Sunday, July 17th, 2011

The words on the page darkened again as clouds moved over the sun, and it was happening more and more frequently with every passing minute. The air around me was thick and muggy and just begged for rain, but I severely hoped it'd hold up until the bus got here. I looked up from the pages of my novel—the one I'd been meaning to read all summer, but now that it was finally in my hands in place of Jesus and Pals, I couldn't keep my attention centered on it. The clouds looked like masses of dark gray dryer lint, and they were all coming together to form a thick blanket over Hills Ridge.

My two suitcases were sitting at my feet, and my bag was on the bench next to me. I fished my cell phone out of the front pocket and glanced at the time on the screen. It read 11:17 AM, and that meant the bus was over forty-five minutes late. The ride down to Philly would take almost three hours, and after that, it was another three into the Bronx. Every minute I wasted here was a minute I could've been at home, fixing things—reconstructing my relationships and my confidence and my sanity.

Tires rolled over the asphalt, and I heard them crunch to a stop as they clipped the curb. "Finally," I murmured, but when I let the pages slip closed on my lap and I stood to gather my bags, I saw that the vehicle waiting there wasn't my ride out of this hellhole. It was a sickeningly familiar Jeep Liberty, and my stomach twisted at the sight of it. I'd been so goddamn close to slipping out of here without making a scene.

Instead of acknowledging him, I plopped right back down onto the bench and tore open my novel once more, the page a random one somewhere in the middle. It wasn't the part I'd been up to, but it didn't matter. The words weren't registering—I was just trying to keep my eyes anchored somewhere, because if they landed on Shane, every single profanity I knew would start rolling off my tongue.

I heard the window lower, and Shane asked, "Moyer?" I raised the book so that it was level to my face. His voice easily penetrated the barrier, though, and it was balanced and patient as it unfortunately reached my ears. "Moyer, if you're waiting for the bus, I don't think it's coming. It probably broke down. There's a huge storm heading south from the mountains, and there's flash flooding all over the highways."

No response from me. I just clamped down on my lower lip and willed myself not to lose it. Shane heaved a sigh. "The storm's on its way here, so you know," he told me. "If you plan on waiting it out on that bench, you're gonna drown."

If I'd learned anything from spending seven years in the same town as Shane Griffith, it was that, more than all else, he did not appreciate being ignored. I heard his seatbelt draw back into the retractor, and then there was an incessant ding noise that told me the car door was hanging open. He got out of the Jeep, and his shoes sounded on the sidewalk.

I felt my nerves fire up. I wasn't sure what he was going to do next, but surprisingly, he just lightly pushed the book down and away from my face. His eyes locked with mine, and they weren't threatening at all. They picked up the gray in the clouds behind him, looking cadet blue rather than their usual cobalt. "I'm sorry," he told me. "I dunno what I did, but whatever it is, I'm sorry for it."

My eyes narrowed at him, and I clenched the book so hard, my nails made indentations on the pages. "You don't know what you did?" I growled, but my tone was so hushed, it was almost lost in the sound of the wind as it blew by and tried to carry my hair with it. The air tasted like heavy rain as I drew it into my lungs and yelled, "You don't know what you did!"

Never, not once in my life, had an apology made me that furious. How, I racked my brain, can he pretend to be so innocent? I stood up, stomped my foot on the concrete, and whirled my book at him. The spine of it hit him right in the forehead, and though he blinked in pain and furiously rubbed the spot where it'd struck, I only wished I'd given the book more of a spin and a corner of it had pierced his skull.

"What is wrong with you! Shane demanded.

"What's wrong with me?" I yelled, pointing to myself, and then I turned it around and poked him in the shoulder as hard as I could with my index finger. "No, assface. What's wrong with you? How haven't you grasped onto the concept yet that I don't want you in my life?"

Everything fell silent. Even the rumbling from the clouds ceased momentarily, and a nagging in my head told me I shouldn't have said those words. They must've struck a nerve, because Shane stopped rubbing his forehead and just glared at me. He lowered his arm, and his hands clenched into fists at his side. "If you didn't want me in your life," he said, and his voice was low and dangerous, "then you wouldn't have come back here."

The lump in my throat refused to leave as long as our gazes were overlapping, so I turned away. As much as I never in a million years would've admitted it to him, he was right. Shane had been the reason I'd come back to Hills Ridge. And the more time I spent in his presence, the more I doubted the fact that it'd been because I hated him.

