twelfth

LIAM

The thing about living in Phoenix was that sometimes it was so hot that your pool needed to be inside. Which is exactly what my parents had thought when they built their house. It didn’t matter if I was in the pool or not, with Drew swimming, I was going to get wet . . . and I did. Haden was late, which wasn’t really like her, Drew was practicing cannonballs while Eve complained from her beach chair, applying cocoa butter to her skin, and Levi and Brennan were grilling up hotdogs outside.

I was also on a beach chair next to Eve, or more accurately next to my phone, waiting for my next text from Scott. It seemed that was what I was always doing, waiting for my next text from him. Like I was stuck in some sort of perpetual state of waiting but never receiving. They came, not as often as I would like them to, but still, they came. And they were worth it, just like he was.

“Why are you putting that on if it’s all just going to wash off in the pool anyway?” I asked Eve as she applied the lotion to her dark legs.

She looked up at me while lathering and replied, “Because if I don’t my skin will dry and crack like the Sahara when I get out.”

I laughed just as another tidal wave caused by Drew washed over the concrete and lapped at my toes on the ground. I heard Eve mutter something about not wanting to get her hair wet in an annoyed tone as I decided I might as well get in the pool now. There was no use waiting for Haden and I was already soaked up to my waist from Drew’s splashing. The twins would be in any minute and the teams would be uneven but we could still play a couple of pool games until Haden got here and we could eat.

I went for the water at a run, swan diving into the deep end and gliding through the water until I reached the opposite side and came up for air. I beckoned Eve into the water who groaned before complying and entered through the shallow end, insisting that be where she remained for the games. Brennan and Levi came in a few minutes later, laughing with hot dogs and cheeseburgers wrapped in tin foil which they set down before cannonballing in also. Effectively running Eve’s plans to keep her hair dry. We all laughed and agreed to play a few rounds of volleyball before Haden arrived.

The teams were me, Eve, and Levi against Drew and Brennan. This was Eve’s idea insisting that the three three least active go against the two most. I tried not to be insulted by this and not throw two-time wrestling champion in her face, but I shrugged it off, thinking to myself that Eve was just as physically capable as the rest of us. If anything I understood what she meant by Levi, he was a total bookie, not like his brother at all, and still she was way more capable than him.

We played this way anyways and the teams seemed to be as even as they could be, Brennan and Drew made sure of this by letting their cockiness take over themselves a little bit as they both tried to be the head player of their two-person team at the same time.

During the middle of the second game when the score was tied 5-5 and Brennan was just starting to get a little aggressive I heard the door to the pool house open up. We all turned, just as I was about to serve the ball, to see Haden walk in confidently, strutting like she usually does, wearing a bikini under her sheer beach cover-up. But she wasn’t alone. At her heels was a boy in tight fitting swim trunks and an even tighter top that I had never seen before.

His hair was a sun-kissed honey blonde that was shaggy enough to cover his ears and eyebrows. His skin was so tan he looked hispanic and his eyes were a piercing sky-blue. The boy looked like he had just jumped out of a surfing magazine, or had just stepped off a plane that had brought him here straight from the beaches of southern California.

“Sorry I’m late, guys,” Haden said sheepishly, skipping over to the edge of the pool and slipping off her flip-flops as she approached. But no one heard her, all eyes were on the mystery boy that followed closely behind her. He wasn’t here for her, that was obvious. She wore her men like accessories, he would have been draped over her arm if they were seeing each other. I silently wondered if she even knew him, or if she had just picked up some random guy on the street that was wearing a swimsuit while on the way here.

“This is Kyle,  we have trig together,” Haden said, gesturing to the overly muscular Ken doll to her left. The sentence almost made me laugh, it was impossible for me to picture this boy doing anything that required any sort of brain power. But that was rude of me, I couldn’t stereotype him like that . . . I did anyway. He was too ripped, too groomed, too tall, too much. If I got close enough I bet I would have been able to see make-up on his face. This was definitely not the kind of guy that Haden usually associated herself with, which brought up the question: what the hell was he doing here?

“Rad set up you got here,” the boy said as he looked around, his voice sounding almost forcefully cool. Had he really just said ‘rad?’

“Thank you,” I said, confused but intrigued. Everyone seemed to be on edge, waiting for an explanation, an answer that wasn’t coming. Haden sighed because she too was waiting for something and I realized that it was me, “Oh, um. Yes, this is Eve and Levi. Brennan over there is his twin and that’s Drew; I’m Liam.”

“Awesome,” the boy said, flipping his hair out of his eyes and I almost scoffed. What was this, two-thousand nine? He sauntered forward towards the edge of the pool, curling his toes over his flip flops into the water and it took everything in me not to roll my eyes at what a huge cliché this dude was.

I struggled not to laugh and said, “Haden you can be on our team, Kyle you join Brennan and Drew. The game is volley ball and we’re tied in the middle of the game.”

