The short, tempered raps of the car's horn from outside pull me out of my daze, and so the rush begins - grabbing around wildly for accessories, light splatter of gel for my lips because they're dry as hell, shepherding the dog outside, quick run of a brush through my hair, shoes, keys, wallet (just in case I need ID, you never know) - and then I'm out of the house.
All of half a minute has elapsed.
"What took you so long?" Amelia is wearing a creme pullover on top of a sheer fuchsia nightmare of a dress that almost makes me want to crawl under a desk and have a seizure. She's been drumming her nails on the dashboard the whole time, as if the only way I could not have inconvenienced her would have been to teleport into the passenger seat the moment she pulled in.
"I was..." tantalizingly close to climax "... having a shower." She appears to accept this excuse and starts the engine. "How long are we staying?"
"Two hours, three, tops." She stops at a red and adjusts her bangs. "Mum says that if I don't put some work into my English final she's going to find a new place to hide the key to the liquor cabinet."
Amelia's parents are ridiculous, as I've told her on numerous occasions, and I reiterate that now.
"Yeah, but at least they're still sleeping together."
She knows, as always, that that will shut me up.
Realizing she's hit a sore spot (a minor miracle), she hastily changes the subject. "Do you think he'll be there?"
I pretend not to know what she's talking about, scoff, and lean closer into the window.
"Seriously, though, he might."
"He won't," I bite, the words sharp and staccato like plucking strings on a violin. "He knows I'll be there."
"It's not like he's avoiding you," she says reasonably.
"It's not so much avoiding as..." I pause here, trying to adjust that awful, awful word. "He's trying not to be in the same place as me so as not to make me uncomfortable, I guess."
Amelia clucks her throat, in what I think might be an approximation of sympathy. "Remind me again how those two are different?"
It's a moot point now, as we're pulling into the driveway of our destination. The blaring music is probably audible from every spot within a radius of 100m, and as Amelia and I step out of the car, we both look at each other and shudder. "This is going to be awful, isn't it?" she asks me softly, sadly.
"They all are, honey." I say back, throwing an arm around her shoulders. "They all are."
We've only been here ten minutes and Amelia's already let herself be dragged off by a ruffian from one of the sports teams (she of course doesn't ask my permission like a decent friend would, but I adjust my intake of booze all the same). I'm standing in a corner, probably looking like a despondent pine tree (green was all I could find), when a vision in red takes pity on me and slides up to my side, giving me a tap on the shoulder with hers.
I know we have Drama together, I'm almost certain, but I don't make the first move - it would be dipping my toes into unchartered waters that I'm not particularly sure I'm comfortable in. She takes a sip of whatever it is she's drinking and then turns to me, half smiling. "Enjoying yourself?"
I nod slightly, almost imperceptibly, but I'm fairly confident she caught it, so I don't do it again. She can see by my facial expression that I've told her a lie, though, so she changes tack.
"Rehearsed your performance?"
"A little," I said timidly.
She stares off a tad awkwardly. "You remember my name, right?"
I consider lying for a moment. "No." It's not apologetic, or conceding - it's just a straightforward no.
She sighs. "Not many people do."
I look at her sympathetically, tilting my head a little, willing her to go on.
She extends a hand. "It's -"
"Daniella!" he's burly and he has a fair bit of stubble on his chin. I'm finding myself hard pressed not to just slip away, but the painful gossip in me just stays rooted to the spot.
"What do you want, Verne?" Probably not his real name that she spits out so venomously, but still, a moniker none the less. She seems angry, and I'm dying to see what happens next. This? This is real teenage drama. Much better than the shit I call interesting.
Burly Verne glares a little, looking at me a little suspiciously. "Not here," he grunts out through gritted teeth. "Not here."
