I closed my eyes, knowing that that was Mason's voice, and wishing he would just walk away now, before we got into another fight.
"Hi." I turned to glare at him.
He kicked at the ground, leaning against the locker beside mine. "I wanted to apologize."
A couple of people stared as they walked past, having heard the fight that went on day before yesterday. They're probably all excited over the prospect of another fight happening.
"Glad we could make your day," I grumbled, and pulled my bag higher up on my arm.
"What?" Mason asked, and I shook my head.
"Nothing. Talking to myself. What do you want?"
"I already said."
"Get on with it then, asshole," I snapped and stare at him impatiently.
The tardy bell rang, but I stayed put. I wanted to hear whatever he had to say.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I'm really sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I don't like her like that. I love you."
I raised an eyebrow at that. "Thought we just met not too long ago?"
"Snap out of that for like five minutes."
I looked away from him, looking up at the clock.
"I really didn't mean it like that. I don't mean to flirt, it just happens. I'm sorry, Bella."
"What was with you having your arm around her the entire time?"
"I was just being friendly. I'll back off. I didn't mean for it to be taken that way. I'm sorry."
I nodded. I needed to keep my cool. He was apologizing. I wanted to work things out. He wanted to work things out. We could do this. We both needed to try. This was him trying; I needed to put my efforts into it now.
He smiled, and leaned forward to hug me. Holding up my hands, I stepped backwards. "Woah, stranger. Personal boundaries."
He laughed. "Sorry. I forgot. You're just so easy to be comfortable around."
I flipped my hair. " I know I'm gorgeous, but damn. You need to remember the way things are, Asbury."
He winked. "I'll work harder next time."
Laughing, I start to walk away. "Gotta go, we're late."
"Wait, one second."
"What?" I stopped mid-stride and looked back at him.
"Do you want to hang out after school today? I don't think we finished getting to know each other after the mall the other day. We fell asleep last time."
I chuckled. "Yeah, guess we didn't. Sure. My place? Or somewhere else?"
"How bout the park or something like that?" He suggested, and I started to walk again.
"Okay!" I called and he waved me on.
I got a text as I walked out the school doors, telling me to meet Mason at my car, and that he'd give me more details when I got there. The weather was still crappy, and I frowned up at the sky as I walked. If we were going to the park, I sure hoped it didn't rain again. I didn't want to be stuck in the car the whole time.
Mason was standing at the back of my car when I got there, using the trunk as a table for his bag and Mountain Dew Bottle. He beamed at me as I unlocked my car and threw my bag in.
"Hey," he greeted me, and grabbed his bag and drink from the car. "So, I was thinking we won't hang out at the park this time. You'd complain about the cold the whole time, and that just gets annoying."
I held back a snippy retort, and forced a more appropriate smile. Yeah, I was still pretty annoyed with him. Manners would have to carry me a long way through this.
"Where do you want to hang out then?" I asked, and sat down in the driver's seat, but left the door open so I could talk to Mason. He leaned against the car parked beside me.
"I guess we could hang out at your house or something," he said, but then made a face. "But I really don't want to. I want to actually do something today."
I waved at Trish as she walked past, clinging to her new boyfriend's hand as if her life depended on it. She barely acknowledged me. Her eyes were all over him, no one else.
"Yeah," I agreed, looking away from the lovebirds. "I do too, but I don't really know anything we could go do." I shoved my hand in my pocket, looking for my wallet. When I didn't find it there, I reached for my purse. "I work tomorrow, I'll have more money soon. But for right now," I pulled out my wallet and examined the contents. "I have maybe twenty bucks left, and that has to go towards gas."
Mason looked upwards as I had earlier, thinking. "I don't guess it's going to rain or anything..." he decided slowly. His gaze dropped back down to me. "If you're willing to deal with the cold, we could just hang out at the campground or something."
We lived near a little campground that I wasn't even sure the name of. It was one of the nicer campgrounds here in West Virginia, but it was obviously devoid of life in the winter. We weren't really supposed to hang out there, but who was really going to report us in the dead of winter? In addition to the campground, there was a handful of other summer camps that lined a little dirt road near our houses, also empty this time of year. We had one other neighbor besides each other; a sweet little old woman that was always glad for company, and eager to share her tomatoes and strawberries in the summer.
"I have no problem with that. My parents won't even have a problem with it. Your mom wouldn't, right?" I stuck the keys in the ignition, but didn't turn it yet.
"No, she wouldn't. We can just ditch our cars at our houses and meet out front. Sound good to you?"
I nodded. "Yeah, that's fine. See ya there, then."
