Disclaimer: I do not own any copyrights whatsoever to John Lennon's song "I'm Moving On" nor is anyone paying me for minutely using the lyrics in this chapter. I'm just a big fan of old music!
Thank you, writerwithoutacause for adding me to your C2 "Catch of the Cliches." I'm honored! For everyone else, thanks for reading. Maybe once you're done with this chapter you could go read some of her fantastic poetry (cue jealousy) or her story "EPIC" (only three chapters so far but what's there is worth reading!); along with anything written by Koki Enwai, who writes a killer thriller romance and a creepy one-shot that has you holding your breath 'til the end; and Aimerz, who also writes poetry that causes me great envy.
-Note- The next chapter is where the plot finally takes off. This chapter is short compared to the rest because it's almost a "filler," developing Emma's character that much more in addition to Terence and Jackson's characters. Plus I wanted to show what Emma and Terence are really like together, unhindered by Emma's earlier staggering grief. And I didn't want things to move too quickly or it would throw the rest out of whack. Yeah, I said "out of whack." People still use that expression! LONG LIVE THE '90s!
Fingers snapped in front of my face and only because the sound made my headache twinge in response did I return to the present. When Terence noticed I was no longer zoning out into the lace on the lavender pillow I was still absently petting, he rolled his eyes. At some point he had moved from lying with his head on my stomach to sitting up and facing me, holding his hand with the snapping fingers in front of my face. Wow, I must have been pretty far gone not to have noticed before.
"Where were you?" Ter asked. His blue eyes squinted against the sunlight the better to study my expression. "Or should I say when?"
I let my gaze wander away from his sunbed-tanned face and stared out the window above my bed without answering. Terence, unhappy with my inattention, put his face directly in my line of vision. When I only closed my eyes, he nuzzled my cheek like an attention whore of a puppy. The fact that his nose was cold and wet only made it more likely that's exactly what he must have been in a past life.
"Eww," I spat, pushing his face away. "Go get a tissue, Mr. Common Cold."
"Well then don't go all comatose on me when I'm talking about your future husband!" Ter shot back, wiping his nose with some article of clothing he had swiped off the floor. When he was done, he dropped it off the side of the bed. He gave me a big grin when he noticed my expression. "Don't give me that look, Em. One less shirt that proclaims 'Chuck Norris is My Homeboy' is one more human soul I've saved." By the time I had rolled my eyes, the conversational topics had already changed. "So as I was saying about Ben…"
"Terence, no. Just… no."
"I've had enough for now, okay?" I half-snapped, half-sighed. "I already have a lot on my plate. My ex-boyfriend-slash-best-friend just died and I kind of need some time to—"
Terence seized my face between his hands and squeezed my cheeks hard. It would have been more peculiar if this wasn't something he had started doing since the day I met him, when he was working the makeup counter at Macy's and my friend Stacy asked for a free counseling; but, in making the executive decision that Stacy already had on enough makeup and I was really the one who needed work, he had grabbed my face like so and declared the concealor I was using was wrong, all wrong, for my complexion. I prepped myself for the ridicule he was about to give me, which is what the face-grabbing gesture usually implied.
"Don't say grieve," he said harshly. "That wasn't love, Emma. You took care of him only because no one else would. You two just used each other. You used him to make you look good, and he used you for the usual things that straight guys do. Chris was better than that, I know, but you were always babying him. You picked him up every time he fell, brushed him off, got him a new job or supported him with your puny paychecks when he got lazy. Stop pretending you could ever love someone like him, Em. Did you honestly like living off dry Cheerios and fruit granola bars whenever he couldn't find work? I admit, it did wonders for your figure, going from a size six to a size two in only two months, but even I like to splurge a little here and there with some ice cream or—"
I couldn't push him off the bed from the position I was in, but I did my best by putting one hand in his face and shoving. It turned into a face-grabbing match in which he pinched my cheeks tighter the harder I shoved into his face, until at last we both split apart simultaneously like a spliced atom. Terence panted for breath, seeing as my hand had been blocking off both clean air passages, while I rubbed my face with both hands.
Rubbing my left ear that had begun to ache sometime during the attack, I muttered, "Jerk. But you know, I wouldn't expect someone like you to understand compassion."
Terence stopped wheezing and his face deadpanned, but the emotion was in those dewy blue eyes. He looked hurt.
"Chris was my friend," he said softly. "I miss him. He made me feel comfortable with who and what I am. But in all other aspects, Emma, Chris wasn't a good friend. He was a lot of fun to be around, yeah, but he wasn't there for me when I needed him. That was always your job. You're the one I'd grieve, Emma. You're my best friend."
I wasn't sure how to respond to that. Touched as I was, this was Terence. There was usually an ulterior motive for when he was being touching.
My eyebrows rose. "And saying that has nothing to do with guilt-tricking me into going out with your acquaintance Ben tonight, right?"
He threw up his hands. "God! I try to do something nice for my best friend and all she has to say in reply is that she thinks I'm tricking her! Some friend you turned out to be, Emma Larson!" Shouting this, or what seemed like it to me, I watched Terence roll off my bed with surprising grace and then stomp out of my room. He didn't close the door behind him.
Rolling over onto my stomach, I pulled a pillow over my head and let the world go dark.
Only to be awoken what felt like seconds later by the John Lennon ringtone, which had seemed less ironic only last week.
"When you were angry you had love in your eyes,
when you were sad you had a dream in your voice,
But now you're giving me your window smile,
I'm moving on, moving on you're getting phony—"
It would have repeated if I didn't snatch up the phone off the nightstand just then and whip it open. I was really going to have to change that ringtone or people were going to think I was getting some morbid enjoyment out of all this.
"Hello?" I croaked.
"Hey, it's Jackson. I was just making sure you're all right."
