Watching them lay my grandmother into the ground was one of the hardest things I ever experienced. It seemed like I was moving through a fog since the day she died. I went through the motions of everyday life, but I wouldn't be able to tell someone what I accomplished if they asked. It reminded me of how I acted after fucking up my friendship with Julianne. Lost.
Everyone had said their goodbyes but me. My family left me alone, knowing it would take me a little longer than the rest of the mourners. The rose in my hand felt like lead. A heavy reminder I needed to let go and heal. The pressure behind my eyes wasn't helping me either. I was supposed to be a man and be strong. Not let my emotions get to me and break down. But hell, all I wanted to do was just let loose and not care if I cried like a baby.
A soft hand grabbed mine, intertwining our fingers. Looking to my left I saw Julianne. Strands of her silky hair were blowing in the breeze, her cheeks tinted a light shade of red from the brisk October air. Her eyes were so glossed over from unshed tears that I could almost see my reflection in them. We'd been inseparable since I found out about Nana Joyce's death, both in a state of overwhelming sadness. Although they weren't related by blood, Nana saw Julianne as her own granddaughter.
I squeezed her hand, silently thanking her for giving me a second chance and being my rock. The built up emotion finally got to me and I looked away from her as a tear leaked from my eye. I pinched the bridge of my nose, hoping the pressure would help me control my tears.
"I'll give you a minute alone. You deserve to say your goodbyes privately," Julianne said as her hands soothingly rubbed circles on my back.
A wave of loneliness came over me once she left my side. But she was right. I needed the privacy to say my final words to my Nana. Guilt ate at me. I felt like I should have visited her more when I came back home, but was too preoccupied with trying to get Julianne back. Hell, the last day I saw her in person it was to vent about seeing Julianne with that jock-strap boyfriend of hers.
"I just don't get what she sees in the guy," I sighed, haphazardly falling onto one of my grandmother's couches.
"Well," Nana said tiredly. She was still weak from her bout of pneumonia, but was still going despite her tiredness. It was a fine example of the Masters' stubbornness we both shared. "I've had the pleasure of meeting him and he is a polite, kind, and caring young man. He seems to treat her like she should be treated."
I rubbed my face with both my hands. "Not helping."
"Shouldn't you be happy for her? As her best friend, you should want to see her with a guy like Blake. Even Alan approves of him. You know how protective he and Nate are of her."
She had me there. I did want Julianne to be happy. But why did it have to be with him? Sure, I saw how happy she was with him. If that look on her face that night I first saw them together was any indication, she was really happy. Then again, she had been really happy with Shane way back in high school, too. And what a load of shit he turned out to be. I just didn't want to see Julianne get hurt like that again. I told Nana that.
"Like you hurt her?" My head snapped to attention. "You didn't see the pain she tried to hide when she came back."
If I didn't feel like trash before, I certainly did then. Again, Nana was right. I did hurt Jules.
Honesty shone in my eyes as I looked up. "I'm trying to make it right. I just need to find a way to get her to talk to me. All I want is my best friend back, Nana."
"I know you do," she wheezed, hoisting herself up from the chair. I was immediately at her side to help her when she wobbled. "Don't give up yet, sweetheart. She still defended by refusing to throw you under the bus. If that doesn't prove to you she loves you, then I don't know what will. Blake's good for her, yes. But you two belong together."
Eyebrows furrowed in confusion, I watched as she went into the kitchen before following. "She doesn't love me like that. We're best friends. Well, we were. That's all. Plus, she's with preppy."
"I may be old, but I still have all my marbles," she patted my cheek. "That precious girl loves you. Now I'm just waiting for you to realize you do, too."
"You wouldn't be here fighting for her if you didn't."
Remembering just how adamant Nana was about my feelings for Julianne, I gently laid the rose on top of the casket. A few tears escaped from my eyes when my hand lingered on it.
"I miss you already, Nana," I said. Looking over my shoulder, I saw my parents talking with Julianne. "Julianne and I are better. We're friends again. You'd be happy about that... And then probably start planning a wedding between us, if you had your way. I swear, sometimes you were worse than Mom when it came to the notion of Julianne and I getting together. But, it didn't matter. I loved you all the same. I'll always love you, Nana... See you at the Pearly Gates."
