AN: When I started this oneshot, I expected it to be approximately 3,000 words. How I could ever reach 5,000 words was beyond me. So, when I found myself staring at a Word document containing over 10,000 words, all I could do was crinkle my nose in confusion. Fancy that. But, that's a different story. Here's the oneshot. Please heed the warning, and enjoy!
Warning: contains references to sexual situations, heaps of "bad words," and the occasional lame joke
Why I Do Not Praise the Porcelain Gods
Have you ever woken up one morning and had a total "oh shit" moment?
I had my first one last week. Oh, yeah. After surviving four hangover-free years of university, I returned to my hometown only to get completely trashed at a welcome back party. I never quite understood the appeal of blacking out after a tournament of beer pong and the supposedly crippling headache that came afterwards. And guess what? I still don't.
I really should have reconsidered accepting Brandon's challenge to chug the beer keg. What sane five-foot-two little girl would take on a six-foot-three giant? Obviously, I will not be making any claims that I am sane, but at least I beat his sorry ass in the race. That much I remembered the following day.
Unfortunately, that next morning was also absolute hell.
I contemplated slamming my head against the wall just to numb the constant pounding in my head. Then as I tugged my hair with both hands, I felt a wave of nausea come over me. I tossed the maroon bedcovers back, scrambling for the nearest door and yanking it open.
An array of men's clothing greeted me. Half the wardrobe consisted of neatly pressed suits and oxford shirts, while the other was crammed full of sweats, simple t-shirts, and a few hastily strewn-about pairs of jeans—interesting? Maybe, but it was absolutely not what I was looking for. I wanted the porcelain throne, and I needed it now!
The second door I threw back led to the small hallway of the apartment. Strike two. As I shut the door, I clamped a hand over my mouth. I could feel the bile rising up the back of my throat.
There was only one door left in the room, and the timing couldn't have been any closer. I barely managed to whip the door open and dash to the toilet when my stomach emptied its contents. My eyes watered and my throat constricted with each spurt of gunk I offered the porcelain gods. It was far from a pretty sight. Afterwards, I glared at the opened toilet cover, cautiously waiting for any other urge to upchuck.
Now, I was not about to make any unrealistic claims about never drinking again. No, that would just be cliché. But, I definitely would not be taking on anymore keg-chugging challenges.
That was a given.
"Are you okay?"
I jerked my head towards the doorway where a young man stood only half-dressed, a pair of red boxers peaking out over the waistband of his grey sweatpants. He was nicely sculpted with well-defined muscles—not too much, not too little. Just perfect. His hair, on the other hand, was in absolute disarray. Most of the ebony locks poked out in various directions, but a patch on the left side was flattened, presumably by a pillow.
As I evaluated his physique, the mystery man lazily rubbed his half-shut eyes with the back of his hands, but my jaw dropped when he moved his hands out of the way and I was finally able to stare into the pale grey eyes of Benjamin Rivers, ex-boyfriend extraordinaire.
His eyes leisurely scanned over me, taking in my form as I continued to kneel in front of the toilet. One side of his thin lips slyly slanted up.
I frowned. Who was he to be humored by my train wreck of a morning?
Suddenly my vision filled with white. It took me a moment to figure out that Benjamin had tugged the towel off the rack and tossed it at me. Said towel now lay haphazardly on my head, draping past my shoulders.
"You might want to cover up a little. Although, I really don't mind if you don't."
I shifted the fluffy white fabric off the front of my face and peered at him. His eyes, twinkling with laughter, were only locked with mine for a second before they drifted lower. And stayed.
My own eyes curiously followed his gaze. Surely, my shirt couldn't be that interesting.
Let's put it this way. If I had a shirt on, it would not have been interesting. Rather, it was the absence of the black halter top I wore the night before that had captivated Benjamin so. Not to mention that my jeans were missing too.
With wide eyes, I yanked the towel from my head and hurriedly wrapped it around my nude body. "You pervert!"
I immediately regretted yelling as the thumping in my head once again came to the forefront of my attention. I gripped my head with right hand, keeping my left clenched around the towel, making sure the piece of cloth stayed in place. My eyes snapped shut and my brows knitted together as I tried to focus on making the pain go away.
"Come with me," Benjamin ordered softly, taking hold of my right hand.
His grip was loose around my wrist as he led me to the edge of his bed where he gently pushed down on my shoulders. "Sit."
I was in no condition to argue and did exactly as I was told. Although I kept my eyes shut, I heard him open a door and shuffle away. The clanking of glass floated down the hallway and reached my ears. It wasn't long before Benjamin returned too.
He tapped my upper arm with two fingers, and I opened my eyes to see him kneeling in front of me. In one hand, he held a glass of water, while the other was opened and turned upwards. Two large oval pills sat in his palm.
"Why are they so big?"
"They're gels capsules. They take less time to kick in. Just take them. I promise you'll feel better soon."
I eyed him warily, tempted to point out that his promises meant nothing, but I just wanted the pounding to stop. Ignoring the tingling sensation that crept through me, I swiped the pills from his large hand, my fingers grazing the rough skin of his palm. With a swig of water, I kicked both pills back and swallowed hard. Then I chugged the rest of the drink for good measure.
Afterwards, I stared at the empty glass, rolling it in my hands and leaving countless fingerprints on it, marring the crystal with smudgy white.
"Feeling a little better?"
I nodded once before looking up into Benjamin's eyes, my fist clenching around the cup.
"Did we…?" I couldn't finish the sentence. It was an awkward discussion to have with an old flame while sitting on his bed and suffering from a hangover, and I really didn't need an answer. With the pain killers beginning to work their magic, I now noticed a dull ache down below.
Benjamin gave me a small smile before pointing to the floor next to the bed. My eyes followed his finger, and I spotted a few open foil wrappers littering the carpet.
"Ben's playing pretty well today, isn't he?"
I uttered a sound of agreement as I watched Benjamin's tall form practically float down the court before sinking in a lay-up. His opponents were trailing far behind, still on the other side of the court. He grinned and high-fived his teammates, his hair glistening with sweat in the sunlight.
The boys had been playing weekend games at the outdoor courts of Mahoney Park since they were preteens. It was now tradition to gather every Sunday afternoon and play a game of basketball—or two, or three. Even when one of them was sick, they would at least show up to watch the others play. I simultaneously admired and worried over their extreme dedication.
Only a day had passed since I awoke in Benjamin's bed. I was not surprised to run into him so soon. There was no chance of avoiding him, not when his roommate was my best friend. I was just glad Mason hadn't witnessed us leaving their apartment that morning. I could only imagine the discussion that would have followed, but then, maybe I wouldn't have been obligated to come today.
During the years I was absent, Mason babbled endlessly on the phone about their games. Brandon this, Benjamin that, hook shot this, jump ball that. He rarely talked about anything else on Sundays nights, and sometimes his enthusiasm even stretched to Monday nights. When I informed him I was returning to town, he was extremely excited at the prospect of having another spectator who would regularly attend their weekly ritual. There was no way I could refuse him and back out, especially not during my first week home.
