Made You Up, page 17
Wonderful—talking to Celia, one of my favorite things. Even if I wanted to, how could I get near her? Talking to anyone just seemed to make her angry, and we weren’t exactly best friends.
“Keep her away from me, while you’re at it,” Miles said.
June laughed. “Oh dear, you’ve always had trouble talking to girls.”
Miles turned red.
June looked at me. “When we were living in Germany, there was a nice girl who would ride down to the farm and talk to him. She brought him cake for his birthday. He never spoke more than three syllables to her, and he never accepted the cake.”
“She knew I didn’t like chocolate,” Miles mumbled, turning a deeper shade of red and sinking into his chair.
That was a lie. He’d eaten the Black Forest cake I’d brought him.
“You lived in Germany?” I said, looking between the two of them. “On a farm?”
June’s eyebrows shot up and she looked at Miles. “You haven’t told her?”
“No, he hasn’t told me.”
June frowned at Miles, who shrugged.
“Well, we moved there when Miles was seven. And we came back a few months after his thirteenth birthday.” June turned back to me. “He was so upset, but after my father died we couldn’t stay anymore.”
The airy way she said it made me think there was more to it than that, that she was skirting something important, but she didn’t continue. Miles glared at the wall with his arms crossed.
“You seemed to make friends okay,” June said.
“Right, Tucker Beaumont, the one kid in middle school who didn’t make fun of my accent,” Miles spat. “Great friend.”
“I like accents,” I said quietly.
“So do most other people, when they’re coming from hot chicks and tan guys with muscles and nice smiles. Not when they’re coming from a scrawny know-it-all with clothes that don’t fit and no possible way to relate to other kids his age.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Neither could June, apparently. She put a hand up to her mouth and looked around as if she was searching for a misplaced book.
“I’m going to the restroom,” said Miles suddenly, pushing himself out of his chair. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
When the double doors swung closed behind him, June lowered her hand.
“Did he tell you why I’m here?” she asked.
“He said it was because of his father, didn’t he?”
“It was. At first. I didn’t want to leave Miles with him, and I fought to get out of here. It would have been better for Miles if I had been there, but I can’t deny that this has helped me. I feel . . . more stable now. Still angry, but stable. And when I do leave, I’ll be able to do what I couldn’t before.”
She paused and glanced at the door again.
“Alex, if I ask you a few questions, will you do your best to answer them honestly?”
“Does he have any friends? I know he’s not the easiest to like, and I know he thinks people are . . . well, cumbersome to deal with, but there’s someone for everyone, and I didn’t know if. . . .” She paused and looked at me hopefully.
“I think he has friends,” I said. “Everyone in the club is his friend. But I don’t think he knows it.”
June nodded. “Second question. Do people think he’s . . . unpleasant?”
I would have laughed if June hadn’t been so serious. “Most people do. But that’s only because they never get to know him, and he never lets them. I think he likes it better that way.”
June nodded again. “I don’t know if you can answer this last one, but . . . .” She took a deep breath, much the same way Miles had before asking me if I wanted to come here. “Is he happy?”
That one caught me. Was he happy? Was I qualified to answer that? It seemed that the only person who knew if Miles was happy was Miles.
“I honestly don’t know,” I said. “Being here today—this is the happiest he’s seemed in a while. But back home, at school . . . I’d say his happiness is probably on the low side.”
June’s face fell. “The only reason I ask is because he tries so hard. When he’s not at school, he’s working, and all he ever does is save money. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him spend a dime on anything he didn’t absolutely need. Even when he was little, he wouldn’t accept things that people tried to buy him.”
June sighed and relaxed back into the couch. “All he ever seemed to want was knowledge—numbers to crunch, history to learn, information to file away and use later. . . .”
“He always carries around a black notebook with him, and he’s writing in it all the time.”
June smiled. “Ah, the notebooks. I got him started on those. Cleveland, his father, never liked the idea that his son was smarter than he was. He would get angry when Miles would correct him. I’ve always been afraid that Cleveland might have beaten that out of him, his love of teaching people. I told him to write what he knew in the notebooks instead of saying it out loud, and if he’s still doing that, then his father hasn’t changed him much at all.”
I wanted to ask more, but I didn’t want to give away the fact that I’d actually read the notebook. A different route, then.
“So what’s he been saying about me?”
June laughed. “All good things. He’s been very worried that you don’t like him.”
“He’s been worried I don’t like him?” I couldn’t imagine Miles caring what anyone thought of him, least of all me. We’d been breaking into arguments all year, teetering on a seesaw of perpetual imbalance, because he was always either one way or the other. Miles the Jerk or Miles the Seven-Year-Old.
Oh God, I thought. What if he told her about the kiss?
He must have.
What did she think?
What did he think?
Better not tell you now
“He remembers you,” said June, and my stomach gave an odd stunted flop.
