The Good Life
Chapter 1: An Old Friend Returns
"Rylee Andrews. I don't believe it."
"Kenji!" I exclaimed loudly, dropping my heavy luggage and throwing my arms around my brother. He hugged me tightly and laughed. People around us in the terminal stopped walking and stared, as though we were doing something peculiar.
"How long has it been since I last saw you?" He pulled away and stared down at me.
"Two years." I grinned. "Two years too many. Did Mom tell you I tried coming home last Christmas, but I needed to take winter session classes?"
"Bullshit." He grabbed my abandoned luggage. "Either way, it's good to have my baby sister home finally." He ruffled my hair before I could duck away. "Just think… my sister is a law school graduate. How the hell did that happen?"
I wagged my finger at him. "Be careful, I have a law degree, so I know how to sue."
"You wouldn't." He hoisted my bag over his shoulder. "God, Rye, what the hell is in here?" He groaned as we started walking.
"Stop whining. I carried that bag this far." It was true, although, I'll admit that my 5'2" frame made it especially difficult. I did, however, manage to get a laugh out of a group of 16-year-olds. I'm not sure what was so funny about my struggle, but it has been almost a decade since I was that age.
After high school, I chose to attend a college on the other side of the country. At the time, I wanted to escape from everything that home represented. When I was sixteen, I was raped. What's worse was that my attacker – Denny – hadn't used protection, and I became pregnant. Yeah, imagine my horror. From there, my life spiraled out of control, and I lost all of my friends and was forcibly transferred to a new school. Ironically enough, that led to the best years of my life. I gave birth to the baby prematurely, and he died soon after. I named him Kurt, and even though no one ever mentions him, I still think of his blue eyes that matched so perfectly to my own. After Kurt and my alcoholic, abusive father were removed from my life, my wounds healed. Soon afterwards, Denny was put behind bars for raping someone else. Justice served.
When I transferred to my new school, I was adopted by a group of five friends. Keith, Gavin, Chamellia, Nat and Jonas. They took me in despite what I had been through, and showed me that there are people in the world who care for others regardless. For whatever reason, I bonded more with Jonas than any of them. Maybe it was because he only lived a block away… or maybe it was just fate.
I squinted and stepped out into the sunny parking lot and held the door for a huffing and puffing Kenji. He waddled passed me glaring, as if trying to punish me for bringing such heavy bags.
I hadn't thought about Jonas for a few days. It had to be some sort of record. Jonas and I dated from the end of our junior year until the day I left for college. During that time, Jonas meant more to me than anyone else. He and I were in love, and it was assumed by everyone that we were meant to be. Had I not left for college, I would have told you I could spend the rest of my life with him. Unfortunately, having almost 3,000 miles between the two of us for seven years makes that impossible. We promised to keep in touch, and we did – for the first three years – but somewhere during my senior year, our calls stopped, and it's now been four years since we've spoken.
You would think he would eventually be pushed to the back of my mind, but I never stopped thinking about him. Never. I thought about him almost every single day without fail. When he wasn't in my thoughts, I felt empty. When he was, I felt heartbroken. I will admit that I had hoped by moving home, he and I would somehow rekindle our lost romance. I know it's very romance-movie-ish, but it was the only hope I had some days.
"What kind of car do you drive?" I asked Kenji.
Kenji grunted and shifted my bag onto his other shoulder. "Jetta."
I scanned the parking lot. There were at least five Jettas within view. "What color is it?"
He grunted again and dropped my luggage next to a red Jetta. "Oh, thank God." He heaved a sigh of relief.
I glanced in the car. There was a blonde girl sleeping in it. "Are you sure this is it?" I asked, glancing at him as he dragged my bag to towards the trunk.
He looked at me weirdly. "Of course. Why?" He popped the trunk and with a rather loud groan, he heaved the bag into it.
"There's a girl in it."
"Rye, come on. That's Kate."
I almost fell over. "Kate… Berkley?"
