#9 Why does it hurt?
The first few days after my hook-up with Hollister are the worst. I have to see him every single day at work and even though I pretend that there’s nothing wrong and yell at him and Kieran like I always do, I feel like an awful human being every time he looks at me with those blue eyes, smirking. Not only did I let him disrespect me, but I helped him cheat on the girl he’s been with for years. He was already with her back when we met during my first year of college. He’s been with her for eight years or something, since his early twenties. I met her a few times and she’s a wonderful girl, really sweet. How could he do this to her? And to me?
Joshua calls me a few times, apologizing for not replying for an entire day, even though he didn’t do anything wrong. He was just busy. It’s not like we’re in a relationship or even headed there, so it’s fine. A day is not even a big deal, but he sends flowers to my work to make up for it, which makes Hollister give me a look that says it all. Like getting flowers from another guy proves that I am the whore he thinks I am.
Dshawn texts a few times as well to tell me he’s sorry for standing me up and asking to reschedule, but I haven’t responded to him yet. I don’t know why, but him standing me up hurt just as badly as what Hollister did to me, albeit in a different way.
On Wednesday I call Aston, begging him to take my mind off things. I tell him what happened with Hollister, something I haven’t even told Caroline, even though we’ve talked three times already. She’s coming over on Saturday anyway to go clubbing, so I guess I’ll tell her everything then.
“I told you that boy was trouble,” Aston says, never above telling me I told you so. He may be 28, but he’s got the maturity of a 4-year-old sometimes. “How about this… I’ll come over with pizza around dinner time, and we’ll finally have the Bring it on marathon you promised me. I’m having a dry spell this week because no one seems to want to go home with me for some reason, so I could use some sexy cheerleaders to ogle.”
I grin and agree to let him come over. What I didn’t expect was for him to bring someone. And not just someone, but Dshawn. They both walk in like they own the place, flopping down on my couch and putting their feet up on my coffee table. At least they’ve got the pizzas Aston promised to bring.
“What the fuck is he doing here?” I ask, motioning at Dshawn. “And take your shoes off if you’re gonna do that. This is my place, not your own filthy stink hole.”
“Damn, so touchy,” Aston comments, frowning up at me. “I thought you said you and her are friends as well?” he asks Dshawn.
“He’s not my friend,” I shoot back, giving Dshawn the stink eye.
With a sigh, Dshawn gets up and motions for me to follow him into my kitchen, just far enough away for Aston not to hear us over the opening credits of the first Bring it on movie that he put on like he owns my goddamn TV remote.
“I’m sorry,” he says, leaning in slightly so he doesn’t have to talk too loudly. That means that he’s close. Too close. “I know I suck. A friend needed me. I totally spaced about meeting up with you. I’m really sorry, Shaughna.”
“Look, it’s fine. I was just doing you a favor,” I say with a sigh. “I’m sure you have a good explanation. Let’s just go watch a movie.”
“Can we reschedule?” he asks, glancing at Aston. I realize that he’s talking to me about it in hushed tones because he doesn’t want Aston to know about his plans. Maybe I’m really one of the only people who know he wants to get out of IT and own his own business. “I really enjoyed the other night and it’s just so nice to finally talk to someone about everything. I only tagged along tonight because I had a feeling you were purposefully ignoring my texts. It’s just… I know what I want now.”
“Oh?” I can’t help but be curious. “A club, right?”
He nods. “Yes, a club. I love going out and dancing and I think that a club would be fun to promote as well. I was thinking like… theme nights, you know? Golden oldies on Thursdays, hip-hop on Mondays, things like that. And of course wicked parties for Halloween, New Year’s, all the big holidays. Maybe even a mystery night once a month where everyone gets a mask when they come in, so no one will now exactly who they’re dancing with until they get outside.”
“Sounds great.” I nudge him with a grin. “You do know that owning a club means that you won’t be able to party there yourself, right?”
He nods, looking extremely serious. “Of course. I was thinking that if I really want to make money off of it, I should have a place right next door to the club with the perfect food to soak up all that alcohol. Fries, pizza, burgers… Just a bunch of cheap junk food. If you can show your wrist band for the club that night, you can have a free drink, something like that.”
“That’s a great idea and I’m sure you’d get a lot of money that way, but that also means needing a bigger loan,” I say, already thinking of everything he needs to do to even have a fighting chance. “I’ll need your bank statements to start with, your loan slips as well, to I know what we’re working with. And of course, we’ll need to figure out where. Do you already have a place you’re thinking of?” When he shakes his head, I groan. “I’ll help you look. Does it need to be in this town? Because if we can look at other towns too, that might help.”
“I… I don’t know. Other towns are okay too, I guess, but not too far from my family. Three of four hours at the most. And…” He hesitates. “I realize that chances are I won’t get this off the ground. Not now, maybe never. I don’t want people to keep asking me about this and for me to feel like a failure every time I have to tell them I’m still working as an IT guy. Could we-”
“-keep this between us?” I finish for him. “Of course. Now let’s grab some beers and watch some cheerleaders get into catfights and fall in love.”
And for a few hours, that’s what we do. It’s always funny to see how ridiculously invested Aston gets, shouting at the screen when the drama ensues. Mostly, we rate the actors and actresses. Aston gives every hot girl in a cheerleader outfit a 10 out of 10, but Dshawn and I are a little more critical. It’s a fun night and I finally forget about Hollister for a few hours.
