Her dad would probably sigh with impatience and her mom would complain of a headache—a direct result of having to deal with Meg. She had been taught from an early age that any trying and failing had to be done privately, out of sight. Her parents could only bear to see success, so Meg turned to her best friend Paul. Could he teach her to drive, so that by the time she took the test with her mom in the backseat, it would appear she had been born with a steering wheel in hand?

“Driving” © david reid http://www.flickr.com

“I can do you one better,” Paul replied. “I will make you look as if you could parallel park in your sleep.”

Meg laughed, relieved that once again Paul was coming to her aid. Since they were ten years old, he was her family in ways that her own was not.

So, Paul took Meg out on the weekends. Meg told her parents they went to the library, which was true because the library parking lot was large and often deserted, the perfect place for driving lessons. Meg guessed they believed she was studying, but they never asked.

Paul was a good teacher, patient and funny. Meg was a good student, conscientious, observant, and dedicated. Within a couple of lessons, she was performing K-turns without blinking an eye.

“Ready to tackle the streets?” Paul asked. Meg nodded and smoothly turned onto the street and headed to the highway. She rolled down her window as Paul turned up the radio, singing at the top of his lungs. He caught Meg’s eye and she let out a whoop. The sun was shining, the roads were clear, the music loud and she was with her best friend. It didn’t get better than that.

Paul directed her to the next exit and to Coney’s for a snack. “I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

Paul bought them milkshakes, which they drank in the quiet of the car.

“What’s new with you and Shawn?” he asked, slurping the last of his drink.

Meg took a long pull before answering. She wanted to tell Paul about her new status with Shawn, but she couldn’t form the words. It wasn’t because sex was a taboo subject with them. In fact, the summer night when Paul lost his virginity, he had walked to her house afterwards to process his feelings. When Meg and Shawn first kissed, she had called Paul afterward to share. But now, talking about Shawn and sex felt dangerous, as if telling Paul would tip the scales of her life.

“Everything is good,” she finally said. “My parents still don’t like him.”

“They don’t like anybody,” Paul replied.

“I don’t think they even like me and they’re supposed to.” Meg chuckled and Paul nodded. He understood.

“Well, Shawn seems happy, happier than before,” he said. It suddenly occurred to Meg that Shawn could’ve confided in Paul, and she worried that her omission would be regarded as a betrayal. She studied Paul as he leaned back in his seat, but he seemed relaxed, not a single muscle was tense.

“Yeah, stuff at home really gets to him,” Meg said. “All that crap with his step-dad.”

Paul looked at her. “I mean it, Nut-Meg. Shawn really cares about you. You make him happy.”

Meg turned her face towards the window. She wanted to tell Paul that she was trying, that she wanted Shawn and her to reach towards something together, some kind of dark, indefinable unknown…but that it seemed useless, or maybe she didn’t know how, and he certainly didn’t know how. Meg ached to tell Paul that there was something wonderfully elusive, something that she desperately wanted, but it was something she couldn’t have, not with Shawn. Perhaps not with anybody.

Instead Meg looked at her best friend and said, “Nut-meg? You’re the only one who calls me that, you know.”

Paul grinned. “And that’s why you love me and I love you.” Suddenly Meg felt like weeping; a large ferocious wave hit her from the inside, but she took a breath and sat straighter in her seat. She turned the key in the ignition, making the engine come to life.

“Let’s go,” she said. “Don’t you have date with Stacy tonight?”

Paul nodded. “Speaking of which, I know you don’t like her.”

“I never said that.” Meg checked for traffic. “I just said she’s not my cup of tea.”

“Well, she happens to be mine.”

“I know.”

Paul unfolded his long, left arm and let it rest behind Meg. She leaned into it, enjoying the soft hair of his arm against her bare neck. “We get each other,” Paul said.

Meg nodded. They really did.

 


 

On the last day of school, Paul announced they should burn their school uniforms in his backyard. It wasn’t his most outrageous idea, but definitely a silly one. After Paul produced a tin drum, he and Shawn happily threw their ties, navy slacks, and polyester crew neck sweaters in. Meg followed with plaid jumpers and white shirts with Peter Pan collars. She furtively kept the tie with the mother-of-pearl clasp in her underwear drawer back home, purely for sentimental reasons.

