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Copyright ©2013, 2014 Black Arrow
The life and times of a teenage Russian spy stationed in the US of A.
Tuesday evening was hangout night for Mason and I, considering I had gymnastics and he had baseball all through the week, it somehow became our designated bonding night. Not my idea by the way.
I must admit that after the events of the weekend and subsequent fall out, not counting yesterday's lunchroom brawl- I was glad for the down time and to have reassurance that our relationship was stable again. That equilibrium was reached. I had way too many variables vying for my attention; Mason was one of the very few constants. I needed him that way-he anchored me. His pull on me infinite, yesterday being proof of that.
I guess if I wanted to get all sentimental and poetic I could compare him to a lighthouse. No matter how turbulent the seas got; storms and all matter of swells that were to steer me astray, I'd always know where home was- solid land, as long as I could find his light.
This kind of lyrical thinking was peculiar for me and I didn't quite know how it all started or where it came from. Ever since that close call at Omega, my last mission, I've been looking at things a little differently, in a more affected way. One could venture as far to say more human.
It was sobering coming to terms with that fact that I wasn't untouchable.
"What are you thinking about?" Mason's low voice rasped in my ear. I jolted a bit from the husky sound because it broke my philosophical reverie but a second, more startling occurrence, was how close he had gotten.
Last I checked I was lying on my bed while he had been occupying my study desk which was the usual seating arrangement, but now we were both resting our backs against my mattress. He laid there with his body turned to me and his shoulder touching mine.
"Huh?" I muttered stupidly.
"You have your `away' face on," he said as his breath ran along my collar bone. "You've never really told me what you think about when you check out like this." His brown eyes appeared black in the soft lighting of my night lamp. Like I could delve deep into his soul with just a look, another thing I appreciated about him, his innocence. I had no soul to speak of.
Yet staring into his eyes, I couldn't really tell what he had on his mind right now but what I could read was that there was a suddenly tangible tension brewing between us again. A familiar shadow of what almost came to be. I reflexively gulped and the memories of Monday afternoon in our kitchen flooded back. This was a risky situation to be in.
I jumped up without warning, opening a gap between us. My sudden movement startled him and I had to think quickly on my feet on how to mask my clear motives.
"You know, you're right. I do have something that's been bugging me."
"Yeah?" he looked at me expectantly. With curiosity on his face as he tried to see where I was going with this.
"Actually I need your help," I began with more confidence now that I had found my footing.
"Wait. You need MY help?" He asked surprised by the proclamation. Not that I could blame him. I was hardly the type that would ask for help, from anybody.
I nodded my head in ascent.
"You've never needed my help before," he said with a proud smile on his face. That's one of the many trademark traits that make up Mason, always ready and eager to lend a helping hand. Even more so to those he cared about, that's the kind of guy he was. He never expected anything in return. But see here's where he was wrong. I'd never actually had to ask him for anything because he would just do things for me without me physically saying anything. He was a very attentive person. Or maybe that was just reserved for me.
"That's not true. This is just the first time you're hearing me ask out loud. How would you feel about throwing a party?" I asked reluctantly. I knew I was being selfish. This was my task and now I was passing on the burden to my best friend, but I was completely out of my element. I hadn't the first clue on hosting one of these; I knew how to pick my battles, this I'd gladly sit out. Pass the mantle to someone who's more astute in the matter.
"You want a party?" he asked me sceptically as if I'd grown a second head. He sat up to regard me carefully. He thought I was sick. He looked to be a step away from checking my temperature.
"No. Yes- well not for me. My team. They want to have a get together here before the NY Conference and I sort of agreed to it, on condition that they convince Mihai to let me compete my new vault at the meet."
"I knew there had to have been a reasonable explanation behind this or I would have thought some foreign spy killed my best friend and was doing a bad impersonation." He laughed.
My pulse missed its rhythmic thump and had to make up for the pause. He had no idea how close to the truth he really was. I faked a smile although I found little humor in what he had said. One of those countless times I felt bad about living a lie, that I was deceiving everyone around me. People who thought they knew me. Who trusted me.
"Yeah, like anyone could pretend to be me," I said with a weakened sense of humor.
"I'd know if they tried," he said with confidence.
"And how's that big guy?" I asked intrigued by his last statement.
"You can fake a lot of things, but not what we have. Like what we're doing right here, I'd know immediately if something was off. For example, the party is your bargaining chip cause the universe would go up in flames the day Hunter Haynes actually wanted to get shit face wasted like every other teenager," he said with his genial grin shinning in the lighting.
"Good point. But that still doesn't solve my problem. I never want to go to those parties you drag me to, so how would I even begin planning one?"
"Oh shit!" he said rising from my bed.
Great. My only hope is stumped too. That was not the response I was looking for.
"You're serious about this aren't you?" he asked with a cute grin registering genuine excitement.
"Oh shit! This is gonna be epic." he exclaimed enthusiastically." Wait, where are your parents during all of this?" he asked with a hesitant smile as some reason crept into his thoughts.
"West Des Moines with Matt next weekend," I answered still not sure if this was a go or not.
"So we have the place to ourselves?"
"Oh shit!" he started whooping like a mad man in my room. What was this? How was he excited about a small gathering for my gym buddies? He doesn't even know most of the team. But his big voice bellowed in the closed space. See, Mason was usually loud and my family was used to his animated antics but this was different, he was acting like I told him he had a front seat to the Giants. What was I missing?
"Hey doofus! Why the noise?" Justin said startling me as he walked into my room, most likely to investigate the one man riot in progress.
