Here’s the thing about roller coasters: I like them. Most of the time. I like them when they are completely enclosed in a building, and I generally prefer them to be in the dark so I can’t see what’s coming next.
One of my biggest fears is that I will be on an out-door roller coaster and get hit in the face by a bird.
It could happen.
So the fact that I’ve now talked my new boss and the youth pastor of our church, Rick, out of going to Six Flags three times in the last three months is some-thing of a personal feat for me.
“I think it would be great fun and so we shall do it,” he says now, slamming his hands on his desk.
This action would have sent me into a nervous twitch only a few short weeks ago, but I’m getting used to Rick and his ways.
That’s almost a scarier thought than being hit in the face by a flying bird on a roller coaster.
“What will be great fun?” I ask, distracted by my new planner that is stuffed with names, dates, and times. I had no idea there were so many girls in the youth group until I took this job. Now it’s all I can do not to double book myself. Last week, I scheduled for three different girls to meet me at three different Star-bucks at the very same time.
I went that same day and bought the planner.
Considering my past abuse of planners, I have con-veniently forgotten to inform a lot of the people in my life of this fact.
“Six Flags,” Rick says. “We’re going next weekend. Sort of a ‘Good-Bye Summer, Hello Fall’ trip. I’ll make up the postcard and you address them.”
Rick is very good at delegating tasks to me. Too good. I look up at him briefly. He’s wearing loose jeans and a polo shirt, and he’s drumming out a little tune on his desk. Rick is a huge, barrel-chested man and is completely bald. Supposedly by choice. Either way, he’s a scary person to run into when you happen to be by yourself at the church after dark.
I take pride in the excellent bladder control I had on that night.
“I thought we were thinking about doing a park barbecue sing-along thing as our ‘Good-Bye Summer’ event.” I look back down and scribble in my planner while studying the text I’d received. MOLLY, 3 PM, JAMBA JUICE BY THE GALLERIA.
“Oh yeah . . .” Rick says slowly, twisting his lips and staring out the window. “I do like the idea of a sing-along.”
“Of course you do. It’s a great idea. And Six Flags has totally been done.” I am casual but still convincing.
“True.” Rick nods. “All right then. Forget Six Flags. We’re sticking with the original plan. I’ll draw up the postcard.”
I smile to myself and nod to Rick. “Sounds good.”
I have a meeting with another girl in twenty min-utes, so I stand from my tiny desk and stretch. “I’m out of here. I’m meeting with Bethany and then I’m going home. I have four weeks of laundry I have to do.”
Rick makes a face. “Sounds like a great night.”
“Oh yes.” I shoulder my purse and walk out of the church, waving at Geraldine, our church secretary.
I’ve been on the payroll at this church for two months this week, and while it feels like a lot longer in some respects, the summer has gone by fast.
I climb into my car and look at my planner to see what Starbucks I’m meeting her at. I have three I try to cycle through so I’m not going to the same one twice a day. And I also try to throw in the occasional Jamba Juice or semihealthy place because there have been a few days I have been so shaky at the end of the day from all the caffeine, I can barely sit down.
My phone buzzes as I’m driving out of the parking lot, and I click the button before mashing it against my ear. “Hey, Layla.”
Layla is my best friend, and she is getting married in a little over two months. I can’t even believe it. Es-pecially since I’ve been so busy with this new job I’ve hardly had a chance to hang out with her all summer. Since all the kids are out of school, I’ve had back-to-back-to-back meetings for weeks. Rick keeps swearing the whole year will not be like this.
Exhaustion is pulling at my brain, but I shake it away so I can appear happy and peppy for Bethany in fifteen minutes.
“Hey.” Layla sounds tired.
“No. I miss you. I haven’t even seen you in like nine years and I’m tired of people asking me questions, tired of caterers calling to tell me about there being no spinach because of a mad cow disease scare, tired of realizing that hey, we forgot to order napkins, and tired of being engaged.”
I immediately feel bad. “I’m so sorry, Layla. I am an awful maid of honor.”
“You aren’t an awful maid of honor. You’re just really busy and it just makes me wonder if you aren’t sliding back into the can’t-say-no Paige we all knew and didn’t love very much.”
“Anyway. I’m coming over for dinner tonight and I’m bringing Panda. So I don’t care what you have written in that planner you’re trying to sneak around. Cancel it. Call in sick or say you caught the mad cow disease.”
“How did the spinach get the mad cow disease anyway?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was from the fertilizer or they grew it on the same farm as the cows or some-thing. Or maybe it was salmonella.”
“Well, I was just planning on doing laundry to-night, so as long as you’re okay with that, come on over.” I am already looking forward to the orange chicken.
Layla cannot come over without bringing Panda Express. It’s a tradition now.
“You weren’t going to see Tyler?”
I bite back a sigh at the name.
Tyler, for all intents and purposes, is my boyfriend. But if you look at the eight times I’ve seen him all summer, he’s more like a casual acquaintance than any-thing else. I’ve been working like crazy, his sister had a baby, and they had a family reunion so he was gone for a week. He has had some big projects come up at work and all manner of excuses.
