2 | Never Going Back
One month earlier
The nervous knot in my stomach had doubled in size overnight, and I didn’t know if I felt sick; genuine hunger; or both. My stomach growled, and Reaper glanced up at me from the bottom of the bed, her eyes half-open slits.
“How did you get in kitty?” Reaper wasn’t my cat; she belonged to the lady next door Mrs. Jameson. She got to her feet and stretched before sauntering over onto my lap. Her pitch-black paws began padding into my thighs, whilst she turned in circles like a well-rehearsed dance.
How Reaper continually found her way in, was lost on me, she had done so ever since we moved into the property. Reapers surprise visits were now habitual for both of us. Reaper’s real name was shrouded in mystery; she’d earned one from me after bestowing me a gift in the form of a headless field mouse. It was the first of many little dead presents.
My cell phone buzzed on the bedside table. Apart from Reaper, Alyssa and her brother Asher were the only people in Lockwood I called friends. Together, they constituted my entire social circle and they lived across the street. Meeting them during of summer break, they had woven a private place in my heart that I didn’t extend to most people.
Alyssa: Pizzas arrived and the game kicks-off at eight.
Glancing at the bedside clock I let out a pained sigh; it was six-thirty. I grabbed the spare jersey Alyssa had provided off of the chair by the dresser; pulling it on over my head, I slunk on a sweater over the top.
Picking up my house keys I headed down the stairs. There was no one to say good-bye to. Dad labored on construction sites, accompanying the work where ever it went, returning home at the weekends. I regularly ate with Alyssa’s family. They all knew I couldn’t cook; in my defense, I’d never been taught. When I did attempt, it was less of a meal and more of an experiment in biological warfare.
Reaper bolted as I opened the front door. Twisting the key in the lock behind me, I shooed her to Mrs. Jameson’s and jogged across the road.
Alyssa’s house dazzled a brilliant bright white, the epitome of middle-class; cherished and cared for with its small but landscaped-lawn. Asher and his dad had painted it not long after I had relocated to Lockwood. One sweltering summer evening, as dusk chased the final rays of sun-light from the sky, the paint had attracted a swarm of ladybugs. The pests had scattered across every inch of the house, and Asher had joked; if I were to be bitten, maybe they would gift me special powers like the spiders had done for Spider-Man. Gazing up at the chalk-white exterior as I approached, I still wondered if ladybugs could actually bite?
I strode up the porch steps and yanked open their door.
“Where are you guys?” I shouted.
“In the kitchen,” Alyssa yelled back.
The strong aroma of coffee filtered through the hallway. Alyssa consumed it religiously after reading an article on appetite suppressants; the latest in a colossal line of diet fads I’d witnessed. Even though Alyssa’s insecurities were deep-routed they remained invisible to the naked eye.
The kitchen was identical in layout to my own but modern; gleaming feature tiles where I had destitute ones, and solid oak worktops in place of my brown chipboard; the laminated pattern that had one made it waterproof a distant memory.
Rows of potted plants lined the window ledge above the sink, all in various stages of decay; this part of their house embodied mine. Alyssa was charged with their keep, but neglected to water them. Their parents endured long hours at a community law firm in the next town, seldom home early.
Alyssa and Asher sat perched side-by-side at the breakfast bar devouring pizza. They were twins, but complete opposites. Alyssa was shorter; her hair a lighter brown than Asher’s and it fell in tight corkscrew ringlets down her small back. The one common feature was their eyes, emanating the same deep-blue hue.
“Hey, Anna,” Asher smiled.
“Hey, Asher, I assumed you would be out?” I questioned peering up at him. Asher stood at least a foot taller than me, but his height never felt imposing.
Asher shook his head smiling. “I’ll make myself scarce in the next few minutes; I’m picking up Caleb. That reminds me,” he swiveled around to Alyssa, “Game on Monday, drive yourself home from school, or catch a ride with Anna.”
Alyssa waved his words off; preoccupied with the cell phone in her hands as her fingers scrolled at speed across the screen.
“You’re driving the land-yacht,” I mocked, leaning up against the breakfast bar. Asher held the ancient Jeep Wrangler in high regard; his pride and joy. Similar to any proud parent, Asher would never admit to owning a hideous baby.
Alyssa snorted. “Yeah, that piece of crap.”
Asher chuckled and feigned indignation, dismissing our insults with a half-smile and an eye-roll, before his gaze narrowed appraising me. “You’re exhausted, Anna, did you not sleep?” he remarked, concern lacing his voice as he stepped a pace forward.
