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  AN EXCERPT FROM CATCH, BY WILL LEITCH.  
   
   
  Here's how you get there:

Old State Road, the road that takes you to my house, has a quiet, out-of-the-way cemetery across from where my old friend Kyle Gill used to live. Right before you turn into the cemetery, there's a little side road, unnamed, that's made entirely of dirt and pebbles. You sneak that turn and drive for another empty two or three minutes, where there are no cars and no lights and no houses and no nothing.

 
  When you look around you, you will not see a thing. This is exactly you want: after all, you're parking. This spot is my favored terrain; as far as I know, nobody else knows about it. It took me years to find the exact right one, and this is it.

Helena and I have been appropriately unencumbered here at The Spot. We lie here in my truck. Helena is wrapped in my arms, smacking mosquitoes, content. She usually likes to have a cigarette afterward, but we've just finished now, and we're both trying to catch our breath in that level of realization that you were just doing something that caused you to forget everything that was going on in your life and now it's over and you're satisfied and thrilled yet vaguely aware that you have to, slowly, gradually, go back to being who you were

 

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beforehand. She is silent, her air warming my chest, her hair everywhere.

We lie there for a few minutes, with an occasional contented hum from Helena. She whispers, "I'm a little cold," and I grab a ratty old sleeping bag I have in the truck for this very purpose.

She thanks me and then feels the sleeping bag. "This thing is kind of gross," she says. "When's the last time you had it cleaned?"

The truth is that I have no idea (Sophomore year? Freshman?), and since I think this answer won't be acceptable, I try a different tack. "Well, I think Dad took the truck hunting last week and used the blanket to wrap up the deer he shot," I say. "But, um, he probably washed it afterward. Does it smell like venison?"

Helena smacks me playfully and tells me to shut up. "Yep, I'm twenty-three years old," she says. "This is me, still parking."

"Hey, nothing wrong with parking," I say. "You like this spot? Years of research went into this spot. You have no idea how many times Lieutenant Grierson would flash his light in the window until I found this place."

Helena smiles broadly, pulls herself up, and rests her elbows on my chest. "Yeah, this is a pretty good spot," she says. "I think I was here six years ago."

"What?" I swivel my head to look at her. "Really? You're kidding me."

"Tim, come on," she says. "It's a small town. I guarantee you you're the hundredth person in Mattoon history to think they 'discovered' this spot." She leans down, puts her mouth on my ear, and tugs. "It is nice, though."

As if on cue, a car appears in the distance. Helena scampers up to the front seat and taps the brakes. This is the universally accepted sign for, We're parking here. Please, don't hit us.

The car flashes its brights in return code: We saw you. We know what you're up to. Good for you.

The car passes and Helena returns to the backseat. She lights a cigarette, cuddles into my arms, and smokes out the window. She's shivering slightly but at ease. I am calm-at peace. Still in a way I've never been before.

"You know, you look fantastic," I say. "Like some movie star from the fifties."

"That's silly." She waves the comment away. "All my makeup is gone."

I hold her more tightly. "Doesn't matter. You look better this way."

She turns her head slightly, and she's beaming. "Well, I never heard that one before."

"Maybe no one was paying close enough attention," I say, and she nestles her head into my chest. Neither of us wants to move. We lie there for hours, days.

Eventually she gets up, stretches her arms in the air, and unleashes a yawny ahhhhhhhhh.

"So who's this woman you're house-sitting for?" I ask.

"A friend of my mom's," she says. "Over in Charleston. She and her husband are, like, crazy rich, and they just want me to stay there and water the plants and feed the cats. It's like having my own huge house, all to myself, for two weeks!"

I pause. "All to myself?" What does that mean? Does she want me to leave her alone for these two weeks? Am I looking too much into this? And why am I asking all these questions all of a sudden?

I usually pride myself on being able to hide whatever I'm thinking, but Helena, once again, seems to have opened up my skull and peeked inside.

