Updated: Mar 29
Cover © Rosalie Thorne Editor – Z. V. Ezell
By Rosalie Thorne
“There is only one happiness in this life,
to love and be loved.”
- George Sand
Lifting up the heating blanket that’s holding Hades from my stomach, I carefully place him to the side and reach for the remote of the ceiling fan. I love Hades, I love snuggling with him – I do, but Jesus Christ does that heating blanket get too hot too fast. I know I could just leave my little dark-chocolate Sphynx kitten to any of his beds or houses or trees strewn across my sizeable bedroom suite, but there is something so special about having him in bed with me.
Curling around the edge of the heat, I run my fingers down his ever-so-slightly fuzzy paw. His little squinty eyes look up at me, then straight to my nightstand where my phone lit up with a text. Seeing as my phone is almost dead, I curl uncomfortably to it, keeping it plugged in, to reply back to Jonah.
For real though, you sure a pool party is enough?
Why wouldn’t it be?
We’re only turning 15
It’s 16 that’s a big deal?
Sweet Sixteen, yeah.
15 is Quinceanera
Thanks for the fun fact, WASP
I snort. We are both as white as can be - the ladies of my family apart of the Daughters Of The American Revolution and my dad’s mother knowing the Scottish clan her father was a part of, tartan and all. The Wilson’s are the spitting image of Nords while I and my mom are classically Irish - red hair, freckles, the works (even if it’s now generations back). Still though, I know a lot about random shit and there are at least a dozen books on my shelves where the main character of Latin or Spanish background.
I haven’t quite kicked the teenage-romance phase I am in right now (which Jonah comments is weird because how did I ‘downgraded’ from romance novels – or as his brother called it ‘girl porn’.) But… there’s a difference between the heart-pounding, blood-boiling instant attraction and passion of a lot of the adult romance novels and the slow and increasingly real connection between two people who are friends first like in the teen books.
Suddenly, Hades stretches a paw against my thigh, his needing-to-be-clipped nails digging into my skin. This brings me back from my far-off thoughts and I type to Jonah about our birthday. Right in the middle of my second text back to him, a notification lowers across my screen. I click over to Clark’s conversation.
I can hear Jonah laughing….
You really should go to bed.
I looked up at the “Goodnight” I’d sent him, tapping it and yep, that had been over an hour ago.
I’ll see you in the morning.
Smiling a little, I put my phone back down on the side table and pull my stuffed bear down the back of neck. Even now, there’s plenty enough time for me to get eight hours of sleep, eat breakfast, and be ready before the Wilson brothers come to pick me up for school. Still, though, it is nice of Clark to worry… he knows how it’s actually important for me to get a full nights sleep given the abrupt news last Spring that my off-and-on depression was actually Bi-Polar I Disorder.
Right as I am drifting, the blue light of the phone screen glows. Heart-thudding a little too hard, I look. But alas, wrong Wilson.
My brother just stopped playing his guitar.
My meds kick-in hard and even if I wanted to type back more, I can’t. Lids heavy, a fuzziness in my chest, my last sleepy thought is about my best friend.
Hands behind my head, front teeth nibbling my lip, eyes watching the ceiling fan go round and round. Candice hasn’t texted me back, so it seems her medication kicked-in finally. I wish it’s that easy for me to fall asleep…. But no, my mind runs rapid tonight.
I thought, maybe, if I tried to finish the song I am writing for her birthday that would be enough to quiet my mind. But it actually made things worse, me now trying to figure out how the Hell am I going to play it for her?
Get her alone, in private, and play it for her.
Jonah mentioned something to Pops about a pool party, which he was thrilled about because it is a perfect excuse for him to use the grill. It also meant Pops could stay home and there wouldn’t be a lot of drinking from us youngins. It’d been a few years, but Pops is still trying to be friends with us rather than the single-parent he now is.
At least he’s home.
Unlike Candice’s dad.
Groaning, I rub my face and sit up. Kicking my comforter off, I reach over the side of the bed for my acoustic again. My lyrics are crap, for once, but there’s a huge difference between a how-can-I-say-I-love-you-without-the-words ballad and the common-denominator hate-the-world rock song.
Going through the music twice, I start singing softly the third time.
I blink a few times and check the name. Candice. Her medication usually knocks her out for eight hours. I text her when I get up and sometimes it’s another twenty minutes before a text back. She shouldn’t be up.
Biting my lip a little, I can’t help but smile. She can barely type, she’s so out of it.
What if I told you the song’s for you?
I sigh and backspace.
Sorry. Sleep well
I try not to overthink the heart. She always ends her conversation with Jonah that way, too. I’m sure a ton of people get the little typed-out heart. She’s cute like that. Not that I could exactly tell her, now that cute means something completely different in my head - in my heart. But it is nevertheless true.
Seventh period of Friday came at went, at last, and I am not-at-all surprised to see the gaggle of girls around my locker. Not just the usual group of Allie and Marie and Syndy, but the expanded group of Sandra and Jules and Sara. That means only one thing….
“Candi!” they call out almost in unison.
I shift my textbooks to throw my hand up. “Hey!”
Glancing around them, I start looking for Jonah. We weren’t able to convince the radno’s that surround our lockers to switch, (so we could be side-by-side as nature intended), so now we share my locker given its convenience. Where is he?
“Looking for your twin?” Syndy asks.
I nod then start twisting the lock. “With Drama seventh he usually gets out early and is waiting for me.”
“True,” Marie needlessly confirms.
I shrug. “So… what’s with,” and I sort of throw a wide glance to everyone.
Jules looks at Sara who looks at Sandra who looks at Allie. “Well,” Allie stars. “We all sort of realized that, well, a pool party at Jonah’s house….”
“Means, that… well,” Sara stars giggling, “his brother is going to be there, isn’t he?”
Clark has never missed a birthday… not since I could remember, anyway. Jonah and I always have a joined birthday even though he was born the night before the morning I was - a ten hour difference.
“I guess, yeah.” I hold my locker door open and try to stand on my toes to see Jonah.
Being the average American height of five-four has its drawbacks…. (Because even if it was the average height for women, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Not when half the girls in school wear heels and the other half are tall enough to be lead members of sports teams.) Finally, I hear a familiar holler down the hall and the girls part way for Jonah.
“Hey, my ladies!” he smiles while sliding his books into the locker.
“Hey Jonah!” they respond in unison.
He is everybody’s #GayBestfriend and he loves it. Slamming the locker shut, he then leans against it. Though he’s posed the same way I’ve seen Clark, it just doesn’t have the same vibe. Thinner, shorter, more flamboyant, and very talkative, he is quite the opposite of his older sibling.
No, Clark Jonathan – who everyone but me calls C.J. – is classically popular… straight A’s, star football player (who had to give up being captain because his band took priority), never had a girlfriend… he has this habit of an intense stare where you know he’s listening to everything even if he never comments, and of course, with the hookah and the vintage Datsun (the 1978 matte black two-seater he brought back to life himself and never lets anyone sit in the passenger seat, not even Jonah) there is almost a bad-boy vibe about him. He just is this entity that floats around school, being friends with just about everyone and having everyone who could possibly attracted to him, attracted to him.
Not that I would tell anyone that! But I’d be stupid to deny it.
“Earth to Candi,” Jonah’s hand waves in front of me.
I blink a couple times, “Yeah?”
“Ready to go?”
I nod and take a step forward. “See you girls tomorrow?”
