James is in the passenger seat, sort of -- at least most of her is; her long Levi-clad legs are hanging out the window, untied sneakers bumping lazily against the door handle out of time with the song on the radio.
August wants to say something clever, something that will make James look at her and laugh. What comes out of her mouth is, "Will you call me next month? When you're back at school?"
"Do you think Inez saw us?" James doesn't look over. August isn't even sure she heard the question. She's chewing on a stray strand of hair that fell out of her ponytail. "Behind the mall? If Inez saw us the whole town's gonna know. She can't keep her big mouth shut."
And August knows James doesn't care what the whole town knows, James just cares about one person.
And that person is never, ever going to be August.
"Who cares?" She tries to sound unconcerned. "Everybody knows you can't believe a word she says. And anyway what would she have seen? Us driving around? That's not a crime."
"Do you want to go to my house?" August's dad won't be home from the factory until late. They'll be alone. "Just you and me and a bottle of wine."
James sighs. "I guess."
It's not the most encouraging response, but it's a yes, and she'll take it.
The problem is, August has always wanted what she can't have.
James lets her pretend, but it's not the same. It's only ever almost. James will ride around with her, and kiss her when they're drunk, and when the summer's at its hottest they start sleeping together which is just about the happiest August has ever been, but --
But what James wants is Betty.
Betty with her faded cardigans and and soft smiles and armfuls of books. Betty who is nothing like sharp-edged August.
That's who James wants.
August can't really blame her. She's half in love with Betty herself, and she didn't even grow up with her.
Lying in bed, drawing her fingers lazily through James's tangled hair, August thinks about herself at age seven. Running through the fields with her best friend -- what was her name? god, she's only eighteen, she shouldn't feel so old -- playing pretend, just for an excuse to scream. Making plans to run away and be adventurers together. See the world.
Now she's resigned to being stuck in this godforsaken town forever, working at the same factory as her dad, and begging for scraps of attention from a girl who's in love with someone else.
She buries her face in James's hair and hopes someone remembers her the way she was then, and not now.
The summer ends in a haze of heat and dusty rain. James goes back to school and August starts work at the factory.
The days are long and exhausting and the pay is nothing but she's not working the same shift as her dad so they actually see each other less than when she wasn't working.
So that's fine.
James doesn't call, even though August made sure she had her work schedule, makes sure she knows "I could always pick you up after school on my days off, or you could pick me up before work on Saturdays, or . . . ?"
She hates how desperate she sounds, especially since James doesn't say anything in response.
Especially since James doesn't call.
Sometimes when she's driving home from work at two in the morning, she thinks she sees her, swaying in the street lights outside the bus stop, tattered Levi's and ponytail and cocky smile.
But it's just a trick of the light.
August is pretty sure she's the last to hear when James and Betty get together. Back together. Apparently it's a big thing -- Betty was having an end-of-school party and James showed up uninvited, confessed her love, apologized for a summer fling with some girl --
(and, oh, August's heart doesn't break over that, it doesn't -- )
(it does, it does, it does -- )
And Betty kissed her in front of everyone. Their little town exploded with gossip. A lesbian love triangle under their noses and no one knew about it! Apparently when Inez said James was carrying on with some girl ("some girl" again, oh God, August doesn't fit into this story anywhere, does she?) at the mall this summer she was right for once! They say Betty was pining after James all this while but told her she wouldn't carry on in secret and now James is going to follow her to college and --
And August doesn't hear about any of this for more than a week, until one of her coworkers idly passes on a bit of high school gossip on one of their breaks.
August takes her next smoke break alone.
Goes out to her car.
Cries until she has to go back to work.
And doesn't know why she ever kidded herself it would ever end any other way.
Six months later August quits her job on an impulse. She has almost two hundred dollars saved in a shoebox under her bed that her dad doesn't know about; while he's working, she pulls it out, counts it, stuffs it into an old backpack along with a few t-shirts and the bikini that James said made her look so pretty and the rag doll that once upon she and her best friend (Rebekah, her name was Rebekah, how could she have ever forgotten that?) had had tea parties with, throws it into the car, and drives.
She doesn't know where she's going. Knows that two hundred dollars won't get her far.
But it might get her somewhere that doesn't smell of salt air and factory smoke and sticky-sweet wine and James's shampoo and Betty's perfume.
It might get her somewhere where she can be part of the story, for once.