The two nodded in understanding and began to undress, Haden leaving her cover-up on one of the beach chairs to the side and Kyle peeling his shirt off to reveal the largest set of pecs I had ever seen on a teenager in my life. They looked almost fake, stretched across his upper torso so tightly I thought the skin there might rip. It kind of grossed me out if I was honest. Still, as he climbed in the water and waded over to the other two boys who he fist-bumped in greeting, I couldn’t help but wonder what the fuck he was doing here. It was so unlike Haden to bring someone along like this. Unless . . . no. Unless there was some sort of hidden agenda.

I tried not to think of what that might be as Haden hugged Eve and I served the ball, throwing us into our game.

Twenty minutes, and a grueling loss later (they creamed us,) we all climbed out of the pool and over to where Brennan and Levi left the cooling food. I took it over to the glass dining table on the opposite side of the pool as the beach chairs and undid the twist ties on all the buns and got the condiments out of the large double door fridge over by the pantry.

“Nice set up,” a low voice said behind me and I turned around to see Kyle standing a little too close for comfort. He reached around me into the fridge to grab the twelve pack of Sprite that I was planning on retrieving after I set the condiments down and smiled awkwardly. His body was glistening with chlorinated water and his hair was dripping, he brushed it aside and smiled a too perfect smile back at me.

“Yeah,” I said, backing away uncomfortably so I could walk around him back towards the table, “you said that, thanks.”

“I’ve seen a lot of indoor pools,” he said and all I could think was ‘I bet you have,’ “But none quite as nice as this. Impressive.”

“My parents have taste,” was all I could say. I was really uncomfortable for some reason, and yet all he was doing was complimenting our pool house. Maybe I was just used to it, but that in itself was an odd thing to begin with. How about “Thanks for letting me crash your party,” or “Here, let me help you with those sodas.” If anything, it sort of felt like he was trying to get on my good side.

That was what sucked a lot about being rich; sure, it came with the mansions, and the cars, and the money, and the two-story pool house, but what it didn’t come with was a dose of reality. People thought that to get with you they needed to appreciate what you had instead of who you were. It was really hard at times and made it a challenge to find people who wanted to be around you for you instead of the food you bought them after school just because you can. I was lucky enough to find the five people I did. Right now was exactly one of those times where it felt like someone was just trying to butter me up because they could use me. But at the same time, I knew Haden well enough to know that she wouldn’t bring a poser into our inner circle. So what was her angle?

We all served up our food, I only took one burger with a handful of barbeque chips, feeling a little nauseous, while everyone else, with the exception of Eve the Twig, piled up their plates high. We ate and laughed and Kyle tried to unsuccessfully insert himself into our conversations but we all shrugged it off. I gave Haden the side eyes that said I was going to need to talk to her when all of this was over. I needed answers.

But she acted like she didn’t see and eventually we all ended back in the pool doing our own thing. Brennan and Drew were having cannonball contents with Levi judging, while Eve and I hung out in the shallow end talking about school on the stairs. On the opposite end of us, still in the shallows, waded Haden and her guest who were talking in hushed yet exasperated tones that I tried to catch as I pretended to listen to Eve complain about the outright racism of her history professor.

“And it’s just like, there is literally a woman of color in the room. You couldn’t at least wait to show off your ignorance until you are safe at home with the rest of your bigoted kind. It’s ridiculous. This is two-thousand and fourteen, not the nineteen-fifties. I can’t beleive—” and on and on and on. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I was too busy trying to listen in on Haden and Kyle to really hear her.

“Just go an—” Haden would say before the splash of Drew hitting the water drowned her out.

“—want me here,” Kyle said but I wasn’t able to catch the beginning.

The rest of the conversation continued in this fashion with me only catching the beginning and ends:

“He doesn’t—”

“—should leave.”

“No! This—”

“Why am I even—”

“Just try—”

After a groan from Kyle and a smile of encouragement from Haden, the two seemed to come to an agreement silently as she nudged him on the shoulder and grinned mischievously. What the hell was she up to?

“Eve!” I heard Haden call out and suddenly my heart stopped in my chest. No, no. So that’s what this was. Eve turned away from me mid-complaint and looked over at Haden and her guest, a curious look on her face. I wanted to tell her to run, to get out of here as fast as I could. This was one of her setups! But it was too late, she was calling Eve over and I was mentally preparing myself for the argument that would inevitably follow between the two the second Kyle left. There was no going back now.

As Eve waded over to Haden and Kyle I climbed out of the pool, deciding now that I knew what was going on that I could stomach another burger. Possibly a hot dog as well. I didn’t bother drying off as I reached for a bun and then piled it with a burnt burger, some lettuce, bacon, ranch sauce, pickles and a tomato. I walked over to my phone sitting on the beach chair while I took a bite, swallowing hard as I picked it up.

I had one message from Scott: We still on for tonight? 

I blushed wildly and sent him a message back as I sat down, Absolutely. I’ll meet you at the place. 

