"Best Friends" cnt.
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
Laying on the plush tan carpet of Jonah’s bedroom, I focus on the in-and-out of my breathing. I am too petrified to be home… knowing I cannot handle being there when Mom and Dad are supposed to be coming back from their marriage counseling thing. School had passed in a blur and Jonah lead me up to his room before even giving me a chance to head home. I’d uttered something about Hades, and he hollered at Clark to go check on him.
Clark has been gone a while now and I hear Jonah’s phone ring. “She’s still here,” he comments after a moment. “Oh? Oh. Are you- right. Does he? No, no, that makes sense. Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. No, definitely after that. You want me to? Are you sure, I can hand over the phone. Well, okay. Yeah, bye.”
There is a creak of his computer chair and then he slips his hand undermine. “Hey, sweetie.”
Instantly nauseous I shake my head. “Just tell me.”
He knows me well enough to know that I prefer the blunt delivery than the walk-around. I hear him take a deep breath and he puts his other hand over ours. “You parents came back and your mom’s packing a bag. It took C.J. doing a lot of yelling to get your dad to tell him what’s going on. Apparently, your mom is leaving for her sister’s for… a while. She says she wants a divorce. Your dad told C.J. quote – I don’t care about this bull shit anymore, the only thing I’m concerned about is Candi – unquote. I offered to put you on the phone with your dad and stuff, but he says he’s going to stop by after your mom leaves. He wants to know if he should bring Hades?”
Already uncontrollably sobbing, just ugly bawling, I try to absorb all the information. I don’t know how long I laid there, crying my eyes out, unable to breath. Gasping and coughing, Jonah moves me to sit, to lean against him. Sobbing into his shirt, I can’t wrap my head around anything anymore.
Finally, no more tears left, chest empty, in a daze, I go limp. “Jonah,” I whisper.
His hand starts moving up and down my back, “Yeah, sweetie?”
“How did everything get so messed up?”
“I used to ask myself the same thing.”
Eyes hard to open from the swelling, I sit up, running my sleeve over my nose. “She died though,” I say without thinking. “She’s gone. My mom is still here and she’s choosing to abandon me.”
Jonah doesn’t say anything, as expected. The silence is deafening, and I lift to go clean up. Looking to Jonah before I close the bathroom door, I hate that he looks as normal as can be. Sitting on the floor, one hand behind him, the other holding his phone, he looks like nothing even happened. Not now, not when his mom died… nothing’s changed. I wish I could do that… just ignore or bottle everything up… just put it on a box, shove that box in my closet, and never have to deal with it again. But no… maybe because I’m a girl, maybe because I’m Bi-Polar, maybe because the situation is completely different, but I all I can do is feel. And feel it at such an extreme amount that it consumes me.
“What do you think, C.J.?”
Mister Robinson looks at me helplessly. He is viscously aware of how much he’s been absent in his daughter’s life but now, when it’s the most important, he’s going to be here for her. I’m a little surprised, to be honest, knowing his history, but I’m very pleased he’s making this commitment. “I don’t think you should move. Her routine should stay as close as possible… me and Jonah picking her up in the morning and taking her to school. Her walk across the lawn to get back and forth. It’s going to be hard, for a while… being in the same how where Patricia isn’t. But soon enough she’ll have new memories of her friends over, her with Hades, her with you…. All the new, good memories, will fill the gap left behind.”
He nods slowly, then scratches at the scruff reaching up from his neck across his chin and cheek. “Is that how it was for you? After your mom?”
“Yes, sir. And, honestly, if it hadn’t been for Candice coming over so often – like normal, like clockwork, it would have taken us much longer to cope, I think.”
“I just want what’s best for my daughter.”
I can hear the desperation in his voice, and I nod. “I can see that.”
