AN: I fought through and wrote... this. This fluffy, clichéd, fluff nugget of a humongous baby. I know I'm not committed enough to post a straight-up multi-chaptered story, so you could imagine how frustrated I've been writing this, considering I had originally been aiming for 6,000 words at MOST. I didn't even have much of an idea for this one. I just wrote. This thing didn't even have a title for the longest time. My beta and I would just succinctly call it "Carlee". So now, more than 10,000 words over my limit and too lazy to break it up into shorter chapters, I'll let you read.
Girls, Boys, and Other Enigmas
by Miss Haps
Our car's in the driveway. But now it's slightly… crumpled. And I swear it wasn't like that a few seconds ago.
My dad's outside stomping his feet and screaming curses at whoever hit his car while he was backing out of the driveway. Unfortunately for him, our neighborhood is full of elderly folk that all fall asleep by seven. They also happen to be ridiculously light sleepers, so it seems everyone else has slipped outside in their nightgowns and whatnot. I guess I should be curious enough to do the same.
It's barely October, but the air is chilly and smells like winter. I wrap a blanket around my shoulders as I quietly peek outside.
"What the hell were you boys thinking!"
I wince. Dad never gets angry. He's quiet. He never greets my friends verbally, he smiles at the neighbors whenever he gets the mail, he's Asian, he never lashes out at me when I get in trouble, and he grew a mustache/beard combo just so people would divert their attention away from his actual mouth. Yet there he is, kicking Mrs. Cohen's perky lawn gnome into the street and aiming it at the accused car. Huh. Weird.
I don't notice that I've tiptoed down our driveway until I'm at the end where the sidewalk reaches the road. "Um. Papa?"
Promptly, Dad spins on his heel and faces me. His face is all red from shouting, and his t-shirt is wrinkled from twisting it in his hands. "Yes… Hi, Jill," He frowns and turns back, shooting the accused a look and pointing at them in a typical my-eyes-are-on-YOU sort of way. He then averts his attention back to me. "It's cold. You should go inside."
"You're only wearing pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, Pa," I point at his ensemble. "And you have on sandals."
He looks down at his feet. "Oh, ah. I do…" Scratching his beard, he makes a contemplative expression.
I sigh. "What happened?"
"Oh. Yes." Dad narrows his eyes threateningly and jabs a thumb over his shoulder. "Your mother told me to go buy coffee creamer from the 24-hour grocery store…"
"Mama fell asleep watching Food Network."
He ignores me. "And I was backing out of our driveway, when these two hooligans decided to noodle down the road with their fancy car and crash into me!" Dad suddenly twists his body and starts shaking a tight fist in front of the driver's window. "What the hell are you doing going forty miles per hour on a fifteen limit street! Your lights weren't even on! I couldn't even see you fools! These are the suburbs! Get with it!"
"Papa…" I rest a tentative hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay, though?"
"What? Oh." He stops to think about it. "Yeah. I'm fine."
Securing my blanket around my shoulders, I notice the hood of their car has smoke coming out of it. Its front end is squished inwards from the impact, making it look like a pug dog.
Leaning forward, I peep into the front seat. "These guys are our neighbors." They actually go to my school, but I figure I shouldn't mention that. The one boy in the passenger seat looks bored out of his mind and keeps peering out his window, while the other one who was presumably driving seems like he's falling asleep.
"That one's not!" Dad reacts quickly and points an accusing finger at the driver. "I've never seen him before in my life! And you! Kent Stephens you better hope your father isn't up right now or I'll—"
The one in the driver's seat suddenly jolts awake. Blinking, his face ruptures into a sluggish smile as he tilts his head towards my dad and rolls down the window. "Oh! Siiiirr-rr-r… HELLOOOO! Kent, mah boy he-urr needs tuh get home 'fore currrr-f-few…"
"I'm completely sober, thank you," Kent snaps from the seat over.
I blush and not-so-subtly hide my face behind my blanket. I didn't think I said that out loud.
"This lunatic strapped me into his car and insisted he drive me home." Kent rolls his eyes. "I'm only happy to be alive right now."
"So you admit it!" Dad exclaims, keeping a finger pointed towards their car. "You were in cahoots! You were an enabler!"
Hesitantly, I start tugging Dad back up the driveway. "Papa, it's almost midnight. We can deal with this in the morning. Mrs. Cohen just turned on her light, and I think she's looking for her lawn gnome…"
Dad checks behind his back, and sure enough, Mrs. Cohen is out on her front porch in her nightie, not looking so happy.
He sighs, running a hand down his face and slumping his shoulders. "Fine," he says. "But don't you two think this is over! I shall emerge at dawn!" Then after a few more seconds of hardcore glaring, he tows me back inside when we hear their car start.
"THANK YOUUUUU SIIIIIR! I LUFFF YOUUUU!"
"Shut up, Andrew."
The following morning, I wake up downstairs on our living room couch. My neck is stiff from curling up in weird positions, and the book I was reading is on the floor.
"Good morning, Jilly-Bean!"
I yawn. "Good morning, Ma."
Wii tennis is on, and my mother take a lengthy leap in front of the TV. She's wearing yoga pants. "Happy Saturday!" she gasps, returning a shot. "No school for you, dear! There's some French toast in the kitchen. Go eat it." Mom swings her arm vigorously. "No!" she wails, "Darn you, Albert! Darn! You're a computer! A computer! It's not like you exercise! Quit spinning the ball! Gah! Why won't you just let me win?!"
Stretching out my arms, I nod tiredly and slowly get up from the couch.
The house smells all cinnamon-y and nice. Mama hasn't made French toast in forever.
"Hey ma," I call out to her as I grab two pieces of toast and start drenching them in syrup. "I think the last time you made French toast was when I was twelve. How come—"
"No, I made that."
I freeze, still holding up the bottle of syrup over my plate. Pivoting on my heel, I end up pouring syrup all over the counter. I fumble with the cap and hold the bottle against my chest. "Uh, hi," I say sheepishly.
In all the years that Kent Stephens has lived two doors down from my house, he has never been in my kitchen, and he has most certainly never seen me decked out in my (now sticky) pink Hello Kitty pajamas.
Kent used to chuck snowballs with rocks hidden in them at me with his friends. They used to steal my pencils and make fun of my clothes. The last time we even interacted, I was still a few inches taller than him. But now he's in my house. Odd.
Kent raises an eyebrow, holding up a sponge as he washes dishes. Seriously, what is he doing in my house at 8:30 in the morning?
"I didn't know you were so clumsy," he says curtly.
"What are you doing in my house?"
He shrugs and continues to scrub the skillet in the sink. My skillet. My skillet from my house in my sink.
Forgetting about breakfast, I slowly back away. "Ma! Kent's in the house washing our dishes!"
I hear the general sound of a tennis ball being returned. "As long as I don't have to do them, I don't care! He's handsome, Jilly-bean! Just say thank you and pretend it's normal!"
My mother's hopeless and so easy to please.
I make a squeaking noise whenever I have to go back into the kitchen. He's just there. And I'm not used to it. Quickly, I grab my plate of French toast and eat quietly in the dining room.
The dishwasher turns on in the kitchen minutes later, making loud humming noises and distracting me from cutting up my breakfast into star shapes. I'm in the middle of swallowing a large bite of toast when Kent walks into the room and sits across from me, as if that's totally normal (it's not).
Promptly, I choke on my food and start hacking.
Kent doesn't help me, of course. What a useless home intruder.
I take large gulps of water until the lump in my throat passes and suddenly the house is quiet. I can't even hear my mom playing tennis in the other room. Clearing my throat, I offer Kent a small smile. He continues to stare at me from across the table.
"So… this toast," I say slowly. "It's nice."
"No problem." This is good. It's a good sign. "So… what are you doing in my house…" My voice cracks and ends up sounding higher than usual. Straining a smile, I don't notice my grip on the butter knife tightening, and I think my eye just twitched. I'm just super curious, really.
Kent tilts his head and looks off to the side coolly.
"Stop doing that."
He props his head up, "What?"
"That!" I point at him, nearly jabbing his nose with my finger. "You're being all: Oh! Niener, niener, niener! I'm in someone else's house, but it's okay because I can feign ignorance and look cool while doing it!"
A funny look washes over Kent's face. "Jill, I've known you since second grade."
"So quit acting like I just climbed into your window and got naked on your bed."
I sputter. "Excuse you! Don't tell me what to do! I mean, how would you know if this is how I would react to you naked? Just flipping tell me—"
"Your dad just—"
"—And my flipping parents! Did we adopt you? Did late night property damaging equite to taking you in?! Is that what they did?!"
He sighs, leaning back in his chair. "No. Your family is not adopting me. Pretty far from it, actually."
"Okay" I say quietly, pushing my French toast pieces around my plate. Now, they're too soggy and limp, which makes me sad. I wasn't lying. This French toast is nice.
"Your dad woke up my parents at six this morning."
"Well that's not my fault, now is it?"
He rolls his eyes. "He told them about what happened last night. Long story short, they compromised with a punishment and now here I am. Tada."
I lean forward a bit. "So you're here to fix my dad's car?"
Kent scoffs. "No. Your dad won't let me within a ten foot radius of his car. He's been upstairs typing up a restraining order for the past two hours."
"Really, really," he deadpans.
"My parents were disappointed and agreed that I should be punished," Kent mutters,
"So your dad suggested I do household chores for a month."
"Wait." I stop mid-bite. "In my house?"
"Where I live?"
"I guess so."
I swallow. "Does that mean…" I mentally cringe, "Andrew also has to come over for a month…?"
I let out a whoosh of air. I'm not enamored with the idea of Kent always being here, but I'd rather have just him than him plus Andrew Wilcox. I get that they've been best friends since the beginning of time and everything, but Andrew isn't… nice. For most of the time. Carlee, my closest friend, says he's really mean to her. He says things without thinking, and they usually end up being a little more than offensive.
And he also crashed into my father's car less than twenty-four hours ago. That's also a thing.
"Er… Why not?"
Kent rolls his eyes. "Because he's a dick."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I leap out of my seat, practically hurdling over the table. "You can not say that word in my house!" Hissing, I flail my arms, suspiciously looking over my shoulder for any lurking parents of mine.
"Yes! That one!" I nod, widening my eyes. "Or any other remotely dirty words. Don't do it. It'll end badly."
"Uh, okay." For the first time since I've seen him here, Kent is sporting an expression other than indifference. Refreshing.
I smile cheekily, shoving another piece of soggy toast into my mouth. "Anyways, you were saying?"
"Uh… Andrew's parents are just less creative than mine, I guess. They're grounding him and taking away his license for a while. Their insurance is also helping your dad fix his car."
I hum, pleased with his response. "Well I'm glad the two of you have been brought to justice. My dad wasn't very happy last night. He doesn't get like that too often," I say, nodding. "It's very fortunate that he knows you. I'm sure he could have thought up much more severe punishments." Smiling, I get up and wash my own plate. Kent doesn't protest.
"But," I continue, "This is still weird. So, uh, I'll be in my room."
I feel like I should be more comfortable in my own home, but I'm not. Not anymore, at least. Since Saturday morning, I keep seeing Kent doing chores around the house. He helps my mom do laundry; he waters our plants; he dusts behind the TV; he does everything. I feel like a bad daughter. He's doing the chores I've purposely been avoiding for the past few weeks.
But even so, I'm thankful that he's not driving me to school or anything. Regardless
of my awkward attempts to initiate some friendly chit-chat, I don't really want to talk to him.
"Hey Jill," Carlee comes up behind me in the hallway Thursday morning. "Kent still loitering around your house?"
I nod offhandedly, remembering our lengthy phone conversation last night as I open my locker. "Yeah. I guess it's not so bad. Dad's less angry about the incident, for sure."
"Good, good," she answers curtly.
