fourth

The words I wanted to say seemed to be anywhere but within reach. There was a lump in my throat and my heart was pounding in my ears. I couldn’t process this, it had been thrown at me too quickly, from absolutely out of nowhere. At first I was confused. “My note” he had said. What note? And then it hit me, all too fast like a bus ramming into my side. This was him. The boy who hit my car. This was L.

I shrugged his arm off my shoulder in a sharp and quick motion, then turned right around to go to the driver’s seat door of my car, “Excuse me,” I said, my voice quivering with anger. I didn’t mean it of course. I didn’t want to be excused. I wanted him to know that I was upset, pissed off even. But I didn’t want to stick around long enough to blow up at him. I couldn’t believe this.

“Hey wait!” the boy called, following after me.

I climbed in the car and grabbed the door handle, but was unable to slam it shut. I looked at the top of the door and could see two sets of hands curled over the top of it, preventing me from moving it even an inch. Douchebag was strong, I’d give him that. I yanked twice more while the boy tried to catch my attention and then gave up with a groan, climbing back out of the car to look at the boy with disapproving and annoyed eyes. “What?!”

He sighed with relief when I got out and smiled, his eyes feigned innocence, like he didn’t think he was in the wrong at all. Like he was trying to help me somehow. They were wide and warm and crinkled drastically when his lips turned upwards. I noticed now how absolutely pink they were, like budding peonies, I didn’t think it was possible for a boy to have lips that naturally pink. I shuddered myself back into focus, what was I doing? Looking at his lips? I huffed and then raised my eyebrows at him, inviting him to speak.

He leaned forward against the door between us, crossing his big forearms over the top of it. I couldn’t help but stare for a moment before looking back up at him, forcing an expression of malice upon my face.

“Are you gonna let me look at your car, or what?” he asked with a crooked smile, one thick eyebrow arching slightly.

The largest urge to slug him crossed my mind, I held back and let sass take over, “Are you sure you even need to? You’re the one who did it.”

He laughed loudly, throwing his head back theatrically. Everything about him oozed preppy school boy jock. He was hot, and he knew it, and it was a terrible turn off. How did anyone ever get along with someone like this guy? Someone so absolutely fake and polished. The hair, the eyes, hell even his fingernails looked freshly manicured. He was a porcelain puppet with no real emotion. A jock that thought everything he did was just a-okay all the time. That he was exempt from the consequences of real life choices. Pretty boy had a big storm coming.

“You have a point there,” he smiled like this was all some sort of joke, something laughable, a prank of sorts maybe, “but I can’t fill out a bid report solely based off of memory.”

I scoffed. Wow, quite a character this one, I used my elbow to knock his arms off the top of the door so I could shut it and stand in front of him with no barriers between us. “You really think that I want you to look at my car? That I want you to fix it?”

He shifted casually, my sour words having seemingly no effect on him, and shoved his hands into his pockets, “Well,” he started with a hint of a laugh at the end of the word. Every second I was just getting more and more pissed off at this guy, and I didn’t even know his name. I let out a deep breath and let him finish what he was going to say. Then it would be my turn to say what was on my mind and then he would let me out of here, “that’s kind of the point of coming to an auto shop.”

“Oh,” I rose my eyebrows and pretended to be surprised by his response, “Oh, is it? I had no idea. My bad. You see, I was under the impression that I was coming to Rick Walker’s Auto Shop for the sole purpose of being fucked with!”

“Woah, hey,” the boy put his hands up in a surrender-like motion, “I didn’t mean to hit a nerve or anything. Are you okay?”

“No! I am not okay! How could what you did possibly be okay, in any conceivable way?!” I shouted. The boy’s brown eyes fell and so did mine. I didn’t talk like this to people. Not ever. It felt wrong in a way but at the same time I couldn’t help myself.

“I . . .” he stammered, and scratched his neck, “I’m not sure I quite understand.”

I took a deep breath in through my nose and closed my eyes, focusing. This wasn’t me. Why was I doing this? Why was I feeling these things? Yes, I was angry beyond belief about the bumper, but that didn’t even come close to excusing this behavior.