Around midnight, Aston gets a text from one of the girls he’s been seeing lately and he immediately takes off. Dshawn gets up as well, looking a bit unsure now that Aston is suddenly gone.
“Look, you can go if you want to,” I tell him, “but you’re also welcome to stick around. I’ve been working at Animals so much lately that I don’t seem to be able to go to sleep at normal hours anyway. I won’t be sleepy for a long time.”
He sits back down, grabbing a slice of cold pizza. “You work at Animals? That’s a great place. You’re behind the bar, right?”
I nod. “It pays well, but it’s not my dream job, obviously.”
“What is?” he asks, sounding genuinely interested.
“I don’t know.” I shrug at his surprised look. “Hey, you’re the IT nerd who wants to own his own club! It is so weird that a waitress-bartender with a business major has no idea what the fuck she wants to do with her life?”
“No, but you are always so sure of yourself and you’re so good at this whole business plan stuff… I just figured you had a dream job in mind, maybe also something with owning your own business.”
“Actually…” I bite my lip, not sure if I should tell him this. It’s something new I’ve been playing around with ever since he told me about his plans. “Talking to you about all this has made me realize that maybe I want a place of my own as well. Maybe a small consultancy firm where I help people like you to get their first business off the ground. I mean, I took accounting classes and I know basically all I need to know to get any business going. Also… owning a club or a restaurant sounds pretty fun too. Hard work, but I don’t think I’d mind that. Maybe I’ll follow in your footsteps one day.”
“Don’t steal my idea,” he warns me with a grin. “I was planning on telling you the name of my future club, but I’m not so sure now. I don’t want you running off with it.”
I laugh. “Just spit it out. You know you want to.”
His grin widens and he scoots closer to me like he’s ready to tell me a secret. Which he is, I guess.
“I would name the club The Palace, to make it sound grand, like the place to be. And the fast food place next door would be The Stables. You know, like the least fancy part of a palace. Like you’re slumming it after being the king of the world.”
“Dancing at The Palace and grabbing a bite at The Stables after.” I nod. “Yeah, that would totally work.”
Dshawn seems really excited and starts telling me more about the ideas he has. At one point I just grab my laptop and start typing away while he talks, in full business mode even though we’ve both had a few beers and are sitting on my couch with a cheerleader movie on in the background as we chew on cold pizza slices. When we’re about an hour into what feels like a brainstorm meeting by now, Dshawn suddenly realizes he’s been monopolizing the conversation completely.
“I’m sorry,” he says, flushing bright red, which is pretty hard for him to do with his dark skin tone. His skin looks so smooth, I wonder if it feels that way too…
“That’s okay,” I say, trying to shake off my weird thoughts. “I’m actually enjoying this more than I thought, getting back to doing what I studied in college. It’s nice to feel like I’m doing something that actually has a purpose.”
“You’re such a smart girl,” Dshawn compliments me while I close my laptop and put it on the coffee table.
“Please,” I scoff. “I hardly said or did anything except let you talk and type away.”
“No,” he says, his face utterly serious as he leans in a little. “You ask exactly the right questions to get me where I need to go. I never would be this far along if it wasn’t for you. And you know all these big business words and you’ve got all these ideas… Plus, you tell me everything the way it is. You just told me five times that an idea I have is crap, so when you tell me that you think something will work, I actually believe you.”
Our faces are so close now that I can smell the beer and pizza on his breath. No one ever calls me smart. Ever. Talking to him makes me feel like it’s true, like I could really be more than someone who brings people food and drinks.
His lips touch mine softly, merely a brush, but it’s enough to make me gasp. He’s ready to pull back, but I grab the back of his head and crush my lips against his, truly kissing him. He responds eagerly, moving against me with the same hunger I feel. It’s hard to say who takes the initiative to slip in some tongue, but soon we’re making out like horny teenagers, his hands moving to my breasts and squeezing them through my shirt and bra.
“Fuck,” I curse when I pull away from him. “We can’t do this.”
“Why not?” Dshawn asks, reaching for me with fire burning in his gorgeous brown eyes.
“Caroline,” I state simply.
“Oh fuck,” he replies, looking like he just saw a ghost. “Does she even know that we’re hanging out?”
I shake my head. “I wanted to tell her about it, but she’s been preoccupied with-”
“Nathan,” he cuts in, nodding. “Yeah, I know.”
“Wait, what?” How does he know that?
“We kept in touch after hooking up that night we ran into each other in the club,” he confesses. “She told me all about their fucked-up relationship and how they’re staying away from each other to save her job.”
“Oh.” I feel ever worse knowing that both me and Dshawn are so completely up to speed on what’s going on in Caroline’s life while she has no idea that I’m here on the couch with him, let alone kissing him. “You should go.”
He sighs. “Okay, if that’s what you want.”
I don’t respond and just watch him grab his phone from the armrest of the couch and get his coat from one of the kitchen chairs. He opens his mouth to say something, but he doesn’t. Instead, he just waves lamely and leaves my apartment.
In a way, this is even worse than when Hollister left. I don’t actually care about Hollister. He just made me feel dirty. Dshawn is my friend, in some weird twisted way. Talking to him, listening to him, hearing the excitement in his voice… It made me happy. And that kiss… That meant more than Hollister and Joshua combined. But he’s Caroline’s ex, so it can’t happen. Besides, I’m not looking for a relationship, and I can find someone else to sleep with for sure.
Still… it hurts that he walked out like that, even though I told him to leave.
Why does it hurt?”