The warning bell rings, and I notice Carlee staring at something across the hall. "Hey," I tug on her sleeve. "That was the five minute bell. We got to go, cutie." I wave my hand over her face, and she blinks, scowling.
"God, ugh. He's disgusting," Carlee spits, wrinkling her nose distastefully and pivoting on her heel.
I squint over my shoulder as we walk towards our first period class. "Who? I don't see anything."
"Andrew Wilcox," she says, shaking her head. "He's just so… ew. I can't even describe it." Carlee makes a face as we trudge up the stairs. This isn't uncommon. "He thinks everyone loves him, so it's completely okay for him to get with every female in school. He disrespects women! He's disgusting!"
"I don't know," I shrug. "It seems like they like it. His tongue and stuff… Hands," I add, making grabbing motions with my fingers. Carlee slaps my wrists, and I blink innocently.
"This?" I do it again.
"Oh." I bite my lip, holding back a smile. "Okay."
I try distracting Carlee all morning. Her mood has gone foul after mentioning Andrew, so I've been doing my best to make small talk.
She usually ends up giving me this incredulous look and forgets why she was cranky.
It usually goes along the lines of: "I like your shoe laces today." Or maybe even, "Hey! The cafeteria has bendy straws, isn't that great?!"
And she nods or something.
But by lunch time, her sulkiness is putting me down. I keep trying to make thoughtful conversation from across the lunch table, but she just looks past me and scowls.
"Okay," I glower. Clearing my throat, I lower my voice. "Honestly, Carlee? I'm out of things to say to you, so I think we should talk about this. Talking is good, isn't it?" I nod my head knowingly and clasp both my hands over my heart. "We are close friends, and I feel that today, you aren't happy. So you should tell me what's wrong."
She jerks from her spot on the bench, "What?" Stretching her arms, she replies distractedly, "Oh. Yeah. I love you, we're best friends."
I sigh, deadpanning, "Yeah. What's wrong with your face though? It's all frowny." I snap my fingers in her line of vision, and she turns around.
Carlee narrows her eyes. "Have you really not noticed at all?"
"…Did I miss your Nana's birthday? Because I know I promised her last year that I'd make her a card, but she keeps changing the date and lying about her age."
"No, that's not what I'm talking about," she sputters, crossing her arms. "Just turn around… Discreetly, Jill. DISCREETLY."
"I don't see anything!"
"Andrew! LOOK AT ANDREW."
Her voice reaches the other side of the cafeteria, and Andrew himself averts his attention over to our table.
Carlee blushes a deep scarlet red, holding her hands against her face. "He's been with a total of three girls today. Isn't that revolting?"
Now that she mentions it, his female friend next to him does look a little put out.
"Why do you even care?"
"I believe you," I smile.
She scowls back. "Shut up. It doesn't even matter anymore. I'm just… tired."
I fiddle with the handle of my lunch bag, nodding. "I can only imagine… Nine thirty is such an appalling time to be in bed."
Carlee leans over the table and pokes me hard in the shoulder. "Quit being so sarcastic." She slumps back down in her own seat and blows a piece of hair out of her face. "I've been working a lot lately, so my homework's been… put off."
Gasping, I bring a hand up to my forehead theatrically, rolling back my eyes. "The horrors of it all!"
"You don't even know the half of it," she huffs, crossing her arms.
It surprised me last month when Carlee got a job waitressing at a popular pizza place a few blocks away from school.
She barely has time to do anything, let alone put up with hordes of people demanding pizza. Nonetheless, she has said nothing but good things about her recently attained job, so I'm assuming all has been right in her world.
We don't speak for the rest of our lunch period, but she does wave goodbye when we part for our next class.
I shrug and head over to my last period.
Later, my mom gives me a ride home before she heads off to do some errands. I'm not as surprised when I see Kent in my living room, vacuuming under the couch. I wave at him when he sees me walk through the front door, and he nods back.
"Hi," I smile after taking off my shoes. "I thought you usually have soccer practice after school."
He turns off the vacuum cleaner and starts coiling the wire. "Practice was canceled."
"Cool, cool." I bob my head politely. "I'm not very athletic."
I scratch the back of my head awkwardly. "Yup… So… how was your day?"
After a long moment, Kent stands up and hovers over me, crossing his arms. "You can go now," he says curtly. "Really."
I don't say anything.
"I can tell when you're uncomfortable, Jill, and watching you try to interact with me all week has been a little bit painful. You're really bad at it, by the way."
"I was just trying to be a good host," I huff.
"Yeah, well, I'm not really here as a guest, am I?" Kent says sardonically. "I'm fucking cleaning your house for you."
Whoa. Not cool, dude.
"Ow! What the hell, Jill?!" Kent reacts, rubbing the skin where I flicked him in the neck.
"I told you," I hissed, "You can't use words like that in my house."
He makes an incredulous expression. "Your parents aren't even home! Your mom left to go grocery shopping!"
I shoot him a defiant look. "So?" I slap his arm lightly for good measure. "It's not a good habit. You should start using kinder words."
Kent brings both of his hands up to his chin and starts speaking in a high pitched voice. "You should start using kinder words."
"Are you mocking me?!"
"Am I?" he replies sarcastically.
I cross my arms over my chest, pouting. "Fine. Be that color. Goodness, why is everyone so grumpy today? I just wanted to say hi!"
"Hi," he says dryly.
I roll my eyes, letting that go. Another beat or two passes. I start twiddling my thumbs, and Kent puts back the vacuum cleaner in the hallway closet. I don't know how people can stand awkward silences.
"So," I begin, following after him. "Do you have any homework…?"
"Just go upstairs, Jill."
I'm about to rush upstairs when I remember my homework. Reaching for my school bag, my hand lingers on its straps when something comes to my mind. "Hey, Kent?"
I say softly. "You know your friend, Andrew?"
Kent smirks. "Yes, I'm familiar."
"You know how he, y'know, sort of... fornicates a… lot? With, uh, females. At… school…?"
"Does that ever bother you?"
"Like, do you, uh, particularly enjoy that...?"
I feel Kent's gaze on me, but I don't take my eyes off the floor. My face is warm, but I'm not sure what shade of red it is now. Maybe I shouldn't have asked. Probably not.
Kent drops what he's doing and brings himself over to me. "Did you just ask me," he speaks slowly in a low voice. Like I'm a child. "If I like that Andrew sleeps with lots of girls?"
"Was that an inappropriate question, then?" I wince, my face flushing. "Like, is it against a man-code that I'm just not aware of? Because I'm totally up for taking it back."
"Man-code?" Kent squares his shoulders. and the ends of his mouth curl upward for a slip second, before he switches back to his stoic appearance.
"You know. Greet man-friends with cool man-handshakes and man-strangers with man-nods, bail your man-friends out of jail," I list considerately. "Bros before women. Of the promiscuous kind, especially."
He smirks, crossing his arms. "You mean hoes?"
I jolt, slapping both of my hands over my ears. "LALALALALALALALALA. USE KIND WORDS KENT. LALALA—"
Kent swiftly smacks his hand over my mouth, looking somewhat terrified. "God, you're nuts."
"All of the greatest oak trees first start out as nuts."
The corners of Kent's lips twitch before he finally breaks into a genuine smile. He lets out a soft chuckle and rolls his eyes, and I think he might have ruffled my hair. But my brain seems to have reduced itself to a pile of mush, so I'm not entirely aware of what's really happening anymore.
I just can't help but openly gawk at him. I mean, I rarely see Kent smile.
His teeth are lovely. They aren't as pearly as I imagined them to be, and he only shows off his top row, but I'm still a sucker for nice smiles. The expression reaches his eyes and tiny craters form in the middles of his cheeks.
Who knew that if you peel away all of his sullenness, Kent has the face of a fallen angel?
"Beautiful." I think I just had an out of body experience moments ago. Nothing else is on my mind other than wanting to pinch his cheeks.
"What?" And then it's gone. He's normal Kent again.
I jolt, making a squeaking noise. "Whoa. N-nothing. I didn't say anything!"
"Right." Kent looks at me skeptically one last time, and then makes his way back to his cleaning supplies. "Just go upstairs, Jill."
I don't even mind that he didn't actually answer my question. My tummy feels all tingly and nice. Like someone has replaced all the contents in my stomach with Ginger Ale.
This probably isn't healthy.
"We should go to a party."
I beat my chest with my fists, choking on my water. "What?"
I got to lunch early today, and I was already halfway through my sandwich when Carlee arrived late, practically glowing, and seated herself across from me.
"Par-tee," she enunciates. She has on a dazed expression and starts giggling to herself quietly. "There's one going on tonight. We should go."
"T-tonight?" I stammer. Is there something wrong with her? "That's pretty last minute… Where is it?"
"Andrew Wilcox's house."
"What?" I accidentally bite my tongue, and I drop my sandwich on the table. "I-I thought Andrew was grounded. He crashed into my dad's car last weekend. Why is he allowed to host a party?"
Her eyes glaze over and she sighs, tracing invisible circles on our lunch table. "I, ah, heard that his parents are going out of state this weekend to visit in-laws or something. It's just a party, Jill. We've never gone to one."
I narrow my eyes. "Why should we start now? Don't you have work tonight? Or homework to do?"
"Nope," she says cheekily. "I'm totally free tonight. It's perfect."
"And I was invited to this one, Jill!"
Carlee pauses. Her gaze drops down to her lap, and she blushes. "A friend," she answers softly.
What? Weren't we exclusive friends or something? When has she ever socialized out of our two-person circle?
I sputter, "But i-it's at Andrew Wilcox's house! You HATE him!" My arm shoots out from my side, and I'm pointing at her because she's making random decisions and, obviously, pointing fingers will steer her in the right direction.
Carlee pouts, reaching out to hold my hand. What is this? "C'mon, Jill." Her hands are clammy, and she doesn't look at me. Her eyes are elsewhere, but she continues, "I think it's time we investigate further into our age group. We should start experiencing, um, more… high school experiences."
I stare at her.
"It's Friday, Jill," she says more confidently, giving my hand another squeeze. "It'll be fun."
Shouldn't she know by now how horribly bad I am with people? Especially larger groups of people? I can barely talk to Kent without sounding like a moron, and I've known him for years.
"Please? I want to go, but I really, really don't want to go alone. You're my best friend, Jill."
I retract my hand from her grip, but I can't ignore Carlee's hurt expression. No. Nonononono—
"What time does it start?"
She beams, nearly bouncing out of her seat. "Eight! But I'm planning on getting there thirty minutes late, is that okay?"
"Sure. I just, ah, have to ask my parents…" I chuckle uneasily.
"Oh my god," Carlee squeals, running around the table and wrapping her arms around me in a tight hug. "You are the BEST, Jill. I am SO excited now!"
She ignores me. "I'll pick you up later. We're taking my car." Carlee's grin widens as she clenches her fists excitedly.
"Carlee, you're not allowed to drive passengers yet—"
"It'll be fine, Jill." She bats a hand at me, and the bell rings, signaling the end of lunch. "I'll text you tonight! Wear something pretty!" Then she prances out of the cafeteria, waving her arms and giggling to herself hysterically.
Students from the next lunch period come swarming in, and I throw away my half-eaten sandwich. I suddenly don't feel too good.
My mom picks me up after school, and she greets me warmly as per usual.
"Hey Mama," I say back, shrugging my bag on the floor of the car and buckling my seat belt.
She bobs her head to the radio and taps her fingers on the steering wheel as she drives. A few minutes pass by in silence until she speaks again. "How was your day?"
I focus on the trees outside to settle my alarmingly amplified nerves. "Eh. It was fine… School."
Mom nods. "Did you meet any flower-boys?"
I shake my head, "No." My mom uses the term flower-boy to point out attractive men. Specifically those in my grade and those she wants me to get married to. I think she has a secret irrational fear of me growing up as a lonely spinster with only pet fish as companions.
