A.N: ADoR Star-Crossed Submission for 'Laundry'. Enjoy!
Peer Interaction for the Socially Deprived.
Darkness. Warmth. Silence.
"What are you doing?"
"In a washing machine?"
"Is…Is everything okay?"
"Of course, why?"
"You're in a washing machine, honey."
"It's a washing machine."
"A comfortable washing machine."
"You have to get out, sweetie."
"Fine." I sighed, gripping my hands onto the clean, white curves of the machine's mouth and pulling myself out and onto the accompanying dryer. Slapping the lid closed, I jumped neatly onto our laundry floor, and surveyed my roommate Sophie, her face frozen in an expression of cautious shock. We've only been living together for two months…I guess I should've warned her about…this.
"You're able to extract yourself surprisingly well." She finally said and I felt a small prickle of pride at my agile washing machine escaping abilities. I hadn't had to use them in quite a while, so the fact that I was still as limber as before was a positive bonus in amongst the negativity that was my initial reasons for being in a washing machine.
"Practice makes perfect." I shrugged.
She nodded slowly in response, her mouth open in uncertainty. Right…here it goes.
"I like small spaces." I offered weakly. Which wasn't entirely true, I mean I do like small spaces, but usually people can control their urges when it comes to something they like. For me it's more a compulsion; when I'm stressed, overwhelmed, angry or frightened I need to shove myself in the smallest place possible and stay there until I feel better again. When it first started happening as a child, my first therapist said it was something to do with my subconscious desire to be encased in my mother's womb, however, you'd think by the time I hit my teenage years I would have gotten over the fact that I would not be returning to my mother's internal sex organs. I didn't. And because of that I'm sure I can safely say I'm one of the only teenagers who shoved themselves into their own locker for fun.
"Is this something I should be worried about?" Sophie asked, placing her laundry basket down and beginning to sort her lights from darks.
"I have this thing." I said indifferently even though there was nothing to be nonchalant about. I hadn't felt the compulsion to play an independent game of sardines for quite a few years, I thought I'd reached the point where maybe- just maybe- I could function like a normal human being, but then I got that e-mail and my past crept up on me and pushed me into the nearest nook or cranny.
"When I get stressed I need to be in small spaces, it's a nervous thing. I've seen people about it."
-A lot of different people who had a lot of different treatments and cures for the issue. One therapist even said I had Claustrophilia, but it wasn't like small spaces turned me on or anything, they were just safe and cosy and protective…not orgasm inducing…unless there was a certain silent bespectacled person sharing said small space with me…then definitely orgasm-inducing.
Sophie blinked successively and threw the larger pile of darks in the machine. "Well what set it off?"
"Pardon?" It was incredible that she was so fine with the realisation that her roommate was a nutcase.
"You said you only do it when you're stressed, what set you off?" She cranked the knob on the washing machine to normal- making it the only other normal thing in the room besides from Sophie.
"I got an e-mail from PISD." I exhaled. Three weeks ago actually, and since then I'd found myself ducking into the broom closet, curling up in the bath tub, coiling into the kitchen cabinet under the sink and sliding between my winter coats; all to settle the heart thumping, palm shaking effects of simply thinking about attending the P.I.S.D reunion.
"Pissed?" She recoiled and I wondered whether I could manage to drop anything else into the conversation that would completely freak her out. I'd become stuck in the top shelf of an Ikea bookcase once when I was seven and it had taken nearly an hour before my parents had found the appropriate Allen key to dismantle it…that could be a nice addition to her rapidly warping view of me.
I had to chuckle. "No, P.I.S.D – Peer Interaction for the Socially Deprived."
"Jesus." She cringed. "What the hell is that?"
"It's this group I was part of when I was fourteen. Basically a bunch of weird kids hung out and tried to be normal."
Tried was really the key word. P.I.S.D had been my after school activity every Tuesday and Thursday. Forced to go by my mother, who had found out about it on a chat room for parents of the socially inept, I spent two hours two times a week with other teenagers who didn't quite fit in with the norm. I'm talking an array of 'phobics, psychos, weirdos and mentals ranging from the ages of thirteen to seventeen, hanging out and attempting to do normal teenage things (movies, bowling, socialising, speaking to someone other than yourself) while being decidedly abnormal.