Paul sprinkled gasoline, and Shawn lit a match. Meg said a few celebratory words, watching as Shawn’s match hit its target. Flames leapt quickly, surprising all of them. They each took a step back, Shawn protectively stepping in front of Meg. Paul smirked at Meg, clearly amused by the chivalrous yet unnecessary gesture. She made a face back at him.

They did not hear Paul’s father until he was practically on top of them.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I used a tin bucket. Perfectly safe,” Paul explained. Black smoke curled into the air. All three kids peered over the rim; the smoke came from Meg’s jumper, which had not burned like the rest of the clothing, but melted instead into a congealed mess, sticky and black.

“That’s not natural,” Meg whispered.

“I can’t believe you wore that,” Shawn said as Paul’s dad cuffed Paul.

“Whose idea was this?!”

Paul defiantly lifted his head, meeting his dad eye to eye, having finally reached the same height: six feet. “It was mine…Francis.” Paul dramatically invoked his father’s Christian name as behind him Meg and Shawn gasped, waiting for the ax to fall.

Strangely it didn’t. Paul’s father studied all of them before shooting them a death glare. He ordered them to clean it up and threatened that the next time he saw Paul do something stupid, he wouldn’t be so easy-going.

Paul turned to Meg and Shawn. Relief washed over them as they simultaneously broke into big grins, followed by a fit of giggles…until Shawn reached into the tin drum without tongs and burned the tips of his fingers.

Later, giddy, the kids burst into the safety of Paul’s room where Paul immediately turned the stereo on. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” by the Beatles flooded the room. As if seized by a good idea, or at the least, an exciting one, Paul turned to Meg. He glanced at Shawn. “Should we share this new joke we learned with Meg?”

Shawn, who was about to flop onto floor pillows across the room, froze, his eyes dangerously bright. “No, that’s not a good idea.”

“What joke?” Meg asked as she peered into the mirror above Paul’s dresser to retie her ponytail.

“What kind of sound does an owl make?” Paul asked, ignoring Shawn. He hovered close to Meg, almost jumping out of his skin, as if ready to show-off.

“lips” © Nadja Varga http://flickr.com

Irritated Meg turned around and started to say, “Hoo,” when Paul’s mouth approached hers. Meg had a nanosecond to either step away or stay still and be kissed. A picture flashed in her mind, one that didn’t make sense, but felt right. It was of a large glass fluted bowl, something her mom might purchase for a housewarming gift. She knew she had to hold it carefully so that it wouldn’t break. This moment was like the bowl, and so Meg stayed still, waiting as Paul’s lips touched hers. He leaned away, giggling, leaving Meg stunned. He had kissed her. For a moment the room turned white. Meg reached for her face to make sure her mouth was still attached. His lips were really warm. Meg told herself not to move until she could see again. And when she did, she resumed fixing her hair and went to sit beside Shawn. She punched Paul’s arm as she sailed by. Paul yelped, grinning, seeming to be utterly pleased with himself. Meg turned to Shawn, wondering what he had thought of Paul’s little joke, but before she could ask, Shawn pulled her against him with an uncharacteristic fierceness that caused a jolt in Meg’s chest.

 


 

A couple weeks later, Paul invited Meg and Shawn over for dinner. In the kitchen, Paul stirred a pot of tomato sauce on the stove. He threw a towel over his shoulder as Meg sat perched on the edge of the table, drinking a diet Coke, an indulgence her parents rarely allowed. Shawn finished washing the glasses and turned to Paul. Two fingers on his right hand—thumb and forefinger–were wrapped in gauze. His hand was still healing from when they had burned their uniforms.

“What else do you need?” Shawn asked Paul.

Paul dipped a spoon into the pot to taste the sauce. “Could you go to the basement and grab another onion for me?”

Shawn nodded as Paul asked Meg to set the table for four. Meg frowned. “You expecting someone?”