"We're throwing party! Right here!" Mason hollered still radiating excitement.
"What?" Justin and I asked in unison with both of us having varying degrees of confusion marking our faces.
"Yeah. Aunt Kat is gone next weekend. It was Hunter's idea," he answered casually like this was something we had discussed in great detail. But we hadn't!
I saw comprehension slowly spread across Justin's face and before I could collect myself fast enough to explain the situation, with no room for misinterpretation, all hell broke loose.
"We're having a party?" Justin asked me with a mischievous grin on his face. The blonde often had that look ye,t it should never be taken for granted. It always promised trouble.
"No," Mason and I answered contradictory statements.
I shot Mason a look but it was in vain, his mind seemed to be going a mile a minute thinking about the endless possibilities.
"That's a great idea little bro. Why didn't I think of this myself? Man, you're full of surprises this week. Can't wait to tell my boys, `The Man' is having a kegger. This is going to be sick!"
Side note, Justin and his friends virtually ran the school. Them being the popular athletes on campus, along with his overly inflatable ego and power decreed by the powers that be high school student societal constructs, he fancied referring to himself in the third person. Like now, calling himself The Man.
He moved into the center of the room slapping hands with Mason in their stupid celebratory handshake. They were genuinely excited and both So Very Wrong. This wasn't what I meant.
Two lines in that statement almost had me break out in hives, his incessant need to call himself the man and kegger. There was no talk of alcohol uttered from my lips!
"Chuck is gonna piss himself. I'm out!" Justin said in parting leaving a giddy Mason energized from the mutual excitement he shared with my brother.
"With Justin and me on your side. There's no way this could go wrong!"
That was what the rest of the week surmised in a word. I went from being the anonymous, invisible and mostly unapproachable wallflower to the talk of the entire school. Well not just me-my whole family. The fight on Monday had turned us into pseudo-celebrities. Like the hallway Kardashians. I didn't like it one bit.
Justin and Tori were already popular amongst the other students so it was nothing new that their names were rolling off several tongues amongst the student body. Justin was the proverbial star football player with the good looks. Tori was the cute and charming president of virtually every committee worth knowing. They were high profile siblings. Problem? Most people didn't even know that there was a third Haynes in the school. My ethnicity not helping the matter.
However, with recent events accounted for by curious minds, my claim to fame sky rocketed to the other side of the Milky Way. Unlike before when Google Earth would have a hard time finding me, now you couldn't lose me even if you tried. People were whispering and openly staring at me.
"I hear his related to Justin and Tori."
"But he's black."
"I heard he was adopted from a ninja clan in South Asia."
"Wait, but he's black."
"Rumor has it they tried to keep him a secret."
"I hear he's a love child from an affair their dad had with a Barbadian Supermodel. I mean look at his eyes."
Those were just a couple of the murmurs I caught throughout the week. In class, in gym, bathroom stalls, in the halls and during lunch.
With the increased publicity our non-existent reality show was receiving, I began to worry about Justin's cover up story. I mean with the amount of people talking about the fight, my full involvement was bound to be revealed sooner or later. I was worried about what it would mean for him. He was always flirting with the line of suspension.
I also worried about my cover. The whole point of being undercover was to actually stay under the radar. With technology being what it was today within schools someone could have easily taken a video. What if it went viral and it got to my superiors? Yeah, so I was a little tightly wound lately.
But to my relief, as reported by the grapevine, witness statements were very colorful. The sheer number of spectators to the epic showdown coupled with the layout of our cafeteria meant that everybody saw snippets from different angles. Some caught more than others; while some let their imaginations fill in the blanks. You know, like every other high school's rumor mill. A very fine line between fact and fiction.
As a result no one was particularly concerned with the semantics as the likelihood of it being grossly embroidered was high.
I went from slipping relatively undetected to being as visible as the Statue of Liberty. I hoped that this would be a passing fad and they'd find something new to marvel at. Like now.
"I had a kid in drama ask me if you would join the karate club or double as his body guard. Either one works. He gets picked on a lot I guess," Jenny said across from me while carefully picking at her plate of discoloured tomatoes and wilted lettuce at the lunch table.
"Like that's going to happen! If there's anyone Hunter is teaching those kick ass moves it's his best friend," Ziggy soon interjected with a mouthful of food still in his mouth.
"I don't think Mason needs self defense classes, Zig." Jenny rebutted.
"Pshh, I was talking about me. Everybody knows that after Mason I'm Hunter's number one. His go-to guy. The Robin to his Dark Knight. The Drake to his Josh. Watson to his Holmes.." I was highly adept at tuning useless ramble out, so that's what I did at this point.
If there was ever a friend I worried about, it was him. Mental institutions are so dodgy these days. Gross human right violations just to say the least, well, the ones I'd been too. You see a lot when you make a habit of being places you have no business being, having answers to questions you have no business asking. Although I don't think they'd want him either. He might just get away with it. Slip between the cracks of the system.
I was passively aware of their squabbling but more disturbed by the occasional eye that would linger on this table. More specifically on me. Now I don't know if it was a result of Monday's activities or I was just being overly paranoid. It was the beginning of lunch hour and most of the space was abuzz with students either lining up or finding a place to sit.
"Sup misfits?" cut Damon with his dry sense of humor, followed closely by Mason.
"Dude, your eye's looking better," Ziggy pointed out while looking at Mason.
"I know, right?" said Mason in relief as he sat down next to me.
