three: the rememberings.
WHEN NIGHT FALLS we have our typical spread—wine, Chinese food, and the various munchies that I’d gotten from the store, which is effectively the perfect combination to dehydrate and leave us suffering from some major bloat in the morning. Although this is typically the time we use to catch up on the TV shows we’ve missed episodes of during the week, or for a Netflix double-feature, Faye has insisted that we watch Eastside—the series that gave Jack his first big break and effectively put him on the map four years ago.
Because. . . of course.
Had it been a few hours ago, something like this might’ve pushed me over the edge. But after getting home, watching the new trailer for the Dark Titans movie coming out this summer more times than necessary to ogle at the two seconds of shirtless Elliott Eagan, and taking a shower, I feel like a new woman.
In the few hours I had before Faye and Lori returned to the apartment, I got a lot of things done—talked with Jordan (getting better briefed on the situation and mentioning the trip to him but neglecting to mention Jack), arranged to pick up more hours at work, read my apoptosis article, looked into some more internships and co-ops for next year, studied for Physics, and most importantly, welded that crack in the shield over my heart.
I’m back to feeling normal—stressed out about school and my family, but also desensitized to Jack. At least, for the most part. There’s no more lingering dull ache, it’s just. . . acknowledgment. A numbness. A, yes-he-exists-and-I-loved-him-once-but-now-I-don’t-anymore-so-I-don’t-care-I’m-going-to-just-suck-it-up-and-go-on-this-trip-and-look-at-his-face-and-be-okay-and-then-move-on-with-my-life.
So I sit, mowing down my MSG loaded, salt-bomb, carb-heaven feast, enjoying my life as much as I can while watching my ex-boyfriend that no one knows is my ex-boyfriend—and who I’m totally over—on my television.
“Is it a requirement to be ridiculously hot on this show?”
At Faye’s question, I look up from my container of lo mein noodles to the television from my spot on the floor of our living room.
On screen, Mara Schetler’s character, Willa, is floating in an in-ground swimming pool, her blonde hair haloing her head. The music is calm, soothing, almost romantic, which is confusing until the camera pans up to none other than Jack, in character, watching from afar. He has this look on his face, a determined, focused look that’s hypnotizing in combination with the score they’ve chosen. It’s one I’d seen on his face many times before he since perfected it for the cameras.
On the show, he plays Cody Luciano, the son of a crime boss, who, despite being the younger of a set of brothers, is being groomed to take over the family business. The show’s supposed to feel a little timeless, dramatic, stuck in the past. Jack has always had an old-time Hollywood handsomeness to him, so it works. He’s the “broody, tortured soul in a pretty package whose destiny has already been determined no matter how much he tries to deny it” that people eat up.
When Mara opens her eyes, she notices him, and then she flails around to get upright. “What the hell, Cody? You scared me,” she says.
Jack gives a small laugh, emerging from the house and quietly shutting the slider door behind him. “Sorry, Wil.”
His voice is deeper now than it was when he’d last spoken to me in person, and even though it’s not the first time I’ve ever heard him speak since then, or the first time I’ve ever caught a glimpse on Eastside, it gives me a little chill.
Jack takes a seat on one of the pool chairs around the perimeter. The scene is perfectly lit by bulbs inside the pool that look blue from being underneath the water, and the music hits all the right notes. It’s ambient, smooth. “Why are you awake?” he asks.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Mara responds, paddling over to lean on the edge closer to him. “Needed to blow off some steam.”
There’s an obvious innuendo there, and everyone can catch it. The camera zooms as a smirk breaks across Jack’s lips, and he looks off to the side, the gears in his mind turning. It’s not hard for the audience to figure out what he’s thinking, given the fact the writing’s made it obvious Cody has lusted over Willa for over an entire season.
Suddenly, Jack stands up, reaches back to grab his shirt the way guys always seem to do, and takes it off. Beneath it, he’s fit, toned, and gorgeous.