Paul didn’t look at Meg when he replied. “Stacy.”

Meg groaned. Before she could complain again how she believed Stacy was using Paul to make her ex-boyfriend jealous, Shawn grabbed Meg’s arm. “Come help me find those onions!” He looked over his shoulder. “Be right back!”

In the dusty basement Meg scowled as she cradled two large onions in the crook of her arm. She turned to give one to Shawn. “Why’d you drag me away like that?”

Shawn didn’t answer the question. Instead he moved closer to her and said softly, “So I could ask you, what sound does an owl make?” The dim light moved slowly over his face. He must’ve bumped the light bulb with his head.

Meg relaxed, her irritation with Paul fading as a smile spread across her face. “You can’t fool me.”

Shawn grabbed her shoulders gently. She held the onions between their stomachs. “Hoo,” he said softly.

Meg looked up and—to her embarrassment—sneezed. Shawn giggled. Meg laughed. “Let’s try this again.”

“Say hoo.” Shawn’s face looked incredibly young in the darkness, soft and wondrous. Meg closed her eyes and pursed her lips.

“Hoo. The owl says, ‘hoo.’”

 


 

In the morning, Paul and Shawn waved to Meg from Paul’s red Volkswagen, ready to make the five-hour drive to Shawn’s camp. Paul planned to spend three days with Shawn and would return to flips burgers at Dick’s for $8.00 an hour while Meg would catalog books at the local library four days a week.

Meg and Paul’s last summer at home wasn’t supposed to be exceptional, unless you counted the fact that it was their last summer together. Paul seemed to expect to kill the hours working and hanging out with Meg, with an occasional date with Stacy in between. But Meg had an idea.

Lying on Paul’s bed, resting her bare feet on the headboard and staring at the ceiling as Paul chatted about his day, she was not quite sure she wanted the summer to idly wander by. She wanted to mark it, make an occasion. Much like the way they had burned their uniforms on the last day of school. She wanted to burn an impression into herself—and into Paul.

“Do you miss Shawn?” Paul asked suddenly.

Meg lifted her head. “Yeah. It’s weird not having him around. I got used to the three of us.” She didn’t mention the sweet relief that Shawn’s absence brought, the welcome break from the constant hand-holding, which was usually his hand—sometimes dry, sometimes sweaty–groping for hers. Who knew hand-holding could be exhausting?

She sat up, still mulling over her idea, looking around the room that was almost as familiar as her own: the slightly off-color crown molding, the almost bald patches of carpet, the pine trees swaying outside, and the corn fields beyond that. The familiar sights of her hometown that had been her home yet didn’t feel like home. She thought about her idea again. What the hell? she thought. Why not? As she slipped her feet into her sneakers, she blurted, “I have a proposition.”

“Intriguing.” Paul’s blue eyes lit up, looking bluer than ever, if that was even possible. “Go on.”

“A road trip. You remember my cousin Shelly? We could go down to her place at the shore for a weekend. My aunt said it was okay to visit anytime.”

Paul grinned, but then narrowed his eyes. “Your parents okay with this?

“Sure. Shelly is family.”

“I get to meet the infamous cousin Shelly.”

“You met her already.”

“When I was thirteen. This is different. We are different.”

“So you keep saying.” Meg stood. “Pack your bag!”

Paul jumped up and hugged Meg. “Let’s hit the road, Jack, uh, Jackie!”

 


 

Sometime between graduation and their road trip, Paul–as Meg teased–“found his groove.” He let his hair grow long enough to brush the collar of his shirt, the ends curling ever so slightly, and he started to date women from the local community college. Although she was happy that Stacy had disappeared — Meg fought the urge to gloat, “I told you so” — Meg was vaguely unsettled every time she arrived at his house to find him flush-faced and triumphant as compact cars driven by blond and brunette girls backed out of his driveway minutes before Paul’s parents returned home.

“Paul,” Meg warned, but Paul waved her concerns away, as if to say, it was the summer! Time to live!

