I don’t know how long I stayed outside but when I snuck back onto the bus my small prayer was answered in that everyone was asleep. I tossed and turned all night as my brain sent me one disturbing dream after another. First there were flashbacks with Rich and I would wake up sobbing. Then I’d have a dream where I was stuck in a loveless relationship with Josh all the while wishing I was with Aj. Then I had dreams where I was married to Aj but he would get drunk every night. That dream ended the same way every time I had it, a shock of red hair against his pale skin in the moonlight. The noises I’d never escape. His face when he saw that I had caught him. I woke up anything but rested and dragged myself into the clothes room to get ready for rehearsal.
“Good morning sunshine! How was your day yesterday?” Mollee asked as I yawned
“Full of drama because that is my life” I said grumpily as she frowned
“Aj?” She asked as I nodded and she sighed “Well we’re working on the stage today so maybe you’ll get to see Josh”
“Maybe” I said as my heart stammered in its rhythm at the thought that Josh may not want to see me today. He certainly understood yesterday but a night’s sleep changes things. Maybe he decided I wasn’t worth the time. And that thought bothered me more than I liked. Lost in my own world I walked wearily to the warehouse that I was now familiar with and was joined by Nick half way there.
“You ok?” He asked jolting me out of another scenario I had made in my head where Josh, heartbroken and hurt, accused me of leading him on just to break his heart.
“I’m alright. Why?” I asked as I tried to force myself into the current moment
“I’ve been trying to talk to you for the past five minutes” He said with a frown as I sighed. He hopped in front of me and I leaned into his chest. He wrapped his arms around me and rested his head on mine. I took a deep breath of the beach smell he always had and tried to loosen up. Then I remembered my promise to him.
“Nick I’m so sorry, I haven’t talked to Mollee yet. I will though, I swear I will” I said into his chest
“Stop, it’s Ok. I’m sorry I even shared that with you in the state that you are in. Just worry about getting through this and getting back to the Kat we all love” Nick said as I sighed and closed my eyes.
“Is she ok?” I heard from behind us and I felt Nick nod. I looked up to see Howie giving me a sad smile. I returned it.
“I’m just tired. I need to start sleeping again” I said and the two guys flanked me as we walked towards the stage
“That would help” Howie said empathetically. We came even to the booth Scott was at and he gave me a big grin
“I knew a simple lighting guy couldn’t keep you interested for long gorgeous.” He said eyeing my escort. Nick was about to say something but I stopped him
“Good morning Scott” I said as he gave me a wink and buzzed us into the warehouse
“How do you know him?” Howie asked as two more guys I had eaten lunch with yesterday passed me and gave me waves and big smiles “Or them?”
“I spent my day off here helping out. I made some friends” I said as Josh rushed up to me. I had to deal with this already? I had hoped I could at least get through the morning
“How are you feeling?” He asked as I shrugged “That’s a stupid question, huh?”
“No, I’m just tired” I explained as Howie and Nick looked awkwardly at each other, torn between whether I needed their support or if I wanted some alone time
“Well I wanted to give you this and tell you that I’m still in if you are” Josh said quickly handing me a drawing. It was me with a big smile up in the grid surrounded by lighting equipment. I smiled and met his eyes
“You have an impeccable memory” I said marveling at the detail in everything from the color of my hair elastic to the location of the rips in my jeans
“What can I say? You’re fun to look at” He said with a hint of the smile
“I’ll see you at lunch?” I offered as his smile grew and I couldn’t help but return it
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll be above you working lights all rehearsal so if anyone gives you trouble, I’ll know” He said giving an eye to where Aj was standing pretending that he wasn’t watching my every move.
