I pivoted on the ball of my left foot and exploded in the opposite direction of the goal-line, heading for the other one like a machine. Push, lift, push, lift, push, lift. Arm back, forward, back, forward. Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. My shallow respirations intensified as I pushed my body further to its limits, denying any doubt that I could not handle another rep. I crossed the goal-line and stuttered to a stop, glancing at my watch. 14.24 seconds. Barely made it. I huffed a relieved sigh and placed my calloused hands on my thighs, doubling over my legs. “Holy shit,” I whispered to myself. I shook my head fervently and gave my body one shiver before standing up again.
After I stood up again, I noticed a silhouette out of my periphery. I rushed to my bag and threw on a t-shirt to cover my sweat-saturated sports-bra and my burning abdomen. I threw my backpack on my shoulders and walked to the iron-rod fence separating the soccer pitch from the rest of the world. The man leaned forward into the fence, his fingers clinging to the tiny orifices. The iron melded to his will and leaned forward, digging into the bare clay of the ground. I stalked up the small hill, squinting my eyes to see through the gray of the fall afternoon.
A melodic voice thrummed, “What are you doing?”
I stood on the opposite side of the fence from him, nearly inches away but separated by metal. I smirked and nodded toward the pitch. “Training.”
His entrancing eyes glanced at the pitch and then turned back to me. “For what?”
I froze. I never had really thought about why I needed to push my body anymore. I didn’t need to focus so much on my physique and my stamina for soccer anymore. Perhaps it was a distraction from the fact that it was no longer a part of my life because of my episode. Perhaps it was so I could contemplate a normal life for myself with a nice athletic scholarship at a DI school. Perhaps it was because I could pretend for a moment that maybe this was my world without complications. Just a battle between myself and time. I nonchalantly shrugged and answered, “For myself, I guess.”
Ned nodded and pursed his lips. “You do this every day after school?”
Silence fell in between us, and it was the awkward kind that birthed uncomfortable conversation or poorly misread suggestions. “You work-out?” I asked.
An expression of shock carved against his face as he took a step back to look at himself. In complete sarcastic horror, he exclaimed, “Do I need to?”
“Got to keep up that girlish figure.”
He scratched the back of his neck as his eyes nailed down to the red clay. He murmured, “Hey.”
“Do you want to hang out again?”
I cocked a brow and snapped my fingers. Holden burst through the bushes near the goal and rushed to my side. His large, pink tongue brushed against my skin eagerly, hoping for a treat or a pat. I gently rubbed his crown as I nailed my skeptical eyes into Ned.
He immediately confronted, “No, no, I promise I won’t try anything, okay? I promise. I didn’t mean to be so blunt the other day—that probably made you really uncomfortable, and I’m really sorry. That wasn’t fair to you, and—”
“I’m just kidding, but I kind of want a shower.”
He madly blushed.
“Not with you!”
“Oh, yeah, I knew that. I was just thinking—I mean, I wasn’t.”
I slid under the fence and pulled up the edge for Holden to crawl underneath the sharp teeth. I snatched my backpack off of my back and pulled out my house keys on a red lanyard. I placed it over my head and finally faced Ned again. “Are we walking or—?”
Ned drove in silence, silently scanning the roads for any haphazard or obstacles. His hand rested on the top of the wheel, and the other one sat idly on the gear shift despite the car being automatic. He hummed along to the white buzz of the radio as another pop song boomed in tune to our hearts.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him, curiosity piquing in my chest, making it hard to breathe. For some pathetic reason, part of me hoped he would reach for my hand or maybe he would say something to me, but another part of me wanted him to pretend what happened the last time he came home with me was just a dream. I kind of wished for him to kiss me lightly and say something paradoxical to the situations.
I wished he was Heath.
And when I realized this, my heart shattered. I turned to the passenger window and watched sadly as we whipped past trees and flowers in the bed of a ditch that flowed into a fierce forest. I choked back a tear in my eye as I recalled the glamour of Heath Frey, attempting to return to the present instead of focusing on the intense pleasure of the past with him.
Holden shoved his head out the window in the back of the SUV, his ears and jowls flapping in the gales. I couldn’t help but smile as he began to pant with excitement, and I believed that maybe my bad times were over. Maybe all of the horrors in my life had ended in one fell swoop and allowed me a reprieve from the harsh reality.
I waited impatiently on top of her bed, bobbing my knee up and down to the beat of the water flowing from the spigot. I never noticed the closet-sized bathroom in her room the other times I had invaded, and Devin immediately sought the soothing cleanse of a shower as soon as I parked the car. Holden nestled beside me on the bed, but I swear to God this animal knew exactly how to make me feel uncomfortable. His deep, brown eyes widened crazily, unsettling me as he stared intently at me, never wavering for a moment. I kept making eye contact with the animal and then would tear away to seek refuge in staring at one of the stacks of books, and he would just stare back. I cuffed my hands together nervously and stared at the bathroom door as the knob turned.
