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I sat in the wicker chair, painted black by an overzealous seventeen-year-old Rand, sitting in the corner, picking through a box of "old stuff." Rand was going through her clothes, trying to decide what would be taken to the Goodwill and what would go with her.
"Can you believe they told me I wore too much black?" I looked up, seeing the sparkling dark eyes of my friend as she held up one of her many black suits.
"No, they didn't."
"Well, golly, I have no idea why they'd say such a thing." I heard her snort before she headed back into the fully stocked walk-in closet. Shaking my head, I turned my attention back to the large box on my lap. "Hey, are you really planning to save this?" A dark head peeked out from the closet, looking at the squeaky toy in my hand. I squeezed it for good measure.
"Well," She stepped out, walking over to it and taking it in her hands.
"Rand, come on. Dilley has been gone for a really long time, babe."
"Yeah, I know." She sighed, looking at the squeaky bone one last time, then tossing it into the box on her bed that was trash. She headed back toward the closet.
"I'm proud of you," I called after her.
I chuckled as I continued to look through the contents, most of the stuff a decade old or older.
"Chewing gum wrapper? Oh, Rand," I toss the Doublemint wrapper aside, and continue on my search to make Rand's move as smooth and as small as possible. A smile broke out across my face as I saw the corner of a very familiar string of pictures buried toward the bottom. Though it was bent and even had a very small scratch at one corner, it still made me want to dig out my own set.
My parents had taken us to Disneyland when we were kids, and Rand and I had crammed ourselves with my folks, my brother not even born yet, into one of those picture booths where the camera clicked off about four or five pictures after you put a dollar into the slot, and then a long slide of small pictures sputtered out of the slot on the side.
I ran my finger over the glossy, somewhat faded pictures, seeing my father holding two fingers up behind my mom's head, her completely unaware. They were smiling, holding Rand and I close. Rand was their second daughter, and my only sister.
"What'cha looking at, champ?" I heard asked softly next to me. I looked up to see my best friend kneeling next to the chair, her gaze on the pictures in my hand. A soft smile filled her entire face, her head slightly cocked to the side. "I remember that day," she said, her voice quiet.
"Caleb wasn't even born yet," she mused, taking the pictures from my hands.
"Amazing, isn't it?" She nodded.
"Do you still have your set? I had planned to get these blown up and framed."
"Yeah, mine are somewhere. I think I'll have to dig them out." I smiled at her, swallowing the past. "Come on, you. Go finish." She kissed me gently on the temple, then stood, disappearing into the closet once more.
Finally, we got Rand's bedroom finished, the last room in the house. The movers were set to pick up everything today, and head out toward Rand's new home in Washington D.C. Her new boss had already arranged an apartment for her, and all she had to do was fill it.
We stood in the doorway of her basically empty townhouse, both of us looking around. This place was filled with so many memories, just about all of them good. I even saw the stain on the beige colored rug in the corner from that wild party she'd thrown a few years back. It had gotten a bit out of hand.
I smiled at the thought.
"What's are you thinking about, buttercup?" she asked, looking at me.
"The party." My friend also laughed. It had been so raucous that no other explanation was necessary. Just "the party."
"Yeah, wild times. But, hey," She turned me to her, holding me by the shoulders. "Just think of the wild times we'll have in D.C., huh?" She smiled at me, hopeful. I nodded, doing my damndest to keep everything inside. I could tell she was, too.
"Yeah. Another place for me to visit that I've never been."
"Well, that's not hard." She rolled her eyes.
"Fuck you." I punched her, and she smiled, taking me in a long, strong hug.
"God, I'm going to miss you, Brooklyn," she whispered into my ear.
"Me, too." I clung to her, knowing that this was it. We were waiting for Pete to come to take me home, and to take Rand to the airport. "I love you," I said, feeling that lump gaining speed in my throat on its way up to my tear ducts.
"I love you, too, sweetie." She hugged me even tighter to the point of it actually hurting, but I didn't care. I just didn't want her to let go.
"You're all I've got left," I said, feeling the sting of a tear trying to squeeze out of my left eye. She gently pulled away, wiping it away, and shook her head.
"No, sweetie, I'm not. You've got so many people here who love you, and babe, I'm just moving, I'm not gone." She looked intently into my eyes. "Got it?" I nodded, feeling like a child saying goodbye to her mother on the first day of school. "You've even got," she swallowed, "Cody." I smiled, knowing it took a lot for her to say that.
"She'll never be you, Rand. Never."
"I know." She took me in another hug, both of us melting into the other. God, this hurt. I had no idea it would be this hard.
I laid on the couch bed, staring up at the ceiling, the low moan of the television drowned out by the sound of my own thoughts. Rand had left yesterday, and she had called late last night to let me know she'd made it alright, but that she was tired, and would call in a few days once she got settled in.
