Chapter 1: Him
Big things often have small beginnings, but Reed and I... we’ve been on the top of the mountain from the start.
And, of course, it started with helping a drunk guy who just hurled on my sneakers to a bathroom ten minutes after walking through the doors of an enormous house. The place was pumping with raging hormones and lucky fellas just waiting for tonight to seduce one another after finishing another year of school. Absolutely everyone was drunk or high off their a**, bumping into every person they walk (or stumble) past and mumbling lazy apologies.
This particular drunk, though, decides to stop and be the one to upchuck their entire day’s waste on my ragged red converse. I frown when it happens not only because I got hurled on, but also because the shoes had been the only ones I’d brought on this trip for vacation at my cousin’s. Shopping.... My frown deepens to where it is practically molded into my skin, the guy who did his damage now looking up at me with his hands caressing his stomach, whispering the word “toilet” with a hoarse throat.
Sighing, I grab the poor guy’s wrist, pulling his hand away from his hopefully now-empty stomach and taking my first nasty step towards where I think the bathroom is.
“Clear a path, drunk guy coming through! HE NEEDS A TOILET!” I scream at the top of my lungs, trying to keep my voice audible despite the blasting dance music playing on the sound systems around me. It wasn’t a bad song, it usually made me want to dance in my room when alone, but now of all times is not when I want to be dancing.
I almost pass the bathroom up when I hear a flushing sound coming from behind a closed door. Stopping in my tracks, my drunk friend (?) runs into me, obviously not taking note as to where he’s going or who he’s with - just as long as he’s going to a bathroom. His other hand is still resting on his stomach and the action panics me, causing me to rush towards the bathroom door and slam the palm of my hand on the wood while screaming, “GET THE F*** OUT!”
The person inside must know it’s an emergency, because my hand almost collides with their face when the door suddenly swings open and I’m ill-prepared for what was waiting for me behind it. I was expecting some girl perfecting her makeup, or a guy getting some in the shower; most definitely not a boy who’s come straight out of a soap opera and into a bomb-a** party, who’s now staring with the widest, brownest eyes I’d ever seen at a girl with puke on her ratty shoes and sweat trapping her cropped hair to her forehead.
And he just happened to be Reed Carter, my former best friend from childhood.
That’s when I hear the hurl.
Instantly our eyes lose contact and both land on the guy who’s ramming past us, pushing me into the hands of the god and the god into the edge of the sink where his back must’ve made contact with when we slam into it. My face is hot, hot with anxiety and sweat, and I can’t seem to make myself detach from the guy who I’ve caused harm to.
“Sorry!” he says, his voice strained with what sounds like pain, trying to find my upper arms and guide me off of him.
“Oh, no I’m sorry dude, I really am,” I rush in to reply, somehow scooting away from him and making my way up to my feet. I can hear my drunken friend puking behind me as I turn to look down at the guy who kept me from colliding with the sink. “But hey, at least you saved my fall,” I try and joke, and he looks up at me with his brown eyes and laugh, his mouth stretching up at the corners and premiering a wondrous smile.
I reach down for his hand unconsciously, my manners stronger than my anxiety at the moment, and he gratefully takes it and barely gives it a tug when he’s all of a sudden up on his feet again. “Thanks,” he sighs, squeezing my hand once more unnecessarily before letting go and saying, “and no, I believe I’m the one at fault here.”
My eyes roll back in false amusement, and he chuckles at my actions. Another hurl sounds from behind us and I stiffen. “We can talk about this some other time,” I peep, my lips curling into my mouth when I check over my shoulder to see how the poor drunk is doing. He must be heaving up air by now, considering how much is still soaking into my shoes.
“Sounds good,” Reed agrees beside me, turning around and kneeling beside my friend as he reluctantly flushes the toilet and sets the toilet seat down so he can rest his heavy head on it.
Reed purses his lips and pats the guy on the back in comfort. “Alright Nox, get it out,” he murmured. Nox? I wonder. He gives me a glance and grins when he sees my surprised expression. “I’m sorry because I left my drunk friend unsupervised,” he spells out for me, and my mouth goes into an “o” in understanding. And then I frown.