So, there I was, sitting on the blue bleachers and watching the man, who I recently screwed in drunken and ignorant bliss, peel off his sweat-soaked shirt to reveal a perfectly sculpted abdomen and a killer set of pectorals. He ran the piece of clothing over his head, wiping beads of sweat from his face and hair, before scrunching it up and tossing it the sideline.
"Goddamn, that boy has got it going on."
I glanced over at the girl sitting next to me. She whistled as she stared at Benjamin appreciatively. Her shoulder-length blond hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, revealing her high cheek bones, small nose, baby blue eyes, and plump lips. No matter where she went, Claire attracted the gazes of the opposite sex. Today was no different even though she was dressed simply in a generic white t-shirt and a denim skirt. I felt horribly plain and invisible next to her.
In all actuality, I knew little about her, having only met her at the party. Mason talked about her a couple times on the phone, mentioning her in relation to Benjamin. They were fuck buddies, he reported one day without thinking. My gut had clenched, and my breath had hitched. Tears had threatened to spill from my eyes as Mason realized his error and scrambled to change the topic, but the damage was done. I knew without a doubt that Benjamin no longer cared. And it hurt, like when you jam a finger with a door, a sharp pain followed by a dull and persistent ache that refuses to disappear.
Claire whistled again. "Damn, I love his abs—and his pecs—and his biceps. Who am I kidding? I love the whole package!" She giggled hysterically in that high pitch of hers that made me want to punch her out every time I heard it.
I scanned the area around us, wondering when Mason's girlfriend was going to return from her search for a drink. Surely, there was a vending machine nearby. I needed her back before I was charges with assault and tossed in the slammer. But Audrey was nowhere to be seen.
Sighing, I resigned myself to my doomed fate. I withdrew my mobile from handbag, pulled up the text screen, and began pushing buttons. It was a pointless message to Mason, who was less than twenty feet away from me and happily playing basketball. I wrote about the weather, oranges, and geckos—anything to distract me from the mounting stress Claire was giving me from her ranting. Unfortunately, no matter how fast my fingers moved or how outrageous my topic, Claire's shrieking managed to rip through my concentration.
"Oh my god! He's coming over here! Quick, does my makeup look okay?" She whirled her face towards me and made a modelesque pouty face.
She could have looked ridiculous. She could have looked like an absolute fool, but damn her and her good looks. She didn't look anything less than spectacular.
"Your face looks fine," I muttered with a clenched jaw.
Her face seemed to glow even more at my answer. "Great," she exclaimed. Then she tugged on the bottom of her skirt before bounding down the seat in front us and plastering herself against Benjamin, her arms snaking around his middle.
"You're doing great, baby!" She told him before clamping her hands on the sides of his face and drawing his face down to hers for a sickeningly deep kiss. Benjamin seemed a little surprised at first, but just for a moment. After that, he was obviously far from complaining, what with his tongue shoved down her throat and all.
I promptly averted my eyes, resisting the urge to gag. I seriously wondered what he saw in her. Sure, she had the blonde hair, the blue eyes, the legs, and the boobs, but I had boobs too. Really, I did not understand, or so I kept trying to tell myself.
When they finally detached themselves from each other, Benjamin called my name, garnering my attention. I looked back at him with blank eyes.
"How are you doing today?"
I shrugged nonchalantly and replied in a flat tone, "Great."
He was not deterred by my offhandedness, nor Claire who was yanking repeatedly on his arm for attention. He merely brushed her off.
"Did you see my shot?"
I nodded with little enthusiasm. "Yeah, great job."
"You should come over again sometime," he suggested in a hopeful voice. "You know, so we can catch up on things."
I cocked an eyebrow at him. "Right."
He barely got out a "see you later" before Claire's yanking finally set him off balance. He immediately regained his footing, but his attention also transferred fully to the bubbly blonde as she not-so-subtly hinted that she wanted ice cream.
As they strolled off, I shifted my gaze to the court where Mason and a few of the other guys were still casually shooting baskets. Mason noticed me watching and waved. With a small smile, I returned the gesture.
"Is Claire still trying to get with your man?"
I turned to the right to see Audrey approaching with two bottles of soda in hand. She took a sip from the opened bottle and handed me the other. I thanked her before addressing her question. "He's not mine."
"Really? You don't like him anymore?" She questioned. Her face and tone clearly displayed her doubt.
"Positive," I replied automatically while twisting the cap off the bottle. Really, I was over him. I was.
"Fancy seeing you here."
Benjamin strode towards me with a grin on his face. His short black hair was still casually styled, but his usual attire was replaced by a classic suit tailored to fit his body perfectly. A silver tie, a wonderful compliment to his eyes, hung loosely around his neck, and his hands dangled from his pockets by his thumbs in a relaxed confidence that had always surrounded him for as long as I had known him.
"Not really," I retorted. "My father works here." I gestured to the building around us which housed all the operations of the local newspaper. "I believe you know him. After all, he did recommend you for your job."
I probably sounded a little snide, and no doubt looked like it with my arms crossed over my chest, but the fact had unnerved me from the moment I heard it. Despite our breakup, Benjamin was still getting perks from my family. I felt more than a little betrayed.
"And here I thought you came looking for me." His grey eyes were still laughing.
"Well, you thought wrong."
I tried to maneuver around him to get to the elevators, but Benjamin grasped my upper arm tightly. Yanking open a nearby door, he pulled me inside the small dark room. Shocked, I stumbled further into the abyss where something hard jabbed me in the side. I cursed under my breath before rubbing the bruising area.
A click sounded, and suddenly the room was flooded with bright light. I blinked, my eyes trying to adjust as I took in my surroundings. It was apparently a copy room, and the offending object I had bumped into was none other than a copy machine. The blinds covering the windows were all shut, separating us completely from the frenzied activity outside. The clicking of keyboards and humming of computers could not be heard in our secret place.
Before I could ask why Benjamin had brought me there, his lips crashed against mine. They moved feverishly at first but then his movements slowed and lightened into soft caresses. I felt his hands dancing around my thighs, motioning for me to wrap them around his waist. When I did, he clumsily made his way towards a high table behind him where he hauled me up and set me on top, the new surface propping me up higher.
I moaned lightly when Benjamin's tongue slipped between my lips and met my own in a gentle yet passionate match for dominance. One of his hands gripped my side while the other came up to cup the back of my head. My own arms had wound their way around his neck. When? I wasn't quite sure.
When our finally lips separated, we kept our foreheads together, leaning into each other. My eyes remained closed, my breathing slow and deep. His breathing too was labored, but he managed to gather enough air to speak.
"I missed you," he said, voice hoarse.
My eyes snapped open at his admittance, reality ripping the cobwebs from my mind. "No." I pushed at his chest roughly as I jumped off the table, causing him to stumble back. "No, no, no." I shook my head from side to side frantically.
