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Authors: Danielle Pearl

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BOOK: ReCAP: A NORMAL Novella
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But there was a whisper of uncertainty in
her words, like maybe she's scared he might be right.

Fuck that asshole. This baddass girl? She
isn't his. She doesn't belong to anyone. Not unless or until she
wants to. I know it. Everyone knows it. So why doesn't she?

"That's right," she says, the confidence
creeping back in. I take my chance.

"He
cut
you, Rory?" I lean down closer
to her, and she swallows nervously and chews on her bottom lip. I
can't help but stare at them. Red from her worrying them between
her teeth. So full and beautiful, and I can't stop wondering how
they would taste, how they would feel sliding against my
own.

Suddenly she looks away, and I break out of
my lip-induced trance.

"It was an accident," she lies. Last time
she chewed her lip red she was thinking up a story, too, and I take
note of that.

"I don't believe you," I tell her.

"Me neither," she admits.

I stare at her. I want to
beg her to tell me everything. To explain why she's hurting so bad.
And
fuck
, what I
can do to help her. I just want her to let me help her. But I can't
keep asking her question after question – at some point she needs
to just tell me what happened, and my eyes plead with her to just
trust me. I would never betray her.

Suddenly, Rory's name rings out from outside
the bathroom, and Rory and I both turn toward the door just before
it flies open to reveal an extremely worked up Carl. She's beside
us in a second, and starts wailing about how everyone is talking
about Rory and Chelsea's fight.

Rory looks to me, so I hold out my hand to
help her down from the counter, and decide to answer for her.

"Chelsea's a crazy bitch.
She came at Rory, Rory kicked her ass." I can't help the swell of
pride I feel at reporting this.
My little
badass.

"Um, if I remember correctly, haven't you
and Chelsea been friends since, like, birth?" Carl says a little
obnoxiously.

So fucking what? That doesn't mean I fucking
endorse her. I was as shocked by her behavior as anyone.

"Yeah," I reply carefully, "we were."

Now Carl looks confused,
and I feel bad. She's just looking out for her friend -- I
shouldn't get irritated with her. I want that for Rory. Carl's a
good friend to have, and honestly, she's a good friend of
mine
. I just really
didn't like the implication that I'm on anyone's side but Rory's.
And truthfully, that isn't the only reason I'm irritated. Rory was
opening up to me, and we were having a moment, and Carl's intrusion
has left it unfinished. And now I feel unsettled. Like there's
something I want to say – need to say – though I haven't a clue
what that might be, but now I can't, not in front of
Carl.

Rory sighs before launching into her
explanation of what went down with Chelsea. Carl reacts
accordingly, and I just look between the two of them,
simultaneously resenting Carl's presence, and appreciating her
loyalty to Rory. That is, until she turns her attention back to
me.

"And you saw all this,
Cap?" Carl is skeptical, and I realize she's wondering why the hell
I would be in the girl’s bathroom.

"No, no. I was walking toward the lot when
people started shouting about a fight between Chel and Rory so
I-"

"Came to the rescue, of
course," Carl interrupts, matter-of-factly, and I'm a bit taken
aback. What the hell is that supposed to mean? I instantly worry
that Tucker's been running his mouth about his suspicions about my
being "into" Rory. But I can't believe he would say anything, even
to Carl, whom he's closer to than he'll admit. Tucker comes across
like he has a big mouth, but I know from experience that he keeps
it shut when it counts.

"Come on, Rory, I'll drive you home," Carl
offers, and I resent that, too. Because I wanted to drive her. To
be alone in the car with her. To watch her beat that trigger all
over again, with me.

"I have my car," Rory murmurs, but I know
she's still unsettled by the whole ordeal, and I don't want her
behind the wheel.

"I'll get it home for you," I promise
her.

She looks at me meaningfully. "Thanks."

I don't know what she's
thanking me for, but I do know it's for more than getting her car
home for her, and it's a heady feeling – her gratitude. It makes me
feel as if perhaps I'm not completely useless to her, after all. As
if maybe I have helped to comfort her. And it makes me feel like
some kind of superhero. No, a
God
.

