The next morning, when I looked in the mirror after getting ready, I noticed the difference from when I was getting ready to go somewhere with Cai and from when I was getting ready to go somewhere with Josh. For Cai, it had been a real simple outfit, my make-up limited, and my jewelry very different, but very much like me: I had worn a small dark hoop in my cartilage piercing, similar but different hoops in my regular ones, stars of the same metal in my second, and a star necklace. For Josh, the outfit and the jewelry, big diamonds in all of my piercings, were very in style and the make-up was much heavier. I had foundation, concealer, eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, and lip gloss. I didn’t need to have any blush because my face was naturally red most of the time, and I assumed it would be from who I was going to be with.
Unlike Cai, Josh got out of his car and rang my door bell. I met him on the porch, exchanged greetings, and walked to his car. After we were off my street, he said, “I just thought we could use this time to catch up.”
“Well, what have you been up to the past six years?”
He laughed. “It sounds like such a simple question, but it’s hard to answer. I moved here. I started playing soccer. I quit though, the guys were jerks and I don’t care enough for the sport to listen to all of their crap to continue playing.”
“I hear you’re everyone’s best friend.” I teased.
He laughed uncomfortably, “I thought that if I was nice to everyone that I would be in all the girls’ ‘friend zones’ so I wouldn’t have to deal with them asking me out.”
“You just thought you were going to turn into a big hunk, weren’t you?”
He eyed me, “You going to deny I’m not?”
“Denied Josh, denied.”
“That hurts Aylin.”
“What have you been doing?”
“I was being friendless and bullied. I was in some clubs but I didn’t really participate. Pretty much the same things I do here only no clubs.”
“You had friends then and you have friends now.”
“I had Kali and you and I have Cai and you. Friends only by the definition of how many it takes to be plural.”
“It’s that better than friend by the same definition.”
“I’m not entirely sure sometimes. Nere’s relentless and now she has started to torment Cai too.”
He sighed. “I’ve tried to talk to her, really I have. She just won’t listen.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
“The idea to talk to her or the idea that she wouldn’t listen?”
“Really Josh, I need to tell you. The idea that she wouldn’t listen.”
“That was the day you walked around school with red paint dripping down your back.”
I sighed and leaned my head on the back of the seat. “We shouldn’t talk about this. It is only going to ruin the day.” I said.
“I agree. So what clubs were you in?”
“German club, art club, and fundraising.”
“We put on weird or different events at the school to make money for charity. It actually worked very well and helped some of our local charities out a lot.”
“I have never heard of anything like that.”
“It was fun; I suppose.”
“So you can draw?”
“A little, I’m not the next Picasso or anything.”
“I would love to see some of your artwork one of these days.”
“We’ll talk about it later.”
“Liar. You’re not going to show me.”
I admitted. “Not planning on it.”
“I don’t think that’s fair. I would show you my drawings.”
“You are obviously not an artist.”
He seemed confused, “Isn’t that why people become artists, so that other people can see their hard work?”
“Logic and art don’t mix, Josh. That is your first lesson. I am don’t let a lot of people look at my drawings, a lot of people don’t. It’s very personal stuff usually. It comes from your heart and you need the courage to put it in front of people where it can be criticized by anyone and everyone who so happens to lay their judgmental eyes upon it for a mere second. It’s something you have to work towards.”
“I am not anybody; my eyes are not judgmental and they shall not be there for just a second.”
“Yeah, I’m still going to say no.”
“You are so mean to me.” He whined.
I laughed. “I’m sure it would be the same for you.”
“Ehhh.” He disagreed with me.
“Anyway, we have gotten pretty off subject.” I stated.
He questioned, “Our subject being?”
“What has happened in the last six years?” I reminded.
“I can’t really think of anything. Oh, I have a four year old sister.”
“Is she a ginger too?”
He laughed. “We’re like the Weasley’s.”
“Gingers all around!”
“There’s just fewer of us.” Josh informed me. “There are only three kids, not seven. Oh, I thought of another one, in the last six years my brother has started college. He’s a sophomore in college at the University of Texas at Austin.”
“Just because I haven’t lived here as long as you, it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have understood if you had said UT. It isn’t that hard to figure out.”
“Actually… I forgot.”
“Uhuh, sure you did.”
