Hey guys. I'm back after a long break. I hope you like this. Don't forget to tell me what you think!
The heat was suffocating.
It was the first thing I could remember from that summer, the brief time in space before we moved on with our lives. The air was devastatingly sticky, clinging to you like an ex lover scorned. With the temperature that high, it made the hours go by maddeningly slow. Every day, I nearly felt like dying, ready to quit and go back to my air conditioned home. Then one day, he stepped into my life. Suddenly, he was like a drug. I became his druggie and I needed to up my fix.
I spent my days that summer waitering at the Crab Shack. It was an inherited position, belonging to my sister before she left for college two years ago. It was my last year working there, wearing the ridiculous crab inspired uniform and spending my hours getting leered at by lewd old men. The outfit was bright red with a flappy material that was supposed to suggest a shell and ended in a short skirt. Although I wore shorts underneath, boys obviously hoped that I didn't. Despite the near sexual harassment, I didn't have a choice to quit. I was broke and needed any sort of income that I could find, otherwise I'd be stuck at home without any spending money.
It was a slow day that day with hardly any customers entering at all. I sat at the counter, sighing listlessly and watching people walk by wearing skimpy bathing suits and sporting dark tans. A place as greasy as the Crab Shack wouldn't be fit to keep their figures. With nothing to do, I grabbed a towel to wipe down the tables. I was desperate to trick myself into being busy in order to make the time go faster.
Leanne approached me, shaking her head. "What the hell are you doing? You know that they're clean."
I shrugged. "You can never be too sure. Sanitation is a priority."
She laughed and even then, she oozed sex. Whenever I saw her, I was constantly struck by the differences between us. I was at a height barely below being too tall, and made up of gangly limbs that were too skinny and too unwieldy. She leaned towards petite and was made up of valleys and hills that combined to make men want to dip into her crevices. I noticed the effect that she had on the opposite gender the minute I met her. Heads would turn when she came walking down the aisle and there would be me, her invisible friend next to her. When I told her this, she simply laughed and whispered that I would blossom eventually.
"Oh Liv, what am I going to do without you?" she said. For a moment she seemed genuinely sad.
I stopped what I was doing and let guilt wash over me. I had been accepted to a school in California and was counting down the days till I left. Leanne, on the other hand, would remain behind in our sleepy beach town of Channing.
We were shaken out of our reverie with the arrival of a group of people who looked to be our age. They were large enough to take up two tables. I took out my pad, plastering a smile on my face to say cheerfully, "Welcome to the Crab Shack. We serve as many crab related things as possible. What will you guys have to drink?"
A murmur went around the table. I wrote down the different types of soda and went to the fountain to get the drinks. It was when I returned that I found that I couldn't breathe.
It was my first encounter with Aaron Sanders. He had walked in with his curly hair slightly drenched from the water, and was wearing black Ray Bans. When he pulled them off, he had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. His friends had shouted their greeting, calling his name as soon as he entered. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged all around and he settled into the outermost seat.
Leanne was by my side and I could see her feline eyes looking at the boys, categorizing which were single and which girls were their girlfriends. I thought my reaction to Aron had escaped her noticed until she turned to me and said, "Oh, honey."
Nearly a week had past since my first sighting of Aaron. I let him out of my mind. After all, what was the use of thinking about a boy that I had only seen and barely spoke to aside from to get his order. I remembered thinking that there would be other boys.
I had settled myself at a table, looking over my course selection for the next year. Whenever I thought about college, I could feel my stomach twist. I heard someone enter and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a curly headed boy place himself at the counter. I was the only one on duty, Leanne was running behind. I approached him and he was slumped over, his head buried in his hands.
"Can I get you anything?"
"I'm sorry but we don't serve those here," I said, trying to act as though he said nothing out of the ordinary. "This is a food place only."
He looked at me, his brown eyes indecipherable. "Then can you help me with one?"
I paused and then decided to take him up on his offer. "Sure, I'm not musical in any way but I'll try to help."
"Excellent," he said, excitement causing him to sit up straight. "I'm trying to write this song but I'm stuck. It's killing me. I can't get it right. The riff is all made up but I can't write the damn lyrics."
I walked to the other side, and sat down next to him. The close proximity was making me anxious. "What's it about?"
"What else could it be about? Love, of course," he said.
"Is that a thing? All songs have to be about love."
"No, of course not. It's just easier if it is."
"I don't get it," I said. "Why?"
He looked at me as though I had grown two heads. He bent his head so that he was eye level with me, looking directly into them before saying, "Because everyone relates to love."