"That sucks," Ziggy retorted as he distractedly forked his fries seeming oblivious of his last statement.
We all looked at him like he had finally lost it.
"I mean it looked all badass. The guys in the computer club think you and Hunter are like my goons and shit" he laughed alone. No one else found that funny. The guys at the computer club were such a bad influence on him; they had zero social lives of their own so they lived vicariously through their most sociable member. By default, that person was Ziggy.
I wasn't even going touch that matter so I kept quiet. Let sleeping dogs lie and all. Whatever tale he had pulled for his geek squad was his business alone.
"Did you use the eye cream I gave you?" asked Jenny to an outcry from the rest of the table. This was a topic of disagreement they had been in this whole week. Jenny vs the guys. Minus me of course, I stayed out of these sort of things. She stood by its medicinal properties.
"I'm not wearing your stupid stage make up. Forget it," Mason admonished.
"It's not stupid! And all kind of strong men wear make up on screen. Like Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, even Thor himself. So how about you boys climb out of the dark ages and accept help when it's given. If you had listened to me you would've stopped looking like a bus hit you already," she defended.
"I don't know dude, she poses a good point there,' said Damon with sardonic smile.
"Kiss my ass, asshole." said Mason throwing a bunched up napkin at Damon.
"Hey, I was just being a concerned friend, dickwad. Remind me not to pay any interest to your well-being again if that's what I get," replied Damon with a smug look on his face.
"So have you told them yet?" Mason whispered quietly to me since we were on the same side of the table.
"What?" I asked already out of the loop.
"About the party? Have you told them?"
"Party?...Oh yeah, about that-" I was about to put an end to this misunderstanding once and for all.
"What are you two whispering about? It's rude to gossip and leave the rest of the table out," Jenny chided.
"They do it all the time," Damon said rolling his eyes. I detected the usual hint of disdain in his voice.
"It's no secret. In fact you all gonna like it." Mason announced to the table.
"Mason, no-" I whispered harshly over the noise of the cafeteria.
Oh boy. I knew after this there would be no going back.
"Hunter's throwing a party!" he said with the same level of exuberance he showed the first time he said it.
"WHAT?!?!" was the general effect from what I gathered since they all started talking at once.
"I know you wanted to wait but this is awesome stuff Hunt. They are our friends, they deserve to know. They could help." He said this with an apologetic smile. But he wasn't really sorry.
That's not why I said no you idiot!
I gave him a cold look since that was the extent of what I could do to him.
They all went from complete shock, to the point that I worried it would lead up to cardiac arrest and in Ziggy's case a general fever of excitement. Damon, who shared most in common with Mason, mirrored his level of anticipation at the idea of an unsupervised party. Knowing who my brother was guaranteed a great turn out cause that's how you attract the most popular of the students. The Hayne's name weighed quite heavily in this school.
This was meant to be a small gathering for my sports team, maybe a cookout. That's what I had in mind. I wasn't okay with this at all. But this had snowballed so fast I don't know if I could contain it even if I tried at this point. Who knows how many people Justin had told and him alone catching wind of this meant it had grown a life of its own. He was going to go through with it, with or without me.
I couldn't stop them so whether I was willing or not it would have to proceed. If at all to prevent Justin from breaking down the house with his dumb friends. I couldn't tame my brother: he was a wild horse but I had unlimited influence over Mason, so now I needed him invested in this more than ever. I would have to micro-manage it through him. I took a big sigh knowing that the next week of my life was going to be a nightmare. An actual real life, exhausting-with dire consequences nightmare.
"Dude this is awesome! Since you're my friend I'm like VIP right?" Ziggy chatted on as we walked out of our last class together. The table had been lively since Mason's premature announcement. I was going to kill him. The excitement never quite died down. It was just more conversing about the awaited night and who not to invite since we held the power for a change.
"Yes," I replied flatly. If not a little irritably. Not that he would notice of course. One thing Ziggy was not- was perceptive.
"This is so cool! Hold on I have something for you."
I turned to look at him as he began rummaging in his jeans. Evidently looking for something. This soon became an erratic dance making us breathing roadblocks in the hallways traffic. Ziggy is a bit of a scatter brain so this could take a while. He then proceeded to search his school bag next on the unknown quest he seemed to be happy about.
"I know I have them somewhere..." I was about to carrying on walking without him because whatever captured his interest so would most certainly not have the same effect on me.
"There we go! Our tickets for tonight. So there's no chance of you bailing out again... not that I think you would or anything but as a precaution. You hold on to them," he said handing me two movie tickets scheduled for tonight.
You're kidding me right? He was serious about this movie thing. I had regrettably learned that the longer people were around me and my peculiar disposition the more likely they were to grow immune to my resting bitch face. With that said I don't think Ziggy was ever affected because his social ineptitude counter acted any cues most people would pick up on leaving him blissfully unaware.
He stared at me excitedly. His honey colored eyes on the verge of dilating in anticipation. One of the few people who'd volunteer to be in my company unsupervised with no buffer i.e. Mason. The whole brave or stupid scenario played out in my head.
I could say no.
In fact, I should say no.
It would be better if I said no.
I'm going to say no.
"I'll pick you up at seven," I said dryly and turned for the exit since it was time for me to get to practice and that's what I had to focus on. I had a long few weeks ahead of me with final prep for the big meet in two weeks' time.
I was still clocking in inconsistent numbers on my new skills, something that had come to frustrate me. My ascension within the sport had come relatively easy to me in the past but now that I was transitioning from a junior elite athlete to a senior, the upgrades were indicative of that large gap I needed to breach.