So now what? I truly felt as though a huge part of me was missing. I felt the need to just close everyone off, and be by myself for a little bit. I'd already been laying like this for half a day, my appetite gone, flown off to Washington. I was so proud of her, though. This was Rand's dream, what she'd always wanted, what she'd been working toward since she interned at the mayor's office when we were in high school. I could never begrudge her that.
Yet I felt so alone.
The phone had rung a few times, though I had let my voice messaging handle it for me. I didn't want to deal with anyone. I knew I was being really quite stupid, but it was just the way things had to be until I could deal with the loss.
As I groaned, turning over onto my side, the phone rang once again. With a growl, I reached for it, deciding that two days in isolation would have to do. I couldn't shut the world out forever, though I really wanted to.
"Hello?" I muttered into the receiver, flipping back over onto my back, at the protest of my leg, of course. Anything I did was at the protest of my leg. Or my arm. Or my nearly healed ribs, or my -
Stop it, Brooklyn! No pouting!
"So, did you die?"
My brows narrowed at the voice on the other end of the line. "Excuse me?'
"Well, I wondered. Either that, or you decided at the last minute to make yourself look like a carry-on and flew out with Rand."
"Bite me, Cody."
"Well, as tempting as that may be, I just wondered if you were alright. You didn't bother to answer the phone before, or return my calls, so, you know." I could hear the smile in her voice, and I smiled in turn.
"Sorry. I guess I just felt like going AWOL for a while."
"Shit, dude, I do that everyday. Isn't it great?"
"Yes. Can I be you when I grow up?" I said dryly.
"Nah. You'll never exceed the wondrous boundaries that I've managed to concoct for myself."
"So, what, did you swallow a thesaurus for breakfast?"
"Guess not." I grinned, sitting up, feeling better now than I had in days. The countdown for Rand's leaving hadn't been easy, either. I had been quiet and moody, with all who know me wondering what the hell had happened. It was sweet though. When I'd gone back to work, Kristine and Rhonda had thrown me a party, complete with a cake and balloons. "Come over."
"Well, I need to ask my mom first, you know, make sure I don't have to do my chores, or anything."
"Okay. Maybe you can ask your mommy if you can stay for dinner and a slumber party." I grinned, enjoying the game. I heard a low chuckle that sent a shiver through my spine.
"Hmm. Tempting," she drawled. "Be there in a bit."
"See you then." Without another word, I heard the click of the other phone, and I turned mine off, used to the abrupt end to our phone conversations.
I tossed the phone aside, and stood, knowing that I had at least forty-five minutes before Cody could either roller blade or skateboard over, so I headed into the bathroom. From lots of trial and error, I had learned how to bathe by myself with the casts on, and hurried to take a bath now. I didn't have the time to soak that I loved, but that was okay.
As I got dressed, I couldn't keep the smile from my face. I always had so much fun with Cody, and it would be a great relief to have some company. I was tired of being alone and wallowing in my sadness.
As I brushed my long hair, having finally come to the decision that I should just cut it off, I heard the popping of Cody's skateboard as she hopped up onto the porch. Within five seconds, knuckles rapped on the wood.
Hobbling over to the door, I unlocked it, and swung it open to see a grinning Cody standing there.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey, you." I took a step back to allow her entry. She leaned her skateboard in its usual place, against the wall by the door, and turned to me.
"What are you feeding me?" she asked, already headed toward the stairs. I knew she was going to take her bra off. This had started once she'd been staying here more and more often, and I guess felt comfortable enough to do it. She said that after a long skate, the sweat made her bra chafe her skin.
While she was upstairs, I headed to the kitchen to see what I had to throw together for the hungry girl - she claimed she was still growing, but I didn't believe it for a minute.
"So, here's my thoughts," I heard said from the door to the kitchen.
"Yes?" I asked as I slapped together a turkey and cheese sandwich, or three.
"You don't get out that often, right?" I shook my head, turned to set the plate on the table. "Nope. Milk or iced tea?"
"Milk. So, after I eat, we should walk down to the park at the end of the block." I glanced at her as I cleaned up the crumbs on the counter from the bread. "Could you make it?" she asked, taking the sandwich in her hands. "Thanks, by the way."
"Sure. Well, yeah, actually. I think I could."
"Cool. That cool with you?" I thought for a moment. I definitely did want to get out of the house, and even more than that, I needed a distraction from my thoughts of Rand. I was beginning to sound like a broken record, but damn, I missed her.
"Alright, I'm in." I sat at the table across from her, watching her scarf up the food. Well, maybe she was a growing girl. I snickered at the thought. "So, what did you do the last few days?" I snagged a chip from the bag of Doritos I'd put on the table.
