Today’s snippet is from my current…ish serial A Thin Line, a story about two people who’ve known and loved each other nearly their entire lives, but you’d never know it because they bicker constantly. They say there’s a thin line between love and hate. JC and Angie find out how thin that line really is when they’re forced to plan the wedding of their two best friends.
Why aren’t I running away, horrified that this man I cannot stand just gave me the best kiss I’ve had in years?
The party moves to the fire pit, where there is ample space to sit back and relax. Deep, plush couches surround the square marble pit in a U-shape. It’s in a perfect spot to give us a dusk view of sparkling Lake Conway and the sun setting behind the hills on the other side. High above us is a canopy that envelops the space and makes it cozy.
JC plays bartender and DJ, filling drinks and running a Spotify playlist through the underground speakers. I feel relaxed, letting myself have a few drinks and take a deep breath. It’s been a rough few weeks, with work and worrying about Dad. It’s nice to take a break.
Matt and Jackie are the first to leave. At this stage of her pregnancy, she has two modes: hungry and sleepy. She cycles between the two on a constant basis. Keith and Bridget duck out a half hour later. They only have their babysitter until 11 o’clock. That leaves me and JC sitting in the most romantic spot in the house, with a view of the most romantic spot we could find as teenagers. I chuckle at the irony.
“Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking?”
He sits next to me and puts his feet up on the edge of the pit. I’m attempting to come up with a smart ass answer but nothing comes to me.
“Probably,” I answer.
He gives one of those one breath chuckles. More of a ‘ha’ than an actual laugh. “Those were good times.”
Again, I want to say something mean and cutting and biting, but the words don’t come. I can only nod.
“I haven’t been out there since we…”
Surely he’s joking. “Get the fuck outta here, JC,” I say, laughing.
“I haven’t,” he says, quietly. And I stop laughing. I’m watching him, watching his face. I know him so well, still. I know when he is lying. He isn’t. “That place was ours. I didn’t want to… what’s the word I’m thinking of?” He waves a bottle of beer in the air like it will jog his memory.
“Sully? Mar? Stain? Ruin?” I suggest words that I thought of when I remembered that he’d been there first with Stacey. “You’re wrong, though. That was place was yours. Not ours.”
“No.” He shook his head. “It was ours. That spot. That place. I never took Stacey where I took you.”
“Same lake, JC. And almost twenty years ago, as you pointed out to me when you told me to adjust my attitude. Does it really matter?”
“Does to me. It matters to me that you know that I never brought Stacey there. Her brother brought us out here. He liked to hang out at his buddy’s house. The guy’s parents were never home. They lived somewhere down the lake, down that way.”
He points downstream with the neck of his bottle. “Stacey had to have a chaperone. She was loose and her parents knew it. But they didn’t know that when her brother chaperoned, he picked up his girlfriend and drove all of us out to that house down there. He went one way with his girlfriend, Stacey and I went another.
“She took me to the basement. Gave me some beer. We smoked a little weed. I had my first ‘E’.”
I rear back at that. JC tried Ecstasy? Why did I never know this?
He takes a swig of his beer, finishing it off. “I was kind of out of it. Like I knew what was happening, and I remember it but it was like watching someone else do it. She told me that all the guys in my grade laughed at me because they knew I was still a virgin. She said you probably thought I was lame for it, too. She said you would never have sex with me because I was a virgin and wouldn’t know what I was doing.”
This is a story I have never heard before and I am listening with rapt attention, watching his face by the light of the moon and the flickering flame. The truth I never had the courage or strength to hear was coming right at me like a freight train and I was powerless to stop it.
“More than anything, I wanted to be with you, but you know how I was. Weak. Impressionable. You could tell me anything and I’d believe it. I didn’t want to be rejected by you, so I let her… you know.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Take me.”
“She was aggressive, as you can imagine. She stayed on top, drove the whole show. When she came, that was it.”
“What about-” I pause. I know he knows what I’m asking about, the most intimate thing I ever let anyone do to me and hasn’t felt as good as it did when he did it.
He shakes his head, rolling his eyes up to meet mine. “Never. She wanted me to, but I couldn’t do it. Not with her.”
“But she said-”
“She was bluffing. I promise you. That…that I did with you first time.”
I am incredulous, as I should be. He is about twenty years late in making me hear him.
He holds a hand up like he’s taking a Boy Scout’s Oath. “I have no reason to lie to you right now, right? I could tell you we did all kinds of things, but we didn’t. We drank, we smoked some pot, we did some ‘E’, and we fucked once. I never came. She fell asleep and I went back upstairs to wait for her brother to be done fucking his girlfriend. Her brother drove us home. I wouldn’t go out with her after that.”
His hand scrapes his cheek and chin. The stubble sends an earthy, scratchy noise into the quiet. It reminds me of when he was just beginning to grow facial hair. The summer before our senior year, he wanted to see if he could grow a full beard. If the hair on his arms was any indication, he shouldn’t have had to worry about it.
After a few days, the poky, sharp edges of his beard softened. He would rub his cheek against mine and it felt surprisingly gentle, like a baby blanket. After he shaved for the new school year, I missed his beard. Sometimes he would grow a little for me, but he’d always shave it off.