Benjamin stepped forward cautiously with a hand reaching out towards me, but I shrank away and began to shuffle backwards, towards the door.
"What's wrong?" His voice brimmed over with concern.
"We can't do this."
"Brier, it's okay. We won't get in trouble."
I shot him a stern look. "No, 'us.'" I crazily waved a hand between him and me. "There can't be an 'us.'"
He frowned. "But, there has been before, and there can be again."
"But at the party—"
I shook my head again, dismissing his argument before he finished it. "I was drunk. You were drunk. It didn't mean anything."
"After I took you home—"
"It was a mistake!" I yelled, cutting him off. I didn't want to remember what had happened after he drove me home that morning, but the events penetrated my thoughts despite my efforts to block them out.
He had politely offered me a ride since I lived a good fifteen minute drive away, and I accepted. He drove me home. We were fine. I invited him in. We were doing all right. Then he kissed me, and all hell broke loose. Before I realized it, clothes were flying and we were sinking down onto the living room couch. He was intoxicating.
"I missed you, Brier. I want us to be an 'us' again."
He cupped the side of my face with his right hand and rested his forehead against mine. My eyes closed automatically as his thumb tenderly stroked my cheek. I felt a lone tear slip under my eyelid and trickle down my face.
"You were the one who wanted out, Benjamin. I wasn't good enough for you, so you wanted to try other things," I whispered. I held back a sniffle and swallowed hard instead.
"That was four years ago. I was stupid."
"That doesn't mean it didn't happen," I said stubbornly.
"I know." He sighed. "I'm sorry. I wish I could take things back, but I can't. I want you back, Brier. I want 'us' back. I'll be better this time."
"We can't," I repeated.
I opened my eyes and stared into his grey orbs. They were sad like a soggy puppy lost in a rainstorm. I loved those eyes, secretly still dreamed about them, but I could not simply forget the last four years in an instant. He had promised me the world. I didn't need the world—didn't want it. All I needed was him, but he deprived me of that privilege the summer after high school ended. He broke his promise. But what hurt the most was that he didn't even try. He had not seemed to care when he nonchalantly informed me that he wanted out.
I had spent the majority of my time at the university healing, drowning myself in schoolwork. I was doing a lot better now—or at least I had been before I came home. I was not about to compromise my progress.
I had not been with anyone else since we broke up. I had not even gone on a single date. I knew he had, multiple times with multiple girls, but one name stood out amongst the others. "Claire."
With her name hanging in the air as a testament to his false promise, I spun on my heels, opened the door and exited the room. I immediately strode out of the offices and into the busy street. I willed back the tears welling up in my eyes as I merged with the stream of people. I was in no mood to have lunch with my father anymore. We would have to reschedule for another day, one when I was not a sobbing mess.
The sound of flushing resonated through the empty restroom, echoing off the shiny tiles. I grimaced as I watched the water swirl around the bowl before being sucked down the pipe and replaced by a fresh supply. Upchucked offerings to the porcelain gods were becoming too commonplace for my comfort. Maybe I had a case of food poisoning.
But, for a full week?
Grabbing my handbag off the hook, I unlocked the stall door and headed for the sinks. As I doused my hands in a mix of soap and warm water, I analyzed my reflection in the mirror. Amber eyes accompanied by dark circles stared back at me from a face that was a little thinner than what I was accustomed to seeing, the angles more prominent. Dark brown hair fell in uncontrolled waves, ending a few inches below my shoulder. I frowned at the sight.
Almost a full month had passed since I last saw Benjamin—an amazing feat, I know. I managed to conjure an excuse every time Mason suggested we spend time at this place, and every Sunday I made sure I was involved in some family outing or another. That's not to say that I never hung out with Mason anymore, just that we never met up at his apartment. Usually, as was the case today, we went out to eat at a restaurant. And lately, it seemed like I always ended up in the restroom hurling my guts out.
I pulled a bottle of water from my handbag and took a large swig, rolling the water in my mouth before swallowing. Then, with one final glance in the mirror, I returned to the main dining area where Mason and Audrey were happily chatting away at a small table. I smiled apologetically at them before drawing out my chair and taking a seat.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Mason asked with his brow furrowed in concern.
I flashed him a bright smile. "I'm absolutely positively fabulous."
"If you're not, we can get them to cancel the order or we can get it go and just eat back at my apartment. It'll be more comfortable."
I blanched slightly at the suggestion but quickly recovered. "I'm fine, Mason. I promise. Now, how about that game last night?" I grinned. "I can't believe they finally won their first game this season!"
Mason immediately joined in my enthusiasm as he whopped in the air and gave a play-by-play of the upset by our local team against our heavily-funded big-city rivals. The restaurant was bustling with people and lively chatter, so despite our antics, we drew little attention from the other patrons. We analyzed the plays, gasped at the growing injury list, and speculated about the team's chances of achieving another victory in their next game. Unfortunately, we came to the conclusion that it was not likely to happen. Curse those road games.
"All right, I've got a BLT, a house special, and a mushroom burger," the waitress announced as she waltzed up to our table balancing a large tray. "Who's got the BLT?" Audrey raised her hand and the sandwich was placed in front of her alongside a serving of crinkle cut fries. Next, Mason claimed the house special with its seemingly mile high filling. If not for the toothpick shoved down the middle, I would have worried about it toppling over. It very much resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Finally, the waitress turned to me. "So I guess the mushroom burger's yours. Enjoy your meals. Feel free to just holler if you need anything thing else."
The moment she slid the platter in front of me, I caught a huge whiff of the burger. The savory aroma assaulted my senses, and I was hit by another way of nausea. I slapped my hands over my mouth, and without bothering to excuse myself, dashed back into the ladies room where I hurled into the toilet bowl nearest to the entrance.
I coughed repeatedly after upchucking, which only resulted in inducing another wave of offerings to the porcelain gods. Good grief. I only hoped they enjoyed getting my presents so often, because I was far from having fun.
I waited in the stall for a few minutes just in case I had another urge to hurl. When nothing happened, I flushed the toilet and headed out of the stall, only to find Audrey leaning against the sink counter. She was frowning, concern etched on her features. Funny, I hadn't realized she'd followed me.
"Have you seen a doctor, Brier?"
I quirked an eyebrow. "Why would I do that? It's probably just a stomach bug."
"You might be pregnant."
My hand stilled in midair, hovering above the tap. She couldn't be serious. I burst out into a loud laugh, my shoulders shaking violently. "Really, Audrey, you must be joking." I tilted my head so I could see her reflection in the mirror. Her lips were set in a straight line, her eyes trained on me.
Oh, lord. She was serious.
I whirled around so that we were face to face. "I'm not pregnant, Audrey," I said, stressing each word to emphasize my point.
"Are you sure?"
I frowned. "Of course, I'm sure."
"When did you last get your period?"
"My period doesn't matter. It regularly skips months at a time."
"It might be different this time."
"Audrey," I said her name with an exasperated sigh, "no."