"Shame, shame," Mom says in a singsong voice. "If only flower-boys lived in flocks instead of being lone wolves all the time. The world would be a happier place." We stop at a traffic light, and Mom faces me for a moment with bright eyes. "Y'know who's a flower-boy, Jilly-Bean? Westley! From church! He definitely grew out nicely." As she wiggles her eyebrows, the light changes and her foot presses down on the pedal.
"And Brian what's-his-face! I saw his picture in your yearbook from last year. He's certainly more attractive than his older brother. That poor boy just never understood that he needed a haircut. That's all he needed to do, really," she continues as we turn left on our street.
"That's true," I say tenderly. "But didn't you say his hair looked like," I cringe, "Pubic hair?"
"The pubes! Yes!" Mom makes a face, "It's so unfortunately accurate."
I nod, silently agreeing.
Our house comes up and Mom parks the car in the driveway. We wave at Mrs. Cohen, who's watering plants in her yard next door.
Mrs. Cohen courteously waves back when mom shrieks, after which Mrs. Cohen drops her hand and winces, quietly grumbling about bad neighbors. I give her a gracious smile, and she frowns back.
"Oooh! Jilly-Bean!" Mom squeals, hauling me inside the house. "Kent! Kent's a total flower-boy!"
"He's so pretty, Jill," she sighs dreamily. "Does he have a facebook?"
I shrug. It's not like I have a facebook. "I don't know. Maybe…?"
Mom's eyes light up, and I'm deciding on whether or not I should be disturbed. "I'm going to look him up!"
She scurries upstairs into her bedroom where her laptop is, and I follow her, knowing I should probably ask before I forget.
Mom settles herself on her bed, opening up the Internet. "Yeah?" she asks, somewhat distractedly.
"Uh… I was, um, invited to a… party. Sort of." My voice softens every word, so I clear my throat. "Carlee said she'd pick me up, and I guess she'll also drive me… back. Can I go?"
My mother stops typing and looks up. "Ooh. Carlee will be there?"
"Yes…?" Please say no.
"You should probably ask your father, dear," Mom says calmly. "But if Carlee's there, I'm sure you can go."
I don't realize I'm holding my breath until I leave my parents' bedroom. That was so easy. Why was that so easy? Don't my parents watch the media? Don't people get drunk and naked at Andrew's parties? I'm not comfortable naked.
Or drunk, for that matter.
Papa said yes, which means that I have grudgingly decided to go to this shin-dig for the sake of my best friend's happiness. Or something like that.
I stay inside for most of the afternoon, meaning I don't see Kent. He spends most of his time eating snacks my mom offers him and raking leaves in our backyard since there isn't much left for him to clean inside the house. It surprises me how efficient he is.
When Carlee picks me up, she's wearing a nice blue blouse and dark jeans. Her hair is down instead of up in a ponytail for once, and her makeup is darker than usual.
After kissing them goodbye, my parents tell me I'm allowed to be home whenever, and I feel guilty. Like I'm taking advantage of them. Aren't Asian parents supposed to be strict? Why did I have to get the laid back kind?
"Hey," I greet Carlee, getting into the front seat.
"Hi," she greets back politely. "Is that what you're wearing?" Carlee points disapprovingly at my outfit, and I frown.
I don't think I look too bad. I look like this everyday. Same long black hair that falls straight down to the middle of my back. Same dark brown-almost-black eyes that look pupil-less if you don't pay enough attention. Same pasty pale skin from staying inside too much. Same nose in the middle of my face. It's all very typical.
Carly wrinkles her nose distastefully. "You usually wear nicer clothes. It's our first party, Jill. We need to make a good impression."
I look down at my own jeans and knit sweater. People aren't going to pay attention to me. I know this. I'm short. They'll skim right over my head.
"Why?" I ask. "It's not like I'll ever talk to these people again."
Carlee bites her lip, critically shaking her head. "Jill—"
"I said I'd go, didn't I?" I say impatiently. "At least I trimmed my bangs and brushed my teeth. It's not like I'm an embarrassing person to be around, Carlee." I demonstrate by using my index and middle finger as scissors and tracing the ends of my fringe, making a straight line across my face right below my eyebrows. "It's fine. Let's just go."
She rolls her eyes. "Fine."
We arrive around half-past eight, just as Carlee planned. I've never been to Andrew's house, but I never imagined it to be this ridiculous.
The house itself isn't very big, but it sits on a hill and is a square mile away from any neighbors. Loads of people are already here, and the house's inside is so uncomfortably clean that I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach that makes me want to protect it. I haven't even been here for more than five minutes, yet people are already slightly intoxicated and rowdy.
People, it's only eight thirty. Let's pace ourselves.
An hour later, I'm utterly lost. I don't know anyone else here, and Carlee seems to have disappeared on me. She vanished not long after our arrival, leaving me here with no ride and no other friend to talk to. What a bumtard.
I sit alone with my legs crossed on one of the living room couches. Some people have recognized me, and I smile politely at them, but most of the others attending haven't batted an eyelash at my presence.
A shirtless girl is passed out on the floor, and I decide to shift her body so that she doesn't choke on her own vomit. Boom. Saw it in a movie.
"That was really nice of you."
I turn my head towards the other direction where I see a frisky couple getting a bit too fancy. "Huh?" Someone snaps in my ear, and I jolt, squeaking.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." Marcos Solis is sitting next to me, offering a friendly smirk. "I liked what you did, though. Most people are too used to Nikki Parker getting drunk off her ass to care about her condition."
"Ah…" I smile meekly. "I saw it in a movie."
He laughs, so I laugh because I don't have anything else to do. "Hey, you're in my AP Psych class. You're really smart." Marcos scoots closer to me, and I scoot back.
"Yeah," I chuckle nervously. "That, uh… That's me. I like that class."
Marcos takes a random cup from the coffee table and drinks from it. I cringe. That's not… sanitary.
"So you're, like, a really good girl, right?" He smirks, draping an arm around my shoulder.
I fidget. "I guess…" He doesn't smell too good, and his clothes are wrinkled.
Marcos snickers to himself, and his eyes darken. "I hear good girls are closet nymphos. You like bondage and kink?"
I gape at him. "I-I don't know what that means…"
He licks his lips. "Y'know…" Making a rude hand gesture with his fingers, Marcos takes another gulp of someone else's drink and leans in to whisper in my ear. "How 'bout threesomes? You up for that?"
He's laughing as I stand up. Downing another beer, he tugs down on my sweater.
"This isn't cool, man. Get OFF!" I swat at his hands and finally shove him away from me, whimpering when he starts laughing disturbingly louder and grabs onto my wrist. What's wrong with these people?
Someone else places a hand on my shoulder and I stiffen.
"Fuck off, Solis."
Kent yanks me backwards, successfully detaching my arm from Marcos' hold.
Marcos snorts. "Cool yo' jizz, Stephens. Y'needa loosen up man. Go with the floooow. Get laaaaaiddd." Standing up, he wobbles slightly, patting Kent on the shoulder and then stumbling over into another room and into the arms of a girl with cartoonishly large breasts. She whispers something in his ear which makes him hoot. Turning back around to face us, Marcos flamboyantly shoots me a wink and blows me a kiss.
I shudder. "He's—"
"An asshole?" Kent faces me and quirks an eyebrow, crossing his arms.
I cough. "I was going to say 'gross'… but sure."
Taking a step away from me, Kent rolls his eyes and sits on the couch. I follow suit just because I don't know what else to do.
He looks nice tonight, I guess. His eyes are a lighter brown because of the room's lighting, and his dark mahogany hair looks gelled in a way that's supposed to imitate bed hair.
Kent adjusts his position and re-folds his arms over his chest. I humor myself by doing the same. He crosses a leg. I cross a leg. He sighs. I sigh. He turns and frowns at me. I frown back.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"What?" I ask innocently. "Sheesh, Kent. Hold your puppies. No need to get all up in my grill."
Kent rolls his eyes and grumbles, "Whatever." He has on a blank expression and lies further back into the couch. "Not going to lecture me on my language tonight?"
I grin, ribbing him, "Aw." Poking him in the shoulder, I honor Kent with a sparkly smile. "You, sir, get a gold star for acknowledging your cursing problem." I nod. "I know how terribly hard it must be for you."
He purses his lips, turning his head away from me. "What are you even doing here?"
My face falls. I really have no idea. "Carlee wanted to come. She dragged me along for, um… support. And now I don't know where she is," I say quietly. I realize he may have not heard me, considering how loud Andrew's house is. I mull over repeating myself, but I decide not to.
Neither of us speak for the next few minutes, until Kent unexpectedly opens his mouth, "Did you check in the basement?"
I make a strange gurgling noise and blush, clearing my throat. "N-no… I'm afraid of… basements."
He doesn't ask me to elaborate. "Upstairs?" I shoot him a blank look. "…Right." More silence.
"Why are you here?" I ask after a long while.
Kent turns towards me. "Aren't I always here?"
"Well," I start, biting my lip. "Why aren't you partying it up with yo' homeboyz? Ain't ya wantin' to bust out some sick dance moves? Fo shizzle…?" I say this uncertainly.
My cheeks catch fire, and it's all so humiliating.
He stares at me. "Why are you talking like a deluded wannabe gangster?"
"I-I don't know…" I blanch.
"Don't try to act cool, Jill. Your version of hip is warped."
I gasp, half-jokingly answering, "What are you talking about? I am so fresh."
Kent gives me a half smile, and I can't stop myself from thinking how close I was. I gawk at his face nonetheless.
His grin falls and I avert my eyes.
"Why do people even have fun at parties like this?" I blurt. "I mean, where's the piñata? The cake? We weren't even sent invitations in the mail. I bet Carlee didn't even ask if I could come…" I pause. "Does this mean I'm a party crasher?"
Kent opens his mouth, but I continue. "Do you remember when you had birthday parties at your house and I was never invited? That's totally okay, by the way. I know we weren't very close friends when we were younger… or now. But I remember you got a puppy when you were ten, and I was so jealous because he was the cutest thing I'd ever seen, but I was allergic to anything furry and adorable—which totally isn't fair. This one time, my mom and I set up a surprise party for my dad, and it was really fun. Do you like surprise parties? It was pretty small, but we played games and ate food and—"
"I remember that," Kent interrupts me, speaking very slowly. Huh. He looks concerned. Is blabbering a turn off for guys? "Your driveway had four cars parked in it instead of one. People our age were there, and I thought it was weird because I had assumed you didn't have any friends."
I'm not sure why, but that bothers me.
"They were my cousins," I cough.
"…Ah." Kent suddenly looks uncomfortable. That's okay. I guess it makes two of us.
"But I have a lot of friends," I say quickly. "Lots of them. We have parties. All the time. At my house. It's great. SO great."
"I've been at your house every day all week—"
"I have so many friends that I don't even know what to do with them," I continue, waving my hands passionately. "I mean, I'm, like, NEVER lonely. Me and my friends… OH yeah. I have so many friends that I could lend you some, man. Rent-a-friend. Just call me up, dude. No charge. You're a special case, I swear." My arms are still above my head making large gestures.
Kent puts a hand around my wrist, stopping me from nearly hitting him in the face. "Stop. Talking. Jill."
"…Okay," I whisper sheepishly.
He sighs, his grip tightening on me. "C'mon, we're leaving." Kent stands up, bringing me with him.
"W-wait," I stutter, tripping over someone lying on the floor. "Where a-are we going?"
Kent grunts, "Look, you're not having fun. I'm not having fun. It's all very logical, Jill. We are going to go because I'm fucking tired, and you look desperately lost. We both don't want to be here. Got it?"
"A-are we going home?" I ask tentatively when we stop by the front door.
Kent groans quietly, bringing up his hands to massage his temples. "Do you want to go home, Jill? Is that what you want to do?" I nod. "Good. Just wait here, then. I need to go grab the keys. I doubt Andrew's going to care if we use his car."