"I 'graduated' when I was seventeen." I explained. "They're having a reunion and I'm invited."
I'd thought that the whole point of graduating from a help group was that you didn't ever return let alone have a celebration dedicated to remembering the time you had there. Graduating was like Group Leader Bella saying 'Congratulations! You can pass as a fully functioning human being, now let us only speak of this in hushed whispers with close company.' In all honesty, I hadn't thought of P.I.S.D in so many years, especially since I hadn't left on very good terms with some members …well one particular member.
"and?" Sophie gauged.
"and I haven't seen these people in years." I handed her the box of washing powder and reversed into the jamb of the door, settling my back into the cramped angle with all the comfort of a warm encompassing hug. The pressure that had been slowly building over the last three weeks since I had received the e-mail abated slightly; my throat relaxing and the shaking palms settling into normality.
"aaaannnnndddd?" I looked up, her small mouth curled up in expectation and her green eyes twinkled knowingly.
"and there was a boy." I relented, pushing myself further into the corner. A boy who had only had to look at me to make me forget all about why we were at P.I.S.D in the first place, a boy who managed to make me feel normal and special and a whole of lot of other positive feelings without mantras, interaction scenarios or positive reinforcement, a boy who had broke my heart into a million small-space loving pieces.
"I knew it! Was he your first love?" she slammed the lid of the washing machine down and pressed start, resting her hip on the front.
I scoffed. "I don't know." I knew I had had very intense feelings for him –an intensity that seemed unbearable for a fifteen-year old- but he had been less forthcoming with his own emotions.
"What do you mean you 'don't know'?" she squinted, pushing off the washing machine and picking up the hamper.
I sighed and exited the comfort of the corner. This was the unfortunate part of meeting someone in a group that is solely reserved for people who suffer from deep emotional and social issues. We were all there for a reason and it wasn't due to a surplus of friends and conversation starters. "We never spoke." I cringed.
Sophie's right eyebrow started to ascend to her hairline. "How-"
"Well, he never spoke." I clarified. Possibly the fact that he was in a constant state of self-induced muteness was a key trait that attracted me to him in the first place; the whole strong, silent 'Rebel without a Cause' was appealing to somebody who was a connoisseur of reticence and aimed to find it in environments with minimum capacity. But there was an added depth to Christopher Port's silence; he didn't have to say anything. He managed to convey so much in a look or a touch or a breath that words and sentences just seemed to be excess. I had believed that something had developed between us that was simple and natural and as normal as two people like us could hope for, but then I'd gone and thought that- now that we'd been deemed acceptable to function in the outside world- our relationship could cross over as well but with one look I'd been proved wrong.
"He didn't talk." She repeated, her eyebrows stretching as high as they possibly could, she whistled lowly and threw the empty hamper over her shoulder before walking into our kitchen.
"But he could kiss." I sighed.
After a particularly dull group session, involving a mega Jenga match at the Presbyterian Church, I'd found a supply closet to wait out the half an hour it usually took my mom to come and pick me up (her lateness was a key way of making me interact with the other socially inept youths at P.I.S.D). I was just about to slip in when I saw him watching me, after a year and a half in P.I.S.D I knew all about Topher Port and none of the information had come from his own lips. Such an enigma was very interesting to a girl like me especially when most of the other kids were loud or abrasive or just plain annoying.
He'd yet to go outside where the sounds of arguments and camaraderie were palpable, his longish hair swiping over his ears and his leg bent languidly, the sole of his dirty converse pressing into the church wall as he stared unabashedly. It was because of his look that I stopped in my tracks; He wasn't confused or amused or freaked out by what I was doing, he wasn't even curious, he just stood there and surveyed me as though it was a common everyday thing for a girl to step into a supply closet like she was entering an elevator. When I caught his eye that was when it changed and instead of looking at what I was doing he was purely looking at me, surveying me from head to toe with eyes that burned from a distance.
