There was a reason I was dumped by Josh Perkins, I reminded myself for the twentieth time as I watched the aforementioned young man from across the club. He was surrounded by both girls and drinks, and even though I hadn't seen him for several years (the last sighting being the day we broke up back during freshman year), something about his presence still felt attached to me.
Well, I told myself severely, I should stop being ridiculous. Josh means nothing to me. In fact, that probably isn't even Josh. Just some guy who I think looks like Josh. That's right.
But minutes later, when Josh lifted up his fourteenth drink of the evening (not that I had kept count or anything but…yeah, okay, I had), I realized that it truly was him. He had a particular way of commanding everyone's attention that I remembered from back in the day. No matter how trivial his actions, everyone around him was always watching and cheering.
I wish people could cheer me on for doing something as simple as taking out the trash, but I guess when you only took it out once a semester like Josh, cheering probably wasn't such an out-of-place response.
Speaking of cheers, another large round of applause burst from the crowd. I looked over at Josh, expecting to see him downing another glass. However, he was in the middle of drunkenly explaining something to the five girls around him, and confused, I looked around for the source of the outburst.
It was then that I noticed the small banner that read 'Congratulations, Lily!' in bright gold letters from across the room, with a group of tall, attractive women surrounding the banner and a girl in a tiara under it. I sighed. I thought Josh was going to be the only one to upset me today, but then they had to go ahead and have a Bachelorette Party here as well. Lucky Lily. She was about to have all her boy problems solved forever, while I was stuck here pining for a jerk like Josh.
A jerk who, if I was correct, was on his nineteenth drink of the night. Jeez, was he ever going to stop? He couldn't even stay upright on the seat anymore. And the stupid girls around him were horrible! Every time he swayed, they burst into giggles and did nothing to steady him. Eventually, he slid out of the seat and took a shaky step forward. I didn't even realize it at first, but I too was out of my seat, straining to hear anything through the loud music about where he would be going after this and whether he would get there safely. Obsessive, I know. But I wouldn't be able to bear it if something happened to him.
For a while, I just watched Josh shuffle across the room, bumping into people and staggering from one table to the next. I really intended to sit and wait where I was, in the corner of the club that I had been in the entire night, and just make sure a sober driver was there to escort Josh. But a few moments later, as my drunk ex-boyfriend himself fished out a set of keys from his back pocket, I found myself racing across the club to his side.
"Whoa, you are not driving yourself!" I declared loudly. I caught Josh as he fell into me in surprise.
"Who's you?" he drawled as I gripped him firmly about the waist, not enjoying the fact that he was eight inches taller than me.
"No one. Walk," I commanded. Josh blinked a couple of times, struggled to get back on his feet, and then promptly swayed to the opposite side as I grabbed for him.
"Why can't… all of you… hold me up?" Josh stammered as I pushed him forward with all my strength. It was like pushing dead weight, since he did nothing to help besides flap his hands around, indicating invisible people. Maybe someone slipped a hallucinogen or something into his drinks. Well, I wasn't going to stand here and puzzle it out.
"Come on, Josh!" I grunted as I dragged him away before he could make a conversation with people who didn't exist.
I don't know how I managed, but somehow I forced Josh out of the club, away from the "invisible" people, and into the passenger seat of my tiny car. As I turned on the ignition, I prayed furiously that Josh wouldn't find the need to be sick during the ride. But as I soon found out, I was going to be facing another, more serious problem.
"I'm sleepy," Josh mumbled, yawning loudly in the seat beside me just as I pulled onto the street. I shot a panicked glance in his direction.
"Don't sleep!" I warned him. I don't remember where I read it, but I knew sleeping after a night of heavy drinking was bad for you. Something about the alcohol remaining in your system longer and blood poisoning and asphyxiation…basically: death.
"But I'm sleepy!" Josh whined, ignoring me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him curl up against the seat, tucking his arms inside his polo sleeves like little kids do with over-sized t-shirts. I reached over and slapped his hair.
"Get up!" I hissed. The road was passing by in a blur. The road was lit up so brightly in the warm yellow glow of the streetlamps that it was hard to tell it was way past midnight, but the light didn't disturb Josh. He simply turned the other way and hid his head on the side of the door.
"Joshua Nathaniel Perkins! Get up this instant!" I shouted. I risked taking my eyes of the road to turn and give him a glare. He started out of his sleepy stupor, looking at me with dull eyes.
"Hey, you know my name," he said in an accusatory manner. I rolled my eyes, my attention back on the road in front of me.
"No kidding," I replied. Silence followed as Josh shifted in his seat. He suddenly stopped moving. "Josh, if you try to sleep-,"
"What's your name?"