He rubs his aged face in his hands. “I know how close you are with her; I know how much you care. I don’t know why I feel like I have to explain myself to you but you’re so significant to her. You and Jonah… you guys have always, always been there,” his hands fall to the table, his head shaking. “I knew this was a possibility, that Patricia would leave, so I’ve already switched jobs so that I can be here every night. In no way am I going to request Candice to be here all the time, though sleeping here on school-nights at the very least. But I hope that she does see how much I’m trying and will let me be there for her.”
Agitated now, I exhale slowly, thinking of my words carefully. “With all due respect, I’m not going to be the Candice whisper-er for you. You need to be having these kinds of honest discussions with her.” Shaking my head I lift from the bar stool, “She’s a smart girl, your daughter, and she has an amazing heart. If you would give her a chance – treat her like a person, like the young adult she is? I’m sure you’ll see what I see but also learn how alone she’s felt.”
I turn in the middle of the kitchen, “Sir?”
“Your mom would be proud of you.”
A little taken aback, I blink. It is weird to think that he knew Mom his whole relationship with Patricia until her passing. It is weird to think of them as friends…. Did they ever talk one-on-one? Did they ever talk about their hopes and dreams? Were they ever real with each other? Maybe… after all their time, he must have known her enough, anyway.
“Thank you,” and I give him a nod before leaving.
“Are you sure it’s okay I stay at the Wilson’s the whole break?”
“Are you sure it’s okay I go see your grandmother?”
I look up from spinning my low mien. “I promise, Dad, it’s okay. You offered to stay, I know I could go too, but I actually think it might be good for you – you as a person – to see your parents. You’re only human, Dad.”
Eyes glassy he offers a half-smile. “When did you get so smart?”
My snark and sass responses I usually felt like replying with has dwindled out of my mind after a week of it just being me and him. I can see how much he’s trying; how much he cares… he even changed jobs to a desk-monkey position. He gets home just before dinner, sometimes bringing food, sometimes suggesting take-out, sometimes asking if I want to go out. I know food can be a coping mechanism, but also having the one-on-one is helping us both. His only requirement is that I eat dinner with him and sleep at home on school nights, so it is really easy to enjoy his time.
There had been one crying fest between the both of us, that first weekend alone. My packed bag dropping on the kitchen floor and he hugging me tight against his chest. He apologized for all the lost time and said that he was going to do anything to make things easier for me. He said that what my mom did is not my fault and it’s very much okay to be mad at her. Now, another week and a half later, the Sunday before mid-term week, I could honestly say as much as I hurt, I am not actually clinically depressed.
“I guess I have an emotional intelligence… given all that I have to deal with in my own head.”
“You’re smart in so many ways Candi. I can’t even imagine how hard it is to deal with the mental stuff on top of just normal teenage life.”
I shrug and take a huge bite of noodles. After stabbing a few General T’so’s chickens I look up. “My grades aren’t where I’d like them to be, if I’m honest. I used to have straight A’s. Through Middle School and Ninth grade. Up until Homecoming, anyway. And now I’m fighting to get B’s, holding C’s pretty well. Even with Jonah’s or even Clark’s help, I just… I don’t know.”
He puts down his beer, “Is there anything I can do? Do you want a tutor?”
I shake my head and look back down at my food. “Next year maybe, next semester I mean… I need to hold B’s and get some A’s to get my GPA up. I was talking to Clark, actually, about how it might be better for me to go to community college for my AA then to University for my BA. What… uh, do you think?”
There’s a small silence, I lean back against the booth, hand on my cup. Fingers going up and down the condensation. Finally, he says, “I don’t follow.”
“Well, I know money shouldn’t really be a problem and I can probably get a scholarship or grant or whatever, too. But with community college, it’s a little more laid back. It’s not so important for me to have a full course load. I’m not walking in there with every other Senior that’s graduated - all my age, all with the same expectations and having the same things expected of me.
“There’s not so much pressure to do everything a certain way. I talked to my therapist about it and the school counselor, and they both said that it’s easier to go at my own pace in community college. Plus, I can live at home.”
