For close to two years I’ve been on a strict Ashley diet. Stricter than strict. I’ve been so good; maintaining those high calorie hug intakes, and sticking to healthy hand holding portion control. It’s almost amazing how well I’ve done. Until now. Until the past couple of months came along, and I’ve slipped. I’ve been binging and midnight snacking, letting those lingering looks linger a beat too long. Letting those soft fingertips brush over my skin one too many times.
I can feel myself responding to the change. My body’s filling with Ashley's love and touch. It’s not good. I’m getting too used to it. I’m loving it too much. And soon, I know I’m just going to gain all the weight back, punting me all the way back to those months when I first met her. When all I could do was think of her in ways I absolutely couldn’t. But the sad thing is, those were the months I absolutely could think of her that way. Those were the months I could have done something. Yup, those were the months I was thinner than I’ve ever been, completely capable and more than ready for her to fill me up inside. More than ready for her to wrap around my bones, and saturate my heart. Those were the months of indulgence. Those were the months of whipped cream and second helpings. Those were the months I never needed to diet, but those were the months I stupidly believed I needed to more than anything.
And today, tonight, I’m entering the overwhelming stages of eater’s remorse; of Ashley remorse. Looking back on all the cakes and kisses I could have had, that I never tried out of fear. Out of insecurity.
Out of stupidity.
Yeah, those early months are my lost chance and I’ve been paying for it ever since. Except for recently. Recently where I’ve started to forget rules and morals. Counting calories and grams of fat. I’ve thrown it all out the window and am now unfairly taking what I’ve already so regretfully given up. And somewhere between Madisons Audi and Ashley’s front door, I’ve realized it. I’ve realized it all too clearly.
I have to stop.
Because that smile is now gone, and the pit is back. But it’s back as a boulder and it’s weighing me down, so far down, that if I don’t get rid of it soon, I’ll never breathe again.
So as I stand before the door to their mansion [I guess Glens glorious Cavalier bench warming position does pay off I take the last tied down breath I have in me. I hold it in so tight, and push through that heavy wooden door, breathing it all out. I breathe it all out hoping to relieve the tension. But as I walk through their beautiful and empty house [feeling like its own breathing metaphor I only feel more afraid. More afraid than I can ever remember, solely because I’m not really sure what I’m more afraid of. With all these thoughts running through my mind, I don’t know what scares me more; seeing Ashley, or never seeing her again. And for some reason, that ridiculous outlandish latter possibility feels more than that.
That frightening latter possibility feels more like an impending reality.
And that’s what has me shaking as I make my way through this eerily quiet house, alone [Madison so far behind me in the car, fighting with Jack. I step through the echoing kitchen, hearing all the muffled laughter, music, and shouting coming from behind the clear sliding glass door before me. I stop and stare outside it, looking through the sea of familiar and unfamiliar faces; knowing that no matter how bad I feel or what I’m going through, there’s always going to be that one all too familiar face I’m always going to want to see.
“There you are..”
And then I see it. I see her, leaning against the counter in this dimly lit kitchen, casually sipping a cool cocktail in her hand. It may be dark in here, but I can see her eyes, and in them I see something I haven’t seen in a long time. I see intent. I see purpose. And I as try saying “hi” back, it merely comes out as a choked whisper. My voice lost somewhere deep in my throat, because I know her directions destination. I know her intent, her purpose, her goal.
I know her sights are set on me. I just don’t know what her sights entail anymore. I’m so lost, I don’t know what either of our intentions are anymore.
Movements so slow and drawn out, she strolls towards me; the air crackling and sparking with a tension I haven’t felt in so long. And as she nears me, with lidded eyes, and a lazy smile, I know she’s been drinking. I know she’s been drinking a lot.
Her lips tug in a warm smile, before she wraps her arms around my neck, holding my ever stiffening body close to hers. So close. So teasingly, deliciously close. My heart thumps wildly inside my tight chest, and I hope to God she doesn’t feel it.
“Where’ve you been?” It’s the sweetest, softest whisper against my neck, and when she breathes “I’ve missed you.” further across my skin, easily singing it, I have to pull away. I have to step back, and look down, feeling more guilty than I ever have before. Feeling so full of indulgence, I might vomit.