Raindrops started to fall. They hit the concrete and formed little splatters before they soaked into the ground. I paid no attention. In fact, my mind was so clouded, I wasn't even sure I noticed. I just sank back down onto the bench and let my vision blur out on the empty road.

"Moyer. C'mon, let's get out of here. It's raining."

"I don't care," I said.

"The bus isn't coming."

"I still don't care."

"C'mon. Just get in the car. We can go somewhere dry and talk about this."

"Piss off, Shane. I'm serious. Leave me alone."

No sooner were the words out of my mouth before Shane had tossed me over his shoulder (much like the night of the bonfire, only this time I was sober enough to kick and scream) and dumped me into the back seat before slamming the door. I went to pull the handle, but the bastard had switched the child locks on. I pounded on the window and screamed to the outside world, "I need an adult!" but I'm sure it was muffled by the glass, and my voice reached no ears except my own. The streets and sidewalks were deserted as the rain battered down on them.

Shane grabbed my suitcases, shoved them into the trunk, and jogged around to the driver's seat. With a flick of his wrist, the keys turned in the ignition. The windshield wipers started furiously dragging and skipping across the windshield, and the unremitting squeaking noise was enough to shove me into the realm of insanity. "Shane Griffith, let me out of this fucking car right this minute!"

The door slammed in place of his response. In his dense little brain, "Let me out" must've translated to "Let's start driving," because he pressed his foot to the gas pedal. "What are you gonna do?" he asked, and the Jeep turned away from the curb and continued down the road, leaving the bus stop sign almost invisible through the downpour. "Throw another book at me? You don't scare me, Moyer. And you sure as hell don't hate me as much as you pretend to."

This place was freezing. The air conditioning formed a hazy film on the glass where it met the humidity from outside, and goosebumps were rising on my skin. I didn't know how Shane expected me to eat ice cream in this igloo of an establishment, but nonetheless, the sundae he'd ordered for me was on its way: two scoops of Superman ice cream with whipped cream, because I'd refused to uncross my arms and answer the waiter, and for some reason, Shane had known it was my favorite.

"When are you gonna look at me?" he asked.

"When you end this bullshit kidnapping scheme and return me to the bus stop, so I can sit there, wallow in my misery, and count down the seconds til I never have to see your hideous face again."

Shane, however, in all truthfulness, looked far from hideous. His hair was wet and matted from the torrential downpour, and his rain-dotted shirt clung to his chest as it rose up and down with his breathing. Every time he stared outside at the rain that rolled off the awning and created a waterfall in front of the window, I snuck peeks at him through the corner of my eye.

"Here you go, Shane," a new voice said, and the waiter slid two sundae glasses down on the chrome tabletop. "You on the schedule for tonight?"

"Thanks," Shane replied. "Nah, man. Tomorrow night."

He and I were sitting inside the Frigid Ridge Ice Cream Parlor, and the boy standing there was Shane's coworker. As I stole a glance at him—his nametag read Craig—I couldn't help but note how much better the beige apron had looked on the asshole sitting across from me.

Shane waited until the boy retreated into the kitchen before he shoved the blue and yellow and red sundae toward me and asked, "Why are you trying to ditch out to New York? You're supposed to be here til August." Shane didn't eat his ice cream right away, either. He just swirled the spoon around in a circle, making a hole-shaped indentation in his whipped cream. "Is it because of Dylan, or because of me?"

"It's because of both of you," I snapped, "but so you know, Dylan's not the one I'm pissed at."

Shane let out a humorless laugh, and the knowing smirk on his face made me want to smack it right off. "Then why'd you break up with him?"

My spoon clattered onto the table and for the first time since we came in here, I looked directly at him. "How'd you know about that? How'd you know we broke up?"

"Your friend Jordan told me," he said. "Right after she let me know which bus stop I'd find you at. I have no idea what you said to her, Moyer, but it's funny how quickly she went from trying to get me fired to trying to do me favors."

A frustrated growl escaped from the back of my throat. The traitor, I thought, and without even bothering to be inconspicuous, I started punching a text into the keys on my phone. To: Jordan Carvalho: What the shit, Jordan? You're the one who told me to leave. Why are you helping Shane further destroy my life?

"Let me know what she says, okay?"

"Shut your goddamn face, Shane."

"I plan to. Once you answer my question."

