Promise Not To Fall

Daniel was waiting outside for me with an Uber. After our little rendezvous I texted him asking if he wanted to come with me to see my mom. I was panicking so hard before sending that text my palms were getting clammy, I left fingerprints on my cell from the heat. In all honesty, I didn’t know what I was more nervous for, seeing my mom and her beau and possibly my half-brother after so long, or having my ex-boyfriend—oh wait, scratch that, ex-fiancé—tag along.

I was biting the skin around the rim of my nail, thinking about all the questions I could be bombarded with. I clearly didn’t think this through.

“Relax,” Daniel said to me as we got out of the car. “You’re so edgy. You’re acting like you’re preparing for the Spanish Inquisition.”

“I might as well be.”

He rolled his eyes and gently pushed me from behind. “Come on.”

“I didn’t ask you to come along so you can tow me, you know,” I said.

“So why did you then?”

I paused, wrangling my brain to find an answer. I sighed and rang the doorbell. Daniel smiled, and childishly, I stuck my tongue out just as the door flew open.

“Hiiiiii mom!” I gasped.

She literally scratched her earlobe. “Hello. Come in, come in.” She tucked me in a warm embrace, her arms wrapped around me feeling like a cloud. “It’s been so long, honey.”

“Hi,” I repeated. This time a lot less shrill.

“Daniel!” She leaned in and perched her chin onto his shoulder. “How are you, sweetie?”

“I’m fine, Mrs. Parker. How’s everything?”

“Oh, fine, fine, fine. Well, come in. I’m almost finished setting up.”

Daniel and I plonked on the sofa as my mom dove into the kitchen. I scanned the living room like a stranger assessing their surroundings.

“Looks different,” I muttered.

“You haven’t been here in a while,” Daniel said.

“That’s the third time I’ve heard that today.”

Daniel furrowed his brows. “Me? Your mom? And…?”

I bit my lip. “Janet.” Did I really want to tell him how my mind was overreacting again? Best to leave the crazy at bay as much as I can.

A cluster of picture frames huddled on a table in the corner caught my attention. I walked over and checked each one. I scoffed. “All new frames. All new pictures.”

“So?”

I pursed my lips. “It’s like she couldn’t wait to get rid of the memory of my dad.”

“Give her a break, will you, Anna?”

“What? It’s not like I’m keeping a grudge.” I glanced at Daniel staring intently, with a lifted brow, back at me. “What?”

He shook his head. “You said it not me.”

“Pretty sure you’re here for moral support.”

“I am. I’m morally supporting your mom,” he laughed.

I cracked a smile and rolled my eyes.

We got called to the dinner table with a feast fit to feed the entire Kardashian family if their asses needed sustenance. My stomach was full from last night but I couldn’t hold back. I figured if I didn’t keep eating I’d have to face my mom and Jim. I believe they call this emotional\stress eating. Jokes.

“So,” my mom darted her eyes between Daniel and I. she finally settled on the easier one. “How are you two doing?”

“Fine,” Daniel nodded. He looked at me. I nodded in agreement. At this point I still hadn’t even glimpsed Jim. He was hard to ignore though, he sat from across me and at times I noticed him looking at me from my peripheral vision. Fun fact (but not really): I used to pronounce ‘peripheral’ like ‘peri-feral’ when I was younger. I guess it was more fun that way.

“So, what do you do in New York?” My mom asked after a long pause.

Daniel started babbling away. My mom stared at him thoughtfully, nodding her head and smiling whenever the appropriate opportunity presented itself. They went back and forth like Jim and I weren’t here. I took one swift look at Jim and he threw up a little smile mid-chew, his food bulging through his cheek. I smiled back, unintentionally half-assed.

“I’m going to use the bathroom,” I said, pushing out my chair.

“Honey,” my called, “use the one upstairs, the one down here has some construction going on.”

“Okay.”

I skipped the stairs more rapid fire than a bunny rabbit and used the bathroom. As I was coming back, I noticed a door ajar. My old room. the walls were a neutral yellow. Not the way I left it. I peeked through and saw toys near a box in the corner, a mat on the floor, a changing cot, and crib by the window, it’s curtains fully closed.

My baby brother was sleeping soundly on his back, with his arms raised above his head like he’d been stopped by the police. He’d grown so much. I think. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him.

This whole time I felt like my mom traded one for the other; her husband for Jim, and me for her newborn son. Words can’t describe the shame that came with the agony I felt. I knew she wasn’t making a trade, that this was just life, it goes on, it moves, it lives, but for some reason, I couldn’t put my selfishness behind me. Every time I saw my mom I’m reminded of the time she didn’t tell me my dad passed away. And every time I felt like it was my fault either way, despite her being a willing scapegoat. I hated that for a long time I hated her, and I hated that for a long time, she allowed me to hate her. No winners.

“He said his first word recently,” Jim said. I jumped around. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“—No, it’s okay.”

He walked to the crib and stood beside me. “He pointed at a chair and said ‘chair’ twice. It was done breathily though so it’s up for debate on whether or not he meant ‘cha-cha’. We think the former,” he joked.

I nodded. “Sounds more plausible.”

“Yeah.”

I gulped. “I didn’t mean to barge in…”

“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s your house, too.”

“Yeah, well, I think that’s up for debate, too.”

Jim looked down and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Look, uhh, Anna, I, umm, I don’t want you to think we’re pushing you out. More so, that I’m making your mom push you out. I want you to be here with us and be a family and I hope our son grows up with a big sister.”

“That’s nice,” I muttered. It was all I could think to say.

“I know it’s weird sometimes, but I just want you to know that I’m on your side. We both are.” He paused. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”

I narrowed my eyes and thought. “You’ll never replace my dad, you know.”

He smiled, politely. “I don’t intend to. He was a great man.”

“You met him?”

“Oh, yeah. Plenty of times.”

“He is a great man.”

“I can only hope to do such a good job as he did with you.”

I smiled, reminiscing on all the times my dad refused to buy me a Barbie when I nagged incessantly. That, when he brushed and styled my hair when I was younger, I preferred his way as opposed to my mom. I remembered the clunky way he ran as he got older, the drugstore cologne he used, the way he let me score a goal between two posts in the backyard and when I hit a flower bed he consoled me by telling me he would take the blame.

“You will,” I said. “You already are.”

“Yeah? You think so?” he beamed, his grin super wide.

“Yeah. You already are.”

***

“Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Daniel asked as he escorted me to my hotel room. “I mean, after the awkward silences, once you came back from the bathroom it just all got simpler.”

“Yeah, I think it was a good time. Doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a tad bit difficult.”

“But you did good.”

“Yeah.”

“How’s your tattoo?”

I peered down at the cute little panda. “No regrets.”

He grinned. “I’m glad. Same here.”

“So, I guess this means I’ll see you.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re going back to New York.”

He smiled. “I had fun. I mean, I loved spending time with you where we didn’t hold resentment for each other for once.”

“Yeah, it was a good run.”

“You know, I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, but I want to visit you some time.”

“You did.”

“I’ll text you some time about it.”

“I’d like that.” And it was the truth. Before I didn’t feel comfortable with him dropping by because I thought we’d just be angry at each other, but now, I was looking forward to it.