“I’ll be fine. See you later” I said as he walked away and Nick nudged me
“He’s cute” He said in a valley girl voice
“Guurrrlll” Howie added as I rolled my eyes
“You guys are embarrassing yourselves” I joked hardly able to hide the small grin they inspired as we walked over to where Aj and Brian were stretching. I gave Brian a quick hug and then looked over at Aj and saw him quickly look away pretending not to have seen me. My stomach clenched and I had to close my eyes to keep them from filling with tears. Then, standing there with my muscles tensed and my eyes squeezed shut, something hit me. I thought of Aj’s kindness and strength in a difficult situation last night. I had been kissing another guy only three days after we had broken up. He didn’t have to come and help me. He could have left me there on the ground in my own personal hell while Josh tried to figure out what to do. He could have turned and walked away. I’m not proud of it but I think that’s what I would have done. But he had stayed. I knew I’d never hate him and I knew that I couldn’t stand to see him hurt so why was I trying to do both? What rule was there that I had to force myself to be angry with him? I was definitely hurt but something in me knew that the best way to dull the pain was to try to help Aj. I opened my eyes slowly and saw Mollee from across the room looking at me with concern. Everyone was walking on eggshells around me and all because I was refusing to do the one thing I knew would make me feel better. I took a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other and sat next to Aj. He was visibly shocked and I watched as he opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to decide what to say.
“Hi” He finally got out and I grinned
“Hi” I said pushing my legs into a straddle and stretching down to my knee. I could feel his confusion and more than just his pair of eyes on me as everyone filtered in and took in my proximity to the guy I’d only confronted when I had to for the last few days. I smiled a little, enjoying the awkwardness more than I probably should have. Somehow, even with all the attention on me, I couldn’t bring myself to feel embarrassed. I was certain in my decision. This is how I would make it through.
“How’d you sleep?” Aj ventured as I moved to my other leg. I guess he decided that since I seemed like I would be civil with him he would try and get as much out of me as possible before I changed my mind.
“Not so good. I’m exhausted. Looks like you didn’t fare too well either” I said glancing up at him and taking in the dark circles under his eyes. He met my eyes for a moment and that time stopping power of his caught me off guard. In his eyes was still a good amount of pain but I saw for the first time a bit of relief as well. It strengthened my resolve that this was the way to handle the situation.
“I kept dreaming that I’d lost my one true love forever” Aj said as I quickly looked down and paced my breathing as time sped up around me again “Sorry”
“I brought it up” I offered and Aj sighed. I knew for this to work that I’d have to clue him in to my new plan. “Look. I’ve tried ignoring you. I’ve tried feeling sad. I’ve tried being the victim. I’ve tried hating you. I’ve tried everything I can think of except to try to forgive you. It’ll take time but what you did for me last night was special. It’s something not too many people in my life would have done in your position. What it took to help me out when I was with someone else…the pain you must have felt…”
“It wasn’t so bad when I heard you calling to me” Aj said with a quiet smile as I caught my sadness in my throat.
“Well I figured that I couldn’t let a friend like that go” I said without looking at him
“Friend?” Aj asked with a hint of disappointment
“I can’t pretend that I trust you enough to be more Aj. I’m sorry. I really am” I said and meant it. I met his eyes and this time he looked away, clearly ashamed that I couldn’t trust him.
“I’ll never stop fighting for you Kat. I’ll never stop loving you” He said as I sighed
“Look, if being friends is too much for you we can go back to the other way…” I started and he looked up quickly and took me by the shoulders
“Any piece of you I get is something I’m grateful for. Acquaintances, friends, lovers, whatever, I need you in my life Kat” He said seriously and I smiled
“Friends?” I asked holding out my hand
“Friends” He said taking it. We both smiled at each other and incredibly I blushed. That got Aj laughing which, in my overtired state, got me laughing too. It was like everything in the world had re-aligned. I was here, next to Aj, and he was smiling. Our laughter died down a bit and we were left in a comfortable silence. We kept staring at each other and the tightness in my stomach slowly loosened and became butterflies.
“What is going on?” Mollee asked pulling us out of our trance
“Nothing, I’m exhausted” I said as if that explained everything. Mollee looked me up and down and raised an eyebrow. Right on time to save me from some awkward explanations Fly came in and got us up on the stage. We were all really excited to be running the show with the staircases for the first time and everyone buzzed as we climbed them to our starting positions up on top where a screen would eventually block us from the audience. But I was buzzing for a completely different reason. Aj was directly in front of me and as the intro music played for his entrance I leaned in and whispered “Break a leg”
“See you out there” Aj said unable to hide his grin as he jumped out with the guys and ran the intro before we entered. I watched him, grinning like an idiot as he easily executed the difficult dance steps and Mollee caught my eye.
