When it’s your birthday, you’re expected to bring cupcakes to work with you (I always thought it should be the other way around, but whatever). However, I try to play by the rules. So, consider this portion of chapter 1 of my book These Great Affects like a tray of cupcakes. Enjoy and pick up your copy on Amazon!
Heather told Adelle one day, “When your parents give you the ‘It’s-Not-You-It’s-Us’ talk, text me the code word ‘BAD FISH.’ It’s an acronym of all the bad words. You’ll want to yell them all if this announcement ever happens. Repeatedly. I’ll be here for you to yell them at or text them to.”
“What does the I stand for?” Adelle had asked, clicking through all the bad words in her mind.
“That’s a freebie. It can be interpreted into anything you’d like.”
As Adelle types “BAD FISH” into her phone, she turns the corner onto River Road and meanders down the sidewalk. It takes less than thirty seconds for her phone to chirp, signaling Heather’s urgent call.
Adelle passes a fire hydrant and a street sign as she brings the phone to her ear. From behind her she hears an inflated POP! POP! of tires bouncing onto the curb. She spins her head around and finds her entire line of vision filled with the front bumper of an approaching car. She flinches, throwing her arms up protectively, waiting for the inevitable impact, but the car never makes contact.
At least not with her.
At the sound of metal compacting, Adelle lowers her arms and no longer sees the front of the car. Instead, in its place is a thick veil of mist, spraying Adelle with cold water, which is oddly refreshing in this late July heat. The air around her is filled with deafening static noise like the aftermath of an explosion. It all happens too fast for her to be scared or have any rational thoughts outside of, I’m dead. This is what it’s like to die. It’s…wet.
But when Adelle realizes she still has to breathe in and out in order to stay alive, she knows she’s not dead.
The pieces start falling into place as she looks around. The thick wall of mist is actually water shooting up from the ground and falling back to earth. When her senses start regrouping, she sees that the street sign she just passed has been mercifully spared but the yellow fire hydrant next to it has been smashed completely off its bolts, causing the explosion of water.
Adelle peers through the water to see the car that caused the upheaval. It’s a black Nissan Altima. As she observes the chaos before her, she realizes how close she had just come to dying. Her knees shake and she’s tempted to drop to the ground, but she can’t because the water is already up to her ankles.
As Adelle tries to collect herself, a passerby rushes around the gushing water. He’s soaking wet and excitable. He’s about Adelle’s age, maybe half a foot taller, with long skinny arms and wild hands flying all over the wet air.
He’s yelling something, but it’s inaudible because of the tumultuous water pounding the concrete all around them. Nevertheless, he continues to yell indistinguishably while pushing his wet hair back and bending over to catch his breath as though he has just completed a marathon.
He holds his phone up and begins taking pictures of the crash site. She crosses over to him to see if he’ll help her get the driver out of the vehicle, but the guy holds his finger out to hold her off.
Adelle yells over the thundering water. “Shouldn’t we help the driver?”
The guy leans forward, dripping wet, cups his ear with his hand, and leans toward her. She grunts in frustration and pushes him out of the way, her feet sloshing through the water so she can get to the driver’s door. But it’s already wide open, and there’s no one in the seat. She wonders if the driver ran off.
She turns back toward the guy and points toward the river, away from the downpour. The guy nods and follows her, but not before snapping another picture of the car with his phone, a big grin spread across his face.
They step across the street, away from the accident, rounding a large white pillar that holds up the walking bridge. There they find a bench facing the river. But before she can say anything, the guy speaks up first. “Did you see that?” he asks, as though spotting a deer from the highway.
“Um. I kinda had a front row seat,” Adelle answers lamely. She’s starting to wonder if this guy is the driver, but judging by his misplaced excitement, she doubts it.
“Good! You saw it, so you can testify to the police that I wasn’t drinking or anything. The cops will want your version, not just mine. I’ll need you to back me up.”
“Back you up? From what?” Adelle asks, wondering if she did in fact hit her head.
“From a felony, I don’t know,” the guy says. “I’m sure the car’s totaled. I don’t know what that means as far as a write-up goes. This is my first accident.”
Maybe his tongue is just wet and slippery from the water, but the guy talks incredibly fast, and it takes a moment for Adelle to catch up to what he’s saying. “Wait. You’re the driver? You almost hit me!”
The guy looks at Adelle quizzically, squinting his eyes as though trying to recall her. “Um. I’m not aware of almost running over someone with my car. That’d be kind of hard to miss, wouldn’t you say?”
Perhaps it’s because of her parents’ out-of-the-blue divorce, or because she’s suddenly soaking wet, or because she was just reminded of her frail mortality, but with everything compounded, she erupts like a zit long neglected.
