Yes, this chapter is called Brian.
Then we felt the first spitting of rain. I felt it on the top of my head first, and when I tilted my head back to face the low, gray sky, I felt it on my cheeks. Seconds later, I began feeling it through my shirt. I looked over at Kate, who was dwindling back and forth on the swing; the toes of her sneakers causing trails in the woodchip covered ground beneath us. She kept her eyes focused downwards as we both waited for it to begin.
The first clap of thunder wasn’t very powerful; merely a low rumble from somewhere far off in the distance, and Kate didn’t react. The second clap was a little louder, but Kate still did nothing. The third clap got to her though, and she shivered, clear distress on her face. ‘Steph, maybe we should…’
‘Oh no you don’t’ I said warningly ‘You said, and I quote; ‘I don’t care about the thunder Steph, we can stay out as long as you want, really’ Kate, you know I don’t want to impose – you said we’d stay out of Ryan’s way.’
‘We will! Like I said, he’s probably going to spend most of the night in his room, being moody. He wouldn’t even mind anyway. Why are you so worried? It’s not like he’s going to get mad at you.’
I shrugged ‘I know… it’s just that I’d feel rude.’
‘Steph, we are getting soaked’ she said, and she had a point. Her bangs were plastered to her face, and the excess moisture rolled its way down her nose, past her lips and on to her chin. ‘It’s not like Ryan owns the house is it? Please can we just go home and make some hot drinks?’
The strong winds were starting to feel slightly chilly now, and the air temperature continued to decrease as the evening progressed. The house was still likely to be cool from the day’s air conditioning, and entering it with soaking wet skin didn’t seem very appealing. ‘Do you have hot chocolate?’ I asked.
‘Yes!’ She proclaimed, nodding enthusiastically ‘Milk, caramel and mint.’
‘OK’ I sighed in defeat, and Kate beamed in triumph before lightly jumping down from the swing. I copied her -- far less elegantly -- stumbling upon my landing. ‘What a pointless journey’ I muttered, bending down to pick up my slippery, wet crutches. I was genuinely peeved, and therefore a little surprised to hear Kate laugh. ‘What?’ I queried, standing back up to peer at her strangely.
‘I don’t really know’ she said, continuing to giggle uncontrollably with a hand to her mouth ‘I just find it quite funny for some reason.’
At first I tried to resist the urge to join in, but something about her laugh – which was something I would imagine a pixie’s to be like – was extremely contagious, and I gave in within a matter of moments. The more we laughed, then the more we laughed. I didn’t care about the rain, or the cold wind anymore; just witnessing her laugh like that, especially on a day like today, warmed my heart and made this allegedly pointless journey turn out to be worth it after all.
_ _ _
As I had predicted, the house was chilly, and Kate and I shivered as we entered the hallway; the combination of the cool air and the rain on my skin causing goose bumps to arise on my forearms. I failed to notice Ryan sat on the stairwell, until I turned towards Kate and followed her line of sight.
He sat clasping a phone in his hands, which he merely blinked at. The reason why however, was beyond me. We stood silently and apprehensively for a while, and I started to doubt whether he was ever going to acknowledge our presences. Finally, without looking up still, he said; ‘Um. I ordered a pizza. I didn’t realize we’d have to split it three ways until I saw your stuff in the hall’ -I presumed the ‘your’ was addressed to me, and the ‘stuff’ referred to my sleeping bag and such- ‘Shall I order another one?’
‘No’ I said quickly ‘It’s ok, I’m not hungry.’ It was the second time I had lied to him about not being hungry today, but I was already starting to feel like a burden.
‘You’re lying’ He murmured, and I was impressed.
‘No I’m not.’ I persisted ‘I ate earlier.’
‘I’m sorry; I forgot you didn’t know she was staying the night’ Said Kate, biting her bottom lip. She turned to me ‘Are you sure you’re not hungry Steph?’
I put on a smile and shook my head. Ryan slowly rose to his feet and descended down the stairs to place the phone back. I followed him with my eyes but he didn’t turn to look at me once before walking back up the staircase and disappearing, thankfully taking his gloomy aura with him. My stomach twisted uncomfortably; what was with the hostility?
‘Maybe I shouldn’t stay the night –‘I began.
‘No!’ Kate exclaimed ‘you can’t leave me. I told you he’s been in a weird mood. Don’t leave me here with him. It’s really cold isn’t it? Let’s go make some hot chocolate’, and she took my arm and steered me into the kitchen before I had a chance respond.
