“What do you want from me?” my Dad yelled at my mom.
“To listen. You never listen. You just—,” my mom yelled back.
“I just… what? Work my ass off, put a house over you girls’ heads, you want for nothing and yet it’s never enough for you Claudia,” he yelled an octave louder.
“It’s not about the money, Evan. You’re never home. Look at the table for God’s sake. You didn’t even come home last night AGAIN!” she shouted gesturing to his full plate still sitting on the table where my mom sat it out for him the night before, left untouched. Then her voice took on a low accusing tone, “What were you doing this time Evan? Or dare I say who were you doing?” she asked with malice.
He recoiled from her accusation and looked at the table somewhat sheepishly but not full on guilty before narrowing his eyes at her and, like a rubber band stinging him, he retaliated with angry words, “you know what Claudia? I made a goddamn mistake years ago. One you still throw in my face every chance you get. I was 23 years old and scared as fuck. I’ve reaped what I sowed. I apologized a million times over but you won’t let shit die. I don’t even know why I try anymore. I CHOSE YOU!” he shouts. He was basically in her face, cornering her into the kitchen counters. He bowed his head to hers, gripped her by her chin that was quivering and forced her to look at him. “When are you going to choose me?” he asked with such sincerity it ripped my heart into shreds.
“Once a cheater, always a cheater.” That’s what my mom’s mother told her. Lecturing her, in fact, on how foolish it was to stay with him after finding out he cheated. My grandpa, who I have never met, ran off when my Mom was just a baby. “I baked his bread but he got it buttered by someone else,” she would say.
Needless to say it’s been drilled into my mom’s head that all men cheat. It’s been cemented into mine that love is just a joke.
All more reasons why I will never commit with my whole heart. Love is just temporary. Nothing lasts forever.
Sometimes to escape the noise of haunting memories you need your best friends hand in your own to help erase the sound and fill you with a sense of peace, even if it’s temporary.
“I thought I would find you here,” Josh said sitting next to me interlacing his fingers with my left hand as I trace over my dad’s name on his tombstone. “You okay? You look far away.” He always worries about me especially on this day.
I nod swiping a few lost tears. “I was just remembering that day. Their angry words thunder so loudly in my head. It’s been three years today and it still hurts.” I rub the throb in my chest that never dulls.
He pulls me to his side, kisses my forehead the way he always does. “I don’t think the hurt of losing someone goes away. Some days are better than others. But missing them… that feeling I think is just always they’re lying dormant. Something as simple as a song on the radio or the smell of their perfume on someone else triggers all those memories and in one moment you’re trapped in the past.” He sighs getting lost in his past.
I look at him, my best friend, his own pain from loss etched all over his face. The guilt kills me everyday. He understands more than anyone how I feel except for the guilt. “I’m sorry Josh,” I whisper.
He cups my chin tilting my face to his, “Riley, we do this every year and every year you apologize to me. It’s not your fault that your dad got in the car that night or that my mom was a victim of his drunk driving.“
“It’s my dad’s fault. My mom’s fault. Therefore I am guilty by association. He never should have been on the road. I’m sorry we came into yall’s lives. Because of that you don’t have your mom. It’s not fair.” I choke on every word as it burns out of my throat.
He abruptly stands and pulls me to my feet. “Riley stop blaming yourself because I sure as hell don’t. Yes it hurts. God, it hurts some days to not have her here but never, and I mean never, have I wished for even a second that you not be in my life. You mean the world to me, Riley Shaw.” He grabs my hand and places a soft kiss on my palm.
God I love him. Why is life so cruel?
“You mean the world to me too, Joshua Parker. I lo… I care about you so much.” I bite the inside of my cheek painfully as I realize my almost slip.
Josh stares at me for the longest moment with the strangest of expressions. I wonder if he caught that. Shit! He eventually smiles and interlaces our fingers. “C’mon, your mom is worried sick about you. If I don’t get you home soon she is going to send out a search party.” He laughs trying to lighten the mood.
I hold onto his hand like he is my lifeline and walk with him to his truck. Only if everything was different we could be together like we were meant to be. I wish everything were different.
Once were in the truck Josh asks the question that I’ve been asking myself all day. “Why is Dean not here with you Riley?”
