Meet Me Here - Bryan Bliss


This is supposed to be the best night of my life. That’s what all the cards say, what every person at this party believes as they yell and raise their hands in the air, high-fiving while some cover band tunes their instruments in the corner of the living room. And when people come up to say hello—to wax nostalgic—of course I smile. I clink the beer I’m not going to drink against their red cups, nodding intently as they wish me the best—when they ask me about my brother.

These are the final hours. And nothing—not graduation, or Jake, or even a natural disaster—can stop me from getting in my truck and disappearing once the sun comes up.

No answers, no hesitation—just gone.

Another well-wisher is strolling toward me when the entire room gasps, one collective mouth yelling, “Daaaammmmn!” I turn with everyone else, just catching Mallory Carlson’s hand coming back and her boyfriend holding his nose, looking like he’s going to cry.

The entire party stops moving. We’re all waiting to see if he’ll really start bawling or maybe if she’ll drop him with another right. His lip is wavering and her fist is still cocked and everybody—every single person at this party—is certain of one thing: Mallory’s going to put him down. Instead, she looks around the room, skimming from face to face until she finds mine.

Mallory doesn’t hesitate. Walks right up to me, hands still fists, looking ready to punch me, too.

“Do you have your truck?”

I stare at her.

She thumps me on the chest once, ignoring the yells and the laughter, focusing on me and speaking slow. Like I’m stupid and she didn’t just try to KO her boyfriend.

“Your truck, Thomas. I need you to drive me home.”

This girl’s a ghost, a legend I used to believe in; if I were to reach out and touch her, there wouldn’t be anything there.

She sighs.

I was six and she wanted my swing; that’s how it started. When I went home, my dad almost looked proud that I’d gotten into a fight. He held my face in his hands, studying the only black eye I’ve ever had. I didn’t tell him it was a girl, and we spent the night in the driveway, practicing how to throw and, in my case, dodge a punch. That next day I tried to avoid her, but Mallory came marching up to me on the playground. I had my hands up, protecting my face like Dad showed me. All she did was shake her head.

People laugh. Somebody yells, “Watch out, Bennett, you’re next!” I expect her to whip around, offering both middle fingers to the party—to steer an already grand graduation story into legendary territory. Maybe drop a few more bodies in the process, anyone unlucky enough to be close.

She closes her eyes and says, “Please, Thomas.”

That’s it. No explanation for why she just hit Will or why she can’t get any of her other friends to take her home. Why she decided to talk to me tonight for the first time in seven years. Just “Please.”

I used to live for every half-cocked idea that came off her lips. When we were kids, it was me and her and nothing else. My dad always said it wasn’t right for a boy to be playing with a girl that much, and what were we even doing anyway? It didn’t help that I could never account for those hours. How the day would end and we never saw it coming, running home as fast as we could, cackling like mad.

But how many chances like this have we explicitly avoided? How many times has she walked by me in the hallways, suddenly becoming really interested in the lockers or a phantom stain on her jeans? And fine, people move on. Things change. It still doesn’t explain why she’s here in front of me now.

Before I can say a word, she holds up a hand and says, “Whatever. I’m sorry I asked.”

And then she’s gone.

It takes one second for me to feel like an asshole. Two more before my feet move, trying to catch Mallory as she slips through the crowd.

The catcalls start—“Get it! Yeah, boy!”—and I want to stop the music, the chatter, get the attention of the entire party and explain how inseparable she and I used to be, how there was a time before high school, before middle school, when the idea that we wouldn’t talk for a day—let alone seven years—would be inconceivable.

How do you describe a constant