I locked my phone and put it aside, knowing that he wouldn’t text me back right away. He was probably drawing or hanging out with his friends Harper and Daniel. Who I insisted I meet sooner rather than later, but of course, he needed time.  I understood, I thought, as I looked around at my friends (specifically Drew and Haden) who hadn’t been very open about the idea of Scott either. So we would wait, until we were both ready and our friends were in a place that we could all just be open with each other. Especially Haden, I remembered, looking over at her talking to Eve animatedly at the stairs of the pool and . . . wait. Where was Kyle? Where—

“So Haden tell’s me you wrestle,” I heard a familiar, cool, low voice say behind me and I turned around just as Kyle was approaching with two cans of Sprite in his hands. My stomach fell. No, no no no. This wasn’t a setup for Eve; this was a setup for me. The beach boy climbed over the beach chair, literally over it, to sit next to me. He set his already open can of soda down at his hip and cracked the other one open, offering it to me. “That’s really cool.”

I looked at the boy’s blue eyes, then at his wet pecs, then at the soda, then at his pecs and eyes and soda again before finally taking it like a dumbfounded idiot. I shook my head violently and took a sip, trying to bring myself back into focus. This was ridiculous, absolutely insane. I was with Scott, Haden knew that, and this homeboy wasn’t even my type. The exact opposite in fact. Did Haden even know me?

I had a few options here: I could ignore him which, as uninterested and annoyed as I was, would be totally rude. I could play coy, flighty, like I really didn’t understand what was happening here and as such give him no chance to really make a move. Or I could straight up tell him this was not happening, whatever this was. Part of me wanted to be the douche, ignore him, maybe even just walk away, but I couldn’t do that. A second part of me wanted to act on the third option, but even that seemed a little out of place, it wasn’t his fault he was here, doing this, it was Haden’s. So the second option it was, flighty and uninvolved.

“Um, yeah,” I began weakly looking anywhere but at him, biting down on my burger and downing it with another gulp of Sprite, “but the season doesn’t start until next semester.”

He nodded, his blonde hair bouncing, and took a sip of his own drink, “I’m on the swimming team.”

I almost choked on my burger. He wasn’t very good at this was he? Asking me a question only for the sake of being able to say what was on his mind, not because he was genuinely interest in what I had to say. I couldn’t blame him though, the guy’s heart wasn’t in it and I couldn’t see why it should be? I wasn’t sure I was exactly his type either.

“That doesn’t surprise m—” I started to say in response, because it really didn’t, he had a total beach bod, but I stopped short when I felt something on my thigh. I looked over to see a large hand cupping the muscle there. My eyes widened as I tried to decide whether or not I should pull away. So he was interested . . . just really awful at this. If there had been metaphorical steps about how to come on to a boy you just met, this dude would have skipped all the way from one to six out of ten.

I stood suddenly, without any sort of explanation really, and started walking towards the fridge. I didn’t need anything out of the fridge, what I needed was out of the situation, because now that things had changed it seemed that option one from the earlier scenarios was the best course of action.

I knew he was at my heels, or at least close behind, but I didn’t look. This was unreal. Not in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine that Haden would so something like this. She knew I was with Scott, and even if she didn’t like that fact, that was how things were. As I pulled open the door to the fridge and shoved my head inside I tried to wrap it around what her thought process might have been when coming up with this little plan of hers, it was terribly hypocritical. Two weeks ago she was talking me down about not taking my relationships with boys seriously and now she was sending someone my way that I didn’t even know, it was backwards and twisted. The only person it did any good for was her and her ego, thinking she was helping me “move on” because apparently I was only allowed to do so if it was on her terms.

Just like always Haden was trying to fix things that didn’t need to be fixed. But she wasn’t doing it in a helpful or innocent way, she was doing it in a backwards and dramatic way. She was promoting the negative behaviors that she condoned without even realizing it because she was only focused on seeing the end goal: me getting over Corbin.

I put my Sprite inside the fridge and closed the door, turning just in time to see the swimmer Kyle approaching with a smile on his face. I stood my ground as he leaned against the fridge casually and let out a little laugh that I think was supposed to make me feel a little less uneasy. It didn’t work, I was completely on edge now, somewhere between anger and confusion.

“Was that a little forward?” he asked like he was sort of embarrassed, giving me a crooked smile. He started to reach out to grab my arm and I took a confident step back.

“Yes,” I said, “it was. It was totally unsolicited, and wildly inappropriate. I don’t even know you.”

He looked down at his feet, and then up at me through a curtain of blonde hair, he must’ve thought it looked sexy, but it only came off as predatory, “What do you want to know?”

I shook my head in disbelief again, ready to punch this asshole in the face. I was so busy focusing on keeping my fists behind me that I didn’t notice him take a few steps closer, he reached out  and grabbed one of the ends of the tassels on my swim trunks, pulling so the knot came undone.

I jumped back, immediately moving to retie the string, “What the fuck? There are people around!”

Kyle didn’t even seem to be fazed by my outburst, as I stepped back, tieing frantically, he stepped forward, eyes sultry, mouth curling into a seductive smile.

“Then let’s go somewhere private,” he suggested, flitting his eyes towards the exit on the other side of the pool as one of his hands reached out to lock its fingers inside my pant line and one my hands reached out to strike him across the jaw.

