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"Best Friends" cnt.



Cover © Rosalie Thorne

Editor – Z. V. Ezell


"Best Friends"

By Rosalie Thorne


“There is only one happiness in this life,

to love and be loved.”

- George Sand




Fourteen


Flat on my fluffy white comforter, Hades purring softly while curled on my chest, legs straight and resting against the top of my headboard, I hold my phone above my smiling face.

After returning to the Valentine’s Day party, Erik pulled Clark back in to do a few last songs of the night and the girls dragged me into the kitchen for girl-talk and drinking. (I only had a cherry 7-Up, but that did not stop them from shots and mixed drinks.) They only let me be when final song was announced. Knowing that the last song of the night was going to be “You Are My Sunshine”, as it has been for the past six years, I snuck into the dining room and relaxed in one of the plush chairs.

Sometime later my name was screeched across the hall. Going to the source, I see the couches moved back in (though against the wall) and two Shishabucks Cloud Mini’s set up – making a total of four hoses. Clark has a spot for me, a hose for us. Sitting with Erik and his girlfriend, Marie and Jordan, plus some other familiar faces gaggled around, we talk about what everyone did for Valentine’s Day, we talk about the party, we talk about the music. It is a nice blend of Clark’s friend group, mine, and some other really friendly people. It feels so right, so natural, I don’t once feel an ounce of stress or like I didn’t belong.

Finally, the crowd started dwindling, the night comes to a close, and those who were going to leave did. Those who need to crash found their usual spots, and Clark, Jonah, and I made it upstairs. Absolutely ready to pass out, I drop the dress, throw on a shirt, take my meds, undid my hair, and finally flop on the pull-out. There was a “Goodnight, Candi” from Jonah and I hold up my hands in a heart.

Saturday morning comes and goes, the afternoon rolling around after a wonderful length of sleep. Jonah, Clark, and I all stumble into the kitchen for food around the same time, happy to see the house had cleared out. We eat a small lunch together and discuss the party, discuss the blow up on social media (especially over Clark singing lead), and then I get my stuff together and headed home.

Make-up free, freshly showered, in my sweats, I finally have time to devote to the pictures from last night. Clark had allowed quite a few pictures of us and him on stage to be tagged on his Facebook. And though he didn’t change his profile picture from the New Year’s Eve shot, there was a post of an artful picture of smoke taken from the hookah gathering:


C.J. Wilson updated his cover photo.

“I taste you on my lips and I can’t get rid of you~” [music note]

4 hrs ago (Public)


So, of course, I update my own Facebook. I do keep my Cover Photo of the Christmas morning sunrise, but I change my Profile Picture. Using the stairs photo from last night, I opened Aviary and not only blur everything but me and him but splash-colored to make us pop.


Candi Robinson updated her profile picture.

“I’m losing to you, baby, I’m no match.”

With C.J. Wilson

Just Now (Public)


If that wasn’t going to ‘cause another stir, I don’t know what would. Maybe things aren’t crystal clear that yes we’re dating, yes we’re in a relationship, yes we’re going steady. But in this moment, it doesn’t really matter. I am so happy with life… with school, with my friends, with my dad, with all the valuable time I’m getting with Clark. If it’s not broke, don’t fix – I’ll take it as is. And I cannot wait to see what comes my way.


*


Not being hungover is a lifestyle I can get used to. Able to sleep well, wake up feeling refreshed, take a shower, eat, hang about doing whatever… it really is a better way to live. Curtains drawn to let the afternoon light in, I sit with a bundle of pillows and a blanket in my bay window seat. A cup of hot chocolate and my laptop, I’m totally set to plug in the R2D2 to my computer and read.

Processing, then a little file comes up labeled ‘A Gift For Sir Clark’. I click while sipping. Loading and then the document fills in. Ten pages with the title With Or Without You. Feeling that familiar stir in my chest, my stomach flip-flops, my heart picks up, and I am way too eager. She had taken initiative and changed her Profile Picture on Facebook to one from last night with a lyric from “Nicotine”, and she’d been bold enough to make this gift for me with no expectations, plus she’d totally held her own with me while smoking hookah and that gave me an odd sense of pride, like I was showing her off. So, now, I cannot wait to see what her mind and heart came up with.