I went from performing big skills characteristic of a much older athlete as a junior to now needing routines that would be competitive on the international level. I had my work cut out for me that's for sure.
This meet was early in the season and meant I got a chance to test out these upgrades ahead of the bigger national meets. With that said, it was still crucial to do well because the judges and officials present consisted of the same that would officiate nationals and world team trials. I needed to impress the selection committee as soon and as frequent as possible to be recognized as a viable candidate.
I was hoping this week would be a stronger showing and thus reassure my coaches. Besides, I had a lot of issues on my mind that needed silencing so a good workout would do me wonders. The solid kind of which can only be insured by rigorous physical activity.
I walked down the school parking lot since Justin was going to take me to practice when the unthinkable happened. Well not completely unthinkable because it was a very thinkable prospect but rather the unwanted. I had so much going on for me this week-the fight, the party and my most recent mission that I had clean forgotten the most destabilizing of them all.
"Hey Hunter wait up!" a voice shouted from behind me.
Fuck my life.
This was it. The next logical step in my agenda. Breaking it off with Ryan. I had just hoped that I'd be more prepared for this. Like I'd dictate the when and where but it seemed like it would have to happen now. I hadn't even worked out what I was going to say to start things off. I turned around to see his gray eyes catch the afternoon sun.
He wore a maroon long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up that hugged his lean body and a pair of dark jeans. I think I may have forgotten how good looking he was. If that was even possible. His short, curly hair and five o'clock shadow just accentuated his angular face. His olive complexion and black hair gave him an international look, like an Italian runway mode-l pretty but totally unattainable.
Wasn't that the word of the day? Knowing rationally I stood no chance with him. It was never going to work. How was I supposed to keep such a self-assured guy interested? The only thing to do was to give him up before he wised up on his own.
I was choosing to leave my LoneStar loyalties out of it. For someone as independent and stubborn as me it was easier to live with a decision you made on your own, not one that was imposed on you. But as soon as he reached my position, my senses were assaulted by what I could only describe as a lethal cocktail of pheromones, visual stimulation and my own foolish inclinations.
His aura was of which I'd never encountered before. In real life and on the job. He had this raw appeal about him, that I found myself subconsciously gravitating towards. I couldn't quite explain it. But it was passively powerful; he was confident but not arrogant. Suave but completely unintentional. It was natural for him to be this easygoing wet dream.
That was the word I'd peg to Ryan Grant. His dark hair, gray eyes and complete disregard for society stereotypes and status was another of his charms I was falling victim to. I could relate to that because however I may appear on the street, I knew what I did would make the most criminal seem like a cub scout.
"Hey," he said with a crooked grin marking his handsome face.
"Hi," I answered in a breathy tone. My mind was racing. I wasn't mentally ready for this. Not now. I was beginning to experiencing something odd, I couldn't get my hands to stop shaking. What the hell was this?
And then it dawned on me. I believe people call this anxiety.
Well shit. That's convenient.
I tried to remain in my usual stoic position. He was just another guy you go to school with, no big deal. You just happen to find him attractive.
"So the Haynes' boys have quite the reputation now," he said alluding to Monday's incident. "You okay?"
"Me? You wanna know if I'm okay?" I asked perplexed by his unexpected opener.
"Yeah, are you?" he matched my expression but his seemed to contain a lot more amusement, like I was the odd one here.
"Aren't you mad at me or something?" I was missing something here for sure.
"Why would I be mad?" he asked now openly chuckling. If I wasn't so confused I may have been offended. I've never felt so left behind in a conversation like I was now.
I ran a frustrated hand through my black hair and tried to read any sign of deception on his face. Anything that would betray what he was really thinking besides making me feel like the court jester.
"I don't know...because I didn't reply to you text?" I offered hesitantly with a small shrug. This was turning out to be the most uncomfortable conversation of my life. What's this guy's deal?
"Oh, so you were ignoring me?" he asked with no hint of anger in his voice. He was teasing me. I may not be the most astute when it comes to teenage courtship rituals or whatever it's called but I knew when I was being played.
Yet, I couldn't find it in me to act indignant about it. It was so much easier denying my attraction to him from a far but now- up close and personal. Shit!
His eyes bore into mine with that sly grin on his face. I met his gaze- the cool steel gray were a sight on their own. His eyes alone caused such a conflict within me. They tempted-compelled me to do foolish things, the kind I would never have given thought to before meeting him. I was never one to frolic with anyone in my private life unless it would be fleeting. It was a rule I'd made years ago. But I had a hard time believing he was the kind of drug you'd take one hit off and be on your way then after.
He was waiting for me to speak.
"No. I just didn't know how to respond," I offered honestly.
What was I doing? I was supposed to drive him off. Shoo him, go all the way short of telling him I was a fully trained Russian spy and could kill him with both my hands tied.
He let out that charming laugh of his again. The sound was starting to become familiar to me even with only a handful of exchanges with him.
"Am I amusing you?" I asked somewhat self-consciously.
"Yes. Here's a suggestion; hey Ryan, I'm doing alright and no, you're not such a lousy kisser that chased me off."
There's that attraction in action again. His charisma was easily the most disarming psychedelic out there. I wondered if chemists could find a way to bottle that potent mix.
"You're not," I forcefully answered against my better judgment and my character.
"A lousy kisser," I said as I looked away from him feeling foolish for having said that and what it implied. A light breeze blew by just then carrying a few strands of hair across my face. He approached and before I could act gently pushed them away.
