Parties always reminded me of the night Talia died. It hurt every time I went to another party, remembering what had happened and how I'd all but murdered my own sister with my irresponsible actions. Yet, I didn't stop going. I saw Talia in every party I went to – it was the only way I could feel close to her again. When I blended into the crowd of people, I could almost believe that she was just somewhere else in the crowd or in another room, getting another beer. Until reality hit me all over again and I turned to the drink in an attempt to forget – in an attempt to relive that night so that I could make the right decisions this time. Except it had never worked, mostly because it had been my drinking that had led to Talia and Dylan's argument and her driving me home prematurely, which had then led to the crash… and everything else after that. And those thoughts would inevitably lead me to drink more…
That was how Rick had happened – or almost happened, depending on the way you looked at things – the last time. And two days after the rough, almost desperate sex with Dylan in an attempt to erase the knowledge that Talia would have, in two weeks, been dead for a year, I found myself in Aaron's arms.
There was a pattern here, and I knew what set it off, every single time. Every time after Dylan and I slept together, we would try to stay away from each other for a while. During that period, I would go to a party in an attempt to forget him. And at that party, conversely, I'd remember Talia. And then I'd drink and get myself roaring drunk. And eventually, I would find another guy to hang onto – another stranger. This Aaron – I didn't even know his last name, either because he wasn't in my grade or because he wasn't in my school. But hey, six degrees of separation, right? He was probably a friend of a friend of a friend.
From what I could see in the dim light, Aaron was good-looking. Really good-looking, in fact. And he had a great body. Still, he was doing nothing for me. Dylan was a little hard to top.
I leaned my head back and stared at the ceiling. I wasn't drunk enough for this.
Aaron pulled away from where he'd been nuzzling me and looked sheepish. "Not feeling it, huh?"
To say that I got a huge shock was an understatement. In all of my life, in all of the dark upstairs rooms that I'd gone into with guys I'd just met, this was a conversation I'd never thought to have. Even if I hadn't been 'feeling it', I would've slept with him anyway, just so to further delude myself into believing that anyone other than Dylan could do. That I could want someone else with the same ferocity that I wanted Dylan. I had to find someone else, because Dylan wasn't mine. He wouldn't be mine for long.
Aaron had to have known that I'd been willing to go all the way. Most guys wouldn't have cared. They would've taken whatever had been offered. That he'd noticed and brought it up first – that was unprecedented. It went beyond all the boundaries of logic that I'd previously known.
"Are you gay?" I blurted the question that was scrolling, in neon letters, at the forefront of my mind.
He laughed. "No." He pressed against me, for a moment, and I felt the unmistakable bulge in his pants.
I felt a sense of surreal calm settle over me. "Seriously? Then… Why...?"
He rubbed the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable. "Well... I... I think I can't."
I let my gaze flicker downward. "I'd say you can," I replied drily.
There was a bit of a silence before he blew out a long breath. "Don't take this the wrong way," he said slowly, "but I guess what I mean is that I don't want to."
I stepped away from him, feeling hurt even though it didn't make sense. He was just a stranger. His opinion on my attractiveness shouldn't have meant anything to me. "There's no 'right way' to take a statement like that," I snapped. Then I turned and made my way over to the door, fully intending on leaving before this random guy could, with a few words, bring back all the old insecurities I'd barely left behind. Dylan hadn't chosen me, either, when my twin sister had been alive.
He crossed the room in two strides and grasped me by the arm. "Wait. You've got it wrong."
"What?" I asked, none too nicely.
"Look, I..." He sighed again. "Well, I... sort of have a girlfriend."
"Oh my God," I muttered, closing my eyes briefly. What the hell? Was I some sort of boyfriend magnet? Other people's boyfriends, that was, because I sure as hell couldn't get my own.
"I mean," he rushed in to clarify even though I had no interest in his self-justifications, "we're not really... We're on a break. I can sleep with whoever I damn well like."
"What is this 'on a break' business?" I asked, fed up. Rick had probably seen himself as taking a break from having to be faithful as well. "That's the dumbest relationship status I've ever heard. You're either together or you're not."
"She wanted space," he defended, his tone taking on a tinge of belligerence. Then the belligerence melted away into bewilderment. "I don't know what the hell she wants, actually." This last part was muttered half to himself.
"What you need is to figure out your relationship, not trying to score at some party," I snorted, then realised I was preaching to the converted. He'd been the first to stop, hadn't he? "Besides, have you not watched Friends?" I demanded. "Being 'on a break'," here I used air quotes, "does not justify cheating." Then I thought of Rick and felt like a hypocrite, lecturing this poor guy on cheating when I'd helped someone cheat not too long ago.
Aaron scratched his neck, chagrined. It was probably a little too weird for him, standing here half naked while being lectured by the girl he'd almost slept with. "I should probably…"
"Go," I filled in for him, because he seemed too embarrassed to.
He nodded and bent over to pick up his shirt.
The party was still raging downstairs. By some kind of freak accident, I ran smack into Dylan at the bottom of the stairs. I'd sobered up from the incident with Aaron, but running smack-on into him had messed with my balance and I swayed slightly on my feet. Dylan put out a hand to steady me.
Then he took one look at me and his mouth flattened. "You just had sex." He was near enough for me to hear him, even over the blasting music, and from his tone, it wasn't a question. As if on cue in a B-list movie, Aaron sidled down the stairs behind me. Dylan's glare could've flayed stone.
Aaron nodded at him. "Hey, man."
Dylan just stared back, his gaze hard and unfriendly.
Aaron looked between Dylan and me, opened his mouth to say something, then seemed to think better of it. Instead, he simply nodded at me briefly and left. Dylan and I stood in silence until he had disappeared into the crowd. The pounding music was, by now, giving me a headache, so when Dylan grabbed my hand and pulled me back upstairs, I didn't resist.