My eyes dropped to the sundae in front of me, and I couldn't help but picture how wonderful it'd look if, after winding back a spoonful and flicking it as hard as I physically could, it ended up all over Shane's face. And how lovely it'd be to then lick it off, my internal commentary replied, and I would've given anything to make it shut the fuck up right about now. I am calm, I am classy, and I do not visualize myself licking dairy products off of demon boys' faces, I told myself.

"It doesn't matter," I spat. "We're getting back together."

"Oh? Are you?"

"Yes," I said, though my voice didn't sound anywhere as positive as I'd hoped it would. "As soon as I get back to New York. I've come to the conclusion that I don't care if he doesn't know what my favorite book is, or—"

"The Lord of the Rings Trilogy," Shane cut in. "Preferably the Fellowship."

My jaw set angrily, but I kept talking. "Or the things I'm afraid of, or—"

"Sharks, heights, bad grades, public speaking, and… and the outbreak and spread of a highly contagious mutagenic virus created by a large underground corporation that turns us all into zombies. That last one, by the way? Pretty unlikely. Just to let you know."

"Stalker! Stop doing that!" I demanded. "That's not the goddamn point, Griffith! The point is that he may not know tons of stuff about me, but that does not mean he doesn't pay attention. He cares about me and he treats me well, which is way more than what can be said about—"

"You think I don't pay attention to you?" Shane asked me, and his expression darkened. "Moyer, I spent my whole goddamn childhood paying attention to you."

"Pfft," I spat. "Yeah, well. Somehow the things you did don't have the same loving feel to them. Dylan doesn't pay attention to me because he's trying to think up ways to degrade me in front of everyone I know, alright? He pays attention to me because he wants me to be happy, okay?"

Shane wasn't listening, though. The thoughts in his mind must've been like birds stuck in an attic, because he couldn't seem to grasp on to just one as they crashed into his skull, trying urgently hard to escape. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Moyer, but haven't I made it painfully obvious that I care about you as much, if not more, than he does?"

"Care about me?" I drawled, and I leaned forward over the table as though I'd misheard him. "Are you serious, dude? Just out of curiosity, are you talking about the multiple times you tried to destroy my life while we were kids, or the multiple times you tried to destroy my life in the past two months?"

"Destroy your life?" and the words came out in the form of a forced, disbelieving laugh. "Now hold on one fucking minute, Miss Paranoid Psycho. I might've teased you a lot while we were kids. And yeah, I completely admit that I was immature and cruel and, yes, I made your life a tad bit more difficult than I should have. But I never 'destroyed' it. And regardless, haven't I made up for all that stuff?"

I threw my arms in the air and looked around as though I was searching for a witness—as though I wouldn't believe what Shane was saying until someone turned to me and said, Yes, ma'am. Your ears still work correctly. He actually just said that. "What have you ever done to make up for that!"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" he yelled, and both of us were making a huge scene now. Everyone in the ice cream parlor—which, thank god for the rain, was mostly employees—had stopped what they were doing and were staring at us. "I tried so hard to make up for all the stuff I did to you! Did you ever fucking wonder why you never got assigned to detention after the food fight? It was because I went to Principal Schaffner the next day and told him to let you off the hook because the whole thing was my fault! And remember when Tim and I egged you that Halloween at the grave yard?"

"No, Shane!" I declared. "I don't remember! Unfortunately, I was unconscious!"

"Exactly! And how do you think you got home that night? You think Jordan was strong enough to carry you? You think she had any idea how to check for a concussion and wrap your head in a bandage?" he asked. "And your sixth grade project. I—"

"Stop. Seriously, just shut up. Stop it." My mouth was partially hanging open while I stared at him, and the look on my face was caught in between pensive and disbelieving. In the end, disbelieving won. "Look. Whatever, Shane, okay?" I finally murmured, and I shook my head and looked away. "None of that means anything if you were the one who caused the problems in the first place."
"But I tried to fix them," he insisted, and he sounded so angry that I wasn't listening. "And yeah, I was a moronic kid and I always messed shit up because I was invisible to you otherwise. But I always tried to fix it for you."

The ice cream in front of me had melted and was dripping over the glass and onto the table. I didn't make any attempt to stop it from happening. I just stared down at the perfectly timed beads as they continuously upset the puddle of ice cream beneath them. "Moronic kid?" I asked. "What's your excuse now that you're fully grown?"

Frustrated, Shane let his head roll back on his shoulders. He stared at the ceiling tiles with a blank expression. "Moyer, I have not done one horrible thing to you since you've been back in Hills Ridge."