Meanwhile Shawn—true to his word—continued to send letters almost daily to Meg. Instead of running to the mailbox, Meg would find the letters waiting for her, tossed carelessly onto the dining room table by her mother.

“Another letter, huh?” Meg’s father sniffed. Meg ignored him as she settled in after a day at work. She took a sip of water, casually changed into a pair of shorts and a fresh t-shirt, then circled back to the dining room to finally claim Shawn’s letter. This afternoon she closed her eyes and made a silent wish before ripping open the flap: Be different. Be hopeful and funny, like you used to be. Meg tore the edge of the envelope and slid the paper out. Shawn’s words were earnest—awfully earnest. By the time she reached the sign-off, the air in the room had disappeared. She took the letter upstairs to her room where she threw it onto her desk with the others, grabbed her sneakers, and headed outside. When she felt like this, carrying those cringy words inside as they twisted and turned like worms with nowhere to go, the only relief seemed to be pounding the pavement, each step chanting, “Away, away, away.”

 


 

On a weekend in mid-July, Paul arrived soon after dawn. He cut the engine and glided smoothly into Meg’s driveway. Meg watched from her bedroom window as Paul wiggled out of his Volkswagen Rabbit and stood, hesitating. He squinted at the house, clearly wondering if he should ring the doorbell. Meg rapped on the window, pantomiming that she’d be right down. Relief seemed to wash over Paul. His body relaxed as he leaned into his car.

Meg flew down the stairs. The family dog Dee-dee barked behind her, trying to follow as she did more and more of late, as if she knew Meg would be gone for good soon. Meg pushed Dee-dee back into the house, ignoring her twinge of guilt and affection for the old girl. She was already out the door as her parents tried to hold her back with reminders and rules, but soon she was free on the open road, Route 22 connecting to I-95 via the New Jersey Turnpike.

“Number One.” Paul laughed handing Meg a map. There were dots of sunshine on her lap, and her bare feet were tucked under her.

“Yes, sir,” she said in her best Star Trek voice.

“Make it so!” He turned up the radio and they were gone.

 


 

Meg had always adored her older cousin Shelly. Shelly had a way of being that was both casual, yet intense. Her voice had a low, rumbling quality from years of cigarettes surreptitiously stolen from the corner store. She burned incense and wore rose quartz and amethyst stones in a small black pouch around her neck, underneath her shirt. Her boyfriend Thomas, who was studying in Ireland, had given it to her, so that she would always be protected by his “love.” With Shelly, Meg also felt protected, safe under the umbrella of Shelly’s experience and street smarts.

When Meg hugged Shelly, she could feel the hard lump of Shelly’s crystal pouch right above Shelly’s breasts. Shelly held Meg long and tight, and whispered in her ear, “I’m so glad to see you, cuz.”

Paul waited impatiently, his foot tapping, his fingers spinning at his side. Meg could not tell if his jitters were from the four large Slurpees consumed during the two-hour drive or Shelly’s presence. Shelly smiled at him as she released Meg. She reached up to give Paul a huge hug. Paul bent over like a broken cattail, reminding Meg of all the times she hugged Shawn, who usually bended at the knee as if Meg were a small child instead of his eighteen-year-old girlfriend.

Shelly finally released Paul, who staggered and blinked. She grabbed Meg’s hand, and Meg grabbed Paul’s and they laughed, their hands squashed a little too tightly, maybe held a little too long, but in this instance, Meg liked that.

 


 

Meg was excited when she saw American food on the table. Aunt Alice and Uncle Ken made Cobb salad with Ken’s super-secret dressing that was sweet yet vinegary and highly addictive. They ate cold pieces of roasted chicken dipped in a tangy mustard sauce and hard-boiled eggs and chunks of Manchego cheese accompanied by large glasses of lemonade. Meg sighed, leaning back in her chair to gaze at the blue and white striped umbrella above them. This is how summer should be.

Aunt Alice made a bed for Paul on the couch in the family room downstairs. Meg followed Shelly to her room, where they would share a bed like they had so many times before.

As they undressed, Shelly threw her old bathing suit at Meg.

