32. Lexi and Tom cuteness. Also, high maintenance girls do not mix with life in a bus.
"Whatcha doing, babe?"
I turn around and smile at what I call Tom's "sleepy face": his shaggy hair is tousled and his eyes are squinty so they look almost black, and I just can't help but lean down to kiss him, enjoying the feel of his stubble gently scratching my cheek.
"Just thinking," I sigh, laying back down next to him.
"Oh yeah? What about?" He pulls me toward him and I lay my head on his chest, absorbing the warmth of his skin.
"I quit my job yesterday," I mumble against him.
"Why? I thought you loved it there. Did something happen?"
I sigh and roll onto my back. "No. I did love it, but I'd missed so much, with being in the hospital. And I called once I was released, and it seems like everything's running smoothly. Danny's doing a great job."
"Danny's the guy from Ohio, right?"
"Yeah. He basically did my job while I was out, and I really would hate to go in and displace him simply because I have seniority. Plus, I've been thinking that maybe I'd like to do something else."
"I don't know. Anything. Learn to paint, travel, maybe even go to college. I have money, I'm not worried about supporting myself."
"Yeah, I keep forgetting you're set."
"Well, that's the upside of being a North Shore orphan. Can you even be an orphan at twenty-one? I wonder if there's a cutoff for that label."
"I don't know. But I don't really care either. You're not an orphan. You have family." He puts his finger under my chin and turns me so I'm facing him. "You have us." He runs his hand through my hair and I smile, snuggling closer to his chest.
"You are too good to me." We lay in silence for a while, him stroking my hair and me listening to his heartbeat. "Hey, speaking of work, aren't you late?"
"Nope. I called in earlier today, while you were still sleeping. I figured we could spend the day together, sleep a bunch, maybe catch a movie."
"You are the best, boy."
"You bring out the best in me, girl."
I laugh quietly and place my hand on his cheek. "You know, if I didn't like you so much, I would definitely point out how corny that was."
Our day goes almost exactly as planned. We stay in bed until early afternoon, talking and laughing with the occasional nap. It's almost strange for me to be back in a relationship, scratch that, a normal relationship, but I'm finding it pretty easy to get into the swing of things. Tom is, as I've always known and everyone has proceeded to remind me, an incredible person. He listens to me when I talk, he has these totally out there but still completely feasible concepts of life and love and humanity in general, he's got a wonderful sense of humor, he's a brilliant guitarist (and lord knows I'm a sucker for a musician). He really does make me happy.
I roll onto my stomach and watch him breathe. His eyes are closed, but I know he's awake; it's one of his cute idiosyncrasies that he thinks I don't notice. For the first time ever, I'm thinking that maybe I've found someone that I might be able to fall in love with. Tom finally realizes I'm watching him and speaks, still keeping his eyes closed.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing. Just thinking that you're pretty cool."
He laughs slightly and lifts his arm so that I can snuggle into the crook of his shoulder. "Thanks. You're not too bad yourself."
I sigh contentedly and Tom notices.
"What was that?"
"What was what?"
"That little noise you just made. What was it?"
"I just like how you make me feel so safe. Comfortable, really. It's nice."
He's quiet for a moment, like he's digesting my words. "Do you ever think about getting married?"
My eyes pop open and my breath hitches, and I make a sound that can only be described as half-gasp, half-gag. He laughs and turns his head to look at me.
"Sorry, sorry. Rephrase: in general, not to me, have you ever thought you'd someday get married?"
"Uh, I don't know. I guess so. I think all little girls do. We're almost trained to picture huge cathedrals and fancy dresses and big cakes and hundreds of guests. So I guess I have, but more in the abstract. I've pictured a dream wedding, but not really my dream wedding. Does that make sense?"
"I think I get it. Are you just not the marrying type."
"I don't know. I think I don't fare well with the idea of eternal commitment. Because sure, you can love someone, but no one can be sure she's going to be in love until the end of time." I draw my last words out and wave my arm in a broad, sweeping motion in an attempt to illustrate the concept of forever. "I guess I just feel like love should be about emotions, commitment, devotion, stuff like that. Not poofy dresses and a license and an audience."
"So... why do you ask?"
"Uh, no reason. I don't know. I like the way you think, and I like hearing your opinions on things."
"I'm calling bullshit. Haven't you ever played bullshit?"
"It's a card game, where you... nevermind. Anyway, that was a sweet thing of you to say, and I don't doubt its sincerity, but I know there's more to it. What did you really want to ask me?"
"Do you love Patrick?"
Now it's my turn to be confused. "What?"
"Patrick. Do you love him?"
"I love Patrick like anyone would love her best friend of thirteen years. He's been my sounding board, my rock, my confidante, my hope, he's made me laugh, made me cry, held my hand, kept my secrets, shared my good times. He doesn't lie to me, he apologizes when he's wrong, and he forgives me completely when I'm wrong. He's my sanity. Of course I love him."
"Why aren't you two together then?"
"For all the reasons I just said. He's my best friend. That's where I need him in my life. Lucy once told me I dated losers because I was waiting for Patrick. But I think I dated losers because I was waiting for something... just... something /more/." That word seems so small compared to what I feel, but it's all I could come up with. "What's with all the deep questions?"
"I don't know. I think the you-and-Patrick thing has always confused me a little. You're so close, and I guess I was jealous. Hey, remember when we first met?"
He changes topics so quickly my head almost spins, but the memory of Pete dragging me through a crowd and dumping me on a stranger is too strong to resist. "Last Halloween. Of course I remember."
"Well, I kind of lied to you then."
"Pete didn't arbitrarily invite me to that party. He practically forced me onto the plane so I could meet you. He kept raving about this girl I just had to meet, how she, well you, was so freaking funny and cute and sweet..."