Kyle stumbled backward yelping out in pain as he clutched the side of his face that I had just punched. Everyone had gone silent as the sound of impact echoed around the pool house, like the crack of a whip when my knuckles met bone. I saw him clench his own hand into a fist and step towards me intimidatingly but I stood my ground.

“I think you need to leave,” I said coldly, my voice not wavering for a moment as I narrowed my eyes at the boy that was slowly starting to shrink in front of me. Gone was the confidence, gone was the sex appeal, now I only saw someone clinging to their masculinity by threatening to retaliate against self defence.

“I did not sign up for this,” he said, and his voice wasn’t nearly as even as mine. Now, he started to take hesitant steps away from me as I arched my shoulders back.

“You shouldn’t have signed up at all,” I snapped, “that was so out of line. Zero to one hundred when you should have never stepped past one. Now leave.”

Kyle finally held up his hands in defense as he looked at Haden who looked suddenly very nervous, and back at me with pleading eyes, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was misinformed, I thought you wanted this, I was told you wanted this. I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

“Good idea,” I said, ignoring his desperate plea but not completely blocking it out. Along with Haden setting all this up she also lied to him.

He turned and left, gathering up his t-shirt, almost slipping as he crossed the other side of the pool towards the doors that lead out. All eyes that had been following him out in silence slowly turned to me. All eyes, that was, except Haden’s.

“What the hell was that all about?” Levi asked who was now sitting on the edge of the pool with his legs in the water.

I eyed down Haden, but she didn’t look up so I pointed and said loudly, “You can ask her.”

Immediately all eyes went to the girl with the silver hair who had a knack for drama and fucking things up. We all excused it, because outside the things she did wrong there were so many other things that she did right, but for me this was it. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold onto someone so unsupportive and selfish.

“Who was that guy?” Eve piped up, who seemed to have taken a few wading steps away from Haden in the water.

Haden finally looked up at me, her blue eyes watery but not from the pool, and then at all of our friends before saying, “It was a bad idea.”

I scoffed, throwing my head back for theatrics and walked around the counter that separated the pool from the kitchen area, folding my arms as I approached the water. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked, “Why do you feel the need to control everything. Other people, who they date, who they don’t date, when it is convenient for them to decide it’s time to get over heartbreak. Why do you get to have a say in my love life at all anymore? After you showed your unsupport two weeks ago at the coffee shop that was it, you had no say. My life. Not yours. How dare you. How dare!

She was crying now and I should have cared, but I didn’t. I should have let her explain her side of the story before jumping like that, but I didn’t. She didn’t deserve it. That was out of line, completely out of line, no matter the intentions, she should have never brought that boy here without consulting me first, she never should have brought him at all. 

“I wasn’t trying—” she began but I cut her off,

“I don’t care.”

“We are talking in trig and he said you were cute and I—”
“Don’t care.”
“I didn’t know he would—”

“Like hell you didn’t,” I rolled my eyes.

“Please! Don’t interrupt me, I’m trying to tell you I didn’t know he would act that way!” she finally shouted, asserting her dominance rather than being a crybaby about it. I flattened my mouth. This is what I had been going for, she couldn’t just cry her way out of situations by making us feel bad for her. That time was over, she needed to stand up for herself now. I let her continue, “He and I have trig together and we were talking and he said he saw me with you and thought you were really cute and wondered if I could possibly get you to talk to him. That was yesterday. You had asked us to all come over for a pool party and I didn’t think it would hurt anything so I—”

“Didn’t think it would hurt anything?! You know that I’m—” ‘with Scott’ I wanted to finish. But couldn’t. I looked at Drew who was shaking his head slightly and at everyone else who was waiting for some sort of end note to my sentence so I collected myself and said, “working on it. On my own time. At my own pace. I don’t need you dictating my life for me, Haden. None of us do.”

“Don’t speak for them,” Haden shook her head, tears starting to fall again.

I changed the subject, “Fine. I misjudged the situation. You weren’t trying to set me up or whatever—control me. I can accept that I was wrong. But you said it yourself: you didn’t think. You weren’t thinking. About anyone but yourself, you never do, you can’t possibly see outside any mind but your own. You are so egocentric that you never would have thought what this might do to me if it went wrong. What place it would put me in. Right here, now, yelling at someone I love, asking them to leave.”

She blinked in confusion for a moment, “What?”

“Leave,” I clarified in the simplest way I could manage. I pointed at the door this time and said, “Get out.”

“Liam, don’t—”

“All of you,” I interrupted Drew. I didn’t care if it was irrational, or rude, or stupid. But I was done, done with her, done with them, done with this day. I needed out, I needed to get out and so did they.

There were cries of protest that I shut down immediately as I walked over to the pool cover controls and began to close it with all of them inside. They all clamboured to get out and silently I hoped that Haden would get stuck under and drown. But she was the first out, wrapping herself in a towel and her cover up as tears ran down her face and Eve tried to console her. They all started to exit as I walked over to the glass table with the food on it and began to clean up, gathering up the buns, condiments, and anything else that would fit in my hands.