She continued to stare me down, completely unconvinced. "Have you slept with anyone lately? Anyone at all. I won't judge you."
"No, I have—" I abruptly stopped as Benjamin's face invaded my thoughts. "We used condoms."
"That's not a guarantee."
"No, I'm not pregnant, Audrey!"
The silence that followed my words was deafening, only underscoring the reverberation of my protest off the walls.
Panic began to seep into me, flowing through my veins, mingling with my blood. I was not pregnant. I wasn't. I couldn't be. That just wasn't right. I couldn't be. No, no, I definitely was not pregnant. But no matter how hard I tried to convince myself by repeating those thoughts of denial, my body shook with fear and panic. Tears threatened to spill.
Audrey stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, drawing me into a hug, but I didn't find it the least bit assuring.
"I'm not," I whispered in a broken voice.
She kept holding onto me and eventually started crying herself.
When the sobs finally subsided a little, she squeezed me reassuringly and said in a hoarse voice, "We'll find out together. Don't worry. I've got your back, no matter what."
I nodded, pathetically trying to rub the tears from eyes and damning those uncontrollable girly emotions. We then washed our faces before exiting, but we still must have looked like hell with our red-rimmed eyes and frazzled hair, because Mason immediately jumped up upon seeing us and asked what was wrong.
Audrey just shook her head. "Just a little girly moment—nothing to worry about, sweetie," she told him with a light kiss on the cheek. "We're going to head out though and have another girly moment or too. Can you get them to pack our food to go?"
Mason nodded affirmatively, telling us that he would take care of everything. Then he shooed us off, telling us to take as long as we needed. I smiled appreciatively at him as we departed. He really was a good friend… who would probably hate me when he found out how irresponsible I had been. I cringed at the possibility.
Audrey and I were silent during the trek to the local drugstore. When we arrived, we slipped through the automatic sliding doors before coming to a stop.
"I-I don't know where to go," I admitted in a small voice, my eyes scanning over the numerous aisles and products. I had never paid attention to where the pregnancy tests were located. I didn't think I would be needing them for a few more years, or ever.
"Honestly, neither do I," Audrey replied. "Why don't we split up the store and search for them? That way we can do this twice as fast and put your mind at rest sooner."
I nodded mutely.
"How about I start from this end and you start from the other? We can work our way to the middle and meet there."
I nodded again.
"It'll be okay, Brier. I promise."
I was about to give another nod when Audrey wrapped her arms around me. The friendly action only made me want to cry more. I was already swallowing hiccups when she pulled away a second later. I furiously rubbed at my eyes with my fists trying to dry away the oncoming tears, but I knew I was probably just making my eyes even redder which would draw just as much attention as tears.
With a final pat on the back, Audrey gently pushed me towards the opposite side of the store. "Go on. The sooner we find them, the sooner we'll be able to put your little heart to rest."
"You mean it'll kill me when I find out for sure I'm pregnant?" I asked, while cracking a quivering smile.
Audrey shook her head and chuckled lightly, my poor joke having assured her that I would be okay. "Go, before you pester me anymore and I kill you myself."
I pouted but turned on my heels and began making my way across the store. As I headed for the rightmost aisle, I kept my head facing left so that I could scan each aisle I passed. One by one, I mentally dismissed each aisle until I reached the sixth which housed the magazine and book section. My eyes were so intently glued to one of the customers flipping through a magazine that I almost walked right into a cardboard cutout promoting a sale on a select brand of chicken soup.
Luckily, I had been shuffling along at such a lazy pace that when my foot came in contact with the display, it was merely a light tap. It barely sent a faint vibration through the cardboard. There was no crashing of cans or bent displays, but the bored check-out clerk did not fail to notice me. He smirked, making an odd image considering he had been chewing mindlessly on a pen cap. I shook my head, ignoring the pepperoni-faced teen, and looked back at the young man still scanning through the latest edition of a popular sports magazine.
His back was to me, but I knew without a doubt from his tussled hair and confident yet relaxed stance that it was Benjamin, and although he was dressed casually in sweatpants and a simple t-shirt, I wanted nothing more to run up to him and engulf him in a hug, to run my hand through his dark locks, to look into his intriguing grey eyes.
But what would I say? Hi, I think I may be pregnant with your baby? No, I'm not quite sure yet. I'm about to buy some tests to find out. Would you like to go to lunch sometime and play catch up? I'm sorry for being so stubborn.
Benjamin then abruptly snapped the magazine shut and the glanced at his wristwatch. I barely had time to register what was going on and dash behind the display when Benjamin strode past me and towards the registers.
Check-out boy eyed me oddly before turning to Benjamin and ringing up his purchase. Benjamin, in turn, raised a curious eyebrow at the store employee and followed his gaze. Immediately I darted down the aisle where about half-way down I slammed into someone and fell to the floor.
"Brier? Are you okay?"
I glanced up to find Audrey regaining her balance and staring down at me. A basket loaded with various boxes hung from her arm. Taking the arm she extended, I hauled myself up off the cold tile and brushed myself off.
"I'm fine," I assured her.
"Good. You should be more careful," she advised. Then she raised the basket as if I had not yet noticed the bright red plastic container. "I found it."
She grabbed my hand with her own and began dragging me backwards towards the registers. I immediately began panicking, remembering that Benjamin was still there.
"Where are we going?" I frantically questioned.
Audrey furrowed her brow at me but continued treading along without so much as a minuscule pause in her step. "To the check-out."
"So we can pay for these and you can pee on the sticks."
"But don't you want to see if there are any drinks you want to buy? Aren't they in the back?" I rambled on without thought.
Audrey came to a halt. Without dropping my hand, she whirled around and tipped her head to the side, watching me with squinted eyes. "I really don't think you should be drinking considering your current situation, Brier."
"I didn't mean alcohol," I said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I meant the soda. Isn't there a commercial running right now for that new one?"
"I have no idea what you're babbling about. Come on, Brier. I know you're scared, but stalling isn't going to make things any better." She continued her trek to the registers, once again tugging me along by the hand. Stubbornly, I slammed my heels into the ground to slow her.
"Brier," she warned.
"Audrey," I said in a light tone, hoping to temporarily deflect her growing irritation.
I kept scanning the surrounding area with my eyes as she pulled me along. Luckily there wasn't really anyone around at the time. Otherwise, I'm sure we would have raised a few eyebrows with our makeshift tug-of-war match.
When we finally reach the end of the aisle, and I couldn't see Benjamin, I lifted my heels and began following along voluntarily. Audrey stumbled a few steps at the sudden lack of resistance. She turned to glare at me. I just shrugged.
"I'll make sure to stay away from you when the real mood swings start," she muttered as she came to a stop at the register.
Check-out boy, who had witnessed the large majority of the spectacle, was still looking at me like I was a freak. When I threw him the evil eye, he finally backed down and looked away, seeking refuge in our basket of products.
His face was priceless though when he sifted through it, his eyes widening to a degree that I hadn't known was possible. Curious, I stood on the tips of my toes and peered into the container. There was box after box of pregnancy tests.