Tilting my head back, I looked at the sky. The gray clouds were a physical reflection of how I was feeling. The only thing that was missing was rain to resemble my tears. It was only fitting to have gloomy weather on a such a gloomy day. I sniffed, wiping my nose on my arm, not caring if it left a trail of snot. It wasn't very manly, but oh well. Nothing was really going to make me feel better, anyway. For once, I was relieved to be home instead of L.A. The paparazzi would have had a field day with a picture like that.
A small hand wormed their way into my hand that was at my side. Looking down, I saw Connor's eight year old sister. Her brown eyes filled with sadness as she tugged on my hand.
"I'm sorry you're sad," Ariel said once I was eye level with her. "And I'm sorry about your Gramma."
I gently squeezed her tiny hand with my own in reply. "Thank you, Ariel."
"Will a hug make you feel better?"
"Yeah," I nodded, the first genuine smile gracing my face at her offer. "As long as it's from you."
Opening my arms wide, she stepped into them. Her hands didn't come close to touching behind my back, but it did help. Ariel's head turned and gave me a kiss on the cheek. When she pulled back, I noticed her face was a little more on the pink side than they had been.
"Connor always gives me a kiss to make me feel better when I'm sad. I thought it would help you, too," she shyly said. I couldn't help but let out a soft chuckle as I brought my hand up to ruffle her brown hair.
"Ariel!" we heard Connor call from across the cemetery. A solemn Julianne was leaning into his side while his arm was wrapped around her waist, pulling her into him. "We're leaving, Squirt!"
I took Ariel's hand in mine and walked with her over to her brother. Watching her skip at my side helped brighten my spirit. The kid was charismatic and could put a smile on anyone's face when they needed it the most. Once we reached Connor and Julianne, she jumped onto her brother's back, eliciting an oof from him. Connor gave me his condolences again before bringing Julianne into a one armed hug. I saw Julianne wipe away some stray tears as we watched the siblings walk away from us.
I reached out, pushing a stray lock of her blonde hair behind her ear. "You okay, Juju-Bean?"
"I should be the one asking you that," she said, trying to smile. "Are you-," she stopped when a buzzing noise came from her purse – or, as I called it, her hobo bag. Pulling out her phone, she took one look at the caller ID before hitting ignore.
I felt a mix of emotions at her action when I could clearly see the picture of her and Blake with their heads together pop up on the screen. I was confused that she'd purposely ignore her precious jock-strap beau. But I was thrilled she did it. It was small, but it was something that she chose me over him. That, and the fact that she was wearing the charm bracelet I gave her that day.
"You could have answered him, you know," I told her.
She shook her head and wrapped her arms around me. "No, it's fine. I'm spending today with you. Right now you're more important."
Her cheek was pressed against my chest when the sun peaked through a break in the clouds and bathed us in it's mood lifting light. I didn't know how I knew, but it was a sign from Nana Joyce. She was happy with how things were going between Jules and I. The stream of light was her smile. I finally felt like everything was going to be okay. Placing a soft kiss on top of Julianne's head, I tightened my hold on her. Hugging her felt right. Right and familiar. And I never wanted it to end. Resting my cheek against her head, I realized that was why I thought of her whenever I was homesick.
Because with her wrapped in my arms, it felt like I was home.
Julianne's lithe body plopped down next to mine on the couch in her Grand Forks apartment. Once she was settled, she handed me a can of Dr. Pepper while I held out the popcorn bowl for her. Due to her school and cheer leading schedules, we hadn't been able to hang out as much as possible. Plus, Jock-Strap hogged a lot of her attention. He should have let her spend more time with me if he really was the nice guy everyone claimed him to be.
It was Halloween. Way too much of a gap since the last time we were together, in my opinion. And she was only able to spend time with me during the day since she was going to some party at one of Preppy's friend's house. Why she was even going was beyond me. Julianne hated parties like that.
All I wanted and needed was some quality one-on-one time with my best friend. Passing the days by only texts and phone calls (which were sometimes cut short if her boyfriend was present) weren't enough. Sure I hung out with Connor and Ariel some of the time, but it wasn't the same. Although, Connor was helpful with filling me in on how she was after the whole Los Angeles disaster. She sounded just as miserable as I was. She had to have been if she gave Connor her guitar. And to give up singing? With the risk of sounding hot headed, I knew it was because of me, and it only added to the guilt I had.
"What made you sing at Nana's funeral?" I asked, pulling her closer to my side as I pressed play.