“Anyway, it’s your turn.”
“I believe it’s your turn. Isn’t that the entrance to the mall?”
He said as he missed it. “Oops… Scenic route time.”
The scenic route included driving around the block to be in the wrong lane to turn into the mall. The second time we actually made it into the parking lot. Thank god. I was starting to question the competence of my driver.
Now, I had never been to this mall, but I was assuming we weren’t really going to be shopping much. More like walking and talking. And I was right. We stopped in the food court first to have lunch. I had a grilled sub sandwich and Josh had Chinese food. We say in the middle of the swamped food court so close to the table around us that if I leaned I believe I would be shoulder to shoulder with another human being, and honestly it was making me a bit claustrophobic.
As soon as we were done eating, we were gone. I couldn’t stand sitting there any longer. We walked around, not really going in anywhere as I predicted. We did go into the pet shop and looked at all the cute little puppies. I was always a sucker for pet stores. I just loved animals. We sat down on a bench in the middle of one of the halls in between two kiosks, one for handbags and the other for cell phone cases.
“I believe it was your turn before we got here.” Josh reminded.
“In the last six years…” I began.
“Yes?” Josh encouraged me to go on.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I’m not much of a people person so I didn’t make any friends. I told you about my clubs. My family is just my mom, my dad, and I and nothing exciting has gone on there. I already said I was bullied. I think that’s all I’ve done in the last six years. There’s nothing more to tell you.”
“There’s got to be something. An amazing vacation perhaps?”
“My dad doesn’t believe in vacations. He says they are a waste of money and a scam.”
“Okay then.” Josh replied. “Ummm… you and Kali still friends?”
I replied, “Yeah, we are.”
“Erm… do you have a boyfriend?”
“Nope, I have never had one, and I probably never will at this rate.” I muttered towards the end, and over everything else going on in the building I was really hoping he didn’t hear that. I instead redirected his attention by asking a question. “How many girlfriends have you had?”
He didn’t seem like he wanted to answer for a long while. Eventually he finally told me, “I’ve had a few.”
“What does a few consist of?”
“It is more than a couple.” That was all he would answer with.
“Really? I never would have a guessed. Does that mean several is more than a few?”
“Yes it does, Ay. Look at who is such a fast learner!” He joked enthusiastically.
“Come on, Josh.”
“Okay, I’ve dated a lot of the girls at school. Never for very long though. They would ask me out; I would say yes; they would break up with me not to long later because even though I’m such a cool looking guy, I am kind of a nerd at heart.”
“Basically, the cheerleaders deflowered you.”
“No one ever said that, and no they didn’t by the way. It wasn’t even cheerleaders. I was smart enough not to mess with them. It was the kids that are under them in the popularity rankings. It’s them that you really have to watch out for.”
“Says the guy with all of them eating out of the palm of his hand to the girl being picked on by the cheerleader. Yeah, I think it’s the cheerleaders running this school, personal opinion of course.”
He laughed. “I suppose you would see it that way.”
“It makes perfect, logical sense.”
“I thought you said logic and art don’t mix.”
I pointed out, “Yes, but this isn’t art, is it?”
“Why thank you.”
He changed the subject pretty abruptly. “What’s going on between you and Cai?”
I stared at him in confusion. It seemed out of place from our past conversations and it was very random. “Nothing is going on between Cai and me.” I informed him.
“Are you sure?”
“What do you mean am I sure? Of course I am sure!”
“I was talking to Lucy last night and she told me that she saw you and Cai at the movie theater. She said the two of you looked very comfortable with one another.”
“Comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an adjective.
“What does comfortable even mean? And it is my business who, when, where, and why I go or do something. Lucy has no business reporting to you where I have been.”
“You sound very defensive.” He pointed out.
Well of course I sounded defensive, but it was pissing me off. Why did it matter if I was with Cai yesterday? More importantly, why did he care? I didn’t have a response for him though.
“Aylin, you don’t like Cai, do you?”
“No, but at the moment I’m pretty sure I like him better than you.”
He raised his voice slightly. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that he’s been a better friend than you have recently and that you’re acting selfish.”
“How am I being selfish?”
“You don’t want me to go to the movies with a friend? Do you think I would care if you went to the movies with one of your friends?”
“You would if it was Nere.” He pointed out.