I look out the window as the world passes by in a blur. Dean isn’t with me today because he isn’t with me anymore. When I turn my face to look at Josh I want to tell him everything. That we broke up two days ago. That it hurt like hell but I didn’t care like I should because Dean isn’t the one I loved anyway. That every decision for the past two years is one big giant mountain of doubt. “He had to work but I’m sure he will stop by later.” He won’t.
Josh studies my face I’m sure sensing the half lie or the withheld truth. “M’kay… so wanna tell me what happened this morning to have your mom in such a state of panic that she thought you might catch a bus and disappear for good?” He grins knowing my Mom always thinks I’m on the verge of running away.
I’m too broke and weak to run away physically, however emotionally I’ve been on the run since that day three years ago, maybe even before.
I sigh and laugh although it’s not a laugh of humor. “I ran off this morning after yelling at her for the longest time. I told her that I remember every word, every fight and every reason why I hate them both.” I see that my words disappoint him so I turn back to the window looking away from him.
Today is one of those days where I do feel that hate for them. I hate that they loved so little and fought so hard. I hate that my Dad chose to drown his pain in a bottle and took his anger to the road killing an innocent woman on her way home from her son’s sports banquet for football. A son that is my best friend and the very person I love with every fiber inside of me, changing our futures forever.
Josh sighs and I know he is about to spill his words of wisdom. The same thing I have heard from him more than once. “Riley you need to forgive them. I have. My family has. We can’t go back and change the decisions of that day. But if you keep living in the past you can never move forward.”
They ruined everything. His dad is without the love of his life. Josh and his sister are without their Mom. They stole happiness from them and because of that I can never allow myself to have any happiness with him. A bottle of booze, a car accident, and 6 feet of Earth on two important people cemented my decision to never let myself have him. I didn’t deserve him. Maybe I was punishing myself for my dad’s decision but it’s what I had to do. Every time he would look at me he would see what my Dad took from him. It was too much.
I used to wear my heart on my sleeve. I used to dream of a time Josh and I could be together. Some of my sweetest memories are shared with him. Yet looking back, even within those sweet memories there are bitter memories too of a boy that was already plotting his invasion of my life.
4 years previous
Freshman: fresh meat, a beginner, a novice, someone who is naïve, a first-try effort or the first time to screw it up
“Earth to Riley. Did you hear me? I think I want to kiss Laiken.”
I heard him fine. I just hated what I heard. Laiken was the first girl to look at Josh with hungry curious eyes. Since Josh and I had been best friends since kindergarten he never saw me as a real girl and I was to scared to cross the line and lose my friend.
Josh was the quarterback on the JV football team and Laiken was head cheerleader on her JV squad. They were a match made in social heaven. I was a wallflower in the background looking in. But he saw me. He saw her too though.
Josh and I were babysitting the brats otherwise known as our little sisters. It’s date night for our parents, which hardly ever happens being that only one of those couples actually likes the other.
We were alone which was not unusual. Even our parents saw us as innocent friends. If they only knew what I saw when I looked at him. How I craved him then they might not have been as trusting.
I was busy making brownies. Baking was something I did when I was nervous and needed to keep my hands busy. Usually I write in my journal but Josh was here so baking it was. I was mixing like a mad woman. I felt like that. What was I supposed to say to that? My best friend, the boy I wanted to be mine, wanted to kiss another girl. Not just any kiss, it would be his first kiss. That’s a big deal right?
I could say… “Good luck, hope you do it well” or better yet I could say… “Hope it sucks and she slobbers on you and you hate it, maybe even bites you accidentally and scares you to never do it again”. Who was I kidding? Biting his lip would only make her the best damn kisser ever. Ugh!
I could feel his grin and for the life of me I didn’t understand why he was grinning. None of what he said made me happy.
Stir stir stir.
I finally said, “I heard Josh. I mean… I don’t know what you want me to say or why you’re telling me this.”
“I’m telling you because what you think matters to me,” he threw out there.
Mix mix mix.
Honesty? Yes I think so.
“Well I think I don’t like Laiken. I think she flirts with all the boys in school. I think the fact that she has already kissed three other boys while y’all have been hanging out say’s something. I mean she is so fake. She laughs at everything you say and seriously you’re not that funny. Well I mean you are funny but not like all the time.” I rambled and realized I had said way too much.
