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Fifty Days of Smiles
I swatted at the swarm of nats that had been pestering me for the past ten days. Ten days that I had been out of school patiently working through summer. My long blond hair with the brown streaks laid flat on my back. And it was so long the dead edges touched the porch step I was half sitting half laying on that day. I sipped the cool lemonade my Aunt Marie had just made from fresh lemons. I faintly heard her calling me, but I didn’t have the energy to respond, neither did I care.
That day in July was never a good day for me. Two years to the date, I became a whole different person, inside and out.
My brother Mike, my parents, and I were driving to the beach for the summer to visit my Aunt Marie. My Aunt Marie lived at Landon Beach in South Carolina. We had been driving for four hours at that point only six more to go. Mike and I were fighting over…well…I don’t really know. But we were arguing. And my Dad who was driving was getting irritated because he couldn’t see out of the back of the car, between us moving around and all the bags. My Mom was yelling at us to stop when I felt a sharp swerve from the car, my dad yelled at my mom something I didn’t understand, and my mom screamed on the top of her lungs. I remember turning upside down, but feeling no impact.
But her scream was cut short when the car hit the ground. I remember feeling a lot of glass in my hair and face. I remember Mike screaming at me, “Annie! Annie, wake up!” He shook me a little before lifting my head on his lap and dragging his finger lightly down my forehead and nose. I opened my eyes lightly and I could see that the car was upside down. Mike had a few scratches and a lot of glass in his hair. I closed them again and Mike carefully put me down. He beat the car door open and stumbled out.
His leg was stained with blood and visibly hurt. He worked to get my parents doors open to help them. But there was no sound. I rolled over slightly and saw my dad with his head on the steering wheel and I couldn’t see my mom. I tried to scream but something in my throat told me not to, so I just closed my eyes. I felt tears slowly protrude from them and touch my cheek. I heard Mike running around and shrieking but I just couldn’t open my eyes to look. Soon enough I heard sirens from ambulances, and a whole lot of other stuff. I just closed my eyes and hoped that I would wake up from this nightmare.
And I did. Just not in the way I wanted to. I remembered waking up and feeling very stiff. My eyes felt like they hadn’t been opened in years. And when I looked to my left and saw Mike’s face my heart instantly throbbed. “Oh no…oh no! They’re gone! Mike get me out of here, please!” I sobbed and screamed and kicked. He held me down as much as he could. “No, no, Annie please, don’t do this…please, please!” he cried with me. I finally let my body limp and I cried over his shoulder. I don’t know for how long, I just cried. “Mike,” I ask after a while. He sits back into his chair. “Yeah?” he asked groggily. “They’re gone aren’t they? Mom and Dad. They aren’t…they’re dead.” My voice was rickety on the last word and even though I made no sounds tears trickled down my cheeks. He covered his face with his hand.
“Yeah.” He nodded gruffly. “Where are we going to go, Mike?” he shook his head and broke down. He put his head in between his legs. I wanted to do something, but I couldn’t physically move. “I don’t know.” He sobbed. “I…called Aunt Marie. I had no one else to call, I swear if I did,” but he couldn’t finish. And I couldn’t tell him that he shouldn’t cry and that everything was going to be okay. Because to me it wasn’t. I had broken my leg very badly and scared my face. Aunt Marie picked us up at the hospital two days later. She had visited numerous times and offered to take Mike home several times. But he wouldn’t.
Finally when it came time to go home, I threw up my hands in surrender. I couldn’t fight anything anymore. So I was there. And I had nowhere to go. I stood and stretched, placing my lemonade on the porch before walking off to the shore. I took off my flip-flops and walked over to the water. The wind breezed ever so slightly and my hair moved back and forth a little.
I threw my flip flops into the sand and at the water’s edge I stopped and let it come up to my toes. The cold prickled and it was sort of a comforting feeling, but I realized I was alone. And that hurt. So I sat down and laid back. I closed my eyes because of the sun and placed my hands on my stomach. You probably think I was some loser loner. But I wasn’t. I had friends, but summer always just seemed different. And that feeling never really went away. I didn’t have the urge to stand, a total lack of will-power, so I just laid there for a while.
I don’t know exactly how long, but that was the total beauty of summer. You never had a lack of time, because in an essence, there was always tomorrow. And you didn’t have to worry about tomorrow because you could always pick up right where you left off. But you never truly had to stop. Sleeping was inevitable because it seemed like two seconds and your whole body was rejuvenated. And another thing I had complete affection for summer for was that there was no inside. It even came to the point where you could sleep on the screened-in porch. Because there was no inside. And so you could be alone and think.
And that was the best because the temperature was always matching your feeling. Being calm, you never seemed to truly feel hot, but when you were angry, your face always got sticky, and red, and irritated. But just lying there, thinking, was my favorite part of summer. But not that day. Never that day. I was never the same. Every summer I had ever experienced was spent at Landon Beach. So I never grew tired of the seagulls and the sand and the sticky, salty, ocean water. But living there year round, something had grown inside of me, a little something called a lack of appreciation.
And I hated that, I even felt bad sometimes, but I would always shrug it off. Because, I guess, that’s how everyone felt. I never asked, just a crazy assumption living inside my head, slowly growing, rising, like yeast in bread, and then baking and drying into a hard rock of disappointment. Because even though the seasons always changed like clockwork, the ocean always stayed the same. Always. But maybe that was a good thing.
One thing in my life that had always stayed the same. My parents had left me. And in a sense, my brother had left me. We had grown extremely distant these past two years. We should have grown stronger. I had lost just about everything I had with my Aunt Marie.
Moving to Landon was like eating your favorite piece of chocolate then realizing there was nothing really that amazing about it. It wasn’t your favorite anymore.
I stood, finally, and dusted the sand off my light blue cut offs and the back of my white ‘Landon Beach’ t-shirt. I took the hair band I had off my wrist and bent over, my hair hung upside down. I pulled it up into a pony tail and grabbed my shoes. I walked back to the house and opened the screen door, a loud slam behind me. The music that was coming from the kitchen made me think of my mother. I tried hard to fight back tears, but one slipped away. I wiped it quickly before I walked in.
My aunt Marie was swaying slightly back and forth as she made something that smelled a lot like coconuts. She had always been very independent in a way that, she had never been married, never had a truly steady boyfriend, and never brought a man home. A slight inching remorse crept through my soul when I saw her smile and I heard her soft voice, and I admired her. Her long blond hair was already starting to bleach and the bandana tied around her head and her loose braid hanging over her back.
“Hey, sweetie.” She turned down the music. “Listen, tomorrow night, I have a lady and her son coming over for business.”
Aunt Marie trained horses for a living. She trained me to ride when I was really little and bought me my first pony, then horse. I still had both of them. And she even had me training some of her horses to now that her business was expanding. And I was paid well, so I didn’t mind. Horses were always a thing for me.
She frowned at my enthusiasm, or lack thereof, and rubbed my shoulders.
“He’s your age.” She tried. But I couldn’t find myself to jump up and down with joy. “Hopefully he’s cute. But she might just give us four horses to train. Two each. So were going to demonstrate our skills for them. Then clean up, get pretty and have a nice dinner. I want you to be nice to him, Annie. I don’t care if he’s a jerk, as long as we get these horses.” She kissed my forehead. “We need the business. So,” she handed me her wallet. “Were going to buy new dresses. Find your brother because he needs something to.” She took off her hand-made apron and placed it on the counter.
“Give me two seconds.” I ran up the stairs and opened Mike’s door. On top of my brother was a girl I didn’t even recognize. “Mike, get the alien attacking you to get out of the house and get ready to go out.” I left the door open and walked into my room. I took off my shirt and put on a tank top and my flip-flops.
“Let’s go, Mike!” I yelled. He stormed into my room. “What’s wrong with you?” he hissed. Mike used to never really yell at me. It had been all the time then. “We have to leave. We have clients tomorrow so we need to get new stuff.” He glared then walked away. I ran down the stairs and met my Aunt outside. She gave me the keys to the truck and I got into the front seat. I had been practicing a lot since I had gotten my permit. I honked the horn at Mike as he came outside, but again he just glared.
Where was my amazing little brother who actually loved me?
I started the engine and pulled out of the long driveway. I put on my sunglasses and forgot life for a little bit. She turned up the radio on the oldies station. I didn’t mind though. It had sort of been a comfort to me ever since my parents died. We both sang softly, a little louder at the chorus.
“Hey can you guys turn it down?” Mike snapped. “Oh, please, Mike just because,” “I said to turn it down.” He growled. “Michael. Enough.” She used a cold voice that Mike knew was completely authoritative. Going into town was always fun. It was small and quaint, but it was so nice. I pulled into the parking lot for the shopping center and backed the truck into the spot.
I shut the door behind me and wiped my forehead. It was getting hot. “Annie!” I heard someone call my name. I saw Lex run up to me and embraced me in a quick hug. “I miss you.” he laughed. “Have you talked to Mara lately? I tried to call her.” I shook my head. “No. But maybe she’s in Canada.” I suggested as we walked up to the emporium. “Oh, yeah, I forgot all her cousins live there. So, ugh, what are you guys doing today? Just shopping?” he asked me. His dark sunglasses looked different but natural on him.
“Yeah, Marie and I have new clients, and they’re supposed to give us like four horses. So we need something nice to wear.” Lex’s family had always given us horses to train. Ever since his sister broke her back in a bad fall she couldn’t train so we always did it for him and his family. “Oh, cool. Do I know them?” he asked Marie as he opened the door for us to walk in.
“Maybe. They live near you guys. Does the last name Cooper ring a bell?” I watched as his face fell. “Oh yeah. Just warning you, they’re kind of jerks. Well at least the mom is.” Aunt Marie rubbed her forehead. “Great.” He laughed and touched her arm. “I’m sure you’ll make a good impression Marie, you always do. And Annie, try not to scare them.” I glared hard then nudged him in the ribs. “I’m not scary.” I muttered quietly looking at a few of the racks, finding nothing in particular.
“No of course not. Just…people just have to get to know you first. How do I put this gently? You’re an, an acquired taste. That’s all.” I laughed at his choice of words. He laughed too and I leaned up against him. “Help me.” I sung pulling out two dresses from the rack and displaying them. “Hmmm.” I knew that Lex absolutely despised giving his opinion to girls, but he was always willingly honest with Mara and I. He bit his lip before answering.
“Umm, I like the white one but I don’t think it would look good on you because you’re short and it’s really long. Put the other one back.” I shrugged a little and put them both back. “How about this one?” I pulled out a light blue one that was short and very plain, just an empire waist with beads and it was strapless. “Pretty. Try it on.” He pointed to the dressing room.
I walked in and the door made a soft click behind me. I pulled on the dress and look at myself in the mirror. I hadn’t felt pretty in forever. But it slowly crept into my heart. I was pretty. My blond hair was getting really long and full of body and waves, and it was thick. But it had always been long. I had never cut it short. I had bluish eyes with a bit of a violet tint it seemed, and to be perfectly honest, I liked the way I looked. For the first time in forever.
“Okay, you need to help me zip it.” He opened the door and took the back of the dress and zipped it. “Hey, Aunt Marie did you find anything?” I yelled. “No!” she muttered back. “What do you think?” I asked him sort of swaying my hips back and forth trying it out. He leaned over and looked at the two of us in the mirror. “I think you’ve found your dress.” He smiled.
He walked out and I put my clothes back on. I handed him the dress and shoved my purse over my shoulder. “Ooh! Marie, that’s a really, really pretty,” she shoved him in the chest and glared. “Boy, you need to remember that I changed your diapers, so no flirting.” She warned with a finger pressed into his chest.
Lex’s parents were long time friends and clients of Marie’s. They bought and sold horses from the track and turned them into Eventing prospects. That’s where Marie and I come in.
Eventing is a horse sport where there are various events you have to compete in, and in, the professional division, it takes a course of three days. The three events are cross country, show jumping, and dressage.
Cross country is jumping over jumps in an outdoor course that are generally hard to focus on. It’s all about agility and pacing yourself, or otherwise your horse gets very tired.
Show jumping is jumping courses inside a ring as fast as possible. It’s all about clearing jumps at a fast pace.
Dressage is basically horse ballet. It consists of suspended movements and slow elegant strides and the least bit of movement from the rider as possible.
I wasn’t on a very high level, but Marie was. And she made practically made all her money off of it.
“Yeah, I know! Please Marie, I was just having fun.” They both laughed and she slapped his chest. “You look good Lex, I’m surprised. I mean I remember when you were younger and you were so little and lanky and,” Lex put up a hand embarrassed.
“Marie, please, we’re in public.” She had a green and yellow tie-dye dress that was long and flowing and tied at the top. “Annie I’ll need to borrow those bright yellow heels you had, the real bright ones that were kind of strappy.” I nod. “Sure, that’s cool.”
I linked my arm into Lex’s and gave the dress to Aunt Marie so she could pay. We walked out of the store, arm in arm, and simultaneously put on our sunglasses. “Ugh, it’s so hot out here!” I moaned wiping my forehead dramatically. “That’s why they call it summer and the beach.” He pointed out as he switched directions. “What are we doing?” I asked tripping a little as he pulled me along with him.
Marie was right. He had gotten bigger. And he did look good…really good. He was very muscular then and his bleached hair was cut perfectly. Suddenly, I felt like I wasn’t with ‘Just Lex’ anymore. I was with Lex Grey, preferably one of the cutest guys in school, my best friend. How did I score a hottie as a best friend like him?
One answer: Marie. Marie knew everyone in town, so that meant I did to. And that definitely had its advantages.
“You’re hot, I’m hot, just two hot people going to get ice cream. There a problem with that?” he joked and smiles and his lip twitched adorably. I almost felt myself blush, but hopefully he couldn’t see it between the sunglasses and the heat.
“Nope. Yeah, I haven’t had ice cream in forever.” I told him trying to keep myself talking. “Ha. Still mango and rainbow sprinkles like always? Not a very good combination, by the way.” He gave me a little shove and my heart gave itself a little flutter.
“Yep. And it is to, I love it. You should try it.” I offered with a little pep in my voice. He smiled down at me again and I smiled back. “Maybe I will.” His voice seemed a little small and quiet as we walked up to the parlor. He opened the door and the little jingle made my heart throb.
I remembered going there with my parents every Saturday we were there. That jingle had something on me. Lex knew about today, and I was glad he hadn’t mentioned anything. He had a way about him where he just knew my feelings like the back of his own hand. We walked up to the counter and he gave the girl a soft smile.
“Hey, Lex, I haven’t seen you. How has your summer been?” her soft brown hair matched her soft smile and it made me want to vomit. It must have been a girl from the Hills. I wanted to point out that summer had only started ten days ago and that Lex was obviously just without talking to her and all he wanted was ice cream.
But I just smiled back at her instead. “Hey, Josie. It’s been good, thanks for asking.” Josie. A Hills girl. Just like Lex was a Hills boy. The Hills was like an elite group of somebody’s that I just happened to belong to by association. And Alexander, Lex Grey’s parents practically owned half of the Hills. “And who would’ve thought Josie Arrington would ever have a job?” he cocked his head playfully at her.
“Oh, please. Like I would ever have an actual job. I’m just here with a friend and his friend’s parents own this place. So I get leeway and free stuff, you know? And who would’ve thought Lex Evans would actually step foot in this side of town unless he bought it?” she cocked her head at me and gave a half smile as if to say, ‘Or hang out with someone like you?’ I raised a brow at her then touched his arm gently.
“I have to go make a phone call. Order for me.” I turned to leave but I heard a soft voice in the back ground that made me spin right back around. “Well, Josie since you can’t do anything I’ll serve. Were supposed to be watching this place remember?”
He had amazing hair.
Then, his eyes.
Then, his body.
All of it was so…so amazing. I bit my lip and turned back around. Lex looked at me oddly for a second. “Hey, I’m Will.” He held out a hand for Lex to shake. He didn’t give me a second look. And my saving grace, Mara, made my phone buzz right exactly at the right time.
The boy looked me up and down and raised a brow before turning to Josie and Lex. “I have to take this.” I told Lex. He acknowledged me just a little and nodded. I stomped out and sat on a bench outside. “Oh, my gosh Mara.” I growled with my hands shaking. “Oh, my gosh Annie. So I met this guy…” and there she went.
Another no strings attached relationship for Mara. She would make out with him a few times, have an epic sneak out, and then she would reminisce and say, ‘Yeah, those days were nice.’ I laughed here and there when I was supposed to laugh, and her stories about her boys were always quick. Then it was my turn.
“Lex and I are at ‘Glace a la Crème’ and there’s this girl named ‘Josie’ he totally ignores me for and then there’s this super hot guy I’ve never seen before and he totally looked me up and down and gave me a, ‘What the hell are you breathing the same air as me for?’ look, so I walked out just as you called. I guess he’s from the Hills but I’ve never seen him before.”
You would never guess Mara was a Hills girl. But that she was, and she did a very good job at hiding it. She was gorgeous though, and she always had that over me. Gorgeous in a different way, so we couldn’t really compare. “Oh, God, Lex is such a jerk. He’s going to get it from me. I wonder who the guy is. So do you, like, like Lex or something?”
She asked in a carefully odd tone. I thought a second. “No, he’s just never ignored me before.” I bit my lip. “Oh, he’s coming, make it sound like you’re someone else and I’m busy or something.” I could hear her laugh. “Right,” she started loudly, I assumed she heard the jingle.
“So I would like to get my horse to you as soon as possible,” she made herself sound older, and she did a very good job of that. “Yes, he’s very bad, I don’t understand his problem.” She made herself sound totally French. I tried so hard not to laugh. I didn’t have a second glance at the odd Lex standing there with the ice cream in his hand.
“Yes, I will have to see if I have an opening, I’m getting two new,”
“Oh, no you must see him soon. Now, tonight, I need your thirty day. I need a new lesson horse and I absolutely can’t buy another one, I just can’t.” She pleaded. Her fake French accent was pretty good, but she over exaggerated a little. “Alright. We’ll see, I can go now and get ready I believe I have one opening yes, alright.” I looked at my phone to see the time. Yes’ I’ll meet you in an hour. Thank you, bye.” I pressed the end button and looked at Lex.
“Sorry, have to run, I’ll see you. I guess.” I knew my tone was curt and mean as I walked, but I felt truly guilty when he grabbed my arm. “I’m Sorry Annie.” I shrugged him and walked off. “For what?” I called turning away and walking back to the emporium. I felt a little bad but he was mean to me.
And I didn’t like that.
“Hey, Mike!” I called but he ignored me. “Hey,” I run up to him and roughly grab his arm. “Listen to me when I call you, Mike. Take me to the horse store I need a new pair of muck boots. You destroyed mine remember? You’re paying.” I demanded grabbing his arm.
He tried to pull away but I wouldn’t let him. I didn’t know why he hated me so much. We used to hang out all the time and he used to always be so nice to me. Now he was just…he was just different. He wasn’t my little brother anymore. We stepped into the store and the smell of new leather and grain made my nostrils flair for a second with a yearning in my stomach to be in the barn.
I walked over to the boots section while Mike lingered behind near the counter looking at a few model horses. I looked at all the muck boots, very slowly scanning them up and down looking for a pair in my size. I found a pair of bright blue ones with daisies on them and walked over to the saddle pads. I reached on my tiptoes for a therapeutic one for an older horse we had been using for lessons.
“Annie,” I heard him call annoyed and I peered from the open doorway. “What?” I raised a brow. “Let’s go.” He motioned with his hands towards the counter and rolled his eyes as I raised a finger at him. I grabbed two bags of treats and walked over to him. “I didn’t take that long.” I pointed out setting everything on the counter. He pulled out his wallet without giving the cashier a second look or a hello. The woman at the register handed me the bag and made a special effort to say, “Have a nice day,” to my brother but he just moaned “Uhuh.” And he opened the door.
“Mike, maybe you should be a little social.” I shoved him in the back. “Whatever Annie.” He muttered. I walked over to the car and met Marie there. I rummaged in my purse for my keys, but dropped my phone as I looked. “Hey, Mike, could you grab that for me?” I asked my sunglasses sliding forward to the bridge of my nose. “I’m busy.”
He muttered walking over to the right side of the truck and opening the door. I looked up at him and made a loud noise from the bottom of my throat. Marie picked up my phone, handed it to me, and opened the door and yelled at Mike, “Now was that necessary Michael?” her extremely authoritative tone used to make Mike retreat but it didn’t seem to faze him as he rolled his eyes and said,
“Yeah, quite frankly it was Marie.” She leaned in closer to him and glared. “You don’t ever call me Marie, Michael. I am your Aunt and you use that title. You haven’t even come close to earning my respect or anyone else’s.” She slams the door and turns to me. “Alright, let’s go.”
I stood there in admiration for her for a moment before opening the door and putting the key in the ignition. I snuck my finger underneath my sunglasses and wiped the sweat off the circles underneath my eyes and then my forehead. “So hot.”
I moaned quietly as I turned the key and the engine rumbled. “So hot. I can’t even remember a summer being like this. You guys want to go to Canada or somewhere north? I hear the weather is perfect up there.”
I laughed at her spontaneous passion. The one thing about Marie was that she never planned. She just did when the time was right. And in some ways I liked that because I almost never had to worry. We just did. And everything always seemed to be okay.
We definitely weren’t from the Hills, that’s for sure, but we weren’t like most people in town. Our parents left us a load of money. So we were able to sell Marie’s small house and stop paying rent for the space she used for the horses and moved into a much larger house that was right between the ‘flatland’ of Landon, as we called it, and the Hills.
We had a big barn and area to ride and we were right by the water so we owned that portion of it. I was amazed that we had gone from Marie’s small cottage to the house we lived in now, but we had. And I felt comfortable just being normal.
“So, Mike, what are you planning to do this summer?” she asked trying to make conversation with her estranged nephew sitting in the back with his head down and his arms crossed. “Don’t know. Hang with friends, I guess.” He shrugged quietly. “So, are you excited to be a sophomore next year?” she asked him with a little pressing giddiness in her voice.
“I guess so. She obviously didn’t have a very good year so I don’t know.” He said pointing to me. I eyed him through the mirror but he was expressionless staring back at me. “Well, Annie is a different person than you, sweetie, you might surprise yourself.” She told him matter of factly. “I just wish I was back in Kiddings that’s all.” Kiddings Pennsylvania was where we used to live. It was so long ago it seemed.
“Will, get up!” Josie walked into my room and yanked the blinds back. “Josie, Josie, Josie. What are you doing here at this early hour?” she snorted and sat the edge of my bed patting my legs. “It’s not early, Will, it’s ten o’clock. Sweetie, you should learn to not spend your whole weekends in bed.” She leaned over, patted my hair down, and kissed my forehead.
“Good morning.” She cooed sweetly with her lips in my hair. I pulled her up next to me and she wrapped her arms around my waist. “Hey, baby. What are our plans for today?” I asked stroking the little baby hairs at her hairline near her ears. She flicked a blonde hair off her shoulder and sighed.
Josie and I had been together then for about a year. I really liked Josie. She was good to me and we had really good times together. She was pretty, and funny, and she was really sweet. My mom liked her to, that was a definite plus.
My mom ruled the house. Dad didn’t do anything but be her slave and that made me angry. But who’s complaining when you’re fed three plus meals a day, have a very comfortable bed, and all the amenities needed to make a guy happy? All I knew was I wasn’t the one to complain.
Mom and Dad were big in the horse business. Two years ago, we moved to Landon to make it bigger and it was so far so good. That was when I met Josie, and then a year later I worked up the nerve to ask her to homecoming. It worked out and we had been together ever since. And we really had had great times. “Jos, we need to do something fun soon.
“Landon is getting slowly irritating. I’m itching to get out of here.” I sat up and pulled her against my chest. She scooted down and laid her head on my lap. “Tomorrow Daddy is giving me his car. We can drive somewhere. Raleigh? Yeah, a day trip.” I leaned my head back and moaned. “Aw, man, no, I can’t. Business dinner with my mom tomorrow at some new trainers. I don’t even get why I’m going.” She rubbed my arm.
“You’re going because Demi and Dutch are your horses and they need training to make you money. One day you will be even richer than your parents.” I laughed at the thought.
Me, living in a huge mansion in Beverley Hills and horses out the whazoo. Pretty scene.
I shrugged, stood, and looked out the window at all the horses. For some reason they all seemed the same. Like nothing in this world could set them apart from another. They were just something that was there. Nothing important. They just fit nicely.
You know, I didn’t even choose Demi and Dutch. They were never really my horses to begin with. They were just investments my dad had bought for me. I found nothing special about them. Just that they were bred well and they were born to make money.
“Yeah, I guess so.” I muttered quietly. “Want to be the best girlfriend in the world and make me a pop tart and orange juice?” I asked pulling her into me and she rested her head on my chest. “Sure.” She smiled and reached on her tip toes to kiss me.
These were the moments I needed Josie.
I pulled on a t-shirt and some swim trunks, thinking I was going swimming later. My phone on my night stand buzzed so picked it up. “Hey, Paul.” I yawned then put the book I had fallen asleep reading in my nightstand drawer. “Listen, Will, I need you to watch the shop for me today. My grandma died so it’s an emergency.” I stopped for a second.
“Yeah, sure thing. I’m sorry for your loss, tell your parents for me, alright?” Funny, I had never heard Paul mention death. I didn’t even think the word was in his vocabulary. “Ha, yeah I will. And it’s no big deal or anything, Grandma wasn’t really. You know what. She’s dead so I shouldn’t say mean things. Well thanks, dude, you saved my ass.” I laughed and hung up.
“Josie!” I called jogging down the steps. “What?” she asked sitting on a stool reading a health magazine sitting next to me breakfast. “Thank you.” I held her face and kissed her forehead. “We’re watching ‘Glace a la Crème’ for Paul’s family. His grandmother died.”
She made a concerned face then went back to reading. “Aww, that’s sad.” She muttered; her mind off into something else. I sipped my orange juice slowly like I did every morning and then ate my pop tart. I put the plate in the sink and clapped my hands together.
“Poppy!” I called. My mother’s dog was a total rat. He was a poodle thing but his hair was different, maybe he was smaller, I don’t know. I could care less to be honest, but for descriptive sake he’s a poodle. “Poppy come here!” the little thing came running over to me and rubbed against my legs. Then he barked. I hated his bark.
I grabbed him around the waist and put him in the kennel with a treat.
We drove to the store and walked behind the counter. Josie took a sampler spoon and dug into the mocha ice cream. “Mmm. Mom won’t buy ice cream anymore.” I smiled when I could tell she got a brain freeze.
“Alright. You serve, I’ll do the back.” I walked into the cold room and looked around. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do back here. Make ice cream? I couldn’t. So I sort of played around. We had a lot of customers in the morning and not many around lunch time.
Then, around four o’clock, we had our first customer in a while. I heard the jingle of the door but didn’t look back. I could hear them talking, Josie and a boy, and that made me look.
And there she was.
Gorgeous, gorgeous girl. I had never seen her before. I needed an excuse to go out there. I came out with a bucket of ice cream and placed it in an empty container.
“Well, Josie, since you won't serve anyone, I will."I said something like that. I made an effort not to look at her. I introduced myself to the guy and she walked out abruptly after her phone rang. So I ended up losing interest. I had a girlfriend, Josie was so perfect. So I didn’t think twice about it.
I didn’t think twice about it. No, I thought an uncountable number of times about it. That whole moment. It was weird. I mean, he didn’t look at me once, but his face was like…amazing. For lack of a better word. I felt stupid walking out, yes, but what was I supposed to do?
I couldn’t say, “Hey, whoever you are, I’m here to. Oh, and bonus, I think you’re hot.” No, no, way no. I needed Mara. I realized that getting ready for the dinner. She would’ve come, worked the lady’s ear off, and then sold us into business, and we’d all be so happy.
But Mara wasn’t there, so I was stuck talking to her over the phone. I would’ve invited Lex as backup, but I couldn’t talk to him then. He needed to know how much he crossed the line. “Yeah, I don’t know, Mara. I mean, what if he’s butt ugly? What happens then? What if I have to entertain some creeper guy and I get the job and have to hang with him?” she sighed dramatically and I could picture her there next to me.
“Annie, Annie, Annie, please. You won’t have a problem. Do the…the twisty thing to your hair later. I want to see you ride, have Mikey video it please.” I heard a soft voice in the background and I heard Mara get a little excited. “Gotta go! Love you.” she cooed and hung up before I said anything. “Alright. Let’s go, Annie!” Marie called. “Mike,” I peered into his door. “camera.” He grabbed it and followed me out.
“Annie, I’d like you to meet our visitors the Coopers. This is Will and Ava.”
I forced my mouth to shut. I thought, ‘That’s…no it couldn’t have been…no way…but I don’t think that even…it had to be.’
Jumbled thoughts, yes, stuttering, jumbled thoughts.
“Could you just give me…” my voice faded and I held up a shaky finger. I ran up into my room, slammed the door shut and ran for my phone. I sent Mara a text saying nothing but, ‘S.O.S.’ and I sat down letting my brain register for a moment. “Glace a la Crème boy?” I asked myself actually aloud.
“Really?” I felt like I was on a crew ship and pirates were forcing me to jump over board, feet and hands tied, and my toes were already off the edge of the plank and I could almost hear them snickering on the background and shaking me slowly back and forth.
I looked down at my bleach stained t-shirt that said, ‘Landon Beach Horse Trials 2009’.
Mara called me right back and I felt my heart jump up into my throat then slowly creep back down where it belonged.
“What, what, what?” she asked eagerly. “It better be good, I’m with my guy Annie.” I heard a muffled voice in the background.
“The guy at Glace a La Crème is my client.” I heard her gasp and I leaned back on my bed.
“Be a nasty brat is all I have to say.” She sung. I sighed.
“Can’t. Professional rules, remember?” she huffed.
“Well be untouched. Do that and he will be eating from your hand by the end of the night. Wrapped around your finger. Like a push button pony. A,”
“Got it, Mar, I got it. See ya, have fun with your guy.” I laughed feeling a little better. “Oh, believe me girl, plenty of fun.” She giggled and I hung up.
I grabbed a hair tie off my night stand and ran back downstairs and placed my hair in a low bun. “Sorry, I needed to get a hair tie and put band aids in my chaps. They rub.” I pointed to the dirty and stretched half chaps that were zipped over my short leather paddock boots, brown to be exact.
The boy looked me up and down in what seemed to be just as much surprise as I felt but hopefully was not wearing. Marie looked me up and down to, a little suspiciously and I could hear Mike softly chuckle as he walked outside. I followed after him in a hurry and bit my lip.
He laughed at me as I brushed his shoulder. “Hush, Mike!” I hissed but I was half giggling. He smiled at me and we walked to the barn together. This was one of the best moments I had experienced with my brother in a long time.
“Mike you don’t even get why it’s so funny.” I snorted and walked into the tack room grabbing Halo’s bridle. Halo was my very first full-size horse. “Oh, really?” he asked smiling.
“I was at Glace a la Crème with Lex yesterday and he was there. He’ a Hills guy and he totally blew me off and so did Lex. Weird right? Now he’s paying me. Ha! So that’s why I freaked, it was awkward.” He laughed a little and handed me the girth.
I placed everything on the rack outside his stall and pulled him into the cross ties. “Brush please!” I sung quietly with my hand out. He handed it to me and I started to brush his withers. “Hey, Mike go put Micah on the cross ties for Marie.” He slumped off to the other side of the barn.
Micah was Marie’s latest perfection. His sturdy and stocky build made him durable and his long legs made him fast. It was almost as if he was God’s perfect little creation. Actually, he wasn’t so little. But he was going to be sent home soon so we needed to cherish the easy rides we had left with him.
I was in the process of combing out Halo’s tail when I heard Marie’s smooth voice float through the air like little harps playing the same tune exactly on key. She was saying something along the lines of, “Yes, of course! We actually do prefer you come to watch our progress daily. That way you see the way the horse works. Absolutely.”
I bit my lip and thought to myself, ‘That hottie around all day? Anytime!’ I shook my head at the thought. That meant Mara would there every day. That meant he would have two crazy girls drooling all over him. But only Mara would be charismatic and brave enough to actually make a move.
Unless he chose one of us first. That would make a scene.
I stretched on my tip toes to place the yellow saddle pad with the black and tightly spun border. I placed it far up on the withers so that when the saddle was placed on top it wouldn’t slide too far off his shoulder blades.
His sleek white coat shimmered a little from the sun coming in the barn. I attached the girth on the second hole and was about to walk over to the other side when I felt a soft tug and the other side of the girth disappear.
I leaned around the side of the horse to see ‘Glace a la Crème Boy’ attaching the girth. He half smiled at me. “Thank…thank you,” I searched the floor of my brain for his name. “Will.” He filled me in quietly.
I nodded and placed Halo’s halter around his neck. “Is he yours or a clients?” he asked ducking under the cross ties and stood next to me mindlessly stroking Halo’s flea bitten face.
“Ugh, mine, actually. My first full-size horse. I’ve had him I guess…three years? Yeah, sounds right. His name is Halo.” I told him forcing the steel bit into an uninviting mouth. I put the bridle around his ears and buckled the chin strap. I adjusted the bridle a little before looking at him again.
I couldn’t help but feel remorse crawling up my throat for what he had done to me, but I turned away when I noticed him looking back at me. “He’s a good looking horse.” He muttered quietly in a subtle voice. “Thank you.” I muttered back almost in a mockery.
Then, realizing how it sounded I added, “He’s getting old though.” He did the little half smile thing again then handed me the helmet I was pointing to as I drank my water. “Thank you.” I smiled pleasantly before taking Halo off his halter. I pushed myself not to look back.
His dark button up blouse matched his dark colored jeans. And his hair. Of course, his hair! It was gorgeous, I loved it. The wispy golden locks that sort of curled at the ends, but all to one side. That night though, it was a little pushed this way and that.
Halo tried to resist my pulling him to the barn, but Will tapped his butt and he scooted up a little and walked with me. Marie was still talking away to Will’s mother so I pulled Halo into the arena to get some extra warm-ups in so his muscles could really be worked. Just to impress Will.
“See that big black horse over there?” I asked pointing to the field to the right of the arena.
He was in it with me.
Helping me put my leg up into the saddle.
