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Authors: Katy Atlas

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BOOK: Moving Neutral
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I sat down at the table. You read poetry?

It helps when I’m writing songs. I have to start our new album as soon as the tour is over, so I figured it would put me in the right mood.

I had thought of Blake’s songs as poetry a hundred times, each time he picked a word or an image that lingered in my mind days after listening.

He brushed unruly brown hair out of his eyes and grinned at me. So, that’s my errand.

My reaction had been so ridiculous -- thinking Blake was buying a pile of drugs, when really, it was a book of poetry. A really old, musty, yellowed book of poetry that cost more money than I’d seen in my whole life. Before I could stop myself, but I started to laugh.

What’s so funny?

I took a deep breath. I thought you were meeting your drug dealer, I said, hoping he would think it was funny too. So . . . there’s that.

He snorted, looking from the book to me and then back again, his shoulders shaking with laughter. No, that’s okay, he said. Rock star stereotype, I get it. Are you disappointed?

Tragically, I said. We could try to score in Washington Square Park, I guess. I think one of the hundred dealers there might not be an undercover cop.

Sounds like a plan, he laughed, picking up the book with one hand and standing up from our table.

Where to now? I said. Any other dens of depravity you want to take the high school girl to?

He gave me a sideways glance, pretending to look nervous. Maybe, he whispered, holding the door open for me to walk through. How do you feel about ice cream?

Pretty weak, as far as depravity goes, I smiled, walking out onto the sidewalk, feeling the cool city air around us. But I like it.

Good, he said. Follow me.

An hour later, we walked out of a gelato shop on Saint Mark’s Place, the loud, crowded street coming at us from all sides.

It’s so easy to blend in here, Blake said, walking past the steps of a tattoo parlor, a crowd of chattering girls passing him without a second glance. You can’t imagine what it’s like in Los Angeles. I could never do this without it being on TMZ the next day. The restaurants will tip off the paparazzi just to get mentioned in the tabloids, and the places that don’t are full of the same people, just hiding from the photographers. It’s like you can’t find anywhere that isn’t some kind of a scene.

Do you ever think about moving here?

I’ve thought about it, he looked at me closely, fingering the sleeve of my dress with one hand, making me shiver. Maybe I will, eventually. But for now, I have to stay where the industry is, and that’s L.A.

I threw the last bites of my almost-finished cone into a trash can, and Blake slipped his arm around me as we turned onto a side street. Even with all the excitement of tonight, I was starting to get tired, which meant it had to be pretty late.

What time is it? I asked.

Blake looked down at his watch. It’s a little after three.

My breath caught. It was later than Madison and I had planned to stay out by hours, and if we didn’t head home soon, her parents would be awake by the time we got there. Even Madison’s comparably relaxed parents probably wouldn’t be happy if we rolled into her house at six thirty in the morning.

We should head back, I said reluctantly. I wish we didn’t have to.

A woman walked by us, talking loudly into her cell phone, and Blake paused for a moment, sitting down on the stoop of a bakery at the end of the street. I sat down next to him, and looked at him closely.

Memories slipped away so quickly. I tried to capture every detail about him, already dreading the moment when I would forget some word he’d said tonight, some gesture -- some infinitesimal memory that would slip away so easily.

I took in his eyelashes as he blinked, the strong angle of his cheekbone, like something out of the movies. His hand, resting casually on my knee.

Casey, he whispered, and leaned towards me for a second. My breath caught, every muscle clenched in anticipation. Was he about to kiss me? I closed my eyes.

And waited.

But nothing happened. When I opened my eyes, Blake was leaning back against the railing, watching me.

It felt like the butterflies in my stomach from the moment before had turned to piranhas. Of course Blake Parker wasn’t about to kiss me. Madison’s encouragement had gone to my head, and we’d had so much fun over the past few hours, I’d started to believe she was right.

And I’d managed to totally humiliate myself. In no alternate universe would it be possible for Blake to actually be interested in me.

And now it was obvious that I’d thought he was. I cringed internally, imagining myself, eyes closed, waiting for a kiss, while he just watched how pathetic I looked.

Without knowing where I was going, I stood up and started to walk, first one tear falling down my cheek and then another. I heard Blake’s voice behind me, but I didn’t turn around. I reached instinctively for my cell phone to call Madison, but it was at home, with my parents, wherever they’d confiscated it.

This whole night was supposed to be so special. And I’d ruined it.

I finally sat down again when my feet gave in -- after all the walking we’d done over the night, my high heels had gone from moderately uncomfortable to unbearably painful. I sat down on the stoop of a brownstone, curling my legs beneath me and wiping my face with the back of my hand.

When I looked up, Blake was standing next to me, looking at me with a gentle expression.

I’m sorry, he said quietly. He didn’t say what for, and I was grateful for that.

It’s not your fault, I said, completely honestly. I was a wreck this summer, unhinged. The prospect of being locked in my house all day every weekend had made me expect way too much from tonight, and now, even sitting here with Blake Parker -- something I would barely have dreamed about a few days before -- it still didn’t feel like quite enough. In my desperation, I had gotten greedy.

Can I sit down?

I nodded, moving over to one side of the stoop to make room for him.

Casey, he said. I want to kiss you.

It felt like he’d punched me in the stomach. I looked at him, eyes wide with shock.

So why didn’t you? I choked out, feeling stupid for asking, but what else could I say?

I’m never going to see you again after tonight, he said. You have to go home, and you have to go to school, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be back in New York in six months, but that’s it. He paused, breathing heavily in a way that was almost a sigh. It’s awful. Anytime I meet someone I like, it’s dead in the water. It’s like the only people I can actually date are-- he trailed off, and I looked at him curiously.

