Authors: Tellulah Darling
Tags: #young adult, #friendship, #love, #funny, #romantic comedy, #fiction, #sex, #teens, #male protagonist, #coming of age, #contemporary, #comedy
I watch Sam’s number come up on my cell phone and tense. I’m in the lab with Angel in one hand and nail scissors for his claws in the other.
“No message,” I tell the bird.
“Big jerk,” he squawks.
I clip his front nail carefully. “You got it.”
He is a patient little guy so I give his head a favored scratch when it’s over. “You’re all done.”
I put him back in the large cage. Angel immediately flies over to Buffy. I watch them, happy at their togetherness.
A sharp rap on the door startles me. I turn and find Sam hovering in the doorway.
“Hi,” he says.
After remembering to keep breathing calmly, showing no hint of weakness, I realize I’m disappointed.
Hi? That’s it? Not that I expected him to declare his undying love from a hallway, not really.
Maybe just a teensy bit.
But he could still do better than a lame generic greeting.
I cross my arms and stare levelly at him. “What do you want?”
“I just wanted to say that I really am sorry.”
He’s not just blowing smoke up my butt. I can tell he means it. Though I’m not sure if he’s sorry for how he behaved or the fact he doesn’t love me.
I don’t ask.
“Okay,” I tell him.
There is a long pause.
“Anything else?” I inquire.
“You what?” I think I said that a bit more sharply than I meant to. But I’m a mite sensitive about serious-voiced guys who suddenly can’t finish a sentence. Blame Jeremy.
Sam straightens up and squares his shoulders. “I think we should date.”
Wow. That was the last thing I expected. Though it would probably be a happier moment if he didn’t look like he was facing the firing squad.
Despite that, I’m pathetic enough that I’m filled with cautious hope.
“Why?” I am petty enough that I want to drown in compliments as he lists all the reasons we should pair up.
Sam is clearly taken aback. I can tell he wasn’t expecting to have to answer that question.
“You know. We’re best friends.”
Stating the obvious, asshole. Plus I’m on the fence about that fact right now.
Still, I would like a positive outcome. “Uh-huh.” I throw him an encouraging look.
“And we’re sleeping together…Or, we were…”
Under what must be my patently noticeable expression of “not impressed,” Sam begins to fumble.
“And I know girls like dating.”
“Big jerk,” Angel pipes up from his cage.
I throw a fond smile at the bird.
“Not just girls. Guys like it. Well, some. I’ve never been a fan, but in this case, I think it could be good. Because of the best friends and sleeping together thing.”
Apparently that was his attempt at fixing his previous sorry ass comment.
I continue to stare at him in case he’d like to add something that might actually help his case, but he has nothing except a smile for good measure.
Part of me just wants to nod “sure” like an eager puppy dog. But if Sam and I are to date or whatever, I can’t have him start it like this.
He may be a dog, but he doesn’t get to throw me a bone and think I’ll be grateful.
I want him completely into me. Completely into us. And thrilled about it.
“I’ve got to clean the cages,” I tell him, my dismissiveness clear.
Sam is an idiot but he’s not stupid. He screwed up and I’m fairly certain by the slump of his shoulders as he leaves the room, he knows it.
I almost feel sorry for him.
So she’ll date Adam but I get frozen out? In what universe does that make sense?
I kick aside a pizza box to make room to lie on the couch.
The place is disgusting: congealing food on plates, half-empty pop cans strewn all over the coffee table. Before he left for work, my dad tore a strip off me about cleaning up the pigsty I’d turned his home into.
I can’t find it in myself to care.
I lie on the couch, unwashed, unshaven, in sweats that are none too clean.
My theatre manager sent me home from my shift. I got a stern warning instead of being fired because he thought I was deathly ill.
I’d be happy I kept my job if I could be bothered.
I can’t believe she turned me down. I have never and I mean not ever asked a chick to date.
She knows this
. Where’s the gratitude?
Also, how did she make me feel like I’d done something wrong in this situation? I was trying to be noble. Do the right thing.
Isn’t that what she wanted?
Ian shows up and lets himself in through the unlocked front door.
He cracks a window to air the place out, then knocks my legs off the couch, sits down, and doesn’t say anything.
Good. I don’t want to talk anyway.
I stare at the ceiling.
Now I’m getting curious because Ian is a chatty guy who I’m sure was sent here by Rachel. So what is he waiting for?
“I get it,” I begin. “You’re here to find out exactly how I screwed up. Well, nice assumption, because it wasn’t me. Everything was fine between us until she changed the rules.”
Not a word.
“And yes. Maybe I did that when I kissed her, but people can have sex without involving undying love and happily-ever-after garbage.”
Ian leans his head back against the couch and gives a hard sigh.
“Okay, fine. Maybe I was already more connected to her than anyone else in my life. But it’s not like I was trying to keep the sex impersonal. I reframed our friendship to include the context of sex.”
I think about what I just said. “I guess, though, she reframed it to include the context of love.”
So much for that.
“I tried to be with her. And where’s the respect for me even offering to date? I’ve never done that before. I think I deserve a little love for that fact.”
Ian just looks at me.
“Could you say something already?”
