Sitting in the cave, I strum a chord. “You left me/the way you told me you never would.” My voice echoes through the secret hideout, and I silence my guitar quickly, worrying someone might hear. For all my aspirations, I’m still worried about someone eavesdropping. A nod from Daria isn’t exactly a shining star of approval. She’s half-drunk when she comes here sometimes, so I’m not sure I trust what she tells me.
Sighing, I pull another tuft of my hair out of its frizzy ponytail. In this heat, my hair becomes more like an untamable beast than a decorative accessory. I gave up on it a long time ago, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy about that.
I’m about to continue with my song when I hear a noise outside. Paranoid, I jam my guitar and myself behind a hanging curtain. It wafts forwards a little but settles back down quickly. I let out a silent sigh of relief. But then someone steps into my cave. My sanctuary.
“M?” a voice asks, ringing out through the stones. Peter. It’s just Peter. Thank goodness. Clambering out from behind the curtain quietly, I take the opportunity to scare him while his back is turned.
“Boo!” I shriek, putting both hands on his shoulders and jumping. He spins around really fast, and his arms end up around my waist. Carefully, I pull them off, but is it just me, or do I feel a little reluctance? But this is Peter. It’s not Gus. And even though Gus will never notice me, I’ll want him forever and a day.
“Hey, Monty,” Peter says, winking. He’s so able to pretend that these awkward moments never happen. I’m never sure once they’re over whether they meant anything at all.
“Don’t call me ‘Monty,’” I reply, smirking. I wouldn’t mind it so much, except for the fact that my fraternal twin, Montgomery, also gets called by Monty. I figure that if either of us succumbs to the nickname, we’re doomed to a life of getting confused by people who don’t know us.
“Sorry,” he says sheepishly, sitting down. I’m glad my guitar’s hidden from his sight, because I really don’t feel like today’s the day to explain music to Peter. The problem with Peter is that he pays attention after he asks a question. He really cares.
Sometimes, I wish I were best friends with a less considerate person. Ignoring Daria, for example, is a lot easier than trying to be mean to Peter. He means well, and he’s just so perfect. I can’t find a fault about him, and I sometimes have to hate him for it.
When I was five, Peter and I met in a sandbox on the playground. One of the class bullies pulled my hair, and Peter punched her. He was suspended, and I had a new best friend. I wish things were easy like that now. But high school complicates things. Along with Peter himself. I don’t know how much longer we can pretend that these one-sided hugs don’t happen. He’s a gentleman, but someday, he’ll try something. And when he does, I’ll have to say no to the boy I can’t hate.
The curtain behind me drifts up. I scramble over to it, sitting so Peter can’t see the guitar. He tries to change the subject, having noticed but politely (always politely) glossing over the awkward pause in our conversation. It’s not easy like it used to be. There’s less banter and more silence. Life catches up with you.
My phone jingles loudly, Taylor Swift’s voice bouncing around the walls. “We were both young/when I first saw you.” I grapple with it awkwardly until the love song shuts off. I don’t want Peter getting any ungentlemanly ideas. “Hello?” I murmur, my voice sounding more hoarse than I expected. I cough and clear my throat before speaking again. “’Lo?”
I hear some nervous giggles. “He-e-ey,” a voice slurs. “Whatcha up to?” In the background, I think I hear someone say, “Yeah, Monty,” but I’m not sure. I don’t think I want to know what it means. It could just be a reference to me and the fact that I hate that nickname, but I doubt any girl has reason to say it like…well, like that. Montgomery, then, is at the party. And with a girl.
“Daria,” I say, “are you drunk?” It’s phrased like a question, but I’m not sure why I bother asking. I already know she is, so it’s mildly pointless. We just go through these rituals anyways. I will show up at that party with my truck, Daria will hop in and fill me in on the latest gossip, and Montgomery or Peter might be there, both listening quietly. Daria has that effect on people – she leaves them speechless. I wish I was that kind of girl, but I never have been. Never will be. It’s too late to mourn stuff like that. High school is not forever.
In the car, I can almost forget that Peter’s sitting awkwardly in the back seat. I turn on the radio and blast some Taylor Swift, singing along quietly. It’s not really audible. Just for myself. I like the sound of my own voice. I drum along on the steering wheel.
“That’s nice,” Peter says. “Your voice.” My head whirls around, but my eyes are quickly drawn back to the road.
“Oh.” I look straight ahead. He won’t say anything now. He knows how I feel. Don’t blow it, Peter.
“So,” Peter mumbles. “So. What are you doing…when you grow up?”
I let a breath out. I thought he was going to go there for a second. Saved. It was close. “We’re already grown up, Peter. Hate to break it to you. Did you black out during puberty or something?” I laugh.
“That’s not what I meant,” Peter replies quietly. “I’d have to be blind to miss you growing up.” His eyes are boring into the back of my seat, and I have become suddenly very interested in road safety. After a few more seconds, he adds, “It’s just that I was thinking – we think we’re grown up now, and we hear that these are the best years of our lives, but if that’s true, then what about those other seventy or eighty years? What happens next?”
