A/N: Oh, that Bryce. Based off a fanfiction I wrote, couldn't help myself. Will continue indefinitely, characters are writing themselves. Reviews are much appreciated!
Bryce had walked me home, and so I am unsurprised to find him waiting for me on his wooden porch, feet swinging idly in the absence of wind. The air is heavy, sticky with humidity, and my knee stings unrelentingly where I scraped it, haphazardly flinging myself over the various makeshift fences in our neighborhood.
I stand awkwardly, having crossed the final fence, somehow suddenly uncomfortably aware of the absence of my shoes, and the dirt shoved underneath my fingernails.
"Escaped, chiquita?" He asks wryly, his voice difficult to make out in the soft night air.
The soft night air that is still forbidding and aggressive, pressing down on me from all sides, squeezing sweat from every pore. I feel my dress clinging to the small of my back, and if it were light enough I know he'd be able to see every damp, see-through patch in the pink cloth. A bead of sweat trickles down the back of my neck, from shoulder blade to tailbone.
Bryce had walked me home, and so he had stood on the doorstep as we watched the adults in varying stages of drunkenness prance around my parlor. Bryce had been there when my father, shirt ripped (literally, like you find in trashy pirate novels) from neck to navel, had bounced down the stairs, tripping over our oriental carpet. The ends had hung loosely to each side, exposing his relatively pale, mercifully hairless chest and potentially saggy stomach for all of his similarly embarrassing friends to see.
The lights are flickering, and the Frankie Valli music cuts in and out, but my mother merrily passes out cosmos, tripping through the guests and shepherding people away from her precious blue and white vases.
Carol Stone runs up to us, smiling brilliantly, as we stand, shell-shocked, in the doorway. "I can't feel my cheeks!" She exclaims, slapping one of them for emphasis, and I am just about to comment on the absurdity of a forty-something year old woman saying that to me when my father steals the show. His eyes are glazed, sliding over Bryce and me like sheets of glass, and he picks up an empty corona bottle from the hall table, holding it to his mouth like a cross between a microphone and a megaphone.
"I just wanna say one thing," he announces to the room at large.
"Goodbye, Bryce," I hiss, pinching his elbow and hip-checking him out the door. I run for the kitchen, desperate to minimize my exposure to my drunken father. The linoleum under my toes is heaven, and the sliding door to the back garden is seconds away.
"I love you, baby…" My father's bellow drifts through the house, upending the silence of the night. "And if it's quite alright, I need you…baby…"
I picture him, red-faced and semi-shirtless, cheerfully humiliating himself before at least twenty people, and slam the sliding door a little bit harder than necessary. (Okay, so I deliberately try and break the glass, imagining my father shattering under my gaze like Bryce and I refused to under his.)
"I am so going to need therapy," I mutter to myself, and then I am slipping through the night, counting the seven fences to Bryce. Behind me, I see the lights flicker and die; the power outages have been happening all summer. Too many people running air conditioners in the heat wave, apparently, but I basically just think the world is lame.
And so here I am, separated from Bryce by an ocean of grass and mud, wishing desperately that I was closer to him, that I'd never met him at all, that he loved me too, that he didn't love me so very much. Because Bryce has always been there, but he's never really been here, and the weight of the tragedy is almost unfathomable, it is crushing and disturbing and sickening.
I feel the nausea begin to accumulate in my stomach as I squelch across his lawn, steps carefully placed to avoid frogs and stones.
"Can't you just leave me alone?" I snap, as I sit next to Bryce on the rough wood, splinters creeping through the thin fabric of my dress. Instead of dangling my feet I cross my legs and lie back, trying to see the stars through the clouds—which is a hopeless exercise.
He reaches down to twirl a lock of my hair around his finger, light against dark, and his face glows chocolate in the gloom. "Of course not," Bryce says. "Silly."
I feel the familiar catch in my throat at the sound of his voice, and I brush it away with his hand, taking refuge in irritability. "You can't walk me home anymore."
"Clarita, I walk you home every day."
