“Well, I must say I’m not very impressed.” Ben leaned in closer to me, “You told me not to ever forget you, but you didn’t remember me.”
“Yes, but if you remember correctly you also told me that you would call when you came home for holiday breaks.” I declared shoving him back away from me. “I didn’t receive one.”
Ben ran his fingers over his beard, and chuckled to himself. “I guess that would be my fault.”
“Do you care to explain why?”
Ben let his eyes fall from mine. “It almost sounds silly to say it now, but I was afraid to. I had called other friends and they all made fun of me. I had gotten braces. Well, in truth my teenage years treated me a lot differently than you. Where you flourished in beauty I reeked in hideousness. First were the braces, then glasses, and last acne, which lasted until I was in college. Well, needless to say, I am glad that I wasn’t stuck at eighteen like you.”
This time I leaned in and for the first time I touched the short hair sprouting out from a man’s face. One time years ago I had a chance to feel just stubble growing from Blyth face. This was longer and courser than his. “You definitely are something worth looking at now.”
Ben’s hand covered mine pushing my skin closer to his face. “Thank you.”
“So have you ever been in love?” I questioned pulling my hand from him.
“Once or so I thought I was at the time.” I immediately became engrossed. “Trust me it isn’t a very long story at all. I met her when I was at Notre Dame and after graduation we moved back to Pennsylvania together. It was a time when I had started getting my life organized and realizing what I wanted from the future. My mistake was getting engaged and spending an enormous amount of money on the wedding before I told her that I wanted to be a teacher.
A week before we were to get married she told me that she couldn’t imagine living as a teacher’s wife. She had assumed that I was destined for bigger and better things. To put it simply she wanted a rich life like my father had provided for his family. So in order to keep her I had to choose a different career. Once I told her that I wasn’t changing my mind she walked out the door.”
“You didn’t go after her?”
“Oh, I thought about it. I really did.” Ben laughed. “But you know what’s weird. After the door shut I realized that I didn’t care if she was gone. It didn’t hit me until then that I didn’t love her. I cared about her, but I didn’t love her. I realized then that life could go on without her. I mean to really love someone wouldn’t it kill you just to not have them in your life. That’s what I’m looking for, someone that would end my world.”
“Well, aren’t you just a sweetheart.” I joked about it, but in truth I thought it was beautiful. “I take it that you haven’t found her yet.”
“Not yet.” Ben took my hand in his. “Now, I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but I don’t think it will be you. I know it would be a glorious to have a woman like you around my arm until I grow old, but it would never last. I couldn’t love you like I want to love someone.”
I ripped my hand away from his, “Don’t worry I’ll never call you a sweetheart again.”
“I know how you like older men.” Ben smiled as he dove into my eyes. “I just didn’t want you to fall for me without knowing that I could never love you.”
“Benno, if I were looking for love I would have…” My words slowed to a stop as Blyth crossed my mind as well as Marcus, Michael and Mathieu. “If I were looking for love I wouldn’t have to search very far. I don’t want love in my life.”
“Well then it is settled.” Ben held out his hand and I shook it. “Friends.”
“Friends.” I agreed.
Ben leaned in once more, but this time he got uncomfortably close, “Friends with benefits?”
I slid back to the other side of the couch quickly pushing him away with my foot, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Can you blame a man for trying?” Ben laughed, “No really, I just wanted to see what you wanted out of this.”
“Sure you did.” I didn’t believe him. “You know I’m really surprised that you haven’t run off yet.”
“I told Anthony that I would stay until he returns.” Ben lifted my feet up onto his lap and started rubbing them. “Only another thirty minutes until they get back, and then I can run without ever looking back.”
I jolted up in my seat, “No, you have to come back to help Anthony study.”
“I was just joking, Ash, but I don’t think I will be able to come around like I have been. You are obviously better and will be returning to school leaving me no reason for our visits.” Ben seemed disheartened by his statement.
“Ben, I have no plans to go back to school.”
“What are your plans then?”
“If I told you then I would have to kill you.”
I grew intense as I stared at Ben, “Honestly, if I told you my plans I would have to kill you. That also goes for if you mention one word to anyone about my family. Do you understand?”
Ben drew in his lips and stared intently, “Who would I tell?”
His answer wasn’t very satisfying, and I was ready to demand the one I had wanted. While I was trying to contemplate whether I should physically demand or just verbally request a better one there was a slight commotion behind us. I turned to find Matt coming through the doorway. There was a surprised look on his face finding both Ben and I on the couch together, but after studying my face he retreated back to the other side of the threshold. “Hey, Anthony is taking Trinity home. I was going to take him to check out this band that is playing tonight.”
“Ooh, where?” I questioned. The idea sounded wonderful even coming from his lips. I hadn’t been out of the house for nearly three weeks now and this was the perfect time. My body was healed and ready to face the world once more. Plus, I knew this life was going to be short lived anyway so why not enjoy myself while I could.
“At a club,” Matt glanced between Ben and me for a moment before his eyes landed on me. He stepped in over the threshold again and closer to me, “You are looking much… What the hell happened to my stereo?”