“You’re a BAD FISH! You can’t just almost kill me and then not own up to it. And you certainly shouldn’t ignore me by standing there taking pictures on your stupid phone! At least see if I’m okay, idiot!” She wonders for a brief moment if that should be her freebie, but throws it from her mind.
“Whoa,” he says, putting his hands up. “Did you just call me a ‘bad fish’? What does that even mean? Did I offend you in some other life?”
“Believe me, being offensive would be the least of your crimes,” Adelle says, scathingly.
The water on her sunglasses is drying up against the sun and collecting into obnoxious white droplets obscuring her vision. She pulls them off to clean them with her dress, and she hears the guy catch his breath. Adelle looks up and finds him staring at her.
“What,” she says, “choke on some water?”
He clears his throat and nonchalantly holds his phone up to his face, then lowers it.
“Did you just take a picture of me?” Adelle demands.
“Wait. What?” he says, acting confused. “I just needed to know the time.”
For some reason he looks dumbfounded and it’s annoying her.
A car slows and the driver peers at them and asks if they need assistance. “We’re good,” the guy says, waving the driver on. “We’re good.”
As the vehicle crawls away, Adelle reaches into her purse in an attempt to fish out her phone. But instead of finding it, her fingers grope her pink “Write On” notebook and she discovers that it’s sopping wet.
“Damn it,” she says, pulling it out of her water-balloon purse, dripping it all over her feet.
“Is that your diary?” the guy asks.
“I don’t keep a diary. It’s not 1992.”
“Right. Sorry. Is it your little black book? Only, you’re a girl, so it’s pink. Want to add my number?”
“Yeah, actually. So I can turn you into the police.” She’s looking through the other pockets of her purse as she says this. “Now will you shut up? I’m looking for my phone so I can call the cops for real. You should never be allowed to drive again.”
“That’s kind of harsh.”
Adelle halts, shoving her notebook underneath her arm, and tries to decide if he really just said that. “Dude. You almost killed me. I’d say that’s pretty lenient.” His eyes go wide and he leans forward as if pressing her for more. “Did you seriously not see me?” she asks. “I was right in front of you. No, I take that back, I was on the sidewalk!”
“Yeah, I definitely didn’t see you. It’s hard to concentrate on the road when you’re rearranging your playlist.”
“That’s why I almost got hit? Because you were playing with your stupid music?” Adelle can’t remember when she’s heard her voice sound this upset.
“Hey,” he says, suddenly defensive, “I wasn’t playing, I was rearranging. And besides, Coldplay is not stupid. Coldplay is something to be taken seriously as one of the greatest bands of the twenty-first century.”
“You nearly commit a felony and you’re talking about a stupid band?” Adelle asks, incredulous.
“Again. Not stupid. Because of Coldplay, there is life. Coldplay is baby-making music.” And then he adds with a smirk and an obnoxious wink, “If my iPod still works, I’ll show you what I mean sometime.” He waves another car on without taking his eyes off of her.
Not one to be cowed, Adelle throws her sunglasses back on and says, “Right. I doubt they’ll let you take your iPod with you to jail. And any baby-making will not be with me.”
Remembering she was holding her phone when she almost got hit, she looks toward the geyser and realizes it must be submerged somewhere in the muddy flood.
When Adelle looks back to the guy, he’s holding his own phone out to her. “Here. Use mine.” He’s holding out his wet device for her. “It’s waterproof. Password is ‘J-Law,’ one word, no dash, no spaces. Can you call an ambulance first? I’m a little woozy from the accident. Possible whiplash.” He says this while rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.
“Why are you talking so fast? Are you nervous or something?”
“No, this is how I normally talk. Life’s too short to take your time, and some people have a lot to say, so I talk fast. I click my tongue when I’m nervous.”
She glares hard at him before snatching the phone out of his hand. “Jennifer Lawrence, huh?” she asks coyly.
“Oh, yeah. Big crush. Totally hopeless. If I knew she was going to visit me in jail, I would not complain about being arrested.”
Adelle unlocks his phone with his password. His wallpaper is a picture of a slightly older, chubby guy with a backwards hat posing like an extra from Straight Outta Compton. “Is this your accomplice?”
“Nah, that’s my brother Eric.”
She wouldn’t have asked such a snarky question had she read the caption on the bottom of the screen first: “Rest in peace my friend.”
“He’s dead?” she asks.
“Yeah. Can you call the cops now? I’d rather not tell you my life story at the moment. Unless you’d like to come to my house and I’ll grill you a mean cheese sandwich while we talk.”
