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“You haven’t changed a bit, Natty.” He whispered softly, his forehead pressed against mine.
“Should we be doing this?” I questioned him.
“I don’t know…” His voice shook as our feet danced in a quiet circle in my childhood bedroom.
It had been one year since Cory disappeared. And two days since they found his remains in the middle of the desert in Arizona.
And here I stood in my childhood bedroom; teen pop superstar posters plastered up on the walls with cheap tape that surely would cost a fortune to paint over if we didn’t own this place. Memories of my brother traipsed through my mind like a hurricane; moments when we played pirates and princesses in the backyard with our best friends. The night where an earthquake hit the house so bad; we slept in the same room even though we had just turned 15.
The memory that sparked the most…
When Cory came out to me in the bedroom. When I confronted him about missing our annual Judy Garland and junk food night; and he confessed that he’d been on a date. With a boy. That was 5 years older than us. He went on and on about the mysterious, dangerous Taylor. Taylor with tattoos. Taylor who drank and smoked and got kicked out of his family’s conservative, catholic home when he turned 17 years old.
Taylor. The boyfriend that took my brother and created a stranger out of him. Taylor; the boyfriend that made my brother call me “Anya” (my birth name) instead of “Natty” what he called me when we were little because of a speech delay.
When we went to college, I thought Cory’s obsession with Taylor would fade into a silly memory of high school puppy love.
But the turn of events that pursued both of us lead to a much darker path.
And here I was; standing in my childhood bedroom (still the turquoise blue I desperately wished for when I graduate middle school… I like to call it my Hepburn phase) with my twin brother’s best friend.
I thought about the tireless, emotionally downtrodden 4 month cross country road trip I embarked on to find my brother. And how Ernest “Ernie” Culling had joined the journey halfway through. Ernie… my brother’s best friend from the moment they argued over Olivia Bowerstein in the 2nd grade, only to find Olivia had a gigantic crush on Perry Jones… a 4th grader from Bethune Academy.
Ernie… a friend by association. A sworn enemy on the running track. And the object of my affections from 8th-11th grade. A college age physicist who unknowingly broke my heart when he sang “In My Life” at the Junior Talent Show to Georgina Peck.
A beautiful girl who spent her childhood in The Bronx. The girl with glossy, long raven colored hair and eyes to match.
And I smiled faintly from the third row of the auditorium, crocodile tears threatening to open a flood gate in my green irises. Sobbing in Cory and I’s shared bathroom when I returned from my required volunteer hours through student leadership; my brother knocked on the door softly.
“You’re better than him… Anya. ”
He hadn’t called me my full name in what seemed like forever; making the tears overflow in couplets down my red, ******* cheeks.
“But what i-i-fff I’m not enough for anyone?” I sobbed, phlegm catching in my throat as the tears rolled on.
“Nat; you are the greatest human on earth. The kindest soul. You deserve a beautiful life and nothing less. You just gotta keep fighting, okay?” Asked Cory.
I nodded softly.
“I think someone needs a trip to Fanny’s.” He laughed.
Fanny’s was a diner the next town over. Known for it’s insane portions, and milkshakes that would leave you full for three days… it was heaven for high schoolers and adults alike. It was the number one quick fix for heartbreak, finals cramming, and the best hangover cure known to mankind.
Fanny’s was also the restaurant where Cory met Taylor for the first time. Taylor was a server, and just so happened to get our table that night.
Fanny’s was notoriously cold. The air condition blew at full speed every season, rain or shine, snow or fog. The one time the air conditioning broke, Al (the owner) refused to open the place for two days.
“It’s too **** hot in here. Come back some other time.”
That’s what the sign read.
The cold air blasted our faces as Cory opened the heavy, swinging door. The bell rang to alarm the servers that more guests had entered the building. We slid into our favorite spot, tears in the plastic booth seats and all. We sat for a mere minute before a slim, tall framed senior approached our table.
“Hey, I’m Taylor. What can I get started for you?” He softly, sweetly spoke. His voice was that of a crooner… much like Dean Martin or Sinatra. Taylor’s eyes were dark; long, full eyelashes adorned his midnight colored orbs. Cory gazed at Taylor in a sweet enchantment almost.
“Grilled cheese and a strawberry milkshake, please.” Cory stumbled over his words.
“Chili cheese fries and a coke, please.” I squeezed my eyes in my brother’s general direction.
“I think I have a class with you…” Taylor started to Cory.
“Stagecraft.” He finished quietly, suddenly very interested in his napkin and silverware.
“Oh right, I’ll get those orders in folks.” Taylor saluted us as he walked towards the kitchen.
“What’s got your grape?” I questioned Cory.
“Nothing, I just knew that I knew him from somewhere.”
“Huh. Okay then.” I shrugged.
Little did I know that was the beginning of a nightmarish rollercoaster.
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