Chapter Fifteen:

The Place

I wasn't much of a cell phone person. I spent more time on my laptop than on my cell phone. First off, texting just didn't appeal to me. The occasional puzzle game in an elevator or an off-color text from my mom summarized a day's use of my out-of-date little iPhone. Plus, I shared the phone with Collin. He used it more than I did, to play his zombie games, and so when the cell phone made a weird bleeping noise the afternoon after meeting up with Eli, I became confused. I'd never heard that sound before. I walked over to the contraption, abandoning my grilled cheese on the stove, and realized that I was receiving a request for a video call.

My first feeling was fear. It was how a horror movie started, and I imagined that when I answered the call, the screen would be black. A deep, demonic voice would call out to me and say…

But wait. I recognized the number. It was Eli. My fear turned to panic - Collin was sitting on the couch, eating a giant bowl of Captain Crunch and laughing his ass off to a rerun of South Park. I wanted to kick myself for giving Eli the number to the cell we shared. What was I thinking!? But I was curious about the call, too, so I crept away to the bathroom, locked the door, and accepted the request.

"Hey! I wondered if you'd answer." Eli's hair was a mess, and he seemed to be lying in bed. It was 1:00PM.

"You're still in bed?"

"Just woke up," he replied, arrogantly yawning. "Thought I'd call you and see if you wanted to hang out today. You know, catch up?"

What's there to catch up on? I thought to myself, rolling my eyes. We didn't really know each other. Still, it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and I had two options: 1. sit in a dark apartment with Collin all day, eating junk and watching junk, or 2. go spend some time outside, in the real world, with Eli.

"Sorry, Eli, but I have plans today."

"Oh really?" He seemed unconvinced. "What plans, exactly?"

"Studying… uh, Collin and I are going out later."

"Maybe my girlfriend Shannon and I can join you. She has work until 4:00, but after we could meet for dinner." His face filled my screen, waiting, confident that I would accept. But Collin and I weren't going out later. We didn't have the money to pay for the phone bill, much less a 30 dollar meal at Chili's.

I bit down on my lip and searched my mind for another lie. When Collin knocked on the bathroom door, it surprised me so much that I dropped the cell phone… into the toilet. I could see Eli's face on the screen, in the toilet water, for a few seconds - he looked confused - and then the phone shut down. Well, shit. Collin continued pounding on the door.

"Hold on, dammit," I shouted at Collin, who had an overactive bladder (or just drank way too much soda). "I dropped the phone in the toilet!"

Fishing it out was an unpleasant affair. Washing my hands until they nearly bled while Collin laughed in my ear was infuriating.

"You're clumsy, babe." He kissed my cheek, pushed me out of the bathroom, and shut the door.

It wasn't too big of a loss, dunking the cell phone in the toilet. I shoved it into a container of rice and hoped it would turn on again, but if it didn't, that was one less bill we had to pay. And one less way that Eli could put my relationship with Collin in hot water. Even though "The Event" happened in high school, I knew Collin well enough to know that he would have a problem with Eli coming back into the picture. If I was going to chat with the ex-sports star, I would have to keep it quiet and hope that Eli didn't out me to my man. However, I wondered if I could just avoid Dunlevy altogether, thus removing the issue completely.

It sounded like a plan.

My thoughts were scattered on the topic. I felt like my usual logical approach had been crippled. Was I really so affected by a kiss that happened when I was 17? Or maybe it wasn't the kiss. Maybe it was the fact that, despite my reluctance to accept it, Eli knew everything there was to know about me, and I knew absolutely nothing about him. That kind of vulnerability was unparalleled.

I spent the rest of my Saturday afternoon with the blinds closed and the front door locked, having sex with Collin on the sofa. Saturdays were really the only time we could unwind and get familiar again. Before Kenya got home at 7:00PM, we'd managed to shower together, challenge each other at a game of Tetris, screw around again, in the bed this time, and eat all the leftover pizza.

