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Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat

Page 27

Of course it’s Nick, king of casual. Hey how’s it going down there? Just wondering if you guys have any cool plans.

Bet there’s lots of college guys there, heh. Abby probably won’t miss me too much.

Has she mentioned me? lol

I stare at the phone. I don’t know what to say. Like, holy shit. I feel bad for Nick. I really do. But this is so far above my pay grade, I don’t even know where to begin. So I give up. I set my phone down and dig around for my sketchpad and pencils instead. I need to get into my zone. That happens sometimes when I’m drawing. It’s like the world stops existing. Everything disappears, except the point of my pencil. I can never quite explain it to people. Sometimes there’s a picture in my head, and all I have to do is translate it into curves and shading. But sometimes I don’t know what I’m drawing until I draw it.

I settle back onto the couch and start sketching—and instantly, my body calms. When I draw, it’s almost always fandom stuff. People on Tumblr seem to like it.

But today, I draw a box.

Not a box—an ATM.

I draw it like it’s an arcade game, surrounded by Skee-Ball and claw machines. I make dollar bills spurt out of the cash dispenser and soar through the air. I draw Abby, gasping joyfully, like she just won the jackpot. Then I draw myself beside her, hands clapped over my mouth.

It’s the first time I’ve drawn Abby in a year and a half. It’s the first time I’ve drawn myself since then, too.

“What the heck are you writing?” Abby says. I look up to find her smiling expectantly. She sinks back onto the couch and sets her phone on the coffee table. “I love how you’re just sitting here giggling to yourself.”

“I’m drawing.”

“Can I see?” She scoots closer.

I tilt the sketchpad toward her, and she bursts out laughing. “Oh my God. Is that us?”

I nod.

“We’re playing the ATM!”

“And we’re winning.”

“Of course we’re winning. We’re awesome at this.” Her lips tug up in the corners. “God. You’re so talented, Leah. I’m jealous.”

“Whatever.” I stare down at my sketchpad, letting my hair fall forward to hide my smile.

“I’m serious. You could do commissions or something. People would totally pay for your stuff.”

“No they wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because.” I shrug.

Because I’m not good enough. Because there’s something off about every single drawing. There’s always one ear higher than the other, or too-short fingers, or visible eraser marks. It’s never perfect.

“I swear, you’re so much more talented than you realize. I’d pay for this in a heartbeat.”

I blush. “You can have it.”

She inhales. “Really?”

“Sure.” I tear the page out, carefully, and hand it to her.

She peers at it for a moment, and then hugs it to her chest. “You know, I still have the other picture you drew of us.”

Everything freezes: my heart, my lungs, my brain.

She looks up at me. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Okay.”

She pauses. Shuts her mouth. Opens it again. And then she says quietly, “Why did we stop being friends?”

My stomach flips. “We are friends.”

“Yeah, but last year. I don’t know.” She bites her lip. “I kept trying to figure out what I did, or if I said something to upset you. It’s like, you were my best friend here for a while, but then you just stopped talking to me.”

God. There’s definitely some tiny invisible asshole punching me in the lungs. And winding up my heart to hyperspeed, and using my stomach like a trampoline. I can’t make my thoughts line up. All I know is that I don’t want to talk about this. I’d rather talk about literally anything but this.

I pause. “I didn’t mean to.”

“So what happened? Did I do something?”

“No, it’s just,” I begin—but it dies on my tongue.

It’s just that she was funny. And beautiful. And I felt more awake when I was around her. Everything was amplified. We’d be waiting by the buses, or she’d be talking about her old school, and I’d catch myself smiling, for no reason at all. I had a dream once where she kissed me on the collarbone. Softly and quickly—barely a thing. I woke up aching. I couldn’t look at her all day.

And the catch in her voice when I showed her my drawing. I love it so much. Leah. I’m going to cry.

She’d looked at me then, her eyes practically liquid. If I’d been just a little braver, I swear to God, I would have kissed her. It would have been easy. Just the tiniest lean forward.

But then she’d tucked her legs up onto the ledge and clasped her hands together. “Can I tell you a secret?” She studied my face for a minute, and then pressed her hands to her cheeks, smiling. “Wow, I’m really nervous.”

It was strange. She’d seemed breathless.

“Why are you nervous?”

“Because. I don’t know.” Then she poked the edge of my drawing. “God. I really love this. I know exactly what moment that was.”

“Okay,” I’d said quietly.

Then her hand brushed close to mine, and my organs rearranged themselves. That’s literally how it felt. Like someone stirred me up from the inside. I drew my knees up to my chest, feeling sharp-edged and awkward. Abby glanced at me for a split second, touched her mouth, and blinked.

“You know, my bus is probably here.” She swallowed. “I should get down to the loading dock.”

“So you’re just going to leave me hanging on the secret, Suso?”

She smiled faintly. “Maybe I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

But she didn’t. She texted me once. Happy birthday, with a balloon emoji. I wrote back, thanks, with a smiley face.

And that was it. No reply.

By Monday, everything was painfully normal. No more nervous glances. No weirdness. Abby and Nick spent all of English class jostling and play-fighting on the couch. At lunch, Abby and Simon yammered on about play rehearsal. It was like the secret had evaporated.

And now Abby’s staring at my face like I’m a movie in another language. Like she’s looking for the subtitles. “It’s just what?” she asks finally.

“Sorry?”

“You trailed off, mid-thought.”

“Oh.” I stare at my hands.

She pauses. “If you don’t want to talk about it—”

“Okay,” I say quickly.

“Okay what?”

“Okay, I don’t want to talk about it.”

And Abby rolls her eyes, just barely.

We spend our first evening in Athens eating popchips and watching Tiny House Hunters. There’s a young, white hipster couple featured today—though I guess that’s every day. They’re named Alicia and Lyon, and Lyon keeps using words like repurposed and sustainable.

“This can’t be real,” Abby says.

“Oh, it’s real.”

“How does this even work? Where are they keeping their car?”

“They’re keeping their old house. They’re putting the tiny house in the backyard.”

“My God,” Abby says, pressing her lips together. She shakes her head at the TV. Then, a beat later: “Hey, we should order those cookies that come in pizza boxes.”

“Dude.”

“Right?” Abby says.

And in this moment, it’s easy to imagine this working. This friendship. Maybe we really could be roommates. We could hang around in pajamas and Skype with Simon and eat cookies every night and make straight As all the time. She can have a boyfriend, I can hopelessly pine for some sophomore, and we’ll be legit best friends. At least I wouldn’t have to live with a stranger.

But then sometime around eleven, Abby yawns and stretches. “I think I’m ready to go to sleep.”

And suddenly, I’m very aware that Caitlin only has one bed.

“I can sleep on the couch,” I say quickly.

“What?” Abby looks at me like I’m speaking total nonsense. “That’s ridiculous. It’s a king-sized bed. It’s literally the size of Lyon and Alicia’s house.”

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