Electric. His touch sent charges along my face and through my body. I wanted to jolt away from its intensity except my feet had gone numb and were rooted to the ground. I didn't quite remember him having such a pronounced effect on me physiologically. How could it have gotten stronger after nearly a week of not seeing each other? I spent most of that time trying to forget about him.
"Oh really? Now one might suggest a repeat performance. For control purposes, you know. Make sure your mind didn't fabricate any part of it," he said in a low tone. He was barely an arm's length away. When did he get this close? How was I letting this happen?
This wasn't how I had planned this conversation to go. This was a complete fuck up on my part. I was supposed to push him away, now I was fanning the fire. Completely complicit.
It was the proximity I reasoned. He was a danger to me the closer he got. I had to pull away. My senses retuned in time for me to do just that. I recognized the look on his face from last Friday, he wanted to kiss me and worse than that- I wanted him to.
"I have to get to practice," I said now a step away from his cursed spell. Never allow him to breach a two foot radius I repeated to myself. His effect was most potent at near distance.
His face visibly showed disappointed from the obvious rebuff.
"Right, what are you doing later today?" he asked.
I couldn't catch a break. Why was he asking me that for?
But alas I had a quick way out of this that didn't include creating a lie since my faculties were failing me at this point. I pulled out of my pocket the tickets to tonight's movie.
"Is that for latest Steven Spielberg?" he asked with undeniable attentiveness.
I knew little about Hollywood and its A-listers, never mind the intricacies of behind the scenes crew members. But something struck me. It was a definite possibility. He doesn't have an interest in film too?
"Maybe? A friend coerced me into going," I said as my disclaimer.
"If the reviews are any indication, I'd say it's a good one" his eyes slowly returned to mine again and I knew this wasn't going to end well for me. Not at all. The message was received loud and clear.
"Do you wanna go?" I heard myself blurt out before I even registered the words.
"See the movie? With you?" He asked in mild surprise.
I nodded my head since I couldn't trust myself to speak any longer. There was clearly a discordance between my mouth and brain. An open betrayal had materialized. Treacherous tongue!
"Like a date?" he asked regaining his composure after that shock. I attributed that to his quick-wittedness that he was soon back to flirting.
"I mean my friend is gonna be there so, no" I said half trying to convince myself of the validity of that statement too.
"I'll take it any way I can get it," he said not correcting the connotation that was part in parcel of his last statement.
I dismissed the crude innuendos that ran through my head. He didn't mean it like that.
"Uh, yeah. So I have to go. Call me later?"
"Promise to answer this time?" he said with an arched brow in that statuesque pose of his. How can one person make everything look sexual?
A car honk broke our exchange. I turned to see Justin had driven his car round to pick me up. He needed to get back for Football practice so I had to hurry.
"Yeah," I said as I turned in my brother's direction and walked to the car. As I walked I had the unmistakable feeling that Ryan was still staring at me even with my back turned to him.
The first thing I said when I got into the car was. "Shut up."
This was something I had no intention of talking about.
19:20 pm Movie Theater
"You know what we should do? Get the jumbo combo and share popcorn, it's like massive...or not," Ziggy trailed off after I gave him a pointed look. To be honest it wasn't in any part because of him. He wasn't being any more annoying than usual. It was me. I was worked up and more than a bit anxious.
This was a really bad idea. How had I gone from planning to run him off to inviting him to the movies?
"Hey, you think we can see that one afterwards? It was a hard choice between the two," he said pointing at one of the other posters advertising another film. I couldn't be the least bit interested, I had more immediate concerns. I was really beginning to hate myself-more than I already did.
This sort of impulsive stupidity was unlike me, like I had purposefully sabotaged myself. I started looking around nervously at the packed cinema, losing my concentration with the moving sea of people. My eyes never rested on one place for too long. Scoping the faces, matching the body types.
"Yeah, sure." I answered noncommittally. Maybe if the universe wasn't so completely against me, he wouldn't make it. But if I were a believer of pseudo- universal laws, say karma for example, then I was screwed. I was pretty sure I had a pretty bad tab running over there so no favors would be coming my way any time soon.
Ziggy and I finally made it to the front of the candy counter and he ordered a heap of junk food complimentary with all the additives your body would thank you for, starch, saturated fats and artificial colors. Yum.
I believe I was the only one to think that this was a complete rip off since it was overpriced; it didn't even taste like anything and had over 1200 calories in the popcorn alone. So, like I'm paying you to pour slow acting cardboard death into my system. The benefits of that particular trade were lost on me.
"That'll be $16.50,"said the older teen on the other end of the candy counter.
I pulled out my wallet spotting a twenty when an arm reached over my shoulder with bills in hand.
"I've got it my man," a familiar voice rang close to my ear. Standing right beside me like it was the most natural thing in the world was Ryan as he paid the guy at the register. He appeared like a phantom, materializing out of nowhere.
I don't know what expression I wore on my face at that moment but I know internally I was mortified. He looked at me with that same crooked grin he had in the parking lot.
"Hey," he greeted as his eyes ran a very deliberate and obvious scan over me. He didn't seem the slightest bit ashamed that I noticed.
I cleared my throat before I spoke because it felt like I had cotton balls shoved into my mouth, "Hi" I answered.
"Sorry I'm late," he said after paying for his own combo. I looked back and wondered how he'd managed to push through the line without causing an outcry from the other patrons. The place was packed, people tend to get impatient with customer service when in large numbers so I was slightly mystified and I chose to wonder about this, rather than the real issue at hand.