Are who?

He paused for a moment before answering. They’re people I wouldn’t want to actually date.

I sat in silence, letting his words wash over me. Blake Parker wanted to date me. Blake Parker wanted to date me.

Blake Parker wanted to date me.

Suddenly I felt silly for crying. I wondered if my face was red and splotchy, if my mascara was running in raccoon streaks down my cheeks.

I wiped my eyes again and took a deep breath, my lip still trembling.

I wish you didn’t have to go, he said. For a moment, it felt like that was enough for me, just to have him say it.

It’s ok, I said quietly. Even if you were in New York every weekend, my parents are never letting me out of the house again. I tried to smile.

He looked at me as if what I’d said was really important. What do you mean? he asked me.

I sighed. At least telling the whole story would stop me from crying anymore. I hoped.

Last week, my parents grounded me for the whole rest of the summer. Madison had to sneak me out tonight just so I could come into the city, I paused for breath, and then continued. My mom is making me file papers in some windowless storage room all summer, with this slave driver college girl in ugly suits, I tried to stay serious, but it sounded so ridiculous. I have a calendar in my room where I mark off every single day before college.

At first, as I talked, Blake looked sympathetic. But as I continued my list of problems, he started to smile. Wait, he interrupted me, his voice lowering with interest. What did you get grounded for? You seemed like such a nice girl, apparently I read you completely wrong. His voice was deep with sarcasm. Maybe you’ve got a little depravity in you, after all.

It was really Madison’s fault, I tried to wiggle my way out of telling him.

And? His eyes were laughing down at me, and for a moment, I didn’t think about what was going to happen next. In that same instant, I leaned my body in, and lightly pressed my lips to his.

There are moments in life that pass too quickly, appearing and disappearing like a flash of lightening. This wasn’t one of them. It felt like Blake and I kissed for an eternity, my mind blank and overwhelmed, my whole body tense and giddy. Blake wrapped his arms around me as he kissed me back, any reservations forgotten for the moment. I breathed in the smell of his body, wishing I could be closer to him, wishing I never had to pull away.

I ran my car into our garage, I whispered as I broke our kiss, his arm still around me, holding my body close to his.

He looked at me, confused, for a moment before laughing. I’d forgotten what I asked you, he grinned, resting his chin on the top of my head. Are you sure you don’t want to just come with us to Massachusetts?

Neither of us moved for a moment. I could hear in his voice that he was serious, but I didn’t let myself look up.

Really?

You don’t have any real reason to go home, right?

I didn’t answer. I thought about what Madison had suggested before the concert. I was eighteen. Technically, I thought, I didn’t have to go home at all.

Blake seemed to mistake the reason for my hesitation. We have couches, on our tour bus. They’re just as comfortable as the beds, he said, looking concerned. I don’t mean that you would--

I know, I said, smiling. For the first time tonight, he was the tongue-tied one.

Come for a week, he grinned, running his fingers through my hair. It will be fun -- I bet you’ll like our music.

I opened my mouth to speak but couldn’t make the words come out. Going on tour with Moving Neutral for a week, before heading home to face whatever punishment my parents could inflict. Or going home to the same punishment now.

It wasn’t much of a choice.

I stood up. Where’s the next stop? I asked, pretending to weigh the options.

Northampton, Massachusetts. Then Burlington, Vermont. Then across the midwest. We don’t stop a lot, but they’re big shows and it’s actually pretty fun, he paused, still sitting down, and grinned at me with excitement. You in?

I couldn’t make the words. I just nodded, trying not to smile from ear to ear.

He jumped up and hugged me, twirling me in the air. I clung to his shoulders to stay balanced, hoping my shoe wouldn’t fly off as we spun.

It didn’t. It seemed, suddenly, that everything was going my way.

We should get back, he said, laughing. I don’t want your friend to think I’ve kidnapped you before I actually kidnap you, he said, starting to walk in the direction of the hotel.

My feet didn’t even hurt anymore. Following Blake, it felt like I was walking on air.

Chapter Nine

The next morning, when I first woke up, I waited a moment before opening my eyes, as if I wasn’t ready to emerge from the sweetest dream I’d ever had. I wasn’t sure if it was real -- and if it wasn’t, I wanted one more instant of believing it.

But as my senses started to come back to reality, I realized I was definitely not in my bed at home. No angry mother trying to get me up, no screaming ten year old in the bedroom next to mine. No . . . sheets.

No sheets? My eyes snapped open, and I looked around the room. Apparently, it hadn’t been a dream.

I was on one of the overstuffed couches in the room where the party had been the night before, half-empty glasses littering the coffee table and surrounding shelves. I tried not to gag, smelling stale alcohol first thing in the morning.

Blake and I had sat down on the couch a few minutes after Madison left, both of us barely able to keep our eyes open. As I started to nod off, he offered for me to take his room and I’d refused -- curling up against the side of the sofa, I felt too tired to take another step. Looking down at the ground next to the couch, I realized Blake must have brought me a blanket during the night -- it was crumpled on the floor, where I’d apparently kicked it in my sleep.

The room was a disaster after the party last night, and as I stood up, I thought about going for a walk outside. But I dismissed the thought quickly -- without a cell phone, I had no way of knowing when Blake would get up and be looking for me. Looking down at my overnight bag, which I’d used as a pillow, I registered for the first time that I was still in my dress from the night before.

Yuck, I thought to myself. Blake was bound to emerge from his bedroom any minute, and I didn’t want to look like I’d slept on a couch all night. Even if I had. And I couldn’t even imagine what my hair looked like.

BOOK: Moving Neutral
2.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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