"Well, T.J. and me came up with a new trick," she said, her eyes immediately lighting up at the new friend she had made. I, however, was not so excited. T.J.'s name had come up for the first time about three weeks ago, and I'd heard about her off and on throughout. She was a little older than Cody from what I understood, actually closer to my age than hers, and was a skater chick.
"Really?" I said, realizing that I had gotten lost in my villainous thoughts.
"Oh, yeah. She's great. She's got an incredible sense of balance. Truly amazing. I fell on my ass when I tried it at first. The dude was totally upside down!" I had to smile at her excitement, but it just, I, shit, I don't know. It bothered me, damnit!
"So, you ready to head out?" I asked, taking her empty plate, and loading it into the dishwasher.
"Uh, yeah." Cody stood, I could tell she was a bit taken aback by the sudden subject change.
I hobbled over to the closet and grabbed a hat, plopping onto my head. Cody followed me, helping me as I nearly lost my balance and stumbled to the ground. Not good.
"You okay?" she asked, her hand resting on my arm. I nodded.
"Yeah. I'll live. Ready?"
It felt so wonderful to be outside, smelling the air and feeling the cool breeze against my face. I had been so cramped up inside that house save for the few excursions, and the first week of getting back to work. I took a deep breath of freedom.
I could hear the quiet steps of Cody walking beside me, keeping at my slower pace, her hands buried deep in the pockets of her cargo shorts, her arms tanned and toned from a summer of being outside and being constantly active. Her hair, dark as the gathering night, blew back from her face as the wind caught it, her hand absently reaching up to tuck it behind her ears.
"Can I ask you a question, Code?" I asked as we passed underneath a streetlight, casting an eerie orange hue on our skin.
"Shoot," she said absently, looking around her, watching as a stray cat ran in front of us, hiding under a car.
"What do you date?" I glanced over at her, her eyes on me.
"What? As in like, between dogs, horses or other?" There was a grin on her face, and her eyes were sparkling. I backhanded her in the stomach.
"No, you nut, like between men and women." Again I felt her eyes on me.
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, when you went to dinner with Rand, Kristine and I, you made it sound like you didn't really care what it was you dated." I smiled at the round of laughter that followed my words.
"Well, there's your answer," she said as we reached the park. Cody led us over to a park bench and plopped down on the grass, laying on her back, hands behind her head. I slowly got myself down there, Cody sitting up to help me. "You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah. Just gotta take it slow."
"When do you get those things off, anyway?" she asked, knocking on my arm cast with her knuckles.
"Not soon enough. But within the next two weeks."
"That's great. So, why the question?"
I thought for a moment, question? Oh, the question.
"Well, I never hear you talk about anyone that you date, and well, I know about Jodi,"
"So you're wondering if it's a twin thing?" I could hear the smile in her voice. I chuckled.
"I guess so." I sighed as I watched some clouds moving toward the new moon, the sky getting darker and darker, the lights around the park beginning to flicker on.
"Well, it's like I said before - anything goes." I glanced over at her to see her strong profile, eyes gazing up at what could be seen of the stars above the city lights.
"So, have you ever, you know," She looked at me.
"Not totally." My brows drew.
"Not totally? And are we talking, well, what are we talking here?"
"Both. Men and women, not totally."
"So, what does not totally mean?"
"It means the opposite of totally." Again a backhand to her stomach. She chuckled. "I had opportunities with both. Like there was this guy that I kind of dated when I was in high school, but," she shrugged. "I don't know. Guess he just wasn't . . . right." I nodded my understanding. I had a feeling Cody was a virgin, just an instinct. I don't know why it mattered to me, or why I cared. But I was curious.
"So, what have you done?"
"Um," She sighed as she stretched her arms above her head, then bringing them down to rest on her stomach. "I've made out with a few guys, they groped, but nothing was taken off." She glanced briefly at me, then turned back to the sky. "The guys were actually friends of mine. I haven't actually dated per se. Just messed around."
"So, what have you done?" I repeated, my interest piqued.
"Well, with Allen he got as far as getting a hand onto my stomach under my shirt. Then he nearly lost a finger when he tried to go further." She grinned.
She chuckled. "Yeah, something like that. So," she glanced over at me, "I get to ask you the same stuff when you're done, right? I mean, fair's fair." I looked at her, indeed, fair is fair.
"Fine. So how many guys have you made out with, or whatever?"
"Let me see," She brought up her hands, counting silently off on her fingers. My brows shot up when she moved to the second hand. "Seven."
"You hussy." She smacked my arm.
"Hey, I can't help it if the world hits on me." She winked at me, I rolled my eyes. "And as for women." She sighed. "That's kind of interesting. I made out with my best friend, well we were best friends when we were young,"
"As opposed to?" Smack.
