Authors: David Yoon
I tell Mom-n-Dad, “Go rest. I got this.” I pack away the half-finished food containers into the fridge. I load the dishwasher, squirt in detergent, and hit Start. I unfurl my graduation gown and hang it in the closet next to winter coats that never get any use.
I head up to my room, change into my reddest blacks and reddest-red sneakers, and quickly rummage to find a head-mounted flashlight. I tiptoe and check on Mom-n-Dad. They’re both asleep in Dad’s lazy chair. I scribble out a note.
Outside, I silently heave the Consta out of the driveway in neutral, waving hi as one of my unknown neighbors watches with his head cocked, and wait until I’m down the street to coax the engine to life.
I’m still a good climber, I think.
By the time I get to Crescent Cove, it’s night. There’s no official parking at this tiny local beach. Just a long shoulder flanked by blond grass tall enough to hide a car, which is good. Opposite the shoulder is a flimsy gate—easily hopped—and a fire road winding its way up.
She must be in bed by now, back from her big graduation dinner. She must be alone by now.
I want to pick up where that graduation-ceremony-appropriate friend-hug left off. I have in my bag this glass teardrop-shaped terrarium filled with moss and lichen as a gift for Joy. I will give it to her, and I know she’ll love it more than any bouquet of flowers. I’m getting this summer of love started right now, despite the hour. Because I say so.
I’m talking about
I know this fire road. When the Songs hosted Gatherings, me and the rest of the Limbos would jump the balcony above and hike down to the water with flashlights dancing.
Me and Joy.
Now, years later, I am the only Limbo here. My flashlight is steady against my forehead. And instead of down, I’m heading up. The dirt road dips and rises gently; I pass through rivers of warm and cool air as I travel. When I reach the huge concrete pilings beneath Joy’s house, I click my light off.
It’s easier coming down than going up, because of the climb. But I remember—my ten-year-old body remembers for me—how to brace myself on the massive I-beam and shimmy up to the narrow diagonal cross support, which, once traversed on tiptoe using the square rivets for extra grip, leads
me up to the only scary part: a pull-up from a bar with nothing beneath it for fifteen feet.
We used to do this as kids?
Anyway, turns out I can still do pull-ups.
I throw one leg over and find myself staring at acres of pristine wood deck flooring. The house lights are off. I listen. Amid the warm breeze and faintly sighing ocean I can hear the far-off blabbering of a television, which means the Songs are home.
I tiptoe along—tripping a rude cone of light.
I make a pathetic attempt to hide behind a small cylindrical planter—the Songs always were so goddamn minimalist and tasteful with their decor—and wait for my heart to go from sixteenth, then to eighth, and finally back to quarter notes as no one appears to investigate.
I duck out of sensor range, wait for an eternity for the stupid light to go off, and press myself against the back wall of the house. Twenty feet to go.
A face floats in the black glass when I get there.
It’s Joy, reading a book by pinlight.
I tap as quietly on the glass as I can, just inches from her head, and give her a heart attack.
“It’s me, it’s me,” I hiss. I turn my flashlight on myself to prove it.
Joy stops herself from throwing her book through the window. She marks her page, opens the window, and then hits me across the face with it.
“You almost made me shit the bed,” she says.
“Doesn’t this bring back memories?” I say.
Joy’s eyes widen. “You climbed up here?”
“Using the old way we used to?”
“Oh, Frank,” says Joy, and looks about to cry.
“Are you okay?” I say.
“We need to talk,” says Joy.
She shoves a big beanbag against her door, locking it but not locking it, and perches on the open windowsill. She removes a sensor the size of a pill from the sash frame, tapes it to a corresponding sensor lodged in the side jamb, and hops outside.
“Last thing we need is the alarm going off,” she says.
It’s a badass bit of hackery that makes me grab her waist for a kiss. But her lips are limp. Her body is tense.
“Come on,” she whispers.
She leads me hand in hand into a moonlit clearing hidden among three Monterey cypresses. They form a kind of tent, hidden to the land but open to the sea before us. I can see the white of waves tumbling below.
We duck inside and sit. If I had a fool’s head full of fantasy, I would think she was taking me here to make love with this view of the ocean.
But right away I can tell this is no fantasy.
She tailor-sits, and waits for me to tailor-sit too. I look at her hand. There it is, placed right on top of mine. She painted her nails. In the dim light I can’t tell what color.
I am just thinking to myself,
I need to kiss her now before she can say anything
when she says it.
“I think we should stop seeing each other.”
“No,” I blurt, like a child.
“You didn’t call me yubs,” I say with wonder. “I knew something was wrong.”
“This is a breakup, isn’t it.”
“How long do you think we can sneak around before something really bad happens?”
“Holy shit, we’re breaking up right now.”
I dig the heels of my hands into my eyes until the ocean sounds like it’s roaring.
“You’re really doing this,” I say. “Our dads get into some stupid fight, and now you’re really just giving up and walking away.”
What is happening to my face? Whatever it is, Joy becomes slightly fearful of it. Do I look angry right now? Betrayed, and out for vengeance?