It starts with “A watercolor sky above my eyes….” I maybe get two sips in of my drink before I’m so engrossed it goes cold. Time passes beyond me as I eat up the words on my screen. A short story yet holds the world and creativity and depth of a novel. Feeling a sense of love and empowerment with an aftertaste of a bittersweet loss and point-of-no-return, the story completes with “... and when no one saw me go, I knew I’d never return.”

“Holy fuck.”

Blinking a few times, then I slide my laptop beyond my feet and reach for my phone. First on my favorite, I click Candice’s picture. One ring, then a “Hey!”

“Oh my god,” I start without greeting her. “Candice – that story! Please, please tell me you will never stop writing.”

“Wait, what?”

“The short story? With Or Without You? I just finished and I love it. Seriously. Everything about it just was so fluid and the conversations felt natural even with him being a Fae, and the thing with the kiss? Hot damn! I did not see that coming at all. It’s only ten pages but it sure doesn’t feel like it - it the best way I mean,” I laugh a little and push back my hair. “It feels like a whole novel wrapped up and yet it feels like you could expand so much with it. It’s perfect. You have a gift, Candice.”

“R-really?

“Oh yes.”

There was a long exhale. “I’m so glad you liked it.”

“I love it. Thank you so much. That is seriously the best present I’ve ever been given. Though, I will say, I honestly think you should publish it.”

“Oh! I… I d-don’t know. It’s just a little short story.”

I smirk to myself. “Oh, com’on Candice.”

There’s a light laugh, “My teacher last semester did a whole presentation of self-publishing through Amazon when she did a week about how the publishing world is changing. Maybe I’ll look into it.”

“No maybe… I dare you.”

We laugh together and I ease back against my pillows. “Seriously though, if you like this – if you’re passionate about it at all, I want to support you as much as I can, as much as you’ve supported me.”

“I did really love that class and I won’t lie, I really love that short story and felt so accomplished and proud. I haven’t really felt like that before. And… well, I wasn’t going to tell anyone, but I used what I sent you as inspiration for a novel. I don’t know if I can do it, that’s a big challenge, way different than ten pages. But it’s just….”

“You don’t have to explain it to me – I get it. With song writing and playing in the band and now with singing more… I get it. And I want you to feel all those good things, especially when it’s so purely yours.”

“I get it now,” she confirms, she agrees. “Like, I don’t want this to be a career, I still plan on being a High School teacher. But doing this on the side really would make me feel… balanced.”

“You are so wonderful, you know that?”

She laughs a little and I can hear her smile. “Mmm. I could say the same about you.”




Fifteen


Putting the backing on to my favorite pearl earrings, I look in the mirror to the gaggle of girls behind me. “So, why are we doing this again? On a Sunday – why not wait till next Saturday?”

Marie looks up from petting Hades. “Because it’s been five-ever since we had a Just Girls outing!”

Sara points and nods. “Exactly. With the craziness that’s been going on, it’ll be good to just go out and relax and have fun.”

Sydney takes a selfie and contributes “And it’s perfect time, really, ‘cause Justin asked us to snatch you away so he can surprise Jonah.”

I turn around and Jules smacks Sydney’s thigh with a pillow. “You won’t supposed to tell her!”

Sydney’s eyes roll, “She’s not going to tell her twin, it’s fine.”

I push my sleeves up on my teal sweater, “So… what’s the game plan for today then?”

Allie smiles wide and explains enthusiastically, talking with her hands, “Mani-pedi’s obvi, lunch at The Diner, maybe a movie at the AMC? And then shopping around The Quad, of course!”

Marie smiles, “You probably need a girl’s trip to Victoria’s Secret, huh? Just because it’s Winter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get something to show off to C.J..”

Stuttering and stumbling over my words, I just sort of go wide-eyes and suffer out, “I… I d-on’t, I mean….”

Allie grabs my left hand, Sarah grabs my right. Allie laughs, “Com’on now! We won’t press you for any details, you shy one you, but we’ve all put our own crushing aside to be happy for you! If anyone deserves you, it’s him, Candi.”

“You really think so?” I ask openly.

