The sky is orange, turning pink. It’s beautiful and perfect. But I suddenly feel nervous and kind of embarrassed. Like I’m on one of those reality dating shows that I hate because they’re so fake. Those shows totally ruin sunsets and strawberries and fireworks for the rest of us. Which sucks because sunsets really are romantic, and it’s not Jason’s fault that TV is so shitty these days.
We’re getting really close. I’ve done the Boundary a million times, so I know: You just follow the trail, and at every fork you go in the direction where the trees are painted white. Not the whole tree, obviously, just a splotch of white paint on the bark that tells you, “This way to Barrow’s Bluff.” Then every hundred yards or so there’s another tree with a splotch of white paint, reassuring you that you’re not lost. It’s easy to forget how high up you are, surrounded by trees. But then you step out onto the immense flat rock of the Bluff, and you’re suddenly like, whoa, 500-foot cliff! But the view of the valley is amazing, and as long as you don’t act like a moron there’s no danger of falling.
Oh my god, there he is. I mean I can’t really tell because there’s a tree in the way, but it looks like him and who else would it be?
“Barkster, come! Barkster, come back!” Boone is yelling. I wish he would shut up, because it’s not going to be as romantic with my cousin yelling at his dog in the background.
“Honey, wait up,” Aunt Bibi says to me.
I turn back. “That’s him,” I say, hoping she’ll keep her promise not to embarrass me. “So… see you later.”
“I don’t see anyone,” Aunt Bibi says, squinting.
“He’s just—” I turn back towards the Bluff to point him out. But no one’s there.
“Barkster! Barkster!” Boone shouts.
Aunt Bibi joins in. “Baaaaaaaarkster!”
“So, where’s Prince Charming?” Uncle Greg says, or actually yells, in order to be heard over Boone and Bibi. Christ, can’t anyone speak at a normal volume in this family? Jason can probably hear everything we’re saying. He’s probably hiding behind that tree, wondering why I brought a battalion of people to our date.
“He’s there, he’s just…” I trail off. He’s just what? Hiding? Not that I would blame him. I’d probably hide too if I saw a bunch of weirdos coming at me shouting “Barkster!” at the top of their freaking lungs.
“Come out, Charming, your princess is here!” yells Uncle Greg, cracking himself up. Oh my god. I don’t even know what to do, I’m so mortified.
“Don’t embarrass her, Greg,” Bibi says, giving him a hard look.
“Y’all go ahead, please,” I plead.
Aunt Bibi shakes her head. “I’m not leaving you here with some mystery boy who refuses to show his face,” she says. “Your mother would kill me.”
“He’s just shy,” I say between gritted teeth.
“Come on, let’s go,” says Boone, sounding irritated. “We need to catch up with Barkster. He’s way ahead of us.”
“Who has a phone?” Aunt Bibi asks. Uncle Greg and Boone raise their hands. “Boone, give Cubby yours, and call us when you find the dog. We’ll wait here.”
Boone thrusts his phone at me, and then he and Uncle Greg go stomping off down the trail. Soon everything is quiet, except for the monotonous buzz of the cicadas. I know Jason is there, but at this point he’s probably too embarrassed to come out. I don’t know what to do. Should I call out to him, or is that too embarrassing to even contemplate? I can’t believe Aunt Bibi is doing this to me.
I keep looking back at the Bluff, hoping he’ll peek out from wherever he’s hiding. Can he see me right now? Jason, please come out, or Bibi will make me go home, and it’ll be the last nail in the coffin of our non-relationship. I’d love to be your girlfriend, but you gotta help me out!
That’s Aunt Bibi’s voice, but I don’t know where she is. Just five minutes ago we were standing at the fork in the trail, waiting for Boone and Greg to call on the phone. Then Bibi thought she heard the dog, and made me follow her off into the woods. Somehow she got way ahead of me, and now I can’t find her. The echo of her voice is bouncing off the mountain, so it sounds like it’s coming from 10 different directions.
“I’m right here!” I shout back. This is really ridiculous. She promised she’d let me go once we got the Bluff, but instead she’s dragged me halfway down the mountain after this dog who should have been wearing a leash in the first place. By the time I get back, there probably won’t be time to walk to the water tower. I guess Jason and I could just watch the fireworks from the Bluff, and it’ll still be pretty romantic. But I’m afraid that if I don’t get there soon, he’s going to leave.
“Bibi!” I shout. “I’m going back to Barrow’s Bluff!”
“Stay…where…you…are!” she yells back.
“I’m going!” I shout, ignoring her. I start climbing back up towards the Boundary. This is so unlike me, to just do what I want instead of what an adult is telling me to do. Candace is always calling me a goody-goody. But I’m tired of being good and it’s getting me nowhere.