LV. A Crowd
Not going to think about that right now.
I fell asleep with Crystal in the lobby that night.
Today is the day into town.
Hailey presses her red nose against the cold window and sniffles lightly. “It’s like a Christmas town!” She bounces in her seat. I laugh, and steadily my arm rolls around her shoulders. Her body froze, but it quickly relaxed.
I exhale a light breath and pull her inward. Lately, Hailey had been spending too much time with other people, much to my displeasure. But I know better. I don’t have any right to stop her from living her life.
When the bus stops, her smile only widens. She slaps my arm continuously, encouraging me to move. That only made me want to annoy her. So, I stayed in my seat and blocked her with my legs until the last person left the bus.
By now, Hailey was pouting and slightly enraged.
I got up and blocked her with my body.
She went on her toes and peered past me. “Hurry up! Hurry up! People are leaving.” One by one, students left in packs.
I walk even slower.
“Anytime now, kids,” the bus driver said.
Hailey hit my back harder.
“Come on! We’re going to leave without you two!” Crystal screams.
I stop walking and turn around. Her face hit my chest. “I forgot my bag.”
Hailey’s brows crunch together. “Wait-” I turn her around and push her towards our seat.
“We’re leaving!” Crystal shouts.
Hailey and I stop at our seats. “You didn’t bring a bag.”
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t bring any bag.”
“You don’t even use bags.”
“I must be thinking of you.”
Haily put her bag on my face. She pushes it further into my cheek. “Come on! Come on!”
Finally, we made it outside. It’s snowing, but it wasn’t too cold. I push my scarf down while the bus rolls towards a parking lot.
Hailey pouts, “Everyone left us!”
We turn our heads to see Jasmine. She smiles, “I’m still here.”
“Why are you here?” I attempt to keep my lethality at a minimum.
Her smile didn’t fade. “I saw something cute and went inside the store.” She points a thumb beside her. “And it seems that everyone left.” She heads towards us. “Mind if I join you two?”
Yes, I do mind. Very much actually.
“Sure,” Hailey responds.
Sometimes I wish Hailey can be mean.
Jasmine looks at me. “Is it okay?”
I forced a smile, “Of course.” Not.
The three of us headed down the street. I can feel Hailey squishing on my left. Jasmine on my right. I kept my face straight on the road. How uncomfortable.
Once in a while, we would go inside a store. Jasmine would purchase something. Hailey would stare at the stuff, want to buy it, but won’t due to shortage of finances. I would offer, but Hailey would say no. Jasmine would stare at us but wouldn’t say anything.
It turns into a cycle.
While Hailey paid for a souvenir, she got for Alvin. Jasmine and I stood beside the exit and waited for her.
“You’re not going to offer to carry my bags?” Jasmine question. She sways the dozens of bags.
I smile, “You’re a strong girl.”
Hailey skips towards us. “Alvin will love this!” She shows me a little video game. Hailey doesn’t say it, but she loves her younger brother. I wouldn’t be surprised if she used the last of her savings.
“Here. I got it.” I grab the bag from her hand.
I notice Jasmine glare in the corner of my eyes, and I block Hailey from witnessing it.
When Hailey finally noticed what happened, she attempted to rebuttal, but I left the store before she could do it.
Then, it happened.
We ran into someone.
Ricardo lowers the cigarette between his fingers. The smoke exhales from his lungs. His eyes rolled towards the other side of the street, and he took a step away from us.
He pretends not to see us, but then Hailey said: “Hey Ricardo!”
He continues to walk.
He got long functional legs. Why isn’t he running?!
Hailey cups her hands, “Ricardo!”
Why Hailey? Why?!
He stops and turns towards us. “Hey.”
Hailey heads towards him. I exhale a sharp breath and walk behind her. “You’re alone?”
“Yeah,” he responds hesitantly.
Her eyes drop towards the cigarette. “You shouldn’t smoke. It’s not good for the lungs.” They continue to stare at each other much to my discomfort. “Oh!” Hailey said. She grabs the cigarette and throws it on the snow. She holds his hand, “You’re burnt!”
I waited for him to withdraw his hand. But, when his eyes met mine, he smirked.
I grab Hailey’s wrist, and she releases his hand. “He’s fine.” I turn towards Ricardo. “There’s a convenience store nearby.”
