Nick let Katie sit next to him on the bench seat, straddling the gear-shift, because he thought he loved her and because it drove him crazy to rest his arm against the skin of her thigh as he switched gears. Of course, he didn’t love her. Nick loved Katie’s best friend Megan, though he didn’t know it at the time. Megan sat against the truck’s passenger door quietly looking out the window and counting mile markers. Nick had asked Katie to go to Asheville with him to see a movie; she said yes but wouldn’t go without Megan. Neither Katie nor Megan loved Nick, but they liked him and he had a truck.
Nick didn’t say anything as he watched Katie and Megan hugging each other. The girls cried, each wetting the other’s shoulders and hair with tears. Katie was leaving, moving from their home in North Carolina to live with her Dad in Minnesota. They said their goodbyes, and when it was Nick’s turn he hugged her; he never did kiss Katie (“I just don’t like you like that way,” she had once said). Nick promised to email her, and she promised the same. Neither of them ever did.
“Your almost 18, right?” Tod said.
“Yeah,” Nick said. He was standing just inside the door of Megan’s single-wide trailer, waiting for her to finish getting ready.
Tod, Megan’s step-dad, looked at Nick from his seat on the couch. “Tell you what, get yourself to a titty-bar on your birthday and you won’t be following these little girls around anymore.”
Nick tried to laugh.
Megan stepped out of the bathroom, and as she passed, Tod slapped her on the rear end.
“Keep your fucking hands off me,” she said.
Tod coughed a laugh and it sounded to Nick as though he were choking on gravel.
“Bitch,” Tod said.
Megan took Nick’s hand and pulled him out the door. “Fucking meth head,” she said as she pulled the door shut.
Nick tried not to cut Megan as he shaved her legs.
It was Friday night and the two of them had been watching a movie in her bedroom when she said, “Let me shave your face.”
Nick hadn’t gotten used to shaving yet nor did he need to. A soft and blonde scruff grew in light patches in front of his ears and on his chin.
“Only if you’ll let me shave your legs,” he’d said.
“Okay, below the knees.”
Nick hadn’t thought she’d say yes.
Megan went first and only cut him in one place where a pimple had been.
When it came to Megan’s turn to endure the razor, she sat on the edge of the tub, her soft athletic shorts pulled up high to her hips. She held the hosed showerhead in her left hand as Nick sat on his knees. He leaned into the tub to glide the razor along her shins and calves, moving slowly and taking her directions. Megan held her hair back, but a few errant strands hung down to tickle his cheek; he could see their chestnut-brown in the corner of his eye.
When Nick finished he ran his hand over her legs as she sprayed them clean–smooth, no cuts.
“I think I love you,” Megan said.
“I love you too,” Nick said.
“I’m 16 now,” Megan said. “I don’t have to put up with this school shit anymore.”
“Megan, you can’t quit.”
“No. I’m done talking about this. I’m just done. With everything.”
“What about us–are you done with us, too?” Nick said.
Megan didn’t respond.
“No, dumbass. We’re never done.”
Megan had fallen asleep next to Nick. She had quit school but she didn’t mind making sandwiches, so she kept her job at subway and went full-time; and she needed the money. After getting off work late she had gone straight to Nick’s house instead of home. Nick watched her sleep.
He needed to get up for school in the morning and he knew he would be tired. He also knew his mom would have a fit when she got home from work in the morning to find Megan there. But he wouldn’t move Megan nor wake her. He ran his thumb lightly over her left eyebrow and it twitched at his touch. There was a freckle there that stood out darkly from the rest. Nick kissed it, lay his head next to hers and fell asleep.
“You’re going?” Megan said.
“I got accepted. I have to go. I mean, I want to.”
“Dammit, Nick.” She wanted to cry but didn’t.
“I’ll still see you over breaks. And I’ll call you–every night.”
“It’s not the same. I thought you loved me.”
“I love you.”
She rested her head against his chest, but she didn’t cry.
Nick drove around all day–Megan’s house, Subway, her friends. He called, too, but he couldn’t get ahold of Megan. He would learn later from one of her friends that Megan refused to tell him goodbye or to hear him say it. “That’s what she said anyway,” her friend had said.
Nick had just gotten to his dorm room when his cell rang:
-Hey, baby, this is Mom.
-I know. Hey. What’s up?
-Honey, are you alone?
-Mom, just say it. What?
-It’s Megan, baby.
-Megan has died, baby.
-Baby, I’m so sorry.
-Oh, God. Oh. I.
-I don’t. I mean. No. I don’t know what to do.
-Do you need me to come there, honey?
-Well, I can drive.
-No. Fuck. Oh God, I’m sorry, Mom. I just. I can’t. How? How’d it happen?
-Overdose, I heard. Meth is what people are saying.
-I’m so sorry, baby. Do you need me to come over there?
Nick was sure Megan’s death was Tod’s fault. Tod was the meth head. That’s what she was always saying. Nick was certain that, had it not been for Tod, Megan never would have touched the stuff. He was also certain that, had he never left she would still be alive. Those were his thoughts as he walked through the door of the single-wide trailer with the revolver in his hand. Nick had only been four years old when his father passed away. He wasn’t sure his dad had meant for him to have the gun, but that’s what his mother had told him when she gifted it to him on his graduation day. “You be careful with that now,” she had said.
When Nick stepped through the trailer’s door he saw Tod where he had expected to see him–the couch. Tod was too drunk or stoned or both to move, but he looked to Nick through half-lidded eyes.
Nick pointed the gun.
“You come to kill me with that gun?”
Nick gripped the gun tight.
Nick lowered the gun.
“What you going to do there?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said.
Nick stepped out the door.
No one had put up enough money to buy Megan a proper headstone, so the place was marked with a flat, polished stone the size of a license plate. Nick sat in front of it, and then he lay down to rest his cheek against her meager headstone. It was cold against his face. When it grew warm from the heat of his body and tears, he left. Nick would return again next March.