A few nights later she shows up at my house in the pouring rain. Her feet are bare and cut up and filthy. Her hair is a ratted mess around her face. Her eyeliner has become two messy streaks of black down her face.
"Can I come in?" she asks. I step inside and she follows, trailing after me quietly like even she's not quite sure what she's doing here. We go to my room and sit on the couch again, leaving space between us as if at any moment Devon will walk back into the room. This is the first time we've ever been left alone for more than a few minutes. I guess I should be happy but instead it just feels strange, almost wrong.
I want to ask what she's doing here, but the whole not talking thing makes that a little difficult. So we sit in silence for five, ten, fifteen minutes.
Suddenly, she stands up.
"Isaiah," she says softly, and I love the way she says my name. She cups my chin, her hands soft but so cold, too cold. She steps back, and stands a few feet in front of me, looking at me.
She lets one strap of her shirt fall down, and then the other. I try to avoid looking at her bare skin. Then she lifts her shirt above her head, and that makes it impossible. She slides her skirt down, too, and tosses it aside like a used rag.
And then she's just standing there with only her bra and panties and bare feet, but I swear at least sixty percent of the time I keep my eyes on her face.
And for some reason she just looks sad, heartbreakingly sad, way too sad for this to be sexy in any way. Instead she just looks kind of frightened and vulnerable and lonely, with the rain dripping off of her hair and goose-bumps on her thin arms. She's racked by shivers, her whole body shaking just slightly from the cold and the rain and the lack of clothing. And for some reason, all I can feel at that moment is a deep sense of regret, though I couldn't say for what, exactly.
She just stands there with her arms hanging at her sides, looking at me like she's expecting something, but I don't know what. We stay like that for I don't know how long, looking at each other and trying desperately to understand, but somehow unable to bridge the gap between us.
And some time later I get up and leave to go find her a blanket, but when I come back she's already gone.
Next thing I know, Devon shows up my house and lets me know how he feels about it with his fist. I walk out into the front yard and there he is. The punch comes out of nowhere, his fist careening straight into my nose with a brutal force behind it. I hear a crack, feel a spray of blood, stumble backwards. I vaguely recall that this will be the third time my nose has ended up broken. I think it's getting crooked.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Devon says. I wipe my nose with the back of my hand and see it come away bloody. I feel more anger than pain. "She's my girl, man. I know you've always had some fucking weird obsession with her, but seriously, back off."
My first reaction is to wonder how the hell he figured out, but as soon as I think about it, the answer is obvious: she told him. There's no other way. The betrayal hits me harder than Devon's punches ever could, like something ice-cold and bitter ripping into my chest, making my head spin for a few seconds. And all I can think is why?
I guess I'll never know for sure. Maybe it was the same thing that drove her to leave, perhaps some kind of last-minute guilt about what she was doing. The really sick part is that I feel guilty, too, at that moment, even though I know I've done nothing wrong.
"She's mine," he repeats.
Yeah, I got the point, I glare at him.
He walks over to me, fists balled up as if he's preparing to punch me again. We stand in front of each other like two circling dogs, hackles raised and ready for a fight. But after a few tense moments, he relaxes and lets his hands fall flat at his sides, shaking off his tenseness and aggression as if it's suddenly no big deal.
Then he grins at me. It's a real, genuine grin, not the annoying smirk he shows to just about everyone. He grabs my arm and pulls me closer, wrapping one arm around me and holding me close in a half-hug.
"I fucking love you, Isaiah, you know that?" he says, leaning his head against my shoulder so that his words are partially muffled. "I don't want to lose you, alright, man? So don't make it like this."
I stand rigidly at first, but after a few seconds I crumble and pat him on the back. He almost immediately pulls back, satisfied that our camaraderie is restored. He displays a cheeky grin and wipes at my bloody nose. I pull away, frowning.
"Sorry about your nose, man," he says.
I shrug, as if it's no big deal.
"It's cool," he says. "I bet the chicks will dig it. I'll come up with a good story to back you up, man, don't worry."
And he laughs, and I smile back, thinking all the while, you fucker.
But still, you know, he's my best friend.
Partially because he's my best friend and partially because of that betrayal and its consequences, I decide enough is enough. It's better for all of us if I shake off this fucking stupid infatuation with this girl, anyway. And so I avoid her. I don't go to parties if I know she'll be there. I only hang around with Devon when he makes it perfectly clear that it's only going to be the two of us.
And it hurts. It hurts almost as much as watching Devon kiss her or run his fingers through his hair the way I'd have liked to. And as much as I try to convince myself that this is the right thing to do, sometimes when I lie there at night all I can thing about are the words I am so alone etched into my palm, and I wish I could tell her that I understand, and we could be alone together.
It's weeks before I see her again, and even then it comes as a shock. I open the door one day to find her standing there with Devon, the latter with his usual cocky smirk. But I ignore him, and look at her, and notice how she refuses to look at me.
"She's pissy, don't worry about it," Devon says as he walks past me, giving me a slap on the back in way of greeting. He walks upstairs, her following so closely that she practically steps on his heels, still not looking at me. I close the door and follow them from a distance. Devon confidently leads the both of us through my parents' room – vacated as usual – and to the balcony attached to it.