"See ya." He flashed me a crooked smile before disappearing around the end of my car to go find his truck. I turned the engine over and drove home, hoping I'd beat him there. My dad was home early today, and he'd want me to go inside and talk to him for a little while. I didn't exactly want Mason present, either. Dad didn't hate him, exactly, but ever since he found out his little girl was interested in more than just riding bikes with this quick fingered, fast talking boy, he regarded him in a gruff manner and didn't go out of his way to make Mason feel comfortable. And after all the times I'd come home, streaked in tears and barely able to speak from crying, Dad had no soft places in his heart for Mason.
I got there in record time, slamming the car door and darting inside before Mason got there. I was sure he'd driven just as fast and would arrive only a couple of minutes behind me, his only delay having been actually getting to his truck to drive home.
Dad sat in the living room, his only company a worn paperback book and a cup of black coffee. His reading glasses were set on the tip of his nose, the book folded in half in one hand, and the cup of coffee in his other hand. The old plaid couch looked too small to hold all of him. He wasn't a fat man by any means, just very large in build with equally large muscles. He worked in the food department at the federal prison in Beckley, and worked out every day after work. It was why I didn't usually see him after school or before I went to bed.
"Hey, Daddy," I said lightly, sitting down beside him. I set my bag down by my feet. "Have a good day at work?"
He looked up from his book then, and set it aside. A wide grin came over those lips that were usually so serious all the time. His green eyes--the only feature we shared--twinkled. "Hey, babydoll. Yeah, it was a pretty good day. How was your day?"
I smiled, leaning over to hug him. He wrapped one arm around me for a moment, and then released me. "Boring. We never do anything new at school. I hate it." I rolled my eyes and added a sigh to push my point, and he grinned again.
"It's 'cause you're so smart, babydoll. I think you should've gone for the honors classes."
I gave him an incredulous look. "I'd never pass the eleventh grade if I took honors classes!"
He fixed me with a stern look. "Don't say that. Course you would. You're my daughter, ain't ya?"
"Duh, Daddy," I said, and stood, kissing his forehead. "Can we order a pizza tonight? You and me? It's been a while since we hung out, just us."
He laughed. "What's up with you? Don't think you've been like this since you were eight."
"What, I can't want to hang out with my Dad?"
Actually, I really did just want to hang out with my Dad. Being the way I'd been with Mason for the past... well, really long time had worn me out. I wanted to go back to the times where nothing mattered but what my parents and brothers thought. Where the most pain was biting my tongue or my brothers and I play fighting. I was nostalgic for the old times when my family was closer.
"I 'spose you can. Yeah, sure, babydoll. We can do that. Order a movie too?"
I nodded eagerly. "Yeah."
"Alright, then. I'll tell your Momma not to go to much trouble tonight for dinner."
"Okay, Daddy. I'm gonna go hang out with Mase for a little while. You wanna hang out about seven?"
He glanced at his watch. "That sounds fine."
"Okay, Daddy. Love you." I went back out the front door, stuffing myself into a thick hoodie that I grabbed from the hook by the door.
Mason stood by the side of the road that separated our houses. "What took you so long?" He said impatiently, his breath a cold fog in front of his face. His cheeks and nose were red with cold. He'd drawn up the hood of his jacket around his head and tightened it in an attempt to block out the cold. I smirked, remembering his earlier comment about females and the cold.
"Was talking to Daddy."
He fell into step beside me as we headed towards the campground. The muddy road lacked the gravel it usually had in the summer. At the beginning of every other summer, the guy that owned the campground replaced the gravel, because it got worn out from the traffic of cars and trucks to and from the campground. It was due for another layer.
"Yeah, my Daddy works at the prison, so he isn't home a ton of the time," I explained. As if he didn't already know. The lack of my father's presence made it easier for me to sneak out at night, to see him.
"What's he like?" Mason asked, pulling his jacket sleeves over his hands.
I shrugged. "He's kind of quiet. Really big, muscular. Dark hair and green eyes. He's Southern, not like Mom. Mom is from New Jersey. Daddy's from Mississippi. They met when he was working with some guy that moved stuff for a bunch of people, a privately owned business. He and Mom must have hit it off from the start, though, because a year and nine months later, there was my oldest brother, Dave."
"Sounds kind of like my grandpa," Mason commented, and I looked at him. He didn't usually talk about his grandpa, it made him... sad. Sad wasn't really the word for it. Sometimes, I didn't really know. It seemed like he was more nostalgic, like I was sometimes.
"What was he like?" I asked softly, shivering at the icy wind that danced over my face and whipped my hair.
