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My phone is cradled in one of those holders that attaches to the air conditioning vent in the center of your dashboard, and every time I look at the GPS, I can see Nina’s legs in the periphery. They’re so tan, and more muscular than last summer, the last time we made this drive. I wouldn’t tell her that because I’m not sure whether it’s a compliment. But that’s how I’d mean it.

Girls are so strange about things like that.

They work so hard to be remarkable—honor roll, a hefty pile of AP classes, leading scorer on the soccer team—but as soon as you compliment them on one little thing, they just wither into the seat and tell you to stop. It’s like, what am I supposed to do? Say nothing and make you try even harder?

That’s what her boyfriend Marcus seemed to do. Not surprisingly. He’s kind of a dick. A wrestler with good hair, medium acne, and bad grades. But I guess none of that matters. Because rumor has it that they had sex after the senior ski trip. I’m not going to lie, when I heard that he took her V-card, it kind of took the wind out of me.

It’s not like I’m a virgin either, but I just didn’t expect it from her, you know? She seems kinda better than that. Maybe not like wait-until-marriage prude, but definitely at least until college. I know it’s not fair to expect that, and I don’t judge her any differently or whatever. But still. I just thought she’d have better standards than Marcus. He reads on like a fifth grade level. He sucks.

I’ve known Nina since God knows when.

Well, actually, that’s kinda accurate because we sat at the same table during CCD in 2nd grade. But we were never really friends. She always hangs out with the soccer girls, and who always hang out with the soccer boys. And, yeah, I got cut from soccer freshman year. So that kinda leaves me over here with the rest of the skinny cross-country goobers. Which is fine. I’m not complaining or anything. I’m just explaining why I’m not that close with Nina.

But last year, she joined outdoor track. I overheard her say it was so she could stay in shape for soccer, and that she hates running. But whatever. Hanging out on the bleachers between races is the most time I spent with her since CCD, even though we don’t really talk. She just usually sits in the row in front of me, with Candace and Stephanie.

But, I will say that I heard her yell “Come on, Christian! You got this!” while I chased down Tyler Mason with 200m to go at District Championships. She was standing by herself on the final turn—at 600m—which is where I usually fall apart or win a race. I kinda think Coach Max may have asked her to stand there, but I never asked. I’m not sure I want to know, honestly. But whatever it was, I kicked real hard that day and wound up winning by over a second. My heart was friggin pounding in there, and I felt like my chest might explode. I don’t know how much Nina had to do with that, or the win, honestly.

Of course, I never said anything to her because I’m an idiot.

I was going to, but then I had to spell my name for the guy from the paper while I was still out of breath, and after that I was too nervous to say anything. Like, “Hey Nina, you remember when you cheered for me at the turn back there? No? Well I do. Thanks for that. It was a turning point in my track career and I think I might love you.” Like, nope! I’d honestly rather die alone.

But luckily I got a second chance to not be such a wuss because despite how little she cares about running, Nina qualified for States last year. The meet was the same weekend that basically everyone was going to Kyle’s family’s lake house. They were all heading out on Friday, but she and I still had to compete on Saturday. So one day at practice, I sacked up and offered to drive her after the meet. I tried to play it off all casual, but I know my face was screaming red, like I had just run the mile or something.

She was so cute about it, honestly. She was like, “Wow. That’s so nice. Are you sure?” And I was like of course, no bother. I tried to play the logic card, like the only reason I offered was because it made sense. As if I wasn’t so stoked that she qualified for States because it meant she’d be at practice for two weeks longer than all the scrubs who didn’t make it. As if I hadn’t obsessed about asking her and procrastinated until three days before, because I was too scared that she’d say no or find another way out there.

I have no idea why she decided to come with me again this year though.

States were three weeks ago. She has her license. All her friends are driving out there. She has a boyfriend. And if I’m honest with myself, we really aren’t friends. We barely talk aside from at track practice.

