"So what is really going on with you and Mason?" Sam asked, taking advantage of the empty bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror, trying to get my hair to behave.
"Do you want to know the truth, or a lie that keeps me looking sane?" I asked her, flicking a curl away from my face. She pulled her lipgloss from her bag and applied some.
"We've decided to act like we've just met."
She paused, looking at me like I was crazy. "Explain?"
I decided I wasn't going to make my hair do anything today, and moved on to my make up. This was more because I wanted something to do while I was explaining so that I didn't have to see her facial expressions, and not because it actually needed any attention.
"He wants to start over, and forget all about everything that's ever happened to us. We're being friends right now, and pretending to get to know each other all over again."
"And that helps how?"
I shrugged, squinting at my messy mascara job. Seperating the lashes with the mascara wand, I said, "It's mostly made me realize how much I've thrown myself into this relationship. And we've grown too comfortable with each other. We acted more like a married couple than two teens dating. We fought all the time and everything. There was no more spark to the relationship because we were just stressed out over everything. This helps a little with that. He's letting loose... for the first time in a long time. And so am I."
As I said it, I realized it really was true. We really had acted just like a married couple. And we'd stopped really caring about our actual relationship, and had focused more on just staying together. It had just made things... suck.
Sam had no reply to that. "Oh..."
"Yeah," I said.
"Do you really want to fix things with him? Wouldn't it just be easier to give up and date other guys?"
"No... I really do want to fix things. I love him."
"Are you sure you aren't just clinging to him because you've been with him for so long? Because you couldn't imagine things any other way?"
I stopped, thinking about that. "I.. I love him."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure I love him."
"Are you sure you want to be with him? Is it really worth it, Bella?"
Something twisted in my chest. Things were changing.
"We'll just have to wait and see," I said quietly, grabbing my stuff and walking out of the bathroom, leaving Sam.
I did love him. I knew that I loved him. But what Sam had said held a small grain of truth. A small one, but it was still there. I really couldn't imagine things any other way. Should I date other guys to see how things went before I really started trying to fix things with Mason?
I needed to focus on why I fell in love with him in the first place. I needed to know.
Desperate for these answers, I texted him as I walked back to class, asking if he was free this evening. He wasn't, but he was free tomorrow. Or rather, he was inviting me to a party with his friends.
That's better, I decided. That was a big thing in our relationship, was our friends. We've always been friends, and we'd never forgotten our other friends even when we started dating.
My life was such a mess.
"So, how are you and Mason?" Nathaniel asked, munching on a tortilla chip. We sat in the little Mexican restraunt in town, surrounded by the sounds of forks clattering against plates, people talking, and the smells of spicy jalapenos and refried beans. Nathaniel had wanted Mexican tonight, so instead of staying home and cooking with our parents, we'd come out.
I'd been working all day anyway and hadn't wanted to cook, and Nathaniel had offered to pay. Besides, Mom and Dad needed a night alone. Zach was over at a friend's house for the night, and we were the only two at home.
I sipped at my Coke. "I don't really know," I allowed, and grimaced at having to answer like that. Ever since Sam's questions early that day, I'd been doubting my choices.
"How can you not know?" Nathaniel asked, slowly tearing his napkin to pieces.
"I don't know... we just... Well, we aren't doing all that well," I admitted.
"Don't yell at me or laugh at me, okay?" I said, and Nathaniel nodded.
I explained our agreement to Nathaniel, watching his facial expression as I talked. He kept it neutral, not showing whatever emotion he was feeling. From the tension in his shoulders, it seemed like he was mad, but that didn't exactly make sense.
He was quiet for a while, not speaking until our food came. When I picked up a nacho drenched in cheese and sour cream, he finally said, "Just be careful... and if you need me, call me."
I popped the chip into my mouth, trying to figure out what he meant. "Be careful?"
"Once a cheater, always a cheater," Nathaniel recited, spearing a pepper on the end of his fork.
"Okay," I said simply, and he changed the topic.
Later that night, when everyone had retired to their rooms, I pulled out an old picture album that I hadn't looked at in forever. The faded red cover held both Mason's and my handwriting, claiming it as ours. Back when we'd only been friends, my mom had suggested that we create a picture album, so we could remember our childhood later.
