Xander: On the Inside...
In spite of the fact that I hadn’t closed my eyes once all night, I was feeling surprisingly energetic. The first rays of sun had managed to stab through the black curtains draped lazily over my window, the only sign of morning.
With a sigh much too melodramatic for my taste, I capped my pen and set it down. The notebook open on my desk was covered in scribbles and arrows and scrawled out words, silent pleas made from desperation. A tangle of all the thoughts I’d been letting out this past year. Since everything had changed. They were merely a small expression of the chaos I was feeling inside. There had been a time when I’d embraced such chaos. I’d viewed it as a constant friend. Until it had so brutally stabbed me in the back and driven me to the edge.
Under my desk was hidden a bottle of Jack Daniel’s With a grim expression I pulled it out from amidst the piles of papers- incomplete assignments, abandoned lyrics, notes of sweet nothings that had never made it out of my door. They were only a few of the things that made my life. Granted, they were a few of the better ones.
I took a lengthy swig, letting the fiery liquid burn on its way down, starting a fire in the pit of my stomach that would burn as my fuel for the day. Since I was so desperate for something to keep me going. The clock on the wall read 2:26, the same time it had for at least a week. Eventually I’d remember to change it. Or invest in a digital clock like a normal human being.
Once my bottle was properly hidden again, I forced myself to my feet. My body was stiff from being cramped in the chair all night, and I knew well enough that stretching would do no good. Still I extended my arms high above my head in a vain attempt.
My room was tainted with the memory of her. Everything reminded me of her these days. It had been a full year, and still I couldnt shake the feeling of that last kiss. Still I could feel her tears upon me as I whispered that I loved her. Still I could picture her perfectly. Locks of bleached out blonde hair, pale eyes as wide and as blue as the ocean. Skin so soft it damn near broke my heart. And then she’d left me. Left this whole goddamn world behind.
According to my phone, it was 8:52. That gave me a good hour before I had to be places. Letting out a ridiculously obnoxious yawn, I collapsed onto my bed and pulled the sheet up over my bare chest. It was all I could do to block the thoughts of her. Even now her name rang throughout my mind. Reina.
I closed my eyes, fervently wished for sleep. Maybe I’d get lucky.
There are certain things in life that hold way more meaning than one would ever let on. Maybe it’s a note from a past lover or a hand-me-down from someone who died. Maybe it’s a childhood plaything. Or maybe it’s a place where you grew up.
I’d been raised in Paul’s Alley. As far as places to be went, our pathetic excuse of a town was lacking. I knew better than anyone that a place like Black Hills couldn’t contain a soul like mine. I needed out. Only, escape was most definitely easier said than done. I’d tried about six times, and I was still here.
Anyway, bowling had sort of turned into my out. There wasn’t much I was good at, but there I excelled. Would it matter in what most people liked to think of as the real world? Probably not. But at least for a few hours a week, I could do something right. Saturday leagues were a joke. We all knew it and we all treated it as such. If anything, it gave me two hours to meet up with my best friends- my only real friends, these days- and swap stories of the night before. Assuming we hadn’t been together anyway. Which was less than likely.
I myself was infected with the overwhelming cheer that radiated at Paul’s. There was something in the atmosphere that was so contagious, that almost seemed to temporarily erase any pains one might feel. Perhaps that was why I clung to it so.
I had barely set down my bags when I heard the painfully familiar voice of my partner in crime and best friend. “You look like shit, Xander,” He said, coming up behind me. “Where were you partying last night?”
I turned around and offered a small sort of half smile. Cole had seen me through more than anyone else I knew. He was more like a brother than a best friend, and I very much doubted I could ever pay him back for all he had done for me.
“I stayed in, actually,” I replied. I knew he didn’t believe me, even if I was telling the truth. Once upon a time, there seldom was a Friday when Xander Ocher stayed in. i was the people person, the one who always had somewhere to be, something to do. I could work a crowd with little more than a devious smirk. Since disaster had crashed into my life at full throttle, I hadn’t really felt too much like seeing people. I knew that Cole understood more than he let on. He too had felt the apathy that had been left in her wake. The difference was, he'd found a way to move on a little more every day. As for myself, I was still trapped in the memory. “Got caught up on my pre-calc.”
Cole rolled his eyes. “Well, you missed a killer party at Gavin’s house,” he told me. “I was out of my mind by ten.”
I flashed him a grin before turning away, attempting to save a bit of reputation. On the wall before me, the clock read 10:20. It was my time.
Alessa: On the Outside...
“Hurry up!” I hissed. Ellie bit her lip to choke back her laughter pulling open the back door with her free hand. The other cradled her caramel chai latte. The coffee shop next to Paul’s Alley may have been my favorite place in the whole world at that moment. When all else seemed wrong, at least I could count on my coffee. Between that and Ellie, who was about the only person who knew how to reach me, I ws almost feeling alive again. Almost.
