I reapplied my pink shinning lip gloss one more time, for good luck. I cleared my throat. It was just me in the dorm, no distractions. Another glance at the clock, and I felt bubbles in my belly. 5:00 sharp. It was time for FaceTime. I tilted the screen just right and opened the app. I flipped my hair over my shoulder as it rang.
“Hey there,” Nash said, with a wave.
I spotted a tall pile of laundry on his bed behind him. He could have move that out of frame, I thought to myself. But why would he? It’s only me. He had his worn baseball hat on. I never understood why I love baseball hats on men. Maybe because of Nash.
“You answered fast,” I said. I tried to focus on him, and not judge the little squared me on corner of the screen.
“Damn, it’s been a long time.”
“I know,” I dropped my eyes. His eyes were piercing green over video chat. Or, maybe I allowed the details of his face fade in my memory. For sanity reasons, of course.
“So what’s up, Merritt! How have you been?”
“It’s been okay. My Theta Gamma Nu initiation was a week ago, so I am officially a sorority girl. Exciting times.” Sarcasm dripped from my words.
Nash chuckled. “The devil’s gonna have to wear his winter coat tonight.”
“Seriously, though, congratulations.” Nash beamed at me with a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s not a big deal,” I scoffed. “So, they asked me to take on this special role, and I had to accept. So now I’m in training for that. It’s taking over my life. I barley sleep in my dorm, I have to like, almost live in the guest jail cells.”
“What is the role?” Nash raised his brows.
“If I told you,” I darted my eyes around for dramatic effect, “I’d have to kill you.”
“Good luck killing me through the computer.” Nash leaned back and threw his arms over his head.
“I wouldn’t let my guard down so fast,” I said, curling my lip. I leaned into the screen and whispered, “my eyes shoot lethal daggers. They can penetrate through the screen. Oh by the way, I need you to dump a body for me. I was FaceTiming Billy earlier…”
Nash groaned. “You are so weird.”
“Shh, don’t tell.”
“You know I’m recording this, right?”
“You are not, ass pipe, damn, I mean ass wipe!” I snorted with my laugh, which made Nash crackup, and in turn, I laughed more.
“I really wish I would have recorded this so I can play it when you go disappear again.” Nash shook his head.
“Quit with the guilt trips!”
“I’m only half joking.”
“Aw, I miss you, too, buddy ol’ pal. So, what’s new in your world?”
“Nothin’ much, other than, wrapping my mind around the whole Tabitha-coming-out-never-loving-me thing.”
“Hold on a second,” I said, as I got up to grab my water bottle. My mouth suddenly felt like a desert. I sat down in front of my monitor and took a sip. “This needs ice. The water here is kind of gross.”
“So, Merritt, what do you think?”
“Me?” I squeaked. I cracked my back as I readjusted in my seat. “I don’t have an opinion. I don’t even care.”
“Well, I don’t care, either. It is what it is. But it’s weird, right? It almost alters my memories of high school. Like everything that happened, I see from this other perspective and am like, oh.”
“Ya, me too. I’m like ‘oh’, as well.”
I took a chug of water and it went down the wrong pipe. After hacking like a lifetime smoker, I returned to face the screen.
“Lord have mercy, are you okay?”
“How’s Jess?” I croaked.
“Fine.” Nash bit his bottom lip.
“I’m seeing someone,” I blurted. I am?
Nash’s jaw dropped. “Oh, really?”
“Ya, no titles or anything yet. We went out for New Years Eve and then he’s taken me out for dinner a few times.” Okay, he’s only taken me to dinner once, and it ended in a small, unmemorable peck.
“Well that’s cool,” Nash said, wiping his hand over his face. “I’m surprised; you are becoming Miss Social out there in Cali.”
I felt a jab inside my chest. After a few moments of staring into Nash’s eyes I said, “Well what did you expect? That I wouldn’t make new friends?”
Nash’s eyes grew and he held up his palms. “No-no. It’s just, I thought, when you first went away to school, that you would call me and tell me about class and all the plays that you are in. Not about gal pals and boyfriends. But there isn’t anything wrong with that. I’m just surprised.”
“Freshmen don’t get cast in anything and I am swamped with boring pre-requisites,” I snipped. “School it’s exciting just yet, and that’s how it works.”
“Sorry that I don’t know exactly how big Universities work,” Nash said narrowing his eyes. “At tech school, we just learn our trade. I like that though. No hoops. Just cars.”
“Don’t take it that way,” I said leaning back in my chair. “That’s clearly, not what I meant.”
