Funny How Things Change

Melissa Wyatt

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ONE
“Come with me,” she said again, and everything around them was still, silent, waiting.
“Okay.”
Because he had to be with her. He knew that much.
“Really?” She pushed up again, staring at him.
“Yeah, really. Let’s do it.”
His decision washed over him, leaving him feeling slightly drunk or like he’d just stepped off a cliff. And the joy that spread across her face reached out and caught him, held him up. He felt a laugh rise in his throat, a kid’s laugh, and he didn’t feel raw at all anymore. He felt like he could crack the whole mountain himself, if he wanted to.
“Remy, baby.”
That was all it needed. He grabbed Lisa and pulled her down again, his face in her neck, her hair everywhere. Her lips met his and her .ngers slid into his hair. He felt the soft warmth of her spread across him, like she could melt into him, pushing away that gasping feeling of having made such a big decision.
“It’s getting late,” Lisa breathed in his ear. “Aren’t you working today?”
He swore, sat up, his head swimming with burning and kisses and plans. There were a lot of plans to be made, people they’d have to tell. Like his dad. His dad was going to hate this. But Remy pushed everything down with an almost physical effort and grabbed his shirt and skinned it over his shoulders.
“Remy?” Lisa’s voice rose with uncertainty. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He hunted around for his boots. “Yeah, I’m okay. It’s just . . .”
“Don’t worry!” She smiled. “It’s going to be great! Perfect.”
She understood him, knew how he felt without him having to say. He held her, his hand behind her head, feeling the surprising strength of the slim tendons of her neck against his .ngers. His heart still picked up speed when he looked at her. That day in tenth grade might have been the moment she decided he was worth noticing, but it wasn’t the .rst time he’d noticed her. Long before that, every time he passed her in the halls at school or saw her on the streets in Dwyer, he felt like he was looking at a prize that was way out of his reach. So that day in history class, they both knew. It wasn’t even a question.
He kissed her again. She soothed him in ways she didn’t even know. She’d like that. He ought to tell her, but he didn’t want to risk breaking whatever spell she cast without knowing it. His lips still touching hers, he fumbled with his shirt, buttoning it blind.
“I gotta go,” he told her. “I’m covering Jimmy’s—” Kiss. “—shift tonight and then I’m—” Kiss. “—on again in the morning. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon, maybe.”
“You staying in the bottom tonight?”
“Yeah,” Remy grunted as he jerked on the laces of his scuffed boots.“If Duff’ll let me sleep in the garage.”
He didn’t have a car and it was nearly an hour’s hike from Duff’s Gas and Go down in the creek bottom at the north end of town all the way up Walker Hollow to where he lived with his dad on the mountain south of town. Not worth the effort when he was pulling a double shift.
“Let me drive you to work,” Lisa said, brushing off bits of leaves and pine needles from her tank top.
“No time.” He grabbed her wrist and tapped the face of her watch. “You gotta go get Scott.”
Scott was her little brother, waiting to be picked up from swimming lessons at the park pool, the opposite direction from where Remy was headed.
“Oh damn, that’s right.” She jumped up and they hiked down the mountain to her mother’s car, where she bundled the blanket into the trunk. “Well, it won’t be long and we’ll be together all the time, just us, in our own place.”
Looking at her, Remy thought how cute she was with her hair tousled and her makeup all kissed off. How lucky he was, how lucky he’d be to get to see her like this every day.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“Oh, go to work!” She put her hands .at on his chest, gave him a little shove, and climbed into the car.
“See you tomorrow.” He kissed her again through the rolled-down window and stood back to watch her drive off before he started on his own way.
Sweat was rolling down Remy’s back by the time he hauled himself over the guardrail onto Route 25. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have minded. He liked the walk along the highway, with the moun­tain rising on one side and the valley and the town spread out on the other, liked the sense of walking halfway between the two. But now his mind buzzed with thoughts he couldn’t smack down. Mostly about telling his dad he’d just decided to up and leave. It would cut them both, his dad more than him because his dad would be alone. But it was no good thinking about that. Better to think about Lisa, the smell of her still clinging to his skin, like she was part of him even when she wasn’t there.