He shut the trunk and gave me a stony stare. "Yes, and I don't want to hear your shit about it."
"I can't believe you're still with her!" I exclaimed, completely ignoring his comment. Kate and I had been in the same grade during high school. She always seemed to hate me, and therefore she wanted to make my life hell. For whatever reason, she noticed Kenji during his senior year and our junior year, and they started dating. I was so sure they had broken up a year or two ago.
"There's nothing wrong with her. If you'd give her a chance you'd know that."
I grumbled. "Yeah, I'll try." Even though she's Satan… My mind spoke before I could stop it. Kenji unlocked the car and we climbed in.
Kate stirred, opened her big green eyes and lifted her perfect blonde head. I scowled, hating that she was just as perfect as I always remembered her being. She stared at me and smiled widely. "Wow, Rylee, your mom was right. You look exactly the same."
I stared. Was that supposed to be a compliment? "Thanks. So – do you." I said uncertainly.
She looked me over. "Your hair is still black."
I blinked. "That's how it grows.
She smiled sweetly. "Well, with your pale complexion, it only makes sense to have lighter hair."
My eyes narrowed. I started to make a snide remark, but Kenji interrupted me.
"Mom will be excited to see you. All she ever does now is talk about you."
"That's because she loves me more." I stated, shrugging.
"That's because she had me when she was seventeen."
"So? She had me when she was eighteen."
"Not the same."
"It's only one year."
"Still not the same."
"Yes, it is!" I said, sitting forward in my seat.
"Nope, sorry." He grinned at me in the rearview mirror.
"Oh my God, you two. Shut up." Kate shook her head and picked at her manicured nails. I silently wondered how Kenji dealt with her all the time.
Deciding to change the subject, I cleared my throat. "So, do you guys live together now?" I prayed for a no, but prepared myself for the worst.
"For almost two years." Kenji grinned at the road and grabbed Kate's hand. Kate called him "Pookie" and kissed his cheek. Ugh. Spare me.
"So then what about marriage?" I thought it seemed like a logical progression, but I noticed both of them stiffen and shift away from each other.
Kate turned to me. "We've been together for eight years. You'd think getting married would make sense."
"Don't do this now, Kate. Not in front of Rylee."
"No, no. I want her opinion." She gave me a hard stare as if to say 'well?"
"Don't answer, Rye. She does this all the time. I told her we'd get married when the time was right."
She huffed loudly. "I'm twenty-six and you're twenty-seven. When will the time be right? When I'm fifty? I'm not going to be as hot when I'm fifty." She pouted.
"I don't care how hot you are." Kenji shot back. I shifted awkwardly. As much as I hated them together, I didn't want to be the one to spark their break up. I glanced out the window and sighed in relief when I realized we were almost at my mother's house.
" – and don't think I don't see the way you check out my friends!" Kate was exclaiming.
Kenji scoffed. "Like who? Sarah?"
"What's wrong with Sarah?"
"She's a whore, for one. If you're accusing anyone it should be her. Do you have any idea how many times she's grabbed my ass?"
Kate's mouth fell open. "You let her grab your ass?"
"What? No! She did it on her own."
"Take me home, Kenji." She snapped.
"I'm taking Rylee to Mom's first, and then we'll both go home and talk."
She huffed. "Like I'm going to talk to you after this." I saw Kenji roll his eyes and look at me. He gave me a look that said quite plainly, 'she does this all the time.'
When we arrived at the apartment building, I hopped out quickly to avoid anymore tense air in the car. Kenji unloaded my luggage onto the sidewalk. "Can you take it from here?" He nodded towards the car. "I want to knock some sense into her."
I nodded and smiled. "Of course." He gave me a quick hug and drove off. I sighed and glanced at all of my stuff on the sidewalk. I frowned. Great. Really great. I leaned down and grabbed it, trying to make them budge. I tugged harder. "Good thinking, Rylee." I grumbled. "Sure, I can move these all my by myself. Give me a break! Just let me – "
"You know," said a voice behind me, "only crazies talk to themselves."