"I wouldn't say that's true," I said, breaking eye contact. My fingers were tapping against the counter to expel my nervous energy.
"You've never fallen in love," he asked, his lips forming into a smirk. At that moment, I hated him.
I knew that lying would be futile. He wouldn't believe me anyway. "It's an irrational emotion."
"I would sit and argue with you but inspiration's struck," he said, getting up. His expression seemed brighter with a steady sense of purpose now.
I was disappointed that the conversation had come to a close but I kept my face blank. I then felt something on my hand and I saw that he was writing his name and phone number on it.
"Aron Sanders," I read, trying to make out his scrawl. "Your name is missing an A."
"Nah," he said, "I just find the extra A pointless."
Now that we were standing, I could see that he was quite tall. "How very East of Eden of you."
"Unfortunately, I've always seen myself as more of a Caleb."
In the following days, I found out that Aron was made up of a million quirks. He kept his books meticulously organized, sorting by genre first and then alphabetized by author. His music collection took up the entire length of the right wall. He was close to running out of room so he began to stack even more CDs on top of the ones at the bottom. His closet on the other hand was an absolute mess. Rather than hanging his shirts, he preferred to to keep them stacked on top of each other on the floor with a blanket protecting the pile from the dusty floorboard. It drove me absolutely crazy. His room was small and the extra clothes lying around made it nearly claustrophobic.
Furthermore, I learned that he was two years older than me and had never enrolled in college. He was in a band with four other guys and traveled the country, picking up odd jobs to survive. He had family and childhood friends living here and the band hoped to stay long enough for the summer.
"I approve of your taste in books," I said. I looked at the titles and I could see that he leaned towards the more literary kind.
"I figured you would since the first time we spoke, you made a Steinbeck reference," he said. He wore shorts and a yellow t shirt that clung to his body in all the right places. I teared my eyes away from him to avoid being caught staring.
"I may have to borrow some from you. It'd be cheaper than buying them. My wallet can't afford it," I said.
I flopped down on his bed or rather his portable, inflatable bed. Aron picked up his guitar and started to strum it. It was the same song where he had asked for my help. I closed my eyes, listening to the chords. Frustrated however, Aron stopped playing.
"It sounds good," I murmured. It felt good to lie down after an entire day at work.
"There's something not right about it and I can't figure out what it is," he said. Absentmindedly, he began to message my feet. It felt heavenly.
I groaned. He smirked.
"Someone's enjoying this," he said, his fingers continuing to work their magic.
"You're making this sound so dirty."
He bent forward, eventually propping himself up on his elbows. He smelled like sandalwood and sweat. It was all I could do to not turn away from him. His eyes searched mine and his words came out in nearly a whisper, "And what if I want it to?"
Reflecting on this moment, I never knew why I didn't just grab the opportunity to kiss him. He was so close and there was nothing more than what I wanted to do at that moment. He didn't move away either, suggesting that my feelings were reciprocated.
"Yo, anyone here?" It was one of his bandmates, arriving home after work.
He broke eye contact and the spell was over. "Yeah man, I'm with Liv."
Chris entered the room and immediately, he cast an apologetic glance. "Sorry guys, I didn't realize I was interrupting anything."
"No, of course not," I said, taking it as an opportunity to slide off the bed onto my aching feet. "You weren't at all."
He gave us a wholly unconvinced look. He didn't say anything thankfully and left. There was an awkward atmosphere between us. Recognizing it, Aron picked up his guitar and strummed it.
I leaned against the wall and watched him play. The intense look in his eyes was making my stomach stir. "Why did you never go to college?"
It was the wrong question to ask. He stiffened but continued playing. "I just didn't think it was for me."
"Why not?" I asked. I looked at his book collection again. It had nearly everything and obviously meant a lot to him if he was willing to drag it across the country with him. "You're clearly smart."
"I want to make music."
"Then what are you going to do if this doesn't work out?" I said. I knew I was approaching shaky ground but I couldn't help myself.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I'll figure it out. I'm getting by now, aren't I?"
"Yeah I guess you are," I said quietly, looking down at my hands.
He continued to strum as we sat there in silence.
It was another day at work. The temperature was soaring and even tourists seemed like they were willing to stay at home. I bought my course catalog with me and was flipping through it, excited by some of the offerings and wrinkling my nose at others. Leanne approached me, looking over my shoulder.
"What are you looking at?"
"Just trying to see what classes I'd like to take," I said. The booklet was beginning to get wet from my sweaty hands.
Leanne lit a cigarette. "It's work, not gonna be too much fun."
I rolled my eyes. "I guess I'll see when I get there."
"You doing bio?"
