.i. spin the bottle
They're playing spin the bottle and it's so stupid that Tyra almost can't believe it's happening, but then she remembers that it's Melissa Crandall's party, and Melissa has always been kind of lame, but in a sweet way, which is why Tyra put a ten instead of a five dollar bill into her birthday card. The reason she came had nothing to do with Melissa at all: it's Sunday, it's hot, and Melissa has a pool.
Melissa also has an air-conditioned basement, which is where they're playing the game. All the girls are giggling nervously even though it's not their turn, like they're three instead of thirteen. Tyra almost can't stand it but it's hot outside and cool down in the basement and sitting out would be too boring, and anyway, it doesn't matter now, because it's her turn and the bottle is spinning, spinning, spinning, stopped. Pointed right at a boy on her first try, which is impressive, since there are twice as many girls than boys in the basement.
It's pointing at Jason Street. He's looking at her with a smile like he thinks this is funny but not in a mean way, not like he thinks kissing Tyra is funny. More like maybe he thinks this party is lame, too, that this whole game is ridiculous, but he's going along to be polite, to be nice to Melissa.
"Looks like you're the lucky guy, Jason," Tyra says, trying to act all confident, because she should be. She's been following her sister to high school parties all summer, made out with a sophomore at one of them last week. She knows what to do.
"Looks like," Jason says, the smile staying on his face.
Tyra should be confident, but she's not. She's nervous; her hands feel sweaty, and she feels exposed, somehow, even though she's wearing her shorts and a tank-top again now, and swam around the pool in her sister's hand-me-down bikini earlier in the afternoon. She looks around the circle at boys she barely knows and girls she can't stand and Jason, sitting there with a patient expression, waiting for her to make her way over.
She does. She walks across the circle on her knees, puts one hand on his shoulder, and leans in. Jason doesn't open his mouth, or put his hand on the back of her neck, or do anything much other than sit there and turn his head to the side a little bit. Still, it's nice, a warm pressure on her lips, and the kindness in his eyes when Tyra leans back is better than anything a high school boy's ever said to her at a party.
.ii. million dollar hands
Tyra says one thing that pisses Tim off on Thursday, and Friday night he's fucking his rally girl in someone's guest bedroom at the traditional party before a Saturday home game. It's bullshit.
"Bullshit," she tells Jason, who's holding her by the elbow, guiding her outside into the hot night air. His hand is huge, like Tim's, and his grip is strong, but somehow careful. Like he doesn’t want to hold her too tight, as if she's going to bruise or break or something. Not likely. It's probably because of Lyla, whose tiny bird-bones probably fracture in a strong wind.
"Bullshit," Tyra says again, and shit, she's crying. She shakes her elbow out of Jason's grip and folds her arms across her stomach, turns away and walks across the lawn on unsteady feet. Too many vodka and somethings over the course of the night, too much of everything. Too vivid a memory of Tim leaning over that redheaded skank.
Tyra spins around; she'd forgotten Jason was there, or assumed he went inside, or something. But there he is, following her across the lawn to wherever it is she's going. Home, maybe. Only she needs someone to take her there.
Jason does. Of course he isn't drinking; Jason never drinks before game day. Tim always does, always gets shit-faced and usually takes Tyra home with him. It's practically a pregame ritual, only now Tim's using a different girl in a different place.
Tyra stops crying after a little bit, which is good since Jason didn't put on the radio when they got in the car and she hates the sound of anyone crying, herself especially. Stupid crying, stupid Tim, stupid town, stupid Tyra.
Tyra looks over sharply. "I didn't say anything."
She probably did, but Jason doesn't push it. He keeps driving, one hand on the wheel, one elbow out the window of the truck. He knows the way to Tyra's house well enough not to need directions, and so the rest of the ride is quiet, the only sounds the wind whipping into the car, the wheels on the road, and other cars passing by.
Tyra tries closing her eyes but all she sees is Tim and that girl Amanda or Allison or something, and so she keeps them open, first on the road, and then on Jason, who takes a little while to realize he's being watched.
He looks over. "All right?"
