Six years ago
I sat down on one of the lawn chairs, popped open the bottle of beer in my hands and drank my worries away.
Everybody else was having fun. Many were in the pool bouncing a ball around, some were dancing by the DJ booth, others were chatting it up by the food and drinks tables. And as for my friends, they seemed to be preoccupied with their own ventures while the night was still young. Isabelle was flirting with a new potential boy toy. Max was trying to impress a group of girls in skimpy bikinis by attempting a backflip from the diving board. Will was nowhere to be seen, but I could imagine him in the bathroom vomiting the entire contents of his stomach or had gone home the moment he could. All in all, everything was crazy but this is just how it should be. It was a party, after all.
And yet here I was, gazing at the people around me with a certain longing that made me feel like I was Rapunzel stuck high up in a tower while literally everybody in a kingdom was out there, partying the night away.
I took another swig and forced myself to swallow the liquid. I needed to forget about everything that happened the past couple of weeks, even if it was just for tonight. I willingly dragged myself here for the sake of having fun, as the others had said, not to sulk in the corner again while envying the happiness of everyone else around me. Max had been kind enough to organize this whole party just to get me out of the depressing mood and lighten things up. Izzy insisted that it was a bad idea, but I told them it was okay, that I needed this break so the crippling depression wouldn’t get to me.
Izzy was right. A party was the last thing I needed.
Nobody seemed to notice me here, though. It was like I was invisible, and everybody else was too caught up with the fun to even care to look. Maybe it was a good idea to go home, like Will did. Though he was never built to be the life of a party and I actually didn’t mind being around people like he did, this was the one time I needed to be like him—the one time I needed to be alone.
“Hey there, pretty girl.”
I blinked myself out of my thoughts and looked up to see Cameron looming over me with a bottle of his own in his hand. His smile almost made one appear on my own face, and I found myself sighing as he sat down on the chair right next to me and pulled me over to sit on his lap. I complied, and almost as soon as he did that I leaned my head against his shoulder as his arm crept around my waist, pulling me closer to him like I needed him to.
This was why I loved him—as friends, for now. Things were still complicated between us and the others were always teasing us with each other because we did things like this that implied we were a thing. But in times like these, when nobody else was paying attention and we had some time to ourselves, we just didn’t care. It all felt too natural, like we were meant to be like this.
If only he’d asked me out for real. Would I accept him? Would I want us to be something more than just friends?
That didn’t matter now. All I cared was this moment we had together, and though it might not last long, I knew I needed to make the most of every single second I had left.
We never know when we might leave this world, after all. There would be too many things we’d hate to miss out when we realize it was too late.
He laced his fingers through my hair while his other hand brought the bottle to his mouth and he took a sip.
“This was a bad idea, wasn’t it?” he asked, and I knew he meant the party.
“I wish Max’s idea of fun didn’t have to involve booze and loud music and swimwear.” Unlike most of the girls there, I was just wearing a white tank top and jean shorts, while Cam had a wife-beater on along with his swim trunks, even though I had a feeling he might not jump in the pool anytime soon. Well, unless if he wanted to make a fool of himself like Max did after failing his backflip.
“I don’t mind the booze, though,” he joked, taking another swig. “It’s really the only thing you need to forget about life and everything shitty about it. You don’t need a party, you don’t need girls or dudes, and music just helps you remember all over again. To me, alcohol is truly man’s best friend.”
“Pig,” I mumbled under my breath but he chose to ignore it, just like we did with each other’s sarcastic remarks that we would throw at each other. Another strange thing we had between us, and even though Cam would do the same with Izzy, he was more annoyed of her than having mutual understanding.
“You should try whiskey sometime,” he then said, staring at me with a meaningful look in his eyes. “A lot stronger, and especially useful at a time like this. Maybe I’ll take you out to a bar sometime, too. After all, I’ll be a legal adult next month. We won’t have to sneak in and pretend we’re college kids again.”
“Finally having the balls to ask a girl out, Hood?” I joked, nudging him playfully in the chest. The alcohol was starting to get to me, because my normal self would never say something like that. Still, I refused to give a fuck. “I thought you’d never grow a pair.”