I got you,
Pine
.

****

 

 

As We've Always
Been

 

W
ith spring break only a few days away, there's an excitement
in the air. It's the kind that usually misses me. That I see and
sense, that I know I should be feeling, but rarely actually do. It
floats through the atmosphere before any eagerly anticipated event,
overtaking my friends, turning them into oversized, overexcited
over-indulgers. But my jaded sense of youth always somehow repelled
it, and though close enough to taste, it couldn't find it's way
past my vague apathy. I suppose I'd always felt I had real things
to be dealing with. My parents' issues, Bits... not the frivolity
of adolescence. So I smiled and nodded and acted eager for things
that, in reality, would come and go like any other day.

But this time is
different. Whatever cynical force field has always guarded me from
such youthful thrills has weakened somehow, and the excitement
seeps into my pores and fills me with a long-lost sense of
exhilaration. Of enthusiasm. For once, I actually feel my age, and
as our trip approaches, I only grow more eager.

The fact that our friends who graduated last
year are in town only adds to the festive ambience, and as I listen
to Kendall rattle on about Chicago and her boyfriend, I don't have
to fake my interest.

We've been friends for
years – ever since I started playing football with her older
brother, Randy, my freshman year, and she got close with Bits
during that time, too. We sit around wasting time before we head to
Andy's, and Bits asks question after question about Sebastian, the
boyfriend Kendall never thought she'd have, and the apparent love
of her life.

A few months ago I would
have teased her endlessly – we bonded over our skepticism about
love. In fact, we both made a pact that neither of us would get
sucked into a romantic relationship during high school. And we both
kept it.

Our physical attraction
and meeting of the minds on the emotional aspect of hooking up,
namely that there shouldn't really be one, led us to an extremely
convenient friends-with-benefits relationship for over a year,
until about a month before she left for Chicago. We never had sex,
but we did just about everything else… a lot. The fact that she
couldn't care less if I
did
have sex with other girls, should I feel like it,
which I sometimes did, didn't hurt either.

And just as we planned,
when we were done, we were done, and our friendship continued
unscathed. Kendall is, in fact, the only girl who promised to keep
her emotions out of it, and actually managed to keep up her end of
that bargain.

But meeting this guy has changed her
opinions on almost everything, and by her second semester, she was
preaching to me about how wrong we were, and how when I meet the
right girl, I'll see.

At first I thought she'd simply lost her
damned mind. It was, of course, the only reasonable explanation.
But my cynicism has been fading in recent weeks, and now I'm kind
of glad this guy's changed Kendall's tune, because I'm not sure I'd
be all that convincing in my customary denunciation of all things
love and relationships.  

"I know you think I'm crazy," Kendall says
finally, but I simply shrug.

I honestly don't know what I think
anymore.

Kendall narrows her eyes at me in suspicion.
"I'd expect a little more judgment from you... perhaps a few
reminders of previous pacts? I'd have thought you'd be
force-feeding me my own words, Cap."

Bit cracks up laughing, and I shoot her a
censuring glare.

"What can I say, Ken? I'm happy you're
happy," I say.

"Yep, happy," Bits agrees,
but her tone gives me pause. It's the same one she's used since she
was about three, right before she says something to embarrass me.
"Also, Sammy's been a little distracted lately," she adds, and I
roll my eyes, knowing where she's going with this.

"I've noticed," Kendall agrees with a
smirk.

"If you two are going to be annoying, I'll
just go to Andy's early," I threaten, but they just laugh.

"I'm surprised you're even
going out tonight, what with your life or death tutoring
commitment," Kendall teases, and they giggle like ten year olds.
Just because she wanted to hang out the other night and I refused
to reschedule tutoring Rory. But it was my mistake. I was too
adamant. I should have pretended as if I actually
wanted
to reschedule,
but couldn't. Instead I sounded like this tutoring session was an
event I'd been looking forward to all week, which, in fact, it was.
It always is.

