chapter 2: FROM THERE TO HERE
Glen and Ashley have been married for three months, but Ashley and I still meet at our favorite coffee house every day for lunch.
Glen and Ashley have been together for almost two years, but Ashley and I still read each other. Read each other too well, some might think, and for the most part, I never do. I love being able to look into her eyes, and know every story inside them. And I love the same goes for me with her.
Except for today.
Except for right now, sitting inside our favorite coffee house. I'm not loving that she can read me so well. I'm avoiding those eyes. Because they spell worried and confused words, and I know it’s only a matter of time before she asks about last night.
"So what was that last night?"
Man, I'm good and If it were anyone else, I'd say we spend too much time together, but that could never be the case with her. Even when she asks dreaded questions like the one she just asked.
I’m in a mild predicament here, mainly because I forgot to conjure up an excuse for last night's bitter behavior. So instead, I’m running right down Avoidance Lane, blowing over my coffee with such concentration, you'd think it were her naked body spread across my bed.
"Come on Spence, don't bullshit a bullshitter..." she gently tugs my hand, removing me from that fascinating coffee mug "...what was with the cold shoulder?"
I shrug, hoping indifference will show honesty. "There was no cold shoulder, I was just tired."
"Oh please, I know you, I know you better than you know yourself, and that was not you being 'just tired' because that usually results in your drool on my shoulder..." she giggles quietly before focusing on my shifty eyes once more "...seriously, Spence, what's up?"
She's in complete concern mode, practically hovering over me on our shared couch, and while all I want to do is follow her lead and lean right back towards her... I don't. I stay straight where I am. I think she notices.
And it's definitely not helping my "I'm ok" case.
"Nothing's up, Ash, really, everything's cool."
She's so not looking convinced, and we so need to move on "...Really, I'm fine. Honest."
She’s still not budging, except for her body sliding even closer to mine. The air is thickening, the space between us is burning up, and yeah...we definitely need to move on. I think sarcasm is the best and fastest solution.
"Yeah, you’re right, I’m lying. I’m not fine..." I heavily sigh, before a sneaky sarcastic smile forms over my lips "...I’m actually better than fine. Amazing, even. No...” I widen my eyes, as hers simply roll, “...no that’s still a lie, because I'm fantastic!" My arms begin to flail more and more with every dramatic exhalation, "Superb. Fabulous. Wait...you know what I really am?" Giving her a smirk, leaving her no time to answer, I loudly exhale "Un-fucking-believable."
She has no idea how unbelievable. Or maybe she does, judging from the pink forming on her cheeks.
"Ok, I get it, I get it!” Through somewhat unsure, but bashful, laughter, her hands pull mine down, not wanting my little scene to go any further. “Man, you forgot to add drama queen in that little diatribe."
"Wow that's rich, coming from you. Tell me again..." my finger taps my chin, deep in mock thought "...why did you call me in the middle of the night last week, shrieking into the phone?"
"Spencer, that's so not fair, you know how terrified of spiders I am."
"Oh, believe me, beeeelieve me, I know...but it wasn't a spider, now was it? No, it was a feather, Ash, a feather that happened to brush against your arm in the dark." My hands cover my gasping mouth, eyes pointing in sarcastic fear. "Feathers! Oh.The.Horror!"
"I hate you."
"You love me."
She pauses, both our eyes seriously fixed on each other, before we break into a sloppy rendition of the cheesy Jojo ditty "Too Little, Too Late". Clearly Ashley's masterfully carrying the same tune I'm so easily butchering. She seriously has the most amazing voice, and I normally would stop singing now just to admire it, but I much prefer her making music with me rather than without me.
Eventually, our singing dies down along with our laughter, both exhaling deep sighs.
"Man, Jojo..." I breathe out, absentmindedly.
"...Such a talent." She finishes my thought, like she always does. We both nod in serious agreement, content with the silence between us. That is until I feel her warm, soft, unbelievable hand hold onto mine.
"Really, though, you're ok right? I mean..." she looks somewhat flustered at whatever she's about to say, moving her other hand to point between us "...we're ok, right?"
"Yeah...couldn't be better."
Lies. Lies. Lies.
She's still holding onto my hand, her thumb starts brushing over my skin, and my cheeks are lighting on fire. I have to stop this, no matter how much I’m enjoying it, I have to. So I let go of her and go right back for my mug, ending whatever moment we were having. I think I feel her disappointment.
"Now since I have to go back to work in like fifteen minutes, how bout we talk about something that actually matters?"
I smile at my sarcastic jab, while she merely squints her eyes at me, pretending to be offended, before she dramatically exhales.
"Well I thought we were, but since you're all knowing in things that matter, please take the floor, it's all yours."
Eyes rolling with a few exasperated sighs, she's in complete faux-bitch mode [aka hot mode and I'm probably blushing, but that's ok. We're not talking about me or cold shoulders anymore, and that's all that matters.
"Well, now that you've finally accepted my highly respected title..." I scoff, holding a hand to my heart, as she bows towards me in a very "your highness" way, making me snort lightly with laughter.