Everyone replies back with a chorus and ‘yes’s and ‘of course’s and some of the most positive replies I could have hoped for. Even though I knew all of them had crushed on him pretty hard in the past, they genuinely seem happy for me. (For whatever it is I have with Clark.) “I love you guys,” and we all get into a group hug. A step back and I look to them all, “I mean it. Most girls would probably be trying to tear me down or get in between me and Clark but here you are! You girls are the best.”

“We’ve always said girls should support each other.” Allie nods.

Marie smiles, “That’s why we all have been best friends for years!”

Jules puts a hand over her heart, “We’re not goin’ anywhere, darlin’.”

Sydney pulls us together, “Group selfie!”

It took a couple tries given it was seven of us, but finally we got one. “All right, y’all ready?” I ask, tugging my brown leather Fossil purse over my shoulder.

“We all fab-u-lous enough?” Allie asks as tradition.

With cheering and clapping, laughter and linking arms, we all head out of my room.


*


“Bro, I don’t know about that! I think he’s totally redeemable in the grand scheme of things. Candice says a reverse Anakin-Padme situation.”

Erik shakes his head, “No way. He killed Han Solo! There’s no coming back from that. Only reason we accepted Vader’s minimal redemption is ‘cause he died in Luke’s arms. Com’on – don’t let your hopeless romantic girlfriend fill your head with Reylo crap.”

I snort and point across the food court table, “Look, Reylo is canon! She showed me - in the books by Disney, it’s not only explained that the Force Bond was there before Snoke amplified it, but that Kylo was using it to access the light and deal with emotional crap and his feelings for Rey, while she was using it to find strength in the Dark Side and learn how to fight. And com’on. After the cave thing? Kylo – or should I say Ben, really – is just sitting there with Rey, listing to her, being there for her, and then after she’s done explaining why she feels so alone, he assures her she’s not. You can’t deny that connection and that he’s changing – he’s not fighting the light anymore. Fuck, he killed Snoke for her!”

“I don’t know, man. Kylo has done a lot of bad, running off to Snoke like any other Sith –”

“Because fucking Luke tried to kill him!”

“Well, he saw the Darkness! He was afraid! He knew how bad Vader had been….”

“No, it’s just bad writing. Think of young, post-Carbonite-Han Luke coming to save the day, he’s in black, Erik! He’s using the Dark Side to be the ‘most powerful Jedi’ – he’s using both Dark and Light. And that’s!” I slam my hands on the table, “that’s why he’s in grey in the movies, why Rey is in grey! A truly grey existence – no more Jedi, no more Sith, a true balance of The Force.”

Erik squints and chews on his straw, “Maybe…. Maybe.” Then his eyes drift and face lights up, “Hey!”

I turn and see her Darleen coming our way. “All done with work?”

She comes around the table, quickly kisses Erik then sits on his lap. Erik’s arms wrap around her waist, and they look to me. “It’s weird getting back to just working weekends again,” Darleen explains.

“You really like working there, huh?”

Her smile pushes her top lip against her septum ring. “It’s the best! The energy is just so positive and calming. It really helps aligns my chakras.” She flips back her waist length braid, “So are you coming bowling with us on Wednesday?”

My eyes flick to Erik, “Pardon?”

She turns to her boyfriend, “You didn’t ask?” He shrugs and she sighs, “I was hoping you and Candi could come bowling with us on Wednesday night! My little sister’s having her birthday and it would be a total drag if it’s just me and Erik and a dozen eleven-year-olds.”

I smile to myself imaging Erik in that situation. Laughing, I slip out my phone, “Sure, let me just text Candice.”

“Oh, is she not grabbing a ride with us? I saw her walking into Victoria’s Secret – I thoughts that’s why you been bumming it with Erik.”

“Nah, Jonah’s boyfriend Justin asked for the house to be cleared out so he could surprise Jonah. Candice is doing a while girl’s day thing.” Or so I’d seen from social media.

Darleen’s hand spreads over her heart, “That is so cute! I’m so glad your brother is finally experiencing the joys of being in a steady relationship.”

“He seems really happy.”

Darleen lifts and switches her canvas bag from her shoulder to cross-body. “If you and Candi can make it to bowling, you can totally invite Jonah and Justin too.” She laughs a little has Erik’s arm drapes over her shoulders. “I just adore that it’s J and J and C and C! Total symmetry. It makes my heart happy.”




Sixteen


Dare slips into the seat next to me, “So!” she smiles with excitement.