It's a place Devon and I used to hang out at often, sharing a cigarette or a bottle. We used to play chicken, seeing who dared to lean the furthest over the railing. Of course, Devon always won.
Devon takes a seat in one of the chairs we dragged out there and lights a cigarette. She walks over to the railing, staring stonily off into the distance. Her slender frame blocks the setting sun from my view as I take the seat beside Devon. She seems barely aware that we're there.
"I hate you," she says suddenly, her back still turned to us.
"What, me?" Devon says. We share a glance, and then he rolls his eyes. "Yeah, babe, I know. You tell me all the time."
"Both of you," she says.
"Aww, well that's a little harsh." Devon chuckles. "I mean, I'm sure I've done a lot of things to deserve it, but Isaiah here… well he's just a little sweetheart, ain't he?" He laughs again, louder this time.
I try to mirror his nonchalant attitude and not look too distressed.
She doesn't say anything, just rests her arms on the railing on the edge of the balcony, her back still turned.
"I mean, Isaiah didn't do anything, right?" Devon asks, shooting me a look as if to say, you better not have. I look back at him blankly.
"Well maybe he should have," she snaps, finally turning around. Her glare slides from Devon to me and back again, and she scowls.
"That's harsh," Devon comments dryly, his tone clearly stating that he really doesn't give a shit. "What, planning on dumping me for Isaiah now?" He tries to act nonchalant, but there's a noticeable hint of danger in his tone. Whether it's directed at me or her, I'm not exactly sure. But she just lets out a derisive little laugh and shakes her head.
"As if it would matter," she says.
"Yeah," she says. "You two are just the fucking same, after all."
What? I think.
"I guess so," Devon says.
"You're both sick. Fucking assholes."
"Right back at you, babe."
"Don't call me that."
Devon looks at me, chuckles, and mouths crazy bitch.
I want to wring his neck.
And she isn't paying any attention to us. Instead she leans ever further over the railing, away from us, her face towards the mountains.
"Nothing changes, isn't that right, Isaiah?" she asks.
Some instinct deep within me senses danger, and I feel a sudden urge to speak, the words bubbling up within me. I look at her back leaning over the railing and open my mouth, wanting to say something, but nothing comes out.
And then, the next thing I know, she leans just a bit too far, and over the railing she topples.
I look at Devon and he looks at me, both of us frozen in our seats. He arches his eyebrows incredulously as if to ask did that really just happen? and I give him a panicked look as if to answer yeah it did, call a fucking ambulance, you fucking prick.
And her body sprawled out on the pavement stares up at us as if to say: you assholes.
"I mean, I knew she was a crazy bitch, but I didn't know she was a crazy bitch," Devon says. "You know what I'm saying?"
We're sitting outside the hospital, perched on a curb just across the street and passing a cigarette back and forth. As it turns out, a fall from a second story balcony is not enough to kill you. Our lovely girl has a broken leg and some cracked ribs, but as we've heard, she's going to be fine.
There are a lot of things I want to say to Devon right now. Most of them I'd prefer to say with my fists, but there are a lot of words, too.
I want to say she's not a crazy bitch. And I want to say don't talk that way about her. And I want to say you don't deserve her, you fucker.
Most of all, I want to say you know, Devon, I think I'm in love with her. And I'm sorry because you're my best friend and she's your girl and all, but I really think I need to give this a chance. I think I should talk to her. And maybe things won't be perfect, and maybe I won't be able to make her happy, but I'd like to try. And at the very least, I don't think I'd make her want to jump off of balconies or anything. I mean, shit, what the hell kind of person lets his girl jump off of a balcony?
"You know," Devon says, "I think I'm in love with her."
I stop. I stare at him.
"Even if she's a crazy bitch," he says.
I slowly raise the cigarette to my mouth, take a long drag, let it sigh out.
"Devon," I say. He looks at me, eyebrows raising. "You're an asshole." He stares. "I mean a real fucking asshole. I mean, holy fucking shit, I don't think I've ever met a bigger asshole in my life."
He stares at me, frozen for a moment, shutting up for once in his life. For that brief moment I am satisfied. For that brief moment, I wonder why I didn't open my mouth sooner. I wonder if that was all I had to do in the first place.
And then Devon starts to snicker. It starts as this little chuckle, and works its way into a full-blown laugh. Soon enough he's practically howling, his shoulders shaking with laughter. I mean, hell, you'd think this was the funniest thing he's ever heard in his life. I can only stare as he laughs, and laughs, and laughs.
Finally he calms down long enough to speak.
"Well, shit," he says. "I mean, yeah. You, too. Why do you think we're friends?"
And I think about her getting out of the hospital, and I think about seeing her almost-naked that night, and how I will never see her like that again. I think that maybe Devon will pull his act together and treat her the way that she deserves, but probably not. I think about the girl I once loved, and the one I would've loved if I had the chance. I think about all the love stories that never happened and all the ones that shouldn't have, and I think of all the words I could've said and all of the ones I never will. And then I start laughing, and Devon joins in – and that's where we are, side by side, as always.
And that's the way things are.