“Okay,” he stepped closer, “I guess I’ll see you.”

I had my back against the wall and could feel the heat from his body. “Yeah,” I breathed, staring at his lips and then lifting my eyes back up.

He smiled and cupped my face. I closed my eyes, awaiting the inevitable.

He pushed his lips onto mine and all my yearning for him exploded. He moved a hand down to my waist and clutched me closer. I felt him hard and it only made me want him more. I turned around and fumbled with my key card as he pulled my hair aside and kissed down my neck.

“Goddamnit,” I hissed.

He chuckled breathily, and the air rapidly hit my neck in flutters, tickling me. I finally got the door opened and I threw my clutch and our jackets onto the floor. We kicked off our shoes, and I undressed him—I unbucked his belt, and got on my knees and slipped him inside of my mouth. I circled the rim of the tip with my tongue and inched him deeper and deeper. He threw his head back momentarily and jutted his hips out for me, gently stroking the side of my face as I bobbed back and forth. I licked up his abs and balled up his shirt as I did until I pulled it over his head.

He lowered his head onto my chest and pushed my breasts up. He stuffed his face and I giggled, unable to catch my breath as he pulled my top down underneath my bra, and the cups of my bra underneath my breasts. He hungrily swirled his tongue over my nipples and clutched one between his lips. He tore my top off and I kicked my jeans away. He picked me up, my legs wrapped around his waist, and tossed me onto the bed. He crawled over me and kissed me once. Twice. Before lowering his head down to my thighs. I wriggled underneath his soft pecks. He pulled my underwear off, and I flinched once I felt his wet lips and tongue between my thighs. He moaned, and I gasped when he slid two fingers in while he sucked my clit.

I rustled his hair with my free hands. He pulled up and towered over me. He kissed my chest before he pushed inside of me. He filled me up in a way I missed. And as his brows furrowed and he peeked down to glance where we connected, I could tell he missed it too. He thrusted in harder and harder. I turned him over onto his back and lifted my hair as I moved my hips back and forth. He slapped my ass and gripped my thighs, leaving red hand marks and sizzles vibrating my skin. Once I felt my toes curl and the blood rush, I came. He flipped me over onto my hands and knees and slapped his hips against my beet-red ass until he grunted and held me tighter when he came, digging his fingertips into my hips.

We panted and crashed onto the pillows where Daniel embraced me all through the night.

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W\O u, Tattoo

“So, it’s with great pleasure that I announce Stanley and I are getting a puppy!” Janet squealed the last word, the high-pitch piercing my ears.

I looked down and smiled. I noticed that my nails were digging into Daniel’s hand. He shook his head when I smiled apologetically to him and curved my brows upwards.

The night went on, I congratulated Janet and Stanley on getting a new addition to the family. I wanted to meet the puppy more than I wanted them to have a baby; how sad is that?

“Want to get out of here?” Daniel asked.

We hugged one of the walls of the house, in the shadows, away from most of the crowd. I sipped my water. “And go where? Everything’s closed.”

“Not everything.”

“Oh?”

“I happen to know a little dessert place that are open late tonight. If we catch them, we can grab something.”

“Dessert? The pie wasn’t enough for you?”

“You know me,” he rubbed his stomach.

I chuckled. “Alright, let’s go.”

“I hope you don’t mind…” Daniel trailed off once I noticed his motorbike.

Oh, that’s right. I shook my head. “No, it’s okay. I haven’t seen you on your bike in a long time.”

“I’ve missed it.”

We swerved the roads and dodged anything in motion you can name. my heart was racing, I forgot how fun it was to be on a bike. On Daniel’s bike. This little dessert hot spot doubled as a restaurant, but we decided to take ice-cream take away and perch on some steps.

“You seem different,” I finally said after some time of silence.

“Good different?”

“Really good different. I mean, you seem a lot happier.”

“I am.” He sighed, freely. “I don’t know what it was or how it happened, but I just stopped feeling sorry for myself at one point. Sounds weird, I know. But there was a moment where a switch just shut off and I thought, I can choose to be a miserable son of a bitch for the rest of my life, or make a better situation out of myself.”

“So zen-like of you.”

He laughed. “Yes, the Dalai Lama would be proud. No, I mean, of course I have bad days. Of course. And I’m not claiming to be perfect; I still get angry, sad or jealous, or whatever, but I think I’m learning to deal with it better.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you seeing a therapist?”

He grinned and nodded. “I am. She’s fantastic.”

“Oh, a ‘she’, huh?”

“Shut up,” he shook his head and rolled his eyes playfully.

I snickered. “I’m honestly really happy for you. It feels like you back in college again.”

He pretended to flip his hair. “The cool, brooding guy, right?” he flung his arms and smacked the cone against his chest. “Ah, shit.”

I laughed. “Totally. Oh, so cool.”

“Oh, shut up.” He bobbed my cone into my face.

The icy cream dotting the tip of my nose. I gasped, my mouth gaped open. “I can’t believe you did that!”

He laughed and licked his thumb. It looked so sexy I was momentarily distracted.

“Do you still feel like you?” He asked seriously.

I blinked myself a couple times out of his sexiness. “Umm, yeah, no, not all the time.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Umm….” I said in a pitch only dogs could hear.

“Okay, okay, okay, fair enough. You know, sometimes it helps if you do something reckless.”

“Reckless?” I lifted a brow. “Like, paying the cell phone bill slightly late?”

“No, like, I don’t know, skydiving or bungee jumping or—”

“—do all your ideas involve a close call with death?”

“Okay,” he mused, “a tattoo.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, okay.”

“No, I’m serious. Let’s you and I get tattoos.”

“We’re not getting matching tattoos, are you crazy?”

“Not matching. You’re the one that’s always talking about getting a cute tattoo, you even had one in mind, remember?”

“That was a long time ago.”

“Do it now. I’m with you. Come on, how many times have you talked about getting a tattoo?”

I thought about it for a moment. “There is this cute panda—”

“Done.”

I laughed shakily. “I don’t know. What tattoo parlour is even open now? I good one, not a trashy, underground basement-slash-bomb-shelter one.”

“My boy Carter as a shop.”

“You’re ‘boy’?” I smiled, teasingly.

He held out his hand. “Are you in or are you out?”

A firework went off, blasting the night with warm fluttering sparks of light, it was like looking at Daniel under a closely lingering sea of stars. The moment was too perfect to let go just yet.

It stung like hell, but it was worth it.

Where Have You Been?

I am obsessed with the rain.

Growing up, my favourite moments in the night were listening to the wind plough the leaves. Without the rain, there was always a perfect calm non-existent anywhere else in life. There would be a comforting silence, almost identical to the one I’d only experience after sex with someone I loved, huddled together, not needing to talk, not needing anything. Time would stand still. With the rain, it was like adding a blissful smile to the mix. Almost melancholic, because you know it’ll end soon, and that’s disheartening, but you enjoy it for the moment.

Daniel reminded me of every feeling I used to feel when I felt those sleepless calm and breezy nights or wistful rains. His dimple pronounced his smile, his eyes crystallised amber, his muscled frame more toned now than I remember in New York. He wore a leather jacket and thick jeans, towing a helmet under his arm before dropping it at the coat hanger.