She shrugged. "It was the right thing to do. She was practically family, so I felt she deserved it."
"But you haven't played the guitar or sang since LA," I pressed. She looked up at me, mouth open and ready to defend herself. "Don't even try denying it."
"I'm going to hurt Connor," she crossed her arms over her chest. "I just didn't, alright? End of story. Can't we just watch the movie?"
I wasn't going to let her drop the subject that easily. I was once the person she told everything to. We never had any secrets before, and I wasn't about to start.
I decided to pause the movie and turn my body towards her. "Julianne, c'mon. Just tell me why."
"Juju-bean," I tilted her face my way. "It's gotta to be important for you to give Connor your guitar."
"Royce, stop," she said faintly.
"I won't until you tell me what's going on. Julianne, your dream was to be a singer and perform onstage. What changed to make you throw it all away?"
"It died, Royce." Her eyes were dull as her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "That night in L.A., a piece of me died when you said you wanted me out of your life. The urge to play and sing just died along with it. Is that what you wanted to hear?"
A brick slammed into my chest. Or it sure as hell felt like it. Slumping back against the couch, I stared at the coffee table aimlessly. Her confession sinking into me like ice cold water. I felt Julianne move to the other side of the couch.
"I saw what fame turned you into," she said. Looking at her, her knees were pulled up to her chest and her arms were wrapped around them. A defensive move if I ever saw one. "You weren't the best friend I knew anymore. You were flaky and hotheaded and... pretty much a jerk. Actually, you were a complete jerk. I never thought it would happen, but it did. And I told myself if it happened to you, it could happen to me. I...I didn't want it to."
Shit. My blood ran cold at the thought of her making it and having to endure the headaches paparazzi brought. The always present temptations of partying. And above all, the lack of privacy i missed.
As much as I wanted to see her live her dream, I'd have rather she witness the sometimes ugly side of fame. It would turn her off. She could still play music, just not as a career. But most importantly, Julianne would stay as pure as I knew her. I never wanted to see her change into someone I didn't recognize.
You mean someone like you?
Clearing my throat, I tilted her chin up, making her look at me. "Juju-Bean... I." A funny feeling in my stomach happened when I looked directly into her blue eyes. It was familiar, yet new. It may have just been my imagination but I swore I saw something flash in her eyes. "This...business, can get ugly. Sure, you get paid for doing something you love. But...if you get around certain kinds of people, they start to rub off on you. Look at Dash for example. He's the complete opposite of Logan. When I started hanging out with Dash more and Logan less, some of Dash's player like ways rubbed off on me. Losing touch with you made me see that."
"And how you became a complete dirt bag when you started dating that witch you call your girlfriend."
Just then, my phone buzzed on the table. I tried to hide a cringe when I saw who the caller was.
"It's Ve. I should answer her," I rubbed the back of my neck. "I haven't answered any of her calls and I haven't called her since everything happened. I'm due for an ass chewing."
She gestured towards her room as I got up off of the couch and pressed talk. "Hey, babe."
"Hi to you, too, baby," she said in a saccharine sweet voice.
Her tone screamed trouble, so I knew I had to put on the charm. "How've you been? I miss you your sexy face."
"You'll be missing more than my face once I'm through with you."
I gulped. "What?"
"Where the hell are you, Royce?" the overly sweet tone was gone. In it's place was the one I got whenever I seemed to do something to piss her off.
Swallowing my pride, I told her. I could just hear Dash and Logan's voices in my head calling me whipped.
"Why are you in North Dakota?" she spat. "Oh. Oh, hell no. You're with her, aren't you?"
"Ve, baby, listen to me."
"When are you going to get it? She's not good for you or your career."
"God, sometimes I wonder if your looks make up for your lack of intel-"
"Veronica!" I yelled, almost had the end of my rope. "Yes I've seen Julianne."
I heard her scoff "I knew it."
"At my grandmother's funeral." A white lie, but if she actually knew the truth... I didn't even want to imagine what Veronica would do.
Silence. Neither of us said a word. I was half afraid she hung up on me before I mentioned Nana's death. Then I'd have to deal with a pissed off girlfriend when I went back to L.A. Just when I was about to about to hang up, I heard her let out a soft sigh.
"Royce," the genuine comforting tone in her voice threw me for a loop. "Baby, I'm so sorry. Honestly. I'm sorry. I can't bear the thought of losing my grandma. Why couldn't you tell me?"
