More Zach and Alex time.
We need more Zach and Alex time.
That’s what he had said. Zach had absolutely insisted that Alex come to the party with him. He didn’t settle for an alibi and a bed to crash on, he wanted them to spend time together.
That’s what he had said.
“What drink will you be trying first?” Zach asked as the two of them walked through the open front door of the sprawling home. He threw his thumb to the doorway to the kitchen, a space in the house people were cramming themselves into to “find their drink”.
Alex felt the bass of a song in his chest and Zach’s arm brushing his as the shorter boy limped alongside him. Zach’s eyes sparkled, not quite drunk enough yet for his gaze to glaze over, just drunk enough to be happy and mischievous. This level of Zach’s intoxication Alex could handle. It was amusing, more than anything, really.
“Sex on the beach? Slippery nipple? Creamy Pussy?” Zach was enjoying this. “Wait, no. Cock Sucking Cowboy?”
Alright, maybe he was already a little more drunk than Alex found amusing. He appreciated that Zach made it a point to show him that he was cool with his sexuality, and he should be happy that his friend never made it a big deal of it. He never expected that it being brushed past as unimportant would be anything other than a relief…
He couldn’t be too irked at the insensitive joke though. He enjoyed it too much that they stepped into a house full of madness – music, dancing, a football and a Frisbee interchangeably getting tossed around, something already breaking to their left – but Zach only had attention for him. Alex didn’t miss a beat and just chuckled when he was on the receiving end of a wink. “Uh, no thanks. I’ll pass. Are those even real drinks?”
“Are you questioning my expertise?” He shook his head. “At least have a beer.”
“I have a hard enough time not tripping over my own feet when I’m sober,” Alex pointed out. This was the kind of humor that Zach didn’t seem to appreciate too much.
“You do realize I will be drinking, right?”
“Yes, and you do realize I will be driving us home, right?” He countered. It was one thing to let Zach drive when he’d had a couple of drinks, but he wasn’t going to let him take a seat behind the wheel once he was wasted.
Zach nodded along. They had already had this discussion on the drive there, he did not intend on revisiting the topic. “Imma go get a drink.” He took a step back. “I’ll find you in a sec, okay?”
At least Zach understood without having to be told so that Alex would not be following him into the crowded kitchen and would want to find a quieter place instead. He watched Zach push his way into the kitchen and disappear from sight.
That was the last he saw of him that night.
More Zach and Alex time.
That was it.
Alex waited in the library – what kind of house has a library? He waited half an hour and decided to leave when a couple landed on the leather couch right across from him and either had no idea he was there or just couldn’t be bothered. The two were all over each other. He actually said “excuse me” before he got up from the lounge chair he’d been occupying and left.
He wandered out into the back yard to the sight of Diego preaching about Monty to a gathered crowd and quickly headed back inside. That wasn’t something he could stand to be a part of.
At some point, he got turned around in the massive house as he searched for Zach. He was too afraid to open any of the bedroom doors. He just hoped he wouldn’t find Zach in there anyway.
He stood at the top of the staircase, awkwardly long. People were staring at him, but he figured that if Zach was looking for him, he ought to stay put, someplace visible. He leaned against the stone bannister, marble probably, and observed the people meander through the foyer and flow up and down the staircase. Always looking a little bit more disheveled when they came back down.
Then he saw her walk in. Chlöe. She came in through the front door. She looked left. Then right. Then straight up at him.
His first instinct was to look away and pretend he didn’t notice her, but he knew he had been caught. His face prickled and he forced himself to look back at her. He shifted his weight to his foot nervously watching her climb the stairs and come towards him.
He hardly knew her really. Mostly just knew of her. Knew of Zach’s love for her. Knew her wavy, golden hair more from Zach describing it to him than from the few times he’d actually seen her in person.
“Hi,” She said.
“You look good.”
He didn’t. He really didn’t. But people always told him that nowadays. What they meant was: you look good for a guy who blew his brains out. Or tried to, anyway. “Thanks.” He only added as an afterthought: “You too.”
“Zach texted me. Asked me to come.”
“Ah.” He looked down at his boots, just to check if anyone could see how anxiously he was wiggling and curling his toes. But his footwear hid his nervous tick.
“Have you seen him?”
He chuckled bitterly, although it wasn’t supposed to come out bitterly. “Not in a while.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m… fine,” He lied.
“Okay. I’m going to go look for him. I’ll see you around.” She smiled kindly at him, even though he’d been nothing but a weird prick to her during the entire exchange.
Chlöe headed back downstairs. Her curls bouncing delicately with every step.
Alex wasn’t the kind of guy to think of girls’ hair as “bouncing delicately”, but Zach was. Go – fucking – figure.
He went further upstairs, following a corridor chosen at random, all the way to the back where a thick curtain looked to block a window. Only all of a sudden the drapes parted and a girl and a guy from the football team came stumbling into the hallway, laughing and holding onto each other. When they walked past him, the guy bumped into him. It wasn’t on purpose, it wasn’t malicious, he was just too preoccupied with his girl to even notice him.
With curiosity he opened the curtain to find a home theater.
Because of course.
As good a place as any to hide, he decided.
He took a seat on the back couch but shot back up when he felt how warm the cushions were. Warm from body heat. He shuffled around the space and dropped down into the other couch instead, nearest to the massive television screen. He pulled one of the throw pillows into his lap. Underneath he uncovered three remotes.