We sat down at the dining table when Janet called dinner was ready. Daniel and I sat next to each other, having not planned to sit together but rather drew to each other like magnets.

“How are you?” he asked, twirling his index finger in the palm of my hand as we waited for Janet to add the last bowl of greens onto the table.

I grinned, butterflies swarmed my stomach and swelled a flame. “I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m good,” he chuckled. It was contagious.

It was as if we hadn’t seen in each other in years.

The night carried on with all sorts of stories and conversations. Neither Daniel nor I hardly paid attention to any of them. I was interested in a lot of what was going on with Daniel since I last left him. Oh, even saying that ran a shiver down my spine. I left so much.

“…and how’s your father?” I asked.

The corner of Daniel’s mouth twitched minutely. “He’s okay. We’re okay-ish. We’re really cordial with each other. Strangely so. The way we talk to each other, if we ever talk, is really business-orientated. Like, we’re not even father and son anymore. Which is cool. I’m okay with that. I don’t want to pretend it’s anything else.”

I wondered if that had anything to do with my leaving.

“How’s the, uhh…” How do I put it delicately?

“The spawn of Satan?” That’ll work. We both laughed awkwardly. “No, uhh, we don’t…I don’t…they have they’re life and I have mine.”

“Oh.”

“That sounds bad doesn’t it?”

“No, I mean…” I shrugged.

“It’s okay, you can say it.”

“You make it sound so easy to cut off someone with so much certainty.”

“Not easy,” he shook his head, looking down for pause and trying to gather his thoughts. “I don’t know how to explain it.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Well, speaking of which, how’s your half-brother?”

My heart paced, I tried to act cool. “He’s good.” I looked away and bit my lip, acting as if I’m searching for beans or corn or some shit.

In all honesty, I hadn’t seen him in a long time. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I did see him. So, I was dreading Thanksgiving dinner with my mother and her baby and beau. Call me crazy, call me chicken, call me what you will, but half the people wouldn’t talk shit if they were in the same position.

“What about your book?”

I furrowed my brows. “My book?”

“Yeah, the one you sent to an editor? Had it, you know, edited?”

“Oh, oh, yeah,” I laughed nervously, “yeah, umm, I’m still working on it.”

“You better be,” he smiled.

I smiled back. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d slowed down like I was trudging through thick mud. When the editor gave back my manuscript, there were so many notes on it that it was bleeding. For some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to edit. Then, I got caught up with this full-time gig at the magazine alongside some freelance work, I made the excuse that I was too busy to work on my dream.

Somehow, the topic of discussion at the table reverted to transgender dating.

“Honestly,” some guy said, “if you were dating a girl and you found they used to be a guy—”

“—how long did it take me to find out—” another replied.

“—no just wait—”

“—how serious are we?—”

“You don’t get details in this hypothetical, that’s the beauty of a hypothetical.”

“Okay, go on then.”

“So, you’re dating and you found out they used to be male, would you keep dating them?”

“Nah man,” the second one shook his head. “I wouldn’t.”

“Why?”

“He does this all the time,” Janet rolled her eyes at me and shook her head.

“It’s a good question, though, right,” the first guy said to Janet once he heard.

“It’s a hard question,” Janet replied.

“Come on,” the first guy nudged the second at his elbow, “what’s your reason for being transphobic?”

“Fuck you,” the second one spat. “Nah, it’s just the trust is gone because they hid it this all time.”

“Nice one dude,” a girl jumped in and winked, “pick the diplomatic answer.”

“It’s a good fucking answer,” the first one said.

Daniel and I smiled. I just wanted to go back to our world.

“Alright, wait,” the first guy continued, “what if they told you?”

The second guy thought for a moment. “No, definitely not.”

The conversation went from politics, to music, to Kanye—we practically considered all things. I hadn’t anticipated the conversation to get deep and meaningful at times, but it was a real eye-opener, I started wondering about my own views on certain things.

The evening began to die down. Food was almost all consumed. Janet stood up and clinked her glass.

“I have an announcement to make,” Janet smiled. “As many of you know, Stanley and I have been dating for a long time. We were first introduced to each other by our amazing friends—” she threw out a flat hand at us— “Anna and Daniel—” Daniel and I smiled bashfully, unknowingly put on the spot— “we’ve been through thick and thin and I somewhat can relate to Charles Dickens when he wrote ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’—” she giggled, “but now, Stanley and I wanted to let everyone know—” she placed a hand on her stomach and my heart began to quicken.

Through my forced smile I was selfishly devastated. Janet was pregnant, I know it, and I’m happy for them but I just felt like it was too soon. It was all changing too fast. I’d grown sick of Facebook updates of people posting their marriages and proposals and new houses and pregnancies, and meanwhile, I was a mortifyingly single nomad, still renting property, and averse to having children. I had to remind myself like a mantra: be happy for her, be happy for her, be happy for her. I didn’t want to ruin it for her, but it’s not fair. I wanted more time with my best friends.

Meeting Him For The First Time, Again

I’m hardly an app-oriented person. I just never saw the intrigue behind downloading a game purely to pass the time. I’d grown up my whole life thinking I spent enough time on my phone to the point where I shouldn’t bother downloading extra incentives to be glued to the screen. That was until I found this game called Love Nikki – Dress-up Queen and the title alone speaks for itself. I wouldn’t say I’m totally obsessed with the game since I go weeks without even looking at the app, mostly because the app isn’t on the front page of my cell, but it’s the only app that’s stayed on my phone this long. The basic point of this game—and I shit you not—you play a character in an alternate reality where people battle each other by picking out outfits. The best outfit wins. Instagram had this app advertised and I don’t even go for ads like that anywhere let alone Instagram, but curiosity got the best of me and it was the first advertised app I’d ever downloaded and I’ve yet to delete it.

I was on my phone playing this game when I got a phone call from Lucy. As soon as her name popped up I immediately felt a yearning for all of them. I’d spent so much time in that small town I was beginning to cherish it despite the distance from Chloe, Jodie and Janet. I wished I could just bunch them all up in one place and stay there forever. Even Chloe was visiting from Chicago. Did I tell you? She got a promotion and moved to a firm up in Chicago. It’s as if college never happened sometimes.

“Heeeeey we miss you!” Lucy exclaimed. I heard Katya and Vivian chirping in the background.

“I miss you guys too!”

“You’re coming back for Christmas, right?”

I nodded. “Sure am.”

“Good, because when it’s snowing it’s like being in a snow globe,” Katya said.

Being in a snow globe doesn’t sound so appealing when I put it in Alice Sebold’s context. And that was all I could think of until thanksgiving dinner. I had been researching other works by Alice Sebold and, other than The Almost Moon, Lucky, and The Lovely Bones, she’d written nothing else. I wondered if anyone missed her. Her work stood out in the way that honey moved at a glacial speed, all consuming and rich in texture. Her words stuck to the roof of your mouth and were swallowed layer upon layer until the last drop, the last word trickling down like the wheezing hippopotamus in Jumanji. This is the last one; this is all I have left; I am done.

