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Training Wheels

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Sometimes I wish I could remember a time when I didn't know Chaz Santangelo. Because when you grow up that tangled up in someone, you never really have a chance to get tangled up in someone else. And we looked at each other when we were twelve years old and I was heading off to the Jellicoe School and we knew and sometimes I don't think he will ever forgive me that knowledge.

"I broke up with my girlfriend," Chaz says, and I tell him I don't care. (The first time we had this exchange, we were 14 and I was so angry with him that we didn't speak for another three months.)

"Yeah, you do," he says, and this is new.

I close my eyes and say, "Chaz," because my house just burned down and Taylor's mom is dying and now is the time he decides to do this to me? And I can't send him away, but I can't say anything else to him, so we sit there outside Hannah's house until Taylor comes out to walk home with me.

Taylor tells me Chaz is staring longingly after me and I don't bother to say I don't care because she's gotten far too good at calling everyone on their shit.

-

When Taylor's mom dies, Chaz shows up at the house without being told and he takes my hand and we walk to town and have lunch at my house and dinner at his. We sit on his verandah for hours and his little sisters spy on us.

And then he walks me back to my parents' house because it's not a night I want to be at school and Taylor is with Hannah and Jude.

He strokes a finger along my cheek and I remember being eight years old and sitting in the Prayer Tree and planning our lives together. We were going to live there, right in that tree, and have five kids. And I looked out at the world and it never occurred to me that our lives could turn out any other way.

And I am so sad about Taylor and her mother and her father that I lean into Chaz for a moment to catch a glimpse of that long-ago promise of happiness.

-

When we get to the beach, Jonah and his family are already there, and my eyes fill with tears as I watch Taylor go up to Jonah.

"Just say," Chaz whispers from behind me. "Just say I wasn't an idiot."

-

When we were 13, and I was home for the holidays, Chaz had his first girlfriend and whenever I went over to his house, she was there. And whenever he came over to my house, he brought her. And so we never were alone together until it was time for me to go back to school and I watched his house until his mum and dad left for work, each toting one or two of his sisters to be dropped off at friends' houses.

I walked into the house, like I had a million times before, and he looked so scared to see me that I wanted to cry because he was supposed to be my best friend.

And I told him that, that he was my best friend, and he wouldn't look me in the eye and told me he had plans with his girlfriend.

So I went back to school and told Taylor to pick me out a boyfriend and ignored Chaz the next three times I was home.

-

I watch Hannah and Jude and the way they are together and think about all the years they spent apart from each other. And Taylor and Jonah and their own three years of misunderstanding and anger. And Chaz's and my problems are so tiny in comparison that if we can't figure it out, then what are we even doing?

And then I want to hit myself because I'm not supposed to want to figure it out. I gave up on Chaz Santangelo and it's not fair that he's making me want things again. I was so close to being free of him and I can't regret this past year, but now I don't think I'll ever escape him and I can't decide if I am okay with that.

-

When we were 17, we didn't talk to each other until Taylor told me to get in contact with the leader of the Townies.

-

The last day of our trip--our journey, Taylor corrects me--we build a giant sandcastle and Chaz and I sit on the beach for hours after the others have wandered off, waiting for the waves to wash it away. When the sun goes down, the castle is still standing and I shiver a little. Chaz puts his arms around me and I want to roll my eyes at such an obvious ploy, but his arms are warm and I lean back against his chest and don't say a single world.

I think I fall asleep for a little while because it seems like no time at all has passed when I hear Chaz whisper my name. The waves are lipping at the base of the castle. The castle shudders and a little more of it slides away with each wave. But then the waves start retreating and it hasn't quite got all of the castle. One tower still stands tall, hardly touched at all.

Chaz pulls me up and doesn't let go of my hand. And when we get back to the house, he tugs me to him and kisses me and kisses me until we hear Jessa giggling from inside. And then we go inside and everyone is smiling at us and I think maybe I should feel embarrassed, but all I feel is loved.

-

When we are 22, Chaz reminds me we were supposed to living in the Prayer Tree by now and it takes me a week to realize he was asking me to marry him.