It all started after Tyler happened to see Luke, my ex-
boyfriend, giving me a hug and kiss at our end-of-the-school-year youth party at the beginning of the sum-mer. I didn’t intend on either of those things happen-ing, and I explained everything to Tyler at coffee the next day, but he’s been a little standoffish since then.
I don’t know what to do about it. Tyler is a slow mover anyway. It took him about six months to ever officially ask me to be his girlfriend in the first place.
I’ve always wondered about it. And now I’m won-dering whether the girlfriend thing is still even on.
“No,” I tell Layla. “He’s got a big project due this week.”
“He always has a big project due.”
“I know. Hey, I’m at Starbucks to meet a girl so I need to go.”
“You’re always meeting with a girl. Except never this one.”
“I know, Layla.” I sigh. “I’ll see you tonight.”
We hang up and I try to leave the guilt in my car. So I’m a terrible maid of honor. So I’m an awful girl-friend. So I can barely keep track of who I’m meeting with next. I swallow the big lump in my throat and blink back the tears — whether from the sense of fail-ure or from exhaustion, I’m not sure.
I paste a big smile on my face and wave at Bethany across the fragrant store. “Hey there!”
Apparently this is what I quit my secretarial job at the adoption agency to be.
I get home at six o’clock and just lean back against my door after walking in. My apartment is immaculate, but that’s because I’ve hardly been home in the past eight weeks of summer. I’ve spent my days waking up, showering, getting dressed, and running out the door to either a staff meeting or meeting with a girl over breakfast or meeting with Rick to convince him not to go to Six Flags this summer.
The man is nothing if not stubborn to an idea.
Layla will be here in fifteen minutes, so I change into yoga pants and an oversized baseball-style T-shirt that was my dad’s. I yank my hair into a long braid down my back, then I check my pantry and de-cide to make some chocolate-chip cookie dough.
It’s doubtful it will become cookies with both Layla and me in the apartment tonight. Cookie dough is like our kryptonite.
I’m just finishing adding the chocolate chips when Layla comes walking into the apartment. Layla is not one for knocking. There have been a couple of times when I’ve accidentally left the door locked and she’s about fallen down my stairs from bouncing off the door so hard.
“So, I have good news and bad news,” she an-nounces, carrying in a paper take-out bag from Panda.
“Bad news first.” I lick some cookie dough off my hand.
“I’m going to start with the good news first.” Layla shakes her head and sets the bag on the kitchen table.
“The good news is that the people at Panda seem to have been extra generous with the orange chicken to-night.”
“That’s not good news for my waistline,” I tell her.
“The bad news is that our girls’ night is about to get crashed so it’s good that we got extra food.”
I look at her questioningly, but I don’t have time to ask because right then there’s a soft knock on the door. I go open it and Tyler stands there, rubbing his hand over the blond five-o’clock shadow on his jaw.
My stomach twists, but it’s not in the butterfly-style that used to be even a few months ago. Now, if anything, I’m just dreading the day he officially ends it. He looks ter-rible. My breath sticks like I swallowed too much gum as a child.
“I’m sorry, Paige,” he says before even telling me hello. “I didn’t realize tonight was girls’ night.”
Already digging a spoon into the cookie dough, Layla moves her hand from her left to her right in one of those weird waves at Tyler from the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” Tyler says again.
I shrug. “It’s fine.” He’s here and I’ve barely seen him all summer so I feel bad just asking him to leave. But Layla obviously needs some best-friend time.
And honestly, if he leaves, he can’t tell me it’s over.
I look at Tyler and nod to the porch. “Let’s just go out here for a minute.” I push him out the door and close it behind me. I pull at my shirt, not necessarily appreciating the fact that I’ve hardly seen him recently and he shows up when I’m in my yoga pants and have my hair in a braid that is quickly loosening, letting pieces of hair fall around my face. He couldn’t happen to come by when I’m dressed cute and have my makeup still intact.
Tyler smiles at me, but it’s not like one of the old Tyler smiles. This one seems forced. Sad. “So, I haven’t seen you in a while.” He rakes a hand through his blond curls.
“I know.” And most of the times we have seen each other have been around youth events. Not necessarily the best place to have a date.
Or a real conversation. Or a real apology about what happened with Luke.
The awkwardness buzzes between us, and if I could just wish us back to that wonderful day at the begin-ning of the summer where he asked me to be his girl-friend at the Dallas Arboretum, I would do it in a heartbeat.
He smiles another sad smile. “Well. I won’t keep you from your time with Layla. Maybe we can get din-ner? Tomorrow night?”
I think through my schedule, and I can’t remember what tomorrow holds. It’s Friday, which has been filled up with events for the youth group, but since we’ve got the backyard barbecue thing next weekend, Rick mercifully let us leave this weekend free.
“I can probably do that.” I nod.