What is it about thanksgiving time that makes people look in retrospect and contemplate their life? Thanksgiving is the pivotal moment to look back and New Year’s provided the resolutions for the future. They worked hand in hand, didn’t they? Like Thelma and Louise; hated and loved.

I’d gotten to Janet’s before the festivities began and helped her set up the table. Turns out she’d invited more people than the one dining table could manage so she arranged for a long-ass, last supper looking table outside under a foray of white tents thin enough to see the stars. She was still cooking when people started rolling in and popped out every so often to greet them with Stanley and then they both vanished back into the kitchen. I’d somehow got stuck being a budget hostess and helped with drinks and greeting people as well, most of which I had absolutely no idea who they were and wondered if they’d find it strange that Janet and Stanley’s poor man’s bartender is sitting at the table with them. The bartender being me, of course.

Then, I saw familiar faces burst through the front door. Chloe had kept her hair short, but instead of it being a blunt bob she accented it with some curls. Jodie was showing off thick, tanned legs for the winter after coming off the coast of Australia on holiday with her new girlfriend, Tatiana; an equally mesmerising Adriana Lima clone.

“Hiiiiiii,” I squealed, throwing my hands out and running to Chloe and Jodie for hugs. I hugged Tatiana Lima (see what I did there?) a lot less tight than the other two.

“Okay, before we get down to anything tonight,” Chloe held up her hands palms out, “I have to borrow those shoes,” she said, pointing down at my feet.

“You like?” I twirled.

“I love!” Chloe said in an Italian accent, before kissing her fingertips and then flexing those fingers back.

“I’m after Chloe,” Jodie added with all the seriousness of a hunter ogling its prey.

The hemline of my long-sleeved, chiffon, fall-toned floral dress peaked just below my butt, inches away from my black Stuart Weitzman over the knee boots. I’d been going for a reddish-chocolate mood and my brown with black and gold accent press-on nails matched the ensemble perfectly. Lucy would kill me if she knew I preferred press-on nails.

“You guys know me, you know how I used to fool around a lot,” Jodie said to me and Chloe as Tatiana was getting us a few drinks. “Well, I thought Tatiana was going to be the same, and it was for a while, but then we started, I don’t know, as corny as this sounds—” she rolled her eyes— “we started connecting. It wasn’t just fun, but it was engaging and stimulating, and I started feeling all these feelings I hadn’t felt of much before. It honestly feels great.”

“So, you guys are serious?” Chloe asked.

Jodie nodded. “Yeah. Is that weird?”

“That’s awesome, Jodie,” I said.

“Yeah, what are you even talking about weird for? Weird doesn’t even exist nowadays.” Chloe furrowed her brows.

Jodie sighed. “It just feels so good.”

Tatiana came back carrying our drinks on a tray, somehow becoming the new hostess. We started getting to know her thoroughly, literally interrogating the poor girl, I’d like to defend myself by saying Chloe was doing most of the interrogating. We had somehow become good cop, bad cop.

I trickled away when my heart tumbled at the sight of man bearing the same likeness to Daniel, although, as he got closer, it wasn’t him. I told everyone I was going to get another mocktail when on my way there the front door opened and in came Daniel. With his brown hair and green eyes; his leather jacket and towing his motorcycle helmet underneath his arm. My heart began to pound. He greeted a few people on his way in. I was waiting for him to notice me, but he just kept catching sight of everyone else. My heart slowly started to calm down and I continued onwards to the bar when he went into the kitchen.

“You look familiar, do I know you from somewhere?” a deep voice asked.

I smiled at how coy and cute Daniel was being, but when I twirled it was none other than a complete stranger and my smile grew wider at the mistake. I started to go a bit red. “Oh, no, I don’t think so. Hello.”

“You here by yourself?” He leaned in closer, his bushy beard inches away from my face.

“Yeah—no, my girlfriends are out there,” I said, pointing to the back.

“Girlfriends, huh?” He wriggled his brows.

My cheeks tightened and lifted in disgust. Not at the thought of my girlfriends but at the thought of him with all of us. Is that weird? “Yeah,” I said. “The friends.” He knows what I mean, why am I even trying to clarify?

“I have to go,” I said.

“Well, here’s my card if you ever want to have some fun.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I bolted faster than Usain.

I thought the tap on the shoulder was him trying to catch up to me and give me his card, but I kept walking. Then I heard a hearty laugh. “Anna, it’s Daniel, wait up.”

I stopped in my tracks and he bumped into me, grunting. I turned around. “Hey,” I breathed.

He’d never looked better. Toner body, skin a healthy glow, dimples still popping behind the veil of sexy stumble, his brown hair shined as if he just got off the set of a Pantene commercial; I couldn’t believe how hot he looked and how much of him I had forgotten.

It was meeting him for the first time, again.

Remember Martin?

Remember Martin? He was the owner of the bar where I worked while at college. Well, I flew back home for thanksgiving and the first thing the girls and I did was visit the bar. Not for any special occasion but to catch up in a nostalgic arena. Everything was exactly the same; the lights glimmered orange, the floors were covered in peanut shells and spilled drinks, and UCLA students flocked at night like birds to a feather. I couldn’t believe how much it hadn’t changed.

“Like old times, huh?” Jodie said to me.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, scanning the bar.

“What ever happened to Tina?” Chloe wondered aloud.

I shrugged. “Beats me.”

“Last I heard,” Janet said, “she was in Chicago.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

Janet shrugged. “No idea. Hey, what about Adam?”

My heart crashed. “What about him?”

Chloe nudged me and wriggled her brows up and down. “Didn’t you guys have a thing?”

“No, no thing,” I said, shaking my head.

“Do you guys still see each other?” Jodie chimed in.

“Nope,” I simply said. The girls exchanged meaningful looks and then moved on to more nostalgic reminiscing.

Truth be told I hadn’t seen or heard from Adam in a long time. Last contact we had he was telling me about his new girlfriend with a baby on the way. Yes, a slobbering, pooping bundle of joy burrowing into the belly of a girlfriend to what was once my best friend, now a mere acquaintance. Is that weird? Yes. But do some relationships fall apart overtime? Hell yeah. The most important question above all is: do I miss him? And yes, I do miss him, but I can’t change what happened in the past. The weird thing is there’s no ill blood between us and we left things on a high note. So maybe there is hope for us.

In the meantime I was focusing on the shitfest that was thanksgiving. Great food; awkward family situation. Forget Adam, the person I should be keeping in contact with the most is my mother. We used to have such a great relationship but it’s been clouded by her beau, Joe, and their little bundle of joy. I’ve yet to see my baby brother—or, I should say, half-brother—and I wasn’t looking forward to our reunion on thanksgiving. It’s difficult to process and I know it shouldn’t be but it’s also one of those things where you put it off for so long, untouched, until it becomes this black hole of doubt and second-guessing.

“Oh!” Janet exclaimed. “Before I forget, Stanley invited Daniel. Is that okay?”

I shrugged before looking at their curious faces. “Yeah, I mean, it’s whatever.”

“Like, I know you guys have history, but he’s also Stanley’s friend, you know?”