He placed one hand on the bottom of my boot and, I noticed, the other on the back of my leg. With a firm grip he pushed me up.
“Thanks.” I told him before he answered. “Yeah, I see him.” He laughed and leaned against my leg. “Hard to miss. What about him?” I bent down to be closer to his face and smell his undeniably amazing smell. Crazy right?
“I just mastered him.” I told him confidently. He smiled up at me. “No way! So ugh…I wanted to talk to you about something.” He swallowed. I started walking Halo in small circles around him.
“Yesterday. I didn’t mean to…I don’t…I didn’t try to…ignore you or anything. It was just…I don’t even know.” He looked down at the sand and then back at me. “I don’t know.” He told me quieter this time.
“Well…I haven’t forgiven you yet. We’ll have to see. But I’m working on it.” He half smiled, again, and looked back at me. “So let’s see what you can do.” He clapped his hands together.
I pulled Halo to the outside and he started to trot. I picked up the right diagonal and trotted twice around before picking up a slow suspended canter. I stopped once to change to the correct lead and then after once around I picked up a working canter.
After doing that once I had Will set up two jumps, a two foot and a two foot four. Easy just to start. After doing it a few times I had him make them each three feet. I knew I was stretching it for Halo so I didn’t push him any further than that. I knew I was already going to have to give him bute.
So I walked him extra long while Will and I laughed here and there at little things like realizing we had been in a million classes together and not even knowing it. He laughed at how when I smile my one little crooked tooth showed and I laughed at how he never really had a full smile, just a half crooked one. It wasn’t actually funny, just really adorable. But I didn’t tell him that.
When I got off he laughed at how I walked and I told him it was because Halo was getting really fat. We both laughed and he took the reins from me so I could take off my helmet. I smiled at him and ran into the tack room which had a mirror so I could redo my hair.
“Did you get any of that Mike?” I called coming out. I noticed Will looking at me a little quizzically and I tried not to grin. Mike told me yes and that he would send it to Mara. I grinned as he said her name; I knew he had always liked her long black hair that curled at the bottom and her long eyelashes that she batted at him. He had always loved Mara.
But she was just too masked to tell her real emotions, so Mike kept quiet about his feelings.
I walked back out to Will who was already untacking Halo for me and gently placing his bridle on the rack. I walked up to Halo and kissed his forehead and rubbed the bridle marks.
“You going to talk to me at dinner?” he asked winking at me. “I’m still mad at you so don’t think you’re in the clear.” I pointed a finger at him. He lifted his lip a little, even less than a half smile. I glared and turned.
I saw Micah’s flashy body flying through the large arena and Marie’s long hair tightly pulled back into a bun. I put Halo back in his stall and walked into the feed room.
I took the pale blue bucket with his name on it and put a few different types of grain in it before adding some bute. I walked out and handed it to Will so that he could put it in his stall. He hooked the bucket to the hooks in his stall. “Marie!” I called. “I’m going in!”
I heard Will’s footsteps behind me and I hid a smile. I opened the door and held it for him and we walked into the kitchen. I sat myself on the counter and checked my phone for messages.
Four from Lex, one from Mara. Lex had been sending me a lot of messages, but I hadn’t answered.
I was still mad.
So why had I forgiven Will as oppose to Lex? Lex who I had known for years, loved even. But I had practically forgiven Will and I wouldn’t even talk to Lex. So I sent him a message replying to the one saying, ‘Annie please talk to me. I cant stand this I want to make it up to you.’ I bit my lip and replied, ‘We’ll see.’ That was all I could come up with?
So I turned to Will and asked, “You ride?” he laughed and shook his head. “No, definitely not. Soccer, mostly.” I raised a brow. “No way, me to! JV or varsity?” I asked stretching my legs out in front of me, switching position every so often. “Varsity since last year. What about you, you seem pretty beast at sports.” I laughed at his term.
“Quite the same. Girls varsity. What position do you play?” I asked slipping off the counter and sliding around him and looking into the fridge. “Depends. Mostly forward, striker. Mid if coach is mad at me.” He laughed a little.
“Funny. I’m striker all the time.” He walked up behind me, a little close, then said, “Hmmm…I guess you’re just that good, huh?” I laughed and slipped out from behind him again more aware this time that he we were truly alone.
But who was I to think that he was being turned on by me?
He ignored me just a day ago and I just truly met him.
I shook my head, actually shook it, and walked towards the stairs. He didn’t follow. “I’m going to shower. You can help yourself to anything in the fridge or whatever.” I ran up the stairs and grabbed my phone from my waist line in my riding breeches.
“Mara,” I breathed into the phone when I heard a shuffle on the other line. “Yeah, I’m busy.” She panted a little but regained her breath quickly and entered a steady pace. “Yeah, well you’ve made time.” She huffed loudly in dissatisfaction and I heard footsteps.
“What exactly are you doing first of all?” I asked. “I’m with him. I’m not being bad I promise. Now what do you need Ann?” she asked quietly and seriously. “Him, he’s…awesome. I don’t know. It’s sort of weird. He’s funny and…easy. I guess that’s it.”
I sighed at myself feeling bad that I really had nothing else to say. “Well, you still have to play hard to get, Annie, you can’t just say come on over, you have to say, jerk, leave me alone until I’m ready. Get it?” I laughed a little. “Mar, you’re crazy. I have to go though. Call me tomorrow alright?” she giggled and said, “Yep. Gotcha.”
I hung up and grabbed a towel from the linen closet in the hall. I turned the knob on the shower and ran my hand under the cold water, but turned it so that it was steamy and prickly against my skin. I turned on the fan, undressed, and stepped into a small paradise where contentment laid.
Annie Donovan. I guess there were simple words to explain her, but of course, I’d like to go for the more extravagant ones.
She had a billion different little smiles. There could be a dictionary of them.
I’ve only known her for two days and I couldn’t tell you exactly how many I could name.
Her, ‘I don’t really like you but I’m polite’
‘I’m trying really hard not to laugh at you’
‘You are really annoying me’
‘I think you’re cute but I can’t say’
‘I don’t know…yet,’
She had an awesome laugh to. It sounded like…little bells that only I could hear, no one ever really could find that special thing like I did.
She had those stony eyes that were a vague grey that you just want to pick apart and see what color they really are.
The way her hips swayed when she walked, and I don’t think she really noticed. Everything about Annie was just that different.
But then Josie, Josie, Josie. I cant say that she didn’t rock my world. Simply because she did. Ironically enough, though, she wasn’t what Annie had set herself to be.
Whereas Josie was sometimes impolite, inconsiderate, yet totally sweet around certain people, Annie did her best to please everyone, put up a smile no one could resist.
Like she did me. I knew, though, Annie had given me her, ‘I don’t really like you but I’m polite’ smile ever since the very beginning and I knew that probably wasn’t going to change.
So I didn’t see why Josie would freak out if I just had a new friend. Why should she have a say anyway?
Wrong, very, very wrong.
Josie had a say in everything in my life even if it was the type of pop tart I bought for breakfast or who I chose to associate with.
2% percent milk or skim milk?
She’d make me buy skim.
Vanilla or strawberry milkshake pop tart?
Vanilla, definitely because strawberries, ‘Are very artificially made when it comes to brands like these.’
I had tried to tell her once that vanilla was just as artificial but really, it didn’t matter. Josie got what she wanted. I was starting to realize, though, that I really liked strawberry much better.
I sat in the kitchen while Annie showered and I sort of rethought conversation. We talked about soccer, which we both played. Varsity, of course, Annie was athletic and I could tell.
She had long legs but a small torso, so she was short. She had toned arms as well brought out even more, I thought, by her tan. It was just eleven days into summer and she already looked like she just came back from the Bahamas.
She had a corky sense of humor I liked.
And she made me laugh.
Why couldn’t she be a friend? Why did Josie always have to make things difficult? I didn’t like Annie that way…did I? I laughed a second. No! Of course not! Annie was just a friend. Bottom line. I tended to over think things…always. It was just the way I was. I tried not to smile. Annie definitely didn’t. She seemed like she just said whatever was in her mind at the moment.
I heard a creek at the door way interrupting my thoughts and Marie and my mother walked in, giggling about something. “Dear, how are you?” my mother asked recovering quickly. “I’m fine, Annie’s just showering that’s all.”
Marie’s tall and thin stature seemed to bend when she laughed and she grasped her stomach when she did.
She sort of looked like Annie in a way, but I realized that Marie was not the mother of Annie and Mike.
And I thought for a moment what happened.
Annie had a small line of freckles across her nose that Marie did not.
Annie was short, unlike Marie, and Marie was extremely thinly built whereas Annie was more strongly and athletically built.
The only resemblance was hair and nose.
Well, she and Mike could be called opposites.
Mike had dark hair that was thicker than both Marie and Annie, though Annie’s hair was thick.
Marie’s was the definition if thin, but very well kept and long. It seemed that the longer it got, the thinner it was.
Annie’s was mid-thick all the way down.
I bit my lip as Marie turned around to the fridge and pulled out a large pitcher of cucumber and lemon water. My mouth watered and she handed me a glass and pored some in.
“Thank you.” I nodded at her and she smiled delightfully.
Annie walked down the stairs in a short dark blue dress, her hips swaying, her curly hair bouncing this way and that.
I could’ve dropped the glass, but I gripped it harder and my mouth watered even more. I closed my eyes a moment then looked down to regain myself. “Hey,” I mouthed and she winked and mouthed back.
She had tall heels on, anyone could trip in them, even Josie, but she worked them. “Marie you can shower now, I’ll entertain.” She air quoted and I stifled a laugh. My mother looked at her all google eyed and I rolled mine.
I thought to myself, ‘What? Didn’t expect her to be that pretty?’ but the honest truth was, neither did I.
I felt good wearing what I was wearing. I felt the chill from the air conditioning breezing down my open back. I moved my hips with my heels and smiled warmly at Will. He smiled back but seemed a little dazed.
I placed a glass in front of Mrs. Cooper and leaned down to Will and whispered. “You alright?” he blinked a few times and nodded at me. I poured some of the water into her glass and refilled Will’s; he had drank a considerable amount since I had been there.
I bit my lip and then said, “Why don’t we go outside? Mike cleaned the tables and it’s really nice out.” I walked over to the door and opened it. Mrs. Cooper walked out with her blackberry in hand, focusing intently on it, but Will stopped and grabbed the door.
I looked at him for a moment before walking through and saying, “Thanks.” My voice sounded odd and I felt like I should redeem myself, but I thought better of it. I sat the pitcher down on the fresh white picnic table and eyed Mike who was leaning on the fence talking to a girl.
He saw me, glared and turned back. I opened my mouth to say something but closed it when I realized I really had nothing else to say. I walked into the kitchen quickly and grabbed the peach tarts out of the oven and placed them on the counter.
I took off the mitt, waving it a little to cool them, and placed each one on the circular platter and walked out the door. I placed them in the center of the table. “What, what is it?” his mother eyed me suspiciously.
I stepped back and stood close to Will almost as if he was my protection. “Peach tarts. Homemade from our trees.” I pointed. She looked out from the brim of her large fuschia hat.
She bit her lip and reluctantly took one. She silently popped it into her mouth and I could hear Will’s steady chewing beside me. He nudged my hip and said, “It’s awesome.”
But he was much quieter than I ever wanted him to be.
I walked back into the kitchen and grabbed the chicken breast marinading in the plastic bag. I picked up my cell phone and exited out of all the texts from Lex. I didn’t want to read them then.
I called Mike and waited for his phone to ring. I pulled out a plate to put the chicken breasts on and Mike answered, “Annie, I’m really busy, I,” “Chicken. Get in here and tell whoever that is to go home.” I hung up and placed it on the counter next to the tongs.
I ran upstairs and checked my makeup. There wasn’t much of it, if I put on more than some mascara and blush, maybe some cover-up, I felt like a total clown. I ran my finger along my lip line to make sure my lip gloss wasn’t smudging beyond its boundaries and walked back downstairs.
I grabbed napkins, forks, spoons, and plates. I set the table and Mike sulked back to the kitchen and I slapped his back and walked with him. “Mike who was that?” he shrugged.
“Just a chick. I’ve known her.” his browning and thickening hair shone in the sun. I groaned. “Sorry.” He glared. “A girl. This girl I know. She wanted to see the farm.” He muttered and I nudged him.
Marie swiveled down the stairs in my shoes and she looked amazing. She smiled a flashy smile. “Yeah, let’s do this. That woman is a total snob, but we need this. She’s offering a lot of money.” She rolled her eyes. So she had noticed it to. I wasn’t being melodramatic.
I bit my lip and hopped on the counter. “Sweetie, maybe we should think about not taking this job, I,”
“No. We need it, you said it yourself.” She shook her head bitterly. ‘We always have Lex and his family.” I grimaced. “What?” she stepped closer with concern. “Nothing. Just take it, Marie.” She eyed me up and down a little then smiled. “Okay.” She leaned out the door and saw mike flipping the chicken. She waved her hand at me to start walking out.
I bit my lip, suddenly my heart fluttering nervously. I walked over to the table and sat next to Will. He studied me quietly but his mother seemed to have caught his eye and he looked opposite me, at the peach trees.
I looked that way to and raised a brow. Their color was particularly pinkish and they were ripening heavily. I bit my lip. What could make Will realize I was really there.
I sighed and said, “They’re pretty huh?” He sighed back. “Yeah.” He turned toward me. “They are.” But he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Obviously, he really wasn’t that interested in saying anything to me. I turned the other way and closed my eyes.
I wanted so badly not to feel the little salt water droplets come down my cheeks and flood at my lips. But I knew they were coming so I bent down under the table and pretended to fix my shoe.
When I wiped a few and was ready to come back up Will accidentally stomped on my foot. “Ah!” I shrieked, more out of surprise than anything else. But when I shrieked I jumped, shook the table, and banged the back of my head.
Slowly lifting myself I felt Will’s hand grasping my arm but I shook him off. “You okay?” he whispered in my hair as I lifted my head. “Good. Thanks.” I rubbed the back of my head.
I turned around, silently begging for Marie and Mike to come up to the table and save me from the deepening awkwardness I had made for myself. I scratched the back of my head feeling a small lump and took a deep breath, shaky though. I swallowed and Marie set a chicken breast on my plate.
I thanked her quietly and placed my napkin on my lap. I cut my chicken and ate it piece by piece. I didn’t really listen much, but Mrs. Cooper was rambling on about things.
“Yes, Will is very athletic.” She googled her eyes in his direction. “Sports are just his thing I guess. His girlfriend, beautiful, doesn’t play a thing. How ironic!”
“Oh, ow!” I clasped my hand to my mouth and winced. “Dear, that’s rude.” Mrs. Cooper muttered in disapproval. I excused myself and walked to the kitchen. I felt iron flooding in my mouth.
I bit my mouth while chewing a piece of chicken. But I really think it was my nerves taking over.
Will had a girlfriend. But even worse, he didn’t want me.
I looked at my mom in confusion for a moment. Annie had not only bitten her mouth while chewing, my mother scolded her for being rude. Not only was it our first time in their household and they were kind enough to feed us, but we were about to pay them to work for us.
How more inconsiderate could she be? “I’ll…you know what? I need to use the restroom.” I excused myself and walked into the kitchen. “Hey,” I reached to grasp her shoulder but she inched away.
“I’m sorry. She’s a jerk. To be honest, I’m embarrassed to go out on public with her. Let alone your place.” she wildly eyed me. “Not, that way, I mean,” she placed her hand in the air and closed her eyes.
“It’s fine, Will…fine.” I wanted her to look at me; to really, really look at me. But she had no intention of that. “Want to talk about something?” I asked, my head a little to the side.
“Why would I,” she breathed. “Nope. I’m alright thanks.” I felt a little something burn in my chest. I didn’t know what it was, and I was trying to really not care. But I did, and I guess you can’t fix that.
“Okay.” My voice seemed a little chalky. I didn’t want to ask, ‘Are you sure?’, ‘You cant tell me.’, ‘Just tell me, I wont tell anyone else.’ Worst of all, I didn’t want to hover.
Because I wanted her to like me. More than I probably should have ever wanted, but I did, and I was determined to make that happen. I could see tears flooding into her eyes a little and I tried not to say anything.
But I guess controlling your voice and your eyes are two different things. She shook her head, sniffed, and looked down and seemed to wipe a few tears. She walked past me, brushing my shoulder a little, leaving a small tingling sensation, and moved into the hallway, disappearing like a ghost.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked my voicemail. Two from Josie. I dialed and listened. One said, “Hey, William…I’m hanging out with some friends tonight, so you wont be able to get me until late, so maybe don’t bother until tomorrow. Love ya!” her corky little voice was perfectly clear.
In the second one however, saying, “Wi(swallow) Will…I(giggle) party…thing, I’m at a party. (giggle) call me! You gotta come!(giggle) bye!” made me a little apprehensive. It didn’t sound good, it definitely sounded like she had been drinking.
Never a good thing for Josie.
I sent her a text saying, ‘I hope you’re being good. Give me a call if you need a ride home’, but I knew I wasn’t going to get an answer. Until she apologized the next day.
Annie hadn’t come back, and I didn’t want to bother her. so I walked back outside and sat down . And empty seat to the right of me. Marie looked at me concerned. I nodded and winked signaling that Annie was okay.
But I wasn’t really sure about that. And I wasn’t particularly interested in letting my mom hurt her any further. So, to me, it almost seemed like a good thing that she hadn’t come out yet.
But my mom did smile at me and she did seem to wonder where Annie had gone. At least she wasn’t finding Annie to be invisible. But for some reason, I didn’t like the fact that mom had mentioned Josie.
I don’t really know why, I just felt uneasy for some reason. I shifted on the bench and ate a few more bites, finishing my chicken. I heard a creek, then a slam, and I watched as Annie walked up and sat beside me, her fresh, but totally see-through smile already cracking.
She sighed and finished eating her chicken. I felt bad, I knew she was putting on her best face to please Marie, whoever Marie was to her, but she obviously loved her enough to put up with my mother.
“So, Marie,” I closed my eyes as she spoke, praying she wouldn’t say anything rash. Luck is never on my side though. “You seem too young to have children these ages.”
She looked from Annie to Mike. Marie retreated and bit her lip. I tried to give my mom a look, something to get her attention to tell her to stop.
“Well,” she looked from Mike, who had his head down, to Annie who gave her a sharp look and a quick head shake. She cleared her throat. “My, ugh, my brother…and his wife…they are my niece and nephew. They…my brother and his wife live…in Pennsylvania. They decided to let Mike and Annie get a change of scenery…that’s all.”
She cleared her throat again and gave my mother a reassuring look. Annie quietly sniffed beside me. I wanted to hug her or rub her shoulder or do something to tell her she was okay. But I knew she wouldn’t let me touch her.
I looked at my phone, erasing the eery silence, and said, “Hey, mom, I think it’s about time to go. Dad has that thing remember?” of course, there was nothing, but I couldn’t stand this anymore.
So I looked at her gravely and she nodded. “Mhm. You’re right. Thank you so much Marie.” She hugged and pecked Marie on the cheek before slapping Mike on the back and, finally, walking over to Annie.
“Dear…” she sighed, “You should really smile. It might just make you attractive.”
I grabbed her arm, smiled weakly at Annie and bid everyone goodnight walking mom to the car. I felt horrified, embarrassed, and worst of all, like a fool. Poor Annie had to deal with me and my egocentric and mindless mother. I didn’t know what to do, how to act, or what to say.
And that had always been a really hard thing for me. I had always known. Except then. I really wanted to get home, to, to check on Josie. I was a little worried about that.
I drove the big range rover without a word, but the loud radio took away the painful silence. Three Days Grace screamed in my ears and I liked it. My mom grimaced at my choice but I frowned at her.
She turned away because, for some reason, when someone was bigger than her, and they were alone, she turned into a real sheep. She was short, about 5’4” and I was tall; 6’3”.
I don’t know why she was the way she was, I just prayed every night I could inch through another day with her.
I pulled into the driveway and cut the engine, quickly jumping out, not giving her enough time to explain or even say a word. I really didn’t care. I called Josie once in my room and I heard her breathing hard into the phone and laughing. “I’m coming to pick you up.” I told her quietly, gravely.
“Haha! No! It cant…stop…ha…no.” I heard her gasp and a deep laugh. I clenched my desk chair. “Where is it?” I bit my lip trying not to yell or scream or do whatever I had to do.
“Brian’s, but,” I hung up and walked downstairs grabbing the car keys off the counter. “Dad, Josie needs a ride home; I’m going to go pick her up.” He nodded doubtfully and walked into his office, his “man cave”, scratching his head.
I drove off to Brian’s side of the Hills and pulled into his driveway. I could smell alcohol all the way out in his front yard and walked onto the porch where three girls and two guys were laughing histerically about something that probably wasn’t even funny.
I never liked to drink. One beer, maybe, if I was in a really good mood, but Josie had always been a very different story.
I saw Brian and I shouldered him and asked, “Where’s Josie, Brian?” he shrugged and pointed to a group of girls in micro-skirts and tank tops. “Josie,” I called into the crowd of girls.
She hugged me close but I pulled away. She smelled herendous. “What is that Jos?” she shrugged and I pulled her outside. “Party pooper! Come on, baby…let’s go have fun.” She tried to pull me back to the house.
“No, no, and no.” I also grabbed the cup in her hand and poured out the contents into the grass. That was strong smelling alcohol. She slapped my hand and the cup fell on the ground.
“Will! That was my drink!” she whined but was unstable so I had to grip her arm.
“And so then you take it in my car, I get pulled over, I and I get busted for driving with alcohol present. And, you’re drunk, you’ll spill it in my car, and my dad will smell it and ground me for life. I just got the ‘okay’ to drive people Josie; I got my license six months ago. I’m not getting it taken away for something stupid and worthless like that drink and your poor decisions. What were you thinking, doing this? You know how much trouble you could get into. You don’t want that and neither do I.” She huffed and crossed her arms.
“You’re always being responsible aren’t you?” I shook my head. “Someone has to! Look at you, Josie! You’re never responsible. If not me than who?” she shuddered and threw up in the grass.
I rubbed my forehead and grabbed her by the arms leading her to the car. She stumbled and got in. I buckled her seatbelt for her; she was clearly way too incompetent to do it herself.
I got in the car and started driving in silence. “Wait! Pull over, pull over!” I slammed on the breaks and she lurched forward. “Josie…” she leaned down, looking for something, but she spilled the contents of her purse. I huffed loudly and swallowed.
But then I saw something on the ground.
“Josie,” she hurried to pick it up but she was so intoxicated she couldn’t match her hand with it. I snatched the little white roll.
My girlfriend had just brought weed into my car.
“Josie,” I leaned in and smelled her. “Why do you smell like burnt marijuana?” I asked lethally quiet. She shrugged. “I wasn’t,”
“Don’t…you dare lie to me.” I clenched my jaw and looked away. I reached down and picked up three more rolls and a plastic bag.
“Oh…my…God.” My voice shook. “Will…before you say,”
“No! Apologies don’t cut it this time! I mean, first, I find you drinking like crazy and obviously getting stoned with people I don’t know. You know how I feel about all that in the first place. Then…then, you bring the rest of your pot in my car!” she shook her head. “That’s not my,”
“Don’t tell me it’s not your dope Josie! It is I know it. Whether you grew it, had it to sell, or borrowed it, it’s still yours.” She sniffled and started to cry. “Will,”
“Throw it out.”
I beat the steering wheel. “Damn, Josie, get that stuff out of my car right now! Throw it out the window!” she opened the window, threw it, and closed it. “Please, I can’t go home like this,” I threw my hands in the air.
“So it’s okay if you go to my place on a high and drunk? Wake up puking in my bathroom because you’re hung over, that’s okay to?” she shook her head and sobbed.
I pulled out and drove to my house. I walked her into the guest room and turned at the doorway. “Be gone before my parents wake up.” I walked out and into my room.
What was Josie thinking? Then, I realized no one ever really knew anything except that she was thinking about herself. I walked into the bathroom, brushed my teeth and went back to bed.
Thinking about Josie, thinking about my family, myself…thinking about Annie.
I wanted Lex. He could always fix any problem I ever had. I texted him saying we needed to talk and that he should come over and meet me on the beach. He replied right away saying he would be there.
I wanted him to hug me and to tell me everything was okay and that I wasn’t a crazy whacko person. He saw me and walked slowly in the sand, sliding a little on the slope and throwing his flip-flops beside me.
“Annie.” He said quietly, staring at me with a tender eye, but slight confusion, deep remorse, and a little smile that was saying, “Hey, it’s okay, I’m here now.” I looked him up and down, feeling tears emerging and the bitter choke in my throat. He took my face in his hands for the first time in our lives and kissed me. Lex didn’t have to say anything because I kissed him back.
I wanted to. He knew it to. There was something no matter how hard we tried to deny, deny, deny; there was. “Annie…” he whispered onto my lips. “Alexander…” I whispered onto his.
He moaned and pulled away. “Gee, way to ruin a moment.” I giggled as he pulled me close to him. I rested my head on his chest and nestled in between his legs like I had been doing forever.
“Now, why the tears?” I sighed deeply in thought and looked at the color changing, rippling, floating away water. “There have to be reasons these days? Why don’t I ever get the memo?” he cleared his throat.
“Annie.” I huffed and leaned into him. In a choky voice I said, “I don’t know. The fact that I don’t have real parents anymore. That my brother barely talks to me. That I never seem to be wanted. Don’t tell me I am, you know that’s the worst thing you can do right now. I just wish that,” I closed my eyes and tried really hard not to cry again.
“I wish that,” I sobbed a little. “Things were just different. That, that I have parents again. Why were they taken from me? What did I ever do so wrong that I had to be punished like this?” I was staining his shirt with my tears but he only gripped me tighter.
“No, Annie, you’re not being punished. You never did anything wrong. You never think that, you hear me? Never. This only happened to you because you can handle it. Not on your own maybe, and I know you don’t think that you can right now, but you are the strongest girl in this world. And no one can ever take that from you; no one has the right to deprive you from it. And this only makes you stronger. You need to be strong. And guess what? You have so many people that are always here to help you. I’m always here. And Mara, your aunt, your brother, even though you don’t feel like it sometimes. But everyone’s here for you Annie; everyone loves you. I love you.”
he rubbed my back up and down over and over. But he told me he loved me. And I knew he didn’t mean that he was in love with me. He just loved me. And that was good enough.
“I…I love you to,” I sobbed in a shaky voice trying hard not to be hysterical. I sniffed a little and he rested his chin on my head. Lex and I were finally something.
I felt icky. I didn’t know why though. I woke up feeling so incredibly icky, I looked at myself in the mirror and climbed back in bed. My face and belly were puffy it seemed, and I felt a dull pain in my lower abdomen and I was hot. But once in bed I realized I had gotten my period.
I knew why I felt so icky. I told Marie I really didn’t want to ride, but she said that the Coopers were bringing their horses and I needed to be there for orientation, but there would be no riding.
I trudged slowly up the stairs and put on some shorts and long socks. I grabbed a granola bar, put on my new muck boots, and started to work on stalls. I mucked the four reserved stalls and the rest I covered over with hay since they would be taken care of later.
I wiped my brow with the back of my wrist and hung the rake on the rack outside the tack room. I lifted a stack of buckets, each with names written in Sharpie on them, and filled them with a few different types of grain. I put them in the stalls they belonged and gave Halo a quick peck on the face.
I gave each horse fresh water and then got to my real work. I lugged out the big saddle stand and leather cleaner. I took a few sponges from the wash stall and brought out a large laundry bag full of sweaty, hairy, dirty saddle pads. Marie always got finicky so we hand-washed and dried them on clothes lines.
I lugged the big metal tub with both hands and set the detergent inside. I brought four saddles to my little station and started detaching the stirrups and different odds and ends that didn’t belong because they had been used for lessons. I had already scrubbed two saddles when I heard a truck rumbling down the drive.
I saw a brand new F350, black, with a bright white trailer, coming my way. I didn’t move or anything, but I saw Will driving and my heart jumped two beats ahead.
Then I realized how puffy my stomach and face were and how bad I actually looked. I sucked in my best and scrubbed harder on the black saddle. Will jumped out of the truck, seeming a little apprehensive, but his face made my mouth water. When he swung the keys around his finger and placed them on his pocket, and the wind blew his hair even further in his face, I was glad to be there.
He cocky smiled at me, as if he earned that right, and walked over to me. “Hmmm…head still hurt? Is there a bump?” I wrinkled my nose at the sun. “I don’t know, you tell me, you check.”
He jumped at the chance and walked over slowly parting my hair at the back; I tried not to shake, and said, “You’re a very luck girl Ms. Donovan. You escaped your horrible accident with only a,” he kneeled down next to me and said, “A slight bump.” He patted my hair down and stood up.
“Hard labor makes a hard girl. Are you sure you should be doing this?” he asked. I grimaced. “I’m just doing what rich people don’t.” he laughed, clearly unfazed, and said, “Doing my dirty work, are you? And why?”
he kneeled next to me seeming genuinely puzzled. I shoved him. “Like I have a choice.” “Aha! See, grasshopper, that is where you are wrong.” I laughed. “You have a choice for everything.”
I rolled my eyes. “Your horses are sitting in a trailer, you know.” I used my sponge to point to his mother, still in the car on her blackberry. He smacked his forehead with his hand and jumped up.
“My horses, my horses, my…horses…” he walked off the trailer and I heard him unhitch it. I wiped my hands on a towel and walked over. “Two each?” he asked and offered me two lead ropes, one pink, one blue, obviously not his choice. “Madea and Dutch.”
He pointed to the horses on my side of the trailer. I grabbed both, carefully guiding each off the ramp, and put them in stalls. “Consider the dirty work done.” He muttered closing the last stall.
“Ha! No, grasshopper, it isn’t. Lots more. You staying or leaving?” he shrugged. “A little while. If that’s okay with you.” I waved my hand. “Be my guest. You have to entertain me though.” I leaned closer to him and he eyed me curiously, playfully. “I get lonely.” I went back to cleaning the saddle.
“What’s your middle name?” I asked dipping my sponge in the tub of water. “Ha! Ugh, Abbott…” I tried really hard to gasp for air. I was laughing so hard that Will had to pat my back and he splashed water in my face.
“It’s not funny. What’s yours?” I shook my head. “Oh, no! you better tell me.” I huffed dramatically. “Korrine. If you laugh…” his face started to get really red. “Breathe Will,” he gasped and laughed.
“What kind of name is that?” he asked after regaining a steady breathing pattern. I shrugged. ‘The name my parents gave me.’ I thought quietly. “So what horses are yours?” I asked sitting on the gravel then and unloading all the saddle pads. I dipped one in the water and poured detergent in with it.
“Demi and Dutch. Not like they were my choice, but they’re mine.” I bit my lip as I soaked another pad. “Why’s that?” he shrugged and twirled his finger in the soapy water creating what looked like a little tornado.
“It’s the way my family works. Mom and dad buy an investment you better take care of it.” I sighed and looked at him. “Well…maybe, you should look at them not as an investment, but as your horses. You might be surprised at what you find.” He surprisingly smiled and bent over and said, “Always one so wise aren’t you?” I smiled back and shrugged.
“Just trying to open a door.” He stood and wiped his hands on his pants. “Maybe you just did.” He turned to leave but smiled at me. “Thank you Annie.” I smiled back and said, “Any time you need me, I’ll be here.” But then I retreated as I watched him walk away.
He had a girlfriend. I had just had a romantic night with my best friend. So I thought about Lex. I picked up my phone and called him. “Hey, Annie! What’s up?” my heart fluttered.
“Just cleaning and working…alone. Want to come and entertain me?” I asked hoping really hard. “Sure. Give me ten minutes.” We hung up and I patiently counted the seconds until he showed.
He drove up the drive and walked over to me, his bleach blond hair shone brightly and his white smile made my skin tingle all over. He stretched out on the ground next to me, and with his sunglasses, looked at the sun.
“Feel any better?” he asked slowly and lightly stroking my leg while I worked. “Yeah. Sorry about that.” he propped himself in his elbow and turned towards me. “Don’t be sorry. Your feelings are just as real as anything else you can’t blame yourself for them. You cant control them. So don’t worry about it.” I smiled dropped my flip flops and pressed my toes on his stomach.
“So…what, what was last night?” I asked carefully. He shrugged. “What do you want it to be?” I bit my lip. “Well…that depends. I mean, I want it to be…what you want to, not just me, I,” he leaned up and kissed me.
“Is that what you want?” his tone was playfully irritated. “Yeah.” I smiled and stroked his face. He sighed and laid back down. “You can take me now, God. She finally kissed me. After all…these…years.” I
laughed and sat down next to him. “Don’t say that. Now you have me!” he smiled and stroked my arm lovingly. “That I do. But how are we going to do this? We don’t want anyone to know just yet do we?” I looked at him smiling, and honestly, I didn’t really care about a word the boy was saying.
But he was waiting for me to answer, so I finally shrugged and bit my lip. “I don’t know. I guess not yet. It’ll be a secret for a while. And then, when we’re both ready, we can tell.” He nodded and sat up.
“Sounds like a plan to me. But, I want to go to the beach. You and me.” He grabbed my hands and pulled me off the ground. I remembered my situation. “Work, Lex, I have to do it.” He sighed.
“Well…I’ll leave you to it, then. I should go get working on that book. He cradled my face in his right hand and pecked my lips sweetly. “See ya. Call me when you’re done. I want to talk tonight.” I smiled and waved as he got into his big range rover, black, and I watched him drive away.
I liked the way she could just talk. I don’t know, maybe it was the way she didn’t really have to think about it before she said it. It just came so naturally and her words were so down to earth.
We were in the barn putting the horses away, and suddenly, something clicked in her. She was so good around the animals, like they understood her. She had Dutch’s stall door open and she was stroking his long nose bridge with the little white splatter down it.
The darkness of his coat was starting to lighten I noticed, but until I saw him in another light, in a different environment, and through a different perspective, I never really noticed his delicate beauty.
He was a big horse, very tall standing, and sturdy, but all his body weight was perfectly weighed on four long and bony legs. From his athletic build, you could see his veins and his muscles protruding and the fit tone in his hindquarters and withers.