I flipped open the cover, running my fingers over the date that was practically carved into the front page. Under it, a picture of Mason and me sitting on the front porch with a jar of lightening bugs was glued. In the picture, our arms were around each other, bright smiles on our dirt smudged faces. The jar of lightening bugs sat between us, the bugs inside crawling around the inside, lighting up at random. We'd worked so hard that night to catch all those bugs, only to be told after the picture was taken that we'd have to let them go. We had begged to keep them, and had been told that as long as we let them go by morning, it'd be alright.
On the next page was a picture of Mason holding a fish that he'd caught, when we were thirteen. It was the biggest fish he'd caught at that point, and he'd been so proud. Even though I hated that he'd had to cut the hook out of it's mouth, I was proud of him too. Even then, I had a crush on him.
And on the next page was a picture of our 'camping trip'. The summer before eighth grade, we'd pitched a tent in the field behind my house and camped out all night. We hadn't slept a wink that night, because I'd been too scared. I had claimed that I kept hearing people walk around the tent all night, so Mason had stayed up and talked to me the whole night. The next morning, we both crashed on the couch in his basement, and slept until three in the afternoon.
The page after that held a picture of our third grade field trip to the Lost Caverns in Lewisburg. We thought of ourselves as great adventurers at the time, and had been so excited. When we'd gotten there and found that it was a completely civilized place with a gift shop and everything, we'd been so disappointed. We'd thought we'd actually get to go into unexplored caves, and be famous for it.
I smiled as I remembered, seeing how we'd both grown from cute little kids to gangly preteens to what we were now. His hair had always stayed the same, except for when in fifth grade, he done the whole rattail thing all boys tried out at one point. I laughed out loud at this, remembering how horrible it had looked on him. When we were younger, I'd always been the tanned blond girl that never knew what to do with her hair. So, throughout my childhood it had ranged from short (where I'd looked like Annie for almost a year, I'd been so devastated when I found out I couldn't pull of the cute 'pixiecut') to mid-length, to what looked like almost a mullet, to long.
I fell asleep with the light still burning, still smiling down at the pictures of our whole lives together. So short, still, and yet so long. It was all we knew. And I was sure I loved him.
The lingering question, though: Was it worth it to repair this?
"You gonna be there tonight?" Erik asked, popping a piece of gum into his mouth.
"At Mason's? Yeah."
"Cool. See you there," he said, winking at me as Mr. Burns motioned for him to sit down. I glanced at Mason, who was ignoring us.
At least he hadn't heard the exchange between Erik and I; that would definitely put a damper on tonight. I shook my head and looked back down at my notebook.
As I started to sort through my notes, I saw Malorie pass Mason a note out of the corner of my eye. I paused to look over, and saw her throw me a filthy look before returning to her own work. Mason ignored the little folded piece of paper at the corner of his desk.
I bit the side of my mouth and looked back down at my notebook again, trying to ignore the two. Mason had apologized. Mason had meant it. He wouldn't make the same mistake twice. At least, not in plain sight.
When Malorie saw that Mason was plainly ignoring her, she shot me another dirty look and nudged Mason's shoulder.
"What?" he hissed, looking over at her. I held my breath.
"Are you going to read it?" she whispered, glaring.
"No, I'm not. Leave me alone."
"Decided to play around with whores instead?" she shot back, her voice trembling. I looked up quickly, and opened my mouth to say something.
"Mason! Malorie! Be quiet!" Mr. Burns snapped from his perch on the edge of his desk at the front of the classroom. Malorie sighed loudly and sat back in her seat. Mason rolled his eyes and grumbled something under his breath before pushing the piece of paper off the desk with the corner of his binder.
I resisted the overwhelming urge to smile.
Smirnoff bottles and red solo cups littered the table by the couch. I wrinkled my nose, both at the trash and the couples making out around the edges of the room. Mason and I used to be one of those couples.
I shifted uncomfortably as yet another one of Mason's friends led their girlfriend off to do God only knows what in one of the other rooms. Chugging some more Smirnoff, I tried to focus on the TV, where Mason, Erik, and Greg were all playing Guitar Hero. Well, Mason and Greg were playing, and switching off with Erik. Right now, Mason was the one watching.
