It's like the moment she walks into the room, I want to make an apology to every stupid love song I ever talked shit about. I'm talking about the kind of feeling that's like a kick to the chest. Not a little fluttering of butterflies in my stomach or whatever that bullshit saying is, but a real, intense passion that twists my guts all around.
"Isaiah? What the hell, dude, are you even listening to me?"
And I'm back to reality. By reality, I mean my best friend spewing another bullshit story, that is. I tear my eyes off of what's-her-name and look at him instead, idly nodding as if I had been paying attention to him the whole time. He hasn't noticed her yet. I'd like to keep it that way.
"So this guy is all up in my face, and he tells me to get the hell out of his house before he calls the cops," he says. Shut up, I want to say, but I don't. I'm watching her out of the corner of my eye. I've never seen her before. She must be new here, because there's no way in hell I wouldn't have noticed her. Even at this crowded party, which has way too many people and way too little space, she stands out like a beacon.
"So I said 'handle your own problems, you spineless little bitch,' and he was all 'say that again and I'll kill you.'" he says, practically shouting to be heard above all the noise. Bullshit, I want to tell him. She's standing against a wall, drink in hand, one foot tapping idly to the beat of the too-loud, completely tasteless music. My eyes meet hers for a moment, and she smiles. I nearly choke on my drink.
"And I was like 'bring it, I ain't scared of you,' and he threw a punch and missed, and hit this other guy instead..." Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
She is walking our way. I look away and try to pretend that I wasn't staring. She passes right by me and Devon, so close that the edge of her flower-patterned skirt almost brushes my hand. I make the mistake of looking at her face as she passes.
And damn, is she lovely. I'm talking about the kind of girl that a word like pretty or even beautiful would do nothing to describe. When I say lovely I mean a type of quality that reaches down to her very bones, defines something so much deeper than a pretty face, and conjures up this indescribable feeling in me like a punch to the gut.
But my mistake at that moment is critical. As soon as he notices my shift in attention Devon stops talking and sees what I see. It's just a brief instant, and I quickly look back at him as if my focus had never been broken, but I can see in his smug look that he knows exactly what just happened.
"So I broke his nose and left with his girlfriend," he finishes, which is the way at least eighty percent of his stories end. And then he nods towards that lovely girl, who has struck up a conversation with some kids I vaguely recognize. "And dibs, by the way."
And just like that, it's decided.
If it had been anyone other than Devon, it wouldn't be a big deal. It would be shitty, yeah, but I could probably brush it off without too much trouble. But the problem is that it's Devon.
And the thing about Devon is he's the kind of guy that ruins anything and everything he gets his hands on. He's ink-stained and pierced in more places than you can count on both hands, a wiry guy whose punches hit a lot harder than you'd expect, fueled by a kind of savage viciousness rather than brute strength. He's got a smile like a feral animal about to turn your favorite pet into a bloody smear on the ground. And you know, he probably would, just for kicks.
So the thought of him getting anywhere near this lovely girl – the thought of him touching her, talking to her, even breathing near her – makes me sick. A guy like him should never be allowed to ruin something so perfect.
The thing about Devon is he once gave me a black eye, and instead of apologizing later, he told me it made me look tougher, anyway. He said if I was lucky, it would probably get me girls. And in the end, he was right.
When we were young we smoked our first cigarette together, nearly coughed our lungs out, laughed at the disgusted looks on each others' faces, and wordlessly agreed to pick up smoking anyway.
The thing is, once when we were younger, we found this bird with a broken wing. So he broke the other one, snapping its little bones between his fingers and grinning like a fucking maniac. The thing is, I just watched him.
The thing is, he took the only girl I ever loved. But let's not get into that.
What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that he's pretty fucked up. But the thing about Devon is that he's also my best friend.
So even though the thought of him even speaking to this girl makes me sick to my stomach, there's nothing I can do.
I watch him walk over, leaning against the wall and starting up a conversation with practiced ease. The other girls break away, giggling nervously, abandoning the lovely girl to be enamored by Devon's rogue charm. I watch the way her lips slowly curve into a smile, the languid way she brushes her hair out of her face, the way she looks up at him through her long eyelashes.
I imagine the way it would feel to smash a bottle over Devon's head. I imagine the satisfying crack of his head and the shattering of glass, him hitting the ground, me sweeping this nameless girl off of her feet. Not exactly a knight-in-shining-armor kind of move, I guess, but I know I'd still treat her better than he could.
But instead, I walk away.
When I see her again, Devon has his arm around her waist like a chain. I see the way he tightens his grip when he sees me, the way his fingers curl over her hip and link themselves through one of her belt loops. Jealousy hits me like a truck, unexpected and intense enough to make me sick to my stomach. I fight back bile, and the urge to start throwing punches. I imagine the sound Devon's face would make as it slammed against the pavement. It soothes me enough that I hold my composure, if only barely. He waves at me and I slowly walk over, regretting every step I take but doing it anyway.
"And this is Isaiah," he introduces me. She smiles at me, and I try to pretend that it doesn't make my heart hurt.
"Nice to meet you," she says.
You have a voice as lovely as your face, I want to say.
You should run while you can, I want to say. You don't know what you're getting into.
Instead, I say nothing.
A few seconds of awkward silence trickle by.
"Oh, yeah," Devon says, chuckling. "I forgot to mention that Isaiah doesn't talk."
"What do you mean, he doesn't talk?"