His long and thick neck hung low for the short and small Annie’s affection. She smiled as he lazily rubbed his head up against her chest and then nuzzled her cheek, even moving his long lips against her ear and upon her head.
I smiled at the placid and enjoyable sight, and something in me yearned and belonged to feel the way Annie did. She was really happy. And Dutch opened with her so well.
I smiled again as she lightly pressed her hand to his muzzle, then jerked it away, then placed it back. She did it several times and it had him in a twisty little motion of stretching his lips and baring his teeth and neighing a little.
We laughed and my stomach burned yet again from her. “He likes you.” she shrugged and kissed him. “He likes attention. A lot.” I shook my head and stroked Demi in the stall I was leaning on.
He was sticking his nose out at me, nostrils flared, and snorting. But I didn’t get the joy. To be honest, I’d be terrified to do what she did on those horses. “No, he really likes you.”
Did I say he? I meant me.
No, I was just frustrated with Josie and the choices she was making. Annie was a friend. That was all. But something just made her…different.
We had talked a while more while she worked and then, I decided I should check on Josie. Just to see if her parents found out and she was grounded or whatever. So I dropped mom and the truck off and decided to walk to her house.
I saw her car in the driveway, but no parents, so I walked in without ringing the doorbell and called, “Josie!” I didn’t get an answer. I ran up the stairs and slowly opened the door to her bedroom.
It was all dark, all the blinds shut, a curtain covered over the large sun window, and she was buried under the fluffy white comforter. I looked at the digitally counting clock on the wall that read, ‘2:30’.
I knelt down next to the bed and gently pulled down the covers. I smoothed down her blond hair that was a little disheveled and kissed it. “Josie,” I whispered close to her ear. I knew I shouldn’t shout or scream or yell. I wasn’t going to do that to her until she was in a right mind.
“Baby it’s time to wake up, okay? Wasting your day, remember?” she whimpered turned her head to the other side. I scooted her further into the bed and laid next to her. I wrapped my arms around her limp body and stroked her hair. “Feel pretty bad, huh?” she moaned again and I felt her swallow.
“Josie you have to stop. I can’t keep watching you do this. I care about you and I don’t want to see anything bad happen. You’re ripping my heart out and I can’t stand it anymore. No more drinking, no more drugs, no more partying every single night; Jos, you can’t do it anymore.”
She coughed and said, “Okay…no more…at all?” she sounded like she was five. But that made me angry. I tried my best to stay calm, though.
“Josie, you can go to parties, but you can’t be partying every day. You’re not even legal to drink, drugs are illegal permanently, and you’re not going to get anything on your record. Please, Annie…”
Her head shot up at me. “Who is Annie? Will?” I shook my head feeling dazed. Did I really just call my girlfriend of a year Annie? Annie who I had known for three days? Annie who was just a friend?
“She’s the trainer, no one special, I was just there dropping them off, that’s all, I lost my train of thought…” my voice faded. “Will…don’t you ever…” she got up and ran to the bathroom. I
felt like a piece of crap. So I felt like the least I could do was comfort her. She threw up twice and I tried to rub her back and put a cool rag on her cheeks, but she shoved me away each time.
I heard her whimper and she cried, and it made me feel even more like a loser. “Baby, Jos…Josie please…” I knew I could only make her feel right with one thing. But…“Josie, I love you.” too late. I regretted what I said, but I couldn’t take it back.
I had said what I said and nothing would change that. She leaned back against the wall and wiped her mouth with the back of her arm. I gave her the rag and I filled a paper cup with water and watched her gulp it down.
“Will…I…” then I let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t feel that way either! “I love you to.” Back in my face. How did I not see that coming? Evil twist of fate, that was for sure, but I got my ass handed to me and I deserved it.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again, Will Cooper, I swear if you do,” I knew she expected me to say something romantic and sappy like, ‘Oh, Josie, I will never ever do anything of the kind to you again! I’ll kill myself if I do!’ well, maybe not like that, but, she wanted me to at least say something.
But all I could do was lean back against the cabinet with my knees tucked up against my chest. “I…I wont.” I shook my head and swallowed. I always swallowed really hard when I was scared or in trouble, I always thought it would just release the pressure building up in my head, and it did, but it gave me something far worse and I was so foolish, I did it every time.
That ache slammed into my head and I closed my eyes. I could feel my brains rattle inside my skull and I slowly breathed. I tried not to squint my eyes or do anything that showed her I was aching, but she knew me.
Far too well. “Headache, huh?” she stroked my cheek lovingly. “I guess we both need advil. I’ll go get some.” She rubbed my back a little and stood up to walk over to the cabinet.
She was still in her skirt and tank top, but her spiral curls were tied up in a loose pony tail. Her feet were arched from wearing heels so much, so she always seemed to walk on her toes.
She brought me an orange Gatorade and three little pills. I thanked her and swallowed them all at once, pleading with my body to soak up whatever was in those little capsules to make me feel better. I hated feeling that way.
We walked down the hall and into her room, I was restraining with all my might to lie down as I watched her grab a sweatshirt and lead me down stairs. All I could focus on was her couch once we got there, and I think she noticed, because she led me over and set me down.
“Sleep…I’ll get you something.” She was seemingly feeling better, or maybe she thought I just felt worse…
I heard her soft voice cooing me awake. I licked my lips, they were really dry, and I rubbed my eyes. Opening them, I found that she had set a glass of no-pulp orange juice on the coffee table and a non-fat granola bar, peanut butter and almonds.
I blinked a few times and pulled her head towards me, but she still smelled like burnt marijuana and tequila. I kissed her though, and mumbled into her ear, “Why, thank you.” and she giggled.
I grasped the orange juice and took a large gulp. I wondered what pulp orange juice tasted like. So I promised myself that before the end of the summer I would sit down and drink a glass of pulp orange juice.
In fact, lots of pulp orange juice.
satisfied with myself, I realized my head was feeling better, and I looked at the clock and realized I had slept for an hour. “Now that I know you’re not dead…I’m taking a shower.” She grabbed my face and kissed me.
“I love you.” I laughed, nervously, and kissed her back. “Love you to.” As she stood up, I used the pillow and hit her in the butt. She shrieked and I smiled. Maybe, just maybe I really did love her.
I hummed along to the radio in the barn and I wrung out the sponge I was using to wash Delilah, the newest addition to my collection, a present from Santa Claus. I thought back and laughed.
Marie had put a Santa hat draped over her ear and holly leaves in her charcoal colored mane. Her splotchy body was fuzzy but clean and a little note on her brand new bright green halter read, ‘To my dearest Annie. Have fun, and don’t get thrown too much. Love, Santa.’
I still had it taped to my mirror with a picture of Delilah and I that morning; me in Ugg slippers and a big bulky jacket and a hat over my head.
But something stopped me. Out of the back of my eye, I saw Mike running through the pastures. He looked nice. Too nice to be messing around. And he never came near the barn if he didn’t have to.
I decided not to bust him just yet so I dropped the brush in my hand and followed him quietly. I ducked in the tall grass and tried not to make a whole lot of noise. I watched him climb into the big red ford belonging to Kent “Jonesy” Jones. They had always called him that, I thought it was dumb, but whatever tickled his pickle was fine with me.
I heard him and Mike talking about something, a party I thought. I caught snippets of what they were saying.
“Sort of. I know they’ll have some though.”
“Do we have enough money?”
“Brian sells cheap. Plus, it’s his place. Gotta get rid of it before someone finds out.”
“Is it going to be big?”
“Not from what I heard, he doesn’t want it to be obvious or leak to a lot of people. That’s all, I guess.”
“We’re not actually going to do it there though, are we? I want to go to Andy’s. His place is even better.” A laugh, a head shake, and they were off.
Drugs, I bet myself. I let myself cool down before doing anything, so I finished washing Delilah and ran upstairs. I locked myself in his bedroom quietly and started rummaging through drawers closets, and anything else I could find. Strangely enough, in his underwear drawer I found two bags of marijuana, I thought.
But I decided to leave one bag and take the other. Maybe he would notice. Of course he would notice there was no way he wouldn’t. Good. I took the bag and brought it to my room.
Where would I hide it? I decided on putting it in a small brown bag I had gotten when I bought a necklace, rolled it up and stuffed it underneath my socks.
I ran over to my phone and called Lex. After three rings he answered but didn’t say anything. He coughed. “Hey…what’s up?” I furrowed my brow. “Everything oaky?” he laughed nervously.
“Yeah…just hanging out with Brad. Can I call later? Like around six thirty?” I bit my lip. “Sure.” He hung up without saying goodbye, but I got a text saying, ‘Hey, girl. Sorry, I don’t want him to bother me about it, that’s all. I will call as soon as I get out of here. Miss you.’
I felt shaky and I tried not to smile.
‘Alright, can’t wait to talk to you! Missing you lots.’
‘ Loving this!’
‘Me to. Lots to tell hurry!’
a half an hour later he called me. “What’s the rush for, girl? Did your nail break?” he used a girl voice. “I’d slap you right now. So you miss me, huh?” he laughed. “Nope. I lied. Now what’s so important?” I giggled.
“Mr. impatient are you? tell me you miss me first.” “My dear and lovely Annie Donovan, I am dying without your love. I’m going to die if I don’t see you soon! Now,”
“Mike is on drugs.” Well that shut him up. “Umm…alright then. Now, babe, are you sure that he’s on drugs? You sure it wasn’t like he was just joking with you when he told you this and,”
“No, Lex, I found the drugs in his room, in his drawer, I,” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold it…did you just say you went into his room, searched his drawer and you found joints in it?” I shook my head as if he could see it.
“Well…I saw him running off the farm…so I followed and then he got in Jonesy’s truck and they started talking about a party and how much something cost and where they were going to do something with it.” He sighed.
“Annie.” “I know. I’m sorry! What was I supposed to do? It’s the way I was made, it’s geared in my brain to spy and find things out. I’m sorry.” He laughed. “Don’t apologize to me. You didn’t find my joint. I’m not the one on crack. It is marijuana right?” I swallowed.
“I think so. I’ve never done drugs. But it’s one you can smoke, so I can’t really think of anything else but that.”
“Girl…if he finds out,”
“That’s the thing. He will find out.” He cleared his throat. “Ann…why will he find out?” I laughed sheepishly. “I took a bag and put it in my room.”
“Annie Donovan, why in this world would you take your brother’s crack and put it in your room? What problems does that solve? Ann…it only creates new ones…ugh.” I heard him smack his hand to his head.
“Doesn’t I guess. I don’t know it seemed like a good idea at the time. I don’t…know.” He sighed loudly. “Ann…what am I going to do with you?”
“Lock me up in a tower until a prince in shining armor can rescue me?” He laughed. “Slight problem, sweetie. Already have a prince.” I gasped playfully. ‘Why isn’t he coming to get me?” he laughed slyly.
“He’s on his way.” I screeched. “Lex! Hurry!”
“Girl, you need to chill. Lay off the caffeine.” I giggled and hung up.
Lex made me feel good about myself. And he was always there. He gave me space when I needed it and he knew when I needed him to. And that was the best gift Lex could ever give me.
I waited patiently in my room for him. He knew Marie wasn’t home because she was shopping. I picked up the trashy dog-eared novel on my night stand that I had bought for only thirty cents at Mara’s annual clean out and yard sale.
That’s right, my own best friend made me pay. I opened to the page I had been on and started to read about how the prince wasn’t really much of a prince, how in fact, he was a poser, a trader, and…a vampire?
I laughed at the silliness of it all. But I heard a knock on my door. “Landon Beach police. Open up.” He said in a husky voice. “Hold on.” I threw the novel on the floor, made sure my hair was half decent, and opened the door.
He cradled my face very gently in his hands and smiled. “Hmm…hi.” He stroked my cheek bones. “Hey. How was Brad’s?” he shrugged and sat on my bed. “Okay, I guess. It bored me and video games are only so good for so long.” I smiled.
“Finally! You understand that video games aren’t life!” I flopped onto the bed next to him. “No, I just missed you.” I snuggled up against his chest. “You’re going to be a senior this year.” I told him stroking his hand.
He sighed longingly and bit his lip. “I know.” But he didn’t say anything else. I hadn’t even thought about that. I was going to loose Lex in a year. “So…have you decided…you know, on where you’re going to go?”
he bit his lip as I sat up and looked at him. “Well…not exactly. I thought about it, I looked a lot last year, you remember, but I’m not sure. I think I want to be close to home. Maybe you can help me look, research colleges here on shore.” I could see a look in his eyes that I never wanted to see.
Something about Lex, deep inside, was always so tense. “You could go to North Carolina State at Raleigh. It’s only,”
“Seven hours.” He smiled sheepishly. “I mean, even before this, us, I wasn’t so into going to college away. There are plenty here in state I can,”
“Don’t…don’t settle for less.” I shook my head. “Don’t do that. It will work out, okay? You’ll figure it out.” He smiled and rubbed my arms, trying to rub away the tension withheld in me.
“Don’t you worry about me, girl. I got it, I promise.” He laughed and so did I. “I know you do.” I told him, sure of myself, sure of him. “Alright. Did you eat dinner?” I asked him smiling. He nodded.
“But now I’m really hungry for dessert.” He leaned up and kissed my forehead, then my lips for a while, then on each side of my neck, then back to my lips. But I guess we didn’t hear the front door open.
Because Marie walked into my room. I jumped and screamed, he sat there a little stunned wiping his lips. “Oh…my. I guess I knew I would find you doing this one day. I just assumed it would be a while from now and not your best friend. Whose diapers I changed, oh.” She clasped her hand to her forehead.
“Marie, I,” she held up a hand. ‘No it’s fine…I just got startled.” She smiled weakly. “We weren’t going to tell anyone yet,” I sat back down next to Lex feeling like there was nothing else I could do.
She sat across from us on my desk chair. “Do we need to get into a heavy talk, please,” Lex and I jumped up and stood far away from each other, and this time, he spoke.
“Marie, no, oh no, don’t even…no.” he shook his head. We both sat down, a little farther away from each other this time. “It’s nothing like that, Marie. We’re just trying to figure this out right now, it only happened yesterday. But,” I looked at him.
“We would appreciate it if you wouldn’t say anything.” He nodded at me then looked at her. She broke the silence and nodded. “Alright. Door open.” She warned and left.
Lex looked at me. “Wow.” I nodded looking at my legs crossed and my hands in my lap. “Hungry?” I asked. “Uhuh.”
Josie and I spent the day together. And I was happy, I wouldn’t doubt that, I guess I had just stunned myself by letting my feelings go. So when I left her house that night, why did my mind drift?
I should have been on cloud nine, I should have been thinking about Josie. And then there was Annie. It all happened so fast I couldn’t even stop it. She would just jump into my mind.
And things like that got me into the doghouse. And it wasn’t like I could stop seeing her because she was training my horses! They were mine!
She made me realize that.
She made me call my girlfriend Annie.
She made my head hurt.
Annie. It was so easy to blame everything on her. So why was I so giddy driving to her house? I pulled into the drive and I saw her bending her body, pushing to tighten the girth on Dutch.
She pushed and the muscles in her legs showed under her thin riding pants. The dents in her calves were showing and the tone in her arms was broadening. Annie looked hot. There was no other way to say it.
My stomach burned again as I walked over and the tan in her skin was vibrant when she smiled her bright white smile. “Grasshopper! What’s up?” I tried my best not to show my shaking hands.
“We’re riding today, huh?” smiles, I gave her smiles. Just to make her do it, I wanted to see it. And she did. “Yep! Helmet.” She pointed to the Charles Owen helmet sitting on the bench. I handed it to her and she placed it on her head. “He’s used to crops then? Since he was on the track?” she placed it in front of me. I nodded and took a drink of my water.
“Demi needs work on it though. It spooks him.” She nodded and pulled Dutch out of the barn. “Come on big boy.” She willed him into the ring. I shut the gate behind her and watched as she clamped a lunge line to his bridle.
She took the long dressage crop that was lying next to the green mounting block. She made a little clicking noise and placed the crop horizontally on his body and pushed him to the outside of the ring.
He started walking in circles and she watched in amazement at the way he moved, but she did that with every horse. She clicked with her mouth again and he picked up his walk, his mane moving with his bob.
After a few circles she cracked the crop and he jumped a little but picked up a steady trot and she watched his long stride keep steady, but he wasn’t very focused.
“Interesting how he can keep steady and not focus much. He’ll be good.” She called. I smiled back and watched to. I got the beauty and elegance, I did. She brought that to my attention.
But how could she be relaxed around them knowing what they could do? These animals could turn on her and kill her. ut she was blinded by the joy and beauty, I guess.
“I’m sure he’s different off-ground, though.” I looked at her through my sunglasses. Really looked. “You stand funny.” I finally told her. She looked at me with a raised eyebrow then lowered it and smiled.
“How?” I shrugged. “Don’t know. You just do. I mean, look, you aren’t straight, and you’re kind of to the side, and…your leg is funny.” I watched her stiffen. “I had an accident.” She told me stiffly.
“Oh.” That jerk feeling came back again and I felt everything get quiet. She got on Dutch and started to ride. He shook his head a lot and tried to turn into the middle. She kept him on the outside pretty well though, and he chewed the bit a lot. But it was even worse when she tried to trot.
He bolted when she kicked and he looked like he was going to throw her, but she cooled him to a steady trot, but she was pulling a lot. She focused mostly on walking and pushing into a trot, but making it a steady trot, then slowing to a walk again, and it kept going.
Finally she called it a day with him and got off. She didn’t wait for me to open the gate. I followed her into the barn. “Annie, look at me.” She ignored me, so I pulled her away from him and held her by the wrists.
My grip was loose, but she didn’t try to pull away. “What’s going on? I’m sorry. I didn’t even mean to be a jerk. I don’t understand .” she swallowed and tears streamed down her cheeks.
“My parents died in a car accident two years ago. The day I met you it was two years. I was there and so was Mike. I got hurt but they died.” Her voice was high but quiet and she sniffed.
I released her wrists and wiped her tears for her. Her pain stricken face made my heart ache. I couldn’t say anything, so I hugged her. And she hugged me back. “Annie, thank God.” She wrinkled her brow as she undid the strap on Dutch’s bridle.
“What?” she asked. “Thank God you’re alive.” She smiled and something inside me broke loose. I hugged her again and whispered in her hair, “Thank God.” She sighed and rubbed my back.
“Thank you.” she smiled, let go, and we went on like nothing happened.
We laughed about a lot of things, I realized. See, she had this way about her of making everything so light hearted. She always gave me something to laugh about.
But I couldn’t help myself from thinking about her parents. What were they like? Did they suffer? How bad was it? And most of all, where would Annie be if they hadn’t died?
I would have never met her, that’s for sure. And even though I liked Annie a lot, more than I probably should have, maybe that would have been for the best. I could have focused in Josie a whole lot better; I could have always gotten Dutch and Demi help somewhere else, and my mom wouldn’t be able to hurt her.
But I wanted to focus on her smile just then, not on what could or should have happened. What was supposed to happen happened and I couldn’t have changed that even if I wanted to.
I felt proud of myself because even though I had been a total piece of crap to her when I said that about her leg, I felt like I couldn’t have said anything better than, ‘Thank God.’
I felt like saying that made her feel good about being alive and not upset that it was her instead of her parents. I to felt happy it was her. I never knew her parents, but I knew Annie. And everyone who knew her knew they were lucky she was alive.
We spent what seemed the whole day together. She took a break from riding and put on some shorts and laid in the drive, sunning herself like a long elegant cat lying in a window.
I smiled and lied next to her. “What are you going to do about Demi? You know the crop thing.” She shrugged and took my sunglasses off and put them on her. “Ground work today, I think. Get him used to everything around him before I let him get used to someone on his back again. It can be scary for them, so I want to take it nice and slow.” She told me matter of factly.
“Aren’t you ever scared? They can turn on you, you know. At any minute. Aren’t you ever scared?” she shrugged and sighed, thinking.
“Well, yeah, sometimes I guess. It’s just that, you make a bond with them. You go into it understanding that they can kill you and they can hurt you, but something inside you says they never really will. Like humans, you make a bond with them. It’s pretty inseperable to. But, the trick is to tell yourself you’re not scared, even if you are. They’ll sense it. So, I guess, you force yourself not to be afraid.”
She looked at me, and without saying anything, she seemed to ask, ‘Can you understand that?’ I nodded and said, “Yeah, I think so. But I never tried it, so I guess I don’t truly get it.”
She sat up and brushed herself off. “Let’s find out then,” she pulled me up. “No, no, no. Annie, no!” she pulled me. “It’ll be fun. You’ll ride Halo, I promise he’ll be good.” She laughed and pulled me along.
I gave in because I would give anything to see those smiles. But then I remembered my mom saying to her, ‘Dear, you should really smile more. It just might make you attractive.’
I wanted to punch my fist through a wall. I grabbed Annie by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. She stopped smiling. “Don’t, don’t do that.” she cocked her head slightly to the side.
“What?” her voice was crooked sounding. “Don’t you ever stop smiling. You hear me? No matter what anyone tells you. Promise me that.” she looked me up and down.
“Okay, I won’t.” and there was an understanding there deep between us. She nodded and walked over to Halo’s stall. “Come on, baby.” She said clicking him along and attaching his halter to the cross ties.
She brushed him a little and brought out a hackamore. She put it on him and dropped the cross ties from him. “Alright,” she said pulling him into the field that wasn’t enclosed.
“Ring, baby, I want to be in the ring.” I pointed to the smaller enclosed arena with the sand. “Don’t be a little girl, come on. Actually, I teach little girls who aren’t as scared as you.” I rolled my eyes and walked up to the horse. I grabbed her chin. “If I get hurt it’s all your fault.”
But then my stomach burned and my skin tingled and I let go. I was letting myself get closer to Annie. She walked away and held the reins of the hackamore close to Halo’s chin.
“Grab the mane and swing yourself up. It wasn’t too hard because he was smaller and I was tall. I got myself up, but my legs hurt. “He is fat. What do you feed him?” she glared but I could find the smile and underneath my sunglasses, I knew she was looking right into my eyes.
Why exactly, I didn’t really know. But my stomach burned. But I knew I wasn’t man enough to break that gaze. Or maybe, I was just too into it. But she did eventually.
“Ready? We’ll just walk. Come on, buddy.” She pulled him along and after a few strides I started getting comfortable with him and I knew he was with me. “Now, grab the reins.” She placed them in my hands and showed me how to hold them. “Do what you want.”
She let go and took a few steps back. “Dig your heels in his flanks. Right there,” she pointed. “Canter Halo!” she called and before I could protest he picked up a sloppy canter. I pulled him back and slid off.
“You’re bad.” She shook her head. “You’re scared.” I couldn’t say no about that. “Enough of this.” I pulled him back into the barn. We were untacking Halo and I had turned around to set something down when I heard Annie squeal.
I jumped, swung around, and saw Lex Grey kissing her neck. Really? I placed my hand on the stall door to steady myself. “Hey Will, what’s up?” he asked eying me suddenly suspiciously.
“She’s just training my horses.” I said pointing to Annie like, suddenly, she didn’t really matter. He nodded, but his eyes were still focused on me intently. “How’s Jos? I heard that party the other night was wicked…and she was the star.” He bit his lip but smiled.
“Were you there?” Annie asked him and he looked down. “Yeah. I wasn’t drinking or anything I was being DD for a couple of friends.” She nodded and looked at me. They were both waiting for my answer.
“She paid for it yesterday.” Was all I could say with a weak smile. He nodded and said, “I would suspect she did. Well, Ann,” he turned back to her and kissed her forehead.
“Just stopped to say hi, I have to go to an internship.” She jumped into his arms. “You got it? Lex, I’m so proud of you!” he kissed her hair and hugged her back. Well I just wanted to puke.
Good for him, but let’s not make a big deal, shall we? I suppose I was just being jealous, but still. He kissed her, longly I might add, and walked back down the drive. I stared at her for a while.
Finally she said, “What Will?” she placed her hands on her hips and looked at me. Those sunglasses looked hot on her. I broke from my distraction and said, “Really? He’s your boyfriend?”
I didn’t mean for it to come out that way, well, yeah, I did, but that didn’t really matter. “Will…” I held up a hand as she glared. “Sorry, sorry, I was just saying.” She didn’t say anything else about it though, and I really wondered why.
“God, Lex, what am I going to do?” I asked hopelessly in my room that night. I sat on my bed next to him and rubbed my temples with my fingers. “Well…let’s see what happens when he finds out his big sister stole his crack.” He tried forcing himself not to laugh. But he did and I slapped his chest.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Umm…I guess just that. Wait. He’ll find out soon.” And I nodded feeling that was true. “Yeah.” I sighed, trying really hard to let go. He rubbed my arms. “Baby, don’t worry too much. He knows you love him.” I leaned down and kissed him. “Yeah, I guess.”
But then someone burst into my room. It was Mike. He looked at Lex and I awkwardly for a moment. “New boyfriend, Ann?” I looked at him a moment. He started rummaging through my drawers. My heart stopped when he got to my sock drawer. I looked at Lex and he just stared, his moth in an oval shape. “Damn, Annie.” He said when he found the little brown bag.
I couldn’t say anything. “Why did you take this from me?” he changed his stance showing he was mad. “Why do you have it in the first place?” he retreated a moment. “That’s beside the point.” “What are you going to do? Go tell Marie I stole your crack? Then what will happen? I took it because I knew you would think it was me and you would come and talk to me about it.”
“This doesn’t concern you,”
“It does. You’re my brother and that counts for something. Why are you doing this?” I grabbed the bag from him. He tried to get it back, but I stepped back. “You smell like burnt marijuana.” I told him wrinkling my nose. “How do you know what that smells like?” he eyed me skeptically.
“I paid attention when they taught us about drugs in school. Don’t do this to yourself.” He walked away and slammed the door shut. Obeying my aunt’s orders, I opened it again. “What do I do Lex?” I sobbed into his arm. He rubbed my back. “You do your best to love him. That’s all.” He told me calmly. And I believed him. Something in Lex’s voice made sense. Even if nothing else did. I smiled finally after he calmed me and we walked downstairs.
“When’s Mara coming back?” he asked casually. I froze. Then, so did he. We said in unison, “Mara.” I shook my head. “Keeping it from her is the worst thing we can do.” He agreed. “Yeah, we can’t do that, she’ll be mad forever.” I liked how he was invested in conversation. He’s not one of those guys who let you ramble on because they want to make you happy, but they don’t want you to bitch, so they listen like they care.
“Yeah, I know. So what do we tell her?” he shrugged and played with the salt shaker. “Take her out to dinner. Make out while she’s in the bathroom,” I slapped his arm. “We tell her then. Calmly, like it’s not a big deal, not that it isn’t, it is, but if we don’t freak, she won’t either.” I ran my tongue over my teeth, a nervous habit I picked up when I had braces.
“What do we say though? Mar, guess what, your two best friends hooked up! Pass the butter, please.” He laughed at my corky attitude. “No, Ann, we tell her the truth. It just happened. We weren’t planning it, it just happened. And no matter what, were still her best friends. That’s what she’ll want to hear. And it’s the truth we will always be her best friends.” I nodded.
“Always one so wise.” I rolled my eyes. He touched my nose and leaned back in his chair. “So tomorrow, right? Tomorrow we will take her to dinner at Luigi’s and then we tell her. Before the meal so she doesn’t puke.” I grinned wide. Half because it was funny, and half because this was really happening. I had feelings for Lex Grey. And that was something worth smiling about.
That day I called Lex and he said he would pick me up at six, since we had reservations at six thirty. Time for us to talk and pick up Mara. I decided on wearing a skirt that was blue with little brown flowers and a white blouse. I put on brown silky heels and straightened my long hair. I sprayed a little extra perfume for Lex and some lip gloss Mara had given me for my birthday.
I ran down the stairs and met Lex at the door kissing him a little and we walked to his car. “You look great.” He said propping me on the hood. I laughed and whispered in his ear, “You don’t look half bad either,” he ran his fingers through my hair and kissed each cheek.
In an Italian accent he said, “Let us go and have a beautiful dinner, and break the wonderful news to our best-a friend that we have…how do you say…hooked up!” I laughed, really laughed, and placed my hand on my stomach. “Come one, babe, you’re starving me.” He motioned for me to get in the car and I did, laughing the whole way to Mara’s.
She ran out the door and kissed each of us on the cheek. She was a chatterbox the whole way down to the restaurant, rambling on about the guy in Canada and how cold it was compared to here and how her hair seemed to get darker. I laughed when I was supposed to laugh, and looked at Lex every so often and he winked at me as I itched my hand because I wanted to hold his like we had done on the way up.
We were seated in the restaurant, and once looking at us each face to face she knew there was something going on. “What? Tell me.” I left it to Lex to do his smooth talking thing. He swallowed and said, “Annie and I are together as a couple.” She gasped and threw her hand in the air to cover her mouth and knocked down the glass of water.
“Oh, yes!” she screeched but sat back down when people stared. We looked at her confused. “It just…happened. We didn’t plan it. But we wanted to tell you right away, no secrets. We want you to know we will always be your best friends no matter what.” She wiped a tear as she listened to Lex.
“I’ve been waiting for this! I don’t even know for how long, but I knew this was going to happen! You guys are adorable!” she cooed at us and Lex scooted a little closer to me. “I’m so happy for you guys!” she smiled brightly. We smiled back and watched the waiter clean Mara’s mess.
“Are you ready to order?” he asked finally. We ordered and had a great time the rest of the night. We dropped Mara off at her house and drove to the beach. We walked hand in hand for a while without saying anything. But we were both content. And it was a good feeling.
I leaned up against him and he put his arm around me. “You and I are good together, aren’t we?” he asked approvingly. “Yeah. I guess it was meant to happen, you know?”
I really couldn’t believe it. Annie and Lex Grey? What was his deal? I mean, why couldn’t they call him Alex? Why couldn’t he date someone else? Oh well, whatever, I didn’t really care.
I was at the barn with Annie, talking and laughing when her friend walked in. She had short shorts on and she had really long and lean legs and deep brown curly hair that flew around in the slight wind.
“Hey, Mar, this is Will.” Annie pointed to me and took a swig of her drink. “Hi,” I reached out my hand and she took it smiling and lifted her sunglasses onto her head. “Mara.” But she didn’t give me a second look. What was wrong with girls in Landon all of a sudden?
“Ann, we should totally go to Christine’s party tonight!” Annie eyed her. “Maybe. Wait…Christine Powell? You mean the girl from the nunnery?” she asked. I tried not to laugh. Everyone knew Christine Powell was extremely chaste, bias, I don’t know, whatever you want to call it. “Yeah, her, but I hear her parents are out of town. And have a big wine cellar.” I watched Mara’s eyes sparkle.
“You know how I am about that. Besides, Lex and I are probably going to hang. Spend some time, you know?” disgusting. I wanted to leave. Every time she talked about him that seemed to happen to me. “Hey, Annie Pretzel, I’m gonna head out alright?” I gently clasped my hand on her shoulder.
“See ya,” I half whispered into her. She leaned into me like a half hug and said, “Later, grasshopper,” she giggled and I shook my head. As I walked I heard Mara say, “Nicknames mean something.” I smiled and got in my truck. I had given her a nickname. And I liked it.
I called Josie and said, “Hey, Jos, I’ll be there to pick you up, let’s go to the beach. I’m dying to get wet, it’s burning. AC isn’t even helping.” She laughed. “Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a wad.” I laughed. “Boxers, babe.” I told her smiling. I heard her laugh as she hung up.
I drove to her house and she was waiting at the edge of the driveway in her bathing suit and cover up. I smiled and kissed her as she got in. “Lookin’ good Jos!” I told her and I knew she would smile.
I leaned in to smell her, to smell if she had been doing what I told her not to, and she smelled clean. So far. I tried to let myself enjoy the time I had with Josie, I really did. But something irked me. Like I knew she was doing something bad that she wasn’t supposed to do.
We drove up to our favorite little area, ‘Peach Cove’ and laid out our things. I was quick to get into the water, but she stayed behind and tanned herself. I came back and watched as she wiped the sweat dripping from her face. But I wanted to test something. “I need suntan lotion.” I told her rummaging through her bag. She snatched it from me.
“Hey nosey! Uh-uh.” I grabbed it back. “Something you don’t want me to see, Josie?” I snapped. Somehow I knew. I pulled the plastic bag out. I threw it in the sand and stood up grabbing my things. She didn’t stop me this time. She just held her face in her hands and cried.
But I came back. I had to tell her. “Josie you promised.” I sunk down beside her. I thought I felt tears. I always battled them. But I let a few go that time. I, they deserved that much. “You need help.” I told her. She nodded and sobbed. “I know.” I grabbed her close and said, “I’m here all the way. But I have to get you help.”
She laid back down and wiped the tears as fast as they came. “I can’t believe I put you through this.” She sobbed. “You’re worth it.” I said sort of smiling. “I love you, Josie Arrington, and I will do whatever it takes to save you.” she nodded, really, that was all she could do.
What could she say to her boyfriend of a year who just told her she needs help to quit smoking pot? Josie and I had many embarrassing moments together, sure, but this was just…just unacceptable and humiliating. Not to mention awkward. There have been so many times.
Like Karen Smith’s birthday party when she laughed so hard she peed herself and I had to take her to her house to change. She cried in my lap once we got to her house and I finally convinced her to go to the end of the party.
Or the time she got her period wearing a white jean skirt when we were at Mercutio’s Fine Dining. All these times were nothing then. I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. My hands shook and I stood. “Come on, Josie, come on.” I pulled her up, afraid to touch her, awkward to be around her.
Nothing had ever been like this before. I had never ever felt awkward around Josie before. Never. So why now? Because I found out about her problem? So I never really loved her then. It was lust and infatuation. Because I didn’t love her flaws. It was possible. I knew that. I knew I never loved her. I didn’t want to touch her.
I walked to the car, her lagging behind, and I started the engine. I drove her to her house where her father and his fifth wife sat on the porch. She was what? Five years older than me? I don’t know. That didn’t really matter. Just for show I pressed the lock button and I heard the click behind me.
