But Not Tonight

            I haven’t felt so alive in years. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt this alive.
            Sure, maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m seventeen. Or the fact that this might actually be the last night I ever spend in Asheville, North Carolina. Maybe the reality of moving to Chicago next week has already hit me. Maybe I’m simply loving life because I’m finally leaving Madison High School. A place where I’ve been treated like a leper.
            Yeah. Maybe it’s all that.
            Or maybe it’s just because I’m in the living room of a beautiful girl I met twenty-four hours ago, and it’s completely obvious that she’s totally into me.
            I’m delirious, of course. I think I’m channeling my best friend’s bravado, the kind he’s had ever since I met him in sixth grade. When you’re naturally athletic (I’m not), and can tan as easily as breathing in the summer air, and as confident as Rob Lowe in St. Elmo’s Fire, then yeah, I guess meeting girls and getting their phone numbers is nothing. But this is me. This is the guy who took forever to admit he loved her. 
            And yeah, look what that got me.
            “I’m glad you guys came over.”
            Diane is the sort of girl guys notice when she walks past. I did. At the theater when James and I were hanging out wasting time. James noticed her first, but she seemed to notice me second. James then told me to get her number, and I thought to myself, why not? I’m moving next week what’s the worst that can happen?
            It’s a Saturday night and this is definitely not the worst thing that could happen.
            “I’m glad your parents aren’t here,” I tell her.
            “My father is pretty strict.”
            I don’t hear the comment because I don’t care. The new Trav doesn’t care. The new Trav is going to change. He’s not going to be shy and he’s not going to worry and he’s not going to get all touchy-feely-worrying and wondering about everything.
            I swallow and feel my heart beating.
            Yeah, right.
            “He’d kill me if he knew I invited boys over.”
            The way Diane says “boys” makes me wonder who she’s talking about. Not really, ‘cause I know it’s me, but the way she says it sounds like she’s talking about a ten-year-old. Look, I’m a junior in high school and she’s a sophomore. I’ve almost graduated.
            I’m the mature one here.
            I hear laughter coming from the kitchen. James is talking to Diane’s friend, Sam, and I know that if he has fifteen minutes or so, he might end up hooking up. I might need an hour and a showing of Top Gun. Also, I’ll probably need to add some Madonna slow songs. And also might need to drug her with some kind of magical potion.
            “You want to go outside on the deck?” she asks.
            I nod but suddenly feel like Travis again. I feel weird. I feel stupid for being here and wonder what in the world I’m doing. Maybe I’ll just tell her the truth about my situation, and why in a moment of insanity I actually asked for her phone number last night.
            Well, my father got a new job for a publishing company in Chicago.
            I could tell her this so maybe she’d understand.
            So we’re moving next week and I’m driving up there with my Mom so I have nothing to lost being here.
            It’s not quite romantic and it’s not really promising but maybe she’ll dig the whole “Here today, gone tomorrow” thing.
            I was going to Madison High School where about 98% of the people hated me there.
            Yeah, she would understand my plight since she goes to a cool Asheville high school.
            I had a girlfriend but I just broke up with her since I know exactly what moving means.
            Okay, maybe I won’t share this. I won’t because I’m still feeling a little bad and a lot burned by that whole thing. I just want to forget. I didn’t want to say goodbye AGAIN because saying goodbye is a little like watching someone die. It’s the same thing. The same thing over and over again.
            This is going to be my ninth school I’ll be going too. My ninth school in eleven grades. I mean, that’s not cool. Nothing about that is cool.
            I’m going to Madison because I got expelled from Ben Lippen High School.
            Oh, yeah, I’m definitely not telling Diane this. She’ll think I’m crazy for sneaking in the girl’s dorm at a boarding school. And she won’t understand it. She won’t know everything that happened, before and after.
            My father still wants to kill me for that. Thankfully, he’s busy with his new job up north.
            “Are you always this quiet?” Diane asks me.
            The moon peeks in through the tree branches above us. The October air is cool but it hasn’t gotten super cold yet.
            “No. Not always.”
            I’m still that same shy kid I’ve always been. So much better when I’m staring at an empty page rather than a really cute girl.  
            I want to change and need to change and better change when I move to Chicago.
            “You can come closer,” she says.
            Well, Diane certainly isn’t shy. The look she gives me isn’t shy, and the way she invites me over isn’t shy either.
            I start to sweat and then think of what she said about her father. I bet James is in the kitchen making out with Diane’s friend.
            “I think you’re cute.”
            Normally, if a girl told me this, I’d feel good and smile and be like “yeah”. But right now, I just want to be a turtle and pull my head back in its shell.
            “You’re cute when you’re nervous,” Diane says as she takes my hand and pulls me near to her.
            I can do this. I can be someone else. I can be the confident man and can take her in my arms and can kiss her and can act like this is some awesome, epic John Hughes film.
            I can but I don’t really want to.
            “What are you afraid of?” she asks.
            “I’m moving next week.”
            Uh, hello, why’d you tell her that?
            She doesn’t react right away. Her smile is still all over her face.
            “I’m sorry to hear that.”
            She’s close. Too close, in fact. I might be shivering a bit. But maybe just because it’s kinda chilly outside.
            “Then I’ll miss you,” she says up close. Very, very up close to me.
            And I’m about to say something, or about to think about saying something, and then Diane kisses me on the cheek. It’s sweet and friendly and very safe. But it’s also pretty amazing.
