Return to Paradise (Leaving Paradise ) Episode 3
“I’m Trish,” Trish says, with an edge to her voice that implies don’t talk to me unless I want you to.
Erin doesn’t look up from her book as she says in a small voice, “I’m Erin.”
Matt clears his throat. “I’m Matt.”
“I’m Maggie,” I say, unable to resist a glance at Caleb.
He looks like he’d rather go diving in shark or piranha-infested waters than be in this van. He stares at the floor mat. “I’m Caleb.”
“And I’m Lenny,” the guy who passed gas says, practically bouncing into the van and slipping into the spot next to Caleb.
Caleb winces. “Dude, if you fart again I’m gonna kick your ass.
“Caleb, no threatening the other members of the group,” Damon orders from the front seat. “Lenny, let’s keep it flatulence-free for now. Cool?”
I stifle a nervous giggle.
“I’ll try,” Lenny says, giving Damon a thumbs-up. But as soon as we turn out of the parking lot, I hear Lenny say to Caleb, “Wanna pull my finger?”
I have to look. Instead of pushing Lenny’s finger away from his face or, better yet, ignoring him, Caleb grabs Lenny’s finger and bends it back.
“Stop it,” I tell Caleb as Lenny winces and tries to wrest his hand free. “You’re hurting him!”
What happened to Caleb to make him lash out so quickly?
Caleb releases Lenny’s finger. Lenny shoots Caleb a look that says he’ll retaliate later, then scoots to the other side of the bench.
“You asked for it,” Caleb says smugly as Lenny examines his bruised finger.
“I’m gonna sue you if it’s sprained,” Lenny warns. “I play the guitar, man.”
Caleb smirks, then looks at me shaking my head. “What?”
“Nothing,” I say.
I turn back around. I won’t look at Caleb again. Not until I have to, at least.
Next to me, Matt pulls out his cell phone and starts texting with his one hand. His palm cradles the phone while his thumb taps the keypad. I can’t imagine it’s easy for him, but he seems to be managing fine.
I lean forward, placing my hands on the seat in front of me. I’ll make small talk with Trish and Erin. Anything is better than wondering about Caleb, and because we’re going to be living in close quarters for the next month, I need to make friends with these girls. But I realize, pretty quick, that they don’t want to chat. Trish puts headphones in her ears and lifts her hoodie to hide her face. Erin is so engrossed in her book I’m not sure she knows that real life is going on around her.
I slump back in my seat and stare out the window. The cornfields and farms outlining the Illinois landscape are a blur.
“Yo, Matt,” Caleb says.
“Switch seats with me.”
think Maggie still has her mouth open in shock when I climb over the seat and Matt changes places with me. I don’t like seeing another guy sitting next to her. I know it’s stupid that I feel possessive when I have no right.
Damon glances back. “Caleb, stay in your seat.”
“I was getting carsick,” I say. “It’s either switch seats or puke all over Maggie and Matt.”
I look over at Maggie, who doesn’t look too happy. She scoots further away from me when our knees touch, but she meets my stare with her own.
“I was carsick,” I say dumbly. “And Lenny smells like shit … literally. I can’t take it.”
“I heard that,” Lenny says.
“Good,” I say back.
Maggie flips her light brown hair back with a confidence I only got glimpses of when we were together. She tosses me a sideways glance. “Why are you trying to start a fight with Lenny?”
“I’m not. He started it.” I sound like a little kid, but at this point I don’t care. What does Maggie think, that I’m perfect? She should know by now that I’m far from it.
“You’re being confrontational.”
“What’s wrong with being confrontational?” I ask.
Maggie puts her regal nose in the air. “I’m sure you can figure that one out on your own.”
“Everything okay back there?” Damon pipes in.
“My finger hurts,” Lenny blurts out. “I need an ice pack.”
I roll my eyes as Damon asks Lenny what happened. After a slight pause and a warning glare from me, Lenny says it’s nothing.
Maggie takes out a travel guide of Spain and puts on a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. They must be new, because I haven’t seen her with glasses before. She turns away from me and focuses on her book while chewing on the middle of her pencil. I watch as she makes circles on some of the pages and dog-ears others.
“Planning a trip to Spain? Again?” I ask. Right before I left Paradise, she’d said something about changing her mind and not taking her spring semester abroad after all.
She closes the book and shoves it and the gnawed pencil in her backpack. “Yes.”
That’s it. No details, no explanations. Not that she owes me any. She obviously doesn’t want to talk to me, or look at me for that matter.
After two hours, Damon parks the van at a rest stop. “Everyone out. Go to the bathroom and stretch your legs. We’ll be eating a quick dinner here.”
While we’re waiting for everyone else to come back from the bathroom, I walk up to Maggie, who’s standing over by the vending machines.
“What’s up?” I ask, trying to act normal.
She gives me a look of both disgust and surprise. “What’s up? Are you kidding me, Caleb? You disappeared for eight months. You’ve kind of passed the whats up stage by seven months.”
Shit. I have a feeling nothing I say will be good enough, but I give it a try. “Sorry.”
