13 Reasons Why Cassette 3 Side B Part 3

So I walked into Rosie’s and sat at the counter. And when you go there, if you go there, don’t order right away.

The phone in my pocket starts vibrating.

Just sit and wait. And wait a little more.

It’s Mom.

I press Pause.

I answer the phone, but even the simplest words catch in my throat and I say nothing.

“Honey?” Her voice is soft. “Is everything all right?”

I close my eyes to concentrate, to speak calmly. “I’m fine.” But does she hear it?

“Josh, honey, it’s getting late.” She pauses. “Where are you?”

“I forgot to call. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She hears it, but she won’t ask. “Do you want me to pick you up?”

I can’t go home. Not yet. I almost tell her I need to stay till I’m done helping Tony with his school project. But I’m almost done with this tape and I only have one more with me.

“Mom? Can you do me a favor?”

No response.

“I left some tapes on the workbench.”

“For your project?”

Wait! But what if she listens to them? What if, to see what they are, she slides a tape into the stereo? What if it’s Hayley talking about me?

“It’s okay. Never mind,” I say. “I’ll get them.”

“I can bring them to you.”

I don’t answer. The words aren’t caught in my throat, I just don’t know which ones to use.

“I’m heading out anyway,” she says. “We’re out of bread and I’m making sandwiches for tomorrow.”

I exhale a tiny laugh and I smile. Whenever I’m out late she makes a sandwich for my school lunch. I always protest and tell her not to, saying I’ll make my own when I get home. But she likes it. She says it reminds her of when I was younger and needed her.

“Just tell me where you are,” she says.

Leaning forward on the metal bench, I say the first thing that comes to mind. “I’m at Rosie’s.”

“The diner? Are you getting work done there?” She waits for an answer, but I don’t have one. “Doesn’t it get loud?”

The street is empty. No cars. No noise. No commotion in the background. She knows I’m not telling the truth.

“When are you going to leave?” I ask.

“As soon as I get the tapes.”

“Great.” I start walking. “I’ll see you soon.”

I press Play.

Listen to the conversations around you. Are people wondering why you’re sitting there alone? Now glance over your shoulder. Did a conversation stop? Did their eyes turn away? I’m sorry if this sounds pathetic, but you know it’s true. You’ve never gone there by yourself, have you?

I haven’t.

It’s a totally different experience. And deep down you know the reason you’ve never gone alone is the reason I just explained. But if you do go, and you don’t order anything, everyone’s going to think the same thing about you that they thought about me. That you’re waiting for someone. So sit there. And every few minutes, glance at the clock on the wall. The longer you wait–and this is true–the slower the hands will move.

Not today. When I get there, my heart will be racing as I watch the hands spin closer and closer to Mom walking through the door. I start to run.

When fifteen minutes are up, you have my permission to order a shake. Because fifteen minutes is ten minutes longer than it should take even the slowest person to walk there from school. Somebody…isn’t coming. Now, if you need a recommendation, you can’t go wrong with the banana-and-peanut-butter shake. Then keep waiting, however long it takes to finish your shake. If thirty minutes go by, start digging in with your spoon so you can get the hell out of there. That’s what I did.

You’re an ass, Marcus. You stood her up when you never even had to ask her out to begin with. It was a fund-raiser for Cheer Camp. If you didn’t want to take it seriously, you didn’t have to.

Thirty minutes is a long time to wait for a Valentine’s date. Especially inside Rosie’s Diner by yourself. It also gives you plenty of time to wonder what happened. Did he forget? Because he seemed sincere. I mean, even the cheerleader thought he meant it, right?

I keep running.

Calm down, Hayley. That’s what I kept telling myself. You’re not setting yourself up for a fall. Calm down. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? Isn’t that how I convinced myself not to pull my survey out of the box?

Okay, stop. Those were the thoughts running through my head after waiting thirty minutes for Marcus to show up. Which probably didn’t put me in a good frame of mind for when he finally did show up.

My running slows. Not because I’m out of breath or my legs are ready to collapse. I’m not physically tired. But I’m exhausted. If Marcus didn’t stand her up, then what?

He sat down on the stool next to me and apologized. I told him that I’d almost given up and left. He looked at my empty milkshake glass and apologized again. But in his mind, he wasn’t late. He wasn’t sure I would even be there.

And I’m not going to hold that against him. Apparently, he thought we were joking about the date. Or he assumed we were joking about the date. But halfway home, he stopped, thought about it, and headed to Rosie’s just in case. And that’s why you’re on this tape, Marcus. You turned around just in case. Just in case I, Hayley Williamsr–Miss Reputation–was waiting for you. And sadly, I was. At the time, I just thought it might be fun. At the time, I was stupid.