“You shouldn’t apologize because of that,” I state, but my voice hinting that there is something else.
“What should I’ve apologized for?” he asks, his brows furled in confusion and his hand freezing on Nox’s back.
I smirk. “Not returning my texts all these years.”
His shoulders stiffen at once and a forced chuckle escapes him, his eyes curling up in fake amusement. “You’re something else, Ella”
We both jump when Nox moves to a standing position, Reed hurriedly standing up beside him before he can get tripped over. “I’m ready to sleep,” Nox mumbles once more, his eyes slowly closing and my fear for him falling over nearly exploding. Before I can even peep out a “Catch him!“, Reed has his arm around his friend’s shoulders and, with a nod towards the door, we all walk out of the restroom.
I step to the side of the hall, waiting to see where Reed leads the two of them. Was he taking him home? Was this the first and last time I’d see them? But when I watch them walk straight ahead towards the stairs, it occurs to me that we are inside a damn house full of beds. Idiot.
I hesitate at the first step, wondering if I should go with. Was I a part of their group now at this party? Am I off on my own again, waiting to be puked on by another drunken teen? When I look up to find Reed, I find that he’s paused a few steps ahead of me and is looking down at me curiously. “Ya comin’?” he calls down to me over the music, and I can just feel a brilliant smile form on my face.
I quickly gain the few steps behind them I had lost when hesitating, following them through the maze of hallways that formed the upstairs corridors until we finally approached one of the many closed doors. “Um...” I murmur, knowing exactly what a closed door means at a party, but Reed just shakes his head with a small smile and jiggles the door open, revealing a bedroom the size of my house. “Oh.”
Reed walks Nox to his mammoth sized bed and lets him flop onto it himself, not even bothering to cover the guy up because he knows it won’t make any difference. But.... Pursing my lips, I walk up to the bed too and struggle the comforter and sheets out from under Nox and get him to curl up under the warmth that the covers provided.
“There,” I sigh, and it occurs to me that someone just witnessed me doing that. But when I look over my shoulder, I see not judgement, but admiration. “What.”
Reed blinks and instantly looks away, as if caught in a daze. I take the chance to check him out while I can, and see that he’s dressed nicely for this subtle occasion: dark jeans, white t-shirt (which, in my opinion, isn’t that great of a color when it comes to being around drinking), clean, red converse. My eyes narrow at the feature and I can see in my peripheral vision him noticing and looking down too.
“What are you loo.... Oh.” And that’s when he notices my shoes. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” he says, his tone weary and laced with concern. He nods his head towards the corner of the room, where another bathroom is built.
The two of us quietly walk over, him patting the counter next to the sink in a silent instruction for me to hop up and sit on. I do as told (or... not told) and use my useless excuse for upper-body strength to get me onto the counter... but it turns out I didn’t need it after all, when I felt his hands cup my waist and gently lift me onto the counter himself.
“Err, thanks,” I mutter as I let out an earlier intake of breath, not having the heart to avoid eye contact but not having the gut to stay in his gaze for too long.
He gives me a crooked smile and replies with a sly, “No problem,” while he turns the sink’s facet onto a warm temperature. But his smile falters when he looks down at my swaying feet that dangle off the counter. “But, um, you might have to take your own shoes off. I’m not that gentleman-like.”
I snap my finger and grumble, “So much for nothing,” and curl my leg up to where the heel of my shoe touches the counter, now within arm’s reach. I smile at myself for our small banter, finding it awfully amazing how well we’re getting along. But then again, we’d been friends for years before he moved away and left me behind.
“So, Nox huh?” I say, deliberately changing the subject. I glance up at Reed as he messes at his brown hair for a moment while thinking of something to say about him.
“Is this his house?” I offer as a topic, and he smiles at me gratefully as he jumps into the conversation.
“It’s his parent’s, technically,” he replies, shrugging at the simplicity. “But he’s lived here since I’ve known him.”
“How long have you known him?” I ask instinctively, not forcing the conversation anymore but now caring about the subject.
“Since high school.”
“You say that like you’re out of that Hell,” I smile, slightly sad that he’s not my age but also kinda glad that he may be more mature than the other neanderthals that call themselves boys at my school.
