About a week into June, I took a blind-folded Shea down to the train station half a mile out of the county, and we bought tickets to the train that was leaving the quickest. All my idea, and I was immensely proud of it.
It was a vandalized, scarcely populated thing, romanticized and rackety. Shea fell in love with it immediately, the grimy windowpanes and whooshing accompaniment, and told me so. She slid up a window in the penultimate compartment even though a peeling sign next to it said not to, letting the wind in. The day was another hot one, and we liked pretending that we could leave where we were behind, the edges of our map burning, and fast forward to somewhere else, somewhere on the outskirts of our lovely little nowhere.
"God, this is perfect," Shea gushed, and I wished that I could see like she could. I tried. Handicapped hills rolled out beneath us, and emerald encrusted tress swayed in the breeze.
Shea tilted her head back, a sunbeam cast across the plane of her face. Then her eyes snapped open with all the ambition of a tiger. "Let's go to the back car. The last one." She made her way to the door to the space between compartments.
"Shea," I hissed as she muscled open the door. It groaned as we ripped a slash in the space between cars, and I was dismayed by the sheer speed of us. "What if we're seen?"
"You mean by all the people?" She leaned forward, hands gripping the doorframe on either side, a tug-of-war with gravity.
"They might have cameras on these things. Or you might not make it across."
Shea groaned and tousled my hair, hanging to the train by a single skinny arm as she did so. "You're getting paranoid, darling. Maybe you should spend a little less time with Derek." Without further ado, she leapt. And I followed like I do, flying forward through a racing current of wind with wings woven of faith and a low-burning flame, tips of my toes on the metal between the underneath.
We perched on our toes on the ledge of the opposite car, sinking our fingernails into the crannies of the door for purchase. At that moment, all adrenaline and nerves and accident, our lives were so very loud, louder than our hearts.
"Damn, it's locked," Shea said nonchalantly, as if we weren't clinging to the wall of a speeding caboose. Then she pulled the bobby pin from my hair and worked at it, grumbling. "I was never very good at this. Derek tried to teach me, but I never had the patience…you know what I said about spending less time with him?"
"Don't ever listen to me."
"Count on it, babe." I nudged her to the side with my hip, gently prying the hairpin from her fingers, and tried my own luck. It gave way beneath my hands, and I smirked at her.
"You continue to surprise me, Blake, love," We fell inside the door. The compartment was careening along quietly, and we watched the world through windows.
"It's the only thing I have in my arsenal," I explained to my friend.
"I don't associate with liars, dear."
And still, in the prohibited back car of a train that we had broken into with a hairpin, Shea pushed the rubber-band boundaries to their limit. "Do you think we can get out the back, onto those railing things?" She was talking about the ledge jutting out from beneath the rust-colored cupola, and didn't wait for my answer. Shea shoved the final door open and barged outside, and I watched her become a five-pointed shooting star, arms extended outward in triumph. The entire world was passing under her-our- feet as I joined her at the railing, speeding and sprawling as we left it behind.
I was glad that I'd gone looking for my adventure that day, the day we commandeered a caboose, and the day we went camping, and of course the day I'd shown up at Shea's side the way the clever maiden Athena sprung from the very mind of the lightning god. For I'd long grown tired of merely wishing, chasing my trains of wondering thought. I was no longer waiting for forever to find me. A part of me had already suspected that change, but it was not until then that I really felt it. It was stealing my air and turning my knuckles white as I gripped with iron clutches the banister, prying open my mouth and emerging in a corrupted woo-hoo.
Shea joined in with her flawless, fallen angel soprano, and together we howled like wolves, lone wolves that had stumbled into each other by the guiding hand of fate, collided on a white backdrop of their ice-covered planet and been unable to part.
"I'm going to climb over the rail," Shea said in a rush. It took a second for the words to process, for them to penetrate the trance I was in, spun of sunshine and a sky that seemed so limitless.
I reached out and grabbed her arm, hard, as she put one foot up on the bars. "Shea, no! Are you insane?"