All I could think about as I mixed the steaming chocolate drink, was how he hadn’t even looked at me. Did he not realize how much that would hurt me? I’d thought he’d be a little more thoughtful, given he now knew how I felt about him -loosely, anyway. Then again,
perhaps I was being selfish. He was probably too busy trying to handle his own problems at the moment than to worry about my feelings. It was understandable… maybe.
‘I don’t understand’ I said, as I sat down opposite Kate at the kitchen table, placing my steaming hot chocolate down in front of me. ‘I know your brother’s not exactly happy about what happened today, but it happened because you’re dad tried to stop drinking right? Isn’t that sort of a good thing?’
‘Apparently not’ she sighed ‘Ryan said he’s stupid to think he could quit cold turkey by himself. It’s a dangerous thing to do when you’ve got that strong an addiction, see. If he continues to simply not drink, he has a high risk of having more seizures, and they become more dangerous, the more he has. Ryan tried to talk to him about AA meetings, but as always, he refused to listen. They started bickering again. Nothings changed. Dad will go back to drinking, and he and Ryan will go back to fighting.’ – She sighed heavily — ‘It never used to be so bad, but now it’s like… almost every night.’
I gave her small, sad smile. ‘I’m sure they’ll figure something out between them eventually.’ I said, softly.
‘I hope so.’
But I was still slightly confused; he had seemed reasonably fine at the hospital; why the sudden change of mood? I decided against questioning Kate about it any further though; remembering that I was here to take her mind off it. But it didn’t stop the matter bugging me.
I was down to the last few sips of my drink when the doorbell rang. Kate and I looked up from our mugs, questioningly at one another. ‘Oh!’ She said ‘It must be the pizza. Thank God; I’m starved.’
I followed her to the kitchen sink to wash up the chocolate stained mugs and then into the hallway where Ryan was already handing over the money to the pizza delivery guy. The guy must have been in his twenties, but he looked over and very specifically smiled at me before he left – a smile which I returned unenthusiastically. Ryan slammed the door shut and briskly walked into the living room. We followed after – rather tentatively in my case.
I tried my best to ignore my stomach -- which had been pining for pizza as soon as the aroma of it had reached my nose -- and sat down on the couch next to Kate. Ryan placed the pizza box upon the coffee table and sat in the single chair. ‘Feel free to help yourself’ Kate said kindly as she took a piece. I nodded, but I knew I wasn’t going to take any. Instead, I sat and pretended to watch whatever show was playing on the TV, whilst basking uncomfortably in the strengthening vibe I was getting from Ryan. It was telling me that he didn’t want me here.
By now I was certain that Ryan was deliberately trying to avoid looking at me. Did I annoy him that much?
I think even Kate was beginning to notice something too, from the way she kept shooting apprehensive glances back and forth between the both of us. I sat awkwardly and stiffly, with my hands placed upon my knees. Ryan sat facing in the direction opposite to mine... at a wall. My stomach sank. I must have done something. He couldn’t be like this with me for no reason.
Kate cleared her throat ‘I need the toilet…’ and she jumped up and quickly left the room, probably eager to escape the suffocating tension it was filled with. Ryan and I sat there in a still silence. I looked pointedly at him, trying to force him to make some form of eye-contact….but nothing.
I spoke first, ‘You’re not happy about me being here.’
He took his time swallowing his bite before he answered me. ‘Oh no, I’m ecstatic’ He said dryly, his voice rich with sarcasm.
I was taken aback. I frowned at him. ‘Sorry, did I do something?’ He didn’t answer, and I gave an aggravated groan ‘I’m serious Ryan! Tell me. Please.’
He said nothing, but at least he looked as if he were contemplating the idea. He contemplated too long though, and Kate re-entered before he had made his decision, unaware of how bad her timing was. I felt like I could scream louder than the thunder that lashed outside, purely from frustration. I guess I would just have to try and figure this one out on my own.
‘So’ said Kate, sitting down next to me ‘How are you and Spencer?’
I opened my mouth to reply to her attempt of a conversation starter, when a sudden thought caused me to stop in my tracks. There was no me and Spencer anymore, was there? What if Ryan knew this? Spencer must have told him I dumped him and now Ryan hated me for it! It did seem slightly strange that he should be taking it worse that Spencer had appeared to, but he was his best friend and it was the only plausible explanation I could think of.
Ironic really, that all this time I had been terrified it would be Spencer who would end up hating me for it…but this was even worse. The thought of Ryan never talking to me again was… unbearable.
