Tara and I played a few more songs together before she stopped to answer the texts that she’d gotten. While she scrolled through her phone I pulled out my own too, wondering if the vibrations I was ignoring were from Will. One of my messages did turn out to be from him but it was just a generic reply to our earlier conversation about his annoying new coworker. I was kind of used to it by now to be honest. I also saw that Tyler had texted me asking what was up. I hadn’t seen him since the first time we met and I honestly wanted to hang out again in a less tense setting. He seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being. We texted pretty much daily and it felt nice. Will didn’t really bring up personal things in our conversations anymore. The more casual he kept it, the easier it’d be for us to move on. At least I suspected that’s what his plan was. It’d be just like last time, except now we weren’t looking towards a reunion.
“My friend Lana just invited us to a party at her friend’s house, you wanna swing by?” Tara asked.
My senses perked up a little. A party didn’t seem to bad, it’d be a nice way to unwind and meet Tara’s other friends. Alicia’s crowd was getting boring and predictable. I could use some new faces in my life.
“Yeah, I’m down,” I said.
Tara put her guitar aside and closed her laptop. We both agreed that we needed to change clothes. I headed to my room and started flipping through my closet for something extra cute to wear. I had to admit that I was slacking on my appearance as of late. Will used to tell me that I looked sexy with messy hair and no makeup on but my recent mornings in the mirror begged to differ. Tara, on the other hand, seemed to look flawless all the time. I couldn’t decide if it was her chic hairstyle, her healthy amounts of sleep, or her enviable body. She had youthful skin which she could probably thank her mother for. I remember her coming over once to drop something off for Tara. That’s when I found out that Tara was half Vietnamese. I knew she looked mixed.
It was easy to notice that Tara’s eyes were bright and lively while my lids seemed to be heavier than before. It took a decent amount of concealer to hide the darkness cradling my sockets. They always got worse when Will left.
When I looked at Tara on those days that she sat cross-legged on the couch, hair tussled and guitar in lap, I wondered if that’s the way he used to see me. Existing beautifully in my own little world, gently in focus. Back when happiness actually shone through my skin instead of hiding away in hollow bones. The perfect candid.
I picked out my clothes and held them up to me in front of the mirror. I tilted my head a bit.
Maybe that’s what I needed, I thought. A post-breakup makeover.
Fuck it. I laid the clothes down on the bed and went to seek out Tara. She had left the bathroom door open just enough to shine some light in the hallway. I called for her and she asked me to join her inside. She had just finished fixing her hair and was lightly dusting some powder over her freckled nose.
“Can I ask you a favor?” I said.
“Sure,” she replied, still intent on touching up her face.
“I want you to help give me a makeover.”
Tara stopped looking into the mirror and turned to face me, her eyes wide in surprise and lips half-curled into a smile.
“For real? You’d be down with that?”
“Definitely. I’ve looked the same for too long… At least that’s how I feel.”
“Well for the record I think you look great. But maybe that just makes you an even better canvas to work on,” she said with a full smile. God this girl is such a sweetheart. I wish I could just settle down with her, wouldn’t that be easy?
I joined her at the hip in the mirror. I pulled my hair up around my face in different directions and leaned in close to get a good look at my facial features. Like me, I figured Will didn’t have an exact “type”. People were just attractive to him or they weren’t. We’ve had enough variety to not be able to pinpoint exactly what we were into. Still, there was always room for bias. I’ve had a weakness for tall boys and angular features since high school. I think he’s into brunettes and long legs. He don’t like a lot of tattoos and preferred long hair over pixie cuts. I didn’t want to make a complete flip in my appearance but I might as well indulge a little. It was, after all, a classic breakup ritual. The impressive part would be to live up to the change not only on the outside but on the inside.
“I think I want a sidecut,” I told Tara. She set her matte lipstick down and buried her fingers in my hair, flipping it to one side and humming to herself in thought.
“I can dig it,” she said encouragingly. “I’ll grab my hair clippers.”
She stepped back out into the hallway to grab the clippers from the closet. I’d always kind of wanted an undercut or part of my head shaved but I didn’t think I could pull it off until now. It’s not like a hung out with a lot of girls who were into alternative styles. Tara was the reigning champion in that department. The most daring thing I’d ever done with my hair was when I wanted it cut like Catherine Zeta-Jones from the movie “Chicago”. My mom surprisingly agreed to it even though she took pride in having a daughter with the same long, beautiful hair as hers. I was worried that it might not look good on me but when we left the salon my mother assured me that it looked nice. This was before we started fighting all the time. On the ride home she told me not to worry about my hair so much because no matter what it will always grow back. It’s comforting to know at least some things in my life are guaranteed to return.