"That's okay. The movie hasn't even started yet," I said before we fell into another awkward silence because he didn't say anything in response. He just stared at me. The noise form the surrounding movie goers got drowned out by the blood rushing in my ears.
"Uh, this is my friend Ziggy," I said trying to dodge his intense gaze by putting the attention on someone else, but that didn't work because it turned out Ziggy wasn't even aware of Ryan's presence yet. He was still staring at the various sorts of candy on display.
I poked his shoulder which successfully got his attention.
"This is Ryan," I said hoping he'd be his usual self and do all the talking.
"Oh hey, I know you! You go to our school, right?" he asked instantly animated.
"Yeah," Ryan answered with peaked amusement, the same expression everyone had when they first meet Ziggy.
Ziggy snapped his fingers, "The yearbook guy!" he said excitably as he placed where he knew Ryan from.
Ryan let out his sexy throaty laugh, "Yeah, I'm the year book guy."
"Cool, so what you watching?"
I had never been so grateful to have a motor mouth for a friend like I was now. I could stand idly by and have time to locate my senses which seemed to have vacated the premises as soon as a certain photographer walked in.
"Uhm, what are we watching?" Ryan asked with an arched brow and a teasing grin on his face. He was doing this on purpose. He wanted me to acknowledge our association to Ziggy. I bit my inner cheek and gave him a pointed look- he played dirty.
"He's with us?" Ziggy asked in clear shock and giving me the most peculiar look.
"Uh, yeah. I invited him," I said feeling my stomach twist at that proclamation.
He seemed to mull that over for as second before dismissing it because his eyes had locked onto something through the glass of the candy counter.
"Twizzlers! I forgot to get twizzlers. Hold up," he said before trying to squeeze past me before the next customer could be served.
Ryan and I moved away from the most crowded area and walked in silence to a more secluded corner to wait for Ziggy's return. Along the walk he made sure we were close enough that our arms occasionally grazed against each other like flint, igniting a static charge. He looked at me playfully almost daring me to deny that I felt that too.
Ryan's eyes roamed the crowd to where Ziggy was and then back to me with a surreptitious look.
"What?" I asked feeling self-conscious like he was conspiring something. Also it had a little to do with me wanting to find out what's hiding in his head- uncover the mystery that was Ryan Grant. He was such an enigma to me. I felt decoding him and releasing his answers would have an equally freeing effect on me. Maybe by doing that, he may not have such an inexplicable hold on me.
Even now as we stood to any wondering eye, qualified or not, they'd notice that we were standing really close. I was within that danger zone, that precarious territory where his charms were most potent but this time, I at least had the benefit of hindsight.
"I just don't see it is all," he said with a cute grin on his face. He wore a curious expression as he said that. I raised my eyebrows in response to his cryptic line.
"How did you two become friends?" he asked gesturing to the line.
I let out a small chuckle of my own. That was a question I often asked myself. I could only imagine what a peculiar pairing we made to Ryan from an outsider's perspective.
"Your guess is as good as mine," I answered.
"I bet I could come up with a couple reasons of my own," he said with hooded eyes ever so slightly closing what little space remained between the two of us.
"I bet you could."
"Doubt I have any of those in common with your friend over there," he said allowing that crooked grin to mark his handsome face again.
"I'd hope not," was all I said in response. The air had quickly and forcefully grown thick with sexual tension, long abandoned the concept that we were in the middle of a very public, very crowded space. Ryan just had this effect. Once you were in his space you forgot all else, even if just momentarily.
An evil grin spread across his face at my comeback to his game. His five o'clock shadow seemed more prominent than when I last saw him at school. Flirting with Ryan came unspeakably easy to me, to the point that I was blind to the fact that I was doing it. Not sure if that was a good thing or not.
His appeal extended beyond his model looks. It was his energy-some intangible, indescribable quality that was like heroin to me. Impossibly addictive even after just one taste. I barely knew this guy but I could count the number of ways he drove me crazy. Behavior that was quite out of myself.
"There you guys are," Ziggy said breaking the moment. I was only made aware then of how I had subconsciously leaned into him and him to me. Yet, Ziggy was none the wiser as he lead us into the correct theatre.
I followed into the dark space with Ryan right behind me and in the back of my mind I knew this movie would be lost on me.
Twenty minutes into the flick and I still had no idea who the protagonist is or what the basic plot of the movie was. The main and only cause of that being Ryan.
"Stop it!" I whispered when he attempted to nip my earlobe again.
"What?" he asked feigning innocence and failing miserably because his ill-behaved grin twinkled in the dimmed lighting. The screen shinning and casting long shadows on his face did nothing to hide his intentions. In fact the cover of the dark only personified them.
"You know what you're doing!" I said worried that his antics would disturb Ziggy. That was an unnecessary concern because he was determinedly absorbed in the flick. Square eyes and all. He was grappling at the bottom end of his popcorn already.
"Here," I said giving him my own box of the vile stuff, barely touched. He accepted without moving his eyes away from the screen in a very zombie-like fashion. He began chewing through that like a wood shredder.
I returned my eyes to the movie just to be interrupted by the guy on my right again.
"That was sweet, wanna share mine?"
"No," I answered resolutely but with a small grin betraying my amusement.
"Sure?" he asked leaning into my side more.
"Positive. Eat your popcorn," I replied not movie my eyes from the big screen.
