We Are Eternal -- excerpt

“Now tell me about you, I Love.”

“Me.… I’m an Aries, which means I’m older than you, which is awesome.” I felt his body hum with amusement. “Uh. Biggest irrational fear? Roller coasters. I hate everything about them.”

He didn’t say he would ever try to persuade me to ride one, even though he probably would one day.

This was hard. I’d made my life exceedingly stark, all about my writing and my photo portfolio. Talking to him, I felt like I would burst. I wanted to tell him everything I’d forgotten about myself.

“I’m a pretty good baker,” I said. “Before photography happened, I wanted to be a pastry chef. Also, I played the viola for five years.”

“Really?”

“Started in first grade. I got pretty good at it, too. And I love food, new foods, contrary to what you might think after Paco’s Fish Tacos. I’m with you on the bacon train, but chicken and gnocchi soup is my number one favorite dish. Uh. I like to pretend I can just hop in a car and drive to a new place, but actually I rely on my GPS when I go anywhere because I have the natural directional sense of an inanimate object.”

He laughed. I swallowed. He accepted my every quirk, my cynical and wary nature, when he was this wide open field with no trees or clouds to cast shade. He wanted to be around me, still, and wanted to know more about me. Messy, broken me.

“My mother is an alcoholic,” I said slowly. “A serious, career alcoholic -- best in the business.”

I chuckled nervously at my own sad joke. I felt him lift his head to listen.

“She has been an alcoholic for almost my entire life. She has been fired from four jobs, one of which let her go after twenty years. We almost lost our house twice because, for a long time, my dad was the only one able, or willing, to work; for almost a decade, up until the day he died, he worked multiple jobs to pay all the bills. My mother has stolen money from me and my sister. Her license has been suspended twice. She’s been to rehab three times. She’s been to the hospital three times, all for different, alcohol-related injuries.”

As if a black hole had swallowed up all the noise in the room, a sudden and enormous silence took over. He didn’t speak for a long time.

Then he let out a huge breath I hadn’t known he was holding. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

I felt his head drop back again, but I didn’t turn around, too mortified to look at him. “The dick you met at my graduation party becomes a bigger dick every time we talk about him,” he said.

“He belongs in the past with the graduation party.”

“Yeah, but -- this thing with your mom, it’s --”

“Pretty messed up. I know. I don’t tell many people.”

“You weren’t going to tell me.” He hadn’t arranged his quiet words like a question, but they held all the weight of one.

“I… didn’t think you’d stick around if you knew. It’s not a normal home situation. It’s complicated.”

I let the silence hang there, wallowed in it. It’s what I’d been most afraid of all along.

“You’ve lived in that negative environment for a long time,” he said. “How do you not drink? What do you do?”

“No one has ever asked me that.” I took a deep breath. “Probably… I guess I like to get away from it all whenever I can, in any way I can. I take pictures, obviously; getting lost behind the camera lens, imagining myself detached from the scene or the moment, it’s like I’m in another room watching a surveillance camera. And I read, always a completely different book than the one I read before. And I daydream about all the places I’d like to be that are not… here.” I tightened my grip around my knee.

“Like where?”

“Hmm. England. Kenya. Maine. China. California.” I stopped, blissful at the thought. “California. Yeah, the West coast is pretty much the complete opposite of here.”

His hand slid over mine on my knee, warm and smooth and completely enveloping. I stilled but let him leave it there. His fingers were wide and sturdy. Secure.

“I never learned how to process the negativity in my life,” he said. “Maybe I need a new way to cope with all of my stuff, my dad, my health. Maybe you’re my new way.”

We met each other’s eyes shyly. His mouth turned into a crooked smile, a question.

I smiled back.