Maybe it was a knock on effect of his silence but he seemed to convey so much in a look that I didn't feel the need to say anything. Pushing the door wider, I jerked my head into the small dark space as invitation, watching as Topher pushed off the wall casually and shot a look up and down the hallway before languidly striding over and taking the door from my hand. It clicked shut softly as the small space lapsed into a darkness that only afforded me the reflective glare of his glasses and a dim outline of his body; a body that was moving closer to mine.
"I hope you know I don't let just anyone in here." I breathed, falling silent as the pad of his thumb drew across my lips before slipping under my chin and tilting my face up to be level with his. He licked my bottom lip before enveloping it with his own and I knew that P.I.S.D was going to be a whole lot better from that moment on.
"When is the reunion?" Sophie asked as I followed her into the lounge room, helping her pick up the various scripts that our roommate, Rae, had left spread across the floor in her hurry to get to an audition.
I thought by now I would have decided what to do especially since I'd RSVP'd with 'maybe' a week ago in an effort to by myself some time. But with six hours to go and the continuous seesaw of 'Should I, Shouldn't I', I was no closer to a decision than when I'd read the subject line of the invite. I caught a glimpse of folded pages and passed her a copy of 'Resurrection Blues' that had relocated between the couch cushions.
"Well you know what you have to do?" She called over her shoulder, correcting the alphabetical order by sliding it between 'Proof' and 'Romeo and Juliet'.
"What?" I surveyed the coffee table and wondered whether I could contort my body to slide in between the wicker bottom and the glass top. Probably not without dislocating something and even that sounded more appealing than a couple of hours with twenty-something social outcasts.
"Wear something that makes this guy speechless." She grasped a shelf and looked over her shoulder with a smoulder, waggling her eyebrows in a way that would make a lot of people speechless, but not in the way she intended.
"That won't be that hard." I smiled benignly; I'd always been able to make Topher speechless…everything made Topher speechless.
She rolled her eyes "You know what I mean. Go show him what he's missing. You never know, you might get there and see him and think 'Why the hell am I hiding in a washing machine for this loser'?"
Despite her penchant for over the shoulder smoulders and partiality to the weirdness of others, Sophie was indisputably orthodox, she couldn't understand how embarrassing it was to be a part of P.I.S.D, how fantastic it was to meet someone who gave me a taste of teenage normalcy and how shattering it had been to put myself out there and get nothing in return.
"I wasn't hiding, I was thinking." I disputed belatedly and followed her path up the stairs.
"Whatever, If you're going to do it again can you choose somewhere that doesn't contain my underwear?" With that she turned into her room with a finger wave, walking over to the bay windows and throwing the curtains wide open, instantly making her room light, bright and spacious.
"Sure." I relented and turned into my own room. Closing the door I surpassed the bed, choosing instead to climb into my clothes hamper. I folded my body into itself, reaching over the cane edge and bringing the lid down on top of me.
Darkness. Warmth. Silence.
I took a deep breath and settled into the material interior with my knees pressed against my chest and my palms grasping the backs of my calves. Opening my eyes to the soothing darkness, my vision slowly adjusted and caught the criss-crossing pattern of the cane exterior. I could just not go, be one of the many other P.I. who had moved on from 'Group' and never looked back. Before the e-mail that was exactly what I had done; I had friends, a job, hobbies and skills that required self-esteem and a certain level of social aptitude. I was an adult doing adult things; I 'Adulted' just like everyone else, so technically I could not go and continue living behind the smoke screen of my 'Adulting'. But Group Leader Bella had always preached that healing came from closure and it was hard not to think that maybe he would be there and maybe it would be exactly like Sophie said and I could move on and go back to blending in with everyone else. I pushed the lid back and squinted at the invasive bright light shining in from my window. There was only one way to find out and it wasn't snuggled in between my dirty socks and scrunched up bra becoming lightheaded from lack of oxygen.