Tara came back with the hair clippers and a towel. I sat down on the toilet while she got everything prepared. She told me that she had always cut and dyed her own hair so I knew that I could trust her with the task.
“Better not shave half my head bald,” I teased as she applied the right size comb to the clippers.
“Oh please, you’re not punk rock enough for that. It won’t be shorter than an inch,” she said. I put the towel around my shoulders and flipped my hair back over to one side.
“Just do the right side up to my part. Don’t go too far back,” I said.
“Gotcha,” Tara replied.
She flipped on the hair clippers and the buzzing filled up the small bathroom. I relaxed my shoulders. She slowly placed it against my head right in front of my ear. As she moved it up I could heard the blades growling low as they severed my hair. She continued doing this and steadily made her way back to just a couple of inches behind my ear. The cut hair came tumbling down from my head and curled up like wispy snakes on my shoulders. When she was finished all that was left was a space filled with short, blunt hairs that curved back and disappeared again under my natural length.
I reached up and felt the freshly-shaved side. The texture of it sent a pleasant tingle through my fingers. Tara invited me to stand up and look in the mirror and when I did I instantly smiled. The cut actually looked really good on me. Like, really good. The kind of good I don’t know why I didn’t try out earlier. Who knew shaving one side of your head could balance out your looks so well?
“You’re a bad bitch now,” Tara teased.
“What’s next on the list hot stuff?”
“I’ll clean up while you pick me an outfit. Fair enough?”
“Giiirllll,” Tara said, rubbing her hands together. “You’re about to look fly as hell.”
“Might as well debut Brooke 2.0 tonight,” I said with a laugh. Tara eagerly turned and left the bathroom. I heard her rustling through my closet only seconds later.
As I cleaned up the bathroom I kept checking my new hairstyle in the mirror, feeling the same as I did after my “Chicago” haircut all those years ago. When I finished cleaning I waited for Tara to join me again in the bathroom. I passed the time by touching up my makeup and taking a few mirror selfies. She soon returned with an armful of clothes.
“Alright I had to throw in something from my wardrobe but it’ll fit you nice. Go ahead and check it out,” she said.
I took the clothes from her hands and laid them out on the counter. She stepped back out of the bathroom to grab her own outfit. She’d brought me a pair of my black skinny jeans that were ripped at the knees. The top was one of her own; a tight burgundy crop top with lace trim. She’d also brought me one of my knit cardigans since it was probably chilly outside. I changed outfits quickly and was again impressed with Tara’s work. She returned to the bathroom in a skirt, thigh highs, and a tied-off sleeveless shirt.
“Damn girl! I see you!” she said as I examined myself in the mirror.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt so…new.“
“Fresh to death, I’m tellin’ ya. Here, throw this on and we’re good to go.”
Tara handed me one of her dark red lipsticks and I added the final touch to my ensemble. Damn. I never thought I’d see myself like this or living with someone like Tara. We took a couple more minutes to take selfies together before leaving the apartment. After that, I posted the good ones on Facebook and Instagram. Maybe he’ll comment on the pictures. Maybe he won’t. I was feeling good and didn’t want to dwell on it. I cared about Will’s opinion but in the end it was for me, not him.
“Let’s roll!” Tara said as we jumped in her car. “By the way, that lipstick is kiss-proof.”
She turned to wink at me before turning the key in the ignition. The car rumbled awake and lukewarm air started blowing in through the vents.
“Kiss-proof huh?” I replied, checking the pigment of my lips in her rear-view mirror. I guess we’ll see if I need it tonight or not.
We drove for twenty minutes, blasting fast-paced music to get ourselves hyped up for our first night out together. The street lights passed over the windshield and illuminated my newfound beauty in brief, warm bursts. Tara had her window down and was flicking ashes out into the air. I pulled out my phone and saw that Will had texted me. My heart jumped modestly with joy.
“Whoa, makeover?” he said. I didn’t know yet if he was disappointed or intrigued. Regardless, it’s too late to change back now.
“Yep. Got bored lol” I replied nonchalantly. I was still trying to keep my nerves in check while I waited for his reply.
“Looks good though 🙂“
Ah, our Shakespearian romance. He then replied saying that he was getting ready to drive somewhere and that he’d text me later. I didn’t read too deep between the lines. He used to like going on drives at this time of night and I knew that he’d been partying with Dalton lately. This was my night to be free. Free of worry, free of stress, free of Will. I should have shaved the side of my head ages ago. It made a good placebo for liberation.
I dug my own cigarettes out of my purse to smoke before we arrived at the party. I noticed that we were in the affluent part of town as we weaved higher through the hills. As the nicotine filled my lungs I felt my head start to buzz delightfully. I grabbed my phone and opened Tyler’s message asking me what was up. I finally typed out a reply:
“Nm. me and Tara are heading to a party near Lakewood“
He was already online and replied quickly.