"...Anyway..." I give her an eye roll, for really no reason at all, making her giggle softly as I continue on with conversation, "...I offer the topic of Aiden's upcoming birthday party to the table...namely, what are we going to do for it?"
Aiden was my first boyfriend in high school, and the sad [well depending on who you ask part is he's probably the last serious one I've ever had. That's almost 10 years. Whatever, I have my fun, I just don't stick around for when it becomes unfun. I've always been a picky perfectionist. I never settle. I take what I want, use what I need, and leave it all behind when I’m done.
Are you laughing at my excuses too? Good. Cause you should. It's all bullshit. Truth is, I want her. No one else. And I guess that means I'm going to be alone forever. Somehow, though, with her looking at me with those brown brown eyes, I could care less. Who really needs to grow old with someone? Not me.
I know, you’re still laughing at my pitiful lies, aren’t you?
Anyway, Aiden and I had our big two year relationship. Love. Kisses. First times. Homecomings. All that nonsense. We broke up when we left for separate colleges, both realizing it was a blessing, as we worked much better as friends. Best friends. And that's what we've always been.
He and Ashley hit it off right away when they first met, much to my displeasure I hate to admit. While they’re great friends now [much to my pleasure, I’m very happy and proud to admit it wasn’t always that way. In fact, if I were to play the blame game [and I do love to play that game Aiden is partly responsible for that whole setting "the love of my life" up with my brother.
It’s not something I particularly like to relive, but you’re all curious aren’t you? Well I don’t blame you, it still baffles me how we all got from there to here. Here, where Ashley is married to Glen, and I’m just pining pining pining away.
But you already know about “here”, I guess it’s time for me to show you “there”.
“Spence, that girl is so hot.” Aidens eyes do a not so covert crawl up her body “...Damn.”
”You are so sleazy, stop.”
But he doesn’t, he keeps checking out Ashley’s perfect, but now hidden behind the counter, body. I lean across my chair, girlishly swatting his muscle-y arm.
“Aiden! Come on. You’re embarrassing me!”
Not to mention making me insanely jealous. The weird thing, it’s not jealousy over him, and the scary [or maybe sad thing is, I can't even bring myself to figure out why.
“Aww Spence! Are you jealous? Want to have another go, cause well...” he lets his eyes look over my body, something I’ve seen him do a thousand times, however, this time there’s no trace of that attraction like there was in the past “...I wouldn’t be opposed.”
He winks, and I shake my head, laughing wholeheartedly at his cheesiness. With a hand covering my eyes, I quietly wonder how we ever dated for two years. Or even how we’re somehow best friends today.
I’d know that raspy voice anywhere, and as I slowly peer above the hand covering my eyes, I know I’m right.
“Thought you might like a refill?” She holds out a coffee pot in my direction.
“Oh...” I glance down at my rather full mug and then hold it out to her with a shrug “..why not, thanks.”
She fills me up, and I find myself briefly thinking of her filling me up in other ways.
Did I really just think that?
Yes, I did and I have been for awhile. Ashley Davies, coffee pourer and pastry maker, is, as Aiden puts it, “hot”. And maybe I have a little innocent crush on her. You know, in the same way that straight girls love Angelina Jolie [well except for this straight girl.
It means nothing. I’m just bored and alone. The last guy I dated, Keith, lasted about three weeks, and happily ended when I realized I’d rather date a sack of potatoes than him.
I need stimulation, both mentally and physically, and I’m not finding it. So of course I’d grow fond of Ashley, head employee of the town’s main Coffee place. She’s smart, witty, interesting, and friendly [most the time. Plus she’s easy on the eyes. Who wouldn’t want to be around that?
Well, I know I did and still do. Still very much do. It was by chance that we met, really. I had just moved back home from Cleveland, where I had been living for awhile after graduating from college. I was tired of the city life, I missed my family, and my job as a photographer for Clevelands underground music mag, “Pic”, was not what it used to be. So just like that, I moved back to my hometown, earning a job as a photographer at the local newspaper. Not the most glamorous of jobs, but I’m happy.
During my first week back in Shaker Heights, I stumbled into what I thought was The Coffee Pot, my favorite place to get a latte, however this was not The Pot. No, this place was jazzed up with funky drawings on the walls and splattered paint on the floor. I quickly realized that the rather large "The Bean" sign hanging before my eyes was indication that The Coffee Pot was no longer here. Not one for breaking the routine, I was completely ready to walk out; if it wasn’t what I already knew and trusted, I didn’t care to stay.
But then I heard her.
“Leaving so soon?”
Slowly I turned and found this full of energy brunette perched behind the register. Her wild curly strands of hair framing her beautiful face perfectly.
“See...I think you should stay, you don’t know what you’re missing out on.”
There was something in her voice, her words, that made me believe her. I knew I’d be missing out if I didn’t hang around.
So I did.
I’ve been coming back here for coffee breaks ever since. A month later, and I’m yet to really know anything about Ashley, except we’re the same age, and that she’s single.
Don’t ask me how I know this. Or more so, why it relieves me.