I opened my eyes and decided I should try to address this calmly, or at least, as calmly as I could considering all of the foreign emotions that were pulsing through me. The past couple of days had brought stuff out in me that I didn’t even have a name for, things that were just so unlike me. The anger with the car, the lying to Harper, the excitement over the journal.

“Look,” I said, the forced calmness in my voice wavering a bit. “Did you or did you not hit my car?”

The boy looked side to side like he was contemplating his response nervously, I’d already snapped at him more than once and we both already knew the answer to this question, which might provoke another lashing. In the end he was honest, obviously, but his voice almost seemed to question himself. Or more likely, question me and why I was asking when I already knew.

“Yes,” he said.

“And after hitting my car, did you leave a thousand dollars and a note saying you hoped ‘this will cover it’?” I asked with snark in my tone, I remembered the money that I had thrown on the ground then and reached down to pick it up right by my foot while he replied, holding out in front of him all rolled up as if to intimidate him in a way.

“Well, yeah but―”

“And why did you think that was okay?” I cut him off, gone was the smiley innocent preppy boy that had stood before me moments ago, now the brown haired boy was now unsure and slouching slightly. Even if my tone wasn’t angry and shouting like it had been before, it still wasn’t the type of outcome that I had been aiming towards. It was passive and rudely flat, like I was talking down to him. Now I was also getting frustrated at myself for acting this way. But again, I couldn’t help it. Something inside me that I wasn‘t used to had hold of the reins on this one.

It was the boy’s turn to take a deep breath, collecting himself and bringing his shoulders back up, he furrowed his thick eyebrows into a angry expression and said “Because I hit you, that’s why! I was being nice!”

Him snapping back at me was just fuel to the fire, only made me even angrier. I hadn’t realized that the two of us had taken a step closer to each other now, our faces maybe a foot away from each other. “Nice?!” I scoffed, “Oh yeah. So nice of you, so respectful and generous. How could I not see that before?”

All of the things I had already expressed to Harper and Daniel about this were rushing back into my head and I was ready to face this argument once again. My face was hot from anger and I could feel my heart beating loudly in my neck.

“You know what a nice person does when they hit a car?!” I was shouting again, I could feel my voice straining in my throat and chest, “They wait around for the owner to show up! Or if they can’t, yes, they leave a note. But not like the one you left! Oh no! Full name, phone number, email, something! Certainly not just an initial and certainly not with a thousand dollars. I mean, how big of a prick are you?!”

The boy’s face contorted, his eyes blinking away disbelief and his jaw dropping, “Woaaaah there buddy! Who the hell do you think you are?! Why do you think you can call me a prick, and where do you get off turning what I did into some big insult when I was just trying to be a good person?!”

I scoffed and said, “Good person,” more to myself than to him, shaking my head. “I absolutely cannot believe this! You hit my car and you’re trying to make me the bad guy?! In what universe does that make any sense?!”

I was talking with my hands animatedly, they were shaped into claws digging at the air in front of me with every word, the other boy should his head a lot and licked his lips, one hand shoved in his pocket and the other balled into a fist like he was getting ready to throw a punch. We were both on edge both on edge, ready to snap at any minute.

“And in what universe does it make sense that someone would get mad that I gave them money to fix the damage that I caused? Literally any other human being would be thankful they didn’t have get the police involved, or claim it on their insurance,” the boy was pumping his fist now at his side and I took a wary step backwards, I didn’t think he would hit me, or at least I hoped not, “I was being a nice person alright?! I hit your car and I had to be at work so I didn’t wait, I could have just left and not done anything, made you cover the damages by yourself. How would that have felt? So, yeah, I left a note and I didn’t put a name on it because I put the number of the shop that I work at down hoping you would call and assumed I would see you again if I did. And yeah, maybe the money was a little insulting and stupid but that was never my intention and it’s frustrating that you would automatically take it that way. So let’s look at me, let’s look at what I did versus what you did. Who tried to help whom out a bit and who attacked someone? And let’s ask ourselves, who looks more like a bad guy right now; you or me?”

