It was still raining when I left the school. The roads were horrible and slippery, and I honestly preferred them when they were slathered in ice. I got the same feeling that I got almost every day after school; the feeling of not wanting to be home but not knowing where to go. Everything was wet and rainy, so I couldn't go anywhere outside. I found myself driving through downtown Denver, near where Kelso's was. I figured that I might as well stop in. Maybe David was working.
I found myself a place to park along the road, though it took me longer to settle in than it should have. I'm terrible and parallel parking and try to avoid it whenever I can. Just the thought of doing it made me rethink stopping at the café.
I hurried through the doors to avoid the rain. The smell of coffee smacked me in the face as soon as I entered, a smell that I quite enjoyed even though I wasn't the biggest coffee drinker. I stood near the doorway for a moment, trying to look at the person manning the counter up front, but from what I could tell it was an older man, maybe in his 40's. I heard the doors open again behind me and stepped aside so a couple could walk through. I tried to survey the rest of the café area for David, but there was no sign. I needed to start asking him what days he worked. As I looked around the room, I noticed that an ungodly amount of people from my school were here, and it had to only be because of the rain. I don't really understand it personally, but I've come to learn that when it rains, people just want a cup of coffee. Maybe it's the whole cozy-let-me-look-out-the-window-at-the-rain kind of thing. Whatever the case, more than enough people where here to make me want to not be. I began to turn when I heard my name.
"Karlee?" I turned around at the call of my name, and at the sound of the familiar voice. It took me a moment to survey the area of booths behind me until I matched the voice with the face. A smile appeared as I walked over to Eli.
He was sitting at a booth meant for two people, his laptop sitting in front of him. I rounded the bend into the seating area and made my way over to him and stood above his table.
"What are you doing here?" I asked as I stared at the contents on the table in front of him. He had his laptop out, as well as a notebook and a small muffin. He pointed towards his laptop.
"I have a report on the Civil War to do and I just wanted some quite space to work in. You're welcome to sit though. I can take a break." He began to close his laptop as he spoke. I saw him slip it back into his book bag next to him, as well as the notebook. I sat myself down across from him as I saw him take a bite of the muffin. He looked up at me as he chewed slightly.
"What are you doing here?" I leaned on the table by my elbows.
"Didn't really want to go home yet, so I figured I would try here. I actually came to see if David was working, but he's not, and then when I saw how many kids from school there are here I was going to leave. But then you called me and that brings us pretty much up to date." I giggled slightly by the end.
"I don't get it, most kids think this is like some big hot spot or something when in reality it's just a small café with mediocre food." I reached over him and took a piece of his muffin and placed it in my mouth.
"Eh, it's not that bad." He rolled his eyes at me slightly.
"So how's your little situation going?" When I was at Eli's house yesterday I told him nearly everything that had been happening within the past two weeks, partly because I wanted him to know, and partly because I felt like I needed to talk about it.
"Axel left a note in my locker today."
"It was a poem at first. One of those cutesy love poems. And a note telling me to meet him in the greenhouse outback after school." I saw one of his eyebrows raise at me. His muffin was nearly gone. "So I went. And I don't think you're going to believe what I found out. I still hardly believe it." Eli's face twisted into a confused one, as if he was actually trying to think of what it could possibly be. His expression then changed back to normal, as if he'd given up.
"He accidentally called me his ex-girlfriend's name today." His brows raised slightly, in mild shock. "See Axel's girlfriend before me cheated on him like seven or something times. And he was totally in love with her and he couldn't understand why she did it and they dated for like a really long time too. I think years. But obviously, they eventually broke up. Then Axel moved here and he said when he first saw me I reminded him so much of her that he was practically drawn towards me. And then it kind of became of psychological case of needing to be with me, no matter the cost. Hence, him breaking Nick and I up." As I explained it, and I hear myself saying the words, I felt myself wondering why I didn't see those signs earlier. I wondered if I had would it have made any difference. Eli's expression was nearly unchanged.
