Just One Year (Just One Day #2)(7) by Gayle Forman

The boys sit there for a minute and then all start talking at once. “That’s it? So he killed her?” Broodje asks.

“It’s Jack the Ripper and he had a knife,” Lien responds. “He wasn’t carving her a Christmas turkey.”

“What a way to go. I’ll give you one thing, it wasn’t boring,” Henk says. “Willem? Hey, Willem, are you there?”

I startle up. “Yeah. What?”

The four of them all look at me for what feels like a while. “Are you okay?” Lien asks at last.

“I’m fine. I’m great!” I smile. It feels unnatural I can almost feel the scar on my face tug like a rubber band. “Let’s go get a drink.”

We all make our way to the crowded café downstairs. I order a round of beers and then a round of jenever for good measure. The boys give me a look, though if it’s for the booze or for paying for it all, I don’t know. They know about my inheritance now, but they still expect the same frugality from me as always.

I drain my shot and then my beer.

“Whoa,” W says, passing me his shot. “No kopstoot for me.”

I knock his shot back, too.

They’re quiet as they look at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Broodje asks, strangely hesitant.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” The jenever is doing its job, heating me up and burning away the memories that came alive in the dark.

“Your father died. Your mother left for India,” W says bluntly. “Also, your grandfather died.”

There’s a moment of awkward silence. “Thanks,” I say. “I’d forgotten all about that.” I mean it to come out as a joke, but it just comes out as bitter as the booze that’s burning its way back up my throat.

“Oh, don’t mind him,” Lien says, tweaking his ear affectionately. “He’s working on human emotions like sympathy.”

“I don’t need anyone’s sympathy,” I say. “I’m fine.”

“Okay, it’s just you haven’t really seemed yourself since . . .” Broodje trails off.

“You spend a lot of time alone,” Henk blurts.

“Alone? I’m with you.”

“Exactly,” Broodje says.

There’s another moment of silence. I’m not quite sure what I’m being accused of. Then Lien illuminates.

“From what I understand, you always had a girl around, and now the guys are worried because you’re always alone,” Lien says. She looks at the boys. “Do I have that right?”

Kind of sort of yeah, they all mumble.

“So you’ve been discussing this?” This should be funny, except it’s not.

“We think you’re depressed because you’re not having sex,” W says. Lien smacks him. “What?” he asks. “It’s a viable physiological issue. Sexual activity releases serotonin, which increases feelings of well-being. It’s simple science.”

“No wonder you like me so much,” Lien teases. “All that simple science.”

“Oh, so I’m depressed now?” I try to sound amused but it’s hard to keep that tinge of something else out of my voice. No one will look at me except for Lien. “Is that what you think?” I ask, trying to make a joke of it. “I’m suffering from a clinical case of blue balls?”

“It’s not your balls I think are blue,” she says coolly. “It’s your heart.”

There’s a beat of silence, and then the boys erupt into raucous laughter. “Sorry, schatje,” W says. “But that would be anomalous behavior. You just don’t know him yet. It’s much more likely a serotonin issue.”

“I know what I know,” Lien says.

They all argue over this and I find myself wishing for the anonymity of the road, where you had no past and no future either, just that one moment in time. And if that moment happened to get sticky or uncomfortable, there was always a train departing to the next moment.

“Well, if he does have a broken heart or blue balls, the cure is the same,” Broodje says.

“And what’s that?” Lien asks.

“Getting laid,” Broodje and Henk crow together.

It’s too much. “I’ve gotta piss,” I say, standing up.

In the bathroom, I splash water on my face. I stare in the mirror. The scar is still red and angry, aggravated, as though I’ve been picking at it.

Outside, the corridor is crowded, another film having just let out, not the de Bont but one of those treacly British romantic comedies, the kind that promise an everlasting love in two hours.

“Willem de Ruiter, as I live and breathe.”

I turn around, and coming out of the cinema, her eyes misty with fabricated emotion, is Ana Lucia Aurelanio.

I stop, letting her catch up. We kiss hello. She gestures for her friends, people I recognize from University College, to go on ahead. “You never called me,” she says, adjusting her face into a little girl pout that somehow looks charming on her, though almost anything would.

“I didn’t have your number.” I say. I have no reason to be sheepish, but it’s like a reflex.

“But I gave it to you. In Paris.”

