Stop, Fast-forward & Rewind

~ Love is a Ring Toss Game

Chapter One

"Crashing Back"

November 27th 2014

"Julian get the glasses, put them out in front of the plates, beside the wineglass on the inside or your grandmother will disown me," My mother dictated, before reaching into the oven and braving the heat to take out the biggest turkey you've probably ever seen. My oldest brother Julian did what my mother asked, in the same slow speed that his girlfriend Becca talked about the flower arrangements at a wedding she had just attended.

The doorbell rang and my little brother Sam raced off to get it. Sam did everything at the same pace, fast and wildly as if life itself was a game of kite flying or laser tag.

I had just finished making an apple snicker bar salad and was scooping it into the serving bowl. I dragged my finger across the side of the bowl to remove a dollop of cool-whip that was sitting on the edge of the bowl. I was starving; I couldn't wait until we could finally eat.

I popped my finger into my mouth quickly, gingerly lapping up the dab of cool-whip. I looked up to see Blake Kenwright standing at the entry to the kitchen and my entire adolescence flashed before my eyes. We were standing in this kitchen the first time we met, the kitchen had been redecorated twice since and the roles were now reversed—I had been walking into the kitchen after three glorious weeks of summer camp and he was standing in the kitchen with Julian and two other friends. I was eleven then and I stood gawking like an idiot before offering a 'I'm Lia, who are you?" in what probably sounded like broken English. To steal language from Charles Perrault, he was the most beautiful guy I had ever seen in my entire life. But seriously, who gets to be that gorgeous at fifteen? Where was the acne, lack of hygiene, poor fashion sense and awful ski jump hairstyle? Life wasn't fair.

Today, he was looking straight at me, which was odd for so many reasons most of which I didn't feel like thinking of. I broke eye contact for a second, took my finger out of my mouth before waving awkwardly and then tossing the prep bowl into the sink and starting the water.

His attention shifted to the rest of the room, "Sorry I'm late, my flight was delayed," and then to my mother in particular who looked up from the roasting pan to see him. "Put me to work Nancy-mom," he stated. Blake had probably been a charmer since his toddler days, my mother was no exception.

"Blake!" My mother called with high-pitched excitement, shucking off the oven mitts and rushing over to Blake to give him a hug. My mother had epic hugs. "Julian didn't tell me you were coming—what a wonderful surprise! I'll make up the spare room like old times,"

"I was going to book a room at the Hilton," He told her with a sheepish shrug of his shoulders, and dang if he didn't look absolutely cut the way his back muscles shifted in his white dress shirt.

"Nonsense!" She said wagging her finger in mock seriousness.

"I miss this," he said sounding really honest, giving my mom another hug. He was quiet for a few seconds listening to my mother gush over how nice he looked, how great it was to have him back and how much she wanted to hear about how things were going in New York.

"A mother feels so wonderful having all her children and her heart children under one roof again; this is going to be the most wonderful thanksgiving we've had in a long time," she buzzed absolutely beaming.

"Wow, that bird looks spectacular! It smells amazing too," Blake said moving around the island to look at the perfect golden bronze turkey that was fresh from the oven and steaming on the stovetop. "I can help you carve the turkey," he offered

"Well, I wouldn't turn you down but Lia usually carves, since La—Lia usually carves," my mother said, covering the pain and then smiling. "I'm glad you're here Blake," she told him giving him another warm smile and his arm a squeeze.

"Lia honey, Blake is going to help you with the turkey," my mom said turning to me, she looked bright on the outside, I knew she was genuinely pleased about today, about everything but underneath there was a small but visible edge of sadness. Holidays were hard.

I walked over to where Blake was standing—still looking at the gigantic turkey.

"Hey Blake, long time no see," I offered lightly. It had been two whole years and five months. I hadn't realized that I had been counting—it must have been a subconscious thing. I told myself I wasn't tracking him, the two events just intersected and that was why I knew how long it had been. I hadn't personally seen him since the funeral, I knew Julian kept in touch but that was where I left things. I didn't ask about him, I tried to keep my ears from straining if his name came up in conversation.

"Nice to see you Lia," he said softly, "you look adorable, the dress is very cute," he told me with a smile. He made no move to hug me and I was grateful.