“I can’t wear this,” Meg said. “Your boobs are huge.”

Shelly rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a pooper,” she said. “Let’s go swimming.”
Meg pulled on the bathing suit, tying the halter top as tight as she could and followed Shelly downstairs.

Paul was already by the pool in a lounge chair, pretending to read the newspaper by moonlight. “Ladies!” he said as loudly as he dared, which was no more than a stage whisper. “What took you so long?” Shelly jerked her head towards Meg and rolled her eyes again as Paul grinned appreciatively.

Meg was surprised to see him there. He should have been tucked into the couch snoring, his long lashes curving away from his cheeks. She wondered when Shelly and Paul had the time to privately arrange this illicit swim. In the moonlight he loomed large, shadows of hair falling across his chest and back.

Now by the edge of Shelly’s pool, Meg sat on the steps, dangling her legs in the shallow end, watching Paul approach Shelly in the water. An owl cried in the distance.

“Shelly, what sound does an owl make?” Paul asked suddenly as Meg’s stomach did one slow flip-flop.

Shelly splashed water on him and swam playfully like a mermaid. She tossed her hair. “I don’t know. What kind of sound?”

Paul splashed after her.

Shelly swam closer.

“Let’s play Marco Polo!” Meg announced, standing now, ankles in the water.

“The owl makes this sound,” Paul swam in circles around Shelly. She let him get closer.

“Hoo,” Shelly whispered.

Meg turned and splashed onto the concrete, adjusting the front of Shelly’s old suit over her non-existent boobs.

 


 

“Harvest Moon” Paladin27 http://www.flickr.com

Upstairs in Shelly’s room, Meg shivered and stripped quickly. She pulled one of Shelly’s old cotton nightgowns over her head and nudged the curtains slightly apart. The moon was high now and almost full, allowing Meg to see one dark shadow circling the pool, like a shark. But there was no prey to close in upon. Shelly and Paul were more like dolphins, gently, subtly brushing close against each other, floating around the perimeter of the pool.

“Hoo-hoo,” an owl called.

They were graceful, moving with the waves that they set in motion. Shelly and Paul, intertwined, then pulled apart, two hovering shadows that slowly merged into one, slow-dancing to the music of the suburban night, full of crickets, car stops and accelerations, teens cruising the strip, and the occasional TV laugh track drifting from a neighbor’s open window. It filled Meg with a wanderlust so great that she contemplated bursting out of the front door; and running barefoot; practically throwing herself into the street, each pebble gouging itself into the arches of her feet; jumping to avoid broken glass shards…but there was nowhere to go.

It occurred to her that she shouldn’t be watching, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Later, after Meg had seen enough, she heard splashing onto concrete, the quick slip-slap, and then the rhythmic soft squeaking of the rubber raft. Shelly and Paul, making love under the almost full moon, fullness between them, long and soft. Meg didn’t need to look through the window to see Shelly’s legs wrapped tight around Paul’s waist or the dreamy look in his half-closed eyes or their lips swollen and red. It was full, they were full.

Meg wrapped herself in a thin sheet and reached cautiously into her underpants to find wetness. She matched her rhythms to theirs.

They were full, full, full. She was full, full, full.

 


 

Meg felt the bedsprings shift, slowly and delicately, as Shelly slid into bed. She smelled unmistakably like Paul, a smell that Meg knew as well as her own. It was a combination of musky sweat, grass, slight tobacco (which was crazy because he didn’t smoke), and some kind of sweetness. It was a boy smell.

Meg flipped over and opened her eyes, letting her pupils adjust to the dark.

“Hey,” Shelly whispered.

“Hey,” Meg answered.

Shelly sighed.

“Where’s Paul?” Meg had to ask.

“On the couch.” Shelly tucked her arm underneath her head and closed her eyes. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t. I was still up.” The moonlight bathed the end of the bed, making the embroidered flowers on the comforter glow with an eerie light.

There wasn’t much left to say after that. They both dozed in and out of sleep, Meg fitful with anxiety, and Shelly restless with lust or tenderness, Meg could not tell. Later Meg liked to think it was tenderness. And maybe for all intents and purposes, it was.