“Rach and I broke up.”
I do a double-take. “That’s not possible.”
He spreads his hands in a “guess it is” kind of way.
This is massively fucked up. I mean, maybe I’m not so big on the boyfriend-girlfriend thing, but it worked for them. I liked them as them.
“Go win her back,” I order him.
“Excuse me?” His jaw practically drops.
“You heard me.”
“Yeah. But I can’t believe you of all people would say that.”
“You’re gonna model your love life on me? Dude, that’s fucked up. You like having a girlfriend. Specifically Rachel. So fix it.”
“Don’t think I can.”
“Why? What did you fight about?”
“I want to go back to England for a year.”
“Do the long distance thing.”
“She refuses. I’m here or we’re done. She’s being a total hardass about it.”
This is a perfect reason why it doesn’t pay to get involved. If she’s not willing to compromise even a little bit, then he’s better off without her.
“She won’t go with you?” I ask instead.
“I didn’t ask.”
Ian hangs his head. “I know. I want her to come with me but she just started being so bloody bitchy.”
“Maybe she was just freaked about losing you.”
Ian looks at me, considering. “Yeah. Probably.”
He stands up. “Cheers, mate. I’m going to go talk to her and fix this.”
“Any time, bro.”
Ian gets to the front door, then pauses and motions to the wreckage in the room. “And as for you, Junior, you’ve got two choices. Get a clue and get off your ass, or stay home and continue this pity party. The loneliest party of them all.”
He raises an eyebrow. “What’s it gonna be?”
I guess I went for pity party because at 3am I’m still by myself in my hobo finery. I have managed to drag myself from the couch to my bed, so that’s progress.
I stare at the digital readout of my alarm clock, feeling restless.
I’m hot. The sweat on my skin is clammy and there’s zero point pretending I can sleep. I kick off my covers, get up, and flick on the light.
I root around under my bed until I find the photo album and slide it out.
After wiping the dust bunnies off on my pj bottoms, I flip it open.
I wasn’t kidding when I told Ian the album captured a lifetime of an excellent friendship. Every photo, from rollerblading obstacle course racing when we were eight, to grinning like idiots at these freaky giant metal dragon sculptures in some weird guy’s backyard she dragged us to last year, is us and always us.
I place the photo of Ally in her birthday hat that she faithfully trots out every year on the final page.
My chest gets tight.
I shut the book. Just as I put it back under the bed, I hear a weak meow coming from my living room.
I find Attila, lying listlessly on the couch.
“Attila. Get up.”
She weakly raises her head and vomits. I panic. No way am I losing this dumb cat.
Making all kinds of promises to be better to her if everything just works out, I gently scoop her up and clutch her to my chest.
I can feel her little heart race.
I sprint out my front door, in my pjs, barely taking the time to shove my feet into shoes while holding her tight.
Waiting for the vet is murder. I stroke her soft fur to keep her calm as she lays limp on the metal exam table. There’s an IV drip running into one tiny little paw and she seems so small and helpless.
Dr. Li, an older women who looks totally overworked, enters.
“Is she going to be alright?”
“Eventually.” She puts her stethoscope to Attila’s heart for a moment, then makes a note on a chart. “She’s depressed.”
I run with the vision of having a bummed out, high-on-Valium and staring-at-the-wall-like-a-Stepford-wife cat.
Might not be the best thought to voice. “How does a cat get depressed?”
Dr. Li meets my gaze for the first time, keeping one hand on Attila. “Has there been a major change in your life? A move? Trouble at school? Any kind of big stress? Cats are sensitive to that.”
“No,” I lie.
“Has she been left for long hours alone? Ignored?”
I can’t stop the guilty look on my face.
“What do I need to do?”
“I can treat her, but you need to decide if you want this girl in your life. Because otherwise, I’d suggest you let me find someone else for her.”
It would be really easy to find her someone else and move on. No attachments. No effort. No having to go through seeing her sick or hurt and knowing I’m to blame for it.
Except the thought of not having this girl in my life is not an option.
Attila weakly licks my hand.
“I know she’s cute,” the vet cautions, “but this is a serious commitment. It’s going to require work on your part.”
“I want her.” There is no doubt in my mind.
I gently rub Attila’s head. “I really do.”
“Okay then.” Dr. Li gives me the first smile of the visit.
I exhale deeply and prepare to man up.
Everything is about to change.
The past few days were a nightmare. Rachel and Ian broke up over him going back to England. I felt so bad for them because it’s clear they love each other so much. But their stubbornness and weird issue shit was messing everything up between them.
They worked it out. Ian is going to go back for a couple months to get a place and then Rach will go over. It’ll mean taking a semester out, but she’s going to transfer to a school in London and she’s pretty psyched. I guess for a history major, London is an excellent place to be.
While it was awful watching them go through it, it was kind of a relief to have someone else to be there for and to get out of my own head for a bit.
Sam never called me back or came back to see me. I’ve spent the past couple days trying to look at it in a number of positive ways. Perhaps he is arranging some grand romantic gesture. Perhaps he’s been pinned under a car and can’t reach his cell.
Perhaps he just doesn’t love me.