A stream of ‘yes’s and ‘of courses’ and giggling to follow and I throw a hand up in farewell. Jonah and I take the path of least resistance to the parking lot and then start the awkward trek to the back – bobbing and weaving through the stop-and-go-and-stop traffic – to where his brother’s other car is under the shade of the trees.
Leaning against the back, boot against the bumper, one hand holds his phone loosely, his thumb actively scrolling. His dirty blond hair looks like he’s been pushing it to the side in frustration and his darker brows are pulled together in concentration.
“Hey Clark,” I shove my hip against his lifted knee on my way to the back seat.
His blue eyes drift my direction as he takes the falling foot in stride and walks behind me. “Hey, Candice,” he says rather pointedly with a smirk.
I call him Clark which he hates, he calls me Candice which I pretend to hate. Therefore, I roll my eyes and clamber into the seat behind him. I’d learned early on that if I sit behind Jonah, I will stare too much at our driver, and if I sit in the middle Clark would glare at me too much through the rearview mirror. Safely behind him, I could see Jonah more clearly anyway.
Clark won’t pull out till we’re all buckled, so Jonah fights against the strap to turn to me. “Did you see all the people who marked ‘yes’ on Facebook?”
I pick through my school bag to find my leftover stash of Tootsie Rolls. “For tomorrow?”
Out of the corner of my eye I can see in the mirror where Clark rolling his eyes. Looking back to Jonah I nod, “Yeah! Almost everyone.”
“And you said a fifteenth birthday wasn’t a big deal.” Jonah mimics Carlotta, “They lav me, they lav me!”
Snorting, with laugher, I lean back in a heap. Trying to steady my breathing a little, my eyes catch Clarks in the mirror again. He has a real smile on his face for once, not just a smirk. Broad lips, cheeks raised, his dimples showing. Feeling a heat in my cheeks, I become increasingly focused on unwrapping another Tootsie Roll.
“So, what time did you want me over tomorrow?” my eyes barely peek to the passenger seat.
“You’re not spending the night?”
Jonah’s mouth closes and he stares at his brother. Running the words through my head again, finally I look up at him. “Ah,” I tuck some wild strands behind my ear. “Well, I could…?”
Focused back on the road, on making the tight turn into the you-wouldn’t-know-it-was-there-unless-you-were-told entrance to our neighborhood, Clark doesn’t respond. I look at Jonah, my heart racing. Jonah shrugs and mouths ‘I don’t know’.
Parked, Clark doesn’t look at me even though he reaches in front of me to get his backpack. “You always do, that’s all,” and he gets out of the car, slamming the door shut. He waits for Jonah and me to pass into the house before he locks the car and closes the garage door.
“Did you want to sleep over?” Jonah asks after his brother’s bedroom door slams.
I shrug. “I just thought, maybe your father wanted tonight.”
He stares into the open fridge for a while. “My brother’s right…,” he says after a little too-long. “You’ve stayed over, like, every year. Did you want to run home and pack a bag?”
The Wilson’s never did want to talk about the loss of Katie… the wife, their mom, my pseudo-aunt. I had only learned about the cancer from my own mom and Jonah – as close as we are – never said a word about it, not even after she passed. It had actually been Clark who’d talked to me about it, when I found him sitting alone, feet in the pool in the middle of the night. I guess I am the feminine presence in this house now.
“Sure!” I say with a little too much perk. I try again. “I’ll be back in a few, yeah?”
He nods but doesn’t look up. “Door’s always open.”
I take my bag because I don’t need the threat of homework this weekend and head towards the backdoor. Through the door, across the patio, down the little hill, then I am on home property and have to do a mirror image to get into my house. No one’s home, of course, except for Hades who instantly starts meowing for me from the stairs. I meow back as I toss my school bag behind the kitchen table and pull open the cupboard for kitten food.
“Baybee!” I call while shaking the plastic bag.
I hear soft thuds as he scampers down the wood staircase and can already hear his purrs when he gets to the far side of the table. “Hey mushka,” I reach down behind his ears.
Purring and purring, his tail curling around his hip, I sit down on the floor while he eats. Seeing the text stream from the girls group chat, I can’t even scroll back far enough without my phone glitching. It seems the same as it always is, though, gushing about Clark and the prospect of the party.
Hades goes for the water now, getting little droplets up his nose. Clark explained that he drank like a dog, though I don’t know how Hades could have learned that. After we found out about the Bi-Polar, Mom started doing a ton of ton of research and decided I needed an Emotional Support Animal. Which just threw everyone for a loop because of her allergies; ESAs tend to be dogs, though sometimes cats… and she is highly allergic to both. But then, there he was waiting for me the day before school started - a little purebred wrinkle-bean of a kitten.
Clark used to tease that he looks little a little demon or a rat or an ugly dog, which resulted in me swatting at him. But when I started (sometimes literally) crying to Jonah about how much I loved my new kitten and it bothered me when people called Hades bad names, Clark hasn’t teased since. He may be annoying, he may be overprotective, he may even be mean, but he’s knows my boundaries and doesn’t cross them. He’s thoughtful like that.
And think of the devil….
You coming back any time soon?
Yeah. I just had to check on Hades.
Why don’t you bring him over?
Or I can take the checking-on him duty.
You know, so you can enjoy your birthday and all.
My eyebrows rise.
Unless you don’t want me too.
My heart quickens its pace.
And I can show you the ropes?
Be there in ten.
Sitting on the floor of her bedroom, Hades is curled in my lap, my fingers mooche his suede skin softly and I keep my eyes on Candice. She’s packing a floral messenger bag with stuff for tonight’s stay, the party tomorrow, and the night after that. (She always brings the same sleepwear - blue rose print pants and a Star Wars shirt that had the phases of the Moon with the Death Star. She’s just fucking cute like that. She likes what she likes and doesn’t care. She is more popular than I am, even as a Sophomore - so open and honest and nice… so beautiful, inside and out.)
I notice she’d changed clothes since she’d left my house. I can’t help but wonder if it had been right away or because I was coming over. I’d like to think the latter, but maybe that is reaching. She generally very modest with her choices, even if it clings to her body. But now, as she is bent over her bag on her computer chair, her cleavage is perfectly shown with a soft green, v-neck tee. Tight jeans cup her ass, grip her thighs, and show off her calf muscles. She’d even pulled out her white-marble print ankle boots, even though we’d only be traveling across the yard. Good sign? Good sign.
“So…” I offer casually.
It takes a minute for her train of thought to stop and for her to look up. “Yeah?”
“I’m glad you’re coming over tonight.”
Her chest does that shallow flutter as her cheeks pinken. “Oh?”
I look back to Hades, “You’ve always come over for your birthday. It’s a good tradition… I think it makes Jonah sort of forget who’s not there.”
She eases a breath, “Right. Makes sense.”
Just do it, Clark, grow a pair, I think harshly. “But I do have something I need you to do.”
Candice tucks a few curls behind her ear. “And what’s that, Clark?”
I smirk, “Well, Candice, midnight tonight I need you on the roof.”
Her eyes slowly lift and her hands land on her hips. “Why?”
It’s not like I haven’t asked her to meet me there before… though usually it’s after she’s already texted me that she needs to talk. So, I shrug. “Just be there,” and I lift Hades off my lap carefully.
After he makes his way to the little house with the heating pad bottom behind me, I stand and lean against the door. I unabashedly continue to watch Candice as she moves through her room - her course of action seeming chaotic to me but making clear sense to her.
Then I can tell, for whatever reason, she’s stalling.
A long blink and then she straightens. “Yep.”