He threw his head back and laughed. God, I loved his laugh. It was the best sound. “Your adorable when you are like this.”
I poured the brownie mix into the pan and bent over to place it in the oven. When I stood up, I noticed he was looking at my butt. I set the timer ignoring why he was doing that. I placed my hands on my hips and tilted my head. “Like what exactly Josh?”
He smirked like he knew something I didn’t and locked eyes with mine. “Like that. Like you’re jealous.” He gestured at my posture.
I grabbed the spoon covered in brownie mix and held it up in front of me like a gooey weapon. “I’m not jealous Josh.” I soooo was. “Why would I be?” That’s right, faking nonchalance.
I licked the chocolate goodness from the spoon. Brownie mix was the best. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard. His eyes narrowed and he asked, “I don’t know Riley. Why would you be?” His eyes watched my mouth nervously lick the chocolate like he wanted a taste.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not. You want your first kiss to suck, and it will because Laiken isn’t the right girl for you, then go for it. Have fun.”
His eyes flicked between the spoon and my mouth and a smirk crossed his lips like he suddenly had an idea I wasn’t privy to knowing.
“Oh I’m sorry did you want some?” I asked holding out the spoon for him.
His eyes were telling me something, giving me a clue. I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip erasing any left over batter. He nodded but didn’t move. I went to pull the spoon back to my mouth but he grabbed my wrist holding the spoon in between us both as a hostage.
My mouth formed an O as he slowly licked a trail up the spoon… damn lucky spoon I thought. I couldn’t help but watch his mouth the entire time. “Hmm,” he moaned like he thought it was delicious. I thought his lips probably tasted delicious too. Chocolate and Josh would be the best mixture of sweet. All these thoughts about Josh like that took me by surprise but I couldn’t help it. Something in me was changing. Shifting.
The air changed. He didn’t let go of my wrist. He watched my eyes watch his mouth and damn if he didn’t wickedly grin at me. He pushed up close to me. So close in fact that his chest meshed with mine and I suddenly forgot how to breathe.
“Um, what are you doing Josh?” I whispered breathlessly.
He smiled, “Shhh… it’s okay. You just have a little chocolate right there.”
“Where?” I asked embarrassed but then he lowered his head and… oh hell.
He moved the spoon back to the bowl and leaned in, his tongue softly licked a spot by the corner of my mouth. I couldn’t help but shut my eyes and softly moan. My body fell limp against the counter. I braced my hands on the edge just to keep my balance.
It wasn’t until I felt the loss of his warmth that I knew he had stepped back and when I slowly opened my eyes I found him watching me with my lips parted wishing for his tongue to enter my mouth.
I puffed out the breath I wasn’t completely aware that I was holding. He was studying my face with a satisfied look. “I got it.” He smiled crookedly. “So about that first kiss. I could think of a way to make it not suck.” Oh I could too. I so could picture lots of ways.
I looked away from him, feeling the blush creep up to my cheeks as the image in my mind blazed. “How is that?” He stepped back into my space and gently tugged my chin to him, forcing me to meet his gaze. I was trapped in his beautiful hazel eyes that I didn’t notice him reaching into the brownie bowl and dragging his fingers all through the chocolate.
He laughed and stepped back tapping my nose with a chocolate covered finger. “Gotcha.”
I squealed, “Oh my God. You are so dead, Joshua Parker.” I reached in and coated my own fingers in chocolate and began to chase him around the island wiping my hand along his cheek when I caught him and I was laughing hysterically as I did.
He grabbed my hand before I could run away. My heart was racing. My breathing was fast. And I knew he was up to no good by the sinful little twinkle that danced in his hazel eyes. No good at all. My laughter fizzled out as something else took its place. Something unfamiliar, yet wanted so badly.
He took my messy hand and placed my index finger into his mouth sucking the chocolate clean. I felt dizzy. I could feel his tongue swirl around my finger and something in my belly clenched tight.
I stumbled back, my back hitting something hard. He let my finger go with a pop and we stared at each other for the longest time. Not moving just breathing.
He tucked a curl behind my ear. “That was fun.” He smirked and my toes curled. Did he not see how he affected me? What the hell was that?