When Kenya walked through the door, she bee-lined for me, grabbed my arm, and led me to her bedroom, despite my whines of, "Ouch!" She shut the door and whispered furiously at me. "Elijah Dunlevy is in our parking lot. Can you explain, please?"

My heart sank. Uh-oh. "We ran into each other. He wanted my address."

"He was on his way up, and I stopped him. Collin is going to be pissed if he finds out. You'd better go make him leave. I'll distract Collin."

"How?" I snorted. If I randomly decided to go outside at 7:00 at night, Collin would follow me and ask questions.

"I brought weed." She smiled, I rolled my eyes, and she strolled into the living room, saying, "Hey, Collin, guess what I have?"

While she lured Collin onto the balcony in the back to smoke, I slipped on house shoes and rushed down the stairs and into the parking lot where, sure enough, Eli was leaning against his same shitty car. When he saw me, he burst into laughter.

"What?" I demanded, glancing down at my tattered white bunny slippers.

"What do you mean, what? You dropped me in the toilet. I saw the inside of your toilet, Violet. Now we really are friends, right?"

"Hardly," I retorted bitterly. "You can't be here. Collin would probably beat the shit out of you again."

"And he'd probably win," he said with a laugh. "I haven't picked up a basketball in a year. The collegiate life has made me flabby."

I looked at his thin waist in disgust. I hated when skinny people pretended they weren't skinny. I struggled keeping the real flab away from my midsection while Collin scarfed down 6 slices of pizza and a 2-liter of Dr. Pepper and still managed to look nearly anorexic.

"What do you want with me?" I asked, hoping to get to the point so that I could return to my life.

His expression sobered some. "Nothing, really, I guess. I just want to be friends. That's all. C'mon, Collin can't be that immature. I mean, I have a girlfriend now. I met her during my senior year. I'm no threat, I promise." He presented his hands to me, as if to show that they were clean.

"Ok," I muttered, feeling that he'd insulted Collin somehow. "So, why are you here now?"

"I want to show you something super awesome."

He rushed to the passenger-side door of his car and opened it, waving his hand for me to get inside. I squinted my eyes skeptically.

"I'm wearing pajamas and bunny shoes."

"It's OK. We don't even have to get out of the car. Please, just trust me." He seemed so vibrant, so compelling, that I felt my feet shuffling forward. And next the car door shut by my right ear. And then the apartment was disappearing in the rear-view mirror, and I had no clue what I was doing. He seemed to have that effect on me.

"So, do you still write in that journal?" He steered us onto a side street, away from the traffic and stoplights. The road turned to gravel, and the trees alongside the road became dense.

"You're taking me into the forest to kill me, aren't you?"

He laughed. "Of course. That's why I brought… oh, crap, I forgot my machete. Guess I'll have to kill you next time."

Next time, I thought. Will there be a "next time?" How far will I go with this?

"I'd like to read it," he put in, interrupting my panicked thoughts.

"Huh?" I asked, bewildered.

"The journal. I'd like to read it, if you wouldn't mind. I mean, what's the harm? I've already read part one. Only seems right that I should read part two."

"No way in hell," I muttered, more to myself, as the car pulled into a clearing and the gravel disappeared, replaced with lush, wild-grown grass.

"We're here," he sighed, "the best place to watch a sunset. Hurry."

He got out of the car and, for whatever reason, I decided to follow in my bunny slippers. He ran up to a massive tree that was in full bloom. Bright pink blossoms erupted from deeply brown branches that reached for the sky, towering over every other tree in the area. I was in awe as I paced toward the explosion of pink.

"Amazing, right?" he said, grinning in satisfaction. "Now sit here, and let's watch."

We sat in the grass, faced the horizon, and watched the fat orange sun sink into the earth. The wind tousled the blossoms over our heads, sending a few of them sailing down to land in my lap and on my shoulders. One landed on Eli's head. As I looked around, smelling the smells, viewing the sights, I decided to steal it.

"This is mine, now," I asserted, smoothing my fingers over the unbelievably soft surface of a blossom.

"We can share it," he replied with a grin. "It'll be nice, sharing it."