At four o'clock that afternoon I found myself standing outside a palatial home wearing a light summer dress, flip-flops and my 'just in case I miraculously feel comfortable half-naked in front of strangers' bikini. This couldn't be right, I thought, looking down at the printed e-mail and back up at the brick and mortar mansion. Why would anyone have a reunion at a house? School auditorium? Yes, Public space? Sure, Bar? Definitely. But a pool party at somebody's house? That seemed…weird, which, when paired with fact that it was a P.I.S.D event, seemed quite typical.
A large puff of smoke floated in front of me and obscured my view, followed by a low impatient voice. "Hey, Aubrey." A tall blonde-haired woman stepped up beside me and quirked an eyebrow in greeting, her dark red lips curled in an unimpressed pout.
I did a double take. "Lindy?" I gaped. The last time I had seen her she'd been twice the width and half the height; the pout however had not change.
"How's it going, WD?" As in WD-40, due to my ability to get in and out of tight spaces. They were very witty back then. Lindy Allen was definitely a memorable member of P.I.S.D, her lack of internal filter coupled with anger issues and no sense of consequence had created a paradox that left you wondering whether you were amused, pissed, confused or impressed by the opinions that flew out of her mouth. Needless to say, her 'graduation' was based more on age rather than merit.
"Fine." I faltered. "You?" I'd expected…well I don't know what I expected would happen to Lindy after 'Group'- Jail? Presidency? World Domination? - Definitely not the Kaftan wearing, push-up bikini toting woman in front of me.
"Fuckin A." she drawled, her wide grin spreading around her cigarette.
"Nice to see you haven't changed."
"There was nothing wrong with me in the first place. So why change?" She shrugged. I couldn't help but grin, despite her conscious effort to destroy P.I.S.D she'd graduated with what we had all been striving for: self-acceptance. It was nice to see her so comfortable in her own skin. I bet she didn't feel the need to lay in her car boot for half an hour before she came to the reunion.
"Very true. What do you do now?"
"Personal Trainer. People pay me to yell at them. I'm so happy." She yawned, punching a finger into the intercom repeatedly. "What are you? A chimney sweep?" She turned her bored stare onto me as she held her finger against the buzzer, lifting her middle finger to the camera that turned in our direction.
I chuckled, wondering whether I could convince her to hang out with me for the entirety of the party- even just purely as entertainment- before answering, "No, I'm-"
"If you're not a chimney sweep I don't care." She interjected simply and stubbed out her cigarette, striding up the steep drive as the gate slid open and gesturing me to follow her. I should have been offended, but three years of Lindy's vocal and continuous opinion being interjected into every group session had prepared me for the uncensored and unfiltered woman before me.
"So what's up with the reunion?" I asked, quickening my step to match hers and spying a small garden shed at the side of the house that could come in handy if the party became too much.
"What do you mean?"
"7 years." I offered. I'd put it down to the all round weirdness of the group but really it was just a meaningless and confusing milestone. Seven years? Did they think that seven years was the absolute limit for us trying to be normal?
"Pfft, I know right." She pulled out some gum from her purse and threw it up in the air, catching it in her mouth as we followed the fairy lights round to the large open gate. "That douche, Mathers, organised it. This is his house. The self-obsessed tool."
"The kid who was obsessed with the end of the world?" Gorman Mathers came to 'Group' with a gas mask and a backpack containing twenty packets of Spacefood sticks and a litre of hand sanitiser…and he now lived in a three storey, perfectly manicured mini Versailles? Right…
Lindy strode past the table containing our name-tags. "Apparently the world is going to end at the end of this year. I think he just wants to show off how much money he's got. The turd. He said something about cleansing our sins in his pool." She gestured to said pool that not only had a slide, waterfall and spa situated around the edges but a huge glass dome covering one side that I guessed extended over the entire space in the case of an emergency. Currently shading the side of the pool that held the spa and four of our former members, the rest of the space was peppered with the half naked bodies of former narcissists, obsessive-compulsives, paranoids, and attention seekers splashing and laughing in the clear pristine water.
"That's…interesting." I blinked, spotting Gorman at the far end of the pool talking animatedly to a guy who had chosen to pair a Hawaiian shirt with Captain America board shorts. From the back it was a cataclysm of patterns and I felt some solace in the fact that, at least visually, I wasn't the weirdest person here.