I sit back and let the two of them have
their fun.

"Oh he never misses a session, but they're
only Tuesday and Thursday, so I guess that's why he's free
tonight," Bits confirms in overdramatic drawl. "Except that one
time he got stuck being my ride. But of course, he made that up
having Rory over for dinner."

Well the joke's on my sister, because
Kendall already knows about that.

"Oh, I know. I heard all
about the pretty new girl putting all the Caplans under her spell,"
Kendall replies. "Cap was all 'I can't talk, Ken, Rory's over and I
don't want to be rude'." Her impression of me is ridiculous – like
I'm some kind of troglodyte.

"Oh because Sammy has always been so
concerned with not being rude to girls," Bits replies and the
giggle fest resumes.

I stand to go grab my keys.

"Oh, come on, Cap!" Kendall calls through
her laughter. "It's okay to admit that you do have a heart in
there, after all!"

"You should be talking!" I call back. A year
ago she was the girl who acted like a guy, when it came to hooking
up, at least.

I return with my keys, ready to head out,
and I raise my eyebrows to ask Kendall if she's coming or not. She
stands.

"Except I can admit that I was mistaken.
Bash changed everything for me, and I'm thrilled that I was so
completely wrong," she only half-jokes as she waves goodbye to
Bits, and follows me to the front door.

"Rory and I are just friends," I remind
her.

"That doesn't mean shit," she says right
back. "All it means is you're too scared to make a move."

I stop walking and spin to face her.

"And what is it I'm
scared
of,
exactly?"

"To be in love. To be vulnerable. To belong
so completely to another person that they have the power to destroy
you." All the jest has disappeared, and her words strike me deep.
She's one hundred percent right. But she doesn't know about Rory's
past, and all the reasons why she's not open for more than
friendship, so her rightness is completely irrelevant.

But I have no reply, so I just roll my eyes
and continue to my car.  

 

We get to Andy's early,
and sit around catching up for hours before the first partiers
start straggling in. In the next half hour, Andy's is packed. More
so even than usual, even with so many people hanging out outside
enjoying the mild warmth of early spring. Tucker mentioned that
Rory would be driving herself tonight, but I don't want to give
Kendall any more ammo by seeking her out, so I have another drink
and chat with my friend. She says she's hungry, so I tell her we'll
go hit the diner in a little bit, but I don't tell her I'm waiting
to see Rory.

Carl runs over to us and
she and Kendall hug, and we all start talking about spring break.
Kendall's boyfriend, whose family also lives in Chicago, is
actually coming here for a few days, and she's as excited as I've
seen her.

Then Carl stops talking abruptly. "Rory!
Come here," she calls, and I follow her gaze.

My lips slip into an
automatic, genuine smile, and I feel it as usual -- the flutter and
the fullness. And Rory smiles too, but it's as fake as the one she
wore that first time I met her – when she'd been panicking in the
hallway, and it unsettles me deeply. It knocks the smile right off
of my face.

She takes her time making her way to us, and
I want nothing more than to take her aside, to ask her what's
wrong, to find a way to fix it. But, of course, once again, I'm
completely useless.

"Rory, this is Kendall. She graduated last
year, she's at Northwestern now," Carl introduces.

Rory forces her fake smile even wider, but
she doesn't say a damned thing. Carl doesn't seem to notice her
unease.

"Kendall and her older
brother Randy were a bit deal in Port Wood," Carl continues.
 Kendall rolls her eyes at Carl's gushing, but doesn’t
interrupt. "He's at NYU now, isn't he?" she asks, then turns her
attention back to Rory. "That's where you're going, Rory,
right?"

"Um, yeah," Rory murmurs.

"Ooh, maybe you can
introduce her, Ken," Carl suggests excitedly. "
God
, Rory, Randy is so hot. We all
had crushes on him freshman and sophomore year, you know, until he
graduated."

BOOK: ReCAP: A NORMAL Novella
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