 


 

Back home, for the rest of the summer, Meg would call Paul, only to be told he wasn’t home. He didn’t have to tell her that he was with Shelly; she just knew. Whatever happened that weekend with Shelly had been filed away into a vault that Meg hadn’t realized existed until now. It was where things they didn’t want to share or talk about went. For the first time, Paul and Meg started to avoid each other. When she wasn’t at work, Meg spent her free time at home, pacing up and down the hall from the kitchen to the living room, around the back of the kitchen and to the foyer.

“Stop it,” her mother commanded, lying on the couch, a cold compress balanced precariously on her forehead. She had another migraine that day.

“Do something productive,” her father said from his corner of the living room, seated at a desk full of bills. “Why don’t you start packing for college?”

Meg wandered through the kitchen, pausing at the sink full of dishes. She pulled on a pair of yellow rubber gloves that came to her elbows and grabbed a steel sponge. After attacking a burnt frying pan, she paused, looking out the bay window to see the pine trees waving, the cumulus clouds moving swiftly across the mountains.

Paul appeared in the backyard, behind the swing set rusty from neglect. Meg blinked. It was as if she had manifested his appearance simply by thinking of him.

Meg dropped the gloves into the soapy gray water. She found her flip-flops by the back door and approached Paul slowly as one would approach a skittish colt.

“How’s Shelly?” she asked, without any pretense. She was about to admonish him for sneaking off to Shelly’s without telling her but bit her tongue instead.

Paul read her face, and blushed. “She’s…fine.”

The tops of the grass tickled Meg’s ankles. Maybe she would mow the lawn later; that would make her father happy. “Great.” She paused. “She hasn’t returned any of my calls or letters.”

Paul reached into his pocket. “She enlisted.”

“What?” Meg wanted to ask a million questions: What about college? What about her parents? What about her boyfriend Thomas in Ireland? But the single syllable of ‘what’ seemed potent enough, ready to light a keg of explosives.

Paul pulled his hand out and opened it, palm side up. Shelly’s crystal pouch.

“She wanted you to have this,” he said.

As Meg took it, Paul did an unkind thing. “She was just up here, you know, spent the night.”

Meg looked down; a prick of hurt bloomed in her chest, making it difficult to speak or even look at Paul. When she finally looked up, Paul said, “But she’s gone now.”

“Oh.” Meg opened the pouch to find Thomas’s “love” stones: rose quartz and amethyst. They were cold on her palm.

“Envelopes” © Kevin Steinhardt http://www.flickr.com

“It was important to Shelly that you have these,” Paul repeated. Meg got the idea that Shelly was trying to foist them on to her, the way one gives away a favorite sweater to a friend with the hopes of borrowing it later.

“Shawn’s coming home tomorrow,” Paul said. “I talked to his mom.”

Meg nodded. She had tried but couldn’t make herself read Shawn’s most recent letter. It felt too heavy, weighted by desperation. It remained unopened on her desk.

Paul stuffed his hands into his pockets. Meg’s father waved at her from the bay window, impatient.
“I’m not going to say I’m sorry,” Paul blurted.

Meg heard an insistent tapping and looked up; her dad, again, pointing at her and back at the house. Meg looked at Paul, as if to say he should go. Yet Paul didn’t move. Finally, Meg sighed. She stared at her oldest friend. “I don’t expect anyone to.”

 



Jaime Leon Lin-Yu has a BA from Bryn Mawr College and an MFA from Mills College, where she received the Marion Hood Boess Haworth Prize for YA fiction. She was a twice resident fellow at Hedgebrook, and attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference on the prestigious work-study-waiter scholarship. She was also a part of the Emmy-winning writers’ team at “One Live to Live.” Her work has appeared in the anthology “Philly Fiction,” SoapNet.com, ABC.com, Seattle Weekly, Full Grown People, haveuheard.net, AsianAvenue.com, and most recently in 2018 anthology “All the Women in My Family Sing.”

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