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She inexplicably needed to spit. The saliva kept filling her mouth faster than she could swallow it. Jackson kept looking over at her from the driver’s seat, smiling nervously.
“It’s not something I said, is it?” he asked. “You’ve gone awful quiet.”
Lief smiled. “Sorry,” she said. All the spit made her slush her s’s. “I’m not really that interesting I guess.” She swallowed hard.
His smile seemed less nervous suddenly. “I doubt that,” he replied.
“What would you like to know?” she asked.
He watched the road a minute. “I’m not even sure where we’re going,” he told her. “I’ve just been kinda driving around.”
Lief watched the road too for a minute, then him. “I’m not really that hungry,” she admitted.
He smiled again. “Me neither,” he replied.
Lief pointed toward the windshield. “Then let’s just keep driving,” she said.
“Alright,” Jackson answered. “By the way, you can change the radio if you want.”
Lief crossed her legs. “Thanks,” she said. “I don’t really like music too much.”
“Really?” he responded. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like music.”
Lief swallowed hard again. Her mouth was still full of saliva.
“I can turn the radio off, if you want,” he told her.
Lief turned to him. He wasn’t smiling anymore. “You’re a musician?” she asked.
He seemed surprised. “What?” he said. “I used to play.”
“In a band?”
He scratched the back of his neck, then quickly returned his hand to the steering wheel. “Yeah, in high school.”
“I’m sorry,” Lief said. She rested her head against the window. “That sounded bitchier than I meant it to.”
He coughed. “I didn’t think it was that.”
She closed her eyes. “I’m ruining this, aren’t I?” she asked. She could feel the car slowing down.
“Of course not,” he protested.
Lief picked her head up and turned toward him.
“I don’t know if I hate music,” she confessed. “I’ve just had some bad luck with musicians in the past.”
Jackson smiled. “I haven’t played in years,” he pledged. “And I was terrible even when I did.”
She smiled. “What was your band’s name?”
Jackson shook his head. “We didn’t have one,” he said. “Well we had like a hundred, but none of them ever stuck.”
Lief touched his shoulder. “I get that,” she told him.
It started to snow faintly. Jackson put on his wipers, but each snowflake was a tiny drop of rain when it hit his windshield.
“So what are the things I’m supposed to tell you on the third date?” Jackson asked. “I’ve told you about my job, my cat, we’ve discussed my horrible high school band.”
Lief laughed. “What did you play?”
He looked away. “Bass,” he replied. He shook his head and smiled. “I know. The shame.”
Lief pushed her hair behind her ears. “Alright,” she said. “Go on. Tell me. What does the handbook say about third dates?”
Jackson took his hands off the steering wheel and held them above his head. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Is it too early for ex-girlfriends?”
Lief nodded. “Way too early,” she said. “Keep your hands on the wheel there, mister.” The snow was getting heavier.
“I have a half-sister,” he offered. “Melanie.”
“Are you close?” Lief asked.
He shrugged. “I guess. Not really,” he told her. “We were the same age, so that was kind of always awkward.”
“What age were you?”
He slowed down. The snow was flopping down and sticking, and the wipers were pushing it into little piles on either side of the windshield. “My parents split when I was seven, and my dad remarried when I was ten. Melanie was in my class before, so it was even weirder.”
“So you knew your sister before she was your sister? That is weird.”
Jackson nodded. “What about you?”
Lief watched the snow. “I have a little brother. Named Glover,” she told him. “He’s fifteen.”
“Is he a punk?” Jackson asked. “I’m just kidding.”
The snow was growing fatter and faster as it fell. “He’s a sweet kid,” Lief said quietly. “A really good kid.” Something made her sit up suddenly. “And fast. He’s such a fast runner.” She swallowed some saliva. “I’ve gone to couple of his track meets. I’ve never seen anybody looks so beautiful when they run.”
“Were you athletic growing up?” Jackson asked.
Lief shook her head. “You know how when people run, they look so miserable? Their faces all red and splotchy? My brother doesn’t run like that. It’s more…graceful.”
Jackson chuckled. “You know, I have no idea where we are,” he said. He leaned in closer to the windshield.
Lief leaned in closer as well. “I do,” she replied. “There’s a state park up ahead. If you take a left at the next light. We could go for a walk there.”
“Are you sure you won’t be cold?” he asked.
Lief shook her head again. “I grew up around here,” she told him.
The snow had only started to collect on the ground, so when they took each step, they could hear the crunching of the dead leaves beneath their feet.
“You grew up around here?” he asked her.