"I don't care," I say, knowing he knows me too well for this to ever fool him, hoping against hope that somehow it will. "I don't want you to, I'm not some child." I spit the word, despising its connotations. Bryce is three years my senior and it galls me every day. "And that's not my name."
He sighs. "I'm sorry your dad was like that."
"I don't care. I don't give a damn what he does. He can do whatever he likes. I don't care what you do. You can do whatever you want, just leave me the hell alone." The irony is that I'm lying on his porch, that the venom in my words is laced with despair and that I care so much that I am physically ill, repulsed by the amount of emotion.
"It's the shirt-ripping, isn't it? The last time he did that, you tried to catch that bunny. Remember? You told me you were going to bash its head in and perform a live dissection."
"I cracked the sliding door. Window. Whatever."
"But then when you caught it, you said you were actually going to drown it. Weight it down with rocks, kind of like when we used to try and teach ants to swim. I wouldn't help you gather stones. I've never seen you that angry."
"I hope he falls down the stairs and breaks his neck," I tell him.
"You don't mean that."
I sit up, glaring, the motion causing sweat to run down my cheek. "Yes I do. Stop patronizing me." He pushes on my shoulders gently, trying to force me back down, a motion intended to be calming.
"Don't touch me!" I shriek, wrenching myself away from his hands. "Don't touch me."
"Claire—" He says, and I can see his eyes widen, then settle back into their lazy, half-open position as he sees my shoulders trembling. The air settles around us again, smothering, and I let out my breath. "Clarita," he says again, in such a different tone.
"I hate you," I whisper, but the tears have already started. They mingle with the sweat on my face, the whole watery mess clogging my skin further; another barrier between us. Because it seems as if I'm crying for all the lost time, for all the years of frustration. I hate Bryce because of what he's done to me: loving me, supporting me, practically raising me, and then refusing me.
"Clarence is doing great, by the way," Bryce says conversationally, as I sit there numbly. Clarence is the rabbit, of course, adopted by Bryce and named after me. He was wild as a hooker on meth and I had tried to poison him with apple seeds, hoping they had enough cyanide to kill a bunny. Sadly, they did not. "He misses you, though," Bryce adds. "He pines for you." I snort, the idea of the fucking rabbit pining finally overcoming my self-pity, and I sneak a glance at Bryce. He's grinning too, white teeth shimmering against his dark skin, and that is when I realize he is shirtless.
I suck in a breath, and my mouth goes dry. "God, Bryce. They're really going to kill me this time." He grins easily at me, and I see his eyes take in everything. My eyes are glued to that wide swathe of cinnamon skin, so innocently illuminated by a light sheen of sweat.
"Childish habit, breaking things," Bryce notes. "Especially expensive things, like sliding glass doors." Except that children don't lie awake at night, sweating beyond what's merited by the temperature, dreaming about warm hands sliding over—"Now you're blushing," Bryce interjects. "Two minutes ago you were crying, and now you're blushing. When have you ever been embarrassed by…well, anything at all, really."
I ignore him, aware that the flush deepens, spreading to prickle my neck. I am amazed that he can see so much variation in color and tone in this odd half-darkness of cloud and moon, and partially suspect he's making it up to torture me.
"Ah, Chiquita," he muses, and there is laughter in his tone. He leans back against his elbows, muscles pulling taut under skin. "Just to check. This blush—it wouldn't have anything to do with me, out here, being shirtless and sweaty?"
I scoff, but the sensation of impending doom encroaches, and I distinctly recognize that I am beginning to dig myself into a hole. "I'm hot, because, if you hadn't noticed, it's like three million degrees out here."
"Actually, it's only barely topped a hundred," Bryce informs me snottily. I punch him.
"Don't touch me!" He mocks, so I punch him again and this time he snaps up, a coiled spring, to catch my wrist, and the overall effect is to drag me closer to him. "Don't touch me," he whispers. I shake my arm, trying to dislodge his grip. His hand slides but remains firm, and I feel new beads of sweat break out on my forehead.
"You didn't answer my question."