“Aren’t there a lot of classes online now, anyway?” He tries, trying to see another solution too.
I shrug. “Yeah, but I rather go into a classroom. It already stressing me out to think about not having a teacher actually there. No, I need to be in a classroom, actually talking with someone, and around people that are leaning what I’m learning too. I just think with doing this way, being with people who have their own ups and downs and hardships and their own pace to follow, might be more…” realistic, “… comfortable.”
His face is a mix of trying to understand what I’ve said and contemplating his response. “I think I can understand how that might be easier for you. Take only a couple of classes, see how much you can handle. I’ve never had to deal with what you’re going through, but it seems like you’ve really thought this out.”
I look to my Cherry Coke quickly, “You’re not disappointed?”
His eyebrows jump up, “Oh honey, no! I’m actually extremely proud of you. You already know so much about yourself and your illness and what you need. I think it’s very brave of you to not only acknowledge your limitations but accept them and make a plan. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help you with these hard choices.”
Shifting in my seat, trying not to get too emotional, I start on with, “Jonah was thinking about it too. Though I think that’s because he doesn’t know what he wants to do. Clark though, well, he’s pretty much a guarantee for a full ride to all the state’s universities for his football, maybe even other states too. He said he was even looking into Ivy League, which he’s a totally genius so….”
“You’re going to miss him.” Not a question, with the tone of an educated statement.
I roll my eyes, “Clark? Of course. And Jonah too, if we don’t end up at the same college. But it’s not like we won’t talk all the time.”
“There’s a big difference from not seeing someone for weeks at a time then walking across a lawn whenever you want, though, honey.”
Does he really think I’m unaware of this? Does he really think I haven’t already freaked out about Clark possibly going across the country? All the times he was able to sneak across and meet me on the roof, poof! Next year and Senior year it won’t be his face I see in the morning and around school. And with a new University worth of girls… smart girls, gorgeous girls, girls taking the same classes as him… I’ll become a forgotten thought. Just somebody he used to know.
I reach into my purse for a Hydroxyzine, taking that with a swig of soda, then texting Clark I had done so.
“Oh, Candi, I didn’t mean to stress you out,” Dad comments hurriedly.
I give a shoulder shimmy, “It’s not a big deal… there’s a lot going on right now, it happens,” and eye the new notification on my phone. Lowering it to my lap, I click over to Clark’s conversation.
Is it your dad?
What is he doing?
Do I need to yell at him again?
I smile and feel my chest ease.
We’re talking about college.
He’s not making you stress about that is he?
You told him what we talked about, right?
You came up with a brilliant plan, Candice.
Don’t let him get you down.
He asked what school you’re thinking about.
I tried to make that question seem more normal.
Same with Jonah.
Oh. Well, right now…
I’m looking at University Of Virginia.
My brows come together.
It ranks #25th of National Universities.
It’s not a bad school.
They’ve been trying to get me since Freshman year.
I could stay at home.
I stare at his last text. Is that the real reason or an afterthought?
“Candi, what is it?”
My phone drops to my lap and I look up, “What?”
His eyes squint a little, “Your expression…. I cannot tell if it’s good or bad. Is something wrong?”
I slip my phone back in my purse. “To answer your question from earlier, apparently Clark’s leaning towards University Of Virginia.”
“That’s a good school,” he says cautiously.
“That’s what he said. Apparently, it ranks twenty-fifth of National Universities.”
I scratch at my brow then fold my arms over my stomach as I lean into the cushions. “He said they’ve been trying to get him since Freshman year - with his football and everything. And, well, he said something about how it would give him a chance to stay home.”
“A train ride away, yes. A better commute than I have.”
I nod but can’t help but feel guilty.
Dad must be able to read me now, for he leans forward and says in a very calming tone, “Candi, he’s almost an adult. He can make that choice if he wants.”
My head shakes softly as I stare at my straw. I can feel the tears tickling my bottom lid. “I can’t be selfish like that.”