I sighed deeply and walked up the porch. “Hey, Mr. Arrington.” He nodded. “Will. Is there a problem?” I stepped back and let Josie do the talking. “Daddy,” he looked at her funny, but said nothing. “I have a problem. I…I have a problem with smoking marijuana.” He retreated.
“When did this happen? Did you know about this?” he pointed to me. I held up a hand. “Only two days ago, sir. She said she would stop but I found it this afternoon. I told her that we should come and talk to you.” he nodded suspiciously at me. “Really, daddy, he’s telling the truth.” He stood.
“Thank you, Mr. Cooper. We will take over now.” I didn’t kiss Josie goodbye. I didn’t tell her everything would be okay. I didn’t hold her, I didn’t hug her. I just left. I needed to get away right then. And the only way I knew how was Annie. I picked up my iphone with my shaky sweaty hands and dialed her number. I loved the picture on my caller ID.
She was wearing an off-shoulder blue shirt and she was leaning over, her chin in her palm, and her smile was wide. You could see the scar, but it was adorable. Her blue eyes sparkled and her blonde hair was straight as a nail. That was Annie. Annie in my eyes.
It rang a few times, and just as I thought my heart would sink in my stomach, she answered. “What’s up?” I didn’t know what to say or how to explain it. “I need to get away for a little bit. Are you free?” I could hear her open her mouth to say something but she didn’t.
She breathed a moment and I took a left. “Umm…yes. Come pick me up? I’ll drive if you can get here.” I released my breath, not even realizing I was holding it. “Gotcha. Thanks.” We hung up and I blasted my radio and blocked my “pain”. How was I this lucky? How was I lucky enough to know Annie? But what I felt for her was confusing me. I didn’t know what I felt. I didn’t know what it was that made my stomach cramp up every time I was near her. I didn’t know what made me want to be around her. I didn’t know what made me feel like she could make everything better.
As far as everyone else was concerned, Annie was the one who needed help. Annie was the one who was in pain. Annie had lost people very influential in her life and she was in serious need of a void. Could I be that void? Could I care for her the way she needed? Because I certainly felt like she was caring for me. Then I felt I was way in over my head. Nothing in Annie said she loved me, liked me as more than a friend, or felt any chemistry with me. I just pushed my thoughts away. I didn’t want them, I didn’t need them, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel it mattered.
I pulled into the long driveway and watched Annie walk outside. She had a cream colored blouse on with little flowers and jean cut-offs. Her hair was curly that day and her big sunglasses visibly reflected the sun. She got in the car and squeezed my arm. “Ooh…big. So where should we go? Need me to drive?” I could have kissed her right there. But I had to be a man.
“I can drive.” I laughed a little as I pulled out. “Umm…where do you want to go? You pick. I just want to get out.” She leaned back and fumbled with the radio. “Huh. I want to eat. Oh! Jonah’s! I love to go up on a boat. Don’t you have one we can take out?” I hadn’t thought about that.
I hadn’t been to Jonah’s in forever. “Sounds amazing. I love that place! And yeah, I’ve got a boat. Let me just call my dad and tell him I’m taking it.” I pulled out my phone and called him. “Dad, I’m taking the boat out. A friend and I are going to Jonah’s.” I made a U turn.
“Alright. Not Josie?” I looked at Annie. “Ugh…no. We’ll talk about that later.” I laughed, he laughed. “Okay, I’ll tell your mother.” I moaned. “Oh, Will. She’s your mother she just wants to know where you are.” I snorted. “No, she wants to cause me pain.” I bit my lip.
“No…well…I don’t know, son. She can’t cause you pain just knowing where you are…I don’t think. I’ll see you when you get home. Have fun tonight. You need it.” I smiled. Of course I was going to have fun. But he didn’t know why, no one knew why, and I was almost positive that was a good thing.
“Thanks dad.” Annie was staring out the window at the farm we were passing. Karen Smith’s. “Her family has good horses.” I noted. She shrugged. “Karen is also a very good rider.” I shrugged. “Not as good as you. You’re an amazing rider. I mean, I’ve seen some horses you’ve trained. Who would’ve known such a little girl could do so much?” she laughed but said nothing more about it.
“So, your boyfriend, Lex, he’s going to be a senior right? How’s that going to work?” she sighed and shrugged. “I don’t know, he doesn’t know. I guess we’ll just let it play out. But…he still has no idea where he wants to go.” I raised a brow.
“Even I know where I want to go and I’m just turning a junior.” Finally. I had something I could bash him with. I had something to start talking her out with. With this I could dig deep and find more.
“Me to! I don’t know why it’s so hard for him. It’s not like anything is influencing him. He just needs to choose. He can get accepted anywhere he wants. I know that.” I tried really hard not to moan. Really, really hard-
“Will.” I looked at her funny. “I didn’t say anything!” she laughed and nudged me. “You moaned! That’s just as bad as saying something! Actually, it can be worse.” I shrugged.
“I’m just saying Ann, that, maybe, you should be a little more careful with your feelings around this guy. Just don’t let your guard down…yet. I mean, I just don’t want you to get hurt.” She patted my hand. “Don’t worry about me so much. I can take care of myself, I promise. I’m stronger than you think. You don’t have to be my guard right now, okay?” I nodded thoughtfully.
“Alright, I know that. I just want you to be careful, Annie, that’s all I’m saying.” She sighed, deep in thought, her head against the window. “Thank you for caring, Will, thank you for that.” I didn’t have anything to say after this particular conversation. But she did.
“So…you know where you want to go for college?” I nodded and parked at the boat yard. “Yes. N.C. State.” She grabbed my arm and linked it in hers. “No way! Me to!” I could be going to college with Annie Donovan…no way! “Awesome! I’ll see you there!”
she giggled and leaned up against me. “Oh…Will. I’m glad we can be friends. Because something about you help me go through a whole lot.” I smiled at her and pulled her close. “Me to.” I walked over to the boat and pulled out my set of keys. I climbed in and revved the engine while Annie untied the boat and I pulled it out of the dock.
“Here,” I handed her my wallot. “Make sure I have my boat license. Dad will kill me if I don’t.” She opened it and looked through it. “Yeah…the security has gone haywire. Ooh…” I widened my eyes. “What?” I was so afraid she found something. I didn’t even know what I had in there or what my friends put in there. “Josie…wow.” She raised a brow.
“Oh.” I took the pictures from her fingers and threw them in the water. “Ouch.” I shrugged. “We’ll talk when we get there.” She nodded and lounged back. The wind blew threw her hair and water sprayed up in my face and it felt good. I felt…better than I had in a very long time. Just to get away.
“So…I was thinking. What happens when you get Demi and Dutch all trained and perfect? How will we hang out then?” I raised a brow and she slumped back. “True, true…I don’t know. We’ll hang.” I smiled at her.
I wanted to…I don’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but my emotions seemed to be on end. That had never happened before. I thought I was just one of those people who didn’t have a whole lot of emotions and that love was what I felt for Josie. Definitely not, I guess. Apparently emotions were a lot stronger than I ever thought.
I parked the boat and stepped onto the dock. I held out my hands for Annie and she grasped them tightly and I lifted her out and onto the dock. “Gracias!” I smiled and wiped a bit of sprayed saltwater off her nose. “No problem. One thing I wish I took in high school was Spanish.”
She shrugged and scrunched her tanning nose. “Nah, you’ll live without it. It was hell for a while; I can tell you that. But it got easier. Just like English.” I thought about that a moment. “Just like everything? Everything eventually gets easier? Eventually the pain or difficulty goes away?”
I think we both understood I wasn’t just talking about Spanish. She sighed deeply. “Well…I can’t confirm all that. But I can tell you that when my parents died, I thought I couldn’t ever get through it. And, some days, I still believe it. But then I wake up the next morning and realize I’ve gotten through it. I’ve gotten a little bit stronger. So, no, I don’t think the pain or hurt of anything will ever truly go away, and somehow you will always be different, changed, but it gets better. It gets easier. You just have to…give it a chance.”
I don’t think I ever had a conversation so deep with anyone. I stood a moment and looked at her. She had strong blue eyes. She had the most beautiful blonde hair. She had defined cheek bones, but they weren’t thin like she had several shots of botox. She had a long scar across her nose that made her look sophisticated, tough, worn, and beautiful. She looked up at me and I wanted to kiss her. I didn’t want to kiss her just because she was beautiful. Sure, that helped, but it was more because I felt something growing underneath my skin. I felt like all I could do was be helpless about my feelings, but at that moment something inside of me felt in control.
Was this love? Was this that feeling everybody talked about? That all those books are written about and you want to feel as deeply as those characters, but a doubt inside of you says that you never will?
I felt myself leaning forward. I wasn’t in control, I couldn’t stop. But then something inside of me screamed no. And I let go of that feeling, I pulled away like nothing ever happened. But it did, and I know it.
The cool breeze that smelled like saltwater brushed through my hair and kissed my cheeks and I felt right at home again. We were sitting at the pier of Jonah’s and I sipped a virgin pina colada while he stirred a straw around in his coke. “Wanna tell me why we’re here, Will?” I asked finally.
I wasn’t looking at him directly, but I could see him out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t want him to feel intimidated by me staring him straight in the eye and I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable talking to me about whatever it was. “Umm…now?”
I raised a brow I knew that he could see and he rolled his eyes and ran his fingers through that golden hair of his which I could tell was even longer than from the beginning of summer. It was starting to run into his eyes now. “Alright, alright. I found pot on Josie a few days ago. She said it was because she was drunk and she’d never do it again. I found it in her beach bag today. So I made her tell her parents. So I don’t know what they’ll do.”
I swallowed hard and bit my tongue. “Can’t say that I’m not in a similar situation.” I placed my napkin on my lap and turned towards him. He shook his head and laughed a little.
“What? Lex the Perfectionist is into pot now?” I gave him a sharp look to which he immediately retreated and I shook my head. “So…do her parents know what they’re going to do?” I sighed deeply and traced the imprint of my hand with the opposite end of my spoon. “I don’t know. I haven’t heard from her. I called you as soon as I left, so,” his voice broke off and I didn’t know what to say. I looked at him sympathetically for a moment.
“Okay. Well, I know that it’s hard to understand why people do the things that they do,” I started carefully, “But I think the best thing you can do,” this pained me. I wanted to tell him to leave her. Be with someone who deserved him, like me. But no. I had a boyfriend, a great one at that.
Tell him, Annie, just tell him. I thought. “Is to stand by her and love her no matter what.” I closed my eyes and swallowed. How stupid could I have been? But I had to stop being selfish and do what was right for Will and not what was right for me. He nodded slowly, but was very unenthusiastic about it all.
“That’s all you’ve got?” was his surprising answer. I swallowed. “Yes. I mean, that’s from my experience because,” he opened his eyes a little wider. What else was he expecting from me? “What’s yours? Give me the dirt, Ann. I didn’t really come here to talk much about Josie. I came here to get away from her and spend time with you.”
honest much? Was all that I could think. “Well…I found my brother’s a few days ago.” He google eyed me. “Really?” I nodded. “So I hid it in my dresser,” he leaned forward. “Annie what the hell were you thinking?” I covered my face and giggled. “I know! But I knew that if he found out it was missing, the first place he would look would be my room. That way I could talk to him. So he did and it hasn’t really gone anywhere.”
He raised a brow and leaned back when the waiter brought out our food. “Wow. He’s got to be pissed right now.” I nodded. “He is. He’s doing it with Kent Jones. If you know who that is.” He nodded. “I do. He’s disgusting; he lives near my place. And I think he’s having a party tonight. Do you want to go check it out to see how bad he’s been warping your brother’s brain?” I nodded and finished the rest of my dinner, making small talk and giggling here and there.
He paid for the check even though I insisted it be split we made our way to the Hills. He pulled into a driveway and clicked a button on his sun visor and a panel lifted on the four car garage. “Whoa.” He shrugged and cut the engine. “I’m not as rich as prissy boy Lex…but I’ve got my share, Ann.”
I giggled and he opened big steel double doors and we entered the hallway. The first thing I saw was a dark hallway with deep garnet walls and cherry wood paneling. There were pictures hanging on the wall and I saw them clearly when he flipped a switch on the side of the wall.
One was of, I was guessing, his parents. Then I saw one of a little boy and a large black horse. “Is that you?” I pointed to the picture and he blushed. “Ugh…yeah.” I giggled and leaned back into him. “Adorable!” he shook his head and wrapped an arm around me to point at another picture. “That’s my brother Sam; he’s thirteen. And my sister Joanie. She’s twenty and goes to Cornell. So…yeah, that’s my family.” I nodded.
“Awesome. Wow,” I walked out of the hallway and into what seemed to be a large greeting room. “What’s this?” I pointed to a big painting with deep blues and golds and reds. “Family crest. I think it’s obnoxious but that’s my mom if you haven’t noticed.” I didn’t want to say anything.
She was obnoxious, no doubt, but that wasn’t for me to say. She was paying me! “In here,” he swung me around into an even bigger room and I giggled as I was flung back into him. “The kitchen,” he laughed breathy and practically danced me into the next room, but stopped cold.
“What?” I asked looking at his then soiled facial expression. “Poppy, get off! God, I hate you!” he shook his leg. I looked down and saw a little dog clamped on Will’s shoe for dear life. I laughed. He shook again but the dog held on. “Ah! I hate that dog!” he bent down and started to pull on him by his stomach. “These are expensive Poppy!” he pulled again.
“Here,” I laughed and stuck my finger on the roof of the dog’s mouth. “Well,” he said after the dog let go and ran off. I laughed hard but quietly. “I hate that thing with a passion. It really does not like me.” I giggled and he led me up a case of spiral stairs.
He pulled me into a big room that looked more like a sunroom than anything, but it was obviously his room. “This is home for me.” I nodded and immediately looked at all the ribbons. “Soccer gave you all that?” he sat in a chair at his desk and shrugged. “Yeah. I’ve been playing my whole life. But I think some of those are from swimming; I did that for a bit but got bored.”
I nodded and read all of them. “Ah…I got that one.” I pointed to the player of the season award. He’s had two in high school and all of middle school. I’ve had one in high school and two in middle school. “Yeah…those are my favorites.” He laughed a little and walked up behind me.
“I got what I needed.” He breathed in my ear. “And what was that?” I whispered back. “Oh…my dear…you shall see…” I raised a brow and he led me to the car. “Will I wanna know!” I giggled as he opened my door and slid me in. “It’s a secret.” He told me through laughs.
He drove up a long winding road and took two lefts before speaking again. “I don’t like secrets, Will!” he cocky smiled. “I know that. Now hush.” He pulled into the driveway and cut the engine. There was definitely a party happening, which I knew for a fact my brother was not attending.
Lights were on and it seemed like the house was shaking because the music was so incredibly loud. “Will…” he grabbed my hand and led me inside. “Don’t be impatient Annie. You’ll find out. Now,” he led me into the kitchen and sat me on the counter. “Alright, I just have to,” he turned from me.
“Oh, hey! Duke!” he fingered the guy over. “Attention span of a gold fish…” I whispered into his ear. “Huh?” he looked at me clueless. I shook my head and Duke Finch walked over to us. “What? You ditched Josie?” I looked at Will and he looked back at me.
Clearly Duke didn’t have a clue about who I was. “Ah…no…no. This is Annie Donovan…” he cautiously introduced us. “Uhuh. Where’s Josie?” Will swallowed hard like he always did when he was nervous. “At home with the flu. Annie needed something so I offered to drive her.” he looked at me for help. “Yeah. I needed to get something from Kent for my boyfriend.” I was calm and collected simply because I was an expert at lying.
“I know what you mean. How do you guys know each other?” I raised a brow waiting for Will to answer, but he just stared at the ground blankly almost like he was embarrassed to be hanging with...his horse trainer, of course! He was embarrassed to be hanging out with the girl he pays to train his horses.
“I’ve been going to school with y’all as long as Will. And I train his horses.” I hopped off the counter and walked over to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water. I opened the lid and took a drink. I wanted to sigh in relief as the cool water slid down my throat.
“Annie,” Will sung as he grabbed my arm and pulled me along. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What are you doing?” he looked at me apologetically, frantically. “I know. I’m really sorry Annie.” I shrugged. “About what? It’s not your fault no one knows who I am.” He put his arm around me and steered me to the right. “Yeah but I didn’t have to be an ass. I should have said something. Forgive me Annie, for I have sinned.” I giggled.
“Alright…I forgive you.” he winked, smiled, and I felt like heaven for the next ten minutes because that time I knew he was smiling for me, at me, and there was no confusion. It was me, all me. I smiled back, pleasantly, and for a moment I thought something was real and something was happening.
He lifted his hand to my face with those beautiful eyes and for a moment it seemed like it would perfectly cradle my cheek, but he brushed a straggling piece of hair from my eyes and I felt my cheeks burn hot red. I looked down at my feet and sighed.
“Okay…” he breathed quietly, but when I looked up at him and I thought he was gone, he was still staring at me with what seemed to be admiration. “Hmm…” I bit my lip and closed my eyes. I had a boyfriend and he had a…hairy troll…thing…never mind. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.
“Let’s find Kent.” He didn’t grab my arm in that playful way anymore where he tugged me around like I was his blanket. Actually, he went out of his way not to touch me. I rolled my eyes as he swirved around all the drunken people who barely knew me but I knew them.
It’s one of those moments where you feel like an obsessed stalker because you know exactly who each individual is in a room full of people and none of them have an inkling of who you are. But I’m not a stalker it’s just that they’ve all done something. They have all had a billion friends who were somebody. But I was somebody to, whether they liked it or chose to believe it or not, I was. I was a person, I had feelings, and I had a life. A boring life, but I had one. Living a life of insanity wasn’t that bad, it had its perks and it also had its downs. Just like any life, I supposed, but I wouldn’t know.
Back in Pennsylvania, the most downs I had were not finding the right thing to wear. There, I was popular, I had great friends, and I was noticed, I was treated well…I had parents. It’s not that Lex and Mara weren’t good friends, but I had a lot of good friends in Pennsylvania. I was well liked. I wasn’t the freaky orphaned loner girl with the brother who got stoned a lot. Apparently. Things were just easier. Boys liked me there, I was the soccer star; I was number one on the Kiddings Junior Eventing League…go sparrows!
Now it was go Bull Sharks! I just wanted things to be easier again. I wanted to be that pretty flirt without the scar and knotted blonde hair. The girl that didn’t have to work all day so she could help her irritatingly independent young aunt survive. Aunt Marie needed someone. She needed someone to trust, to love. But then again, maybe so did I. Hell, I wanted a lot. I sounded greedy. But sometimes, after a long day like that, I felt like I deserved to be a little greedy.
I was tired, there was no doubt. I had worked all day, I dealt with Will’s drama, I wanted to collapse on my mattress and climb under my covers. I remembered a time, though, when my bed was a lot bigger. A bigger bed to climb into met more comfort. More comfort meant more help, and more help meant that I was going to be okay, but these days I wasn’t really sure.
Will said hi to a few people we passed, all giving us awkward looks, and we went in the basement. Close to my cheek he whispered, “Here,” and pulled a digital recorder out of his pocket. “I’m…confused,” I frowned and shook my head. Just press the red button when I nudge you. We’re going to record the conversation and get Kent busted for selling banned substances.”
His lips brushed my cheek when he spoke and my skin tingled. He swallowed; I watched his Adam’s Apple bob nervously. I jumped back and stood, but maybe too quick because I felt wobbly and dizzy. I pressed my hand to my forehead but that didn’t seem to help.
“Hey,” he grabbed my arm cautiously. “You alright, Ann?” I nodded because I felt like I spoke I would throw up. “Jonesy!” he called with an arm in the air. He led me over to a room that wasn’t loud and positioned me near a couch. “You don’t look good.” I shook my head with my lips pursed tight.
“Maybe you need to sit down?” I nodded and leaned back on the couch with Will’s assistance. Kent walked into the room. He looked drunk, dirty, and…disgusting I guess is the only way you could put it. I blinked a few times because when he entered the room a horrible smell appeared making my nausea considerably worse. I breathed deep and hoped for the best.
Will nudged me and with a sweaty hand I pressed the red button. “Jonesy I need something from you. I heard from her brother you sell pretty well now. I want some.” Kent looked at Will confused. “I thought you didn’t do all that.” Will opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again.
“Right,” he started slowly, “But now I am. Josie’s into it.” Not a lie. I felt like crying. My stomach burned and pain ripped through my insides like wildfire. “Okay…how much? I got a whole stack of it that just came in.” he shrugged. “I’ve never bought before. How do you sell it?” as he started to explain I tuned out and breathed deep. But eventually it became worse.
Will looked at Kent casually and bit his lip, listening intently. I grabbed Will’s wrist intending to say that I needed to leave, but I felt really tired all of a sudden and I fell asleep…I think.
She fell in my lap. What the hell? There she was, face down in my lap, her body completely limp. My eyes went wide, but Kent laughed. “Man, how much did you give her?” I raised a brow and put my hand underneath her neck to carefully pick her up. This is where first aid training comes in handy. “She drank water.” I answered oddly and he laughed harder.
“Oh…ha! Lucky one!” I looked at him funny for a moment and turned Annie over. I shook her just a little bit to wake her. “Annie?” I checked her pulse on her neck then listened for breathing. She had both a pulse and a steady breathing pace. I tilted her neck so her air way wasn’t constricted and looked back up at Kent with a hard facial expression.
“What do you mean by that?” he shrugged and took a swig from his plastic red cup. “Oh…just a little drug I got from my buddy who deals. It’s funny. Makes them pass out. She got the lucky bottle out of the fridge that had it in there.” I looked at him furiously.
“Oh…my…God! Dude, that’s dangerous! She could get seriously sick and go into a coma, if something happens to her so help you.” I shook my head. “Why the hell?” I couldn’t finish my sentence so I just shook her. “Annie.” She roused slowly and looked up at me.
I bent her body into recovery position on the floor to get some answers from her. She threw up twice in the wastebasket before saying anything. “I wanna go home.” She moaned a little disoriented with her head in my lap again. “Okay, baby okay, just hold on. Hold on. How do you feel? Can you feel everything?” I just called her baby…she nodded and closed her eyes again.
“She passed it up already, it won’t affect her anymore.” Kent pointed out as I glared at him. “Yeah, you better hope. Or I’ll find your ass and,” Annie gripped my wrist, pleading with me to shut up for almighty’s sake. She shook her head sternly with what seemed to be all the energy she contained and she sniffed. I saw a tear and wiped it.
I knew for sure by the look on her face that crying in front of people wasn’t something she did often. I felt proud, privileged; to be one of those people she trusted enough to see her cry. “Come on,” I carefully lifted her up and walked her slowly out the back door and covered her eyes from the loud noise. She tripped over some people’s feet so I picked her up and carried her to the car. “I am so sorry this happened, I didn’t mean for it, I just wanted to help your brother and Josie,” she held up and hand and smiled weakly.
“It’s all right Will. It isn’t your fault. The flu is going around so,” “No,” I shook my head sternly. “You were given one of those drugs to make you sick and pass out. If I had known…” I placed my hand over my eyes and tightened my jaw, grinding my teeth.
“If I had freaking known, Annie, I swear to you. I swear I would have drug you out of there. I want to freaking beat his ass! Oh my God!” I beat the steering wheel and slammed my head against it. I couldn’t take all this in one night. Annie wasn’t scared of me, she didn’t ask questions, she just knew.
She knew…she knew everything. That girl was my angel sent from above, let me tell you what. She pulled me into her arms and I felt like a total cry baby lying in my best friend’s arms, a girl mind you, but I was so tired, so worn out, and so freaking angry I just didn’t care. “He needs to die.” I ranted with a shaky voice. “I’m going to kill him, I swear Annie.”
I fought back tears and she grasped my head firmly. “Okay.” She said. That was all she said, but something in her voice made me want to rant more just to hear it again. “Annie tell me how to fix my life.” We were hugging now, just hugging. My face was in her neck and her arms were tight around me. “I can’t. Only you know how to do that.” I breathed on her. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to love her.
“No I can’t. I don’t know how.” She sighed. “But you will.” I wanted to press my forehead against hers. I wanted her to breathe some life into me. Maybe I could do the same thing for her. “Damn it. I can’t, I can’t do that Annie, why can’t I do that?” she sighed again and I knew she was feeling sick, I knew I had to get her home again before she started throwing up all over my car.
“Because you’re you.” she whispered into my hair, and I swore she kissed it. But there was no way to tell for sure. I leaned back and buckled my seat belt. “Sorry, Ann…I had a moment, damn.” I shook my head and tried to throw away my thoughts of Annie. And it worked for a little while. I drove her home. We were silent because she slept on the ten minute drive and by the time we hit the uneven pavement and I slowed the car, she lurched herself awake and fluttered her lightly sparkled eyelids and mascara splashed lashes.
I brushed her cheek with my hand and felt to make sure she didn’t have a fever. She didn’t, she was more clammy than anything very, very pale. She coughed and I walked over to her side of the car. “Here,” I placed her arms around my neck and slid her out of the truck, ‘The Beast’ she called it, her head against my chest. I slid my arms up her thigh just a little to grab a hold of her and grasped her tightly. She wasn’t very heavy; I didn’t have any trouble bringing her through the door and, after bidding an odd greeting to Marie, up the stairs and into her room. I laid her carefully on the bed and pulled off her flip-flops.
I pulled the covers up over her and she thanked me by pulling them higher. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t argue with my feelings and kissed her forehead, and I wasn’t too worried about it, maybe because I knew she would never remember the following morning…but I would. I turned off the light, shut the door, and went back downstairs to start explaining to Marie.
“Hey,” she handed me a cup of tea and we sat on the couch. Her hair was pulled up into a loose bun and a headband pushed back her bangs. When I leaned in to get my cup I realized how fresh she smelled of soap and water. A good clean smell for Marie, it fit. She was wearing a pair of sweats with Sparrows down the side in red and a white loose knit sweater over a grey tank top. She looked loungy, comfortable, and exactly like Marie.
No doubt, she was a very beautiful woman, anyone could see that. But stripped of her makeup, her hardcore riding clothes, or her fancy sundress, she seemed even more radiant and extraordinary. She did look like Annie, I realized, or maybe the other way around, but they looked alike in a very sibling way where Marie could be her older sister; she seemed much too young to be her mother, although I knew that probably wasn’t true, especially these days.
She was independent, I could tell, she didn’t seem to be one to bring a man home or be dependent on anyone. She didn’t seem to rely on anyone but her adopted niece and nephew. Who could blame her, though? Losing people was never easy. So you hold on to your blood, your family. I could see that. I could also see she was strong. And she was relaxed.
She was offering her time to sit down with me and talk. I liked that. I could fit into a family like that. I couldn’t explain how much I wanted to sit down with a family member and nonchalantly rant about my day. But Marie would do just fine. “Tough day?” she asked concerned and sipped her hot tea. I did the same before answering. It was perfectly sweet and creamy, an amazing contrast and combination that made me want to settle right into bed. But I just leaned back and enjoyed the time I was having.
“Yeah, you could say that…” I looked down into my cup of tea. I watched the cream swirl and the steam came up and into my nose and cleared my sinuses from forcing back tears. “Want to talk about it?” she leaned her head back and I watched as her jugular strained and forced at her skin. “Do you mind?” she smiled and patted my knee.
“No, baby, I have all the time in the world for you to tell my about your day. You go right ahead, as long as it would be okay with your mom.” I nodded. “Curfew is lifted in the summer. She wouldn’t notice anyway.” Marie stood and walked into the kitchen, disappearing from my sight, and reappearing with a plate of what seemed to be tea cookies.
“Perfect.” I smiled and took one right off the plate. “Go ahead, babe. What’s bothering you?” I loved that about Marie. She just cared and let the focus be on me in a way that I liked. I wasn’t Will the star athlete, I wasn’t rich Will, Will Josie’s girlfriend, I was just Will. Will who just had a bad day and a friend was letting him talk it out. that’s who I was.
“Well…I found out my girlfriend has been doing drugs a few days ago.” She nodded. “Happened with a high school boyfriend. But I guess that’s different…go ahead,” she nodded calmly, very intent on conversation and what I had to say.
“Well she said she’d never do it again. I’m not into all the drinking and especially drugs. I just think it’s all wrong. So she promised, and I thought it would be just one of those things that happened when she was drunk, but today I found it in her beach bag. So I took her back to her parents to tell them and now I don’t even know what they’re going to do with her. So I called Annie because she’s just got that way of calming me down.
She’s really become my best friend through it all. So we had a nice dinner and she told me she knew who was dealing around here because…” oops. I looked at Marie and then rubbed my eyes again. “Honey,” she rubbed my knee. “I know about Mikey, he told me earlier. Just go on ahead.” I breathed deeply and continued.
“So I decided we should go see this guy and bust him. So we took a digital recorder to a party he was having and asked him about dealing. We proved it, but Annie got a water bottle that had a drug in it to make her pass out and get sick. He thinks it’s funny. I wanted to kill him when I found out. I’m so sorry, Marie. I never would have taken her if I’d known. I’m not one of those guys that go out and party all the time.”
She smiled deeply and scooted closer to me. She put her arm around my shoulder and hugged me close, and I felt a very comforted feeling. What was it with the Donovan’s that could just make you feel that way?
“Will…let me tell you something. Now this is just a piece of advice passed down to me and you do with it what you will. Just because something happens to someone under your watch doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Just because you have a bad day and something unlucky drives you insane doesn’t mean you’re going to wake up tomorrow and feel as cranky as you do now. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I thought about that. Dancing in the rain, I think I could learn to do that.
“You know I wish Annie’s boyfriend was a little more like you.” I leaned back. “Lex Grey be more like me?” she made a sour face and nodded. “He drinks too much. He’s been busted for drugs once. He parties a lot. I just wish he’d be more caring.” That’s an aftertaste! The perfectionist? A party boy? Who leads a double life now? With that I was ready to sleep my dreams away. I hugged Marie and said, “Thanks. That really helped.” She smiled and kissed my cheek. “No problem.”
One question lingered in my head. Who wouldn’t want to marry her? I pushed it away and climbed under my covers. Just as my eyes happy eyes closed my phone vibrated. I moaned and thought that it was just a text, but it didn’t stop, telling me that someone was calling.
I picked up but didn’t say anything for a moment. “Will?” Josie’s voice rung through my ears. I moaned for a hello. I didn’t feel like talking, especially with Josie. “They’re sending me to a rehab program.” She whined. “Hmm…when?” I asked after yawning. “Tomorrow!” she made a noise. “When will you be back?” I asked while yawning this time. “Thirty days…I’ll see you then I guess. Love you.” “Bye…” was all I said. “Love you…”
“You too.” I hung up and fell right back asleep. I wasn’t going to let her ruin me anymore than she already had.
I had a strange dream. Annie was sitting next to me in her barn and we were talking, laughing, being best friends. But then something happened. Annie stood and pulled me close to her. She arched her back and leaned her stomach against mine.
She giggled and I seemed apparently okay with this action because I crept my hand up the back of her neck and planted my hungry mouth against hers. I was hungry for her; more hungry than I had ever been for anyone in my entire life. This wasn’t how I really felt was it?
I drug my hand down her spine and up and down very slowly again, then straight up. I repeated that while we held a long kiss and she ran her fingers through my hair. Her blonde looked incredibly silky and radiant in that particular light. I pulled back and pressed my forehead on hers and bit my lip fighting a broad grin. But there was a tap on my shoulder and my vision withdrew so that I wasn’t me, I was watching. Josie stood behind me with an impatient glare focused on Annie. Without a second look I left with her.
But I did look back when I stepped foot on the gravel and the look on Annie’s face was so incredibly horrible. I never wanted to ever come close to seeing anything like that again. It was a nightmare, for lack of a better word. Her jaw line thin and she quickly grew pale. Then blue and purple around her eyes and her lips. It seemed like her skin became like rice paper; it was so thin you could see straight through it. Tears streamed down her face, flooding like a pool.
And then my vision did a scenery switch. I was dressed in all black. I was wearing a suit, black tie, white shirt, unbuttoned a little. I was standing alone in a graveyard, seemingly cast away from a group of mourning people. I watched Marie in a slimming black scoop neck dress and a black hat covering her face. I walked up to get a closer view of the casket, curious to see who was in it. I inched closer slowly, trying to avoid the fear of being seen.
I peeked over a shoulder. Annie was stalk still in a white dress, her skin tone matched it, and she held a blood red rose. “What?” I hissed aloud. The man standing next to me spat in disgust. “You killed her.” his voice was an echo, dreary as if I was coming out of it. I braced myself for more. “Me? How?” I asked pulling at him as he walked away. He shrug me off. “You broke her,” I lost it. My eyes fluttered open. I had lost my answer.
I sighed and looked out the big window. A few of the horses galloped friskily along the green field and they bared their teeth at each other playfully. I got up and walked downstairs to have my pop tart and juice, assuming I was alone. But Sam stood at the sink with the water on.
“Sammy, hey!” I grasped his shoulder in a groggy voice and flipped my hair. “Haven’t seen you in a while buddy…what’s crackin’?” I smiled at myself. “Nada. Going to shoot some hoops. Want to save me from loneliness?”I jumped at the chance to spend some time with him; I always did.
After Joanie left so quick I realized I wasn’t going to be around for him forever. “Absolutely.” I reached up in the counter for my pop tart but he stopped me. “Want an omelet?” I ruffled his hair and sat back down. “I’d love one.” He went to the fridge and cracked an egg in the sizzling pan.
“Mom and dad home?” he shook his head and placed cheese in the egg. “Nope. Dad had a meeting and mom’s probably shopping at a failed attempt to blow a credit card. Dad’s made those things invincible; doesn’t she know that?’ I laughed. “Probably not. So high school, huh? You excited?” he shrugged.
“I don’t know. Haven’t thought much about it. “You’ll love it. Got any girlfriends now? I know the breakup with Sarah was tough on you.” he smiled slyly as he handed me my plate. “It’s possible. But you’ll never guess.” I took a bite and shook my head.
“Nah, I can’t name all your friends. So I’ll just say…Evie?” I knew that wasn’t going to be true. His best friend of all time, Evie Summers, was just like a boy. She rode skate boards, wore basketball shorts and t-shirts, and had shoulder length auburn hair. She was undoubtably pretty, but she didn’t know how to show it. “You guessed right!” I choked a little.