“Lucky! I been in bed all day haha“
“you wanna go? you wont have to clean up this time lol“
“well I got nothing else to do. sure, where in Lakewood?“
I sent him the address and told him what time we’d be there. He thanked me and let me know that he’d be there soon. Tyler should at least get to know the better side of the girl he lectured and shared a bed with.
“I just invited Tyler,” I told Tara.
“That dude is fucking cool,” she said. They were mutual friends on Facebook and I guess they used to hang around the same circles. Sometimes it felt like everybody knew each other in this town.
“Right?” I replied.
“His big brother is kind of a dick which I don’t get because Tyler and Lance are chill.”
“His little brother. Tyler treats him like gold.”
“Oh yeah, he mentioned something about that.”
I had been getting more talkative and open with Tyler for the past couple weeks. I felt bad about it at first since I had guilt-tripped myself so much about him but Tara told me not to dwell on it. They had basically become my therapists. But sometimes I wondered if they’d care about me as much if they knew me the way that everyone else did. They knew about a few of the bad things I’d done but they didn’t know I had a whole track record of being a shitty person. I guess it wasn’t all bad that they were looking at me with kind and forgiving eyes. When I looked in the mirror, why couldn’t I do the same?
Tara turned onto another street and slowed down, glancing at the GPS on her phone. She told me that the party was at one of the houses on that block. The house number was 2313. We drove further down towards a cluster of cars that were parked at the end of the cul-de-sac.
“This is it,” she said. I looked over at the impressive two-story home. It was alive with energy. There was a small group of people hanging out front clutching red cups and letting the smoke of their cigarettes hover through their conversation. I caught glimpses of more people through the windows as they passed by, some looking out to see if their other friends had come yet. The house had a decent amount of space around it and I knew that the party must have continued in the back. Thankfully there weren’t many neighbors to disturb.
We both checked our faces in the mirror once more before we stepped out. I took one last drag of my cigarette before flicking it out into the street. Tara took a moment to text her friend that we were here before we walked up to the house. I felt my spine begin prickling nervously and I couldn’t understand why. Didn’t I used to love this? These unpredictable nights in new places? The ones that got me in trouble?
A couple guys out front had already noticed Tara and I as we came up the path. I knew those looks well but now they seemed to be even more obvious. When we walked through the door my senses felt like they were impacted by a freight train. My ears tuned in to the loud conversations and bass-filled music playing a couple rooms away. I saw at least a dozen people from various walks of life in the living room alone. Thankfully the house was plenty big enough for even more. My skin was turning hot under the thick, hazy air and the smell of weed and stale cigarettes was rampant. The kitchen and mini bar was just beyond the first bundle of people. Tara set it as our destination and I followed at her heels.
“You can grab a drink, I’m gonna go find Lana,” Tara said to me.
“You coming back here?”
“Yeah just wait for us. Be right back!”
She turned and left me to my own devices. I started browsing through the options of alcohol around the expansive kitchen. There was a large cooler filled with various beer bottles, a full shelf of hard liquor, and two giant tubs of jungle juice. Decisions, decisions…
“Hey babe, you looking for somethin’?”
I looked for the voice and found that it was one of the guys leaning against the bar. He looked like some valley kid who had taken his dad’s credit card to Pac Sun one too many times. I guess there were a lot of rich kids like that at the party now that I was looking around. Most of them were attractive enough; at least physically. They spent their days at the gym and nights out partying. They drank too much beer and had the marijuana tolerance of a ten-year-old. Will and I used to make fun of those kinds of guys, the ones that you couldn’t talk to for more than five minutes without hearing about how many girls they fucked in college. We both saw right through them. Even I knew from experience how they jumped from girl to girl because they were such a disappointing lay to begin with. I may not be able to define what guys I’m into, but I sure as hell know which ones I’m not.
“No I’m alright,” I said simply to him. I quickly decided that I’d take an apple ale and leave the jungle juice for when I really wanted to get fucked up. The blonde beefcake watched me the whole time, taking slow sips of his drink.
“You from around here?” he asked. Shit, here we go.
“Nah, I live south of here,” I used the bottle opener on the wall to get the cap off of my ale. I was doing my best to avoid eye contact with the guy. Tara would have to find me somewhere else. I didn’t want to stay in the kitchen because I knew a full-on interrogation was bound to happen.
“Oh yeah? Well what’s your name?”
I pretended to be looking intently at a text I’d gotten on my phone. I glanced back at him and his pretty, smiling face.