Dad smiles, a soft chuckle. “You ever think that maybe he’s being the selfish one?”
“‘Nevertheless She Purrsisted’.... Really?” Jonah looks up from the cup I’m holding. “That’s really what you’re going to give her for Christmas?”
“It’s got a little cat on it,” I defend.
He holds back laughter. “I can see that.”
“I think it’s cute.”
“I never said it wasn’t. I’m just saying is that really what you want to get her for Christmas?”
I push my hand through my unruly hair. “Well, what the fuck would you suggest?”
“A book, maybe? I know she always finds something at Popup Books.”
I would much rather take her there and see her excitement over vintage books. “Hm… that’s on the other side of town, though, isn’t it?” I follow him to the cash register, thinking on the suggestion. “What did you get her?”
“All of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel on DVD, obvi. We’re still playing catch up on all the quality we missed.”
Standing behind him in the front of FYE, I look around at all the impulse buys of geeky and nerdy things. “That’s like twelve seasons together, isn’t it?”
“Well, I could get her more than one thing, too.”
He rolls his eyes. “You’ve only ever given her one gift. Don’t think you have to rise to my level.”
I snatch the R2D2 thumb drive off the little shelf. “This year’s different.”
After paying he stands back, a brow cocked. “Oh really?”
I don’t look while I had over cash and wait for my bag. “With her mom and all.”
“Oh. Right, yeah.”
It isn’t a lie, but it isn’t the whole truth. Out into the wide hall of the mall I look around, “Which way is the Barnes And Noble?”
Already glued to his phone he points to the right of us. “That way, but I’m heading to the food court.”
“I’ll text you when I’m headed to the car.”
“Mmm,” and we part ways.
Into the bookstore I get around the checkout and stop, really not sure what I’m looking for. Quickly there’s a perky, “Can I help you with something?”
I notice it’s one of the brunettes from the Cheerleading squad. “Well, I’m looking for a gift.”
She smiles right up at me, “And who’s the lucky person?”
“Candice… you know her, right?”
“Candi? Of course. She’s in my English class. Her nose is always stuck in a book, you came to the right place,” she lets off a simple laugh and touches me arm briefly.
“You notice what she’s been reading?”
“She has a different book every day, I swear,” she attempts to be playful, “but by the covers it seems like she’s been reading romance novels.”
She leads me towards the back of the store. “Almost the whole semester she was reading young-adult and teen stuff,” she points to the right of us. “But when she was done with her final, I noticed she had a J. R. Ward book,” and she points to the left.
“Do you remember which one?”
“Mmm. One of the vampire ones, I think.”
We walk along the isle and at the very end, the second shelf from the bottom, is all the bookstore had to offer for J.R. Ward. I pull out my phone and start going through her Instagram. Just before break she posted the first book of the Legacy series but not the second. I scanned the shelf and just my luck they had a single copy of Blood Vow. “Do you have any suggestions for the teen section?”
“Realistic fiction or fantasy or…?” she asks as we head to the other end of the store.
“What’s The Unexpected Everything?”
“That, then. But not P.S. I Like You – she’s already read that.”
The Cheerleader eyes me. “You really are best friends, huh?”
My eyes scan the shelves and I let off a non-committal, “Mmm.”
I pull out A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall. The soft pink color attracted me, and the cute cover seems nice. I read the tag like ‘Fourteen viewpoints, One love story’ and read the back. It seems right up Candice’s ally. Eyes back to the shelf, I hear the Cheerleader ask, “Are you guys going to have another Christmas Party this year?”
I shake my head. It was hard enough getting Pops out of the house now that he and Mom didn’t go to a work party, and now with Candice’s whole parental situation…. “No. But we’re having our normal New Year’s Eve party.”
“Oh! Sweet. I’ll have to stop by,” and out of the corner of my eye I can see her cross her arms under her chest to push her breast together. Usually I would flirt a little, even just for a flustered reaction and leave it. Or to get her all wound about the party so she would show up with all her friends.
