9. PLAYING WITH FIRE
Being friends with Ace is like playing with fire and I had always loved the heat. But you can’t get burned when you’re the flame and that’s what I plan to be.
I don’t have to work today so I find myself back at the house earlier than usual. I remember Liv telling me that she and Zach won’t be home till later and I am left in the house alone.
After reading a book and watching a movie on my laptop, I head downstairs to get some water. From the kitchen, I notice Ace’s door is open. It’s never open.
I use this opportunity to quickly grab one of the notebooks from upstairs and stand in his doorway. I don’t know why I expect anything different but each time I see Ace without his shirt, my heart quickens. I try to ignore it and I clear my throat.
“What?” he raises his eyebrows but doesn’t look up from the laptop that’s on his lap.
“The assignment? I thought we could go over a few things now,” I say, looking around his room. It’s much bigger than mine and his king-sized bed fits comfortably. There are no windows but a large sliding door leading to the back patio which is filled with auburn coloured leaves.
Of course he is. I ignore him and walk over the edge of his bed, laying my notebook out and sitting as far away from him as I can cross-legged. I can see his mouth twitch and I wonder if he is holding back a smile.
I pick up my pen, twirling it around my fingertips, “Are you always an asshole?”
At this, he closes the top to his laptop slightly, before giving me all his attention. For some reason, this makes me lean back and I can feel if I move just a little more, I would end up on the floor.
“Hmm?” I prompt under his gaze when he doesn’t answer because the tension is getting too much. Why is he staring at me like that?
“Only around you,” he smirks, finding humour in my discomfort. My heart skips a beat and take a deep breath.
“Clearly,” I snap irritated at myself for being affected by him.
I pick up the notebook and pretend to write something in it, Ace raises an eyebrow.
“Why does it bother you if I don’t like you?” He asks and I pause. “But it’s not just me is it? Why does it bother you if someone doesn’t like you?”
I take my bottom lip in between my teeth and consider the question. He’s right, partially. It did bother me if someone didn’t like me, but it bothered me more that it was him. I’m not going to tell him that.
“Don’t we all want to be liked?” I joke, forcing a small laugh.
He eyes don’t leave me, and he doesn’t smile. It feels like he can see everything that I have been trying to hide.
“Do you read?” I ask, glancing towards the large bookshelf, trying desperately to take the conversation off me.
“Mostly autobiographies,” he says, understanding what I’m trying to do. However, he doesn’t mention it, but I notice after that moment, he keeps the questions light.
After a while, I understand why everyone is friends with him. He gives me his full attention, asking what my favourite movie is and what’s my best childhood memory. Filling the room with questions that are easy to answer and don’t put pressure on either of us.
He listens to me like I’m telling him the world prophecy and for the first time in two years, as I sit here with Ace — I don’t think about the night of her death.
He makes me want to tell him everything and I’m terrified of that. I tell him I don’t like to be called by my full name, but I leave out the reason why, he doesn’t ask.
My arm supports my weight on the bed, and I put my legs to dangle off the side. When I look back up at Ace it seems like he moved closer to me.
Our hands are almost touching, and I clear my throat looking down at the printed questions that the professor gave us as a guide, suddenly feeling hot.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” I read out loud without thinking.
He sighs sharply almost like he wants to laugh, “I believe in hating anyone that does.”
I roll my eyes because I don’t agree. My dad fell in love with mom when he saw her, he told me the story over a hundred times. It was one of his first shifts on the job, he got called to deal with a public nuisance matter. My mother was twenty-five, freshly single and drunk, stripping in the middle of a busy highway. She didn’t remember how she got there.
Instead of arresting her, my dad dropped her home in his patrol car with the lights on because she asked him too — he didn’t even question it. They were inseparable after that.
I find myself looking outside, towards the back patio. I can’t see anything through the darkness, what time is it? How long have we sat in his room for, feels like minutes.
My eyes fall to the time on his watch and I think that it’s broken, “It’s midnight?” I find myself saying. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep you up this late.”
I forget that people actually sleep because that’s not the luxury I have.
“It’s okay, I don’t sleep much anyway.”
“My mind has a way of being dark and twisted,” he tells me, I wonder if he was meant to say that out loud.
“You are afraid of your dreams,” I say, barely aware of my own voice.
I know what it’s like to close your eyes and have your mind fill with sinister thoughts. But I also know that it doesn’t happen to someone who hasn’t experienced something life changing.
Are we both still holding on to something that we should let go? What’s your secret, Ace?
“Yes,” his voice is barely a whisper, but I can feel it against my skin. I don’t know how we got so close and when I look up at him, I hold my breath. His eyes are mostly grey with the electricity of green and blue. I find my attention trailing down to his lips and my heart quickens, it’s now slamming against my chest.
We both know, if one of us moves forward, our lips would meet. I don’t understand why I am here, wanting him to kiss me. I feel stupid because I know this isn’t going to last. Ace will go back to being an asshole and I will be the one to get burned. Don’t play with fire they said.
I feel nothing for you.
Be the flame.
I use my hand to push myself off the bed, away from him. Breaking the moment, keeping myself sane. “I should probably go to my room, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I see the way his fingers grip around the blanket and his jaw tenses. Almost in disappointment, but it can’t be. We’re barely friends.