We’d been at the bowling alley for about an hour now and we still have at least another hour before her little sister’s friends start getting picked up. ‘Dare’ (real name Darleen) is actually a really sweet and kind and optimistic person and it makes me sad to think how much people judge her. She’s a truly happy person so who cares if she’s different?

A black girl with vitiligo, I actually find her quite gorgeous. It’s the nose ring and purple contacts that usually make people double take, anyway, plus all the raw crystal she wears in necklaces and all her rings. Her style bohemian, she works in the little Wicca shop in the far end of the mall, knowing everything there is to know about the subject and the list of world religions in general. If I was at all a spiritual person, she’s who I’d want to talk to.

“So?” I muse.

Diving right in she starts explaining “You have such a great vibe about you, and I’ve totally felt the difference in Clark’s energy over the past couple months. You really are such a positive influence for him and it’s so obviously from the inside-out how much you both care for each other. It may seem weird now, maybe unconventional, but it’s all going to work out – you two are twin flames.”

My eyes drift to the boys up at concessions, grabbing cheese sticks and sodas. “You really think?”

Her hand falls on my knee. “Oh, I totally know.”

“I don’t really know what’s going on,” I confess. “It’s like we’re dating but we haven’t had The Talk yet….”

She smiles, “Who cares about all that? As long as it doesn’t darken your heart, just do what makes you happy. It’s between you and Clark, not everyone fits into a perfect little box. Social rules are bull shit anyway.”

Seeing the softness in her expression and the joy in her voice, I put my hand over hers. “I can see why you and Erik have been together so long.”

She smiles wide, little wrinkles around her eyes, “He’s my penguin, we’re blessed to have found each other so young.”

“You know,” my eyes drift to Clark carrying the tray of goodies, “I totally feel the same way.”


*


Friday morning comes and I wake with a smile. Candice and I had been on the phone until about eleven then I made sure she took her medication. We’d gotten into such a routine that I can’t imagine not doing it anymore. My chest feels so light, my mind so clear… I was an idiot for waiting this long.

Happy as I clam, I sing in the shower, I make breakfast for both Jonah and I, and I pick out a nice tea instead of going for the coffee. Today just feels like a good day… maybe because it’s the end of the school week, maybe because Candice is coming over tonight – we mused the thought of hookah and movies. Even though Jonah’s dragging this morning, I don’t let it get me down.

Finally, I pull the car up in front of Candice’s house. She’s not waiting for us on the porch swing.

Calling her, there’s a short, “Hello?”

“Hey you, we’re downstairs.”

“Oh… right... school. Be down in a minute.”

By the sound of her voice, she sounds like she has a cold. And then, when she comes outside, I realize she must really, truly be feeling shitty. Her bushel of red hair is pulled into a high bun that looks more like a nest, her face is bare of makeup and she’s more pale than usual, her expression seems disconnected. She’s wearing her favorite Pusheen sweatshirt over her black fleece leggings that are tucked into her grey UGGS. If there was ever a day to say she didn’t give a flying fuck, this would be it. Frowning in concern, I turn in my seat to look at her.

Door opens, she tosses her bag in haphazardly. Down behind me, she closes the door, then dives along the back seat. Head towards the ceiling, though her eyes closed. Before I can even ask how she’s doing or what is wrong, she lets out a burst of a sigh and goes, “So I was thinking….”

I turn back to the wheel but flick my eyes to her in the mirror every so often. “Thinking about what?”

“We should totally have a party tonight.”

I look over to Jonah while stopped at the light. He totally perked up at the word party. “Any particular reason why?”

“Is ‘why not’ a good enough reason?” she replies.

Jonah laughs. “Nothing else is going on! We still have month until Spring Break.”

“I’ve been thinking about how the past couple years there’s a total lull from Valentine’s Day to Spring Break. Why not do something?”

Something stirs in my chest while I look at her and the frown on her face. There’s something not adding up…. It was always Jonah that did the spontaneous parties and she usually pushed back at the last-minute-nature. “Do you think a lot of people would be able to come? It being the day of and all.”

She huffs. “Nah, I think it’ll work. Jonah, you want to handle reaching out on Facebook and I’ll spread the word at school? We can order some pizzas and sodas and chips from Dominos, and we’ll just make it bring-your-own-booze?”