“Yep,” he says, popping the “p,” and I laugh. He smiles at my response and shrugs. “High school wasn’t bad, really. Just a pain in the a** to get through, y’know?”
“Yep,” I mimic, and he laughs just as I did.
“You out of the education world yet?” he asks, suddenly very interested in me. Oh no.
“Not yet,” I sigh, definitely not wanting to think about the entire year that’s lying ahead of me. “One more year, then I’m gone, remember?”
“Where’s ‘gone?’” I glance at him, curious as to whether he actually cares or not, and when my eyes lock with his magnetizing gaze, my face heats up again with nerves.
“Anywhere,” I admit, not really talking about this to anyone - not even to my best friend Nina. She knows that I’d like to go to Minnesota with her... but in all honestly, I’d be willing to go just about anywhere as much as I want to go with her. Being with her would be amazing, yes, but....
“Anywhere is a good place to be.” I expect to hear a laugh after his words, but he seems to understand exactly what I mean.
“I’ll figure it out,” I say with a small shrug, and when I look at him he’s already looking at me.
“We all do eventually, right?” he says, and nudges me playfully in the shoulder.
“Right....” I’m lost in his gaze, and it’s like he doesn’t even know it. He’s staring at me just as much, his shoulder still pressed against my arm, and all of a sudden I realize just how close we are. He seems to notice this too because his expression changes, but not out of fear or nervousness... but....
He scoots over closer to me to where we’re face-to-face, eye-to-eye. I’m still sitting on the counter, feet no longer swaying beneath me, and I pay no notice to the facet that continues to run warm water onto my already-smelly sneakers.
Instead, I pay attention to these two words. “Kiss me.”
And who am I to turn him down?
Kissing him brought back memories - and I’d be lying if I said they weren’t the best memories I’ve ever kept with me throughout the years.
We were little, Reed and I, and the sky was the limit when it came to what adventures we were going on for the day. I was ten at the time, him fourteen, and we decided that the park was the place to be that day.
The world was gray and foggy, our mothers warning us to be careful and to be home before the storm hit, but honestly we didn’t care. We just wanted to swing from some monkey-bars and climb up slides like they always told us not to do at school.
We were laughing, cackling, chortling - whatever the right word was to plain out say that we were high from happiness - and there wasn’t anything that could keep us from doing so.
Until the ice queen, Nina Merchenz, showed up. I nearly ran into her during the game, me clearly not seeing her until I was less than a yard away. Luckily I caught myself in time, or else I knew there’d be h*** to pay.
Nina pushed me away from her, rolling her blue eyes at me in disgust as I stumbled backwards and plopped down in a pile of mud. F***ing fantastic. I sighed, just picturing me going home later and Mom seeing my school uniform drenched and caked with dirt.
All because of Nina effing Merchenz.
Hands were on my upper arms almost immediately, helping me get up and onto my feet. I looked over my shoulder and smiled weakly at Reed, thanking him silently for his assistance. I couldn’t meet his eyes though, fearing what I’d find in them: Disappointment? Shame? Pity?
“I heard you two were here,” she smirked, but didn’t even glance at me - all of her attention was focused on Reed. Of course it is, I thought to myself. He’s the town’s sweetheart. “I just don’t understand...”
I didn’t dare to reply, afraid she’d only glare at me with those piercing eyes of hers. But Reed was four years older than me, a guy, and more mature, so I wasn’t surprised when he said, “What don’t you understand?”
His tone was bored, and I noticed how his hands hadn’t been removed from my arms. Not like I minded.
Nina seemed to notice too, because she glanced away from Reed and narrowed her eyes at where his hands were. “Why you two are friends.”
I stood stunned in my spot, trying to convince myself that there was no way he said those two words. We’re not. What does that mean? That he wasn’t my friend? That he didn’t care about me? That we were just neighbors?
I looked up at Nina and found her face nearly beaming with excitement. “I knew it!” she almost shouted, jumping up in her spot and pointing at us.
“We’re a couple.”
