Pausing a moment more to collect my argument, I finally acknowledged his entrance and moved over on our faded brown couch, just perfect for two people to comfortably lounge on. This was my favorite piece of furniture in our apartment, and one of the first additions to the once empty and plain room that soon became our living room. The ‘Tv room’ is what I was accustomed to calling it back home, but here in this town that was still new and exciting to me, I at least attempted to be more formal. The North was so different from the south, different slang was used and different restaurants were built. Most of all were the change in scenery, from mountains and forests to flatlands and farms.
Zoning back into the situation at hand I noticed his full attention on me, those forever shifting green eyes roving over me like usual, I knew I was ready to propose my idea.
“Before you make an opinion about what I am going to say, just look at how cute he is!” I squeaked, my excitement finally leaking through. I quickly turned my laptop towards him and watched his face closely as he examined the pictures and read the short blurb underneath. I quickly continued before he could collect his thoughts. “I know we already have Bella and Finn, but I really don’t think they’d get along and I’ve really been wanting Bella to have someone to play with when we go off on our vacations,” I said all in one breathe, hurried and rushed. His emotions were still unreadable and I knew he was withholding his emotion from me for a reason, wanting to hear my reasoning and the evidence collected. So I ran through my list of possible arguable points. “I already looked at our apartment building restrictions again, and we are just under the limit of pets allowed,” I said, my voice light and hopeful as I finally took my laptop back and placed it on our wood coffee table. I rubbed at the circular stains surrounding it from all the late-night coffee sprees and my continuous lack of ability to remember to place a coaster underneath.
He finally began to open his mouth but I cut him off one more time, grabbing his hands tight, forcing eye contact, really pushing it. “And he’s just so adorable and small like her, it just seems too good to be true!”
After a moment or two passed he realized I was finally finished and broke out into a broad grin after a couple of moments of suspense that eased my trepidation.
“Love,” he said, in his low, beautiful voice, that till this day, even after years of being surrounded by it, made my knees lose their strength. His rough hands traveled to my face, gripping it with tenderness and passion and I leaned into it, inviting the warmth that rose to my cheeks. “Did you really think I could say no to getting another dog?” he asked incredulously. Our laughs rang out through our quaint apartment and it was like a symphony.
“So that’s a yes?” I asked happily, already knowing the answer.
“Hell yes,” he said with laughter, happily accepting my gigantic hug, his long arms wrapping around me tightly. I was practically jumping around with happiness which caused Bella, our two-year-old Yorkie Terrier, to come rushing over, jumping onto our laps in between us, shaking her dirty blonde hair around. She was our little fur baby through and through and had been with us throughout most of our relationship.
The dark cocoa colored puppy staring back at us through the screen was a puppy named Beastie. I absolutely loved it. The shelter was just about two hours away from Austin and I could easily make a trip there next weekend. I already wrote an email in advance, telling the nice elderly woman running it, a retired breeder, that we were interested in a visit. With Bella and our lazy house cat Finn, who I swore snuck out every night, I felt like we were finally ready for some more furry company.
Monday morning started out as usual. Wake up, shower, make breakfast, and finally run out the door. Tyler tried to argue his way out of work yet again, I just groaned and eventually dragged him out of bed. That was our morning routine. I was always the first one up and the first to leave, making the coffee and turning on the burner to make the eggs. Eventually, Tyler would limp out of our bedroom and stumble into the kitchen, lured by the smell of toast and caffeine. Only today was the weekend so he didn’t have work which made him extra grumpy.
“Good morning Angel,” his voice said from behind me, his breath warm on my skin. His arms wrapped around my waist, sending delicious sparks of warmth along my skin that was exposed under my crop top. I continued my low humming as I lowered the heat on the stove and shuffled around for the plates on the highest shelf. He followed my movements, not acknowledging my attempt to be productive as his fingers played with the strings on my sweatpants, sweet, and teasing.
“Ty, would you mind helping me reach those plates rather than undressing me for once?” I pleaded, softly, withholding my laughter. He huffed in defeat and reached up and acquired the plates that I immediately started to fill with food. Tyler was lengthy but nicely toned, a golden glow surrounding him ever since we moved to Texas and I got him into the sun. I watched him as he attempted to tie his knotty hair up with no avail and chuckled. His hair was now reaching past his ears in loose brown curls that were almost impossible to keep under control.
Constantly in a white or black t-shirt, the white always brought out his eyes and brightened up his brooding personality. His closet was piled over with those tight-fitting shirts that drove me crazy and well-worn jeans good for getting dirty and sweating after a long day in the summer sun.