Pulling into my parking spot, I’m quick to turn to her. Fully alarmed at this point I look her straight on as she sits up. “You okay, Candice?”

She doesn’t meet my eyes and grabs her bag. “Just fine. Excited for tonight,” and she gets out of the car before I even turn off the engine.




Seventeen


“I’m really surprised you asked me to do your makeup,” Jules says getting all her supplies back into her case.

“You do all the makeup for the Drama department and for the Chorus girls and the Cheerleaders, I even saw your work for some Seniors photos. Plus, I love what you’ve done for me for Homecoming when all the girls are here getting ready.”

Pushing back her long over her shoulder, she smiles with pride. “Thank you! Oh my goodness, you’re such a sweetheart. I was just surprised ‘cause this is just a random party, is all.”

I lift from my vanity chair and eye how long my hair is without being in an up-do – just wild and free, a lion’s mane. “Today’s been shit,” I offer but don’t explain more. “And I need to just…” not be me for a night, “blow off some steam.”

She nudges me with her elbow, “Good for you.”

I head over to my closet, “I’ll see you over there, yeah?”

“Sure thing, girly! See you in a few,” and she closes my bedroom door behind her.

Knowing I cannot cry with my newly done makeup, I chew on my gum slowly. In my walk-in I eye the dresses on the left side. I knew I had one dress that I had never worn, a gift from Marie after I’d been dumped. I wondered if it even still fit…. Pulling out the plum wrap dress it seems big enough that I could at least try. Sweetheart neck, sleeve and strap less, it’s tight by at least I’m secure. Skirt at about mid-thigh, I can still move, still function… I’d be able to dance and sure as Hell be able to drink.

Finding the one pair of open-toe, black strappy wedges Jonah insisted I keep in case of ‘a fashion emergency’ I’m glad I’d given in to his persisting. Snow boots on, peacoat over my shoulders, phone in one hand, heels in the other, I don’t look back.

A few minutes through the freeze night and I’m back in the Wilson’s mud room. Boots off, heels on, jacket thrown over the laundry machines, I’m ready to fucking go. A gaggle of people, including Erik and Jules, are surveying the alcohol and drink selection.

I walk up without a word, snatch the Grey Goose and shot glass. Everyone’s eyes are on me, and I see Clark and Jonah walking in mid-conversation. They go silent to at the sight of me with a shot in each hand. Jonah smiles, “Oh Hell yeah!” while Clark frowns.

One shot, I slam the glass. I hold the second up and yell, “Not only did my fucking cunt of a mother divorce my father but she’s straight-up abandoning me.” I throw back the second and slam in on the marble counter. “Let’s fucking party.”


*


“Clark! Jesus fucking Christ, Clark!” Jonah screeches across the crowded dining room, shoving his way through people, his eyes full of alarm.

I have only seen that expression a few times before… when our childhood dog ate chocolate, when Hades got stuck under the couch, when he accidentally backed Pops’ Mustang into the dumpster. Shoving my drink over to Oscar, I rush to meet him. Hands tight on his shoulders I looked down “What’s wrong?”

“Candi – Candice! She’s ahh… just come!” and he starts yanking my arm to the game room.

Eyes searching for Candice, my stomach starts churning. I knew from the moment I saw her this morning; something was wrong. And then with her damn announcement in the kitchen, I’ve been trying to get her alone – to talk about it but she’s very actively been avoiding me this whole night. “What happened?”

Jonah’s chest heaves. “She… the guys – Erik and them, they were doing more shots and now she’s fucking drunk – please! I can’t get her off the fucking table.”

In the thick of it now, I see her. Indeed, she is obviously very intoxicated, and resisting being taken off the pool table. She is tugging at her dress and words like ‘hot tub’ and ‘skinny dipping’ flew by my ears. Forcing my way through the circle of guys watching her, I just wrap my arms around her legs and turn – carrying her fire-fighter style.

The memory of the last time I did this came to my mind – it had been her fifteenth birthday and I sneakily came up and grabbed her, dropped her into the pool. (How different things had been just a few months ago.)