His words started out harsh, angry and loud but as he talked they grew in desperation and confusion. Almost defeat. Slowly his tone softened and he was just asking me a question simply in a normal conversational voice. It cut through me though, his angry speech, silenced the stranger that had been telling me to yell at him and be mad and suddenly every bit of me felt nothing but extreme guilt for the way I acted. Reminding me once again, why I didn’t usually allow myself to have these feelings. I felt like a moron, an absolute raging moron. He was right, I had no reason to take what he had done in the way I had.

“I have to go,” I said quietly, just loud enough for him to still hear me. I turned on my heel and went to open my car door, but his big hand was stopping me again.

“Wait,” he said and I looked at him, his face showing me a look of confusion, “What just happened? One second you’re yelling at me and the next you get all quiet and small and want to leave?”

“It’s just that you were right,” I forced, “I was being irrational and dumb and took it all the absolute wrong way and I need to go now because I feel really stupid for yelling at you when I don’t even know you.”

The boy seemed to pause in thought, removing his hand from the door and said, “Liam,”

My heart stopped, for a moment, “What?”

“Liam,” he said again, “my name is Liam. You didn’t know me and now you do”

“Knowing your first name doesn’t mean I know you,” I countered. “Means you know me better than before,” he smiled.

“Enough to yell at you like I just did?” I asked.

“Probably not,” he winked and I had to force myself not to laugh. The sudden change of mood was unsettling in a way.

“Well Liam,” I started nervously, feeling a little uneasy now, “I’m sorry I yelled at you like that. I truly am, you didn’t deserve it.”

I pulled at the door again but his hand was in the way once more. I looked up at him, silently asking why he wasn’t letting me go now.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” he offered and my stomach did a weird flip I wasn’t familiar with. Maybe I was getting sick, or lightheaded from all the screaming?

“Oh,” I replied, “Um, Scott. My name is Scott.”

Something clicked inside me as I spoke my name to him, like a door was unlocking and letting something else out. A part of me. A small but a very important piece of me was no longer hidden behind the defenses I had set up for it. It was free and vulnerable and had become so just by me simply giving him my name. But somehow it felt like it had been so much more that I had given him.

“Well Scott,” Liam said walking over to the hood of my car and picking up a clipboard off it that he must’ve been holding when he approached me earlier, “I would really like it if you would let me fix your car, It’s the least I can do. After all, I am the one who hit it.”

He flashed a smile similar to the one he gave when he first greeted me and I felt backed into a corner by it. “Um . . .” I started, trailing off as I tried to think this though. I looked at Liam and he sincerely looked like he wanted nothing more than to do this for me. I wondered to myself what had happened to the car he was supposed to fix after he looked at mine. How could I say no to him after how I acted? “Yeah, sure.”

Liam’s smile became ever wider, crinkling his eyes considerably and I thought he might jump with joy. “Alright then! Let’s have a look see!”

A look see? I laughed to myself. Really?

It was a little weird, this sudden change of mood. Hadn’t we just been having a yelling match? And now he was smiling at me and using childish phrases? All was forgiven already, or so it seemed. I was still a little bit uncomfortable but I followed him around to the back of my car where the deep canyon of a dent greeted us. Liam asked me questions about the car while he took notes and I stood there awkwardly with my hands in my pockets, trying not to notice the money in one of them. There had been no closure with that, I guess he really just expected me to use it to fix the bumper. Hopefully he would let me give him the change.

I waited silently while he finished filling out the paper on his clipboard, all too aware of how close his body was to mine while we leaned against the back of my car. I could almost feel his elbow against my own and I wanted desperately to scoot over a little but was afraid that any movement at all would seem too obvious in such close proximity.

