Tuesday, December 21st
I didn’t come to this bonfire party to drink beer or have fun. I came for one reason and one reason only. I’m looking for someone. A specific someone. Someone who has four initials: OCMC. I imagine the “OC” is probably a super Southern double name. This isn’t exactly a lot of information to go on, but I don’t really have a choice. I have to figure out who OCMC is, and I need to do it soon so I can finally clear things up and set the record straight.
Margot has no clue why I wanted to tag along to the party tonight. I’m sure she hates having her awkward younger cousin here. But she couldn’t say no. She pities me like everybody else does. Margot had one condition for me coming tonight: she insisted on “dressing me” so I wouldn’t embarrass her with my normal athleisure style. That’s how I ended up standing on this red park bench in heeled black ankle booties instead of my usual Chucks.
I scan the crowd and see a group of local teens drinking and laughing. All of them are wearing happy, festive Santa hats or sparkly headbands. Scanning this crowd kind of makes me miss being a normal seventeen-year-old.
I’m not sure exactly what it is I’m looking for. I guess I’m hoping to spot a girl who looks like she has the initials OCMC. Maybe she’ll be wearing one of those prissy monogrammed fleeces. Or maybe she’ll have on a number eight football jersey. It’s not impossible. After all, she was in love with my brother, Whit, the infamous number eight.
I continue to scan the crowd, but I’ve yet to spot someone with OCMC tattooed on her forehead. Margot’s heeled boots are starting to murder my feet, so I take a break to sit on the bench. I run my fingers on the red metal weave pattern of the bench and realize I’m having a Proustian moment.
One silver lining to this shitty situation is I now know words like “Proustian.” Since I spent all my waking hours reading about brain trauma after the accident, I learned about Marcel Proust. Proust wrote about how tiny things, like a red bench, can trigger big memories. In my case, this bench is bringing me right back to my first kiss.
Riley, my best friend back home in Nashville, says the kiss doesn’t count. I only grazed lips with the boy, and I didn’t even learn his last name. Plus, I haven’t seen him in the four years since the kiss happened. All these facts add up to a “non-kiss” in Riley’s book.
Anytime we talk about my pathetic love life, Riley loves to bring it up. “You’ve basically never been kissed,” Riley always says. “You can’t say Violin Jack was your first kiss. It doesn’t count if there’s no tongue, you know.” Riley coined the term “Violin Jack” when we were thirteen and I proudly told her the story of my first kiss.
I was here in Black Mountain, NC for summer vacation and was taking a walk around this very park when I heard the Doctor Who theme song floating through the summer air. I turned around and spotted a boy around my age, sitting on one of the red benches lining the park. He was strumming out the bum-bum-bum-bums of the Doctor Who theme on a violin. I didn’t have enough courage to strike up a conversation with a random boy (I still don’t), but he was playing the violin (not an intimidating instrument) and was clearly a Doctor Who fan, my all-time favorite show. Riley and I binge it any time it rains. I managed to eke out an awkward hello, followed by a compliment about his playing. We started chatting and walking through the park.
His name was Jack, he was tall and skinny like a beanpole, and had an Elvis Presley keychain dangling from his violin case. When I told him I needed to get home, he leaned in and kissed me lightly and sweetly on the lips before turning away in embarrassment.
I never saw Jack again, and never learned his last name. But the legend of Violin Jack and my Doctor Who-inspired first kiss lives on in infamy.
My Proustian moment passes, but the aching in my feet doesn’t. I’m going to have to push through this pain though because I have only two weeks left in Black Mountain and I can’t leave this town without finding OCMC.
I can’t go back to Nashville until I figure out what secret Whit was keeping from me. I stand up on the bench and start scanning the crowd again, even more determined this time.
I spot two pretty girls draped over an effortlessly cool boy playing a guitar. Both girls are wearing way too much makeup. I can tell they’d be pretty even without the piles of clumpy mascara. I say a quiet prayer neither of them turn out to be OCMC. They have cigarettes dangling from their cotton-candy-pink-glossed lips, and they’re wearing tops that show off their ample fake tanned cleavage.
Margot always says “all townie girls are skanks” in Black Mountain. I’ve told her that’s wrong on multiple levels, but these two girls aren’t exactly helping my argument.
One of the townie girls is sitting on Guitar Guy’s knee, and the other has her hands draped over his muscular back. His head is down, and his long, shaggy black hair is hanging over his eyes. He’s big, built, and looks more like somebody I would expect to see on Whit’s football team than playing an instrument.
For a boy who has fawning girls with their hands all over him, he sure plays the guitar well. He’s strumming out “Jingle Bells” but he’s adding Johnny Cash vibes to the tune.
Guitar Guy looks up as he sings “ho, ho, ho” and our gazes meet.
I stare, and he stares back.
I hold his gaze for a moment longer before I realize he’s Violin Jack.
