Making You Forget
To Doug, with love and love and love.
"Who do you want to forget?"
"Her. Maybe, I dunno," I reply, hands digging into the fabric of my jeans. I turn to look at him and he's wearing this thoughtful expression on his face, like what I just said is possible.
"Do you actually or is it just a in the moment thing?" he responds, eyes locking with mine and for a moment I just stare into their endless brown, trying to search for something, anything. I'm not even sure what I'm looking for.
I'm hesitant to respond, not because I'm afraid of saying what I'm thinking but because with him everything becomes serious. Set in stone. Pushing off the wall, I sigh, stuffing my hands into my pockets. "Yeah. I wanna forget."
I don't look at him when I say it. I know he's still wearing his thoughtful look, the one that terrifies me. Instead, I look up at the sky, spotting twinkling stars in the endless black ink. The summer breeze gently blows through my hair, and I shiver as the goosebumps form down my neck, onto my arms. He still hasn't replied so I dare to look back at him. He's staring at his Chucks. Green and battered and falling apart. His bangs have swept up in front of his eyes so I can't see them. I want to.
I take a step forward and brush them aside, black feathers against ashen skin. He looks up at me and I stare into his eyes again, this time to lose myself in them. His hands are tucked behind his back, pressing into the wall of my apartment. I can imagine the texture of the bricks digging into his palms, his fingers. Gritty and hard; crumbling.
He straightens up and I tuck my hand back into my pocket waiting for him to say something. He doesn't, just leans forward and grabs my t-shirt, pulling me closer to him. I stumble over, tilting my head up just a bit to meet his gaze and maybe I'm smiling because his lips stretch upwards and his arm wraps itself around my waist.
I'm still staring into his eyes as he presses his lips against mine, soft and supple and I'm not sure if I close my eyes first or if he does but when I ask him what he's doing I only see the oblivion of the sky stretched out in front my eyes. Pinned beyond the corners.
"Making you forget," he mumbles into my mouth.
I walk into the store and I can taste the excitement rushing through the air. Jenna and Sam are especially giggly, hands covering their mouths and cheeks flushed light shades of pink. I smile at them as I walk past, and Jenna gives me a wink.
I don't ask because I don't want to know. I'm content remaining in my sphere of knowledge. It's cozy and easy to get by in. I look for Brian as I walk into the back but as I push the black plastic in the doorway aside I bump into someone. He grunts, sounding slightly annoyed. I immediately note he's about two inches taller than me, skinnier though, in that bony sort of way that some boys are. I smile at him as a means of apologizing and he doesn't seem to want to get off on the wrong foot either because he chooses to smile back. It's small and a little forced but he's trying.
"Hi," I say, as standing around looking awkward isn't really my forte. Not that making conversation is.
"Hey," he mumbles in response, eyes falling to the floor. His hair's a bit long and shaggy, like he hasn't gotten a haircut in months. But somehow it suits him; frames his sharp features and falls into his chocolate eyes. Acne mars his skin, dotting his otherwise rosy cheeks like blotches of paint on a canvas. There's not too much but just enough that I find myself thinking he should use something to get rid of it. I rake a hand through my hair, which is thinner than his, probably greasy looking because I couldn't take a shower this morning.
"I've never seen you around." An arm suddenly comes to rest on his shoulders, which are pointed and square, as if he were actually a cardboard cut-out.
"Just hired him," my boss grins at me. I return Brian's grin and nod my understanding. Extending a hand toward the boy I realize why Jenna and Sam were so, well, girly today. There's a new boy in the store, and he's cute in an 'even though you're as thin as a toothpick, the way your hair falls into your eyes is just hot' sort of way.
He shakes my hand, his hands smooth and long with nimble fingers. "Nice to meet you," he says, finally looking me in the eye and I can see that he's nervous, if only a little bit.
Brian begins speaking before I can respond so I pull away. "This is Darren," he says, pointing to me. "And the new guy," he looks at me, his trademark grin still plastered across his face, "is Riley. I expect you both to get along. He's working in shelving and storage with you."
The rest of the day goes by with little conversation and I realise that Riley's a little shy, rough around the edges for his own protection. But he learns quickly and gives everyone their personal space unlike Brian who is always clapping you on the back, giving you a hug, punching you in the arm because you really fucked up that last stock order. But never too hard.
As we lock up for the night, it's just Brian, the new kid, and me. Jenna and Sam left after the afternoon rush around seven. Fridays always die down like that. We're teaching him how to close, that he needs to lock all seven locks on the back door and if he doesn't Brian will beat his face in. He doesn't seem very fazed by the threat, instead he looks almost amused. His lips twitching up into a smile.
He'll fit right in, I think to myself, as I place a box of CDs on a shelf, watching him and Brian by the door. His hands are stuffed in his pockets and he's nodding at Brian every few seconds.
I've finished sorting out the new arrival of products we got today and as I head over to Brian and Riley I catch the end of Riley's sentence. "—was really helpful."
Brian notices me and smiles, "Darren's a good boy." Realising that Riley, having barely spoken to me all day, was complimenting me, I blush, looking away from Brian and up at the wall. Brian chuckles and claps me on the back as he walks past me. "I'm heading out boys. Darren, lock the door."
"S-sure," I stutter. I haven't looked at Riley yet but I get the feeling he's probably amused. When I do look at him, having erased the blush from my face, he's just staring at me. Eyes calculating, lips set in a thin line. I feel like he's reading me and the uncomfortable feeling I get in my chest tells me to head for the front door. He'll follow, I know.
I grab my messenger bag out from underneath the front cash and push open the door. It's hot outside, humid really, and I know that by the time I get home my shirt's going to be sticking to my back in a disgusting sort of way. I hold the door open for him, waiting, and once he steps out onto the sidewalk, I let the door go. Pulling out my keys, which have a key to the shop as well, I find the right one and shove it into the door's lock. "Brian'll give you a key once you've worked here a while and he can trust you with it. It doesn't take long, really. Brian's a nice guy."