"Having fun yet?" he asked, noticing my lingering gaze. I shrugged, not wanting to bother with an answer. Actually, if it weren't for our fragile relationship and the promise of alcohol, I would have gone home hours ago.
"What's wrong?" he asked, drinking some more orange juice and vodka. The mixture swirled in his glass, ice cubes clinking against each other and the glass as he drank. He peered at me over top of the glass.
"Nothing," I replied evasively, going to drink some more Smirnoff. I frowned when I found that there was none left, only a few drops.
I got up and made my to the kitchen, stepping over Greg's girlfriend, who had fallen asleep curled up by the arm of the couch, watching the three boys play Guitar Hero. After retrieving another Smirnoff, I came back to find that Mason had passed up his turn to play, and was waiting on the couch.
He looked at me expectantly as I sat down. "What's wrong?"
I twisted the cap off of the bottle. "Nothing is wrong."
One of the couples that had left earlier wandered back into the room, their clothes rumpled and the girl's hair fallen from its previous ponytail. I rolled my eyes and directed my gaze elsewhere.
Mason saw my disgusted look. "Do you not like Julia or something?"
"Who's Julia?" I asked, reaching down to zip up my jacket.
"The girl that just walked back in with Derreck," Mason informed me, and I looked back at the two.
The room was starting to look awfully topsy turvy, even when I was sitting down. I squinted at Mason's face, trying to keep it in focus.
"You don't like Derreck?"
I shrugged again. "He's fine, I guess."
Mason sighed, and then looked at me like he was amused. "How many of those have you had?"
"What?" I asked. I'd been watching Erik and Greg playing Guitar Hero again.
"Those Smirnoffs. How many have you had?"
I focused on his face again. "I dunno. A couple. Why?"
"You've had more than a couple. You're slurring your words. And when you got up a couple of minutes ago to go get another, you were stumbling."
I frowned. I didn't think I was doing all that bad. I also didn't think I was slurring my words all that badly, just a little bit. "Liar."
He laughed. "I'm not lying."
"You want me to go home or something?" I asked, gesturing in the general direction of my house.
"Thought we were strangers."
"What does that have to do with anything?" he asked, draining the last of his vodka/orange juice.
He laughed again. "Do you want to go up to my room?"
I scowled. "We're strangers. Strangers don't have sex."
He gave me an exasperated look. "To sleep, Bella. You look like you need some of that."
"Sleep? I don't want to sleep. I feel good." I smiled at that, stretching. I did feel pretty awesome. In fact, I kind of wanted to get up and just walk around. It felt weird when I walked. But cool. Definitely a cool feeling.
"C'mon," he said, standing up and holding out his hand to help me up from the couch.
"I don't need help," I told him, jumping up. The world tilted, and I giggled, catching myself on the coffee table. "Ouch."
"Yeah, you really don't need help."
"Let's go have sex, dummy."
"Bella. We aren't having sex."
"Thought we were? Isn't that what people usually do when they go to other rooms?" I asked, leading the way to his bedroom. I let my hand skim the wall as I walked, just in case I had to catch myself again. I really didn't want to end up with a broken nose.
Mason cut in front of me when I reached his bedroom door, and turned to look at me. "No sex. You're going to lay down on the bed-"
"But you just said no sex!" I exclaimed, interrupting him. I started to fall again, and so I grabbed the front of Mason's shirt to catch myself. He lurched forward, but managed to stay standing as I fell to the ground. I giggled from the ground, even though that had sort of hurt. I'd smacked my head against the wall when I'd fallen.
"And I meant it. You're going to sleep," he said, grabbing my arm and pulling me up. I stood and promptly stumbled into him, from the force that he'd pulled me with.
"I don't want to go to sleep,” I protested.
“I don’t really care,” he said. “You don’t even really have to go to sleep, you just have to lie down.”
“Kay,” I said, and plopped down on his bed. The covers were still pushed down to the bottom of the bed from this morning; he never made his bed. I curled up at the top, pulling the covers up to my neck and adjusting the pillow under my head.
“Toss me a pillow,” Mason said. I tossed him the one beside me, and he pulled another blanket from his closet. He dropped those on the ground and started to pull off clothes.
“Woah!” I said, covering my eyes. “No!”