"Why?" she asked. She blew smoke out of her lips. Coming from her, I briefly forgot that I hated smoking and thought it was the most glamorous thing in the world.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "It seems practical."
"Practical?" She arched her eyebrow. "Explain."
I felt subconscious then thought it was unnecessary. After all, what could there be for her to judge? "I want to get a good job. The sciences seem more reliable in getting me a job that won't mean waitressing for the rest of my life."
"So you'll be miserable but rich then?" she said. The cigarette was now only a stub.
"I wouldn't put it that way but yes."
She turned to me. Although half a head shorter than me, she had a more forceful presence. I felt the scrutiny of her gaze. "What do you want to do? You always used to talk about painting and drawing. What about that?"
"It was only a fantasy," I muttered, now very uncomfortable. "I got to go wipe the tables."
"Alright," she said, now squashing the stub. "You go do that."
Just then, Aron entered. He walked over to me and exchanged a glance with Leanne. Usually, guys fawned over her. They barely acknowledged each other. It made me pleased.
"Hey, why aren't you sitting down? I'll take your order now if you want," I said, throwing the towel aside.
"I'm not here for that," he said. There was an impatient tone to his voice.
"Kind of weird to come to a food place then."
"Just follow me," he said and grabbed my hand, roughly pulling me with him.
"I can't do this, I'm working," I said, trying to detach myself. I looked to Leanne for backup but she stood still. She had an opaque look in her eyes.
He made me leave regardless. I was mortified walking in public in my crab uniform. "People are staring," I said.
"Let them stare."
"I shouldn't even be here," I said. I wanted to stop but he was much stronger than me so I forced to move.
"Come on, just let go for a little bit. We're gonna go for a drive," and sure enough, we arrived at his car.
"You dragged me out of my work just so that we can drive around?" I asked, incredulous.
"Yeah, why not? It's not like you like being there anyway. Don't tell me that you do. I've heard you complain about it every single time I asked how work was," he said. His nonchalant attitude infuriated me.
"It's called responsibility." I began to walk back.
"Let go for once. You're like this tightly wound rubber band that refuses to give an inch. Lighten up," he said.
"Excuse me?" I approached him. "Look at yourself."
His blue eyes held some contempt. "What about me?"
"Are you proud of yourself? Running around all over the place, living in some two bit apartments that probably violate safety codes. You're not even at your fucking job right now and you have rent due next week," I said. I didn't care what I was saying.
"At least I'm doing what I like, at least I know that I'll be happy doing whatever the hell I'm doing and I won't want to kill myself because I hate what I'm doing for forty hours a week," he said, his voice reverberating throughout the area. We were lucky that barely anyone was nearby.
"That's rich coming from you," I said. "You're not even going to a fucking college."
"As though it's even necessary."
"And what are you going to do if you're that guy who's working minimum wage jobs and still blindly hoping that he'll hit it big one day when you got two kids to feed and a wife to keep happy?" I said.
I could tell it hit a nerve and he entered his car to drive away. I kept hoping that he would stop, get out and we could apologize to each other. It didn't happen.
My move in day was approaching. What used to be months, years away was now going to happen in two weeks. We hadn't spoken in since our argument. I missed him. I missed his random outbursts into the Crab Shack to discuss his songs with me. I missed hanging out in his dirty room, listening to him play his guitar. I missed everything about him.
Leanne wasn't working today. She was the only one on staff who I was truly friends with so the day passed by even slower than usual. The clock finally indicated that my shift had ended. I made up my mind to visit Aron after changing out of my uniform.
Standing in the entrance to his apartment, I took a deep breath before knocking. I hadn't told him that I was coming for fear that he would reject me. After a moment that stretched forever, he finally opened the door. His eyes looked bleary as though he just woke up from a nap and his hair seemed even curlier than normal.
"Hi, " I breathed.
"Liv, hey," he said looking surprised.
"I wanted to tell you that I'm really sorry," I said, the words tumbling out of my mouth before I was able to stop them. "I shouldn't have said the things I said. I regret it so much. I miss hanging out and talking to you. I'm moving in a couple weeks and I didn't want to leave with so much hanging over us because it's not like I'd come back and you'd definitely be here-"
Before I could say anything more, I heard a voice. A feminine one. A familiar one. "Aron, who is it?"
His face froze, guilt spreading over it.
"Aron, who is that?" I asked him. My voice was only loud enough for him to hear.
"It's just someone selling something," he called back, his eyes never leaving me. "I'll deal with it. Hold on a sec." Then he shut the door.
"Please don't tell me it's what I think it is."
