The Fake
The Nearness of You
“Time for you and Lady Liberty to get acquainted,” Grayson said, a twinkle in his eye.
A mob of tourists followed the water line for as long as I could see, but we didn’t seem to be headed in their direction. “That’s the line for Liberty Island, isn’t it?”
Grayson shook his head. “That’s the line for suckers who haven’t ever been to New York and want to spend a fortune to stand in line for three hours and then look up the good lady’s nose. We will be viewing her the way the locals do it every day. For free.” He wiggled his eyebrows and squeezed my hand tighter as he led me down the street.
We stopped outside a big glass building with the huge letters above the entrance, “Staten Island Ferry.”
He led me through a crowd even denser than in the park and up the stairs. Grayson and I were practically carried in the wave of people flowing onto the boat. We seemed doomed to an inside view until Grayson began charming people into letting us slip though out into the air and eventually to a spot on the rail.
It felt very strange and grown up to be in these crowds without my dad near. I hadn’t done anything like this without him before. The world around me seemed crisp and colorful and I felt like I was taking in a hundred things at once, from the faces of or our fellow passengers to the smell of exhaust and cologne to the wind cutting through my jacket. I shivered.
“Cold?” Grayson asked.
I shrugged. “A bit, but it’s worth it.” The view over the rail was magnificent. To the right was South Manhattan with its skyscrapers and the green slice of park along the water. To the left was the grand statue, still small against the pink sunset.
We leaned against the railing, and he rested his arm over my shoulder. “To keep you warm.”
I smiled at him, wondering how in the world I ended up here with a boy like this. It felt unreal and hyper-real all at once, like I’d stepped into a movie or something.
We watched the water slap at the sides of the boat as it eased away from the dock and drifted across the river waiting for a closer view.
“I have a very important question for you,” he asked.
“Shoot,” I said, leaning as far over the railing as I dared—which was not far—for a better view.
“Would you rather be bald or have uncontrollably hairy armpits that grew back immediately if you shaved them.”
I laughed and slid down from the rail and smiled up at him. “Would waxing help?”
He shook hi head.
“Hairy armpits. Most people don’t see them anyway. I’d just have to avoid the pool.”
He nodded and rubbed his chin, seeing how sensible my answer was.
“How about you?” I asked.
“Bald definitely. Less maintenance all together, plus it’s culturally acceptable for a man to be bald. Most women can’t pull it off.”
“Unless you’re a rapper or something.” I said.
“So true.”
He was quiet for a minute and then he tried another one. “Would you rather live in a Broadway musical where people sang instead of spoke, or a movie where people kissed vampires all the time?”
By now I had a huge smile on my face and was giggling. “Vampires. I could just abstain from the whole kissing part.”
“Oh no,” he said. “You’ve got to kiss some of them too. It’s the rules.”
“Broadway then, all the way,” I said, slightly flustered by the kissing talk. I looked at Grayson’s lips and wondered what it would be like to touch them, but before I could ruminate on the possibility he’d asked another would you rather.
I wondered how he could come up with so many good ones on the spot like that, but he just kept on going and we kept laughing and it was the fastest half hour I’d ever spent.
Then out of nowhere the boat shuddered and jerked as we pulled into the Staten Island terminal. I jumped and looked around.
“I missed it! You distracted me.” I laughed as I punched his arm.
He looked just as surprised as me that we’d talked right through the main event. “Luckily we have to make the return trip to get back to Manhattan. I’ll make sure you see it this time.”
We ran to catch the first returning ferry, and this time ended up at the back where we’d get a perfect view of Liberty Island and hopefully the statue in ten or fifteen minutes. This ferry was even more crowded than the last and I had to squish to keep my spot on the rail. Grayson eventually gave his up and instead scooted behind me and held the rail on either side, which was kind of sweet because it kept me from being bumped and elbowed by our neighbors, but also made me feel a bit nervous. I’d never been so close to a boy before. We stood like that for a few minutes without talking because I wasn’t sure I could do it gracefully in the close quarters. Then, I slowly turned to half-face him, keeping my body tight against the rail.
“I’m glad we didn’t miss the ferry back,” I said.
“Nah. The ferry runs day and night. There are five boats going constantly, three on weekends. Thirty-five thousand trips a year. It wouldn’t be a long wait even if we’d missed it.”
“How do you even know all this stuff?”
He shrugged. “I looked at that sign in the terminal.”
“So did I, but all I remembered was the bit where you’re not allowed to throw trash over the side. I knew you were a genius, but I don’t think I realized the extent.”
He laughed. “Genius is ninety percent effort, and I don’t try hard. I just remember things.” He scowled as if his own words stung.
