I let a mysterious and seemingly complicated guy into my life but trying to figure him out is taking my mind off of all of my own problems. I want to ask him about all of the things that make him tick, but then what if he expects the same from me? And what if I can’t handle his demons?
When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up, but now I know it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
I’ve been stuck in time at age seventeen for the past two years. My life didn’t end in a literal sense that night . . . I’m still breathing, but time is at a complete standstill. I didn’t feel like anything spectacular before, but now I don’t even feel ordinary. I don’t know where to go from here. It’s not that I want to live with my mom and work in a diner forever . . . I just don’t see much of a future for myself.
Everything I thought I knew about life has been proven wrong. I can’t trust people just because I know their name. I have to learn to stand on my own two feet so that I can take the challenges life presents head on.
How? I’m still trying to figure that out. Sometimes it’s easier to live in the misery than to crawl out of it. When I’m with Asher, I want to try. He’s holding my hand a little tighter each day as I do things I haven’t let myself do in a really long time. It gives me a little strength I didn’t have before, and it’s giving me a glimpse of what my life could be if I learn to let go of some of my anger and guilt. I owe it to myself to at least try.
When I finally roll out of bed, there’s only twenty minutes before I have to be at work. I quickly shower, deciding to let my hair dry into natural waves. I’m out the door in my red Bonnie’s shirt and faded blue jeans with five minutes to spare. The air is starting to get a little cooler with each passing day; it won’t be long until I’m trading t-shirts for sweaters and a coat.
I take a shower without letting the scalding water turn my skin deep red, and I drive to work without panicking. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but I know there will come a day when I can begin to focus on more of the positive things than the negative.
As I walk inside the back door of the diner, I greet the cooks, earning me a curious glance from the two of them. I don’t usually talk much unless it’s my mom or Diana, keeping to myself makes my life easier, even if it doesn’t make it happier.
“What’s gotten into you this morning?” my mom asks, coming around the corner.
“Just trying to look at life from a different perspective,” I reply, tying my apron behind my back.
She places her hand on my arm, halting my movements. “Look, Kate, I’m sorry for yelling at you the other night. I just don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.” Her voice is soft and soothing. I want to tell her it’s no big deal; I’ve probably made some mistakes that she hasn’t, but as always, I don’t say a word.
“We’re just friends. There’s no need to worry,” I say, smiling as I remember the very second his lips touched mine yesterday. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget.
“Well, you’ve changed for the better since meeting him, so he must be doing something right.” She smiles, walking away.
As the morning comes to an end, my eyes are glued to the door, waiting for Asher to walk in. He’d said he might come see me, so I’ve been hanging on to the hope that he will all morning. My stomach clenches a little tighter with each passing minute.
Every time I hear the bell above the door ring, my head turns to see if it’s Asher, but he never comes.
When my shift is over, I drive home with all things Asher filling my head; the way he looks when he smiles, his scent, and the way he makes me feel when he’s close. I want to see him again so badly, but I’m afraid there’s a reason he didn’t show up today. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m afraid of the rejection.
As I jump in for a quick shower to wash the smell of French fries and bacon out of my hair, I’m reminded of all the times Beau used to come over after I got off work. He would purposefully move, as close to me as he could get, and inhale more deeply than I ever thought was possible. “Hmm, you smell like bacon,” he’d say.
Just thinking about him warms my heart, but it also brings me sadness. I’ve pushed him away without much of an explanation and all it’s done is hurt him. I may not be able to explain everything to him right now, but I need to stop pushing him before he falls over the ledge and I lose him forever. He’s been the one constant strength in my life, and I can’t afford to let him walk away. I see that now.
My first instinct is to crawl back into bed and waste the afternoon away like I’d usually do, but I know it won’t help me. I’ll drift off to the same place I always do until I cry my eyes out and fall asleep. Instead, I grab a book from my desk and start to read. Reading is something I used to enjoy when I didn’t have another care in the world, but that I haven’t taken much time to do it the last couple years. I should have never let it go because it’s a nice escape from the real world . . . something I’ve needed desperately.