The question threw me off guard, and I slammed on the breaks. Luckily, no one else was on this particular stretch of the road, but even then, someone could have been just around the corner. But at the moment, I didn't care. I banged both of my hands on the steering wheel, whipping my head around and giving Josh the most chilling glare I could.
"Wait. You really don't know who I am?" I demanded. My question had the desired effect. Josh had pressed himself up back against the door and window, looking at me with wide eyes. Slowly, he shook his head from side to side.
I moaned and dropped my head onto the wheel. I thought he was just kidding before. Here I was, ditching my friends and their dates back at the club, just so I could drive an ex-boyfriend home safely, and what does he do? Freaking forget who I am?
"It's me! Chelsea! Chelsea Summerlin? We went out in high school?" I probed. Josh's eyes had incomprehension written all over them. He was still staring at me like I had just turned into a ghost. "Remember? Freshman year of college: we started out in business school together? Then you switched to history and got in a big rut with your family?" And then broke up with me, destroying my marrying-my-high-school-sweetheart vision.
"I don't remember you…" Josh said. I almost wanted to cry.
"Josh! I was three years of your life! How can you not remember? Our families were best friends. My little brother, Carlos? He and your bro Jeremy were tight!" Until your dad saw your behavior and decided to make sure Jeremy didn't deviate as well. That was the end of their friendship. "Come on!"
"Chelsea," Josh stated. I nodded, biting my lip. When he didn't say anything, I busied myself with getting the car out of the middle of the road and onto the shoulder. "Chelsea." He didn't sound as drunk now, but I was probably imagining it…
"You were blonde," he suddenly said. I gasped, and my heart started to thud painfully in my chest.
"Yes, yes!" I cried, reaching up to pet my shoulder-length black hair. "I dyed it." Right after we broke up, of course. Josh's hair, though, was still the same. Brown and messy, curling over his ears and down his neck. And bright green eyes, just like mine. It used to be a joke that we weren't giving our future children many options in that area. Back when a future with children was still something that I thought we would have.
I didn't realize until a few moments later, when my memory had run its natural course, that Josh hadn't said anything. I blinked and looked over at him to see him peacefully resting with his head thrown back against the headrest. I admired his sleeping form for a little bit before panic jolted me.
"No! Josh! Stop! You can't sleep!" I fumbled with my seat belt until it snapped off. I reached over, slapping Josh's cheek to get him to stay conscious. He mumbled something under his breath but didn't open his eyes. "Josh! You have to wake up! You have to wake up!" Josh didn't stir. I looked around the car, trying to find some water or something I could splash on him. Or something I could whack him with. But my short search produced nothing. In the end, I turned back to Josh, knowing I had to wake him up but not knowing how. And in that moment of mixed panic-and-desperateness, I found myself doing the one thing I thought I would never do again.
Kissing an unresponsive guy was like kissing a pillow. Josh's lips felt soft and gave in to my touch at first, but then no matter what I did, his lips wouldn't move, and my breath was smothered against his mouth. I took a deep breath and tried again, almost gagging on the sickly, burning taste of alcohol. It was far worse than drinking, for I could always put down the glass and take a breath. Here, the very air was a blend of vodka, beer, and bad Mexican food. Breathing was punishment, not a relief.
Come on, take the bait! You're a guy! I wished as I pressed myself closer to him, running my hands through his hair. Slowly but surely, I felt his heart rate rise and his body shudder under my contact. He hadn't been asleep enough yet to miss this. Before I knew it, his arms were encircling my waist, and he was kissing me back. It lasted for only a short while, though. Josh suddenly pulled me away, and the look on his face wasn't a good one.
"I don't feel so good," he muttered, his eyes drooping and his skin pale.
"Oh no…let's get you home! Now!"
I spent the rest of the night hovering behind Josh as he emptied the contents of his stomach into my apartment's only toilet. Even after he stopped throwing up, he still looked really bad, and I had him drinking water and wearing water-soaked towels all night. I wasn't even sure if that was the right thing to do. I could have called the hospital, but it wasn't the first time he had done something like this, and he always ended up fine in the end. And anyway, I didn't have a moment to rest while taking care of him.
We both fell asleep just as day was breaking. I awoke around noon, confused and disoriented, leaning against the side of my bed. I looked up to see Josh sleeping, dried up paper towels scattered around him. I stared at him groggily for a few minutes before I attempted to get up. But apparently, four hours of sleep wasn't enough for me, and I ended up falling directly on top of him. He made a strangled, gurgling noise and woke up, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
"Sorry," I moaned. It was too early to really remember all that had happened last night. Plus the headache…I don't recall what I drank last night or how much. But one thing I did remember was that Josh had taken too much. At least he was awake now. I could ask him how he was feeling.