“Chill, Bella. I’m not going to sleep in jeans and tennis shoes.”
“Oh. Okay. Go on, then.” I watched him as he kicked off his shoes, and pulled his shirt up over his head, half heartedly throwing it towards the dirty clothes hamper behind his closet door. He pulled his jeans off, and then paused.
“Do you want me to put shorts on?” he asked, looking at me.
“I’ve seen you naked before.”
“We’re strangers, remember?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Strangers don’t get naked in front of each other.”
I laughed. “Okay. I don’t care.”
He sighed at me, and then lay down on the floor, moving around for a second to get comfortable. When he was still for a couple of moments, I spoke.
“Yeah?” he asked, sounding tired.
“Remember all those nights we stayed up and partied with these same people?” I asked, smiling at the memories.
“Yeah. Remember when Greg got absolutely wasted and puked in Gracie’s lap?” That had been one of the very first times we’d all gotten drunk. Gracie had been the only sober one there at that party, and she had sure been pissed to find herself covered in puke.
“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “And remember when you got drawn on when you passed out in the kitchen floor with a bottle of Captain Morgan?”
He snorted. “I couldn’t get that dick off of my forehead for a whole week.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, that was fun.”
“I wanted to kill Erik for that.”
“I thought it was funny. I helped, anyway.”
“I didn’t. And I know.”
“Eww... And there was that time that Derreck and that girl Lacy ended up hooking up in the bathroom, but she was on her period...” That had been one of the nastier memories. One second we had just noticed that Derreck and Lacy were gone, and the next, we could hear Derreck yelling from the upstairs bathroom. Mason and I had run up there, only to find Derreck gagging and Lacy apologizing, both of them smeared in blood.
“That was disgusting. I would have killed her for that.”
We talked for a while longer after that, reminiscing old times in the dark. I fell asleep while Mason recounted a story about Erik and Greg crashing his gocart while they shared a bottle of Captain Morgan.
I woke to the scent of stale alcohol and Mason’s mom moving around in the kitchen below. I knew she was probably pissed about the mess, and was probably plotting ways to get Mason and his friends to clean it up before they made their escapes.
Mason lay on the floor beside his bed, curled up under a quilt, his head on a pillow I knew he never used. I smiled down at him, remembering last night. I’d been drunk, but not drunk enough to forget.
His dirty blond hair was splayed over the pillow, his breathing deep and slow. He looked so peaceful in sleep. His leg stuck out from under the quilt, and I wasn’t surprised to find it bare. He couldn’t ever sleep in jeans. He hated it.
Moving quietly, I scooted out from under the covers and swung my feet over the edge of the bed, careful not to step too closely to Mason. He didn’t stir as I tiptoed towards his bedroom door, slipping through as sneakily as I could manage.
Once downstairs, I found myself staring at a room full of half awake teenage boys and their girlfriends. I gave a half hearted wave and started to pick my way through the tangle of legs and blankets and discarded cups and bottles.
“Sneaking out on Mason?” Greg called from the arm chair in front of the TV. His hair was rumpled from sleep, and he seemed to have lost his t-shirt.
“Nah, he just asleep,” I answered, my eyes on the ground as I tried not to trip. A headache pounded just behind my eyes and forehead, and my stomach felt pretty lousy.
“That’s okay, he can cry on my shoulder when he wakes up and finds you gone,” Erik said, and I just threw them an amused look.
“I’m sure you’d enjoy that. I’ve gotta get home, guys. Shower and stuff.”
“Yeah, you better hop on that. You reek,” Derreck said, and I just smiled and walked out, heading on over to my house.
She wasn’t there when I woke. At first, I was kind of confused as to why I was sleeping on the floor, and then I remembered exactly why.
Bella had been pretty drunk last night, after too many Smirnoffs. I don’t know why, but she had seemed kind of uncomfortable. Like she had to be uncomfortable at my house, even if we were acting like strangers towards each other. Even though I’d only had a beer and a glass of orange juice and vodka, I’d gone ahead and taken her to my room so she could crash. And then I figured I might as well stay.
I sat up and ran my hand through my hair, grimacing at the reek of alcohol on my skin. Standing up, I threw the blanket and pillow on my bed before heading downstairs.