This time though I kept scanning the shelves. “Any other suggestions?”
I gesture forward. “For books?”
“Oh. Um.” But I could tell she was more lost than I was.
I nod and lift the two books. “Thanks,” and I walk away since she won’t.
Right as I’m walking to the front I pass and whole display of Winnie The Pooh products. Some based off the Summer movie, some more like Disney’s, and then there was a whole collection with the original styling. I spot a little Piglet amongst the display of Pooh’s. Smiling to myself I think of how Candice would always call him ‘Pliget’ and actually cried when she found out he was he and not a she. She loved Piglet so much even when Jonah argued Tigger was better. Her biggest argument, no matter how much he yelled, was that Piglet was brave – no matter what, even if he was scared or it meant for asking for help, he did whatever it was because Piglet was brave.
Feeling triumphant, I text Jonah that I’m about to check-out.
For the first Christmas morning in my life, I’m not home. Not just not home, but not going to see my dad or any other family members all day. Nope, I’m at the Wilson’s… sleeping in the guest bedroom across from Jonah’s room. Hades is still a little freaked out about being here rather than my room, so he sleeps in the little house I brought over with the heating pad bottom that I’ve tucked between pillows on the top of the bed. So, it’s just me, watching the fan, at six in the morning. Or seven-thirty-two as my FitBit lights up.
Well past the years of Santa Clause, well past the years of knocking on my parent’s door to run downstairs before the Sun even rises. The past couple years, in fact, I’d woken around ten or eleven, which was usual for any non-school day. That’s usually when I would get a ‘Merry Xmas!’ text from Jonah and a ‘Have a Merry Christmas, Candice’ from Clark.
Knowing that if I even took a long bath, let my hair dry naturally, did subtle makeup, and got a bra under my Christmas pajamas, I’d still be sitting here for like three hours. Shoving off from my temporary bed, I slide on my Pusheen slippers and ease to the door. Door opened quickly and closed quietly, I look down the long hall to the main stairs. Maybe some hot cocoa would do the trick.
Footsteps muffled by the slippers; I am not worried while making my way down to the kitchen. But then I hear soft guitar from the formal living room, and I freeze. Playing my birthday song again, Clark’s voice is soft, if not a little strained. Feeling like I’ve not only stepped into his private space by being on the main floor, but I also feel like I’ve creeped into a very vulnerable moment. Should I just go back upstairs? Should I just go into the kitchen, make a little noise, but act like I never heard him?
Thinking he could use some hot cocoa as much as I could, I slip into the back of the kitchen. Not being totally quiet-as-can-be, I don’t hear him continue playing. After the beeping of the microwave for the first mug, there’s a soft cough from the front of the kitchen.
Barefoot, grey sweatpants, no shirt, bedhead for days, Clark slowly meanders to the breakfast bar. “Can’t sleep?” his voice rough.
“No.” I bring him over the first mug. “You?”
“Thanks. And no… mind’s kind of loud.”
I laugh shortly. “I get that.”
“Did you even get eight hours?”
I put the next mug the microwave. “Yeah.” I eye him as he blows the hot drink. “Did you sleep at all?”
“Clark,” I say with stress.
He smirks, “Candice?”
I huff and turn back to the microwave.
The chair he’d been in scrapes against the wood, and he slides against the counter next to me. “You liking the guest bedroom okay?”
He smells fresh from the shower, plain old soap and the Old Spice deodorant smelling like evergreen and mint. I try to either keep my eyes on my hot cocoa or his face, not looking at his healthy and beautiful and strong muscles. “It’s nice. A bit different, but Hades seems okay.”
He nods and takes a sip. “It’s yours but opposite right?”
“Yeah, Jonah’s technically has what would be my bedroom.”
I turn against the counter too, standing next to Clark. I keep my eyes on my drink and sip at it slowly. Moments pass and I notice him give me a once over, “You warm enough?”