After some fumbling he managed to turn on the TV and the DVD player. A black and white image filled the screen.
It’s a Wonderful Life.
Because of course.
Apparently the last movie night the family had had in their home theatre had been last Christmas.
He settled in and hugged the pillow to his body and tried very hard not to think about...
More Zach and Chlöe time.
His fingers momentarily stilled over the keys when he saw her walk into the room. Her smile was radiant, her entire presence was. She looked at him the way no one else looked at him nowadays. Meeting her gaze was a safe haven, exactly because there were so many things she didn’t know. So many secrets and lies of his that she wasn’t a part of. When she looked at him, he didn’t feel like he was being stripped naked, like she was staring into his soul and every ugly truth that was cocooned inside of him. She just saw him, the way he used to be, the way he was supposed to be.
It was such a relief.
He never wanted her to stop looking at him that way. Which was probably why he’d been avoiding her as much as he had.
He gave her a cheeky smile that further brightened her face and he continued to play. He finished the song. He had to. You don’t leave a song unfinished. Although maybe he did rush through the final verse a little bit, to get to talk to her. He had missed her without even realizing how much.
He got up from the bench and walked towards her, forgetting about his drink for the first time that evening. But standing in front of her, his hands suddenly did feel empty and he didn’t know what to do with them.
But she made it easy for him and invited him to come and find a more quiet place to talk.
His heart skipped a beat.
He was supposed to go find Alex – in a more quiet place – after he had gotten his first drink. God, how long ago was that? How many drinks ago was that?
Chlöe soothed away his concerns with her smile and a tug on the sleeve of his jacket.
He forgot about Alex. Again.
They walked through the house together. Never actually finding a more quiet place to settle and talk. So they kept walking instead as she caught him up on all the things he had missed out on because he hadn’t been returning her calls, or responding to her texts. He expected to be berated in some way, shape or form, but she brushed it off. It was okay.
It was okay.
Finally, she moved to stand in front of him, stopping him in his tracks.
“I wanted to say thank you, for helping me get to where I am.”
His heart swelled. He was so grateful that he had at least managed to have a positive effect on someone in his life. That he had managed to save and protect someone. That he had been blessed to see her bloom, instead of wither, like Hannah.
“I mean, you were there for me last summer when I needed you.”
She looked at him like he was her hero. He couldn’t imagine ever being worthy of such admiration, but it felt so good. For a second, he felt like his old self again. Like the star football player. The straight A student. The good son. The good friend. The good boyfriend.
On impulse he leaned forward, closing the distance between them and he kissed her; lightly, sweetly.
Then they parted and he opened his eyes to the look on her face and she stammered his name and he knew instantly the kiss wasn’t what she had wanted and he watched her struggle to find a way to let him down gently.
Every moment of silence was a pinprick in his heart. Then every word a sharp blade. And he wished she wouldn’t say it. She didn’t need to say it. He knew from the look in her eyes.
“I have- I have a boyfriend.”
There. She said it. Six stabs.
“I should have told you.”
No, please stop. Please stop talking. “No, no, I shouldn’t- God… I shouldn’t have kissed you. I’m sorry, that was really stupid,” he rambled on. It was better if he spoke than if he let her.
It’s done now. Please stop.
But she didn’t stop. She told him it was okay. Just like not texting her back was okay. Just like every mistake he ever made was okay with her. She told him what a great guy her boyfriend was. “He’s outside, if you want to meet him.”
Oh God, no.
His rebuttal was instant, but as much as he tried to sound “okay”, everything came out a jumbled mess.
“I should go.”
“Yeah, definitely,” he readily agreed. “It was really good seeing you.” He wanted nothing more than for her to leave so he could go and “find his drink” again. And again. And again.
She turned and took her first steps away from him and Zach knew he’d never see her again. He’d make sure of it. It was selfish of him, but it hurt too much. All of the good feelings she once evoked in him were gone now. Her bouncing curls, which used to make him yearn to touch her, now made him want to put his hands in his pockets. Her soft lips, which used to make him tingle all over, now made his heart ache. Her kind eyes, which he used to love staring into, now made him want to look away. Everything was pain now and he could hardly believe he hadn’t seen it coming.
“Happiness makes us unhappy” had pretty much been his mantra.
She offered to meet up on the steps, but he gave her a bullshit excuse of being busy and thankfully she didn’t press the issue.
“I’ll see you soon. I hope.”
“Yeah,” He lied.
Finally, she left. If she’d stayed any longer, she might have seen him cry.
He watched her leave, like the moment was a song that he had to finish, no matter how much it hurt.
When he swallowed, it was like he swallowed a stone that dropped into his stomach. He felt nauseous. With every breath he still smelled her perfume, or maybe her lip balm and it made his stomach churn. He knew he’d never get that happiness back; that easy happiness that she gave him.
It was all ruined now.
And then, unbidden, Zach thought of someone else. Someone other than Chlöe. Other than her boyfriend. Other than himself.
He thought about Alex and that night on the rooftop.
In the wake of his own, gut wrenching rejection, he finally understood: this is how he felt.
He did to Alex the exact same thing Chlöe did to him. With all the best intentions but all the worst results. There was no such thing as being let down gently. It was like plummeting off the ledge of a rooftop no matter what you do.
God, how long had he made Alex stand there, listening to all his best intentions?
Fuck, he didn’t need guilt on top of everything else.
He steadied himself, swallowed again and then went back to the kitchen to find himself a new drink.