Ellie paused to glare at me over her shoulder. “Nice job, Alessa,” she growled. “We’re late.” Of course it was all in play. Ellie and I had been to hell and back together, and were in the process of planning our next visit. We’d been inseparable since birth and there was not a force on this earth that could tear us apart. They'd tried.
The bowling instructor shot us a warning glance. As if we cared. Our teammates, Nick and Sean, were already setting up at a lane.
“I put you in last,” Sean said to Ellie as she gently set her cup down on the table. I was a bit more forceful with my own, a mistake that sent a few precious drops sloshing onto the plastic-coated surface. As far as Ellie and Sean’s history, it was pretty one-sided. Ellie had gotten over him, though, and now we were all just great friends.
Nick let out a low groan, coming over and resting his head on top of my own. “I’m so hung over,” he muttered. “Damn parties.” I rolled my eyes at my cousin. His immaturity amazed me sometimes, but I loved him like no other. Family was a big part of my life, surprisingly enough. I was a firm believer that blood was thicker than water, and that at the end of the day, if everyone I knew had turned their backs, I'd still have them to lean on for support.
“Who are we playing?” I asked to no one in particular, dropping down to exchange my well-worn Converse high tops for my too white bowling shoes.
“Cole and Xander’s team,” Sean answered. “Which means we’re fucked.”
I laughed a little. “Like we care anyway,” I replied. “This is such a joke.”
“Then why do you still show up every week?” Sean pointed out. “Unless you have some secret adoration here.”
I laughed with them but rolled my eyes again. I was used to such teasing from them. Apparently I was just the greatest victim ever because I got worked up so easily. I tried to ignore them, but it was just not that easy. Anyway, they all knew I was incapable of even considering other guys. Since the September fiasco I hadn’t even bothered to look. I supposed there was still some twisted part of my mind that was waiting for him to come back. even though the logical part knew he wouldn’t.
Bowling went as smooth as ever. We laughed and played and drank our coffees. The smiles of my friends were so contagious, I almost managed to forget about things. I thought that maybe that ws what kept me here. There were many nights I thought about giving up altogether. But there were some things that I was sure were worth holding on to. I supposed it ws just a matter of fighting long enough to find them.
Amazingly, I made average my first two games. As if it mattered. We were up against the best team here. Frame after frame, Xander somehow managed a strike, which was generally followed by some obnoxious cheer. I vaguely thought he’d always been that way; I just had never paid much attention. Now I seemed unable to look away. I’d heard stories about Xander before. Ellie was a grade above him, and he was well known throughout their entire school. Only, not in a good way. Xander had established quite the reputation for himself, which made him rather difficult to approach. He was the sort of person who seemed to know just how much charm he had over others, and he knew how to use it too.More than once, I caught him glancing over at me. I wondered if I was the only one who saw the well-masked misery buried in his deep blue eyes.
After my next frame, I left the others to get a soda. The machine at Paul’s was a dinosaur, so it took more patience than I had to offer to get my dollar in. The Dr Pepper tumbled into the bottom, and I reached in to grab it. As if I needed the caffeine. As if I would ever be able to close my eyes again.
Ellie and the boys were calling me back; I must have been up already. With a little sigh I started my lane. I kept my gaze down, noticed a small scuff on the toe of my shoe. Had I been paying attention, I probably would have seen it coming. But then, no one ever sees those things coming. At least, not in time to stop them. That's the thing about life. It throws you a chance without warning, and all you can do is fumble to catch it.
It was little more than a brush of the shoulders, but to me it felt like I’d been hit by a speeding bus square in the chest. I looked up into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, into an ocean that was pulling me in. My breathing caught a little, and I tried to look away, but I was frozen. Captivated.
And then Xander Ocher smiled at me.
I tried to return it, but when you are being scrutinized by a gaze like that, it’s fairly difficult to think. Xander’s eyes did the traditional scan up the body, hitting all the key places. I myself could barely move my gaze from his own, or from that mournful mouth that could have brought tears to angels.
Across the way, Nick was giving me a peculiar sort of look, getting Ellie and Sean’s attention so they could all get a glimpse of naïve little Alessa trapped under Xander Ocher’s stare. If only I’d have walked away. Ended it before it could even begin. For that was the beginning, whether I was aware of the fact or not.
If only I could have stopped staring.
Surprisingly, I did start walking by, then, but not soon enough. Xander’s hand reached out to lightly scrape the bare skin of my forearm, the shredded skin that rested there. I turned just enough to look at him over my shoulder. The smile was back. I thought that, at that moment, I loved that smile, for no one else could capture the very essence of hope in a single upturning of the lips.
At last he spoke. “Um, do you have a number?”