She shakes her head, slightly back and forth, and here eyes widen just a fraction. "Anything you have to say to me can be said right out here and then you can leave me alone." She seems afraid of him, and yet strengthened by the fact that she's got a fair few witnesses around. I'm not sure what booze has to do with this cocktail of emotions, but I'm sure its hand is meddled in there somewhere.
"I want you back, D, on my terms."
She scoffs. "Not gonna happen."
"Why the fuck do you make this hard for me? Think it's fucking sexy playing hard to get? It's not. It's frustrating, and it's shit." He looks sad and angry, but at the same time genuine, like he doesn't know how to win her back without spitting curses at her.
Daniella straightens and sets her jaw. "Chloe stopped giving you head, has she?" She laughs. "That's all you want. Sex, drugs and rock and roll." She takes a step closer. "You want me back, you're gonna have to earn it."
"All I want's sex? Don't pretend I was your first and don't pretend before me your wide set vagina wasn't the talk of the town." It wasn't, really, but I guess maybe we're rotating in different little towns.
Almost willing him to die right in front of her with her gaze, Daniella sets her eyes on Verne one more time before turning to walk away. She stops before he can grab her wrist like he was reaching out to do, and turns around. "You're right, Verne. I was experienced." She crosses her arms over her chest and takes a step backwards. "Experienced enough to know that I could do a lot..." she pauses for effect, taking a languished glance at his crotch. "better." Definitely a drama student.
Daniella turns on her heel again and Verne doesn't reach for her this time, looking slightly embarrassed. He fixes me a look again, almost as if to say "what you lookin' at, huh?" until all of a sudden a completely different look washes over his face - recognition. His face is telling me that he's just realised that I exist, who I am, and why he needed to remember that fact exactly. He steps back slowly and walks away.
I feel a chill, but I suppose that's my fault alone for not having the foresight to bring a jacket. The place is buzzing with people, so I'd naturally assumed that would have been enough insulation for my tiny frame, but obviously that wasn't the case. I shiver a little, and make the decision to fill my stomach with some food before I collapse.
I grab some gummies, chips, a drink, and settle for leaning against the wall. The air of conversation and friendliness around me is soothing, and I simply lean against the wall, relaxing. When the food's been exhausted I place my plate and cup down on a table, and just rest my head against the wall, studying the detail of the ceiling.
I'm not even aware I've started to sing when the words softly drift from my parted lips.
I've flown around the world in a plane
I've settled revolutions in Spain
The North Pole I have charted
But can't get started with you
A deeper voice compliments mine for a moment, but I don't notice it until the verse ends.
Around the golf course I'm under par
And all the movies want me to star
I've got a house, a show place
But I get no place with you
Shaking my head, I turn to face the vocal intruder, and open my mouth to begin doing any one of a number of things: compliment his pitch and tone, his ability to harmonise - but the words simply fall flat in my throat like a lump when I take in the contours of his face. One that I've only known once before and never since.
My mouth stays open so I simply stand there, stunned.
"Ella Fitzgerald," he says as I turn back to the wall, my eyes still wide but my mouth less ajar.
It takes me a moment to process what he's said, before I give a slight oh, but regain my composure. "The one and only."
He narrows his eyes, the way he always would before he told a joke. "Now that one's Adele."
I scoff and roll my eyes. "We're feeling particularly jocular tonight, aren't we?"
He nods. "I guess I just wanted to lighten the mood."
"No need," I respond cooly, because there isn't.
This time it's his turn to scoff. "I think we both know that there is, a very pressing need."
I refuse to meet his eyes though he's turned now to look at me, and still stare out into the throng of partygoers, and shake my head. "What's done is done."
He leans in conspiratorially, as though he doesn't want anyone to know what he's about to say. "You don't have to be ashamed."
I laugh at this drily, and turn my head away from his forceful eyes, his wonderful, forceful eyes. "There isn't much I don't have to be ashamed of."
He turns me softly, as though he's hesitant to reach out. This time I've no choice but to meet his eyes. "You can be ashamed of whatever you want, as long as you promise me that whatever you want isn't this."