He didn't say anything in response to that.
I shook my hand, pacing around. "Why? Why Leanne out of all people? Is that all what guys think if they see us working together? They just want to fuck her and be friends with me? What the hell?"
"It's not that," he began but my look silenced him.
"Then what is it? I don't know what else it looks like."
"I don't know," he said, slumping against the door.
"You know what, don't worry about it. I don't even know why I'm reacting like this. We're friends, nothing more. We never kissed. We rarely even show physical affection for each other. I don't know what the hell I'm thinking."
I left him there, running as far away from him as I could. I couldn't take the image of him standing underneath the dim hallway lights.
I barely spoke to Leanne at work unless if it was absolutely unavoidable. She seemed to understand and never made an effort to speak to me. It was my last day and I only had five more days to go until I left.
I was so close to leaving. "Yeah?"
"Don't go like this."
I sighed. "What do you want me to say?"
She lit up a cigarette. For once, I wasn't struck by her beauty. "He talked about you every single time. He wanted to impress you so much. I told him about how you would have a lot in common if you talked about your artistic side instead of letting him talk about music all the time."
I took a breath. Whether it was out of frustration or regret, I couldn't tell. "Why should I believe you?"
She took a step closer to me, her eyes as hard as I've ever seen them. "Because if you saw the look in his eyes after you left, you'd believe me."
It was when I returned home, that I believed her. A set of paints, brushes and a stack of canvases were left on my front porch. There was no letter. It didn't matter. I didn't need one anyway.
Fall and winter passed. College went by and I absorbed it as much as I could. California was so different and there were times I missed Channing. I joined clubs, went to football games, and studied hard. I wasn't a bio major anymore. I wasn't sure what I was. I went on dates but a curly headed boy with blue eyes still popped up in my mind. There were no boys here using inflatable beds.
There was a buzz going around on campus about a new music site. It was reportedly a very reliable place to share news about releases and talk about music. I logged on to check it out. I clicked on the review section to read. The name of the writer nearly blew my mind.
Aron Sanders. Contributing staff.
I clicked on his name and his bio stated that he was still part of his band. In the corner, he was able to write comments like a blog. He wrote that he was playing a show at nine at the Grove. It wasn't far from campus. I could take a shuttle bus into town.
A million questions went through my head. The only way to answer them was to talk to him after nearly 8 months.
There was a crowd at the Grove. It wasn't enormous but it was fervid. I could tell that they had gained a following but it didn't seem a huge improvement from the last time I saw them play. Aron entered the stage, his tall demeanor hunched a little bit to reach the microphone.
"Testing testing, one two. Can everyone hear me?" he said.
People cheered, obviously ready to hear them. They began their song, playing some that I remember from that summer when I would listen to their rehearsals and others that they had written while I had been away. They were catchy and I was quickly learning the words, eager to become a true fan.
Aron changed. His curls which used to threaten to overtake his face was now cropped close to his head making him look more mature. He had a slight stubble. Most of all, I noticed that he gained a confidence when playing music that he never had before. I couldn't deny that when all the parts were added together, the sum made him undeniably sexy.
Before I knew it, the set was beginning to come to a close. Aron stepped up to the mic to say, "We're going to play a new song that we've never played in public before. It's dedicated to a girl that I met last summer that I wish I could have a second chance with." As he said this, his eyes met mine.
It was the song that he spent days of hot sticky Channing weather working on, the song that started everything. It was the same riff but different lyrics. Instead of the lyrics being angry, they were wistful.
"Thank you," he said when the song ended and they began to pack up, ignoring the crowd's tiny chants for an encore. They weren't the main act so they had no chance to accept anyway.
I waited for him afterwards, standing next to the van. When he saw me, he ran to greet me.
"Hi," he said.
"How have you been?"
I stared into his eyes and they were still the bluest eyes I had ever seen. "Been ok. I try to paint a lot now."
"Oh yeah?" he said, trying to act surprised.
"Yeah, the package helped a lot," I said, my words eliciting no reaction from him. "I see that you're writing now."
He shrugged. "It's a job. I figured I should get one that uses my talents more than bagging groceries does."
I smiled. "It's good."
He stepped even closer. I could smell him now, still emanating sandalwood and sweat. "You know, I said in the song that I wish I could go back to August and start it all over again."
Now it was my turn to be nonchalant. "Oh yeah?"
"Would you let me?"
I paused to contemplate it. "We can't go back to August but I'd let it you start right now in April."
He was now only inches away from my face. He broke out into a wide grin and I could almost see all his teeth. "I'm glad."
And then he kissed me. The world corrected itself in some way.