“I um… yea… I should get a napkin.” I knew it was such a stupid thing to say. I should get a napkin. No I should attack your face and lick it clean that’s what I should have done.
I moved around him and wet a paper towel in the sink. He didn’t move. He just watched me with an unreadable expression.
I reached up on my tippy toes and started dabbing away the chocolate mess I had coated his cheek with. He was motionless with the exception to the way his chest was rising and falling. “All clean,” I said as I softly smiled.
He grinned and took the napkin from my hand and began to gently wipe the chocolate off of my nose. Once he was done he placed his hands on both sides of me caging me in between his hard chest and the kitchen counter. “I want to kiss you,” he blurted out. Wait! What?
“I thought you wanted to kiss Laiken?” Stupid Riley. Stupid, stupid Riley, I thought again. Just shut up.
He shook his head back and forth, “Nah you were right she isn’t the right girl. There is only one solution to making my first kiss not suck and that’s if you let me kiss you.” His eyes never left mine. I wanted to kiss him. But truth was Josh seemed to not really know what he wanted lately. I wondered if I kissed him did that mean Laiken no longer existed?
“Stop over thinking it Riley. Can I kiss you?” he asked permission again knowing me so well. I was over thinking it. I nodded. “Okay”
“Okay?” his breathe feathered across my lips as I nodded again.
I trembled in anticipation as he lowered his mouth to mine.
A gentle, soft, sweet peck at first was what he placed on my lips. As my hands reached up around his neck to pull him closer to me and I tangled his dirty blond hair in my fingers he groaned deep in his throat and his tongue teased my lips to open for him, allowing him to deepen this kiss.
I was nervous. What if I did it wrong? What if my kiss sucked and kissing Laiken would be better? “What ifs” filled my head as my body was humming. I willed myself to shut up and parted my lips allowing him in and it was like our mouths were made for each other. My tongue began to dance with his and I wanted it to never stop.
It did stop. Definitely not saved by the bell.
The doorbell rang and we both jumped apart panting heavy and staring at the other in shock. It ended way too briefly for my liking. I felt on fire. Tingling in a way I wasn’t used too.
“Riley, Dean’s at the front door,” Tatum shouted loudly from the living room.
Josh raised his eyebrows at me probably just as curious as I was about why he would be ringing my doorbell. Dean was a tolerable pain in my ass, but was a friend nonetheless.
I struggled to slow my breaths. Josh had completely composed himself as though he was unaffected completely. Like nothing amazing just happened. He left the kitchen and walked to the living room to open the front door. I followed in a cloud of confusion.
“Oh, hey Josh, what are you doing here? Is, um, Riley here?” Dean tripped over his words. He was always a little weird about Josh and I always being so close and he was more than tickled pink about Josh potentially dating Laiken.
“Yea man, she’s right there. We’re just babysitting the brats,” he joked and pointed at me over his shoulder. I was still frozen in a state of “what-the-hell?”
I walked into the living room. My mind felt on overdrive. Something life changing had just happened to me and Josh seemed like he’d already forgotten it. I saw it briefly in his eyes when I looked at him. A feeling he wanted me to see but it was gone in a blink of an eye, the softness turning cold. I looked at Dean and I know he saw it. Something non verbal being shared between Josh and I. His eyes darted between us both uneasily.
Josh said, “he’s here for you” In a flat tone that I didn’t understand. I nodded, words escaping me.
He did the guy nod to Dean, “She’s all yours man,” he told him and I was at a loss at what just happened. Why his mood had suddenly crashed and burned. I wondered what he meant by that?
All his? The hell I am.
Josh seemed mad at me. And I didn’t understand any of it at all. He pulled out his phone and with all the power to hurt me with words he did just that. “I’ll be in the kitchen. I forgot to call Laiken back.”
Just a sliver of my heart fell apart that day. He just kissed me senseless and he is calling her? What meant the world to me meant nothing to him? It hurt like a bitch.
I watched Josh walk to the kitchen, my mouth was wide open in shock.
Dean spoke to my back, completely dense to what he just did. “I’m sorry to just stop by. I need to talk to you about something. Can you come outside?” He shifted uncomfortably with his eyes tracked to the path of the kitchen as well.