When she walks by me, I slip the bag strap off her shoulder and toss it over my head. She stops and her brows come together. “I can carry it, it’s okay.”
I shrug and walk down the hall. I make a silly expression and say, “But don’t I just look fabulous with it?”
She giggles, then snorts. Exactly what I wanted. And in the way her nose wrinkles up, I can’t help but smile. When she tries to steady her breathing, her hand spreads against her chest. She lets off a little happy hum of a sigh as she looks up at me. I can’t help but look into her twinkling green eyes. I have not been this close to her in a long time, but the familiar flecks of gold show themselves.
She is really so close to me. I swallow hard. “Candice?”
But then she cocks a brow and pokes my chest, “What’s my birthday present?”
Taking in a deep breath, I lean back to pivot and start down the hall. “You’ll have to wait until midnight, Lady Candice.”
“Well, alright Sir Clark. I’ll be there,” and she starts down the stairs before me.
I always forget how cold it gets after the Autumn Sun sets. The night between my Jonah’s and my birthday - September twenty-first to the twenty-second - is no exception. Grabbing the fuzzy throw off my bed, I am careful to keep it around my shoulders as I climb from my balcony up to the roof. Jonah had already fallen asleep, wanting to up bright and early, so it was easy enough to leave out the backdoor. If he texted me, I could always say I was checking on Hades. I’d specifically not take my meds, just yet, so I could come out here.
Alone, in the quiet of the night, I lie down and look up at the stars. So far off in the suburbs means there isn’t as much light pollution, and the view is pretty decent. Getting lost in the moment, I’m startled when Clark’s voice comes from below.
I move towards the edge, “What?”
He has his guitar slung across his back while climbing up. “Just saying I was here.”
“It’s lucky my house has the back stairwell.”
He doesn’t look at me while he gets settled in his usual spot, “What time is it?”
I twist my wrist to get my FitBit to light. “Three minutes till.”
He nods and gets the guitar between his legs so he can lean back on his elbows. Eyes up, his voice is soft, “It’s a good night.”
My eyes go to the clear skies. “Worried it was going to rain?”
He doesn’t look at me when I stare at him with raised eyebrows. “So… you going to make me wait the three minutes?”
Throwing a smirk my way, he replies “Of course.”
I groan and lay down next to him. He eases down next to me, and I can feel how close his hand is to mine. We’d held hands before… when we were up here, deep in conversation. It is easy to lose your surroundings with a sky like this. And sometimes, even when we’d stopped talking, it was just nice to know the other was there. Such a vast sky, such a vast world, but not at all alone.
I’d held hands with family, with girl friends, on dates, Hell even with Jonah before. But even so, it always feels different with Clark. And when his fingers curl around mine tonight, I feel the same electricity I always do, my heart beating rapidly, my breath momentarily frantic.
“Do you remember the first time we came up here?” his voice is almost a whisper.
I tried to think… it had been when I was twelve - a seventh grader and he was a Freshman in High School - fifteen years old. It had been Valentine’s Day and no one got me anything. Jonah didn’t even gift me a card, none of my friends even did anything #GalesntinesDay. I guess after the routine of everyone getting everyone something in class in Elementary School, it made me think no one liked me.
His voice is low, soft, “I don’t want you to ever think nobody cares.”
I didn’t know quite what to say when his phone started chiming in alarm. Letting go on my hand quickly, he sits up. After the alarm is shut off, he turns to me. With the bright light of the Moon, I can see the intensity of her stare. He reaches up, his fingers brushing my Heart pounding so hard it shakes my chest, breath caught in my throat; I just look into his eyes. But then I feel a buzzing in my pocket. I blink a few times then look down; I can see the light from under my phone.
I nod, almost in a daze and look back to him.
He’s looking at me the way he does that makes my stomach flip-flop. His face is thoughtful and almost… careful, as if I am breakable. His grey-blue eyes keep to my face though it seems like a strain to do so, and he runs a hand through his hair. “So…”
“I got you three presents actually.”
“Oh?” I breathe.
He nods slowly, hesitantly. “I…,” he clears and throat and gestures to the guitar, “I wrote you something and then I’ve got something to give you,” he pats his pocket.
“And the third?”
His eyes fall on my lips.
After a moment, I whisper, “Clark?”
His eyes come back to mine, “Candice?”
But I just don’t know what to say. How could I possible tell him how I feel? It isn’t my fault he’s so attractive, it isn’t my fault we’ve spent all our lives together, it isn’t my fault that my stomach gets butterflies. He just is there… all the time, whenever I need him or even if I don’t.
I think back to the first time we talked privately at all - when I was, like, ten and I’d been fighting with Jonah, and he carried me to the other side of the house and sat me down in the grass. I was crying and then I got angry, then I just fell back. I said I was sorry, or something, about him seeing me a mess - my mom always told me I need to keep my emotions private. But he just shrugged and asked if I needed to talk about it.
It’s always been easy for us to talk. Maybe because we knew we’d keep each other’s secrets. Maybe because we simply didn’t judge each other. He is Clark, I am Candice, and that’s that.
A chicken, I nod to the guitar. “So, you wrote a song, huh?”
He frowns and looks down. “Yep….”
“Trying something out for your next show?”
Surprisingly, with a chuckle he eases. “No. This is for you.” He gets settled and the same look he always has when he plays washes over his face. Though he never lets himself sing lead, I always liked his voice better than Erik’s. But there’s something different about this… I can tell by the way he’s slow going, how is voice is a little lower.
“What is it about you,
That stays in my mind,
What is it about you,
That is truly so kind.
I never know what to do,
With or without you,
I never know what to do,
With or without you.
What have you done to mind,
Effervescent and oh so kind,
What have you done to my mind,
I can’t be with or without you.”
The last cord fades on the wind, leaving a comfortable silence between us. Though I’m focused on his face, lips parted, eyes getting teary, he doesn’t even look up when he tries to pull the little gift out of his pocket. (He starts nibbling on his lip as he gets the little thing out, the corner slightly stuck on a seam.)
He doesn’t really give me time – or us time – to respond to the song before he’s offering a little box to me, I take the little box gently and open it with a soft creak. I gasp quietly and look to the clearly authentically antique heart-shaped locket on a white cushion. “This is beautiful!”
Relief spreads across his face and he smiles, dimples and all. “You like it?”
“I love it.”
He runs a hand through his hair, “Do you… need help putting it on?”
“Actually, yes,” my giggle is soft, a little uncontrollable. I quickly add “I usually get stuff caught in my hair.”
I hand the box back to him and then turn around. The blanket falls off when I lift my mane of curly hair above my shoulders with one arm. I feel his fingers brush by my bare skin as he tries to get the necklace around my neck and then clasped close. The chain is longer than I expected, the heart falling to the middle of my chest. Under my shirt it would land perfectly between the bra cups.
Happy tears rolling down my cheeks now, I turn around quickly and tackle-hug him. “Thank you so much!” I say into his shoulder.
Tears of joy tickle my neck as Candice holds herself close to me. I had heard a muffled “Thank you so much!” into my shoulder. I wrap my arms around her slowly and tug her a little closer. I don’t know how long we stay this way, us sort of melding together more comfortably, but finally she pulls back at a glacial pace. Like a sloth, she wraps the little blanket around her shoulders – looking sort of dozy, but in a happy way.
My next words spill out, “There’s one last thing.”
She presses some fabric to her cheeks, cleaning up her face. “Yeah?”
My fingers shove through my tuft of hair, slipping down to hold on the back of my neck. “Candice?”