"I can't do that," I say, almost breathlessly. Curse him and curse those eyes.
After a beat, he lets go of my shoulders, but I stay rooted to the same spot, in the same position. He leans back against the wall and I follow suit, not wanting to discuss the whole debacle any more but at the same time unable to walk away. "I wasn't upset, you know," he says after a few moments.
"I know," I say, sighing. "I was just..."
"...being irrational?" He finishes, trying to rectify the situation with a pleading look.
"...being cautious," I finish, "because I had no idea if you would feel the same way, and it was all so sudden and so ridiculous and I was just scared and -"
His large, rough left hand presses right against my mouth like it always would when I was talking just that little bit too much.
I widen my eyes, trying to look even a little scared, and he gingerly takes his hand away. I can see him reluctantly rebuilding our barriers behind his eyes, putting that interpersonal distance because he thinks that will make me feel comfortable. My heart racing, I take a slow breath. "Sorry," I say, run my fingers through my hair and shake my head. "I should just -"
It's sudden and crazy and completely unexpected but before I can process what's happening our fingers are linked together, entwined in a gentle grip. I can feel everything in that moment - sympathy, pain, attention, worry, fear, even love - and it's hard to ignore.
"I should..." I try to start again, without even bothering to try to tug my hand away, without even caring if I make a move and he makes it with me, but I'm lost in his eyes again - not just lost in them, but lost in remembering being lost in them. Lost in memory of us, what we always were.
"We don't talk any more, " he says, eyes searching as though he'll find an answer in my expression like he always would. "It took Verne actually pointing you out for me to find out that you were here."
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."
"We've been best friends since we were four - you can't make me uncomfortable and you know that. You could be having sex on my bed and I'd still just sit there sifting through the newspaper."
I laugh, but it's short and almost hollow. He's funny, he'll always be funny - but I don't want to laugh now. I don't want my guard to go down like that.
He smiles, and I'm suddenly reminded that our hands are intertwined. "Do you want to go somewhere? Do something?" He wants that relationship back, that ease and comfort we always had with each other around. I don't blame him.
But I can't do that - I can't pretend that things are just the same as they always were. Not like this. "I'm apparently the designated tonight. I can't."
He looks down and shuffles a little. "There's a showing at that independent cinema you like with that movie you wanted to see with that actress and the actor in it."
I raise an eyebrow. "The Artist?"
"Is that the one with the dog?"
"I don't know, I haven't seen it yet. I think so."
He looks surprised. "You haven't seen it?"
"Well I was supposed to go with..." I trail off, because we both know how that sentence was supposed to end and neither of us like the implication it leaves very much. Not now.
"With me." He sighs. "I'm sorry."
I rush to defend his decision - like I hadn't spent hours crying and avoiding that stupid Best Picture because he hadn't taken me like he promised. "It's fine, really, I -"
"No," he cuts me off. "It's not. I told you I'd take you and I didn't, so I'm taking you now and that's that." He lets go of my hand and turns me by the shoulders with a smile. "Get your coat. We'll make it if we go now."
I turn back to protest. "But Amelia -"
"- is a big girl, she can handle herself. Leave her a note and slip out the front door with your best friend."
I pause before moving, taking in the eager look on his face. He still wants to spend time with me. After everything, after what I built up as the biggest debacle in my life, he wants to spend time with me. "I've missed you," I say softly, with a light smile on my face.
"I've missed you too."
I know within the first twenty minutes that I love this movie unconditionally. The acting is amazing, the humor is easy to interpret but not blatant enough that I feel stupid watching it.
"You love this, don't you?" he smiles, pleased with himself.
"Maybe," I say, with an underlying tone of hush now this movie is silent so I need to concentrate.