"It's fucking neurotic is what it is." Lindy's voice interrupted my hypnosis by conflicting colours and I followed her over to the drink station, equipped with two bartenders and copious amounts of inhibition-depleting alcohol.
"Why'd you come?" I queried and picked up a bright, pineapple encased drink, latching onto the straw and savouring the taste of ginger, lime and rum. Rum: The cupboard under the stairs of alcoholic beverages.
"Open bar and the possibility of pushing someone into the pool. You?" She placed her order- "Gin. Tonic. Tall Glass. Don't skimp."- and turned to settle her stare over the various group members, her face squinting and contorting as she surveyed each person and broke them down into a series of judgments, estimations and opinions based on what they looked like and what they were doing.
I took a step away from her elusively, shrugging and turning my own eye on to the crowd. There were so many former P.I. here: Tim Crawford, who didn't like touching anything that another person had looked at and was now double-dipping the seven layer salad; Emma Brady who'd been aggressively sexually precocious, now decked in a demure, floor length maxi dress with a massive diamond hanging off her ring finger; and Brittany Creamer who previously rivalled Lindy in volume and abrasiveness, quietly paddling her feet over the edge of the pool.
"Unfinished business, I guess."
"Oh, yeah." She chuckled, "You and Silent Bob, right?"
"Topher." I corrected, shooting her an amused glance as Maggie Sine did her fourth cannonball into the pool before exiting carefully and towelling herself off (also for the fourth time). I averted my eyes to the rest of the group and tried to find the familiar dark brown mop head that used to duck into sports sheds with me. Maybe he hadn't come? Maybe he was one of the P.I. who decided not to relive the past, or maybe there was another reason for him to stay away.
"Right. That's him there isn't it?" Lindy thumped her empty glass down on the bar, tapping the top of her glass for a refill before gesturing carelessly to the side of the pool.
"What?" I froze, caught between wanting to follow her gaze and wanting to crawl between the bartender's legs and settle in next to the mini fridge.
"He's still got those stupid glasses and who wears a shirt like that to-" She stopped and I followed her pointed finger over to Hawaiian-shirt wearing guy and the reason Lindy had stopped her diatribe. "What the...What the actual fuck?" She spat.
Turning away from Gorman Mathers, Topher disposed of the disgusting khaki and pink Hawaiian shirt on the nearest sun lounger, closely followed by his glasses, and I soaked him up like the rum in my blood system. His hair was now cropped closely around his ears and styled messily at the front, the roundness of his cheeks and jaw had melted away to angular lines and his stomach had received the memo; hinting to a hardness that made one guest livid…and it wasn't me.
"Hey! Christopher." Lindy yelled across the pool, planting her fist on her hip in annoyance. He searched for the irritating voice, before his squint landed on her and the terrified Claustrophile beside her. "Yeah, you. If you're going to go around armed with abs like that then you gotta wear better clothes and get some fucking contact lenses, you dick. Don't try to trick people into thinking you're a fucking nerd." She reached her arm back to the bar and waggled her fingers, the horrified bartender all but throwing the refreshed drink into her hand.
"Lindy!" I hissed. Her outburst had caught the attention of most of the poolside guests and Topher was fumbling around the sun lounger for his glasses, finally succeeding in sliding them back onto his face to see the culprit of such a verbal attack.
"What?" Her face scrunched up in disgust, unabashedly pointing a long finger- connected to a tanned and toned arm- in his direction. My heart started thumping in my chest at the looks we were getting and I suddenly became very aware of how open and bright and loud and overbearing this party was becoming. "He's walking around with God damn guns the size of dodge balls and he's trying to convince everyone he's Bill Nighy the fucking science guy." She turned back to Topher and threw her arms up in the air as if waiting for some kind of explanation for his impressive physique yet abysmal fashion choices.
"Have you had your pills today?" I muttered, keeping my eyes down to the ground and imagining that the bricks below me continued up and around my body, moving closer and closer to my body until it was just me and nothing else. But it was no use; I was feeling even more anxious than this morning.