“Really?” A mix of shock and enthusiasm crosses his face, and I’m sad to see how many times I’ve obvi-ously said I was busy.
Maybe most of this weirdness and awkwardness is my fault.
Whatever it is, I miss the old Tyler. The one who called me out on all my crap and was constantly bug-ging me with his happy-go-lucky self. I just don’t know how to tell him that.
And now is obviously not the right time.
Tyler nods like we just decided on a business lunch. “All right then. So, I’ll pick you up at six tomorrow night. Does that sound good?”
I nod because I don’t know what else to do. “See you then.”
He looks at me for half a second and then just nods again and starts back down the stairs. No hug, no kiss on the cheek. No physical contact at all.
I rub my arms, blink back tears, and watch him dis-appear around the corner before going back inside to face Layla, who is already halfway through her orange chicken.
“Sorry,” she says after she swallows. “Lukewarm Panda does not a good meal make. So . . . how’s the Tyler man?”
“Weird.” I pull the bag over and get my two-entrée dinner out. It is pointless to even bother at-tempting to pay Layla back for tonight. I’ll just buy next time we eat out.
“Well. He’s always been a little on the odd side. No offense.”
“Not like that.” I stab my chicken so hard, my plas-tic fork breaks.
Layla watches me, frowning. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. It’s just . . .” I sigh, go get a real fork and knife from my kitchen drawer, and then use them to cut the chicken open so I can dig out the plastic fork tines. “Things are just . . . weird.” I haven’t told Layla about the thing that happened with Luke at the begin-ning of the summer. First because Luke is her brother and second because I’ve just barely seen her.
She shrugs. “With what?”
“Me and Tyler.”
Layla purses her lips. “What did you do?”
“Why do you automatically assume it was my fault?”
“Because Tyler is a saint. And he’s obviously head over heels for you, so anything that happened is con-sequently going to be on your hands.”
“Well. It’s not so obvious anymore.”
“That it’s your fault?”
“No, that he’s head over heels for me.” I think to the zero affection even two minutes ago and bite the inside of my cheek, half debating just telling her about the whole thing with Luke.
Then I look over at her. She’s wearing sweatpants. Her brown curly hair is in a sloppy knot on the top of her head, and she looks exhausted.
No good can come from adding one more thing to Layla’s plate.
So I stay quiet. I’m getting used to the wad harden-ing in my stomach. “Let’s talk about the wedding.”
“Let’s not. I’m wishing we had just eloped now. I cannot understand how there is so much divorce in this country because it seems like the engagement proc-ess would be enough of a struggle for people, the weak ones would be voted out
I did not follow that at all. The more tired Layla gets, the less she makes sense. And she doesn’t start out making a lot of sense to begin with.
“I have seriously cried nine days this week.”
I’m going to assume Layla knows there are only seven days in a week and she’s just making a point.
“About what?” I again feel like a terrible friend. I should have been there. Instead I was comforting other crying
girls, attempting to answer questions about obscure Old Testament references, and trying not to get killed in a game of dodgeball.
She shrugs miserably. “You name it. Whether or not we ordered enough hors d’oeuvres. Whether or not I even still like my wedding dress. Whether or not I like the bridesmaids’ dresses anymore. I mean, is rose even an in color nowadays?” She rubs her forehead, then cups her face in her hands, looking down at the table.
“Layla — ” I start but she cuts me off.
“And Peter and I have been fighting like nonstop lately. I mean nonstop. And when we aren’t fighting with each other, which is rare, we are fighting in other ways because the temptation is so stinking ridiculously hard, Paige.”
I just watch her, not sure of what to say. She’s treading in uncharted waters for me. I mean, my boy-friend hasn’t even held my hand in eight weeks. The closest I’ve ever come to having to avoid that particu-lar temptation was when I was dating Luke and he thought he was going to just spend the night.
I was so shocked that it wasn’t a big deal to send him right back out the door.
This is much different.
Layla is rubbing her temples, looking for all the world like an exhausted little kid, and I’m overcome with compassion for my best friend.
I don’t say anything, but I pull my chair around next to hers and wrap my arms around her shoulders. She lays her head on my shoulder and just sighs. “Tell me we should elope.”
I rub her arm. “You don’t want to elope, Layla.”
“I know.” She’s quiet for a minute. “Tell me I need to get a new dress.”
“You love your dress. It’s perfect for you.”
“I know. And the bridesmaids’ dresses?”
“Also perfect. And rose is definitely an in color. And I don’t know what to say about you and Peter, but you could bring it up in premarital counseling.”
Rick is marrying Peter and Layla, so he’s been meeting with them. They had to take a big break over the summer just because everything with the youth group got so busy, but they are back to meeting again.
“Don’t you ever struggle with this kind of stuff with Tyler?”
I take a breath. “Not really.” You have to be around someone in order to struggle with sexual temp-tation, I would think.
“Oh.” She sighs and straightens, smiling over at me. “I’m glad we are having dinner together.”
I nod. “Me too.”