I looked at Liam from the corner of my vision and was unable to look away. His profile was long and angular, he had a large forehead that ended at his thick eyebrows and dipped into his eyes and long nose. His lips were soft, the bottom more plump and bigger than the top. They absolutely the pinkest lips I had ever seen. His sharp jawline was peppered with an uneven amount of dark stubble that became thicker towards his ear and hairline, like he just hadn’t shaved in a few days. There was a small birthmark visible on his neck and I had the strongest urge to―

I snapped my focus forward again, blood rushing to my cheeks. That had never happened to me before. At least not like that, I’d wanted to kiss boys before sure. But I’d never actually almost told myself to do it. Especially not after something like what had just happened between us.

“Alright,” Liam said drawing out the word and tapping the top of his clipboard with his pen, he looked at me with a smile so warm and friendly it nearly melted me and pushed off the back of the car so he was standing before me, “Looks like we are all ready to go.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. That was fast. “Oh, um,” I started with difficulty, maybe it hadn’t been that fast. Maybe I had just been too busy staring at his lips and body to notice any sort of passage of time. “Okay, now what?”

Liam tore off a piece of thin white paper that was attached to a yellow piece underneath, carbonless paper, like what they use in checkbooks. He handed me the bottom yellow one and reclipped the white one to the clipboard. “All the info you’ll need is right there,” he pointed to a few different places on the paper as he explained what sort of damage had been done, and how he wanted to take a look underneath to make sure it wasn’t all just cosmetic, which, if it was, would only cost four-hundred to fix.

“So I’ll take the car from you today I wanna get it fixed for you as soon as possible, I’ll take off the old bumper today, get a look underneath and then see if I can’t get the new bumper in and installed by Monday or Tuesday,” Liam explained and then asked, “do you need a ride home from a mechanic or can a friend come get you?”

“Um,” I said, flustered, it was all so much all at once so fast. One minute was thinking about his lips and the next he was. I hadn’t anticipated leaving my car here. Suddenly I needed a ride? He was going to get to work on it right away? I pulled out my phone, it was just after ten. Harper should be up by now doing her Harper thing, “I should be fine with a ride, I think.”

“Great!” Liam smiled and it touched his brown eyes, “Um, can I just get your info here, yeah, right here, phone number and full name, address, the whole burrito.”

He handed me his clipboard and pen and showed me where he needed me to fill in my information, I did so quickly and messily and handed it back to him. There was an awkward moment of silence where I tried to gauge what he needed from me next. Wasn’t this over?

“Alright Scott,” that crinkly smile again. This was so weird. So off for some reason. I had just been screaming at him, and yet here he was smiling and helping me. I just couldn’t shake that. What was with this strange strange boy. I wasn’t sure I liked whatever was going on with him. “I’ll just need your keys and you can wait inside for someone to come get you.”

“Oh, okay,” I said feeling stupid, of course he needed my keys. Wow. I pulled them out of my pocket and handed them to him, my hand brushing the money, reminding me that it was still there. I handed him the keys first and he thanked me, walking around the car to the driver’s side door and opening it.

I shuffled over to him awkwardly with the money held out and he turned and looked, smiling, “What’s that for?”

“I’m giving it back obviously,” I said somewhat annoyed, “the bumper won’t cost nearly this much, and I have to pay anyway.”

Liam smiled at me devilishly and said, “Keep it for now, I haven’t even fixed your car yet.” He winked and kicked his feet into the car. He flashed me a tiny wave out the open window, slamming the door shut on me and driving towards the garage.

*     *     *

“I was sleeping,” Harper said behind gritted teeth when she arrived. The bags under her eyes were prominent, drastically so. I got in the passenger side door of her mom’s car and sat as close to the door and away from her as possible. I could feel the negative energy radiating off of her.

“Then why did you agree to come?” I asked, part of me afraid, another part curious.

“People do stupid things when they are half asleep,” she said simply, her voice sharp enough to kill a man. Which was exactly what I was afraid of.

Harper used to volunteer at the animal shelter early mornings on Saturdays, early early. Like, sixish. So I assumed that she would be back home by now so I wasn’t afraid to call, It was only now that I remembered that this attitude she had now was exactly the reason that she stopped doing her volunteer work there a few weeks ago. You didn’t wake up Harper. You just didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” I said, settling into my seat after a few minutes when the air between us was less heavy. I knew she wasn’t actually mad at me, she would always come for me when I needed her. Just salty and tired. I mean, I would have been too, honestly.