But then my mind thought on first time I did this though… man, I must have been thirteen… I’d just joined the middle school football team. There had been a power-outage down our whole block and our parents made us go outside to play. Jonah and she were fighting over her 3DS, he claiming it was his turn. He was being a little shit and wouldn’t give it back even though it was hers. So, I picked her up and carried her to the other side of the house. For years I’d been a big brother to her, and this was my way of letting her calm down. I sat with her… at first, she was crying, then she was angry - pulling out grass and ripping the blades apart. Then, finally, she sighed and flopped down on lawn.

“I’m sorry, Clark,” she muttered to me.

“What for?” I asked back.

“You always end up seeing me cry.” Even at ten she was weirdly aware of our relationship.

Thrashing around over my shoulder, now, hitting me across the back and elbowing me in the head, she is much stronger now and much more upset. My arms across her legs tighten and I try to relax my frowning face. Finally down the long hall of the east wing, I police-kick open my bedroom door and gently lower her to the bed.

Red ringlets fell across my sky-blue sheets, her green eyes taking a moment to focus. “Clark?”

I feel a slight ease in my chest. “The one and only.”

Her freckled cheeks flush and she looks around. “Where are we?”

Lowering myself into a crouch, my hands on her knees, I watch as she sits up slowly. I realize that in all this time she’s probably never been in here. “My bedroom.”

After looking around for a moment, she looked into my face and squinted. “You’ve got good taste, Mister Clark.”

“Well thank you, Miss Candice.”

She giggles a little, then a lot, then falls back on my bed. I lift and sit next to her. When she sees my face again, she points. “You!”

Trying to keep my head clear, I keep my eyes on her heart-shaped face. Though, that doesn’t help as much as it should. I’ve known that face all my life yet every day it makes me smile. “Me?”

She lets out a soft hum then took a deep, long breath. “Yeah, you.” Her voice is soft. The same kind of soft when she comforted me after we found out Mom had cancer, and after she passed away. The same kind of soft when I find her on her roof, and she talks to me while looking at the stars. Eyes closed, she pushes back hair off her face, “You, Sir Clark, are one of my best friends.”

My blink turns into eyes closed for a rather long moment, “Yes, yes I am, and don’t you forget it.”

She peeks at me from over her nose. “I like our time together.”

I smile down at her, trying to keep her at ease – feeling safe. “Me too, Candice.”

She doesn’t seem convinced and turns on her side. She pats the sheets, “Com’on. You’ve got that face.”

I think of all the times we talked without Jonah… of all the times I could have made things different. I think of all the girls I’d gone through because no one compared to her. But who can compare to your best friend?

The girl you’ve know almost all your life? She is always thoughtful, bringing me my favorite food. She is always worried, asking if I am okay. She is always aware of my habits, sometimes getting ahead of my routine. And these past weeks, maybe even months, with how close we’ve gotten I just...

Pops always told me ‘marry your best friend’ and that’s what he and Mom had been.

I let myself lay down next to her, keeping my head up in my hand. “What face?”

It is easy to tell she was trying to be serious, but the effects of alcohol made it hard for her. “The face you get when you need to talk about something.”

“There’s a face for that?” I smirk.

Her eyes roll and she shoves my arm out from under my head.

“Hey!” I chuckle.

She is on her back again, looking at the fan. “Hey Clark?”

“Yes?”

“This dress is uncomfortable.”

Heart pounding, I sit up, “Ah… okay?”

But, her face is peaceful, eyes closed, hands cupped over her stomach. Her voice is soft again, though this time the type of sleepy soft she gets after a movie marathon. “Can I borrow your pajamas?”

I lift off the bed quickly and go for the closet. I tug out some sweatpants from the dresser and snatch my softest shirt off the hanger. Stepping back into the room, I look between my clothes, “They’re going to be kind of big on… you.” My eyes come to her, standing in the moonlight from my bay window, standing straight up from where she dropped her dress at her ankles.

Her silky underwear and matching green bra are covering more than her bathing suit - I keep telling myself. But that doesn’t change anything. The blue-ish light somehow makes her red hair shin with gold, her skin warm and freckled, her tiny frame so natural and beautiful. Forcing my gaze away, I shove out my clothes, “Here.”

Shirt over her head, her soft fingers brushing my skin as she takes the pants. Out of the corner of my eye I see her waiver; I step forward and catch her before she falls. “Hey now….”