"I mean he doesn't talk at all. Like, y'know, a mute or whatever."
"So he can't talk?"
"Nah, I'm pretty sure he can, he just doesn't."
"As in… not ever?"
"Not a single word," he says. "Not for years."
Devon and I glance at each other as if sharing some private joke, and then he looks back at her and grins.
"It's a secret," he says.
The truth is, he's never asked. Maybe somewhere buried deep he knows it, and doesn't want to hear it said. Maybe he knows it's a long, sad story about a girl whose name I doubt he even remembers. Maybe he feels bad, but probably not. Either way, he never asks.
She, on the other hand, is always asking questions. This one time we are both sitting on the couch and Devon has left the room for one reason or another. We're at my house, because my parents are never around, which is another thing that Devon never asks about.
"So why don't you talk?" she asks. She has a habit of asking me questions that she knows I won't answer. Usually, Devon fills in for me. It takes me a few seconds to realize the silence is because he isn't in the room.
I turn towards her and give her an apologetic look, as if to say, I'm sorry I can't tell you, but I doubt she gets the message.
"Nobody's here," she whispers. "Talk to me, I won't tell anyone."
If I did talk to her, what I'd say would be you have the prettiest eyes I've ever seen, or maybe I love how your hair looks tucked behind your ear, but not when Devon does it. But I won't. So instead I try to tell her these things with my eyes, but again, I don't think she understands.
Instead, she hands me a pen.
"Why don't you talk?" she asks again. I look at her questioningly. She scoots closer to me and stretches out an arm in offering.
I glance at her once for confirmation, and then slowly roll her sleeve up. I think about how this is the first time my fingers have touched her bare skin, and how I wish it were under different circumstances.
I trail my fingertips lightly across the white canvas of her arm, and rest the tip of the pen at a spot just to the right of a freckle.
I write in bright red ink: nobody listens.
"I would listen," she says.
I pause and think.
I write: nothing changes.
She tilts her head to read it, and then looks at me. She looks at me for a long time, silently, not trying to argue this time.
"So that's the secret?" she asks eventually. When I don't answer she plucks the pen from my hand. "Then let me share one, too."
She leans over me then, her head obstructing my view of the words she's writing on my palm. I breathe in, and the way her hair smells reminds me of a way I used to feel.
And then Devon walks in and we break apart, almost guiltily. She pulls her sleeves back down and my words disappear. It's only after they've left that I work up the nerve to unfurl my fingers and read her words.
My palm reads: I feel so alone.
A few weeks later, the three of us go to a party together. I know from the beginning of the night that something's wrong, because everything is way too silent. The two of them are usually loud enough to make up for my lack of words and then some. They are constantly bickering, yelling, or in general just trying to talk louder than the other. It's a constant back-and-forth, the two of them, since in the end they're both pretty damn loud. They are usually a hurricane of noise around my bubble of silence, so loud it makes my head ache. Sometimes I wonder if one day my skull will split open and let it all pour out in a shrieking cacophony of words tired of being cooped up for so long.
But not tonight. They sip their drinks and ignore each other as well as me – me, who has somehow ended up awkwardly standing in between them. After several uncomfortable minutes, Devon separates himself from us and walks off, disappearing into the rest of the party. Uncertain, I sneak a peek at her.
"He's such an asshole," she sighs when she catches me looking. She takes a long swig of her drink, and then pours herself another. "A real fucking piece of work. He told me I was getting boring today." She slams down another drink, pours herself another. "I mean, we're lying next to each other and he tells me I'm getting boring. What the hell?"
I feel a little uncomfortable having her tell me this, but it's nothing I haven't been through before. It's strange just how much people will tell you when they're completely certain it won't be repeated. I just needed to get that off my chest, everyone says. Right off of their chest and into my head, to whirl around with all of the other secrets I'm keeping, my own and others'.
"Sometimes I don't know why I put up with his shit," she says.
I take out my phone and show it to her, typing: daddy issues?
She laughs then, a real, genuine laugh. And it suddenly strikes me at that moment just how much her laugh sounds like this other girl I once knew and once loved. Nothing else about them is similar – they don't look or even act remotely the same, but the laugh is nearly identical, chillingly so. I feel a flash of nostalgia, but it passes quickly.
"Not even," she says. "You know, somehow I always thought you'd be a snarky little bastard if you ever spoke up." She grins and winks at me, all too charmingly. "But, no. Not because of daddy issues. You know, maybe I just like a challenge."
Her eyes suddenly slide to something past me and then narrow. I turn around to catch a glimpse of what she saw – Devon, disappearing around a corner with his arm around another girl.
"But maybe not this much of a challenge," she says, the bitterness from before returning. "Take me home, would you?"
Unsure what else to do, I nod my agreement and follow her as she stalks out to the street.
As I drive her home she stays silent, curled up in her seat so quiet and still that I almost think she's passed out. But the moment I park she suddenly throws herself at me. I think for one moment that she's going to kiss me, but instead she disappointingly wraps her arms around my neck and buries her face in my chest. I pat on the back, awkwardly, not sure what else to do.
We stay like that for a moment, and I hope she doesn't feel how fast my heart is racing. But finally she pulls back, and gives me a weak smile.
"Thank you," she says, blurting it out like an embarrassing secret before she bolts from the car and leaves me stunned.
This is a one-shot, but it's kind of long so I decided to upload it in two parts. The second half should be up soon. ^^ Any feedback/critique is much appreciated!