Devin’s minute body glistened and gleaned from the new moisture from the shower, and I couldn’t help but notice the curves of her clavicles and her legs in her towel as she snatched a shirt from her drawers and a pair of shorts eagerly. She never made eye contact with me, but she managed to redden her face in embarrassment with her hair plastered to her it like an aquatic mermaid. She rushed back into the restroom and then changed with the door cracked open barely. I kind of goose-necked my way to have a peek, but she managed to stay clearly out of view, and a mixture of disappointment but hope blanketed me.
I cracked a small smile.
Devin rustled her locks as she walked out in a Misfits t-shirt and stood across from me. I noticed her ankles turned out slightly, forcing all of her weight on the outside of her feet. Her makeup was kind of smeared from the shower, but she still remained the weird, alien beauty. She hummed, “What do you want to do?”
“I could answer that a number of ways.”
She pursed her lips and socked me in the shoulder. “Shut up.”
I grabbed her wrists furtively and pulled her forward. Her trunk crashed against mine, and her legs tangled in mine. Her hands fell on my shoulders, but I remained strong and remained straight. Her blue eyes locked on mine, and, for a moment, I thought my heart was going to pop out of my chest. She realized her mistake and tried to stand up to get away from me, but I resolved the issue by snatching her waist and pulling her back onto me. Our eyes locked again, and she gave me a playful snarl. “Make me,” I threatened.
She smiled and shook her head.
“Fine, I guess I’ll have to talk and talk… and talk…”
She leaned into my mouth, cradling my jawline as our lips folded. She quickly pulled away and turned her gaze away. “Sorry, that was rash.”
I turned her face to me and leaned back into her. I knotted my hand in her saturated hair and felt a heat radiate from her hands on my shoulders. I leaned back against the bed, and I kissed her passionately before she tore away from me again.
“Look, I’m not going to have sex with you.”
I opened my eyes as her bashful face stared down at me hesitantly. She placed her hands on either side of my face as her legs straddled my waist. She shook her head frantically and declared, “I’m not a whore like everyone thinks. If that’s the only reason you’re interested in me, then just leave me alone. If that’s the reason you wanted to be friends, I don’t need you in my life.”
Stunned, I meekly stared at her. Frightened that she thought this was all I wanted from her, I quickly retorted, “No! No!” – I sat up—“I’m not here for that. I just want to be with you.”
She furrowed her brow and barked, “Why?”
“Because you’re you.”
She froze. Her blue eyes glistened as the setting sunlight seeped into her room from the window, and her lips trembled as some memory or idea flickered across her mind. Her hands suddenly traced my jawline, and her eyes fell to my chest. Her hands slithered down my neck and clavicle down to my heart, and she rested them there. She turned her chin up to me and forced me to lose myself in her dazzling eyes. “Your heart is beating really fast.”
I breathed, “Yeah.”
“Because I’m nervous when I’m with you.”
“You shouldn’t be nervous.”
“I’m nervous that I’m going to screw this up.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll do enough of that for the both of us.
“Well, you kind of ruined the mood when you made us stop,” I joked.
She playfully slapped me in the face and laughed her joyous, contagious giggle. Something inside me melted, and I couldn’t help but smile and long to be able to slow down time and stay here a little longer.
Devin navigated me through the different stacks of books littering her floor, and I thumbed through different books silently, half-listening to what she was saying and then half-listening to the beautiful notes erupting from her vocal cords. She had a stack for books she had yet to read, books she’d read but not fully appreciated yet, and then books she believed she would be able to read for an eternity, her classics.
“And Great Expectations is alright, but I don’t think it’s worth that much effort. I wouldn’t read it again. However, Catcher in the Rye is one of the best books I’ve ever read…”
I noticed a spine of a book I recognized. “What stack is The Great Gatsby in?”
She glanced over her shoulder at me on the bed. She gave me a sly smirk before turning back to the books and writing little notes on snippets of paper to put inside the binding. She murmured, “Classics.”
She picked a book up from a pile and pivoted on her heels, easily sauntering back over to me. She placed the book on the bed before crawling up beside me, resting her head against my upper arm nonchalantly. Holden nested next to his mom, releasing a heavy, content sigh before fading off into sleep. I turned back to the book and glanced back at her. “What’s this?” The binding of the book had been so worn that the pages began to seep from the stem of the book. Leaflets threaten to abandon the branch.
“It’s a book.”
“Yes, smartass, but what is it for?”
“It’s an anthology of poems I really like…” she admitted. I tilted my head to observe her as the rare glint of passion shone behind those dreamful eyes. Her fingertips slid to a certain page, and she flipped open the book on my lap. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and turned back to the book.
She is wild,
And I am not.
Every time my fingers brush against her pallor skin,
A piece of me continues to shatter in desperation
Because I’ll never have her long enough to hold.
I’ll never have her long enough to embrace,
I’ll never have her enough to kiss.
I’ll never be able to cage the wild beast
Because as a being, I am the least.