"So, basically he's crazy?" I grimaced at the word. I had tried to avoid it the entire time I was explaining, even though it ran through my head once or twice.
"I don't think crazy is the right term. He's not insane. I think he just has a few minor mental issues to work out. He said he's going to start seeing someone about it." I felt Eli reposition his legs under the table due to the fact that he slightly kicked me. His muffin was gone; only an empty plate of crumbs sat in front of him.
"What about Nick?" I couldn't help but chuckle slightly, though I didn't really know why.
"I took your advice. I called him last night. He was drunk though." I heard a small and subtle laugh escape Eli. "But I told him basically that we were done, and getting back together was slim. And he was angry, but also drunk so I sort of expected that." He shook his head slightly.
"I swear that kid is going to get pounded for underage drinking one of these days." I wanted to smile, or laugh or something, but I couldn't really bring myself to. I used to worry about Nick getting caught for stuff like that, but now I felt like I didn't care. And I didn't know if I liked that or not. "Hey," Eli said, bringing my attention back to the conversation. His eyes were locked on mine. "Are you doing alright with all of this? I mean it's a lot to go through in just a short amount of time." My brain processed his words and slowly I smiled.
"Yeah, actually. I'm alright. This is actually the most alright I've been since Nick and I broke up actually."He didn't look convinced.
"You're sure?" I nodded fully.
"Positive. I mean, now I can just go on worrying about myself and not have to constantly wonder what they're up to. It's relaxing really." I heard the café doors swing open, as much as I felt the cool air blast through. I turned around to see, and saw a huge group of kids from my school come walking through. They were the kids I suppose people would call popular, but I just called them rude mostly. They were loud and obnoxious, and sat in one of the tables right next to Eli and me. I looked from them to Eli. "However, that's not relaxing. Wanna go somewhere else?" I saw a tiny smile spread across his face almost instantly.
"I think that would be best." We both slide our way out of our booth. He grabbed his bag and plate and tossed it in the trash on the way out.
It wasn't raining as hard anymore, only drizzling now. However when we got into the car the first thing I did was turn on the heat. It might not be snowing, but it was still freezing out.
I honestly couldn't remember the last time I had been out with Eli. He and I used to go everywhere together, do everything together. It wasn't really until recently that things had become a little strained between us. I didn't really know why though.
"So where do you wanna go?" I asked as I came to a red light. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him shrug.
"I don't know. Hey," he turned to face towards him. I looked over to him as well, though keeping a watch on the light. "You know where I haven't been in forever? That old park we used to go to when we were kids. We should go there." I had told Eli everything about Axel and I, but I never told him exactly which park we went to. But, it was where he wanted to go, and I didn't really mind honestly. The park will still be there and still hold all those memories whether I go there or not, so I might as well enjoy it too. Out of my peripheral vision I saw the light change, and I faced forward again.
I pulled into the always vacant parking lot and sloppily maneuvered myself into a space, not that it matter much. I stared at the park from my car, simply giving it a once over, from the benches to the swing. This park might as well have my name inscribed on it somewhere considering that it tells the story of almost every chapter in my life.
I turned my car off and I heard Eli opening his door before I even had my seatbelt off. I stumbled out a minute behind him, and walked up to where he stood at the edge of the park. Some of the snow had either fallen off or melted from the playground area, leaving the left over rubble of the park bare. I saw him turn towards me.
"Man, I can't remember the last time I was here." I decided to keep my mouth shut about this being the park where Axel and I came. It would only make Eli feel bad about wanting to come here. He walked on ahead of me and approached where the picnic benches where, but sat on the picnic table itself instead. I stood where I was for a moment, having everything that happened here, either far in the past or only a few day ago, race through my head. "Kar!" Eli called over to me. He waved for me to go to him and then pushed some snow off of the area of the table next to him and pat on it. A grin slowly appeared. I put my hands in my pockets and turned to walk towards him.