“Haha, very funny,” he said in a deadpan tone. “I’ve dated girls before. Hooked up with a couple. But you, on the other hand—you’re still too innocent, Em. You’re not willing to make use of that pretty face like those skanks do.”
He nodded towards the girls in bikinis giggling by the side of the pool. To be honest, I was expecting Cam to be there with them and Max, not here with me. Why was he here in the first place? I couldn’t help but wonder.
When I turned back to him, his eyelids were drooping and I knew the alcohol was getting to him, too. He liked drinking booze but was still a lightweight compared to Izzy and Max, more tolerant only compared to me and Will. The other day when we had a drinking contest to see who would go down first, he only got to the third bottle of beer then passed out.
“Why would I need to?” I questioned. “It’s not even pretty, anyway. The only hope I have is to wait until college when not all guys are such assholes and I have a chance at finding someone out there.”
Cam looked like he was about to laugh as soon as he heard what I said. “Oh, c’mon. I’m not that big of a douche, am I? I’m here right now. And besides… why are you always saying how you’re not pretty? Em, you’re beautiful.”
I blushed hearing him say this; he’d never said anything like that since the day we met and became friends, but I could smell the stench of beer in his voice as he spoke so I banished any strange thoughts of him away from my mind and dismissed it as a drunk thought. His actions could get downright absurd when he’s like this, so I had no problem in dismissing it at all.
“Cam, you’re drunk,” I said, pressing a hand against his hard chest. He’d been working out; I could feel his muscles underneath the single layer of clothing on him, and I could’ve sworn he shivered a little when I did this.
“I know,” he murmured and leaned back. “And there I was, trying to convince you to get drunk so you won’t be so mopey anymore.”
“Why? Why are you guys doing this? You know that this is pointless, right? Why do you guys even care about what happens to me in the first place? I mean, I know we’re all friends and all, but…”
“But nothing,” he said, his hazel orbs staring straight into my brown ones. “This… I’ve known you for years, Em, and you’re not like this. And I hate seeing you like this. I’m aware of what happened and all, and it sucks that things have to end up like this, but I don’t like seeing a frown on your face every single day, everywhere you go. I like seeing a smile, a grin, a laugh—not frowns or pouts. Even though you look adorable when you pout.”
“Cam, stop.” I was persistent now, not wanting his drunk self to ruin things for us. Things were already turning to shit; I didn’t need my friendship with Cam to turn sour just because of one drunken mistake too.
I stood up, looked down on him with a look of pity as he sat up as soon as realized I was leaving.
“Cam, I think you need to go home. Sober up; we’ll talk again tomorrow, all right?”
When I was about to turn around and leave, I felt him grab my arm and halt me from leaving, so I turned around and forced myself to face him again. What I saw instead was the most intense look in his eyes that scared me to the point that all the air was sucked out of my lungs. He looked like he wanted to say something, constantly parting his lips but closing them up again, then he glanced over my shoulder and the crowd behind me before staring at the ground.
“Em, I know I’m not the best person to offer you any form of comfort or solace, especially after what happened,” he said in a soft voice that almost made my heart break. It was the first time I’ve seen him vulnerable like this—just as vulnerable as I was. “But know that I’m right here when you need me, all right? I’m always here, whenever you need someone to talk to, or if you just need someone to sit around doing nothing with—I’m right here.”
“I know,” I said, putting a small smile on my face. Unable to resist the drunken urge, I wrapped my arms around his neck and placed my head on his shoulder again. He smelled like sweat, beer and cologne. I didn’t mind. “Thank you.”
It was weird hearing him say that, and hearing myself just accepting it so nonchalantly. In fact, he was the most unlikely person to say such a thing, with him having a sour relationship with his own father and all.
My head was throbbing at this point and I couldn’t even lift it off Cam’s shoulder, and he must’ve noticed because his hands gripped on both my arms to pull me off him, then he chuckled upon knowing that I wasn’t in such a good condition either.
“Do you need me to call a taxi to drive you home or something?” he asked more seriously this time, putting a hand on my cheek and caressing it softly, probably to keep me awake. “Em?”