"Anyway, she was the first. But that didn't go anywhere. You know, kids. But, the interesting time was when I was dragged to this stupid party. Man, I so didn't want to go, but I did. Jimmy was after some chick's skirt, so he had to go sniffing around for her. When we got there, there was this cheerleader-type, you know, real cute, real blonde and real stupid."
"Be nice, Rand was a cheerleader for a while."
"Like I said, anyway." This, of course, earned her a slap on the arm. "This chick had been eyeing me for a while, even though she was on the arm of some meaty linebacker, and I decided to play along. So, finally she follows me upstairs, so I lead her to the den, which had a real nice couch in it. We sat down, I didn't even catch her name. It was wild." Cody smiled at the memory. I felt strange, like I had just heard a bad joke who's punch line didn't sit well with me. "We got disturbed before anything serious could have happened. But, as I think of it, I'm not real sure I would've let anything too serious happen."
"Why?" She shrugged.
"Don't know. Anyway, I managed to cop a feel, and a real heated make out session, but that was it."
"How long ago was that?" Why did I continue to ask questions? I didn't want to know this stuff.
"So, did Jimmy get his girl?"
"Yup. That's the bitch that clawed at me earlier." She looked at me, a cocky, one-sided grin curling up her lip. I nodded.
"Okay, let me think." I sped back my memories, trying to think of all my near-misses, and few experiences. "Well, in high school I dated a guy named Luke for about, oh jeez, two years I guess."
"Ah, so he was the lucky guy, huh?" She ribbed me good-naturedly in the ribs.
"Um, no. Actually, I held him off, telling him that I wanted to wait until I got married." I grinned, remembering how I had thought and thought about how to tell my long-term boyfriend that I didn't want to sleep with him. "I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend in college, Mark." I shuddered at the memory.
"So, attacking all the members of the bible? Was there a Timothy in there somewhere?" She grinned at me.
"Ha ha. You're pretty funny there, Cody."
"I know." I was amazed at how candid she was about her sexual exploits, and lack thereof. I really thought she would have pulled the tough act, trying to play it off for more than it actually was. I really respected that about her. "So, how was it?"
"It sucked, quite honestly." I smiled at her, her eyes meeting mine. "I was just glad it was over, and I could move on." Finally she broke the contact, and looked up at the night sky again.
"Want some ice cream?" she asked, me taking a moment to figure out what the hell she was talking about. From sex to ice cream.
"Sure." I sat up, wiping the grass from my hair and back. Cody popped up into her feet, reaching down to grab my hand. I was glad; I had no idea how I was going to get my ass off the grass. As we walked, she glanced down at me.
"So, how about girls," she asked. I shook my head.
"Never," I said simply.
Back at my house, I headed straight for the kitchen. "Okay, what's your pleasure?" I glanced at her over my shoulder to see blue eyes burning into me. She grinned, but said nothing. "I have chocolate, and I have Bunny Tracks."
"Huh? What the hell is that?" She leaned against the counter, arms crossed over her chest.
"That, my dear Cody, is vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirls, and chocolate covered peanut butter . . . things." I showed her the container.
"Yum." She licked her lips, and I watched her tongue sweep across her bottom lip before my eyes flicked back up to hers.
"Want some?" She gave me that same damn cocky grin.
Turning my back to her, I grabbed two bowls from the cabinet, and began to scoop.
"Lots. I love ice cream."
"Good. Get the chocolate syrup and whipped cream, will you?" I heard her push away from the counter, and head toward the fridge. As I scooped, I thought about the night so far. Ha! See if you and T.J. could have this much fun.
As I turned, I noticed something on the back of Cody's shoulder as she reached down for the syrup in the lower cabinet.
"Do you have a tattoo?" I asked, taking a step closer, pushing the material of her black tank aside.
"That's one of them." She said as she stood, looking over her shoulder at the tat I had uncovered. It was done in black, a swirling of lines and designs, only about two inches in diameter. My brows drew.
"One of them?" She nodded. My eyes turned back to this one, my finger running over the smooth skin. "What is it?"
"My initials. They're kind of all together in a little whirlwind of design," she said. "The C starts here." She reached around and tapped her fingertip on it.
"Oh, I see it. That is so cool." She turned to face me. "What about the other one?"
"Well, one of them is here." She pulled down her sock, revealing a skateboard wheel with flames shooting off of it on her ankle. This one was a tempest of color and detail.
"That's really good," I murmured as she put her foot up on the counter, and I could examine it closer. "So, how many do you have?" She grinned, putting her foot back on the floor.
"Where's the third one?" That same grin, god, I don't think I'd ever seen her smile like that until tonight.