Mason looked far off, towards the dark, rolling mountains that lined the edge of the Greenbrier River. The Redrock on the Greenbrier.
"He was... quiet, like your dad. He was really short, too, but stocky. He could handle any kind of physical work, and wouldn't complain about it. He never complained about anything, except for the 'damned government'. He hated politics. He was really generous too. You should've seen him. One time, when I was down in New Orleans one summer, he saw this homeless man that didn't have any shoes. And he walked straight up to him, asked the man what size shoes he wore, and then took the guy to buy a pair of shoes. I couldn't believe it at the time, but now... I think I'd do the same. Because Grandpa'd want me to. He wanted all of us to be like that; to not think about ourselves before we helped others. I miss him."
I was silent at that. I'd heard him talk like this before, but not in so much depth. He usually tried to hide stuff like this, never revealing how much everything got to him. I was shocked.
He looked at me sideways, and noticed that I was watching him. "Oh," I said, for lack of better things to say.
"Yeah," he said, tearing his gaze from the mountains and looking at me full on.
"I'm... sorry." I winced at the lameness of my words, knowing he'd heard them a million times before. I'd been there with him at the funeral. I'd seen the haunted look on his face as he looked at his grandfather's body in the casket, seen the paleness of his usually tanned skin, the shriveled fingers folded over his chest. The fakeness of it all... I'd held him while he cried that night after the funeral. It'd been the weakest I'd ever seen him, and I shuddered and grew sick every time I thought of it. I hated how much that had hurt him, I hated it. I wanted to take it away from him, all the pain he'd ever felt from it. But of course I couldn't.
"It's okay," he muttered, a standard answer for the standard sympathies.
"Do you have siblings?" I asked, changing the subject.
"What's their names?"
He stepped over a puddle. "Rosie, Will, and Lexi. Lexi is a half sister. My dad and mom sort of seperated for a while, and Lexi was the result. Her mom was a dead beat, so dad got custody of her. This was also about the time I was born, so we're the same age. Less than a month apart. Pretty fucked up, actually."
"At least your mom and dad are back together now, right?"
"They are, but I think my mom resents Lexi. She knows that it isn't Lexi's fault, but still. They were seperated and everything, but I've heard the story a million times. Whenever Mom gets drunk, she likes to tell it. Dad had come over to get some of his stuff, and they ended up screwing, and I was the result there. And Dad was also screwing his girlfriend, who he was living with at the time, so Lexi was the result there. Bad timing, I think."
"Do you resent Lexi?"
He looked up, surprised. "Hell no, I love her like a complete full blooded sister. I mean, we're practically full blood. We've grown up together and everything. I love her like I do Rosie and Will. It's just harder on her, because Mom treats her unfairly sometimes."
"Like, if she gets in trouble or something, Mom punishes her worse than she would if it were me or Will or Rosie getting into trouble."
"That really sucks," I said, pitying Lexi. I knew this, of course, because I was pretty good friends with Lexi. I knew their story, and listened to Lexi vent about it a lot.
"Yeah, it does. Do you have any siblings?"
I paused. "Yeah.. I do. Three brothers. Dave, Zach, and Nathaniel."
"Zach is eleven, in the fifth grade--he failed a year--Nathaniel is eighteen, about to go to college. He took a year off. And Dave... passed away when he was sixteen. I was eleven when he died. I was closest to him at the time, I didn't really get along with my other brothers."
"What was he like?" Mason pressed, and I knew this was actually out of legit curiousity. He'd known Dave, but had never really hung out with him or anything, because we were only eleven at the time. He'd been the annoying best friend of the annoying but endearing little sister.
"I'm not gonna lie, he was sort of a dick at times. But I loved him. He was a partier, and really liked the girls. He was nice to me, though, because I was his little sister. He'd take me out to hang out with his friends sometimes, but not often. His friends didn't really like me, but tolerated me. One time, he took me out sledding, and his friend pushed me down the hill. I got hurt and skinned my hands, and Dave beat the hell out of his friend for it. I cried and ran home, both because I was scared that Dave would be mad at me, and I was hurt. I didn't get to hang out with his friends again after that," I laughed, recalling the memory. Dave had been scary to me then, and I had just wanted to fit in with his friends. I'd been crushed by the fact that his friend had pushed me down the hill, and I'd felt terrible when Dave beat the friend up over it.
"Sounds like a damn good big brother."