"B-but," I whimper. "I don't want to be here alone, Kent! Wait!" Kent lets go of my arm and departs hastily back into another room. I catch up, following closely behind until I run into his back. "What—" I gulp. "C-Carlee?"
Peeking from behind Kent, I see Carlee with Andrew Wilcox, leaning against the door frame leading into the basement. But instead of the nice blue blouse she was wearing when we came in, she's wearing a sparkly pink low-cut tank top. Was she wearing that underneath her clothes? Her lips are pressed against Andrew's, and I can actually see tongue. Lots of it.
"He disrespects women! He's disgusting!" Her voice rings through my mind.
And suddenly I notice everyone else. There are tongues and hands and giggles. I can even see Marcos having fun sticking his tongue down Boob Girl's throat.
There's not exactly a Roman orgy going on, but I'm still confused.
Is this the norm?
Carlee's giggling and panting everywhere. She's occupied with Andew's mouth on hers, and her hands are tangled up in his hair. Andrew's hand is resting, as if by total accident, on her boob, and she's even nice enough to help him out by tugging her tank top down a notch.
Kent clears his throat, and I flinch, hiding behind him. "Hey, man. I'ma use your car. Give me the damn keys."
Neither of them break apart, but Andrew strains to reach into his pants pocket anyway, producing a pair of keys, and then waves us away. Carlee giggles against his mouth.
Kent rolls his eyes, catching the keys and grunting a "thanks".
We wander into the garage where Andrew's car is parked. When we both get inside, it feels too warm and smells too nice.
"Th-this isn't Andrew's car," I say softly, buckling my seatbelt. "Andrew's car i-is blue… I remember from last week."
Kent backs out of the drive, focusing on the road. "That wasn't Andrew's car. That was his stepmom's."
"Oh." What kind of moron crashes his poor stepmother's car and basically gets AWAY with it?! I think to myself, playing with the hem of my shirt. The same moron my best friend's getting fancy with right now…
"I can't believe I didn't know," I whisper sadly.
"Are you seriously beating yourself up for not knowing the difference between Andrew's car and his stepmom's?"
"WHY DIDN'T I KNOW?!" I cry loudly, bringing my hands up to my face.
Kent accidentally swerves the car to the left of the road. "Fuck," he curses. "Don't fucking scream while I'm driving, Jill."
"I didn't know…" I repeat to myself.
"I get it. Now for future references, Andrew's car is black, his stepmom's is blue, his dad's is green—"
"I wasn't talking about that, Kent." I frown, sighing, "I didn't know that Carlee and Andrew were…" I'm not quite sure how to finish my sentence, so I make a hand gestures by bringing two of my fingers close together.
Kent catches my feeble attempt at charades when we stop at a traffic light. "Oh," he says curtly. "They've been seeing each other for a while… Andrew goes to that pizza place she works at. He hangs out there every day after soccer practice."
"B-but she hates him!" I stutter helplessly. "She tells me every day that she hates him!"
"Then I guess for the past month she's been lying."
"Month?!" I screech. Why wasn't I in this loop? Why was I the last one to know? She hates Andrew. She hates how he doesn't comb his hair. She hates how he barely carries any of his text books to school. She hates how loud he talks and how fast he eats. She hates how he goes out with every attractive girl he can find and— "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS."
"Stop. Fucking. Yelling."
"Stop. Flipping. Cursing."
Kent smirks. "There's the Jill I know."
I frown. "Oh my God, I feel crazy…"
"You sound it too."
"I changed my mind, Kent," I say loudly with a new determination. "I don't want to go home anymore." Crossing my arms tightly over my chest, I nod my head anxiously, trying to convince myself. "Let's… Let's go… somewhere. Somewhere else. Yeah." I'm fidgeting in my seat, and I clear my throat. "I-I want to be… rambunctious all of a sudden."
"No you don't."
"Yes I do."
"So?!" I heave, biting my lip. "My only friend is allowed to lie to me, but I can't?! What are you? The… The lying police?"
We reach another traffic light and Kent turns towards me, giving me a pointed look. "You're acting immature. You're going to go home, change into another pair of Hello Kitty pajamas, and go to sleep."
I pout, feeling my face heat up. I wish I could tell if that was an insult or not. Was that a jab at my sleep wear? I mean, I love my pjs. Don't diss them, yo.
Still blushing, I sigh dejectedly, "Fine. Have it your way."
The rest of the ride home is silent and I make a show of looking out my window and not at Kent. I think he's silently laughing at me. But when we arrive at my house, I glance at him and notice he looks completely composed. How does he do that?
"I'll wait here until you get inside," Kent says coolly. "You can get inside, right?"
"Y-yes," I stammer. "I have, uh, keys… to my house. Which is how I can get inside… without knocking."
He stares at me skeptically. "Good."
Kent unlocks my car door, but I don't reach for the handle. "Kent," I begin slowly.
"You'll be at my house again this weekend… right?"
He nods his head.
I speak timidly, "May I, uh… talk to you… tomorrow? And Sunday…?" I blush more when I see Kent giving me a disapproving look.
He raises an eyebrow and leans back in his chair. "You're really asking permission, Jill?"
Sighing, I look away, embarrassed. "Well… yeah. I mean, every chance I talk to you, it always ends up with you telling me to stop because I'm really… awkward."
"Like how you are right now?"
"Yeah. That." I clear my throat, turning to face him with some confidence. "So I-I'd like to make sure beforehand… so I know I won't be bothering you."
Kent's eyes soften, but he still looks uneasy. "Do whatever you want to do, Jill."
I blink, and he gives me a small, comforting smile.
That feeling comes back again. My toes curl and I gulp. Is this how it's always going to be? I earn a smile from Kent and suddenly my panties melt? How shameful.
Before I say anything else embarrassing, I fumble out of Andrew's car and wave Kent goodbye. I watch as he returns a salute and drives two houses down the street, retreating into his own home.
I talk to Kent on Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday. And Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Basically, I talk to him all week. And the next.
As the days pass, I realize how genuinely nice Kent is. Which is mind boggling, considering this is the boy who tripped me in first grade when I was playing hopscotch on the concrete. But everyone likes him—my parents (who have completely disregarded the car-crashing incident), teachers, students, neighbors. And I'd failed to notice this earlier. He's smart and funny and polite.
And yes, I'll admit. He's hot.
Since that Friday, Kent's routinely at my house after his soccer practice, where he does household chores and talks with me. We've been doing homework together and eating snacks and watching TV and playing Wii Sports with my parents. And he smiles more.
We've unexpectedly become friends in a short amount of time.
Which is why every day, I wish Kent is in my lunch period.
I barely see Carlee at all, meaning I have no one to eat with. Andrew's been MIA too, so I've been assuming they're keeping each other company. All I really know is that they're now in some intimate partnership with each other, Andrew got his car back the day after we borrowed it, and Carlee and I are losing things we have in common.
The Monday after the party, I found Carlee before first period snuggling with Andrew against a row of lockers.
"Carlee! You totally abandoned me, you jerktard!" I had said.
The two of them broke apart for a moment, in which Carlee tilted her head innocently and said, "Jill, are you okay? I've never seen you so... emotional."
In which I said, "Oh yeah? Well I've never seen you so experimental!"
And then the bell rang, and we haven't had much time to talk anymore. Or at least she hasn't.
It's okay though. I guess.
Besides, I have more important things on my mind.
Like my new found friendship with my neighbor.
Or why I get all tingly when he smiles at me. Or why his smiles make me smile (together we spawn so many smiles). Or why I'm so impatient when it comes to him getting to my house. Or why my heart does this thing where it speeds up and my stomach flips and I'm always mentally squealing.
This is also okay. Because I haven't made a real friendship in a long time, I certainly don't want to mess this one up by getting giddy over Kent. So I'll get over it.
Instead of seducing him or some other ridiculous thing that I totally shouldn't do, I've been doing friendly things.
"Hey… Hey, Kent." I giggle quietly to myself. God, why am I so hilarious. "Kent, come on. Look at me."
He doesn't answer.
I scoff, rolling my eyes. What a baby. "Kent, I'm being totally serious this time."
"Why not?" I whine, pouting.
"Because I know you're holding up your index finger next to my face like a loaded gun."
I grin cheekily. "Whaaaat are you talking about…?"
"And when I turn my head, you're going to poke me and start giggling like a maniac."
"… No I'm not."
Kent sighs and, very slowly, starts turning his head towards me until my finger makes contact with his cheek.
"You're a child."
"Don't be a kill-joy, Kent. Kill-joys die alone," I say cheerily.
Kent grunts, "One of us is doing Calculus homework, Jill, and I'm really sorry, but not everyone can derive and sketch curve functions while being molested."
"Aw. Are you talking about me?" I poke his face again, and he grabs my wrist.
I watch as Kent leans in closer to his notebook, scribbling numbers onto his paper.
"Don't you have Mrs. Fowler for Calc?" I ask, smiling. "I hear she's really foul. Ha. Get it, Kent? Get it?" I elbow his side, causing his lips to curl slightly upwards.
He sighs exaggeratedly. "Fine. I give up." Getting up from his position on the floor, he unceremoniously shoves his books back into his backpack and walks out of the room.
"Kent, where are you going?" I get up to follow him.
"I'm going to finish folding laundry," he says very seriously.
I pout. "Why are you no fun?"
Kent returns from the basement holding a basket of clean laundry. After setting it down on the living room couch, he turns towards me. "Did Carlee talk to you today?"
I frown. "No. Why?"
"I don't know. You just seem… happy," he says carefully.
"I haven't really hung out with her. She's been busy," I say.
Kent nods. "I've seen Andrew at soccer, and I went to his house for an English project we're doing together. Other than that, he's been spending a lot of time with your best friend."
"I figured," I swallow hard. "Now that you mention it, I miss her a lot. I've tried talking to her, but she's always with Andrew… and he intimidates me."
"That's stupid of her. Why are you doing all the work?" Kent scoffs, buttoning a cardigan and laying it out on the coffee table. "And Andrew's not that bad."
Psh. I beg to differ. "Remember in third grade when Andrew's parents were on a week long business trip and he stayed at your house?" I say out loud. Kent stops folding and quirks an eyebrow. "That was awful. You guys would chuck leaves at me whenever I stepped outside, and I think he ate a stick of my sidewalk chalk. It was my favorite one too. A peach-colored one."
He clears his throat, suddenly giving my mother's sweater special attention. "… That was third grade. I wouldn't chuck leaves at you now."
"Andrew would also break my crayons in middle school whenever we had map activities in History class," I argue. Reaching into the laundry basket, I try to help him fold clothes, but Kent waves my hand away.
Sulking, I place my hands in my lap. "Or maybe that was you… I don't really know. I try to block out a lot of memories from middle school."
Kent sighs. "Alright I get it. Me and my friends were rotten kids, and you were occasionally the butt of our jokes. I'm sorry."
Fidgeting, I scoot closer to him. "You don't have to apologize. I mean, I wasn't expecting you to or anything. We're friends now, right?"
He stares at me. "Of course."
"Good." I beam at him. "So I can help you with your chores then?"
"Fine then," I say in mock dejection. "I hope you get buried in our laundry."
He continues folding, looking totally unaffected. "Me too, Jill," he says sarcastically.
"Laundry really turns me on."
I make a face. "Ew. You're such a weirdo. I don't even get why this is supposed to be your punishment. You enjoy it too much, and you're too good at it."
Kent glances at me and shifts in his seat. His leg brushes against mine, and he smiles. My heart does a dance. "Call me weird, Jill, but it's sort of relaxing."
I cough. "You're a woman."
He raises an eyebrow, "Are you being sexist against your own sex?"
"My gender is awesome."
"You can't even say 'sex' in your own house, Jill? Really?"
I sneer at him, poking him in the chest. "You're just jealous because you're a WEIRDO."
"It's okay though," I continue nonchalantly. "There are lots of weirdos in the world. I mean, Carlee's dad is kind of a weirdo. He wears sock and sandals, for one. That's just strange."