“Blame your father.” I answered swinging my feet away from Ben and stood up. “I’ll fix it, but not until Ben is out of the house. Give me five minutes, I’m going to go with you guys.”
Matt’s eyes rested on Ben as he started getting up from the couch. Ben stayed as far away from Matt as he could. “But you’re sick, Ash.”
“Benno, do you want to come? It will be fun.” I grinned trying to give Matt a simple hint that he knew some more into our life now, but it didn’t work as Matt started towards me. “We’ll go check out this band that Matt likes, have a few drinks, and bring our not so pleasant evening to a close on a decent note.”
Matt stopped and glared through me, “Ash, no.”
Ben headed to the front door, “Not that it hasn’t been fun, but I think I’ve actually had enough surprises for one night. I also have to get up early tomorrow anyway.”
My defiant stare left Matt and I looked to Ben, “Tomorrow is Sunday? Come on Ben.”
“I teach a Sunday School class.” Ben opened the front door and this was the point I was sure he was waiting for. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow if that is alright.”
“Fine, go.” I waved and Ben was out the door without a second glance back inside. “Happy now you’ve chased him off?”
“Ash!” Matt clasped a hold of my shoulders shaking me, “Have you completely lost it? Why would you invite him?”
Pushing both of my hands into Matt’s chest I shoved him away from me. “Well, it wouldn’t be as hard to take him with us as it was for him to watch me die right in front of him and then come back.”
Matt cursed and kicked his stereo, “Then he heard music automatically start playing. So you smashed it.”
While Matt was contemplating everything I quickly changed and got myself ready for the night ahead of us. The stereo began reassembling itself and once it was sitting complacently on the shelf again the song that had began earlier started then died instantly. A song began playing that I didn’t recognize and it brought Matt out of the mood he was in. His eyes fell on me, “I guess if you are ready then.”
I held out my hand and Matt took it without another word. The world faded around us to leave us standing in a dark alley where Anthony was waiting. His suit had changed into a plain t-shirt and jeans with his hair down casually brushing his shoulders. He smiled once he saw Matt, but once he saw me his lips drooped. I shook my head and then motioned for us to get inside before the band was done for the night.
The blinding light from the sun crawled in under my eyelids waking me from the darkness of peaceful sleep. I groaned and pulled the blanket up over my head. It didn’t matter which way I turned or cut the light from my eyes, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Finally I flung the blanket off of me exposing a whole different world. I had imagined it would be there, but this one was at least a decent scene to wake up to. It most definitely wasn’t some of the dumps that I had woken up in times before.
I got up and began searching for my clothes. After looking over nearly everything in the room I hadn’t found one article of my clothing so I grabbed a t-shirt off the floor. It was a small fit but it covered me graciously. I had thought about just going home, but I wanted to know exactly who I was with last night. Walking out the door I searched my memories, but I had drunk too much leaving them completely blank.
I realized looking out the window that I was still in the city, and I listened closely for any life in the apartment. There was a faint sound of what I thought was music, but if it was it was a live recording. I could hear the screaming fans in the background singing along with the band. I followed it which led me to a man sitting comfortably at a desk watching footage of a show I assumed.
“Morning.” I greeted him.
The man turned the chair and held out his coffee. I was surprised at how good looking he was covered in tattoos. Thin straight black hair fell down to his shoulders where the tattoos started from underneath his shirt. “Afternoon.”
“Um,” I leaned back against the desk still feeling a bit unbalanced, “Do you have any idea where my clothes might be?”
He began laughing, “All over Chicago.”
Rubbing my eyes I tried to remember, but still there was nothing. “So did we?”
“Na, you’re not my type. I’m more into,” He made a motion that my bust was not big enough. “Bigger women.”
“Nice.” I held out my hand and introduced myself, “I’m Ash.”
“Brian.” He took my hand. “I should be pissed at you, but I think I might offer you a job instead.”
“Why?” I questioned as he turned back to the computer.
“So how’s my little rebel yell?” A familiar voice called out behind me, but I couldn’t place it. I turned to see who it was, but my effort was halted by a pair of lips meeting mine. I had no doubt now that whoever this was, was the one I was with last night. Backing away I looked him over. Black dreads fell down over his shoulders and down his chest. Tattoos covered him from his neck down to his fingertips. His smile was perfect and his eyes were as well. There was a small patch of hair just below his bottom lip which just made him all that much better.
I smiled at him then turned to Brian and exclaimed, “He’s yummy.”
The man who had his arm around my waist pointed to me with a gigantic grin, “Do you hear that? She thinks I’m yummy.”
“I bet she thought so last night too.” Brian chuckled still staring at the computer screen. He started playing the video that he was watching. His voice came out of the speakers, “Hey, what the hell is going on?”
I leaned over slightly to watch the view from the camera shift from Brian on stage to a balcony. A group of people all had their backs to the band watching something behind them. I had immediately assumed that it was a barroom brawl, but after watching for a few moments I was hanging over the balcony wall screaming. “Why did you stop?”