“Clark?” she muses.
“I didn’t tell you before ‘cause I didn’t want you to not take it.”
She frowns and her fingers move from her blanket to the locket, “What is it?”
My eyes come to hers and I’m swimming in the green of a Summer field. “That was my mom’s.” I finally say, unblinking. “She gave it to me to give,” to give to the woman I love, when the time is right, “to the right person.”
“Clark?” she whispers, “Are you sure?”
I nod, my eyes stay level with hers, “I’ve always thought of it as yours.”
Finally, her smile is soft – sweet, kind, genuine. “I’ll never take it off.”
I don’t doubt it.
I enjoy her smile for a moment, building the courage to kiss her. But right as I lifted my hand to her face, her phone started ringing. “Ignore it,” I instruct again.
It is ringing though, not just a notification. She frowns and slips it up from the roof. “Oh, it’s Jonah.” She clicks talk. “Hey.” Her eyes drift to the side and she wiggles to sit criss-cross. “No, I’m awake and Hades is okay. I’m just -” But he is obviously talking over her (a habit I can’t stand) and she brings her fingers to her temple and rubs carefully. “Yeah, maybe. Yeah, no… I’m coming.” A pause. “I’ll be right there. Yep, bye!” and she sighs.
“I take it we need to get back?”
She tosses any loose hair over her shoulder, sighing, then takes another look at the starry sky. “I guess.”
I want to tell her we don’t have to, to tell her how much I care, to wrap up with her and stay right here just for another moment – or maybe much longer . I want to but can’t. My words just get lost in my throat and when I open my mouth a long exhale comes out.
Watching Candice move to slowly make it down to her balcony, I cannot understand why I never question myself, always do what I want, unless it’s around her. But after all this time, all these years, I am too afraid to lose her. If she doesn’t romantically like me back, then no more texts, no more quiet conversations, she would simply be my little brother’s best friend.
I had no control over losing my mother, but I do in keeping Candice.
Back in her room she tosses the throw onto the bed and excuses herself to her bathroom. In the dim light of just one lamp, I scope out where Hades is in his maze of furniture. Finally, I spot in him and kneel down and reach into a little hut. “Hey little guy.”
The sleepy kitten stretches and yawns and blinks at me with squinty eyes.
“You’re a good boy, you know that?” I pet him softly. “I’m sorry I ever called you names, I was just joking. You’re actually pretty awesome,” I chuckle as he playfully gnaws on my knuckle. “And your mommy loves you very, very much. I hope you know that,” I sigh. “I’m sure you love her too, huh?” He starts purring loudly. “Me too, Hades… me too.”
After making sure he’s not too cold by checking the tips of his ears and bottom of his stomach, I lift. Moving to the door, I lean against it and cross my arms over my chest. My phone buzzes right as the bathroom door opens.
You find Candice?
You assume I go over there when I’m not home?
She said you offered to check on Hades.
So? Are you with her?
Yep. There she is.
We’re heading back now.
And I shove my phone back in my pocket. “You ready to go?”
“It’s actually a good thing we came over here.”
I cock a brow and lift off the door, “Oh?”
She holds up a medicine bottle. “I forgot it.”
“Your Seroquel? Candice….”
Her eyes close. “I know, I know….”
“Take it now, would you?”
She chews on her inner cheek but then follows instruction. “Fine.”
I came over to her and draped my arm over her shoulder. “Com’on then. Let’s get you back so you can get some sleep.”
“You don’t usually wear necklaces that long,” Jonah comments as I pull out the sofa bed in his room.
It’s still under my shirt, but the pendent is pressing against the fabric. “It’s new.”
I nod slowly, letting myself get really focused on the fitted sheet.
“From your parents? Oh gawd, please do not tell me it’s the letter ‘C’ is it? That’s so cheesy! No wonder you’re hiding it.”
“I’m not hiding it,” I snap before I can stop myself.
He cocks a sculpted brow. “Oh? Show me then,” and he holds out his hand.
Would he recognize it? Even if he did, would he say anything? Did he know Clark had had the necklace? Would he even know if it’s the same one? I can’t not show Jonah though, he is basically my personal stylist - never caring that he would wait the women’s changing room to see each and every piece we agreed on for me to try.
I come over and delicately pull the chain out from my shirt, but not taking it off. Jonah cups it in his palm and I can’t read him at all. Even if he did recognize it is clear he isn’t going to comment. He tilts his head a little and says “Cute… vintage… totally you. Maybe get a shorter chain though,” and drops the heart against my chest
Distant, he shrugs and leans back against his wall of pillows. “What time did we tell people to start coming over tomorrow?” he then yawns.
Medicine kicking-in like I am hit by a train, I almost fall into the pull-out bed. “Two?” I yawn back.
“Right. It’s almost one now… eight hours for you is nine, though let’s be real, you probably won’t get out of bed until eleven. Getting ready… yeah…” with an inhale, and then “two’s good,” through another yawn.
“Mhm,” I hum sleepily.
“Goodnight, Candi,” he laughs.
I shove my hands up in a heart.
More laughter but then I’m fast asleep.
Groaning, I throw my arm over my eyes. We’d totally forgotten…. “Jonah,” I wine.
I could hear him moving around already and there’s a shuffle of fabric and then the curtains closed.
I curl around my pillow. “Thank you.”
There’s a soft chuckle, and right before the click of the door I hear, “No problem, Candice.”
My eyes snap open and I stare at the door. But I am alone in Jonah’s room.
“You should probably take off the necklace. You don’t want to damage the metal,” Marie comments.
My fingers had been dragging the heart softly up and down the chain as I look unseeing across the patio, across the pool. “Yeah, totally.”
There’s a huff laugh, and she nudges my arm. “Candi, what’s going on?”
I blink and look at her. “What? Nothing.”
Her thin but fashionable eyebrows lift, and she purses her lips. “Uh-huh. If I didn’t know any better that was a gift from your boyfriend.”
She lifts a hand, “Ex-zact-lee,” she sings.
Everyone knows I’d had only one boyfriend, from the end of eighth grade to the start of ninth. Everything was fine until he didn’t show up to dinner before Freshman Homecoming, breaking up with me over text, and that had been that. I’d gone on two dates between then and now, but I guess my crush on Clark is so bad that no-one seems to be more significant. But then again, it had been Clark that showed up to Homecoming - even though he’d made a huge deal of how lame it was - and stayed by my side the whole time. He instantly filled that place in my heart and never left.
I take off the necklace and put it on my phone on the outdoor-kitchen’s bar. “You’re right; I don’t want to damage the metal.”
“It’s gold, isn’t it?”
“I think so.”
We walk towards the edge of the pool; she makes a face “They didn’t tell you?”
“Hm? They who?”
She rolls her eyes. “The person that gave it to you.”
“Oh! Cute. Probably gold then, yeah.” Then she starts smiling, her eyes over my shoulder. Before I could turn, though, I’m lifted off my feet.
I wriggle and push against the shoulder of the guy carrying me, “No, no, no!” I squeal.
Seeing the dirty-blonde hair though, I start laughing while faux-fighting. “Clark! Clark, please! Put me down!”
His chuckle rolls off his chest and he says “Alright, Candice!”
And down I go into the pool. Getting myself up right, I come out of the water gasping. So very thankful for Jonah French-braiding my hair, I wipe my face. “Clark!” I screech.
There’s a low voice behind me and his arms wrap around me, around my bare stomach. “Yes, Candice?”