“Yeah, I mean, is he coming?” I asked, keeping my voice monotone in an attempt to seem uninterested.

Janet nodded. “I should’ve told you sooner.”

“No, no, no,” I repeated in a high-pitched tone while shaking my head, trying to act all blasé but the Oscar does not go to me. I cleared my throat. “I mean, I’m not adverse to ex-boyfriends.”

“Okay, good.”

“See,” Chloe said, “I told you she’d be fine.”

I gulped. “Yeah, see, I’m fine.”

Janet stared at me, remaining unconvinced. “Okay.”

I almost wished she hadn’t told me while we were at Martin’s bar. All these thoughts of him came rushing back and the only way I snapped out of it was when I eavesdropped on a frat boy speaking to his waitress.

“…yeah, we go around saying ‘aye papi’ and throw confetti every five seconds,” the waitress said. “Do you want anything or not?”

The guy laughed with his friends. “Alright, alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a twist ‘mammi’.” He laughed again.

I groaned, wanting to punch him in the face when I heard Martin’s voice interject. “Is there a problem here?”

“No, sir,” the frat boy said, now solemn, all traces of humour evanescent.

“I’ll take it from here, Ava.” A short pause. “What do you wannabe attorneys want?”

“Uh..uhh..uh—” one of the guys stuttered.

“Got any ID?”

“We’re legal, dude,” another guy said.

“Not here you’re not. Get the fuck out.”

“Y—you can’t do that!?” a squeaker said.

“Call me when you pass the bar and sue. Until then, get the fuck out. I strongly advise that you don’t make me say it a third time.”

It was comforting to know Martin still had his employees’ back and hadn’t changed one bit.

You Probably Think This Song Is About You

Confession time: I have been obsessed with a Korean show called Boys Over Flowers. I got sucked in while browsing for new content on Netflix and I suppose the algorithm took into account what I watched earlier being The Tunnel and Train to Busan and decided I needed more Korean goodness. This show focuses on an empowering female that defies all odds and goes to this prestigious preppy school—with not a teacher in sight, mind you—and faces off against a group of four handsome and mean billionaires and three antagonists that hate her existence, all the while struggling to support her poor family. I looked up the series and it’s basically got 25-episodes and one season. The ‘empowering female’ lead may not be as empowering as everyone thinks; it’s basically got the same criticisms as Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey except a little more dialled down. But I literally don’t even care about the criticism because I’m addicted.

I was chilling in my living room watching when a knock on the door resounded. I seriously couldn’t be bothered with anyone today because I was balls deep into episode eight, but the knocking was so insistent that I knew they weren’t going to leave so soon and one of us was going to eventually give in.

“Yup! Coming!” I yelled, pausing the show.

Take a guess at who was at my door. I dare you. I double dare you.

“Jasper,” I said, elongating the end of his name in the same way you would getting a shit present for Christmas and saying ‘thank you’ unenthusiastically.

“You ran out pretty fast,” he said.

“I had shit to do.”

“The past few days?”

“I do work, you know.”

“And you never returned my calls or messages.”

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and crossed my arms over my chest. “What do you want, Jasper?” He swooped past me. “Oh, come right in,” I said, sarcastically, closing the door behind me and following him to my living room.

He pointed at the television. “What’s that?”

No joke, literally no one but my UCLA girlfriends know I watch this show. I shook my head trying to act cool. “Nothing.” He bent down to reach for the remote and I jumped on him. “Wait Jasper!”

He shimmied me off of him and I plonked onto the couch. I got up too late and he pressed play and straightened his arm above his head. “What is this?” He asked over the Korean phrases.

“No—” I jumped— “thing—” and again.

He laughed. “Alright, alright, alright, here.” He handed me the remote, and I was more pissed that he started where I left off and now my short term memory is trying to figure out where the hell from. Like, I don’t have amnesia, but when it comes to recounting where I left off from movies or TV shows it’s like I’ve lost the ability to retain any information.

I paused and headed for the kitchen. “Ugh did you want something?”

“Did the image of my dying father scare you off?” he smiled, leaning against the wall.

“No,” I said, filling up a glass of tap water.

“Well, something happened.”

“I think you’re just paranoid.”

He rolled his eyes. “Would you just tell me and get it over with?” I turned around to rinse the cup. Jasper closed in on me from behind and stroked my hair back exposing my neck. “Or I could pry it out of you. That should be fun.” He kissed up my neck and butterflies swarmed my stomach. I rested my head back onto his shoulder and I could almost feel the smile on his lips pressed up against my skin. He slid a hand underneath my shirt and grabbed my breast, pulling me in closer to feel his erection. I breathed out, the warmth between my legs beginning to radiate.

“No,” I whispered, too low and breathy for even the wind to hear.

“Hmm?” He pecked the hollow at the base of my neck.

“No,” I said, a little more loudly. “No.” I shrugged him off and he stepped back, confusion cloaking his brows and creating lines around what were his soft eyes.

“Umm something wrong?”

“Yeah, no. I’m just done with this.”

“Done with what?”

“Just me and you. I’m not feeling it anymore.”

He scoffed and tilted his head back. “I knew it. See, this is why I didn’t tell you why it was so complicated before. No one ever understands.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh my God. You know what!? The reason why I just bailed and haven’t been in contact was because of you, not your father! I mean, you’re with Julie because of this outdated 1950s ideology that is doing nothing but crippling you. No, as a matter of fact, I literally don’t even care what happens to you, but don’t blame your lack of balls on your father; and don’t put your shit on me!”

Daddy Issues

My heels thudded hard on the pavement as I stormed away. In the movies, this would be the scene where The Papapapas’s Fashion Killa would be playing as the lead swayed her hips and flipped her dark hair. Her confidence would reverberate down the street and everyone would be turning their heads like the boyfriend in that meme everyone is so tragically obsessed with. But this was not the movies, in fact, this was far from it. My heart was racing as I questioned whether or not I’d done the right thing or I’d gone too far. Sure, Julie’s a bitch and she said insensitive shit, but did it warrant a drink in the face? I could’ve just told her she was a bitch and then gotten on with the rest of the night, but instead, the bitch is still in there and I’m the one fleeing the scene. It’s like giving the victim a school suspension instead of the instigator.

“Anna! What the fuck!?” I heard a deep voice behind me yell.

I picked up the pace on the slight downward slope of the street and in my heels I feared I was going to face-plant mid-Beyoncé strut in my half-assed Madonna Halloween costume. Oh, who am I kidding, my costume is awesome!

“Anna! Don’t pretend you can’t hear me!” he yelled closer. “Anna!”

“What!?” I stopped abruptly and pirouetted, head-banging into Jasper and we both staggered back, rubbing our foreheads. “Shit.” I scrunched my nose in reaction to the throbbing radiating my head.

“What the hell went on back there?”

“What? She got what she deserved.”

“Listen, all I know is that I turned around at one point and you’re throwing a drink into Julie’s face.”

“Oh, what do you care anyway? Suddenly she’s your girlfriend, now.”

“Don’t be so evasive.”

“Don’t be so stupid, then. You’re acting all high and mighty going after me because you think I did wrong without even knowing the full story.”