"Well, I can't exactly show you that," she said, taking the bowl I'd offered her, and reaching for the chocolate sauce.
"Oh." I took my own, adding tons of whipped cream from the spray can of Reddi Wip. Once the Hershey's had been put down, I grabbed that, too. As I buried my spoon under the huge mound of calories, I began to try and picture just where that other tattoo could be since she was so reticent to tell me or show me.
"Do you have any?" she asked, a mouthful of ice cream and chocolate sauce making her words thick, just a tiny bit of sauce dribbling from her lip. I nodded.
"You're kidding?" She looked at me with an almost renewed respect.
"Cody, I'm not quite the old lady you'd like to make me out to be." I set my bowl down. "Lift." I turned my back to her, motioning toward the hem of my tee. Cody lifted it up above my bra strap to reveal the horse from its neck up between my shoulder blades. His eye was the wheel of a bicycle, tiny words penned inside the iris.
"What does it say?" she asked. I could feel her warm fingers on my skin, and her breath on the back of my neck, giving me the shivers as the tiny hairs there were disturbed.
"It's the names of my family."
"You always carry them with you, then," she said, her voice soft as she slowly lowered my shirt back into place. I nodded.
"Plus you managed to capture your other passions." I nodded as I grabbed my bowl again, then put it back down.
"Come on, Cody. I showed you mine. Where is your third one?" Cody looked at me, as if she were thinking as she moved the bite she had just taken around in her mouth, her eyes on mine. Finally she swallowed, gently set her bowl aside, and walked over to me, her eyes never leaving mine. Involuntarily I took a step back, but she caught me. My breathing was slightly labored, and I felt like a ten-year-old child. It was so strange, and I had no idea what the hell was wrong with me.
Cody reached out, taking the hem of my shirt in her hand, and gently lifting the shirt, but just a little.
Oh my god, what is she doing? My brain was screaming at me, but I waited to see what she'd do next, yes with baited breath.
While her hand held up the shirt, her other hand came up, and she pushed on a spot just above and to the right of my bikini line.
"There," she said, her voice soft, eyes still focused on me. I swallowed, hard. Just as soon as they'd come, her hands were gone, and Cody had stepped back over to her ice cream, and was eating again. I, however, stood there for a moment, trying to get my bearings back. I was also trying to imagine her tat in that particular spot, the same spot where I could feel the phantom finger pushing into my skin.
"What is it of?" I managed to ask, my voice actually sounding normal.
"Taz," she said, tipping her bowl up to drink the soup that the melted ice cream had made. I chuckled. I could so easily picture that, and it seemed so appropriate for her.
I sat at my desk in my little cubicle, still trying to catch up on the insane pile of work that had accumulated in my absence. Kristine had done as best she could, doing anything that had needed to be done ASAP. Now it was just a matter of getting through the busy work crap.
"Hey, you." I looked up to see Rhonda looking at me over the top of my little walled off area. I smiled.
"Howdy. How was the meeting?"
"Eh," She wrinkled up her nose. "It sucked, but such is life in the corporate world."
"Let me cry my song of sadness for you." I grinned. "That's why you get paid the big bucks, my friend."
"Yeah, don't remind me. Maybe I'll step down to be a pee-on like you again."
"Ron!" I threw an eraser at her. Followed by her own laughter, Rhonda hurried back toward her office.
"Oh," She turned to look at me again. "I'm supposed to have lunch with Jodi today. When she comes, will you please tell her that I'll meet her at our regular table?" I nodded with a smile.
Crap. I hadn't seen the girl since she'd stormed out of my house two weeks ago. I had no idea what to say to her, or how to act. Do I tell her that I'm sorry? That I don't want her and Cody to fight? That I still want to be her friend? Hell, I had no idea what to say or think or do. This wasn't exactly an everyday occurrence for me.
With a sigh, I got back to work, only for my head to be filled with images of Cody. The other night had been interesting to say the least. I couldn't define her behavior let alone my own. And what was up with this T.J. bullshit? I had never talked to this girl, though I'd seen her once. She was a little shorter than me, gauging from where she came up to on Cody. She was built like a twig, looking like I could break her over my knee. Her short hair, spiked everywhere, was bleached blonde, making her look like what Marilyn Monroe would look like were she to be reincarnated as a porcupine.
T.J. seemed to be amazingly more aloof than Cody was when we first met, and could still be now. The blonde bimbo seemed distant, like she didn't give a care about anyone or anything, her clothes hanging off her slim frame in unappealing ways.
Shaking my head to clear it, I decided that T.J. didn't matter. Cody could be friends with whatever malnourished girl she wanted.
I settled into my work, losing myself in the editing, circling problems or awkwardly phrased sentences, making my little red marks around, over or next to anything that needed to be changed. I enjoyed this. It was the same everyday, yet it wasn't. There was something different with everything I checked, and it was always a challenge to see what I could find. Like a great Where's Waldo game with words and pictures.