I sat on the edge of Julianne's bed, rubbing a hand over my face. It was a loaded question. The whole reason I was home was because of trying to make things right with Julianne. Nana's death was something she was helping me through. And finding out she was dating some loser jock brought out the protective side.
Not the jealous side like Nana thought.
"It was just something I had to deal with on my own, babe. I'm sorry I left you out of the loop."
"It's okay. I probably would have ignored me, too."
This was the side of Ve not many people knew about. All they saw was the snobbish front. She did have a caring side. One you saw whenever she spoke about her grandmother. Ve and her grandma had a similar bond as Nana Joyce and I. It was times like this, when she showed that hidden side to her, that reminded me what I liked about her – besides her smokin' bod.
So we talked. I told her a few memories I had with my grandma throughout my almost twenty-one years. Soon it turned to flirty, and somewhat dirtier talk. I knew she was trying to lighten my mood. And it worked. At least, until I turned my head and caught sight of a picture of Julianne and helmet-head.
A wave of guilt washed over me. Why? I didn't have a clue. It wasn't like I hadn't had a conversation like that with a girlfriend over the phone before, even with Julianne in the next room. So why the hell did the happy look on her face make me feel like complete shit?
Because it used to be pictures of you and her in her room.
"... and there's a new club opening up soon. We will definitely have to make ourselves seen there. Only the hottest celebs will be there, so there's bound to be loads of paps. We'll need the press after your little absence, don't y-"
"Ve? I've got to go," I said, interrupting her new rant. "I'll be back in L.A. in a few weeks. We can talk about clubs and shit then, 'kay?"
My girlfriend mumbled a 'whatever' before hanging up on me. A small feeling of relief settled that I had dodged what could have been a major argument. Raking my fingers through my hair, I headed back out to the living room so Julianne and I could finish our movie. She didn't know how much I was looking forward to it. How much I needed it.
But when I entered the living room, I stopped dead in my tracks.
Everything was cleaned up. Television off. The bowl of popcorn and the cans of Dr. Pepper, gone. All the pillows on the couch were back in place. It was as if we never tried to watch the movie, and it sent a small punch to my gut.
"Jules?" I called out, wondering where the hell she went. "Juju-Bean?"
"In here," came a voice from the other end of the apartment. Immediately after, her head popped out of Brittany's bathroom doorway. "What do you need?"
"I thought we were going to watch a movie?" I asked, even thouhg her hair free of curlers and make up freshly done told me otherwise.
"You were on the phone with your girlfriend for a couple hours. I have to leave in a bit," she shrugged, pulling herself back into the bathroom. I didn't think I was on the phone as long as I had been. "I wasn't going to wait around, Royce."
That stung. There was a time when she would have waited around for me. It wouldn't have mattered if she had plans with someone, I trumped everyone. The only time it ever happened was when she dated Shane. I didn't like the feeling of coming second then, and I sure didn't now.
Realizing I was still standing in the hallway, I went back to the living room and turned on the T.V. Aimless channel surfing ensued as I did some minor sulking. Julianne was walking back to her room to change when a knock sounded at the door.
"That's Blake," she said, looking at the clock on the DVD player. "He's early."
"I'll answer it. You go finish getting ready."
A single eyebrow raised at me. "You think that's a good idea, why?"
"Because it's about time the best friend gives him The Talk." I crossed my arms over my chest. "He needs to realize just who he's dealing with if he does you wrong."
"You 'talking' to him is what I'm afraid of."
"Well, tough shit. It's my duty as your best friend," I said, nudging her out of my way to the door. "Go get dressed. I'll deal with Jockstrap-" her mouth opened at my nickname for her boyfriend. "I'll be civil."
Sighing, Jules relented and went to her room. But not before sending me a pointed glare over her shoulder as a reminder to be nice. Like I needed one. Which I probably did. There was just something I didn't like about the guy. The main factor simply that he was dating her. I didn't like seeing his hands on her. Because no one was good enough for her.
Not because I was jealous. I had to keep reminding myself of that.
More knocks sounded at the door. Taking my sweet ass time, I peered through the peep hole before I even thought about letting him in. Preppy was decked out in a Dallas Cowboy's costume. The football player dressed up like a fucking football player. How original.
Rolling my eyes, I unlocked the door and swung it open.
