Fox’s black truck is parked on the street opposite Madison’s house. She wishes he’d stopped at the streetlight further down where it’s more discreet, but he insisted on parking closer so she didn’t have to walk the extra block. She might have appreciated his consideration if their circumstances were different. But Madison knows better. By putting them in direct line of sight from the living room window where her parents’ shadows lurked behind the curtains, Fox was establishing his permanence in her life.
“Do you think we’re the type of people who could be in a long-distance relationship?” she asks, shattering the silence that had begun to encase them. “Like a real one, where it’s not just a couple hours between me and you.” Her gaze pins to a spot on the dashboard where the leather had begun peeling years ago一proof that she used to be the kind of person who planted her bare feet on the dash. It now serves as a reminder一perhaps a threat一that the truck’s passenger seat has always and will always belong to her.
“You’re being weird, Madi,” Fox says. “You aren’t planning to move away, are you?” Madison turns to face the window, her shallow breaths fogging up the glass.
She recalls their high school pact to stay together forever, which subsequently brings up unbidden memories of the time, about a month before they graduated, when she caught Fox pushing another girl up against his locker and kissing her when he thought nobody was looking. For days, Madison had waited anxiously for guilt to catch up with his conscience. When it finally did, she pictured it would go something like this: Fox with his tear-stained face, knocking at her door with flowers to apologize. I’ll never do it again, he would say. I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
The day never came. In the following months, she couldn’t stop privately speculating about how long it had gone on, how far it went, how much he enjoyed it. Most of all, she couldn’t believe his betrayal. Like an infectious virus, embarrassment had begun superimposing itself on all of her favorite memories with Fox, turning them sour. Once, during the spring, they ditched class to go surfing in the high tides. Afterward, Madison had searched the whole beach to find them matching shells. She remembered the depth of her happiness when she presented them to Fox. She kept one on her nightstand, the last thing she saw every night before she fell asleep, and it was there every night when she lay awake in bed and considered what would happen if she confronted Fox about it all. The more she thought about it, the more appalling the possibility of breaking up seemed; there was the pact, of course, and the fact that she’d known him almost all her life. So when summer drew to a close, Madison left for college with images of Fox and the red-headed girl seared into the forefront of her mind. It was a relief to get away, to not have to see him everyday and wonder why she couldn’t just give him up.
Madison now glances over at Fox, wondering if he deserves any pity. He doesn’t know about her flight next week, hasn’t seen the suitcases she’s hidden in her closet. But he’s smiling, the same way he smiled all those years ago at the redhead to make her his little secret. Somehow, this is worse. Fox is playing a game. He thinks that she is staying forever, now that she’s graduated from college. He thinks that there is something so special, so irresistible about him, that she is willing to give up her dreams to build a future with him in this town.
She shrugs, glad that she didn’t pack any pictures with Fox in them. “Hypothetically speaking,” she answers.
Fox nods. “Well, yeah,” he declares, “It’s you and me forever, just like it always has been.”
At this, Madison almost scoffs. Fox’s confidence was what she once adored the most about him. When they were younger, she used to wish she was more like him一more sure of herself and of the world around her一but she’s realized in the past year that she’d mistaken his arrogance for confidence. If she was less herself, then she wouldn’t have ambition. And when she thought back to recent phone calls in which she confided in Fox about her newfound dreams to become an author in a big city, she hated him all over again when he made her promise she wouldn’t leave. Fox is the type of person who can default to living a small life and say Yes, this is what I want now and what I’ll want forever. But it isn’t so much that he’s extremely satisfied with their small town as much as it’s because he doesn’t have the determination to make a better living for himself.
“But that’s hypothetical,” he’s now saying. “So I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
Madison turns to face the window again, but it makes no difference whether Fox can see her face. She’s certain he couldn’t discern her irritation anyway. He always does this: gives her an answer just for the sake of charm and damage control. He’s obsessed with controlling the narrative of their relationship, no matter how hurtful he can get.
In the months leading up to their high school graduation, Fox had tried his hardest to talk her out of enrolling in the private university upstate. They will never accept you as one of their own, he’d warned her back then, as if college was a secret society for the rich and she was the only poor student who got accepted. He’d been driving her home when she told him about the scholarship they offered her. Fox had shaken his head in grave disapproval. A scholarship won’t make you their equal. Frustrated, because that wasn’t what she’d meant, Madison had the urge to unbuckle her seatbelt, open the door, and roll away to her death.
But Fox would have truly been surprised to find that people were not one-dimensional, not even close, and that Madison’s new friends were the exact opposite of him in the best way. Despite the fact that most of them hailed from old money, they were diligent with schoolwork and participated in honor societies. They flourished on respect, but they also were not too insecure to return it. All of them brimmed with goals and priorities, and they were confident enough一truly confident一in their own academic abilities that they thrived together without growing spiteful of each other. They were exactly like her. And really, Fox could have turned out that way, too, had it not been for his decision to drop out of college after a year. Fox was the aberration, not Madison. And he’s become complacent about it because he doesn’t realize that she’s figured this out.
Fox isn’t innately a bad person, but he reeks of stubbornness, and unfortunately, not the endearing form of it. The only way he knows to keep a friendship or a relationship is to make the other person less than him. He wants to have all the fun in the world, wants to chase every single high without adhering to any substantive goals. He makes mistakes, but he’ll never admit to them, will never admit to being wrong. He’s manipulative when it comes to what he wants and how he feels, and it’s something that Madison has never accused him of because she knows it would disrupt the equilibrium of their relationship.
But can she even call it an equilibrium? When one person has all the leverage and the other is left grasping? When one person is destined to be in the driver-side seat and the other in the passenger seat for all eternity? Where do Madison’s choices fit in? For years, she has sworn her belief in the pact they made in high school, has held onto the idea of a forever with Fox because she hasn’t known another path to happiness. For years, she has accepted her place beneath him. Only now, she understands that he’s only ever needed her out of safety instead of love.
It does matter! she wants to scream. It has always mattered! She has never screamed at Fox before, not even when he fully deserved her anger or resentment. Agitation courses through her veins as she quickly gathers her purse and jacket.
“Sure,” she says. “Anyway, I have to go now.” She will not waste another second of her life suffocating in Fox’s stupid truck.
He nods as she climbs out. But just before she shuts the door, he calls out, “Finnigan’s throwing a party at his place tomorrow night. You wanna go? I can pick you up at seven.”
She quickly shakes her head. She doesn’t even know who Finnigan is.
“I’ll drive,” she insists nonetheless. “I can meet you there.”
Fox raises a brow because Madison hates driving. He’s got a look of suspicion, like he finally knows something isn’t quite right, like he finally has something real to say. She pauses, holding her breath.
But all he says is a terse “Okay” before driving off.
At first, Madison makes no move to walk up the pathway to her house. She stands there and laughs so loudly that she begins to cry. She’s laughing even as she eventually stumbles into her house and up the stairs to her room, giddy about the prospect of a Fox-free future. She makes up her mind. She pulls out her suitcases and double checks that she has everything, including her one-way ticket across the country. She falls into bed feeling lighter than she’s ever felt, taking one final look at the shell on her nightstand.
Madison will go to this party. She will be Fox’s girlfriend for one more day. None of it will matter. Because the morning after, she’ll be long gone.