“My friend’s waiting for me. I gotta go find her, sorry!” I said quickly before he could get another question out. He held his arms slightly raised at each side.
“Oh come on, no name?!”
“It’s Hailey!” I called over my shoulder.
Courting people wasn’t the same as it used to be. You didn’t have to give people your number in order for them to get ahold of you. Nowadays all you needed was someone’s name and a little vague information to find them on social media. Hell, even I was guilty of trying to find someone online after a party. Even if I only knew where they went to school it was pretty easy. On the plus side, it was a decent way to do a background check on people before you pursued them. Usually it’s to make sure they’re actually single. However, I once dissuaded a friend from calling back one guy when he turned out to be a self-titled gangbanger on Facebook. He was obviously a poser trying to exploit a culture in order to look “hard”. His profile was complete with heavily-filtered photos of him waving around a gun and blurry pictures of the shitty weed he was selling. If that wasn’t bad enough, his employment was listed as: “Gettin money @ Ca$h Money Records”. Yikes.
I guess I can’t be too peeved with the blondie who was trying to holler at me. I mean, I could be pretty adamantly flirtatious myself. How else are you supposed to show interest quickly? Maybe getting straight to the point was an art within itself. The intentions were clear: “Hey, you’re hot and I want to get to know you so that maybe we can fuck tonight. Or tomorrow. Sound good?”. I was a born hypocrite. I didn’t have much right to act like I hadn’t been in that guy’s place before. Bless him for trying I guess.
Shortly after leaving the kitchen I bumped into Tara again. She got startled so I grabbed her shoulders to let her know that it was me. She started smiling.
“Oh, hey! I found Lana,” she said, nodding over to the girl next to her.
My first impression of Lana was that she looked too nice to be here. She was pretty in a quiet sort of way, more cute-ish than anything. She had honey blonde hair and perfectly cut bangs hanging above her brown eyes. Unlike Tara and I, she wasn’t screaming to be seen in her simple black skater dress. She didn’t look like someone who’d be going home with any of these scuzzy guys. At least I hoped not. I guess there’s that stereotype about the “quiet ones”.
“Hey, Brooke right?” she asked. The bubbly confidence in her voice already told me that she wasn’t as reserved as she appeared.
“Yep, nice to meet you,” I said, reaching out quickly to shake her hand. She was a couple inches shorter than Tara and I.
“Why’d you ditch the bar?” Tara asked as we began weaving back through the living room.
“Oh, some frat boy kept trying to talk to me.”
“Gross,” Tara replied.
Once we got near the kitchen again I was relieved to see that he was gone. Tara and her best friend, Lana, both grabbed their own cups of jungle juice. My phone vibrated against my thigh.
“think I made it.where you at?” Tyler texted to me.
“Hey I’ll be right back, Tyler’s here,” I said to the girls.
“We’ll be chillin’. I’ll keep an eye out for juicehead,” Tara said with a wink.
I began making my way to the front of the house again. The energy of everyone around me was starting to fuel my adrenaline. After this ale I was definitely going to grab some jungle juice. I wanted to have a really good time tonight.
When I got back outside I winced at the cold air and the ringing in my ears. Tyler was just walking up the road from where he parked. I waved at him and when he caught me in his sights he smiled and waved back. I started walking towards him.
“You made it!” I said excitedly.
“That I did,” he replied.
Tyler always looked composed. Everything about his demeanor was light and cool, from the way his cigarette hung slightly to the side of his lips to the effortless alignment of his posture. He was wearing a black letterman jacket, slim dark jeans, and a white tee. His hair was still a bit damp and hung slightly into his face. He must have just showered. I greeted him with a hug and the crisp aroma of his body wash and cologne made me want to stay close.
“Something’s different about you…” he said slowly. I turned my head to one side so that he could see my haircut better. He started chuckling.
“Nah it’s not just that. You seem like you’re happier. In a better place.”
“I am. Living with Tara has been a lifesaver,” I said.
“She’s a good person. Definitely stick around with her.”
“You bet. But before we go inside, could I leave my cardigan in your car? It’s hot in there and Tara’s car is locked.”
“No problem, go ahead.”
Tyler pulled out his keys and unlocked his car. He backtracked with me and waited while I left my cardigan in his front seat. He had a pretty decent looking car, nicer than mine anyway. Tyler sure looked like a “bad boy” but he didn’t act like one. Thank goodness for that.
While we walked back to the house I suddenly felt very aware of myself. It wasn’t just from all the strangers around either. I had a pretty good idea of what the feeling was. In an hour or so I’d know for sure, especially after a few drinks had loosened the bolts in my brain. I glanced back at Tyler’s wandering gray eyes. Here we go again.