I turned my eyes back to him and blinked a few times. I felt like I was going to cry. Josh had just kissed me and it felt for me like the Earth moved and now he was in the kitchen on the phone with Laiken probably planning how he would kiss her next. Maybe that kiss would be—the thought died there. I nodded and followed Dean outside wishing he would just go away and leave me alone.
We sat on the stairs of my porch. “What’s up Dean?” my voice cracked.
“Emily broke up with me.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
He looked at my face and sighed, “because she knows I like someone else and she kinda likes Brad now anyway.”
I looked at him, the right words not there. Dean and I were friends but why would I care that he and Emily were calling it quits? My mind was wandering. What’s Josh saying on the phone in the kitchen? I should probably go check my brownies and interrupt him. I should go do that. “Brad, huh?” I said.
“Yea and I like someone else,” he repeated himself. Again, I thought what did this have to do with me?
I mean Josh sucked on my finger, he asked to kiss me, and he put his tongue in my mouth. “You do?” I stated it like a question but I didn’t really care to know the answer.
He nodded. “Yea, she has no idea how amazing she is. There has just always been something about her.”
More wandering thoughts. What does Josh see in Laiken anyway? Doesn’t he know that she flirts with everyone? Why would someone like her be any good for him? What did Dean just say? Oh yea… “That’s great Dean. I’m happy for you. So who is she?” I looked back at the front door. I really needed Dean to leave so I could go figure out what had just went so epically wrong.
He whispered it so lowly I barely heard him, “she’s you. I like you Riley.”
“What?” I said. Shocked, my eyes darting to his eyes. My mind was completely focused on what he was saying for the first time since we had come outside. “You like me?” I pointed to myself like an idiot.
He reached up grabbing one of my curls like he always did and twined it around his fingers. All this time I thought it was a friendly gesture but now maybe I think maybe it was just a way to touch me. “I do. I tried not to. I mean I tried to just stop it but I always think about you,” he whispered and tucked the curl behind my ear.
I swallowed hard and felt like I was having an outer body experience. Before I could rationalize anything in my mind, Dean turned my face to his and I didn’t mean to but I leaned into his hand as he cupped my cheek.
I was feeling sad. I wanted these words to be coming out of Josh’s mouth but his words were being spoken to Laiken as I sat there.
He moved his mouth slowly to mine and I knew I should have pushed him away but I couldn’t move. I was frozen in shock. I mean Josh had just blew me off.
Dean kissed me softly and it wasn’t full of the fireworks that I had just felt but it was… nice. Just a lingering peck, nothing more pushed, a soft pause on my lips. When he pulled back he was smiling.
I forced a grin back, the words were trapped somewhere inside of me. I don’t like you like that. I should have said that. I wondered why I didn’t say that. I just couldn’t find my voice. He got up and walked backwards down my driveway. “We will talk later, K?”
“K,” I breathed. I watched until he was no longer visible. And then I rested my head in my hands letting a few tears escape.
After wiping my cheeks I stood up and turned back around to walk into the house, freezing when I saw Josh standing in the doorway. He saw the entire thing. I could tell by how his jaw was set tightly and how his eyes were staring off toward down the road. His arms were braced above him on the door frame. His body stiff and beautiful. If he wasn’t so angry looking that is.
“Josh…” his cold eyes darted to mine.
“Don’t! You and Dean make a cute couple,” he said it like he hated the idea of it but he smiled at me like it was a brilliant idea.
I looked at him with all the confusion I was feeling. “We are not a couple. I think he’s just confused.”
“His mouth didn’t seem confused Riley. Look… Laiken and her mom are coming to pick me up. I already called my parents so they know about it. I took the brownies out while you were… doing what you were doing out here,” he said pointing in a circle at the steps I was just sitting on and straightening his body in the doorway.
A tear fell from my eyes and I wiped it quickly before he saw it. He was being so mean to me and I just didn’t understand why he would be mad at me. I didn’t set out to kiss Dean but I guess I didn’t stop it either. “Ok Josh. It’s not what it looked like. I promise.” I whispered and went to move around him to get inside.