He scoffed breathlessly. “I wasn’t even accusing you of anything.”

“Then why don’t you go ask your girlfriend what happened.”

“And now you’re pissed off that she’s even my girlfriend,” he said when I started to turn away. “Great.”

I turned back. “No, I’m pissed off at her and her bitchy ways. I’m surprised people have taken her bullshit for so long. I’m so surprised, in fact, that someone like you is with someone like her and all you can say is that it’s ‘complicated’. Listen, I’m tired, I don’t want to argue with anyone anymore. I’m all out of drinks to throw—I’m unarmed—just leave me alone.”

I slumped my shoulders. I couldn’t feel more deflated. Jasper just stared at me and I didn’t know whether I should way for him to say something and then leave or just leave.

“Follow me.” He took my hand and led me to his car.

I jumped in without any resistance because I figured he was taking me home but we did a detour first and ended up at the mechanic.

“I don’t need my car fixed,” I said as a joke, pointedly. And I certainly didn’t want to see Nate. I just didn’t have the energy right now to be all cutsey or defensive depending on how he’d take the image of Jasper leading me into his childhood home.

We barely spoke as I trailed behind him upstairs and down the hallway. At the end of the hallway was a room with a door cracked open and I could hear voices. A woman with what sounded like a southern accent and a T.V. tuned on.

“This is why I can’t just give everything up so easily,” Jasper whispered. “Stay here.”

Jasper opened the door and strolled in lively. “Hey, how’s my favourite father doing?”

“Oh, Jasper, don’t tease,” the woman said, stringing sentences the length of a medical report with words so long and complex they were like a second language to me.

I peeked through the door and saw the braids of a dark-skinned woman in nursing scrubs jabbering away with Jasper as he flipped pages on a clipboard. An old man lounged in bed with IVs, a heart monitor and other beep-bops lying about. Super technical set-up. I was staring at the inside of a hospital.

“What are you supposed to be?” his father asked.

“Danny Zuko.”

His father squinted. “What’s the difference?”

“No difference, dad, I just didn’t want to go all out.”

His father scrunched his nose disapprovingly. “Well, there’s always next year. By then you and Julie might be dressed as bride and groom?”

“How are you feeling?” Jasper asked avoiding the question, popping down on the side of his father’s bed. The nurse turned to the door and I had no idea whether or not she was supposed to see me. Jasper called after her and she stopped mid-way, giving me enough time to escape.

This whole time I thought the complication was a selfish indulgence or a particularity about Julie, but it turned out he just didn’t want to disappoint his father. Ugh, another guy with daddy issues. Am I just a magnet for men who are either exceptionally close or exceptionally distant from their fathers? Well, don’t I know how to pick them!

***Heya! Didn’t know if I should post all at once since I needed to catch up from Halloween of last year, but then I decided to just cut it up and post something now. Hope everyone is doing well and their new year is starting off great! I also posted on Samson&Delilah a few days ago. Soul xo***

Halloween Party

Katya, Lucy, Vivian and I were all getting ready at my house for a Halloween party at a place hosted by a guy called Greg. Apparently it was the going to be the first of a few stops before we headed down to the drive-in theatre to watch Hocus Pocus. Totally predictable but I can’t get enough of that movie even if it wasn’t Halloween.

While the girls were setting up in my room I got a facetime call from Chloe. They were all dressed up getting ready for their own party night.

“Aww I miss you guys! When are you all coming to visit me!?” I whined, pouting my lip.

“When you buy us three plane tickets!” Chloe laughed.

“Screw you,” I said.

“We miss you so much too, Anna,” Jodie said. She came closer to the screen and squinted. “Are you…? What are you?”

“Oh! I know!” Chloe chimed. “Madonna, right?”

“See, I knew you’d get it,” I nodded.

“I hope you have tons of fun!” Chloe said.

“And tons of hot sex!” Jodie yelled loud enough for Katya, Lucy or Vivian to hear.

I didn’t want to tell them I was sleeping with someone else’s man all things considered, so of course I felt horribly guilty for keeping a secret from my best friends. I mean, it’s not like we tell each other everything, right? Oh, who am I kidding, we tell each other everything.

I said my goodbyes and slouched on the bed.

“So how are things going with you and Jasper?” Katya winked.

I frowned. “Did you guys know he’s a doctor?”

“Who?” Lucy asked, playing with Vivian’s hair.

“Jasper,” I said. “This whole time, no one knew?”

“That’s weird. Why did he say he was a financier or whatever the fuck he did?” Katya asked.

I shook my head. “It wasn’t exactly him that said it, apparently.”

“You do get around,” Katya nudged me.

I smiled a crooked smile like I was both in excruciating physical pain and trying to hide it. “So, this party. Are we walking?”

I wanted to change the subject as quickly as I could. Enough with the Jasper and Julie talk. Tonight, I wanted to let loose and get drunk.

Kids were running around with their plastic pumpkin buckets as we walked up the street. Some with one or both of their parents and some old enough to go with a group of friends. If I’d known how far Greg’s house was I would’ve insisted on a car ride because my heels were killing me. by the time we got there they were throbbing and all I wanted to do was sit down and have a drink. We could hear them pumping music from outside; when we entered the crowded house, on repeat I caught the lyrics ‘get you alone’.

“Ladies, welcome,” a man I assumed was Greg greeted us at the door dressed as Frankenstein. “Let me guess,” he squinted and then pointed at Vivian, “you are—”

“Don’t you even start, Greg,” she said, holding up an open hand.

“What?” Greg laughed and shrugged.

“Where’s the bar?” Katya asked, rubbing her hands together.

“Are you already drunk? It’s in the kitchen, duh,” Greg said.

“Shut the fuck up,” Katya rolled her eyes, fisticuffing with Greg until he was begging for her to stop while also cackling sounding like a wild horse.

“Follow me,” Greg said, gesturing here and there like a flight attend and we the passengers.

We fixed ourselves a drink and started dancing to the contemporary club top 100.

“There’s your boyfriend,” Katya nodded at me, staring at someone behind me.

I turned around and saw Julie and Jasper walking in side by side with his hand around her waist.
“Ugh so gross,” I scrunched my nose as if I could smell a foul stench.

“Nevermind him, it’s just us tonight,” Vivian nodded.

“Yeah,” Lucy added. “Just us.”

“Hey guys,” someone said.

“Hey, Jasper; hi Julie,” Lucy beamed, waving her hand. Then, she shrugged, throwing me an apologetic smile.

I shook my head and smiled as if it totally didn’t bother. It shouldn’t bother me—they shouldn’t bother me—but seeing them together annoys the shit out of me. I think it’s the whole fake idea of happiness and being dragged along for the ride as a watchful third wheel from the distance that also happens to occasionally have sex with the boyfriend. Or maybe it’s his repetition of the phrase ‘it’s complicate’ that is so frustratingly vague I’m bordering being not giving a fuck and giving too much of a fuck that the curiosity is eating away at my insides like a rabbit nibbling on my organs.

“Let me guess,” Jasper pointed at me. I crossed my arms over my chest, defensively. “Madonna, right?”

“That’s right,” I sighed.

He smiled a cute and yet annoying smile. “You guys look great.”