Paris. Lulu. The feelings from the movie start to come back, but I push back against them. Paris was make-believe. No different from the romantic movie Ana Lucia just saw.

Ana Lucia leans in. She smells good, like cinnamon and smoke and perfume.

“Why don’t you give me your number again,” I say, pulling out my phone. “So I can call you later.”

“Why bother?” she says.

I shrug. I’d heard rumors she wasn’t too happy when things ended last time. I put my phone away.

But then she grabs my hand in hers. Mine is cold. Hers is hot. “I mean why bother calling me later when I’m right here, right now?”

And she is. Here now. And so am I.

The cure is the same, I hear Broodje say.

Maybe it is.

Ten

NOVEMBER

Utrecht

Ana Lucia’s dorm is like a cocoon, thick feather quilts, radiators hissing full blast, endless cups of custard-like hot chocolate. For the first few days, I am content just to be here, with her.

“Did you ever think we’d get back together?” she coos, snuggling up to me like a warm little kitten.

“Hmm,” I say, because there’s no right way to answer that. I never thought we’d get back together because I never considered us together in the first place. Ana Lucia and I had a three, maybe four-week fling in that hazy spring after Bram died, when I was spectacularly floundering in school but also spectacularly succeeding with women. Though succeeding isn’t the right word, exactly. It implies a kind of effort, when really, it was the one thing in my life that was effortless.

“I did,” she says, nibbling my ear. “I thought about you so much these past few years. And then we bumped into each other in Paris, and it felt like it meant something, like fate.”

“Hmmm,” I repeat. I remember bumping into her in Paris and also feeling like it meant something, but not fate. More like the encroachment, a day too soon, of a world I’d left behind.

“But then you didn’t call me,” she says.

“Oh, you know. Something came up.”

“I’m sure something did.” Her hand drifts between my legs. “I saw you with that girl. In Paris. She was pretty.”

She says it offhandedly, dismissively even, but something skitters to life in my gut. A kind of warning. Ana Lucia’s hand is still between my legs and it’s having the intended effect, but now Lulu’s somewhere in the room, too. Just like that day in Paris, when I ran into Ana Lucia and her cousins while I was in the Latin Quarter with Lulu, I want nothing but distance between these two girls.

“She was pretty, but you’re beautiful.” I say it, trying to steer the conversation away. My words are true, but meaningless. Though Ana Lucia is probably technically prettier than Lulu, such contests are rarely won on technicalities.

Her grip tightens. “What was her name?” she asks.

I don’t want to say her name. But Ana Lucia has me firmly in hand and if I don’t say it, I’ll arouse suspicion. “Lulu,” I say into the pillow. It’s not even her real name, but it feels like a betrayal.

“Lulu,” Ana Lucia says. She lets go of me and sits up in the bed. “A French girl. Was she your girlfriend?”

Morning light is filtering through the window, pale and gray and tinting everything in here slightly greenish. Somehow, the gray dawn light had made Lulu glow in that white room.

“Of course not.”

“Just another one of your flings then?” Ana Lucia’s laughter answers her own question; the knowingness irks me.

That night in the art squat, after everything, Lulu had smudged her finger against her wrist, and I’d done the same. A kind of code for stain, for something that lasts, even if you might not want it to. It had meant something, in that moment at least. “You know me,” I say lightly.

Ana Lucia laughs again, the sound of it throaty and full, rich and indulgent. She climbs on top of me, straddling my hips. “I do know you,” she says, her eyes flashing. She runs a finger down my center line. “I know what you’ve been through now. I didn’t understand before. But I’ve grown up. You’ve grown up. I think we’re both different people, with different needs.”

“My needs haven’t changed,” I tell her. “They’re the same as they ever were. Very basic.” I yank her toward me. I’m still angry at her, but her invoking of Lulu’s name has riled me up. I finger the lace along the trim of her camisole. I dip a finger under the straps.

Her eyes flutter closed for a minute and I close mine, too. I feel the give of the bed and the trail of her waxy kisses on my neck. “Dime que me quieres,” she whispers. “Dime que me necesitas.” Tell me you want me. Tell me you need me.

I don’t tell her because she’s speaking Spanish, which she doesn’t realize I now understand. I keep my eyes closed, but even in darkness I hear a voice telling me she’ll be my mountain girl.

“I’ll take care of you,” Ana Lucia says, and I jump in the bed at hearing Lulu’s words come out of Ana Lucia’s mouth.