He keeps quiet, shifting a little through the next five minutes of the film, before yawning. I know he's tired but I can't believe that he would be this obvious about not having any interest. I'm considering snapping at him before I feel a soft pressure on my shoulders - an extended arm coming to cover them. I turn to look at him, nervous but at the same time a little more comfortable than I was earlier that night. "Subtle," I say, smirking jovially.
"That was the plan," he says, this time having the tact to be a little quiet before we get shushed by the officious lady sitting behind us who stared disapprovingly at the bag of chips we brought through, as though their very presence dictated distraction for her.
I furrow my eyebrows. "I was joking."
He laughs nervously, and shakes his hand against my far shoulder before retracting his arm. "So was I," he says, and it might be wishful thinking, but I don't quite believe him.
Nope, not going there again. Not now and not ever.
"That was amazing!" I'm completely blown away by the entire film - the setting, the use of cinematography - it all just makes sense to me somehow. We take a seat on a bench in a park just near the cinema.
"But..." he says, and I acquiesce.
I raise an eyebrow. "But it wasn't as good as The Help and shouldn't have won Best Picture," I recite begrudgingly. "Happy?"
He nudges me with his shoulder. "Very."
I sigh. "So this was nice."
"Yeah." He stares up at the sky. "The stars are so pretty tonight." He's not wrong on that count; they're twinkling with a sort of mystical luminance that you only see when there's no clouds and you're out late. "Full moon, too."
I shiver. "We'd better get off of the streets then," I say, rising slowly. "Only the crazies are walking around during full moons."
He grabs my wrist gently, and I turn to face him. "Don't go." His eyes are earnest, and he's acting the way he always would when it got late and we didn't sleep.
"Go with me, silly," I say, with a teasing smile on my face.
He nods and stands up. "You go your way," he starts.
"I'll go your way too," I finish, automatically.
"Leonard Cohen," we say together, smiling. He puts his arm around my shoulder again and this time I don't make a comment - it's cold, and he's warm.
We start walking off towards his car. "Do you want to come back to my place?" he asks, and I'm not sure what to respond.
I think about saying yes. "No. I've got to get home. Family thing tomorrow."
We slide into our respective seats and he starts the car. The radio flips on and a song plays midway through. We both listen without speaking.
Gonna take you for a ride on a big jet plane, Angus Stone sings, and it reminds me of something. "Remember the night we watched easy A and I told you Emma Stone's character seemed distant and that I couldn't relate to her even as a teenager?"
"Yeah," he says instantly, because of course he does, neither of us forget anything.
"I lied," I say, and we're both silent for the rest of the drive.
The weekend rolls around again two weeks later, and I'm in the mood for celebrating. Having finished my biggest assignment of the year yet, I figure I might do something special to cement the occasion.
Alone for the weekend, I get a set of DVDs out from my shelf at random and start something that turns out to be the first season of Teen Wolf. I roll my eyes at myself but sit through it anyway. It's a lazy day so I haven't changed out of my pyjamas, haven't made myself any food, and I've not got any plans to go out.
There's a series of short, sharp raps on the front door. I ignore them.
The raps start up again when I'm midway through through making myself a grilled cheese sandwich. I ignore them.
They keep going all through my dinner, but I'm busy eating pizza, so I ignore them.
I have to stop ignoring them when they're on the window at the side of my bed.
I don't think there's anything pleasant about the way that I open the window, so the amiable smile I'm greeted by throws me a little off guard. "Finally ready to talk?" He asks, and I shake my head sharply. No. "Prepared to listen?"
I nod, aware that he would only keep knocking if I didn't.
"I want things to be the way they were between us before," he says, plainly and simply. "I want us to be able to talk again. I don't want you to run from the door when I knock. I want to laugh and smile with you like we always have and I'm not afraid of that."
I stay silent, breathing sharply.
"I want all of these things. But most of all I want my best friend back."
Calmly, and without malice, I shut the window, and bundle myself back up into the covers.
He doesn't knock again that night, or any night in the next three weeks for that matter either.
