Chapter 26 - Everything But Mine
“Oh, you’re the calm when my world is crashing / My heart, my blood, my passion / Why, tell me why / You’re everything but mine” – Everything But Mine, Backstreet Boys
He’s talking with two of his friends when I approach him, hockey guys as well. He smiles when he sees me, says something to his friends, and then comes up to me as they walk away. “Enjoying yourself?” Lexi asks smiling, taking a sip of his drink.
“You have to stop this,” I say.
“Stop what?” Lexi asks, pretending to know nothing.
“You know what,” I say, “this must be really fun for you guys. How much is the grand prize, Lexi? Tell me.”
Lexi laughs. “Doesn’t matter, does it? You won’t go home with any of them anyway. I know you. Boyfriend or not.” I cross my arms at him. “Don’t give me that look, Arya. Your boyfriend just needed to learn what it’s like to date a West Side girl.” Lexi comes right up to my face. “If he wants to date you, he better get used to dealing with the West Side crowd.” Lexi knows that while he could easily have forced the West Siders to call off the bet, James wouldn’t be able to. James is just an East Sider in their eyes, someone unimportant.
“So this is about James,” I say, “you are trying to aggravate him.”
“Is it working?” Lexi smiles and my frown just confirms his answer. “Come on, Arya. It’s just a bit of fun, there’s no harm in that.”
“Fun for you guys!” I yell at him, “I constantly have guys flirting with me, grabbing onto me, giving me drinks. And now they are doing it in front of my boyfriend!”
The smile vanishes from Lexi’s face. Did he not realize what he was doing? That he was giving permission for all these guys to pull out all the stops to try and get with me. “You didn’t take any drinks from them?” Lexi asks seriously.
“Of course not,” I say.
“They touched you?” Lexi says, looking over me as if he could tell by just looking at me.
“Nothing more than my shoulders and waist,” I say to assure him, even though it’s not true because I sense that Lexi is getting upset. I guess he thought the guys would just flirt and talk with me. He didn’t think that they would feel me up as well. He was too focused on annoying James.
“I’ll end it,” Lexi says seriously. “I’ll make them call it off. I’m sorry, Arya. I never meant anything to happen to you, I just…”
“Wanted to piss off my boyfriend,” I raise an eyebrow at him.
“Why him, Arya?” Lexi asks. “There is no way you are better suited to him over me.”
“This isn’t about money, Lexi,” I say.
“I know it’s not!” Lexi yells in my face. “But you know we are the same, Arya. Our families, our lifestyles, our religion. What would your dad say if he knew that you were putting me aside to date that East Sider?” I glare at him because we both know the answer to that question. “We are more than just a ‘nice looking’ couple, Arya. We can talk about anything, we get each other. Your boyfriend can’t understand you like I do, he never will. He’s not from our world. You know I’m right, Arya.”
“I know he’s not from our world,” I say, “I know a relationship with him is more difficult, but he’s the one I want to be with, even if it’s not what everyone else wants.” Lexi likes the perfect girl I always tried to be when I was at West Side. James likes the real me.
“I was your first kiss, Arya. I was the first guy you let in.” I look away from him and then he steps closer to me and I look back at him. “I was the first guy you let touch you like that. If my memory serves me correctly, you didn’t want me to stop. You grabbed my shirt…” Lexi says.
“Stop!” I say to him, and he smiles.
“I didn’t want to stop either. Never felt that way with a girl,” he takes a breath. “Are you really going to tell me that it meant nothing to you?”
“It didn’t mean nothing to me,” I say. I’m going to go with honesty, because maybe then Lexi will finally understand. “At the time, it meant everything to me, Lexi. And yes, if I had stayed at West Side, it would be you and I together. But I went to East Side and I’m with James now and he means everything to me.”
Lexi stares at me, piecing everything together. He downs the rest of his drink quickly, crunching the red plastic cup easily in his hands, trying to get his anger out. He drops the plastic mess to the ground. He’s angry and upset because I have confirmed that if it wasn’t for East Side, if I hadn’t transferred, he and I would be together. He’s missing out on the girl he wanted. He’s missing out on secret make-out sessions and a girlfriend that could match him in status and athletics. All because I left West Side. “Why’d you leave, Arya?” Lexi asks sternly.