“She definitely didn’t like it when I started dating you. She’d call me or email me, saying stupid shit. Jealous.” He laughed, shaking his head. “Not saying I was the world’s greatest fuck or anything. I think she thought she could manipulate me. I finally told her to back off.”
I’m quiet as I gather my thoughts, to wrap my brain around these words, this new information. I turn my body slightly sideways so I’m facing him. “JC, you never told me any of this.”
“You didn’t want to hear it.” His words are terse, his voice clipped. “And after awhile I figured I deserved your anger. You were right. I let you believe you were the first. I let you ‘waste all of your firsts on me’.”
He parrots my words back to me with a bitter twist of his tongue. “When you asked me if I was a virgin, I didn’t answer you.”
“Yeah, you did. You said you wanted me to be the first.”
“And I did.” He let that sit there for a full ten seconds before he went on. “But you weren’t. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but I started to realize how important it was to you to think that. So I wanted to let you have that. I never thought Stacey would….”
I watch him inhale a deep breath. The muscle in his jaw pops out, throwing a thin a shadow on his face. He blinks a few times and exhales.
“After that, I figured, you know, it wasn’t meant to be. I gave up. I made myself into this guy that doesn’t care about anyone anymore. A person is in my life right now but five minutes later, they might not be. And that’s gotta be okay with them, because it’s okay with me.”
At that moment I know he’s lying. I don’t call him on it.
We don’t say anything to each other for a long while. The fire is dying and JC doesn’t move to stoke it or put it out. The sun has long since dipped below the horizon. The lakefront neighborhood and the hills across the way are wrapped in darkness.
“I miss us,” he says quietly. I hear him but don’t respond. “I thought I had it all, in my naiveté. I had my life all mapped out. My girlfriend was my best friend. My folks were cool. I had a nice job and a car that ran. I had plans to graduate, go to college, move in with Angie, marry her, and maybe have like two or three kids. Then the bottom dropped out.”
These plans all sound familiar to me. They were mine, too. He wasn’t the only one that had to re-do the map for his life.
I hear him swallow. I feel him move closer to me. My heartbeat ramps upward and goosebumps wave across my skin when his arm lifts and lands on the cushion behind me.
“I know you probably don’t think about me like this. You don’t miss me. You don’t even like me and I don’t blame you. But I miss us. I miss hanging out with you all the time, talking to you. Being with you. We went from best friends one day to nothing the next. Like that.”
He snaps his fingers. The sound startles me.
“I need to do this…”
One moment I am gazing at him with a modicum of pity. In the next moment his lips are on mine-soft and wet and gently pressing. It’s a familiar feeling… like coming home. He lightly kisses me, feather soft for a few strokes and then presses harder, more urgently. His tongue works its way into my mouth and the kiss deepens. My breaths come in stutters and I moan into his mouth.
I feel his groan deep in his chest as he presses himself into me. A hand wanders from my neck to the curve of my breast, around my back, my hip, my thigh. Then back up, this time creeping up under my skirt-not too far, but far enough. He turns his head and assaults my mouth in a way I have never experienced and holy fuck…. I can’t focus on anything but how good this feels.
How good he feels. It’s been so long…
My head slowly clears and the wheels finally turn. Rational thought is fighting its way to the surface. I realize I am kissing JC.
Once my brain catches up with what my tongue is doing, I tear my lips from his and launch myself off of the couch. “I have to go,” I say, running toward the house.
“Angie, wait!” I hear him get up and trip over what I guess is the edge of the fire pit. I almost caught it myself. “Shit! Fuck! Ouch, Goddamn it!”
In the house, I’m searching for my purse. I knew I set it down somewhere-I check the kitchen and there it is, on the counter next to the refrigerator.
JC has limped into the house and placed himself between me and the front door. In the light, I can see his bloodshot eyes, his drunk-red face. My mouth tastes like remnants of Bud light.
“Angie, please stay. I didn’t… I didn’t mean…”
“I know. You’re drunk. Let me-”
“I didn’t pour my heart out to you because I was drunk. I wanted you to know. Finally.”
“Did you kiss me because you were drunk?”
“Did you kiss me back because you were drunk?”
“I’m not drunk.”
“Neither am I.”
I sigh, closing my eyes, clutching my purse to my chest. “Are you going to let me by, or do I have to spray you with Mace?”
The gaze on his face is emotionless. He doesn’t look angry or sad or irritated. It’s blank, but he’s watching me like I didn’t say a word to him. Finally, he steps aside, reaches out and turns the knob to the front door. It stands wide open, ready for me to walk through it.
Away from JC. Why don’t I want to walk out of that door right now?
Why aren’t I running away, horrified that this man I cannot stand just gave me the best kiss I’ve had in years?
I force my feet to move, one in front of the other, until I make it to the porch and then the steps and then across the driveway to my car. I know he’s standing in the door of the house watching me. I tell my feet to keep moving, not to turn around and throw myself at him.
“You kissed me back.” I hear it right before I get in my car and I stop for half a second. “Might want to think about what that means.”
He’s got one thing right: I need to think.
I need to think about what it means when a man you claim to hate kisses you and you kiss him back. And what it means when your body completely betrays you, reacts so passionately to said kiss that five miles down the road, you pull over, yank off your uncomfortably wet panties, ball them up and toss them into your purse.
I need to think. About why I can’t stop thinking about kissing JC.