“No way, man! I’m happy for you guys!” In a manly way he nodded. “Yeah, she’s great. Still Josie?” he grimaced. I slipped on some flip flops and grimaced right along with him. “What now?” I could trust Sammy, I knew that. “There’s a whole lot of crap.” I sighed deeply. “Is there another girl?” I wasn’t going to lie or anything.
“There might be.” I grabbed the basketball and opened the glass door to the court dad had built for us. I slammed the ball on the pavement and something released in me at the sound. “Oh…who?” I took a shot and made it. “Annie Donovan. You don’t know her; she’s a new trainer of ours. She’s like my best friend now…I just care a lot about her and we relate well and stuff. If that makes sense.” He nodded as I passed the ball to him.
“It does. But are you cheating on Jos?” I shook my head. “Annie has a boyfriend anyway…Lex Grey. Josie is just…on drugs, partying too much, and more of a bump in my path than an enjoyable person.” He nodded and shot. “remind me to check on Ann later, okay? She got one of those drugs in her system that make you pass out. Kent put it in her water bottle last night without her knowing…not pretty.” He winced.
“Ouch! Yeah, I will.” We played a few good games before going in. We were both sweaty, so I showered before calling Annie or doing anything else. “Hey, how do you feel?” I asked when she answered. I shoved my clean laundry in empty spaces in my closet.
“Hmm…alone in life.” She giggled. “Nah, not that bad. I don’t think I’ll puke anymore. How about you? You had a rough night.” I swallowed thinking about my dream. “A lot better, thanks to you Ann. You helped me a lot…I want to thank you, okay?” she sighed. “I’m glad I could help you, Will, really.” There was an odd moment of silence, but not odd in the way that it was uncomfortable. “Well maybe I’ll stop by and see you today. Just hang and watch a movie?” I offered. “Yes! Sounds awesome. Whenever you want to come, I’ll be sleepy all day.” I gave a quirky smile at her very pretty voice.
“Alright,” I wanted to call her baby again. “Annie Pretzel. I’ll see you.” “Bye!” I sat on my bed. Wow. Something inside me was burning and shaking. I felt my heart rack against my ribs. This wasn’t a normal feeling…at all. I looked down and realized I was shirtless.
I felt like a girl, I spent ten minutes contemplating on a stupid shirt, but I finally chose a Landon High Varsity Soccer shirt. Not very classy, but I didn’t need to be; and I liked that. I walked down the hall and heard my echo as I called to Sam, “Hey, buddy, I’m going out.” I heard a muffled, “Kay,” echo back and I walked in to make sure he knew.
“You did hear me, right?” I raised a brow at my younger brother who’s mind was fixated intently on his X-Box. “Sure I did. You’re, ah!” he leaned to the side and something exploded. “Leaving.” He said after he felt he was back in place. “Right. So I’ll be back around seven to make dinner, okay? Don’t burn the house down.” I didn’t get an answer so I walked out the door and got into the truck.
I messed around with the radio a little bit but gave up because it was static-y. Here in the country of the beach, radios don’t work that well. I really needed satellite. I could’ve asked for it for my birthday or whatever, but two years and I’d be off to college and I wouldn’t really need it.
Unlike my parents, I found saving to be useful. I didn’t buy things I knew I didn’t need. It wasn’t like I was going to go anywhere special any time soon. The ten minute drive made me eager. Though it was only ten minutes, my stomach had already started to burn and it felt a little like an ulcer I had once before. I remembered it well, but I had never linked the feeling. I breathed deeply as I pulled in and parked the truck.
Seeing Annie asleep on the couch I closed the screen door quietly behind me and smiled at Marie. I walked over and kissed her on the cheek as she said, “Hey, baby, what’s going on?” I leaned over the counter to see what she was making. Lasagna.
“Just hanging with Annie a little. Lasagna?” she laughed. “Yes! And chocolate pudding. You can stay.” I moaned deeply and leaned back. ‘I have to feed my brother. My parents are…somewhere; I don’t even know.” She brightened a little and waved me off. “Bring him over!” I smiled. “Awesome, thanks Marie, saves me from actually trying to make him something and burning it.” I walked into the living room where the TV was quietly playing to itself and Annie slept peacefully, one hand over her eyes, the other hanging off the couch.
I carefully pushed it up to her side and lifted her feet, sat on the couch, and placed them on my lap. I flipped channels and let it sit on ‘The Jersey Shore’ for a while, but after twenty minutes Annie stirred and I watched her slowly rub her eyes awake.
She smiled and yawned before saying, “Hey, Grasshopper, did I sleep too long?” I shook my head and smiled. “No…I haven’t been here long. Have a good day?” she rolled over onto her back and sighed, but she hadn’t taken herself off my lap. I liked that.
“Let’s see. I slept, drove Marie crazy, I couldn’t ride, and now you’re here. Oh, look! A plus in my amazing day.” I laughed and pushed her hair out of her face. “I’m sorry about last night. I didn’t mean for it to happen.” She didn’t say a whole lot, I didn’t expect her to, but she did smile and look at me softly making me feel a little bit better about the whole event.
“I know you are. You don’t have to apologize anymore, Will. Because it wasn’t your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong.” I knew that. I knew that it wasn’t my fault that Kent had put a drug in Annie’s water. I knew it wasn’t my fault that Josie and Mike had drug problems. I knew that. But it just felt like it was my fault and feeling and knowing are very separate feelings, and the feelings part was overriding the knowing. So, what was I supposed to do? Ignore my feelings and go with the weak satisfaction of knowing?
I wasn’t one to be weak, not at all, but when it came to things like these, I got lost. I always had a plan, always knew what to do, until it was really about me, just me. “Yeah…but I always feel that way; doesn’t that count for something?” did I really say that out loud?
“Of course.” She answered cautiously, slowly. “I get what you’re saying.” And she was at a loss. She bit her lip. “So…how do you feel about the Josie thing?” I shrugged and ran my fingers through my hair. “I don’t know. She’s still my girlfriend, I guess.” Annie made a noise and turned away so I couldn’t hear her say, “Barely.” But I did and I nudged her.
“Hey.” She shrugged and got up because Marie called us. I drove back to get Sam while they set the table outside and everything. He didn’t talk much on the way; I made him hang up on Evie. I lectured him on the way about behaving and all. “Dude, I am thirteen now…almost fourteen, so I don’t think giving me the third degree on behaving is necessary.” I shrugged and took a left.
“But I know you. You can definitely be…you know.” He shrugged, he knew what I meant, and I pulled in. Annie waved and I couldn’t refrain from smiling and waving back. “That’s her? Hot.” I slapped him on the back of the head. “Hey! I wasn’t purchasing, just browsing.” I glared hard. “Don’t say that. You make it sound…dirty.” He sighed deeply and crossed his arms.
“I tell it how it is, my brother.” I raised a brow but walked over to Annie. “Hey! This is Sam.” I introduced them. Sam put on his best, ‘Yeah, I’m a hot thirteen year old, kiss me,’ bit, and Annie took it in stride, gracefully. We had a good dinner; everyone got along, we all laughed. It felt good to be. Just being was like just living. And I felt great about it; I was dancing in the rain just like Marie said.
We talked about a lot of things at dinner, mindless things that everyone could take in one stride with a light heart. Sam and Mike hit it off so we left those two at it after dinner and helping Marie clean. Annie and I went for a walk on the beach just to get away from noise. Her part of the beach was never crowded and it always seemed to have just the right temperature every time we needed it. But sometimes silence is louder than words.
I bit my lip not knowing what to say, because we left our conversation on a bitter note before I left to get Sam. “You know,”
“Hmm?” she looked up at me because she had been so deep into her thoughts she didn’t notice the uncomfortable silence. “What were you thinking about?” I asked flicking a piece of blonde hair off her shoulder. “Oh…nothing.” I shook my head. “I don’t like when you lie to me.” She looked just a little taken aback.
“Whoever said I was lying to you?” she pursed her lips tightly, trying really hard not to smile, not to say anything she knew would slip from her loose lips. “I know when you lie to me.” She let out a breath. “Well…it doesn’t really matter what I was thinking about.” I protested with a little noise in the back of my throat. “What?”
“I think it does matter.” I started cautiously. “You were pretty deep,”
“Lex, I was thinking about Lex.” That shut me up pretty well. “I just…it’s like he doesn’t spend time with me anymore.” who would’ve thought that was bothering her? I linked my arm in hers and pulled her close. “So, why not? Why don’t you think that he’s spending enough time with you? He’s always here.” She shrugged and the wind blew her hair in her face, catching at her lips, salt water faking perspiration, and beauty and delicacy fully shown.
Her eyes flickered in different directions and I followed them to where a couple sat on the beach. The man was tall, thickly built, strong looking, and happy. The woman leaned up against him with her shirt loosely buttoned to cover up her bathing suit. I wanted Annie to be happy.
“He’s here, but not really. He comes for ten minutes to acknowledge me, he used to call, now he I don’t even see him; he’s like a ghost.” I sighed. “Maybe it’s the internship?” was I really backing this guy up? “No, I don’t think so, Will.” I bit my lip not really knowing what to say.
“Just tell him, Ann, that’s all you can really do.” I watched the sadness in her eyes, and it wasn’t disappearing. “Yeah. I will.” Sam and I left soon after that. I gave Annie a weak hug goodbye, and I knew Sam was humbled by seeing my feelings on display because he never said anything to me about it, never teased me. And I liked that, I liked not being teased or pushed around by my feelings. Maybe that’s why I never showed my feelings.
I drove Sam and I home and we watched a movie before he fell asleep, it was like I was thirteen again and he was nine. I remember at my seventeenth birthday, a month before, he seemed so young to me. Like I was the only one growing old and everyone else was…everyone else was staying exactly the same. My sister was invisible.
She couldn’t make it home for my birthday, Christmas, her own birthday, any event you could think of, there was an excuse as to why she couldn’t make it. But I didn’t want to be that way for Sammy. When I went to college, I knew I was going to come home. I knew I was going to be there even if I didn’t want to.
I woke Sammy up so he could go upstairs, and I heard the door crack open when I was cleaning up all the mess we had made. It was my parents. And they were arguing. “No, Ava, I don’t think that’s possible.” She made a nasty little noise. “Please, Patrick. You act like I can’t get it. Well, I can. Any time I want. You don’t know how many men,” my head shot up. Men? She can get it? Sure, I don’t really like my mom, but this seemed serious.
“Ava, it has been twenty-five years. We don’t have it anymore.” what does this mean? Were my parents getting a divorce? I didn’t listen to the rest. I crept upstairs and looked over the railing to see my dad arranging pillows on the couch and putting blankets over it.
My mom went upstairs her way to the room, but I stood and watched my dad a moment. If I had to live in a house with my mother the rest of my high school life without my father, I was going to die. I would rather live with him in the norm world, in a tiny cramped apartment, be excluded from all my friends; I didn’t really care.
Of course I didn’t want my parents to divorce, but I could see where my father was coming from. My mother didn’t really care about him anymore; she only cared about herself. And with that I was just ready to sleep.
I climbed into bed with my laptop and checked my IM messages. Thirty from Josie. All asking where I was, why I didn’t want to talk to her, and her hours to talk to me. But I didn’t respond. I wasn’t really in the mood to be tormented. But there was one new message I still hadn’t clicked on. I scrolled all the way down and saw Annie’s username.
It said, ‘Hey, thanks for 2night. I had a great time and I look forward to seeing u 2morrow! ’ I smiled. ‘Thank you, Annie. Glad I’m going 2 c u 2morrow.’ She wasn’t online, but I wanted to reply. I saw that Paul was online, my best friend. ‘Haven’t hung lately! Need 2 c u.’ I thought that was odd. Paul never normally cared either way, but I guessed it was true, because I had been hanging around with Annie.
‘Yeah, U R right.’
‘Who’s the chick?’
‘Not JUST a chick…’
‘NO! Not like that. I mean she’s a good friend.’
‘No worries.’ And with that the conversation was over with. I went back to Annie’s profile. I loved her picture; she had big sunglasses on with a beautiful smile. She had obviously been caught off guard, because her smile would never be that natural. I clicked into her album and looked at all her pictures.
I scrolled down and saw her relationship status. Lex Grey. Of course I knew that, but I really didn’t like it, specifically because of what Marie had told me. I saw all of her pictures with him, even before they were dating, and I logged off. I was too tired to fight with myself, too tired to think so hard.
I yawned and walked over to my calendar. I kept feeling like something was missing. Lex and I needed an event. It was like he was invisible all of a sudden, like he didn’t care. I read the week and realized that the Landon Races were the next day.
I had completely forgotten, but they were fun and it was our first time to go out together in front of everyone. I called him. “Hey, baby, what’s up?” he sounded like he had been partying the night before. “Where were you last night?” I cleared my throat and sat down at my desk.
I guess I never liked to mention that Lex did like to party a lot, and he never went with Mara and I, assuming he liked to drink a lot more than we personally did. Mara did drink, but she never got carried away with it, only once did she get totally wasted, but I was there for her. “Playing video games with Brad.” Right, that’s what I thought.
Lex was a good guy; I knew that, but he just…he liked a few things I didn’t feel were good for him. “Right, so, Landon Races, tomorrow. What’s the deal with that? What time are we leaving and everything?” he was laughing. “Lex, are you listening?”
“Huh? Yeah, the races, I won’t be here. Mom and Dad are taking us on an emergency trip to Idaho.” I sighed and closed my eyes. “Why are you going to Idaho?” he was definitely distracted.
“Because…I don’t really know. Look, I’m sure you can find another date. A pose, of course. Don’t get too worked up about it, baby, I will be home before you know it.” I bit my tongue really hard so I didn’t say anything. “Yeah, right. When were you planning to tell me?”
“I was planning to tell you…today when I got the chance.”
“Okay. Bye.” I was angry. Angrier than angry. I stalked outside to the barn and slumped on the bench. Will handed me a bottle of water and I noticed his mother was here. I sat a little straighter. “Aww…someone’s angry.” I glared at him and set my water bottle down. To my surprise Dutch was on the cross-ties and Will was brushing him.
My tack had already been set out for me and my helmet as well. That wasn’t exactly like him to touch the horses, but he was intently focused on getting a thick mud spot off his belly, but the curry comb was helping him do the job.
“My boyfriend bailed on me for Landon Races.” I said sighing. “Now, I don’t have a date. No one would want to go with me in the first place.” He smacked a hand on his forehead and leaned against Dutch, who didn’t seem like he planned on moving anytime soon, even if Will pushed on him a little. His head was hanging and his lower lip protruded as his long eyelashes stood still. I giggled at him; he was always a silly horse.
“Damn, I forgot. Me either. And I have to go or my mother would have a freaking coronary…” his voice faded. He bolted up, stirring Dutch awake, and knelt down on one knee in front of me. “Annie Donovan,” he started with his most serious voice and took my hand in his.
“Would you be so kind to accompany me at the Landon Races tomorrow afternoon?” we both giggled. “Yes, Yes, Yes!” he stood and I mockingly thrust myself into his arms. “Look hot, okay? I don’t want you to embarrass me.” I looked rhetorically repulsed and leaned away. But my skin tingled from touching him, so I focused on a simple glare.
“Don’t embarrass me.” I muttered quietly before lifting the pad onto Dutch’s shoulders. We were still laughing as we walked out to the ring. I wasn’t planning on doing a whole lot, it was really hot and he was already sweating after twenty minutes; not Dutch’s forte. But I saw Ava Cooper walk over to observe my riding, so I picked it up a little.
I jumped a few cross bars. He went over them pretty well, but his exertion, I could tell, was going downhill quickly. “Will,” I called panting just a little too much for my liking. “Raise the vertical to three.” A three footer was beyond what Dutch needed, I knew it was wrong, but I needed to show Will’s mom something. He looked at me crossly a moment.
Dutch had never even done a three footer. I had numerous times; I showed them to, but never with an inexperienced horse like that. I took a large circle to give him room. He seemed a little confused, but I was scared. He was too juvenile to refuse, and he wouldn’t realize the size until he was already going over it. I just hoped it wouldn’t damage his training.
I breathed deeply as he lined up, correctly I might add, I was proud, and he sped up. But I slowed him so that he might have more time to think. A big horse meant a big stride and that meant he might tend to jump the jump earlier, not giving him enough stride to make it over.
He did what I thought, took it early, and stumbled over the top bar. I think he might have went down on both feet at the same time, but I wasn’t sure. I grabbed his neck, but when he got over, thankfully he didn’t fall, he did an awkward maneuver, and I swung around his neck. I kept holding on as he drug me under his belly, and I hit the ground with a smack once I felt it was safe to let go. Will was about to jump over the fence, but I stood up so he knew I was okay.
“Annie, did you hurt that horse?” I wanted to smack her face. “No, but I’m fine, thanks.” I wiped the dirt off my pants. She started to walk away but said, “Smile. Be attractive. I mean it can only go so far, but it helps.” I swallowed my tears back. “Hey, maybe you should,”
“Get back on? Yeah, I think I will.” I snapped at him before he could say anything else. I got back on and walked him around for ten minutes before going back into the barn. My face was hot, I was tired, and I was fuming with anger. Angry because I fell off. Angry because I disappointed Will’s mom. Angry because she thinks I’m ugly. Angry because of Lex. Just angry. I untacked Dutch without talking. I yanked the bit out of his mouth and walked over to the door to the tack room, but Will stopped me. “Hey, Annie, I know you’re angry because of my mom, but,”
“It’s not about that!” I screamed and threw my tack up against the door. Dutch spooked voicing his displeasure. “It’s not just that.” I whispered. He turned me around. “I’m okay,”
“You’re not.” He looked at me with hard eyes. “You’re not.” I watched him swallow and his eyes soften just a little. “Usually I don’t bug you about these things, but I think you should tell me what’s wrong.” I looked down and stared at my mud caked boots really hard, trying not to cry. But it wasn’t working. I wiped tears.
“Just everything.” I whispered. What was wrong with me? Why did I have to wear my feelings on my sleeve (metaphorically)? Why did everything in my life always have to suck? I think I said that out loud because Will sighed and said, “Because you can handle it. Remember what you told me? That it doesn’t go away, it just gets easier?” I nodded and bit my tongue.
I was going to be careful next time about what I said. Then I would have some type of excuse. “Yes. I remember, but,” he cleared his throat. “Annie. Stop thinking that you’re so different from everyone else. You’re you. And no one can ask anything greater from you. There’s nothing wrong with that! Because that’s all you can give, and that’s what everyone needs…you.” I shut up because I really didn’t have anything to say to that.
I walked away and sprayed Dutch over with the homemade concoction Marie made because she said brand name fly spray was too expensive. With a struggle I managed to put on his fly mask and get him out to his field. I walked back in with an awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Alright, Annie Pretzel,” he dusted off his hands and placed the brush back into his box.
“I’m going to head out. I’ll pick you up tomorrow around 1:30.” He leaned in for something like a hug, but suddenly stretched out an arm and pushed on the back of my neck and held me to him. But he let me go as quick as he grabbed me. “See you Annie.” He called and a little something clicked in my chest.
I woke a little early to pick out my dress from Marie’s gigantic collection. After trying on about a billion, I chose a classic track dress that was royal purple and had blue trim. It was thick strapped and scoop neck, and very grown up, I might add. I chose thin black heels that covered the sides of my feet but were open toed. I wore the matching hat, the same blue as the trim and the same royal purple bow; it covered half of my face the way it flopped, and yes, I found it attractive.
I ran my finger down my nose, trying to see if that ugly scar would magically go away. I curled my hair into tiny spiral locks and put on my thin layer of makeup. I grabbed a bottle of water, my purse, and walked into the kitchen where I saw Marie in a tight black dress with one shoulder and flowers around the waist. “I thought you weren’t going.” I wondered suspiciously, and when she turned around, I saw that her makeup and hair were actually done.
“I was asked.” I looked her up and down with a cocked eyebrow. “By whom?” she bit her tongue and I noticed her bright red lips. “If you must know, a man who isn’t into the horse business…for once. He just happens to go for fun. “What time is Lex picking you up?” I sighed and sat on the counter. “He isn’t. Will is taking me.” She frowned. “What about Lex?”
“Found out yesterday he isn’t in town.” She rubbed my shoulder and I noticed my expensive Versace perfume. “Hey,” she held up a hand and walked to the door with uncharacteristic swagger. “My ride is here.” I looked down at my feet. “Huh.”
I waited fifteen minutes until I saw Will outside. I texted Lex that I missed him while walking to Will’s car, his fancy F350 with the chrome spinners. It was tricked out, yeah, and Will took pride in it, but something about it screamed, ‘Not Will’. It might have been just me, though. He hugged me loosely and opened my door.
“Let’s get this over with.” He grinned, put on those awesome sunglasses, and pulled out. “Some of those girls…” I shook my head, realizing what I had really gotten myself into. He squeezed my arm and looked deep into me. “Don’t worry, Annie.”
Something, I don’t know what, but something made him look deep into me and grab my hand and say, “We’re in this together. You and I will get through this together.” I saw a hurt in his eyes, something I wanted to take back and never see again. I took my eyes away and looked out the window. After a very long uncomfortable silence I say, “I’m tired.”
He leaned deep into his seat and sighed. “Me too. But you had a long day yesterday, Ann, how are you now? Any clearer thoughts on what happened?” he asked me quietly as he turned wide and then went left to Harbor Boulevard. I was glad he cared enough to prod, so I was going to open up.
“No. I just want things to be easier. I know that sounds selfish and all, but sometimes I just wish things weren’t the way they were.” He nodded and said nothing more as the country club came into view. My stomach was doing all sorts of flipping and flopping motions, and when the car lurched to a stop I felt the color drain from my face.
We got out and Will was kind enough and offered me his arm. ‘Don’t let me fall.” I told him as I watched myself wobble. “You’ll be okay.” I pointed to my shoes in distress. “No, don’t let me fall!” I hissed quietly. He tightened his grip around my arm and chuckled light-heartedly. “I got your back, girl, don’t worry.” I smiled as he laughed quietly to himself and he opened the big glass doors and I swayed my unsteady hips inside.
“I thought you worked heels just fine.” He whispered into my ears just to get more stares than we already had. “These are…thinner.” That was true, they were extremely thin. He seemed satisfied and walked us over to the table with our names. We talked a little while, and I crossed my legs because they were tired sitting there and I noticed Will looking down.
I can’t say I was angry about that, but what I was angry about was that Karen got us both on our feet quickly. “See something you like, Will?” she whispered in his ear and I jumped up, pretty quickly, and Will had to catch me so I didn’t fall. So, Karen said a lot of stuff. I don’t want to repeat them, they definitely hurt. But what I didn’t understand was why she picked on me all the time. She made me tired with everything she said.
But something inside me clicked that day. I knew I was in love with Will Cooper. There was no way around it and everyone was just going to have to deal. Including me, because I decided that day I was going to do absolutely nothing about it.
She bit her lip. That’s all she did, she bit her lip. But what else was she supposed to do? Karen just chewed her out over a false statement. What was it she said? Oh, “Guess you’re worse than we thought. Taking Josie’s man?” I wanted to do something. “Ugh…gonna say somethin’, scar face? You are an accused man-stealer after all,” Annie’s eyes grew wide, how could they not, but then she shut them a moment and I watched her eyes flicker out and over to the lighthouse.
“Karen!” I hissed but in a whisper. “What? Look at all that. She needs some cream.” Karen shrugged innocently. Her tall and lean legs shifted her weight, not that there was much of it. She ran her fingers across the brim of her hat. I didn’t understand how Annie could stand there listening to that. I have to admit though I did find myself staring at the long scar running down her nose. I could tell she had tried to hide it with some makeup.
Poor Annie had to hide everything. And here I was sitting here feeling sorry that my girlfriend wasn’t here to split the awkward feeling and make me laugh and think everything was okay when it really wasn’t. I was angry Josie wasn’t there to make me feel normal. But what was really normal anymore? Josie was in rehab for God’s sake. I took a deep breath as I watched the cool and collected Annie stand placidly in front of Karen.
“You have it way wrong, Karen. Annie and I are just friends. Her boyfriend is out of town. She’s training a couple of horses of mine and I asked her to help me spot a couple of good ones today because I might be able to use some.” I pointed to the barn. The large glass room of the club overlooked Hill’s Cove and Landon Lighthouse. I had taken Josie on a date there one time.
We fought and I drove beside her while she walked home. “Bite me,” she had said as I drove to her house while she strutted with her heels in hand. I watched her the whole time, and I had tried really hard not to laugh. She was always that way; independent, I mean. Annie looked back at Karen again. “She has a boyfriend?” I raised a brow and looked down at Annie one more time.
She was absolutely beautiful, but in a way that was imperfect. “Lex Gray. She’s… (I swallowed) she’s dating Lex Gray.” I looked away and clenched my jaw before regaining composure and talking back to Karen. Her eyes were wide like a bug’s and her mouth was propped open.
“No way is Lex Gray going out with her!” Annie raised a brow. She as well as I remembered the time Karen had tried to get Lex to go out with her. At first he had politely refused like Mr. Goody-two-shoes always did, but then she got irritating. As much as I didn’t want to give Alexander any props for anything, I had to admit he was scary good at handling obsessive and compulsive Karen.
“You could talk to me like I’m actually here instead of communicating to me through Will.” Annie told her matter of factly. She was really calm and simple, not even showing a hint of anger. “Shut up. No one cares about you, so go home.” Annie closed her eyes and swallowed. I felt her stiffen up against my body and I gently nudged her back just to get her to move, you know, to make sure she wasn’t dead or anything.
“Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom.” She sounded like she had swallowed twelve boxes of chalk then eaten ten extra-salty pretzels. She stepped out from my security and away from Karen, walking stiffly and briskly to the women’s restroom. I nudged Karen aside glaring and ran after Annie. I didn’t even care that I was going into the girl’s bathroom.
I walked up behind her as she wiped at the running mascara on her cheeks. I spun her around and grabbed her up into my arms before she could say anything. She just hugged back and sobbed softly. “Okay.” I said after a while. I placed my hands on her hips and sat her on the sink.
I gently removed the hat from her head, very attractive I might add, and smoothed down the hairs around her face. I brought over a few paper towels and ran them under cool water. I rang them out a few times before placing them across her cheeks and forehead.
I dabbed at the splotchy red spots and said, “Annie, I’m not going to tell you to just ignore her. But, I am going to tell you she’s wrong. You are beautiful, you have an amazing personality, and you don’t deserve Lex Gray. You deserve even better.” Her sad eyes flickered up for the first time but she said nothing and looked back down.
“Now, here is what’s going to happen: you are going to go out there with that attitude you came in with, you are going to smile that beautiful smile, and you are going to be Annie.” I grabbed her shoulders. “We are going to do this together, alright?” she nodded and hopped off the counter. We walked out, her on my arm, and her best, ‘I’m better than you so bite me.’ Smile. I had to grin myself.
We sat with other people for a while, and when they started to play the waltz, I was stunned. Never had they ever made us dance at The Races. Never. I knew I was probably going to step on her feet, let my eyes wander, or some other stuff Josie always complained about. I did miss her, I just…there was nothing anymore. I was coming to the realization.
Annie drug me up with a feigning smile on her face. It wasn’t natural, but it would have to do. But something happened when she grabbed me. She caught me off guard and something inside me was at a stand-still. I thought my heart had stopped beating, but how was I to know? I didn’t, so I walked with her. Paul was looking at me oddly the whole time and I guess Annie felt my stiffness because she looked at me oddly.
She was right; those heels were nice and big because we were eye level then and that scared me. “Hey,” she whispered in my ear. “If I do this, you have to.” There was an understanding there. I didn’t need her to go in depth as to what she was saying; I got it. “Okay.”
I did step on her toe twice. She was pretty patient, though; she didn’t yell, just giggled softly and clasped my shoulder so she didn’t fall. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself. It was dark by the time we decided to go home because we ended up hanging out at the beach with Mara and her latest person of interest.
I was getting comfortable, I was starting to settle down with the idea of new friends. I thought it could actually be like that. Annie and I, Mara and whoever. Maybe Mike. But I was okay with my newfound scene. We were all walking on the beach, talking about the stupidest stuff, acting like we were ten years old. Annie threw her shoes on the sand and took off my jacket. I ripped off the tie and loosened my shirt collar so that I had air.
Mara’s dress was completely backless, I don’t think her date, John Walker, a friend of mine, had a care in the world about that, and the both of them held hands while walking around the beach, laughing. I swung Annie up over my shoulder and she screamed and kicked for me to let her down. I laid her gently in the sand and she got to giggling and giggling and…well, full on hysteria. I started laughing to, and by the time I really recognized what was going on, we were both on the ground and Annie was on top of my chest. And we were really laughing.
“Now, I wanna take pictures!” Mara exclaimed and we all got up and started posing. I had Annie on my back, John had Mara on his, and we had a guy who was running stop to take group pictures. We also took one formal, with our jackets and hats and what not. Then Mara got busy with her fancy camera. She got one of Annie and I with our feet in the water, another with my feet buried in the sand and Annie behind me.
Then John took a picture of Mara and Annie each kissing my cheek. On my left side, Annie’s side, I felt a stinging and I wanted more. Damn, I wanted more of that stinging feeling or whatever it was. Then I took a picture of them doing that to John. But my favorite was a close up of Annie and I. We weren’t looking at the camera, but we were looking at each other.
That night, I laid in bed with my laptop and posted the pictures Mara had emailed me. I knew Lex would get a kick out of these. That day with my new friends I had forgotten everything and just let go. I was myself. I had forgotten my parents. But that was short lived because I heard them argue. Sammy walked into my room, groggy and sat on the edge of my bed as I beat my head against the wall. “Why do they do this?” he asked. “All of a sudden, they’re doing this.” I swallowed like I always did and looked at my little brother.
“I don’t know, man.” I held my face in my hands. “I do not know.” And that was the most truth I could give him. “Should I let dad crash in my room?” I raised a brow. “Alright, self-help guru, now where would you stay?” he smiled and took my sham from the floor and a blanket from the closet and spread it out on the futon. “If that’s okay with you.” I sighed because I was too tired to fight. “Yeah, sure.” And that was it…for a while.
“Hey, Will?” he asked. I groaned in response. “How’s that Annie girl?” “Good.” He was quiet a moment and so I started drifting back. “You’re in love with her, aren’t you?” I sat up. “Where’d you get an idea like that?” it was the first time it ever crossed my mind. Sort of…okay, it wasn’t. “I can just tell. You always get that look when you talk about her. When we were there you were beaming.” I threw a pillow at him. “I’m not in love with anyone.” I told him. “Go back to sleep.” And he did.
I woke up early and decided on going for a run. I hated to just run, but I hadn’t made any effort to keep myself in shape over the summer. I was too stupid to stretch, I just ran my three mile route that we used during the school year. I was dying after a mile and a half, the heat was excrutiating, and all of a sudden a shooting pain cramped up in the back of my leg.
I felt it and realized it was swollen and a big knot was in the back. Damn it. A freaking pulled hamstring. I was stupid not to stretch, but I thought I was okay. Apparently not. I wasn’t going to tell my mother. She’d make a scene and drag me to the doctor just for sheer bliss. So I limped my sorry butt the rest of the way home and planted it on the couch.
I think I slept again; actually, I’m sure I slept again, because when I opened my eyes it was three o’clock. Wow. I was a sleeper sometimes. “Will, let’s shoot some hoops.” Sammy threw the ball at me. I threw it back wearily and shook my head. “Can we do something else that doesn’t involve moving? Went for a run and pulled a hamstring.” He laughed.
“Old man.” I kicked his butt with my good leg. “Hey, you should be looking up to me. I am the man.” I declared and he just raised a brow. “Sure you are. Hey, I think I’m going to hang with Evie.” I frowned. “Sure. Go and ditch me for your girlfriend.” He smiled. “Kay, see ya!” and ran out the garage door. I called Paul. Paul would hang with me.
“Yellow?” he answered in a nasal tone. “Wrong number, I think, because my best friend has never said yellow in his entire life.” He chuckled. “Until now. So you rang?” I snorted. “Yeah…at least I think. My little bro ditched me for Evie. Come hang with the man.” I felt like never getting up from the couch…ever again. And that was perfectly fine at the moment. “Yeah, I guess I have nothing better to do…ha. Fine, yeah, we need to talk anyway.” And that was that. He was going to take a nice little jog over to my place. We were going to hang out.
Two things irritated me: a. it took him twenty minutes to walk across the street. And b. he didn’t have a care in the world that I was on a schedule. Things needed to b precise, things needed to be speedy. Okay, truth is I didn’t have much of a schedule at all, but I wanted one, and I was the type of person that liked things to happen fast.
He was looking at me funny, though, I was sort of worried. “What’s up?” I asked looking away from the TV for just a moment. “Oh…the usual.” He said quietly and sat next to me. But he seemed to be on edge. He seemed like he was about to explode because of something he had to say. After a few minutes it seemed to get worse until finally I pressed the pause button.
“What?” he looked at me a little dazed like he had been totally into watching Mecum Auto Auction all of a sudden; but I knew that was definitely not true. “Hmm? Didn’t say anything.” I raised a brow. “What’s on your mind?” he shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing really.” I cleared my throat and scooted back on the couch so I could lift my feet up.
“Paul,” I looked him in the eye trying to figure out what exactly it was that my best friend was withholding from me. “I’ve known you for a good two years. You’re my best friend, and I know when something is irritating you. Spill it.” He rolled his eyes and got a soda from the fridge. Believe it or not, we weren’t aloud to have soda during the fall season of soccer. It was all about soccer, working out, and being fit. And that meant absolutely no artificial junk. So we stocked up during the summer, you know, packed on a few pounds to work off, make it easier on ourselves when practice starts up again, believe it or not. I had already gained a few, I could tell, and we weren’t that far into the summer yet.
“Where’d you go off to yesterday?” He asked quietly sitting back down. Oh, that was it. I hadn’t been around much. “I was just hanging with,” I stopped myself. I should have known that was what was making him so angry. I knew he didn’t like Annie one bit, and we were Lex Grey haters, so it wouldn’t help to put that in there. But I never knew him to hate on ‘norms’ like it seemed he was.