I hesitated, which was dumb once I got to thinking about it. What else was I going to do? Hang up on the nice guy who'd called to check-up on me?
Eventually, I muttered, "Yeah. If this headache doesn't kill me."
Tinny laughter filtered through the phone. "Well," he said, "That's good, I guess. That you're alive I mean." Neither of us said anything for a full minute. I know because I checked the glowing faceplate, watching the digital seconds tick by. Then I heard Jackson's soft apology, "Whoops."
"No, it's okay." It wasn't. "But hey, I just woke up. I'll call you back."
The dismissal was in my voice. We both heard it.
"Oh… Okay then."
I hung up, rolled out of bed, and staggered across the hall into Terence's room. It didn't occur to me at the time he might not be there. He was lying in a heap under a gray down comforter, halfheartedly flipping through a trashy gossip magazine. He refused to look at me even after I said his full name three times.
Finally, I just said, "Want to help me get ready for the date tonight?"
Still without looking up, Terence smiled. "I was thinking of that pale blue tunic top paired with your white short-shorts and a chunky brown belt," he murmured. "Amanda has the perfect belt."
It should have came as no surprise when Ben picked me up three hours later. By then it was nearing seven in the evening.
Ben was an Average White Irish Boy, which is what Ter and I had renamed him as we watched him walking up the driveway to the door. He drove a dark blue Mustang and dressed in khaki shorts paired with a gray rugby shirt, and dark brown mandals. The mandals are what got me. They nibbled at Terence, too; I noticed his nose scrunching in distaste as his apprising gaze paused on Ben's feet. I continued with the appraisal, noting the auburn hair, the eyes that looked brown from here. The distance between Ben and the door closed fast. I didn't open the door right away after the bell rang, instead turning to my supposed new best friend.
"He looks like my fraternal twin," I hissed.
Terence waved an uncaring hand through the air. "At least you'll have cute kids." And before I could complain any more he was heading for the stairs that led down into the entryway. I cringed as I heard the front door open, but smiled when I heard Terence, "No. No-no-no. What were you thinking with those nasty excuses for shoes? Hemp flip-flops are still flip-flops and real men don't wear flip-flops!"
"Um," a deeper voice replied, "You told me to wear this."
"I told you to wear brown shoes! Not brown flip-flops!"
"Well the only other pair of brown shoes I have are clogs and—"
Ben was interrupted when the word 'clogs' triggered a soft scream emitted by Terence. I was snickering as, two seconds later, I walked into the entryway. Terence glanced at me and decided to forgive Ben for the fashion faux pas. He gestured at me.
"Ben O'Connelly, meet Emma Larson. Emma, Ben."
He was taller than me but shorter than Jackson so I didn't have to crane my neck back so much as I looked up at his broadening smile. It was a nice smile. Ben had good teeth, just a bit off-white but straight nevertheless. I muttered a soft hello and he did the same, as if we were two timid children. This was usually where the newest date was supposed to take over, say something witty and tell me what he had in mind for tonight. Dinner, dancing, mini-golf, fireworks, or whatever. Instead Ben, Terence, and I just stood there awkwardly. At least, Ben and I did. Terence shifted restlessly and made huffing noises, which only made everyone more aware of the awkward silence.
Finally, "Well, then. I'll just let you two be off on your way then. If you two are going to be on time for the movie, I mean." Terence sent Ben a pointed look that I probably wasn't supposed to see; but like I said, tact had never been Terence's strong suit. To me, "Em, don't do anything I would. Wear your seatbelt. Don't eat all the popcorn—Think of all the calories!—and don't accept candy from strangers. It's just gross. 'Bye now!"
All the while he had been shepherding us out the door. As he finished his little rant, Terence slammed the door behind us.
"So that's what cows feel like," murmured Ben, echoing my thoughts on the herding thing.
I flashed my most charming smile back at him, which Ben effortlessly deflected by averting his gaze. Okay then. We headed for his car, a dark blue Mustang. As much as I liked Fords, I couldn't help thinking of the latest gas prices, and how nice girls were supposed to offer to chip in for gas when the date was driving. The Mustang pulled away from the curb and we rode in silence much more awkward than it had been in the entryway.
Yeah. I could already see it now! This was going to be a great date.
"So," I said pointedly after a while. "We're seeing a movie then?"
"Oh, yeah," said Ben. "Ter said you like action flicks, so I got us tickets for the new Die Hard. Hope you don't mind."
"How do you know Terence?"
"Err. We worked together at Arby's."
Grrrrrrrreat. I had no problem with people who worked in fast food. I just didn't like to date them, seeing as I was a server and didn't make that much more than a cashier at Arby's most nights; therefore our kids would have to be raised on what we brought home from work, and we'd live in a rented apartment the rest of our days. I also had no problem with people who lived the rest of their days out in apartment complexes, but having been raised by a verbally abusive father figure in such a setting had put me off the idea of dating someone who I may end up living with in such a situation, effectively repeating history.
The movie was good. Afterward we stopped through the Taco Bell drive-thru that was just past the boundaries of the movie theatre's parking lot.
The date went as expected. When Ben dropped me off, he didn't walk me to the door or even bother trying to steal a kiss. He might have been a fun one-night-stand, he was cute after all, even if he did look like the male version of me. But he clearly wasn't interested, which didn't interest me.
I called Jackson while Ben was pulling away from the house. He answered on the third ring.
"Hey," I said before he could even mutter a greeting. "It's early." It was actually twenty minutes from midnight, which was late for some people. "You want to come over and watch a movie?"
"Um," Jackson said, which was answer enough. But I let him finish, "I'm kind of doing something. Rain-check?"
"Oh," I murmured. "Okay then."
I went inside and crawled into bed, and tried to pretend that Terence was right. I didn't miss my dead ex-boyfriend.