I’ve accepted that. Intellectually.
He’s dead to me.
Miyuki got hired as a Wildlife Biologist at this awesomely cool natural habitat outside of town. She insisted that they bring me along as her helper.
I’ll even get paid.
It’s pretty freaking great.
The job may not be as exotic as Ecuador, but in some ways, it’s better. After Jeremy dumped me, I just wanted to run away. The fact that I’m willing to stay here, even without Sam in my life, makes me feel pretty proud of myself.
I’m not running and I’m not settling.
I’m going to be fine.
“I’m working Saturdays,” I gush to Rach and Ian in our usual diner booth. While the two of them are listening to me, their hands are completely intertwined.
Rachel leans her head on Ian’s shoulder.
The breakup has taken them to a new place. And while it still seems fragile, they look even more together than ever.
I’m really happy for them.
“I get to work with parrots in a natural setting, which is important. Miyuki says that this is something I can keep going with through university, and when I graduate, I could get a full time job doing it. I could eventually make a real—”
I jump as something heavy is slammed onto the table in front of me.
I look up to find Sam with the photo album.
My treacherous heart beats faster at the sight of him.
Rachel squeezes my hand under the table. I hang onto it for support.
“—Difference,” I finish up. Look at me. Not caring that he’s there at all.
“Al,” Rachel whispers in my ear, tugging on her hand. “You’re breaking my bones.”
I let go. She gives me a supportive smile.
Sam is clearly furious. “And you accused me of being the one who leaves? Hey, pot. It’s kettle.” He’s also apparently insane because I have no idea what he’s going on about. So it’s for the best I want nothing to do with him. Who needs a nutso boyfriend who could one day go into stalker mode?
Dodged the bullet on that one.
He seems to be expecting some kind of answer from me though, so I reply, “What the hell are you babbling about?”
“You. Running away to Ecuador on that stupid study abroad program, just because I don’t love you.”
“Whoa. There are so many things wrong with that statement,” Rachel says.
Ian frowns and shakes his head in a “not good” way at Sam.
Vic pops up from the next booth, craning over to stare at us, unabashedly interested.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I shoot back at Sam. “You’re not worth running away over.”
Sam opens his mouth to shoot it off again but Ian cuts in before Sam can dig himself in deeper. “Ally got a part-time job at the bird sanctuary. Outside town.”
“You’re a jackass.” I turn my back on him and pick up my menu. Which I’ve already ordered off of but he doesn’t know that. Right now I need props.
“Matt!” Rosie hollers from her counter stool into the kitchen. “Get out here. You’re missing the good stuff.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Matt hustle out, wiping his hands on his apron.
“Wait.” Sam takes the menu away from me.
He throws me his most charming grin. The one he uses to get girls to fall all over him. That only reminds me that I’ve now been relegated to that stupid status.
I got hot and itchy with rage.
Sam’s brows crease in confusion for a second but he hangs on to that “let’s try this again shall we” grin that I want to smack off of him.
He pushes the album toward me.
“You’re the one person that knows everything about me. The only meaningful relationship I’ve ever had.”
I stare at him stonily. “Guess you need more friends.”
Ian laughs but quickly turns it into a cough under Rachel’s smack to his arm.
“Nice one, girlie,” Vic chuckles.
Sam narrows his gaze at me.
I know that look. He’s cranky.
“Don’t play dense with me,” he fires back. “Seventeen years. Every memory worth having has been with you. And we’re only getting started.”
“That sounded ominous.” Matt sounds worried.
“Is this where I’m supposed to fall over myself in delight?” I ask.
Sam taps his foot in a nervous twitch, which means he’s angry and stressed out.
I find I like that.
“You could at least act like it means something,” he tells me.
“It does. You suck.”
“Yeah,” Vic agrees. “You’re acting like an asshole, son.”
“A royal one,” Ian concurs.
“Ally deserves better.” This from Matt.
I’m feeling warm and happy at everyone being on my side.
Sam turns so he can glare at all of them at once. “Maybe if you would all back the hell out of my personal business—”
“Manners,” Rosie chides him.
Sam runs his hands through his hair roughly. “If you would back the hell out, please,” he corrects, “I could tell Ally I love her.”
My heart pounds in my chest and my stomach twists up. Please don’t let this be a joke.
“You love me?”
“What do you think this is all about? Pay attention, Brain.”
He takes my hand and looks at me with the most serious expression I’ve ever seen on his face. “I love you totally and absolutely like I’ve never loved anyone before.”
“You just said you didn’t,” Rachel points out.
Sam lifts his head to stare at her like he might kill her. “What?”
“You said you thought she was running away to Ecuador because you didn’t love her. I’m a little confused. Explain it.”
Have I mentioned how much I love my cousin?
I nod at that statement as if it’s the most logical explanation in the world to require and don’t even feel a tiny bit bad that I’m making Sam work for it.
I am worth working for.
But I secretly cross my fingers that this doesn’t go horribly wrong.
“No,” Sam says in a strained tone, “Ally thought I didn’t and that’s why she was going to Ecuador. But she isn’t and I do. Love you.” That last bit is said to me.
I want to beam.
But first there’s something I have to ask.