He doesn't say anything and somehow I didn't expect him to. I can hear the door's lock click as I turn the key and besides the distant sound of cars the night is silent. He is silent, staring up at the sky. Holding his jacket in his left hand with his right resting on the back of his neck, he looks lost in the constellations. It falls to his side as it slides down and he turns to look at me then, giving me a soft smile. "Thanks man."
I nod, returning the smile. "Any time." I wave goodbye and walk over to my car. Even as I'm pulling away from the shop he's standing there, eyes enthralled with the sky. I can't help but look up as well, craning my neck to the side to look through my window. All I see is black.
We started dating when I ran into the boutique she worked at, desperate to buy my mother a decent bouquet of flowers because I'd forgotten it was her birthday. She wouldn't have been visibly upset but I knew her better than that. She would've thought her own son didn't care for her. Never let it be said that she wasn't melodramatic.
I stumbled inside, having walked past the flower shop countless times on my way to the local farmer's market on weekend mornings. The shop was an endless sea of green entangled green, the colours of the flowers blending together until I couldn't see where one pink petal became a blue one. I walked toward the small desk I could see at the back of the shop, my eyes drifting to the shelves lining the wall beside me. They were filled with bamboo plants in finely decorated ceramic pots. Elephants, frogs, peacocks, a little house. I stopped at the little house; it was painted a light blue colour with a white door and white windows. Reaching for it, I thought it was perfect for my mum. It held seven bamboo canes in it, which the little sign on the plant told me meant it'd bring good health.
I never noticed her but she was standing right behind me when I turned around, a rather wide smile on her face. A bit startled, I stuttered out a hello, which she softly returned, adding on, "How can I help you?"
"Um, well, I'd like to buy this, for my mother." In the cramped little flower shop she seemed too close to me, as if any personal boundaries between us had melted away as soon as I stepped into the shop.
"Good choice," she bubbled, taking the little house from me, her hands brushing against mine delicately. I blushed and shoved them into my pockets. "Tell your mother," she told me, walking toward the desk at the back, left hand fixing the leaves of the bamboo, "that she shouldn't give the plant any cold water. Bamboo grows better if it's given warm water."
I nodded my head but realised she couldn't have seen me. "Yeah, I will. Thanks."
She placed the plant on the desk and walked into a back room, coming out with a little box and some wrapping paper. I stared at her. She was small, a little round, with tanned skin and dark red hair. I noted the freckles splashed across her nose, which was a bit wide. When she looked back up at me, her wrapping finished, her smile stretched into her green eyes and my heart skipped a beat.
"I'm sure your mother will love it," she beamed and even though the shop was lit up rather well, considering there were about a million flowers in it, her smile out-shined all of it.
"I hope so," I smiled back, taking the bamboo from her. I paid for the plant and even as I walked out I couldn't stop thinking about her beautiful smile. Sighing, I stretched my eyes up to the sky, murmuring to myself, "This isn't good is it?"
The thing is I don't think I've ever met anyone as laid-back as him. Once he sheds his shyness and it's just Riley Hayes, no awkward silences and no defensive jabs, he's impossible not to get along with. Brian probably saw that the first time they met; saw right through him and found that good kid inside.
I don't catch it until it's just him and me closing one night. The two of us have been getting along. I look past his sometimes rudeness and I'm sure he turns the eye when I'm being insufferable with how we have to alphabetically sort everything.
There's just one kid in the store and although we officially turned the lights of our 'Open' sign off five minutes ago, he's still inside. I watch his hands running through the CDs and really, if I didn't want to go home so much, I could tolerate his 'I am going to take my damn time' attitude. But I do and I want him out. Riley doesn't seem bothered. He's fixing up the guitar tab books in the back corner, far away from the kid.
I sigh, fingers tapping the cleaned front desk, in what I hope is an annoying beat. The kid doesn't seem to think so. He's bobbing his head to whatever it is that Riley's got playing. It's as I stare at him with wishes that maybe, just maybe, he'll spontaneously combust that he decides to turn around. I clear my throat and smile.
"You guys don't have Tokyo Rose?" he asks me, sounding disappointed and condescending at the same time. I want to scowl at him and tell him that maybe if you'd come a bit earlier I wouldn't have minded looking in the back to check if we did but you didn't, so get fucking lost.
I'm about to say something along those lines, nicer of course, when Riley walks over and gives the boy a smile, somewhat strained. "I'll check the back for you."
"Thanks man," the boy smiles. I try not to glare, at both of them.
It doesn't take Riley long to come out and he's waving the CD in his hands like a fan. What an idiot. The boy, on the other hand, brightens up and grins. "Thanks man! It's my girlfriend's birthday tomorrow and she loves the band so, yeah. Thanks."
"No problem" Riley smiles, this time genuine, and I feel that miserable feeling one gets when they feel guilty, sinking into my gut. Dragging me down.
"It's sixteen o' eight," I tell him and he pulls out a twenty. I give him his change and he runs out, thanking Riley again. Riley's leaning against the counter, giving me a smirk. "You wanted him to spontaneously combust, right?"
"Shutup." I can hear his laughter ringing through my ears as I go to the back.
One trip turned into too many trips. I had an excuse: my mother was a gardener so the pretence that I was going to the shop to buy her flowers was enough. She never seemed to mind, always happy to see me. I didn't even tell her my name until the third meeting, fumbling over it like I'd never said it before. She laughed, grinned and told me hers.
I went home that day repeating it in my head like a mantra, letting it slide over my tongue and roll around in my mouth. And that's what life became. A series of visits to her and working at the shop.