“I told you,” I say, “I needed a change.”
“A change from what?” Lexi says, coming right up to my face. “You left for a reason, Arya. And I want to know what it is. Now.”
“Lexi,” I say calmly, “you need to cool it.”
Lexi laughs. “Tell me, Arya. Why? Why’d you leave? What’s the reason that I don’t get to have you? What’s the reason that some East Sider gets to kiss you instead of me?” I just stare at Lexi, not knowing what to say. I can’t tell him the truth. “Did you leave because of someone? Tell me, Arya. I know the way guys talk about you at...” He stops himself, not wanting to say anymore.
“I know not all the guys at West Side are good guys,” Lexi says. “I know there are some jerks at our school.”
“Yet you sick them on me in your stupid game,” I say. “I shouldn’t be surprised though. This is what rich guys do for fun.”
“I didn’t organize it,” Lexi says.
“You didn’t stop it either,” I say. “And we both know who is top of the food chain at West Side.”
“I’m sorry, Arya,” Lexi says. “You know I am. You know I hate the thought of some other guy touching you. Especially that East Sider.”
“His name is James,” I say.
“I really don’t care, Arya,” Lexi says, “I care about you. I want to know why you left. It was some guy at our school, wasn’t it?”
“No, Lexi,” I say.
“You’re lying,” Lexi says, coming up close to me. He puts a hand to my neck to force me to look up at him. “Tell me who it was. Did he hurt you? There’s no guy I’m afraid to take on, especially for you.”
“There’s no guy, Lexi,” I say. “I left on my own choice.”
“I hate you lying to me,” Lexi says to me. I hate me lying to you too, Lexi, but I don’t have another choice. The truth can’t come out.
“Lexi!” one of his hockey friends calls to him, coming up to us. “Lexi, you have to come outside now!”
“Why?” Lexi says, not taking his eyes off me, or his hand.
“One of our guys is in a fight with a guy from East Side,” his friend says, “You have to stop it. Only you can.”
“I think they can handle a little fistfight on their own,” Lexi says, turning to his friend, but then we hear a giant crash from outside.
“Lexi, come on!” his friend says, and his gaze falls on me. “I’m sure Arya won’t mind.” He smiles at me.
“Fuck off,” Lexi says to him, and then there’s another crash from outside and lots of cheering. “Fuck this,” Lexi says under his breath. “This isn’t over, Arya,” he says to me. “You’re going to tell me who that guy is. Because I know there is one.”
And then he leaves with his friend to go outside to the fight. And now it’s time for me to get out of here.
I weave through the crowds of people. There’s a lot of people outside to watch the fight. I look through the sea of faces to try and find a familiar one.
“Diana! Sarah!” I call out when I see them. I rush over to them. They’re at the back with no view of the fight. “What happened?”
“Dudes are fighting over some girl,” Diana says. “Classic.”
“Francis from our grade and then some West Side guy,” Sarah says. “Francis was hitting on his girl and he’s not too happy about it.”
“Why are guys such idiots?” I say, looking around me.
“Girls just mature faster,” Diana says, “guys are always behind us. It’s science.”
“Thank you for the lesson,” I say, and then I see him in the crowd. The one guy that knows why I left West Side. Shaggy chestnut brown hair, blue eyes, taller than everyone. He is one guy I never want to see again. He’s done so much damage, just his voice makes me angry. I can’t let him see me. “Where’s James?” I ask Diana and Sarah.
“He went looking for you,” Sarah says, “last I saw, he was in the house.”
“Thanks,” I say, “where is everyone else?”
“Well,” Sarah says with a smile, “Eleanor and a hockey player seem to be enjoying themselves.” Sarah is looking over my shoulder and so I turn to follow her gaze. I see Eleanor making out with a guy beside the pool house, oblivious to the teenagers that have gathered to watch a fight in the backyard.
“Glad she is having a good time,” I say, turning back to them.
“Lincoln and Teddy were just here,” Sarah says. “I actually don’t know…” Out of nowhere, Lincoln and Teddy come up behind Diana and Sarah. Lincoln grabs Sarah and Teddy grabs Diana and they both throw the girls over their shoulders as they shriek, and I just laugh.