I hopped up and sat myself down on the part of the table that he cleared for me. From the benches the entire park could be seen, or rather what was left of this park. "Do you remember coming here when we were little?" He had looked toward me, but I looked past him a bit to the benches and table next to the one we were on. I could almost see the little girl and her father sitting together, the little girl eating her peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. However, this time instead of sadness, I felt a smile on my lips. I turned my attention back towards Eli.
"Yeah, how could I ever forget?" My memory then traced back to when Eli and I came here together. We used to wiggle ourselves into the underneath parts of the jungle gym and pretend it was a house. It was even more fun when it was snowing because we used to pretend we were stocking up for a big blizzard. I felt the smile widen. "We used to have a lot of fun here." At this point, both of us were looking at the park as opposed to each other.
"Yeah, it's such a shame this place is in shackles. It was so much fun. I wanted to bring my kids here one day." I thought of Axel's words, but quickly pushed them out of my head. I turned to face Eli, part of his face was slightly damp by the still slightly falling bits of rain. I had almost forgotten that it was even still raining.
"Well maybe you can. Just because something is destroyed doesn't mean it isn't still beautiful." He eyed me for a second before a thin grin made itself apparent.
"That was really deep." I slapped him lightly on the arm as I giggled. "Besides, I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. I kind of need a girlfriend before I can even begin to worry about kids, and where to bring them." He repositioned himself slightly so it was easier for him to face me. I felt a drop of water hit my cheek.
"What about Lola? You barely talk about her anymore. Did something happen?" A smile fleeted across his face. Maybe something did happen and he didn't want to talk about it.
"Uh, yeah I don't really think it's going to work out between me and her." I tried to comprehend his face but it was completely unreadable. Eli was good at doing that.
"Did her and her boyfriend get back together?" His eyes met mine. They were my favorite shade today, the mixture between green and blue. He shook his head, but I could nearly make out the smallest curve of his lips.
"No, they're broken up." I creased my brows at him.
"Then why wouldn't it work out?" He was silent for a few moments, his lips the strangest mixture of a smile and sadness.
"There uh, there's sort of someone else." My expression dropped.
"Aw, Eli, I'm sorry. If it makes you feel better, you're probably much better than the other guy." He looked down and laughed slightly, before refocusing him attention back on me.
"No, you dingus, I mean there's someone else for me." My mind automatically went to Aubrey. I had the feeling ever since we all became close this past year that Eli and Aubrey had something with each other, but I never had my suspicions confirmed. I leaned in slightly, more interested than I probably should have been.
"Have you known her for a long time?" He looked away, seeming to consider my question for a long time, before looking back and nodding.
"Is it Aubrey?" His face automatically converted to confusion, one of the cutest looks I thought he had. He let out a few chuckles and smiled at me shaking his head.
"No, where did you even get that guess from?" I felt like he was playing with me, but the sheer confusion that washed over his face when I first asked was pretty compelling evidence that it wasn't Aubrey.
"I've always had the feeling you two had something going on." He laughed, like it was a completely absurd suggestion. He stuffed his hands in his pockets.
"Well, I don't know how she feels about me, but I don't like her like that. Never have." I sighed. I really thought they would have been a cute couple together.
"Alright, well if not her, then who?" He shook his head at me playfully.
"She go to our school?" He nodded. "Are you friends with her?" He nodded again, not making a sound in the process. I stared at him, a playful smile nail to his face. He looked a lot like a fox when he smiled. It was cunning and sly, yet slightly charming at the same time.
"You're going to have to help me out here." He chuckled slightly before taking a deep sigh and looking me straight in the eye.
"Alright. You want a hint?" This time it was me who nodded. He looked away from me, out at the park, or even beyond it when he sighed again and then spoke right afterward. "She's sitting on this bench."
I felt my insides flip.
Part of me expected it from how he was acting, but I didn't want to allow myself to believe it. Now thinking, I don't really know why. His smile had slightly disappeared, but it was still there, almost a ghost of a smile in its place. I didn't really know what to do. I didn't know how to react. I didn't even know how I felt about him. I had been through so much in the past two weeks I never even thought of it as a possibility that this could happen. My emotions were all torn apart at the moment. His eyes flickered back to me, and I tried to look as happy as possible, but I felt an apologetic smile on my face.