To be honest, I just thought he never really cared about them. To me, they had always been people. There was really no difference between them and us. But to people like Josie and Karen, there are two completely separate worlds. Now, mind you, to them there was no outside of the high school group of Landon. That was Earth.
You had the Hills and you had the Flats, or the Flatland. If you had money, a closet full of designer articles, and your parents were total pushovers, go ahead and come on down to the Hills, no problem. If you had a job, worked hard, and you’re parents believed in the tough love of, ‘Do it yourself because we have no interest in giving you the money we work hard to earn,’ then you should probably make your way over to the Flats. That was what worked in their eyes.
To me, I thought it was all stupid and everybody should get along, but there was really no difference. But hey, I was never one to complain, I think I mentioned, and so I just went along with what people said because I felt like I had some stupid obligation. Whatever, I was a coward.
“That norm girl, huh?” I took a deep breath and bit my lip trying to figure out what to say to him, how to come across. “What does it matter where she lives? She’s a good friend.” He snorted. “A good friend doesn’t sabotage your brain, Will.” I swallowed. Damn habit. “What are you cooking up in that head of yours, Paul? No one is sabotaging my brain.” He sighed deeply and looked at the liquid in his can.
“Doesn’t seem that way to anyone else.” He whispered quietly. “Who is everyone else?” “Your real friends, Will! You’ve totally dissed us for a norm pack! I mean, Mara did that years ago, so we don’t talk to her, but now John Walker is involved, that dumb Lex Grey, now, come on! They’ve warped you into thinking it’s a good idea; I never thought we would lose you to them,” I felt my expression turn hard. Those were my friends to; he couldn’t say things like that. I had to stand up for them. “It’s that girl, doing that you. You don’t even feel it. All of a sudden, Josie is gone and,”
“Josie is gone because of the stupid choices she made. Not anyone else, especially not Annie.” He looked at me. They apparently don’t use names for the norms in Hill country. “Annie, is doing this. You pay her for God’s sake, Will, she works for you. You guys are worlds apart it will never work.” That was crossing the line! What kind of stupid things was he saying? What wouldn’t work? We’re platonic, hadn’t he noticed? Josie was still my girlfriend. ‘Just barely,’ Annie had said.
“Dude, it isn’t like that. She’s just,” he waved me off, stopping me midsentence, wondering what had just happened. “Yeah, yeah, just friends, I got it, but it isn’t going to stay that way for long.” He made a motion like a cowboy whipping his horse. “Whipped!” he sung. “I am not whipped. I am nothing close to being whipped. I am a free agent as long as I want to be, I can walk out on anyone that I want. And it will stay that way forever.”
I could start to believe what I was just saying. After the mess with my parents all of a sudden I didn’t want to commit to anything, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I was scared to death to make a commitment I might not be able to keep. I was already in way too deep with Josie and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get out of that one.
“Sure,” he sighed and we sat there for a moment. “You know,” he started again. I breathed deeply trying desperately to keep my cool. “What?” he looked up at me. “Maybe going to a party would keep you in tack. There’s a party this weekend. Come if you want.” He handed me a paper with the date, time, and location before leaving.
He slammed the door behind him and in a mockery of his nasal tone I said, “Yeah, bye Paul.” I looked at the paper. No way was I going to a party at Ryan Millers. But, then again, what else was I going to do? Maybe Annie would be there. Well I had a few days to think about it. I had nothing else to do, so I pressed play and fell back asleep…an amazing day.
“Come on, please Annie. We can’t miss this party. This is the party of the summer. If we’re not there, our junior year is washed away.” She snapped her finger. “Just like that.” I laughed and looked up at the sun beating down on us. Demi pushed the strap down my shoulder from my cami and Mara pushed it back up. He rubbed my arm a few times begging for attention. I used my unoccupied hand to pet his forehead where the uneven white half moon rested.
She had been pressuring me about this party for days. “Alright, Mara, alright. But Will is going to be there, you know. You know what that means.” I pointed a finger at her and walked Demi into the barn. I strapped his halter around his neck so that it wasn’t on his nose and clipped the cross ties to the nose strap. I kissed his forehead and muttered, “Pretty, pretty boy,” before taking off my helmet. And I pulled my hair loose from the tie and shook my head freeing my hair from the dirt, dust, and sweat matting it together. I placed it in a bun on top of my head and clipped my bangs back.
“Mara!” I called for her but heard a different voice come into the barn. I felt my knees involuntarily bend and I was swept up and off the ground. “Pretty, pretty girl,” he laughed at me and I kissed him. “Hey, Lex. How was Idaho?” I asked quietly. He rolled his eyes.
“I missed you.” that made me feel just a little better. I had to forgive him sometime. “So, I have a question.” I told him as he sat me down and handed me a soft brush before going to the other side of Demi to brush the saddle marks. “Yes, and what is that?” he asked quietly concentrating on pulling a mat of Demi’s chocolaty brown coat apart.
“Are you going to Ryan Miller’s party?” he looked up at me over Demi’s back and half smiled. “I was going to ask you today.” He went back to brushing. I laughed a little. “Mara beat you to it, sweetie. But I can blow her off.” I decided grabbing the stool to focus on his upper back.
“Well, you should. I am your amazing boyfriend after all.” He eyed me smiling. I smiled back and cracked my wrist. Will hated when I did that. He would always slap my wrists and say something like, “That’ll catch up with you one day. And I hate the sound, so don’t do it.” And I would always grimace and walk away. But Lex never minded.
“Yeah, you are. By the way, we should go out tonight, maybe. I want to go just you and me. It’s time for that.” I told him a little more serious. “The party though…and I’m surprised you asked. But, yeah, I think it is to.” “I’ll take you up to the Hills tonight and we can go somewhere. I want to take you somewhere you can dress up. Wear that blue dress.” I was surprised at his involvement in me, but I was so happy to have a boyfriend who cared. I jumped off the stool and ran into his arms.
“I’m so happy I have you.” I whispered. And it was the truth. I was very happy to have Lex. He sighed and rested his chin on my head. I could picture him closing his eyes and taking in the sunlight. “Me too, Annie, Annie. Me too.” I loved how he said that. It wasn’t half as bad as Annie Pretzel, or Annie Banany, or Auntie Annie. All of Will’s names had to do with food.
“So, what do you think?” I shrugged. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t blow her off. She is my best friend and she did ask me first. I can’t.” he rolled his eyes. “Come on,” “Hey! Do not say that. She is my best friend. I can go out with her one night, Lex not everything is about you.” he retreated. “I didn’t say that it was. I was trying to make you happy.” I threw my hands in the air.
“Then go to the party! It’s not that big of a deal, Lex, it’s a compromise.” He blinked. “Do you consider my feelings? You know I don’t like Ryan Miller and you know I don’t like Will Cooper, you know that.” I shook my head and clasped my hands to my forehead.
“Oh my God, Lex, you know I consider you! I didn’t know it was that big of a deal for you to be around a couple of guys you don’t like. I mean, you’ve been away for days, so. Or do you not want to go to a party with me because you want to drink?” I sort of knew that was the problem form the very beginning. The thought had itched me.
“Wow.” Was all he could say. I knew he wanted to drink and I knew he was probably going to hit up Ryan’s party after he took me home. He walked out shaking his head. “Well that was deep.” Mara walked in with Mike at her heels. Mike sat down and she sat on his lap. They always did that sort of thing. I raised a brow and walked Demi into his stall. “Let me shower and we will go, Mar. Mike, are you going? Oh, wait, you can’t because you were busted for drugs.” He grimaced.
“Ann, don’t remind me.” Mara glared at me. “Don’t be mean to my baby.” She turned to Mike and grabbed his chin. He blushed. “Be a good boy while we’re out.” I pulled Mara into the house. Once the door was shut I said, “Don’t play him, Mara. You know he loves you.” she shrugged sheepishly. “Maybe I’m not just playing anymore.” I shoved her shoulder.
“No way.” She shrugged. “I don’t know yet, so be quiet. Mikey and I could be a real relationship.” She tousled her dark brown hair. I walked into my room and called Will. “Hey, girl.” He sounded occupied. “Is this a good time? It’ll be quick.” He laughed. “Perfect time. What’s up?” I cleared my throat. “Take Mara and I to Ryan’s.” he moaned. “What?” I hoped he could hear my frown. “Mara scares me. And then I’ll have to stay.” He admitted. I laughed. “That’s okay. I’ll be there to protect you!” he smiled. “Ha, then it’s all better!” he laughed sarcastically.
“Please.” He sighed. “Half an hour. Be ready, not, ‘Oh, let me take an hour to do my hair, it’s okay.’ Alright?” I sighed and told him yes and hung up. My butterflies still flopped and never seemed to totally die by the time he got there. We got into his truck and Mara kissed mike goodbye. I sighed and thought about that. Mara, my sister in law…ouch.
We made small talk all the way there; flipping radio stations, singing to our favorite songs, and making fun of Ryan Miller’s hair. “The only thing that makes the guy what he is, is his parent’s liquor cabinet and their obliviousness to the parties surrounding them.” Will said shaking his head and smiling very slowly. I had to agree at that. “
True,” Mara piped in. “But the other thing is that he has a group of friends that are popular.” I agreed with that as well. I watched Will watch me as we were at a stoplight. It was an odd moment but it felt good. It felt right that he was watching me. I looked down at his shirt, ‘Kiss’, and bit my lip. Will was…absolutely everything I ever wanted: handsome, sweet, generous, protective, attentive, and a best friend. He was a best friend to me, something that was much deeper than just a boyfriend.
Lex used to be that, but maybe it was lust that brought us together more than anything. I didn’t know; I didn’t really want to think about it. I never fought with Lex, never. But I guess there really is a first time for everything.
He pulled into the long winding driveway and we got out. As soon as we walked in, the fast talking rap music filled my ears. People around us were dancing, and as I was just about to say hi to someone Will grabbed my hand and pulled me close to him with his other arm. “No.” I looked him flabbergasted. “What do you mean, no?” I looked into his pretty, pretty eyes and bit my tongue.
“I brought you; you’re here with me. I want you with me.” I thought he was worried about the last time. But I nodded and slowly walked with him, our fingers intertwined. He took me into the kitchen where it was quieter. “I got an email.” He said propping me on the counter. “From Josie.” My throat tightened. “Really?” I asked cautiously. He nodded.
“Uh-huh. She’s coming back early…like tomorrow.” I felt the tightness grow stronger, like it was squeezing my neck. “Oh.” He nodded. “Yeah, I…” he sighed. He was trying to say something but he wouldn’t dare. “Yeah, so…Lex, why isn’t he here?” I wanted to tell him everything. I wanted to rant to him that Lex was such a jerk to me, and all he wanted was to drink, and things, but I knew if I did, Will would have something to hang over Lex with. And I couldn’t do that.
“He’s still sick from the plane ride back.” I lied. He eyed me for a long time before taking me off the counter and into a different room. We danced for a little while until was thirsty and I went to grab a water. “No.” he slammed the fridge door shut. “What? Why?” he raised a brow. ‘Not going to happen again.” And he took me out of the kitchen.
We sat on a couch for a while, giggling, laughing, being best friends. I kept looking at his lips. I wanted to kiss him so incredibly badly but I knew that I couldn’t…I just couldn’t. He was looking at me gently when I stopped laughing. I swear that wasn’t his normal expression. His eyes were almost caressing my skin with the way they moved gently back and forth.
And then everything happened in slow motion. His hand seemed to go up and grab my face. And then I think I slipped my hand around his neck. He stroked my cheek gently and then all of a sudden there was only an inch between our lips, if that. I closed my eyes and I felt him swallow, I heard it. A centimeter now, I knew what was happening, I just denied myself of the fact.
Then all of a sudden it was real time. The guy next to me had pushed me onto Will’s lap, destroying our moment, destroying our kiss. I heard Will swear under his breath and ask if I was okay. I nodded and told him I was going to find Mara. But instead, I went outside so I could think. That was amazing, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get it off my mind.
Paul was glaring at me from the corner of the room while I was on the couch. I rubbed my forehead in an attempt to make the pounding go away, but it didn’t work. I went to find Mara; I grabbed her from the basement and told her we needed to leave. She didn’t argue, I guess she saw it in my eyes that I meant business. So we left and I took the girls to Annie’s.
I felt like a total jerk for barely saying goodbye, but what could I do? She almost kissed me. I almost kissed her. It was real, what we were chasing after. I guess anyway. I just told myself that it was a caught up in the moment kind of thing. But when I pulled in the drive, my mind found a perfect distraction.
I saw my parents screaming, throwing things, and, what the hell? Right in front of Sammy. I burst through the front door and grabbed Sammy by the collar and pulled him into the bathroom. I locked him in. Okay, maybe that was dumb, but it was the first place I could think of.
“Stop!” I screamed at them. My mom threw a flower pot at my head. I ducked, just missing it. “Mom, what the hell is wrong with you?” I screeched a little stunned. She stopped a moment. “I threw it at you?” she asked. “Uh-huh!” I breathed deeply. She sat on the couch. “Go get your brother.” Dad told me and sat across from her. I brought Sammy out without a word. He was trying not to cry, but tears streamed down his face.
I just wanted to beat the hell out of something. We sat down on the floor, not sure of what to do, how to react. “Guys, your mom and I are getting a divorce.” I’ve seen it in movies, I’ve read it in books, I’ve watched my friends go through it. But this was…something I never thought would be as hard as it was. Sammy slept with me that night. We didn’t know who was moving out and when. We didn’t know which parent we would see more, we didn’t know.
So, the next day we went for a run, Sammy and me, it was raining. I almost felt like it was washing away all the bad crap I didn’t want. “I almost kissed Annie.” I panted to him as we rounded the corner. “Yeah?” he asked after swallowing. “Uh-huh. But it didn’t happen. I want to break up with Josie.” He nodded because there were no more words to be said.
He was my brother, my flesh, and I didn’t have to explain it, he knew. I washed up and drove over to say hi to Josie. We didn’t do a whole lot, mostly we just made out in her room. She used me like a toy and I let her. I did what she wanted, and for a while that was okay. But she sat back breathing. “You’re not into it.” She told me matter of factly.
“I guess I’m just tired.” I closed my eyes. “You always seem to be tired when we do this anymore.” I raised a brow and sat up. “You’ve been gone for two weeks, Josie.” She glared. “Even before that.” I took that offensively. “Before that, I thought I was pretty much on my game.” She shrugged. “Maybe it was me.” I rolled my eyes and got up to leave.
“Maybe it was you.” I felt more sure every time I saw her that I wanted to break up. I didn’t have a lot to say in the week following that. My mom ended up moving into the Hills condo complex that my dad paid for.
Did I feel free like I thought?
Did it make things better?
Was I less pressured into doing things that people thought were right for me?
So, really, nothing ever changed in my life. It was just going to be the same, all the time.
Also in the next two weeks, I realized something was wrong with Annie. It wasn’t our almost kiss, I knew. She went back to being all in love with Lex. One day I overheard a conversation, though. “What is it, baby?” Lex asked and I cringed. They were in the barn and I heard Annie softly crying.
“I don’t know. Something inside me just really wants to go to Pennsylvania.” “Annie that’s crazy.”
“Why is it crazy?”
“Just because you miss your parents doesn’t mean you have to go back there. What purpose will that serve? Marie would never let you go, anyway.”
“I wasn’t going to ask Marie.”
“You need to just relax. Think about what you’re saying.” That jerk.
“I have been thinking, and what I know is that I’ve been missing my parents a lot lately and I think going back to my hometown for a few days will do me some good. Why can’t you support me on this?”
“Because it’s crazy.”
I could have been so much better to her. I could have been such a better boyfriend, I knew that. I could take her. I could make her see that I understood. I didn’t, but at least I could say that I believed in her. I sort of could picture why she wanted to go back there. See everything she’s been missing. I knew that day that my new mission in life was to make Annie Donovan fall in love with me.
Lex and I had been fighting the past few days, more and more. “You and that Will guy have something going on.” He said a little agitated. We didn’t, I knew that, Will knew that, but something in Lex’s head had him convinced.
“No, we don’t. You just think that because you’re insecure.”
“I’m insecure? Me? You’re going crazy, Annie.” And he left.
Another time we were actually in public. “What are you saying, Lex?” he sipped his coffee as I hissed at him. “I’m saying that you can barely hold out a relationship with me because you’re so involved with your new best friend.” I wanted to slap him really badly.
“We can barely be in public together without you chewing me out over Will.” “That is because you and I both know you have feelings for this guy.” I swallowed. “You don’t know, you’re hardly ever around.” That hurt his feelings. It was a low blow, I knew that. But he was being a jerk.
“I’m around a lot more than you think, Annie. And if you’re just going to sit here and hound me about the things I don’t do for you, then I want to leave.” I pushed him back down in his seat. “Don’t make this all my fault, Lex. I didn’t say that it was all your fault. What I don’t understand is why you can’t even see my point on things. Like Pennsylvania,”
“Because that’s utterly insane! You can’t really expect to go there and think that it’s going to fix all your problems. For you, it’s going to take a lot more than that. tears stung the hell out of my eyes and I walked home.
We figured Marie had been dating a guy in the past few weeks. But we knew for sure when she said she was bringing him to dinner. I looked at her kind of funny, but we didn’t say anything, Mike and I. So it was set that he was going to come.
When I was in the barn I heard a conversation going in one of the stalls. Whispering. I thought I was going insane, but I listened.
“We can’t tell Annie just yet.”
Mike, I thought.
“No, of course, but we need to find a better place to do this.”
“Ha, I know.”
She giggled softly and I heard…eww…my best friend was making out with my brother. I left as quick as I could and took a shower. Soon enough, there was a knock on the door and Marie answered. An average height guy, he brought flowers, and I think the only way to describe him is that he looked a lot like Johnny Depp.
His name was Scott Rutter. He was very easy going, very nice to talk to. I liked the way he was able to talk to Mike and I to, just to get something out of us. I could already see things going far. And I planned to tell Marie that when we cleaned the dishes.
“Marie, you know, you are dating a Johnny Depp look-alike. He’s pretty cool to, I mean, you’ve never really had a boyfriend that I remember, but he’s a keeper, I think.” I turned with a light stride.
“Only time will tell,” I sung and she grabbed me into a hug. “My girl!” I giggled and we walked back in with the pie. Scott was showing Mike something, I don’t really know what, but I looked up at the trotting horse clock on the wall and realized it was time for Mike and I to sit on the stairs and listen.
Otherwise known as, “going to bed.” I patted Mike’s shoulder and cocked a brow, a heavy brow. “Mike. You and I need to go to bed. I need accompaniment to that big horse expo tomorrow in Rio Falls. Bed time.”
I kissed Marie goodnight, and Scott grasped me into a swift comfortable hug and kissed my cheek. “I’ll see you soon.” He winked and I took in his suave and almost quirky tone once more. I could imagine him as ‘Uncle Scott’, the guy in my house, the guy married to Marie.
“Bye.” I smiled and took Mikey in my arm like we belonged in a 1920’s movie and skipped up the stairs. We made a few slamming doors, the sink turn on and off, and the doors slam once more.
We sat on the top of the stairs, we were getting too old to do that, but we wanted to be in touch with our child-like qualities we still had left.
I was tired; I could admit that, a fight with Lex was never good. But I was starting to think about the possibility of the truthfulness of his side of the argument…not just mine. Was I that into Will that I couldn’t hold out a good relationship with a guy I truly loved? I couldn’t hold out a relationship with Lex? But maybe I didn’t love Lex the right way.
I did love him, I never doubted that, but what I did doubt was the manner in which my feelings presented. Maybe I loved Lex like a brother like I originally believed. Maybe I loved him as my very best friend, just not someone I wanted to be with intimately. As far as intimate goes, but was the real factor Will or me?
So I dreamt that night. I saw myself, I saw Will, Lex, and Josie. It was odd. Josie and Lex were together, Will and I were together. It kept making me think of our almost kiss. I saw it in my head, I kept replaying it. So when I woke up and I saw that it was only two thirty, I sort of knew that I was going to sleep well until I got it off my head.
I could see everything play out, what I was going to tell Will.
“Will, I’m tired of thinking that my feelings aren’t real. I’m tired of thinking that it doesn’t matter that every time I’m around you I get bubbly. I’m tired of seeing you with Josie and watching her kiss you and wanting for it so badly to be me. I’m tired of that. So, say whatever you want to say, think what you want to think, but I’m in love with you.”
Then I thought about my pledge to do absolutely nothing about that. Hmm…absolutely nothing. yeah, I thought, I guess I should really stick with that.
Josie macked on my neck a little, but I pulled away. She pulled me back, but again, I pushed her away. She looked at me funny, kind of awkward, but I just looked at her like, ‘Don’t give me crap already.’ So she leaned away and rolled over, pulling the covers further above her waist line.
“Josie I’m just not in the mood. It isn’t a big deal, okay?” she rolled back over and sat up. “It isn’t a big deal? You haven’t been in the mood for weeks. You can’t even kiss me without a pained look on your face and you’re telling me it isn’t a big deal?” I thought about it, I considered it. She was right I hadn’t been in the mood for a while. But I didn’t want to talk about it.
“Later, Jos, we’ll talk about it later.” She rolled her eyes. “Later? When’s that? Later as in never?” it drove me insane when she talked to me like that. I was a person not a dog, not a toy, not a machine. I was a living breathing person with real feelings.
And I was feeling frustrated. She stood and walked out of the room. I didn’t blame her for not wanting to talk to me or be around me. I wasn’t angry at her for that. It was so understandable. I had been…a real asshole for lack of a better word. I hadn’t been even willing to get close to her in…I don’t even know how long, but it was a very long time it seemed.
My phone buzzed on my dresser. “Already, Josie?” I mumbled. I opened the curtains to the gigantic window and took my phone. Annie. I smiled and I felt the muscles in my stomach tighten. “Hey, Annie girl, what’s up?” I cleared my throat. It was like my mind went into this automatic flirt position.
Like I can hear in my head, “Laugh, cool deep tone, take a long time to answer, be thoughtful, use big swoony and suave words.” I raised a brow and shook my head. “I need someone to spot me today. I know it’s last minute. I was planning to go to Rio for an expo but Mike fell through on me and I need to get something in. Mike is…somewhere with Mara, and Marie is in Raleigh with Scott. Is that okay?” I felt a cough creep into my throat.
“Very fine. I just…” I bit my lip before saying, “Josie will be there.” She didn’t answer. I wanted her to scream yell or hang up. Make me say no. But she just didn’t answer. She just breathed. “Okay.” I finally said. I wanted her voice, I wanted her tone; I wanted her talk. “Okay.” And I hung up.
Stupid, I know, but there was nothing else I could have done. I put on basketball shorts, a Landon Sparrows Soccer t-shirt, and some old and run down flip flops. I had my strawberry pop tart, no-pulp juice, and put Poppy in his kennel. I drove to Josie’s house, picked her up, and drove to Annie’s.
Routine much? I wanted to be with Annie alone. But I was saving my relationship. I had to choose. I was going to sacrifice being alone with Annie for one day. It was worth it. At least I could still be around her and feel her easy breeze. That Versace perfume and the scar down her nose. I always felt the urge to lightly run my finger down it and feel the unevenness.
As we drove I thought about my relationship with Josie. It all just seemed to be infatuation and lust. Total crap, the more I think about it. I had never really accepted or noticed her flaws…but after rehab, after a change of heart, after Annie…it all went away.
But I saw Annie’s flaws and I accepted them. I embraced them and I loved them. Whether she felt the same way was a different matter in itself entirely. I wanted to break up with Josie. I was fed up and done with fighting, and sleepless nights, and a whole lot of other stuff.
I was just too much of a coward to do anything about it. But I was done. That day, I was going to do something with myself, my feelings, and my heart. I was getting rid of the bad. And, hopefully, taking in something brand new.
She smiled as I walked in, and I felt that tightening and the creeping and smiled back. I grazed her back with my hand and helped her tighten Demi’s girth. “Have a good ride on him today.” I told her cheery. Josie walked in and said to Annie, “He’s going to throw you one of these days.”
Annie raised a brow and grabbed the bridle. “You know that’s not really true right?” I asked quietly so only she could hear. “I was getting that vibe.” She muttered back and crossed her right leg over her left. I smiled and leaned back against Dutch’s stall. Josie half-smiled at me as if to say, ‘Don’t talk to her or I’ll rip you’re face off.’, And walked out of the barn to the car.
“And why does she do that?” she asked taking Dutch’s bridle to the tack room. I shrugged. “Because she’s Josie. But I really don’t think he’ll throw you.” She shrugged and put on her helmet. “We’ll see.” She walked off and I walked behind her. She got on and did a few grids.
He was getting better, I had to admit; she was a miracle worker for that horse. As Annie set herself for a third grid Josie pulled on my arm. She walked me into the barn, and reluctantly I followed. But before I did I said, “Ann, the wind.” She nodded half-heartedly as she picked up a frontal canter.
I followed after Josie. “Jos,”
“No. Here on out you need to talk!”
“No! I’m tired of talking! I’m tired of talking to you. I can hardly stand to be around you anymore. Ever since you came back from rehab. All we are is lust, all we are,”
“No we’re not! Lie to me! Stop,” someone screamed bloody murder. I can’t exactly tell you if this is all true or not. It was all really a true blur. I ran. I knew it was her from the moment the tone sounded through my ears. A nasty neigh hollered and her cry was cut short.
Demi was forcing himself at the fence, running hard and fast trying to gain speed and power enough to jump it. Josie walked to the car while I hopped the fence to go to Annie who was slung over the fence. That part was clear because it was so odd. Demi was running around.
At that time, my natural instinct was to stop him. There was a plastic bag flying around chasing him and he was running from it. I thought that somehow he felt the first thing he had to do was to get her off his back, to keep her from the dangerous object. I didn’t exactly know.
So I think I chased him until he slowed. I tied him to the post and ran over to Annie. I knew I shouldn’t touch her, but I wanted to so bad. To be allowed in the weight room at school without a supervisor we needed first aid training, CPR, and mouth-to-mouth. And I knew to leave her there.
If she was hurt I shouldn’t be the one to move her. I checked for breathing, signs of a pulse, and they were all there. So I called 9-1-1. At least someone did, because they got there. The EMT stood by me while the rest worked on her. Through all my fear and odd rage I managed to answer his questions.
“What is your girlfriend’s full name, son?” he had a pad of paper with a pen and wrote down my stutterish and breathy answer. Wow…he thought we were together. “Annie Donovan.” He asked me to spell it. “How old?” I swallowed. “Sixteen. April 13, by the way.” He nodded.
“Her general caretaker?”
“Marie Donovan. Her aunt.”
“No parents?” I hesitated a moment. How could I not? “Umm…no. Her parents died in a car accident a few years ago.” He nodded. “Alright. How’d she fall?” I shrugged. “I think a plastic bag spooked him. I wasn’t watching, I was in the barn, so I heard her scream and I ran out and she was flung over the fence, unconscious, and I called. He was running from a flying plastic bag and so I guess that’s what happened.” He nodded and clasped a hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you. Now,” he sighed deeply and I braced myself. “She’ll be okay.” I nodded, hopeful he was right, and walked over to see if I could just get near the stretcher. I watched her move, I swore she moved. I pulled on the EMT.
“Is she moving? Is she awake?” he nodded. “Talk to her. She’s scared.” I moved over. She had tears streaming down her face. She couldn’t talk. There was a want in her eyes to talk but she couldn’t. “Shh…it’s okay, Annie, it’s alright. They’ll make you all better, I promise.”I felt like that was the least I owed her. Tears streamed from her eyes and she tried to cough.
Her body temperature was hot and she was shaking. “Just close your eyes. Then it will all be okay.” I pushed the sweaty hair from her face and watched her eyelids droop. I stroked her cheeks and waited for the EMT to put her in the ambulance. I quickly walked over to Josie.
“Bring my car.” I tossed her the keys and ran back over. I sat next to her. I watched Annie breathe slowly up and down; afraid she was eventually going to stop. “Come on.” I squeezed her hand. “You can do it.” I looked back and thought that maybe I was overplaying a concussion, a horse fall.
But I was scared and it looked bad, severe. What if she had brain damage? What if she just never woke up? What if we had to make the decision to take her off life support? That was why I was scared. I didn’t want to lose her. I didn’t want to be left alone with Josie. Selfish, maybe crazy, but true.
It was a short drive into town and they rushed her in, but I wasn’t allowed to be with her until the doctor came out and gave me the okay that she was stable. Josie tried to rub my back and hold my hand but I kept pushing her away. I didn’t want to be around her, I didn’t want her to be there. She wasn’t there for Annie, she wasn’t concerned and that bothered me. I waited for the doctor on the edge of my seat. “Will,”
“Josie.” I shook my head and pushed her away. “I don’t want to talk to you.” she stopped. The doctor eventually brought me into the room where she laid totally unconscious. I sat a while until he explained everything. “She had a concussion. We gave her stitches to. She’ll be just fine. We do want to keep her overnight to monitor the concussion. It wasn’t severe. But she also broke a few ribs and we have to watch those. They can make her sick. But she’s lucky.” Great, what every dedicated boyfriend wants to hear. ‘She’s lucky.’
Wait. She wasn’t my girlfriend, I wasn’t her boyfriend. Bad phrasing. The nurse came in after a while and we started to talk about her heart. But I just wanted Annie to wake up. I wanted her to tell me herself she was okay. That’s all I needed.
I felt dreamy for a second as I pushed my eyes open forcing them to move, forcing myself to wake up. But it wasn’t working out so well. It felt like my eyes were glossed over with something so I tried to reach up to rub them but I couldn’t move my arms.
I felt like screaming for help, tried to push myself to scream, but I couldn’t. But my ears were working. I knew that. I could hear slurs of words, and I could hear voices, I just couldn’t recognize them. They said things like, ‘heart rate’, ‘up’, ‘okay’, ‘bad’, ‘mild’, ‘hard’, ‘possibly’, ‘not good’. What was with the opposites? A little panicky tone in the one, the other completely and naturally calm. Popping and aching.
My ears hurt then and all of a sudden after a loud rushing ring I could hear, “Nope. It’s still at a steady level. A little high, but that could mean she’s in the process of waking up and her body is having more action.” Soft little pitter patter footsteps filled the room and then another pair, but they were almost silent. My arms tingled a little and I moved my fingers just a little bit.
Slowly I moved them up to my eyes and carefully rubbed them one by one enabling myself to open them. “Hey, Annie.” A soft and slow voice only slightly audible sounded and I blinked. But the rest of my body couldn’t move because it ached incredibly.
I moaned a little when I tried to spin myself in the other direction because I thought that I heard the voice coming from that direction. I cleared my throat trying to get words out. But all I could manage was, “Hmm…ugh.” I heard a little laugh before I saw Will’s face. “What?” I tried to grimace a little and I pulled the covers up on me a little higher. “How do you feel?” his glorious face was all I felt but I couldn’t tell him that. So I rolled my eyes and closed them.
“I don’t even know what happened.” I whimpered. “You fell.” He told me simply. “You’re okay though, just a little banged up. Bruised your head and passed out, a few broken ribs, but that was it. Oh, and stitches on your forehead. It’s not like the concussion was too bad.” He pointed to them and I reached up to touch the aching pulse in my forehead, but he stopped me. He clutched my hand and caressed it slowly as he placed it back down on the bed.
“Don’t touch them.” He whispered. “Who?” I asked feeling totally lost and useless. “Huh?” he sat down in the chair as I forced my body to painfully switch directions and face him. He took notice to my grimacing and leaned his head to the side to get a little bit of a better look at me.
“Who dumped me?” I rolled my shoulders and tried stretching my neck. “Demi. It wasn’t…I don’t…” he cleared his throat before continuing. “I honestly don’t know. I mean, he spooked at something. It could have been avoided. I, I should have watched you like I said that I would. I was in the barn.” He swallowed when he saw my face.
Before starting to turn back the other way, I muttered, “With Josie.” I knew that he knew I was hurt. But he didn’t know why. He thought it was because, since he was too busy to watch me while I was riding his horse because he was too busy with his girlfriend, that I got hurt.
But it was really because he was with Josie and not me. What did he see in her anyway? She was a total-
“Look, Annie I’m sorry, I,” I shook him off and rolled over. “Why are you here anyway?” I snapped coldly. He sighed, stood, and walked towards the doorway. “Just…just trying to be a decent person for once in my life. Just trying to make something right, that’s all Annie.” He walked out, started to anyway, but he turned around.
“What?” I hadn’t realized I said anything. “When will my aunt be here?” his face fell, and I knew my bluntly asking him this hurt him, but why should I give a damn? He landed me in a hospital bed. And does that mean anything to him? “In a few hours. She doesn’t really know how long yet. She’s still coming back.” He swallowed hard again.
“From where? Where did she go?” he raised a brow then walked a little closer. “Where did she go?” I repeated. He had a puzzled look, much more suited for Will’s face. “You really don’t remember anything do you?” he asked. My eyes fell from frustration and when I didn’t answer he turned to leave. “Raleigh.” He called over his shoulder. Raleigh? I must’ve been out for a while then.
Will cracked the door so I could unintentionally hear the annoyingly irritating voice of Josie. My guess was that he hadn’t expected her to be right there at my door practically stalking him and giving him the third degree on why he was taking so long and what we had talked about.
Will seemed tired, exhausted in a very unpopular tone for his personality, and for a minute, I was concerned. But I had to admit that I was still very angry. But even I, with all my anger and frustration geared towards him, would not wish the special Josie’s third degree on him or anyone else for that matter.
And I could tell in the tone of voice in which he spoke after Josie hissed and sneered unintellidgable things to him that something in Will was withdrawing and pulling back. I didn’t have a clue on what it was, but when he said, “Josie, please not now. Don’t do this now.” And I heard his heavy feet sulk away I knew then that Will was withdrawing.
It could have been Josie, his mother, possibly me, but at that point in time it just seemed he was taken aback by life in general. But Josie’s pittery-pattery footsteps going after him made me angry. But sharp and steering pains in my head made me dizzy. I could give in to either one I wished.
I chose the pains. I wanted Will to come back, to tell him I was sorry for how I talked to him, maybe even tell him why I was mad, due to the subtle detail that he could have just believed I was that delirious from the fall just in case I was too far outside the lines.