I didn’t even realize I had turned around when all of a sudden I was facing Reed, looking at him wildly. What did he just say? We’re a couple? Since when?! I wanted to ask him, but he just glanced down at my small figure and gave me a sly wink before redirecting his gaze back to Nina.
“What.” Nina’s tone was disbelieving, but hurt nonetheless.
He shrugged, casually wrapping his arm across my shoulders and forcing me to turn back around and face the menace. “Yeah.”
She was pissed, that much was clear. She was quiet for a small while and I was still in shock from his words. And then she said two words that made me want to melt into the earth: “Prove it.”
“What,” I said, repeating her earlier comment. Who did she think she was, telling us to prove it? I was Tomella Beckett, who did she think she was messing with?
“Okay,” Reed said beside me, and I could practically feel my body freeze over. Did he just say okay?
“Okay?” Nina repeated, clearly enraged with his ease of the situation.
“Well yeah, but I don’t see how you can make us prove ourselves.”
It looked like it physically pained her when she told us to kiss.
But once again, without a beat, he squeezed my shoulder and looked down at me with cautious eyes. I could see the question in them, asking for my permission, and I was too stunned to do anything but nod.
What were we about to do?
That’s when he turned me towards him and leaned down, his eyes fluttering closed. No no no no no this isn’t right! But when his soft lips brushed my chapped ones, I didn’t care that I was kissing my best friend.
The stomping of feet echoing away from us made me part ways from him, deliberately avoiding eye contact with him as I looked over my shoulder and found Nina gone. Ha.
“Well...” he said, and my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “We showed her, didn’t we?”
I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Instead, I forced a smile and nodded once more. “Good acting.” Clearing my throat, I looked up at the sky and found the darkest of clouds looming over us. Reed opened his mouth to say something but I interrupted, saying, “We should go home.”
Closing his mouth, his eyes filled with what looked like sadness, he nodded and together we walked home.
I cried that night in my room. I was ashamed that I had let Reed, my best friend, kiss me. Why had I agreed to do something that stupid? And why had Reed immediately come up with that lie when Nina began to pester us- well, me? What an idiot.
I was not going to be one of those girls who fell for their best friend. I mean, he was four years older than me for goodness sake! There’s no way I’d ever have a chance with that boy in the first place, anyways.
I never knew then, though, that our kiss that day would not be our last.
Our breathing gets heavy and, very reluctantly might I add, we pull apart. We rest our foreheads on each other’s, his eyes remaining closed but mine can’t help but be very wide and very dazed. I just kissed my childhood best friend... again.
I watch as a smile forms on his lips. Fluttering his eyes open, his brown eyes pierce my own and he gives me a sly wink just like he did all those years ago. “It’s been awhile since we’ve done that,” he says, and I can’t help but laugh. “Eight years?”
“Nearly,” I reply, letting myself laugh again at the absurd moment we just shared.
Smiling at me, he gently pulls me closer to him and moves his head to where his chin is resting on my shoulder, his arms wrapped around my torso in a makeshift hug. “It’s good to have you back, Ella,” he murmurs by my ear, his breath warm against my neck.
I suppress a shiver and hug him back, surprised by how nice it is to do so. “Yeah,” I sigh, speaking into his shoulder because my head doesn’t reach to his. “But I must say...”
He backs away a bit and looks down at me with a curious expression. “What?”
I smirk at his reaction and shrug. “You’re a much better kisser than you were eight years ago.”
His mouth drops open and I laugh, my head leaning against his chest as my body shakes with the laughter. “You have no right to talk, Miss Chapped-Lips!” he replies in his defense, and I can’t stop myself from laughing so hard I nearly fall off the counter. Thankfully Reed catches me before I do so, engulfing me in his arms once more. “Nah, you know I’m kidding,” he chuckles, squeezing me once before loosening his hold on me.
“Do I?” I tease, not even knowing where this side of me is coming from.
“Do you?” he replies, cocking his head to the side and looking at me with a mischievous spark in his eye. “Or do I have to prove it to you?”
Pursing my lips to the side, I shrug and hesitantly wrap my arms around his neck. “I double-dog dare you, Reed Carter.”
We kiss for the second time that night.
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