Sometimes I even helped her out in the rushes, God knew I'd read up enough about flowers and plants. I would purposefully drag my hand across hers when taking something from her, let it linger a bit too long and the little blush that would form on her cheeks was enough for me.
Two months into my silly visits I followed her into the back, cupped her face in my hands and kissed her. She dropped the pot she was holding, the sound dull and lifeless compared to the buzz in my head. The sound of the bell ringing in the store broke us apart and she rushed away from me, a blur before my eyes that I wanted to catch. I bent down to pick up the shards of terra cotta. Nothing as sharp as glass.
He's in my apartment looking through my CDs, which, as he told me, are nothing impressive. I nearly spit into his plate of manicotti at that comment but kindness is a virtue, right? I slide the plate in front of him and he's giving me a grin because he knows he's hit a nerve.
"I was joking," he tells me, taking a bite out of his manicotti. I roll my eyes, and ignore him, stabbing at mine instead. Instead, I look from under my lashes and he's snickering, like he knew my reaction would come to this. "You're too easy."
"Like your mom?" I ask him, refusing to look at him because I know he'll laugh and the way his eyes crinkle up will make me smile and the entire effect of me being mean will be lost. His laughter is like the sun on a particularly warm day where there's a soft breeze and just enough heat but not too much. It surges through you, relaxing, and you can feel the tension, the frustration, washing out of your pores like it was never there.
I sigh and give in. My eyes find his and I find his usual warmth there along with that mischievous hint that always worries me. "I didn't know you had it in you."
"Expect the unexpected." I retort, lazy smile sliding onto my face. It's comfortable being in his company. "Want some wine?"
"Wine?" he asks me, his tone offended. "Do I look like the sort who drinks wine?"
"You look like the sort who gets absolutely wasted and then throws up all over his mother's nice rug. You know, the one that her parents gave to her after she got married."
"Your impression was dead on," he blinks at me, pokerfaced. "You sure you're not my mother?"
Arching a brow at him, I get up from my seat and go into my small kitchen, which currently resembles what most would call a mess. I grab the wine my mother gave to me at Christmas last year. It's that expensive stuff she told me to open if I had someone important over. I scoff to no one in particular and bring it back to the table.
His plate is sitting in front of him, empty with all the sauce wiped off. So either he really liked it or he was really hungry. I'm going for the latter, I think, as I set the wine down on the table. It's pinot noir and I know the second he sees it he's going to laugh at me and call me a pansy. Or something of equal merit.
But he doesn't say anything, just takes the wine glass from me and swirls the wine around, taking a whiff of the scent. He stares at me while doing it, eyes looking over the glass as he takes a sip. I can't help but maintain eye contact; he demands it. He's grinning when he sets his glass down, giving me an 'are you for real' look. "Pinot noir."
"What, you're a wine critic now?" I respond, scathingly.
He laughs, no bubbles, and I swear to God he's much too full of himself. "My Dad was."
"Do you honestly expect me to believe that?" I've sat down in the chair beside him at this point, legs stretching forward to rest on the chair across from me.
"Would I lie to you? You, Darren?"
"I certainly wouldn't put it past you," and I know I sound like a self-assured ass but with him there's no other option.
He sighs, purposefully sounding defeated, I know, and leans back in his chair. "You ruin all the fun."
"I've been told." My eyes wander to the picture of my mother I have hanging against the wall. I don't notice him getting up until I turn to address him because he's being far too quiet. Of course, he's not in his seat so I turn around to look for him and find him wandering in my family room. His fingers are trailing over my fake fireplace. More for décor than actual use, considering I live in an apartment.
He stops at a picture and picks it up, turning to look at me, other hand swirling the wine in his glass in circles. I worry for a moment that he might spill it over my carpet but even I know he's not that clumsy; there's a method to his chaos.
"Who's this?" he asks me and I have to get up to see what picture it is. My eyesight's shot and I took my contacts out before he came over. As I walk over, I can distinguish Ava's red hair but before I can tell him my girlfriend, he adds onto his question. "Your sister?"
He looks at me expectantly and I laugh, "No, that's my girlfriend."
"Oh," he says, and this is the first time I notice how dead serious he can get. I stop my laughter but he gives me a perverted leer, a wink, and I forget all about how he sounded, just a bit, a little, upset at my answer. Instead I give him a light shove and take the picture from his hands, which, for some reason, he gives to me a bit reluctantly. His fingers have left smears on the silver picture frame and I tell myself to wipe them off when I get around to cleaning the place up.
"When'd you hook up with her?" he asks me, downing the wine as if it was a shot of vodka. I take the glass from him and walk back to my table to pour him another.
"Like five months ago," I answer him, finishing up my own wine. It tastes sweet like cherries and strawberries but velvety as it washes over my tongue and I can't help but feel that shooting down a glass of this would be a waste.
He's sitting in an armchair when I return to him and as I give him the glass, he takes it but asks me, "Do you have any beer?"
"No," I answer, taking a seat on the couch beside the armchair. I grab the remote and turn the television on, looking for some rerun of a show I once liked. "I don't drink. Never liked the taste."
"You have wine."
"Yes, apparently," I mock him, "but not because I drink it often. It's more for show, I suppose."
He hums and its odd how the conversation has died down but maybe the warm taste of the wine is relaxing him; I know I feel lazier. Silently we watch Scrubs and he chuckles a few times, here and there. I'm starting to feel sleepy when I hear his voice ring out in the silence. "What's she like?"
It takes me a moment to figure out who she is. "Sweet," I sigh, softly because I really feel tired and when I think of Ava that's the first thing that comes to mind. "She's sweet and she laughs like you do. It just bubbles from her."