Looking down at my oversized Christmas-green sweater which I have Cuddle-duds shirt under, plus bottom Cuddle-duds under my black sweater leggings, then my Pusheen slippers. “Yeah, why?”
His large, calloused hand grips the top of my mug, lifting it away from me. I turn as he puts our mugs on the counter and my heartbeat picks up as he grips my hand, “Come’re.”
There’s a soft glow coming from the front of the house, a little brighter than the streetlights. I peek around Clark has he slips on shoes and grabs a random jacket; the Sun must be rising. Out the front door he leads me.
Thick fluffy snow blankets the world around us from sight line to sight line. Every lawn, every car, every mature tree, every roof top. The sky waking with the Sun, colorful as any painting or picture - a brilliant array of colors both vivid and pastel. Sunlight seeping through the left-over clouds, the normally white puffs seeping with color. The world is quiet, is at peace in this display of magnificence.
I feel Clarks arms wrap around my waist the same way he did in the pool, his cheek against my hair like all the times he’s comforted me. “Merry Christmas, Candice.”
Eyes teary, chest fluttering, I place my hands over his. “Merry Christmas, Clark.”
Laughing so hard she snorts and falls back against the carpet; I lean back in my armchair and watch Candice and Jonah sit on the floor to go through out possible music collection for our annual New Year’s Eve party – seeing as it’s only three days away. Even though Mister Robinson has been back in town, Candice has made it clear she wants to take advantage of the guest bedroom until the first.
The tradition of being The Party to go to starting with our parents - all four of them inviting everyone they knew, including their kids (which is probably what made it so popular). The adults changed venues but now almost the whole school shows up. Even though a lot of people beg/insist my band to play, we always reply we want to enjoy the party too.
This, of course, leads to the endless music conversation. I get final say on the playlist, trying to be unbiased as possible. But as soon as I see Jonah even looking a musical soundtrack I lean forward “Hand it over.”
“Ha! I told you,” muses Candice.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re five, ten, fifteen - no musicals.”
He rolls his eyes, “I’ll just plug in my iPod after you’ve had enough to drink.”
I throw The Greatest Showman on top of Moulin Rouge and Rent. “I really don’t plan on drinking much this year.”
Candice looks to me quickly, “Really?”
Given that alcohol mixed with unrequited feelings usually is what leads to me making out with random girls a couple hours into the party, yes really. “Think I’ll get my hookah out instead, maybe.”
Purse lips, head tilted down, eyes on the CD’s, Jonah lets out a long, snarky “Mmhhm, sure.”
Ignoring him, I gesture to the cases strewn over the floor, “So what are we looking at. We have a sort of theme this year or?”
“Obvi. I was thinking throw-backing to, like, late two-thousands. Last year we did mostly nineties stuff – which was fine ‘cause the nineties didn’t really end until two-thousand-five and it was in so many movies and TV we watched growing up. So, why not go the next decade? We’ve got early Panic, Evanescence, Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Green Day, MCR, Flyleaf, Skillet….”
“So, we’re just going emo then?” I smirk.
Candice smiles and looks to me, Jonah rolls his eyes. “It is what’s playing on throwback radio, you know. At the gas stations, on TV even! Maybe it’s ‘cause my head is so wound by Buffy –”
“And Moonlight,” Candice points to him.
He holds a hand to her, “Right, can’t forget that. Which had ‘The Bird And The Worm’ by…” he picks up another CD, “The Used. And we could def put some A System Of A Down In There, maybe some Disturbed if we are more selective.”
Now I roll my eyes, “Right, because if you ‘can’t hear the lyrics it’s not music’.”
“Which is why no Bullet For My Valentine or any other screaming bull shit.”
“It’s not a bad mix,” I confess when I think about. “No modern stuff though?”
Jonah shakes his head, “I know your band has already said you guys want to do our Valentine’s Day party, so I figure that’ll have newer stuff when you’re not planning. And next year!” He smiles wide and points to Candice, “we get to have a motherfucking Roaring Twenties Party!”