He seized me by my elbow and when I didn’t turn around to face him he sighed heavily in his chest. “A first kiss, a second kiss all in one night Riley. That’s what it looked like. Which one was better? Wait don’t answer that. I will soon know the answer for myself when I—,”
I jerked my arm back and turned to him with all the venom I felt for how he was making me feel inside. “When you what Josh… kiss Laiken?”
He leaned into my ear, his hot breathe causing me to shiver and, he whispered, “No kiss will taste as sweet as yours. Good luck with Dean.” And with that he took off down the steps toward his yard.
I chased after him. “Josh stop,” I begged.
He turned around and I didn’t know what I saw when I looked at him. Fear? Anger? Sadness? I just didn’t know. All my life I had been able to read Josh. But recently things were shifting and I couldn’t always read him. It scared me.
“What Riley?” he yelled. He never yelled at me before. It caught me off guard. His hands were balled into fist, he was angry.
I walked right up to him, standing almost on my toes to meet his eyes. I placed my hand on his chest. His heart was pounding underneath my palm. I hated that he was so mad at me. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the hell happened tonight but please don’t be mad at me Josh.”
His eyes softened, his shoulders slumped and he placed his head on my forehead in defeat. “I’m not mad at your Riley. I’m mad at myself. I shouldn’t have said all of that. I’m not going to Laiken’s tonight. I never even called her. I lied. I just…” he trailed off pulling back to look at me.
“You just what?” I said quietly.
He pulled me into a hug and I didn’t know what to make of it but I loved how perfect I felt with his arms around me. I hugged him back like there would never be another time.
“You mean a lot to me Riley. You’re my girl, my best friend, ya know? All this stuff is confusing. And you and Dean like that, well it’s just weird and I don’t like how it makes me feel.” He releases me and rubbed behind his neck, looking up to the sky.
“Josh you mean everything to me too. There is no Dean and me. I don’t know what to say about what you saw because I am just as confused as you are that it happened,” I said.
His eyes darted to mine. “He likes you Riley,” he stated it like it all made perfect sense. Like he already knew this. Did he know?
“I know.” Now I do. But I didn’t like him like that. I didn’t think I liked him like that.
“Do you like him?” His eyes studied mine with such intensity that I wasn’t familiar with.
I shook my head back and forth. The answer came to me so quickly although I questioned its truth. “No… not like that.”
“Do you like me like that?” he asked his voice was barely above a whisper.
Yes that I knew for a fact. I did. I looked at him. The truth was on my tongue, ready to fall freely into the wind. If I told him yes, it would crush me if he didn’t feel the same. Worse… what if he did feel the same and I did something to screw it up or he changed his mind later? My dad loved my mom once but he still cheated on her. He still hurt her beyond repair. I could lose my best friend if I let myself feel the truth. I betrayed my own heart that day.
“You’re my best friend and I liked kissing you and I don’t like the way it feels seeing you with other girls. Shit, I don’t even like talking about it or thinking about it but… but…” How could I explain? I was afraid he would hurt me. I was afraid that I loved him so deeply that he had the power to ruin me.
He cupped my chin and the look in his eyes was killing me slowly. He whispered quietly, “but what?”
Tears began to trickle down my cheeks and I didn’t know why exactly, maybe for the loss of the possibility. I just felt so emotionally drained. My system had been shocked.
“But it’s probably not a good idea. I would be lost without you and were only 14 and you seem curious about everything where I am fine with everything staying the same.” I lied. I wasn’t fine.
In a perfect world where love didn’t scare me to death and forever existed, he would say what I wanted. He would have said –,”
It’s a perfect idea Riley. You’re my girl, my only girl, and I will love you, only you forever”.
We didn’t live in that perfect world. In reality he said, “I guess I am a little curious. Things stay the same… for now. But one day Riley we may have this conversation again and when we do I hope you say yes.”
His eyes bore into mine and then he placed a sweet kiss on my forehead. I wiped at my eyes as he stepped back leaving me standing in the yard with a feeling like nothing would ever stay the same and I hoped that conversation would happen again one day and that I would have the strength and security to say yes.
That conversation could have happened the next year but my Dad made a bad decision that made it impossible to ever embrace it. Instead it blew away in the wind, whispering little doubts of why Josh and I could never be more than best friends.
Copyright 2013 by Andrea Michelle