I turned to Audrey abruptly. "How many did you get?"
Audrey shrugged. "You can never be too sure."
It took forever for the poor boy to ring up all of the boxes, and with each beep of the scanner, I could feel my cheeks flush with an increasingly deeper shade of red. It didn't help that halfway through, another customer sauntered up behind us. The elderly man shook his head in disapproval and mumbled something about youth these days. I blushed even more.
"Will that be all for you today?"
I nodded without looking up and swiped my debit card as check-out boy announced my total. Once the receipt was in my hands, I scrunched down the top of the paper bag, heaved it in my arms, and followed Audrey to the exit.
"I'll be okay from here," I said softly as we stood on the busy sidewalk.
"Are you sure?" Audrey asked uncertainly. "I can walk you home."
"No." I shook my head. "You've done so much already, and I need some time alone to think by anyway."
Audrey hesitated to leave, but upon seeing my serious demeanor, she nodded in understanding. "Well, if you're absolutely positive, but be sure to call me when you find out, okay?"
It was only when I agreed and promised to head straight home that Audrey gave me a parting hug and began walking back to the restaurant to see if Mason was still there. She stopped just once. Right before she turned a corner and disappeared from my sight, she turned around and waved. I returned the gesture, and when she was gone, I too turned on my heels and began my journey home.
"This is not happening. This is not happening."
I repeated the mantra over and over, but no matter how tightly I shut my eyes or how hard I willed things to be different, whenever I reopened them, I was still sitting on my bathroom floor, hunched in a ball against the off-white wall.
After parting with Audrey, I had headed straight for my apartment. Everything else was only a blur of noise and color. My hands grew increasingly shaky with each step I took, and by the time I managed to make it to the bathroom, they were shaking so severely that the contents of the paper bags were rattling a chorus.
The involuntary action didn't stop in time for me to open the packages withhold onto them echoed off the tile until I left the room with a frustrated huff.
I debated over whether or not to go for a run outside to burn off some unwanted energy, but one glimpse out the window immediately axed that idea. Plump grey clouds had filled the sky and a downpour of raindrops was pelting the city and its denizens below. There was no way I was going out there for a run. So, I resorted to jogging around the living room couch.
The first couple rotations were awkward. I was forced to simultaneously clear the way as I occasionally tripped over a stack of books or barely dodged an unopened moving box. When I was gasping for air and blue in the face, I guzzled down a glass of water and finally returned to the bathroom to start the tests.
And now, one after one, they were coming out positive until I only had one left to wait on. Why I was even bothering with it was beyond me. Maybe I was holding out for that one negative to place some doubt on the verdict on all of the others.
It wasn't really the concept of having a baby that I was against, granted I did honestly believe that watching a birthing video during a middle school health class had scarred me for life. Rather, it was the situation. It was an absolute representation of a lack of self-control. Not to mention my present relationship, or lack thereof, with Benjamin was already a disaster. What on earth was I going to tell him?
The confrontation was inevitable now, but I couldn't fathom how I was going to break it to him. We weren't dating, not even casually—hadn't been for years. I was supposed to be over him by now, really over him. Having a child together is one of the biggest things that can tie two people together. Unlike with a marriage, you couldn't just get a divorce. Kids were for life, and they forever linked you with the other person.
This was definitely not how I saw my life after college. I was supposed to come home, say "hi," and then maybe take off for a couple of months of traveling before settling into a nice and peaceful nine-to-five job. The plan was definitely not to come home and say "Hi, even though I can't cook, I've got a bun in the oven."
With a groan, I dropped my head onto my knees which were tucked in, bound to my thighs and upper body by my arms. This was not how it was supposed to go.
As I was about to raise my head so that I could bring it back down again and feel the soft impact, the shrill buzz of the doorbell ripped through the apartment. Sluggishly, I stood up, pushing myself off the floor first and then the wall. I swayed a little at the sudden action, feeling oddly like a new born lamb using my legs for the first time. How long had I been sitting down there?
I glanced at the timer next to the final test. However long I had been sitting, it apparently was not long enough for the test to finish doing its chemical magic and produce some results. The timer's thin pointer had yet to return to the zero mark.
As I stared at the face of the timer, the obnoxious ring of the doorbell rang again.
"Just a minute!" I yelled as I padded towards the front door.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror and grimaced at the sight. I was thankful at least for the fact that I rarely wore makeup. Otherwise I was sure that streaks of black mascara would be accompanying the ugly red that surrounded my eyes. My long hair was no better. It tumbled over my shoulders in a tousled mess. I envied guys like Benjamin who could run their hands through their locks numerous times and only look cuter afterwards. I, on the other hand, just looked more and more like a frenzied wreck. And on top of all of that, I was dressed like a slob in a pair of blue flannel pajama bottoms and a white tank top. Whoever dared to be calling on me right now better not be expecting much.
The bell rang for the third time.
"Coming!" I hollered before muttering some choice words and unlocking the deadbolt and smaller lock. When I yanked the door open, a soaking Mason was the last thing I expected to find. I quickly ushered him inside and into the kitchen. A trail of water was left in his wake as he trudged along.
"Sorry," he said sheepishly as he eyed the wet carpet.
"Don't worry about it," I dismissed his concern as I filled the kettle on the stovetop with water and twisted the stove knob to high.
Mason was still staring at the floor, particularly the puddle of water that was expanding with each drop of water that dripped from his clothing. I moved forward to help him out of his trench coat, which I promptly shoved into the dryer in the laundry room. Thankfully, it was long and had prevented the majority of his clothing from getting soaked, but I still noticed him shiver after he took it off. The cruddy weather must have chilled him to the bones.
When I returned to the kitchen, he was in the process of rolling up the bottom of his jeans, the remaining part of his clothing that had taken the brunt of the rain. I tossed a towel in his direction when he looked up.
"Thanks," he said before using it to dry his face and hair.
"What are you doing here?" I asked while checking the water. Steam was beginning to the float out of the spout.
"I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay."
I smiled. "I'm doing fine."
'As my pregnancy test,' I thought impulsively.
I mentally rolled my eyes and thanked my lucky stars that I had not vocalized that thought. Mason would definitely freak out when he found out. I had to talk things through with Benjamin to figure out what we were going to do before I told Mason. As much as I loved my best friend, I owed it to Benjamin to at least give him a warning before Mason killed him. And what a gruesome death it would be. Instead of a witty and possible disastrous response, I settled for a simple "Yeah."
After Mason finished toweling off, he hung the towel around his neck. Then he picked a raindrop-coated plastic bag off the counter space behind him and handed it to me. Puzzled, I hesitantly received it and removed the plastic covering to reveal a styrofoam container. As I pried it open, Mason spoke, "Your lunch."
Sure enough, there nestled inside was my mushroom burger and a handful of French fries. I thanked him and popped one of the strips of potato into my mouth just as the kettle started to shriek.