"No, why?" she quirked a brow and delicately pursed her lips around her straw, shooting me a self-satisfied smirk before turning on the spot and strutting over to the barbeque.
Closing my eyes, I tried to resist the urge to crawl into an air vent. I felt the prickle of a steady gaze and wondered how I still managed to draw someone's attention when Lindy was now having an incredibly loud conversation with Maggie Sine about why four was the magic number. I hazarded a glance up and met the light brown stare that- despite all the other changes- was just as familiar as seven years ago. Topher stood rooted to the damp sand coloured tiles surrounding the pool, his mouth open just a hint and his eyes darting from my own demoralised gaze to my feet and back up again.
He pressed his lips together as he eyebrows relaxed and it was the exact same expression he had given me the last time we'd seen each other and that was enough to make me stride into the house to find some space…any space that didn't exceed one square metre.
The problem with trying to find a spot in a mansion is that everything is designed to be bigger. Like nobody has ever heard of Ikea and the magic of space saving; the pantry was the size of my bathroom at home, the space under the sink stretched unimpeded the whole way across the wall with frosted glass doors, even the cabinets under the guest bathroom sink protruded from the wall so far that I could comfortably sit cross-legged and straight-backed while inside it. So for a good fifteen minutes I was searching for a place simply to get my thoughts together until, following Group Leader Bella's advice that 'perseverance is the key to overcoming obstacles', I retraced my steps back down to the open living and kitchen area overlooking the pool.
Bingo. Small closet reserved for pool gear that was currently being used outside. It was larger than I liked but smaller than everywhere else so I watched to see if anyone was paying attention before sliding in and all the way down, pressing my back against the wall with a sigh of relief.
Darkness. Warmth. Silence.
I took in a deep breath, filling my lungs to capacity, before letting it out again.
He looked at me. Once again he'd looked at me and hadn't been able to bring himself to say anything or do anything to give me a sign of what he'd been thinking.
For the last two years of P.I.S.D I'd been able to know everything about him just from a look but since that last night together he'd returned to being the mystery that had intrigued me in the first place. The clicking sound of the handle turning broke me out of my thoughts and I only had time for a surprised breath before the door opened, a body slid in and the door swung closed until only a sliver of light shone through.
"Au-Aubrey?" a deep voice interrupted the heavy, dark, silence of the closet and I sunk deeper into the corner. The voice didn't sound familiar and yet he knew my name… I started regretting choosing salvation that had only one escape route.
"Aubrey? It's me." The voice added, moving closer and shutting the door behind them with a click.
"Who the hell is 'me'?" I snapped back.
"Um, it's Christopher." I froze, keenly aware of how we'd gone from years apart to inches away in a matter of seconds.
"…Topher?" my voice caught in my throat and I slid back up the wall, bumping some part of him and recoiling. I had never heard his voice before and it was like sipping a glass of fine wine for the first time; paying attention for the top notes and subtleties and hidden flavours because you wanted to know it inside and out.
"Yeah." He relented. Some part of his clothing scratched against the wall and I secretly hoped he'd forgotten to put the shirt back on.
"You-You're talking." I pointed out. Was I the only one who had relapsed back into my old ways? Me and Maggie Sine it seemed.
"I do that now." He murmured deeply and shifted again, his thigh brushing the hem of my dress up slightly and sparking goose bumps down my legs.
"Congratulations?" I offered lamely. What was I supposed to say? 'Well-done for becoming a normal person. Thanks for taking my heart and splintering it with your silence.'
"Thanks." His fingers drummed against the wall and I closed my eyes, focussing on slowly and controlling my breathing to a pace that was as relaxed and uninhibited as his. "I see you're still…spatially challenged."
I chuckled darkly. "Oh this? Yeah. Thought I had it under control…turns out I was wrong." And it's all your fault I wanted to say, swallowing the accusation down. I then realised that nobody had seen me come in here, so how had he-"How'd you know wh-"
"I just looked for the smallest space." His voice was soft and weighted as though his knowledge of how I found my spaces hinted to a wider understanding of how I worked as a person.