Lief nodded. “I used to come here a lot when I was little. The house I grew up in is on the other side. I could walk here.”
Jackson seemed to be always a step behind her. “Do your parents still live there?” he asked “Around here?”
She stopped to let him catch up. “Nah,” she replied. “We all moved when I was in junior high.”
There was little light in the woods. “There should be a trail around here,” she told him. “I was hardly ever over on this side. There’s kind of a big pond in the middle. You’ll see. I always came in from the other side,” she explained.
“The side by your house,” Jackson said.
She nodded. She was walking carefully. “That trail at the beginning would’ve just taken us all the way around the pond,” she said. “But I could’ve sworn there was another one.”
Jackson laughed. “You’re not going to get us stranded in the woods, are you?” he asked. “You hear about those people on the news.”
Lief laughed, too. “No kidding, right?” she said. “The search teams always have to come and rescue them? I always wonder what kind of idiots go out into the woods in the middle of the winter like that.”
Everything was still and quiet. The saliva in her mouth was stinging cold when she breathed in.
“I know where we are,” she asserted. “At least I know where we’re going.”
They walked for a few more minutes in silence.
“I never really had anything like this near my house growing up,” he said finally. “We had a park, but it was more of a field with some benches and playground equipment on it.”
“That’s more like our town common,” Lief told him.
Jackson put his hands up to his mouth and blew into them. “We did have a herring run by our house, though,” he said. “My dad and I used to go there a lot every spring.”
“Did you fish a lot?” Lief asked. She had gotten ahead of him again, so she stopped and allowed him to catch up.
“No,” he said, and he sounded winded. His breath was a big heavy cloud around his face. “In the springtime, the herring need to swim upstream to fresh water to lay their eggs.”
“I think I’ve heard of this,” Lief said.
“There’s another name for herring,” he said. “I can’t remember what it is.”
“No, no, I know what you’re talking about,” she insisted. “I’ve definitely heard of it.”
“Have you ever seen it?” he asked. She shook her head.
“There are like these steps,” he continued. “And the fish literally jump up out of the water trying to get over the steps.”
“We’re almost there,” Lief told him.
Jackson nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I used to go there with my dad, and we’d just watch them. You’d see them just shoot out of the water straight into the air. These little silver flashes in the air.”
He stopped walking. “I remember asking my dad if he thought I’d be able to catch one. Like, I could just stand right at the edge, with my hands outstretched over the water, waiting, and when one jumped up, just be ready and catch it in my hands.”
Lief turned and looked at him. “What did he say?” she asked. “Your dad?”
Jackson smiled and shook his head. “He said, ‘What would you do if you did catch one?’” he replied. “Like it didn’t matter whether I could do it or not. More like it was whether I should do it.”
Lief smiled. “That’s what I would’ve said,” she told him.
Eventually they reached the pond. Lief sat down on a large rock on the shore. Jackson stood beside her. She could feel the cold stone through her clothes.
“I used to sit on a rock on the other side with my best friend,” Lief said. “We’d gather all the flat stones we could find.”
“I used to skip stones, too,” Jackson said.
Lief laughed. “All of mine sank,” she told him. “I could never do it.”
Jackson turned over some rocks with his boot. “Too bad it’s frozen over,” he said. “I could show you my skills.”
Lief looked out across the pond. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been here before,” she admitted. “I always used to be on the other side. It’s weird to think that this was what I was looking at, all those times I was staring across the pond from my side.”
Jackson was squatting on the ground rifling through stones. He found a nice smooth, flat one and showed it to her. “I’ll save this for when the ice thaws,” he said. “We can come back here in the spring.”
“It’s just funny to think about,” Lief continued.
He laughed. “Is this what the third date is?” he asked. “We talk about our childhoods?”
Lief looked at him. “That’s the second time you’ve said that.”
“What?” he asked.
“That this is our third date,” she replied. “It’s our fourth.”
He looked at his watch for some reason. “What?” he said. “Wait.”
She nodded. “This is our fourth,” she repeated.
“Wait,” he said again. He looked across the pond, then back at her. “You aren’t counting the time at the library, are you?”
She smiled, and closed her eyes. “I count everything,” she told him.
The snow continued to fall.
“You like me, right, Jackson?” she asked.
He sat beside her on the rock. “Sure, I do,” he told her.
“Really?” she asked again. “You sure?”
He nodded. “Of course,” he said.
She closed her eyes again. “This is embarrassing,” she said. “But I just wanted to make sure. Because I like you.”
He smiled. “Yeah?”
She coughed. “Yeah. But I’ve had to spit all night,” she confessed. “I’m having a weird saliva problem. That’s gross. I can’t believe I told you that.”