The problem is that I don’t have an answer for him. There is no simple answer to this question. I don’t like thinking philosophically. I don’t like thinking at all. Thinking makes attachments, emotional ones. These are things I prefer to keep in my songs and out of real life.
I can’t speak/but you can listen/and sometimes/I think you can save yourself.
Other times/you’re selfish/and all you want to do/is save me.
Saving me/is the closest you can get/to love/so you do it anyways.
We will be here/forever and a day/but you can never change my mind.
I write these little poems to myself in my head. They’re supposed to be lyrics, but they never come out exactly the way I want. It’s not until later that these little conversations I have with the people right next to me turn into something like a song. It’s not until I have a rhyming dictionary and a guitar that this becomes something else.
“Montana?” Peter’s voice pipes up, breaking my train of thought. “Montana, we’re here?”
“Oh. Yeah.” I turn the engine off.
Peter gets out of the car quickly. He slams the door, always first into the parties. We used to play this game where we’d see who could spot the craziest hookups, but that was a long time ago – before Peter changed his mind about me.
“I love you,” I whisper as he walks away. But I love Peter Harris like a brother. Sometimes, I wish he were my twin instead. We look enough alike, and life would be easier that way for all of us. Yes, Peter and I being related would save us a lot of trouble. Because after this year? In a few months? We will never speak again. Peter will try to contact me once or twice, but I’ll ignore it. He’ll be just another lovesick high school boy, and we’ll all be college kids then.
Inside, I don’t bother saying hello to anyone. The only kinds of people there are the Raes, the popular girls who couldn’t care less about me. Instead, I spend two seconds locating Montgomery – who is, by the way, making out with Jessica Haynes on the sofa – and pulling him away from his current occupation. “Jessica Haynes?” I hiss. She pushed me into the locker yesterday and stole my picks. Guess she doesn’t have such an aversion to my older brother.
High school is so biased. The hierarchy is based off of sex appeal.
Once Peter’s grabbed Daria’s arm and I have Montgomery, we head out to reconvene by my truck. “I’m driving,” Montgomery says. Unlike most people, he never gets drunk at parties. I don’t mind – it saves me the trouble of having to focus on the road. I want to be deep in sleep by the time we get home.
I end up with shotgun, and drunk Daria and Peter sit in the back. As expected, Daria babbles on and on as we cruise down the highway. “I saw Jess Haynes hooking up with Colton,” she blurts suddenly. A little drool comes out of the side of her mouth. “You know, the one with crabs.”
Montgomery whirls around quickly. “Really hooking up?”
Daria nods, her head wobbling. All eyes are on her until Montgomery’s face turns beet red. I save him the trouble of embarrassing himself. “That’s gross,” I blurt, raising my eyebrows at Montgomery. He gives me a grin back. “Thanks,” he mouths.
Peter yells something quite suddenly, and I feel his body pressing against mine. I don’t know how he got out of the back so quickly, but I can hear his voice again. “Montana,” he’s saying. “Montana!” It’s a shout. An urgent one.
Then, I hear the sound of folding. My car is an accordion. I look to my right and left, but I can’t see anyone anymore. Peter is on my lap when the car stops skidding. He’s bleeding from his temple, and he’s unconscious.
The car rests on the side of the highway. I’m afraid to move, afraid to get out. It hurts. “Daria?” I say quietly. “Montgomery?”
When I finally muster up the effort to move, I realize how trapped I am by Peter. He was protecting me. He was saving me again. My lyrics. They seem almost prophetic now. “Saving me/is the closest you can get/to love.” It comes out of my mouth automatically, the notes not varying at all. “Peter,” I say. “Peter.”
There’s no answer.
“Peter.” I don’t panic. I’m trying not to. “Peter!” I poke him. “PETER.”
When he doesn’t move, I start shaking, and tears run down my face. But I don’t make a sound.
I don’t know how much longer it is that I sit there, but the ambulances arrive at some point. I’m suddenly out of the car, wrapped in a space blanket or something. I watch as it picks up the bright flashing lights of the emergency vehicles.
There are people crowded around the car. Daria – drunken, beloved Daria – passed out from alcohol consumption. But she’s okay. Daria is okay.
It’s Peter that worries them the most, as far as I can tell. They rush around, trying to pry open the back doors so someone can push his feet through. He’s all twisted out of shape from protecting me. I tried to tell them what happened, but I couldn’t speak.
Daria and Montgomery aren’t topics of conversation. It is Peter, Peter, Peter for hours. I am sitting there, shivering – though not from the cold.
After a while longer, they roll out a table with a bag on it. I instinctively don’t like this bag. I can’t see through it, and it is shaped like a person might be shaped. I try to forget the bag.
The bag is wheeled over to the car. Finally, with some effort, the medics extricate a body. I hear the finality of the zipping. There is someone I knew in that bag. And someone I will never know again.
The zipping pauses, and then the cart-table is wheeled over to me. “Miss,” a medic says, “we need you to identify the body.” Oh god, they’re not doing this to me. Please don’t make me do this. I open my eyes a little bit. I can’t cry.
Montgomery’s hair is tousled as usual, but his eyes are unblinking. His face is still contorted into the smile he gave me when I saved him. I saved him. But I killed him. Someone killed my brother.
Montgomery is dead.
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