“What is going on?” She mouthed and I shrugged as annoyance clouded her features. Our entrance came and we all walked out as planned. We danced the opening and I fell into Aj’s arms, enjoying the electric current that raced through me when he caught me. I landed perfectly in my ending position for We’ve got it goin’ on which was now in front of Brian.
“Someone’s happy” Brian whispered in the applause break in the music as both Aj and I gave him identical looks of annoyance. He started cracking up and I met Aj’s eyes and we both grinned. The music transitioned into PDA and for the first time in the last few days it didn’t send dread through me. We executed the first section perfectly and then I approached Aj for the sensual partnering section. I swung my leg around his body from behind and I could feel a shiver run up his spine as I pressed my body to his. All the sadness and pain between us was breaking off in waves and converting unexpectedly into some serious sexual tension. As I whipped my hair back and slid in front of him I couldn’t help but grind very seductively into him. He grabbed my leg and slid his hand farther up my upper thigh then the choreography deemed necessary before I launched myself up into the next pose behind him. I gripped his shoulder and I heard his quick intake of breath. He turned to me and prepared to run his hand along my collar bone as rehearsed but since we’d been partners he’d never actually touched me. He smirked a bit as he seductively trailed his fingers over the exposed portion of my cleavage and this time I was the one holding my breath. We moved into the next section and each rolled thrust in the chorus moved us closer and closer together until I was acutely aware of every piece of clothing separating him from me. Mercifully he broke away from me to sing the bridge and I composed myself as we finished the dance and ran off for our exit. The next thing in the lineup would be Quit playing games but we had to pause to fix some sound equipment and Aj ran up to me as I leaned with my hands on my knees, trying to give myself the mental equivalent of a cold shower
“That was…” Aj started meeting my eyes with a wicked grin
“Interesting” I finished focusing on my shoes in order to catch my breath for more than one reason. I watched with bated breath as his hand moved slowly from his side to the general vicinity of my cheek and paused about a centimeter from my skin. I could feel my breath as it reflected off of his palm and then his skin tenderly met mine as he slowly brought my eyes to his. We stood there, him with his hand on my jaw bone, me staring into the endless depths of his chocolate eyes until Mollee bumped into us and sent us stumbling in opposite directions
“Sorry. Aj they need you” She said with a huge fake smile as Aj shook his head to clear his thoughts and raced out to where the guys were setting up to run the next section of the show without us. I watched him go and Mollee grabbed my arm roughly and pulled me towards the folding chairs they had set up in front of the stage.
“Ouch Molls, Jesus!” I said as she attempted to rip my arm from its socket and slammed me into a chair in the remotest corner of the space
“What the hell are you doing?” She asked angrily as I clenched my jaw and prayed for patience
“Dancing. Isn’t that what we get paid for?” I said coldly
“We get paid to dance, not dry hump boys who have broken our hearts” She said as I exhaled loudly
“Mollee I decided I don’t want to be mad at him anymore. It’s not helping me move on and it’s not helping him” I explained as she made a frustrated noise in the vicinity of her throat
“You are just going to let him back into your life after what he did? Do I need to remind you that not three days ago he made a decision to bump pelvises with the only girl on tour who hates you?” She asked and a shot of pain raced through my chest. That’s when I got angry
“No Mollee. You don’t need to remind me. I was there” I said harshly turning away from her and focusing angrily at the wall
“Well it seems like someone does because you seem to have forgotten that what he did was unforgivable. After what you’ve been through any guy who would take advantage of the little compassion asshole left you with is complete scum. Have some respect” She spat at me.