Tyra nods, and Jason looks back at the road. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel, long fingers, and Tyra remembers the way they felt on her elbow. Strong, gentle, sure. She doesn't know much about football, but she knows that the quarterback's the guy that throws the ball, and Jason's supposed to be the best quarterback in the city, county, state. He'll go to any college he wants to, and be able to write his ticket after that. All because of those two hands – well, one hand, more likely. He probably only throws with one.
Jason looks over again. "What?"
"Are you really as good as they all say you are?"
Jason laughs a little bit. "Tyra, you sure do cut to the heart of it."
"It's what I do," Tyra says. "Well, are you?"
Jason shrugs. "I don't know, it depends. How good do they say I am?"
Tyra rolls her eyes, "Pretty damn good."
Jason shakes his head, but looks less uncomfortable than Tyra expected him to be. "I don't know, maybe. If I keep getting better, I might be."
"Most people say you're good enough already."
"Yeah, well," Jason says, and apparently that's all he wants to say. He gets quiet after that, goes back to looking at the road, but the silence isn't uncomfortable. Tyra finds herself looking at him and thinking, maybe. Maybe. Tim's best friend, sure, but Tim's not being very careful about Tyra's feelings. Tyra feels inclined to return the favor. And Lyla – Tyra doesn't much care for Lyla.
And so when Jason pulls up to her place, puts on the brake, and looks over at her expectantly, instead of saying thank you or good-bye, she leans across the truck and kisses him, first on the cheek, and then on the mouth.
Tyra knows how to kiss (Tim's first compliment to her was, "You got some mouth," and it wasn't because of something she said), but Jason doesn't let her show it. He's pulled away and turned around so fast that Tyra thinks that the kiss maybe didn't happen, except it did, because she's leaning over all awkwardly and her lips are parted, and she can remember, a little bit, the way his lips moved before pulling away. Like he started to kiss her back, and then thought better of it.
Tyra sits back after a few seconds, and waits for him to look at her. He doesn't. He lets out a long breath, runs a hand across his face. A million dollar hand, headed out of this town. Lyla will be on the end of it when the time comes, Tyra knows. Tyra's got no one giving her a hand out of Dillon, no father with a car dealership, no boyfriend with a future, no grades worthy of a scholarship. The only thing her hands can do well usually involve another person, and Tim's just shown her that she's easily replaced.
"Thanks for the ride," Tyra interrupts, opening her door before Jason can look her in the eye, with pity, anger, disgust. Whatever it is, Tyra doesn't want to see it, and so she walks across the dirt to her trailer with her head held high even though she feels lower than low, the lowest of them all, the lowest of anything. She doesn't let him see her cry again.
.iii. lights out
Tyra wins at quarters, which doesn't seem fair since she's got all her fingers working okay and Jason's hands are still all weird and claw-like, but he won't hear of a handicap or special treatment, and so she doesn't give him any. He seems glad when she goes along, and not too pissed when he loses, though then again, that could be the beer.
He could've had a chance at a comeback, too, only a nurse comes by to check and even though they hide everything before she walks in, she knows something's up.
She looks at Jason and then Tyra and then back again, and says, "Your girlfriend will have to leave."
Tyra looks at Jason, and they both start laughing at the same time. By the time Tyra gets herself under control, the nurse is gone, and Jason is starting to pull himself together, too.
"Yeah, I better go. Honey," Tyra adds after a second, which makes Jason laugh, too.
"All right, then. Dear."
"Well, I don't know-"
"Is that what you called Lyla?"
"No, I called her-" Jason stops short, but Tyra knows a lot of them. Baby most often, which seemed annoyingly fitting for Lyla with her tiny, faint voice.
"Yeah, I know. Sorry." Tyra gets up, gathers her things. Jason's still sitting there with that sad look on his face, the look that's been there since she walked in, that only went away when he was laughing or concentrating on winning the game of quarters.
"Hey, you know, I had a nickname for Tim, too," Tyra says.
"Yeah. Douchebag." Tyra watches the smile creep across Jason's face. "Or asshole, that was always a nice one. Assface. There's a whole variety of ass-words, really."
"Really." Tyra stands there, awkwardly, looking down at him (still so weird, to be looking down at Jason Street, one of the few boys Tyra's always been able to look up to). "Well. I'll get going then."
"Thanks for coming," Jason says. "Take care of yourself."
"You too," Tyra says, and because he looks so sad sitting there, and because she's done it once before, and mostly because she wants to, she leans down over him and kisses him on the cheek.