"Chelsea?" he said before I could open my mouth. For some reason that shut me up real quickly. Stunned, I stared at Josh and his sleepy expression blankly. Then I remembered what was so shocking.
"So you know who I am now?" I asked bitterly. My ex's eyes narrowed.
"You forgot me yesterday."
It was Josh's turn to be bitter. "Forget you? You were three years of my life." He paused. "Why did that sound so familiar?"
"Because I said that yesterday. Except I wasn't so unhappy about it. I think. Maybe I was. In a different way." We both stared at each other in silence. Or, rather, Josh stared. I could feel his eyes on me, green and piercing. I was directing my glare to the ground. Finally, sick of the silence, my ex-boyfriend spoke up.
"What happened to us?" he asked. I snorted.
"You got drunk and got sick. I had no choice but to take you back to my place, which is where we are now."
"No…what happened to us?" I blinked. Josh was propped up on his elbows, gripping the side of the bed and staring at me. And for some reason, the thing my brain registered as most important was the fact that he was shirtless. Come on, self, ignore that.
"Pardon?" I asked. Josh sighed impatiently. I held up my hands in defeat. If he was going to go there, it was better late than never to say the things that I had kept inside for so long.
"I don't know, okay? You changed!" I held up a hand, listing off his faults as I said them. "You were wilder than in high school… partying non-stop, hanging out with all these new girls, not focusing on your studies…"
"And what about you?" he shot back suddenly, pausing my flow of thoughts. "You changed too!" What? What was he talking about?
I gasped. "No I didn't! I'm exactly the same!"
"You never used to be a goody-two-shoes!" Josh yelled. "You got a 4.0 the first semester, you didn't join me at all for anything fun…you never used to care, and all of a sudden you did." He cut off abruptly, and then added more softly, "But you cared about all the wrong things."
"What the hell does that mean?" I demanded. Josh plopped backwards onto my bed, massaging his closed eyelids. I took a deep breath, waiting for the damage.
"My father wanted me to take over the family company. He wanted to mold me into the perfect CEO, and he wanted me to dump you because he didn't think you would be a good business wife, as he put it. As if we were even thinking of marriage back then. I didn't want to talk to you about it, because I thought it would freak you out to consider something so big after only going out for a year and a half, still in high school. So instead, I took matters into my own hands, gave up studies to goof off and show my dad that you mattered most. And so he shifted his attention to my brother. But for what? We broke up."
I had almost twisted my neck by turning to stare at him when he started his confession. Now I looked away, taking a deep breath.
"You idiot," I muttered. "Jeremy told my brother about your father's opinion. Carlos in turn told me about it. That's why I stopped partying and got a 4.0 doing business classes. I didn't want to upset you by telling you I was caving in to your father's demands, and I definitely didn't want to freak you out by saying that I was actually taking his business wife idea a little seriously. But I felt it was worth it. For you." I was a teenage girl in her first serious relationship with a smart, rich boy. Not exactly the best recipe for rational thinking.
I could see Josh try to puzzle it all out in his head. Boy goes wild to show girl that a party life with her was better than an all-business life with his family. Girl goes un-wild to show boy that an all-business life with him was better than a party life with her friends. Then they break up because they can't handle each other's changes, overlooking the hypocritical nature of their actions. And now, three years later, boy and girl find it all boils down to one thing.
"So you mean we broke up for nothing?" Josh asked, extending both hands towards the ceiling. I nodded. The horrible punch line of the joke our relationship dissolved into. "For nothing?"
"For the record, we didn't think it was nothing at the time," I said. "Maybe the break was necessary for us to learn that." I shrugged, the word break turning over and over in my head. Break. Like a sudden stop, tearing two pieces apart forever. Or was it break, as in a temporary disconnection? Like summer break? Winter break?
Josh dropped his hands and turned over, his movement causing me to turn to him. Was it just me, or was he thinking that too? Debating whether or not it was okay, now that the truth was out, to get back together again. Did I want that? Would it work?
We looked at each other for a long time. Silence for ten minutes. Finally, Josh raised a hand and slowly reached for my face. I closed my eyes. Truth or not, I wasn't letting him off the hook that easy. There was something I had to confirm.
"We broke up for a reason," I interrupted firmly before Josh could touch me. "And that reason is still the same. Reasons don't change." I could sense him recoil, and I opened my eyes. Josh looked confused, as I expected. He withdrew his hand and set it back down by his side.
"But," I went on, "People can. As we both have demonstrated. So I will stop taking life so seriously for someone else's benefit, and you will stop partying around to prove a point. And then…" I shrugged. Josh smiled and nodded.
"And then." And then maybe we could do this right.