Authors: Nadia Scrieva
“Maybe it’s not too late,” he told me softly. “Just try again tomorrow.” He seemed not to notice that he had reached across the console to grasp my hand.
I stared down at his fingers with wide eyes, my face frozen in surprise.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, pulling away. “It’s an old habit. Something I used to do with my girlfriend.”
“That’s okay,” I told him as I relaxed, “but now you owe me two pieces of cake.”
There is something remarkably peaceful about the empty parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in the middle of the night. I have never done something like this before. It feels novel to just sit in a car with a boy and gorge on sinfully sweet foods. He occasionally pauses to tell me that everything I’m putting in my mouth is horrible for my health, and that I’m going to make myself sick. I smile and tell him that slamming his car into my legs at thirty miles an hour wasn't exactly great for my bones either. At least there’s calcium in the ice cream. Any mention of the accident shuts him up pretty quickly, and I delight in waving this piece of collateral over his head. I can’t exactly explain to him that any damage done to my body is irrelevant due to the fact that I have no future. All I can do is enjoy the moment, and for once, it isn’t difficult to find enjoyment.
After devouring an entire brownie sundae, I have moved on to a slice of chocolate pie. There was no cake available, but I am not complaining about the quality of the dessert... or the quality of the company. Perhaps this is ridiculous, but I find Kieran rather charming. When he’s not preaching about the dangers of a high-sucrose diet or launching four thousand pounds of metal into my calves, he has the ability to make me smile. I feel like I have known him for a lot longer than—how long has it been? About an hour.
“If I could go back in time I would do things differently,” he tells me, brandishing his fork pointedly. “I wouldn’t overreach and overextend myself. I wouldn’t be unrealistic and tell myself I’d find a way to pay for school even though it was obvious that I couldn’t.”
“Don’t you think it was worth it to try?” I ask him.
“No,” he answers immediately. “I tried to have too much, all at once, and I lost everything. I kept telling myself that I deserved a good education and a good job, and that if I just tried harder, I would get what I deserved. I was wrong. I should have just been reasonable. I should have gotten a modest job and paid more attention to my girlfriend.”
“Tell me about her,” I say as I stuff my face with pie.
He gives me a forlorn smile. “Her name’s Madison. She’s really, really smart and beautiful. We’ve known each other since we were kids and we made plans to go to the same college. I guess I’ve just been working so hard lately that we drifted apart. I wrecked our relationship.”
“But it’s not too late to fix it, right?” I ask him hopefully.
“Nah, it’s way too late.” He spoons himself a giant hunk of pie, as though the sweetness will erase the bitterness left by his loss. “Maybe some people can work and go to school and have a girlfriend, but I am not one of those people.”
I feel a great deal of pity for him. “What do you think you’ll do now?” I ask.
He shrugs. “I have some ideas. Nothing fancy; nothing worth mentioning.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed to tell me. I’m interested,” I assure him.
He shakes his head, glancing down at my leg. “Are you making me talk about my problems to distract you from the pain?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“I don’t buy it,” he says skeptically. “I bet the sweets are just a distraction too. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“You promised you’d stop stressing about my leg.” I try to seem angry. “Don’t ask if I’m okay again—every time you mention it you owe me another piece of pie.”
He laughs at this. “I’ve never seen someone eat like you before. You’re a bottomless pit, Kayla.”
I pause, replaying the way he said my name in my mind. There is something very pleasurable about the sound of his voice. I think I am developing a real friendship, and the idea is enchanting. I know I should leave the car and attend to my errands, but I fear that I will never have a moment like this again.
“Tell me a little bit about yourself,” he says. “You asked what my regrets were, but you never told me yours. What would you change?”
I smile. “If I could go back in time, I’d do everything exactly the same. All of my mistakes and failures—I’d repeat them because this moment is very nice. I like sitting with you and eating pie.”
“Even the car accident?” he asks in confusion.
“Sure,” I say lightly. “Everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it?”
“No. Life is just random—a bunch of random events mixing together like a really bland and tasteless minestrone soup.” He stuffs his unfinished pie into a paper bag and turns to me with an unreadable expression. “You seem to think that some master chef carefully arranged all the ingredients and spices to complement each other perfectly. You think it’s fate that we happened to meet and are now sitting in this car tonight.”
“Yeah, I do think that,” I tell him. I feel myself growing a little upset because it feels like he is making fun of me. Looking away from his vacant eyes, I notice the almost-full moon rising over the horizon. “It’s a beautiful moment and I appreciate being here with you.”