            “You know---” I start to say.
            I stop talking when I see headlights on the trees above us.
            Then I stop thinking when I hear Diane curse.
            “My parents.”
            Suddenly, this night has gone from incredible to insane. Diane doesn’t even hesitate on the deck. She rushes in and yells something to James and Sam. Then I see James coming out with a big grin and his confident Harrison Ford charisma while Diane is pushing him forward.
            “You guys have to go,” she says.
            I look around and wonder what she’s talking about. We’re on a deck. A deck that’s a couple of stories tall.
            “Yeah,” she says to me, as if she can already read my mind.
            How can girls always read my mind? With my luck I’m going to end up living in a household full of females that all look at me and know exactly what I’m thinking.
            “Just jump off the side. You can do it. If you jump over there it won’t be too bad.”
            James laughs and climbs over the side of the deck she’s talking about. I still just want to kiss Diane back and tell her how I feel. It’s not really that I know how I feel, but I do know I think she’s cute and I love the way she makes me feel and I love being here. In fact, there’s pretty much nothing about this night I don’t like. Except parents. And that’s a given. I’ve never liked parents. Including my own.
            “Come on, go,” Diane says.
            I hear someone calling out her name in the house and then I start to go crazy. So I move and I kiss Diane on the lips, then tell her goodbye right before hopping over the wooden rail and then dropping down and letting go.
            I nearly topple to my death. But I regain my balance and then see a figure in the darkness.
            “Come on,” James whispers to me.
            I follow him down the steep side of the mountain. We move for about five minutes until reaching a street, Then the two of us are walking, wiping the sweat off our foreheads, laughing and seeing each other under the full light of the moon.            
            That was close,” James says.            
            I laugh and nod and agree. I’m not sure quite what to say because the words in my mouth are the ones I wanted to say to Diane.
            “That was crazy, huh?” he says.
            James has a deep southern drawl that I’ve always loved. It’s strange because I’ve known this guy since sixth grade and that’s probably the longest I’ve ever known anybody. Especially a good friend like him.
            And next week I’m going to be moving.
            “Wonder what Diane’s telling her parents,” I say.
            I’m still breathing heavy since I’m so out of shape. James isn’t because he will never, ever be out of shape.
            “Her friend was pretty hot,” he says.
            I can say more but don’t. Somehow, I know that I’m never going to see Diane again. Or if I do, it’s not going to be the same.
            Nothing will ever, ever, be like this past year.
            As we walk on a road as if it belongs to both of us, I picture that final day at Ben Lippen. I remember calling my parents and telling them to pick me up. And, oh yeah, I’ve been expelled. Not suspended. Not kicked out for a week or so but done. One and done. That phone call wasn’t so great, and waiting for them surely wasn’t great.
            But then I had to see her. And she had to tell me goodbye.
            It was seriously like some John Hughes film. All it needed was some New Order song over it as she walked out in the cold afternoon while I sat on the stone wall. This beautiful girl I never deserved and then promptly rejected. This lovely young lady who still had the dignity to tell me goodbye.
            The words . . . I don’t remember them. There wasn’t anything important or awe-inspiring spoken. But the fact that she came out to see me while I waited for my parents to come pick me up said enough. It said that there could have been something else. It said that she felt bad for me. It said that she wished me well. She did. She had hopes for Travis even though Travis surely had no hopes whatsoever.
            One day I want to put this into some kind of cool series.
            Yeah, that’s what I thought. But now, as I’m walking down this street, I’m struck with the fact that something has changed. Something big is about to happen.
            I am different.
            Not only that, I am free.
            There is something that I haven’t known for a long time. I haven’t ever known, to be honest. It’s this thing called FREEDOM.
            I’m suddenly filled with new life.
            I can see the stars in the sky and suddenly, I feel the tears in my eyes.
            They’re lighting my way tonight.
            I want to grab James and tell him I love him.
            I want to thank him for being by my side for this long.
            I want to thank him for being the best goalie a defensive player could ever have.
            I want to tell him how much I’ve appreciated him telling me about girls. Even though I still don’t know what to do with all that info.
            The moon shines in sky and it reminds me of so many other nights. Nights when we sat around laughing. The ninth grade camping trip. The few times we snuck out of the dorms and didn’t get caught.
            I breathe in and feel completely new and alive.
            I think of Diane. Then I think of the girl I told goodbye to at Madison. And the one I said goodbye to at Ben Lippen.
            Maybe the move will be a good thing, I tell myself.
            Maybe I’ll find someone and it will all be worth while.            
            Maybe my whole life will change and these days will seem like some long lost song on an album from the 80s. Maybe it will even be a B-side.
            But it will always mean something. Always.
            “You okay?” James asks.
            I nod and smile.
            I wish he knew. I wish I could sum up the words to thank him. To express to him how I’m feeling. But to be honest, I still don’t know. I don’t know for sure.
            I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve wondered and waited and feared tomorrow. How many times I’ve wondered how I was going to get through the coming day.
            But not tonight.
            All those times when I’ve questioned God and wondered about my faith and my family and my friends.
            But not tonight.
            Those times when I’ve felt like a failure and those times when I’ve realized I’ve made so many bad mistakes.
            But not tonight, Travis.
            We walk down a street with the future so bright and so beautiful. Not knowing necessarily where we will go, but knowing we’ll get there soon enough. 

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