The highway had been cut through the mountain more than .fty years ago and the rock was still bleeding water. Mostly, it only oozed steadily, covering the rock in a shiny glaze in summer and freezing into geologic formations in winter. But in some places, it made little waterfalls. If the outfall was low enough, people put in pipes and bottled the water for drinking. To Remy, it only proved that the mountains were alive—great living things with cool, clear water in their veins.
He stopped where a decent spring fell from an outcropping maybe .fteen feet over the road and stuck his head under the cas­cade of water. Even in mid-June, the water was cold enough to make him shout at the shock of it on his neck. He threw back his head and let it splash over his face, steaming from the climb, felt it run down his chest and back, soaking his shirt.
“That looks great!”
Remy straightened, the water .attening his hair down over his forehead and running into his eyes, so that he had to step out of the fall, pushing dark hair and water out of his face, to see who had spoken.
It was a girl. On the other side of the road, she sat on a small scaffolding built around the front of the Dwyer municipal water tower, surrounded by cans of paint. How had he not noticed her? Or at least her car, a red Mustang convertible parked in the pullover that overlooked the town. He didn’t recognize either the girl or the car. He felt stupid, like he’d been caught dancing in his underwear.
“Is it safe?” the girl asked. “Can you drink it?”
He looked at the steady stream of water, as if he could analyze it by squinting, and shrugged.
“I guess,” he said.
“Oh, good.”
She hopped down from the scaffolding and crossed the road. “I ran out of tea an hour ago and didn’t want to go into town for something to drink. It takes so long to get anywhere down here!”
He could tell by the way she talked that she wasn’t from any­place nearby. And that “down here” crack con.rmed it. An out­sider. She held cupped hands under the water and bent over to drink. Remy could see that she wasn’t as old as he .rst thought. A little older than him but not by much, maybe nineteen. Small and compact, like her car.
She smiled at him, water dripping off her chin.
“That’s so good! Better than Evian. You ought to bottle this stuff and sell it.”
She yanked off the bandanna that was holding back her short brown hair, held it under the water, and then wiped her face and neck, damp little curls clinging to her temples and the nape of her neck. When she raised her arms to tie the wet bandanna back over her hair, Remy caught himself staring.
What was wrong with him? He’d been with Lisa forever, it seemed. They’d known each other since they were kids, had both been virgins that night two years ago when they’d gone to the dugout behind the high school while most of the county was in­side watching the annual reenactment of the Rope River Mine War. He hadn’t felt drawn to look at another girl like this. Why should he when he had everything he wanted?
The girl stared back at him, and he felt brown eyes .ecked with green move over his face and follow the droplets of water that trickled down his body, running over the .at muscles between the two halves of his open shirt. He was made by the mountains, tall, thin, and wiry, his body shaped by years of climbing trees and rocks and the kind of physical work most people didn’t think any­one had to do anymore, not in this country, anyway.
For a second, he had this crazy mental picture of kissing her, just taking hold of her and kissing her. Then a car swept by, close on their side, the draft kicking up hot air and dust, scaring the girl so that she took a bad step and slid into the rainwater gully.
Swearing, she scrabbled up, and Remy reached a hand to pull her back onto the road.
“You okay?”
“Yeah, thanks.” She smacked dust off her bottom. “Serves me right for admiring the scenery when I should be working.” She looked at him, squinting a little. “You live around here?”
“Close enough,” he said.
She pointed at the black letters on his arm. “What’s that stand for?”
He looked at his arm, like he forgot what was there. “Just my initials. Remington Alvin Walker, that’s me.”
“Remington?” Her eyes widened.
“It’s a family name.”