"If he said sweet, I wasn't the only one lied to."
He nudges me with his shoulder and smiles. "Stop it. He was dead set on me meeting you. The funniest part was he told me that Patrick was pretty much head over heels for you, like that would be some big selling point: me stealing someone's girl."
"Hey, whoa. I was not Patrick's girl. You can get that right out of your head. I was not then, and never will be, Patrick's girl."
"You've got to admit, he's awfully protective of you."
I think it over a while, trying to pinpoint exactly how to explain our relationship. "Patrick and I, we're complex. I've known him almost all my life. He's been there for every defining moment. I can't begin to verbalize what we have. He's bound to be a little, uhm, a little possessive. I'm the same way about him. It's just who we are."
"You did have a thing, though, didn't you? A long time ago? I think Lucy mentioned it once."
"No, not a thing. There was a weird time when Patrick, well, I guess he thought he was in love with me. I don't know if he just thought he should be, since we were so close, or what. And for a moment, I thought I reciprocated it. But it wasn't real, nothing ever happened. It was, like I said, weird. Nothing ever came of it. We're best friends, no more."
Tom stays silent, probably processing my words, and pulles me closer. "You know what I adore about you?"
"My sparkling wit and perfect ass?"
He laughs quietly and I smile; he's got the cutest laugh.
"No, although those are up there on the list. You're so honest. With everyone."
"Why lie? I have nothing to hide, least of all from you."
"That's what I mean. You don't try to disguise who you are or where you've been. It's refreshing."
I just smile and kiss his cheek. "I believe you promised me a movie, sir."
Time loses all meaning on tour. We could be gone a week or three months and I'd never know the difference. I know we joined up with Warped four or five days ago, and I know we'll be on the road another month and a half, give or take. But I can guarantee that in less that a week, I will no longer have any clue what day it is. All I know is cities, sometimes faces, and our bus. It's a strange lifestyle, and it's hard at times, but it's so rewarding. Right now, I'm waiting with the other guys behind the mainstage and I can hear the crowd wandering around, talking and laughing, and I am just so pumped for tonight's show. Even for me, quiet, shy Patrick, having hundreds of excited fans singing every word back to you is indescribable.
This time around, it's even better for me, because I've convinced Anna to take some time off of work and come on tour with us. It's the perfect setup, really, because we play in Chicago in a little less than three weeks, so once we get there, she'll just stay.
"Baby, I'm hot."
"I know you are," I smile as I pull her close to me.
"No," she whines, pushing me away. "It's hot out here."
"You can hang out on the bus if you want. I think Joe's still in there, playing video games or something, and it'll be cooler."
"But then I'll be bored."
"Okay, uhm, you can sit in the food tent. It's shaded, and they have plenty of water."
"And plenty of dirty roadies."
I sigh and try not to roll my eyes. "Well, sweetie, I don't know what to tell you. It's August, we're in SoCal. It's hot. I can't change that. At least it's not humid, think of it that way."
She huffs and sits down, fanning herself dramatically. I love the girl, but she can be a touch high-maintenance.
"Anna?" She rolls her head to look at me. "I'm going to go check out some of the smaller stages. You want to come?"
"I guess." She drags herself off the bench and grabs my outstretched hand, following me behind the mainstage and through the barricades. Almost immediately, heads turn towards us, although I think it's less about recognizing me and more about spotting our passes.
"Why are people looking at us?"
"Because we just came from backstage. People always look to see if it's some bigshot. It'll pass."
"Aren't you worried about being mobbed?"
I laugh loudly before realizing she's serious. "Oh, uhm. No. This isn't really the 'mobbing' type of crowd, and I'm not exactly high profile."
"Oh." She sounds disappointed and I glance towards her, but she's looking the other way.
"If you wanted a famous boyfriend, you should've nabbed Pete."
"Don't be silly," she giggles, and I sigh in relief. "You're plenty famous."
Not exactly the response I was looking for, but...
I'm driving home from Warped, Lucy next to me, fiddling with the stereo, and Anna and her eighty-five thousand suitcases crammed into my backseat.
"Aha!" Lucy shouts, scaring me out of my skin.
"No, Aha. Take On Me? Listen!" She cranks up the volume and the eighties take over my car.
"Oh!" I shout as I reach to turn it back down. "I see. Anyway... So Anna, how much did you love being on the road with the guys?"
"It was okay. It was hot."
"Oh. Well, I'm sure watching them every night was great. They put on a good show." I look at her in the rearview mirror, but she's staring out the window.
"Yeah, I guess. It got old after a while."
Lucy and I exchange glances and I shrug. Maybe she's just tired. "Well, at least you got a few weeks off work. And you got a great tan, huh?"
"Twenty-three days, to be exact. But you're right, I look pretty good."
I'm taken aback for a moment, then nod at Lucy, who hunts around in the glovebox for a second before cramming a cd into the dash. Amity starts playing and I turn it up, grateful for the distraction. We spend the remainder of the ride back to Anna's in excruciating silence, and I'm ready to sing the Hallelujah Chorus when I pull into her parents' driveway.
"Thanks for the ride. I know it's out of your way, but it's hard for me to stay at Patrick's apartment when he's away. It gets lonely, you know?" She grabs two bags and climbs out of the car before I can respond. After a minute she comes back out and grabs the last of her things, hesitating before poking her head back into the car. "Sorry if I seemed cranky. I guess I just didn't realize how tiring all that touring would be. I don't know how they do it. Anyway, thanks again!" And with that, she's gone.
I turn to Lucy as I shift into reverse. "That was odd, yes?"
"Yes," she nods as she lights her cigarette. "Very."
Chapter title from "Shut Your Mouth" by Garbage.