He doesn't say anything but I hear him shift on the recliner. I turn to look at him and he's staring at me the same way he did the first time we met. Like he's looking through my soul or something. I shiver, clenching my jaw. His eyebrows are knit together and his lips set in the same thin line. I find myself hating this look, not because it's scary or makes me feel angry, but because when he looks at me like that I feel like I'm not in control of anything.
He suddenly breaks eye contact and looks at the clock sitting on top of my T.V.: eight twenty-two, it reads. It's not that late, not that late, but I'm tired and I think he wants to go home too. Work had been a pain in the ass.
"I think I'll head home, go to bed early for once," he smiles, rising from his seat on the armchair. I follow suit, and smile in return. "Hmm, too much porn is never too good for you."
He gives me a scandalized look, "You can never have too much porn."
I roll my eyes, knowing I should have expected it and he snickers as he heads to the kitchen to leave his wine glass there. I go toward the door, grabbing his jacket from the small closet to hand it to him. He takes it, pulling the jacket on. "You driving?"
"I drank one glass of wine," he answers, giving me a raised eyebrow. "You think I can't hold my alcohol?"
"No, but I was raised being taught that drinking and driving wasn't very hip."
He scoffs, hand tousling my hair as he opens the door. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."
I scowl, "Fine, see if I care if you die in an accident."
He never replies, just closes the door behind him and I can't help but open it again and watch him head for the stairs; his hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, eyes fixed on the ground. He never turns around.
"Silly boy," she mumbles against my skin, her breath cool and ghostly, hands weaving through my hair. The feeling entrenches itself into my skin and I don't want her to take her hands away. I nuzzle into her neck, the smell of –God, I don't even know what it is but I could smell it forever. She smells like flowers. She always smells like flowers.
I know she's smiling, soft and beautiful and as I run a hand down her side she sighs. My lips press into the little curve between her neck and shoulder, softly sucking the skin. Tugging it with my teeth. Her hand weaves through my hair.
I murmur against her neck, "He started it."
"Did he?" she whispers, low and breathy and I remove myself from her neck, lips brushing against hers, "Yes." The air from her lips feels like velvet across mine and I want to capture it. I kiss her again, pressing against her; my tongue slides over her bottom lip. She pulls away, right hand pressing against my chest as if to keep me at bay.
"You were the one who called him, and I quote," she says amused, "a 'fucking dickhead' who needed to keep his 'fucking hands off my girlfriend.'"
"Guess he shouldn't have touched you then."
Her eyes are bright, like the green from the leaves of a Choisya and she's looking at me like I never grew up, which is probably true, in some sense. "You're so jealous," she accuses me, leaning forward to suck on my bottom lip.
My hand wanders into the curve of her back and I press it down flat, sliding it up languidly as if I have all the time in the world. "Who wouldn't get jealous over you?" I murmur against her lips and her laughter tingles my lips; I melt at the sensation. There's more comfort in it than anything I've ever felt before. More than the brush of Riley's hands against mine when he stands behind me to help me get a box down.
My heart pounds into my ears and I feel a twang in my gut, like someone just pulled my intestines into a knot. I break our kiss, eyes wide and twist away from her to lie on my back. Well that wasn't too obvious, I tell myself, sarcastically.
Her concerned eyes find mine and I think that I still look like a dear caught in the headlights because she frowns. "What's wrong?"
"N-nothing." She doesn't believe me but she doesn't press the issue either. Instead she rests her head on my naked chest and sighs softly. The heavy pulse of my heart is beating in my ears like a drum, relentless. She can probably hear it hammering against my rib cage.
"You'd better tell me in the morning," she yawns, snuggling into my side. The press of her delicate skin against mine suddenly feels wrong. I don't deserve it. My arms wrap around her shoulders and I squeeze her but her breathing has already evened out. Closing my eyes in frustration, I curse under my breath. Why was I thinking about him?
For the, what, I don't even know how many times, my thoughts have trailed off to him without my knowledge. Really, what a traitorous mind. I hold her closer, as if the second my arms loosen, even a little, it won't be her who slips away but rather me who flies off. And whoever said that if you love someone you should set them free was horribly mistaken. A lost bird can't come back.
"I'll see you around," I say to Brian as I leave the store. Riley's already outside, humming a tune softly under his breath. Brian yells goodbye and Jenna waves as I pass through the door. The sun hits my eyes immediately, a surprise attack and I close my eyes in defence, hand moving up to shield them. I hear Riley's humming dissolve into snickers and irritability I snap, "Shut up, you douche."
Through the cracks of my eyes I see he's still grinning, taking far too much enjoyment out of my pain. I want to roll my eyes but I doubt he'd be able to see, considering how terrible my vision is at adjusting to light changes. Through his grin he asks me, "Has anyone ever told you that you're rather rude?"
And it's rhetorical, I know, but I can't help but be a smartass in return, "And has anyone ever told you to thank those people who offer you a ride home?" My eyes scan the parking lot and I frown when they meet a small, boxy, red car parked in my parking spot.
"Touché," he admits. "But perhaps you should see a doctor for that memory of yours."
I give him a snide look and recall that I had to locate another parking spot after lunch. All Riley's fault, thank you very much. "Whose fault do you think that is?"
"What? You wanted ice-cream too," he reminds me innocently, before grabbing my wrist and pulling me down the plaza parking lot. I half walk half trail behind him, falling into a silence. He's probably grinning that beautiful smile, happy with just this much. The problem, of course, is that he's settling for far too little and eventually he'll want more. What terrifies me is I actually wish I could, that I could give him everything.
He pulls me to a stop, both of us standing in front of my car and then turns around, smiles, brilliant and sunny. I return the gesture, smaller, sadder but it's there. He frowns for a moment, releases my wrist to sweep my fringe out of my eyes, and his hand lingers there for a moment too long. A moment that's long enough for me to lean into his warmth, long enough to give him hope.