There’s Rosie’s. Across the street. At the far end of the parking lot.

See, when Marcus came into Rosie’s, he wasn’t alone. No, Marcus came into Rosie’s with a plan. Part of that plan was to move us away from the counter to a booth near the back. Near the pinball machines. With me on the inside. Me, sandwiched between him…and a wall.

The parking lot is nearly empty. Only a few cars directly in front of Rosie’s, but none of them are Mom’s. So I stop.

If you want, if you’re sitting at Rosie’s right now, stay at the counter. It’s more comfortable there. Believe me.

I stand on the curb, breathing deep, exhaling hard. A red hand flashes at the intersection across the street.

I don’t know how much of his plan was thought out. Maybe he arrived with just an endgame. A goal. And like I said, Marcus is funny. So there we were, sitting in a booth with our backs to the rest of the diner, laughing. At one point Marcus had me laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. I leaned over, touching my forehead to his shoulder, begging him to stop.

The hand keeps flashing, urging me to make up my mind. Telling me to hurry. I still have time to run across the street, jump the curb, and race through the parking lot to Rosie’s. But I don’t.

And that’s when his hand touched my knee. That’s when I knew.

The hand stops flashing. A solid, bright red hand. And I turn around. I can’t go in there. Not yet.

I stopped laughing. I nearly stopped breathing. But I kept my forehead against your shoulder, Marcus. There was your hand, on my knee. From out of nowhere. The same way I was grabbed in the liquor store.

“What are you doing?” I whispered.

“Do you want me to move it?” you asked.

I didn’t answer.

I press my hand against my stomach. It’s too much. Too much to handle. I’ll go to Rosie’s. In a minute. And hopefully, I’ll get there before Mom. But first, the theater where Hayley and I worked for one summer. A place where she was safe: the Crestmont.

And I didn’t move away from you, either. It was like you and your shoulder weren’t connected anymore. Your shoulder was just a prop to rest my head against while I figured things out. And I couldn’t look away as your fingertips caressed my knee…and started moving up.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

It’s only a block away, and maybe it’s not a red star on her map, but it should’ve been.

It’s a red star to me.

Your shoulder rotated and I lifted my head, but now your arm was behind my back and pulling me close. And your other hand was touching my leg. My upper thigh. I looked over the back of the booth to the other booths, to the counter, trying to catch someone’s eye.

And a few people glanced over, but they all turned away. Below the table, my fingers were fighting to pry your fingers off. To loosen your grip. To push you away. And I didn’t want to yell–it wasn’t to that level yet–but my eyes were begging for help.

I shove my hands in my pockets, balled into fists. I want to slam them into a wall or punch them through a store window. I’ve never hit anything or anyone before, and already, just tonight, I’ve wanted to hit Marcus with that rock.

But everyone turned away. No one asked if there was a problem. Why? Were they being polite? Was that it, Zac? Were you just being polite?

Zac? Again? With Justin on the first tape, falling on Hayley’s lawn. Then interrupting me and Hayley at Kat’s going-away party. I hate this. I don’t want to find out how everyone fits together anymore.

“Stop it,” I said. And I know you heard me because, with me looking over the backrest, my mouth was just inches away from your ear. “Stop it.”

The Crestmont. I round the corner and, less than half a block away, there it is. One of the few landmarks in town. The last art deco theater in the state.

“Don’t worry,” you said. And maybe you knew your time was short because your hand immediately slid up from my thigh. All the way up. So I rammed both of my hands into your side, throwing you to the floor.

Now, when someone falls out of a booth, it’s kind of funny. It just is. So you’d think people would’ve started laughing. Unless, of course, they knew it wasn’t an accident. So they knew something was going on in that booth, they just didn’t feel like helping. Thanks.

The wraparound marquee stretching over the sidewalk. The ornate sign reaching to the sky like an electric peacock feather. Each letter flickers on one at a time, C-R-E-S-T-M-O-N-T, like filling in a crossword puzzle with neon letters.

Anyway, you left. You didn’t storm out. Just called me a tease, loud enough for everyone to hear, and walked out. So now, let’s back up. To me, sitting at the counter, getting ready to leave. To me, thinking Marcus wasn’t showing up because he simply didn’t care. And I’ll tell you what I was thinking then. Because now, it applies even more.

I walk toward the Crestmont. The other stores I pass are all closed for the night. A solid wall of darkened windows. But then a triangular wedge cuts away from the sidewalk, its walls and marble floor the same colors as the neon sign, pointing in to the lobby. And in the middle of the wedge, the box office. Like a tollbooth, with windows on three sides and a door in the rear. That’s where I worked on most nights.