‘Steph?’ Kate prompted after I had failed to answer for a while now. She must know too then. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought to mention it to her yet - part of the reason I felt so guilty for dating him was because I was now almost certain in my suspicions of how Kate really felt about it. Then again, her tone was casual, and she didn’t seem as happy about it as I would have anticipated.
‘We’re OK’ I Shrugged ‘Things will probably be a little weird at first, but he took it really well.’
I knew something was wrong when I was instantly met with confused glances from both Ryan and Kate. Finally, Ryan was looking at me! But I was too confused at his expression to revel too much in this ‘What?’ I asked.
‘Took what really well?’ Kate queried, and I frowned.
‘You mean…you mean he didn’t tell you?’ –I glanced back and forth between the both of them and their answer was clear – ‘we broke up.’
Ryan’s mouth parted slightly, but Kate’s reaction involved a lot more movement. She scrambled to her knees and her eyes widened ‘Oh my God! Why? What happened?’
‘Nothing really…we just both felt that we were better off staying friends than being in a relationship.’ I shrugged. They didn’t know! That meant Spencer didn’t mention anything to them…which meant I was back to square one.
‘But…but I thought you were in love!’
‘What?’ I said, spluttering in surprise ‘We weren’t in love! What on earth made you think that?’
Kate shrugged ‘Um, it’s just I could have sworn you said it to each other earlier when you were saying goodbye…but then again, I was only reading your lips.’
It took me a while to figure out what exactly she was referring to, and I when I realized I shook my head vigorously ‘That was after we’d broken up! We only meant it as … you know, friends.’
‘Ohhh’ Said Kate, looking very relieved indeed – (that was better!) – ‘I see.’
I looked back over at Ryan who had taken his eyes off me again to instead stare at the floor, his chin resting upon his hand as he stared unblinkingly at the old and slightly dirty carpet below. I had been so sure of my theory, and was now at loss as to why I seemed to have upset him. It scared me, not knowing. It meant I was less likely to be able to fix it.
‘Are things going to be like…really awkward between the two of you now?’ Kate asked, and I could tell she was genuinely worried.
‘I don’t think they’ll be that bad. Maybe just at first but I have a good feeling it’ll go back to normal pretty soon- I mean we didn’t go out that long did we?’ I said, trying to sound reassuring as possible, though I truly did believe every word I said.
Kate nodded, and sank back into the couch, her eyes glazing over as if she were lost in thought. I let her be for a while, turning my attention back to the TV show, which I had only just managed to gather was actually the latest episode of Friends. I waited for Ryan to make some sort of movement out of the corner of my eye, but he made none.
‘Joey and Rachel’ Kate sighed.
I turned to look at her ‘excuse me?’
‘They just kissed’ Kate said, indicating to the TV screen with a nod of her head ‘I don’t like it. I think Ross and Rachel are meant to be together.’
She sat up and bent forward to pick up one of the few remaining slices of pizza. I nodded vaguely ‘Uh, yeah…same.’
She sat back and curled her knees up to her chest. She turned to face me and hesitantly opened her mouth to speak – closing it again, only to reopen it and say; ‘Would you ever go out with your best friends ex?’
I raised my eyebrows in surprise at her question, but smiled slightly to myself ‘It would depend I guess. How long ago did they break up? Who dumped who? Does she still like him?’ – Kate nodded –‘you?’
‘Yeah…same’ she said ‘It would depend… I mean if you were really unhappy about it then I wouldn’t—‘
‘Oh, hypothetically speaking’ she said quickly, becoming slightly flustered, much to my amusement. She sighed dramatically and flopped back, hugging a cushion to her chest ‘not that any guy would even look at me after being with you…’ -I rolled my eyes, grabbed the cushion to my left and flung it her - ‘I’m serious!’ She squealed, straightening her bangs which had gone static ‘You can have any guy you want.’
‘No, trust me – I can’t.’ I muttered; one very specific example of this appearing clear in my head.
‘Name one guy’
I was about to refuse. To shrug it off; ‘oh loads’ and change the subject entirely. I refrained though; changing my mind. It was because Ryan looked at me again, waiting with interest to see what I was going to say and I felt an urge to satisfy his curiosity. Maybe this way, he would be a little more understanding. Hopefully. I took a deep breath and said very clearly ‘There’s this one guy…’
‘From Lik-Wilmerding?’ – I hesitated, scratched my face and nodded -- ‘Tell me about him’ She said, and I decided to oblige. I glanced over at Ryan once again who was sat upright on the chair now; his knees wide apart, with an elbow resting on each. Between them, hanging limply from his hand was a forgotten piece of pizza. I had his full attention.