"It'll be great," she says. "They have this enormous kitchen; it's like the size of Jill's whole trailer. We could have a big feast together. We should totally do that. I'll make Italian, and we'll watch DVDs on their big screen. Let's do that on Saturday. Friday I'm thinking we should just lie around and watch TV. The workday wears me out."

My smile is the size of the moon. "Sure. That would be cool," I say, trying to contain myself.

Helena gasps. "Oh my God, you haven't had my fettuccine yet! It's so good, it's been known to make people KILL THEMSELVES! I'll make it and we can spend the whole weekend lying in bed and eating. Hell, we can spend BOTH weekends doing that!"

It is one thing to go parking, which I have done repeatedly. But to spend a whole weekend with Helena-two whole weekends!-sounds amazing. It will be like living together. I wonder if we will walk around the kitchen, communicating silently like my parents do, handing each other salt and pepper and spices, dancing around, our own ballet to our own orchestra. Things may not be entirely smooth the first weekend, but the second weekend . . . that second weekend-oh, WAIT.

"You mean, the next two weekends?" I ask.

Helena nods.

"Shit. I have my, uh, I have my college orientation the second weekend. A friend and I have to go up to Champaign and listen to them tell us What College Life Is Like. I'm supposed to stay in the dorms and everything."

Helena frowns. "Really?" she says, running permutations in her head. "Oh, well, one weekend will be fine, I guess."

I've been dreading this orientation weekend. It just seems like one of those situations where Jessica and I are going to have to talk. About college, about Jeff, about all of it. And for what? So I can see how shitty my dorm is going to be? So I can stand in line waiting to get a fake ID so I can get into bars? So I can see a bunch of people who are smarter than me and know it?

My brother Doug says nothing happens at orientation at all. You just sit around listening to boring speeches by the types of nerdy students you would never hang out with in the first place. And the worst part: you're just another kid on the assembly line. No one knows you there, and no one cares. Not like here.

"So, you know," I say, choosing my words carefully. "I could just skip it." Helena acts like she didn't hear me.

"Really," I say. "I didn't want to go in the first place." A thought buzzes through my brain: Why should I go when all I need is right here, in this truck?

Helena suddenly looks very tired. "Don't be ridiculous; you have to go to your orientation," she says. "I mean, you're going to college. Of course you're going to go to orientation. That's part of the drill, right?"

Our conversation is all serious-immediate, for some reason. I feel urgent.

"I dunno," I say. "It's just that I'm not even sure I want to deal with the whole mess. It seems like it's coming up on me real fast. Everything has been, um, I dunno . . . so nice this summer. It seems kind of strange to just, uh, dump it all and take off in a month."

Helena looks at me like I'm a kindergarten kid trying to figure out how to make Legos fit together. "Oh, that's perfectly natural," she says. "It's a scary thing to leave something that you know and go to something that you don't. It would be weird if you weren't concerned about it." There is a lackadaisical tone to Helena's words, like she'd rather not be talking about this. Like she wishes I would drop it. But I can't, not yet.

"I mean, what's college going to do for me, anyway? Doug looks like college stole his soul. I mean, here, I've got this great job that pays a ton of money, I've got a home I don't have to pay a cent for, everybody knows me, I can get into any bar I want to, all that. When I get there, I'm going to have to make all new friends and a whole new life. But I kind of like my life here, you know?" Another thought: I like my life here with you.

"Please," she says. "You're too smart to hang around here. What are you going to do, carry boxes the rest of your life? This is what you want?"

I grab a beer. What am I failing to get across?

Helena speaks before I have a chance. "Tim, seriously. You're great. And this is real nice. But you have to go to college." She pops me on the shoulder lightly. "If you don't, I'll just have to dump you. And we don't want that, do we?"

She's joking. But not really. But is she? Why does this conversation make no sense all of a sudden? I'm about to say something, Lord knows what, but more headlights appear behind us.

"CAR!" Helena screams, laughing. "Hit the brakes, Tim."

So, that being that, I hit the brakes, and hard.

 

From CATCH by Will Leitch, © 2005 by Will Leitch. Used by permission of Razorbill, A division of Penguin Young Readers Group, A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. All rights reserved.