I growled, too frustrated to care who was insulting me. "Then label me insane."
"I'm afraid I did that a long time ago." The voice laughed. "Andy, turn around."
I froze, hunched over my bags. Only five people had ever called me Andy. I spun around and squealed in delight for the second time that day. "Keith!" I hurried over to him and jumped into his arms. "Oh my God. How the hell are you?"
Keith grinned and set me on the ground. "I'm doing surprisingly well." His grin grew. "I got married."
My mouth almost hit the ground. "You're joking!"
He shook his head. "Nope. A year and a half ago." He wiggled his left ring finger in the air.
"Congratulations. Who's the lucky girl?"
"Her name is Nicole."
"I'll have to meet Nicole." He nodded and smiled. "So…"
"Are you – uh – seeing anyone?"
I cleared my throat awkwardly. "Not – so to speak." Keith raised an eyebrow and I sighed. "Or not at all."
"Nothing wrong with that." He said. "Independent woman."
I forced a smile. Yes, because it was every girl's dream to be pathetic and alone. "What are you doing on my street?"
"You wouldn't believe it, but I saw Kate and Kenji in a drugstore, and she was bitching about having to pick up his sister Friday night."
"Oh no, I'd believe it." I shook my head. "How did Kenji ever last this long?"
"My vote is for amazing sex." Keith said matter-of-factly.
"Still rude and crude, I see."
"That would be Nat and Gavin, not me."
I sat on one of my suitcases. "How is everyone else?"
"Nat started working as a computer programmer for some big corporation."
I stared. "How'd he manage that with his attitude?" Nat's attitude was unconditionally in asshole-mode.
"Hell if I know. I've been wondering the same thing."
"How is Gavin? Did he ever decide to go to college?"
Keith shook his head and grinned. "On the contrary. He started working at a tattoo parlor."
"I didn't – eh – realize he was artistic."
"No one did. We all laughed at him until he got the job."
"So, what about you?"
"Oh, I just work at an accounting firm." He said, waving his hand dismissively. "It's good money, but a lot of hours."
I fell silent and stared at the cement sidewalk. I wanted to ask about Jonas, but I knew the second his name came up, everything would become awkward. Although, if I didn't bring him up, it would be just as awkward, because Keith would know I was avoiding talking about him.
"So – uh – how's – "
"Jonas?" Keith finished. My heart thumped loudly in my chest.
I flushed. "Yeah."
"Jonas is fine." He smiled knowingly. "He's more successful than all of us. He's practically running some company."
"That's fantastic!" I exclaimed, momentarily thinking I should congratulate him, before I remembered I hadn't spoken to him in years.
"Yeah, well there's probably something you should know about – "
"Rylee Andrews! How dare you come home after such a long time and not rush up to see me!" She burst out of the apartment doors.
"Hi, Mom!" I hugged my mother tightly. I missed her so much.
Mom let me go. "You look thin. Have you been eating properly?"
I rolled my eyes. "Yes."
Mom glanced at Keith and gasped. "My, my. Look at how handsome you've become, Keith! All you had to do was cut your hair." She was eyeing him approvingly.
"I cut it three years ago." He said, laughing.
"Yes, well, you know… Rylee's single." She said in an undertone, as though I wouldn't hear.
Keith laughed loudly. "Sorry, I'm already spoken for." He held up his ring finger again. I stared longingly at it, wishing that I was the one with the ring on my finger.
My mother tsk-ed. "Too bad. Rylee hasn't been on a date for years."
"Mom!" I moaned again.
She glanced at me and smiled. "I know, I know. That's my cue to shut up and leave. If you two help me get these bags in the house, you can have the night to yourselves."
Twenty minutes later we were in Keith's car driving to a restaurant.
"You really don't have to take me to dinner." I said. "We could just hang out somewhere."