I rotated the knob back to its neutral position and removed the kettle from the hot coil on the stove top. Then I pulled two mugs from the cabinet. "Coffee or tea?"
"Coffee would be fantastic."
I grinned at Mason. "Still like it black?"
Except for the clank of the teaspoon, the room was quiet as I mixed our drinks. When I handed the mug of coffee to Mason, he smiled appreciatively and cupped it with both his hands, using the object to warm his cold limbs. He then blew on the steaming liquid before taking a cautious sip. "It's just like old times, isn't it?"
I laughed at the comparison. "Like the time you thought it would be a good idea to jump in the lake in the middle of winter?"
Mason grinned. "I still think it was a good idea. A little cold, but the hot chocolate my mother made for us afterwards was definitely worth it."
"Without a doubt." I took a sip of my own drink. It was a much lighter shade than Mason's since I dumped in a generous dose of milk and sugar that would send most dieters running. Black coffee was too bitter for my liking.
"You haven't finished unpacking yet?" Mason asked, eyeing a stack of boxes in the corner.
"Nope, I've been unpacking things on an as-needed basis. I'll get around to everything eventually."
"I hope you don't mean next year."
"Tell you what. If I don't get everything done by the end of summer, we can have a pajama party, sing some bad karaoke into our hairbrushes, and finish whatever is left." I winked at Mason over my mug.
He smirked. "Only if we both wear pink. I refuse to have a pajama party if we're not matching."
"Sure, and bring your fluffy pink bunny slippers too."
Mason brought a hand to his mouth in mock shock as his eyes comically widened. "You weren't supposed to know about those! It was Audrey, wasn't it?"
I burst out laughing, coughing a little on the coffee. As my breathing regulated, I settled against the counter. "I missed you so freaking much, Mason. Words can't explain how much. It's definitely good to be back."
He smiled. "I missed you too, Bri. Words can explain."
I stuck my tongue out at him.
When our mugs were empty, I drizzled a tiny drop of dish soap into each one. The liquid grew into a foamy mass as the warm water from the faucet plummeted into them. I couldn't help but blow on the bubbles, sending some flying about the kitchen. One of the little clusters landed on Mason's cheek as he sauntered up beside me. He playfully glared at me as he wiped the soap off with the back of his hand.
"Mind if I use the bathroom?"
I shook my head. "Go ahead. It's the second door on the left in the hallway."
"Mm-hmm," I hummed contently. The response then morphed into a new pop song that I kept hearing on the radio. It was one of those tunes that I fell in love with the moment I first head it, but I was also sure that in a fortnight, I'd be sick of it and cursing the music stations for overplaying it and ruining a perfectly good song. Just as I got to the second verse, Mason yelled my name, jolting me out of my zone.
It was so unexpected and loud that one of the mugs slipped out of my grasp and hit the sink with a clank. Luckily, I had been holding it only a couple inches above the bottom of the sink, but I briefly checked it over to make sure I had not damaged it. When I was assured that there were no cracks, I carefully set it down and headed for the bathroom.
"What's wrong? If the roll is out of toilet paper, there are new ones underneath the sink," I shouted jovially as I patted my hands on the cotton fabric of my pants to dry them off, but when I stepped into the bathroom doorway, all sense of humor left my mind and my heartbeat quickened.
Mason was standing in front of the sink. Upon seeing me, he gestured to the pregnancy tests scattered all over the counter. "Brier, what is all this?" He asked in a serious tone.
I stared at the damning evidence and cursed myself for forgetting about it. At least now the final test was finished. Unfortunately from what I could see, it also declared that I was indeed pregnant. I wanted nothing more than to curl up into a ball and disappear.
"Brier," Mason said sternly.
"Pregnancy tests," I meekly replied, unable to meet his eyes.
"Are-are you…" His voice trailed off. He couldn't process the idea that his childhood best friend, who as far as he knew was not involved with anyone, might be expecting to have a child.
I nodded mutely and stifled a sniffle. I felt so ashamed of myself. Here I was, a fresh university graduate trying to transition into the real world, and what did I manage to do? Find a job? Travel the world? No, I got knocked up by an ex I hadn't even properly dated in years.
It was just one word, but I knew exactly what he meant. But, answering it would be damning Benjamin, and he didn't even know he was about to become a father.
Father. Father of my child. It was difficult to fathom but strangely comforting.
"Who, Brier?" Mason demanded in a louder voice.
I shut my eyes and shook my head. I couldn't.
"Brier," he warned.
I continued to move my head left to right, left to right. I couldn't do it. I couldn't. Tears began to leak beneath my lowered eyelids, and I crumpled to the floor, my head tucked in against my knees. I just wanted it to all go away.
I tucked myself tighter, trying to block out the interrogation, but Mason wouldn't stop. His hand moved to stroke my hair soothingly and when I relaxed slightly he wrapped his arms around me, tugging me out of my ball and into a hug.
"Please, Brier. Please?"
I buried my face into the crook of his neck and mumbled the name into the soft fleece of his sweater.
"I didn't hear you Brier," he prodded softly.
I clenched my eyes tighter and took a deep breath. "Benjamin."
The room was still after I announced the name. It couldn't have been more than a whisper, but Mason heard it clearly.
"Fucker," he spat before letting me go abruptly and storming out of the room.
"Where are you going?" I asked with wide eyes as I watched him jam his feet into his shoes, not bothering with the laces. His shoes were still wet and made an awful squishing as he stomped along.
"Where do you think?" He snapped, exiting my home.
I quickly glanced at the closed closet where I kept all of my shoes, but Mason was moving fast, possessed by a building rage. If I didn't keep up with him now, I was sure to lose him, and then there would be absolutely no chance of getting to Benjamin before him. I already doubted that I could raise a child properly. I didn't need the kid to be fatherless too. So with my feet still only encased in my house socks, I chased after my best friend. I had to sprint just to catch up with his long strides and brisk pace. I barely made it to the parking lot in time.
"Mason!" I called out, stepping into the heavy rain. I was instantly drenched, my clothes uncomfortably clinging to my skin. The drops pelted my arms and cheeks, stinging the exposed skin, numbing it with its icy chill.
If Mason heard me through the pounding rain, he didn't show it. He kept moving deeper into the parking lot while pulling a keychain from his pocket and remotely unlocking his car. I saw it as my opening and darted across the lot. I then whipped open the door to his passenger seat and threw myself inside.
Despite the intrusion, Mason still didn't look over at me. Wordlessly, he removed his sweater and held it out. I stared at it, wondering what I would want with the sopping cloth.
"Your shirt," he muttered, and I looked down to find that the rain had turned the material of my white tank top transparent, my black bra plainly visible. I blushed and immediately yanked his sweater over my head. I thanked him, but he didn't say anything in return and continued to refuse to look over at me. Instead, he just slid his key into the ignition and backed the car out of the parking spot. Once he was on the road, he kept his gaze forward. His eyes only occasionally darted to the side in order to glance at the car mirrors.