“Have you noticed this is the first day I’ve made it this long without crying? Maybe I know what I’m doing. I’m a big girl now Mollee, I can take care of myself” I shot back
“After your actions this morning, I can’t say I agree” She said angrily turning her back to me. We sat there in tense silence as I stubbornly crossed my legs and arms and felt Mollee do the same. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so pissed at her. Who did she think she was? No one but me knows what I’m feeling and therefore no one but me knows the best way to mend my heart. The guys finished As long as you love me and I heard the beginning of This is Us start to play. I felt the hurt and sadness begin to creep into my heart and I fought against it with all of my might. My own words echoed in my head as I stared at the wall determined to make it through today without crying. I was tensing all my muscles, trying with everything I had to hold in the breakdown threatening to race through me and instinctually I moved my arms from where they were crossed on my chest to my stomach so I could squeeze my sides and physically hold myself together. I was vaguely aware that my foot was shaking off of my leg and that the force with which I was squeezing my sides was actually keeping me from taking a deep breath. I started getting a little light headed and it became clear that I was either going to pass out or sob so I looked helplessly towards the stage. Aj’s eyes met mine and registered my pain. The song ended and I was fighting with all my energy to keep my cool while I watched in slow motion as Aj asked for a five minute break, jumped off of the stage, and attempted to approach me. The problem was that I was between the wall and Mollee so Aj had to face her before he could get to me.
“Kat” Aj started as he got near me and Mollee stood up blocking his path
“Stay away from my sister” She growled at him. The sight of two people I cared so deeply about with so much tension between them was more than I could handle and I doubled over, head between my legs, fighting with every particle of my being not to lose it. “She might be deluded into thinking you are worthy of her time but I see you McLean. If you love her as much as you claim, why don’t you leave her alone and let her move past you to someone who won’t hurt her? You have to know that you aren’t good enough for her. Man up and let her find someone who will treat her the way she deserves to be treated”
“Mollee look at her” Aj said taking in her words but being more concerned at my hyperventilating than anything else. She turned quickly and her eyes widened as she took in my rapid breathing, tense muscles and scrunched up body position. She sat quickly and tried to put her arm around me. The combination of all the intense feelings of today mixed with my lack of sleep, however, left me in no mood to be coddled by either Aj or my sister. I moved quickly away from her and buried my head in my hands praying that some emergency system in my body that controlled my lungs would kick in any minute to help me gain some control. Then something from my periphery distracted me. It seemed that someone was vaulting over chairs to reach me. I looked up and saw the familiar mop of brown hair as it landed in the chair in front of me. Josh’s green eyes met mine but instead of looking at me with pity or concern he crossed them and stuck out his tongue. It was the most ridiculous response and not what I expected but I let all of my tension out with one laugh.
“Hey bright eyes” He said with that lop sided grin as he swept a piece of hair off his forehead “You’re looking over stimulated”
“A bit” I choked out with a small smile
“You know when you’re not happy the whole room vibrates with it. I was up there focusing lights and I could literally feel the Earth shaking as you got upset. Or it could have been the shaking of your foot on the scaffolding I was climbing but it’s your pick” He said with a grin. I unfolded myself slowly and took a deep breath. A smile spread across my face and he punched me in the arm. “There you go slugger”
“You are so weird” I said as Fly began to call us all back to work on some pattern changes with the lights
“I know, right?” He said shoving me playfully before vaulting back over to his equipment and scaling the scaffold again. I turned with a smile to see Aj and Mollee looking completely bewildered and I sighed
“Going to move so I can get to rehearsal?” I asked as they both simultaneously moved out of my way, a little scared to say anything to me right now. I’m sure I was coming off as completely bipolar but I didn’t really care. I was happy to have Aj in my life but I didn’t want him saving me. The more time I spent with Josh the more I began to feel that too many people in my life spent their time protecting me instead of letting me make my own mistakes and fend for myself. I loved Mollee but the over-protective sister thing was getting old.
“Oh how I miss dancing with you!” Brian whispered into my ear as I approached him on the stage waiting for Fly to tell us where we were starting from
“I miss you too Bri” I said giving him a big hug. It was strange for Brian to be anything less than completely positive about every situation so it worried me a little that he was struggling with Camie “At least we still have a few good dance moments on stage together”
“Believe me I look forward to those moments every day” He said mussing my hair as usual before going to his spot on the top of the stairs. We spent the rest of the morning running the beginning portion of the show with lights and sound and it took a lot of patience. I was ecstatic when Fly dismissed the dancers for the afternoon so he could work with the guys on the portion we weren’t involved in.
“Eat with me?” Aj asked cautiously, still a little uncertain of his boundaries as they currently stood
“I’ve got a date” I said simply and I saw hurt cloud his expression. Why oh why did I use the word date? “I mean I already promised Josh. Sorry. Can I get a rain check?”