Tyler and I met back up with Lana and Tara in the kitchen. After a few brief moments of catching up we all decided to head out back. The music was louder, the people were dancing, and someone had synced up the lights to the sound system so that they’d blink with the music. With everyone moving around I didn’t even notice how cold it was anymore. I started taking more gulps of my fresh drink. I don’t remember the last time I danced.
I put extra effort into finishing the juice off quickly. I wanted to move and join in with the pulse of the crowd. Once my cup was empty and tossed, I handed my body over to the music. Tara was the first to jump among the gyrating bodies and she pulled Lana along with her. She called for me too, smiling and rocking her hips with every beat. I grabbed Tyler’s hand and tugged.
“Ohhhh no, what are you—” he began, laughing as he said it. I looked him in the eyes and held his hand tighter, begging for him to trust me. He shrugged and fell into the crowd with us. Tara made her way over to me and grabbed my hands. We started dancing together and I lost any sense of worry or nervousness. I felt alive again, really alive.
During the song Tara pressed me back into Tyler. Surprised, he caught me around the waist. I looked up at him and smiled. When I glanced over I saw that Lana and Tara had started dancing together. I tuned back into the music and started moving again. I was connected to everything around me, one with the sounds that morphed into my skin and the lights that shined bright as stars in their rhythmic, glorious bursts. I felt like I’d been released from my own prison. For those fleeting moments I forgot Will even existed.
I wanted another drink, maybe a smoke. My body was light but I wanted to feel like flying. After a couple more songs we all stepped away from the crowd. I could feel sweat beading up at my hairline and was glad that I’d set my makeup prior to this. Tara joined me at my side, panting and fanning her face.
“Jesus, I need another drink,” she said breathlessly.
“Saaame,” Tyler replied.
“Ya’ll read my mind. Let’s go,” I said.
We all returned to the kitchen to grab more drinks. Lana grabbed a shot glass and Tara opted for only half a cup of jungle juice. I forgot that the both of them still had to drive. Tyler didn’t seem too concerned as he casually popped open another beer. Before we could go back outside I saw a guy stop Tara and talk to her. At first I assumed it was just another desperate frat boy but it turned out to be someone that she knew. They spoke happily to one another for a few moments before the guy leaned in to Tara’s ear and started whispering. She nodded and I watched them do an exchange of something. Tara returned to us with a mischievous look on her face.
“Anyone down to smoke?” she said, playfully waving a perfectly-rolled joint in front of us.
“Do you even have to ask?” Lana said. “Quiet type“? I was way off.
Tara looked at Tyler and I for approval and we both nodded. I hadn’t smoked weed very much in my life. Cigs and alcohol were already my vices so I just didn’t go out of my way to buy it. Still, I enjoyed smoking whenever the opportunity felt right. It was a simple way to reach a different state of mind and that was definitely my goal this evening.
We found a spot outside to sit and watch everyone else dance. Tara lit up the joint and took a couple of hits before passing it to Lana. Tyler sat next to me and rested his leg against mine. We circled the joint around for a few minutes, making fun of the random party goers and dissing each other for coughing too much. By the third time around I was already feeling my head clouding up. When Tara saw my eyelids dipping she started to laugh.
“Oh my god, you’re gone,” she said.
“Shut up!” I replied, taking more effort than usual to do so.
“Tyler needs to catch up I think,” Tara said. She handed him the joint again.
“Kinda hard to keep up with the Kush Queen over here,” he teased, nudging me in the arm. Lana and Tara burst out laughing.
“Leave me alone,” I whined as I gave into the laughter as well.
I watched Tyler as he took another hit. I could see that he was tranquil but not blazed like I was. When he caught my eyes again his lips curled into a smile. I suddenly felt even more aware of how attractive he was. Loud music. Flashing lights. Bright voices. It was just like the first time I met Will.
No, I did not want to think about Will. I was here, in this moment, living a life without him in my mind and presence for the first time in a long time. I had to take hold of what might be a rare opportunity. Things like this are so easy to deal with when I’m intoxicated. The only bad part is that I don’t know how I’ll handle it sober. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.
Tyler reached into his jacket pocket to pull out a pack of cigarettes. He shook the box and opened it, looking disappointed as he did.
“I’m out of goddamn cigarettes,” he said.
“I have some Djarums,” Tara offered hopefully. Tyler’s face twisted up in disgust as he held up his hand to her.
“Wow, no thanks.”
She clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Picky ass.”
“You’re such a hipster,” Lana teased. Tara rolled her eyes and scoffed at her.
“Don’t you have some?” she asked. Lana nudged open the top of her tiny purse and peered inside.
“Shit, I must have left them at my friend’s house,” she groaned.
“Which friend? Your new boyfriend?” Tara asked. Lana tried to force away her smile as she smacked her in the arm.