Unlikely, but it was a good alibi and quite the truth. I, even then, didn’t know if I was in my own right mind. So I laid my head back down and pretended to believe that everything was normal. I was a very good liar.
Fluttering my eyes open was much easier and much more dramatic the second time. It felt like one of those moments in a movie when one of the main characters woke up from a deep sleep or whatever and the totally gorgeous and totally and completely not platonic hero was sitting next to her.
But not in my case. There were two very large problems with that horrifyingly wrong scene which both happened to engage with the hero. A. the totally gorgeous and totally and completely not platonic hero was totally and completely platonic, and B. the totally gorgeous and totally and completely not platonic hero was so MIA.
So I yawned drastically and looked at the wall clock. An hour and a half. That was all I slept. I lifted my fingers that still had dirt caked under my nails and I smelled like dirty horse. So not what my scene was planned to look like. There was no TV in the room so I couldn’t entertain myself.
And forget books, there probably wasn’t a half decent novel within miles from here. So I laid there dozing in and out until I heard a soft knock on my door. Expecting Will I opened my mouth to naturally say something more but ‘The She’ walked in.
I hated Will’s mother with a passion if I hadn’t mentioned before. “Dear, I heard what happened. You and Demi don’t mix well. I can’t say that I’m not surprised. It’s my fault I suppose,” she paced back and forth slowly. “I should have never trusted you, a girl my son’s age, with one of my best horses.
I guess I’ll be handing him over to your aunt, both of them. That’s all I came here to say. Give you the news. Here is your last paycheck.” She turned to leave but stopped. “Oh, remember dear,” she glared at me harshly with wide eyes before looking me up and down.
“Always smile. It might just make you a little attractive.” She placed it on the table ignoring my outreached hand and walked out slamming the door undeniably hard behind her. “Well,” I made a face before taking the check off the table. “Only fifty. Nasty witch chipped my paycheck.” I muttered quietly but was struck with a sudden wave of nausea sending me back under the covers.
Where did that come from? Two seconds, it seemed, after Mrs. Cooper left, Josie seemed to barge right into my room. “I can’t believe you.” her nasal tone she only used when she wanted to be a bitch to me made me want to ring her neck. But for the sake of Will I kept my hands folded in my lap. “Why is that?” my voice oddly sounded like I swallowed a whole box of chalk.
“Because you’re a stress catalyst. I mean you should see what you’re doing to my boyfriend. He’s stressing over you because he feels responsible for something you did. And all the while, you’re just laying here doing nothing. And quite frankly I don’t want you near him.
It’s a good thing she fired you from riding Demi and Dutch. If she didn’t I don’t know what I would have done.” A stress catalyst? What kind of sick terms did she work up in her head anyway? “So that’s it. Have fun doing nothing for the rest of the summer.” She stormed out with a sick crinkle in her nose that gave me shivers. And right behind her was Will.
He said nothing as he quite purposefully brushed past her without a word. I felt a smile trying to push past my lips as I saw Josie’s face quite clearly saying, ‘What the hell, you’re making me look bad.’ And behind him was a nurse with beady eyes like a crow.
“I don’t think she needs anymore visitors. In and out like she’s some kind of celebrity. Enough.” I stifled a laugh imagining her pecking at Will like a crow. He glanced at me quickly then back at the beady eyed woman half his height. “No, people just care, that’s all.” He looked at me sadly as if he realized what he’d said. “Well I care anyway.” He didn’t look at me, just his feet then the little crow woman.
“Right. Well, last visit, I will be here in fifteen minutes and if you’re not gone there will be trouble.” She poked a meaty finger at him and walked out. “I’m sorry about everyone.” He bit his lip before walking over and sitting in the chair rubbing his face. Then he eyed the check in my hand and ripped it from me. I tried to do something about it but it was like my whole body paralyzed itself.
Oh, well. “What’s this? It’s not the end of the month yet.” I took it out of his hand. “Nothing. Just extra. A bonus to pay for the hospital and meds and stuff.” He laughed. “I don’t believe that.” his golden hair was making my mouth water. Or maybe it was the nagging headache.
“It’s…it’s my final paycheck, Will.” He opened his eyes widely. But his tone was surprisingly, deadly low when he growled. “What?” he swallowed hard like he did when he was nervous. “I’d apologize but that wouldn’t do anything. I know what all of this means to you.” he whispered.
I think I stopped breathing at that point. “What? What do you mean?” I leaned back and in a mimic swallowed. “I know that you wanted to go back home. I…I didn’t, like, find out on purpose or anything, I heard you and Lex talking in the barn.” He grimaced when he said Lex’s name.
I remembered how he joked about his name really being Alexander and why they couldn’t just call him Alex. “Why?” I surprised myself when I asked. “Why what?” he shook his head. “Why do you hate Lex so much? You know that he’s important to me so why do you hate him so much?” I loved Lex.
But I wasn’t so sure it was the right way. I was starting to understand that. Well, come to terms with it anyway. I wanted to love Lex that way. But wanting to and actually feeling that way was completely different, I had come to realize. I leaned back and wiped my forehead. I was sweating. My head was pounding. My body was aching. My heart seemed to slow.
I wasn’t listening to Will, though he didn’t seem to be saying anything. “I don’t think that he is the right guy for you. He just isn’t you Annie.” But he looked at me with full remorse and whispered nothing else but, “You’re so pale.” I tried listening.
“You scared me, you know.” He reached out and petted my hair. This scared me. He had never really touched me on purpose in a caressing way. But I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out and I was shivering so that brought my attention away from his kindness just slightly.
“You look like you’re getting worse.” He muttered and I felt his hand get a little tense on my head. He started to stand but I caught his wrist in a death grip and he sat again. I let go and he wiped it. “Real sweaty too. Please let me go get the nurse.” I shook my head.
“T…ten min…minutes…s” he unclenched my death grip again and peaked outside the door. Slight murmuring and he came back in and sat down. ‘Crow eyes’ was right behind him and she came over to me and put the back of her hand on my forehead.
“Yep. I think it’s a reaction to the medication. Normal to shake and feel sick and get sweaty like you have the flu. I’ll give her sleep pills. Won’t put her into a coma but she’ll go to sleep. That’s for sure.” I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see what she was doing.
But they opened and shot up at Will with an unnatural severity. “You…didn’t…call…Lex. Did you?” there was a long pause of silence before he sat next to me and grabbed my sweaty palms. I jerked them away as he started to say, “Annie,” I shook and he laid a hand on me I couldn’t shake off. “I didn’t think about it. Do you want me to call him?” it was like all his hope for something I didn’t even know about was pending on my answer.
“Yes.” I whispered. His eyes fell and he pulled out his phone.
Lex rushed in my room and when he saw me he stopped for a second aware that I was hurt and slowly walked to me. He wrapped his arms around my body slowly cradling me and I looked over his shoulder at Will. He wasn’t looking at us he was looking at his feet with his hands in his pockets.
He kicked a scuff in the floor with the toe of his shoe and walked away from it creating another one until there was a perfectly straight line of ‘Will scuffs’.”How did this happen, baby? Oh, wow, your forehead is a mess.” Lex whispered softly to me when he let go.
His pretty blue eyes made me sad but so comfortable. I felt right. Just not…just not perfect. And once you’ve felt perfect can you really go back to just feeling right or comfortable? “I don’t know. I just fell I guess. But that’s okay. I’m fine. But I won’t be awake for much longer. She’s giving me sleep pills.” I pointed to crow eyes and swallowed hard.
He curled his lip at the bridge of where they met and shrugged. “That’s okay. Marie is in Raleigh right? Does she know? Should I call her?” he looked at me with sincerity and his large arms were definitely my focal point at that moment. “How stupid do you think I am Lex? Of course I called Marie. I’m capable of taking care of her I got her here didn’t I?” Lex stared at him for a moment. I stared. I didn’t even know Will was listening.
But his jaw clenched tightly. “I didn’t mean it that way.” He lowered his voice. Will didn’t say anything he just raised a brow and looked back down. “Lex, could you go call Mike? Just to make sure. And maybe you should go get something to eat. You just came from work, I see, and I know you don’t always get a chance to eat.” I rubbed his arm slowly back and forth.
He eyed Will for a moment, then me and kissed me before walking out. As soon as he shut the door Will looked up because he knew I was going to rail him. “What was that? At least I’m not like that to Josie’s face.” Oh, crap. Crappity, crappity, crap. He smiled wildly.
“What did you just say?” he asked me slowly; inching closer but very slowly. “Leave, I’m tired.” I curled under the covers and he laughed at me. “No, no, what did you say?” he took the seat next to the bed. “I hate your girlfriend. But I am totally professional and nice to her face. How’s that?” his face went a little softer. “Annie,” I shivered and turned the other way.
He put a large hand on me and he didn’t say anything. He just sat there. And I slept there, his hand on me, with tears slowly streaming down my face.
I couldn’t believe a word Annie had just said to me. Then again, I couldn’t believe any of this. I was in love with Annie Donavon. I was never going to deny myself that again. But every night I was calling Josie Arrington saying I loved her. To be honest, Annie ripped every feeling I ever had for Josie right out of my heart, dumped them in the trash, and replaced them with better ones. I shook my head. I couldn’t do this to Annie, to myself.
Her breathing was heavy and low. She was hot to the touch and when I gently wiped her hair from her face, I discovered tears slowly falling down her cheeks. Annie wasn’t really crying over me was she? I placed my hand in hers just to see what it felt like.
She squeezed it even though she was out like a light. And that sense of perfect had me right back where I started. Just Annie was like saying, ‘just heaven’. I wanted nothing else. Did Josie mean anything to me other than good times? I didn’t seem to think so at that moment.
Because her occasionally squeezing my hand and I squeezing right back made me feel like heaven. My breath kept catching in my throat. Annie was doing this to me, I knew that for sure. And I liked it. I needed to tell her. I decided on it. So, why not practice when she’s dead asleep? “Annie, Annie, Annie.” I tried it out. I really loved the sound of my voice saying her name.
“Annie Pretzel.” I whispered smiling. “You make my head spin, you know that? You’re so pretty though.” I sighed stroking the soft baby hairs at her hair line, then the edges of her eyelids. Her long lashes were content as her heavy silent breathes lifted her chest just barely.
“You’re asleep and I can still barely tell you how I feel. There’s no better way to do this then just to say it, right? You can’t answer, I know. I love you, Annie, I do. Something in me won’t let me deny you of that. Not anymore. I think I’ve always loved you. Ever since I met you. Man, I really wish you just heard that.” I rubbed my face, bit my lip, and slid my hand into hers like I’d been doing it my whole entire life. It made me smile.
“So pretty, Annie, so pretty.” She sighed and I stifled a laugh. It was almost like she was talking to me but she wasn’t actually saying to me and she wasn’t even awake. “Why Lex, Annie? I don’t…I don’t get it. Is he just that good to you? ‘Cause I promise I can be even better. I’ll do anything, Annie.” I laughed at myself in disbelief and rubbed my eyes.
“Pleading with a girl in a hospital bed. And she’s asleep. I am messed up. But am I this crazy Annie?” I asked still stroking her hair. “Maybe not.” I answered myself. Then a thought crept into my head: what would it be like to kiss Annie Donovan? I was close before, but never actually kissed. I tried to keep the idea out of my head, but every time it came back, and every time it was stronger. I gave up and leaned over her carefully switching her position.
I swallowed when my mouth was an inch from hers. I breathed one last time and pressed my lips against hers. You know how people say when you’re with the right person you see fireworks? Well this was even better. And that was, really, the only way to describe it. Too bad she wasn’t awake. I leaned back, stared at her limp body, and it all began to sink in.
I had just kissed Annie Donovan. Annie Donovan was not rich, she was not a Hills girl, she was not what my mother wanted, and she was not Josie. But Annie was hard-working, and genuine, and she was what I wanted, and she was definitely not Josie. Not anything like her. But I felt happy.
And that was worth something. Maybe my mother would understand why. I almost laughed aloud. She would never understand why. Not in a million years. Because even I, in an essence, did not understand. I mean, Annie must have hated me. Look what I did to her. And she’d been through a lot. She had no parents, she didn’t want to be in Landon, and she was just fired by my own mother. It was a job she needed and wanted.
I leaned back a little. I could take her back to Pennsylvania. But what would Lex have said? There again, I was thinking of Lex. I didn’t understand what she saw. I just saw a guy who was with her because she was pretty and fun. A guy with the girl I loved. And I hated him for that. She saw this amazing guy who was always there, I could be there to.
I could promise her everything, I was sure of that. So why couldn’t I tell her? My stomach growled, interrupting my thoughts. I stood, her hand still in mine, and told her, “Well I won’t do you any good sitting here hungry, will I?” I kissed her forehead, and before leaving I said, “I love you. I really, really do.” I wanted her to smile back and tell me she loved me to. To tell me she couldn’t find any reason as to why she was with Lex instead of me.
I walked down to the cafeteria. I avoided being near Lex who soon went upstairs. I grabbed a bottle of lemonade, a pre-made turkey sandwich, and some potato chips. I sat by myself in a corner beside the window. But soon, I realized there was no way I could eat. The sun beat down on my back. It felt good. It inspired me to have a little hope.
Thinking about Annie made me realize that I had never experienced true pain or loss. But until I met Annie true happiness was never a factor in my life. I had never realized just how important she was in my life. I rubbed my forehead. Love. Love was never a factor. I threw my uneaten lunch in the trash and ran upstairs to her room, but Josie stopped me in the doorway.
I tried to shrug her off but she didn’t seem to realize that I didn’t care anymore. “Over! Josie, I don’t want this anymore! I’m tired of playing with lust and risking my heart when I can have love.” She persistently shook her head. “I can give you love,”
“You can’t…you just…can’t.” I walked. For once I wasn’t the one left standing on the sidelines with a tingly burn in my fingertips. I wasn’t even numb. I was just yearning. Yearning for Annie.
I walked back into her room and looked at Lex who sat beside her. Oh, no. I forgot. He was still in the picture. He looked at me and hung his head. “I know you love her.” my heart beat quickly. He knew? How did he possibly know? “I,” my eyes were wide and my voice broke.
“But I also know she loves you back.” I shook my head plainly. She wasn’t, she didn’t. “No, I don’t think,”
“She does, yes, she does. I’m going to tell her it’s over when she comes home. Just please don’t say anything today. Just hold her close and she’ll know. And,” he stood and put a hand on my shoulder, “Treat her right.” And he walked out; he left me standing there in awe.
What a man he was to let go of her for her own benefit when he clearly cared. Wow. I wish I could be something close to that. I sat down and watched her sleep. But it wasn’t long until she stirred. “Hey,” she yawned and rubbed her eyes open. “Hey, Annie.” She knew. Damn it, she knew. “What’s wrong?” she grabbed me lightly by the wrist and I surprised myself by not shaking her off or grabbing her back. I just sat there stone cold.
“Nothing, I’m just tired, that’s all. It’s been a long day.” She frowned deeply. “Well, then you should go sleep. Don’t let me keep you.” I smiled weakly. “No, I want to be here, you scared the hell out of me so I think I should be here. It’s my fault anyway, Ann, you know that as well as I do.” She didn’t say anything to that. She just shrugged.
“Well, sleep here at least. The bed or the chair?” I was surprised at her offer. She wasn’t tired, I knew that, I could tell by her bright eyes. “I’m not going to take up your space the chair is fine. But how do you feel?” she sighed and cracked her wrist to which I replied with gently pressing her hands back down on her stomach. “I don’t really want to talk about that.” I raised a brow and reached over her to grab the check off the table and put it in my pocket.
“Hey, I need that.” I raised a brow. “We’ll talk about that.” she raised a brow then and it got my stomach to flutter a little too much. “But I need to know how you feel.” She considered that a moment. “If I tell you will I get my check back?” I shrugged. “Sure, why not?” she looked at her finger nails. “I feel okay. I’m not tired anymore, and I want to go home.” I bit my lip and swallowed.
“I’m sure. But you need to be here another night so they can monitor your concussion. What if it had been more serious, Annie? What if you had broken more bones than a few ribs? What if,” she stopped me. “You are such a worrier, aren’t you?” she giggled and sighed. “I know that, I know. But you know me; I don’t worry about these things.” I did know her. I knew her well.
“Yes, that’s true. Ann, just understand that we could have lost you. That’s what scares me the most.” She grabbed my hand and patted it continuously as if she could make my concern go away. But somehow I felt she knew. She knew how I felt, she knew what was going to happen with Lex. “I could’ve lost you riding here in the ambulance, but I didn’t. I could lose Marie as she drives down here from Raleigh with Scott. Of all people, don’t you think I know that?” I bit my lip. Of course she did.
“Annie, I know. I’m so sorry. But I’m ignorant of those things. I don’t get it.” She smiled slightly. “And I’m never going to ask that of you. Just that you accept it.” I nodded. “What else is wrong?” she asked me. I was surprised. I had told her nothing of my family troubles. “I broke up with Josie. My dad dumped my mom.” Again, a surprise. “Oh.” She watched me a moment.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I bit my lip. “Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to be, but hey, life is a picnic, huh?” she grabbed me into a hug. There was still a hint of her perfume and I swept it up. “Thank you.” I whispered. She nodded and laid back down grasping her ribs. “Baby, are you alright?” I asked without thinking. Damn, I blew it. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Did she notice? I guess she didn’t. Wow, that was close. I slept after that. I was in my happy place. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
Okay, I loved when he called me baby. I loved how concerned he was. I loved it all. I watched him sleep the rest of the day and then I slept that night. Marie was there once I woke up, Scott to, and it was announced that I was able to go home. I asked that Lex take me. He had been acting sort of weird.
He was pretty quiet while we drove so I tried my best to make conversation. “So, when do you think I’ll be able to get back on?” he breathed deep. “Few weeks.” Was all he said. I let another minute pass. “Do you think I’ll be okay? Will I be as good as I was when I fell?”
“Sure.” That was like a slap in the face. Really? What did I do so wrong? I looked down and took a small breath. Was everything over? What would I be left with? So, yeah, Will broke up with Josie, but who knew? I was so afraid of him leaving me, Lex. We were quiet and he pulled into my driveway. I grabbed my bag of things and waited a moment to see if he’d get out but he didn’t. I turned his face so he could kiss me and just as I leaned in he turned his face so I kissed his cheek instead.
I almost cried. Why was he torturing me like this? “Annie, we can’t do this anymore.” I bit my lip and sat back in the seat. “Excuse me? What do you mean?” he swallowed and pressed his fingers to his temples. “You know exactly what I mean. You and I cannot be together.” I gasped and looked out the window.
“I can’t be in a relationship with you. You are too in love with Will. And he loves you. Annie, I can’t be your boyfriend.” I was crying. “You can be anything you want. You can be my boyfriend Lex, you can be anything you want to be, I,” he held up a hand. “Okay. I don’t want to be your boyfriend, Annie.” I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Why? Why didn’t he want to be with me?
“Fine, dammit, have a nice life.” Was all I could say as I slammed the door shut. I slammed that door so hard I used all my strength, that when I walked inside I felt dizzy and had to sit down. I guess my accident did really take something from me. I was suddenly tired, that added to confused, which multiplied with anger, divided by hurt, and at the end it all came back down to being tired.
I drug myself up the stairs and crashed on my bed. I could barely think. Marie was with Scott, I didn’t feel like calling Mara or Will, and…Mike? “Mike!” I yelled, suddenly too tired to even move. He walked into my room slowly, as if scared to be near me.
He sat on the edge of my bed and placed his hand on my leg. “Are you alright?” he looked genuinely concerned for once. I sighed. “When is Marie going to be home?” he bit his lip. “About an hour. I think she’s grocery shopping, why?” I shrugged heavily. “I don’t know, just wondering. Why am I tired?” I had my eyes closed then.
“Just a symptom from your concussion. The doctor said,” he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. “You can experience the following symptoms for days, weeks, or even longer: headache or feeling of pressure in the head, temporary loss of consciousness, had that, confusion or feelings as if in a fog, amnesia surrounding the traumatic event, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech, and fatigue.” I looked at him a moment.
“Yeah?” he nodded. “Also, longer lasting effects are: concentration and memory complaints, irritability or other personality changes, sensitivity to light and noises, sleep disturbance, psychological adjustment problems and depression, and disorders of taste and smell…” I shook my head. “That’s kind of scary.” He put up a finger. “For athletes,” he poked me.
“You should not start to involve in intense activity while any symptoms are present. Your doctor recommends that you should not return to hard activity at all for at least a week, and no hard-core riding for three.” I swallowed. “That’s dumb,”
“It’s for your best interest.” I nodded. “Rest, alright? I know you’re tired. What are you feeling?” I remembered Will asking me that and my heart ached just a little. “I feel dumb because I’m sure I could have prevented this. I feel scared that I can’t even remember it. I feel broken because Lex doesn’t want me,” my voice started to crack and my eyes watered, “And my head is pulsating and it feels like it’s going to burst from my skull, and,”
“Shh…just be quiet. I’ll get you Advil and some water. Okay?” I nodded and stretched my neck to be more comfortable. I took my Advil and slept a little bit, but too much was bothering me. Mike moved me to the couch so he could see me better and he thought that maybe a change in where I was sleeping would help. I couldn’t help but notice his concern.
“Why are you doing all this?” I asked finally as he sat next to me. “Because you’re my sister. Look, Annie, I have been a total jerk the past few years, and I have no excuse. After,” he took a long deep breath and looked at me. “After mom and dad died, something inside me felt like it just died. And I didn’t know what to do, how to feel, or how to react. I was lost, and I took it out on you and Marie. It wasn’t right of me to do that, and I’m sorry. When I found out you were hurt, I realized that I couldn’t deal with losing another person that I loved. And that no matter what I was going to be there for you because next time I might not get another chance to say that I’m sorry.”
Was that really my brother? I went up to hug him but went back down clutching my chest. He smiled and waved me off. “Lay down.” I was thankful. Thankful that someone really did care. Maybe it wasn’t Lex or Will or anyone else. But I was glad to have little Mikey back.
“Marie!” I yelled from the top of the stairs. She walked out from the kitchen wiping her hands, looking frustrated. “Annie, what now?” I grimaced horribly. The past two days had been hell. I felt like hell, I looked like hell, and the whole entire world seemed to be eating my cranky self alive.
“Where is the Advil? It seems like no one can put anything back so now I can’t take any, my head is pounding, and,” she held up a hand and closed her eyes. She almost looked like she was shaking. “You are giving everyone their own headache, please,”
“No! No one even understands how I feel; I can’t talk to anyone in this house! It’s,”
“Fine! Stop talking, Annie. I’m calling Will. He needs to get you out of this house.” I glared furiously and went to my room. I called, “I still need Advil!” I heard her groan. I picked up the house phone to listen to what she was saying. “Will, spare me, please, spare me!” There was a shuffling sound on the other end before he said, “What do you mean?” she groaned.
“Annie has been locked up in the house for three days now and she needs to get out. She’s driving us all insane. I know you visit a lot but she needs to get out. Could you possibly figure out a way to get her out without a whole lot of physical activity?” she seemed to be on her last thread but I was angry and I wasn’t really thinking about anybody but myself at the moment.
“Yeah. I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll do something.”I hung up the phone and put on a pair of cut-offs and a blue flowing tank top. I grabbed a pair of sunglasses and ran my fingers through my hair. I walked outside and Will walked up to me on the porch and kissed my cheek. “You look better.” I walked down to his car.
“Take me to CVS I need Advil.” Okay, normally I would have totally been gushy and milk chocolate-y warm, but I was just completely ready to kill someone. “My girl.” I heard him mutter and he got in the truck. “No offense Ann, but the way you are acting and the way you are wearing those sunglasses, you look hung over.” I scowled and he laughed at me.
“Drive faster.” I muttered with my arms crossed. “How do you actually feel? Besides the need for Advil.” I sighed deeply. “You ask that a lot.” Somehow I got the feeling he really didn’t just mean my concussion. He nodded. “I know.” He added quietly. “I know. But I care, that’s all.” And he didn’t ask anymore. He just walked me into CVS.
“Take off the sunglasses.” He whispered in my ear and I felt the hair stand on the nape of my neck. “No, I look bad.” He squeezed my arm. “So? Take them off.” I shook my head and walked away from him. “People are going to be suspicious.” He told me. I shrugged. “I don’t really care what people think. I’m tired of caring, Will.” Something seemed different with us.
Like the world had been lifted off of our shoulders and we were left with only the memories of what we were and had no hope of ever knowing of what we’d become. And all of that made me feel surprisingly empty, hollow, like I had no care that it would all end soon. Just a sense inside me told me something was going to end. I just didn’t know what.
He picked up a bottle of Advil and a water bottle and walked over to the checkout counter. He drug me along with him, and much to my dismay, took my sunglasses off of my eyes and planted them on my head. “It looks like it’s going to rain, you don’t need them anyway.” I raised a brow. The lady at the checkout counter seemed nice enough, a little too quiet, but not rude.
But then she said, “You know, you two are the cutest couple.” I looked at Will and he looked at me. “Thanks.” I surprised myself by saying that. “How long have you been together?” she asked. Will took out his credit card. “Two years.” I almost choked on the water. “We met at school.” I nodded in agreement. “The world needs more couples like you guys.” She smiled and we walked off. “Two years?” I shrieked after swallowing two pills.
“You’re the one who said we were together.” He pointed out. “So I said two years because that’s how long the both of us have been in Landon. It seemed nice enough.” I smiled and got in the car, feeling tired already. “Go park your car a block from your house.” I told him. He raised a brow and started the engine. “Why?”
“You said no one was at your place, right? I can walk that far. I want to walk. Go.” And he didn’t ask questions. He just…he made things so much better when he didn’t ask. I felt like we could just tell each other things and not be so focused on what if. He drove and parked the car a block from his house. We started to walk, but sure enough, the heavens parted and the rain came down. “Annie, come on,”
“No.” I pulled him back. “I’m not done.” He looked at me funny. “Listen,” he told me. And I did. For the first time in forever, it all came out.
“I know Lex told me not to say anything, but,” she shook her head. “Does it really matter what Lex thinks?” I looked at her oddly. “Why wouldn’t it?” she shrugged and crossed her arms. The rain poured harder. “So, your saying what your boyfriend thinks doesn’t count?” she rolled her eyes. “Not if he’s wrong.” I withdrew. Suddenly I just didn’t know her.
“How do you know he’s wrong?”
“Because I’m right.”
“You don’t even know what anything is about!” I raised my voice. “So that gives you authority to yell at me?” she screamed. Suddenly everything was happening really fast. “It’s like I don’t know you anymore.” I shook my head and my eyes stung. “I hate you when you’re like this!” she shrieked and pointed at me. I threw my hands in the air.
“Hate? You know, my mom told my dad she hated him and look what happened!”
“Don’t be so hung up, at least you have parents! I’m sitting here with my aunt and brother because my parents left me, my parents abandoned me!”
“Your parents died! They couldn’t have done anything about that!”
“They could have helped me! They could have made an actual plan, but they didn’t!”
“You know, I thought I loved you,”
“I do love you, dammit! I loved you for a hell of a long time!”
“You love me? You don’t know the first thing about love.”
“And you do? Look what happened to your girlfriend you said you loved,”
“At least I wasn’t with her when I knew I loved you,”
“Well, guess what? Lex dumped me because he said he didn’t want me. So, yeah, that’s why he doesn’t matter. Have a nice life, Will, don’t call me.” She started to walk.
“Annie?” I called and the rain poured harder and harder on our heads and it drew at my lips. My clothes were soaked right through, but I just didn’t give a damn because Annie was in front of me with mascara streaming down her face, rain dripping from her hair and nose masking all of her tears, mine to.
“Yeah?” I couldn’t believe she still wanted me. But I accepted her heart that day, and no matter what I knew for sure I was never going to give it back or let it slip from me. And I knew I had to give her mine in return. So I gave it up right then.
I leaned in with my fingers slipping from the side of her jaw and I kissed her with all my passion, all my love, all my might, all my hunger, and sure enough, all my heart. And she kissed me back with just the same. I couldn’t explain what it felt like and I still can’t today.
She had this prickly alive feeling in her lips and it gave mine an electric charge making me want to kiss her that much more. I can’t say that it was a movie worthy moment simply because it was beyond all that. I realized then I didn’t need those movies, I didn’t need the books, or to watch everyone else on the street corner. Because I really had it. I had it all.
There were no combinations of words to wrap it all up; to make it explanatory. I pressed my forehead deeply against hers and looked into those eyes, once so unsure, so sad, so doubtful. Now so easy breezy, so hungry, so devout, so happy. That was my girl.
“Dude, no.” I turned to find Paul tugging at my shoulder. “What are you talking about, man?” I pulled away reluctantly from Annie. He stared at her with lasers shooting from his eyes. “Go home and wait for me there,” I whispered close to her face. She nodded and ran off and into the dry. Paul had clearly been running, not spying on me, but he was furious.
“What are you doing?” I widened my eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m with Annie.” He shook his hair out in an attempt to lighten the weight. “Dude, why? That girl isn’t worth it. She isn’t…she doesn’t belong, Will. You can’t expect to bring in a norm who works for all of us and be Lex Grey and have her fit in. It doesn’t work like that.” I was off the wall then.
“Who gives a damn, Paul? I love that girl! So what if she’s normal? Sure as hell I don’t care!” he placed his hands on the back of his neck. “It doesn’t work like that man! She isn’t going to just make everything better for you! Just because your dad is dumping your mom on the street and because Josie isn’t who you thought, doesn’t mean you can drag that norm into this! It wouldn’t be fair to either of you. You’re swimming in dangerous water and playing on a deadly field. Just save yourself the trouble.” I have to admit, I lost it then.
I punched him in the jaw and he fell to the ground. He deserved it. He made an ankle low blow and I wasn’t going to stand for that. He punched me back pretty damn hard. Before I knew it we had our foreheads pressed up against one another’s and we were squaring off. It was all a blur really. I just remember walking into my house with my lip gashed open, an already blackening eye, and a scrape from the gravel on my forehead.
She didn’t ask, she just knew. And I could have given her anything for being there. She didn’t let me touch her because she knew I would get carried away from anger and do something stupid, but she did sit with me while I iced my lip. And then I laid down on my cottony comforter and she laid next to me, lightly stroking my face.
And that was all the comfort I needed for that moment. That was all and I was going to be okay. But there was one question I couldn’t keep from asking myself. What happened to the easy times when it was okay when Annie and I could hang out care-free and listen to the radio, and sing and dance, and be…happy? I knew what I needed to do.
We needed to go to a place where people didn’t know me. Where it was okay for us to be who we were. Pennsylvania. That’s where she wanted to go. But that night I was just going to rest. I was going to just be. I was getting better at that every day. Time and time again, it would be Annie that taught me something. She taught me how to be.
I woke up aching incredibly with Annie next to me. She was asleep on my bed, her hair out of its pony tail, her stained makeup still smudged across her face. I wanted to move to get a paper towel to clean it off, or to just go near her, but my body hurt so bad I didn’t end up moving. So I just listened to the silence. Her inhale was sort of shallow which concerned me and her exhale was sort of short; it seemed a little breathy.
I listened a while longer and it didn’t change so I thought that maybe it was just from her cracked ribs, so I listened even longer. Perhaps it was the fact that I never listened to her breath before. When she moved, even if it was just to switch a position, her breathing got so short it sounded like she was choking. At that point, I let her go a while longer, but every time I got a little closer to her.
And then, when she went to turn over to her side she started coughing. It was like her body transferred into a distress mode and she curled up into a fetal position, heaving, shaking, trying to catch her breath, but she was still completely asleep. I shook her; I grasped her shoulders and full on jerked her body out of its convulsions, almost.
She was gasping hard for air when her eyes opened. I stroked her forehead; the line of her hair was damp with perspiration. “Hey, what’s wrong? Did you have a bad dream or something?” I was hoping that’s what it was. She shook her head looking dazed, still gasping for air. “No, I wasn’t dreaming…” she said all breathy. “Really? Did you just not remember?” she leaned back down and shook her head.
“No, no, I swear, I wasn’t dreaming.” She closed her eyes and swallowed. “Okay, okay. Is it your chest, your ribs? Does it hurt?” she held her hand against her upper chest underneath her chin, pressed against her heart. “Yeah, no more than usual, but I can’t breathe all that well.” She swallowed and breathed aloud, clutching my hand, the both of us trying to make sense of it. “Your throat, your voice sounds funny. Does your throat hurt?” she cleared it and nodded.
“Fever?” I muttered aloud and pressed the back of my other hand to her forehead. “Maybe you should swing by the doctor this morning. I’ll take you to get fresh clothes and then we’ll go, okay? Are you hungry?” she shook her head and turned over, our hands still intertwined and I felt like she was pulling me down against her.
“Don’t worry, baby, you’ll be okay.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “I’ll change.” I told her and she reluctantly released my hand for the time being. I put on a pair of shorts, dirty, and a t-shirt I found on my bathroom floor, which didn’t smell too bad, but I could’ve been wrong. I slid on my basketball shoes and walked over to get Annie but she was asleep again.
“Hey, wake up.” I kissed the side of her head. She groaned. “No, come on.” I stood back up. She held out her arms. “Carry me, I’m way too tired.” Though this concerned me I gave a nervous laugh. “So, you think finding out that I love you means you can just take advantage of me like this?” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Well, yeah.” She said in her most straight face. I shrugged. “Okay.” She giggled as I swooped her up all romantic, momentarily forgetting that something was wrong. “Let’s go, girl.” I watched a flicker in her eye. “What?” I asked, once again a concern deep in my gut the size of Texas.
“Nothing, just that Lex used to say that…all the time.” I moaned and sat her on the counter. “Sure you’re not hungry?” she nodded. “No, I’m good. Not in the mood to eat right now, thanks.” I nodded and poured myself my orange juice and pulled out a pop tart. I sat down and started unwrapping it when I realized the promise I had made myself. Lots of pulp, and artificial vanilla.
I broke my pop tart in half and made a face at my juice. That glass was full of straight up liquid and nothingness. I had a life of nothingness. I had changed so much already, why couldn’t I change this? “What?” Annie. There was something in her voice every time she talked that made me want to hold her, kiss her, do anything. But something in her voice had an effect on me.