‘Well’ I sighed, conscious of his gaze and uncertain of where to begin ‘He’s um…he’s really smart…reallysmart, and he’s like… insanely good looking. He’s nice – well most of the time’ I added as an after thought ‘and just…’ -Words failed me for a moment as I tried to think of a way to sum him up. I sighed and threw a hand up - ‘just, perfect’ and flopped backwards onto the couch, folding my arms tightly across my chest and crossing my legs.
‘So why couldn’t you have him?’ She asked.
‘He has a girlfriend’ I mumbled.
‘I bet you’re way better than her’ Kate said kindly, but inaccurately.
‘No…’ I said, shaking my head at her ‘she’s smart. And Beautiful. And…’ – I gave a dry laugh -- ‘nice. They’re like perfect for each other I guess. She can read too.’
This time it was my turn to be hit with the cushion ‘who wants someone who can read?’ she scoffed ‘your loads of fun, and beautiful and kind, and you make people laugh… did this guy know you liked him?’
‘He found out eventually.’ I said running my hands through my now messed up hair.
‘What did he do?’
I looked back over to Ryan, who was still staring in my direction. I couldn’t be certain whether or not he was actually seeing me though as his eyes appeared slightly glazed over.‘He became really…weird with me, and he wouldn’t tell me why.’
‘That’s horrible’ Kate gasped, clutching her hands to her heart ‘What’s his name again?’
This question, which I should have been expecting, caught me off guard. His name? No. I wouldn’t go that far. ‘Uh…Brian.’
‘Well I personally think that Brian sounds like a jerk’ she said simply, taking the last bite of her pizza.
‘Nah… he’s a nice guy’ I said quietly, resting my head upon the arm rest of the couch. This time when I looked over at him, he definitely saw me. He eyes met mine and remained there for a number of seconds. He was the one to blink first, before standing up and walking silently out the room.
_ _ _
‘Night’ Kate yawned, and I knew that she’d be asleep in a matter of seconds. I envied her so much right then. Thanks to the uneasy feeling I had carried in my stomach the whole night, I knew it would take forever for me to finally manage to drift off into what I was sure would be a less than peaceful slumber.
‘Night Kate’ I whispered, turning onto my back and clasping my hands upon my uncomfortable stomach. I hated feeling this unsettled. All I could be sure of right now was that I was missing something.
Ryan being angry with me for no apparent reason… seeming to try his best to ignore my existence until I mentioned Spencer and I had split…. It didn’t add up. I’d have to ask him about it; whether I would get answers…I wasn’t sure. But it was driving me crazy, not knowing.
That could wait until morning. Right now I just had to focus on trying to fall asleep beforehand.
I stared upwards at the ceiling, which was decorated with dozens of stick on glow stars. It was a dismal attempt to get my mind of him. They looked quite pretty, actually. Though Kate complained they were tacky looking and said she just hadn’t got round to taking them down yet. She’s had them since her sixth birthday. They were ‘from Ryan’ who would have been seven at the time…maybe soon to be eight. I wonder when his birthday is? Would I turn seventeen before he turned eighteen?
No, this wasn’t helping. I obviously needed a better plan.
I closed my eyes, and the stars disappeared. It made the sound of Kate’s heavy breathing from the bed beside me more pronounced. I tried to time my breathing with hers, hoping it would somehow help me become sleepy. It didn’t really. Half an hour later, I was still completely awake.
I sighed to myself, surprised to find that the sound was drowned out by a slightly louder creaking noise. It was the type of sound made when people tried to quietly exit, or enter a room. Was Kate up? But then why did I still hear her breathing to the side of me?
I opened my eyes and gave a loud yelp of shock. Standing over me, was a dark figure that was only barely visible through the darkness, and I was pretty certain it wasn’t Kate. Perhaps I was more tired than I thought. I wondered whether to assume I was hallucinating – because my brain didn’t really feel up to trying to figure out any other possible explanations right now -- or to assume I was seeing a ghost and to carry on screaming. It spoke before I had made my mind up.
‘Shut up, you freak’ It said ‘It’s me.’
I waited with my hand against my chest for my heart rate to slow down a little, and then propped myself up on my elbow. ‘Ryan?’
Sorry that took a while. I have a good excuse this time; my internet was not working - which you would have know had you gone here:
Exams are literally just round the corner now:\ please review! Let me know what you thought when you saw the title of this chapter. :) (and what you thought of it , obvs) xo