#12 Ground rules
When Caroline wakes up in the morning, she gets up on her own and finds me on the couch, where I’m still wide awake, staring at my phone. I never went back to bed after my conversation with Dshawn. Instead, I stayed up texting Joshua, who was awake as well, watching a Formula 1 race that he didn’t mind missing half of to text me. I feel bad using him like this, to get my mind off of the crap going on in my life, but then again… that’s exactly what he is to me. A distraction. Just someone to hook up with. He knows that, I know that, we both know that.
“Hey,” I tell Caroline with a smile. “How are you doing?”
She shrugs. “I feel alright. Little sore. Thanks for taking care of me last night.”
“Of course!” I get up to give her a closer inspection. She still looks horrible with the dark bruises in her neck and the scrape on her face, surrounded by angry red and blue skin. She looks like someone banged her head into a wall while choking her. Which is probably exactly what happened.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Caroline complains before rushing to the bathroom to examine the damage in the mirror. “Oh God, I can’t seriously go to work looking like this on Monday!” She grunts and takes a closer look, touching the sore spots with her fingertips.
“Caroline, that is the last thing you need to worry about,” I tell her, feeling a little annoyed. I still don’t know the whole story. “What the hell happened last night?”
She just shrugs, looking at herself in the mirror again, her fingers hovering over the blue skin. “Ah crap, the dance is Friday,” she complains. “I’m gonna have to get a new dress, something with a turtleneck. Or a matching scarf.”
“Caroline!” This is getting really tiring. “Stop talking about covering up your bruises. Tell me what happened last night!”
“Danny was drunk, he grabbed me, and I hit my head against the wall.”
Fucking hell, she doesn’t seriously think I’m going to settle for that crappy explanation, now does she? When she sleeps with Dshawn, I have to listen to every single thing they did to each other, but now she’s holding out on me? Come on.
“And he choked you by the looks of it,” I add, motioning at her throat. “Why don’t you want to turn him into the police?”
She doesn’t even answer. She just shakes her head and rummages through her stuff to find her toothbrush.
My phone buzzes and I take it out of my back pocket to see that it’s the guy I shouldn’t be thinking about. The one whose lips never should have touched mine. “Dshawn will be here soon,” I tell Caroline, trying to sound normal. “Maybe you’ll talk to him.”
She turns away from the mirror, looking at me in a way she’s never done before. Like she doesn’t know who I am anymore. “Why’s he coming over? Do you want to snog his face off again?”
“Oh shit,” I say, wanting to just disappear. “You saw that.” How much does she know? Does she know that it wasn’t our first kiss? Did she see it, or did someone tell her? That Yord guy maybe? “Caroline, I’m so sorry. I suck. I totally suck.” My voice breaks. I’m the worst friend ever. “You’re getting beaten up by Danny and I’m kissing your guy. I’m so, so sorry.”
“He’s not my guy.” Caroline’s voice is void of any emotion. Before I can reply, she pushes me out of the way and stalks out of the bathroom.
I hurry after her, rushing into the bedroom just like she is, watching her get dressed in jeans and a shirt. I try to say something, but she shuts me up with a single look.
“He’s got every right to kiss whoever he wants. So do you.” She watches me, waiting for a reaction, but I don’t know what I could possibly say to make this better, so I just stare right back at her, feeling my cheeks heat up even though I try to stay calm. “Wait… do you actually like him?”
“No!” I say immediately, way too loud to sound convincing. “Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. I don’t like Dshawn!” I don’t even know if that’s true or not. Do I like him? And if I do, is it just because I want to fuck his brains out, or is it more than that? Is it because he thinks I’m smart? Because he doesn’t seem to think I’m just some easy slut? Because he opens doors for me?
Carline gives me an incredulous look. “Since when?” she demands to know.
I grunt in annoyance. She’s not the most perceptive person ever, but she knows me. She knows that I’m acting weird. She knows that something more is going on. Luckily, I’m saved by the bell. Or well, by a knock on the door, to be precise. Caroline throws me one of her patented knowing looks before moving to open the door.