“Yeah” He said slowly turning and walking over to the buffet. I had a moment of watching him go, wondering if I would enjoy eating with him more than Josh, when I felt a tap on my left shoulder and turned to my left, seeing no one there. Confused, I faced forward again and felt Josh giggle on my right.
“I can’t believe you fell for that” He said grabbing my hand excitedly “I have set up a picnic for you but you need your harness!”
“Odd” I said with a grin and an arched eyebrow. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found all thoughts of Aj were mysteriously absent when I was faced with the prospect of a new adventure with Josh.
“Ok, follow me!” He said once I was strapped in and clipped into the system running up one of the tallest light trees. He began to climb and I mirrored him on the far side since there wasn’t enough room to climb side by side. We reached the top and I swung myself up to the small platform that sat looking over all of the lights
“This looks complicated” I said motioning towards all the wires and specific angles all the lights were now in.
“That’s why they need me. Only mad talent can navigate this” Josh said with a smirk handing me a container with a little bit of everything from the buffet “I didn’t know what you wanted but I figured you’d like options”
“Perfect. I don’t eat meat so anything without is good for me” I said pulling some vegetarian lasagna over towards me
“Do you love animals or hate plants?” He asked while attempting to compile his usual Nutella and spaghetti sandwich
“Both” I said as he grinned and took a big bite of his meal. I made a disgusted face and he shook his head
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” He said through a full mouth
“You couldn’t pay me enough” I said taking another bite of my food
“Speaking of money, what happened last night?” Josh asked lightly
“Speaking of money?”
“The best segue I could come up with” Josh explained like it was obvious and I stifled a laugh
“Well I have bad panic attacks sometimes because I flash back to some really awful stuff from my past” I said vaguely hoping it would be enough but of course it wasn’t
“Flashbacks, that makes sense. So why did it happen when we kissed?” He asked with the air of an inquisitive first grader pondering the color of the sky or why apples were red.
“The bad stuff involves my romantic past. Kissing, heavy petting, sometimes just the wrong kind of touch can set it off. Nice to know you’re friends with a porcelain doll, right?” I asked, my eyes dropping to my food
“Speaking of friends” Josh said as I suppressed another small laugh
“You really need to work on that whole changing the subject thing” I joked
“Are you and Aj done? I know what you told me the other day but I couldn’t tell” He said as my muscles tensed a bit. He must have been watching us dance. Why was this so complicated?
“We’re not romantic anymore, no. He hurt me and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust him again. But I’m no good at being mad and I’m sick of crying so we’re trying to at least be friends” I explained as he nodded
“What is?” I asked. Sometimes talking with Josh was like trying to balance on a moving train. I kind of loved it.
“How you don’t want to be mad or sad. Your compassion, it’s really hot” He said and I shook my head at his word choice. Would I ever get used to his wonderful idiosyncrasies?
“Thanks. So are we cool?” I asked
“As cucumbers, which, to be completely honest, are not terribly cool” He said with a sweep of his hair
“Can I help you this afternoon or is what you’re doing today too complicated for a mere dancer?” I asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence and chewing. I had weighed my options for the rest of the day and while I knew I should try to sleep and rest my sore muscles I also knew that I was happier when I was working, especially if I was working with Josh.
“You aren’t a ‘mere’ anything. Of course you can help. Why don’t you bring this stuff to the trash for me so I can organize my thoughts and then we’ll decide which project to tackle together” He said as I smiled. Together, I liked that. I grabbed the trash and climbed down the scaffold, carefully unhooked myself and walked over to where the guys were sitting with their lunches
“Where did you just come from?” Brian asked as I startled him by coming from the opposite direction of the door
“That light tree. I was eating with Josh up in the scaffolding and I’m going to help him focus lights while you all rehearse this afternoon” I said explained
“Look at you. Don’t drop any lights on my head while I’m dancing” He joked as I smacked him playfully in the back of the head
“Dancing? Is that what you call your sorry moves?” I joked back as Nick and Howie reacted and cat called
“Oh that was an ice burn!” Brian said with his hand dramatically over his heart “You’re getting sassy in your old age. I like it!”