"No, actually. It's not bullshit at all. When I called that truce, I meant it. In fact, even when you went all psychotic and punched my best friend and threw shit fits both times after I kissed you and hurled a goddamn book at my head, I still kept my composure. Do you know why?"

"No, Shane," I murmured. The exhaustion was seeping back into my body, and I had a feeling that, even when I was all the way back in New York, he'd be able to get to me the same way he'd gotten to me for the past few weeks. I made a mental note to clear my schedule for a while, because I'd be spending a hell of a lot it trying to sleep this feeling away. "I don't know why. Enlighten me."

Shane didn't like the way I refused to look him in the eye. He reached across the table and took my chin in his hand, and then he said, "Because I don't even care that you're paranoid as all shit, or that, somewhere in that unnaturally wacked out brain of yours, I'm pretty sure there's a few screws loose. I'm not gonna lie to you, Moyer. You're weird as all hell," Shane told me. "But you are absolutely nothing like any other girl I've ever met. I knew that when we were seven years old, and eleven years later, it's just been demonstrated to me time and time again."

I didn't do anything more than blink at him. I couldn't manage. My whole body was frozen, and in the little theatrical performance in my head, I chose between one of two actions. 1). I called Shane a lying bastard, I dumped my ice cream down his oh-so-superfluous shirt, and then I took his car keys and drove myself to the bus stop. 2). I grabbed Shane's face and kissed him hard enough to bruise his mouth, and then we went at it right there on this very table in his place of work. In real life, however, there was a third, much-less-interesting option, and that's the one I chose. 3). Stare, drool, listen.

"Charlie, if you want to take the whole thing with Dylan and put it into the 'Shane's life-ruining antics' category, that's fine. Whatever. You can do that." His hand dropped from my chin and trailed down my neck, all the way to my collarbone. It took all my self control not to shut my eyes and relish in the feeling. "But before you do, I just want you to be damn clear on my reasoning for it. Yeah, you were absolutely right. I had every intention of ruining your relationship with him."

My expression must've gone from calm to appalled, because Shane was prepared to impede the screaming that would come momentarily. He reached up, covered my mouth with his palm, and kept talking as though that was a perfectly acceptable thing to do to someone in public.

"But I wasn't trying to fuck up your life," he continued, and he enunciated every word. "I want you, Moyer. For myself. And I know that guy seems perfect to you, but frankly, I don't know how he could ever care about you—"

"Griffith!" My eyebrows dropped into two perfectly straight lines. "If you're trying to win my heart or whatever," I murmured against his hand, "you're doing a really shitty job of it."

"Would you shut the fuck up?" Shane demanded, but there was a smirk somewhere in his voice. "I'm not done." He let go of my mouth, and then his fingers trailed all the way down my arm. Then he laced his fingers with mine. His hand was searing hot, just as it'd been when we were thirteen and he was drunk on my couch. It was nerves, I realized. The always-nonchalant, never-riled Shane Griffith was actually nervous.

"I don't know how he could ever care about you as much as I do. He doesn't even notice how, when you get mad because someone calls you Char, your face gets all pissy and you look like you just sucked on a lemon. And when something makes you think, your head tilts to the side and you bite your lip. And how you practically dream in superhero references, and if someone so much as mentions the word 'mutant,' your whole face lights up. And when you're fighting with me, it's so obvious that you want to rip my head off—like right now—and I can't help but think that if I kissed you hard enough, you'd probably shut up."

"Shane," I began, and I was going to tell him to stop talking, because every time he said another word, I was losing more and more of my self constraint. With every syllable he murmured, the idea of going back to New York just seemed more and more unnecessary. Maybe that was his plan, though, because Shane didn't even give me the opportunity. He kept going.

"And I know this sounds ass-backwards, but I live for all that stuff. Trust me, Moyer, I have met tons of girls since you've been in New York. But even being with them comes nowhere close to fighting with you. And on the off chance we're not fighting, it's a million times better than anything I could be doing with anyone else."

The waterfall in front of the window had slowed to a stop, and though the puddles in the parking lot were still settling into the concaves in the asphalt, the clouds were beginning to thin out. I no longer felt the chill of the air conditioning—now I was burning up, my skin as hot as Shane's. Both of us were nervous now. Terrified, actually, but not enough for him to shut his mouth, and not enough for me to get up and leave, like I'd planned to.

My phone buzzed in my hand, and I looked down at it. It said, Text Message from: Jordan Carvalho: I know. I'm sorry, I should've asked you before I told him where you were.