It's his eyes that brighten up, dazzling brown and he grins, "Want to come over to my place today? Play some video games."
"Sure," I mumble, without thinking it through because I don't know how to escape him, really. He shines, absolutely bloody glows, as if I mean the world to him and suddenly I feel the urge to turn around and run as fast as I can in the other direction. To run so hard that eventually he is nothing but a distant memory hiding in the back of my mind.
But I never get the chance; he grabs the keys from my hand and jingles them in front of my face. "I'll drive!"
For a moment I step back into myself and scowl, "It's my car, you idiot."
"As if that's ever mattered," he responds, not missing a beat. He struts to the driver's side, and perhaps I did let my eyes linger a bit too long on his ass but I deny it in my head. It's easy enough to pretend, isn't it? "Come on; stop daydreaming!" The worst part is I feel a smile stretch across my face at his words. I stagger forwards, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders because these are my choices. Choices that may end up hurting all three of us.
Actually, the meeting wasn't planned. Somehow as Riley and I had walked out of the shop, our day's work finished, we had wandered off to her store's street. She was standing outside the shop, cleaning the glass and Riley's face probably fell when he saw mine brighten.
I didn't really think it through, just snatched his wrist and pulled him toward her because he had to meet the love of my life, Riley. She's so amazing! It was almost as if I had utterly forgotten that I knew how he felt; that even my feelings for him, whatever they were, had been eclipsed from the glow of her presence in my heart.
They were bound to meet at some point, considering how I told each of them about the other, a haze of compliments and endearments that would have prickled my heart had I been hearing them about anyone else. Memory failed to remind me that Riley was all sharp corners and rough surfaces upon first meeting anyone and that Ava was too lovable to dislike, no matter how hard you tried. When I had left his side to stand next to hers, to wrap an arm around her shoulders and peck her on the cheek was a blur when I thought back. All I remembered was the closed off expression on his features, the quite possible jealousy in his eyes.
She gave him a smile, radiant as always, and he tried to return the gesture, tight and slightly strained. Realising how awkward he must be, I stepped in, swallowing down a sudden nervousness, "Ava this is–"
"Riley," she finished, quirking an eyebrow up at me with a grin. I only nodded dumbly and she turned her attention back to Riley. "I've heard so much about you."
I saw the blush creeping up Riley's neck and suppressed a snicker. He gave her a small, genuine smile and mumbled quietly, "What crap has he been saying about me?"
"Oh, I wouldn't call it crap," she responded, giving him a wink as she wrapped an arm around my waist. "Do you two want to come inside; I do have to make sure I'm available for my customers."
Riley nodded mutely and I led her inside, Riley trailing behind us. The shop was cool, that odd rush of air that always seemed to come out of nowhere surging over us. Small and cluttered as usual, green invaded every corner of our eyes. I was a bit surprised when I heard Riley's voice, "So, uh, is this your shop?"
Ava turned around then, twisting in my arms and I let go of her shoulder. She laughed good-heartedly, "Oh no. It's my uncle and aunt's shop. Darren just knows my schedule so well that you found me here rather than one of them."
Nodding his head a bit stiffly, Riley let his eyes wander. "I'll be right back boys, just gotta put the cleaning supplies away."
"I can do it," I told her quickly but she only smiled at me and pinched my nose as she walked off to the back.
The two of us fell into a silence and I instinctively stuffed my hands into my pockets, trying to avoid looking at Riley. The unsettling cramp in my gut felt something like guilt but I wasn't sure why I would be experiencing guilt of all things. After a moment he took a step to the side, hand reaching up to one of the bamboo vases. "You bought your mum a little house, right?"
Surprised again, I smiled fondly because he always remembered the little things. Stepping toward him, I reached for the same vase, our fingers brushing together. He retreated almost immediately and even though I felt a small pang in my chest I ignored it. "Yeah I did. How do you even remember?"
It's when he turned to look at me that I realised I was standing much too close to him, that I could feel his breath ghosting over my neck like phantom fingers. He stared at me with an intensity that caught my breath and for a moment I forgot that I was standing in Ava's uncle's shop, the urge to just kiss him washing over my soul. "I remember everything about you," he whispered, raising the hairs on the back of my neck in a chilled astonishment.
The realization of exactly what it was I was doing hit me and I quickly took a step back, eyes wide because he shouldn't have the ability to make my heart thunder in my head like that. The heat of my embarrassment flushed across my face and I took another step back, hand attempting to cover my face in a pathetic attempt to hide the obvious. I didn't dare look at his face, his eyes, so I turned, taking a few steps toward the check out desk.
I was shocked to find Ava standing there, looking a bit puzzled but she quickly tried to hide it, turning her look of confused hurt to a small, forced smile and it felt like my throat was closing up; my hands dampened with sweat. And, and what was it, exactly, that I was doing?
I cleared my throat, opened my mouth to say something but suddenly my throat was too dry and it felt like I'd choke on the words. In that moment of blurred horror, I could feel his gaze burning my back and hers' asking me a million questions. I didn't know how to answer either.
Finally Ava broke the silence, her voice a bit too quiet, "Well, Riley, what do you think of the shop?"
I heard him answer over my shoulder, and unconsciously I started to walk toward her, "It's really lovely. Your aunt and uncle must be very proud."
She smiled, for a split second, genuinely and I felt a rush of instantaneous joy wash over me. She answered him, hand slipping into mine as I reached for her, a bit lost, a bit terrified. "They are and thank-you, I'll let them know."
Oh, she's too kind; too forgiving and I wanted to whisper that I love her, only her, so it didn't hurt as much as she wasn't showing me. I leaned against the counter, my back still to Riley, an all-encompassing fear that I'd falter again, if I even caught sight of him from the corner of my eyes.