“Nothing.” I told her sadly with a frown, focusing hard on that ugly strawberry pop tart. “I just…eat these too much. I want a change, that’s all.” I cradled her cheek in my right hand and she frowned back. “Don’t be so distressed. Have…toast or something.” I shrugged. “No. I don’t want to eat.” She looked at me a moment with an emotion in her eye I couldn’t ignore.
“Will, sweetie,” I shook my head and pecked her cheek. “It’s not like that, Ann, really.” I picked her back up off the counter. “Okay, Pretzel, come on.” She laughed weakly and sighed, collapsing into my arms, all energy visibly draining quicker than it ever should.
“You holding up?” I asked as she curled up in the passenger seat of my dad’s gray Mercedes Benz, his work car which I wasn’t really supposed to use, but I didn’t want to put her in the truck. “Mmm…” was all that she responded with, making me just a little bit more concerned. I drove her back to her house, the radio playing softly in the background, my hand clutched against her chest.
“Oh no!” her head shot up with a spark in energy but she laid back down. “What?” I asked a little bewildered by the sudden disturbance of the silence. “I spent the night at your house!” she croaked and squeezed my hand harder. “Marie is going to kill me!” I pulled into the driveway. “I’ll…handle it.” I assured her. I left the engine running with the AC on high for her and walked in to the kitchen. Marie jumped up and slapped me hard in the chest.
“Where has she been?” she shrieked, Scott coming to her side. “I’ve been up all night, calling, calling you, Annie, everyone!” I swallowed and tried my best to downplay all of it. “Right, well, her phone died, I lost mine, and I don’t know who else you called. But, we were hanging out and we fell asleep. We were playing…video games…and, yeah.” I ended quietly, trying not to wince. “Mhm.” She looked at me with cold eyes.
“Well,” I stopped her. “I need to get Annie by the doctor. So we’re here to get her a change of clothes.” She raised a brow. “Why is she sick? Is it her concussion?” I shook my head. “No, but it sounds like a cold and I want to make sure it’s not because of her ribs.” She nodded and grabbed her purse. “Well, let’s go Scott.” I put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her.
“Oh, no, it’s fine, I’ll take her.” she clenched her jaw. “No, I want her to actually come home this time.” I shook my head persistently. “I will make sure she does. I want to take her, Marie, I…” my voice faded. What was I doing? Here again, my feelings flooded out for Marie.
“I see.” She whispered barely audible. She nodded and took me into the other room. “I see.” She said again, her arms crossed over her slim chest. “But what about Lex? What about Josie? Will, I don’t blame you for dropping everything and going after what you want, but honey, people are involved.” I loved how much she cared for both Annie and I.
“Well, that’s the thing. I think it was kind of meant to happen.” I leaned into her so she could hear me more and I smelled that fresh scent I had noticed the first time we had really talked. “Lex stopped me in Annie’s room when she was in the hospital. Told me he knew Annie was in love me and I returned it. He wanted us to be together.
“He told me he would break up with her and go for it. I had just broken up with Josie before I came in because I told her we were just lust. I felt that.” she studied me hard and nodded, egging me on. “So Annie and I were fighting yesterday and…it happened, Marie, Lex was right.” She bit her lip and touched my cheek. “Alright, sweetheart, but I want you to be careful…both of you. I don’t want you hurt, Will, I love you both to death, I care.”
I was much taller than her, a full head at least and both of our arms crossed, she looked like a sister of mine. I grabbed her up in a big hug and rested my chin on the top of her head. She hugged me tightly and sighed. “I love you, Will, I do. Anytime, I’m here.” I took a deep breath and let go.
“I love you to, thanks.” She nodded and we walked back into the kitchen and I left with a nod from Scott and returned to the car to get Annie. I woke her up and walked her into the door. “We’re clear.” I whispered into her hair before going inside. Marie gave her a stern look but I drove it away with one of my sympathy pouts.
Annie lugged herself upstairs and I waited in the kitchen for her. I sat on the counter and drank a glass of milk Marie had handed me. “I want a cookie.” I thought aloud, staring at the plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. She raised a brow and looked up from her bill and over the rim of her glasses. “Then get off your butt. I’m not your maid, Will.” I made a face and hopped off the counter to grab a cookie. It was warm inside my mouth; chocolate oozed from the air pockets of the baked dough and it was like heaven in my mouth.
“You used Godiva, right?” I raised a brow suddenly realizing Godiva was the only chocolate I would eat, I refused anything else. She rolled her eyes plainly at me. “Of course. I can keep up with you better than you think…” she sang. I smiled and Scott looked at the both of us. “It’s like he’s your son, Marie.” He mused at the both of us. She shrugged and walked over to me and placed her hands on my cheeks.
“I’m everybody’s mommy!” she cooed in a sing song voice. “But I love my Will.” She kissed my cheek and I mockingly rubbed it off. She smacked my chest and then I realized I had been waiting for Annie to brush her teeth and put on a pair of sweats. “Should I go check on her?” I asked Marie as I threw away the paper cup. “Just to make sure she’s okay, yes, go do that.”
I ran up the stairs and knocked on her door. “Babe, by the time you’re out here the sick visit hours will be over.” But I didn’t get a response. All I heard was her shallow breathing and in between almost gasps. “Annie,” I cracked the door open and slid myself inside, clicking it shut behind me. “Hi.” I said sitting next to her. She had herself curled up on the bed and she was crying. I pulled her up onto my lap and sat back so I had my back against the head board, once again feeling privileged enough that she could cry in front of me.
“Talk, Ann. What’s this all about?” she took a moment to catch her breath before answering. “I don’t like doctors, I should have told you, but they really scare me. You know, when we had the car accident was when I started to hate them.” She grabbed my arm tightly and I held her close to my heart.
“We were driving here to visit Marie. Mike and I were screwing around in the back and my dad yelled at us to stop. And we didn’t. Next thing I knew our car flipped four times and I couldn’t see my mom. She was gone. She was ejected and died instantly. My dad died a day later. I remember seeing my daddy slumped over the steering wheel and there was blood all over my hands. All down my nose and I could barely see. Mikey was hurt to. I broke my leg. It hurt like hell. I passed out and I woke up on a stretcher. I started trying to scream and kick but they held me down. And it hurt because I didn’t know. They wouldn’t tell me about my parents. I couldn’t see Mike for two days. And then when I did see him I asked and he told me. I started to scream and kick and he held me down to. I had to go back to those doctors. I always feel like they could have done something for daddy, like they cheated me out of my father.”
She sniffed and I kissed her forehead and buried my face in her hair. How strong was my girl, really? Stronger than I ever knew. I had no idea how she did it. Annie was the strongest person I knew. And what else did I have to say other than I loved her and I was there? “And now I’m really scared, because I know something is wrong with me, something is really wrong, Will. I am really scared. I don’t want to be there at all, I don’t want to go.”
Big dilemma in her head. But she had to go. She was very sick. “I love you Annie.” I swallowed and nuzzled her cheek. “Why?” she coughed a little and I sat her upright just a little bit. “Because you’re strong, beautiful, intelligent, kind, funny, you’re Annie, baby, that’s why I love you. But you are sick and we need to get you to a doctor so they can help you.” her heart beat a little quicker. “Don’t be scared.” I told her, also trying to reassure myself.
I stood her up and she put on sweat pants over her shorts. “Alright?” I asked her solemnly and quietly. I was scared to freaking death, I didn’t know what I had to do to make her better, but I was going to do it. I felt like I owed her that much. We drove to the doctor in silence. She wasn’t sleeping anymore. She was struggling to stay awake and I knew her condition was serious because she was in sweats and a sweat shirt when it was ninety degrees.
We walked into the emergency care place and I gave Annie the keys and told her to go sit down while I took care of signing her in. “Don’t think about leaving.” I muttered in her ear. She only groaned and walked over to the chairs. The lady at the desk seemed nice enough; she had a good smile, genuine, and her hair was pulled up into a sleek tight pony tail in the back of her head.
“Yes, hi! How may I help you today, dear?” she must have been twenty five at the most; why the hell was she calling me dear? I sucked in a little bit of air. “Ugh, yeah, my girlfriend is sick and I need to get her to see someone because it seems like a respiratory thing and she cracked a few ribs in an accident four days ago.” She clasped her hand to her mouth.
“Oh, goodness! Well, here are the forms that need to be filled out; there’s an accident form, a general form, and…” she searched around her desk. “Has she been here before?” I turned around to Annie and nodded at her. “Ann, you been here before?” she groaned and I shook my head. “Nah.” She nodded slowly at me like Annie and I just didn’t belong in her little sterile world. Well, let me tell you what, I wasn’t in the mood.
I grabbed the papers and sulked off with a hard glare. “Annie, how tall are you?” she yawned and croaked, “Five three.” I smiled and wrote it down. “Being short isn’t a bad thing.” I loved the innocence and I held back a laugh; instead I leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “No, but it’s funny when your boyfriend is six one.” She giggled a little and it felt good to hear the smile in her voice. We shared that moment and then went back to the questions.
It felt so good to know that there would be so many more of those. “How much do you weigh?” when she sighed and turned the other way, I slipped my hand which I knew was cold down her back and she giggled. “One twenty!” she gasped. I nodded. “Date of birth…” I muttered and answered the questions I knew. Parental figures, legal stuff, the usual.
“Symptoms: loss of breath, cough, headache, chills, fatigue…” I looked at her. “That’s basically it. Oh, and a fever.” I nodded and circled it. “Okay. When did they start? Today?” she shook her head. “Two days ago.” I raised a brow. “Did you tell anyone?” she shrugged and shook her head nonchalantly. I rolled my eyes and wrote it down.
I squinted to read the letters, they shook when I focused because I forgot to put in my contacts. I hated them and I refused to wear glasses. My vision wasn’t really that bad and I told my mom I would get harassed at school, so she settled with contacts. “Have they gotten…worse, steady, or better?” I answered it myself and circled worse.
I also filled out the injury form for her and gave them back to that nurse. We sat for twenty minutes before the doctor called her in. We sat in that room for about a half an hour before a doctor actually came in to do anything, she was tall and thin; dark hair and big eyes. I swallowed as she said hello. “Annie, tell me what happened about a week ago. You had an accident?” she had the pen in her mouth and her hair fell slowly into her thin little packet of papers. “Ah,” Annie looked at me.
“I was riding a horse and I think he threw me,” her head shot up. “You think?” she nodded quickly. “That’s what I was told. My boyfriend was there.” She pointed at me. “Well, what happened?” the doctor turned to me.
“She was riding my horse that she’s training. He’s about sixteen three hands. And something spooked him and I heard her scream, so I ran to the arena and I saw her slumped over the fence. I called the ambulance; she had a concussion, and broke a few ribs. And then she came home and started getting tired quickly, she woke up with a cough and a fever, she started to get the chills, and really bad headaches. I didn’t think much of those at first because they were symptoms of her concussion. But then I woke up this morning and heard her breathing really shallow. So I just kept listening, thinking maybe it was me, but then she had like this cough attack and couldn’t catch her breath. So I woke her up and she had a cough, chills, and fever so I took her to make sure she doesn’t have pnemounia because of her ribs.” The doctor nodded slowly and bit her lip.
“Okay. Well, I’ll check this out. I mean, it could be just strep throat, so I’ll get a test for that. I want to check her heart, the whole breathing thing concerns me, and her temperature. How has your appetite been?” she turned to Annie. “Fine.” She said curtly. I shook my head. “No, you didn’t eat this morning or last night. Hardly at all, the past few days.” The doctor looked at the both of us and wrote it down.
“All right. I’ll get the test and the thermometer.” She smiled and left the room. “Annie be nice, geez.” I laugh a little and pulled out my phone. Five texts from Paul. “How does your face feel?” she asked me when she saw my reaction to all the texts.
‘I need to talk to you.’
‘We need to talk, Will.’
‘Dude, I’m being serious.’
‘She isn’t right for you. I’m sorry you have to hear that, but it’s true. Call.’
‘Get a grip.’
Who was this guy? He didn’t know anything. He didn’t know Annie; he didn’t know me, really. He knew the old me. But I was really different. “Hurts.” I said looking up with a sad smile. She tipped the edge of her mouth just slightly. The doctor came back with a long cotton swab and Annie’s eyes grew insanely wide. “What are you going to do with that?” she croaked.
The doctor noticed the fear in Annie’s eyes and she smiled warmly. “Well, I just need to swab your throat real quick.” She gasped a little. “Okay,” the doctor sat down and pulled up her chair and said, “Go ahead and open wide.” I was only listening, playing with my iphone.
“What if I don’t want to?” my head shot up and I watched Annie all defiant with her arms crossed and her lips pursed tightly. “Annie, behave.” I warned and she opened wide. I went back to reading all of my messages. I decided to reply to Paul.
‘I’m busy with my girlfriend, Paul. You need to understand that she’s different. I can’t change how you feel, but it’s the truth.’
I swallowed and looked at Annie who was suddenly white with her hands clasped tightly on her chair. “Breathe through your noise.” I chuckled and she glared at me with wide eyes. I don’t know how that’s possible but she did it. “All done!” the doctor said all cheery. I started to laugh as the doctor shut the door. I laughed even harder when Annie gagged a little.
“I hate her.” she said a little muffled. “Baby, don’t hate because she stuck…a cotton swab down your throat!” I laughed even harder. “If I had something to throw it’d be going at that black eye.”
I sighed slowly as the doctor came back in. “No strep. Let’s take a look at everything else.” She pulled up her chair and listened to her heart beat. “Fine, just fine. But it seems when you breathe it beats faster…” Annie ran her tongue along her teeth like she always did when she was nervous.
“Your lungs don’t sound very clear…that sounds like pnemounia to me. You’ll need x-rays to make sure it isn’t too bad. I don’t want you back in the hospital.” Annie’s eyes shot up at me. I shook my head and looked at the doctor. “Where does she get x-rays?” she held up a hand. “Here, I can do it here. I’ll bring her back to you in twenty minutes.” I nodded and looked at Annie.
I mouthed, “Don’t fight her.” she inhaled sharply but coughed. “That’s why I’m concerned.” I looked at the doctor then Annie again. “Be good, I love you.” she moaned and slapped me on the chest. It felt good just to say that so nonchalantly and not have to worry whether I mean it, or whether anyone heard it, or whether it was the right choice. I just loved her and that’s what mattered.
I waited more like forty minutes for her to come back. I didn’t get worried, just irritated. I didn’t like being alone so much in a place I’d never been before. So when I finally saw her I was relieved. Relieved because she was back, relieved because I was no longer alone, relieved because she made a gag face and some color had returned to her cheeks.
I pulled her into me and kissed the top of her head. “Just what I thought. Good thing we caught it! I will be writing her a prescription you can pick up at the front desk and that should be it. Lots of rest, fluids, and try to eat as much as you can.” She smiled crisply and walked off, her little heels clicking behind her. “I need to get out of here.”
Annie drug me to the front desk. But I trailed behind, laughing, enjoying myself and trying not to feel guilty for it. I drove her home, and of course, she slept on the way. I dropped off the prescription and kissed her and Marie goodbye as I walked out the front door. I was tired, hungry, and happy.
Lying in bed, thinking, smiling away, and, for the first time, being happy, I realized quite a few things. I had failed with my plan of doing absolutely nothing about being in love with my Will Cooper. I had realized that being in love was truly the best feeling I had ever had. But, just the same, being loved contributed to all that.
Of course by Will, he made everything absolutely amazing. I loved the way he loved me. Every single time he touched me that whole sensation was absolutely thrilling. When he kissed me it was like there was absolutely nothing in the world. Nothing but us mattered at that vital moment and I couldn’t have a care in the world.
But it was also everyone else around me. Mike was an amazing younger brother. He ended up coming through for me when no one else had. He eventually became my best ally in a way that a sibling should. When I needed a best friend the most he was right there by my side. It wasn’t Mara, Will, or even Lex like I ever thought it would be. It was Michael and that meant something to me. I had realized that he’d be the one walking me down the aisle, handing me off to whoever he felt was honest enough to love me right, and he would be my protector. He would do what my father no longer could.
And then, I wasn’t holding such a grudge against my parents for leaving me, for not being there. Will made me realize that there is a time and place for everyone and even if that time wasn’t expected or liked you can’t exactly change that. You can’t say it’s not a good time. It would never be a good time. And I lost my parents at fourteen years old for a reason. And I knew I wouldn’t learn of that reason for a very long time, but I wasn’t going to search for it. I wasn’t going to simply understand, either. I was just going to live with it, embrace it even; I would do whatever I had to do to live my life to the absolute fullest.
I learned that absolutely no matter what Mike and I got ourselves into we wouldn’t ever be abandoned by our Aunt Marie. Come hell or high water she was bailing our butts out of the mess we were in. Sure, she’d kill us herself later, but it was better she do it than anyone else. Marie knew something about the two of us that maybe we didn’t even know. She had taken on the mother role the best she could and I knew that no matter what I had Marie to account for. And that was a good, secure, solid feeling.
I was exhausted from learning so much, from being relieved of so much pressure, but I felt so content and so good that I couldn’t even sleep. I turned on my music extra low so that I had something in the background but it was otherwise quiet. I didn’t have the energy to toss or turn so I just laid there with my eyes closed and listened to every single word with an intent heart. And I knew that eventually I was going to drift into that sleep I was awaiting and I would wake up feeling completely new.
And I did. My heart was beating much slower, and although I had so much gunk in my throat I could barely speak, I was still happy. Will came over too, but we didn’t say too much because I’d go into a huge cough attack each time and that hurt more than anything. After three straight movies I turned off the TV and looked him straight in the eye. He was sprawled out on the couch, cargo shorts, an old t-shirt, and messed up hair.
His eyes didn’t look completely glossed over so I knew he hadn’t put in contacts that morning. He seemed a little hazy, tired, but happy, carefree, and completely clueless that anything else in the world was happening except the two of us at that moment. But overall, he looked happy. And I loved the way he was when he was happy. He was everything I wanted and more. I never expected for things to feel the way they did. But, hey, you can’t expect things like that to happen the way you plan. They have to happen on their own accord. And I was pretty much okay with that. “Hmm?” he pulled me up onto his chest and I rolled onto my side next to him.
“Didn’t say anything.” I squeaked. He laughed quietly to himself and I nudged his rib. He pulled me closer to him, and I leaned up against his chest but a sharp pain flooded through my whole side and I screeched. I sat up panting, breathing as deeply as I could. “Wow, whoa, are you okay?” he rubbed my back in a fast motion as if he was trying to make it all better for me.
“Mmm.” I breathed slowly, not deep, but slow. “Good. I just hit it…the wrong way…” he laid me flat next to him and breathed deeper than I could. “Are we okay now?” he asked petting my hair. I nodded and fell asleep for a little bit longer.
When I woke up again it was around dinner time I was guessing because I smelled something. It was hard, but I could smell it. I moaned and realized I wasn’t on Will anymore. I looked around the room and he wasn’t there so I walked into the kitchen to see him with Marie, helping her make dinner. “Hey.” He took a moment to kiss my forehead.
I sat at the kitchen table and rubbed my eyes. I was still tired in that sick sort of way but I couldn’t think of sleeping again for a while. I pulled my knees up to my chest and rocked slowly back and forth, letting my eyes close groggily then open again. “What are you making?” I choked quietly while drinking a chilled glass of water.
“Pasta. Just spaghetti, really. I needed something quick. Mike called at six and said he’d be home in a half an hour.” I slowly raised a tired brow and set my seemingly heavy glass down. “Where’d he go?” she shrugged. “He said a friend.” Will and I looked at each other smiling. She quickly whipped around and grabbed Will’s cheeks.
“What do you know?” he yanked away and went back to stirring the noodles. “No way. You are not wearing me down, Marie. I’m not telling.” She giggled and tugged on his shirt. “Come on, Will!” he laughed a little and pulled away. “Bug Annie, geez.” She glared and sat down across from me, a glass in hand. “Who’s your brother with?” I shrugged.
“Let him tell us when he’s ready Marie.” I advised wisely, making Will laugh under his breath, making my face strain so that it didn’t wrinkle and I didn’t scrunch up my nose and laugh. “Fine. Scotty is coming in ten.” She warned and ran up the stairs. Will turned off the burner and sat across from me. “Feel alright?” I threw my head in his direction and glared. “Fine, fine, I won’t ask.” I smiled and fingered the leather bracelet on his wrist.
“So, have you talked to Paul? Your mom?” he threw his head in my direction in a mockery. “Fine, I won’t ask.” I mimicked back and he laughed lightly. “Nah, not about you I haven’t talked to mom. Paul, definitely nothing.” I bit my lip and sighed. “I’m so sorry.” He looked up and waved me away. “About Paul? Don’t worry, he’s a jerk, always has been, and I’m sure he always will be. No worries.” I shook my head. “Not just Paul, your mom to; everything.” He inhaled sharply and took my hand and looked me in the eye.
“It wasn’t all about you, Annie. Something needed to change. You were a catalyst but you couldn’t have prevented that. You have nothing to worry about. It isn’t you. She’s mad at me more than anything else.” I shook my head persistently. “But it’s my fault things happened the way they did. It’s my fault she’s mad at you,”
“No. I told you. Something had to change.” His eyes got hazy and he swallowed. So I didn’t say anything more, I just rubbed his hand and breathed shallowly. “You scare me when you breathe like that.” he laughed slightly, nervously and shook his head.
“Take your medicine this morning?” I nodded slowly and eyed the bottle of liquid glue I was forced to take. He smiled warily and patted my hand. “A week left of it, that’s it.” I shrugged and sighed. “Still a week of torture. “Well, do you feel better than you did originally?” I nodded and rubbed my eyes. “Yeah, but still kind of crappy. But I’m getting over it.” He nodded and walked over to the fridge and pulled out a soda.
“Want one?” I shook my head no and walked over to the drawer with all the silverware to start setting the white table with the little green and blue flowers painted on the edges that looked like they threatened to dance away at any moment. “Get plates.” I told him and started setting out everything on the table. We were sitting there a while when Scott walked in and sat next to me. “You look the slightest bit better, huh?” he kissed my forehead.
“Ah…sometimes it seems that way.” He smiled tiredly at me and looked at Will. “How’s it going, man?” he shrugged. “Can’t complain.” Scott squinted his eyes just the slightest bit and he had a hint of a smile dancing on his lips. His deep brown moon shaped eyes sparkled and I knew his brain was conjuring up something. What, I didn’t have the slightest clue.
“Well, you shouldn’t. It’s summer, you’re not in school. You have a very good girl sitting at your side and…guess who is going to be the new English teacher at Landon high…” Will grinned. “Straight A’s for me! English is the only subject I’m lacking in.” Scott sat back pleased and pressed his fingers to his lips before continuing with, “Not quite. It means after school tutoring with your new favorite teacher.” Will smirked and sipped his soda.
“I’m on his good side right?” he winked at me and nudged my elbow. I pulled up the sleeves of my sweat shirt Will had let me borrow one time and I had never given it back. I winked back and gave him his favorite toothy smile of mine. “Well…yes, until you call me Scott in class…then…” Will rolled his eyes. “All my teachers and I are acquainted with me by first name.” he leaned back with his hands behind his head and he looked like the dumb jock he played himself out to be.
“Sure, because that pretty little face of yours makes you teacher’s pet.” Scott commented dryly before sipping from a glass of sweet tea I had handed him. Will feigned hurt and I tugged at his sleeve. That day he had been wearing a t-shirt with paint splattered on it and a sports team logo plastered onto the front. He wore his cargo shorts that seemed to be ripped at the edges even more than the beginning of the summer.
“Teacher’s pet is Lex Grey.” He commented quietly and I shoved him in the side. “Hey.” I glared harshly. “Be nice, Will. I’m not kidding.” Scott whistled. “Who was just schooled now?” Will cocked his head toward Scott and pulled me down onto his lap. “My baby loves me, I know that. She just get’s irritated by some of the things I say. Right, princess?” I made a clicking noise with my mouth. “Princess me when you’re not in the dog house.”
Marie dished spaghetti onto our plates as soon as Mike got home. I started to notice that as my appetite had picked up just a little Marie’s and Scott’s dropped drastically. I kept looking up, feeling awkward, and I realized Mike and Will had noticed it too. “Alright, I know I’m not the only person noticing something wrong.” I finally said after swallowing.
Marie looked at Scott, then me, then the ground. “Nothing is wrong.” I raised a brow and breathed deeply. “Scott and I are getting married, guys.” I ran my tongue along my teeth thinking of something to say. Well, I wasn’t furious. I wasn’t angry. So I guess that meant I was happy? Someone had to break the ice. I wasn’t talking, Will knew better than to say a word, and Mike was sitting stone cold with his fork slowly slipping from his grip and finally clinking in his plate. “When?” I finally asked and all eyes were uncomfortably planted on me.
“Soon…very soon. We were thinking three weeks from now.” Will and I eyed each other uncomfortably. “How’s that going to work?” I asked quietly. “We’ll make it work. It won’t be big or anything.” Marie tried to convince me. I nodded. I understood where she was coming from, but it was a change. I knew I needed that trip to Pennsylvania more than ever.
She worked around the kitchen, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, frantic, anything she could find she would clean until it could slip out of her hands. “Ann, what are you doing?” I asked after I couldn’t stand watching her pace aimlessly anymore. “Hmm? Oh, this house…it’s disgusting. I wonder why I haven’t noticed before…” I stood up and grabbed her arm.
“Because you were too busy living. You haven’t been out of this house in two weeks, Annie. When did the doctor say you can start riding again?” she leaned back against the counter top and crossed her arms over her chest. “Now, I wish. But when I went back she said I had to wait until the end of the summer. Combined with the pnemounia, concussion symptoms lingering, and my overprotective Aunt and soon to be Uncle…” she bit her lip irritated.
“Well…the pnemounia is gone. I think it’s time for a road trip.” I inched closer just as she started to furrow her brow. “What do you mean?” she asked very seriously and tugged at the edges of her sleeves. “I’m saying we go to Pennsylvania.” She stood there a bit aimlessly for a moment. “Okay…but think about this: where would we stay? What would we do? Why would you want to go?” she wasn’t being rhetorical, I knew, she was asking a very honest question. “Because…I have my own personal reasons, but I want to go for you. I know that you want to go there. I understand, and I’m not stopping it, Annie, I’m encouraging you.”
She considered it. I watched Annie’s eyes drift from mine to the counter top, her bare feet, and the door. “Yes. You have personal reasons?” I bit my tongue before nodding with a hard face. “Well, yeah. I just want to get away to somewhere I’ve never been before. A place where nobody knows me. And you and I can be together. But also so I don’t have to be around family so much. It’s so awkward. My mother wants me to live with her now.” I said rubbing my face.
“Oh?” I nodded and leaned into her. “So? What do you say?” she smiled slightly and grabbed at my chin gently. “I say we start packing and talk to Marie and Scott.” I bit my lip before kissing hers. “You smell good.” I told her as I backed her up against the fridge. “I’m wearing the same perfume I always wear.” She told me as she slowly stroked the back of my neck.
“Really? No…it’s different. And it’s not the cleaning products.” She giggled and pressed her forehead against my neck, then my chest, then my own forehead. “It’s the same Versace I’ve been wearing for almost two years, babe, nothing new.” I kissed her neck slowly and in between breaths I said, “Maybe…it’s just…you…” she pulled back slightly.
“What do you mean?” I swallowed and thought about how to phrase my answer. “It just…I think it’s me, but you. Like…you smell different to me because you are different…or something. Do you get the gist of what I mean?” She grinned and rubbed her forehead against mine slowly. “Yes, I understand. I’ve changed. It’s made you think differently about simple things like the way I smell. I understand.” She nuzzled my cheek.
“Maybe it’s because our relationship is so different. Maybe it’s because you’re not so sick and I’m not so scared of you anymore.” she looked up at me curiously. “You were scared of me before?” I bit my lip and nodded. “When we first started all this…you don’t even get how freaked I was. You were suddenly this goddess to me and I was this little poor boy on the side of the road begging for food or water and one day someone handed me you. I was freaking terrified.” She gave me a long hard kiss.
“You are absolutely crazy and insane.” I shrugged hopelessly. “But I love you anyway.”
After bickering, Marie finally felt she understood why we wanted to go. She told us we were insane, but she understood. And maybe that’s because she was insane to. We thanked her and went our separate ways to pack. We decided on spending three days in Kiddings and we were going to stay in a hotel right in town.
My father gave us money and I picked up Annie at six the next morning. She was sleepy and disheveled, but I saw a little flicker in her eyes that told me she was far too excited to sleep. I coaxed her into stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some coffee about an hour into the drive. She got a low-fat blueberry muffin and I got three donuts. She laughed at me slightly, a light pleasure. Her aloof careless look made me feel a little more secure and at ease with myself, even our relationship. It wasn’t a problem like everyone had taken it to be.
“Go ahead and power nap. We have a long drive ahead, and I’ll wake you if I need you to take the wheel.” I nuzzled my nose into her hair and planted a firm but quick peck on the top of her head before she moved the seat back to rest. I put the radio on some soft rock and put the volume on low. She didn’t stir much at all with the exception of a few twists and turns. After four hours my legs were cramping like crazy and I knew I needed to stop somewhere.
I pulled into the nearest Exxon and shook Annie awake gently and she groaned at me. “Hey. I stopped at the gas station because I’m cramped and I ought to fill up anyway. Don’t want to be on the back roads and in need.” I told her heartily and killed the engine. She moaned in reply and sighed with satisfaction, her eyes still lazily closed. “I’m asking if you need anything.” I provoked hastily as I swung the keys around my finger.
“Water.” She yawned and turned away from me, sighing again, practically shooing me. I yawned myself; I was losing my get up-and-go notion, my willpower. I knew I was going to need her sooner than I thought. I bought myself an energy shot. Coach hated the thought of them, I knew it tasted nasty and it wasn’t good for me, but I needed something to boost me, to give Annie extra sleep. She was still sick, I knew, her immune system was still weak and rickety, her appetite still slightly off.
I paid the guy at the counter and filled up the remaining empty space in my tank. I climbed back into the truck and pulled out the water from the bag, and it sat in between the crook of Annie’s elbow and the seat. Her eyes never opened but she uttered a little, “Thanks.” I pushed a few strands of her wavy blonde hair away from her eyes and ran my fingers through the front of it like a brush so it didn’t matt as she slept on it.
“Sleep again and I’ll wake you in a few. Probably not until the borderline of Virginia. No use in wasting your energy in sitting here. Sleep while you can.” She furrowed her brow, still closed eyes, and whispered, “We’re not there yet? Not even Virginia? What time is it?” I sighed deeply, trying to relieve myself of the lagging heavy feeling of drowsiness and answered, “Around ten. Only four hours into the drive. We’re in North Carolina. Let’s see…give me five hours, we’ll be at the borderline. Then, you take over for a while, I’ll be beat.” She searched for my hand and squeezed it tight, stroking it lovingly.
“You’re not now? I can do it if you want.” I started to shake my head but realized she couldn’t see me. “Nah, give me time.” I don’t know if she was nodding or repositioning herself, but she made a slight movement of her head and fell right back to sleep.
I was falling asleep again. I could feel my eyelids start to droop and my arms were tired from being on the wheel for so long. The energy shot was almost gone out of my system and I was ready to curl up in that seat and close my eyes for just a little bit… “Annie, wake up.” I nudged her as the truck eased to a stop where the light was red.
“Yeah?” she sat up and rubbed her eyes with the sleeves of her sweatshirt. “I’m going to fall asleep soon if you don’t drive. Next stop up here?” she yawned and took a drink of the water. “Sure. Where are we now?” I rubbed my face as hard as I could to try and smack some health into it. “An hour and a half from the borderline at least. If not more. There was a lot of traffic on the beltway.” She nodded in acknowledgment and turned up the radio.
“I love this song.” I thought I heard her mutter before she started singing a little under her breath. I tapped the steering wheel so I could feel a vibration in my finger tips, to keep me awake. “Maybe we should stop to eat in a few hours.” She advised before singing the chorus a little louder. I shrugged a little. “If you want.” I was always the type of person to make as little stops as possible. But I also wanted to enjoy my very first road trip with my girlfriend; make it last. “Alright, baby.” I pulled into the park and ride so we could switch.
She opened the door and slid out of the truck, it was a jump for her so it looked funny, and she walked over to my side. “I’m going to have to move up the seat pretty far.” She frowned at me with a hint of amusement. “Oh, I know. I’d do it for you, but I’d get stuck between the seat and steering wheel in the process.” She rolled her eyes. “Get out.” I walked over to the passenger seat. “Geez, Ann, I can’t fit in here!” I laughed as I moved the seat out.
She glared once again and moved her seat up. “There’s nothing wrong with being small. Being a giant, however…” I cocked a brow in her direction as I reclined the seat. “I am not a giant, slightly tall maybe, but I’m no giant.” She smiled and pulled the truck out of the park and ride and drifted back onto the highway. “Babe, maybe taking a back road would help. The traffic is nasty.” She shook her head and impatiently drummed the steering wheel.
“I’ve been traveling this road a very long time. Back roads are worse.” I shook my head. “You’re crazy.”
“I’m crazy? I’ve been taking this road every summer of my life. I am not crazy and I know what I am doing.” She pronounced carefully. “No, if you did, you would know to take a back road.” She gave me a hard look before jerking the car to the right. “Screw you.”
“No, not screw me, if you would stop being stubborn and listen to what I’m saying,”
“No one cares what you’re saying, Will,”
“You will later.”
“Why do you always have to treat me like that, like I’m stupid? I’m not!”
“I never said you were, but you act like it sometimes because you won’t let anyone through that thick skull of yours!”
“My thick skull? You know what? Fine. We’re taking a freaking back road so your thick skull doesn’t suffer. It’s all about you.”
“Annie,” she turned up the music and turned away from me. “Annie…Annie,” I tried to touch her arm but she shoved me away. “Annie.” I said firmly, but she didn’t seem to care much at all. “Baby, I’m sorry, I don’t want to fight.”
“Of course you don’t. As long as you get your way, it’s all good.” At that point I turned over and muttered, “Whatever,” before falling back asleep.