“So how is this guy? Does he have a name?”
“Dillon McCloud. He’s President of a popular frat. He made Greek history at Baylor for getting elected as a Freshman.”
“Big man on campus,” Nash said in a mocking voice.
I felt my ears burn. “He sends me flowers and things. He holds doors for me and chairs.”
“So he puts you way up there on a pedestal, huh?” Nash made a soured face.
“I never thought about it that way,” I said folding my arms. “I guess he does put me on a pedestal. So what? Shouldn’t a man treat me right?”
“None of this ‘should’,” Nash shook his finger. “Men must treat you right. You demand it from them from day one. If any piece of shit does otherwise, you let me know.”
I fantasized about getting up, and tripping over the power cord, disconnecting our conversation. But I was stuck to that chair, like it was made of super glue.
“What the hell is this?” I threw up my arms. “You criticize me for liking princess treatment, but then you get all, macho man on me? What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know,” Nash snapped. He collapsed into his hands. After rubbing his forehead he said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said any of that. I think what it is, is you are so far away, I feel helpless here. I’m only a talking head on a screen to you anymore, not the guy next door. Forgive me for being a bit protective of you. It’s a habit, I’m sure is time to break.”
No you don’t! I love your overprotection! Stop it! “I am a big girl now. I don’t need it.”
“Duly noted,” Nash said with a thumbs up. “But, please, let me give you at least one drop of advice. Friend to friend.”
“I’d appreciate it,” I said, my heart crumbling into a mound of dust.
“A guy who dotes on you is nice. But make sure you chose a guy who treats you as an equal.”
I cringed. Nash was right. The little globe Dillon put in the palm of my hand went from a cutsy, mushy, lame gesture and transformed into to a slap in face. Dillon certainly didn’t view me as an equal. I’m not sure that I even was.
“Dillon, is like, a mega feminist,” I said waving a nonchalant hand.
“I’m so over talking about me. Tell me, how is Jess?”
“Um, we broke up.”
Oh no. Someone has to stand in the way! That’s how this works! Come back Jess! Actually, stay away, bitch. Good, God, I need a fucking lobotomy.
“James Devon Nash, you tell me right now!” I fiddled with my silver necklace chain.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Nash said with a smirk.
“At least be original! That’s my line!”
“No it’s not. It’s like, borderline cliché.”
“Is it really? I fucking hate clichés!”
“I know you do, that’s why it was fun to point out. Okay, Miss Social, I got to get off here.”
“You can call me Merritt.”
“Things are changing so much,” Nash said with a shrug, “maybe nick-names need to follow suit.”
“So, you’re saying, it’s time to call you Jimmy Crack Corn?”
Later that evening, when Leah was snoring in bed, I crept out of the top bunk and slid open the wooden door of my closet.
I reached to the back and unearthed my memory box, adorned in My Little Pony stickers. My heart picked up pace, as it always does, when I’m deciding to open the lid or not. Most of the time, I don’t let myself go there. The conversation with Nash sparked a dark craving for the six secret items inside. It was a peculiar comfort that as my life changed, these demons remained. It was a twisted, ugly, reminder that Nash was still mine. After all, he knew all about the items and the horrors associated with each of them. Knowing things like that chains you to person whether you want to or not.
When I opened the box, my possessions screamed inside of head. I closed my eyes and fingered my favorite thing. It was that little gift I almost stepped on before I went outside to see Santa’s sleigh, that night. I picked it out at the dollar store and paid the cashier myself. It was blue, because part of me just knew that he would be a boy. Mom, so stubborn, refused an ultrasound. I didn’t need one anyway. It was a boy. This was before I met Nash, but oddly enough, I asked my mom if we could name my brother James. I had just finished James and the Giant Peach for reading club. She said “we’ll see” in a way that I just knew that she would give him that name. He was due in a few months.
I felt my skin hum as I gave the rattle shake. The sound of the beads, or pebbles, or whatever was in there made me crave my razor. I reopened my eyes and stared at it. The razor gleamed in the dim room from its spot in my box. But I would never use that again. Never. I was all sewing needles or eyebrow shapers since Trina found me bleeding out. Razor in one hand, bloody loose-leaf paper in other. I shuttered. I needed to get rid of it. I would one day; it didn’t belong next to James’s precious rattle. One day.
When we got off the bus, the day that I first met Nash, he told me his name. Then, that his parents told him about what happened to me on Christmas Eve. He said that he liked my sunglasses and that I looked like a movie star. I told him that I liked his name, but it was my brother’s…
….could I call him Nash.