Kent looks over to where my parents are sitting in the other room. They're both staring at the pile of dismembered board games on the dining room table, when my mom suddenly stands up and shouts, "Parcheesi! In yo' face Peter!" Then she chucks a handful of scrabble letters on their game board along with what looks like two hundred dollars of Monopoly money.
"Yes. You must be so thankful that both your parents are very plain and normal then."
I shrug. "They just don't know how to play."
"Your parents are… creative," Kent says lightly, smiling. "They're fun to be around. I mean, I love my parents too, but yours are definitely two of the most unique people I've met."
"Your parents always bought you the coolest toys though," I say distractedly, playing with a pen I found under the coffee table. "You got that motor scooter one year for your birthday. They didn't even make you wear a helmet."
Kent rolls his eyes. "I was twelve. Helmets were for babies."
"My parents were really into getting me 'useful' toys that could set me up for taking care of myself," I continue, leaning against the couch. "Like play vacuum cleaners and pretend washing machines. They thought it would help mold me into a responsible young woman."
Kent laughs, and I smile back. "Yet here I am, folding your clothes for you."
"I said I would help you!" Grunting, I try reaching for the laundry basket again, but Kent moves it to the other side of the sofa. "You're just like Carlee!" I say exasperatedly. "You never let me help!"
We don't speak for a few moments, then Kent gets up to put away the laundry. "I think you should talk to her."
"You obviously miss her. Her and Andrew always end up in our conversations," he explains. "Go talk to her if it's bothering you so much. I thought you guys are best friends."
I fidget. "Well… yeah."
"Then what's stopping you?"
Kent shifts the basket in his arms, and I notice the way his muscles flex. He's looking down at me, expecting an answer, but I'm too distracted by the smell of laundry detergent and the way Kent's brown eyes bore into mine.
"I-I'll talk to her then," I say finally.
He smiles, and I take the time to notice the white of his teeth and the creases around his mouth.
"Hey, it's almost been a month," I say nonchalantly. "I guess I won't be seeing you as frequently… because you'll have no reason to, um, come over any more."
Kent raises an eyebrow, catching my eye. Dropping my stare, I find myself looking at his lips instead and wondering which is worse. This is unfair.
He holds my gaze, and I thankfully stop myself from thinking up anything inappropriate.
"I'll figure something out." He shrugs coolly, carrying the basket upstairs.
I like Kent. Oh, God. I even told my mom.
She was so deliriously happy when I told her. I mean, she literally screamed with delight. I try not to wince when I remember it.
I think she also told my dad, but even if she did, he has totally brushed it off. Which is cool. I'm fine with that.
"I haven't seen you at lunch lately."
"Yeah. I've had stuff to do."
"So… You and Andrew, huh? That's… different."
"He's a total sweetie, Jill! You'll really like him!"
"If I remember correctly, it was you that didn't really like him…"
"Aw! Look! He just texted me the cutest thing! I have to go. See you later, kay?"
"I talked to her."
"Did you really?"
"And how'd that go?"
"Not very well. She ran off, like, three seconds later."
"Kent! I can't find it, Kent! WHERE IS IT?"
"Did you check your coat pocket?"
"I JUST DID! I LOST IT! WE WON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO! I CAN'T BELIEVE—Oh. Whoops. Here it is!" I proudly shove the sheet of paper into Kent's face.
"God forbid we lose your mom's grocery list," he says dryly, stuffing the paper into his pocket. "You go to the cereal aisle. I'll meet you there in a bit. I'll be in the soup aisle."
"Okey pokey." I shuffle around him when he grabs my wrist.
"Don't do anything dumb," he says slowly.
I shoot him a look. "I'm not dumb."
"Ah. But that's never stopped you from doing dumb things."
"What do you mean 'like what'?" he retorts. "Last time we went grocery shopping for your parents you frolicked around the entire store singing 'Feliz Navidad' and eating all the free samples until you got lost and tipped over a pyramid of soda bottles."
"Um." I tap my chin thoughtfully. "You're dumb."
He sighs, running a hand through his dark brown hair. "Your mother requested Special K. The kind with chocolate. Go fetch it, will ya?" Kent pats my head and pushes me in the other direction.
Kent rolls his eyes and shoos me away.
I gather Kent must enjoy my company because he's been inviting himself over after soccer practice almost everyday. Even after his punishment was lifted.
I've never met anyone that lets me babble on and on about virtually nothing like Kent does. Every now and then, he'll "just feel like" helping my mom vacuum, or he'll "want to" dust behind the TV, but most of the time, Kent and I just sit around the house distracting each other from doing homework (I think he just hates knowing that I'm way better than him at Calc). Now it's December, and I'm still baffled at why he's stuck around.
Once I reach the other side of the store where the cereal aisle is, I know I can proudly report back to Kent that I have not (yet) tripped over anything. Take that you niener wiener.
I squint over each brand; it figures that the one kind my mom wants is on the very top shelf. This is all her fault too. She gave me the short gene, and now she wants Special K. Ridiculous.
Following a sequence of embarrassing attempts at jumping, I eventually decide to scavenge for someone much taller than me who can reach the shelf for me. Which is basically anyone.
I have no idea why I'm in such a good mood today. I've been in a good mood for a while, actually. I mean, in any other circumstances, I would've just gone back and asked Kent to reach it for me, but today I feel daring, man! I will totally interact with strangers for the greater good!
Winter break is in a week and I've been wondering whether or not I should get a gift for Kent. Carlee and I usually exchange small gifts like lip gloss or cool pens. I don't have any siblings and because of my lack of close friendships, I've never really had anyone other than her and my parents to buy for. But now that I think about it, I'm actually not very good at giving gifts that aren't for my mom or dad. I can never tell what people want.
I'm humming to myself as I approach two aisles over into the pharmacy part of the store, looking for someone else to help me. It's only eleven o'clock and not many people are shopping.
Someone is at the other end of the aisle, and I call them. "Hello kind person!" The person abruptly turns around, dropping the box she was holding and scrambling to pick it up. She blanches when she sees me, and I stumble a bit as well.
"Carlee!" I smile, walking over to her. "Um… Long time no see."
"W-what are you doing here?" she stutters, holding her hands behind her back and rocking her feet.
"I'm, uh, buying cereal," I say brusquely, pointing in the general direction of the cereal aisle. "What are you doing here?"
Suddenly, Andrew appears from another aisle, carting their groceries. "Hey babe, did you get the stuff? I got the chips and dip, trash bags, and—" He stops rummaging through their items when he notices me. "Um, Carls?"
I keep looking back and forth from Carlee, to Andrew, to their shopping cart, and then to the box my best friend is hiding behind her back.
She fidgets as I stare at her and casts a helpless glance towards Andrew, who is still wearing a puzzled look on his face.
"Who's this, Carls?"
Carlee tries to avoid eye contact with me, so instead, I focus on the box she's hiding behind her back. With the way she's trying to hold it, she's crushing the packaging, and I can only make out pieces of a logo. She notices and her face turns red.
"W-what is that?" I feel oddly detached from the situation.
"Jill…" Carlee reaches over to touch my arm, but I recoil. My heart plummets down my stomach and out my butt. I've never felt so genuinely disappointed in someone before.
Finally, Carlee sighs, taking a step back from me and towards Andrew, placing the box of condoms into the cart. "Um," she begins, entwining her fingers through Andrew's. "This is Jill, babe. She goes to our school, and she's neighbors with Kent. You, uh, remember her… right?"
My jaw drops. Something warm builds in my chest, and I can almost taste the venom forming in my mouth. This anger feels good. It bubbles up and shoots through my throat. "I think the real question is do you remember, Carlee? It's not like you talk to me anymore."
Carlee's lips thin and her nose scrunches up the way it does when she disapproves of something. She used to make that face at Andrew all the time.
"Jill, stop. We don't need to do this, okay?"
I cross my arms defiantly. The hairs at the nape of my neck stand, and I take a step forward. "Do your parents know about this?"
Carlee takes another step back, leaning against her boyfriend. She furrows her eyebrows and her lips crease into a frown. "Seriously Jill, quit it. You're making me feel really uncomfortable."
"You're uncomfortable?!" And then I explode. "I haven't had a normal conversation with you in the past month! The last time I've actually spent some time with you was at your boyfriend's party, where I was uncomfortable! Where I found out you've been in some weird partnership for more than a while! When I had to start lagging behind you because you left me for a relationship I wasn't even aware of. And now you're buying condoms?! What else don't I know?!"
"Look, maybe I would've told you these things if I knew you wouldn't act this way!" she hisses. "God, you are so oblivious to everything, Jill! Quit acting like a child and grow up!"
The anger is no longer good. It wreaks havoc inside my body. "Has it occurred to you that I'm not as stupidly unaware as you think?" My fists shake from clenching too hard. "It's like I don't even know you." I advance, my heart pounding. "I know that I wouldn't have thrown out a friendship if I got a boyfriend—"
"Shut up, Jill. You don't even know what you're talking about." She makes a move to jab my chest, but I step away.
"You shut up," I say through gritted teeth. "You absolutely did throw me away. You don't even act like we're friends anymore." A few other people have noticed us fighting, but they've chosen to ignore us. Andrew, on the other hand, looks like he'd rather be castrated than stand through this any longer.
"Carls, maybe we should, uh, check out… I think you're, uh, sick," he squirms. "We can cancel the party if you want."
"You guys are throwing a party?!" I shriek, throwing up my arms. "You're buying contraception right before hosting another stupid gathering where people can infest your house a-and do gross things?! Yeah," I scoff. "That's really classy, Carlee. I applaud you."
"God, you are so freaking judgmental! Open your eyes, Jill," she snaps. "Not everyone is like you. Not everyone still has game nights with their parents. Not everyone watches children's specials every Friday. Not everyone annoyingly spits out the first thing that comes to their mind and tries too hard to act like a ten-year-old." Carlee snaps her mouth closed and I can see her chin starting to shudder. "Yes, I was your best friend. Yes, I didn't really stick behind you. But I bet you never knew that I hated being around you sometimes. It's why you have no other friends, Jill! You're annoying."
I step back, struck. As I cool off, my eyes start to water, but I blink hard and take a deep breath. "Fine. I get it," I say bitterly. "You're the ideal teenager and I'm not. Woo-hoo. But at least I know who I am and I accept it." Narrowing my eyes, I swallow the lump in my throat and clasp my hands together. "I don't have any hidden desires to go to parties, or drink, or get high. I love my parents. I focus on school. I don't like to lie or say things behind other people's backs. And I definitely know that I don't go ahead and sleep with the first guy that takes an interest to me. Especially if he's the male equivalent to a slut."
Andrew looks sort of taken aback. Of course he does; he doesn't even remember who I am.
I don't miss the glare Carlee shoots me, her eyes flashing and closing into slits. I can feel the heavy waves of hate radiating from her.
Pushing Andrew towards the checkout lines, she takes his hand in hers again and leans in closer to him, not sparing me another glance.
I stand in the middle of the store's pharmacy for a few minutes. A woman comes up to me and asks if I'm okay. Shaking my head, my eyes start to water more and my arms snake their way around my stomach. I feel like throwing up.
"Open the door, Jill! I know you're in there!"
The ladies' room consists of one toilet, one sink, a soap dispenser pump, a roll of paper towels, and a fake plant. I was supposed to meet up with Kent probably half an hour ago, but I guess I've lost track of time.
Kent keeps trying to bang his way into the room, so I sigh, dabbing my eyes with a paper towel and finally getting up from my position on the floor to open the door for him.
He's standing outside with a frown on his face, looking impatient.
"What if I was actually using the bathroom?" I say, forcing out a chuckle.
"Well you're not," he lets himself in, locking the door behind him and taking a fleeting look at me. His eyes soften. "You're crying."
Taking my own glance into the mirror, I cringe. My eyes are puffy, my nose is red, and my face is flushed. I look horrendous.