I, on the other hand, already had tied back my pin-straight strawberry blonde hair that just reached my ribs. Every morning my hairstyle varied from braids to high ponytails. I hated having even a bit of hair on my face, reminding me of when I was younger and my mom would cut my bangs. As soon as I went off to college I grew them out and was relieved to be able to see again.
Having Ty around constantly reminded me how short I was as he patted me on the head. For a moment I paused my rushed morning routine and wrapped my arms around his waist. For a couple of seconds, we shared a kiss and a warm hug, me on my tippy toes. My small body and curved hips weren't sometimes peculiar when next to my tall friends. But my dark gray eyes and weary look kept them from making comments about my attire. And although I was small, many of my friends could easily recognize me in a crowd due to my signature plaid shirt tied to my waist and overall dark clothing. So I wasn’t complaining.
A short and concise knock sounded on the front door a room away and I barely took a step before Jay and Kasey’s steps sounded in through our living room. Bella ran to greet them and I smiled brightly, setting four plates down on the table, all arranged neatly.
“Aspen I swear this dog is vicious!” called out Kasey’s high trill as she finally came into view, Bella in her arms licking at her beautiful face, getting threateningly close to her eyeliner. Bella and Kasey were the best of friends, definitely since Kasey always had some sort of sweet treat to reward her with when she came to visit. After a minute or two of Bella’s ‘vicious attacks’ Kasey finally put her down and wiped off the slobber on her face.
Kasey, like everyone else, headed over to me, pulled out a chair, and sat down eagerly taking in the meal in front of her. Her ice-blue eyes roved over the eggs and finally landed on the fresh toast, lighting up in excitement. Her dyed, pitch-black hair was weaved into two dutch braids, a stark contrast to her pale skin. I absolutely was obsessed with her entire aesthetic.
We all crowded around the table, an unusual sight for the four of us. When others in the town spotted one of us, the others usually followed close behind. But activities like eating breakfast at ungodly times in the morning was not our usual set up. Either Tyler and Jace were at some party getting plastered and Kasey and I were playing some crazy game at the bar or we were in classes, droning through the day, waiting for the night to come.
I still remembered the exact moment we had met those two nut jobs. It was nearly two years ago when we had first moved into this apartment. I had met Kasey in my freshman English lit. class, and she was the first kind face I had bumped into. Immediately we clicked and she swooped me up like I was a lost puppy. That day in particular I had been a mess, hair tangled this way and that, my wardrobe mismatched and my notes scattered everywhere. College was racking me into the ground.
I had forgotten to do the assignment for that day was mere seconds away from ripping out my hair. Unbeknownst to my freshman self, I had sat down next to someone who knew that look all too well. Kasey slid her paper onto my desk without even taking a second glance at me. Not even having time to argue with the stranger next to me as the professor walked in and I quickly copied down her work.
After class, I followed the flow of students and caught up with her just in time to profusely thank her.
“Why are you thanking me?” She scoffed in surprise, light twinkling in her eyes.
“Because you didn't need to do that, you don't even know me!” I responded quickly, out of breath from almost losing her in the crowd. By now we had moved over on the sidewalk and she began beaming at me, confusing as always. I later learned it was a personality trait of hers to totally through people off track and do something spontaneous.
“Hi, I'm Kasey Nunziata, Sophomore year, I’m majoring in psych. What’s your name?”
“Aspen Davis,” I said slowly, confused by our conversation. If not for her sweet smile her cold eyes would have scared me. Now she wanted to know who I was?
“See? Now I know you. I was happy to help.” I smiled back at her, thankful for the humor. Though we had just met I found myself wanting to get to know her. It would be nice to finally have a friend in this new town. “Come and grab some coffee with me and we can discuss who’s dog ate your English commentary, hm?” She asked invitingly. I nodded with excitement.
Since then I had always looked up to her, her confidence and clarity in situations. Even in situations when it came to who would get first serve at my tiny homemade breakfast she did not hesitate to fill her plate.
“What are you thinking about Ash?” Tyler said while reaching across me for the salt. I was startled from my thoughts by his childhood nickname for me. I smiled lightly waving him off.
“Nothing, I was just remembering the day we first met these two,” I said waving my knife pointing at Kasey and then Jay. An instant smile spread on Jay’s face.
“Oh, you mean when Tyler caught me high off my ass working at that coffee shop?” Jay said, clearly reminiscing his old job that -shortly after that incident- he was fired from.
“Yeah, that,” I laughed. It just so happened that the same day Kasey and I went to Nicki’s, a town favorite shop next to the college, Tyler had decided to make a quick run there before his next shift at work. Somehow during our bumping into each other, my introduction of Kasey and ordering coffee, Tyler had scored a new drug dealer via Jay, the coffee guy.