“Not cool,” Drew’s familiar voice said behind me and I dropped the stuff on the table immediately, grabbing the edge of it with angry fingers.

“Of all the things she did, what I said was at least a thousand times cooler,” I argued, gathering myself up and turning around to face my best friend who had a cold and judging expression on his face. I should be ashamed, I really should, but I just wasn’t. I didn’t have it in me to be anything other than cold and distant at the moment. I knew what I needed right now, what would get me out of it, and it wasn’t this.

“You didn’t have to kick us all out,” Drew stated.

“That obviously didn’t work,” I said harshly, referring to the fact that he was still here.

“Hey,” he said, grabbing my upper arm. Normally I would have flinched away but nothing about his hold was hostile or engaging, it was warm and concerning. “When have we ever been the ones to be antagonistic with each other? When have we ever been the ones that fought?”

“Never,” I said, shaking my head.

“Good,” Drew nodded and smiled at me, “C’mere.”

I pulled out of his embrace and smiled half-heartedly, I wasn’t fully okay just yet, still lingering in a place between anger and tranquility, or at least acceptance of all that had just happened. “I’m sorry. That was just . . . a lot.”
Drew licked his lips and said, “I saw.”

“I don’t really think there is any going back for she and I right now,” I said honestly.

“At least you didn’t say never,” Drew countered and I smiled at that. “What do you need right now?”

“Him,” I said simply, knowing that seeing Scott right now would be the only thing that would completely level my head. My heart warmed at this thought but also sank because he was probably with Harper and Danny and I would have to wait until tonight like we planned. I didn’t even know what time it was right now or how long that wait might be. I wasn’t sure I could handle an extended one.

“So things are going good between you then?” Drew asked curiously and I looked up at him with defeated eyes.

“Look,” I said, reaching up to touch Drew’s arm this time. The guy was so good, so nice, so real and honest, and as buff as he was he wouldn’t hurt a fly. I really did love him and appreciate what he was trying to do, but I just couldn’t right now. I needed some time for me, to think, and feel, and process, and I needed to get to Scott somehow. Find that unbiased third party to run things through so I could just come to terms with where I needed to be with Haden right now. I told him this and he nodded, taking me in for another hug.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, pulling away, “she was totally out of line. I’ll talk to her.”

“I’d appreciate that,” I said with another half smile and he walked out of the pool house.

I looked back at the table at the mess of burgers and ketchup and cheese and buns and chips and thought that this was a physical representation of what was going on in my head right now. So I walked away without cleaning up and gathered my stuff up thinking I would just have mom and dad let Rosario clean it all up. Which was awful of me because I had never been the kid who let my maid clean up after me, and I wouldn’t be, I just couldn’t stand in the pool house for a second longer.

The sun was low in the sky, not quite sunset, but not midday either, I checked the time to see that it was just after four. I locked the door to the pool house behind me and dripping wet, jogged across the lawn that separated the main and guest house. I pulled open my front door as I dialed the number I knew by heart, putting my phone to my ear and heading up the stairs to my bedroom to get dress.

He answered by the time I reached my closet.

“Hey,” Scott said in a lazy voice that sent shivers down my spine and immediately made me forget about the events that had passed over the last two hours.

“Hey back,” I replied, stripping off my swim trunks and pulling on a pair of boxers with one hand, “What are you doing?”

“Doing homework, Daniel and Harper never called to hang out today and you had that pool party so I just decided to get caught up on some reading for english and try and write that essay I was telling you about,” Scott explained in a casual voice that made even the most boring of subjects like an english essay sound interesting, “what about you?”

“Getting dressed,” I said as I sat down on my bed and held the phone between my ear and shoulder so I could pull on some shorts. I widened my eyes against the silence that followed, afraid that might have sounded dirtier than it was supposed to, like this was some sort of booty call and added, “the pool party ended early on sort of a sour note and I wanted to see if we could jump our plans to meet up to like . . . say, now?”

“We weren’t supposed to meet until midnight,” Scott said nervously and this was just like him. Unpredictability and change weren’t two of his favorite things, but we had made a lot of progress in helping him step out of his comfort zone recently and this was just another one of those things.

“I know,” I said, standing up and switching my grip on the phone so I could go pull a t-shirt on, “but I’m free now, and if you wanted to be you could be and we could see each other for a lot longer than just two hours for once. It could be nice.”

When Scott didn’t say anything after a moment of thought I added, “You really shouldn’t be out past midnight anyway, you’re only sixteen.”

Scott laughed on the other end of the line and I smiled, he was so cute, “Since when have you been the moderator of curfews?”

“Since I decided one of us needs to be the responsible one in the relationship,” I said confidently with a chuckle, standing to go put on some shoes and stopped halfway across the room. I had just said the R word, that was taboo, that was a no-go zone. Part of me wanted to correct myself, take it back and say I didn’t mean it, but I decided instead to see what he would say first.