.iv. three lunches
The first time Tyra goes to Jason's house for lunch is on the Thursday after the weekend Jason breaks up with Lyla for the second time. Most of Thursday morning is boring, but then again school is always boring for Tyra, since there's no college in her future and most of what she thinks she'll need to know in life she's figured out already.
Classes are long to get through, so halfway through fourth period Tyra leaves with the bathroom pass. She takes the long way around to kill time, looking in classrooms as she passes them, and that's how she sees them: Tim and Lyla, in the science lab where Tyra took Biology her sophomore year. It's more surprising to realize Lyla is cutting class than it is to see them together, now, and that probably means something.
Lyla is crying, her face scrunched up, and Tim is sitting there next to her, his face all weird, like her crying is hurting him. It takes a second for Tyra to realize, but yeah, he's rubbing her back, right between her shoulder blades, and leaning in to hear what she's saying.
Lots of weeks they've been broken up, if you can call it that, and still it feels awful to see that, to see the anxious, open expression on Tim's face. Tyra never saw that face when they were together, figured Tim wasn't capable of it. Figured wrong.
Tyra crumples the bathroom pass in her hand and walks away, down the hallway, past the bathroom, out a side door, and toward the parking lot. She goes to Jason's house without really deciding to, and it's only after she's rung the doorbell that she realizes she's got no idea what she's going to say.
It takes a while for Jason to answer, and when he does, he looks surprised to see her but is nice about it. He doesn't ask why she's there, just says, "Hey, Tyra."
"Jason," she says, and shifts her weight, which sends the screen door banging off her hip and then back again. She can't think of anything else to say, and suddenly feels pretty stupid for coming.
She's lucky Jason was brought up so polite. "Do you want to come in?"
"Sure," she says, and Jason rolls his chair back so that she can get by.
"I was just having some lunch. You want something?"
"Maybe in a minute," Tyra says, because it seems weird to ask him to get her something, but it's almost lunch and she never eats breakfast. Jason pushes himself into the kitchen and over to the table, where a bowl of soup is sitting there half-eaten. Tyra sits down across from him.
Jason is fastening some kind of spoon to his hand, something with rings for his other fingers. He looks up after a second and says, "So, what brings you by?"
Tyra shrugs, which Jason seems okay with. He goes back to his spoon and she goes back to watching him. He looks good, mostly, a little tired. Jason looking tired is another new thing. Tim always had circles under his eyes, a lot of the time because he was hungover. Jason was always the picture of health before, Lyla too. Attractive and well-rested and healthy, the teenage ideal.
"What are you smiling about?"
Tyra shrugs, rests her chin on her hand. "Just thinking about how cute you are."
Jason laughs. "What?"
"I was remembering how no matter how late we went out or how much we drank, you and Lyla never looked the worse for it the next day, while Tim and I both felt like death. Looked it, too. I used to get really annoyed with Lyla, but with you, not so much. Mostly because you're so cute."
Jason shakes his head, looking down at his soup. "Where did this all come from?"
"I don't know. You look tired."
"Hmm," Tyra says, watching Jason as he stirs his soup. Tomato. "Is there any more of that?"
"No, but there's other stuff, if you want." Jason pushes himself back, an automatic gesture of politeness, and then pauses, a strange look on his face.
Tyra gets up. "I got it."
It only takes a few tries for her to find the cabinet with the peanut butter and the drawer with the knives. She's back at the table pretty quick, but by the time she gets there, the strange look is gone from Jason's face. "What's going on at school?"
"Usual stuff," Tyra says, and now it's her turn to stare down at her food.
"Are they together now?"
Tyra isn't the type to play dumb, so she doesn't ask who. She looks up and Jason is staring right at her, with this tough look on his face, like he's daring her to lie to him or something. Stupid, because lying is one thing Tyra doesn't really do. "I don't know. I saw them together today. But they were just talking, so."
"It's weird," Tyra says, looking down. She's started pulling the crusts off her bread and focuses on that while she talks. "I mean, I knew Tim and I weren't any great love story or anything, so it shouldn't bother me, but."
"It does," Jason finishes.
"Yeah, it does. It's different for you." Tyra looks up. "Lyla's no friend of mine."