“The girl who wanted to set the lobsters free. That was the day we left for Germany. I was shopping for a few last-minute things, and he wanted to talk to you. He liked your hair.”
My throat tightened and my heart swelled painfully in my chest. Please don’t let this be a delusion. Please let this be real. Here it was, finally and for certain, my proof. My first, completely real, not at all imaginary, friend was here. I’d found him, or he’d found me, or something.
He was real, I could touch him, we breathed the same air.
Miles chose that moment to walk back in, looking calmer than he had when he’d left. I tried not to stare as he sunk into his seat, but my brain scrambled to pull together fragments of memory, to put the boy from the lobster tank beside the boy in front of me now.
June said something to him in German, and a reluctant smile took over his face. He might’ve been confused about what he felt for other people, but it was obvious he knew exactly what he felt for his mother.
She was his reason.
* * *
CANNOT PREDICT NOW
No, I’m not asking, I’m telling. It’s him. But what if . . .
What if he doesn’t remember?
Concentrate and ask again
Oh, sorry. I mean . . . it’s like, if a tree falls in a forest but no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? If he doesn’t remember, did it happen? I know June said we were there together, but she wasn’t with us. No one was.
So you’re saying it did happen? But . . . but if I’m the only one who remembers the details . . .
If I’m . . .
* * *
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
On the drive home, I
I stole glances at Miles whenever I could, wondering why it still shocked me that he was the boy from the lobster tank. I simultaneously wanted to kiss him and hit him for leaving.
Pressure built behind my eyes, a lump formed in my throat. I couldn’t let him see me cry. He’d scoff at me or roll his eyes—he didn’t seem like the kind of person that suffered tears gladly, and I didn’t suffer anyone making fun of mine.
“You okay?” he asked after a half hour of silence.
“Yeah.” My voice was definitely too high. Tucker would mock me so much.
“Hungry?” He scanned the horizon. “How does Wendy’s sound?”
He drove into the Wendy’s parking lot, to the drive-through. I picked out the cheapest sandwich on the menu. When he pulled around to the window to pay, I fished my money from my pocket.
He took one look at it and pushed it away. “I don’t want it.”
“I don’t care, I have money, so take it.”
I flung the ten-dollar bill at him, and he snatched it up and flung it back. This sparked a money-throwing war, which ended when Miles paid for our food, passed the drink carrier and bags to me, and then folded up the ten dollars and wedged it under my thigh. I scowled at him.
He backed into the parking space so we could sit in the bed of the truck and have grand view of the highway. It wasn’t much warmer in the cab, and stretching our legs seemed like a good idea.
“You’re so skinny, I don’t know how you’re not turning blue,” I said as I settled against the cab, sandwich in hand. Miles had already devoured half his french fries—the kid could definitely eat when he had food in front of him.
“It’s this jacket,” he said between fries. “So warm.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“My Opa—sorry, again, grandpa—had it from World War II. He was a pilot.” Miles took a bite of his sandwich. “We lived with him in Germany. He gave me some of his things before he died. Uniforms and old newspapers, medals, all sorts of stuff.”
“So, after the war, he stayed in Germany?”
“What do you mean?”
“He didn’t come back to America. Did he like it there, or something?”
Miles stared blankly at me for a second, and then he laughed. “Oh, you thought—no, no, Opa wasn’t in the United States Air Force. He was in the Luftwaffe.”
All the heat drained from my body.
“Well, don’t look so shocked. I told you he was German.”
“But that’s a U.S. bomber jacket.”
“Yeah, he got it from a U.S. pilot,” Miles replied, and at my horrified expression, added, “What? He didn’t kill the guy! They were friends! Why are you freaking out; you’re supposed to be the history buff—you of all people should know that not all Nazis wanted to be Nazis.”
I knew. Oh, I knew. That didn’t stop me from being scared of them.
“You would’ve liked Opa. He was very down-to-earth.”
“So is that why everyone calls you ‘the Nazi’ at school?”
“No. No one knows about Opa. They call me that because when I first started school here, I still had my accent, I liked to speak German a lot, and when I started running jobs, they thought it’d be a funny nickname. After a while, it stuck.”
“Oh.” I lowered my blushing face to my french fries. “So, um. What was the real reason you guys came back to the States? Your mom was acting sort of weird about it.”
Miles curled his lip at his sandwich. “Cleveland. He wrote her letters for a long time, trying to persuade her to come back. I know she wanted to go, but Opa made sure she remembered why we were there. And when he died, it was the perfect excuse to leave.” He rolled his eyes. “What’d she talk to you about?”
“When I went to the restroom,” Miles said. “What did my mom say to you?”
“Nothing important. Mom stuff.”
Miles gave me a look that said he knew that much already, and he didn’t want to ask the question again.