"Did you want to have dinner with us, Riley? Nothing fancy but I live pretty close by so it'd be a short walk. I'm closing shop in about an hour anyways."
He didn't respond verbally, at first, but I knew he shook his head, smiled at her in something like a 'thank-you', before he said, "I have some errands to run, but thank-you." After a moment's pause, he added, "Actually I think I should get going. Nice to finally meet you Ava."
"The pleasure's all mine," she smiled sweetly, eyes crinkling at the corners. I could see relief in her, her hand clasping mine a little too tightly. I heard the door opening – he was pausing just for a moment, waiting for me to say something, wondering if he was allowed to say something. "See you at work Riles," I told him, giving him a small wave as I shifted around to look at him.
"Yeah," he replied, voice hoarse as he disappeared behind the green door. I stared at where he had stood, my distress bubbling up my stomach and coiling in my throat.
"Are you coming over for dinner?" she asked me, breaking the uncast spell from my eyes and the door. I looked down at her, bending down and kissing her at the corner of her eyes. "Always."
He forgets things easily, like where he put his keys, wallet, glasses. I find myself retracing his steps a lot. I totally left them in the kitchen. I swear. Fuck, man, how am I going to get to work? Laughing, I tell him I'll give him a ride.
We're driving to work right now, his head bobbing up and down to whatever it is he's listening to. He learned quickly that I like to drive quietly, no talking, no radio, just my thoughts and I.
He flashes me a grin when he catches me looking at him at an intersection and I look away immediately because for some reason my heart just tried to break out of its cage and I can feel my cheeks heating up. I clutch the steering wheel harder than necessary, knuckles turning white. For the rest of the drive I keep my eyes on the road and when we pull up in front of Brian's independent little music store, I get out of the car before he does.
I can't look at him and it's probably because I'm too self-conscious of myself but I can't help but think, What was that? Shit.
"Darren, I'm gonna go grab some coffee, you want anything?" he asks.
I'm forced to look in his direction but I focus my eyes right above his head, staring instead at the flowerpots decorating Ms. O'Donnell's restricted balcony. "I'm good, thanks." A nauseous feeling is building up in my stomach, like I've just eaten something I shouldn't have and I know I need to look at him when I'm answering him. So I do. And in that split second I catch the wounded look he's giving me. He knows me too well. He knows me too fucking well.
"See you in the store," I say as goodbye and head into the store. He doesn't reply, but I hear his Chucks scuffing against the asphalt as he walks to The Espresso Shop. I grit my teeth as I open the door, realising that today it's just him and me until the afternoon.
He takes half an hour to get his coffee, and really, I know it should've taken him a maximum of ten minutes because The Espresso Shop is never so busy this early on a Saturday morning. The door swishes open, and I look toward the shadow outlined by the sunlight, framed by the door as if in a photograph. I don't know what to say, so I let the first thing that comes to mind slip past my lips, "Took you a while, huh? Did Elaine catch your attention?"
He frowns at me from the doorway and walks in, placing his coffee cup on the front desk. Pulling his messenger bag's strap over his head, he tosses it into a corner behind the desk and sits down in the stool, giving me a scowl. "I think she's more your type."
I'm a bit taken aback but I don't allow the surprise to linger on my features; instead I chuckle, fake and empty, hollow. "I have a girlfriend." I can't let him know that the words actually hurt, that he sounds awfully rude and that I don't want that. I don't want him to treat me like that.
"I know," he sighs, a bit defeated, a bit bitter. A weight seems to drag my heart down and I don't understand, really, what it is I'm doing. I have a girlfriend, I repeat in my head, as if to let the words sink into my bones and carve themselves there.
I want to ask him what it is that he wants from me, because I'm getting awfully sick of the looks he's been giving me and doesn't he think he's being too selfish? But I know that I don't have the guts to make that wound; I can barely stand to look at my own blood. Swallowing my own spit becomes a task, and by the time I manage to look up at him he's not on the stool. Momentary confusion hits me and I wonder where he could have gone. I scan the store and guess that he's gone to the back, possibly to help me stock the shelves, possibly because he doesn't want to be anywhere near me.
And truth be told, I know what the problem is, I'm not so dense, but I don't want to believe it. Those looks, they're the same as the ones I gave Ava; the same as the ones I've received in the past and I feel like a dirty bastard. Rightfully so, rightfully so.
Sighing, I run a hand through my hair. It's softer than it's been in the past; Ava's doing and I curse under my breath, loud enough, I think, for Riley to hear. The guilt envelops me, and I swallow, because I shouldn't be thinking about what he said the first time he swept my fringe out of my eyes for me. I shouldn't, and yet the words bloom in my mind, filling up every available space.
He stares at me for a second, a bit startled and then he laughs. The corners of his eyes crinkle up and I stare at a set of perfect teeth, stained a dull yellow from excessive coffee consumption. "What?" I snap, because patience was never really a virtue I possessed.
"I don't think even girls have hair so soft," he giggles and I really want to see his brown, brown, brown eyes but I flick him instead. Square in the forehead. "Oww," he whines, pouting instantly. I regret my actions for all the wrong reasons and look away mumbling sorry under my breath.
"You're so easy to mess with," he snickers and I want to hit him again but don't; glaring death instead. His features soften momentarily and he smiles, genuinely, "I think I could run my fingers through it all day though." And he laughs again, as if to hide what he's really trying to say. That persistent warm feeling returns to my stomach and I make an excuse to leave him in the living room.
Opening my eyes, I stare at the poster of Radiohead in front me, Thom Yorke's thoughtful eyes staring back at me. My hands are sweaty and I feel hot in my t-shirt and jeans, uneasy.
"Hey," I hear his voice say to me, somewhere to my right, a bit off. My attention seems to drift to him but he doesn't need to know how I'm latching onto his every word. "Sorry. I…just—"
"It's okay," I interrupt because I don't want him to tell me how he feels. There's no need. None.