Jackson rubbed his hands together. “Go ahead,” he said. “I won’t look.” He turned away.
She collected all the saliva she could and in one motion spit it out onto the shore.
“I usually get dry mouth in this situation,” he said, still facing away.
“One more,” she said before spitting again.
He turned back.
“I’m sorry I’m so gross and unladylike,” she said.
He smiled. “No worries.”
She took his hand. “When you were in your band, did you ever write songs about the girls you knew?” she asked him.
He shook his head. “We only did Violent Femmes covers,” he admitted. “I really only know how to play ‘Blister in the Sun’ and ‘Kiss Off’. We didn’t do any originals.”
He nodded. “I’m not much of a writer,” he said.
“Okay,” Lief said. She kissed him softly in the falling snow.
“Okay,” he said, smiling. “Alright.”
Lief smiled. “Today’s my birthday, Jackson.”
“Really?” he said. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I just did,” she replied.
He squeezed her hand. “Well, that’s a big deal,” he told her.
“I know,” she told him. “I only get one every four years.”
They were walking back to the car. The snow hadn’t gotten any heavier, but it hadn’t slowed any either.
“Alright, while we’re confessing things,” Jackson said.
“Oh, shit,” Lief replied. “Here it comes.” She smiled.
He put his hands across his stomach. “I didn’t eat lunch or dinner,” he told her.
“Oh, no!” she cried. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You said you weren’t hungry,” he explained.
She locked her arm in his. “I wasn’t,” she said. “Do you want to stop for something on the way?”
He shook his head. “It’s probably too late,” he told her. “We’re going to see each other again, right?”
“I’d like that,” Lief said.
“We can get dinner then,” he stated. “You’ll owe it to me.”
“It is getting late,” she admitted.
He nodded. “I’ll take you home.”
“I’m having a great time,” she added. “It’s just late.”
Jackson smiled. “It’s okay. It is late.”
“I think we’re almost to the car,” she said.
“Good,” he replied. “I can’t feel my feet.”
“We can’t be that far,” she told him.
“I hope not.”
She squeezed his arm. “We’re not going to be those people who get lost in the woods,” she promised.
It was a slow and careful ride back to her apartment. The roads were slick, and the snow was falling faster than before.
“I don’t really get meteorology,” Lief said. “Was it supposed to be like this?”
Jackson had brought his face close to the windshield. “They have no idea,” he said. “They look at some pictures and guess. You can’t tell what this stuff will do until it does it.”
Lief rested her head against the window. “It sure is pretty, though,” she said.
They kept driving for a while until they reached her house. He pulled into her driveway slowly.
“I’d invite you in,” she told him before he could say anything. “I know the roads are bad. I’d invite you to stay. But we know what would happen.”
He nodded. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not too bad out.”
She touched his arm. “I’d invite you in, I would,” she repeated. “But you know.”
“It’s fine.” He smiled.
“So call me when you get home,” she said. “So I know you’re safe.”
She squeezed his arm. “I had a wonderful time,” she said. “I did.”
They kissed again, softly, quietly.
She watched him drive away from her window. She waved, but it was dark and he probably couldn’t see her. She closed the drapes, and took off her boots. She listened to her messages.
“Hey, Lief! It’s Liz! I just wanted to call you and wish you a happy birthday, for real! Hopefully you’re out having fun! Also, I have an extra ticket to Debasers Sunday night. Tom can’t go, and I wasn’t sure if you wanted to come with. Remember when we saw them play their first gig in the lounge? It’s crazy! Anyway, let me--” Lief hit delete.
“Hey Leapfrog. It’s Glover. I just wanted to remind you that you are now seven. So I’m older than you. Still. Hope you had a good day, little sis.” She hit save.
She sat and watched the snow fall through the space between the drapes. The phone rang.
“It was alewife. That’s the other name for herring.”
She smiled. “I’m sure I didn’t know that,” she said. “Did you look that up as soon as you got home?”
“It came to me as soon as I pulled out of your driveway,” Jackson said.
She pulled her feet under her, and laid back on the couch.
“Why are they called alewives?” she asked.
She listened to his voice crack and cough on the line. “Yeah, I’m not sure,” he said finally.
“Is that all you called about?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “I wanted to tell you that I had a nice time, too. A really great time.”
Lief was silent for a few seconds.
“And that I’m home now,” he continued. “Safely.”
She breathed out. “Good,” she said. “I’m glad to hear it.”
They talked for a few more minutes before saying good night. At some point, the snow turned to rain, and by morning most of it was gone.