There's a silent reading room in the library of my school - it's quiet, so I slip my earphones in and hit the books like I should have done days ago. I've just been distracted with my own dramas so much that my studying slipped my mind when I should have been focused 100%.
I let all of my thoughts of him go, finally - with my mellow music on, the words flow through my mind at a calm pace and I let myself absorb everything I know I've been meaning to absorb for ages.
The tap on my shoulder is disconcerting, if not completely terrifying - I almost jump right out of my skin when I feel his hand on my shoulder. He says something but the music is at too high a volume for me to hear him. I shake my head anyway and turn back to my book.
He taps my shoulder again with a touch of insistence, but again I shake my head. I pause the music now, discreetly.
The sound of the door being shut quietly permeates my ears. I go back to studying.
The idea of a boat party, as I told Amelia a number of times, is limiting and annoying. She went with it anyway, so here I am, standing out on the open deck, taking in the cooler air and the spray and the stars.
"We seem to be a night pair, then," he says from behind me, and I'm not surprised. This is very Amelia.
I sigh. "That appears to be the trend."
He puts his hand on my shoulder. "Why do you keep avoiding me?" He sounds hurt, but I shrug him off anyway.
"I'm not avoiding anything."
He scoffs and I turn to face him. "You won't talk to me, you leave places when I get there -"
"I'm still here, aren't I?"
"It's a boat party!" he exclaims, looking exasperated. "There's nowhere else for you to go!"
I cross my arms and turn away to the left. I can't face him, and he just doesn't seem to get that.
"Look, you won't talk to me - fine. I don't care. Just tell me why! Tell me what I did to make you hate me so much!" He's yelling now, and I'm both hurt and angry. "At least explain to my why you can't stand the sight of me and I'll leave you alone forever, I promise." He's softened, and I look to the ground.
"You thanked me," I whisper softly, and after recovering from the shock that accompanied me actually responding, he looks confused. "You said thank you," I reiterate.
"When you passed the salt at dinner?" he asks, fishing for more details.
A few tears escape my eyes. "When I told you I loved you, stupid," I say, and put my hand to my forehead in an expression of long sufferance. "I said, 'have you studied yet' and you said 'maybe on the weekend' and then I said 'I love you' and you just said 'thank you'! I confessed my feelings for you and you might as well have sent me a Hallmark card with the level of emotion you showed! I can excuse you for doing a lot of things but I just can't do that for this."
He says nothing, but in a way that makes me think he's got everything to say.
"Something you want to share with the class?" I ask, the tears subsiding.
He still says nothing.
I turn on my heel to go inside the cabin, but stop briefly when he lays a hand on my arm. Turning back around, I lay both hands on my hips. "You're welcome."
He lets me go, and I leave.
"So you spoke to him, then," Amelia says as we're cleaning up the rental boat before we have to give it back. There is no question behind that statement - it's fact, we talked.
"Yeah," I say, and throw out an empty cup.
I'm celebrating finishing my school year with some friends and a few laughs. I left the parents to organize because I was just too busy with exams, so I figured everything would be a shambles and nothing would be arranged the way I like it.
I'm quite surprised that things are going wonderfully when he walks in through the front door, and continue to go wonderfully even through the bear hug he springs on me and the laughs we share. I don't make things uncomfortable because I'm selfish and I've missed his attention. "How do you think you went?" he asks, when the noise has died down.
"Okay," I say, and smooth down my jumper.
He moves in close to my ear. "You know you can freak out if you want to," he says, and I consider it for a second before walking him into my bedroom and shutting the door.
"It was awful! I got so nervous, my essays were sub-par - I think my performance examiners didn't like me, because they didn't even applaud my monologue they just said 'thank you, next please' and I had to leave! And I don't know what happened with my English, the whole plot just took over and the dialogue was all I managed but I don't know if it carried it well and I have no idea what I'm going to do with my life because I've failed and everything is gone." I pause for breath. "And -"
"Okay, okay!" I stop. "You've freaked out enough."