Suddenly I heard the elevator doors open, and I glanced at the clock in the corner of my screen to see it was nearly noon. I looked up in time to see Jodi walking by my cubicle.
"Jodi?" I called out, standing so she could see me above the short partition. The girl looked at me, a shield sliding into place as soon as she saw who had called her. That made me incredibly sad.
"Hi, Brooklyn." She smiled politely.
"Hi. How are you?" I stepped around to stand in the aisle. She took note of my walking cast.
"It's good to see you're up and about," she said. I noticed how she had completely ignored my question. That was okay, I'd let it go.
"Well, I'm glad you're doing better. I'm supposed to meet my mom for lunch,"
"Yeah, about that. Your mom has had a pretty wild morning and is in a meeting. She said she'd meet you at your regular table."
"Oh." She looked away, then looked at me for a moment, studying me. "Um, if you'd like to join us . . ." Though I appreciated the sentiment, I knew the invitation was simply out of being polite. Besides, I didn't really want to try and swim those waters for an hour lunch.
"Oh, thank you. But, I've already got plans." I smiled, and she almost seemed relieved, which made me very sad. It really didn't have to be this way.
"Okay. Well, have fun." Jodi smiled at me, then headed back the way she'd come.
It had been a few months since Keith had broken things off with me, yet I had not met his boyfriend, Ben. So, today was the day. Keith had called me up, asking if I'd like to join them on a picnic in the park. I had jumped at the chance to spend some time with Keith, who was still a dear friend, especially now with Rand gone. Meeting Ben, however, well, the jury was still out on that one.
"So, I hear you're going to get your casts off Tuesday," Ben said from the passenger seat, sitting where I used to.
"Yeah. Sure will." I smiled from behind Keith as she drove us to the park. "I'm pretty excited about it, too."
"I was going to say. I broke my arm once, and it was truly hell." He smiled at me, the skin around his eyes crinkling just a bit before he turned back around to face the road before us.
Ben was a very handsome man, dark blonde hair, just a touch of gray on either side, tanned skin with bright gray eyes. Keith was a lucky guy. Plus, he seemed to treat Keith very well. All in all there really wasn't much I could complain about with him.
"So, what is it exactly that you do, Ben?" I readjusted my leg, not comfortable in the confines of the car.
"I run the All State offices here in Portland," he explained. "As well as deal art on the side."
"Oh, competition for you, eh, Keith?" I smacked the back Keith's chair, a bit too hard from the look he gave me in the rearview mirror. Yeah, this Ben stuff was going to definitely take some getting used to. I had no problem with the fact that he was a he, but I did have a problem with the fact that he was who I got dumped for.
"Well, luckily Keith and I move around in different art circles, so we don't steal each others clients." They eyed each other and both chuckled as if at some private joke. God, I hated being a third wheel.
Finally we reached the park, and I couldn't help but glance over at the skate park, wondering if Cody was there.
The boys set out the blanket and food for our little lunch, and then both assisted me, one on either side, to the blanket. I really didn't need the help, but who could turn down two incredibly handsome men on each arm? I snorted inside, realizing how ridiculous that was since both were quite gay . . . er . . . whatever. Not interested in me.
Potato salad, baked beans, fried chicken, thermos of chilled lemonade, it was really great hanging around guys who were better in the kitchen than I was.
We sat in a little triangle, the guys sitting side by side forming the base, and then little old, solo me forming the point. It was kind of nice to have their undivided attention, well, that was until they started getting googly-eyed for each other. I did have to admit, though, they made a really cute, good-looking couple.
"What do you think?" Keith asked once Ben had excused himself to go use the public restroom not far from our little party.
"I like him," I said, taking a bite of potato salad.
"Really?" I could tell that so much hinged on my answer here, and I wanted to make Keith feel comfortable and confident that he could be around me with his new love without any worries.
"Really. He's gorgeous, very sweet, seems like a smart guy, what's not to like?" I wiped my mouth with the napkin they'd so thoughtfully provided.
"Well, I know, it's just that, well, you know." His eyes widened to emphasize his point. "He is, well, we, you know, because of him."
"Keith, honey," I put my hand on his arm, truly touched by his almost boyish shyness of the situation. "This is a first for me, okay. And, I'll admit, it's a little weird seeing you two together on a couple of different levels, but I want you to be happy, and he seems to do the trick." A cute, goofy grin spread across his face.
"He really does. In fact," He cleared his throat. "We're talking about maybe moving in together." He looked down, barely looking up at me through long eyelashes.