“We need more girls for our game,” Teddy says.
“You coming Arya?” Lincoln asks.
“No thanks,” I hold up my hands, “I’m going to find James,” I say. And try to get out of this place as fast as possible.
“Enjoy your time alone at home!” Diana calls as the guys take them away. Oh lord, being at home, alone with James, away from all these people sounds like paradise right now.
I rush towards the house to try and find my ticket home.
“Arya!” I hear when I walk inside, and I am so relieved to see James. He’s in the kitchen, between the fridge and the island. I run around the island to him, and just hug him on his side. “Good to see you too.” And then I just lean into him, seeing that he had been talking to Samson and Bobbi, who are now having their own conversation. “I looked for you.”
“I know,” I say, “I was just…”
“Dealing with the West Side guys?” James says, looking down on me. I can tell he’s upset that it’s me that had to deal with them and not him. We’re from different worlds. He always thought I couldn’t handle his, but can he handle mine?
“Can we get out of here?” I say to him.
“No way!” Malcolm says, coming up to us. Judging by the number of people coming back inside, the fight must be over. “You have been on Arya’s hip for half the night. You are joining us for beer pong, you are our best shot!”
I want to tell James I have an empty house just waiting for us, but I don’t want to build his hopes up for something that’s not going to happen. James looks exhausted, fighting off too many guys, but that should be over now. I trust Lexi.
“I’m exhausted, dude,” James says, a tight grip on my waist to hold me close.
“You have yet to play,” Malcolm says, “and we would crush these West Siders if you did.”
James rolls his eyes. “Fine,” James says, “give us a minute.”
Malcolm takes the hint and walks into the dining room where I know they are playing beer pong.
“See you guys,” Samson says to us, taking Bobbi away who gives us a kind smile and wave, leaving James and me alone.
James turns to face me, putting me against the fridge, while he just looks at me, no outward distractions. He keeps his hands on my waist, touching the exposed skin. “I’m sorry, James,” I say.
“For what?” James says, “That the guys at your school are jerks?”
“They were doing it on purpose, James,” I say. “It was an attack on you.” Well, Lexi did it as an attack on you. The other guys were just having fun.
“Because I’m an East Sider,” James says, and I nod. “They don’t think I’m good enough for you.”
“Don’t say that James,” I say, “it doesn’t matter what they think anyway.”
“I know, Arya,” James says, “I only care what you think. And as long as you want me, that’s enough.”
“I do, James,” I say, but out of the corner of my eye, past James’ head, I see him. The West Side guy that knows why I’m no longer there, and he’s walking this way. I grab James’ face and kiss him hard and deeply to try and hide my face from this guy. James is surprised but doesn’t seem to mind, responding to the intense kiss with his own intensity, pulling me even closer to him. We keep going, and I forget that this kiss had a purpose. I break free from it, looking at James and then around him and see the guy is gone.
“That was nice,” James says, holding me close to him.
I see the kindness in James’ eyes, a guy that would never hurt me or pressure me into anything. A guy that is just happy to be with me. “James,” I say, resting my hands on his arms. “My parents are out of town and my sister is at a sleepover tonight.”
I look at him, wondering what his reaction will be. “So you’re telling me that while I’ve been fighting off all these West Side guys that you have had an empty house all along?!” James says to me in mock anger, squeezing me tighter, but then he smiles.
I laugh at him. “I’m sorry, James.”
“Fox!” I hear Malcolm’s voice from the other room, “Get in here!”
“I better go,” James says, and then the thought of an empty house fills his mind, “but I will be fast.” He kisses me on the forehead. “You’ll be alright if I leave you?”
“Yes, James! Now go!” I slap him on the side to get him to leave.
“I’m guessing that’s him,” Maya, my West Side friend, comes up to me when James leaves me. I raise an eyebrow at her. “Sorry, I was talking with some people and saw you. He’s gorgeous.”
“I know,” I smile. And he’s all mine.
“Come talk with us, Arya,” Maya says, “we’ve barely spoken a word since you got here. We want to hear about your new life.”
I follow Maya to go find Zora and Lucy, so we can finally have a proper conversation about what has happened for the past three months since we’ve been apart.