“It’s fine,” Harper replied behind a sigh, “what did they say?”

I suddenly got very excited as I realized what I was about to tell Harper, I knew who the boy from the note was. I told her and she gasped, her exhaustion slowly slipping away as excitement and curiosity took its place. She begged for all the details and I gave them, happily reaccounting this morning’s events

“It was so weird, Harp, he was being so nice.”

“Well, it is his job to help the customer,” she replied, turning onto my street after I told her my concerns and the awkward feeling I got after our fight.

“No,” I said, shaking my head, “It was more than that. He wanted to be nice, I could tell. But I don’t know why. I know that I certainly would not have treated him that way after how I acted. I was atrocious, really. He put me in check.”

“Maybe that’s why then,” Harper offered, “he knew there was no reason to be hostile, because he got his point across and you accepted it.”

I shook my head. No. That wasn’t it.

Harper groaned at my stubbornness. But this was just like me, offer me ten options and I’ll refuse to choose any of them.

“Maybe he was flirting with you?” Harper offered almost sarcastically and abruptly, but I could sense a seriousness in her voice also. Like this really could have been a possibility.

I thought about his constant smile, his warm eyes, his body language even, I hadn’t noticed before, but he had remained relatively close to me the whole time. He didn’t just go look at the bumper by himself despite obviously knowing where it was. He made me show it to him. And that wink before he drove away. Maybe . . . no. No it was just customer service. Or . . . something. Definitely not flirting. No way.

“He was so straight,” I said without confidence.

“Are you sure?” Harper pulled into my driveway and no, I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t mentioned anything about the winking or smiling to Harper. Or my urges to . . . kiss him. But it didn’t matter. He wasn’t flirting with me. And I wasn’t flirting with him. He hit my car and he felt bad. He was being nice. Too nice almost, that was the whole of it. There was nothing more, no hidden agenda. I was just being weird, overthinking it all like I always did with everything.

“Pretty sure,” I lied, unbuckling my seatbelt.

“Mmhmm,” Harper mused, not buying me. I wasn’t buying myself either so I didn’t blame her.

The money Liam had told me to keep burned in my pocket hot like an iron. What was going on? Life, or the life how I saw it and wanted it to be, had never been unexpected before. I always knew where I was going, what I was doing. Questions were cause for concern, and I didn’t need any of that. I stayed who I was, or at least who I thought people expected me to be. It was easier that way. I didn’t lash out, I didn’t overreact. because staying quiet meant that things like this never happened. There was no confusion, no inner conflict. I didn’t like this. And yet. Somehow, it excited me. There was a sort of rush of blood in the idea that this boy I just met could possibly like me. But, I didn’t like him, I couldn’t like him. For a hundred reasons.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said awkwardly.

“Anytime,” Harper replied in a rehearsed tone, but I knew that she knew I would never wake her up like this again. Unless I absolutely had to, of course.

I closed the door behind me and Harper watched me to the front door before driving away just like she and I always did. Not too tired to care still, I smiled to myself and went inside, taking a deep breath as I crossed the threshold and entered the cool air-conditioned sanctuary. I didn’t mind heat, I mean, I was the one who wore skinny jeans every day of the year even if it was a thousand degrees outside, but I also didn’t mind the cold. Something about it seemed so refreshing right now after what had happened. The air outside, seemed so stuffy and heavy on me, so it was nice to breathe.

I walked into the kitchen and past the stove, looking straight into the fridge for a bite to eat. I’d probably head back to bed after this, I thought. I was just reaching out to grab the jam from the back of the top shelf when someone cleared their throat.

I looked around the fridge door and saw that Dana was sitting in the kitchen at the table, typing at the keys on her computer without looking up at me, impatiently waiting for me to give her the keys to the car I very much didn’t have with me anymore.

< RETURN TO CHAPTER THREE | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER FIVE >

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