“Memory doesn’t work like that though.”
“Mine does.”
I turned a little more toward him. “Prove it.”
“Your first day, you wore an old Boise State Broncos T-shirt. You didn’t wear any makeup, in fact I’ve never seen you wear any other than strawberry scented chapstick, and your ponytail was held up with an orange band. Your eyes were a little red, like you hadn’t had enough sleep in a while and you had a little wet spot on your knee, probably because you spilled a little hot chocolate in the cab ride over. The first thing you said to me was, ‘I think I know where I’m going. Is 313 on this floor?’.”
I blinked at him. “How—what—how did you do that?”
He grimaced. “It’s not really something I’ve ever talked about, honestly.” He paused for a few seconds and then went on. “Whatever I see turns into an image that I can recall like you click on a computer file. Every little thing I’ve read, seen, been told, done, it’s all stored away up here.” He tapped the side of his head. “I know every date, every day, everything.”
“Wow.” I said, genuinely impressed. “That’s amazing.”
“It’s useful, except for things I’d rather forget.”
His eyes were sad, so I reached out and took his hand.
“I get to remember everything about you, though.”
I smiled and ran my finger across his knuckles. “Everything?”
He nodded.
I blinked. The whole date I’d felt a little nervous and weird about being in this city with this boy, on a date, but in this moment it all felt right. Like this exactly where I was supposed to be.
Grayson pointed over my shoulder. “Look. There she is!”
I spun around and he pointed out Liberty Island, not that I could miss it this close. “Pretty great, huh?”
“It’s huge. I mean, I knew it was big, but it’s big.”
I looked up at the Lady’s face—austere but welcoming. I shivered.
“She’s a beauty.” Grayson said, flipping my scarf around my shoulder so I could double it up.
He wrapped his arms around me as the statue got smaller, charcoal gray instead of green in the golden evening light.
I turned to face him again. “I’ve wanted to see it every single time we’ve come to New York, but we never had time. Thank you.”
I flung my arms around his neck and when I pulled away, he went with me, sweeping my hair from my cheek.
He’s going to kiss me, I thought.
I wondered if I should pull away—if it was too soon or too much, but before I could decide what to do his lips touched mine, and they were warmer and softer than I expected. Barely moving or breathing, we stayed that way for exactly six seconds.
My eyes flicked open and I moved back, confused and fuzzy feeling.
“I—uh—Dad. It’s getting dark. We should—”
The ferry bumped back into the terminal and we were swept along with the crowd and spat out into Battery Park.
“Claire—I’m sorry, that was—”
I brushed his words away. “It’s okay. We better hurry. I don’t like the idea of the subway in the dark. A cab. Could you do that whistle-y thing?”
He looked perplexed as we hurried to the cab line and I talked to a driver.
“I should come with you,” he said.
I laughed an octave or two too high. “No. It’s out of your way. I’ll see you on Monday at school, though.” I slid into the back seat of the cab. “Thank you so much for the day, for the statue. For—everything.”
He shut the cab door and I watched him through the window as he got smaller and smaller.
My head felt fuzzy in the cab ride home.
I liked Grayson, and somewhere in my dreams I’d probably pictured kissing him. But this felt like something beyond dreams, something strange and romantic, something that didn’t happen to me.
We pulled up to my building and I paid the driver and stepped out into the chilly autumn night. Even after the twenty minute cab ride my lips still carried the heat from the kiss.
I bee-lined into the building, trying not to look Jerry, the doorman, in the eye. I fumbled with the elevator keys and tapped my foot nervously as it took me up to the fifth floor. I punched in the code to the door and swung it open to see Dad sitting on the couch bouncing his foot and reading a novel he’d been trying to get through for the past two years.
“You’re back already?” He asked, jumping to his feet and rushing toward me.
I followed him to the couch and sat down. “Yeah, I. . .”
“Was everything okay? Where’s Grayson?” Dad asked, his eyebrows furrowing.
“It’s fine,” I said, trying to calm my thudding heart and wondering what Dad would say if he knew Grayson had kissed me. So, I didn’t tell him. “It was a really nice date. He was a total gentleman.”
Dad nodded, still not looking totally convinced. I looked down the hall at the closed studio door and changed the subject. “Should we paint? We’ll need to keep up a quick pace if we’re going to get it all done.”
“Not tonight,” Dad said. His eyelids seemed heavy and I got the feeling sending his daughter out on her first date had been about all the excitement he could take. “Besides, I’d bet you have a pretty picture in your head right now, and that should be allowed to linger for one night at least.”
I smiled and gave him a hug.
“I love you more than anything,” he said.
“I love you too, Dad.”
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