I shook my head; the ashen tone under my eyes capable of answering for me. The thing was if something plagued my mind, which was often the case, sleep evaded me; my brain demanding I contemplate anything and everything.
Asher cocked an eyebrow and smirked. “So, what was on your mind this time?”
I shrugged. “The usual, what’s the meaning of life; did I lock the front door; do gorillas have tails?” I trailed off.
Asher’s smirk evolved into a full beaming smile. “Everything it would appear,” he teased, ruffling my hair, “And no, they do not for future reference.”
Sliding into my seat on the end, Asher plopped down and piled in another mouthful of pizza. His skin glowed with the warmth of summer which emphasized his dark brown hair, and made his blue eyes shine brighter. Asher’s hair curled around his ears; growing like a weed over the school break, it was in desperate need of a trim. His signature baseball cap usually kept his unruly hair hidden, but it was notably absent this evening, and I resisted the urge to push the mess of hair from his face.
Asher reached behind grabbing a juice box from the counter opposite; his chair wobbled as it tilted, the contours of lean muscles visible under his white T-shirt. I smiled deviously nudging the chair higher with the tip of my sneaker. His body stiffened.
“Don’t you dare, Anna,” he warned, snapping upright. “That isn’t funny, not even by my standards.” Asher glared at me with crossed arms; but the wide boyish grin on his face betrayed any sternness.
“Are you getting ready here?” Alyssa’s eyes assessed my outfit of choice. She had the uncanny ability to say everything she was thinking with a single look. Alyssa was giving me the look right now which said she didn’t approve of what I was wearing.
“No, I got ready at home, why do you say that?” I analyzed my clothes the way she had.
“No reason, casual is comfortable I guess. If you’re happy, I’m happy,” she replied, stirring her coffee. Alyssa’s family were sports fanatics. Every Friday night’s televised game represented a cause for celebration.
“Did you bring the football jersey for the game?” Her eyes widened expectantly for my answer as she took a sip from her mug.
“Yep.” I nodded and peeled the hem of my sweater up.
Asher grinned sexily at me; it was never on purpose, that’s just how he did it.
“You’re the only girl I’d let wear my number, Anna,” he teased.
The thought of Asher in his football jersey ran the risk of making me drool like a bloodhound. It was embarrassing he could do it so easily. Asher was a natural flirt, and he excelled at it.
“Are you nervous to meet the others?” Alyssa draped an arm over my shoulder.
“No, I wouldn’t say I was nervous.” I opted for a lie. I’d counted the number of flowers on their patterned wallpaper; she didn’t require the awareness there were seventy-four in total. I admit my stomach flipped over at the mere idea of letting others close. After devoting the summer months to the twins, I hadn’t socialized with anyone else. With senior year commencing on Monday, tonight’s purpose was to acquaint me with others... gradually.
Asher kicked his chair out. “I’ve gotta shoot, please avoid any trouble whilst I’m out guys, and no boyfriends in the house. Not until you’re twenty. Anna, it’s never for you.” He winked.
And once again, Asher was doing it. Dismissing his words I rolled my eyes, but it was now ten degrees hotter in the kitchen, and a familiar phrase sprung to mind; something about dishonesty, pants and fire.
Asher grabbed another slice of pizza, pinning it between his teeth he picked up his juice box. Heading out of the kitchen he dashed up the stairs.
Alyssa sunk into her chair observing Asher leave before her eyes darted to me. “You’re not the same as the other girls, Anna,” she leaned in. “It was obvious the second I saw you.”
Gulping hard my pizza caught in my throat.
“Everyone fawns over him but you couldn’t care less. Half the people I called friends used me to get closer to my brother, but not you...”
Nodding solemnly, I smiled. “I wouldn’t come between you and Asher; our friendship means everything to me. I adore you both,” my voice dropped an octave. “We’re like family.”
She smiled recognizing the truth in my words. Losing them friendship was not an option, friends and family was a commodity I both lacked and appreciated.
“Asher’s single you know, I thought at one point he and Macy were...” Shaking her head she disregarded whatever had flitted through her mind. “Our families have been friends for years, she’s sweet you’ll like her. Macy’s mom passed last year, Asher’s been a rock, her one constant presence. My brother maybe an annoying perfectionist, but his hearts in a good place,” Alyssa conceded.
My eyes flitted out of the kitchen window, tucking a long caramel strand of hair behind my ear; my smile was swallowed up by the onset of a frown. Letting my eyes close, I imagined an endless summer, days out as a threesome, establishing the solid foundations of our friendship. But now was time to share them again, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. When my eyes popped back open, the nervous knot in my stomach had returned with a vengeance.