“Are we on a date?” Eva asks.
“No, of course not,” I laugh nervously.
“Why are you wearing cologne, then?”
“I’m not, um, wearing cologne.”
“Uh-huh. So, Joey Martin just happens to smell fabulous?”
“I, uh, don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Eva smirks. I’m sitting with her at the top of Voyeur Park’s west-facing summit, aptly named Voyeur’s Peak. She’s got her camera and tripod set up, and is doing a time-lapse shot of the sun as it dips behind the San Angelico sprawl below. This is definitely not a date. It’s…photography. That’s all. So, why the heck did I put on cologne? Comb my hair? Brush my teeth? Wear my good loincloth (the colors of which, I now realize, are seriously clashing with my monochrome skin)? “I’m going to shoot the sunset. Wanna come along?” That’s the exact text Eva had sent me. Yet somehow it was enough to activate the slightly horny, slightly wang-associated part of my brain that’s been switching on of its own accord more and more often these days whenever a cute girl talks to me—or acknowledges me in any way, shape, or form, for that matter. If Mini were here, he’d say something like, “This may not be a date, but it’s not not a date, either.” I think. I hope.
“Relax, Theo,” Eva says after watching me squirm. “I’m kidding. The hygiene is strong with you is all.”
Right. Of course. I knew that. “Do we have enough time to get back home before the power goes off again?”
“It’s golden hour. We only need twenty minutes.”
I nod, take a mental inventory of my day bag. The major bullet points include my phone, travel charger, various obligatory USB cables, bottle of water, a gluten-free energy bar, some breath mints, and the aforementioned cologne. If we miss our upload window, are we good to stay put here till tomorrow? We’ve got our spray bottles, but honestly, we haven’t been maintaining our sheens. Nobody does anymore unless they’re in a crowded public area, and even then it’s iffy. I’m not worried about rogue embers. But being stuck at Voyeur’s Peak overnight while underdressed and without a phone signal—hm. What’s that thing about winter campers huddling naked together for warmth?
“So, I got reprimanded at school today,” Eva says after a while.
I clear my throat. “We don’t go to school anymore.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Stupid kid called me flatbread in the chat.”
“I called him can opener.”
I make a clicking motion with my finger. “F1, please.”
“He’s got two giant front teeth, but one is bigger and sharper than the other.”
“Bonus points for you, madam.” I get to my feet, bow gracefully, sit once again.
“Not really,” Eva says. “The instructor said my comment was offensive, and so now my parents have to Skype with Principal Sandalwood to discuss my supposed tolerance issues.”
“I mean…did he actually have big front teeth?”
“How can they send you to Sandalwood’s office for making an observation?”
Eva shrugs. “White girl with a flat chest equals joke, Asian boy with big teeth equals life struggle, I guess.”
“What does he know? You look great shirtless.”
“I just mean—”
“Please don’t explain what you mean.” Eva thrusts an indignant palm at me—though she’s smiling as she does it.
I tuck my legs against my chest, prop my head on my knees, pretend to study the sunset. Really, I’m trying to work out why I’d bristled just now. Maybe because I really do think Eva looks amazing without a shirt, and the concept of her labeling me a perv for thinking that is…unbearable.
“When do you think this will be over?”
Eva gestures at San Angelico’s twinkling tapestry, the pink and orange horizon beyond. “The power-ons and spray bottles, the social distancing, these ridiculous loincloths and sarongs and ‘go naked, save lives!’ #SheenLife zealots—the fact that everyone nowadays begins their sentences with, ‘Due to DOSVID-19…’ followed by some kind of cop-out or otherwise disappointing piece of FYI.”
I snicker. “‘Due to DOSVID-19, all fashion sense has been banned until further notice.’”
Eva snickers back. “‘Due to DOSVID-19, Weekend at Bernie’s IX has been postponed indefinitely.’”
“‘Due to DOSVID-19, the light at the end of the tunnel will only be powered on for one hour a day.’”
“‘Due to DOSVID-19, homework turnarounds may be longer than usual, Mr. Korbel.’”
We laugh. Then, quieting, we happen to look each other in the eye at the same time.
“Why are you looking at me?” Eva asks.
“Why are you looking at me?” I counter, entranced, that certain switch in my brain activating again. There’s something latently The Blue Lagoon about this moment, as if I’m seeing in Eva’s eyes a spark that wasn’t there before, as if she’s seeing something in my eyes that’s always been there—as if the two of us might suddenly rip off our scanty coverings and lose ourselves in a fit of burgeoning tweenage passion—
Eva’s camera beeps.
I blink, shake my head.
The sun’s gone.
The spark snuffed.
The moment past.
“Time lapse is done.” Eva gets up, removes her camera from the tripod, and sits beside me again, flips out the viewfinder panel. “Ready?”
We play back the sunset together.