“For the longest time, from almost day one at this school, it seemed that I was the only one who cared about me. Put all of your heart into getting that first kiss…only to have it thrown back in your face. Have the only two people you truly trust turn against you. Have one of them use you to get back at the other, and then be accused of betrayal. Are you getting it now? Am I going too fast? Well, keep up! Let someone take away any sense of privacy or security you might still possess. Then have someone use that insecurity to satisfy their own twisted curiosity.

She pauses. Slows down a bit.

Then come to realize that you’re making mountains out of molehills. Realize how petty you’ve become. Sure, it may feel like you can’t get a grip in this town. It may seem that every time someone offers you a hand up, they just let go and you slip further down. But you must stop being so pessimistic, Hayley, and learn to trust those around you. So I do. One more time.

The last movie of the night is playing, so the box office is empty. I stand on the swirling marbled floor, surrounded by posters of coming attractions. This was my chance, at this theater, to reach Hayley. It was my chance and I let it slip away.

And then…well…certain thoughts begin creeping around. Will I ever get control of my life? Will I always be shoved back and pushed around by those I trust?

I hate what you did, Hayley.

Will my life ever go where I want it to? When someone can finally hear my voice, my lyrics?

You didn’t have to do it and I hate the fact that you did.

The next day, Marcus, I decided something. I decided to find out how people at school might react if one of the students never came back. As the song goes, “You are lost and gone forever, oh my darling, Valentine.”

I lean back against a poster locked behind a plastic frame and I close my eyes. I’m listening to someone give up. Someone I knew. Someone I liked. I’m listening. But still, I’m too late.

I press Stop.

My heart is pounding and I can’t stand still. I walk across the marble floor to the box office. A small sign hangs by a chain and a tiny suction cup. CLOSED–SEE YOU TOMORROW! From out here, it doesn’t look so cramped. But in there, it felt like a fishbowl.

My only interaction came when people slid money over to my side of the glass and I slid back their tickets. Or when a coworker let themselves in through the rear door. Other than that, if I wasn’t selling tickets, I was reading. Or staring out of the fishbowl, into the lobby, watching Hayley. And some nights were worse than others. Some nights I watched to make sure she buttered the popcorn all the way through. Which seems silly now, and obsessive, but that’s what I did.

Like the night Bryce Walker came. He arrived with his girlfriend-of-the-moment and wanted me to charge her the under-twelve rate.

“She won’t be watching the movie anyway,” he said. “You know what I mean, Josh?” Then he laughed. I didn’t know her. She might’ve been a student from another school. One thing was clear, she didn’t seem to think it was funny. She placed her purse on the counter. “I’ll pay for my own ticket, then.” Bryce moved her purse aside and paid the full amount. “Just relax,” he told her. “It was a joke.”

About halfway through the movie, while I sold tickets for the next show, that girl came tearing out of the theater holding her wrist. Maybe crying. And Bryce was nowhere to be seen.

I kept watching the lobby, waiting for him to show. But he never did. He stayed behind to finish watching the movie he had paid for. But when the movie was over, he leaned against the concession counter, talking Hayley’s ear off as everyone else left. And he stayed there while the new people came in. Hayley filled drink orders, handed out candy, gave back change, and laughed at Bryce. Laughed at whatever he said.

The entire time, I wanted to flip the Closed sign over. I wanted to march into the lobby and ask him to leave. The movie was over and he didn’t need to be here anymore. But that was Hayley’s job. She should have asked him to leave. No, she should have wanted him to leave.

After selling my last ticket and turning over the sign, I exited through the box office door, locked it behind me, and went into the lobby. To help Hayley clean up. To ask about Bryce.

“Why do you think that girl ran out of here like that?” I asked.

Hayley stopped wiping the counter and looked me straight in the eye. “I know who he is, Josh. I know what he’s like. Believe me.”

“I know,” I said. I looked down and touched a carpet stain with the toe of my shoe. “I was just wondering, then, why’d you keep talking to him?”

She didn’t answer. Not right away. But I couldn’t raise my eyes to face her. I didn’t want to see a look of disappointment or frustration in her eyes. I didn’t want to see those kinds of emotions directed at me. Eventually, she said the words that ran through my mind the rest of that night: “You don’t need to watch out for me, Josh.”

But I did, Hayley. And I wanted to. I could have helped you. But when I tried, you pushed me away. I can almost hear Hayley’s voice speaking my next thought for me. “Then why didn’t you try harder?”