He let out a chuckle at my feeble attempts at evasion. It had been a cat and mouse game since we got seated. Ryan getting funny ideas and me as subtly as possible trying to rebuff him without drawing undue attention from the packed movie theatre and especially Ziggy. He liked the idea that he had nothing to lose from pushing and making me squirm in my seat.
He switched up tactics and stole my armrest just to coax a response from me. I wouldn't bite. He could have it. I tried as hard as I could not to get side tracked by him when his hand landed on my knee, I stiffened a bit but refused to acknowledge it. This went on for a good five minutes.
Until he started getting bolder and smoothly slid that hand resting on me knee to the inside of my thigh. I took a small breath in and looked at him with the corner of my eye. He was looking right at the screen like he wasn't doing anything inappropriate. Bastard.
I shifted back in my seat causing his hand to fall off my leg and watched his face for a reaction. None came. There was no visible reaction on his face but that bloody hand came back and this time squeezed for good measure.
I let out a huff of air and looked at Ziggy, I felt responsible for him and I guess somewhat guilty since he didn't have my undivided attention. But he was deeply engrossed in the movie, a hurricane could be in progress outside and he wouldn't be interested. I considered checking his breathing because he was so still- totally out of character. Until he remembered to start chewing, although I hadn't seen him put any food in his mouth just then. Gross, the food was probably on standby in his mouth because he can't multi-task.
"I don't think we're bothering him," Ryan said now finally with his head turned towards me.
"It's not him you're bothering, "I countered. It was like a boxing match of wit between the two of us. Every time I had a one-two for him; he was ready to block and deliver a left jab of his own
His lips curled into a challenging smile at my words, "Call me presumptuous but I believe this would be the opportune moment to kill the sexual tension brewing here."
That stopped whatever wise crack I had ready in storage. I opened my mouth to speak but stopped short of anything to say. He saw this weakness and grinned at his victory. One thing became staggeringly apparent to me at that moment. If he didn't kiss me now, I was going to initiate it myself.
At no sign of any objection, he leaned in and first contact was like dry lightning crackling across the sky. Restrained, exploratory but in warning of what's to come. When I got brazen enough to part his lips and seek out his tongue it was instant thunder boom rippling between us.
He liked my new aggression and met it head on with his own. I didn't know what came over me but playing coy had its draw backs so I abandoned that tactic. When we finally separated and I looked into his eyes, even in the dark, I could slightly make out how flush he had become.
Our breathing a little more haggard then it was before; he ran a lazy hand through my hair at the base of my neck and slowly massaged the sensitive skin there, "I don't think I've seen this movie before. I want to see where it goes," he said in a hoarse tone.
I dipped my head a bit trying to reign in some self-control in an easily escalating situation. There was no middle ground for him and I right now. It was either we stopped making out or I straddled his lap now with all these strangers present. I had to find a way to slow this down.
I looked into his eyes and he seemed to have reached the same regrettable conclusion. That was until a sly look flashed across his features. Oh boy.
"It would help if you looked at the screen instead," his actions were contradicting what he had just said. He traced his index finger along my ear, across my jaw until it rested just below my chin and slowly guided my head gently towards him.
I feebly tried to turn my head away and towards the silver screen but that wasn't where my interests lied.
"I wasn't talking about that one," he said with his gray eyes gleaming with intensity before we locked lips again. Okay, so we weren't on the same page on that one but I wasn't about to correct him.
I'd never held the same fascination to making out like my peers did. I never liked kissing. It was just a means to an end-part of the charade if I needed to make those skills available. I was good at what I did but it was always mechanical-calculated.
But tonight I finally got it. Damn he was a great kisser. Determined but not domineering. Gentle but not shy at all. And just a hint of playfulness that was like the Ryan x-factor that sealed the deal. He'd smile into the kiss or nibble at the corners of my mouth. He'd gently bite down on my bottom lip.
I had to stop him when he went down for my neck. That would be going too far. I may not have appreciated kissing before but necking-I had a super sensitive spot there and once that was stimulated, he wouldn't be able to get me off of him. So I had to be the strong one.
"Don't, there are kids here."
He groaned near my ear "I thought this was R-rated" he said playfully.
"You wish," regaining enough sense to push him away some, since he was taking up a considerable bit of my chair.
After that I really did try to get immersed in the film. Whatever it was about. I was at least intent on figuring out who the antagonist was, that should be easier right? But smooth operator on my left wouldn't let me be. Great.
He had various not-so-subtle techniques of luring my attention, unashamedly at that. It would be an outright lie to claim I wasn't complicit in his quests for my mouth. It was a juvenile indulgence I had never imagined I'd be so eager to participate in. All in all, I figure I had caught a collective thirty minutes of the movie.
"I'm glad you invited me," Ryan said running his nose along mine.
I gave him an affirmative peck seconds before the lights went on signaling the end of the film.
Ziggy mumbled something about his bladder imploding before rushing off to the bathroom leaving me alone with Ryan.
"So I'm hoping you enjoyed that as much as I did," he said as we walked back out into the entrance with the buzz of the movie goers still present. Apparently it was a great picture. I wouldn't know of course.
I bit the inside of my lower lip as what he was implying dawned on me in its full volume. This was such a strange experience for me. I never saw a person I slept with more than once. Especially after the deed is done. Although this wasn't the same because I hadn't actually had sex with him, but that was my only frame of reference. Point being I didn't know what to do with myself now that we were out the theater. I felt my face heat up and ran a nervous hand through my wavy hair.
"I love it when you turn all shy on me," he said antagonistically.