I scoffed and went to shut my phone without responding, but another message came in before I got the chance. Text Message from: Jordan Carvalho: I know you, though, Charlie. You don't get that upset over just anyone. It seriously made me think, and don't kill me, but I think you want him as much as he wants you.

A third one, directly after. Text Message from: Jordan Carvalho: Seriously. Please don't kill me.

"Now, I'm going to give you two options," Shane said, and I dragged my eyes away from the screen and looked back up at him. "You can either stay in Hills Ridge for the rest of the summer, until I can formally prove to you that I care about you more than anyone else does, and until I can get you to admit to yourself that you—Tim's words, not mine, so don't psycho-bitch smack me—want to have my babies."

Adrenalin was warming my blood and making my stomach feel as light and airy as the mist on the window glass. Still, I couldn't tell whether it was anxiety or excitement, because in all honesty, I felt a bit of both. When I spoke, my voice was quiet and shaky, but there was something behind my words. Confidence, maybe. Resolution. "And what's my second option?" I asked.

His thumb started tracing over my knuckles, back and forth, and it had the same effect as hypnosis, or a tranquilizer dart. My whole body fell still, and I found it hard to focus on much of anything that wasn't the boy sitting across from me. "You can get your bags out of my trunk, catch a bus to Philly, get out of this hellhole, and be back in New York by tonight," Shane told me. "But just know that, between here and that bus stop, I am going to say and do every horrible, merciless thing I can think of to make you hate me all over again. And when you come back here in five years with your intricate ruin-my-life revenge plan, this time I will be fully prepared for you. And this time, I'll make damn sure that you fall so hard for me, not even a temporary pretty-boy pansy boyfriend and the biggest city on the East coast will get your mind off me."

I quit holding my breath, and from nowhere, I remembered how to use the English language. "Goddammit, Shane," I murmured. "Do me a favor and deflate your ego." But still, I let the corner of my mouth turn upwards, and for the first time since I'd left Hills Ridge five years ago, my head was clear. There weren't any underlying thoughts—no conflicting feelings about who I hated and who I loved and who I had been and who I was. Everything was more than obvious, and I wondered why it'd taken me five whole years to sort it out.

Maybe I'd learned the wonders of contacts, and maybe I'd fulfilled my six year hell sentence of braces. Maybe I'd learned how to operate a flat iron and how to control nosebleeds during class presentations. But I wasn't actually any different—not really. I still thought about how my everyday routine would be improved if I had superpowers, and I still drooled when I saw trailers for graphic novels turned film. I still broke out my Game Boy and played it under the covers when I couldn't sleep, and Shane still made me more furious than anyone I'd ever met in my whole life.

The difference between then and now didn't have anything to do with the person I was. The difference was that now, I'd made the realization that Shane—just as much as he could infuriate me—could make me exceptionally happy, too. Way happier than any boy I'd ever met, and though we fought more than we got along, I took solace in the fact that, when I was screaming my goddamn head off at him, I wasn't holding anything back. I wasn't pretending to be a different person, or hiding anything about the way I felt. I was raw and worked up and dramatic and passionate, and, yes, psychotic, but Shane liked me for it anyway.

At that moment, I wasn't thinking about Dylan, and I wasn't thinking about the new-Charlie-old-Charlie crap, and I wasn't thinking about all the horrible things Shane had done to me when we were kids. And, what do you know, Jordan was right. I didn't want to rip Shane's head off and stomp it into a million fucking pieces. Instead, I wanted to 1). call the Rolands to make sure they hadn't given away my room yet, and then 2). to lean over the table and mack him so hard I bruised his mouth.

"So if, either way, I'm gonna end up with you," I said to Shane—and just like that day in the beginning of the summer, my insides resembled scrambled eggs, only this time the thesaurus futilely suggested: ecstatic, thrilled, overjoyed, and on cloud nine— "then I guess there's no point in prolonging the inevitable." I leaned over the table and pressed my mouth to that of my ex-worst-enemy, figuring the latter was further up there on my list of priorities. No one ever came to this hellhole of a town, anyway.

The End

So I could provide you guys with a whole crapton of excuses as to why uploading this story took so long (school, drama, school, school, reading, music, other writing, school) but none of them are all that legit and basically I just suck.

Thank you so so so so much to the people who kept on reading, both my old readers and new ones. Thanks for all the reviews and favorites and everything, and I'd absolutely love to hear your feedback on this story as a whole. Have an awesome night.