So, I was honestly shocked that she texted me last week.

Hey Christian! Are you going to Kyle’s again this year?

I waited a full 10 minutes to respond, just so I didn’t look thirsty.

Yeh, u?

I looked at the date stamp of the last text messages we exchanged before last week. They were almost a year ago. Honestly, humiliating.

Hey Christian! Did I leave my makeup bag in your car somewhere? I can’t find it 😕

And just as I was overthinking, typing, and untyping some clever response that might make her think of me as more than a friend or chauffeur, she beat me to the punch.

Never mind… found it. I’m an idiot. Sorry! 🤦🏽‍♀️

I didn’t even respond to that. Not with a Had a great time… let’s hang soon, or a Glad you found it, or even a Cool. Who knows why. I guess I froze.

So, yeah. She really caught me off guard with her text last week.

Sweet. Can I ride with you again this year? Don’t want to break the tradition…

I mean, I would have said yes regardless, but I felt something in those three dots. Something about that ellipsis at the end made it seem like anything was possible.

Definitely. Pick u up at 4?


I meant on Friday

No problem. I knew what you meant

I drove to her house, half-expecting Marcus to be there too, waiting at the front door with his bags and vape pen and his arm around her shoulder. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high because it was just a ride. I was just doing her a favor. But when I showed up, she walked out of her house alone, pulled the door closed, and ran to my car. Like, sprinted.

Do you know what it feels like when someone like Nina runs to you?

I tell her she can be DJ. So she plugs her phone into the AUX cable and puts on some pop nonsense, then tells me she’s taking requests. I have no idea what to tell her to play. What’s cool enough or edgy enough or original enough? What would she remember me for? So I tell her a song that my brother used to play, by some 90s band called Better than Ezra.

“Is this new?” she asks, then doesn’t wait for the reply. “I like it.”

“No,” I say. “My brother turned me on to this band. They’re from the 90s.”

“Wow,” she says. “Cool.”

I don’t think it’s cool at all. I think it’s pretty lame, honestly. That the girl I like asked me to volunteer a song for our quickie road trip, and the only one I can think of is something my brother would have suggested from 25 years ago.

Luckily, she assumes control of the playlist, singing along to most of the songs. Her voice isn’t good, but it isn’t bad; it’s the only thing average about her. So, I’m thrilled when she stops singing, and instead lowers the volume and says, “I’ll bet when you’re by yourself, you sing in the car.”


“Yes, Christian. You.”

I love when she says my name.

Not like in a sexual way, I’m not a dick like that. But I just like when she says it. She doesn’t say it with any special accent or emphasis, but it’s, you know? Just hearing someone like her say your name is like eating ice cream: creamy, sweet, and not good for your heart.

“Maybe I do,” I say, laughing, not wanting to commit because I’m sure she’s going to ask me to sing. I can already feel my cheeks getting flush.

“Why are you so quiet all the time?” she asks me.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“You don’t think you’re quiet?” she says, an edge to her voice like prodding me. It’s a challenge.

“I don’t know why I’m quiet,” I say. And I think it’s probably the first time I’m ever honest with her. And honesty has momentum, so it continues. “I don’t think I have much interesting to say, so I just kind of prefer to listen to people who are more interesting.”

“Oh, Christian!” she sighs out my name. “Are you seriously fishing for compliments? Because I can already see you’re beet red, just waiting for me to tell you you’re interesting.”

“I’m not!” I say. “I swear!” and again, I mean it. And I don’t want to go back to her singing, not because it’s bad, but because this is better. Talking to her is so much better. “I wish I wasn’t so quiet,” I finally say. “It makes everything so much harder.”

“Like what?” Nina says. I still have my eyes fixed on the road, but I can feel hers looking at me.

“Like saying stuff that you want to say.”

“Okayyyy,” she says, then takes a beat. “Like what?”

“Well, like, I should have said Thank you.”