“Yeah, sorry, Madison was fighting with Jack.”
“Oh well what else is new, right?” She giggles a giggle sprinkled in sadness, because she sees right through me. Cause she sees my lies as clear as glass.
Cause she sees me pulling away, once again, and I know it’s starting to more than get to her.
The air becomes so quiet with my lack of a response. Quieter than it’s ever been between us. I can’t keep my head up, because this is not how this night was supposed to start, and it’s all my fault.
But it’s just getting too hard. All of this, her, me, everything between us. Everything not between us. Everything that’s festering inside me and having to keep it there.
And right now, with her so close, I don’t know how much longer I can do it.
“Hey you.” Her hands gently, carefully, cup my face, slowly pulling my eyes back to hers. She gives me a weak smile, and it only makes this all the more heartbreaking because it only makes it all the more real. Because I can’t even muster a smile back. “...hey, Jelly, what’s wrong?”
Jelly. One half of our synonymous Peanut Butter and Jelly nicknames. The names we use when we’re serious. When she’s serious. And this is one of those times. This is her comforting voice. This is her concerned voice. And the one thing I know, is I can’t hear it tonight. Cause that voice always draws the worry out of me. That voice, that name, always unravels me, unwinds me, stringing out the truths I bury so well, so deep. And those can’t be unburied. Not here and not tonight. So, I have to pull it together. I have to put on a smile. And I don’t even worry if I can, because I know I can do this. I know I can because I have to.
Because, sadly, I have no other choice, and it’s time I realized it.
“Nothing...” She’s about to protest, but I shake my head, and as if it were a light switch turning her off, she stops, letting me continue, “...I’m fine, really I swear, I just need to get a drink.”
She’s about to open her mouth again, but I stop her “Please, Ash...” I’m actually pleading now, hardly able to meet her eyes “...please, just believe me, ok? Believe me and come with me to get a drink?”
She looks at me for what seems an eternity, before she solemnly smiles, nodding with a quiet “Ok.”
Either too drunk, or too afraid, she lets it go. But I know she hasn’t thrown it away. She’s holding onto it, all of it so far inside her. Like the fullest hoarder, she holds all my mistakes. And I’m only starting to glimpse at the burden she wears because of it.
But I can’t keep thinking about that. Not now. Not tonight. For now, I have to move on. For now, I’m ok. For now, I resisted temptation. I resisted dessert, and I feel light again. I feel safe and I breathe a fat sigh of relief because of it. I let that boulder disintegrate deep in my stomach as we start walking towards outside.
But as we push past those sliding doors, I feel so cold again. I feel so lonely with her right beside me, never farther away. Once again I’m tempted, and when she tentatively takes my hand in hers, I don’t hesitate in slowly divulging myself. I don’t hesitate in reassuringly grabbing her hand.
Tightly lacing my fingers with hers.
Two hours later, this party’s moved inside, and I’ve kept myself right here on this couch. For the past hour, I’ve reserved myself on this right side cushion. Relaxing. Hiding. Drinking.
Madison never showed up, and while I don’t know where she is, I’m sure she’s over at Jack’s. Either way she’s not here. I haven’t seen waste-case Aiden in forever, but judging from the last time I saw his droopy eyes, it’s questionable if he’s even still alive. But I don’t really care about that either.
No I’m miserable because of her. Because she hasn’t talked to me since the kitchen. Because she hasn’t even tried.
I’ve tried meeting eyes with her, I’ve tried maintaining our silent conversation, because I can’t help myself. But she’s shut me out. She won’t even meet my eyes, making my attempts at explaining things with them fruitless. Nope, she’s shut me out so tight, with not even a crack or window to peek through.
And now I know how she feels. Now I know what my own medicine tastes like, and boy is it bitter.
She’s across the room from me, talking to some guy like she’s never had a more thrilling conversation in her life. But I know the truth, I know the thrill’s in having me watch her not watching me. She’s getting off on getting me down, and it’s making me even more sad.
Suddenly, the couch dips, a sloppy Aiden practically falling on top of me, resting his heavy head on my shoulder. And I’m so lonely, I practically jump with excitement because of it.
“How ya feelin’ birthday boy?”