She claps a little. “I already have my Flapper dress! It’s fabulous! I cannot wait.”
“The gold one with the black?”
Now picturing her in a Flapper dress and the whole get up, I smile. I love how ready and willing she is to dress up and have fun. “I could totally rock a mobster look.”
Jonah smirks. “Now, if you wanted to not drink, that would be the year! With the prohibition and everything? That would be so aesthetic.” He whips his head to Candice. “Oh my gawd, we totally need to do like a whole Speakeasy thing! Like actually send invites with the password! Yasss,” and both his hands go up for a double-high-five.
“Well cool,” I try to rein the conversation back in. Gesturing to the CD’s and the room, I ask “Normal set up?”
Wrapping the matching belt at my natural waist around my long-sleeve, scoop neck, gold sequins swing dress, I peek at the nude heels Jonah and I agreed on. “It still feels weird to be wearing shoes in your house.”
“Mm. We always do on New Year’s though!”
“I don’t know how long I’m going to last,” I pick up the three inch with one inch platform nude nubuck pump. “Remember Homecoming? Half-way through and I was in socks.”
“Hey! Those were cute with the frills; it totally went with your dapper-y dress. Plus,” he looks up from his phone, “you already agreed to them.”
I slip them on, holding on to the side of his desk for support. “I know, I know. But these were the only closed toed options and you know my rules.”
Jonah makes an exasperated face as he repeats, “No dying your hair, no stripes, no open-toe, and no pink – no matter how much we watch Molly Ringwald or Nicole Kidman.”
“Exactly. No matter how many times you try and convince me otherwise.”
He stands and drops his hands on my shoulders, “Oh my sweet little Candi, what am I going to do with you?”
Giggling with his chuckle he moves to finally tuck in his button-down. “Alrighty then! Let’s get some pictures and head downstairs.”
May of sounded like a quick one-two but pictures included mirror pics, selfies, him taking pictures of me, me taking pictures of him, and then finally, after the music starts and some hooting and hollering is going on below, it is time to be late to our own party.
Jonah rushes down leaving me alone with my in total four-inch heels and the grand staircase. Staring at every step I think if I should already ditch the shoes entirely. I can feel him before he talks, then the oh-so-familiar voice is behind me, “Need help?”
I look over to see an offered arm. “Thought you were downstairs already.”
“Was. Then I finished getting ready.”
Turning to look at him fully I can’t help but think ‘damn, if that’s finished getting ready, he’s been holding out’. Distantly reminding me of my Freshman Homecoming, his tucked-in button down is the blue of his eyes, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Black slacks with a black belt and his iconic black boots. Hair more styled than every day, tight on the sides, the longer top combed to his right. Rock-star, actor, model, Viking - all synonyms when it comes to Clark.
Taking his arm, I have to focus on pulling myself together and not falling. I have all night to gawk at him and maybe, if I’m lucky, be near him at midnight…. Anything can happen with a brand-new year, right?
One step, two, and I am already taking use of his arm and overall strength. Almost done – one step left he leans a little to murmur in my ear, “You look absolutely stunning tonight, Candice.”
In that same moment I use the free hand from the railing to push back some curls. Smiling, my eyes peek up at him (with my heels he is so much closer), “I could say the same about you, Clark.”
Safely delivered to the main floor I look out to the crowd that has already formed spilling out from both the kitchen and the living room and game room. Every eye that I can see is on us. A lot of phones are as well. Knowing better than to look like a deer-in-headlights, I look to Clark and say, “Thank you,” then release myself from his arm and smile, heading for Jonah by the front door.
Maybe he saw, maybe he didn’t, would he even care if he had? Jonah’s eyes are focused outward though, the light from the house spilling across the porch to lawn, making the blanket of snow twinkle. A stream of people is steady from the length of the one-way street into the house. I never knew exactly how many people showed but it always felt like a school-assembly’s worth. Being a good host with Jonah, it was another twenty minutes before we leave the doorway.