Ricardo exhales, but he doesn’t respond.
“Would you like us to come with you?” Hailey asks.
Sometimes, I want to strangle Hailey.
“That’s a good idea,” Jasmine input. She looks at me and smiles. She’s doing this on purpose.
Ricardo’s eyes met mine. “Sure.” He’s taunting me. I know it.
The four of us sat inside the cafe after Ricardo purchased the kit for his small baby burn.
He looks at Hailey, “Mind helping me?”
Before Hailey could respond, I grabbed the bag. “I would love to help you,” I said. I smile and squeeze between Ricardo and Hailey. Steadily, Hailey moves towards my old seat. “Hand,” I place out a palm.
He glares at me
I smile, “Don’t be shy.” I grab his hand. Without removing the smile, I hold the jelly and squeeze it on the cotton. I press it on his flesh.
Ricardo grunts but refuses to scream.
I scrap it back and forth, “Comfortable?”
He smiles, “Yes. Your touch reminds me of my mamma. Soft."
I squeeze his palm, and it turns redder than the burn. Next, I grab a nonstick bandage and slap it on. Even I could hear the harsh sound. He didn’t even flinch. Instead, he continues to maintain intense eye contact.
Afterward, we all drank our hot chocolate in silence.
“So,” Hailey said. She leans forward to look at Ricardo. “How come you’re alone?”
I lean forward to block her view of him.
“Mind moving back?” Ricardo said. “I’m talking to bionda.”
I nudge a brow, ”Bionda? Why are you calling her that?”
“I don’t see her protesting,” he rebuttal.
Then, the stare off starts.
Hailey grabs my sleeve, “I don’t mind. I mean, we’re all friends. So, nicknames are okay,” she said. No, it’s not okay. I’m the only guy who can give Hailey a nickname. “I mean, Crystal calls me HayHay, and she calls Ricardo, Spaghetti.”
Ricardo set down the cup, “Yeah. We’re all friends here. Just friends. Nothing more than friends...Friends.”
Jasmine laughs then rests her chin against her palms. “Josh, calm down. You’re acting like a big brother trying to keep his younger sister from a potential boyfriend.”
Now, that hurt like a bitch.
And she knows it.
I glare at Jasmine, who sips on her drink. She sets it down and looks at Hailey. “Don’t you think so? Josh is completely acting like an overbearing brother, huh?”
I didn’t say anything because, honestly, I want to hear her response.
I look at Hailey.
Hailey’s eyes move around the table. Everyone was staring at her. Her face turns red. There’s an uncomfortable sensation inside my stomach. I know Hailey doesn’t like being the center of attention.
“Jas,” I said. “Mind if I speak to you privately?”
She smiles, “After this.”
"Now.” I got up before she could respond. I don’t enjoy the idea of Hailey alone with Ricardo, but I hate seeing her sad.
I push the door and lead us out. The wind picks up and ruffles across my hair. I push it back and exhale.
Jasmine leaned against the window, “Are you sure you want to be out here alone with me? Wouldn’t Hay Bug misunderstand?”
I turned towards her, and I know the look on my face wasn’t pretty. “What are you doing?”
She tilted her head and stood up straight. Jasmine scrambles towards the edge of the sidewalk. “Getting to know Hailey.”
I shove my hands into my pockets to warm them. “You’re making her feel uncomfortable.”
Jasmine steps forward, and for sure, she isn’t short. “Am I making her feel uncomfortable, or am I making you...feel uncomfortable?” She smirks, “Scared to find out the truth of how Hay Bug really feels for you?”
I close the distance between us. “Don’t play this game with me. You won’t like the result.”
She places a hand on my jacket, “Maybe-” she leans in closer, “I want to play a game with you.”
I grab her hand and remove it. “You’re getting on my last nerve.”
Her smile only grew wider, “I’ve been thinking about last night.” Her warm breath scattered across my face. It smells like cocoa. “And I realized.” She tilts her head. “I like the mean Josh much more than the nice one.”
Without a chance to rebuttal, Jasmine pulled me in and crashed her lips against mine.
What the fu-
The bell of the cafe rang, “Jo-”
And at that moment...in that particular misunderstood position.
I know I’m fucked.