I’m into the third chapter when my cell phone rings, drawing my attention away from my book. I can hear the chirping ring, but I can’t find it. I notice the bottom of my jeans sticking out from under the bed and pull them out, reaching in the front pocket. The screen shows a number that I don’t recognize. “Hello?” I say hesitantly, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Kate.” The agony I hear on the other side of the phone is enough to make me sick.
“Yeah, it’s me. I just needed to hear your voice.”
“How did you get my number?” I ask, hesitantly.
“I called the diner. They wouldn’t give it to me at first, but I have my ways,” he says, sounding as if he’s in emotional or physical pain. It’s hard to hear anyone sound like that, but when it’s someone I’m really starting to care for it’s even worse.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“No, I’m not okay,” he replies. “Everything’s so f**ked up. The worst part is I probably deserve it.”
“What are you talking about? Where are you?” I ask, standing up to pace my room. I don’t like the way he sounds and I have to go to him.
“Pete’s,” he says. He’s either drunk or losing it. Maybe a little bit of both.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes. Don’t go anywhere.” Pete’s is the local bar, and where my mom works in the evenings. I’ve only been in there a few times to bring my mom something she forgot before work, or to pick up some dinner for myself. It’s really not the type of place a girl like me goes alone without good reason.
“Kate, don’t. I just . . . I just needed to hear your voice,” he mumbles.
“Don’t argue with me,” I say, hanging up the phone before he has time to reply. Now I know how Beau feels when I’m pushing him away and not taking his help when he offers it to me. When you care about someone, it’s instinctive to want to help that person, no matter what you have to do to accomplish it.
I change out of my sweats, slip on a pair of faded skinny jeans, and then pull a long black t-shirt over my head, and I’m out the door. I wonder if this has anything to do with what happened between him and his dad last night, or if something else happened today. I’m not even sure he’ll tell me when I get there, but if all I am is a sense of comfort for him, I’m okay with that.
I pull into Pete’s parking lot and take note of a group of three guys standing outside the front door, smoking cigarettes. When I open my door, I hear them laughing and joking, sounding every bit as drunk as they probably are. Normally, I would get back in my car and leave as fast as I could, but Asher’s in there and he needs me.
I step out onto the gravel parking lot and concentrate on the sound of my tennis shoes grinding into the small pebbles. It helps me take my mind off the uneasiness that is spreading like wildfire throughout my body. I keep my eyes on the door as I count my steps, getting closer and closer. Only ten or so more steps, I think.
“Hey, beautiful, why don’t you stay out here with us?” one of the men shouts, taking a couple shaky steps toward me. I keep my head up to avoid looking at him and speed up my pace until my hand is finally on the handle. I pull it back, letting out a deep breath when it swings open. “Hey, where you going?” I hear him yell as I pull the door closed behind me. Never in my life did I think I could get through a situation like that without having a complete meltdown, but I did. My thoughts of Asher are more powerful than my fears.
Pete’s is decorated in dark wood furniture, and an outdated hunter green covers the walls. The worst thing about the whole place though is the overwhelming smell of beer and sweat. I hate it. That smell brings back so many memories that I wish I could forget, but I have to stay focused.
My eyes dart around the bar, looking for him between the booths and pool tables, but I don’t see him anywhere. My stomach rolls. What if he left before I got here? On the phone he’d sounded really out of it, and there’s no way he’s in the right frame of mind to drive home. I spot my mom behind the bar; maybe she knows where he has gone. Her eyes grow as big as quarters when she spots me.
“What are you doing here this late?” she asks, wiping her hands on a bar towel.
“Um, actually, I’m looking for Asher. Have you seen him?”
She looks at me curiously. “Who?”
“The guy I’ve been talking to at the diner. Have you seen him?” I ask, fidgeting with my fingers. She’s going to ask me a thousand questions about this later.
Her eyebrows pull in as her head nods toward the bathroom. “He went in there about ten minutes ago.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” She knows that we’ve become friends, so I’m pissed that she didn’t call me to come help him. Wouldn’t she know that I’d want to help him?
“I didn’t know you guys were that close. Besides, you really don’t need to get in the middle of this stuff,” she says, resting her palms on the bar in front of her.