"You're already beautiful, you don't need to-" Jockstrap stopped short when he realized who he was speaking to. "What the hell are you doing here?"
I couldn't help but give him a cocky smirk at the look on his face. "Spending time with my best friend. Although, it's not really you're business."
He tensed up, as if trying to look intimidating. "If it involves my girlfriend around you, I think it is."
"Back off, Hollywood."
I tsked. "Turning green with jealousy are we?"
"Fuck off," he muttered, barging past me into Julianne's apartment. Not that I was trying to stop him. Jules would have been pissed if I kept him waiting in the hallway.
Jockstrap turned around, fixing me with a stony glare. "I'm going to get straight to the point. I don't like you."
Like that wasn't already obvious. "Likewise."
"I don't want to be the kind of boyfriend that tells his girlfriend she can't hang out with certain people."
So the dude had some brains. Although, Julianne wouldn't listen to him if he forbade her to see me. "I sense a 'but' coming."
"I have no problem telling you to stay away from her."
"Fuck that." My back stiffened. Who the hell did the pretty boy think he was? I was Hollywood royalty, while he was some soon to be washed up college athlete. "If you don't trust her with other guys, don't date her."
"It's not her I have trust issues. It's just one particular asshole," he took a few steps towards me. "I've seen the way look at her when you don't think anyone is watching. Hell, you may not even know you do it. But you had your chance with her for how many years? Just because you didn't have the balls to do anything about it, doesn't mean you can threaten someone who does."
Returning the favor, I stepped towards him. Now I was pissed. I puffed out my chest and rolled back my arms as if I was bracing for a fight. Jockstrap had no idea who he just insulted.
Inches from his face, I growled in a deadly tone, "Listen up, buddy, because I'm only going to say this once. I've been around for the handful of boyfriends Julianne has ever had. That says I always win. You can have your fun while it lasts, but I'll be the one whose shoulder she leans on in the end. Fights or not, our friendship is still there. So nothing you can say or do is going to take me out of the picture. Get used to it."
"Get used to what?"
Plastering an innocent look on my charming face, I faced the object of our discussion. My tongue was tied once caught sight of what she was wearing. Or lack thereof.
Julianne, my best friend, was dressed like a fucking Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. Cowgirl boots? Check. White booty shorts? Check. Barely there blue shirt and the white vest making my eyes to stray where a best friend should never look? Check.
The strange feeling in my stomach occurred again. There was no way in hell she was leaving the apartment dressed like that.
"Royce," she said, drawing my attention back to her face. "What should Blake be getting used to?"
"It's nothing, babe," he said, his hand splayed over the bare skin of her lower back as she sidled up to his side. The sight made me want to break every one of his fingers.
"I don't believe you guys."
"Juju-Bean," I soothed. "It was just the normal protective friend stuff. He just has to remember that if he hurts you in any way, I'll kick his ass into the next millennium."
"Don't worry, Royce. He won't. Blake's a perfect gentleman," she rose on her toes to kiss his cheek.
I wanted to wipe the smirk off of his face.
Grabbing her fleece cheer leading jacket off the end table in the hall, Blake was ushered her out the door.
He peered around the door before shutting it. "Now who's green with jealousy? I'll be here for a while... Better get used to it."
I AM ALIVE! I know it's been a year or so since I've posted anything on FP. A humongo thank you to whoever is still with me. Life gets in the way of things sometimes. Especially when you're growing up. I tried to edit it the best I could, but if anyone notices something that needs fixing, please let me know!
Noteworthy: I've become a judge over at A Drop of Romeo! You should be able to find the link on my profile! Go suggest stories, attend Project Fondle chats, and participate in Star Crossed! We'll give you cookies ;)
Thanks to everyone that's read, alerted, or favorited! And thank you to the reviewers: Rosedreamer101, bookADDICT6, dreamsarewishes, Electric Monk, Hysterical Smiles, Dramatic Rose714, fairydustillusion, kesahrose, Anonymous, mylittlePRINCESS, Pleasseeeee, UPDATE FAIRY, mmaii, u wouldjustbe AWESO without ME, fullybooked, leng, Jayda123, FreekyDisaster18, miisan, Lady of romance world88, 64ShatteredButterflys, checkyesdana, Sweatered5Hatchets, lawannab, HeartLikePorcelain, sappyromancelvr, KariandTK, lizingrey, AND abbiexcx1990x