"Turns out Tim's no friend of mine, either."
Tyra can't argue with that. She takes a bite of her sandwich instead. It's pretty good. "I like this chunky peanut butter."
"Only the best here at the Street house," Jason says.
"Yeah," Tyra says, smiling, because it sounds so right.
The second time Tyra goes to Jason's house for lunch, it's because she sees Lyla smile at Tim in the hallway in a way that's more than friendly. It makes her want to do something to take that sweet expression off Lyla's face. Slapping her sounds good, but instead Tyra leaves after fourth period and when Jason opens the door, she dispenses with the formalities, and says, "I think they're together now."
"I know," Jason says. "He told me."
Tyra feels like the world's turned upside down. "Tim told you?"
"He called me up, said he was sorry, but –"
"Sorry, but nothing," Tyra says, and doesn't wait for an invitation. She steps into the house, forcing Jason to roll back or risk being run over. "Piece of shit."
"Who, me or Riggins?"
Tyra rolls her eyes, and because she's walking ahead of him and he can't see that, she says, "Tim. Obviously. Though it would've been nice if you'd told me."
"I figured you already knew. Things seem to get to me last, here," Jason says.
Tyra's made it to the kitchen table by now, so she sits down and looks at him. Jason is still in the doorway, and like this, they're right at eye level with each other. Tyra tries to just look at his face, because his face is the same, should be the same, but it's different, somehow. Maybe he's lost weight, or his expression is different. Maybe Tyra's just never looked at him this much before. "You get lonely out here?"
Jason takes a little bit to answer. "The neighbors are nice, my parents are glad to have me here. But the days can get a little long."
"I could see that."
"It's good to have visitors," Jason says. "You want some lunch?"
The third time Tyra goes to visit Jason, it's because she forgot her lunch and doesn't have money for the cafeteria. He splits his soup with her and she splits a sandwich she makes with him, and it's nice. They talk about school and his parents and the wheelchair rugby thing, and while he's talking, Tyra tries to figure out what color his eyes are. Blue with a little gray, or gray with a little blue, or something like that. Nice eyes.
"Something wrong?" Jason seems more amused than concerned. "You've been quiet for a while."
"What, am I not allowed to be thoughtful?"
"Of course you are," Jason says. "What were you being thoughtful about?"
Your eyes, she doesn't say, because it's corny and embarrassing and true. "This wheelchair rugby thing. Do you boys get all sweaty and masculine and rough and tumble out there? I might have to come by and watch. All that testosterone flying around."
"Let me tell you, you'd be very popular."
"Tyra," Jason says. "You know why."
She does, but she wants to hear him say it. She grins. "Because of my winning personality?"
"Well, that. And because you're beautiful."
She'd been expecting him to say hot, and beautiful makes her blush a little bit, feel a little warm and wonderful inside and also pretty embarrassed. She looks up at him, refuses to let him see it. "You think I'm beautiful?"
Jason looks embarrassed, too, a little bit. "Come on, Tyra. You know you are."
"Maybe I don't."
"This is ridiculous," Jason says, and starts stacking his lunch stuff together, silverware and glass on top of plate, a little awkwardly but without knocking anything on the floor.
Tyra moves over so that instead of across from him, she's in the chair at the end of the table right next to him. "If it makes any difference, I think you're cute, too."
"Well, thanks, Tyra." She's close enough to see that his eyes are more blue than gray, and also that he's a little nervous. "What are you up to?"
"What do you think?" Tyra puts her hand on his. She runs her thumb across his knuckes, which are smooth; Tim's were always rough and scraped. His probably used to be, too. Not anymore.
"Tyra," Jason says, but his voice is a question, not a warning.
Tyra shrugs, starts running her thumb over the skin on the back of his hand, then back up on his knuckles. She watches her thumb across his skin, back and forth, over the knuckles at the end of his curled-in fingers. She stops, looks up, feels stupid all of a sudden. "Can you feel that?"
"A little bit."
The sadness in his voice makes Tyra less nervous. She takes her hand off of his and puts it on the side of his face, her thumb on his cheek. She smoothes the skin there, under his blue-gray eyes, eyes that are looking at her in a way that puts the nervous right back in her, in a way that makes something inside of her come alive. "Feel that?"
"Yeah," Jason says, and she kisses him.