“Spencer.” He pauses as if he’s about to let me in on some huge revelation, before he loudly whispers in a voice ten octaves higher than his own, “...I ammmm taaaaanked.”
The familiarity and affection of Aiden, makes the Grand Canyon void inside me fill up just the tiniest bit. A appreciative smile forming on my heavy lips, I pat his head in a motherly way.
“That you are, that you are.”
I can’t help but chuckle at his childlike ways, as he shifts a little more, clearly getting comfortable. I look out past the crowd, not even realizing I’m doing it, until I find Ashley. And it strikes me, because this time she IS watching, and something tells me she’s more upset than she was before.
I try to give her a little wave and a hopeful smile, but she turns away before I even get the chance.
His voice is small, maybe even adorable, but I’m so caught up in that familiar face that now feels so unfamiliar, I’m barely listening as I vaguely ask, “Yeah, buddy?”
Realizing it’s creepy, and probably more infuriating, if I keep staring, I let Ashley’s avoiding attention go. Finally giving it to the-five-seconds-from-a-passed-out Aiden.
“I know I’ve been saying this since high school, but...” he takes a moment to breathe, clearly it’s at that point in the night where both speaking and breathing at the same time is a challenge.
“What’s that Aid?”
“Your brother...your brother is such an ass.” He finishes with a snort, that falls somewhere between amusement and disgust. I’m not sure where here’s going with this, but I decide to take the funny high road.
“You’re right, you have been saying that since high school.”
I laugh, pleased with my own wit, but he doesn’t laugh. Nope, he’s about to get into this, I can already tell.
“No, but I’m serious...” He pushes his body off mine, shaking the couch in an attempt to sit upright, “...I’m serious, Spencer, he’s like... a real ass, like not even a likable one.”
I’m not really quite sure what to say, because he is my brother. Because he’s my brother, but beyond that, Aiden’s right. He is my brother, and he is a real ass.
“I meeeean...” Aiden draws out the word [clearly trying to gain more time to figure out just what exactly he means “...I mean, look at all this, Spencer...” Aiden’s hands clumsily shoot to either side, one grazing my boob, but somehow he doesn’t even notice, he’s so worked up, “...I mean, look at her, Spencer.” Now he’s pointing both hands straight at Ashley, and I’m not sure I want to look there. I’m not sure I can anymore.
But Aiden has other intentions, as his hand whacks my arm/boob again, I realize he needs me to look. So I do, this time with no hesitation, and I find her by herself, leaning against the wall on one slumped shoulder; looking like the loneliest girl in the world.
“Ok, Aid...” I continue, softly “...I’m looking.”
“Good. Now listen to me.” And I’m going to, no matter how slurred and slow Aidens words are, he’s got my attention.
“...Your brother, that asshole, he’s got the world, you know, he’s got everything a person could want, and I don’t just mean the money stuff. I mean he has what some people can’t buy. But he doesn’t deserve it, and what’s worse, he doesn’t even want it. Because if he did... if he did, he’d be here. He’d be here with her. He’s such an ass, man, he’s just...” He shakes his head, losing himself in his own thoughts.
He’s quiet for a moment, until he turns his eyes from me to Ashley, and suddenly I’m right with him. Suddenly every slurred word he’s said is crystal clear. Every incoherent thought he’s expressed is more coherent than anything he’s ever said.
“Look at that gorgeous girl, Spence, I mean really look at her. Look at her so you’re really seeing her. She’s freakin' amazing...” one deep, defeated breath “...and she’s miserable. She’s so miserable.”
The word makes me search for her again. The word shoots through my heart. Because as I find her, talking to no one, slowly sipping her drink, I know it’s completely accurate. I know it’s painfully accurate. I know every one of Aiden’s words were right. Glen is an asshole. Ashley isn’t happy. And all I feel is more guilt, because suddenly it all feels so much like my fault.
We both sit there, mulling over his words, until his head flops down into my lap, smiling eyes closing as he let’s out a breezy laugh. I guess we’re over the heavy conversation, because he keeps laughing more and more. And I’m actually thankful, I’m actually laughing with him, because where ever we were just heading, I shouldn't be going. Not tonight, not on this already overwhelming night. So I let it go.
But I don't throw it away.
“This was a great birthday, Spencer. Thank you.”