“What are you, Jasper?” Lucy asked.

“Isn’t it obvious? Danny Zuko.”

“Dude, you’re only wearing a leather jacket. You look exactly the same as you normally do,” Vivian said.

“Excuse me.” He pointed at his hair. “The poof took me all night.”

“And it looks exactly the same,” Vivian emphasised, making the girls cackle.

I could only smile weakly but I literally have nothing to be so mopey about, I don’t know why I just don’t enjoy myself.

“Alright, car is parked and we’re set,” a bearded guy with an eyebrow ring entered the group.

“Oh, this is Sean my brother; Sean, this is everyone,” Julie said, sounding off each of our names and I loosened up my abrasive demeanour with each passing name.

Sean paid special attention to Vivian and Vivian eyed him knowingly. The sneaky exchange made me smile, I almost broke the secretive atmosphere by snickering.

“So what are you, Julie?” Katya asked.

“Oh, I don’t dress up. I’m not a child,” Julie replied, shooting a fake smile at Katya, point blank in the dead of night.

“Not a good lawyer either,” Katya grumbled. I widened my eyes a fraction and caught my gasp before I could escape and add more tension.

“What did you—?” Julie started.

“Alright,” Jasper smiled. “Play nice. It’s Halloween. For one night, let’s all get along.”

“Fine by me,” Sean said.

“Same here,” Vivian added. They smiled, neither of them breaking their line of sight.

“Whatever,” Julie mumbled, crossing her arms over her chest as Jasper squeezed her closer. I almost gagged. He should get an Oscar for how well he acts. If he kisses her, then I’m done. So done.

“I’m going to get a refill,” I said, moving away before anyone could ask that I fix them a drink. It’s a good thing no one knows I used to bartend.

I realised I hadn’t completely finished my vodka soda so I took my sweet time taking small sips until every last drop was gone.

“Boo,” a voice behind me startled me.

I scrunched my face and turned around. “Oh it’s you.”

“Now that’s a scary face,” Jasper said.

“Shut up,” I nudged him, chuckling. “I was ready to kill you for jumping at me like that.”

“Do you have amnesia? Short term memory loss? It’s Halloween.”

“Doesn’t mean you go around scaring people. Especially people fixing themselves a refill.”

“Yeah, I noticed you were drinking at the table. I mean, we could call a hotline, get you into AA. Supportive groups are all the rage apparently.”

“I will fuck you up, Jasper,” I said, firmly. He laughed. “What’s with the budget Danny Zuko costume?”

“Hey, I wasn’t even going to dress up in the first place.”

“This is you dressed up?”

He pointed at his mane. “The hair, it’s all about the hair.”

“And the leather jacket,” I added.

“And people said I’d never wear this jacket, yeah right.”

“Yeah. Right.”

“Excuse me while I…” he leaned over me, his nose buried in my hair, holding for a few seconds and then returning to leaning back on the table, his hand lightly grazing my lower back as he pulled back. He cleared his throat, smiling cheekily. “…fix myself a drink too.”

“You shouldn’t draw attention, you know,” I warned.

He furrowed his brows in disbelief. “Everyone is either not paying attention or too drunk to even notice.”

“Not Julie,” I noted.

“No, not Julie.” He looked down at his empty red cup. “You know what else is not Julie? The person I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Actually, that’s pretty good.”

“Except when you get a hard-on and Julie has to take of it, huh?” I scoffed, raising a brow along with my attitude.

He narrowed his eyes. “Why do you have to break what I’m saying like that?”

I shrugged. “What?” He didn’t say anything. He just held my gaze to the point where I squirmed with discomfort at the thoughtful silence. “I’m going to go. Enjoy the rest of your night,” I smiled. Bitch alert? Present!

“…ugh why is he even talking to her?” Julie hissed.

“Give it a rest, Julie. She’s hot, he’s hot, get over it,” Katya rolled her eyes.

“Can we talk about something else?” Lucy asked.

Julie studied Vivian with a slight, mouth-curdling disgust as Vivian leaned over the intricately detailed fireplace and Sean was leaning into her.

“I don’t even know what he sees in her,” Julie hissed again, ignoring Katya’s protest to give it a rest.

“Oh watch out now, if Vivian drives home with him you better believe his getting some, even on the drive there,” Katya joked. “Let them have fun, you prude.”

Julie narrowed her eyes at Katya. “What are you even talking about? We all know Japs can’t multitask while driving.” She burst out laughing. “I’m just joking.”

“You son of a—” Katya started.

Before I could let her finish, I threw my vodka soda in Julie’s face, drenching her and her suit. “Bitch!”

***So a while ago there was a celebrity that apologised for making an offensive joke, and so I was talking to someone the other day and told them this and wondered why is it that when a celebrity makes that kind of joke they have to apologise for it, but when our friends or people we know make an offensive joke, it’s all in jest and light-hearted fun. That person said it’s because that celebrity is making that joke to an audience of a large scale, not like how a friend would say it to a friend of theirs, perhaps even about their friend. So I was wondering if you make\made offensive jokes? What’s the reaction from people? What’s the reaction from yourself? Do you see anything wrong or not with it? What’s your overall thought on the subject? There’s also an interesting notion from a YouTuber who frequently says the N-word and the homophobic F-word in an effort to make a point and when he gets flamed by people saying it’s wrong or that only certain people can use certain cuss words, he maintains that either all of it is okay, or none of it is okay, and that’s especially in relation to the N-word. So basically what’s your thoughts on all that I’ve mentioned? Hope you all have a lovely day! Soul***

In The Thunderous Silence Of The Night

“I didn’t know you drove a ute,” I said, scanning the interior curiously.

“I don’t. I borrowed it for the night.”

“Why?”

“Because this single chair serves a purpose for where we’re going,” he winked.

I narrowed my eyes. Don’t think I didn’t notice it because the first thing that popped into my head was snuggling up next to him.

“I’m seriously thinking all you townspeople just like to take people to dark and secluded areas,” I said, curling up in the cold. My sweats not doing much to keep me warm.

Jasper laughed. “Oh yeah, it’s easier to hide the bodies.”

I widened my eyes but laughed at the same time. The mixed reaction made Jasper almost choke on his cackle. I dropped my shoulders and breathed out. “Not funny,” I mumbled. “Seriously, where are we going?”

“Stop your whining we’re almost there, bear.”

I scrunched my nose. “Shut up.”

“So grouchy,” he chuckled. “Was the date with my little brother really that bad?”

“He was a complete gentleman actually. We had so much fun.” I turned up my nose like a snob.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes. He’s fantastic. Unlike someone else I know.”

“What an insult. I’m not like my brother. Thank God for that.”

“What is this animosity you two have towards each other? You guys are grown ass men. What are you? Thirty? Somewhere around there?”

“Somewhere around there.”

“And what is he like ten years younger?”

Jasper scoffed and furrowed his brows. “He’s two years younger than me, actually.”

“Sense the exaggeration. And apparently not so ‘little’ as you so politely call him.”

“It’s said in fondness.” He laid a hand on his chest. “Totally from the heart.”

I rolled my eyes. “So why do you guys have this hatred towards each other?”

