Chapter I: Ashton
This was not how I planned to spend my Saturday night.
My eyes flicked from the screen to Isla who was snuggled deeply into the crook of my arm, twirling her pink pocket knife between her fingers. This was almost like a game, I would look at her and she would look up to catch me but my eyes would flick elsewhere before she could catch me. We played this game a lot. Every single time we made plans it was a given that this awkward game would take place. The only difference between this and a game was that I sucked at the staring intimately at your partner game and Isla was a professional.
We were supposed to be watching a movie together, I’d just gotten the latest scifi blockbuster from my buddy at GameStop and I’d invited her over. Even though my friend had called it a “great film”-which by his standards was pretty high-I was only half watching the movie which was more than I could say about Isla. She wasn’t looking at the screen at all.
The shiny object in her clutches had her full attention. Every few minutes she would move to stare at me, but when I looked at her she wouldn’t look away. She truly had a ton of practice at the uncomfortable staring game I clearly had no mastery of yet.
Everytime she looked at me it was as if she was searching for something in my soul. She opened her eyes wider when you made eye contact with her. Her dark lashes batted after a few seconds but she didn’t look away, even if you did first. It was strange to watch. I think that was the whole reason I suggested a movie-so I would have an excuse not to make awkward eye contact with her.
Isla and I’s relationship was different from others. For the most part we just sat in comfortable silence. Isla was a woman of few words and I quite enjoyed it. Sure we had meaningful conversations but I really enjoyed having an actual girlfriend and not an attention-seeking puppy at my side all the time.
Isla wasn’t clingy in the slightest and sometimes it worried me because she wasn’t nearly as attached to me as I was to her but I knew that was just how she was and I suppose I could live with it.
“Are you watching the movie?” She asked, shoving her knife back in her pocket. I ran a hand through her hair, finding it funny that she was asking me when she wasn’t paying attention to the film in the slightest.
“Are you?” I ask, tracing the pattern of her freckles with my pinky. She pushed herself up, her french braids bouncing. I wonder how she did them. My sister always talked about how hard they were to do on yourself but as far as I knew Isla lived alone with her pocket knife as her most trusted companion.
“I’m not watching it. I’m listening to it.” She pouted and and crossed her arms like she was a child who had just lost an argument over the last piece of bubblegum. I wanted to explain to her that that wasn’t how movies worked but I didn’t feel like arguing the proper way to watch a movie. I don’t think Isla watched movies in her spare time.
“Okay princess.” I tell her, pulling her back down to lay with me. I hated disagreeing with Isla. I wouldn’t call this a disagreement but I wanted to be the perfect boyfriend for her. Especially since she was most definitely the perfect girl for me.
We sat in comfortable silence, just staring at the film. Her awkward look game had ended but she still glaced at me once in awhile. She no longer searched my soul, whatever she needed to find must have been found.
Maybe I was paranoid and the whole thing was just her checking to see if I really was watching the film. The film was halfway decent. I probably would have found it more enjoyable if I weren’t watching it with Isla and I could focus more on the film and less on her-not that spending any attention on her was a bad thing anyways.
“Ashton?” Her singsong voice called out to me in the darkness, the blue light of the film illuminating her face, she was the most gorgeous girl I’d ever laid eyes on.
“Yes, princess?” I trailed my finger down her pale face, letting it go all the way down her neck and arm to rest on her hand at her side. She leaned into me, and placed a hand on my face, smiling with her eyes closed.
“Do you love me?” She whispered. I retracted my hand and looked away. I wanted to tell her I did. But I couldn’t lie to her. I ran a hand down my face.
In one quick motion I jumped up from the couch and turned on the lights and turned off the tv. I sighed and knelt in front of her on my knees, grasping her soft hands in between my own.
“Isla.” I began. I didn’t want to just tell her I didn’t love her. She would think I wanted to break up with her and that was the last thing I could do.
“I love you.” I said. “But I’m not in love with you.” Her face was expressionless. I tried to read her like she reads me but I couldn’t see anything in her gaze. I don’t even think she was looking at me, she was focused on the blank television screen above my head.
“But that’s how relationships are.” I tried to mend my mistake. So much for letting her down easy you fucking prick. “I don’t love you now, but I will surely learn in time.” She blinked a few times her vision refocusing and landing on me.
