Collateral

Free Collateral by Ellen Hopkins

Book: Collateral by Ellen Hopkins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ellen Hopkins
talking
    about, The perfume of plumeria,
    fighting the scent of sweat
    in the air, or how, The ocean’s
    singing reminds me of our last
    night together. Remember?
    How could I possibly forget?
    And that made me even
    hungrier to see him or touch
    him or taste him. His voice was not
    nearly enough, so I’d go get his shirt
    and bury my face in it until time was up
    and he had to tell me, Good-bye. Love
    you. And, I’m in need of some serious
    Ash time. Before long, our mantra.

ALL SIGNS POINTED
    To Spencer being assigned a local
    PDS. He had requested Pendleton,
    which is home to several helicopter
    squadrons. With that likely, he put
    in for on-base housing, knowing
    it would take a while for approval.
    Meanwhile, his housing allowance
    would pay for the off-base apartment
    he could come home to after completing
    training. With SDSU out for summer
    break, I packed up my stuff, left Darian
    in San Diego, and went home.
    Despite my growing feelings for Cole,
    I hadn’t mentioned him to my parents.
    I had a pretty good idea of how they
    would react, especially Mom. The only
    thing that surprised me was how calm
    she remained when we sat down to dinner
    my first night back and the conversation
    almost immediately went to if and who
    I was dating. At that point, lying seemed
    ridiculous, so I admitted, “Actually, I am
    seeing someone. And it’s kind of serious.”
    All silverware action came to a halt.
    Why didn’t you mention it? asked
    Dad. Is he, like, twice your age?
    I smiled. “Well, he is an older man.
    Twenty-one, in fact. And he’s kind
    and smart, and really good looking . . .”
    It was then or never; at least
    that’s how it felt, so I went ahead
    and added, “And he’s in the Corps.”
    Mom’s jaw went rigid. Surely you
    don’t mean the Marine Corps? When
    I looked away, she knew. Yet she kept
    her voice low. Are you actively seeking
    heartbreak? Have you heard there’s a war
    going on? I can’t believe you’re that stupid.
    That smarted, but I didn’t want to
    argue, or even defend myself.
    â€œLove is stupid sometimes, I guess.
    Look, Mom, I didn’t go looking to fall
    for a soldier. Yes, I know there’s a war.
    Cole’s heading that way very soon.”
    Stating it so matter-of-factly sucked
    all bravado out of me. My shoulders
    slumped and my eyes stung. “And
    I’d really a-a . . .” A huge wad of
    emotion crept up my throat. I choked
    it back. “Appreciate your support.”
    Mom shook her head, dropped
    her eyes toward her plate. It was
    Dad who said, Ashley, girl, I think
    this is a huge lapse of judgment.
    But I can see you’re upset. We’ll
    talk about it after dinner, okay?
    But our appetites were crushed
    beneath a relentless blitz of silence.

THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE
    The plain is still,
    emptied
    of even the thinnest
    sounds—the murmur
    of creeping sand;
    pillowed spin of tumbleweed;
    susurrus of feathers trapped
    in thermal lift.
    The well is dry,
    drained
    to weary echo
    above desiccated silt.
    Thirst swells, bloats
    every cell until
    the body arcs
    beneath its weight.
    The page is blank,
    scrubbed of
    metaphor, flawless
    turn of phrase. Parched
    within the silence, hungered
    in a desert without
    words,
    I am stranded
    in your absence.
    Cole Gleason

Present
THE TIMING
    For this trip couldn’t be a whole
    lot worse. The semester has barely
    started, and I’m just settling into
    my classes. I’ll only miss a few days,
    though. Hopefully my professors
    will be understanding. I’m not so
    sure about Mr. Clinger, who wears
    austerity proudly. I wonder if he writes
    poetry, too, or if he only analyzes it.
    You can’t teach poetry without truly
    loving it, can you? Guess we’ll see. Class
    is over for the day, the room deserted
    except for Mr. Clinger and me.
    â€œExcuse me.” I muster my prettiest
    smile, but when he looks up, he

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