Because. . . of course.
I bite my lip and glance away as my body and mind betray me, just for a little. I want to blame it on the alcohol I’ve slowly consumed, but that hasn’t been enough to even make me tipsy.
Jack’s hot. I mean, he’s an actor known, in part, for his looks. If I denied that fact I’d be considered delusional. So it’s not a problem that there’s still a part of me that finds him attractive. I’m human.
When I flit my eyes back to the TV, sometime during my preoccupation in what I refuse to consider denial, Jack’s gotten in the water with Mara. The two of them are close and the tension obvious, as he wades around her, giving some speech that even I can’t pay attention to because the director knows just the right angles to distract me and the camera really does love him. As he gets closer to her, his arms on either side of her body, corralling her, I feel my pulse start to quicken as I imagine hers is.
Art is imitating reality right now, and I wonder, in spite of myself, if he had that same thought while they filmed this.
Before I can stop it, my mind reels back to memories I’ve tucked far, far away. Of when I was seventeen and somewhat careless. Of when I was the girl that Jack had pressed against the pool wall under a blanket of stars. Of when I was the girl he needed to be quiet with because we couldn’t wake anyone in the house since we weren’t supposed to see each other. Of when I was the girl telling him that it was a bad idea, that we’d get in trouble, only for him to quiet me with a kiss that left me breathless.
The recollection is like a drug. For a second, I relive that rush—one I haven’t felt, and am convinced I’ll never feel, with someone again. I contribute that to the impossibility of ever having another first love, not because intensity like that only came with Jack. After that fond memory though, I recall everything else. All the bad things. Because every high has a crash.
It feels like all of that is another lifetime, like it all happened to a girl who isn’t me, a girl I barely know.
When I feel myself start to get nauseous, I tighten my grip on my fork. I’m getting lost in my feelings again. I take a quiet breath. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.
I’m done thinking about the past. I’m desensitized. I’ve compartmentalized. I’m on one side of a door, Jack’s on the other. We’re never going to open it. I know he’s there, and that’s it.
I loll my head back with an unintentionally loud sigh.
“I feel you,” Faye says wistfully, taking my exasperation the complete wrong way. “He’s just so—perfect.”
Perfect? I glance back at her with furrowed eyebrows.
I almost open my mouth to contradict her statement, to fill her in on all of these memories that I’m trying to will away, but then I stop myself. Explaining and rehashing every detail of my life that I’d strategically hidden from everyone on this campus would just blow things up in a way I don’t need right now. One day, I know I’ll have to concede to some of it, but that’s not today. At times, I feel really guilty about it, the keeping secrets, but at others, selfishly, I don’t.
Wanting a distraction to just get through the rest of this episode, because something in me is nagging that maybe I’m not as over this as I keep trying to convince myself, I start to pick each noodle in my carton out one-by-one and examine it before I put it in my mouth. The show continues despite the fact I’m not looking.
“How could you not think they’re actually screwing?” Lori proclaims. She has her arm thrown out and directed at the TV. I try to keep myself focused on my lo mein.
“I thought he was with Kiernan Copeland,” Faye says.
Another good noodle.
Lori leans back in the pillow throne she’s constructed. “I see him on my feed with a different girl every week, I swear.”
Bad noodle. New one. Good noodle.
“They could just be friends?” Faye replies unsurely. “But you know what I did see this morning? A picture of him leaving Rachelle Finlay’s house with an overnight bag.”
“She’s the one who plays Hailey Bryant in this.”
“What? Isn’t she, like, thirty and married?”
“She’s getting a divorce.”
“Is she still married?”
“So isn’t that still married?”
“Because that’s pretty douchey.”
“I don’t know, Lor. I don’t know.” Faye sounds frustrated, and surprisingly, even I find myself getting a little ticked, but it’s not because I held Jack on a pedestal like she did. . . it’s because I used to. Having Lori call out Jack’s “alleged” douchebag tendencies—which I’m well aware of—almost feels personal. Like an attack on me.