Cute & adorable, while nice and all –these weren't words I had ever wanted from him. It was all the same now, cute & adorable or gorgeous & attractive, it didn't matter to me anymore, or at least it shouldn't. I told myself it didn't matter and half of me truly believed I didn't care anymore. I hadn't tried to win his approval in years.

"Thank you Blake, you look happy," I told him because I really didn't have a better 'safe' descriptive word. It seemed only right to return the compliment but I wasn't about to be telling him that he looked better than I had ever seen him look.

He looked at me a bit quizzically for a brief second before turning his attention to the bird. "So, what's the plan with this guy? I'm assuming you've done this before," he said turning his attention back to me again.

I nodded, biting my lip, every Thanksgiving & Christmas since my father died. This would be the fifth.

"If you help me lift him out of the pan we can carve it on the cutting board while Rosie does the gravy," I told him.

"Rosemary is here?" He asked looking around the kitchen.

"Yes, she said she was going to be down in a minute," I told him. Julian and Blake were best friends but Rosie and Blake were like those conjoined twins that shared the same brain. They were—well they were infuriating to me as teenagers. I had it in my head that Rosie was secretly in love with Blake, which in hindsight seemed not to be true as nothing had ever transpired between them and they were still platonic soul mates to this day. Entanglements tend to make friendships difficult and Rosie and Blake were still the same Rosie & Blake.

"Have I mentioned yet that this is going to be a fantastic day? I can't believe it's been so long since I've been back." Blake said shaking his head.

"I think you might have mentioned that, yeah." I put effort into sounding casual and then changed the subject, "Now you've got to concentrate, I think this bird weighs more than 30 pounds and I am going to need some serious help lifting it!" I told him.

"One, two, three!" I said sliding the large cutting board under as Blake lifted the bird and the wire rack up.

"How many people was your mom planning to feed?" Blake asked after we put the cutting board and the turkey down on the counter.

"Blakey!" Rosie hollered stepping into the kitchen from the back entrance.

"You look amazing! Well, I can tell you've been working out, Julian check out Blake's biceps!" Rosie announced, giving Blake a big warm hug, she was almost an exact replica of my mother.

"Oh these?" Blake asked flexing, "Nawh, those just happened like a second ago, Lia and I were lifting that massive bird and bam," he offered flexing again before bursting out laughing.

"You look good, Blake and you look really happy too which is the important thing," Rosie stated with a warm smile.

"That's what Lia said too," He told her.

"Well, then Lia is a boldfaced liar! She really only cares that you look hot, right Lia?" Rosie asked looking like the cat that caught the canary. She knew I had spent high-school and well let's be honest all of 7th & 8th grade crushing on Blake Kenwright, but that was all she knew.

"That's right," I replied, realizing it would be a lot less painful to just play along. "and anyone who tells you differently is either very blind or very stupid!" I said earnestly.

Rosie laughed, Blake watched me, his laughter sounding just a tad forced.

Then he shifted his attention back to my sister, "Rosemary you look incredible," Blake said halfway through his laughter and sounding a bit hoarse. I felt the smallest niggling of that old jealous feeling. I guess some latent part of me still wanted that kind of high praise from Blake. I sighed and started the electric knife.

"Oh how you flatter a girl Blake! If I wasn't already engaged, I am quite sure I'd be swooning at your feet," Rosie cooed in a very Scarlett O'Hara—southern belle tone. Then she was showing him her ring and they were chatting like the Siamese twins (separated at birth) that they were.

The doorbell chimed again as I began my work.

Carving the turkey was rote and almost mechanical now. The first Thanksgiving I had a printed out diagrams in front of me and the aesthetics of the platter showcased the fact that it was a first attempt and the turkey was hardly warm at all by the time it got to the table. At that time it had been five months since my dad had died and nobody really cared that the turkey was cold and maimed, we were all just putting on brave faces and trying not to think about how different everything was now. Tradition was safe and comforting but paradoxically it also felt really forced and untrue, like we were betraying my dad while collectively pretending to be cheerful while enjoying his favorite holiday without him.

"The gravy needs to be started," My mother reminded stepping back into the kitchen to get a utensil for the main table before dashing out again.

I was wrapping the turkey platters in tinfoil and the hand at my back startled me. I turned quickly to see who it was and relaxed seeing my boyfriend Andrew.