She groans and clings to my shirt. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Already aware of that, I had started walking her quickly to my en-suite. Lowering her in front of the bowl, I hold her hair with one hand and rub her back with the other. Memories flashed by me again, from the night she had been sleeping-over with Jonah, and we had to rush her to the ER for appendicitis. I’d heard her in the hall bath, getting sick. She was twelve, I fifteen, and it was about three in the morning. When she threw up a second time, that’s when I started screaming for my dad. I remember seeing her in the hospital room the next night, she started laughing and when I asked why she said, “You don’t just always see me cry… you always seem to see me at my worst.”

She’d started looking at me differently that Winter break and as I lay her back in my bed, she gave me the same expression. “You’ve got a face for things too, you know,” I tease softly.

She blinks a few times, and her chest drops and rises frantically. “What?”

After I settle against my pillows, I brush some hair off her face as she gets comfortable. “Nothing, Candice. Don’t worry about it.”

There is a lull, a silence, and when I think she is safely asleep, I close my own eyes. Brain focusing on the far-off music, I sigh thickly.

“Clark?” her voice is thoughtful.

“Yeah, Candice?”

“Why do you call me that?”

I smirk, “That’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Yeah… but… everyone calls me Candi.”

“That’s why it’s special.”

“I know.”

Then I feel her hand on my arm, lifting it away from me, her head then pressing against my chest. My eyes open to a bushel of red hair, able to just see the tip of her nose. Rising and falling with my breathing, her little hand is curled close to my shoulder, to my neck. Fast asleep now; I eye her for a few minutes. Finally, my knotted stomach starts to ease and I wrap my arms around her. As comfortable as I’d always imagined, I let myself drift away.


Golden light across my eyes makes me stir too early. Groggy, I blink until I see what is so heavy against my arm. Candice is still fast asleep, her my little spoon. She’d curled us far enough across the bed, that the Sun is hitting me, not her. It’s such a relief. Not just the spooning, or that we had slept in the same bed together, but also seeing her in so comfortable with me, seeing her feel safe in her most vulnerable time.

Heartbeat fast, breathing unsteady, I wonder if I should just try and fall back sleep. Let her wake up to us and see how it went. But with a racing mind, a numb arm, and the need to pee, I just couldn’t lay here. Slowly and gently, I maneuver myself without waking her, getting myself all the way into the bathroom and shutting the door.

A quick shower then maybe I could bring some breakfast up…. Water and painkillers, at the very least. However, when I open the door, I come to see a very sleepy, groggy, and hung-over Candice sitting with very confused expression.

I clear my throat, “Good morning.”

When she looks at me her expression of confusion vanishes, and her face went red from ear to ear. “Clark?”

“Candice?” I smile.

She smiles a little and looks around. “I didn’t… ah, realize how much I drank.”

“Erik’s an idiot, he can get a lot of people drunk fast.”

Her brows come together, and she slowly hangs her head. Groaning, she falls back against the pillows. “I’m so sorry.”

I carefully stand at the end of the bed, “For?”

Her grimace turns in a smile then she laughs. “You just always see me at my worst, don’t you?” Her peridot eyes shining up at me. “I’m sorry that I ruined your night.”

I come up around the bed, reaching for my watch. “You didn’t.”

Her eyes roll and she huffs. “Oh yes, I’m sure the highlight of your night was taking care of me.”

Smirking, I just reach over to ruffle her mane, “Com’on now, Candice.”

Laughing, she reaches up to push me, her usual response. But given her weird positioning on the bed, she somehow ends up unbalanced and falling to the floor. I tried to catch her but somehow, we both end up against my grey carpet.

Her very much under me, me very much on top of her, our faces are inches apart. I can feel her warm, shallow breath against my cheek, see her brilliant eyes looking straight into mine. My hands shaking under my weight, my heart vibrating in my chest, I am frozen in this moment.

“Clark?” she let out a breath.

“Candice…” I murmured back.

Her plump pink lips part once but then she closes her mouth quickly. The way she is looking at me is killing me. And then when her eyes lowered to look at my lips, I can’t stop myself. Slowly, gently, I lower myself just enough to brush my lips against her. When her hands came up to grip my waist, her head tilting softly in agreement, I kiss her a little more.




Eighteen</