Flustered now, heart beating too fast, mind racing, unable to breathe, I just sort of stutter, “Y-you’re going to pay!”
Thrashing against him again, trying to push away, I’m not strong enough and he lifts me over the water. “Oh, really?”
“Clark!” and I am tossed again, into the deep end.
Coming up again, I can’t help but start laughing after I find my breath. Swimming over to all the girls, I know they won’t throw me anywhere. All of them look either confused or shocked and when I pull myself up over the edge to sit, I lean forward, “What?”
Allie throws her hand forward, “How are you so cool with him?”
“Who?” I glance around, toweling the braid down my shoulder.
She huffs. “C.J., obviously.”
My eyes land on his smiling face as he chats with Erik and his other band mates. He glances at me, as if knew, and winks.
Allie’s arm swats my stomach. “Oh. My. God!”
I laugh to myself and lift from the poolside with grace, “I am going to get a drink.”
All the girls followed like a swarm, practically pushing their way through the crowd, trying to ask me questions. Thankfully, Jonah is sitting on the bar and lifts a cup. “Hey! Everyone!”
Most people turn.
He stands on the bar, solo cup high, “Food’s ready! We’ll bring out the cake and cupcakes in about twenty minutes.”
Jumping off the counter, he hands me my phone with the necklace on top. “We should go change.”
After the necklace is on, I raise my eyebrows, “A wardrobe change?”
“Of course! We need to get that cute blowing-out-the-candles Boomerang and pictures, obvi.”
I glance at him as he tugs me inside. “You didn’t even get in the pool!”
His laugh is a little wicked. “Do I ever?”
Stumbling through the freezing house, I shake my head. “I didn’t bring a dress or anything, though. I brought clothes for when everyone leaves.”
We’re into his bedroom now, “Well.”
The door closes and I cross my arms over my chest, borderline shivering. “Well what?”
“Don’t be mad. But, I thought Hades should probably be checked on anyway so… I sent C.J. over and texted him to pick out a dress for you.”
Abruptly still, I stared at him. “What?”
He shrugs and pushes me to the bathroom. “You smell like chlorine, go wash off.”
The door closed before I can even get another word out. Clark? Clark went over, into my room, into my closet, and picked out a dress? Surely Jonah had given him really specific instructions; he’d organized my closet after all. I wash off quickly, using the body wash I’d left in here for this exact reason - some fancy bull shit Mom got me that smelled like magnolias. Wrapped in a towel with my white bikini strung over the curtain rod, I lean into the bedroom. “Jonah?”
“Can I have my clothes?”
He comes over with green fabric draped over his arm, the underwear I needed over it. “Here.”
I squint. “You never pick green for me - you say it’s too cliché for a redhead.”
“I told you, I told C.J. to.”
My chest starts fluttering - shallow breaths and fast heart. “I thought you must have told him what to grab.”
His shoulders shimmy. “Go on then. I’m sure you’re going to want to do your brows and mascara before we go down.”
Clothes on quickly, I look at myself in the mirror. I’d worn the dress once… not that it isn’t beautiful, but I’d bought for a specific reason… a specific person. Clark.
It was his birthday after I started crushing and I branched out and got something that would actually show off my decent size chest and tiny waist. Emerald chiffon, v-neck, butterfly sleeves, fitted beltline, flared skirt. I’d worn a French-braid then, too. But Clark barely even looked at me that night, when he did his stare was too intense to handle.
The only comment he ever made was when we were alone in his kitchen, a “You look gorgeous,” but he was and is so sarchotic sometimes that I didn’t know how to react before he left the kitchen quickly.
I remember standing in the kitchen, alone, wanting to cry. I didn’t know what to do so I just went home and changed. I came back, after crying a bit, in jeans and a high-collar, long-sleeved shirt. I lied and said I’d spilled soda on my dress.
My hands lay on my stomach as I just stare in the mirror. The necklace he gave me falls softly on my chest, the heart falling just under the v-seam. I didn’t want to tuck it in… but I do feel like I’m going to start crying. Had he just picked the dress because it was the first he saw? Did he pick it ‘cause of the color? Or had he remembered? Had he honestly meant it when he called me gorgeous and when he saw it he wanted to see it again?
“Candi! Com’on! We gotta get downstairs.”
Steadying my breath, I turn and open the door. “Alright.”
“Everyone’s expect – what’s wrong?”
I don’t look at him and spray some perfume. “What?”
I head for the door. “Com’on.”
“Candi, wait,” and he grabs my arm.
“What?” I utter in a surrendered voice.
I wave a hand down, “The dress.”
“Is it new or something? Were you saving it?”
My brows furrow, “You don’t remember it?”
He looks me over again and looks up with a confused face.
If he didn’t remember it, there’s no way Clark could. “Never mind then.”
Back in the dress, back in the kitchen, back in front of the fridge, looking for something to drink, Candice stands quietly. She’s reached the point she doesn’t want soda anymore but isn’t quite ready to ‘suffer’ through water. This had been the same thing that happened at my birthday… the first and only time I’d ever seen her wear that dress.
She smiles without looking, her hand absentmindedly moving the locket back and forth on the chain. “Clark.”
I also know that even though she is looking between the normal and pink lemonade that she’s going to end up picking the pink. Which is why I always ask Pops to stock it. I reach over her shoulder and snatch it.
“You look gorgeous,” I repeat, hoping this time I wouldn’t freak her out to the point she changes.
Knowing the difference between pink from the Sun and pink from blushing, I smile to myself while I pour two cups. Coming next to me, I hand her a cup. She whispers a nervous, “Thank you” and takes a sip.
I turn against the counter and cross my arms over my chest, cold glass against my shoulder. “So, Miss Candice, having a good birthday?”
She nods and laughs. “Yes, Mister Clark, I am.”
She’d taken her braid out as her hair dried and her fluffy mane is back. I lean over and tussle the top. “Good.”
Cup down, she moves over to push me sideways, her usual response. I tuck her against me, hand tight on her waist. “Don’t make me throw you into the pool again!”
She laughs and tries to wiggle out of my arms. “No! It’ll ruin the dress!”
I twist her around so she’s facing me. So close now that I can see all the details in her eyes, lighter than the dress but still a lively green. I smile down at her. “It is a great dress,” I concur.
Her expression tightens. “Do you even remember it?”
My eyes don’t even leave hers. “Of course, I do.”
Her chest starts moving quickly. “Really?”
“I don’t know why you never wore it again, honestly. And I think you should forget what Jonah says, green really does look great on you.”
Her lips part slightly but then she shuts them tightly. She knows I may be sarcastic sometimes, sometimes a little harsh, but I never lie. I notice her eyes lower to my lips. Finally feeling like it was my chance; I move my hand up to her neck.
Right as I start The Lean there’s a call from the hall, “Candi!” and she turns away.
A long blink and I curse under my breath, letting my hand fall and brush back some of her hair. I don’t even care what girl is coming into the kitchen now, I keep holding on to Candice so that I can just fucking kiss her after the girl leaves.
She fights against my arms, though, taking a step back, making some distance as the girl – Marie, I think her name is – comes into the kitchen. Of course, she’s not the only one, the whole gaggle of them behind her. They have that we-need-to-gossip look about them, so I squeeze Candice’s side, grab my drink and leave.
Hovering just beyond the arch from kitchen to dining room, though, I eavesdrop just a little. Of course, they are talking about me, talking about her with me, this is not new. I close my eyes to try and focus on the voices, weeding out Candice’s. The only important thing said is whatever she responds.
