I don’t, of course.
I feel the bed move when he sits down next to me. I can’t look at him yet; my eyes stay focused on the TV. My stomach swims with guilt and also something tingly when I think about how close he is. But mostly guilt.
“I’ve let you get away with not telling me anything for a long time,” he says. He rests his elbows on his thighs again and sits the way he had been sitting on the recliner, with his hands folded and hanging between his legs. “You have to tell me sometime.”
I look over and say, “It’s nothing compared to what you’re going through,” and leave it at that, facing the TV again.
Please stop prying, Andrew. I want more than anything to tell you because somehow I know you can makes some sense of it all, you can make it all better—what am I saying?—Please just stop prying?
“You’re comparing it?” he says, piquing my curiosity. “So, you think that because my dad is dying that whatever made you do what you did somehow doesn’t live up?” He says this as if the very thought of it is absurd.
“Yes,” I say, “that’s exactly what I think.”
His eyebrows draw inward and he looks at the TV briefly before turning back to me.
“Well that’s complete bullshit,” he says matter-of-factly.
My head snaps back around.
He goes on:
“Y’know, I’ve always hated that expression: Others have it worse than you do; I guess if you want to look at it in a competitive way, sure, give me welfare over blindness any day, but it’s not a f**king competition. Right?”
Is he asking me because he wants to know how I feel, or was that his way of telling me how it is and hoping I get it?
I just nod.
“Pain is pain, babe.” Every time he calls me ‘babe’ I notice it more than anything else he says. “Just because one person’s problem is less traumatic than another’s doesn’t mean they’re required to hurt less.”
I guess he makes a valid point, but I still feel selfish.
He touches my wrist and I look down at it, the way his masculine fingers drape over the bone along the side of my hand. I want to kiss him; the urge inside of me just climbed its way to the surface, but I swallow and force it back down into the pit of my stomach which has been trembling for the past few seconds all on its own.
I pull my hand away from his and get up from the bed.
“Camryn, look, I didn’t mean anything by that. I was just trying to—”
“I know,” I say softly, crossing my arms and turning my back on him. It’s definitely one of those it’s-not-you-it’s-me moments, but I’m not about to lay that on him.
I sense him stand up and then I turn carefully at the waist to see him grab his bags and his guitar from against the wall.
He walks to the door.
I want to stop him, but I can’t.
“I’ll let you get some sleep,” he says gently.
I nod but don’t say anything because I’m afraid that if I do, my mind will betray my mouth and I’ll just dig myself deeper into this dangerous situation with Andrew that I’m finding more conspicuous every day that I spend with him.
I HATE MYSELF FOR letting him walk out that door, but it had to be done. I can’t do this. I can’t let myself fall into the world that is Andrew Parrish even though everything in my heart and in my desires is telling me to. It’s not just about being afraid of getting hurt again; everybody goes through that phase and maybe I’m not out of it completely yet, but it’s about so much more.
I don’t know myself.
I don’t know what I want or how I feel or how I should feel and I don’t think I ever really have. I would be a selfish bitch to let Andrew into my life. What if he falls in love or wants something from me that I can’t give him? What if I add a broken heart on top of his dad’s death? I don’t want his pain hanging over my head.
I turn abruptly and look at the door again, picturing the way he looked right before he walked through it.
Maybe that’s not even an issue. How conceited of me to even entertain the thought of him ever falling in love with me. Maybe he just wants a friend with benefits, or a one-time thing.
My head is swimming with a chaotic swarm of thoughts, none of which I feel are right and all of which I know are possible. I walk over to the mirror and stare at myself in it, looking into the eyes of some girl that I feel like I’ve met, but never really got acquainted with. I really do feel detached from myself, from everything.
I grit my teeth and smack the palms of my hands against the TV stand. Then I grab a new pair of black cotton shorts, my new white tee with je t'aime written in script across it, wrapped around the Eiffel Tower and I head for the shower. I spend forever letting the water beat on me not because I feel dirty but because I feel like shit. All I can think about is Andrew. And Ian. And why suddenly I feel this strange, provoking need to think about them both in the same thought at all.
After my skin feels stripped of its top layer by the hot water, I get out and dry off, soaking up the water from my hair into the towel. I blow-dry it nak*d in front of the mirror and then go back into the room to get dressed because I didn’t bring a clean pair of panties in with me. Finally, I comb out my halfway dried hair and leave it down to air-dry the rest of the way, pushing it back behind both ears and out of my face.
I hear Andrew playing the guitar through the wall again. The TV is still yapping and it pisses me off so I stomp over and turn it off so I can hear Andrew more clearly.
