Do I have to, really…?

This is on a bus back from camp. I’m thirteen and so are you. Before I
left for camp I imagined it would be me and three or four other dudes I
hadn’t met yet, running around all summer, getting into trouble. It
turned out it would be me and just one girl. That’s you. And we’re still
at camp as long as we’re on the bus and not at the pickup point where
our parents would be waiting for us. We’re still wearing our orange
camp t-shirts. We still smell like pineneedles. I like you and you like me
and I more-than-like you, but I don’t know if you do or don’t more-
than-like me. You’ve never said, so I haven’t been saying anything all
summer, content to enjoy the small miracle of a girl choosing to talk to
me and choosing to do so again the next day and so on. A girl who’s
smart and funny and who, if I say something dumb for a laugh, is
willing to say something two or three times as dumb to make me laugh,
but who also gets weird and wise sometimes in a way I could never be.
A girl who reads books that no one’s assigned to her, whose curly
brown hair has a line running through it from where she put a tie to
hold it up while it was still wet
Back in the real world we don’t go to the same school, and unless one
of our families moves to a dramatically different neighborhood, we
won’t go to the same high school. So, this is kind of it for us. Unless I
say something. And it might especially be it for us if I actually do say
something. The sun’s gone down and the bus is quiet. A lot of kids are
asleep. We’re talking in whispers about a tree we saw at a rest stop
that looks like a kid we know. And then I’m like, “Can I tell you
something?” And all of a sudden I’m telling you. And I keep telling you
and it all comes out of me and it keeps coming and your face is there
and gone and there and gone as we pass underneath the orange lamps
that line the sides of the highway. And there’s no expression on it. And
I think just after a point I’m just talking to lengthen the time where we
live in a world where you haven’t said “yes” or “no” yet. And regrettably
I end up using the word “destiny.” I don’t remember in what context.
Doesn’t matter. Before long I’m out of stuff to say and you smile and
say, “okay.” I don’t know exactly what you mean by it, but it seems
vaguely positive and I would leave in order not to spoil the moment, but
there’s nowhere to go because we’re are on a bus. So I pretend like I’m
asleep and before long, I really am
I wake up, the bus isn’t moving anymore. The domed lights that line
the center aisle are all on. I turn and you’re not there. Then again a lot
of kids aren’t in their seats anymore. We’re parked at the pick-up point,
which is in the parking lot of a Methodist church. The bus is half empty.
You might be in your dad’s car by now, your bags and things piled high
in the trunk. The girls in the back of the bus are shrieking and laughing
and taking their sweet time disembarking as I swing my legs out into
the aisle to get up off the bus, just as one of them reaches my row. It
used to be our row, on our way off. It’s Michelle, a girl who got
suspended from third grade for a week after throwing rocks at my head.
Adolescence is doing her a ton of favors body-wise. She stops and
looks down at me. And her head is blasted from behind by the dome
light, so I can’t really see her face, but I can see her smile. And she
says one word: “destiny.” Then her and the girls clogging the aisles
behind her all laugh and then she turns and leads them off the bus. I
didn’t know you were friends with them
I find my dad in the parking lot. He drives me back to our house and
camp is over. So is summer, even though there’s two weeks until
school starts. This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is
bad, this is a story about how I learned something and I’m not saying
this thing is true or not, I’m just saying it’s what I learned. I told you
something. It was just for you and you told everybody. So I learned cut
out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always. Everybody can’t
turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them.
But this means there isn’t a place in my life for you or someone like
you. Is it sad? Sure. But it’s a sadness I chose. I wish I could say this
was a story about how I got on the bus a boy and got off a man more
cynical, hardened, and mature and shit. But that’s not true. The truth is
I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus. I still haven’t



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