"I'm not shy," I retorted having a hard time convincing myself because I suddenly felt like a virgin for some reason.
"Sure," he answered clever to play near the boundary but not actually cross it. He didn't push too hard. I was glad that he was considerate of that, "I could wait until your friend comes back."
Suddenly I wanted him to leave seamlessly. I'd seen enough rom-coms to know that a certain amount of pressure was born at the end of dates. Not that this was a date or anything like that. And more so, now that we were out of the darkened enclosure and mood of the theatre I'd somewhat lost my nerve. I wasn't the kind of teenager that gushed at boys and made out in public. I was the kind that fired guns and slit throats.
"No need. He'll be out in a second and I don't want to bother," I said a little hurriedly.
"I don't mind," he said closing the space between us again. I'd seen that look enough times on his face tonight to know what he was planning on doing. I was rooted in place because I had a hardware meltdown and couldn't form and execute basic evasion techniques.
Well that wasn't completely true, I had a couple extreme alternatives ranging from kneeing his crotch followed by fisting his kidneys as he hunched over or punching his Adams apple, obstruct his airway and watch him suffocate. Neither of which were appropriate for this situation since I didn't want to kill him. So both being no-goes, I had no choice but to stand still like a lamb and wait with bated breath.
His hands slid and rested on the small of my back as he dipped his head down to re-engage my previously claimed lips.
"Okay! All done," Ziggy announced out of nowhere and suspiciously loud. Ryan and I did a strange uncoordinated dance to disentangle our limbs. Funny considering for how easy it was for him to invade my space, now it had become an awkward tango.
Ryan collected himself soon enough in his typical nonchalant fashion. He started laughing soon after at the disheveled look on my face, to my chagrin.
"I had a great time," he said meeting my slightly flustered face. "It was nice meeting you man," he said extending his hand to my shorter friend.
Ziggy took the proffered hand hesitantly, his eyes radiating misgiving. This was the first time I witnessed him being anywhere near to standoffish with anyone. This wasn't how Ziggy typically behaved around people. Like a detective eyeing an alleged criminal.
"You too, dude," he responded when he eventually clasped his hand with Ryan's.
And the weird just kept on rolling I thought to myself regarding tonight. Ryan gave me one more suggestive look, seemingly humored by Ziggy before heading out.
I thought my night would be smooth sailing after his departure. I was sorely mistaken. The awkward silence that fell between me and Mr. Chatter-box was uncanny. It just wasn't natural thus adding to its thousand ton weight. I could feel his eyes staring a hole into the side of my face as I refused to meet his gaze. I knew it was too good to be true. Even with his affinity for zooming out and not being the most socially attentive character out there, he couldn't have possibly missed the vibe Ryan and I were carrying.
I reasoned to myself that I don't owe him any explanation. Why did I feel like I did? Halfway down the parking lot I decide that this was ridiculous. Why was I acting like a felon? This is Ziggy for crying out loud, just talk to him. Talk about anything.
"I enjoyed tonight. Thanks Zig," I said in a surprisingly genuine tone, not my usual flat drawl.
"I'm glad you did," he said stressing the `you' part.
"What? You didn't like the movie?" I asked as I secured my seatbelt on the driver's side of the vehicle. I had Tori's car for the night. She didn't do much driving though. Both the twins had cars but we usually rode with Justin to school unless other commitments came up, then Tori would drive hers too. I used either that was available until I got my own. Meaning when they ship off to college end of this year.
"How could I? I tripped balls at the lab murder scene. Did you even notice that? Of course you didn't. You had other things to focus on besides the movie. At a movie theatre," he said in an animated voice seething clearly with frustration.
I small grin broke out on my face. Completely unintentional. I didn't mean to mock him when he was so worked up but this was Ziggy.
"Are you jealous?" I questioned trying to mask my amusement.
"Yeah, I am! Tonight was supposed to be about us hanging out. Instead he had his tongue half way to your stomach-he could prolly taste your lunch."
I scrunched my face at unpleasant description and latently wondering how close that was from the truth.
"Ew, very colorful there Zig."
"I know, right." He said looking rather chuffed with himself and completely neglecting the fact that he had been venting his frustrations with me just a second ago. "I'm getting pretty articulate lately."
Ziggy was a scatterbrain and his form of ADHD didn't help matters either so his mind tended to race at a faster rate than what his speech could keep up with. He's much better now though. His words aren't muffled or entire words omitted from sentences at random leaving you dumbfounded as to what he was getting at.
It was all about getting him just to slow the fuck down. You're not in a race. A lot of that was thanks to Jenny. She fancied herself as his adoptive big sister and with all her vocal coaching she had for acting, she would later `mentor' him. Whether Ziggy was aware of her fairy god mother effect on him or not was still unknown.
"I'd say...look. I'm sorry about the Ryan thing. I didn't even plan for him to be here. It's just that-"
"You like him." he stated that as conclusive fact. I'd rarely seen such conviction on his face in conversation when it wasn't about computers.
"What? No I-"
"You like him. I can tell. And he's totally into you," he said back to his happy go lucky mood.
"Wait. So you're not mad?" I asked confused at the swift turnabout in this conversation.
"And I'm the one who battles to follow. Jealous, yes. Mad, no. Besides, it just means you'll have to make it up to me. I should write you out an IOU ticket just in case we forget. You've been messing up a lot lately."
And for the umpteenth time today as Ziggy prattled away and I reversed the car, I asked myself-
What did I just get myself into?