For a moment we stand together, dead in the silence of the room, my head dropping down to stare at my boyish blue shoes and his focus fixed on me. Just as I'm about to begin stocking again he speaks up, "It's not."
I play dumb on purpose, "What's not?"
"It's not okay." And it sounds so nasty, like this is all my fault. Like I asked him to like me.
"You're not being fair," I reply, staring him down, eyes hard and unsympathetic, leaving no room for doubt. He's gritting his teeth, hands coiled into fists. He's seeping blood. Did I hit him right in the heart? I don't think I can afford a hit anywhere else.
"I don't care."
He leaves the room before I can reply and for the first time Riley becomes someone who isn't Riley. I'm not sure I understand and as I stare at the spot he was standing at, a queasy feeling grips me and the very thought of being anywhere near him terrifies me. I almost stumble over my own feet as I rush to the front door, flinging it open. Running toward Ava's shop, I punch in Brian's number.
I'm panting when he picks up and I tell him over and over that I can't work today, that I'm sorry and somehow he understands what I can't. He tells me to relax, catch my breath; he'll go to the store. And I'm a coward, such a coward because he's better than this. She's better than this.
When I reach the flower shop I cross the street, and just as I'm about to open the door I stop. My fingers won't push against the wooden door. I stand in front of the entrance staring at the green paint that's chipping at the corners. Fisting my hand, I take a step back and look up at the shop, reabsorb the arrangement in the window and I don't understand.
Perhaps I already knew what she was going to say, her eyes sad and forgiving. Unconsciously I brush a lock of her fire red hair behind her ear and my hand rests there, cupping her cheek. She gives me a sad smile, eyes watering just a bit, enough to notice. Enough to worry.
She lets out a broken laugh, tears slipping down her face and her fingers momentarily clutch my t-shirt before slipping down to her side. The room's warmth is quickly diminishing, but perhaps that's just me. The goose bumps creeping up my arms tingle and as I step just slightly closer to her, she throws herself into my arms. Catching her little body, I hold her against me as tightly as I dare. I've already broken her.
Sunlight seeps in through the windows, lazy and blazing. Trembles from her body to become a blaring alarm in my mind and what have I done? I feel her suck in a breath as she pushes away from me, tears streaking her rosy cheeks and I want to wipe them away; I want to put her heart back together again.
"I–" I begin but stop, my thoughts a jumble of confusion, and fear inside my head. I reach out to touch her, stroke her cheeks clean of the tears pouring from her disheartened green eyes but she tilts her head away. Just enough that I know she wouldn't be able to stand it.
"You like him Darren," she whispers, her voice quiet and choked. Before I can reply, not that I really know what the bloody hell to say, she continues, "And it's okay. You, I want you to be happy." She finally looks up at me and her tears seem to have dried up a bit, her eyes smiling sadly at me.
For some reason it feels like she's just ripped out my heart, even though I'm the one who broke hers but, but is she really going to let go of me so easily? "That's it?" I croak, because I thought I meant more to her.
She shakes her head, red hair swaying along with it and the tears are already slipping past her eyes. She takes in a shuddering breath and stares at me with a determination I didn't quite know she had. "It has to be, doesn't it? I, it hurts too much to be second to him, Darren. I can't – you like him, you like him so much and he likes you as well."
"But I like you too. I, I love you for fuck's sake," and I do grab her by the shoulders, I do kiss her as hard as I fucking can because it's never hurt quite this much.
I stagger backwards from the force of her push, stumbling on thin air and bewilderment. "Just go, Darren. Go."
She turns around, walks away to a part of the store where I can't see her and I hear her suppressed sobs, imagine her shaking shoulders, her hand covering her mouth to muffle any pained cries. I've done this to her.
There's nothing I can do and even though I know I've probably stood in this back room, learned it inside out, I still feel like a stranger amidst the familiarity. My focus falls on her crying, and when I finally find the courage to walk out of the room, the numbness that captured me is unleashed. I am shattered.
Tears begin to fall, and I tremble like she did in my arms. When I stagger outside, the summer heat swarms me and I choke on my own breath. The street is empty, the sky obsidian as if the hope had been sucked out of it too. My thoughts, singling down to just one, tell me to breathe. Beyond anything, I know that we will never be. Loneliness takes a hold of me and as I trail home, the sidewalk my only view, all I can do is cry.
It's like disappointing your mother when all you wanted to do was make her say she was proud of you. It's like when your dad doesn't show up to that one goddamned school play that you actually tried to do well in. It's like breaking your best friend's heart because that bitch never really liked him.
And you're trying so desperately to rid yourself of that drowning feeling, you're trying so hard to forget, forget, forget but it swarms back like a cloud of bees. One sting after another after another. Suddenly your heart is hanging from your sleeve, barely intact and that single thread is thinning, eroding under a hailstorm of heartbreak because you trusted this one girl with your heart. This one girl who you didn't deserve but wanted anyways. This gone girl.
I know that I'm nothing better than a walking corpse, who trudges to work and stumbles back home. I know that the reason why Riley tries his very hardest not to say anything to me isn't because he doesn't like me anymore but because he knows I'll blame him. I'll blame him and that'll hurt more than pushing him away. It's like playing a game, a game that I can rig any which way but that he can't afford to lose.
It's terrible. Terrible.
Perhaps I should put him out of his misery but for some reason I refuse. Instead I continue to string him along, silently begging him for some more time because she took half of my heart with her and its so hard to get it back. It's so hard to ask for it back because there's someone else who wants it. Wouldn't that mean I'd have to return the half she gave me? I inhale sharply, fingers clasping the shelf with a desperation I thought I'd left behind. Isn't that all I have left? No, no, no.