She sighs again. “For what?”

Better late than never, right? “You remember last year at Districts when I won the 800?” For a moment, I’m honestly terrified because—what if she doesn’t remember? Then I’m just a sucker, baring my stupid soul for no reason.

“Of course. That race was so exciting. Everyone was cheering so loud for you.”

“Sure, but you were the only one at the back turn.”

The car is quiet, except for some thumping reggaeton, which is the complete opposite tone that I’d want to strike right now.

“I can’t believe you remember that,” she says.

“Well, that’s the make-or-break spot for me.”

“I know,” she says. “That’s why I was there.”

We come to a stop light, which gives me just enough time to look over at her, then back at the road, feeling the same thumping in my chest that I felt during that race. She smiles and looks down, which is what girls do.

“I’m really glad you were there,” I say. My delivery is the opposite of smooth. It’s chunky peanut butter, which not everyone likes.

“Well, I’m really glad you won,” she says. “You work harder than anyone. You deserve it.”

“Wow. Thank you. I should have said that a long time ago.”

“I can’t even imagine what else goes unsaid in that brain of yours.”

“I’ll bet you can,” I say. And she laughs, so I laugh.

We continue talking and driving, and every sentence is just shy of flirting, just outlining the shape of flirtation, drawing the perimeter of what would be in-bounds and out-of-bounds. I guess that’s mostly called friendship, but it feels so much more significant since it’s more than we ever had before this moment.

Honestly, I really don’t even care about going to the lake house.

It’s just going to be a bunch of kids posing for pictures and splashing around, pretending that anyone likes splashing. Honestly, unless you finally get to hook up with someone specific—which, let’s be honest, is everyone’s aim but literally no one succeeds—this whole weekend is really lame. Last year sucked.

I’m pretty much only going so that I could drive with Nina. I know it’s pathetic, but whatever. I only have a month here before I leave for college. I have to get there early for cross-country team workouts. So, I might as well go out swinging.

I wish I could just keep driving with her, but my GPS says there’s only 5 minutes left till we arrive at our destination.

“Do you know any other songs by that Ezra band?” she asks, her finger perched above her phone screen. “I want to end on a good one.”

I tell her to call up “Desperately Wanting,” and she laughs.

“Oh, you’re serious.” she says. “That’s a song,” she says.

“What else would it be?” I say. Then I turn my head to her and smile. She smiles back, and looks down again. She’s fucking perfect.

And I just wonder what would happen if I said what I want to say because I think she wants me to say it too. I wonder if she’d end it with Marcus. I wonder if he’d hunt me down and kick my ass—because he could definitely kick my ass, if he could catch me. But who wants to run away like a little bitch? That’s not what wins the girl.

So instead, I just say, “Want me to sing?”

And she says, “Oh my god, YES.”

And I say, “On the way home.”

And she says, “Deal.”

So I say, “You promise I can drive you home?” and it’s so desperate and sad, but I don’t care because the jig is up already. It’s all out here, a thousand invisible butterflies filling up the car with us.

“This car ride is the best part of coming out here,” she says, and I fucking melt. Her delivery is like creamy peanut butter. So smooth.

Neither of us says another word for the rest of the ride, but we’re both smiling so wide it hurts. My God it hurts.

Marcus is already there when we get there. And when we walk up the driveway, he thanks me for driving his girl, then taps my nuts hard with the back of his forehand, because he’s an asshole. I don’t say “you’re welcome.” I don’t say anything. I just stare at Nina, who stares back at me. And it’s so unfair how she can just do that to me. But of course she can.

“Thank you,” she mouths to me silently. For the next three days, she’ll be his girlfriend. But then she’ll get back in my car, and we’ll have a two hour drive back home, which, honestly, is the whole point.

Kelaine Conochan

The editor-in-chief of this magazine, who should, in all honesty, be a gym teacher. Don’t sleep on your plucky kid sister.

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