“I’m sorry too.” Maggie turns and walks away, her limp a stark reminder of that fateful night two years ago. For a semi-crippled girl, she sure limps away fast. I jog to catch up to her, because I’m stupid and can’t leave well enough alone.
“You telling me you haven’t thought about us while I was gone?” I ask her.
She shrugs. “I’ve thought about you. And then I thought about how you left me.”
“It wasn’t about you, Maggie. You know that.”
“I don’t want to rehash it,” she says as she nears the van. “I’ve moved on.”
I step in front of her, stopping her before she gets too close to the rest of the group. They don’t need to know our private business. “You can’t ignore me forever.”
She shakes her head and pushes me away. “No, I can’t ignore you. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. But don’t try and make me talk about … us.”
She whispers the “us” as if it’s a big secret and she doesn’t want anyone to know we had a relationship that went beyond a simple friendship.
Back in the van after dinner, she puts her hands in her lap and stares straight ahead as Damon drives us to the campground. After a while, I notice her eyes starting to close.
“You can lean on me if you want to sleep,” I offer. “I promise I won’t, like, touch you or anything.”
“No, thanks. I brought a travel pillow.” She reaches into her backpack and pulls out a plastic blow-up fluorescent green airplane pillow. She puffs air into it and wraps it around her neck, just like the Maggie I used to know. Emotional, self-aware Maggie.
She falls asleep almost instantly, and an hour later, everyone except Damon and I are asleep. The girl with the headphones is snoring so loud I wonder if Maggie and the tattooed girl will have to get earplugs before this trip is over.
“Take a nap, Caleb. We’ve still got a ways to go,” Damon says.
“I stopped taking naps when I was two years old,” I tell him, stealing another glance at the sleeping Maggie.
I blow out a frustrated breath, then stare at my knee. I’m bouncing it up and down to the rhythm of the van’s engine. I’m anxious and don’t even know why. I wish I could get up and walk off this nervous energy, or run until my body screams for me to stop. Instead, I’m stuck just sitting here, thinking.
When I was in juvie, I had too much time to think. Thinking too hard and too long is dangerous for anyone with demons they’re trying to fight off.
While Maggie sleeps, I envy her. I’m glad she’s moved on, but I’m not sure I have. I left Paradise, but I’m the same guy in the same predicament I was in then.
When we finally arrive at the campground, Damon hops out of the van to sign us in. He comes back five minutes later, frowning. “Bad news,” he says.
“The campers decided they didn’t want to listen to a bunch of sob stories?” I ask.
“No. They only have one unoccupied cabin. That means …
“Guys and girls are sleeping in the same cabin?” Tattoo Girl asks.
Damon sighs. He’s obviously thrown off by this deviation from his plan. “Yeah. I’ll be sleeping in the next cabin, with the counselors. I’ll check in on you guys every few hours. Everyone okay with that?”
“Umm, no!” the other girl announces. “I’m not changing in front of guys.”
“There’s a girls’ bathroom just a few feet away from the cabin,” Damon informs her. “You can change there, Trish.”
“If that’s the only option, then I’ll live with it,” Trish says. “But for the record, I’m not happy about it.”
Everyone else is okay with the unexpected sleeping arrangements. Maggie looks a little nervous now that Damon has parked beside the super small cabin. We all pile out.
Inside the barely habitable cabin are three bunk beds, with sheets and pillows at the foot of each mattress but not much else. I worked construction a bunch of summers for my uncle and am pretty sure this place is put together with spit and glue … and a few nails that popped years ago and nobody bothered to fix.
“I get the bottom bunk,” Matt says as he plops himself down onto one of the thin mattresses and sinks almost to the floor. “Damn, Damon, this is roughing it to the max.”
“I want a bottom one, too,” Trish says.
“Me too,” I say, then watch as Maggie limps into the cabin. “On second thought, I’ll take a top bunk. Maggie needs a bottom bunk because of her, uh …”
“Leg?” Maggie finishes for me. “You can say it, Caleb. It’s not like it’s a secret. Everyone can see I walk with a limp.”
“Oh, and while we’re talking about obvious imperfections,” Matt says, “I might as well announce that I’m aware I have a stump for an arm. It’s the obvious white elephant in the room, so I just want y’all to know it’s okay to talk about it or ask me questions about it.”
“Eww,” Trish cries out. “Do you have to call it a stump?”
“Would you rather I call it my partial appendage?” Matt asks, pulling up his sleeve and showing off what remains of his left arm.
She takes a quick look at it. “No.”
Damon claps his hands together, getting our attention. “Okay, everyone. Now that that’s settled, get situated and then meet me outside in ten minutes.”
“Outside?” Trish asks. “For what?”
This girl is definitely going to be in the race with Lenny for the most annoying person in our group. She hasn’t smiled or said one remotely positive thing since this trip started. I have a feeling she’s trying to make everyone have as miserable a time as she wants to have. Then again, I’m with her-I’d rather be back in Chicago than here.
“Just come outside in ten,” Damon says, then pushes open the screen door and disappears.
Tattoo Girl, whose name is Erin, jumps onto the top bunk above Maggie’s bed. I take the one above Matt, knowing it doesn’t really matter what bed I take because I probably won’t fall asleep until I’m so exhausted my body gives in.
To be contactined……….