"Eli…" I spoke in a soft voice, like I was about to tell a child that their pet died. He began to chuckle almost immediately. His eyes were on mine.
"Relax, I'm not asking you out." His voice was still just as conversational as it had been minutes before. And even now he wore somewhat of a more sincere smile. "I just wanted you to know. I mean everyone else seemed to be professing their affections for you; I thought I might as well hop on the bandwagon while it was still in the station." I smiled at him. I still didn't really know what to say or how to react, but it was easier to think about it with him being so at ease. His calmness calmed me down.
"How long?" My tongue felt like it couldn't form the rest of the sentence.
"Uhm, about a year now I think." That was a much longer amount of time than I expected. I tried to read his facial expressions, but nothing seemed to change. He was still just the same old Eli.
"But what about Lola?" His smile widened.
"There is no Lola. It was just my way to talk about you to you." I started to feel my stupidity seem in. Part of me felt bad for never noticing. But I guess he didn't really want me to notice.
I couldn't think of what to say to him. I loved him, but I didn't think it was in the way that he wanted me to. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt Eli, but I couldn't go through with this when I needed time to be by myself. I hated myself for what I was about to do.
"Eli, I really care about you and—"
"Whoa, whoa," he put up his hands in a 'stop' motion. "Let's not have that talk. No one likes that talk, no one wants to have that talk." He put his hands back down to his sides. His head hung slightly, but I could still see his facial expression. He didn't look disappointed, but he didn't seem happy either. It was then his eyes were on me again. "Look, I know you just got out of really long relationship, and then one short one. I don't expect you to do anything with me. Actually, I wouldn't even let you do anything if you tried. I know you need time for yourself. I want you to have time for yourself. Like I said, I just wanted you to know." He smiled slightly at the end. I don't think there were any words in my vocabulary for how happy I was that he completely understood where I was coming from. I scoot myself closer to him slightly and leaned my head on his shoulder.
"Thank you. Really, you don't know how good it feels to know that you understand." He lifted his arm up and placed it around me. Eli and I used to sit like this all the time, and it was nice that even despite what he just admitted to me, it felt no different than just sitting in my best friend's arms.
"Of course." The wind rustled a tree behind us slightly, causing some of the rain that was left on the branches and leaves to come falling down on us. I sat myself up and he removed his arm as I wiped the water from my face. I stared out at the playground for a moment, thinking of all the different memories I have here, from my father all the way to Axel. A cozy feeling passed through me as I realized this moment right now was the best one I think I've ever had. I turned to look at Eli, who apparently had been staring at the playground as well. I wondered if maybe he had memories here that I didn't know about too.
"You know," he turned towards me. "Maybe after some time, and I mean like a lot of time, we can try it." His eyes were transfixed on mine. I loved the color of his eyes so much. "Like, go on a date or something." I paused, smiling to myself as the realization passed over me. "Because I know if there is one guy on this planet that I know would treat me right, and I that I could trust, I know it would be you." His cheeks turned slightly pink as a smile rose up into them. "And I know that because you already treat me that way." He didn't say anything. Nothing really needed to be said.
I leaned my head back on Eli's shoulder and stared out to the whiteness of the park, the blanket of snow now thinner but still very much there. This park, thought to be ugly and worth nothing to others, was my safe haven. Because even in a place so destroyed, all the beautiful things in my life started here.
EDIT: Well there you have it! My original fiction novel Dance with the Devil is now complete. Thank you so much to everyone who followed it and read it and commented. It really means the world to me and inspires me to keep going. I had so much fun writing this, and I hope you all liked how it turned out. (I'm sorry if Karlee didn't end up with who you wanted/were expecting!) I'll be writing more stories in the future, and I even already have a few ideas, but when they'll come, who knows! But once again, thank you so much for reading it. Fair winds.