"I'm a paying customer," she retorted. "Come on, sweetheart, haven't you ever wondered what it's like to fly?"
I let her go, reluctantly. I knew there was no stopping her, the way there was no seeing where she pulled her whims from, or knowing what kind of memories she was aiming to make.
"I wish you wouldn't," I told her.
Shea had both feet up on the railing by now, and was beginning to clamber over the side, placing the first heel solidly on the two inches of platform beneath her and holding the bars behind her, then having the other foot join it. Inconspicuously, I grabbed the railing in case it would wobble or collapse.
Because I worried.
The monsoon girl had her face turned upwards in the dreamsicle light, eyes fluttering shut so that I could see her glittery, golden eye shadow sparkle. She was my best friend, but sometimes I hated how much prettier she was, how much luckier, richer, funnier, braver. But the love always outweighed the hate.
I'd never said I love you to a friend before. Most people would have though that fact was rather weird, but it made sense to me. I said things like that only if I meant it, and I did right then, as I leaned into Shea's ear and tell her. I loved her for her absurdity and her ability to do what I couldn't, for bringing me out of my shell, for teaching me how to use the word happiness in a sentence. It had only been a few weeks, but she was already one of the most important people in my life. It felt like she had always been. And that I found potentially dangerous. Alien. Utterly unforgettable.
"What if we don't like where the train stops?" I asked her.
"We keep going. We keep going until we find it."
"Find what?" I recognized that look on Shea's face as it occurred, that fiercely gorgeous expression that dared to dream, and dream hard.
Suddenly, the train lurched to the side as it swung around a curve; Shea was jolted forward and lost her footing. With an ungodly scream she tumbled forward, but I managed to grab her at the last second, yank her back against the bars, seat belting her in with my forearm. I could feel her hands trembling as I helped her fumble her way back over the railing. Even though she'd still had a hold on the bar with her hands the whole time, the floor had fallen out. I'd been all that was there to catch her, to pull her back over when her flight became a fall.
Because stars burn out.
I'd never seen Shea afraid before, but I saw it then. It didn't particularly flatter her, the terror-induced pallor and the muteness, and the ghosts swimming in her eyes, so I steered her back inside the compartment and sat her down. We got off at the next stop, a dreary little county, and when my mom didn't answer her phone, I called Monroe.
Our rescuer, the sprite, "driving" her mother's car, announced her arrival at the station by the screeching of tires and the worst parallel parking job I'd ever seen. And even though Moe kept her hands locked at ten and two and her eyes glued to the freeway the entire time, I didn't think I've ever seen a worse driver. I began to count the number of times other drivers honk their horns, but quickly lost track.
Monroe, just as swiftly, lost patience with our uncooperative silence. "The hell, you guys. You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I am a ghost," I heard Shea murmur from the front seat, but Monroe didn't catch it, and I didn't understand.
"What did you say?"
Shea didn't reply, just turned her head to stare out the window.
I cleared my throat- the second time I'd rescue Shea that day. "What did you do today, Monroe?"
"Not much. Hung out at home, mostly." She caught my eye in the rearview, and, uncertainly, as if she was still unsure of my trustworthiness, offered up interesting news. "Derek and I are back together."
Shea came back to life then, reanimated. "Knew it wouldn't take long."
"That's damn right. Your star-crossed lovers are back in action. Crashing parties and climbing towers. Crossing swords and downing crappy drinks. But maybe not poison, yeah?" Monroe jerked the wheel and plowed up an exit ramp, and pulled into the crowded lot at Cup of Joe's. "F*ck!" she exclaimed, slapping the steering wheel, as she sought out a parking space other than the one that had just been swiped. I pointed one out and she barreled into it, diagonal.
"But, Mini-Moe, Juliet and Romeo die at the end," I said.
"Do they really, though?" Monroe asked. "I don't know that that matters, when they sure did live. It's as simple as this, their secret. When you love somebody, you live, and you live goddamn well."
Shea finally made eye contact with me then, and her words brought back to life her smile. "Sure do."
We got out of the car, and June crept to its crescendo.