When there was no response I began strutting my way down towards the stage. I watched myself walking down the stairs in nothing but a short skirt and my bra. I had made it down to the floor in front of the stage with the crowd spreading out around me. Swiftly I hurled myself up on the stage with the band. The image then paused.
“I’ve never seen anyone jump onto a stage like that.” Brian looked up at me. “That was a four and a half foot vertical barrier. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman as drunk and as graceful as you were.”
I had to agree with him. If I was so drunk that I couldn’t remember it then I was completely unable to use my powers. I had done it all on my own. I just wished that I could remember it.
The man whose arm was around me squeezed lightly, “You stole the show last night.”
“Yeah, you made us abandon our original set list just so we could just watch you finish stripping. But after you came on stage the crowd did get livelier, and bigger.” Brian laughed, “That’s why I have to do this. Would you be able to do that for every one of our shows? I’ll pay you with Derrick for each and every show you do for us.”
Derrick turned and wrapped his arms around me letting his hands slide very south, “What do you say?”
I pushed him back lightly, “Now, that would be crude to all your groupies. I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.”
Determination grew into Derrick’s eyes, “I’ve never felt what you made me feel last night. I can’t just let you walk away.”
“Awe, aren’t you sweet,” I kissed him on the cheek and turned to face Brian. Holding out my hand, “It was nice meeting you.”
“You’re leaving?” They both questioned.
Stepping back away from Derrick his arms fell from around me. I smiled and looked down at my souvenir t-shirt. “As well as a very talented stripper and pleaser, I also do magic. Do you want to see some?”
They both looked at me confused and then they were gone.
Carefully I placed the t-shirt that I wore home into my closet adding it to my collection. I relaxed back into the hot water that I had started running when I first greeted Brian. I had hoped for peace and quiet to unwind in, but someone had other plans.
The sound that was crooning somewhere throughout the house was horrid. The voice was off beat and terribly out of tune. I tried to pay a bit closer attention, but I couldn’t understand one word that was being sung. Inevitably I did everything within my power to block out his voice, but the harder I tried the louder he got which just made his song worse.
I had finally had enough and dressed myself. I found myself down in the kitchen to see if the sound would be lost throughout the house. It was not, but it was faint. I grabbed a gallon of milk out of the fridge and slammed it onto the counter as he grew louder. “God, what is he going on about?”
“I’m not quite sure, but he’s been at it since six o’clock this morning.” Anthony startled me. I glanced over to the counter where he was sitting with Ben. “This is, or was, the quietest room in the house.”
“Is he here or just…” I started to inquire as looked to Ben who was sitting with his hands over his ears and shaking his head.
Anthony pulled the toothpick out of his mouth pointing it up stairs, “He’s been parked outside your bedroom door with a bottle of vodka clenched firmly within his fingers. I can’t make out a word, but I think his tune is getting better.”
“I think your tone deaf.” Ben exclaimed. “It was better earlier.”
I got myself a bowl of cereal shaking my head. “I think I’m going back to Chicago.”
“So that is where you disappeared to last night.” Anthony chuckled. “Matt got your shoes for you.”
“Now if I could just get the whole outfit back.” I laughed staring at the ceiling while the singing drooped into a low hum. “What language is that anyway?”
“Latin.” I saw out of the corner of my eye Matt appeared in the doorway. “Well, if it isn’t the mother of the year.”
I tried my hardest to ignore him as I glowered at my bowl. “Matt, go away, please.”
“Only if you go to him,” Matt glanced towards the stairs. “I was wrong the other day, but you can’t hide it anymore. He knows Ashley.”
“He knows what?” I stared at him confused.
Ben made himself heard, “If it will shut him up, you have to go talk to him.”
“If you don’t like it, then go home.” I look fiercely at Ben and then towards Matt. “I’m not talking to him. I prefer not to go anywhere near him.”
“How could love change? Never remaining the same. There is no one to blame for this pain. Reach down inside, but the unwanted love will never die.” Matt began interpreting Marcus’ lyrics causing a shot through my heart. It was beginning to be sliced with the sharp edge of that unwanted love he was speaking of. “Ash, you can’t hide now.”
Without touching my bowl I sent it flying across the kitchen to watch it smash against the wall. All of this just moved up my plans for ridding me of this love. I pushed myself to my room and inside the palm of my hand I held the red crystal ball.
Now that I knew he was singing words that I had written of my love for him just provoked me even more. I gathered within myself every feeling that I had ever felt for him. All the pain, hate, love, and friendship I pushed it forward into the orb. I watched horrified as it shattered into a million pieces leaving a dust of red glitter in my hand.
Quickly I put it back together and opened my door to find a pitiful looking Marcus sitting against the wall just as Anthony had said with a bottle of vodka stuck in his hand. The only thing he forgot to mention was the numerous empty bottles that surrounded him. Marcus looked up at me allowing the shame to pour from his eyes. He stopped his incoherent singing only to mumble something in Latin.
I shoved the ball into Marcus’ empty hand, “You wanted my love, now you have all of it.”
Marcus studied the ball, “If you truly loved me you couldn’t do that.”
“Well, I did, so enjoy being able to hold it in your hand.”