I look down at my throbbing feet and hope he doesn’t recognize me. I’m painfully aware the first boy I ever kissed morphed from a skinny beanpole music nerd into a full-on muscle-bound, bad-boy heartthrob. On the other hand, I’m standing awkwardly on a bench in a borrowed outfit that doesn’t fit me, probably looking as cringey as I feel.
Violin Jack has grown up, and I’ve faded into a shriveled brown weed.
I step off the bench, keeping my head down, praying he isn't still looking at me. I find my way back to Margot and her circle of townie friends. I must look as shaken as I feel because Margot actually checks in. “You cool? You look like you’re going to like…hurl.”
“I’m cool,” I lie. “Hey, do you know that boy over there with the guitar?” I point at Violin Jack, trying to sound nonchalant.
Margot looks at him then wrinkles her nose. “That’s Jack. Total townie freak,” she says.
The boy with his arm draped around Margot echoes her opinion. “Don’t mess with that guy. He’s a shit show.”
Despite the warning, I still consider approaching the little guitar circle. But when I play it out in my head, the whole thing feels comical. What exactly would I say to Violin Jack and his girlfriends? I’ve barely talked to another human besides Riley in weeks. Do I really think I could march up to some strangers and ask if any of them ever boned my brother? Suddenly, why I’m here feels utterly pathetic.
I turn on the uncomfortable wedge boots and start walking back toward my gran’s mountain cottage. I walk as fast as Margot’s expensive shoes will carry me. I don’t even bother telling her I’m leaving. I doubt she’ll care. She seems right at home among the other effortlessly smooth and normal teenagers.
I am about a block from the bonfire party when I hear heavy footsteps behind me. It occurs to me that nobody knows my whereabouts. It’s dark and I’m alone.
My parents couldn’t possibly survive more bad news. My mind darts to where it always does lately: if the owner of the heavy footsteps murders me, what would be the last text my parents find on my phone?
I think. Probably me to Riley: Say a lil’ prayer I find OCMC tonight.
I’m ready to start sprinting to safety when I hear a deep, gravelly voice. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
I stop and turn. Violin Jack. In the flesh. Standing a mere five yards away. He’s wearing a white t-shirt, leather jacket, and old torn-up jeans. His guitar strap is hanging coolly over his shoulder amidst his long black hair. He has a cigarette perched between his lush lips. When I describe him to Riley later tonight, I imagine using words like “chiseled” and “cowboy.” I am too paralyzed to answer him.
He shouts again. “Hey, you. I think I know you.”
“No, you don’t,” I squeak out and then I keep walking because I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than this moment. But I’m wrong. It gets worse.
“I really feel like I know you. But I can’t remember your name,” he shouts.
It’s at this exact moment I feel the weight of the past few weeks hit me. All the changes I hate and can’t control run through my mind. Everything I once knew to be true has crumbled around me. If everything has changed, why am I still clinging to my life as the quiet girl in the shadows? What the hell do I have to lose?
I snap. “Are you frickin’ kidding me? Are you for real?” I scream and gesture erratically with my arms, and I’m sure I look as unhinged as I feel. “This is the absolute cherry on top of the world’s shittiest Christmas vacation. The first boy I ever kissed doesn’t even remember my name. That’s great. Just great. Literally, I can’t think of anything better.”
“Well, then why don’t you tell me your name, sweetheart?” He has a self-assured smile, bordered by uneven dimples.
“Sweetheart? You really just called me sweetheart?” I shout. “You’re disgusting.”
He ignores my insult. “You came to the party with Margot, right?” He remains calm and collected, clearly ignoring the fire that’s visibly building inside me.
“So you remember my cousin’s name, but not mine. That adds up,” I say. My back is to him, and I start walking away.
“Does your snobby-ass cousin know you go around kissing townies?” he asks, smirking.
“Do your townie girlfriends know you’re a classically trained violinist?” I smirk.
He laughs and says, “I like you.”
I take a deep breath and try to calm down, to return to normal Avery. “Please stop following me.” But he doesn’t budge, so I add, “The last thing I need right now is the biggest asshole in Black Mountain following me home. Go back to your bonfire, Jack.”
I keep walking and hear him behind me. He picks up the pace until he’s close enough to whisper, “Your name is Avery. You were my first kiss too.” I turn to see his smarmy grin gone, and he looks sincere for a short moment. “I don’t know why I pretended to forget your name. I default to being a dick when I don’t know what to say. It’s dumb and I’m sorry. I remembered you as soon as you walked up to the bonfire.” The smugness is gone. He looks so real and genuine I can actually see the kind violin player I was so smitten with at age thirteen hiding beneath his bad-boy exterior. “Let me make it up to you. Go out with me this week.” And the cockiness has officially returned.
I’m completely uninterested in Jack. For one, he’s clearly a jerk, and for another, the last thing I need to do is add another worry to my parents’ plates.
