So here I am, dressed as a volcano, freezing my butt off. You heard me right. I’m a huge, squashy volcano, complete with red hat of fire and molten lava vomiting from my head and spilling all over me. A black car pulls up as I fan out geology books and rock paperweights on the table, and the door swings open. Shit.
“Wow. Katy. What are you?”
Jared remembers my name. He’s been at my school for years but just recently moved in across the street. I’m suddenly sweating, despite the cold.
“A bunny girl, what’s your excuse?”
His mom jumps down from the passenger side, looking over my head, “Marty!”
“Gina!” My uncle Marty runs out, whispering back to me, “Gina’s our newest member.”
Okay, let me explain. Marty started a group called Geology Rocks!! (apparently it needs two exclamations) last year, by placing an ad in the local paper. You have to understand, for a mild-mannered guy with a greasy ponytail and long-running career at Putt Putt (our high-octane thrill-a-minute miniature golf center), it was a proud moment for him when four other losers actually wanted in on the action. They quickly became The Guys. Now they meet every Wednesday. To discuss rocks. I guess everyone needs some mid-week excitement.
“I have the projector!” Gina raises a bag and her sharpied-on eyebrows simultaneously. “Can’t wait to watch it!” Beaming, she turns to me, “It’s Katy, isn’t it?! Your uncle talks so much about you.”
I nod, “Nice to see you, Mrs B.”
“You know, with us being neighbours now and everything,” she lifts her finger, like a lightbulb moment’s coming, and gestures at Jared and me. “You two should hang out!”
Jared smiles at me and shrugs. Okay, so he’s not acting totally repelled by that. But this whole situation’s hideous. I kick myself at the thought of how easy it would’ve been to stay bed this morning.
Marty picked me up in his rust-bucket truck at some ungodly hour.
“You seemed pretty stoked about something on the phone,” I’d yawned, blowing on my hands to keep warm. “What’re we doing exactly?”
“Remember going to The Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland?” he asked excitedly.
He took me there when I was a little kid. It was the first time I’d had fun and really belly-laughed since Dad left. For a split second I thought, That’ll be a nice way to spend…Oh. Hang on. I had that sinking feeling – and my expectations were low to start with.
We pulled up at The Bellevue Diner, and I massaged my forehead with my fingers. A banner strung from pillar to pillar read: Rock Hall of Fame!! (Come & celebrate America’s finest rock formations)!! The owner must owe him some big-ass favour.
“Katy, will you run my gift store out front? You’re so good with people. It might entice them in.” I shot him a withering look which he ignored, “I need help setting up the exhibition before the breakfast crowd arrives. There’s a rockin’ costume in it for you!”
Marty knew I’d do it. That’s what gets me. Even though it was barely 6am, and I’d had no caffeine, and this sucked more than the time we had to wash up at Friendly’s because his card got declined and we’d already eaten; he knew I’d do it. Because my uncle’s the sweetest man alive and he actually gives a crap about me. He always has. God, I hate him.
“Remember, there’s twenty bucks in this for you!” he sings at me now as he takes the projector from Gina.
“Even a date with Noah Centineo wouldn’t make this worthwhile!” I mutter.
Jared snorts when he laughs. I’ve noticed it before in Math and it’s weirdly cute.
“Think you can give us a hand setting up?” Marty asks him.
“Sure!” Jared jumps to it, heaving boxes from the truck while I unwrap some rocks. “That’s pretty,” he says, passing by.
“Sphalerite. Gets its unusual glow from iron impurities – apparently. Marty finds them near Niagara Falls.”
Unfortunately, I can’t unknow this stuff. Inside the diner, we hang pictures of landmarks and Jared stands back, reading the description from one labelled Devil’s Postpile aloud.
“During the last ice age, there was a basalt eruption in California – Mammoth Lakes region. The molten basalt…” God, I love it when he drags his fingers through his hair. Ha, his hand’s stuck. I’m dying to untangle him, put my face near his, so he’ll have no choice but to kiss me…slowly… for at least half an hour. His lips are still talking, “Solidified, and fractured into these amazing columns.” He rubs the back of his neck, “Cool.”
“Wait till you see our documentary!” Marty slaps him on the back. “There are cool places around here too, you know.”
I finish setting up the gift store outside on a decorating table, and soon I’m wobbling around greeting baffled customers on their way in for waffles and coffee. My lace is untied. I try to bend, but the bulging volcano’s stopping me reaching further than my knees.
Jared sticks his head out, “Your uncle says to come in for this.”
“Okay!” I knock the table over as I quickly straighten up.
“I’ve got this,” he laughs, heading over to tie my sneaker. As we scoop up books and rocks from the grass, we make proper eye contact for the first time. He scratches his nose, “You really don’t give a crap what anyone thinks, do you?” I’d be insulted or point out that there isn’t a person on the planet who, hand-on-heart, doesn’t care what people think of them, but he follows up with, “I love that!” and chuckles as he wanders inside, still shaking his head.
I waddle after him in time to see Gina clear her throat and address the diners, “Geology Rocks!! would like to present a short film to ya’ll this morning… Buffalo Rocks!”
My uncle starts his movie, fumbling with the projector until it plays on the wall, not the ceiling. Jared gestures at the only empty booth and I try to squash into it next to him, but my costume makes a long embarrassing burp sound against the seat. He stares at me. My face grows hotter than actual lava.
I fix my eyes on Marty, speaking from an enchanted looking forest among crevices and mossy caves. “Panama Rocks is located in Chautauqua County,” his recorded voice is sleep-inducing, but hey, to be fair he’s not afraid to put himself out there. “Just 90 minutes south of Buffalo.”
“Maybe we could take a trip there?” I say, without looking at Jared. I feel his eyes on me, and I shrug, “Looks interesting. Kind of…” I don’t know what’s got into me, but apparently embracing your inner geek and dressing in something that belongs in a Halloween costume reject bin makes you more fearless. I mean, today can’t get much worse can it, so what the hell?
“You and me?”
I guess it can. I nod and turn to find him wide-eyed, a smile twitching at his lips.
“Yeah. Yeah, absolutely,” he whispers loudly. “I’m in!” He coughs. “I’m free tomorrow?” Okay, we both have full-on grins now.
Gina leans down to us, still gazing at Marty on the wall, “Today rocks, huh?!”
The look her son’s giving me makes my stomach flip.
I wrestle my lava hat off, eventually setting it down next to a ketchup bottle on the table. Quickly ruffling my hair, pretending like I’ve actually removed a sexy motorbike helmet or something, I say, “Yeah. You know, it really kind of does.”