“Lana’s finally got a new boyfriend now huh?” Tyler chimed in.
“Noooo—” she began before Tara cut her off:
“Yes! She met some super secret guy at the mall and they’ve been chilling ever since. Don’t even know the kid’s name. Tsk tsk. And you call me your best friend.”
“Don’t even start,” said Lana sternly. Tyler then turned to me, not wanting to add any more fuel to the fire burning between them.
“What about you Brooke? Got any?” he asked.
I patted around my pockets before remembering that I’d left them sitting on Tara’s dashboard.
“I have Reds but they’re in her car,” I told him. Tyler just shook his head.
“Well ladies,” he began to stand up. “Looks like I gotta go re-up because I need menthols.”
“I’ll go with you,” I said, getting on my feet as well. A little quiet time away from all the noise didn’t sound bad at all.
“Fine by me,” he replied.
“What about us?” Lana asked.
“We need you two to hold it down over here, duh,” he said. As Tyler started walking away Lana opened her mouth as if to protest but Tara decided to speak first:
“Damn straight. Go ahead, we’ll be here.”
I turned to follow Tyler out of the yard when Tara suddenly grabbed my arm.
“Hold up! I got you a present,” she said, reaching in her purse and rummaging for something. She pulled out a clear bag with a couple small brownies inside and handed it to me.
“Figured I’d give these to you now before I forget. You can share with Tyler. Y’know, loosen up. Just don’t ditch us here alright?”
She smiled wide and winked at me. Her comment about my lipstick being kiss-proof replayed in my head. Fuck, I thought. I was nervous again. No amount of weed or alcohol was gonna change that. I tumbled easily into other men’s arms before, why not this one?
“We won’t Tara,” I reassured her.
Tyler was waiting for me a few feet away. The crowd in the back yard had thickened to the point that he decided to grab my hand to lead me through. He must have felt my sweaty palms but didn’t say anything. We emerged to the front of the house and the cool air offered me some relief from the heat. My legs did not feel very sturdy and I was suddenly glad that heels were not a part of my ensemble that night. Tyler let go of my hand but I curled around his arm for support instead. He didn’t seem to mind. I keep forgetting that the first time we met I slept beside him on his own bed.
When we got in the car I was happy to sit down again. Tyler was a bit faded but behaved coherently enough that I wasn’t concerned with him driving dangerously. Of course, I was intoxicated so I wasn’t sure how good my judge of character was at the time. Once we had started driving out of the neighborhood I noticed how carefully he was doing things. I’d been in the car with shitty drivers before but he wasn’t really emulating either one.
“Thanks for tagging along,” he said to me as we drove.
“Oh, no problem. Hope you don’t mind,” I replied.
“Not at all. Can’t say I don’t enjoy your company.”
A warm feeling manifested in my chest and spread out to the other parts of my body. Once it happened I was reminded of all the other times that I’d felt this way. It was like hearing a song again for the first time in years but you still knew all the lyrics because you used to sing it all the time. Will was a song I’d sung a thousand times. So was the person before him, and the one sitting next to me now. I’ll always remember the words no matter how much time passes.
“I enjoy yours too actually. This is like, our first time really hanging out though,” I said.
“True, true. But we’ve talked enough for me to know that you’re cool as hell.”
“Really? Well…wow. Thanks Tyler. It means a lot coming from you.”
If I wasn’t fucked up I probably would have stayed quiet. I wasn’t “cool as hell” when I was stuck in my self-dug pit of despair. Nor was I when I cheated on people or lied to them. But maybe I’m too hard on myself. Our breakup was supposed to be all about changing, growing, and leaving things in the past. I have every moment to become and un-become something. If Tyler thought I was doing well then fuck it, I’ll roll with it. It makes me feel like I’m making some progress at least. There’s that placebo effect again: I think, therefore I am.
“You seem to be figuring out how to hold down your own fort,” he said. It made me recall our first exchange of life lessons.
“Yeah well…I’m trying to anyway. You really helped me with that,” I replied. He smiled, eyes still looking down the road ahead. I wanted him to look at me.
“Glad I could be of service. When shit hit the fan with my girl I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. It was pretty bad. Would hate to see you go through something like that.”
I wanted to say more but my brain was already working overtime. I was high, tipsy, and trying to keep Will out of my thoughts while I bonded more with Tyler. Even fear kept trying to creep in and whisper to me about how I’d regret it all in the morning. I didn’t care at the time. At least Tyler was a nice guy and not some random feigning for attention. At least this time I knew I wouldn’t have to come home and hide something from Will again.
I shifted slightly in my seat and I felt something squish beneath me. I leaned over and reach to feel what it was when I suddenly remembered Tara’s gift in my back pocket.