I can't give it back.
A warm hand grasps my shoulder, slides up and down my back and I'm not all together surprised to see Brian's concerned face looking up at me. "You doing okay?"
Letting out a trembling breath, in a bit of a disappointment because I was hoping it was Riley. No, I couldn't have. "Yeah, managing," I mumble, trying to muster up a smile. Brian's hazel eyes soften, and I find myself caught in the sympathy of a father's love.
"She was beautiful," he tells me, hand pressing into my back and I can't say I don't find it comforting to know I could lean back into that reassurance and expect to be caught. "But there is more beauty in the world Darren. Enough beauty that you have yet to discover and some that you have already met. Don't succumb to the pain in that heart of yours; there was a reason it didn't work out."
I nod, a bit startled. He claps me on the back, leaves a smile lingering in my mind and walks off, a silent good luck conveyed. Not a moment later Riley wanders into the same isle as me, lost in thought because he doesn't notice me standing in the middle staring at him.
Attempting to keep his hair out of his face, he blows upwards, the black strands floating in the insignificant breeze and for the first time in weeks I smile, genuinely, an amused snicker escaping my lips. He freezes almost immediately, brown eyes caught off guard and surprised. For a moment it seems like he's going to leave the isle but chooses not to, falters for a moment before stuttering, "Hey, sorry. Just had some CDs that went in this isle. I'll get out of your way."
I'm not sure what comes over me but the little pang in my chest must mean something. Swallowing down something akin to nervousness, I open my mouth to reply but nothing comes out. Sweat collects in my palms and the box I'm holding feels like it might slip. Shoving it onto the empty space on one of the lower shelves, I round up enough courage to talk. My eyes are glued to the box when I hear my voice in the silence surrounding us, "I'm sorry that I've been such a dick."
The modest sound of clacking CDs ends and I brave looking up at him. He looks at a loss for words and really I don't blame him. I have been nothing but a dick lately. "You…you said something!" and I hear the relief and elation in his voice. I see the way his tense shoulders relax, the way he nearly slumps against the shelves as if this was all he was waiting for.
I can't help but laugh, feeling my uneasiness wash away. Riley is Riley, straightforward and open. "I didn't go mute, you know."
He shakes his head, smiles so bright I can barely carry on looking at his face and I make the first move, taking a step toward him. I don't think he notices because he's still smiling like a loon, telling me that he knows, he knows.
Without thinking of the consequences or what this will become after I've over-analysed it in my head, I reach around him, enveloping him into a hug. "I'm so sorry," I whisper because how could I have ignored him as if he meant nothing? The tears slip down my face before I can catch them and I want to tell him he means everything, too much but God my heart feels like it might explode.
Just as I'm about to pull away from him, he locks me in his arms, pulls me in flush against his body and his voice quivers as he breathes out, "It's okay. It's okay."
Avoiding someone after selfishly hugging them in a tiny little music shop with more shelves and isles than walking space is actually easier than a lot of people make it out to be. Possibly they're not as good at sneaking around corners and standing very, very still. But by the time my shift is over, I'm walking out of the store without having bumped into Riley since the hug. I've no clue why I'm avoiding him, but it feels something like a schoolgirl's nervousness. Whatever that is.
Warmth catches my wrist as I step out of the door and, startled, I spin around to see who's grabbed me with such determination. Really, I already knew. He looks a bit angry, a bit desperate and I want to tell him that it's my fault he's feeling that way but he already knows, of course he does.
"Could you," his voice trembles, ever so slightly, "could you wait for me to finish?"
I nod, mutely, giving him a smile and I lean forward, just enough that his clasp on my wrist tightens even further. Perhaps it's a warning, one that I chose to ignore as I brush my lips softly against his cheek. The kiss is nothing but he lets go of me, whips around and rushes back inside.
I can't help but feel entirely too amused, my heart soaring in my chest like a newly released dove. Deciding that sitting on the curb in front of the shop is the best way to go, I take a seat, humming to myself. I let myself slip into a defenceless trance, enjoying the soft breeze that's getting sparser and sparser under the setting sun to become a cool evening.
Leaning back on the palms of my hands, I stare up at the sky; it's become a rush of colours: golden flecks and blackening orchid and bright, bright red simmering between nonexistent clouds. It reminds me of Riley, splashed out against the world like that and I close my eyes, a soft smile playing across my lips as I bring my head back down.
Just then the door opens and I scrape my hands across the cement, little debris scratching against my palms like reminders of pain past. Wiping my hands clean on the backs of my jeans, I turn around to look at him. He stands a head taller than me and that's probably because I've lost more height to him by standing on the asphalt rather than the raised sidewalk.
"Can we, no, can you stop avoiding me?" he asks me, face a mask of concentration. I think I very well lose my voice around him because I manage another nod of the head, before adding a little quietly, "Yeah, I'd like that."
He looks relieved and I'm glad of it. After everything, he's giving me a chance and I want to take it, more than anything. But that lingering fear is still sitting in the gut of my stomach like a nagging reminder of what could go wrong. I find his hand and lace my fingers through it, squeezing tightly because I need a confirmation that I won't be forgotten, that the fear that's trying to spread throughout my body like a virus is nothing to worry about because he's the cure. His relief turns into a smile and he tugs me toward himself.
"I'll walk you home," he whispers. And perhaps it's okay to feel a rush of butterflies when he says things like that because, after all, he is what I hope lies on my horizon. Shoulders bumping, hand tugging me along, he takes me home and I don't let go of him until we're standing in front of my apartment building; it's just the two of us and he's asking me, "Who do you want to forget?"
Thank-you so much for reading! This was edited by Kneecap aka Doug so any remaining mistakes are all mine, although he's very thorough. I hope you enjoyed it and I'd really appreciate any comments, criticisms or just happy faces. :D