"Right." We fell into silence again.
"How have you been?"
"Awesome, obviously. You?"
We stopped then, cautiously waiting for the other to say something. The silence stretched until I was simply focusing on the sound of his breathing, my own falling into his rhythm. This was almost exactly like when we had started all those years ago.
"Do you remember the last time we saw each other?" his deep, quiet voice spread out through the darkness and tried to envelop me.
I slid my hand across the wall and flicked on the switch, the ancient light sputtering to life as I fixed him with a hard stare. "You mean the time I told you I loved you and you said nothing in return?"
He squinted in the sudden light, the brown orbs obstructed by the reflection off his lenses. "Uh-"
"No, I don't remember." I replied blankly as our eyes slowly adjusted and he shot me a wounded look, we fell back into silence.
How could I forget? The last day of P.I.S.D was a 'dance' held at the local hall and we'd managed to sneak into the small cafeteria and squeeze into the small space between the fridge and industrial freezer. By that time we were seventeen and our close encounters had escalated to the point where it wasn't the first time that my dress was bunched around my waist, my underwear pushed to the side and Topher's own clothes were unfastened and giving into gravity. His heavy breath was hot against my ear as his grip on my hips tensed and released intermittently. Pressed up against the cold hard surface of the fridge with my mouth moulded against his, I remembered having a moment of complete clarity, feeling altogether happy and satisfied and safe and realising that, for once, it was not because of where I was but who I was with. So afterwards, as we stood in the dark and deserted kitchen straightening and buttoning our clothes, I told him.
"Topher?" I breathed, straightening the strap of my dress with a shaking hand. My ballet flats scuffed the tiled floor as I tried to keep my eyes locked on his. After all, Group Leader Bella had said eye contact was important when talking to people.
He stopped slipping his belt through the loops and glanced up at me, the small upward curve of his lips a sign for me to go on.
"I, um, I'm glad you walked into that closet after mega Jenga."
He grinned widely, looking back down to finish his task; fastening his belt as he nodded in agreement.
"-and I really like spending time with you."
The grin turned into a softer smile as he walked towards me, his rumpled, untucked shirt forgotten as his fingers trailed up my arm, sliding up the stubborn strap that refused to stay in its place.
"I want you to know-"
He quirked a brow.
"I, uh, I love you." My voice echoed off the shiny metal surfaces of the kitchen before settling as a murmuring vibration between us.
His eyebrows rose swiftly and for a moment I saw his lips part as if in reply and it felt as if there was a weight lifting of my shoulders and an indescribable joy started to settle in its place. But then there was nothing, his face slackened, his lips pursed shut and he couldn't even bring himself to look at me. So I pushed my strap up my shoulder one last time, swiped my bag off the preparation table and walked right out the door. I walked all the way out into the wide, open parking lot, sitting on the welcome sign and ignoring the tears streaming down my cheeks and the churning pain in my stomach from being so exposed because I couldn't go back in there. I couldn't go anywhere where I would usually go in such a time because he would find me, he would give me was that look and I needed much more than that.
"I should have said something." He sighed, rubbing his palm against his forehead and leaving a temporary red swipe across his face.
"Yeah…that would have been nice." I ground out, sliding across the wall and reaching for the door. For once I felt restricted in such a small space, I started to understand how the dark could be overpowering, the warmth could be choking and silence could be deafening.
"I would have said a lot, actually." He propped his hand against the wall, halting my path and making me bump into his shirtless chest. Bad idea to come in here, Aubrey, bad idea.
"I would have said you're the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen." He stressed as I twirled and curved around him succeeding in feeling up his matured and hardened body as opposed to getting any closer to the door.
"It doesn't matter now, Topher. You don't-"
"I would have said that I only came to group so I could see you." He reached for me and all I saw was the light above, the reflection of his glasses and my own hair whipping and tangling as the walls started to feel like they were closing in.
"Please, Top-" My voice broke and he flinched away from me, clenching his fists by his side as I slid over to the door.
"and I would have said I loved you too." His voice echoed off the walls.
My hand froze an inch away from the handle.
He loved me?