“Ok guys, let’s get this started” Fly called as the guys got up from their lunches and moved towards the stage
“I’m sorry if I made things awkward with Mollee earlier. I was just concerned about you. That song is hard for me to hear too” Aj said catching up to me as I turned to walk towards the scaffolding
“It’s ok. I’m not mad at you. Have a good rest of rehearsal” I said platonically as I clipped myself in and began to climb
“When did you become lighting girl extraordinaire?” He asked before I got too far from him
“When I started helping out Josh to distract me” I said without thinking. Again I wished I had learned to take two seconds to think before I spoke. I’m sure Aj didn’t love the fact that his mistake was bringing Josh and me closer together.
“Be careful ok?” He asked and his compassion struck me right in the chest so that I had to pause to catch my breath. I hated the power he had over me, the way he could stop my heart with just one look or hint of kindness. I’d have to get better at this.
“Of course” I said beginning to climb again as I heard Fly call to Aj. I climbed up to Josh and he had spread out an intense light plot that made very little sense to me. I spent the afternoon carefully following his instructions and after a few hours I felt like I was actually helping him as opposed to getting in his way. He didn’t seem to mind either way as he insisted that at least he wasn’t alone. When the guys called it quits we did as well and Josh walked me out after we had removed our safety equipment
“Cute helmet hair” He joked as I tried to save my squished pony tail. It seemed to be a lost cause however, so I just took my hair down and shook it out. I didn’t think it was terribly seductive but when I looked back at Josh with my hair falling lightly in front of my face with its half curled half wavy state I found he was looking at me with the same look he had when he kissed me the night before
“You ok?” I asked after a few moments had passed in silence where he didn’t seem to blink
“Oh, yeah, sorry, you’re just breathtaking sometimes, you know that?” He said sweeping a lock of hair behind my ear. I immediately thought of how Aj used to do that and then I pushed that thought away. No thinking about Aj when you are with Josh.
“I’ll try to tone it down a bit” I apologized as he took my hand
“I wish you wouldn’t” he said quietly as I blushed
“Look at you back with my boy Josh. Watch it buddy she’s got men on the side, I’ve seen it” Scott said as we passed him
“They’re not single” I tried to explain but Scott cut me off
“She admits to being the ‘other woman.’ If you weren’t so hot I’d think you were trouble. What am I saying, it’s because you’re so hot that I KNOW you’re trouble” Scott joked as I sighed
“Goodnight Scott” Josh said with a bit of annoyance as he steered me away from the warehouse and towards my bus. The sun was setting over the water and the view was gorgeous. It struck me how similar this was to last night with the sunset and the cool breeze and Josh holding my hand while making small circles with his thumb on my wrist. We approached the bus in silence and then Josh stopped me
“So. I like you”
“I like you too” I said wishing with all my aching heart that this wasn’t happening
“But you’ve been hurt. Recently” Josh continued as I nodded and looked at the ground
“And you’ve been hurt in your past too” He reasoned as I met his eyes again. What was he getting at?
“Pretty bad” I said softly
“Knowing all that, would it be inappropriate for me to kiss you again?” He asked as I met his eyes. A part of me wanted to kiss him. The second time had been the charm for Aj and me. But there it was, Aj. He was still so much a part of me and I couldn’t get him out of my head even when Josh was standing so perfect and attractive and exciting inches from me with green eyes sparkling and the breeze off of the ocean blowing his hair around his face in a crazy halo.
“I think we should wait. I’ve recklessly followed my heart recently and it didn’t end well so maybe it’s time to listen to the old noggin” I said cautiously gauging his reaction in his eyes
“Alright, fair enough, I’ll see you tomorrow from above. Goodnight bright eyes” He said leaving with a squeeze of my hand. I stood there and watched him go for a while as the battle raged in my head as to if I was making the right decision. I was starting to get cold so I turned to enter the bus but stopped when I heard my name.