At the end of the corridor, where the music had dulled to a faint pounding, Dylan turned on me. "Really?" He asked in disgust. "He has a girlfriend." He pinned his glare on me, as if I had wronged him greatly by going upstairs with Aaron. I hadn't even known he'd been at this party. Then again, I'd be the first to admit I had no idea whose party this was. All these parties, all these people – they all seemed to blend into each other after a while.
"I know," I said, then did a double take. "Wait, you know him?"
"He goes to Northridge," Dylan said slowly, as if he was explaining something to a child.
Not even six degrees of separation, then.
I huffed. "Look, we didn't… okay?"
Dylan continued to stare suspiciously at me.
I wrapped my arms around my midsection and turned away from him. "I don't have to explain myself to you."
He grasped my shoulders firmly and turned me back around. "When we've been sleeping together for the past nine months – then yes, you do."
"Oh, come on," I glared at him. "As if we have any sort of relationship. We're not even fuck buddies. We're like…" I grimaced then, because I didn't know what we were. Fuck-every-time-we-don't-want-to-think-about-Talia buddies?
I turned and began making my way back down the corridor. I no longer wanted to be here. The footsteps behind and the warmth at my back told me, without looking over my shoulder, that Dylan had followed.
"It's called common decency," he growled from behind, overtaking me and standing squarely in my way. "How many guys have you been fucking besides me?"
I shoved him away. "Fuck you," I said furiously, "you know nothing about me and what I do, and you sure as hell don't have the right to make me sound like a slut." I ignored the little pang of hurt that hit me from the knowledge that, for all reasons and purposes, I was. The rumours had been exaggerated, but I had had more than my fair share of one-night-stands. Most of them, however, had been before Talia had died. I had been hunting for Dylan's replacement then, and I'd been hurting too much to care. If I couldn't have had Dylan, anyone would have done. And now that Talia was dead… I finally had Dylan. But he wasn't always there. And he wasn't always mine.
He wasn't mine. I had to find someone to take his place before he left me. Before I forgot all about the guilt and started wanting more.
Dylan took a step back. "Okay, I didn't mean it that way."
"You obviously did," I snapped. Because he was still blocking my way, I yanked open the nearest door and dashed into the room to get away from him. When he tried to follow again, I slammed the door on his foot. He hissed in pain, but didn't remove it. "I'm going to do it again," I warned, referring to the door-slamming.
He braced a hand against the door to ensure that I didn't slam it on his foot again. I stood with my hand still on the doorknob, glowering at him.
"Look," he said tiredly, running his free hand through his hair again, "I just… We…"
"We've ended it, haven't we?" I reminded him, even though we 'ended it' every other day and never seemed to be able to stick with the decision. "Who I sleep with now is none of your business."
"The hell it's not my business." The glittering need and anger mingling in Dylan's eyes exploded and he surged forward and covered my lips with his. I leant into him and let go of the door, giving him the opportunity to throw the door open and sweep me into his arms. I stared at him, slightly dazed, as he kicked the door shut and pressed me up against the now closed door.
"How many?" He asked, boxing me in with his arms on either side of me.
I glared mutinously at him, shoving at his chest to no avail. "Get out of my face."
"Really?" He grinned suddenly, wickedly, changing tacks so quickly that I was breathless to keep up. "But you like it when I'm in your face." Then he leant in and kissed me again.
I kissed him back, hard. "Damn you, Dylan," I bit his bottom lip on purpose, smirking when I heard him let out his breath in a hiss. "Aw, did that hurt?"
"Sassy," he murmured, fusing his mouth to mine with a strong sense of urgency, his question forgotten. I ignored the relief that flooded me. I didn't want him to know how many. Instead, I put all my efforts into undressing him and pressing hot kisses onto every new inch of skin I revealed. Even in sex, Dylan was competitive. His hands and lips worked just as furiously as mine.
Pretty soon, there were no more physical barriers between us.
I made a move to kick off my heels, but he curled a hand over my shin. His thumb made repetitive stroking motions on my skin. "I'll get them," he murmured. He ran his hand, slowly, down my thigh, my calf, and finally tugged the shoe off. I shivered at his touch. Then he did it all over again, with his other hand, down my other leg, with the other heel. Both heels fell with a thump onto the floor below, quickly forgotten.
I pulled him closer, making him let go of my leg and move his hand to the underside of my breast. As his thumb stroked the skin there, I wrapped my legs around his waist. In response, he rocked his hips hard against me, making my breath hitch, "Dylan…"
"Tara," he said, before he leaned in and kissed me aggressively. My hands buried themselves in his hair, my mouth opening to yield to his demands. He pressed his body harder against mine, as if trying to brand me as his forever. My lips felt raw by the time he raised his head to look into my eyes. He licked his lips, now red from the friction. "Mm," he purred, grinning playfully. If it had been under other circumstances, I would've marvelled at the way his smile lit up his face and transformed him, for a moment, back to the Dylan I used to know and love. As it was, I felt my heart blossom with emotion for him. I loved him – this playful Dylan, the one smiled like he meant it, who didn't hide all his feelings under that so oft-constructed poker face of his.
I was clutching onto him desperately. "Dylan." My breaths were coming in gasps, and I felt like I was going to die if he didn't do something soon. I writhed against him, taking satisfaction in the groan that ripped from his throat. "Dylan, I want…"
You. I want you.
"Patience," he whispered, but moved his hips to give me what I wanted. I cupped his face with my hands and he focused deep blue eyes on me. We stayed that way for one long second, before all of a sudden, my hands were running all over his body and he was moving with frenzied strokes, as if we could never have enough time together.
And thus we fell back into old habits.