The fact that he offered her his phone so she can call the cops assures her that he’s no menace after all. But she wonders if her next move is very smart. She stretches her arm out, offering his phone back. No, she will not be calling the cops on him today. She’ll leave that to someone else.
“Why don’t you hold on to that for me for a while,” he insists. “Borrow it.”
“It’s fine. I’ll go look for mine and get it replaced,” she says, hating that the edge in her voice is dulling. “Besides, I’m sure you need to call your parents so they can pick you up.”
“You think I’m in a hurry to tell them about this?” He waves his hands in front of him as though fending off a threat. “I’ll be taking my time walking home so I can put together a well-rehearsed confession. I’ll be like the prodigal son coming home from his countryside escapades. Except, I doubt my parents will throw me a party and feed me suckling bacon.”
“You’re telling them in person?” Adelle asks, surprised, and kind of impressed.
“Why not? Better than over the phone.”
Adelle laughs, thinking he’s joking. “Right. But at least you wouldn’t be there for the initial shock and outrage.”
“But that’s the best part. That’s the whole point of the Affect.” The guy says this as though speaking of holy things in a church.
“The affect?” Adelle asks, scrunching her brow.
“Yeah. The Affect. Being present on purpose for the benefit of those tomorrow.”
“Present on purpose,” Adelle repeats, wondering if that would make a good slogan for some self-help gimmick. “That’s cool.” But then her tone changes to sarcasm. “I was afraid you’d be all nonsensical or something, so I’m glad you cleared that up.”
He laughs and suddenly he’s not talking at such a whirlwind speed. “What I mean is, yeah, it’s gonna suck when I tell my parents that I totaled their car. But I try to think in terms of tomorrow or next week if I meet new people, I’ll have an awesome story to tell. Or many years from now when I tell my kids about today, which I inevitably will because, let’s face it, today will be pretty hard to forget.” He’s not speaking so fast now. Each word is punctuated with importance and urgency as though delivering sensitive instructions, and he can’t afford to have his listener miss a thing. He crosses one wet leg over the other and continues. “So when I tell them about this, I want to be able to describe the looks on my parents’ faces. That’s the Affect you can’t get over the phone; that’s the Affect that will make this story worth repeating. For the benefit of those tomorrow.”
Adelle doesn’t have a clue how to respond to this except to say, “Gotta do it for the kids, huh.”
He flashes a smile that kind of affects her breathing. His eyes are sparkling blue and alert. They look like they don’t have the ability to show disinterest in anything. His cheeks are soft, but firm anyway. His dark hair is matted against his head, but Adelle can tell that if it were dry it would probably be brown and wavy. He’s wearing gym shorts and a white T-shirt, and she wonders where he was off to. The gym? His arms are skinny, but they’re toned; no strangers to free-weights, she suspects.
Adelle forces herself to look off to the side so as not to stare. Then he says, “Though, now I’m wondering if describing my parents’ faces will even be the big climax of the story.”
“Yeah,” she says, still looking away. “I’m sure your kids will be more impressed about the totaled car and the flooded street.” By this point the water has washed over the entire width of the street. Another car sloshes through the flood and pulls up next to the site. The driver is already on the phone.
“That’s certainly a good aside,” says Trill, “but I was thinking the biggest Affect could be meeting my children’s mother for the first time in the falling sewage water.” Adelle chokes a little and her eyes instinctively dart back to meet his. Thankfully he saves her from having to respond. “Forward, I know,” he continues. “Isn’t life too short to drag things out? But I don’t need to remind you of that, do I, Second Chance Girl?”
Adelle’s mind seems to be on pause and fast-forward at the same time. Either way, nothing in her brain is coherent as she tries to comprehend his words, and it’s not because he’s talking fast again.
“Anyway,” the guy continues, standing up from the bench. “You’ve got my number. Give me a call sometime. And don’t worry about your phone. I’ll fish it out for you. I know a guy who can replace it free of charge.”
“Wait,” she manages as he begins to walk back toward the accident. The other driver is getting out of his car now. Adelle’s voice comes out hoarse. “I have your phone, not your number.”
“Correction: You have my phone, therefore my number.”
“But how would I call you, then?”
“I expect to see several missed calls from my number when I get your phone fixed. My name’s Trill by the way.”
Trill walks away, back toward the flooded street and his smashed up car. Adelle stops him only to say, “‘Prim Forever.’ No spaces. Number 4.”
He raises her phone like he’s toasting and smiles. “Hunger Games. Good taste.” Then he continues on his way.
And that’s how Adelle meets her first love who will not live long enough to tell their story to anyone.