“Kat” Aj said from behind me and I hated the shot of adrenaline that sent my heart pounding in my throat
“Hey” I said trying to compose myself
“I…” He started and I waited, watching him try to come up with the words to whatever he was thinking. One minute turned to five and I shivered in the cold breeze “Ok. That’s all”
“What?” I asked as Aj turned and began to walk away. He stopped and took a few quick steps towards me and I froze as he leaned in close to me. At first it seemed like he was going to kiss my neck, something he knew would weaken my knees, and in just the anticipation of it I could feel warmth deep down in me begin to build. His lips got closer and closer to my neck and my breathing became ragged until finally he turned slightly so instead of meeting their destination on my neck his lips brushed next to my ear
“I wanted to make sure you were still mine” He whispered and then turned and walked quickly away. I tried to catch my breath and recover and as I started to free myself from his intensity the annoyance began to build. What was he doing? His, I wasn’t his. I wasn’t anyone’s. I was mine. Annoyed and a little frustrated that I had been in kissing distance with two men tonight but had yet to be kissed I turned and stomped up the steps to the bus. I slammed the door a little harder than I’d meant and Mollee looked up suddenly from where she had been curled up reading on the couch
“Sorry” I mumbled as I plopped next to her
“Want to talk about it?” She asked cautiously as I sighed and rested my head on her shoulder
“Not really” I said
“Ok” She said simply and opened her book. I shifted so my head was on her lap and she entwined her free hand in my hair. As I closed my eyes and centered myself in my big sister’s lap I began to feel guilty for how I’d treated her today
“Hey, I’m sorry about earlier” I said suddenly making her jump again “I’m a mess right now but I have no right to take it out on you”
“Damn straight” Mollee said but she betrayed her act with a small smile and I smiled a bit too before settling in on her lap to think over my options.
“Oh!” I said suddenly sitting up and startling Mollee so badly that she dropped her book
“Is there something you want to say?” She asked sarcastically
“Why won’t you be Nick’s girlfriend?” I asked bluntly as Mollee raised her eyebrow at me
“Where did that come from?” She dodged trying to pick up her book from where it landed on the floor but I intercepted her hand and held it in mine
“Come on. What are you so scared of? He’s a great guy and I know you like him. It’s obvious he likes you” I said as she sighed
“What am I scared of? Seriously, have you looked at yourself recently?” Mollee said as my heart sank. So this was my fault
“Mollee, you’re not me. Just because I suck at relationships doesn’t mean that-” I started but she cut me off
“No, that’s the thing. You are awesome at relationships. Your heart is the biggest of anyone I know. If someone with such a big heart and such a great ability to love can be as hurt as you have been than where does that leave the normal people like me?” She asked for once showing her relation to me by dropping her eyes nervously to the floor
“Molls” I said sympathetically. What could I say? She was completely right. I couldn’t point to any relationship or situation that would make her less terrified to take the plunge with Nick. Of course she was scared.
“Just go get some sleep” She said gently removing her hand from mine and picking up her book. I stood up frustrated in my failure and began to walk towards my bunk
“For what it’s worth” I said turning back to her “I wouldn’t change a thing. The hurt is worth it when you consider how good it feels when you’re in love” I swung myself into my bunk with plans of listening to some music and sorting through my thoughts but I was more tired than I thought so I fell asleep and found myself in the middle of a vivid dream. I was me but somehow not as I registered two forces acting on me from opposite directions. From my left I felt something akin to a summer’s breeze. Everything was light and easy like floating on the top of still water or resting in a swing being rocked by the wind. I felt warm and comfortable, almost drowsy as I basked in the summer sun. Then from my right I felt something strong pull my attention. It was a whirlwind of colors and images and objects all whizzing by so quickly that I could hardly glance at them before they’d pass. My heart thudded as I saw a glimpse of a deep red sunset and then heard the sound of the waves crashing into the shore and I could feel my eyes widen as I tried to take in all the exciting sights and sounds around me. The stretch of a mountain range as it rolled out from the view of its highest peak, the laughter of friends and the clinking of glasses, the darkness and mystery of a dark club as the beat courses through you, your favorite song turned up so loud you love it and it hurts all at once and then a bright light flashed and I was falling, falling with the light summer breeze and the intense dark red sunset, falling with crickets chirping and music pounding through me. Falling and falling until all I saw was nothingness. No sun, no dark, no nothing. And then I hit the ground.