Greg sat in the armchair by the TV, and Derreck and his girlfriend were lying by the wall nearest the kitchen. Erik was sitting on the couch, drinking some of the left over orange juice. The others had left, leaving behind a mess I knew I was destined to clean up. Thanks guys.
Derreck grinned when he saw me walk into the living room. “She ditched you, man. Got out as soon as she could.”
“What’re you talking about?” I asked, sitting on the couch and grabbing the remote.
“Bella. Probably felt guilty about hooking up with you last night since you guys are broke up and everything,” Erik informed me, rolling his eyes. I kind of wanted to leave him with the impression that we had slept together, so he’d leave Bella alone.
“We didn’t hook up,” I said, flipping through the channels.
“And why the hell not?” Greg demanded.
I shrugged. “Didn’t want to. We’re broke up.”
“She would have done it last night, as far gone as she was. I heard her.”
I chuckled. “I don’t think she’d like that very much. At least not when she woke up to find out what she’d done.”
Greg laughed. “You’re that bad, huh?”
Derreck joined in with his laughter. “That explains why you two were having so many problems.”
“Thanks a lot,” I told them, and stood up, grinning.
“Gah! Couldn’t you find some pants or a shirt or something?” Derreck’s girlfriend screeched, covering her eyes.
“Seriously, dude. We don’t want to make the girls think all of us are that bad looking,” Greg said.
I sighed, shaking my head. “Again, thanks.” I went off to find a shirt, smiling to myself as I remembered last night.
After showering and dressing, I went down to the kitchen in search of food. Nathaniel was also there, going through the cabinets. He gave me a sad look when I walked in.
“There’s nothing to eat,” he complained. “Mom hasn’t gone to the grocery store.”
“Where is she now?” I asked, going to the fridge.
“Work. She works today. Zach is over at his friends again. And Dad is at work. Like always.”
I sighed, looking at the fridge. Its contents held no appeal to me.
“Do you want to call a couple of friends and go out to eat or something?”
“I have to work later today, at four,” I told him. “I can’t be out all day. And it’s nine.”
“We won’t be out all day if we just go see a movie or something. And grab something to eat before. I’m starving.”
I shut the fridge, confident that there was nothing in there that I wanted. “Sure, whatever. Call up some of your friends and have them over here quickly, please.”
Nathaniel laughed, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Why don’t we just have them meet us at IHOP in Beckley?”
“That’s sounds even better. Just lemme see if Trish or Sam or somebody wants to come,” I said, already texting the two as I walked out of the kitchen. After pulling on a more suitable outfit of jeans and a long sleeved thermal shirt, I went back downstairs.
“Nathaniel!” I called. “Are we taking your car or mine?”
He poked his head out from the hallway bathroom. “Mine, I guess. Unless you wanted to go straight from Beckley to work.”
“I guess that would be better. I’ll throw my work clothes in my car while I wait on that reply from Sam or Trish. Who’s coming from your side?”
“Karson might, and Victoria. Tiffany said no, she has to take her mom to Lewisburg.”
“Did you invite any guys? Doesn’t Tiffany care that you’re hanging out with a bunch of girls?”
“Hell, she doesn’t control my life. But Kyle and Scott are coming.”
“Who’s Scott?” I asked.
“Guy from work. You gonna get your clothes or not? I wanna leave.”
“Oh. Yeah. One sec.” I ran upstairs and grabbed the clothes from my desk chair, still there from the clean clothes my mom had put in my room for me to put up the night before.
“Ready?” I asked as I ran back down the stairs.
“Let’s go,” Nathaniel said, holding the door open for me.
As soon as we sat down, I knew what Nathaniel was going to order: pancakes. That’s all he ever ordered when he came to IHOP, and it was probably why he had chosen to eat here in the first place. So it didn’t surprise me when he ordered a tall stack of chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream. I ordered a smaller stack of chocolate chip pancakes, knowing that Nathaniel would polish off whatever I didn’t eat.
Right before our food came, Scott and Kyle walked in. The two girls had apparently not wanted to come. I scooted over to make room, smiling at the two.
“Hey,” I said as Kyle sat beside me. He grinned back, his blue gray eyes skimming the length of my body. I ignored that and directed my attention towards Scott and Nathaniel. Kyle had always had a sort of crush on me.