Her hand landed softly on my cheek and she cradled my head in her hand, smiling and shushing me like a newborn baby. I couldn’t tell if she was mad at me or not. Perhaps she was humoring me. Or maybe she was going to break up with me.
“It’s alright, Ashy.” I sighed in relief. She looked like she could cry but she swallowed deeply to push down that urge if it was there.
“I don’t love you but I know that I will.” I told her, my hand moving to cover hers as I leaned even more into her touch.
“Okay, Ashy.” I brought my fingers around her neck and pulled her in for a slow peck-which was a big deal for Isla. Isla wasn’t one for personal contact. She was allowed to touch me but everytime I would touch her she flinched.
She allowed me my one, tedious peck but her lips did not pucker against mine. Her lips were relaxed but she did not kiss me back. I don’t know why but I allowed her to be withdrawn and absent from our relationship. It was normal for me.
She never kissed me back.
“You will love me one day though, right?” Her fingers twitched around my throat as she held me close. I exhaled through my nose and looked up into her eyes. They shone with so much innocence and promise. Even if I wasn’t in love with her Isla was the type of person you just wanted to love.
“Of course, baby.” I said. She smiled and kissed my cheek, her fingers splaying across the back of my throat as she held me impossibly close. Isla used her arm strength to pull herself closer to my neck, breathing in deeply beside the crook of my neck before she pulled back with a smile.
“Have you been working out more?” She pressed the pad of her thumb over the green vein in my arm. Isla tells me she studies anatomy at university so I don’t know why she was so fascinated by the vein growing as the blood stopped flowing. “Your blood flows so nicely.” I squirm awkwardly under her scrutiny of my arm vein.
After a few seconds she removes her thumb. “You must have such a big heart for your blood to flow like that.” I wanted to tell her that the size of one’s heart had nothing to do with blood circulation and everything to do with your lifestyle but I didn’t because she was studying it, not me.
“That’s how I know you’ll love me someday, your heart is so big. Is there room for me in there?”
I press a kiss to her nose, ignoring the fact that she flinched slightly as my lips descended down to her face. Her anxiety must be coming back.
“There certainly is, darling.” She lets me stay there, forehead to forehead, nose to nose. She pulls away, checking her watch then shaking out her wrist.
“I have to go to a class.” Isla says, getting up and folding the blanket neatly before draping it over the back of the sofa. Something I realized about Isla right away was how neat and tidy she was. It was something I enjoyed because I was never picking up after her. She picked up after me most of the time.
“What are you guys working on right now?” I rolled onto my stomach and propped my head up with my hands, kicking my legs like a child.
“We, uh, just finish a project? Yeah that’s it.” I nodded slowly, a cocked eyebrow at her, watching her pack up a nearly empty backpack, shoving her coat in and struggling to zip the bag.
“It’s like nine thirty. Is it even open this late?” I ask her, wishing she would stay. I wanted her to spend the night at least under my roof. Every time it got past nine she tried her best to leave as soon as possible. It was as if spending the night in my house would give her the plague.
“I also live on campus.” She said quickly, her voice raising as she shoved her way past me roughly trying to get to the door. I really didn’t like this side of her. She was fie until she decided she needed to leave, then she was more like a younger bratty sister than a girlfriend.
“Why? My house isn’t haunted or anything? Why can’t you just trust me?” I throw my arms up in confusion and frustration as she pauses with a hand on the door handle as she sighs.
“Darling,” She doesn’t turn around. She wants me to go after her and tell her it’s okay and that I was being stupid. Part of me wanted her to twist the handle and just leave but I know she won’t now that I’ve gone and opened my mouth.
“Just go.” I say. I can feel her looking down. I feel her let go of the knob. The soft padding of her feet go across the floor until she’s lifted my head with her finger.
“I don’t want to leave when you’re upset.” She pulls a fake pout. Guilt tripping at its finest. I frown at her.
“You have class. You need your sleep, it’s late. Just go ahead. I’ll be fine. I want you to.” That was a lie. I still wanted her to stay but I also want her to show something other than nothing at all, even if it was anger towards me at my childishness.
“Thank you.” She squeals. She didn’t even notice I was still upset. I puckered up to her but the door slammed.
She didn’t even say goodbye she just left me like that.