“And that’s going to be you?” Scott laughed and I heard something rustling in the background, “The guy who locked us in a supply closet?”
A weight fell off my shoulders as I stepped into some Vans, we were making progress, or more specifically Scott was, there was no denying it, and the kiss in the supply closet had been one of the biggest developments in the past two weeks. But it wasn’t just Scott who was making changes, it was me also. Ashamed as I was to say it, if Scott had been any of the boys I had dated before we would have already had sex by now, long before now actually. It wasn’t just that though, since Scott I had developed a sense of what other people were feeling outside myself, I didn’t push boundaries to the extreme and I was more understanding and patient. I had a long ways to go to grow into a better person that who I was over the summer, but with Scott’s help I was making a good start.

“I think you’re forgetting I’m also the guy who got us out,” I tacked on, chuckling as I walked back to my bed, and laid down looking up at the vaulted ceiling above me that was made up mostly of curved glass that showed the gray-blue sky above me.

“That’s true,” Scott said in hushed reverence and I felt ourselves fall again into that place where he was him and I was me and suddenly there was no expectations, only us.

“So what do you say?” I asked, hopefully, but trying not to seem to eager, “Wanna take some time out of your very busy schedule and meet me at our spot a little earlier today?”

There was a silence that followed as Scott mulled it over in his head. Desperately I wanted to know what was going on in his head, but then again, I always did. He was mystery wrapped in intrigue who was slowly revealing itself layer by layer. As much as I wished it would all come off all at once, I knew that diving headfirst into anything was not his style, so I waited while he thought it out, because more and more everyday I was starting to think I would always wait for him.

“I’ll see you in twenty,” Scott said suddenly, shocking me up into a sitting position and before I could reply the line went dead and I was on my feet, dashing downstairs to the garage. I stopped in the kitchen on my way and grabbed a pack of gum, sticking two pieces in just in case, and then went out to my car. I opened the garage and climbed in, looking at myself in the rearview mirror as I pulled out and groaned. I was still dripping a little, I hadn’t done my hair or anything and I was worried about what . . . good breath?

I ignored it, wiping my hair back into where it usually was styled and pulled out of the garage, closing it behind me and driving out and around the main house onto the private lane into the neighborhood. One of the nice things about living in the guest house was that I didn’t really need to ask permission to go anywhere, I kind of just did. Not that I needed to, I was pretty sure mom and dad were both working doubles today and I wondered silently who was watching Ruby tonight if that was the case.

I whipped out onto the main road and headed East towards the freeway that would take me to my destination. Buildings flew by me and I almost missed my freeway entrance because I was too consumed with the idea of seeing Scott. The meetings had become a regular thing about a week and a half ago, they started after he and I went on a drive a few nights after the record store and wound up on top of this huge hill that looked over all of Phoenix where we talked for hours until early in the morning and I took him home. This became our spot and our meeting times developed as a way to accommodate each other’s lives. He was usually with Danny or Harper until late and I was usually with my group of misfits, so midnight became our hour. Not every night, but whenever we could spare, mostly Friday and Saturdays because school and work were always an issue. But we made it work.

I got there before he did and was watching as the sun began inch towards the tips of the mountains on the opposite side of the Phoenix valley. Through the smog and pollution the sky was starting to become a very soft orange color that faded into the natural blue over my head. It wasn’t sunset yet, not for another hour, but it would turn out to be a beautiful one, I could tell. I backed up my car almost right up against the edge of the hill and got out, climbing into the bed of my truck to await the sound of Scott’s chugging engine that would arrive in a few minutes.

My mind drifted back to the blonde boy with the surfer’s body who had been wildly inappropriate at the pool party. I didn’t want to think about it, but I couldn’t help myself, there are some things that just stick with you, especially when they just happened and you don’t have anyone to help distract you. I sort of felt bad for him, knowing Haden she probably really had told the guy that I was into him too, and he probably just saw me ignoring his advances as me playing hard to get. My choice in playing coy and acting like I didn’t know what was happening was absolutely the wrong one, I should have told him what was on in my mind the second he handed me the Sprite.

Everything that happened could have been avoided if I had just been honest, I would never have punched him, or yelled at him, or yelled at Haden or kicked out my friends. If I had been sincere and nice he probably would have left on his own, or maybe I would have let him stay and we would still be having a pool party and I could confront Haden calmly later. But I didn’t, I wasn’t, my actions had provoked Kyle to come onto me too strong and I reacted too intensely.

I put my head in my hands, this was all my fault. Sure, I could put the blame on Haden, too, reverse the roles and say that everything that happened could have been avoided if she weren’t such a meddling and dramatic bitch. But I was trying to be in a place where I wasn’t blaming other people, where I was taking responsibility for my own actions.

There was one part of the conversation that stuck with me, though. One that reminded me of a conversation I had had before that was very similar.

“I don’t even know you,” I had said to Kyle when he tried to come onto me with which he responded a simple and seductive “What do you want to know?”

My mind flew back to the first day I met Scott in the parking lot of Rick’s almost exactly one month ago when I was trying to get him to let me fix the bumper of his car that I crashed into. I was so stupid then, so naïve, thinking that it was perfectly okay to just leave a note and a thousand dollars after you hit a car in the parking lot. I shook my head at the thought as our conversation came back to me.