I almost want to defend him, because despite the fact I hate him for everything that had happened, I know deep down he would never get involved with someone who is still technically married. Especially after how things had gone with his parents.
“What about Kiernan? And all of that other partying shit he does. He’s probably just the typical cocky, arrogant, actor asshole,” Lori continues to comment.
With barriers broken down a bit by alcohol, I can’t stop myself from eventually speaking up.“You know half of this crap gets blown out of proportion and is wrong anyway.” Right after, I bite my tongue, but I don’t think either of them catch it.
“Yeah, like I said, they could just be friends, and you just described every damn boy on this campus too, by the way,” Faye says and then sighs. “Hey, what are the chances he spots me in the audience and has his management pull me away so we can go to his hotel room for the night?”
Lori laughs. “Slim to zero.”
Faye narrows her eyes. “Thanks.”
“How can I be your friend if I’m not honest?”
From the thought of Jack picking Faye out of the crowd to friendship and honesty, the conversation starts to hit me in a way that doesn’t feel right. I shovel more food in my mouth.
“Have faith, dear Lorelai.” Faye takes a big gulp of her wine. “I bet he’s great in bed.”
I choke on the noodle I’m eating, and both of my friends jerk upwards.
“Are you good, Kal?” Lori asks.
Faye’s in the process of inching along the couch closer to me. “That’s, like, the second time today. Should I be learning the heimlich?”
I continue to cough and shake my head. “I’m fine.” Hastily, I put my lo mein down and pick up my glass. The wine burns my throat as I chug it down. I don’t know if I’m drinking fast to relieve my cough or get myself to knock out so I don’t have to think or deal with this anymore today.
After they’re confident I’m not about to die, Faye and Lori continue their conversation, this time running with Faye’s nugget of information that Jack had reported in an interview that he would have no problem dating a fan. Lori calls bullshit on the statement, and the two of them start squabbling back and forth about it.
It’s with that that I become certain that I need another distraction that isn’t in this apartment—one with light brown hair and sweet eyes who would happily do everything in his power to make sure I wouldn’t be able to think straight. Hurriedly, I grab my phone and and text Alex asking where he is.
Within minutes, he texts me back a photo of his television, making sure to capture the fact that his gray sweatpants are sitting pretty low on his hips and that’s he’s not wearing a shirt. I roll my eyes and bite my bottom lip.
My body feels like it’s buzzing while I lift my head. Guilt over ditching ‘Girls Night’ is starting to fester inside me, but when I glance over and see the “morning after” scene featuring a shirtless Jack hovering over Mara in a room draped in white and softly lit in a way that looks like heaven and then hear Faye and Lori continue to bicker over whether Faye has a chance of sleeping with him, I know that the only way for me to even remotely relax from this day—that’s been turned on it’s head since Faye dropped the news in the cafe and Jordan mentioned that my mom was at the brink of a potential spiral—is, to put it bluntly, get laid.
I text Alex back that I’m coming over and bring myself to my feet, announcing, “Alex needs my help.”
The two of them go silent and simultaneously cock their heads to the side in curiosity.
“With what?” Lori asks first.
I quickly look around the room for an excuse. “He broke his TV and can’t figure out the wiring. Viktor’s gone so—”
Lori raises an eyebrow now. “Is there not like one hundred other people that he knows here that he can ask for help?”
Faye scoffs. “He’s probably just luring you there so he can bone you.” Rolling her eyes, she crosses her arms across her chest. “Asshole. Ruining Girl’s Night.”
I start to feel guilty again, but then I see Jack on TV and suddenly don’t. “I don’t know, but I feel bad.”
I can hear the crunch as Lori starts gnawing on a wonton. “Are you driving?”
“God, no. I’m walking. It’s only a few buildings over,” I say as I move to locate my shoes and jacket.