“Oh! Tara gave me these,” I said as I pulled them out. There were a bit smashed now but still together. Tyler glanced over at them in my lap.
“Edibles?” he asked.
“Yeah, she said one’s for you. I’m obviously not gonna have mine right now but…”
“I will. I barely smoked anyway.”
I reached in the bag and handed him his share. He took a bite out of half of it and chewed for a moment, decided whether it was any good or not.
“Hey, these aren’t bad at all,” he said before eating the other half. “Sometimes they can taste weird.”
“Good to know,” I replied. I was already in a decent place and would save mine for later. Probably the next time Tyler and I hung out.
The gas station was only a couple minutes away now. The streets were very empty and quiet around this part of town at night. It was so peaceful that I imagined Tyler and I just strolling the streets together alone. Maybe he’d tell me about how he got his scars or what made him so involved in his little brother’s life. As I dwelled on the images he rolled our windows down and let the cool air flow in. I put my cardigan back on so that I wouldn’t start shivering. He slowed down the car as we approached the gleaming white beacon of the gas station.
When we stepped out of the car I felt the crisp breeze hit my face in an almost sobering way. We were the only ones there. Tyler caught my eyes briefly and smiled again. My skin prickled into pleasant goose bumps. I followed Tyler into the gas station and perused the aisles as he bought his cigarettes.
“You want anything?” he asked kindly.
“No, no, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
I looked around. I did want something to help keep me steady for the rest of the night. Plus I needed some hydration to relieve my cotton mouth. Quickly, I grabbed a Gatorade from the cooler and brought it up to the front. Luckily I didn’t have the munchies yet.
Tyler bought the Gatorade for me and I thanked him with a hug. He wrapped an arm around me as he took his card back from the cashier. We walked out of the gas station with me still beneath his arm. Once we were outside, he let go so that he could pack his cigarettes and open them. He handed me a fresh one after I took a few drinks of my Gatorade.
“Thanks Tyler,” I said.
He took a drag of his cigarette and the cherry lit up in his eyes. The flame in them made me forget about how cold it was. We left the entrance and headed back to the car where it sat glowing underneath the white gas station lights. I reached the doors first and leaned my back against them, still pressing the cigarette to my lips. Tyler began pacing carefully in random paths around the gas station, leaving little clouds of smoke where he went. He looked like he was thinking about something and I was really curious as to what it was. Still, I did my best to look cool and uninterested as I leaned against the car. Eventually he threw his cigarette aside, the butt of it bursting into yellow embers on the concrete.
Tyler walked towards me again and it felt like everything was going in slow motion. I could see him looking up and down at me. I saw his chest rise as he inhaled a deep breath. My skin burned with anticipation the closer he got. I knew this song better than any. He leaned against the car with me and I felt his arm rubbing against mine. I started taking in my nicotine a bit faster.
“So tell me the truth,” he began. A chill manifested in my heart and started filling up my veins. I fearfully took another drag and hoped that the smoke would stifle my nerves.
“Are you really doing better? Or you just don’t want anyone worryin’ about you?” he finished. My heart carefully gave me my pulse back.
“I’m…yeah. I’m doing better. I really am.”
“You promise?” I could feel his eyes on me again.
“Promise,” I said, meeting his gaze. I did feel like I was doing better, mostly because from here on out it looked like things were only going to get better. I wasn’t sniveling alone in my room anymore. I had Tara’s friendship. Will’s friendship. I’ll probably have Lana’s. And now I had Tyler. Yeah, things are getting better. The hardest part was believing it.
“Good,” he said simply.
“Why do you care about me so much?” I asked. Tyler looked unfazed by the question.
“What’s it to you?” he replied teasingly.
“I just…I don’t know,” I groaned. I probably should have come up with a plan before I spat that question out. Luckily Tyler seemed kind of amused by it in the way that someone would react to anything that was pleasant yet unexpected.
“You don’t know huh?” he said.
He started laughing at me and I couldn’t help but join in. The cross-fade was again becoming apparent. The last fucks I had to give were being released like birds in small flurries from their cage.
“I just find it funny—like really funny—that my ex can barely say more than two sentences to me now but I could talk to you for hours,” I said.
And then, ever so slightly, the flurries hesitated. If I was sober, I would have probably burst into tears. The sad realization of the truth in my words could not penetrate my drunken skin, however. It wasn’t funny but I would survive that fact. I wouldn’t go falling back into a mess, not after Tyler admired me for my resilience. I saw his own face fall for just a few moments as he felt the underlying weight of my recklessly strewn words.
“Hours huh?” he said, shaking himself of the awareness. “Then why didn’t you?”