Dshawn is just as concerned about Caroline as I am, touching her face carefully and hugging her like she might break if he holds her too tightly. They talk for a moment and she asks how Danny is doing.
“He wants me to tell you he’s sorry,” Dshawns spits out, shaking his head in annoyance. “Not that it matters. He’s a motherfucking son of a bitch who deserves to get trampled by a whole fucking herd of cows.”
“Preach,” I say, speaking up for the first time since he walked in.
His eyes flick over to me and we lock eyes for the briefest of moments, my cheeks heating up even more with his attention now on me. I look like crap. I haven’t slept at all and I’m in sweats and a T-shirt. I’m not even wearing a bra. He grunts when he turns his attention back on Caroline, looking like he’s a little kid and he’s afraid that mommy Caroline caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Chill,” Caroline tells him, a smile lighting up her face. Why is she suddenly so chipper? “I know,” she tells Dshawn, her eyes flicking over to me. “I saw.”
“Fuck, I’m sorry, Car” he says immediately, looking down at the floor as he rubs his eyes. He looks like he hasn’t slept either. “I didn’t mean to-”
“I know, it’s okay. If you two want to date, don’t hold out on my account.” Caroline is still smiling, her eyes twinkling as she looks at me. She somehow seems to fine with this, to even encourage me to go for it. “I’m a big girl,” she says, her attention on Dshawn now. “I’m not gonna stand in your way.”
When he doesn’t respond, I speak up instead. “Date?” I ask, sounding completely deranged. “Car,” I go on, trying to control my voice. “We were drunk and stupid. We’re not gonna date.”
“Right,” Dshawn agrees, but his voice has a dark edge to it that reminds me of when he told me over the phone that he wants to kiss me again. To put his hands on my body. “Of course not.”
Caroline rolls her eyes. “Whatever you say.”
“Breakfast?” I ask, my voice still squeaky.
“Yes,” Dshawn responds, even though the question was obviously directed at Caroline. “I could use some coffee.”
Fuck. Why doesn’t he understand that I want him out of my apartment? I can’t deal with him right now, not when my best friend still needs me. Fact is he distracts me, he temps me, he wants me to walk right over and just melt into him, let him hold me and tell me that I’m not the most horrible person in the world, that what we did doesn’t make me an awful best friend. I can’t do that, so I do the next best thing: I make us some coffee.
“I could also eat,” Dshawn says when I hand him his mug. He’s sitting in my kitchen likes he owns the place. He may be a good kisser, but he’s also an infuriating asshole.
“The fridge is right there,” I comment. “And I’m sure you can figure out where I keep my pans. I like my eggs sunny side up, thank you very much.”
He rolls his eyes, but starts making us all some omelets anyway. Caroline follows us with her eyes, her hands firmly wrapped around her coffee mug. She lifts her eyebrows at me in a silent question, but I just shake my head. There’s no way we’re having a conversation about this right now.
“So… how mad are you at me and Shaughna for kissing?” Dshawn asks, his back still turned to the both of us as he uses the spatula to scramble the eggs he’s making for Caroline. Seems like we’re having this conversation anyway. Great.
“I’m not mad.” She sips her coffee, not saying anything else.
“You should be,” I mutter to myself. “I broke girl code.”
“Please,” she says with a smile. “It’s not like you slept with Jordan, Danny or Nathan.”
I can hear Dshawn make a sound that’s somewhere between a grunt and a scoff. I guess he doesn’t like that Caroline doesn’t consider him to be in the same league as those guys are. I get what she means, though. She wasn’t in love with Dshawn, but she was with Jordan and Danny. And whether she is admitting it to herself or not, she’s falling for Nathan as well. There’s a reason she called Dshawn when she just needed a quick fuck to get her mind out of the gutter. She would never call Danny or Jordan for that, because with them, it would mean something, because she used to be in love with them. With Dshawn, it’s just sex.