“I don’t even know you,” Scott had said as I tried to get him to trust me. My intentions back then were so misguided, so wrong, I didn’t want him to stay cause I wanted to fix his car and make it up to him, I wanted him to stay because I thought he was cute So I did what I do best, manipulation, flirting.

“Liam,” I had said, and that was my hook, only giving him just enough information to turn around and not walk in the other direction, letting him know that now that he knew my name, there wasn’t any reason for him to say that he didn’t know me, because I had so eloquently put it, knowing my name meant that he knew me better than he did before.

My stomach lurched, so Kyle and I weren’t that different after all.

I thought of the kiss in the supply closet specifically. He had said no, and still, I kissed him. He had walked away and I had followed, thinking to myself clearly that this might be perpetrative behavior but still, I kiss him anyway. He fought, and I pushed, and I was just Kyle. There was no circumstantial differences, no reason for me to think I was any better because all the evidence showed that I was just as bad. I thought I had changed after what happened over the summer, I thought U had moved on past that place of disrespect and objectification of men, but here I was refusing to acknowledge anyone’s feelings but my own and—

“Liam, Liam . . . Liam” I heard a voice shouting from somewhere to my left, it pulled me out of my thoughts and into the world before me: the sun, only a few centimeters lower in the sky than it had been when I sank away into my head, and Scott standing next to the bed of my truck, a hand reaching over to touch my shoulder and shake me into focus.

“Oh,” I said nervously, turning to look at the boy I had just been thinking about, his skin was a golden orange color because of the lowering sun and this somehow made his hair look darker than I had ever seen it before. I took his hand off my shoulder and put it in mine, standing up to help him into the truck.

As usual, there was paint on his finger tips and the front of his jeans and this made my heart very warm. Little things like this that I could count on were the most important, I thought as he climbed in. I pulled Scott into a hug, wrapping both my arms around his head as he gripped my middle making my stomach knot. I buried my face into his hair and inhaled deeply, the smell of his shampoo centering me here in this moment.

I kissed him softly then with my hands still around his neck and he on his toes reaching up to meet me. I pulled away much too soon just like always and hugged him again before helping him sit and following suit, putting my arm around him so he could lean into me.

“Hey,” I said, and I could feel his heartbeat against my own, I never got over how high Scott made me feel, every sensation was so real and intense and strung together so vibrantly that I could hardly handle it. I thought maybe after a time it would fade away, but it hadn’t so far.

“Hey,” he said back, settling into me a little bit more reaching around his middle to search for the hand that wasn’t on his shoulder,  took it in mine and kissed the top of it before putting it in my lap, “did I interrupt some serious thought just now?”

“Not too serious,” I said with a sigh, and the sky was slowly becoming more and mre orange, matching the tops of the mountains on the other side of the valley.

“Seemed like it,” Scott chuckled and his shoulder bobbed against my own, “I was calling your name for like thirty seconds.”

I squeezed his hand lightly and laughed, “You were not.”

He pulled away slightly so he could look up at me and replied with a serious expression, “I was to.”

I blinked in astonishment, “Oh. I didn’t realize.”

“What were you thinking about?” Scott asked, and this time he pulled away so that he could sit up next to me completely, his body angled towards mine as he gave me a sincerely curious expression that was frosted with hints of concern.

I shrugged it off, “It was nothing, I just had kind of a rough morning. The pool party came to a screeching halt that I didn’t really see coming and it just threw me off balance I guess.”

“Tell me what happened,” Scott offered, his eyes sincere and part of me wanted to say no, that it was okay and that it wasn’t a big deal. That I could work through it myself and I didn’t need to bother him with my problems. But then another part of me thought what were we for if not for burdening each other with our lives? Wasn’t that the essence of what a relationship was? Sharing with each other? So I told him everything, about the pool party and Haden being late and bringing that stupid boy with her and what he did. I told him about my reaction, how I blew up at him first, and then Haden, and then the rest of my friends and then I called him up.

Scott sat there silently, unblinkingly listening to my story with full concentration, only nodding once or twice. It felt . . . odd, unloading my problems on someone like this, it wasn’t what I normally did. I didn’t bottle them up either, I had wrestling that I used to vent and most of the time I just tried to not let things get to me in the first place, but when the did I definitely didn’t do this. It didn’t feel bad though either, in a lot of ways it felt very good to just have someone listen to me rant for ten minutes about all the things that were bothering me.

When I finished Scott looked down at our fingers that were still intertwined and I feared what he would say next. Would he think my outburst was inappropriate, childish even? Would he think I had overreacted and needed to get a grip on myself? Would he take the Kyle-situation too personally and think it meant something that it didn’t? My mind immediately went to this place of assumption and fear and I hadn’t even seen the expression on Scott’s face yet.

“I’m sorry that you felt the need to do all of that to regain control,” he said simply and I was taken aback. It wasn’t judgemental, but it wasn’t condoning of my behavior either, it was somewhere in the middle. Understanding that my feelings were valid enough to act about harshly even if that might have not been the right thing to do in the long run.