"I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say.
He was quiet for a moment before responding. "I'm not mad at you." His voice was tight and his jaw clenched, making the response far from comforting. So I remained quiet for the rest of the ride, hoping the drive would soothe his nerves.
It seemed to be working. As the minutes ticked by, he slowed down more when taking corners and made fewer abrupt lane changes. Even his jaw relaxed, but the second he slammed the breaks in front of his apartment complex, he was back to fuming. He bounded out of the car as soon as possible, leaving it behind in the fire lane. I scrambled out behind him, still crying out his name the whole time, but he was moving faster now, fully intent on accomplishing his mission.
"Ben!" He hollered once he stepped inside their apartment. He threw the front door open with such a force that it crashed into the wall with a resounding thump and left a dent.
"Mason, don't!" I screamed still trying to catch up with him, but I was too late. By the time I arrived, Mason had already stalked his way into Benjamin's room, grabbed the young man by his shirt, and shoved him up against the wall. Benjamin groaned in pain from the impact, the back of his head having slammed into the hard surface.
I came to a sudden halt at the doorway of the room, not wanting to step back into the place where this whole mess had started, but I continued to try to verbally reason with my best friend.
"Mason, stop it!" I ordered frantically, but he ignored me, his focus completely on Benjamin.
"Shit. What gives, man?"
"How the fuck could you do that?" Mason questioned menacingly.
"Do what?" Benjamin was utterly confused, and who could blame him? He was severely uninformed about his present predicament.
"Don't give me that bullshit," Mason warned. "You promised me you would stay away from her."
"What?" I whispered incredulously. What on earth was Mason talking about?
Benjamin looked over at me, his tired grey eyes meeting mine. Recognition flashed through them, and his teeth grit together. Looking back at Mason, he glared. "It was only once. We were drunk. It was a mistake. I didn't mean for it to happen, okay?" My gut clenched at his words, and I reached over to lean on the doorframe for support.
I immediately tried to rationalize myself to composure. I mean, of course it was a mistake. He didn't go for girls like me anymore. Not when he had gorgeous Claire-types throwing themselves at him all the time. We had long been over, and I was just a thing of the past.
"What? You didn't mean to knock her up, asshole? Just going to run away now, huh?" Mason's grip on Benjamin's shirt tightened, stretching the cotton fabric to an unnatural degree, but Mason didn't care.
Benjamin's eyes widened at the news, his gaze snapping back to me. My own eyes mirrored his, but for a different reason. I knew that Mason was bound to tell him, but I had still hung onto the sliver of hope that he wouldn't. Now that he had, there was no more room for denial.
The question sounded like an accusation, and I narrowed my eyes in disgust. If there was anyone in this whole damned world that did not have the right to accuse me or look down at me for all of this, it was Benjamin. He was just as guilty as me. The only difference between me and him was that the evidence was in my body.
I didn't bother confirming his thoughts. Spinning on my heels, I dashed out of the apartment, whizzing down the corridor and out the main door. I paused just as I was about to step out onto the parking lot, reality striking me with a heavy hand.
I had nowhere to go.
There was no way I could walk home. The distance was too great, not to mention my lack of shoes or the still pouring rain. And, I certainly couldn't go back inside. That was just emotional suicide.
Defeated, I plopped myself at the edge of the sidewalk. I brought my knees up and lay my arms over them. My head, in turn, fell on top of my arms as I sought comfort in the falling rain. The drops were still falling just as heavy as before, but instead of creating stinging pain, the drops were now reassuring.
How did we wind up here with everything so messed up?
I raised my head to glance up at the grey skies, grey like his damn eyes. A few tears spilled down my cheeks, but I wasn't sure how many since they instantly blended with the rain drops.
I shut my eyes at the sound of Benjamin's voice. "Go away," I said without any intonation.
But instead of doing as I asked, he crouched in front of me, his hands resting on my knees. "Is it true?" He asked, looking me straight in the eye.
"So what if it is?" I retorted with a scoff.
"Brier, I need to know," he said earnestly.
And he was right, so I muttered a "yes" and braced myself for an angry tirade, but there was none. Instead, his lips stretched into a wide grin. He looked ridiculously happy despite the rain drops streaking down his face, plastering his dark locks against his forehead.
I furrowed my brows together. "Aren't you mad?"
Benjamin lifted an eyebrow. "Why would I be?"
"More like why wouldn't you be? For starters, your ex is pregnant with your kid, and then there's the fact that your roommate wants you dead." Recalling the recent altercation, I placed my hand at the back of his head and fingered through the locks until I found a newly-formed bump. He visibly winced upon the contact but didn't pull away. I grimaced. "You don't want any of this."
"Who said that?"
"You said it was a mistake," I pointed out.
Benjamin frowned. "You said it first."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did," he insisted. "In the copy room."
I thought back to the event I had tried previously to push back into the farthest recesses of my mind. The surprise, the momentarily lapse of self-control, the realization. The realization that it was a mistake. "Oh" was all I could utter.
Benjamin nodded with a hint of a triumphant smile on his lips. "Exactly."
Tipping my head to the side, I eyed him carefully, taking in his relaxed stance. "So, you're okay with this?"
"More than okay." He smirked. "I get a kid with you, and you can't ignore me anymore."
His admission should have made me feel significantly better, but it didn't. There was still doubt gnawing at my faith in him, a doubt that had been manifesting in my heart for years. Swallowing a lump in my throat I asked a question I knew I probably shouldn't. "What about Claire?"
Benjamin sighed and grasped my hand in his. When I wouldn't meet his gaze, he tilted my chin up gently with a finger. "I haven't been with her since you came back to town. I swear."
I shook my head sadly. "See, that's just it."
"You," I slipped my hand from his grip and gestured towards him, "haven't been with her since I've been back, but you slept with her before that." I paused and searched his eyes, but his silence was enough to confirm my assumption. "And there were more too, weren't there?"
"Brier—" Benjamin started but stopped when I raised my hand up.
"No, you had every right too," I said defeated. "We weren't together anymore. It just hurts how easily you were able to turn your back on what we had when I couldn't."
He sat silently, analyzing me, before he spoke again, realization dawning. "You didn't…"
I shook my head, my eyes squinting not only instinctively to avoid the raindrops but also due to oncoming tears. I was glad they were masked by the splatters of rain. Even I couldn't distinguish the warm tears from the chilly pellets. "Not that it matters."
Benjamin's mouth parted in shock. "Shit, so…"
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, Benjamin. You were my first, you dolt."
"Shit, I'm sorry." He dropped his head onto his hands, clutching his wet hair in frustration.
I shrugged. "It wasn't exactly how I pictured things to go—not that I can really remember it clearly anyway—but what can you do. It seems to be the pattern anyway.
"Just so you know, you don't have to stick around for everything. I don't want to cramp your style or anything. I can manage just fine without you," I declared stubbornly.
Benjamin neither accepted nor rejected my offer. Instead he stood to his full height and offered me a hand. "Come with me. I want to show you something."