Kent crouches forward and asks softly, "Why are you sobbing in a public restroom?"
I grimace, sliding back down to the floor. "This is the girl's bathroom, Kent… You don't have the right parts to be in here." I try flattening my hair, hoping I'll look a little bit more presentable. "It's pretty exclusive, so I'm afraid you have to leave. VIPs only. Your name's not on the list and all that stuff."
He ignores me and looks skeptically at the spot that I'm sitting in. "There are billions of germs on this floor, Jill."
I snort. "I still can't wrap my head around you being a neat freak. Who would've thunk?"
Kent daintily squats down to sit next to me, and I barely notice the ends of my lips curling upwards into a small smile. "Where's our cart?"
"I left it outside," he grunts, squirming. "I didn't think it was very sanitary to bring it in here."
I nod understandingly. For a moment neither of us speak.
"I saw Carlee… and Andrew."
"Were they grocery shopping for your mother too?" Kent smiles carefully.
"No. They were buying condoms."
"She probably hates me by now…" I whisper. "Oh God. I yelled at her in front of Andrew and everything. She hates me. I told her she was being stupid, and I basically called her a W-H-O-R-E."
Kent cocks an eyebrow. "You really called her a whore?"
My eyes widen and I lurch forward to cup his mouth. "Don't say it out loud! Someone might hear!"
He swats away my hands, rolling his eyes. "I'm pretty sure saying 'W-H-O-R-E' out loud is a lot less suspicious than finding two teenagers in a bathroom together."
I shut my eyes and my lips quiver. "I screwed up so bad. She'll never talk to me again." There's a lump in my throat and I start sobbing again. "I even insulted Andrew to his face. I actually called him a man-slut. Can you believe that? I'm such an awful person!" Wailing, I reach forward and grab Kent's arms. "Punch me, Kent! Punch me in the face! RIGHT NOW."
Kent looks bewildered as I form his hands into fists and bring them up to my cheek.
"DO IT, KENT."
Pushing my hands away from him, Kent grabs onto my shoulders. "I'm NOT going to fucking punch you!"
I whimper, drawing back, and he sighs.
"Jill…" he says softly, pulling me closer. Tentatively, Kent wraps his arms around my shoulders and brings me against his chest. Instinctively, my face buries into his jacket, and I bring my own arms around his torso, sniveling against his clothes. He strokes my hair. "I'm sorry, Jill."
"You didn't do anything," I mumble, hugging him a little bit tighter. It doesn't feel like a friendly hug. It feels nice though. And warm. I can feel Kent's heartbeat quicken and I smile, wondering why.
"You're so tense," he smiles, tightening his hands around my back.
I blush, squeezing my eyes and pressing closer to him. Kent smells delicious. Like magical donuts sprayed with clean man-soap.
Kent releases a long breath, rubbing a hand down my back. "Stop crying, Jill," he says in a hushed voice.
I gulp, biting my lip thoughtfully. "You don't think I'm annoying, do you Kent?"
He lets go of me for a moment. "No."
I nod, feeling a little too relieved. "Good. That's… good."
We both sigh.
"I need to stop letting you go off on your own at grocery stores," Kent says lightly. Getting up, he pats his jeans, probably expecting heaps of dust and grime to fly off, and quickly goes for the sink to wash his hands. "You didn't get the cereal, did you?"
"Negative," I say, wiping at my face again.
After making sure I have thoroughly washed my own hands, Kent pushes me out of the bathroom.
"C'mon, your mom's probably wondering what's taking us so long," he says, taking our cart.
I follow behind him quietly, keeping my head down, when Kent sighs suddenly and stops. Placing a hand on my shoulder, he shoves me forward so that I'm standing next to him. Then, sliding his fingers down my arm, he slips his hand in mine and continues walking towards the front of the store. Just like that.
Staring at our intertwined hands, my stomach bubbles, and I cough. "Uh… You're holding my hand."
Kent raises an eyebrow. "Seems like it."
My jaw drops, and I can't stop myself from shaking. "… W-why?"
He shrugs. "I just felt like it."
"Um, okay." My face flames.
Kent clears his throat, bringing back my attention to his face and away from our fingers. "And this way, I won't lose track of you." He smiles, and I offer a small grin back, dropping my gaze quickly.
Kent must notice me making faces to myself because he squeezes my hand a little. "Hey, you alright?"
"… Yeah," I answer distractedly, still staring at mine and Kent's hands. I look away to hide the wide smile tugging at my lips. Carlee and Andrew were holding hands when they left the store. They were holding hands a lot. They were even holding hands while she and I were fighting.
But I remember that Kent and I aren't like them. We're friends.
"K-Kent! What's happenin', yo?" I mentally punch myself in the stomach.
"Hey," he waves back, taking a seat next to me.
"So, um," I trail, trying to use my words. "What brings you to this nape of the woods?"
Kent looks amused. "My Calc class is taking a test this period, so Mrs. Fowler wants us to eat during this lunch shift instead of third."
"Cool, cool." I nod. "Well, uh, welcome to the party. Please make yourself at home." I make a weak gesture to the empty lunch table. "As you can see… It's sort of crowded here due to my many admirers and friends, but you may eat wherever you like." I try chuckling, but it trails off and sounds awkward.
Shaking his head, Kent brings out a paper bagged lunch from his backpack.
"A-and don't feel like you're obligated to sit with me, okay? You can totally sit with Andrew if you want…"
Taking a bite out of his sandwich, Kent offers me a smile. "This is fine, Jill."
My stomach flips, and I grin widely. "Okay!" I squeal delightedly, getting up from my seat. "Then you may obviously stay here since you'd like to, and, um, I'll go get a carton of milk!"
Kent takes a sip of his Gatorade and nods. "Sure."
I sort of want to ask him to come with me, but that seems pathetic. Smiling at Kent, I offer him a mock salute and make my way to the other side of the cafeteria where I fall into the lunch line.
I'm humming to myself when someone takes their place behind me. Turning around, my face falls.
She nods, crossing her arms over her chest. "Jill."
"Um…" I scratch the back of my neck, feeling awkward. We used to be such good friends. Now what? "I'm sorry about the other day," I say, inadvertently rushing my words. "I didn't mean to sound so harsh… a-and I never meant to… to…"
Carlee waves a hand, cutting me off. "It doesn't matter anymore. I don't care." She turns away from me, pursing her lips. "Are you and Kent going out?" she asks almost immediately.
My face flushes, and I stammer, "Um… N-no, we're just… uh, friends."
"Well, you're not his type anyways," she snaps.
Whoa. Um. "What?"
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Jill," Carlee takes a step towards me, lifting her head up high. "Kent's exactly like Andrew. It's why they're best friends. They both go for the sociable, girly types. You have no chance."
I slump, dully noting my heart sinking its way down into my stomach. "I-I never said that I wanted—"
"Whatever." Licking her lips, she takes another step forward, cutting me in line, and grabs a carton of strawberry milk.
I sigh, grabbing my own milk and muttering to myself. "Don't you think I already knew that?"
"Here, hold my purse, please."
Kent raises his eyebrows, looking at the object in question. "And why exactly are you lugging around a huge handbag?"
"I'm, uh, trying to appear older," I say offhandedly. "And I thought it would match my shoes."
Kent frowns, and makes no move to take my purse. "You're frightening me."
I release an exaggerated sigh, rolling my eyes. "Please hold it?"
"Just bring it in the bathroom with you."
Looking over my shoulder, I stare almost longingly at the entrance to the restrooms. We've been Christmas shopping for hours, and I just drank an entire slushie so I need to go. "But it's heavy," I whine, jutting out my lip.
Ignoring him, I relentlessly push my purse against his chest, making sure he doesn't drop it. It's my mom's.
"Lose the bag, alright?" Kent groans, planting himself in the nearest bench. "You don't need it."
I already know this. There's barely anything in it other than my wallet and my cell phone, all of which I know could easily fit in my pockets.
Kent's taken to observing my mother's purse, making a disgusted face. He zips open the main compartment and mutters to himself about liabilities and female accessories.
My heart swells, and I have to fight the urge to run up to him and yell out 'high five!' He's such a nice lad.
Shaking my head, I smile, noticing how funny Kent looks with a woman's handbag in his lap.
"I thought you had to pee," he says smoothly, motioning towards the ladies' room.
Winking at him, I shoot him a thumbs up and skip towards the entrance.
"And you better come out this time, Jill!"
When I return from the restroom, Kent chucks my mom's purse at me and takes my hand, squirting a generous amount of hand sanitizer on my palms.
I give him a pointed look.
"You can never be too sure."
"Your mom texted me." He turns and makes a face. "I'm not quite sure how she got my number, but she invited me over for dinner with your family."
I nod. "Okey pokey."
The mall is full because of the holidays. It's a huge living space for germs and diseases and stressed people, but I love the mall.
Swinging my arms around, my hand accidentally whacks Kent in the stomach and I shoot him an apologetic look.
He shrugs, taking my arm and looping it around his. He's been doing this quite frequently. Not that I mind. I'm just not used to it, and it confuses me a bit. That's all.
"So..." he starts, "Where to?"
Kent has to lean over to talk to me because of the amount of noisy people. His breath tickles my ear, and I shiver.
"Um... Let's, uh, go to that store... Over there." I point towards a general direction, ignoring Kent's stare.
"Alright. That store it is."
Kent gives me his jacket to wear because he insists that I've looked cold all day. So now I'm waiting for him outside of the men's dressing room and sniffing every crevice of his clothing.
God, he smells so delicious.
We're both practically done shopping for presents, so now Kent's just trying on a pair of jeans he wants to buy for his brother because apparently him and his older brother have the same size butt.
I had actually suggested for him to try them on, but it's only because standing and shopping and rummaging and standing and generally looking at things for many, many hours exhausts my body.
"Okay Jill, so do you think these ones will look better on Jeff? Or the ones I just tried on?" Kent comes out of his dressing room a few moments later, wearing pants that look exactly like the ones from before. "Why are you covering your head with my jacket?"
I take one last deep breath through my nose before hurriedly removing Kent's coat from my face. I clear my throat. "What are you talking about?"
"Were you just inhaling my jacket?"
"Sure." Kent rolls his eyes, but he doesn't look very bothered about it. "Anyway. Pants."
"Oh. Yeah." I nod, tenderly smoothing out the wrinkles on his jacket. "Those looks nice."
His gaze drops, and he starts fiddling with one of the belt loops. "But do these look better?"
I'm not sure why, but I've been very distracted lately. Focusing on Kent's lower half, I smile at him and make a hand gesture so that he can twirl around. He scoffs mockingly in my direction, but does so anyway so that I can get a good view of his backside.
Okay, I lied. I know exactly why I've been distracted lately.
"Well, it makes your butt look cute."
Kent spins around promptly and gives me a look. "What?"
My face turns red, and I'm more than slightly horrified with myself. I need to learn how to censor my thoughts. "W-what I mean is... uh, if Jeff is the, uh, same size as you... then I-I'm sure he would enjoy those pants... since they accentuate your assets..." My face heats up more when I realize the double entendre. "So those will obviously look nice on him as well," I finish quickly.
"Really?" Kent says, his voice amused.
"Yeah." I cough. "Buy those. I mean, you're certainly working in your pheromones today. I applaud you."
He laughs, and my heart quickens. "Alright, Jill. I'll take your word for it." Kent closes the dressing room door, and I can hear a zipper unzipping and fabric shuffling.
"After this," he calls out from behind the door, "We can check out and head home."
"So for now, you can resume smelling my clothes."
I blush more.
We leave the mall not long after, heading towards my mom's Honda which we borrowed for the day.
After stuffing our bags in the back, I shuffle into the passenger seat. "That was fun, wasn't it?"
Kent buckles his seat belt and starts the car. "Yup. Super fun."
I smile at him, and then there's a pleasant silence.