"He was. But the night he died... I was sitting in my room, playing with some of the Legos he'd given me for my tenth birthday, when I heard my mom scream in the kitchen. I was only eleven, of course, so I ran to the kitchen and demanded to know what was wrong. I found both my parents unresponsive. My dad was rushing around, cursing and yelling and trying to find the car keys. I'd never seen him like that. But I knew that if I found the car keys it might stop him being mad. It thought that that was what was wrong, weird as it sounds. So I pointed at the key hook, and told him that was where the keys were. He looked at me like I was a foreign little girl, and grabbed the keys. My mom just stood by the kitchen counter, staring down at the dropped phone and crying."
I paused for a second, to catch my breath and stop the tears that threatened to well up in my eyes. "The rest of us were left with the neighbor, Mrs. Watson, while Daddy and Mom went out to confirm that the body was Dave. He was killed in a four wheeler crash. He'd been drinking, and driving the four wheeler, all by himself. I don't even know why he'd do that by himself. But he'd gotten in a head on collision with a white Chevy, and... he died instantly. He was thrown from the four wheeler, and landed in the ditch. The impact broke his neck, and he was killed."
Mason was silent, as I'd been after he'd told me about his grandfather. Tears dripped down my cheeks now, and I made no attempt to stop them. I knew if I did, I'd just attract the attention to myself and Mason would see that I was crying. I hated crying in front of people.
"You know the sick part?" I asked, and didn't wait for an answer. "The guy in the truck didn't even have an apology. He wasn't sorry. He just brushed us off, and we were the family with the dead kid. For months, that's how we were referenced. Pray for them--they need it, their kid died. Bring them food, they probably don't want to cook. Give them your sympathies, it'll make them feel better. And none of it helped. Mom cried every time someone brought food, every time someone offered their sympathies and prayers, and Dad ended up threatening everyone that called. Everyone that showed up to the door with platters of food, he'd slam the door in their face. We didn't want anything to do with anyone. And no one would leave us the hell alone, to mourn in peace."
Mason's arms went around me then; he'd finally noticed my tears. I stiffened at the closeness, but then relaxed against him, glad he'd ignored the thing we'd had going on to comfort me. I gulped in the chilly winter air and calmed myself as Mason's fingers ran through my curly hair. He smelled of Old Spice and Irish Spring soap, like always. That'd never change. I don't think he even knew another brand of soap existed.
"Shh," he whispered. "It's alright."
I stepped away, wiping my face with the sleeve of my hoodie. Sniffling, I eyed his expression. He looked like he didn't know what to do.
"I'm alright," I said, and sniffled some more. "Strange for two strangers to be so close, huh?" I teased, bringing a smile out of him. He relaxed, crying episode over. He never knew what to do with tears.
"I know, right? Completely weird. It's like we were meant to be friends," he said, and we continued walking. We'd reached the campground now, and I made a beeline for the covered picnic tables. They sat on a little concrete platform in the middle of an oval of campers, covered by a wooden roof. Two ice machines and a soda machine sat with them, though none of them were working right now. There was no use keeping them running in the winter, because the only customers were Mason and me.
"Geez, it's cold out here," I said, my teeth chattering. I rubbed my hands against my upper arms, hoping the friction would help the numbness in my fingers.
"I agree," Mason said, and I snorted.
"Thought only females thought it was cold?"
"Only females think it's cold all the time," Mason corrected, and stamped his feet against the ground. "You'd have to be freaking insane to not be cold in this."
"Not that insane."
I grinned. "Could've fooled me."
He brushed off my teasing. "So, I saw how Erik was all interested in you the other day."
I sighed. "I'm not interested back, there's no worries there."
"Still. It pissed me off."
"Everything that involves me and another guy pisses you off."
"Is too. And we've just met, remember? Don't go pulling that. I know the rules and terms of this agreement. I haven't forgotten."
He didn't respond, so I just sat there for a moment, and then stood. "Look, it's too cold to sit out here. And I've got to get back and eat dinner with my dad anyway."
Mason just sat there, and didn't move. "I'm gonna go," I told him, and waited for an answer.
"Okay. I'll talk to you later, Bella."
"See ya," I said, and walked off, shoving my hands in my pockets. He was in an awfully weird mood today. I shook it off, though. I didn't want to ruin my night with my dad because Mason was being a moody asshole.
Because it was only five when I got home, I had some downtime. I knew my dad was probably holed up in his and mom's room, doing whatever. He wouldn't want to be bothered just yet. I went to the kitchen to grab a water before heading up to my own room to chill out for a while. Zach was in there, sitting at the kitchen table, bent over his math homework. He squinted at the page, concentrating hard. When I walked in, I startled him, and he looked up quickly.
"Oh. It's just you. Hey," he said glumly, and looked back down at his math homework.