"Wow." I felt suddenly like the wind had been knocked out of me. After nearly two years that conversation had never even come up with us. Okay, stop it, Brooklyn. Be a big girl. "Is that what you want, Keith? I mean, you had always said you weren't interested in that sort of commitment." He shrugged with a sigh.
"I never felt that I was. I don't know." He balled up his napkin and tossed it into the picnic basket with the other trash. "Maybe it just took the right person." He looked at me. "You know?" I sighed with a nod.
"Yeah, I think I do."
"Oh, sweetie." He reached out, his palm caressing the side of my face. "I can't wait to see you so happy and content. You are so wonderful, beautiful, just such a truly spectacular person." He leaned his head to the side as he studied my face, a soft smile on his lips. "It's got to happen for you. The world just wouldn't be right if it didn't."
"God, Keith," I squeezed his hand in mine. "You almost make me want to cry." I smiled at him, my champion.
"Is this a bad time?" We both looked up to see Ben standing on the edge of the blanket, looking from one to the other of us as though he'd bolt at the first sign that he should.
"Oh, no. Sit down." I patted the blanket beside Keith. As I looked at him, my eyes caught something back over by the bathroom, the short, squat brick building with a restroom on either side, one for women and one for men. Leaning against it, next to the drinking fountain, was Cody. Her back was against the wall, hands tucked into her pockets, her attention given to the person who was standing beside her, who I realized was T.J. The skeletal blonde leaned against her hand that rested against the brick not six inches from Cody's shoulder, her body almost leaning into Cody's as they talked.
From this distance I couldn't hear what was being said, but Cody was smiling and nodding at whatever the girl was saying, her hands leaving her pockets only for her arms to cross over her chest. Good, that meant she was cutting herself off from T.J.
"Brooklyn? Hello?" My head snapped to Keith who was looking at me as though I'd lost my mind. Ben looking over his shoulder to see what had caught my eye. "You okay, sweetie?"
"Yeah, fine. Sorry." I felt my blood boiling. I wanted to walk over there and beat the living shit out of that little blonde bitch with my cast. But for now, I fought it, shoved it down so I could enjoy my afternoon with what would eventually be known as "The Boys."
I sat on the couch, and thought about the afternoon. You'd think that I'd be going over the five hours I spent with Keith and Ben, but no, I was thinking about what had caught my eye at the park bathrooms. You guessed it, Cody and T.J.
What the hell was wrong with me? I was seething as I sat on the couch, unable to pace easily or I would be. I was, was, I was jealous!
I recognized it for what it was, but goddamnit, why was I jealous?
Looking around the room, I saw the picture of my parents that I always talked to when I was unsure about something, or just needed to feel their presence. I looked at it now, slowly standing from the couch, and taking the photo from the wall, taking it back with me as I sat down, setting it on the coffee table. I always felt foolish when I did this, and no one knew I did, not even Rand.
"What is wrong with me, guys?" I asked the picture, my parent's smiles forever frozen in place. "What do I have to be jealous of? I don't get it, but I absolutely hate that girl, T.J." I ran an impatient hand through my hair. "I'm not a mean person, I'm not a spiteful person, but I can't stand her! Seeing her standing so close to Cody today, seeing them talk and laugh, and Cody not even looking around to see me there. God, I just don't get it. I haven't known Cody that terribly long, but still, I feel, I don't know."
Leaning back into the softness of the cushions, I looked up at the ceiling, trying to formulate my thoughts, to clarify them for me, let alone my parents.
"I feel protective of her somehow, like, well," I sighed, chewing on my lower lip. "I know we're friends, close friends, for that matter. But, it's almost as if there's something more there? Like, I don't know, like I feel I owe her something, and she owes me something, which is, of course, ridiculous. Cody doesn't owe me a damn thing, and nor do I owe her anything. It's like I feel more than friendship for her, but what does that mean? It makes no friggin' sense."
I pulled myself up, and headed for the kitchen, needing some coffee to help me in my little rant.
The water poured into the little container, I headed to the fridge to grab the large can of Maxwell House.
"So, she meets this new girl, T.J." I can't keep the venom out of the name, just the very name makes me want to cringe. "What's so bad about this girl? She's a skater like Cody. I mean, Cody has other skater friends, hell, look at Jimmy for crying out loud. If I should feel threatened by anyone, it should be him." I stopped, mid-scoop. I looked out the darkened window above the sink, seeing my own reflection looking back at me, head cocked to the side, looking just as confused as I felt. "Did I just say threatened?" I asked the woman looking back at me, but she could only ask the same thing. "Okay, so I'm turning into a freak with stalker's tendencies," I muttered as I turned the pot on to brew.
I leaned against the counter, arms crossed over my chest, my fingers playing with the ragged edge of my arm cast near my elbow.