Jonah’s almost instantly pulled to the side from his sort-of boyfriend towards the game room, he hollers back at me to come dance. I mime tilting a cup then head into the kitchen. Trying to take a moment to myself, I mix a Shirley Temple and head into the dining room. Leaning against the grand wood table that hasn’t been touched since Katie’s passing, I close my eyes for just a breath.
“Candi!” I hear a few different girls scream at once.
My eyes shoot up and I almost spill my drink down my dress. Looking down to make sure I haven’t, holding my solo cup a ways out. I look up, “Jesus Christ, what?”
Allie, Marie, Syndy, and Sandra, Jules, Sara all look at me with various phone screens pointed my direction.
“Do you not have your phone on you, oh my God!” exclaims Marie.
I very exaggeratedly pull my phone of my skirt pocket. “What’s the emergency?”
Marie doesn’t even let me check the stupid amount of Facebook notifications (which I’d put on silence because everyone is going to be tagging this location and me, Jonah, Clark and whoever the fuck else all night) and shoves her phone in front of me. “There are, like, hundreds of pictures of you and Clark coming down the stairs together.”
Not able to keep my composure I sort of flitch, “Really? Ugh. Do I look awful or something?”
Allie fans her hand out over her chest, “Oh honey, no! You look b-e-a-utiful! What’s going viral is the fact that y’all are looking damn cozy and official coming down those steps.”
Jules sticks a manicured finger of the screen, “Look at how he’s lookin’ at you! Shoot. I’d die.”
Finally, actually looking at the picture, I can’t help but be instantly fixated. It was right when he leaned in to compliment me, our faces turned more towards each other than out, eyes locked and both smiling, me with my hand pushing my hair back. Getting quite flush, I go to grab my locket. With how tight this bodice is though; I don’t want to break the chain or rip seam. Instead, I continue to move some wisps out of my eyes.
Reading my mind, Marie says “You should totally make that your profile picture. I don’t think anyone here would blame you, at all.”
Remembering how much I hate random girls using a picture they snapped with him as their profile though, I shake my head. “Tag me in the best ones, maybe I can get a cute edit for Insta.”
“Shit! I didn’t even think about Insta. You’re probably blowing up on there too,” comments Sara.
I slip my phone back in my pocket knowing I would spend way too long going through countless photos, trying to find the best one. And spend maybe just as long editing it. Maybe for Insta if I post more photos of Jonah and I or with the girls, not making it the showpiece (but the last picture of the night - and then not update for like three days). I’ve had Jonah in my profile picture off-and-on on various sights for years though… maybe if I just ask Clark, he’d be okay with it?
Glancing at Marie’s phone one more time I think how picturesque we are – how natural and candid the shot is, and yet professional looking given the lighting and fashion and decor. Like a cover for one of my countless romantic comedy DVD’s or my teen romance novels, it’s cute but real, an ideal that feels possible.
Looking at my phone background again, I cannot help but smile against my solo cup. It had taken me a damn hour to find the perfect shot and crop it and do my half-assed editing that I do and proceed to make it my profile picture on Facebook. Then it was posted to my Instagram (which I only use for parties and shows and school events) which later would become that icon picture too. People are weird about the popular kids – a sort of peer celebrity, so it doesn’t faze me at all; I get tagged in so many fucking photos I just have it set up for instant-approval. This one though… this one is the best photo I’ve ever been tagged in.
Staring at the pure happiness that is captured in Candice’s expression, I sip at my Coke. Usually, it would be a rum and Coke but I am dedicated to my no-booze policy and so far, so good. Though, without the alcohol, this night is taking forever. Yes, everyone seems pleased with the music and food and drinks, various people are taking use of the pool tables, and the screen in the game room has the live feed from New York City. But man, without me making out with random girl after random girl in this place, that place, and another, I am so viscously aw