from: Jason Miles
to: Cubby Carpenter
date: Jul 4, 2013 at 10:47 AM
cubby hi, it’s jason… Do you wanna watch the fireworks with me tonight? We could try to climb up the water tower (are you afraid of heights?)…. Except I just realized I don’t even know if you’re in town. But I hope you are, and that you say yes. We could meet at Barrow’s Bluff and walk down together if that sounds OK…
So I get this email out of nowhere. I mean, I heard that Jason had a crush on me, but that was ages ago, and at the end-of-school dance he ignored me the entire night. Everyone said it was my fault for seeming uninterested, but I wasn’t uninterested, I just didn’t know what to do! How are you supposed to act when a guy supposedly loves you but won’t even talk to you? I figured it was just one of those ridiculous things, like when Bonnie dated Po Sin Chang even though she couldn’t stand him, and she tried to break up with him on voicemail but his inbox was full, so the relationship dragged on for like three weeks.
What’s weird is that he used jasonmiles14@gmail instead of jwalk5000, which is the one he normally uses with friends and stuff. I called Candace to tell her, and she immediately searched her email to see if he’d ever used that address with her. He hadn’t, even though they did a big civics project together and emailed like a hundred times. “I think it’s romantic,” she said. “It’s like it’s a real date. He’s using his formal email account.” But Candace has a history of delusions, especially when it comes to guys. In fact she was the one who said Jason had a crush on me in the first place. I guess tonight we’ll see if she was right, or if this is just another ridiculous thing.
“You’re not going into the woods alone.”
That’s my mom. She never lets me go anywhere alone, even though I’m 14 and very responsible. The stupid thing is that I could lie and say Candace is going with me, and my mom would totally believe it. But I never lie because I’m an honest person, which sucks. The lesson I’ve learned a billion times is that being honest gets you nowhere. But whenever I try to lie, even about something tiny, I feel all tortured until I fess up. I’m totally defected in that way.
“Mom, I’ll only be alone for like 10 minutes. I’m meeting Jason Miles at Barrow’s Bluff.” Barrow’s Bluff is this enormous rock at the edge of the mountain with a gorgeous view of the valley. It’s named after Lieutenant Barrow, a Confederate officer who was chased down by Yankees at the end of the Civil War. Supposedly he got lost and ran his horse right off the edge, plummeting to his death.
My aunt Bibi pipes up. “Why don’t Greg and Boone and I take her? We could use a nice after-dinner hike. We’ll bring the dog!”
The idea fills me with horror. Jason’s going to think I brought all these random family members plus a dog to meet him! Bibi must see it in my face, because she quickly whispers to me, “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll just walk you to the Bluff and keep going. We won’t even try to talk to him, cross my heart.”
Mom shakes her head. “I think we should all watch the fireworks together, as a family.”
“Oh, let her go,” Bibi says, and I smile at her gratefully. Sometimes Bibi can be really cool.
Mom tsks at us. “Friends will come and go, Cubby, but family is forever.” She’s always saying that, and I’m always thinking, Exactly, that’s why I’m trying to get away from you while I still can.
So it’s me, Aunt Bibi, Uncle Greg, and my cousin Boone, who’s six years older than me and rarely acknowledges that I exist. And of course the dog. They’re one of those families where everything revolves around the dog. But he’s pretty cute—a Jack Russell terrier named Barkster. He loves being in the woods, and excitedly bolts ahead of us every two minutes. Boone constantly has to yell, “Barkster, come back! Barkster, come!” which kind of ruins the peace and quiet, but that’s just life with their side of the family.
We’re on the Boundary, which is the big trail that circles town around the edge of the mountain. You can shoot off onto side trails in a hundred directions, like to Maidenhead Falls, or to Father Rock, where you can see three states. Barrow’s Bluff, where we’re going, is the best place to watch the sun set because the rock faces west.
“So, tell us about this Jason character,” Aunt Bibi says.
“He’s nice,” I say.
“Whoa, cool it with the crazy adjectives!” Uncle Greg booms. “Next you’ll be saying he’s neat!”
Aunt Bibi rolls her eyes and says, “I’m sure he’s a charmer.” Which actually he’s not. Jason is the shyest guy in our class, which is why it was so weird to get that email. But maybe he’s been reading self-help books, or he looked in the mirror for the first time in six years and was like, Wait a second, I’m kind of super hot! Which he totally is. But sometimes when it’s you, you’re the last person to notice.
I feel sweat forming above my lip. I’ll probably look like a greaseball by the time we get to Barrow’s Bluff. Why is it so hot? It’s 7:30, it should be cooling off by now. But there’s not even a breeze. Boone is leading the way with his walking stick and his giant hiking boots, which are so dorky. It’s not like we’re climbing Mount Doom. I could do Barrow’s Bluff in flip-flops. But Boone loves to be the Wilderness Man with all his accouterments.
Aunt Bibi is sniffing the air. “Do you smell that?” she says.
I wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t pointed it out, but there is a faint smell of something rotting. It’s weird to think that people used to be surrounded by that smell all the time, like hunters and peasants in the olden times, people who killed their own food. Now when we smell it, in the world outside our clean little houses, it smells freaky and unnerving. But actually it’s the most ordinary thing ever. Death.
“Dead deer,” Boone declares, and we keep going.