"So, I'm jealous that Cody has a new playmate. Why is that?" I tried to put my logical mind to work, trying to analyze the situation and figure it out so I could forget about this madness, and get on with my night. "Does that mean she'll replace me? But what's to be replaced? We're only friends."
With a growl, I shook my head. So this must be how Rand felt about Cody. Now I truly understood. She felt threatened, jealous, worried, like her territory had been encroached upon, like she'd lose out.
But what was there for me to lose? Rand and I had been friends for what, a dozen years? I didn't have near as much invested in Cody as Rand did in me, yet, somehow, it felt like it would hurt just as bad if I lost her.
That phrase again, lost her. To what? What, so she didn't come over as much? I didn't have to feed her as often? I mean, that was the first thing she asked for when she came over.
A smile spread across my face.
"I kind of like that." I grinned. "It's so cute." My eyes opened wide, my hand coming up to cover my mouth. This is ridiculous.
I needed to talk to Rand. There was no way I could tell her about the lunacy going through my head, but I missed her, and needed to hear something that was constant.
The coffee groaning to a stop, I poured myself a cup, and headed back into the living room to plop down on the couch once more. Looking at my parents, I muttered, "You guys are no help."
Looking at the number Rand had given me, I dialed the eleven numbers, and waited.
"Hello?" came the low, breathy voice.
"Hey, sugar lips," I breathed into the phone.
"Brooklyn!" I could hear the smile in her words.
"Did I wake you?"
"Yes." I smiled at the no nonsense answer and tone. God, I missed her, and I told her so. "I miss you, too, babe. How is everything? How is your leg and arm?"
"I get the casts off in a few days."
"Oh, Brook, that's wonderful." I could hear her readjusting herself in the bed. "How's my baby? Have you seen him?"
"I talked with him about a week ago. He met Keith and I for lunch. Speaking of, I had lunch today with Keith and Ben."
"Oh, the new boy toy. How did that go?"
"It went well. He's actually really nice, and very cute."
"Well, I always said Keith had good taste."
"I should say so. He was with me, after all." We both chuckled. "How's the new job and place?" I laid back in the cushions, my free arm behind my head.
"Very busy, and incredibly stressful. I run all day everyday, and I've even lost five pounds."
"Ew, Rand! You were a twig before!" This, of course conjured up pictures of T.J. in my mind, and made me nearly growl into the phone.
"Yeah, well, I always thought the Karen Carpenter thing was sexy."
"You're seriously disturbed." She laughed.
"But you love me anyway." I smiled.
I was so thankful to Rand; she could always make me forget all my problems.
As I lay in bed that night, I decided that I was being entirely unfair to Cody. She had every right to make friends, and to be around people who she found interesting. It really was crappy for me to be angry at her for meeting new people. Hell, her mother would be so thrilled if she knew. She felt that Cody was entirely too introverted, and needed to get out more.
Cody would be taking me to get my casts off, and I wanted it to go well. I decided to just forget about all this nonsense, and just enjoy the time with her that I had.
"Are you okay?" Cody asked, her voice soft, and concerned. I nodded.
"Yeah. How does it look? Pretty gross and shriveled up?" I couldn't bear to look at the arm that had been encased in plaster for the past two months, finally seeing the light of day.
"Well, it looks like you're a third-world white girl, but other than that, it looks fine." I glared at her smile.
"How does it feel, Brooklyn?" I turned to see my doctor, looking at me, studying my facial expressions, looking for the slightest bit of pain.
"Well," I finally looked at my arm, skinny and shriveled as it was, and began to move it, able to bend my elbow for the first time. I winced. "It feels a little tight."
"It should. Your arm has been out of order for a little while. That will wear off, so don't worry. How about your leg? I want you to stand."
Taking a deep breath, I placed a hand on the doc's shoulder, and stood, trying not to put any weight on it.
"Now, Brooklyn, you have to see if it works." He chuckled. Chewing on my lip, I gently set the bare foot, also very pale and shriveled, to the cold tile floor, and slowly put some weight on it. It hurt just a bit, but felt pretty darn good for the most part. "How about your ankle? How's that?" I moved my foot from side to side, only feeling a slight pull once, then moved it in a slow circle.
"Wow, that feels surprisingly good." I smiled at the doctor, then at Cody who watched with interest.
"Well, you healed wonderfully fast, so I'd say you're going to be just fine." He patted my hand, then smiled at me. "Good luck to you, and if there's any problems, you feel free to call me."
"Thanks so much." I hugged the doctor quickly, then turned back to Cody. "Still have my shoe and sock?"
"Right here." She showed me the unused right shoe, and handed it to me.
"Let's get you out of here and back on a bike." Cody smiled at me, leading the way out of the office.
"Well, give me a little time for that, will you?"
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