“Look, I know neither of us want to be here right now,” I say, “but maybe we can make the best of it.”
Kyler scoffs. His tied back hair knocks against the headrest of my 2004 Volvo. In the poor lighting of spaced out street lamps, his jaw stands out against the shadows. His hair looks darker than it’s normal honey blonde. His eyes are holes in his head, no colored iris, so I can’t tell how upset he really is. Though, I wouldn’t blame him for being furious. Who really wants to spend Christmas Eve with their ex-boyfriend’s sister.
I think back to seeing Kyler’s car on the side of the road. I could have kept driving, slipping more like it, and pretended I didn’t know anyone who drove a Red Ford. But, what were the odds? I’m too nice, really. I should work on being more harsh, selfish, or at least a little less selfless. Maybe I will make that my new years resolution, I think in the silence Kyler has allowed to pass.
“I’m still glad you stopped,” he finally says as if he could read my mind, “Someone else probably would have hit me sitting on the side of the road like that.”
I nod. Though, Jamie will probably wish I had let Kyler get hit. “The cheating bastard” he’ll call him, and a few worse names I can’t bring myself to repeat. Like I said, too nice.
Kyler’s Bemidji State sweater is covered in frost and snow from the few minutes he spent outside moving duffels and laundry bags from his trunk to mine. It was a tight squeeze. I felt the car convulse as he tried to slam the trunk twice without success. On the third try it latched. Half my own dorm room closet was already packed into the backseat and the trunk. Mom said to bring home laundry, and I listened. Evidently, Kyler’s mother told him the same thing.
“How was first semester? I don’t think I’ve seen you since August?”
“Fine,” he says. God please keep talking. We’re still forty miles from our hometown: Waukesha. “My roommates a bookworm, so he won’t go out with me or anything. But a guy the next hall over has good weed.”
I try to think of anything that can compare to Kyler’s experience. I go to University of Minnesota. It’s a Big Ten School, so I should be partying, but in truth I spent my first semester with a few girl friends I got close to. I live in a single. I have a 4.0 and I ordered Insomnia cookies a dozen times in sixteen weeks.
“I love it,” I say, even though that may be a lie, “I have a few close friends and we hang out a lot,” at the library, “football season was cool.” Another almost lie. I went to one game. I didn’t have a bad time, but I’m not sure one game gives me the authority to call the season ‘cool’.
Kyler nods and we move forward ever so slowly. Leave it to Wisconsin and Minnesota to fall into a blizzard on Christmas. We would have been better off dog sledding our way across the state. He stays quiet. Maybe that’s not because it’s an awkward situation, maybe it’s because Kyler is a quiet person. Did he used to be quiet? Dating Jamie Senior year of high school, spending hours in our living room over a game of Risk or volleyball in the backyard; was he quiet?
Kyler’s hair was shorter then, it’s grown at least four inches. He’s gained a little weight, who hasn’t, but he looks more like a man now than he did in August. I doubt he’s seen Jamie. I’ve barley seen my own twin brother. Jamie stayed in Wisconsin. Enrolled at UW and decided to major in Journalism. Now, every time I call him he’s talking about a new guy. I can’t tell Jamie that, but I wonder if he wants to ask.
“He’s doing okay,” I decide to take the chance and say it. Kyler doesn’t respond, again. “Jamie,” I clarify.
“Have you,” I pause, “talked?”
How do I follow that up? Was it a mistake. I can’t tell. I’m spared from imediate response because the exit is coming up, so I maneuver through two lanes of slow-driving cars and slide down the off ramp towards Waukesha. The GPS always mispronounces the town name like it’s a pop singer gone wrong.
The car rolls to a stop light and I pray all the cars behind me can stop too.
The light turns green. No crash.
“I had a girlfriend for a little while this semester, actually,” Kyler says.
“Oh,” now it’s my turn to be silent.
“Yeah, we got along really well and she’s pretty, so I thought hell, why not,” he chuckles, “No disrespect for Jamie, or anything, I think I still like guys too,” Kyler says, “why not try it all though, right?”
“I haven’t thought about it much.”
“We broke up, though, chemistry was fine, but she older and studying abroad next semester. I guess she wants to hook up with guys in Greece, or whatever, and who can blame her. I would want to do that too.”
Kyler’s life is very different than mine. It didn’t used to be. We used to eat lunch at the same Deli on Saturdays and be each other’s partners when Jamie wanted to go it alone in Euchre. I watch as he smiles sweetly and think maybe not too much has changed. We used to be friends, and I used to be sad that Kyler was gay.
“You’re doing better than me,” I say unsure of why I feel awkward, “still haven’t had a boyfriend.”
“Can’t understand why,” he says, and his phone lights up. It’s his mom, making sure that we’re okay, close to home. We are.
“Me neither,” I say and watch his smile, jaw, pretty hair, glowing in the light of his phone.
County Road B winds around the corner of a dead soybean field, and I can see the lights of our town. Waukesha is a suburb of Milwaukee, so somewhere dozens of miles ahead of us is Lake Michigan and the obvious, brightly lighted skyline of the city. Waukesha’s skyline is a few McDonalds, gas stations, and a trampoline park that is always busy.
“How long are you home?” He asks.
“Three, long weeks,” I say, “It won’t actually be that bad, I don’t think. I just liked the independence, and now dad is going to ask me to take the trash out. You?”
“The same. That’s good to know, seeing as I might need a ride sometime,” he laughs. Yeah, Kyler won’t be getting very far without his car. I watch from my peripheral vision as he takes down his hair and ties it back again. My own ponytail presses against the crown of my head.
Kyler’s house is in the subdivision next to ours, so I turn early into Woodburn instead of Fieldcrest to my house. They all look the same, but Kyler’s house looks like Kyler’s house. It’s not vinyl siding number one, or house with the big basketball court. It’s the house I had my first drink in. It’s the house I rode bikes to with Jamie. It’s the house I cut my finger on a shard of glass helping wash up after dinner.
When Kyler has all his bags out of the trunk and his mother has thanked me for the third time, apparently she doesn’t care whose sister I am, we are alone in the driveway.
“Thanks, really Mackenzie,” he says.
“You too,” and he hugs me. We never were very touchy, but I can see why Jamie loved him so much. As he walks away I think about wether or not to tell the family why I’m later than planed.
The snow, I’ll probably blame the snow.