“No, it wouldn’t have because I can understand that you are her friend and it doesn’t matter if I don’t like her or not.” I informed him. I muttered under my breath, “Or if she’s the meanest person I have ever met.”
“What was that?” Josh asked.
I replied, “Nothing.”
“I think we should get moving.” Josh said, slightly annoyed.
We walked around from store to store not talking much. After a while, we began talking about trivial things like which sunglasses at the little kiosk we liked better. I don’t think there will be any more real conversations today. At one point we saw a couple girls, cheerleaders – Nere’s lackeys, from our school from across the corridor. I walked behind him a step, turned my head the other way, and hid behind my hair; I knew it wouldn’t be enough to stop them from recognizing me, but it was all I could think to do.
“Hi Josh.” They said sweetly as we passed them. At the end, they tacked on a growled, “Aylin.”
I flinched a bit but kept walking. Josh didn’t say anything to them and I wasn’t looking at him but I know he waved or gave some sign of greeting when we passed. I kept my head down to.
“Aylin,” Josh said as he put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s alright.”
“I think I want to go home…” I said to him.
He didn’t seem to like that statement. “They aren’t Nere. It’s fine.”
“I don’t care. Nere’s probably around here somewhere and I don’t want to be here anymore. Take me home, please.” I almost begged.
“Okay, let’s go then.” He eventually decided.
“Thank you.” I replied as we walked started towards the exit.
My head kept turning, right left right left. It was like I was trying to cross a street but cars kept on coming, a never ending line of traffic. “Ay, what are you doing?”
I yelped slightly when he said my name. “Uhhh, nothing?” I questioned more than stated.
“You’re looking for her, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I denied.
He shook his head in disappointment but said nothing more to me. We walked down rows of cars trying to remember were we had parked. It was becoming quite clear to me that Josh was directionally challenged. I located it, by spotting a bright blonde haired girl leaning against it.
“I think I’ll walk home.” I informed here.
“You can’t walk home from here.”
“Try me.” I challenged.
“Come on Aylin. I’ll get rid of her.”
I turned around anyway and starting walking away. There had to be a bus stop around here somewhere. I had gotten to the sidewalk when I heard Josh - who by how loud and clear his voice was, I could conclude he was right behind me - yelled, “Nere, don’t do it.”
Right after I had registered what he said there was a hundred pound girl on my back with her arms a bit too tight around my throat. The force of her jump caused me to slam face first into the hard sidewalk. Josh pulled her off before anything else could happen. I just lied there on the sidewalk; I couldn’t make myself get up. I could see Josh throw Nere behind him and watched her run away into the mall.
He put his hands on my shoulders and sat me up straight as if I was a rag doll while asking me if I was okay. No, I had just been rammed into concrete; it didn’t hurt at all or anything, idiot. I could feel a trickle of blood run down my face. Perfectly fine Josh.
“Do you want to go to the bathroom?”
“Not particularly, but I doubt you want me bleeding in your car.”
He sighed, “It’s fine. I think I have some paper towels in my trunk.”
“Why do you have paper towels in your trunk?”
“I think they fell out of the bag when I brought the groceries in last night.”
He led me to the car and I sat in the passenger seat with the door open and my feet on the ground leaning my elbows on my knees with one hand on my head covering the wound. Meanwhile, Josh scrambled in his trunk looking for the paper towels he promised me. He brought the entire package of three up to the front of the car.
“Josh, if I was going to bleed this much I would have probably been dead by now or close.”
“That’s not a one sheet picker upper like Bounty or anything. It’s cheap, off brand, was on sale, and I had a coupon brand; it will take about five sheets per ten seconds. Better to be prepared anyway.”
I swung my legs into the car and latched my safety belt. I violently ripped open the paper towels and crumbled a few together before placing them on my head. Then I leaned back and put my feet on the dash. Josh let me for a couple minutes before it bothered him enough to make me put them on the floor of the car.
Once the paper towel felt wet I would get a new hunk and set the other on my thigh. I slowly gathered a piled of bloody paper towels in my lap. Josh pulled into my drive way and asked if I needed any help. I wouldn’t let him carry any of the paper towels or my purse or anything. I told him just to go home. Truth was, I didn’t want him to see me telling a terrible lie to my mother – I had tripped over the curb.