Faye spins around on the couch so she’s on her knees and facing me. “Do you have your pepper spray?”
Nodding, I shove my arms through the holes of my coats while simultaneously trying to wedge into my sneakers. I’m moving so quickly that I nearly fall over. I check myself before Faye and Lori start to think I’m too eager to leave. “Yeah it’s in my bag.”
“Okay,” Lori says. I can hear the suspicion in her voice. “Text us when you get there.”
I laugh and make my way towards the door. “Yes, Moms.”
When I get outside, the bitter wind smacks me in the face. It’s early March, and spring’s only a few weeks away, but winter apparently doesn’t feel like letting go anytime soon. The apartment complex we live in is like a little village, and it’s primarily filled with students from our college. While we live in Building 42, Alex is in 38. I take a shortcut over the grass between 40 and 36. The snow from the blizzard weeks ago is still on the ground and crunching beneath my shoes. I’m on as high alert as I can be, listening for any other noises, frequently checking my surroundings and clutching my pepper spray that I’ve moved into my pocket. It’s sad to think that, despite the fact I have to do all this, walking through here is also where I claim to feel “safe”.
Inside the buildings I pass, I can hear the loud commotion of music and some loud “singing” that mostly just yelling. While to us, Thursdays are ‘Girls’ Nights’, to most others here, it’s ‘Thirsty Thursday’, the pregame to the upcoming weekend of parties you probably won’t remember well come next week.
I wrap my coat tighter around my body and wince. For some reason, the atmosphere has me remembering again.
When I was sixteen, almost seventeen. At a party, Shawna Hart’s party. She was a girl in Jack’s class, a year above me.
It was after he’d started his routine of secretly staying over in my room at night because his parents’ fighting had been getting to be too much, and he didn’t want the rest of his circle to know that his home life was a shit show. At most, our relationship was that he was the boy who slept on my bedroom floor, and I was the girl who let him. We were from two totally different social structures at Carlton—one could probably guess in what way.
As much as I sometimes hated the fact that I had little significance in that school (besides being the sister of Carlton Heights High legend Jordan Carraway), I also didn’t want to deal with the attention and backlash being the girl spending nights with the great and wonderful “Jack Westfield” would bring. So we’d agreed to keep things quiet, we’d agreed that our relationship and interactions would be simple and never leave the four walls of my bedroom.
Until that night. . .
In the snow. . .
While the raucous of the party that he’d somehow convinced me to go to went on behind us.
It’s like I can still hear the sound of my shoes stomping across her snow covered grass that night, and his footsteps behind me.
“Kallie, where are you going?”
“I shouldn’t be here, Jack. You know I shouldn’t.”
“But I want you here.”
“Why? I’m not your girlfriend. I’m barely your friend. We don’t talk unless it’s past midnight after you’ve climbed into my house. Which is fine. It’s what we’re supposed to be. It’s what we agreed.”
“What if I don’t want that anymore?”
Involuntarily, my heart skips a beat the same way it did that night.
“What? You—you’re talking crazy. You’re drunk. I don’t know. I’m going home.”
I’d only made it three steps before. . .
I come fully back to reality as the jolt of him kissing me for the first time hits like it actually just happened again. There’s the small fluttering of butterflies that only a moment like that can bring, and they almost make me puke. I don’t want them there anymore.
Fed up with being alone with my thoughts and feeling pathetic for going in circles with this, I start running. Before I know it, I’m at Alex’s building. After storming up the stairs to his apartment, I pound my fist on the door and start impatiently bouncing on the balls of my feet. Thankfully, I’m not left out there long.
When Alex opens the door and leans against the frame, he’s still shirtless and still in his gray sweatpants. “Hey.”
I shake my head, saying, “No speaking.” And then I lunge forward and kiss him as hard as I can.
Without protest, Alex wraps his arms around my waist and kicks the door closed behind me. And finally, I can’t think.
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