He shook his head. "No can do. I promised I'd bring you to dinner tonight. Everyone's really excited to see you."
I glanced quickly at him. "Everyone?"
Keith cleared his throat awkwardly. "Well, I didn't tell Jonas."
"Why not?" I asked, feeling my heart deflate.
"It's not really my place to say." He paused. "But it's not like he doesn't want to see you."
"As far as he's concerned, I'm never coming home."
"You can't really blame him. You've been gone for over seven years."
I bowed my head and swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat. "I know."
"Don't worry, ok? I'm here, and Gavin and Nat still want to see you."
I nodded. I was surprised to see how nice the restaurant was when we arrived. The lights were dimmed to a "dinner" setting, and the hostess was extremely smiley.
"They should already be here." Keith mumbled. "Table for Lownes." The table was under Nat's name? Jeez.
The hostess consulted her list and grinned some more. And then I saw Nat and Gavin. It was amazing how so little time matured them both. Keith looked relatively the same, but Nat and Gavin had changed. Nat's light brown hair was no longer long and unkempt, but short and neat. His ripped jeans and dirty shirts were replaced with neat, clean work attire. Gavin's 4-inch long liberty spikes were gone and replaced with naturally wavy dark brown hair that hung down in his eyes. His dark wardrobe was replaced with a plain white tee and jeans. I could see tattoos covering his arms.
When they noticed me, Gavin leaped from his seat and hugged me tightly. "Shit! Andy, I don't believe you're finally back."
I grinned. "I've missed you guys."
His eyes trailed down my body slowly. When his eyes finally came back up to meet mine, he winked. "You got pretty hot. How'd that happen?"
I shrugged. "Law school?" I turned to Nat. "Hey."
Nat nodded and half-smiled. In Nat's world, that was the equivalent of throwing a fiesta. "Andy." He said curtly.
Everyone sat down, and I immediately noticed two empty seats. "Are we expecting anyone else?" Keith asked.
Gavin laughed guiltily. "About that – "
"Shithead invited Jonas." Nat tattled.
"What's wrong with inviting Jonas?" I asked.
Keith chewed on his lip. "Well, you haven't talked to him in a while, so you wouldn't know."
I rolled my eyes. "What is it? Did he lose a leg or something?"
"You're not going to like it." Gavin warned.
"He's with Chamellia." Keith blurted.
My breath caught in my throat. "W – with her?"
"We think it's fucked up, too." Nat said, shaking his head.
Keith looked at me wearily. "A bit shocking, I know…"
I stared at my hands. That was the understatement of the year. I had no idea what I had expected Jonas' life to be like, but I hadn't thought he would in a relationship with Chamellia of all people. I tried to ignore my overwhelming sense of disappointment, and swallowed a lump in my throat. I know everyone always says that as long as their loved one is happy, that's all that matters. Well, Jonas had Chamellia, and I had… no one. It tugged annoyingly at my heart whenever I thought about it, and I found it hard to ignore the burning sensation behind my eyes.
"So, he's coming tonight?" I asked awkwardly. I looked up and blinked furiously. I wasn't going to let this get to me. It's not like I moved back home just to be with Jonas, anyway.
Gavin nodded. "I'm not sure if he's bringing Chamellia, though."
My breathing was uneven, but I didn't want them to think something was wrong, so I just forced a smile. "Well, the more the merrier. It'll be – nice to see her again."
All three frowned at me. "Are you sure?" Keith asked suspiciously.
I cleared my throat. "Look. I'm fine. It's no big deal." I laughed and pretended like I didn't notice how fake it sounded. It was obvious that none of them believe me. All three of them stared until someone else cleared their throat behind me. A male someone. I stiffened and noticed Keith's eyes dart from mine to somewhere over my head. I slowly turned around, feeling as though I would throw up. Even though the voice was deeper, I recognized it. "Hi, Jonas." I squeaked through my total humiliation.