“But it’s just a moment,” he argues. “Tomorrow we will have gained nothing that remains. It will be gone. This pie and ice cream tastes great now but tomorrow it will probably give me indigestion.”
“You’re so cynical,” I tell him sharply.
“I’m not cynical. I’m lactose intolerant.”
“Oh,” I mumble, becoming a little bit flustered. There is an unpleasant silence in the car and I feel guilty for being so excited about the desserts. It does seem like every sweet thing is immediately overshadowed by something dark. I suddenly feel like I am an intruder and Kieran does not wish for my presence. The moment is ruined, and I gather my utensils and garbage together in a paper bag. I slide my purse over my shoulder and grab my high heels as I open the car door.
“Where are you going?” Kieran asks frantically. “Your leg…”
“My leg is fine,” I tell him as I step out of the car. “Thank you so much for dessert. It was a pleasure meeting you.” He is staring at me in shock as I close the car door and move away. To my surprise, I am so perfectly healed that I do not even limp. I move to a trash can where I deposit the remnants of the glorious pie. He was right; nothing lasts, and the moment is really and truly gone.
“Kayla!” he calls, getting out of his car to chase after me. “Hold on, Kayla!”
I turn around, mainly because of the way he says my name. It is possibly hypnotic, or some kind of mechanical mechanism that forces me to answer this call. “Yes?” I respond softly.
“I’m sorry,” he says as he stands before me, opening his palms. “I just can’t help thinking about tomorrow. I didn’t mean to ruin today.”
“It doesn’t matter. You were right.”
“No, I wasn’t. Where are you going? Let me drive you.”
I know that I don’t owe him an explanation, but I feel like answering anyway. “You know that job I told you I failed? I’m going to go and take care of it now.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t find your way.”
Nodding, I turn to glance at the crescent moon, feeling oddly renewed. “I have always found a way to find my way. Maybe this time I can as well. I just have to have faith.”
“You’re getting philosophical again,” he observed with a smile. “I like that about you.”
“It’s a habit.” I give him the same small wave that the girl had given to me earlier in the night. “Thanks for taking care of me.” He clears his throat as if he’s going to say something, but he does not speak. I nod and turn around to leave. I really do have no idea where I’m going, but I feel like I have to try to make things right.
“Please don’t go, Kayla,” he says softly. “It’s Christmas, and I don’t have anyone to spend it with. Or anyone to talk to. I don’t think I’ll accidentally hit another girl with my car who is as pretty and interesting as you.”
Glancing back, I smile at him. I somehow want to agree—I want to toss all of my responsibilities to the wind and spend the rest of the night and day talking with him and getting to know him. But that’s just silly. “I wish I could stay,” I tell him, chewing my lip.
“Will I ever see you again?” he asks.
I hesitate. “I don’t know, Kieran. I might not be around here much longer.”
“I would give you my phone number, but I destroyed my phone,” he says in frustration. “I don’t feel comfortable letting you just walk away knowing that you’re injured. You shouldn’t be walking—you should be checked out by a doctor or resting.”
“The pie cured me,” I say with a wink. It was a feeble attempt at humor, but it coaxed a small smile out of him. He moves forward to give me a hug, but he doesn’t pull away immediately. It’s a long lingering hug, with my face resting in the crook of his neck. His hand drifts up and down my back.
“Don’t you have a jacket?” he asks. “It’s really cold out.”
“I must have forgotten it somewhere.”
Without asking permission, he removes his coat and slides it around my shoulders. “Stay safe, Kayla. Look out for traffic.”
I smile and nod sheepishly. “Thanks for everything, Kieran.”
For a moment I believe he intends to kiss me, but he does not. I must have misread his expression. I step away awkwardly and head toward the sidewalk. It feels good to be using my legs again. I am, in fact, completely healed. The ground is cold against my bare feet, but it sends a refreshing chill through me. I feel so alive that I begin to gently jog. I have no idea where I am going, so I run in the first direction I feel inclined to run. I have to trust that I will find my way.
After a few seconds of jogging in the crisp air, I feel an urge to turn around. Looking back at Kieran, I see that he is staring after me with a hopeful look on his face. I feel a momentary pull of confusion as I long to return to him for some strange reason. I hardly know the boy—why am I so attracted to his company? However, I know that I have major responsibilities to address. I hope there is still a place for me—I hope that Nathan hasn’t already filled my shoes.
I have only been walking for a few minutes, gazing up at the bright ivory moon, when I crash into something solid. I stumble and nearly fall, but I correct my balance at the last second. A pair of strong arms help me to stand and I immediately recognize the person before me.