I turned back to see his body filling the back of the cupboard. He stared back at me warily, his shoulders sagged and his eyes tired but there wasn't hit of regret, it looked almost like… relief?
"That is the most you've said to me in ten years." I swallowed.
"There's a lot more where that came from." He smiled softly. "I only came tonight for you." He added, shrugging his shoulders and straightening as though a weight had been lifted.
"I-" I started but I couldn't get my mouth to make any more sounds. Apparently my own problems weren't enough, I was contracting everyone else's, starting with Topher.
"When you said you loved me on our last day-" He began walking towards me, my mouth still fumbling to get words out; opening and closing like a broken electric roller door.
"- I, God, I couldn't believe it."
"Here was this girl, who nobody understood why she actually was in P.I.S.D, and not only did I get to feel her up in a closet every week at 5:30-" My mouth found it necessary to release an amused snort before I welcomed the self-imposed silence again. "- but she was telling me she loved me."
"and I just stood there, trying to force myself to say something, while your face just morphed from this beautiful hopeful expression to hurt and I felt like my heart was getting ripped right out of my chest. And then you left."
"You didn't come after me." I managed to interject quietly, my head spinning from his unimpeded confession and the resurfacing of my own unresolved feelings.
"No I didn't…" He murmured. "-and I wish I had, because I'm-."
He stopped, his chest heaving. "Aubrey, I-"
He exhaled sharply and clenched his fists. "I lov-"
Before I could stop myself my hand shot out and around his neck, wrenching his head down as I worked at making him speechless again. And it was like I was back in the closet seven years earlier, with his fingers gripping my hips and his lips pressing urgently against mine. Except this time he was an inch or two taller requiring me to push up on my tip toes, his once lean and spindly arms were corded with muscles that flexed as he slid his hands around to grip on opposite sides of my waist. I noticed his hair slipped through my fingers easily and the stubble of his face bit at my palms as my hands retraced long forgotten paths. But despite all the differences his lips were a familiar comfort, wonderful and complacent as before, pressing and pulling against my own until we both parted our lips and deepened the kiss. I heard an unmistakable click before the door was wrenched open and bright light and noise poured into the closet along with an inflatable pretzel.
"Oh, for fuck's sake get a room, you two. An actual room, Aubrey, where people can have sex without the fear of brain damage from lack of oxygen."
I squinted back at Lindy to see she'd already turned her attention elsewhere "Good to see you too, Lindy." I called over my shoulder as Topher dropped his head down into the curve of my neck, his hot breath fanning out and down my collarbone. He placed a quick kiss on my skin before kicking the pretzel out of the doorway and pulling me out into the kitchen.
"Hey, you." Lindy's voice rose again and I realised she had stopped in front of two guys who were casually chatting in the kitchen. "You single? Great. Come with me." She grabbed the collar of a very scared looking group member and dragged him out the door.
I turned my attention back to Topher as he straightened to his full height, drawing me closer as our eyes locked. There we were standing in the wide, open kitchen surrounded by people and noise and activity and I'd never felt more comfortable. Topher Port had always had a way of doing that and his former silence had given me relief that rivalled that of an enclosed space. I wondered what I'd have to do get that relief again?
"You should know," I began as he lifted his hand and drew the pad of his thumb across my lips.
"Now that I've got you I'm going to do my very best to make you speechless as much as possible." I nodded sagely. In the natural light, unheeded by distance or closeness, I could see him clearly; his glasses skimming his brow and magnifying the lighter flecks of brown in his iris, his long thin nose and his mouth that had moulded around mine so many times I knew it's taste better than it's shape.
"Really?" he grinned, his thumb going to trace up and down my jaw. "Well you should know," his voice lowered to a quiet rumble, sending shivers of anticipation down into my hips as I bit back a smile. His eyes locked onto where my lip was being drawn into my mouth, his own teeth biting into his lips as I raised a probing brow. He didn't have to finish his sentence for me to start kissing him; I knew just what he was going to say, but the words still had their intended effect as he bent down and whispered.
"I intend to drag you into as many closets as possible…and make you speechless."