"What's wrong?" I asked, and went to the fridge. After getting a water, I walked over and sat down beside Zach. He stared at the pages of the book sadly.
"I don't understand," he informed me. His light brown hair was cropped short, and his thick glasses were perched on the tip of his nose, like Dad's had been earlier. He was the one out of all the kids to resemble Dad the most.
"Understand what?" I asked gently, and pulled the book to me. Simple fifth grade math was on the page, accompanied by dumb pictures of happy children doing math homework, and the boring cartoon pictures they used to explain the problems to the kids. I grimaced at the book. "They haven't given you guys better books by now?"
Zach ignored my comment. "I don't understand mixed fractions."
"Oh, I'll help you," I said, grabbing his pencil and paper. So the next hour was spent helping Zach with his homework and explaining how to add and subtract mixed fractions. I wasn't a math whiz by any means, but even fifth grade math I could do.
By the time we were done, my dad had wandered down to the kitchen, phone book in hand. He was searching for the number to the pizza place.
"Where is it?" he muttered to himself, glaring down at the pages of the phone book. I bit off a smile as I took the book from him.
"I know the number, Daddy, chill. What kind of pizza do you want?" Mason and I had practically lived off of pizza from the time we figured out how to use the phone to order pizza.
"I want cheese, please!" Zach exclaimed, and stuffed his math book in his backpack.
"You always want cheese," I said. He and Mason were practically best friends when it came to pizza. Mason always wanted cheese too, with extra cheese on top of that.
"Your brother is over at his girlfriend's house, and your mother wants a supreme pizza," my dad said, and I raised an eyebrow.
"I thought Nathaniel and Rachel broke up?" I said, reaching for the phone.
"No, not Rachel. Some new little girl named Tiffany or something," dad said, shrugging. He didn't really care about Nathaniel's love life. It was mine he wanted to know every detail of.
I dialed the number for the pizza place and placed my order, ignoring Zach's 'ew' at my request of barbeque chicken pizza. I loved the stuff. When I hung up the phone, my dad asked me which movie I wanted to rent.
"Uhm, I don't know," I said. "We can just get something off of Netflix."
"That's not renting a movie."
"It's cheaper," I said, and looked at Zach. "Can you move the Wii down to the living room for me?"
Zach said yes and ran upstairs to retrieve the Wii. It wouldn't be a movie night for just me and Dad anymore, but whatever. At least Mom and Dad got to hang out, too. They didn't get much time to do that anymore, between both of their jobs and the chores that always needed done around the house.
"Do we have grape soda?" I asked, and Dad nodded, motioning towards the cabinet where we kept all the drinks that didn't need to be kept cold.
I dragged out an unopened twelve pack of grape soda and set it on the kitchen table, along with napkins and paper plates that I took from the top of the fridge. I hated doing dishes. Paper plates were my best friend.
Dad went into the living room to help Zach with setting up the Wii without knocking over the TV, which left me with nothing to do but wait. While I waited, I considered texting Mason and asking him to come over, but that would be breaking our little agreement. It'd be too hard to maintain the facade of having just met when my family was around. They knew we were best friends and had been through hell together, and the pretense would seem a little weird to them.
Finally, the doorbell rang, and I got up to get it, grabbing the money Dad had left on the counter. After handing over the money and giving the guy a ten dollar tip, I carried the pizza into the kitchen.
"Pizza's here!" I yelled, and quickly grabbed my slice and a can of grape soda before I was run over by Zach and my Dad. My mom came down the steps more slowly, and I handed her a plate. Her curly blond hair was a mess--just like mine always was, I hated that I had inherited that from her--and her blue eyes were sleepy. She gave me a tired smile and wrapped her robe tighter around herself before taking the plate.
"Thanks, hon," she said, patting my shoulder.
"No problem," I said around a mouthful of pizza. Cracking open my soda with one hand and balancing my plate in the other, I walked into the living room and claimed a spot on the couch, before it was claimed by my brother.
After everyone had gotten their plates, they all came and sat down in the living room. Zach had picked the movie--some family drama that I'd never heard the name of before, so I had it up and ready to hit play on.
It'd been a long time since we all hung out, and I was kind of sad, seeing how our family had changed as we'd all grown older. As I'd thrown myself into my relationship with Mason, I'd pulled away from my family, too. So much had been damaged by our relationship...
I fell asleep on my dad's shoulder, listening to my mom and dad talk quietly about the movie. His arm was around her, and I could tell she was smiling by the sound of her voice. Zach was watching the movie closely, completely immersed.
I wanted the old times back.