I just stand here for a few seconds, taking in the notes funneling through the wall and painfully into my ears. It’s not a sad kind of tune, but for some reason it’s still painful for me to hear.
Finally, I grab my room key, slip my feet into my flop-flops and leave the room.
Nervously licking the dryness from my lips, I take a deep breath, swallow and raise my hand to knock lightly on his door.
The sound of the guitar ceases and a few seconds later, the door clicks open.
He has showered, too. His brown hair is still wet; pieces of it a little messy in the front above his forehead. He stares at me, shirtless and wearing nothing else but a pair of black cargo shorts. I try not to look at his lightly-tanned six-pack abs or the veins running along the length of his arms that somehow appear more pronounced with the rest of his skin in plain-view.
Oh…my God. Maybe I should just go back…
No, I came over here to talk to him and that’s what I’m going to do.
For the first time, I see the tattoo down his left side and I want to ask about it, but I’ll save that for later.
He smiles gently at me.
“It started about a year and a half ago,” I just come out with it, “a week before graduation—my boyfriend was killed in a car accident.”
His gentle smile fades and he softens his eyes, letting me see just enough remorse to show that he feels bad for me without it seeming fake or exaggerated.
He pushes the door open the rest of the way and I walk inside. The first thing he does before I even sit down on the end of the bed is pull a shirt over his chest. Maybe he doesn’t want me to feel like he’s trying to be distracting or flirty, especially when I came here to tell him something obviously painful. I respect him even more for that. That small, seemingly insignificant gesture speaks volumes, and although it might be unfortunate that he hid that body away, I’m OK with it. That’s not what I came here for.
There’s a sort of genuine sadness in his green eyes, mixed with something thoughtful. He turns the TV off and sits down next to me, the same way he did on my bed and he looks over, waiting patiently for me to go on.
“We fell in love at sixteen,” I begin and look out ahead of me, “but he waited for me for two years—two years—,” I glance over once in emphasis, “before I slept with him. I don’t know any teenage guy who would wait that long to get in a girl’s panties.”
Andrew makes a slight you-have-a-point face.
“I had had a couple of short-term boyfriends before Ian, but they were so…,” I look up in thought searching for the word, “…mundane. To tell you the truth, I started seeing a lot of people as mundane by the time I was twelve.”
Andrew looks reflective, his brows gently creasing inward.
“But Ian was different. The first thing he said to me after we met and had our first real conversation was: ‘I wonder if the ocean smells different on the other side of the world.’ I laughed at first because I thought it was a weird thing say, but then I realized that simple sentence set him apart from everyone I knew. Ian was a guy standing on the outside of the glass, looking in at the rest of us shuffling back and forth, doing the same thing every day, taking the same paths, like ants in an ant farm.
“Now, I had always known that I wanted something more in life, something different, but it was when I met Ian that things started to become clear to me.”
Andrew smiles gently and says, “Established and matured before twenty—that’s a rare trait.”
“Yeah, I guess so;” I say, smiling back at him and then I let out a small laugh, “you wouldn’t believe how often Damon or Natalie or even my mom and my brother, Cole, messed with me about how ‘deep’ I was.” I quote ‘deep’ with my fingers and roll my eyes.
“Deep is good,” he says and I glance over coyly because I detect the attraction even though he’s taming it very well for the sake of the conversation. But then his smile fades and his voice drops a little. “So when you lost Ian, you lost your partner in crime.”
My smile fades, too, and I prop my hands on the edge of the bed and let my body slump between my shoulders. “Yes. We were going to backpack across the world after graduation, or maybe just Europe, but we were determined; had that much planned out at least.” I look straight at Andrew now. “We knew we didn’t want to do the college thing and end up working the same job for forty years—we wanted to work everywhere, try everything while on the road!”
Andrew laughs. “That’s actually a pretty cool idea,” he says. “One week you’re waitressing at a bar and bankin’ on tips and the next week, in a different city or town, you’re belly-dancing on a street corner and tourists are tossing money in a jar as they walk by.”
My slumped shoulders bounce softly with laughter and I blush, looking over at him. “Waitressing, sure, but belly-dancing?” I shake my head. “Not so much.”
He grins and says, “Ah, you could pull it off.”
Still with a hot, blushing face I look out ahead of me again and let the blush fade.
“Six months after Ian died,” I go on, “my brother, Cole, killed a man in a drunk-driving accident and now he’s in prison. And after that, my dad cheated on my mom and they got divorced. My new boyfriend, Christian, cheated on me. And then, of course, you already know about what happened with Natalie.”
That’s all of it. I told him everything that, combined, made me want to get away. But I can’t look at him because I feel like I shouldn’t be done, like he’s thinking to himself: OK, where’s the rest of it?