“I’m Bella,” I said, holding my hand out across the table to shake his. He looked surprised, but shook it.
“It’s my little sister, Scott,” Nathaniel said, dismissing whatever curious looks Scott had been giving him.
“Oh, okay.” I laughed, shaking my head.
“Are you really that much of a player, Nathaniel?” I asked, and then paused. “Nevermind, I don’t really want to know.”
“At least I can get a girlfriend,” he retorted.
“I’m not interested in a girlfriend, big brother,” I told him, sipping at my Coke.
“You know what I mean,” he muttered, and I let it slide.
The waitress brought our pancakes then, and took Kyle and Scott’s drink orders. She promised she’d bring them their drinks in a minute, and hurried off, leaving us in silence while Nathaniel and I cut into our food.
I speared a bite of pancake and popped it into my mouth, almost groaning out loud. I had been starving, and this was the perfect thing for my hung over body.
“How do you guys stand that much chocolate?” Scott asked, wrinkling his nose in distaste at our plates.
I gave him an incredulous look. “Excuse me?” It came out more as ‘Arooz meh?’.
Scott looked like he might gag. “I hate chocolate.”
“Want a bite?” Nathaniel teased, holding a forkful out to him. Scott leaned away, almost bumping into a passing waitress.
We were silent then, Nathaniel and I happily shoving pancake into our mouths, with Scott watching like he might throw up, and Kyle practically drooling. I was half tempted to flick him in the nose or something, when the waitress finally came and took their orders.
Scott got some stuffed French Toast thing, and Kyle ordered the same as Nathaniel and me. Good choice.
When Nathaniel and I were finished, we both sat and texted, waiting for Scott and Kyle to finish.
We finally got out of IHOP at around eleven thirty, and decided to go see a movie. Nathaniel and I had driven seperate cars, since I had to go to work, and of course Kyle and Scott had driven seperate cars.
When we walked into the cinema, I was practically hit in the face with the smells of popcorn and nachos, and even though I’d just eaten, my mouth watered. While Nathaniel, Scott, and Kyle went to get popcorn, though, I bypassed, going to buy our tickets anyway. As I stood in line, I people watched, having nothing better to do. The couple in front of me were being so lovey dovey it was sickening, and the family behind me had two kids that needed to go to the bathroom and a teenager that looked they really didn’t want to be here. The mother and father looked the same, like they regretted their family outing.
I jumped when a hand touched my shoulder. Whirling around, ready to punch someone, I saw Mason staring back at me, an amused grin on his face.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, not bothering with a hello.
“Geez, Bella. Watching a movie, like everyone else.”
“Sorry, you scared me. What’s up?”
He ignored the dirty looks he was getting from the people behind us, as he had skipped ahead of them to come talk to me. I stepped forward, told the man what movie I was buying tickets for and how many, and looked back at Mason. He watched quietly while the guy handed me the tickets and my change, and then followed me over to the side of the cinema, where I could wait for Kyle and Scott and Nathaniel without getting trampled by the crowd.
“Who are you here with?” I asked, looking around.
“Just Greg and them. We got tired of hanging out at the house. Who are you here with?”
“Nathaniel and Scott and Kyle.”
“Who’s Scott and Kyle?”
I rubbed a sore spot on my forehead. “Some of Nathaniel’s friends, why?”
“Just asking. Is that them?” He nodded towards the trio that approached us, laden down with buckets of popcorn and large sodas.
“Hey, Mason,” Nathaniel said, and then looked at me. “We gotta go, movie’s gonna start.”
“C’mon, babe!” Kyle called over his shoulder as Nathaniel led the way towards the right hallway. I rolled my eyes, and then cast a nervous glance back at Mason.
“See you around?” I said, pausing.
“See you,” Mason said, keeping his expression neutral.
I worried over what his reaction would be to that later the entire movie. I couldn’t even tell what the movie was about, I was so caught up in my own thoughts. I was glad for the seperate cars when the movie was finally over, and we filed out of the cinema.
I bid my brother and his friends goodbye and walked off to find my car and get to work. It was only two, and I’d be there early, but I didn’t really care. I was still worrying.