We share hello’s and happy smiles. She refills my cup, too often sometimes, and it makes me wonder if maybe she wants to start up conversation with me as much as I want to with her. Either way I keep coming back, sitting on the same comfy chair in the back right corner, pretending to read the paper, a book, my slides...while I watch her.
While I read her.
Yeah, I come here for the coffee. Yup. But, truthfully, The Bean’s coffee isn’t as good as the Coffee Pot’s. And honestly, I don’t miss it. Because the service here, with it’s witty comebacks, and hearty smiles, is worth more than any perfect latte.
I can hear Aiden coughing, growing louder with each second, and it breaks me from my thoughts.
“What?” I almost spit out, annoyed.
He widens his eyes, nodding towards Ashley, who’s making her way back over here.
“Your point is..? Or am I supposed to understand what your grunting and nervous ticks mean?” I chuckle, so he knows I’m joking, as he rolls his eyes “Introduce me to the hottie!”
Right. Of course he wants to be introduced. And weirdly, I do not want that to happen.
“So big day at the paper, Spence?”
Ashley perches herself slightly on my arm rest, and suddenly it’s very warm in here.
“Oh yeah...for sure.”
For sure? You are such a loser. And there goes Aiden coughing again.
“You ok over there? You want something to drink, water or something?”
Ashley asks, with genuine concern and maybe some pity, and it takes everything in me to not burst out laughing. I knew I liked her.
Cheeks flushed and smiling, Aiden laughs, with a bit of embarrassment I’m sure, and stands. “Yeah, water, that's it..." he eyes me, while I just smirk "...I’m gonna go grab one, want anything Spence?”
I smile, shaking my head “no”, and watch him walk away, a slight sulk in his step.
“Aiden? No...” I shake my head profusely “...definitely no.”
“Ahhh...” She looks down on her skirt covered legs, sitting so close to my overheating body “...he’s cute.”
It’s absentminded, but something tells me she might be interested. “Maybe you should introduce me then.”
She says it sweetly, looking down on her tied hands in her lap, before smirking over towards me.
Oh no. No, absolutely not.
“Aiden? No, he’s...” I’m so tempted to say gay, but somehow I know that will only backfire “...he’s not really into relationships.”
Not a complete lie.
”Well neither am I, sounds like a match made in heaven to me.”
The smile on her face makes me wonder what her exact intentions are here. Something about that wicked smirk makes me think that maybe, just maybe, she’s not interested in Aiden at all. Maybe, she’s interested in him as way to get closer to me.
Either way she’s not getting closer to Aiden, that I will make sure of.
“You should meet my brother.” I practically blurt out, and I’m terribly confused as to where it even came from. Judging from Ashley’s amused face, I’m sure she’s a bit baffled too.
“Your brother, huh?”
Her mouth opens crookedly, as if she's actually mulling this outlandish suggestion over. We hardly know each other, and yet, here I am setting her up with my brother.
Which, remind me again, why am I doing this?
Oh right, to keep her away from Aiden. To keep her away from a potential relationship, and lord knows setting her up with Glen prevents both things. My oldest brother, in all his 26 years of age glory, is a mess. A player. And while I love him, we all know he will never settle down.
And I’m safe in the knowledge that, unlike Ashley and Aiden, nothing could ever transpire between Ashley and Glen.
“Well...” she lightly places her hand over mine as she stands “...maybe I should.”
She smiles down at me, and it makes me swallow hard. I’ve never seen this smile before. It’s not as vibrant. It’s soft...with the faintest trace of something else. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe sadness?
Either way, as I watch her sway back behind the register, I’m not sad. Because setting Ashley up with Glen to prevent her from dating Aiden is one of the best ideas I’ve ever come up with.
“Helloooo...Earth to Spencer.”
“Wha?” I glance towards her.
“So what do you think?”
She’s smiling widely, in a smart ass way, knowing full well I’ve been spacing.
“About a party at my place for Aid’s big night?”
“Oh right, Aiden...” my tone is strange from still being caught up in my memories from before, and as I see her looking at me funny, I change my tune quickly “...that sounds perfect, Ash. Glen won’t mind?”
It takes everything in me to not cringe as I say my brothers name.
“Oh...” she waves her hand, dismissively “...he’s not going to be here, some team publicity thing...” she sighs, almost sadly “...to be honest, I’m not really sure where he's going to be, what event he's going to, they all seem to blend together these days.”
It hurts my heart to see her sad, so I reach my hand for hers. Loosely lacing our fingers, making her smile up at me. I give her a weak smile, not sure what else I have to give.
“It’s ok...you’re gonna be here, my favorite Carlin, and that’s all that matters.”
I quirk an eyebrow.
“Well...” She laughs lightly “...I would say Paula, but she’s been kinda creepy about the Club’s new pool these days so...”
“Seriously, Spence, WHO is she sleeping with over there?”
With wide eyes, we smile at each other from our mutual discovery, before we fall into fits of giggles. Hunched over and breathless, we laugh until it’s over nothing. Until we’re laughing because the other one hasn’t stopped yet, and that in itself is reason enough. Suddenly, through her laughter, she tries to tell me something, and even though her voice is lost in her chuckles, I’m not.
No, through those gorgeous and open eyes, I understand every word.