“She asked if you were doing okay in school. What people thought of you . . . if you had friends . . . if you were happy . . .”
Miles stared down at his sandwich, waiting.
“And I, you know, told her.”
“Told her what?”
“The truth. Did you think I would lie to your mom?”
“No, but what exactly is ‘the truth’?”
“Well, it was pretty easy,” I said, annoyed now. “People think you’re a jerk—”
Miles snorted derisively.
“—because they don’t know you, and you don’t let them. And I said yes, you do have friends—”
He scoffed. “Who, exactly? I was under the impression the entire school hated me.”
“The club? You know, the people you hang out with all the time? The ones you talk to?”
“I don’t know what jungle wilderness you’ve joined us from, but they are not my friends. Ever notice how none of them use my name? Even Jetta says ‘mein Chef.’ I’m just the person they’re obliged to take orders from.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I wanted to both laugh and slap him, hard. “I don’t even know how you can say they’re not your friends. Are you trying to deny it so you don’t get attached to anyone? Are you . . . I don’t know . . . how can you say that? Do you not want friends or something? Even I want friends!”
He crammed the rest of his chicken sandwich into his mouth and stared off at the highway as he chewed. The rest of the meal was quiet, me pondering why anyone, even him, wouldn’t want friends, and him glaring, the lights of the highway reflecting in his glasses. We cleaned up in silence, tossed the trash in a nearby bin in silence, and climbed back into the cab in silence.
And when Miles tried to start his truck, the engine clicked.
“I don’t think that’s supposed to happen,” I said.
“No, really?” Miles shot me a look. He turned the key again. Click. Click click click. He stared at the dashboard for a few moments, tried the key once more, then went to open up the hood.
This isn’t happening. A cold chill settled itself along my stomach lining. I didn’t want to be stuck here, with Miles Richter, in the middle of nowhere, at night. You are dreaming an impressively lucid dream, and you will wake up soon, and it will be okay.
“I have no idea what’s wrong,” Miles said, his voice hollow. I got out of the cab as well and shouldered him out of the way.
“Lemme look. . . .” I took a careful look at the engine, trying to remember what my dad had taught me about cars. I couldn’t find anything, either.
Miles leaned against the side of the truck, scratching his head, gazing down at the ground like he’d lost something. Tucker had said Miles was awful with cars, and I thanked all that was holy that this hadn’t happened while we were on the interstate.
“I can call,” I said, flipping open the emergency family cell phone my mom had given me. “Do you know any auto repair places?”
“Do I look like I know any auto repair places?”
“You know everything else, so I figured I’d ask.” I started to call home.
I turned around; an older man, probably in his sixties or seventies, approached the truck with a concerned smile. For a split second I thought I knew him—his eyes looked exactly like Miles’s. Miles clenched his jaw, so I figured I should do the talking. I looked the man over for any microphones or other strange objects.
“Yeah. It won’t start, but it doesn’t look like anything’s wrong.”
The man nodded. “Mind if I take a look?”
I shrugged, and the man s
“Really, though,” I said to Miles, who turned around, looking angry and confused. “If I had that many people as friends, I wouldn’t be trying to act like I don’t like them. And don’t say you don’t, because I know you do—”
“Why do you care so much?” he asked.
I gazed stonily back at him. “Really? You haven’t figured that out yet?”
Deep breath, jaw clench. “They are not my friends,” he said. “They don’t want to be, like, everyone else in that school. They’re there because they have to be. Will you drop it?”
“Fine, How about this—you know your mom’s last question? Are you happy? I told her that earlier today was the happiest I’ve ever seen you. That’s a little pathetic, honestly.” I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out of my mouth. “You could have friends, you could be happy, but you choose not to be.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” he barked so loudly I was sure the old man kept his head ducked out of courtesy. “Who are you to lecture me on being happy? You’re the one taking your pills and all those stupid pictures, hoping the world doesn’t go to hell when you finally slip up and someone finds out you’re crazy. And you’re trying to help me with my life when yours has been falling apart all year? Not to mention you’ve been dragging everyone else down with you—look at Tucker, who follows you around like a dog, and I’m sure you felt so bad about that job, so bad you couldn’t even tell him what you did. So you know what? If I’m an arrogant douche bag, then you’re a fucking hypocrite, and we’re standing in a parking lot at a Wendy’s in the middle of nowhere arguing about nothing, basically, and—and—” His voice lost steam. He dropped his arms, defeated, his expression was no longer full of rage, but guilt. “And I made you cry.”
I wiped my eyes and looked at the hood of the truck, wishing very much that the old man wasn’t there. “Yeah, well, isn’t the first time.”
I turned away and started walking.
Crazy. Falling apart. Hypocrite.
He was right. That’s exactly what I was. I called him and Tucker and Celia and McCoy crazy when it was just me who was crazy, I was the crazy one, I was always the only crazy one.