I’m not the same girl I was a few weeks ago when I actually begged my parents to let me go on a date with Henry Warden. That version of Avery feels a million miles away, and the girl standing in front of Jack couldn’t be less interested in boys or dating. But I did come to this party for a reason, and Jack might be the perfect person to help me find OCMC.
“There is absolutely no way I’d ever go out with you, but there is something you can do to make it up to me,” I say.
“All right, girl. Whatcha got for me?” His two asymmetrical little dimples start forming on each cheek again.
“I am looking for somebody who I think probably lives in Black Mountain,” I explain.
“Do I have competition?” he asks.
“No, I’m looking for a girl,” I answer. “Not a girl for me,” I clarify anticipating his thought process.
“You’ve come to the right person. I know plenty of girls,” Jack says with annoyingly confident bravado.
“So charming,” I say sarcastically.
“That’s what the girls think.” Jack pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket. He lights one up and then holds the pack out to me.
“Gross. That’ll kill you,” I tell him.
“Only the good die young, Avery.” Jack’s holding the cigarette balanced between his lips.
“Won’t argue with you on that,” I say as I grab the cigarette, throw it on the ground, and stomp on it. “I need you to pay attention.”
“Listening, your honor.” Jack stands at attention and gives me a cheeky little salute.
“I’m looking for a girl who has the initials OCMC. If I had to guess I’d say she is a senior, but I don’t know for sure. Do you know anybody with a double first name? Or maybe a hyphenated last name who has these initials?”
He tilts his head and seems to be thinking. “Sorry. I can’t think of anybody. Guess I can’t help you with this, but I still want to make up for being a dick, so you’ll have to go out with me.”
“I’m not interested in that option,” I state firmly. “I really need you to think about this. It’s important that I find this girl while I’m in Black Mountain for Christmas break.”
“And why’s that?”
“She was my brother’s girlfriend and I need to give her a message.” I try to keep the details minimal until I get a better feel for Jack.
“So, darlin’, why don’t you ask your brother her name?”
This is when it hits me why Jack is calling me sweetheart and darlin’, and trying to get me to go out with him. He doesn’t know I’m damaged goods. He thinks I’m still the cute innocent girl he kissed a few summers ago.
Even though I’m holding firm to my no-boyfriend stance, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to have a boy look at me like he is right now. I make a quick decision to tell a little white lie.
“Well, if you must know, my brother is a big deal football player and is at an elite training camp for the winter break. The trainers won’t let them have phones. At all. I can’t talk to him.” I rattle off the first ridiculous explanation that pops into my head, but Jack seems to buy it.
I need to know I can trust him before I tell him what really happened two months ago.
Two months ago
“Big day today, Avery Jane,” my mom greets me as I come down the back stairs to the kitchen. “We need to talk logistics after you eat your cereal.” She puts an extra emphasis on the word cereal to drive home the point she disapproves of my diet. Mom is preparing Whit’s game day breakfast: a protein shake, oatmeal, and three eggs. As she arranges everything on his plate, she uses a bright pink highlighter and crosses each item off the meal calendar from Whit’s personal nutritionist.
I mumble a greeting under my breath, pour myself a bowl of Cheerios (that is as unhealthy as food gets in the Walker household), and plop down on the barstool next to my brother Whit, who is already wearing his Warner Prep Academy football jersey.
Basically, every girl at WPA, and several boys, are in love with Whit. I don’t get it, and I’m not saying that because I’m his little sister.
He’s large in a way that makes everybody around him look like Fisher-Price Little People. Plus, he has these annoying brown bangs that swoosh over his forehead, and never stay in place. As he eats breakfast he takes a bite, fixes his bangs, takes a bite, fixes his bangs, and I want to dump a bottle of gel on his head.
The ogre stature and bangs don’t seem to bother the rest of the female population at WPA.
In my family, my brother Whit is the star. Mostly, I exist as a supporting character in his exciting story. This might sound sad, but it’s really not. Anybody who’s lived around a leading man like Whit knows being a wallflower requires a whole lot less pressure. I’m genuinely happy living in the shade of Whit’s bright light. It’s where I’m most comfortable.
“I can’t believe it. I really truly can’t even wrap my head around it,” Mom is mumbling to nobody in particular.
My dad comes down the back stairs, joining the family breakfast.
“Big game today, sport,” he says as he slaps my brother on the back. Dad is a mild-mannered accountant at an HR firm. He lives for chances to use corny dad phrases like “big game today, sport.”
Very well written and you…
Very well written and you write with a unique style. Fast paced. I was gripped from the start. I love how you drop feed through back story keeping me clamouring for more. Love the flash backs. Very impressed with this submission.
You've pulled me into Avery's life: relationships, desires, fears, and more.
Well written and intriguing
I really enjoyed the writing style and pace of this. Your story has me intrigued! Well done!
You had me from the start!
I love your writing style and how you grabbed my attention right from the start, eager to keep reading and see what happens next. Great job!