Something something, “you”, something, “C.J.” with a question mark.
I can hear the smile in her voice, “I don’t know… I mean, he’s one of my best friends!”
Eyes open, staring at the wood floor, my heart shrinks, my stomach drops, I can’t breathe. ‘Best friends’ rings in my ear as I made my way, not really seeing, up to my room. Closing the door behind me, I carefully place my drink on my desk.
Head hurting, stomach in knots, I sit on the edge of my bed. Candice is a smart girl, a pretty girl, an honest girl…. If she’d really felt something, surely, she would have told her friends, right?
But the more I stare at the ceiling fan and its methodical turning, I realized that wasn’t entirely a correct assumption. Girls could be mean, especially if they feel threatened. A lot of girls have crushes on me so if there is something between us – or she even felt something at all, telling them might get some bad reactions. No one could deny she and I were different than her with other guys or me with other girls. We were best friends, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
The problem is the only person she would ever admit her true feelings to is Jonah. But given that he’s the little brother in all this, that must be a little taboo, right? The last person, the very last person she could be honest with is me. So then, really, she doesn’t have anyone to talk to about this at all….
Instantly, I wish Mom was here. She’d know exactly what to do. She’d known… all along, even if she’d never said it. That’s why she gave me the locket – I know it – because she knew I’d give it to Candice.
I remember all the late-night conversations I had with Mom, when we found ourselves both looking for a midnight snack. Mom was the only person I didn’t feel weird talking to about Candice. She never assumed, she never joked, she never suggested anything… she’d just let me talk until I had nothing left to say.
Until I could look up at her and go “Candice is cool, I guess, is all I mean.”
Then she’d smile and reply “That she is.”
That she is, indeed.
Weeks pass and I very intentionally don’t let myself be alone with Clark. Even when we are near each other I have to keep myself from looking at him. There’s the normal banter and playful sarcasm, the normal things we’ve done for years, but nothing more. I’m too nervous, honestly, not sure what might have happened on my birthday.
Sometimes it feels like my romantic heart paints a picture that isn’t there – rose colored glasses and all that. But sometimes it seems like Clark might actually have some sort of infatuation for me. I don’t know what to do. Even worst, I feel lost with having no one to talk to about it.
Lying in bed with Hades, I move around the pink Pusheen I call Purrsephone and get him to chase her around the blanket. He meows and reaches for her without claws and then finally bits on to her (the way a parent cat would for a baby) and carries her off to the end of my bed.
Home on a Friday night?
Not even coming over to see Jonah?
Roof in fifteen?
I know he’d keep pressing me until I answered. I know he’d even have the nerve to call and wait in silence until I said something. And now, after a month and a half of avoidance, I am going to not just be alone with Clark, but in a very private and intimate space. But I also know, however, that I can easily avoid the subject of him – of him and me – of any feelings I may or may not have for him – ‘cause there is actually something pretty big weighing heavily on my chest. Much, much bigger and heavier than a couple pound wrinkle bean kitten.
Up on the rooftop, pretty cozy in my Slytherin Quidditch wool sweater, I hear the balcony door open and shut softly. Boots against wood and then Clark’s dirty blond hair appears, dancing in the wind.
“I hope it doesn’t start snowing again.”
I shrug, “We could always go inside if it did.”
Diving right in, he starts suggesting, “You could always pack a bag and bring Hades over and just spend the week at my house. Pops has the fire going and we’re pretty set in the game room for anyone who needs to escape from family.”
His hand falls on my shoulder. “Candice, come on. What’s wrong?”
I want to fall back, to lay against the roof, to look up into the stars. I want it to be just like my birthday, just how beautiful and perfect that had been. Our hands next to each other, almost together and then ‘I can’t be with or without you’... that had been the last line. That had been exactly how I felt, how I feel. But there’s snow and I could already feel the cold and wet seeping through the folded towel I’m sitting on. So, instead, I curl around my knees.
“You know how my parents are away this week?”
“Yeah… the whole week. They left Thursday morning and won’t be back until after school next-next Monday.”
“That’s kind of shitty. Where did they go?”
Eyes closed, I turn my cheek against my knee, facing Clark. “Marriage counselling.”
“Oh Candice…,” his voice heavy. There’s a soft sound of him moving and I feel him lean me against his chest.
Before I can stop it, all the tears I’ve kept at bay start rolling down my cheeks. “Ever since your mom died, it’s been this huge strain on them, on my mom. Mom wants to move away – saying that we’d only picked this house because of her best friend. And she says it’s really hard to stay here and see your family, especially Jonah. She yells at my dad, like, ‘why does it matter if we stay or leave’ since he’s never around anyway. But my dad says he refuses to leave – to take me away from Jonah, and you, and school and everything. He says it’s not fair to me, but also not fair to you guys. She may have lost a best friend, but you guys lost a mother. I don’t know,” I cough a little. “It’s all fucked up. Mom says she wants to separate then… let her at least ‘get away and clear her head’.”
“Oh Candice…” I could feel his cheek against my hair. “I’m so sorry.”
Bawling now, I push myself back against his chest. “And I-I just feel like if I leave the house, g-go over-r to your place then it’s real-l. You know? That if I do anything… anything that’s moving-g f-forward then I have to accept th-hat Mom may come back only to leave. Or not even c-come b-ack at all!”
Clark’s arms are tight around me, his body rocking us softly. He lets me cry as long as I need; his presence, his actions speaking enough. When the crying finds its end, I can feel his fingers going through the ends of my hair. Exhausted, defeated, I sigh. “I’m sorry.”
“Good God, what for, Candice?”
“That I’m a mess.” I whisper, the silence of the night making anything I say that much louder. “Like, really… with the Bi-Polar, now this. There’s actual stuff wrong with me.”
I can feel his head shake where is cheek is against my hair. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.”
“I don’t know,” she whispers helplessly. “It sure feels like it.”
I don’t say anything but squeeze her for a moment. Flashes of memories bounce across my mind of all the times I did research on depression and then what Bi-Polar Disorder actually is. I’d talked to teachers, the guidance counselor, Pops, a few different doctors…. Lots of research online from reliable resources. I did everything I could night after night to figure out what that all meant. Though Candice never said nor showed signs of being suicidal, I knew there had been times depression had started eating her alive. I also knew that environmental stressors like this could cause a downswing all on its own.
She gets frustrated any time I remind her of her medication, and I learned fast never to ask if she’s been responsible about taking them. I can’t imagine how hard it is to realize and accept that one – you have an incurable, chronic illness that is a lifetime of bull shit, and two – that you now have to not only see doctors and therapists regularly, but take medication every single fucking day for it.
But I know her. I trust her. She doesn’t just need to take her medication, she wants to.
Almost if she can read my mind she sighs. “My doctor upped my dosage by a half. It must be working, or whatever, ‘cause I still feel normal. She also gave me anti-anxiety meds…. So, like, if I start spiraling but can’t stop it, I can take up to two. I do not like the idea of needing medicine all the time – I mean, like, to feel what I think is normal. I can take my nightly shit, fine. But I haven’t taken a single of the anti-anxiety.”
After a long silence I kiss her hair. “How about this?” I try slowly. “We get some of your stuff, we go back to my house, we pick out some movies for the game room, and you try one of the anti-anxiety pills? Just one. I’ll be right there, the whole time, making sure you’re okay, and tomorrow we can talk about if it helps or not.”
Like a little mouse she squeaks “What if it does help though?”
“That’s a good thing, Candice.”
