The Last Time We Were Us - Leah Konen

Chapter 1

“LIZZIE?”

The name startles me, as I stand in front of the cooler at the Gas Xpress in West Bonneville, where the beer is cheaper and they don’t card half as much as other convenience stores, fiddling through my bag for my fake ID.

No one’s supposed to know me here. And anyone who does knows I haven’t gone by Lizzie for three years now.

Anyone except for him.

I turn around quickly, and there’s Jason behind the counter, my fears coming to instant fruition. When I walked in, it was a pimply college kid who didn’t look like he’d give me a problem, but now that boy is gone, replaced so suddenly by the last person I ever expected to see. Not here. Not now.

I walk up to the counter nervously. He looks as startled as I am.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“I just started my shift.”

“I mean, but what are you doing here?”

I haven’t seen him in almost two years. Besides in the Bonneville paper, of course. And on the special that brought in the news guys from Raleigh, Jason and other delinquents’ faces splashed across the evening news (Westboro County cleans up juvenile hall, sets new example for North Carolina’s youth detention centers).

“I was released on Monday.” His voice is deeper, and even though he’s my age he could probably pass for twenty-three, his face covered in stubble, his dark hair greasy and thick but neatly cut.

“I thought it wasn’t for another six months,” I stammer. It was meant to be well into senior year. It’s not that I expected his return to cause all that much drama on my end, given that my years as Jason Sullivan’s BFF are long gone, but it seems like I should have been given some kind of warning, been allowed to prepare.

“Parole,” he says.

“Oh. Well, congrats.” I immediately want to whack myself on the head for being so awkward.

He rests his palms on the counter and looks at me with the brown eyes I’ve known for as long as I’ve understood the very concept of eyes, and for a fleeting moment, I see us as kids, my finger a toy gun, me playing the bad guy for the afternoon, him ducking for cover behind the great big magnolia tree that split our backyards in two. The nostalgia hits before I can stop it.

I look behind me to see if anyone else is waiting, for the presence of another human to speed this encounter along, but there’s no one. Just us.

“So you’re working here now?”

“I’m certainly not volunteering.”

He must see the discomfort on my face, because he smiles, almost as if he’s trying to remind me that we were friends once and that we can joke with each other. Can we?

“I just meant it’s kind of far. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

He fiddles with an errant receipt. “It’s only about ten minutes from my dad’s condo. And it’s part of the whole rehab program. This is one of the few places that happily take ex-cons. My parole officer helped set it up.” He grins like that should be funny, but it’s not.

I bend my fake ID between my fingers, no clue what to say.

Jason squirms behind the register, his eyes flitting to the case of Natty Light in my hand. “Are you trying to get that?” he asks.

“Oh,” I say. “Yeah.” I set the unconvincing piece of plastic that says I’m twenty-two on the counter, but Jason hesitates. “I mean, can I?”

Jason’s eyes dart around the store, but even though it’s still empty, he shakes his head. “I can’t really do anything illegal right now.”

And just like that, our whole history has culminated in a standoff over a fake ID. “Of course.” I grab the plastic as quickly as I can.

“I should really take that, too, but since we’re friends, I guess it’s okay,” he says.

Friends, I think. Present tense and everything. Right. I put it back in my bag.

“Er, thanks then.” I grab the beer. “I’ll just put this back.”

“Leave it.” He reaches across the counter, and I hand him the case.

“Well, bye,” I say.

“Later,” he says.

But as the bell dings and the door swooshes shut behind me, I wonder if there ever will be a later.

INNIS IS WAITING in the car.

He sees my empty hands and his eyebrows scrunch up. “What, did they give you a hard time?” he asks.

I pull the door shut with a slight slam, like I can seal us off from Jason.

“No.” I wonder if I