I warmly, and somewhat pitifully, smile down on him.
“Hey now, it’s not over yet.”
“Oh yeah, it’s not over till you and me are watching the sun rise together, right?”
Oh brother, are we really about to go down memory lane?
“Remember those days, Spence?”
I roll my eyes, but it’s sincere, because I do remember those days, and they’ll always mean something special to me.
“Of course I do.”
“Good.” He punctuates his satisfaction with a nod, before he abruptly [and clumsily sits up from my lap. Facing me with eyes that are trying so hard to open wide, but can only manage half mast, he exclaims “...now let’s do a shot!”
Laughter spills from me, as I tap his nose. “You, my friend, are a mess.”
Lips drawing into a goofy grin, he practically slurs, “A messy mess.”
“The messiest messy mess.”
We both seem content with the title, as it becomes silent, and I know we’re about to have a moment.
“I love ya, Spence.”
I sigh in faux-indignance, before I warmly smile right back at him.
“Yeah. I guess I love you too...even if you can be the world’s biggest perv.’
“You know you love it.”
We both laugh and look at each other a moment longer. Just enjoying each others company, just enjoying our history and our present. Loving how easily everything still comes.
And then I’m not there anymore. I’m not on that couch. I’ve been ripped from it, and I’m being pulled through groups and groups of people. A tight, angry hand holding mine, but even inside its blatant fury, all I feel is her soft comforting touch.
We barrel up the stairs, two at a time, running right inside her bedroom’s bathroom. I’m practically pushed into the middle of the room, as the door closes behind me. I slowly turn, terrified, as I find a very pissed off Ashley leaning back against the door. Hand holding the handle, as if she’s afraid I’ll try to leave.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“What?” I’m so caught off guard I try to not sound indignant, but that’s exactly how I sound as I ask. And she notices, she notices and it only makes her more mad.
“Seriously, what’s going on? Are you...” She swallows hard, twice, and for a moment I think she might vomit “...are you back together with Aiden, is that what’s going on?”
Oh. God. And now I feel like I’m going to vomit. It’s such a ridiculous notion, that I can’t suppress the laughter spilling from my lips.
“Do you think this is funny?”
She is not amused, she’s so hurt, that I don’t waste any time in reassuring her, “No, Ash, not at all, but seriously Aiden? Where would you ever get that idea?”
“Oh, I don’t know, let me see here...” her eyes roll to the ceiling, as if she were about to count off reasons “...you ignore me and avoid me all night. No, for weeks now. You can barely stand to touch me. And then tonight, just now, I see you two all over each other, laughing and talking and joking. I mean what else should I believe?”
“That we’re friends?” I ask in a way that’s not a question, it’s a fact I’m telling her in a rude way, because I can’t believe she’s angry over this. That she could possibly think I’m back together with Aiden.
“Like we used to be.”
She whispers it so defeated, and it knocks the air out of me.
“Used to be?” I croak.
“Well am I wrong? You keep pushing me away, Spencer. You keep pushing, that I’m afraid one day you’ll never find me.”
I’m feeling lost again, lost inside our conversation. Inside this fight. Inside her anger.
“I mean, what the fuck is going on Spencer? And, seriously save whatever lies you’re going to use. Please don’t insult me anymore with those ‘nothing’s wrong I’m just tired’ excuses ok?” She’s so angry, she’s so freaking angry, but suddenly, all at once it disappears. Her fury is gone, and she’s only sad. She’s so sad as she quietly asks, “...please, Spencer, just tell me what’s going on. Please.”
It breaks my heart, and takes all the left over pieces with it. She’s bypassing all that Aiden bullshit, and opening the real issue here. She’s finally getting down to everything I’ve been hiding. And I don’t know what to say. I have nothing to say, because all she’s asking for is the truth, and that is something I can never give her.
So instead I look at her with wet eyes. Silent, screaming, wet eyes.
She whispers, sounding as heartbroken as I feel, and I just stand there. Frozen.
With one nod, she eviscerates me. “Ok, then.”
The angers back inside her now, but it’s not shouting anymore, it’s seething, and it's so much worse than before. It hits so much harder. Because this time it seems so much more final.
And as she turns, walking through that door, slamming it shut behind her. It doesn’t just seem final.
It feels it.