“What? Why didn’t I—are you mad at me?”
“No no, not at all! I was just wondering why… you kept your distance until now.”
I knew why. Tyler and I may have talked a lot but I never called him on the phone. I never asked him to hang out or invited him over. I would just text him throughout the day, open up to him and give him mini updates on my life. Compared to the other guys in my inbox, he talked to me more like a human being than a conquest. Maybe it was just my girlish tendency for being hopelessly romantic, or maybe I did see something in him that was real. He at least seemed more interested than Will did. Tara had been encouraging me to move on and do things for myself, things that would actually be good for me instead of just doing things out of spite or rebellion. There was a reason why Will and I weren’t good for each other. There was a reason why I couldn’t just settle down and give in to him. There’s a reason why two people can be together for years, break up, marry the next person they date, and stay with that person forever. I thought Will was the only good thing about me. I was constantly hanging between being selfish and self-loathing. Will, on the other hand, depended on me to save him from himself. Then he felt like a failure because his love couldn’t “fix” me. Even I thought his love could fix me at one point. It couldn’t. It couldn’t fix either of us. That’s when reality hit; The love I pictured Will and I sharing in my head may have never been plausible at all. It’s just like everyone’s told me: Sometimes two people love each other but aren’t meant to be together.
“I’m not scared anymore,” I said to him. I felt the most sober that I had all night. I had fallen for Will once but it was time for me to stand up.
“Scared? What was there to be scared of?” Tyler replied.
“I dunno I just… never realized it before. Tyler, what if I’ve been wrong this whole time?”
He looked bewildered at me. “Wrong about what?”
“About love, about Will, about me. You and Tara were so right about everything. I was too busy hating my goddamn self to just chill out and see that—oh my god. I’m so stupid.”
“Whoa now,” Tyler said, stepping away from the car to face me once again. My hands had begun moving around the way they always do when I’m frustrated. I took a long drag of my cigarette and stared into the windows of the gas station.
“I didn’t mean to ignite a quarter-life crisis,” he said apologetically.
“No no, I needed it. I can’t let this control my life anymore. It’s time to let go. It’s just like you told me. Tyler, you’ve been through this. You know the feeling,” I looked into his sympathetic eyes.
“I do, believe me I do. And I let it eat away at me for a lot longer than you did. You should give yourself credit where it’s due.”
“I want you to answer my question again, for real this time: Why do you care about me so much?”
He smiled as if he was amused by my persistence.
“Remember how I said I was practically the in-house therapist? I talk to people a lot. People lean on me, they seek me out for advice. For some it’s just a one time thing you know? Guy’s ex shows up to the party and he doesn’t know what to do. Girl finds out that her boyfriend is fucking her best friend. Mostly relationship stuff, obviously, because that’s what most people obsess over nowadays. Anyways, my point is that I’ve interacted with all kinds of people. You? You stuck out to me.”
“How? What made me different from like, any other girl you’d talk to?” I asked.
I wasn’t expecting Tyler to put me on a pedestal. In fact, I didn’t want to hear that he thought I was perfect and mesmerizing from the moment he met me. I didn’t want to sound like “the one”. That used to be all I ever wanted to hear. Right now I just wanted to understand.
“I’ve met girls like you before, I’m not gonna bullshit around and act like this is a Disney movie. But everyone makes different choices in life. The difference between you and ‘Cindy Lou Who’ with the weepy eyes and the tragic backstory? Pretty clean cut to me. You didn’t fuck me as a revenge tactic against your ex. You didn’t fall off the face of the Earth after I helped you out. You didn’t pretend to fall in love with me after a week. I mean, if that’s what they had to do to make themselves feel better then more power to em’, I’m no saint myself. But don’t expect me to stick around. Those people aren’t worth investing in. You are.”
“So what if you had no comparison? Would you still have…”
Before my heart could go cold again and before I could bring my cigarette to my lips for comfort, he was standing right in front of me, hands resting lightly on my shoulders and eyes looking directly into mine. I parted my lips and let my cigarette fall from my fingers. I saw him glance down briefly at the embers as they burst on the ground. He looked back at me with fire in his eyes.
“Yes. I would.”
I wanted to kiss him. My whole body was practically screaming for it to happen. But I needed to take my time to see him, to observe the honesty in his face and feel the softness of his touch. I could sense him waiting for me.
“Is that the answer you were looking for?” he asked. He had no idea that it was so much more.
“Yes,” I replied. Before he could speak, before any thought could interrupt this moment, I grasped the front of his jacket and pulled. His lips fell against mine as our desire for closeness was finally fulfilled. No shame. No fear. Just me and him.
10 months ago I got lost in love. Now, I was beginning to find myself again.