“I don’t want to become reliant on it.”
I frown and press my cheek against her hair, the sweet smell of strawberry filling my nose. “How ‘bout… you tell me every time you take one? Would that work?”
There’s a little bob of her head, “I wouldn’t lie to you.”
“I know Candice, I know.”
She straightens a little, then slowly moves to get down to her room. As she packs a bag I notice her sweater, “You know… I finally took that test on Pottermore you’ve been bugging me about.”
A genuine smile appears, and she tucks some hair behind her ear, “And?”
I smirk. “Guess.”
Her eyes squint. “Mmm. Ravenclaw?”
Her nose wrinkles slightly. “Not Gryffindor!”
Candice tilts her head. “Hufflepuff?”
She shrugs. “Jonah’s a Hufflepuff! Things like that run in families.”
“Not this time.”
I can see her struggle not to smile, “Slytherin, then?”
Nodding, I do let myself smile. One hand lifts from my crossed arms and I point towards her, “Just like you.”
I know how seriously she takes things like this though and she crosses her arms under her chest and lips move into a purse. “You didn’t fuck around with it to get Slytherin did you? Not all Slytherins are bad….”
Launching off her door I walk over to her, towering over her. “You think I’m bad?”
“Well, no. But that’s an image I think you like to have.”
Looking into her eyes, my voice softens, “You’re not bad though.”
Even with the thick layer of wool, I see her chest move spastically. “I could be, you never know.”
There’s a boldness in her eyes, a fierceness in her expression. I wonder what exactly she’s thinking about that is getting her so flustered. “Show me.”
She stares me down, hands now firmly on her hips. I know exactly what do say to push her. “I dare you,” my voice low, ending in a smirk.
Since as long as can I remember, any time I dared her to do something, she did. Didn’t matter how afraid she was or how nervous – didn’t matter if it was swimming lessons and the water was freezing, didn’t matter if the ocean was too loud and the waves crashing, didn’t matter if it was eating new food or watching a stupid movie, if I said it, she did it. To her, it shows how strong she is and to her then she gets to hold something over my head. To me, I get another memory of her being adorable.
Chest un-moving, eyes firey with life, her expression full of determination, she points to the foot of her bed. “Sit.”
Cocking a brow, I look down at her with an expression ‘oh yeah?’ She doesn’t say anything, so I don’t either. I sit as far back as I can, the edge of the bed right at my knees. Putting my hands behind me, honestly having no idea what to expect, I look up at her carefully.
No closing her eyes, no long breath, no fluttering chest, no moment of preparation. She knows exactly what she’s doing, exactly what she wants. First her hand comes for my shoulder, then she slips either knee in the space between my hips and hands. Lowering into my lap, she moves both her palms to my neck, fingers knotting in my hair. My chin is moved slightly up and before I know it her lips are on mine. Slowly, carefully, sensually… my eyes close and I move forward, hands going for her waist.
She moves us into French-kissing as I get under her three layers to her skin. Her back is warm, soft, and I grip her hard. Heart pounding, losing breath, mind blank – consumed by the moment, I didn’t know it could be like this.
She moves back ever so slightly, teeth soft against my bottom lip, a little tug. Eyes closed, chin tilted up, I feel her lips brush mine in one kiss, then a second, a third. I feel her forehead against mine as I can’t seem to catch my breath or catch up with any of my senses. The tip of her nose brushes mine, I can feel her rushed and hot breath against my lips.
There’s a moment and right as I open my eyes to look at her, she moves her head to whisper in my ear. She says what she always says after winning the dare, a snarky little “See?” and starts to move away.
Feet on the arm rest, legs over Jonah’s lap, back on the other cushion of the sofa, I am not paying attention to the movie whatsoever. He and his brother had picked it, some action movie with no plot. There’s a soft beeping though, as the microwave is done, and I can hear Clark getting popcorn into the bowl.
As soon as he sits down into the sofa right next to us, I reach – looking upside down – to get some popcorn. I’ve become very skilled at this, this formation not an unusual occurrence. Whether it’s because Clark randomly decides he wants to watch the movie, it’s a movie I don’t care about, or I am more interested in my current read, doesn’t matter. This is where we end up on movie-night.
I try not to think about kissing him some hours ago; try not to think about the conversation beforehand. For once, I just wanted things to be normal, to be usual – like nothing’s ever changed, like nothing will ever change. I just… need this, just for tonight. Take another handful of his popcorn, I nibble away and press for the next page on my Kindle.
Clark lets out his normal huff, probably about to argue that if I want popcorn, I should go make myself a bowl. Which then I usually stick my tongue out and say but his is right there. Sometimes that makes him get up and make me a bowl, sometimes it makes him move a seat away, sometimes it makes him give up and let me eat as much as I want. So, when he stands and scoops an arm under my back, I am very confused and surprised.
Sitting in my square, laying me against his legs, he puts the bowl in my lap. “There.”
Upside down I can see his firm jaw in the glow from the screen, his eyes unwavering from the movie. I look to Jonah who is already looking at me with raised eyebrows. I give him a ‘Don’t-look-at-me he’s-your-brother’ face and go back to my Kindle.
Now Clark’s arm is laying over mine, fingers barely touching the bowl.
I can hear some hacking and slashing from the wall-length screen, I try and read but I keep going over the same page again and again. I literally and figuratively have never been in this position and don’t know what to do. Trying to think of some excuse to get up, Jonah beats me to the punch and announces, “I have to pee,” lifting my legs and dropping them behind him.
Trying to read, trying to follow the words on my screen, I act like absolutely nothing is different than any other movie-night.
I look backwards to him, his head hasn’t moved, his eyes still on the movie. “Ah, it’s a teen novel called The Unexpected Everything.”
“It any good?”
“Compared to most teen novels these days, oh yeah.”
“What makes you say that?”
I lower my Kindle and look back to him. “Well, for example, the last book I read was called Slide Into My DM, and as much as I adore it, it was basically a modern You’ve Got Mail.”
“That was a good movie.”
Blinking I try and remember if he was there when I showed it to Jonah. “Yes… though that movie is based on an older film called –”
“The Shop Around The Corner, right?”
“Yeah – yes, right.”
He takes some popcorn and chews slowly. “Isn’t that like how Sleepless In Seattle was sort of An Affair To Remember? A lot of movies are remakes or adaptations… is that what you mean about your books, too?”
I close my mouth for a moment and scratch at my brow. “Yes, actually. Or, at least, it’s like I can read a newer book and go ‘oh, that’s from here… and that’s from there…’ etcetera.”
He nods. Then, after a rather loud hack-and-slash scene, he asks “Do you still read those other books?”
My eyes had fallen back to my e-reader; I’d actually made it through another page. “Which ones?”
“The B-D-B books.”
“The Black Dagger Brotherhood books, by J. R. Ward. I wasn’t so sure about the last book but when I read it? Damn. And that spin off series - the Legacy books? Man, it’s like reading the first books of the BDB all over again.”
My Kindle is lowered to my lap, screen off. “You read those?”
“I know but –”
A one-shoulder shrug. “You wouldn’t stop talking about them.”
“Well, I know but –”
“So, I checked them out.”
“Which is –”
“My favorite?” he finishes, totally derailing what I was going to say. “I really like Rhage and Mary. The first book is solid….” He finally looks down at me, “You’ve read The Beast haven’t you?”
He nods and looks back at the screen. “I was so happy for them, for Rhage.”
Feeling like an alternate universe, I really don’t know what to say next. Body on some sort of auto pilot, I manage to stand and look down at Clark. “I think I’m going to go take my meds.”