That’s what his dad said, laughing and following it up with “Yep, that shotgun is like a brother to me.” Part of his hillbilly put-on, like the stoneware jug he kept in the kitchen of their small trailer, telling visiting distant cousins it was full of moonshine when Remy knew it was only .lled with Jack Daniel’s, bought spe­cial for the occasion from the liquor store. Still, it wasn’t always easy carrying around a joke as a .rst name. A lot of people took it seriously, thinking you were named after a gun. And outsiders— like the girl—either thought it was quaint or scary, neither of which felt especially good.
“Remington.” She rolled his name over her tongue like she’d done with the water. “That is such a cool name. Very unique.”
Nobody had ever thought it was cool. He gave the girl another look.
“I’m Dana Shaeffer,” she said. “For no particular reason.”
He nodded acknowledgment. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Maryland, originally, near Washington, D.C. We moved to West Virginia, to the eastern panhandle, a couple of years ago because it was cheaper.”
Yeah, he’d heard about that. It was supposed to be good for the state, to have these commuters move in. But all they did was drive up the prices so the local people couldn’t afford to live there any­more.
“So what are you doing away down here?”
“I’m painting the water tower,” she said.
He looked at her to see if she was kidding, but she seemed se­rious. “What for?” he asked. “Just been painted a year ago.”
“Not that kind of painting,” she said. “I’m painting a mural on it. Come and see.”
He followed her across the road where she unfolded a big piece of paper with a picture drawn on it in pencil. It took a couple of minutes of hard staring to .gure out it was a jumble of important points in McGuire County history. There was the old county court­house bigger and more impressive than it had ever looked, a train heaped with coal, the writer Rosella Banks, U.S. Senator John T. McGonaugle, the obligatory coal miner, and some mountains in the background.
“Did you draw this?”
“Mm-hm.” She nodded.
He had to keep looking at her, his ideas about her shifting so quickly in such a short time.
“It’s good.”
“Thanks,” Dana said.
“What’s it for?”
“What do you mean, ‘What’s it for?’ ” she asked. “It’s art. It’s supposed to make you think. I’m doing four of these down here this summer. I’ve already done two up in Blair County. I won a grant.”
“From who?”
“The state government.” She rolled the picture back up.
“The state is paying you?” Remy asked. “To paint pictures on water towers?”
“Uh-huh. Not much, though. I was hoping to have enough so I could live off-campus when I go back to college in the fall. I hated living in the dorm. Not that my parents wouldn’t help me out, but you know. I thought it would be cool if I could say I paid for some of it myself. My dad thinks majoring in art is a total waste of time. It’d be nice if I could show him I can make some money from it.”
His ideas about her shifted again. A transplanted running-at­the-mouth Maryland rich girl, painting scenes of civic pride on the water towers of dying towns and getting paid by the state to do it.
“Yeah, well, see ya,” he said and started back across the high­way.
“You don’t have to go!” she shouted after him. “Why don’t you stay and talk to me?”
“Got to work,” he said without turning. “I wouldn’t drink any more of that water.”
“Why not? You said it was okay.”
“I said I guessed, but you never know. I heard they were start­ing mountaintop removal over on Jarrett Mountain this week. Heard blasting today. No telling where they’re dumping the over­load.”
“What’s that mean?”
He stopped in the middle of the road and turned around. “They tear the top off the mountain so they can get to the coal eas­ier. Then they dump the waste down in the valley and the acid from the slag gets into the creeks and groundwater. Why don’t you put that on the water tower?”
Her face went all red for a second, like she wanted to yell at him. Then she put her hands on her hips and said, “You want to explain to me how this is all my fault?”
“Take too long. I’ve got a job to get to. Some of us work be­cause we have to, not because it’s a cool idea.”
He could hear her banging paint cans around the whole way down the bend and laughed with satisfaction. Maybe he shouldn’t have told her that lie about Jarrett Mountain. The blasting he’d heard was miles away. The water was .ne to drink. But there was something about her that pricked at him—being paid by the state to paint pictures, going crazy over the spring water, calling him “scenery” like he was only there for her personal viewing pleasure. Let her drive into town and pay for a drink.
 

Excerpted from Funny how things change by Melissa Wyatt.
Copyright © 2009 by Melissa Wyatt.
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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