He shrugged. “It’s not a hatred.” He let out a breath he struggled to keep in, almost as if there was an explanation on the tip of his tongue but his lips weren’t cooperating. “It’s nothing. It’s…it’s just—”

I held up my hand. “Wait, wait. Let me guess. It’s just complicated?” He looked at me seriously as we slowed to a park. I half-smiled. “I haven’t heard that one before.” He smiled apologetically, and my chilly disposition dropped at the sight of it. I rolled my eyes, he wasn’t getting me that easily. I cleared my throat and looked out into the darkness surrounding me. Single lamp posts placed sporadically in the field. “So is this the part in the movie where you put a mask on and spray me with some sleeping gas?”

He chuckled and beeped the horn twice. I expected someone to come charging and scare the shit out of me. My mind knows how to go apeshit and play tricks on me.

Just then the large screen that I completely ignored lit up and the introductory animation and song to Grease started playing. Jasper waved his hand back to an unknown person, the equipment too far away.

“What’s this?” I smiled.

“I know you missed out on that whole drive-in movie thing so I figured why not set one up.”

“Oh,” I breathed. I didn’t know what to say or do so I just stared with my jaw drooping.

“And—” he lifted a finger and then leaned back and pulling up a box— “I couldn’t gather people for the food carts so I made us some popcorn, got us some chocolate, and water, you know so we don’t die of thirst from all the salt and sugar.”

“A natural refresher,” I noted.

“As intended,” he grinned.

I shook my head, still stunned. “How did you do this?”

“Well, Irve owes me one and I just decided to use that one on you.”

I gulped. “Umm, thank you.”

“Don’t read anything into it,” he shrugged, awkwardly. “It’s nothing big. I mean, it was annoying to hear you go on and on and on about the drive-in theatre that I figured I’d…shut you up.” He furrowed his brows.

I laughed. “Well, thank you nonetheless.”

He nodded. “Yeah, well…don’t read—”

“—anything into it, I know, I know.” I held out my hand. “So hand me the popcorn?”

I sunk back into the chair comfortably and started chowing down on the popcorn. I didn’t think I had any more room left in me to eat after my date, but when it comes to confectionary I have the appetite of a lion.

“I firmly believe John Travolta’s hair defies gravity in this movie,” Jasper joked and I laughed. “Newton would be tossing and turning in his grave.”

“You should dress up as him for Halloween.”

“No way.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Those tight shorts, you know.” I wriggled my brows.

“It’ll scare the children, truly,” he laughed and I joined him. “Look at him. He’s exercising under the sun and his hair is like a rock. Anyway, I can’t imagine it would be comfortable doing the pumpkin carving contest in those clothes. I have my choice of leather or tight shorts, yay.”

I chuckled. “I’m going as Madonna.”

“Which era.”

“Eighties.”

He nodded approvingly. “You have my permission.”

I looked at Jasper and narrowed my eyes in thought. “Sometimes I think you and Julie are total opposites, and not in a good way.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she hates the small town festivities.”

He shrugged. “I think she’s just itching to move back to New York.”

I swallowed some popcorn and essentially started choking on the salt. I chugged some water and put the popcorn down, slapping my hands together to rub off the excess. “Are you excited to go back?”

Jasper sighed and looked at me. “My favourite topics: Julie and New York.”

I smiled apologetically. “Well, everyone thinks you’re moving back. Going back to that lucrative job on Wall Street while your girlfriend works in a law firm.” I looked back at the screen. “You guys will probably live on 5th Avenue and shit.”

Get a puppy. Get married. Have kids. The works.

Jasper chuckled. “I don’t work on Wall Street. I’m not a money wiz.”

I angled my brows and gazed at him confusedly. “Everyone said—”

“—oh I know what they think. I never corrected them.”

“Why not?”

He sighed, his chest swiftly rising and dipping. “Because it was never me who planted the seeds into everyone. Julie went around telling everyone and then it just got too far in. Plus, at the time I didn’t want everyone to think how weird it was that my girlfriend was lying about my job.” He laughed, awkwardly. “In retrospect I could’ve told everyone she was joking but usually the prerequisite of a joke is that it be funny.”

“So they would’ve thought she was a psycho.”

“Pretty much.”

I chuckled, humourlessly. This is so weird. “So…what do you do?”

“I’m a doctor.”

I lifted up my brows. “A doctor? Why the hell would she lie about you being a doctor?”

“She has this weird idea that if you’re anything but a Wall Street guy in New York then you’re not good enough. I think the only person who knew was Nate.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” he breathed.

I don’t think ‘psycho’ quite cut it. “So what are you going to do? Are you just going to go along with it until you move back? Is this the complicated thing you’ve been alluding to this whole time?”

He laughed. “No, that’s not it. And honestly, what I really want to do is buy a spot here for my practise. It doesn’t mean I’ll live here permanently but I’d like to work while I’m here.”

“Well, why don’t you.”

He shrugged. “Don’t know. Conflicting signals? I suddenly open up a practise when everyone think I do something else?”

I gulped some more water. “You should.” He looked at me. “Do it. Why not? What do you have to lose?”

“Nothing, I guess.”

I paused and then nodded. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

I lifted up my shoulders. “For telling me.” Then, I let my shoulders down.

“Yeah, no big deal.”

“Right,” I rolled my eyes. “As always.”

“I always thought this ending was sad.”

“Yeah?”

“I mean, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess I could see that. Or maybe it’s just bitter sweet.”

“Real bitter.”

“Least they’re happy.”

“Yeah.”

Under the bright light of the clouds as the car flew I looked up into Jasper’s brown eyes fixed onto me. With the back of his fingers he stroked my cheek and brushed my parted lips.

“Won’t Irve see?” I whispered.

Jasper only shook his head and leaned forward, placing a gentle, light kiss on my lips. It felt like I was kissing him a lot longer than I was, and I was expecting him to become a little urgent, but he remained sweet and slow. Balanced. A kiss where I faded into him and everything else disappeared.

“What was—?” I stopped short and cleared my throat. “That was different,” I said, hoping for an indication that I wasn’t alone.

He caressed the corner of my lips. “It’s no big deal.” He paused to look at me, lost in a thought. Then, he cleared his throat and shifted back to start the car. “I, uhh, hope you had fun,” he said, smiling a smile that didn’t meet his eyes. One which was way too distracted.

“Yeah,” I breathed. “Thanks, again.”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

I didn’t push it and the rest of the ride home was done so in the thunderous silence of the night.

***

“Good morning, deary,” an old lady in Lucy’s chair greeted me as soon as I entered the salon.

“Hi, how are you?”

“Fine thank you, and you?”

I smiled. “Can’t complain.”

“Good, good,” she nodded.

“Martha was just telling me about a rumour she heard,” Lucy said, eyeing me strangely.

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

“These townspeople talk, you see? We like to talk, it’s like an Olympic sport for us and the hunting grounds are ripe with secrets.” Her eyes beamed. “Well, you know Ricky he knows everything and Ricky spoke to the baker whose wife spoke to Irve’s wife and well, to get straight to the point, they’ve all come to the same conclusion: Jasper may be hiding a secret.”