His brows furrow, “The anti-anxiety?”
I give him a look. “Well, you said you’d be there with me – for me.”
His nod is quick, “Of course, always. Just thought you might want to take that first and then the Seroquel later.”
I shrug, “My doctor suggested to take them together if it’s at night.”
He lifts from the couch too, pushing his hand through his hair. “Well, alright.”
I try and protest him following me, but I remember when he first saw my Seroquel, looking at the name and typing it into some website to look into the side-effects and stuff. He was good like that, protective like that, thoughtful like that…. Far different from either of my parents. They just ask ‘are you taking your meds’ periodically and as long as I say ‘yes’ they don’t press.
Why wouldn’t I, for Christ’s sake? Do they really think I want to be depressed? Or manic? Or panicked? Or… crazy?
In Jonah’s room, Candice shifts through her bag. “I’ll probably fall asleep quickly….”
“That’s okay, I can always carry you back up here.”
She snorts and rolls her eyes. “You say that like you’ve done it before.”
Arms crossed, looking at her with an expression of un-deniability, I reply, “I have.”
Her mouth makes a little o. Then, she takes out two prescription bottles and hands them to me. “Here.”
I note that her mood-stabilizers have gone from two hundred to two-fifty and hand it back to her. She takes one pill out and tosses the bottle back to her bag. With one hand I hold the anti-anxiety medication, with the other I type it into my phone. She has a very low dose from what I skim through and one of the side-effects can be sleepiness. With it being her first time taking the medication plus her daily dose, I doubt she’s even going to make it an hour without nodding off.
“You should feel a lot better,” I had the second bottle back.
She shrugs and takes out one pill. “We’ll see.”
I watch the way her freckled nose wrinkles as she dry swallows the pills, and the way her long lashes flutter against her cheek as she blinks a few times. “Let’s get back downstairs.”
I step back and let her walk first out of my brother’s room. Down the stairs and back into the game room, I sit back down on the second sofa, letting her relax in the other. Jonah looks at both of us and teases, “Do I want to know?”
Rolling my eyes, I hear Candice explain about her medication. Jonah doesn’t quite follow all her health stuff like I do but he nods thoughtfully and asks, “How are you feeling?”
She sighs, her eyes straight up, her hands cupped over her stomach. “Like I don’t want tomorrow to come, honestly.”
Without thinking, I reach over and start combing through her hair. “It’s going to be okay, Candice.”
Her eyes are closed, and I can tell she’s trying not to cry. “I don’t know, Clark. I don’t… everything’s a mess.”
Jonah looks to me with a ‘what-the-fuck’ expression and I just shake my head. “What movie do you want to watch?”
“Don’t care… I’m going to fall asleep anyway.”
I look to my brother, who’s completely lost. “Ah, what about a musical?”
“Mmm. Across The Universe?”
“Sure,” he nods to me.
I lift from my spot and move over to Jonah’s movie case. I know he organizes them by genre then alphabetically. So, at the bottom of the middle, there is the movie. Getting it into the player, then back in my seat, after ‘Play Movie’ is selected, I go back to running my fingers through Candice’s hair. As typical, and why I don’t usually stick around for musicals, Jonah and she start singing along without care. Her voice is softer, with her sleepiness, but she doesn’t miss a beat. Of course, I knew this movie as well as them, having lived in this house with them for the past eleven years but it’s weird to actually be sitting with them, with her and watching it.
I notice she doesn’t start singing to ‘Let It Be’ and Jonah and I look down at her. Very clearly asleep, her face finally peaceful.
“So, what the fuck is going on?” I hear him whisper.
“Has she not told you?”
My eyes flick up to his. “Her parents are talking about separation, maybe even divorce.”
He shakes his head. “Is she doing okay?”
For once I look at him and answer directly. “I don’t know, Jonah. This has been really difficult for her.”
“Which one of her parents is it? Her dad?”
“No… sadly. It’s her mom.”
He turns a little towards me, with an incredulous expression. “Her mom?”
I know she’s going to tell him all this tomorrow, so I don’t feel like I’m crossing a line. He knows that too, that’s why he’s asking. “After what… happened, her mom wants to move. Her dad says he refuses, that he won’t take her away from us, school, her life….”
“Is that why her mom got her Hades?”
I feel a sharp twinge in my chest. “Probably.”
“Fuck,” he repeats.
Mid-way through ‘Dear Prudence’, Jonah gets a text. “Oh! Justin wants to come over.”
My eyes had been closed, my mind just focusing on how soft Candice’s hair is. “What time is it?”
“It’s only midnight.”
I peek over, “Really?”
I look down, “I guess I can get her to bed.”
“Cool. Thanks! I don’t think Justin will be over long.”
I scoop Candice up the same way I always have, resting her head against my shoulder. As I’m out of the game room I hear the movie stop. A comfortable silence falls, and I can hear the subtle sound of Candice’s breathing. I scoot Jonah’s door open farther with my foot and am careful when placing her down on the pull out. She settles soundly, curling around her pillow. I brush back so of her hair with care, then move to close the curtains. I look down before heading to leave, “Goodnight, Candice.”
There a murmur sounding like “‘Night, Clark,” but she’s so very sleepy.
I smile to myself and get one last look at her, the soft yellow light of the bathroom washing over her face. I take a wide step and open the door, trying to be as quiet as possible. Right as I’m about to close with without clicking the knob there’s a little “Wait” from Candice.
Frowning, I peek into the room. She is rubbing her eyes gently, “Clark?”
A step back in, “Yes?”
She doesn’t open her eyes but scoots farther into the bed, towards the wall. “Please don’t leave.”
Door closed, I come over and sit on the edge of the bed. “I’m right here.”
She curls towards me, her hand out. “I’m scared.”
I take her hand softly. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
She huffs then yawns, her head nestling against the pillow. “Everything’s changing.”
“Just remember what I told you.”
“Never think nobody cares?”
My thumb moves over the back of her hand softly, “Exactly.”
Candice starts to cry, and I ease into the bed. I clear her face of any stray curls and wipe away some of the tears. I have no idea what’s going in her head, but I know that I can at least be here, right here where she needs me. “I don’t want to be depressed again,” she whimpers.
I cannot imagine how scary and difficult it is when you cannot even control your own mind. Her body and brain working against her, regardless of what she may actually feel or want. The imbalance of chemicals eating at her from the inside out. I knew for a fact she’d never done drugs - not even smoking pot, and only had a drink or two at our parties because she never wants to lose control. I can’t blame her… when she can go one moment to the next and start feeling that slide into darkness. If I were her, I’d be a huge control freak over everything I could.
My own eyes getting watery I hold her hand tight. “I’m going to be here, no matter what, okay?”
“You and Jonah are the only people who’ve ever said that to me.”
I stop myself from blurting a nasty comment about her selfish parents, instead saying, “Don’t you ever doubt it.”
She sniffs and coughs and wipes her face. “I don’t… I never have.”
“Good,” I squeeze her hand. “Now get some sleep, okay? I’ll see you in the morning.”
I don’t move though, not until I figure she’s soundly asleep. This time I’m able to slip from the bed, out of the room, and close the door without disturbing her. In my own room I think about how vulnerable she is, how confused she is, how terrified she is of losing everything… her mom, her family, her home, Jonah, me….
And much to my displeasure, I realize if I am going to start some sort of more-than-friendship relationship this is just not the time.
TO BE CONTINUED in the novel. (Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.)