But as Ana Lucia’s head dips under the covers, I realize it’s a different kind of taking care she’s talking about. It’s not the kind I really need. But I don’t refuse it.

Eleven

After two weeks ensconced in Ana Lucia’s dorm, I make my way back to Bloemstraat. It’s quiet, a welcome change from the constant hubbub in and around the University College campus, everyone in everyone’s business.

In the kitchen, I open the cupboards. Ana Lucia has been bringing me back cafeteria food or ordering takeout, charging it away on her father’s credit cards. I crave something real.

There’s not much here, a couple of bags of pasta and some onions and garlic. There’s a can of tomatoes in the pantry. Enough for a sauce. I start to chop the onions and my eyes immediately tear. They always do this. Yael’s too. She never cooked much, but occasionally she’d get homesick for Israel, and she’d play bad Hebrew pop music and make shakshouka. I might be all the way upstairs in my room and I’d feel the burn. I’d gravitate down to the kitchen. Bram would find us sometimes, together and red-eyed, and he’d laugh and ruffle my hair and kiss Yael and joke that chopping onions was the only time you’d ever catch Yael Shiloh crying.

Around four, I hear the key click in the lock. I call out a hello.

“Willy, you’re back. And you’re cook—” Broodje says as he turns the corner into the kitchen. Then he stops midsentence. “What’s wrong?”

“Huh?” And then I realize he means my tears. “Just the onions,” I explain.

“Oh,” Broodje says. “Onions.” He picks up the wooden spoon and swirls it in the sauce, blows, then tastes. Then he reaches into the pantry for several dried herbs and rubs them between his fingers before sprinkling them in. He gives a few shakes of salt and several turns of the pepper mill. Then he turns the flame down low and puts on the lid. “Because if it’s not the onions . . .” he says.

“What else would it be?”

He shuffles his foot against the floor. “I’ve been worried about you since that night,” he says. “What happened after the movie.”

“What about it?” I say.

He starts to say something. Then stops. “Nothing,” he says. “So, Ana Lucia? Again.”

“Yeah. Ana Lucia. Again.” I can think of nothing else to add so I revert to small talk. “She sends her greetings.”

Recommended
  • Stephenie Meyer: Twilight (Twilight #1)
  • Stephenie Meyer: Midnight Sun (Twilight #1.5)
  • Stephenie Meyer: New Moon (Twilight #2)
  • Stephenie Meyer: Eclipse (Twilight #3)
  • Stephenie Meyer: Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4)
  • Gayle Forman: Just One Day (Just One Day #1)
  • Gayle Forman: Just One Year (Just One Day #2)
  • Gayle Forman: Sisters in Sanity
  • Charlaine Harris: Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas #1)
  • E.L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • E.L. James: Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • E.L. James: Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Abbi Glines: Fallen Too Far (Rosemary Beach #1)
  • Abbi Glines: Never Too Far (Rosemary Beach #2)
  • Abbi Glines: Forever Too Far (Rosemary Beach #3)
  • Abbi Glines: Rush Too Far (Rosemary Beach #4)
  • Abbi Glines: Breathe (Sea Breeze #1)
  • Abbi Glines: Because of Low (Sea Breeze #2)
  • Abbi Glines: Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Abbi Glines: Simple Perfection (Perfection #2)
  • Top Books
  • E.L. James: Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shad
  • Elle Kennedy: The Deal (Off-Campus #1)
  • C.L. Wilson: The Winter King (Weathermages o
  • J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Chamber of
  • Mariana Zapata: Under Locke
  • Elle Kennedy: The Score (Off-Campus #3)
  • Jane Harvey-Berrick: Dangerous to Know & Love
  • E.L. James: Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shade
  • Jeaniene Frost: One Foot in the Grave (Night Hu
  • Grace Draven: Radiance (Wraith Kings #1)
  • J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Ha
  • Olivia Thorne: All That He Wants (The Billiona
  • Olivia Thorne: All That He Loves (The Billiona
  • Tara Sue Me: The Submissive (The Submissive
  • Loretta Chase: Dukes Prefer Blondes (The Dress
  • Tiffany Reisz: The Saint (The Original Sinners
  • L.A. Casey: Ryder (Slater Brothers #4)
  • E.L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Sha
  • Tiffany Reisz: The Siren (The Original Sinners
  • J.D. Robb: Immortal in Death (In Death #3)