Curious, I took his hand without protest. He then pulled me along as we trekked back up the stairs of the complex and reentered his apartment. I paused when we arrived at his door, but he tugged on my arm, forcing me to step beyond it. It didn't feel as strange to be back in that room as I had predicted.
I was fine, or at least I was, until he dropped my hand and walked further inside. The separation robbed me of my emotional buffer, and I was suddenly assaulted by feelings of awkwardness and nervousness. I fiddled with the hem of Mason's sweater and rocked back and forth on my feet, my eyes anxiously darting around the room, taking in the various athletic banners of teams he supported.
Meanwhile, Benjamin fished around underneath his bed. When he finally came up, he chucked a small square box at me. I caught it out of habit before staring at it inquisitively. I ran a finger gently over the cloth surface. It was pleasantly soft to the touch.
I did so and was met with a platinum band embedded with diamonds. I frowned. "You're planning to propose to Claire?" I asked bitterly. I guessed the timing of my pregnancy couldn't have been worse. For sure, he would back out now.
Benjamin shook his head. "No, it's for you."
I looked at his serious expression before bursting out into laughter, the forced and obnoxious sounds shaking my body. I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye, which—although I wouldn't admit it to him—was born from a feeling of rejection rather than humor. "Oh, god, that's a good one. You almost had me there." I slapped my knee for good effect.
Benjamin just stood on the opposite side of the bed, his lips pursed together. "I'm serious."
"Right," I quipped, coming down from my self-induced high.
"I am. Check the inside of the ring if you don't believe me."
Doubtfully, I followed his instructions. Gently slipping the ring from its slot, I held it carefully between two fingers and peered at it, tilting it a little so that it would catch the light differently. There was an engraving inside.
B.M. & B.R., it read.
My jaw dropped. Brier Montgomery and Benjamin Rivers. "How—"
"I bought it during the summer after graduation. I was thinking of asking you before you left for uni."
I caught my bottom lip between my teeth, gently chewing on it as I mulled over the newly discovered information. "Why didn't you?"
I continued to stare at the ring, utterly astonished. It wasn't just the sparkle of embedded gems that were captivating. The story behind it was equally so.
"Would you have said 'yes'?"
I glanced up at Benjamin, fully prepared to tell him that I would have, but when I opened my mouth, I couldn't say the words. I wouldn't have agreed. I would have thought we were too young, would have thought it too strange to be bringing home grades to a spouse.
Benjamin sensed my hesitance and nodded. "I thought as much."
I closed my eyes, my cheeks burning with shame. I guess I hadn't believed in us as much I had thought I had. It wasn't just him. It was me too. Maybe I was even more at fault, for fostering doubt in him.
"Don't worry. It's okay," he tried to reassure me. "Looking back at things now, even if I had asked you, I think that would have been the right choice. We were too green—didn't know a thing about the world, barely knew anything about life. We would have struggled through everything. But that's not exactly the reason why I never asked."
"Then what was?"
Benjamin heaved a sigh. "I chickened out. I realized how deep I was into our relationship, and it scared the hell out of me. I mean there I was, eighteen and ready to propose without being prompted by anyone or anything. Normal guys my age were still shopping around, trying out their different options."
"So you decided you needed to be more like them."
"Sorry," he said, his voice laced with remorse.
"Why didn't you return the ring? It must have cost you a fortune."
He nodded. "I drained every dollar I had saved—everything since I was old enough to work, all the cash presents I had left from relatives for birthdays and Christmas. I even delved into the money my grandfather left me when he passed away. But, I just couldn't part with it even then. So, I just shoved it somewhere close where I wouldn't have to see it again." After a pause, he walked forward until he was standing before me, his eyes locked on mine. "I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted us to get back together, Brier."
Then he took the box and ring from my grasp, tucked the jewelry back inside and snapped the box shut. My spine straightened at the unexpected sound.
"You're not going to ask me anymore?"
"Why not?" I questioned, peering into his grey orbs.
"I still know that you'll say no."
"What makes you so sure?"
"You would think that I'm just proposing in order to do the right thing. You think two people getting married because of a kid is disastrous. Statistics."
I smirked, glad that he still seemed to know me so well despite our time apart. "So," I began awkwardly. "Where do we go from here?"
"We do this the right way. I'll woo you, you'll fall in love with me again, and when you're ready, whether it's before or after the baby comes, I'll pop the question. Then you'll say "yes" and we'll live happily ever after, and of course, you'll pop out more babies." He smirked smugly.
"When I'm ready? What about you?"
"I'm already ready. I have been for years. I just didn't think you'd come back and let me have a second chance. So, tomorrow, are you available for dinner?"
I nodded dumbly.
"Good. I'll pick you up at seven. So now that that's settled, you need to change out of those clothes before you get sick." He eyed my pajamas with a grin. I had forgotten that I was underdressed. As I pulled experimentally at my drenched outfit, Benjamin gathered a pair of athletic shorts and a t-shirt from his closet. He shoved them not-so-gracefully into my arms before placing his hand at the small of my back and gently pushing me away. "Go take a shower. I think you know where the bathroom is." He winked.
I rolled my eyes. "What about you?" I asked, noticing that his clothes were soaked as well.
"I'll go invade Mason's bathroom."
"Where is Mason anyway?" I asked, realizing I hadn't seen him when we reentered the apartment.
Benjamin shrugged. "Probably in the communal exercise room, trying to wrap his brain around the idea of us being together again."
The corners of my mouth tilted downwards as I pictured my best friend furiously lifting weights, the clanging of metal against metal. "Do you think he's ever going to come around?"
Benjamin smiled reassuringly. "He will. His heart's in the right place. He just wants you to be happy and thinks I do a fantastic job at screwing that up for you."
"You don't," I objected softly.
"But you won't anymore."
He shook his head. "I won't. I love you, Brier. I always have." He didn't pause after that confession, but my heart skipped a beat anyway. "Feel free to use anything you need."
I nodded and shuffled over to the bathroom door, the one I had searched for on that peculiar morning just a few weeks ago. It was odd to think of how much had changed in that short span of time. When my hand fell on the doorknob Benjamin called my name. I looked back to find him sitting on the edge of his bed, the ring box still clutched firmly in his large hand. He was smiling brightly.
"Just don't make me wait too long."
I smiled back. I highly doubted that would be a problem at all, but he didn't need to know that little piece of information. After the stunt he pulled four years ago, he still had some compensating to do anyway. Why not make him work for it?
With each moment we spent together, the pain I had endured from our breakup was dissipating from my memory. It wasn't how I planned everything to go, but as I gazed at Benjamin's cheerful expression, I knew everything would be all right.
But no matter what surprises the future would bring, I would definitely not be partaking in anymore keg-chugging challenges. No, thank you.
AN: Reviews Wanted =)
The sad thing about a oneshot is that you only get one shot to get feedback. Ha… Ha… Okay, I'll stop now. Thanks for reading. Happy holidays!