Drawing invisible patterns on the car interior, I raise my head. "Do you think you're ever going to get a car, Kent?"
He raises his eyebrows. "Um... Yeah. For Christmas my parents are offering to pay for half of this used Mitsubishi I've been looking at. Why?"
I stuff my hands into the pockets of his jacket. "No reason. I've just been thinking. You always have to borrow everyone's cars. But I'm glad you're getting one soon." He nods, keeping his eyes on the road. "I was just thinking about things you'd like for the holidays, but since I obviously can't afford a car, I got you something else instead."
The car comes to sudden stop. "Wait, what?" Kent says, something flashing in his eyes.
"While you were picking out pants, I stopped by some place and got you something," I say, confused. "I figure I can shove it in a bag real quick so that you can open it after dinner at my house, since I know you won't be home for most of the break."
"You... got me... something?" he says slowly. We reach another stop sign and I notice his eyes keep flickering back to the rear view mirror where he can still see a part of the mall.
"Yeah. You're my best friend..." I say quietly. I think this is the first time I've actually admitted that. "I wanted to give you a present. Is that wrong?"
"No, no," Kent looks flustered. And I'm somewhat enjoying it. "That's great..."
"I'm gonna have to stop at my house before dinner though," he says hurriedly.
"That's fine." I grin. "You can just drop me off at home, and I'll see you in a bit."
After dinner with my parents, Kent and I go down to the basement to exchange presents.
"I don't think I've ever seen you go down here," Kent says offhandedly, taking a seat on the couch. "Didn't you say that you were afraid of basements?" I mentioned this precisely once to Kent at Andrew's house party.
I ignore the tingly sensation that runs through me and sit down on the other side of the couch. "I find that murderers and rapists and other mean people often follow the trend of killing their victims in basements."
"So I just don't like basements, or the dark, or dark basements." I say this quite cheerily and Kent lifts an eyebrow, amused.
"Because mean people like basements and the dark?"
"Sure they do," I say. "So I make sure I don't go down any basements alone or in a basement full of strangers. It makes sense, right?"
"Of course." Kent nods. "And you're only here because you obviously have me to fend off any mean people that happen to have hidden in the dark corners of your basement."
"Sounds right," I say. "That, and my mom loves you enough to leave you alone with me."
"It's a perk of being so charming," Kent says haughtily.
I laugh. "Yes. Charming enough to have middle-aged Asian women constantly drawn to you and praying for you to impregnate their daughters."
"Your mom wants me to impregnate you?"
I pause. "Yes," I answer honestly. "She thinks you're dreamy and has deemed you well equipped for the job."
Kent laughs. "Well that's true. I think I can be pretty sufficient in that area of service."
My face flushes. "I don't know, if you really want to develop any prostitutional purposes, don't expect me to approve."
"Sure, sure," Kent chuckles.
I distract myself by petting the carpet with my feet. It's soft and clean because neither my parents nor I spend time in the basement unless we have lots of guests over. That, and Kent just likes to vacuum.
"Having fun there?"
"Yes," I say. "Like puppies, carpets enjoy being petted to show affection. The only difference is that carpets are more partial to feet because no one really walks on their hands anymore."
"Interesting..." Kent says dryly. "C'mere." He pats the empty seat next to him. "I want to see this fantastic gift you've bought me."
I smile, scooting over. We left our gifts on the coffee table, so I make a grab for my gift for Kent, and Kent takes his.
"You first," I say.
He tosses me a shiny gift bag with no tissue paper in it. "Sorry for the terrible wrapping job. I told you I had to stop by my house before dinner."
I dismiss him, waving a hand.
Inside is a small green puppy with buttons for eyes and a tiny pink tongue sticking out of its mouth. "Aw," I coo.
Kent scratches the back of his neck. "Look, I know it doesn't seem like a really thoughtful gift, but I saw it and—"
"Ah, ah, ah," I wave a finger at him, hugging the toy. "None of that self deprecating nonsense. It doesn't suit anyone."
He rolls his eyes. "Seriously though. I sort of forgot to get one for you... I didn't know you bought me something, and I spent most of my money on other people's gifts so I had to improvise."
"It's okay," I say. "This is really nice. You didn't even have to get me a present."
"Whatever. As long as you like it."
I smile at him and consider giving him a hug, but I pat his head instead.
Kent clears his throat. "I also took the time to soak it in my soap since you like smelling me so much." He pokes my nose playfully. "It's a good thing it's tiny or else I would've had to wait hours for it to dry."
I pause a beat and bring it up to my nose, taking a whiff. "It does smell like you!"
He laughs. "I thought about rubbing our laundry detergent on it and spraying it with cologne too, but I figure that would have been a little too much."
"You're hilarious," I say dryly.
I sniff the puppy's head again, squealing on the inside. "I love it. Thank you. Do you think the scent will last forever?"
"Don't be a creep, Jill." Kent leans back on the couch and stretches his arms. "I suppose it's your turn now."
I nod, handing him my present.
He tears into it quickly, and his face brightens when he sees the cover. "Clean Like a Man: Housekeeping for Men and Why it's Good for You," he reads, laughing. "This is great."
"I'm glad you like it," I say, grinning. "If you flip through the first few pages, you can read 'The Ten Com-MAN-dments'. I think number seven might talk about having reasonable standards for cleanliness... I've noticed ever since you started helping around my house, you've begun to develop, er, issues."
Kent chuckles, looking through the book. "Now I feel bad for giving you a stuffed animal that smells like me."
"No!" I say, almost shouting. "I love it! More than you will ever know, I swear!" For good measure, I take a long whiff of the small toy's fur. He really does smell divine. And I'm not just talking about the stuffed dog, now.
"Thank you," Kent says genuinely.
For the next hour and a half, Kent and I read through Clean Like a Man and I make my new green puppy lick Kent's face off. When we both agree that it's getting late, I walk him outside.
My parents wave goodbye, and my mom even makes the move to kiss his cheek. For a moment, I think I see Kent blush. Then both my parents make "See you next year!" jokes and laugh at their own humor.
I lead Kent outside.
"Your parents are great," he says.
"Thanks," I say.
He shoves his hands in his pockets and smiles. "Merry Christmas, Jill."
"And Happy New Year's," I say, biting my lip. "I'm going to miss you over the break."
Kent looks thoughtful. He reaches over and touches my cheek, and I notice our sudden close proximity. He's looking at me different. Harder and maybe more clearly.
Leaning even more forward so that his forehead is almost touching mine, his thumb strokes the corner of my lip and my body tenses. Kent stiffens immediately and pulls his hand away.
"Um, have fun with your cousins in California," I say, gingerly taking a step backward. "Don't get too crazy now."
Kent has already recovered from a few moment ago. Rolling his eyes, he scoffs,
He takes a step down the stairs that lead up to my porch and I think he's finally going to leave. I wave goodbye, but he just stands there, a step away from me with the same look he had a few moments ago.
I send him a bemused expression, and I'm about to tell him off for standing on other people's steps for no reason when he leans forward and sneaks a kiss onto my cheek.
"I'll see you later, Jill."
When Kent left for California, I didn't really realize that I wouldn't see him until next year.
The holidays go by quickly. I receive nice things from my parents and my parents receive matching sweaters from me. Which are also nice, in my opinion.
I don't get any texts or calls or emails from Kent. To make myself feel better, I figure it's because of the time difference. I mean, three hours is a long time. I could be getting ready for bed and Kent could just be eating dinner. It's crazy.
But when Kent comes back after New Year's with a week left of break, I'm not so
For most of the first week of January, I watch Kent use his new Mitsubishi. It's blue. He likes blue.
He's probably driving to Andrew's house or something. I've been hogging a lot of his free time. He deserves to hang out with his other friends. They probably miss him too.
The day before we go back to school, I'm miserable.
"Jilly-Bean! Peter! LOOK! I'm in the zone! Look at my knitting skills! Oh my God, I rock!" Mama squeals from the living room couch. Papa's watching a documentary on donuts on Food Network, and I'm staring outside.
"Kent got a car for Christmas," I say casually. I can see it in the driveway. Kent's standing outside. Now he's getting in the front seat. Now he's backing up. And now he's driving away.
"Whoa," my mom says, nodding.
"He paid for half of it though," I tell them. "He's noble like that."
God, I miss Kent. I meeeees him.
"Why don't you go talk to him, dear?" Mama asks. My dad's not even paying attention.
"Because he's been hanging out with his other friends for a while," I answer. "And I don't think they like me."
"And maybe he hasn't said hi to me because he wants some alone time with his bros?"
My mom stops knitting and frowns at me. "Jilly-Bean, Kent is an attractive heterosexual boy. More attractive than most of your classmates and most likely his other friends. He's nice, knows how to clean and cook, and is blessed with other flower-boy qualities. Like a pretty face. Isn't that right, dear?"
My father grunts from his seat on the recliner.
"In situations like these, Jilly-Bean, being selfish is very appropriate. I'm assuming these friends that Kent has been 'hanging out' with are male, unlike you. So until you are in a satisfying relationship with that boy, you must bare all your feminine qualities out and charm the pants off of Kent!"
Papa's attention rips away from the TV screen. "What, now?"
"Modestly, dear," Mama adds, giving my father an reassuring smile. "Bare your female-ness modestly. In an honorable way."
"What do you think, dear?"
Papa makes another grunting noise, crossing his arms over his chest and fixing his eyes back onto the TV. "As long as there's no hardcore canoodling involved, I approve. No daughter of mine will resort to shameful activities with a boy."
"Okay," I repeat.
"And none of that in public either!" he says. "I've seen bits and pieces of reality TV, Jill. And the stuff aired on television these day... It'll melt your eyeballs, I tell you."
He points at me. "Remember the morals we've built on you and keep watching cartoons."
"Good," he says, leaning back in his chair. "I'm done talking now. Shh."
Someone keeps calling my cellphone. And according to the Internet, the area code is from Texas.
I DON'T KNOW ANYONE FROM TEXAS.
They've been calling almost five times every day for the past few days. Why won't they stop?
My phone rings again when I'm about to go to bed. After the fourth ring, I answer.
"Ello. My name eess Jon. I am calling to inform you dat we have con-ferrmed your loan for—"
"Look, Jon," I sigh. "I'm really glad that you're concerned enough to call me in the middle of the night. But like I said before, I don't even know how to drive yet, and my parents have no plans in buying me an automobile anytime soon. So I'd really like to go to sleep because I have school in the morning, is that okay?"
"Ah… Ello. My name eess Jon—"
"Thanks Jon. I really appreciate it."
Jon calls two more times from his office in Texas or something.
At around four a.m., I hear my phone ring for the third time and I violently jerk awake.
"Jon," I hiss into the speaker of my phone. "IT IS FLIPPING FOUR IN THE MORNING WHERE I LIVE. AND IT WOULD BE AWESOME IF—"
"Who's Jon?" A pause. "Wait, why are you yelling?"
I choke. I know that voice and it definitely isn't Jon. "Um... wrong number." And then I hang up.
I couldn't fall back asleep last night, which sucks because for the entire day at school my brain has refused to absorb any new material.
At lunch I sit alone again, and by the end of the day, I feel even more miserable than before.
I squeak, accidentally hitting myself with my locker door.
Kent frowns, crossing his arms. "Why did you hang up on me last night?"
"Kent! You just squeezed the jelly out of my donut!" I heave, shutting my locker.
"Why were you calling me before dawn because let me tell you—"
"I couldn't go to sleep so I thought I would call—"
"I mean, my parents were asleep, and I desperately wanted to be asleep. So I ended up being rash and started to say some mean things to Jon—"
"Who the hell is Jon—?"
"But it's okay because it turns out you were Jon, so it doesn't even matter anymore. I mean, I was hissing. Which is like whisper-shouting and—Oh." I pause. "Sorry, I forgot."
"I forgot to bare my feminine qualities."
"What are you talking about?"