“I’m just… tired,” I muttered, looking at the ground. I guess the beer really did make me forget about recent events and why I was in this stupid party in the first place, but somehow I had a lack of energy to even move, let alone join the others in their fun. “I wanna go home.”
“Okay.” He looked around again, took out his cell phone and probably called a taxi. Putting an arm around my shoulder, he helped guide me back into Max’s house, through the hallways and past a bathroom where I could’ve sworn I heard some people making out furiously inside, before heading out the front door. It was much quieter out here, even though the main party in the backyard was also outdoors, but it seemed that the music had dulled out and we really were just alone, sitting by the stairs on the front porch and waiting for the cab to arrive.
He’d put on his t-shirt and jeans again, but not the leather jacket he came in here with, which he draped around me as I hugged my knees to myself for some warmth against the bitter night. After about five minutes, I practically fell back onto his side again and he didn’t move. He just sat there, waiting with me in the silence even when he could’ve just gotten back inside with all our other friends.
The taxi came after ten minutes of waiting and he helped me inside. I thought he was going to leave as soon as I was settled into the vehicle, but to my surprise he tagged along and got into the cab, sitting down right next to me and wrapped his arms securely around my body as he instructed the taxi driver with directions to my house, which was half a mile from here.
Throughout the entire ride, I’d degraded into resting my head on top of his lap and he placed a hand on my forehead while he looked out the window. I could see the driver’s eyes constantly darting to us from the rearview mirror and he probably thought we were just a couple of drunk teens who were probably heading back to my place to have sex or something. I would’ve snapped that a) it was none of his business, and b) we’re not even sure what we were at the moment anymore, but I was too tired to give a damn and pretended I saw nothing.
Again, I expected him to remain in the taxi so that it could drive him back to his house after we reached mine, but he helped me get out and paid for the ride before escorting me all the way into my house. It was too quiet inside but at this hour, I knew that my mother would already be asleep, all alone in her bedroom for once.
I bit down on my lip and focused on the headache—focused on the present. Cam’s hand was on my back guiding me and I started paying more attention on the warmth spreading through my skin because of it, just so that the effects of the booze wouldn’t be cancelled out by overwhelming humane emotions and depression all over again.
I nearly stumbled up the stairs and woke Mom up, though, and would’ve fallen flat on the ground and end up with a broken nose if Cam hadn’t been fast enough to catch me in his arms. We both froze at that instant; his hands were on my waist and my back was against his chest, so close that I could feel his heartbeat going crazy like a drum solo in a rock song. I could even feel his breath against the base of my neck and I shivered, but the moment didn’t last long as he pulled me back to my feet again and kept the hand on my back as he had to help me up the stairs as well, all the way to my room.
This wasn’t the first time he’s been here. Every one of them has been here before, but this was the first time we were both in here, alone, with no one else around. The room was dark but even through the darkness I recognized how messy my room is, with a couple of garments scattered on the desk chair and the floor, some crumpled paper and a bunch of books that have fallen from their tower on my desk. My bed sheets were still messed up—I’d forgotten to make my bed earlier this morning, only because I didn’t feel like getting out of it until Izzy came by and yanked me away from my source of comfort.
I nearly jumped when Cam suddenly picked me up bridal-style and carried me over to my bed. It scared me how easy it was for him to carry me like I was lighter than a feather. He laid me down gently on the top of the bed and I didn’t complain, even as he pulled the sheets up and tucked me in like a little child.
This was weird. This was absurd. But I was too tired and too drunk to care.
I barely felt the ghost of his lips planting a soft kiss on my forehead while a single thumb caressed the skin there, then he sighed.
“Get some rest, Em,” he murmured with a low voice, sending shivers down my spine. “Talk to me tomorrow when you’ve sobered up, okay?”
I could barely nod and I was too late to even do so when he turned his back to me and headed back to the door. I saw him sneak a last glance back at me before the door slammed shut for the last time tonight.
We weren’t just friends anymore. I was sure of that now.ns 188.8.131.52da2