I nodded, rubbing my thumb in circles against the back of his head and said quietly back, “Sorry for unloading all of that on you. It’s just been kind of a rough day, and I knew that if I saw you soon that it would all go away.”

Scott laughed and I looked at him as he threw his head back then said, “I don’t have that type of power.”

I looked at him seriously as he settled down from his laughing fit and replied simply, “Yes, you do.”

Scott blushed and I felt heat crossing across my own cheeks as well. He didn’t say anything more, he didn’t need to I had gotten what I needed to off my chest and he had given me validation in what had happened. That was enough, I felt leveled again, at peace. Especially now in the silence as Scott leaned into me again and we watched as the sun on the opposite end of the valley touched the tops of the mountains and slowly, but surely started to disappear behind them leaving a cascade of yellow, and red, and orange in its wake. It was like a watercolor painting the way the colors faded in and out of eachother, I thought, and I knew Scott was probably thinking the same thing but much more deeply, with a greater appreciation than I ever could.

Soon, there was just a rim of yellow around the mountains that  faded into deep indigo as the sky stretched on above our heads. I felt Scott sigh against me and pull his hand away from mine to reach up and wipe something away from his face. A tear maybe? This really struck something in me, the idea of Scott crying. He was one of the most sensitive people I had ever met, so in tune with his feelings, but the idea of him crying seemed so out of place to me. Not because it wasn’t manly but because it seemed to me that Scott knew himself too much to ever need to cry. I smiled warmly and pulled him into my chest more tightly at the thought that there was still so much I had the privilege to get to know about him.

Which brought me back to the thoughts and concerns that hat been running through my head before he arrived. Unlike what had happened at the pool party, these had been left unresolved, tucked away. I knew that the only way I could come to terms with them was by asking Scott about it, he was after all who they were about. But the cost of asking was knowing, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle the truth if it meant that I had acted just as Kyle had, even if it was less extreme, or in my own way.

“Was I . . .” I began, hesitant at first, but knowing I needed to spit it out and ask him for my benefit even more than his, “Was I like that at first? Like, Kyle? Rudely persistent, pushy to the point of perpetration. I just wondered because it was so apparent you didn’t want this at first, and still I pursued you, kissed you when you said no, all of that, and I just wondered if . . .”

I trailed off, he knew what I wondered so there was no point finishing the thought. Scott pushed off of me and sat, body angled towards mine, just as he had before. I looked at him against the darkening sky and he was looking at me just as intensely, his dark eyes burning into mine. It felt like we stared at each other for an eternity, me trying to draw an answer out of his eyes, while he remained ever elusive.

Finally, he opened his mouth and responded quietly, “I always wanted this.”

The heaviness in my heart that was caused by worry slowly morphed into something even heavier as he continued before I could respond, “From the second I met you at Rick’s I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help falling for you. I fought against it, so hard because I’m afraid, but I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid now, as we sit here, with me in your arms, even though we are absolutely alone I can’t help but be terrified.”

“Terrified of what?” I wanted to ask but he seemed to know that I was thinking it so he continued.

“Terrified of someone finding out about this that could use it against me, to hurt me. Terrified of you, that you might hurt me because I’ve never opened up to anyone as much as I have opened up to you, not even Harper. But I’m mostly terrified that this might end, whatever we are, before we ever have a chance to figure out what that is. I might not be ready to figure it all out right, but I’m getting there and I’m so scared you’ll walk or I’ll run away before we have the chance to do that.”

And he was crying again, not hard like a sob or a wail, but soft tears were welling up at the corners of his eyes, not heavy enough to fall over onto his cheeks, but enough to make his brown eyes to glassy that they almost looked like windows into his soul. Just as he had said moments ago, I felt a vulnerability from him that he wasn’t really used to giving. Which gave me the answer to the question I had asked all by itself, which made me want to fall for him too, just like he said which was absolutely crazy because we had only met each other a month ago but what did time matter when you were holding someone in your arms and it felt right no matter how many days had passed?

I reached up and touched his face, the whole of my hand covering his cheek all the way up to his hairline and he nuzzled into my palm, smiling slightly as I leaned forward to place my lips against his for the second time tonight.

Every kiss with Scott was different, yet somehow better than the last, they varied in intensity, and length, and passion, but still they all felt the same in importance. Because it’s his lips that were against mine, no one else’s. Not Corbin’s, not Dillon’s not Kyle’s, none of the boys who stupidly I had hooked up with over the summer. They were Scott’s lips, and when I was kissing them that was all that mattered. It didn’t matter if the kiss was fast or slow, long or short, passionate or tender, it just mattered that it was him on the other end. Just as it had with everything so far. I could handle standing, handle waiting, handle secrecy, so long as I was doing all of those things with him.

I pulled away and put my forehead against his, wrapping my arms around his shoulders to pull him into me. I turned him around and leaned his body against my own, he was practically sitting on my lap and I knew that in a few hours my leg would be completely asleep, but just like I said, that didn’t matter to me.

< RETURN TO CHAPTER ELEVEN | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER THIRTEEN >

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