“We just graduated,” I say. “We only have three months of summer. If we’re just super careful and get coordinated and time things right, we can make the most of it.”
A touch from Joy stops my babbling. “Listen to yourself.”
“We can make this work,” I say.
“This is the situation,” says Joy, and clutches her hair. I’m sure it’s flashing green, but again: this light is so dim. “This is my life they’re messing with,” she says. “It’s yours, too.”
“So let’s just ignore them,” I say. “Fuck the tribe. Let’s just walk away.”
“You can’t just walk away.”
“You can do whatever your soul wills you to do,” I say. “Fuck everyone else.”
“Is that really what you want?” she says. “Just fuck everyone else? Do you even know what
fuck everyone else
would entail? It’s not just about me and you. I don’t want our families fighting. I don’t want things to get weird with my dad for god knows how long. I don’t want that for you, either.”
I laugh to myself. “You’re saying it’s not worth it.”
“What’s not worth it?”
I look at her. “Love.”
Joy looks hurt. “That is not what I’m saying.”
But I just keep looking at her—
“That is not what I’m saying,” she says again.
—because it is.
“I’m only saying there are other, bigger things to think about,” she says.
“There’s nothing bigger than love,” I say, and draw my knees in close so I can press my eyes into them until the green-and-black checkerboards appear.
Let’s just be in love,
I think, and all I want is for her to say,
If you say so, Frank,
and bring everything back to the way it was with a single, long kiss. But instead she’s just staring at the waves tumbling and tumbling far below, preparing other words to say.
“You know how your dad had to choose between living shorter but better, and taking the chemo and living longer but worse?” she says.
I swallow to quell a rising lump of tears.
“We’re not taking the chemo,” she says.
I don’t quite get what she’s saying here—is she comparing us to cancer?—but it doesn’t matter because her words gut me anyway.
“But I love you,” I say. “You love me.”
“We’re a happy family,” says Joy, in the saddest singsong ever.
“So let’s just be in love,” I try.
“Frank, I can’t just, we—” says Joy, and covers her mouth because she’s run out of words. Or is she trying to keep them in?
“I love you,” I say. “You love me. It’s as simple as that.”
She buries her face and I hold her with one arm, then two, but she is already feeling strange to me. Some aura is slipping away. Joy is a campfire dying before my very eyes, and I am inept when it comes to campfires.
She peers through barred forearms. “The ocean is glowing—look.”
I glance out. Indeed, the waves are crashing blue.
“It’s peak sparkles right now,” I say.
“I always wondered what causes that,” mumbles Joy to no one.
Joy turns her head to face me through her hair. “How do you know that?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say, and the last of our embers goes out.
But I don’t want them out. I stomp and stomp on them, because the moron inside me believes that stomping is the best way to stoke a fire back to life.
“You could start going on hikes,” I say, mustering the fakest pep ever. “Then I could meet you down at Crescent Cove—”
“I can’t do this.”
“It’d be perfect because you can’t even see the left edge of the beach from here.”
“What would Hanna think of your plan?”
“This is not like that.”
“Good night, Frank.”
And Joy just gets up and leaves.
I don’t watch her go.
It’s easier to stare at the dinoflagellates glowing blue, their minuscule, pathetic way of raging against the waves that simply refuse to stop bullying them around.
If I stare at the ocean, I can pretend Joy is still sitting next to me. But she’s not. There’s barely a mark where she had been sitting, and that mark went cold quick.
I take the teardrop-shaped terrarium and hang it from a branch to swing madly in the wind. Its contents won’t last long.
Eventually I get up and leave the scraggly tent of cypresses. I walk down the hidden path, back onto the Songs’ deck. Joy’s window is closed. The blinds are drawn. I trip the blinding floodlight again and walk right through it.
I lower myself off the edge of the deck and grasp the bar to
dangle for a moment before my hand slips, and I find myself in midair.
Well, that’s perfect,
It’s the exact wrong thing to think, of course, because if I’m ever going to learn how to fly, I should focus my mind on something else, something entirely irrelevant, so that I’ll miss the ground and soar upward instead.
ARE YOU SURE?
ALL MESSAGES DELETED
The doctor finally comes in, swivels a monitor my way, and shows the inside of my ankle.
“Nothing broken,” she says. “Except maybe your pride, ha ha!”
“Pthpthpthh,” I say.
“I’m joking, I’m a dad-joker, so, anyway. It’s an inversion sprain. Not too-too bad.”
“Not broken,” says Mom with relief. She punches my shoulder. “Aigu, stupid.”
“We get a lot of this sort of thing this time of year among a certain youthful demographic,” says the doctor.
“He going graduation party so late,” says Mom. “Not even he drinking!”
“Remember RICE,” says the doctor.
I want to shout.
“Rest, ice, compression, elevate,” the doctor says.
“So not racist,” I say out loud. Whoops.
“Someone’s feisty,” says the doctor, and looks me up and down. Is this mature female doctor really hitting on me in front of my own mother?
“Thank you, doctor,” says Mom, oblivious. “He getting into Stanford.”