"It was a momentary lapse of judgment on my part, but it was only because you scared me, and I lost the sense in my pants."
I stop, taking a breath. "Yeah?"
"Are you okay?"
"Good... That's good." I sigh, bringing up my fingers to rub my temples. All of my mom's advice on modest-but-sensual flirting from yesterday is making my head hurt.
I'm sure all of that can wait till tomorrow.
Flashing Kent a smile, I shoot him a mock salute and pivot on my heel. "Well bye!"
"Hey! Jill, wait!"
I try speed walking away, but Kent grabs onto my wrist before I can make a leap out the front door. I inwardly groan, "Kent, can we do this later?"
"Are you mad at me?" he asks blatantly.
"What?" I sputter. "No. Are you mad at me?"
"No." Kent looks pensive, scratching the back of his head.
"Awesome," I say wryly. "But I have to go. My mom's picking me up today."
"No she's not," Kent argues.
"What do you mean she's not?"
"I called your mom and told her I'm taking you home," he says, reaching into his pants pocket and jingling his car keys in my face. "I have a car now, remember?"
"Let's go," Kent says. He tugs on my wrist, and I grudgingly follow. "Why are you being so difficult?"
"Why are you being so pushy?"
"I'm not pushing you," he retorts. "I'm pulling. It's a completely different concept."
When we reach his car, I make a remark about how tidy it is, but Kent either doesn't hear or ignores me.
I toss my school bag in the back seat with his, and Kent starts the car without speaking. Backing out, neither of us make a move for the radio, and we sit in silence for most of the car ride.
"I've missed you," I say finally, "I haven't seen you in a while."
"I called you last night," he says.
"We didn't really talk though," I whisper tiredly.
"That's because you hung up on me."
"You could've come over anytime," I say. "You know my parents wouldn't have minded since they like you so much..."
Kent frowns, looking irritated. "Did you ever think of walking two houses down the street and visiting me for once?"
I bite my lip. "I didn't think you wanted to see me."
"Why?" he asks, almost sharply.
"I just figured you've been busy. Weren't you hanging out with your other friends?"
Kent's gaze on the road hardens, and he doesn't answer.
For another five minutes, I realize we aren't going in the direction of our neighborhood.
"Where are we going?"
"To the park," he answers quickly. "There's a hot chocolate stand somewhere here. Are you hungry?"
I shake my head. "I'm fine."
When we arrive at the park, Kent hurries out of the car and opens my door for me. I give him a funny look, but I thank him anyway.
He shrugs casually and takes my hand. We both walk aimlessly around the park, following the sidewalk and stopping once for hot chocolate.
Kent seems distracted as I ask him questions about his trip. He continues to give me one-worded answers, and I keep pausing, expecting him to elaborate.
By the time we walk the entire perimeter of the park, I've had enough of pouty Kent. "Are you okay?"
He looks up, staring at me for a moment. "Probably not."
"Do you want me to... do something?" I ask lamely.
Kent looks at me thoughtfully, then says, "Yes. But I'm not sure how willing you'd be."
"Never mind," he sighs, tightening his grip on my hand. "I lied. I think I'm angry."
"At me?" I ask.
"Maybe," he says.
"Okay," I say unintelligently. We start another lap around the park, and I glance at the outdoor ice skating rink across the street. "Do you want to go ice skating?"
I want to object, but I dismiss the idea. "We could go inside that toy shop over there."
"I don't feel like it."
"Do you want to—?"
"What's wrong with you today?" I ask, losing my patience. "Why are you so cranky all of a sudden? I just wanted to go home after school. If you don't want to do anything, you didn't have to drag me to the park."
Kent looks like he's trying to comprehend what I just said. His grip on my hand tightens again, and he curses under his breath. "Shit."
"Language," I warn him.
He tilts his head towards me, something glinting in his eyes, and sighs tiredly. "I'm just really pissed off right now, alright?"
"Do you want to tell me why? You were fine before," I say, exasperated.
Kent groans, running a hand through his hair. "Whatever. Do you want to go home? Because I don't really feel up to this anymore."
"Why? So you can burn off all your random anger by vacuuming your house to a clean death? Or would you rather clean mine? It's gotten pretty dirty since you left."
He narrows his eyes into slits. "Are you mocking me?"
"Are you mocking me?" I repeat in a high pitched voice.
"I don't appreciate your tactless humor at such an inappropriate moment," Kent says icily.
"What's so inappropriate about this moment?" I challenge.
Kent opens and closes his mouth, looking like he's concentrating on something hard, before exclaiming loudly, groaning, "Goddamn it! You are so annoying sometimes!"
"Well that's awesome isn't it?" I say sardonically, hurt. "You think I'm annoying. Carlee thinks I'm annoying—"
"Who gives a fuck about what Carlee thinks?!" he growls. Kent clenches his jaw, and his eyes turn cold. "I'm sorry," he grumbles.
I hesitate, biting my lip. "You don't have—"
"Stop. I'm sorry and I mean it," Kent says huskily. He takes a step towards me, holding his gaze and reaching for my hand again. "I like that you're annoying sometimes. I like that about you. I like a lot of things about you. So don't you dare compare me to Carlee because I would never throw you out like that."
"Okay," I whisper.
"You just don't get it," he exhales.
Putting a foot down, I let go of his hand and cross my arms over my chest. "Then why don't you tell me instead of being all moody, hm?"
Kent scowls. "Fine. Fine. You know what? I will. I don't get you sometimes," he makes a motion to jab at my shoulder, but he stops himself and brings his arms to his sides. "Or I don't get me... I don't even know anymore," he groans. "You're terrible with people. I don't even understand how one person could have such horrible social skills. Did your parents raise you in a dark box—?"
"No. I told you I don't like the dark because—"
"Be quiet, Jill. Please. Just a sec, okay?" he says, sobering for a moment before a new determination flashes in his eyes. "This is just like you. Even though you tense up with other people, sometimes you never stop talking, but you're somehow still awkward and shy—"
"I know that, but I—"
"What did I just nicely ask you to do, Jill—?"
"You told me to—"
"It was a rhetorical question!" he says sharply, irritated. "I... you... I don't even know what I was talking about anymore!"
"You were saying that—" I stop, noticing the glare Kent is giving me. "Sorry, sorry. I can't help it."
"Fuck it," he says under his breath. I shoot him a pointed look, and he rolls his eyes. "Stop swearing. I know." Kent takes another long breath. "What I think I'm trying to say is... You're great, Jill." He pauses, brown eyes softening. "You're fun to be around, and I like being your best friend. But I always feel really pissed off whenever I see you sitting alone at lunch because you're fun and you're beautiful, and it's like no one else sees that."
"I'm trying to make a freaking soliloquy here, and you're ruining it for me!"
"Sorry," I say again.
Kent exhales. His gaze drops, and he looks distracted. Cautiously, he looks back up and tries to reach for my arm, but my body stiffens, and he notices again.
"And that. What is that?" he says accusingly. "You always tense up when I'm about to touch you. I mean, you were fucking appalled when I held your hand for the first time."
I look up and exhale. "Kent... it's not..." I sigh again, frustrated. "You're my best friend not just by flipping default, but you really are the best friend I've ever had. I realized I liked spending my time with you more than I ever liked spending it with Carlee. You may be my best friend, but I never knew if I was yours. I thought I liked you more than you liked me." I finish slowly, looking back up at him.
Kent stares at me, clenching his jaw and hissing through gritted teeth, "You... Are you stupid?!"
"I'm always the one going to your house," he bristles. "I always have to literally take your hand and put it in mine. I tried kissing you the night before I left for California and you rejected me. I actually asked Andrew—of all people—for advice and after he told me to leave you alone for a while, I fucking followed it. And after nearly a month of not talking to you, I was the one that broke and called you last night. So quit with the bullshit and tell me Jill," Kent takes another step forward, grabbing onto my shoulders and bending over to finish in a throaty voice, "Who thought that the other person didn't like them as much?"
I hold my breath. My mouth is dry and Kent's staring at me like he's dissecting my soul. "Wait," I say slowly, "You were playing hard to get over the break?"
"Alright, fuck this," Kent says, almost snarling. "I'm going to kiss you, and if you don't want me to, you better tell me now or I'm going to be really pissed off later…"
"But... I don't understand—" My eyes keep flickering onto Kent's mouth, and suddenly, I'm saying, "Okay!"
Kent blinks, surprised, before an impish smile stretches across his face. "Did you just say yes, Jill?"
I don't have much of a chance to say anything else before Kent wraps one arm around my waist and tangles the other into my hair, and then he's kissing me, hard.
My eyes shut on their own, and I involuntarily make a gasping sound. Then, as if I've been doing this all my life, my arms snake loosely around his neck, and I find myself straining up towards him on my tiptoes while Kent rests his hands comfortably around my waist and pulls me flush against his chest.
He tastes like mint and hot chocolate, and at that moment, I conclude that things that smell nice should equally taste as nice. What a good job he's doing by abiding by that rule.
Kent smiles against my lips, and this whole "your body is against mine" concept is making me dizzy.
When he finally pulls back, Kent holds onto my arms, searching my eyes. Then he grins at me, looking triumphant. A few people stop to smirk knowingly in our direction. I mean, we are in an interesting position against a tree.
He sneaks a peck onto my forehead as I stare down at my shoes. He places his thumb below my chin, tilting it upwards and forcing me to look at him.
I've never kissed anyone before Kent. But now that he just planted one on me—boom. I'm no longer a lip virgin.
Kent looks down at me, his eyes burning mine
"Shoot," I blurt, my face flushed and my lips swollen.
"What is it?" Kent asks softly, still smiling.
"I promised my dad that I wouldn't canoodle with you in public," I state frankly. "And we're in a park."
"Well that's a bit too late now, isn't it?"
"I suppose," I say, biting my lip. "So are there any other formalities that go along with this? I'm not familiar." Kent looks confused. "Y'know, is there anything else left to say? Do we go into the whole 'I like you and—I'm assuming—you like me' spiel?"
"No, no. I think everything's pretty clear now."
"Good. Because I have a lot of homework."
Kent smirks, and I take his hand this time. "Do you really?"
"Yup. I don't know how I'm going to do it all either, after all of this," I say casually as we start following the sidewalk again. "And if Jon—"
"Who the hell is Jon?"
"He's a telemarketer from Texas," I answer simply. "And if he keeps calling tonight, I'll be super distracted, y'know? Like, I'll be trying to finish Calculus homework and all I'll be thinking about is how much I rock at Calc and how much you rock at Calc—but just not as much as me." Kent rolls his eyes. "And then I'll think about how I'm only friends with you because Andrew crashed into my dad's car, and how I was awkward, but you fought through. And now we're not even just friends-friends. We're like—"
"Hey, Jill." I don't realize Kent has stopped walking until I'm an arm's length away from him.
He flashes me another smile, and my heart cries from experiencing too much happiness all at once.
He tugs my arm so that I stumble towards him until I crash into his chest. "You can stop talking now," he drawls.
Feeling rebellious, I straighten my back and flutter my eyelashes. Flirting and baring my feminine qualities are new to me, but I like it. "Why?"
"Because you like me, so my very voice will woo you to follow my every command."
Kent cuts me off, covering my mouth with his own, then pulling away shortly after.
"Oh," I crinkle my nose. "I see how it is."
"Yup." He grins cheekily. "Which is why—"
Bunching up his shirt, I pull his head downwards, kissing him on the corner of his lips.
I smirk. "It seems like this is a mutual aspect of this relationship."
Kent laughs. "Fair enough." Then he bends his neck, kissing me again and again.
And right there, in a public place, I got very fancy with my only friend, and yes, if he were to witness it, my father's eyeballs would have most certainly melted.
AN: Kudos on reaching the end (Seriously). Thanks so much to my darling beta reader, Sammy. I love you dearly. Please review and tell me what you liked
Copyright © 2012 ~ Miss Haps