"Whoa, easy there stress case," Andrew offered leaning in so that his mouth was close to my ear, "the turkey is perfect, you've cut it up expertly, now how 'bout a glass of wine?" he said looking at me with a small almost undetectable smile. Andrew was the only one that knew what had happened at our summer house in Niantic that weekend. Andrew only knew because he had been a close friend before we started dating and I had confided in him after a few too many a few months after my dad's death.

He kissed me then, his hand slipping back behind my neck to angle my head slightly. This was all posturing; I knew it the minute he leaned in to kiss me. All that would have been needed was a slip of the tongue to make it really clear what was going on here. We weren't that couple. We were battleship while watching movies with my feet resting on his chest. Basically we were what would have happened if Andie Walsh and Duckie had gotten together in Pretty in Pink, it was awesome but it's drawing point wasn't it's sensuality. We were fun, dumb and bizarre but it worked for us.

"Well-hey-now, that PDA is killing my gravy making mojo, so take it elsewhere!" Rosie called and I snapped out of my thoughts and pulled away.

"We need to talk," I told Andrew with a giggle.

His expression was all mirth and he had a hint of that mischievous pixie look written on his cheeks and eyebrows. Andrew was up to something, something more than just being a territory-marking male.

"Let's talk," he said in a low whisper against my ear again. He wasn't normally like this if that makes you feel better.

"Let's talk in the living room," I told him and he followed me out but paused to sweep up two wine glasses from our seats on the way by the table.

"Okay so, I get it," I told him.

"Here, have a sip first, it is very good wine," He said offering the glass from his left hand to me.

I took a sip, finding myself smiling just the smallest bit against my will, "That is good, but as I was saying—"

"You were saying that you get 'it'- which is probably an understatement, because you can't possibly 'get' what it is like to walk in and see Blake, the Blake standing in the flesh, in your girlfriends kitchen watching her cutting up a turkey," He stated, "It's awful! And damn if the guy isn't more attractive than he was the last time I saw him," Andrew bit out sounding more sarcastic than anything else.

"I know right? Most of us peek before 25," I offered with an agreeing nod, rolling my eyes and taking another pull from my wine glass.

"You've got no right to comment! You who gets prettier every second. No, no. You can't jump on the bandwagon with the rest of us mere mortals," Andrew tossed off the compliment as if it was an insult and offered me his trademark smirk.

"Trust me Andrew—you are wasting your time and energy if you are feeling even an inkling of possessiveness—Blake isn't interested, he's made that really clear," I told him.

"Right, yeah, not at all interested was exactly what I'd pegged him as," Andrew scoffed, "he's just really fascinated with turkey,"

I laughed despite myself.

"I'm serious; he told me I'm cute and adorable about twenty minutes ago and if you want a track record I slept next to him wearing almost nothing in Niantic after shamelessly throwing myself all over him, all weekend and nothing happened," I told him.

"That's because the way I heard it from you, you were a total drunk the whole time—like he'd do that! I said he wanted you not that he was a would-be rapist," Andrew interjected. "And everyone knows emasculating words like cute and adorable are the gateway words to other pansy phrases like 'I love you' and 'will you marry me'—"Andrew offered with a sly smirk.

I laughed, covering my mouth and beaming at him before getting enough composure to talk.

"I'm the kid-sister, that will never change and I'm pretty happy with how things are right now, with my psychoanalytic best friend/confidant/boyfriend," I told him, grinning stupidly against his mouth as I kissed him again.

Andrew and I were pretty new as a couple; we'd been dating since September. He was funny and I loved how Andrew went about dealing with problems. It was unorthodox and a bit silly but honestly I really enjoyed even these kinds of conversations.

"So we're okay?" I asked.

He nodded.

"A minor ground rule, no more relationship showboating. It's not needed and it isn't us. We aren't that couple, so let's not be that couple, okay? I like you, I like us, let's just be us today, okay?"

He agreed with a goofy smile. "Okay, I'll just be me—and don't think I'll be holding your hand compulsively or playing footsies under the table, because I won't!"

Author's Note:

What do you think of my new story? I have big plans for this one. I'm sorry about other stories that I've abandon! I do want to make a good dent in this one in the next few weeks. I have almost no free time so please review if you like it and are interested in reading more or I won't have the stamina to burn the midnight oil to get new chapters written!