Still, we all know that even though Caroline never loved Dshawn, he was head over heels for her back in college. Even though their relationship only lasted about three months, it was obvious to everyone but Caroline that he wanted more. He wanted it all. And now here we are, standing in my kitchen, talking about my kiss with him. Even though I would love to kiss him again, I know that I can’t. Even if Caroline isn’t angry now, she could still change her mind. And even if she doesn’t, it’s just wrong. And it’s not like I’m the relationship type. If I want someone in my bed, I can just call Joshua or go clubbing to find someone new. I don’t need Dshawn.
“So if I were to ask Shaugha out, you’d be okay with that?” Dshawn asks as he puts a plate of food in front of Caroline.
“Totally,” she confirms, digging in.
“Purely hypothetically, of course,” he adds, seeing my sullen expression. “Anyway, Caroline, how about I join you when you drive back home? I don’t feel right having you on your own for three hours straight, with a possible concussion, driving…”
“I don’t have a concussion!” she insists. “Shaughna, tell him!”
“The nurse said she’s fine,” I agree, “but I actually agree with him, hon. I don’t care which one of us tags along, but I really don’t want you to be alone in your car for so long.”
“No,” she says agrily. “I don’t need a goddamn babysitter.”
We argue for a few more minutes, but I know that it’s futile. That girl is stubborn as hell. Finally, when we’re all done with breakfast – Dshawn’s eggs aren’t half bad, I have to admit – Caroline finally convinces us that she is perfectly capable of making it back home without our help. Dshawn and I watch her drive away from the threshold to my apartment, him slightly behind me, looking at her car over my head. The damn asshole is tall.
“Time for you to leave,” I tell him as I turn around to face him, motioning to the open front door.
He raises his eyebrows and laughs. “My coat is still on a chair somewhere, I’m not done with my second cup of coffee quite yet, and we still need to talk. So no, it’s not time.”
Grunting, I shut the door and follow him into my own living room. He sits down on the couch with his coffee, motioning for me to sit down next to him. Instead, I take the chair next to the couch, angling it so that we’re basically opposite each other. No way in hell am I going to sit next to him.
“Look, I get it,” he says before I can speak up. “I can settle for just friends, without any of the benefits. Not a problem. Please tell me that you’re still willing to help me with my business plan, though. I need you.”
What the actual fuck? First he’s all I want to kiss you and grab your breasts, then he asks Caroline is it would be okay for us to date, and now he’s suddenly totally not bothered to be nothing but a friend to me? He’s so hot and cold, what am I supposed to do with that? Then again, this is what I want, isn’t it?
“Okay,” I decide. Maybe I should just cut ties with him altogether, but I actually enjoy talking to him about his ideas for the future. And it’s just so nice to work on something I actually studied for. It makes me feel like I might just figure out what I want to do with my life after all. “We can work on your plan together, but we need some ground rules. No touching, no kissing, and we never meet up at either of our apartments.”
He grins. “Are you that scared I’ll charm your pants right off?”
I roll my eyes at him, smiling as well. “Just trying to make this easier for you. I’m irresistible and you know it.”
“Hmm,” he hums, “okay then.”
I get up and move to get his coat from one of the kitchen chairs. “Now it’s time to go. We talked, here’s your coat, and I’m sure you can manage to find a cup of coffee that’s not in my apartment. So… bye, boy.”
He moves in for a hug, but I hold out the coat like it’s a shield. “No touching!”
“Jesus Christ, you’re a real piece of work,” he grunts in annoyance. “Fine. I’ll text you.”
When he’s finally gone, I feel like I can breathe again. I send a text to Caroline, telling her to call me when she gets home, to let me know how she’s doing. She’s my priority now, as she should have been all along. It’s obvious she’s not doing well. Poor thing.
Author’s note: could you hit the little heart if you like the book? It keeps me motivated :)
And comments are always appreciated too. :)