Home > What Light(2)

What Light(2)
Jay Asher

“I can tell you what it would be like,” Rachel says. “It’ll be senior year. Skiing. Hot tubbing. In the snow!”

But I love our snowless California town, right on the coast, just three hours south of San Francisco. I also love selling trees, seeing the same families come to us year after year. It wouldn’t feel right to spend so long growing the trees only to ship them all off for other people to sell.

“Sounds fun, right?” Rachel asks. She leans close to me and wiggles her eyebrows. “Now, imagine it with boys.”

I snort-laugh and then cover my mouth.

“Or not,” Elizabeth says, pulling back Rachel’s shoulder. “It could be nice to have it just us, a time without any boys.”

“That’s pretty much me every Christmas,” I say. “Remember, last year I got dumped the night before we drove to California.”

“That was horrible,” Elizabeth says, though she does laugh a little. “Then he brings that homeschool girl with the big boobs to winter formal and—”

Rachel presses a finger to Elizabeth’s lips. “I think she remembers.”

I look down at my first present, still mostly wrapped. “Not that I blame him. Who wants to be in a long-distance relationship over the holidays? I wouldn’t.”

“Although,” Rachel says, “you did say there are some good-looking guys who work on the tree lot.”

“Right.” I shake my head. “Like Dad will let that happen.”

“Okay, no more talking about this,” Elizabeth says. “Open your gifts.”

I pull up a piece of tape, but my mind is now on California. Heather and I have been friends literally since we can remember. My grandparents on Mom’s side used to live next door to her family. When my grandparents passed away, her family took me in for a couple of hours each day to give my parents a break. In exchange, their house got a beautiful Christmas tree, a few wreaths, and two or three workers to hang lights on their roof.

Elizabeth sighs. “Your presents. Please?”

I tear open one side of the wrapping.

They’re right, of course. I would love to spend at least one winter here before we all graduate and move off to wherever. I’ve had dreams of being with them for the ice-sculpting contest and all the other things they tell me about that go on around here.

But my holidays in California are the only time I get to see my other best friend. I stopped referring to Heather simply as my winter friend years ago. She’s one of my best friends, period. I used to also see her a few weeks every summer when visiting my grandparents, but those visits stopped when they passed away. I worry I may not be able to enjoy this season with her, knowing it might be my last.

Rachel stands up and walks away across the stage. “I need to get some coffee.”

Elizabeth yells after her, “She’s opening our presents!”

“She’s opening your present,” Rachel says. “Mine has the red ribbon.”

The first frame I open, with the green ribbon, contains a selfie of Elizabeth. Her tongue sticks out sideways while her eyes look in the opposite direction. It’s like almost every other photo she takes of herself, which is why I love it.

I press the frame against my chest. “Thank you.”

Elizabeth blushes. “You’re welcome.”

“I’m opening yours now!” I shout across the stage.

Walking slowly toward us, Rachel carries three paper cups of steaming coffee. We each take one. I set mine to the side as Rachel sits back down in front of me, and then I begin to open her present. Even though it’s only one month, I am going to miss her so much.

In Rachel’s photo, her beautiful face is sideways, partially blocked by her hand as if she didn’t want the picture taken.

“It’s supposed to look like I’m being stalked by the paparazzi,” she says. “Like I’m a big-time actress coming out of a fancy restaurant. In real life, though, there would probably be a huge bodyguard behind me, but—”

“But you’re not an actress,” Elizabeth says. “You want to do set design.”

“That’s part of the plan,” Rachel says. “Do you know how many actresses there are in the world? Millions. And all of them are trying so hard to get noticed, which is a total turnoff. One day, while I’m designing sets for some famous producer, he’ll take one look at me and just know it’s a waste to keep me behind the camera. I should be in front of it. And he’ll take full credit for discovering me, but I actually made him discover me.”

“What concerns me,” I say, “is that I know you believe it’s going to happen just like that.”

Rachel takes a sip from her coffee. “Because it is.”

The first bell rings. I gather the silver wrapping paper and crumple it into a ball. Rachel carries that and our empty coffee cups to a trash can backstage. Elizabeth puts my frames into a paper grocery bag and then rolls down the top before handing it back to me.

“I assume we can’t stop by before you leave?” Elizabeth asks.

“Probably not,” I say. I follow them down the steps, and we take our time walking up the aisle to the back of the theater. “I’ll be in bed early tonight so I can work a couple of hours before school tomorrow. And then we leave first thing Wednesday morning.”

“What time?” Rachel asks. “Maybe we—”

“Three a.m.,” I say, laughing. From our farm in Oregon to our lot in California, it’s about a seventeen-hour drive, depending on bathroom breaks and holiday traffic. “Of course, if you want to get up that early . . .”

“That’s okay,” Elizabeth says. “We’ll send you good thoughts in our dreams.”

“Do you have all your assignments?” Rachel asks.

“I believe so.” Two winters ago, there were maybe a dozen of us migrating tree-lot kids at school. This year, we’re down to three. Thankfully, with so many farms in the area, teachers are used to accommodating different harvest times. “Monsieur Cappeau is worried about my ability to pratique mon français while I’m gone, so he’s making me call in once a week for a chat.”

Rachel winks at me. “Is that the only reason he wants you to call?”

“Don’t be gross,” I say.

“Remember,” Elizabeth says, “Sierra doesn’t like older men.”

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