Jay has always been an interesting character with his dark brown wavy hair, longer than most guys, below his shoulders, and his groomed goatee. I had been trying to get him to shave it for months now. The best way I could describe him to someone is a natural stoner look with a hint of beach vibes. Other than Tyler, sunglasses were Jay’s best friend, eyes constantly red and bloodshot. Constantly jumping from job to job he wasn’t the most responsible person but extremely kind.
All around the table were smiles and joyful conversation. There was no other place I'd rather be than this cozy living room with my friends. Last night after I had got the ‘all clear’ from Tyler I immediately dialed Kasey and told her about the Maltese Yorkie I was looking at. We decided twenty minutes later that we all should meet up, even the guys, and go to the shelter together to decide if he was worthy of The Davis Name.
“Y’all almost ready to go?” I asked grinning, pushing my chair back into place. Groans followed my question.
“Aspen, sweetheart, what did we say about the fake country accent?” Jay asked, like usual. I laughed at their annoyance, secretly knowing I was never going to stop.
“You’re wasting your breath Jay, you are just encouraging it to continue,” Tyler said in a joking matter, arms wrapping around my waist and squeezing me tight. Despite his physical affection, I was not going to let his abuse pass. I spun around facing him and breaking his hold on me, crossing my arms and raising my eyebrow.
“It?!” I borderline screeched at him. Jay scrambled out the door laughing and Kasey laughed while shrugging on her jean jacket.
“Looks like you angered it, wise guy,” she said before following Jay, leaving me defenseless against his attack of kisses.
“Ok, ok stop it!” I pleaded laughing, my fake anger resolving. He crushes me in a bear hug and I struggle to breathe.
“Not until you forgive me!” he laughed, holding me tighter making it impossible to squirm.
“Okay! Alright, I forgive you!” I said as loud as I could without disturbing our neighbors. We both chuckled as he finally let me go and went to grab his car keys. I took down what was left of my messy bun and put it back into a tiny ponytail, catching as many flyaways as I could. Feeling like we left Kasey and Jay alone for long enough I started to walk out, only stopping when Tyler didn't follow.
“Babe, you coming?” I questioned, with an eyebrow raised. He was focused on his phone, staring at the screen with a blank face. He never was really a technology person but at this moment he seemed like he couldn’t put it down.
“I’m so sorry Ash, I'm going to have to cancel, something came up that I can’t ignore.” At his surprising sentence, my light smile turned downwards and my eyebrows scrunched in confusion.
The day we got Bella was monumental and life-changing for us, she brought us together in many ways and always gave us a reason to smile. Whatever could put a halt on another adoption was eluding me.
“Who texted you?” I said, trying to keep a calm face. Though his face was that of guilt and suspicion. Which didn’t help my growing anxiety.
“Charlie.” A tension created sigh left my body. Of course, it was her. Over the years Ty and I had been together, meeting each other's family and friends had been the most interesting part. We both weren’t fond of the people who had raised us. My parents had never gotten married and split when I was fifteen. Raising their voice and making the floor shake was their specialty. Most nights I would run off to Tyler’s house and hide under the covers on his bed trying to wash out all their voices.
But for him, his house was no better. His parents were almost never home, young and energetic. They wanted to party and stay at late-night bars. Tyler was born while his parents chased their high school romance, they weren’t ready for a child but his mother’s religious mom gave her no other choice than to keep him. But that didn’t mean she had to act like a parent. When we were younger I was able to stay there for a couple of nights in a row without once seeing either of his parents. Many times I would sneak in when he was at his work shift at the auto parts store and filled his refrigerator with food, enough for him and his younger sister.
Charlie is his cousin. We had never seen eye to eye and she was always putting him in dangerous situations. But he had grown up with her and they were like siblings, I tried my best not to interfere with their relationship but when she also moved to Texas a few months after us, just two hours away I almost pulled my hair out. Charlie had shitty parents, and I mean shitty, even for foster care, she got the worst. They were the type of junkies that lived off of the money they got from fostering kids, lived in a dump, and spent their dirty money on coke. She had it rough growing up, and a year or two before Tyler met me, Charlie, related to him through his birth parents, made contact with him and he took her away from that hell hole. Of course, I pitied her, but in ways, she was a bad influence. Always had been. But he would never see that.
“Go, we will survive without you,” I said, clenching my teeth into a forced smile, “beastie will be here when you get back.” His body language was tense and uncomfortable as he nodded his head in agreement, gave me one last hug, and walked out the door. I let out a short sigh of frustration, shaking off the invisible water droplets of sweat on my hands.
“Ash! Are you coming or is this puppy up for grabs?” yelled Kasey sarcastically.
“I’ll be right there!” I grabbed my bag, locking the apartment door behind me, hoping Charlie didn’t drag Tyler into something he couldn't handle.