"Your essays are always wonderful. They're not supposed to applaud you, your handwriting gets better when you're under pressure, you wrote a script so the dialogue is more important and if you've failed I'll probably have a spare room so while you're figuring it out you can live with me instead of Richard and Emily Gilmore."
I exhale, and smile, before wrapping him in a hug that's easily returned. "I might have to take you up on that," I say into his shoulder.
"Be my rent paying guest," he replies.
"Rent?" He laughs. I sigh, still not letting him go. "Thank you," I say, and relax back onto the bed, lying flat on my back. He does the same next to me.
"Does that make us even now?" he jokes, and I laugh.
"I guess we have to be."
"I guess so."
The plan has always been for us to take a trip as a family to some exotic island in the Pacific so that I can take a little bit of time out before launching into the whole uni thing, regardless of my results, which ended up fine anyway, and my mind and body have gone into holiday mode from the moment the plane took off.
The landing is smooth, and with me dragging my hand luggage and one of our checked bags along, we make our way to the hotel where we're staying. It's absolutely beautiful - pools and spas and massage rooms and it's right on the beach and all inclusive and even the room service is free so I don't even have to lift a finger - but I feel like something is missing, something's wrong, and I don't at all want to dwell on it.
I'm halfway through my seventh book of the trip (thank you Kindle) when I hear a knock on the door of our room. My parents have left to go shopping in the town for some unknown reason, but they left the key here so I've been expecting the knocks anyway.
The face that greets me at the door when I open it, however, is not the one I was expecting at all.
"Miss me?" he asks with a grin, and I just gape. "I'll take that as a yes. Can I come in?"
I nod dumbly, and he walks in past me, carrying a small suitcase.
"Nice room," he says, grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl and crunching it loudly in his mouth before setting it back down on the table. I raise an eyebrow and he picks it back up again, throwing it in the bin. "It tasted like ass," he says, as if that was a good enough explanation for acting like a slob.
He sits down on the couch in the middle of the room, setting the suitcase down next to him, and I sit in the one across from it. We simply stay in silence for a few moments, taking in the other's presence before I break it suddenly. "What the fuck are you doing here?" Not the kindest of openings, I know, but it's deserved.
"I missed you," he says instantly, and I know it's true.
"You can't just..." I say, trailing off.
"Can't just what?" he asks, with a tone of mock confusion in his voice. "I can't just go and visit my best friend whenever I want?"
"Don't call me that," I say, shivering and crossing my arms.
"Why not? It's what you are, isn't it?"
"No," I say sullenly. "I gave that up the moment I told you that I loved you and you know that."
"But why did you have to?" he asks this like the child who doesn't know to ask and I feel so lost at an answer. "Why did you just assume that I didn't love you too?"
"Because we're different, okay? I'm not the type you usually go for." It sounds pathetic to my ears, an avoidance of the words I want to say, but gentler than the real undercurrent of the discussion.
He stands up and so do I, ready to make any move I want. Any move I need to. Suddenly he reaches up and I don't resist, because all of a sudden my cheeks are in his hands and he's holding me more tenderly than I've seen him hold anyone before. "I love you and you love me. That's what I go for."
This is the defining moment - I lean up slowly and, with his cheeks in my hands, press our lips together soulfully and sinfully. I feel everything in the kiss - every second is like a year in my mind, slow and beautiful and fucking amazing and I don't want it to ever end.
We pull up for air not long after, and he stares right into my eyes, like he's looking into my goddamn soul. "I love you so much, Nicholas Henry," I say, almost ready to weep for joy. This is what I've been dreaming of my entire teenage existence - it feels like my whole life has led up to these seconds. We both smile and devolve into a hug.
"Thanks, Scott," he replies, and we fall back onto the bed and recreate some of my other dreams.