“Ooh, gets real hot up there,” says the doctor.
I slip an elastic bag over my foot to shower because I’m too lazy to undo and redo the brace. Then I sleep until two. I could sleep until dinner if I wanted to. I could sleep until September and wake up just in time for convocation.
Because it’s summer.
“So much for the summer of love,” I say to my pillow.
I hobble down the steps, Rest with a baggie of Ice on my Compressed ankle sitting Elevated on a cushion next to Dad resting with his legs elevated too, and post a short video to Snapstory in a totally depressing cry for attention.
Within minutes, Q says,
I’m coming over.
I also notice Joy’s name among my dozen viewers of the video. I go to her feed and fling it up and down for a bit. And this, I guess, is our future.
Life got complicated, and Joy spooked. She gave up on our love. It makes me realize: love is a belief mutually held. As soon as that belief fades on either end, then poof, the whole thing falls face-flat like a tug-of-war suddenly gone one-sided.
I let my fartphone fall to the floor, then fall asleep again.
Ding-dong. I wake up. Dad’s gone. I’m alone.
“Frankie-ya,” says Mom. “Q here.”
“Don’t get up,” says Q. He drops his big heavy backpack and takes a seat close to my elevated foot. “What the heck did you do? No toes missing?”
“Remember, we were at that crazy warehouse party, and I slipped on that big puddle by the thing?” I say, making my eyes as big as I can.
“Ohhhh ahhhh riiiight,” says Q. “That thing was amazing.”
“I check on Daddy,” says Mom. We wait until she leaves to lower our voices.
“I went to see Joy last night,” I whisper, and let my eyes fall.
“Oh no,” says Q.
“But—you—she—” says Q.
“We’re done. Dunzo. Donut disco.”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“I can get you donuts. Whatever you need right now.”
“I want Joy,” I cry, and shade my eyes with a stiff hand.
“Oh man, come here, come here,” says Q. “Let big papa Q hug it out.”
“I don’t want donuts,” I sob. “I don’t want any of this shit. I just want everyone to stay put. I don’t want Joy’s stupid Snapstory. I don’t want you three thousand miles away. I don’t want Dad to—”
“Oh man,” says Q. “Get serious now, really hug it all out.”
When I’m done, Q’s tee shirt is all wet.
“Sorry,” I say.
Q looks at the tearstains with an odd sort of pride. “Don’t be sorry. You’re lucky.”
“Jyeah right, so lucky, look at me.”
“You love hard enough to cry,” says Q. “I admire that.”
I just have to laugh at this, and Q joins in. “You know how weird you sound?” I say.
“You’re the one all diarrhea diapers and donut discos.”
I smile at my friend. My best friend. “You wanna go out somewhere?”
“You’re not going anywhere with that ankle,” says Q, “which you still need to explain. And besides, I have with me our completed, ready-to-play final campaign.”
“You finished it,” I say with awe.
Q waggles his glasses. “Last night.”
From his backpack, Q draws forth his big spiral Dungeons & Dragons campaign notebook. It’s titled
The Evasive Cambith of ¡P’Qatlalteiaq: Totec’s Return
. It has skulls and pentagrams and everything. I don’t know how he can possibly top the demigods and gem-swapping drama of our last campaign, but now I’m curious.
“Totec the mage gets resurrected?” I say. “Is Paul playing, too?”
Q nods. “He should’ve been here ten minutes ago, in fact. Where is Paul? I brought back Totec for that motherfucker.”
We wait and wait before deciding that, in the interest of the limited time we have remaining together, we should just go ahead and get started. I play both my paladin and Paul’s mage simultaneously, switching bullshit Middle English
accents as necessary. On paper we are the biggest losers in Palomino High School history. Two boys launching their summer vacations with a lonely game of Dungeons & Dragons.
But we don’t care. Within minutes we’re laughing, conspiring, cheering, groaning.
Thank you, Q.
“You eating melon,” hollers Mom, scaring the shit out of both of us, and brings in a plate of honeydew wedges.
Thank you, Mom.
We do this for weeks.
I post pictures of our figurines locked in battle. I also post my ankle, which has traded in its brace for a simpler bandage. More melon. Q’s intense dungeon master stare. Dad, finally eating something bigger than a piece of toast. I get my handful of pity likes from my two dozen followers. Whatever. I’m too busy to really care.
One day three curséd valkyries ambush my character while I’m reconnoitering a shattered keep on my own, and my character doesn’t even get the chance to counterattack. I die alone, in this unnamed ruin.
I topple my figurine.
Q rights it again. He scrambles to ad-lib.
“Oh, uh, behold, I am the last surviving spirit protector of this ancient castle,” sings Q. “I am known as—as Barbra the Good and Lawful, and I hereby reward the justness of your soul.”
“What are you doing?” I say.
“I’m bringing you back to life,” says Q.
“Can you do that?”
“The dungeon master can do whatever he wants,” says Q. “And I say you’re back.”
He’s smiling so big at me that I can’t help but smile.
“Barbra?” I say.
Q doubles down. “Barbra the Good and Lawful.”
“If you say so,” I say.