I’d kiss her scarred heart and finger tips,
Press them against my lips.
And maybe then she’d see me.
This is how she reminded me of what I really was. I turned back to her and noticed the mole underneath her lips, and I noticed the flecks of grey speckled in her eyes. I was merely a bystander on the outside. I honestly didn’t know her well enough to like her so much, but a part of me felt like I was permitted one major mistake in my youth—and it would be her.
I nestled my face into her flat hair, smelling her sweet, spicy scent, absorbing it. I clenched my eyes shut and counted the hours I wanted to remain like this. I rubbed her upper arm slowly in circles. “Do you ever dance?”
“What do you mean?” she asked sleepily, leaning further into me, going limp.
“Do you ever dance to your music?”
Her eyes glinted up at me as she gave me a sheepish smirk. She licked her plump lips before expressing, “Only when I’m really happy.”
We spent the afternoon exploring text while trying to decipher music like Fall Out Boy’s “I’m Like a Lawyer with the Way I’m Always I’m Always Trying to Get You Off” and XTC’s “Dear God” to the resounding knowledge of Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King. Lost in the words of another generation, another time, I couldn’t help but smile with the passion that just exuded from her pores as she attempted to interpret the underlying meanings of metaphors and paradoxes. I found myself abandoning my outside world to just listen to her, forgetting time, forgetting responsibility.
Eventually I had to separate from Devin’s side and pull myself to my feet.
She furrowed her brow and gave me a crooked smile. “Bored out of your mind, yet?”
I pulled on my jacket and shrugged. “I got to go pick up my sister from soccer practice.”
She sadly let her smile fall and then confessed, “I miss that.”
“Why’d you quit?”
“My body did first.”
A silence fell between us as we reached a new intimacy, and I worried maybe I delved in too deep as I asked this next question, “What do you mean?”
She rolled her eyes and heaved a ragged sigh. She stood up and escorted me through the house to the front. She perched the door open for me with the side of her right foot. Her blue eyes managed to divert from eye contact with a quick flutter of her lashes. Her hand rested in the middle of the door as she impatiently waited for me to leave. I noticed her jaw would harden as she clenched her teeth fiercely as if it would help brace for some torrent of emotions begging to break through her dam of barriers.
I bowed my head as I walked over the threshold. As my foot brushed against the welcome mat, I murmured under my breath, “I’m sorry.” I thundered down the three brick porch steps and began to saunter down the sidewalk to my SUV, ignoring the environment as two words whistled into my ears.
I turned back to her, and our eyes locked. An intensity that could not be measured by mortal instruments expanded against my heart, and my chest wheezed from the immense pressure. I sprinted up the stairs and halted before her. I could feel my eyes move back and forth as I traced her features as the setting sun cast new, pink, dancing shadows across her face. I cupped her face in my hands and leaned into a kiss, and just as I was beginning to feel satiated, I turned away and thundered down the steps without seeing her reaction.
As I retreated into the SUV, the front door thundered shut.
I turned back to the door in shock and a sort of intense horror that what I had done was stupendously inappropriate and unwarranted. Just, the way she looked, the way she observed me with her merciless eyes, the way everything lined up, I assumed it was okay. A compulsion in my gut dared me to embrace her and taste her, and I had unfortunately succumbed to the longing. I turned back to my wheel and turned on the car, the engine whirring to life like Frankenstein’s monster. I shook my head fervently, frustrated beyond repair that I had ruined our relationship in a matter of a conversation.
The low buzz of music escaped an open window from the house, and, for the first time, I recognized that her window sat across the yard from the road. A mere twenty yards separated us from one another. I cranked down my window to see what song was blaring through her speakers of her retro boom box… “When You Were Young”—The Killers.
Movement fluttered in front of the window, and I turned back to her bedroom window. Devin tittered and loped to the beat of the music, swaying slowly and then building up into a frantic spin as the guitar riff sunk into her skin like water from a spring. Holden leapt over to her, and she touched her shoulders twice with her hands. The beast rose his feet to her shoulders and leaned against her. She grabbed him by his sides and slowly swayed side to side, laughing and singing along desperately out of tune.
Hey, everybody has something that they are ultimately bad at. I’m not very athletic, and Devin will never, ever, ever win a singing competition unless it’s for the deaf.
Either way, a piece of me melted inside of my chest I had never expected to be tampered with. I waited for the song to come to its conclusion, watching this girl dance with her beloved dog to one of her favorite songs. I solemnly leaned back into my chair as she let the dog roll down her body back to the floor, disappointed that I couldn’t have been the one dancing with her. She leaned over and pulled the window down, suddenly noticing me in the driveway. She gave me a sly half-wave. I nodded my head. A smile crept across her face before she tore away from the window to do homework, or do laundry, or (I like to flatter myself) think of me.
I drove across town to Lex’s soccer practice with a stupid grin on my face, believing full-heartedly I would do whatever I could to maintain this relationship—even if it only ended in friendship.