"Man," Vance said, leaning back in his seat and stretching his right arm out the passenger window, "I can't wait for this party!"
I glanced away from my driving for a brief moment, giving him a questioning look. "You realize your ex-girlfriend is likely to be there, right?"
Vance laughed and shook his head before punching my sleeve. "Aren't you a party-pooper! Look, you really think Anna's gonna invite the both of us to this thing?"
I knew he was right. In fact, I knew it wasn't a party at all. Although she hadn't told me, I knew that Anna had only contacted her closest friends to hang out casually at her place for her birthday. One friend, Samantha Medine, she wanted to introduce to Vance. The other girl, a childhood friend by the name of Jess Bolinsky, was like a sister to her and she wanted her to meet me. I knew I could not tell Vance this information, though, so I let him continue thinking this was a big event. I learnt long ago to keep things secret.
Vance continued talking excitedly beside me, reminiscing about his previous relationships and comparing them in the most off-putting of ways. I ignored him like I usually do when he gets lewd and focused exclusively on my driving. Besides, I already knew the stories he told me, either by hearing him tell them or gathering them through other means throughout years of friendship.
As I drove through the suburbs of Barrhaven, following the spoken directions Anna had given me, I contemplated my meeting with this girl, Jess. I was unable to discern from Anna exactly why she wanted me to meet this girl. Was she trying to set me up with her? What am I supposed to do in this situation? Should I be glad that Anna believes she is helping me find someone, or should I be offended? Why am I so nervous and disturbed about this?
My thoughts were interrupted by Vance throwing his hand in front of my face with intense purpose and imitating a false fanfare. I followed the path of his extended digit to see a small townhouse bearing the address she gave me.
"There it is! We're here!" Vance said, releasing his seat belt before I even had finished pulling into the thin driveway.
He jumped out of the car and moved in front, waiting for me to get out. As I turned off the car and moved to undo my seat belt, I hesitated. Why were my hands so sweaty?
Vance waved me over, hurrying me along, and I wiped my hands on my jeans before opening the car door and stepping out into the fresh air. A nice breeze was blowing, feeling cool on my sweating brow.
Vance saw my discomfort and chuckled, patting me on the back as I walked past him towards the homely front door. "You really don't do well with people, do you?"
"You have no idea..." I muttered under my breath as I walked up the few short steps to the front door. An old fake wreath left over from Easter hung there still, the colours fading from the summer sun. A straw mat on the ground in front said 'WELCOME!' in big bold lettering. I sighed, stretching out my shoulders and reached for the small doorbell on the side.
Before I could reach it, the door swung open suddenly and a familiar face appeared in the doorway. She was wearing a simple white sundress and her hair was back in a ponytail. She was without makeup, and looked more beautiful than I had ever thought possible.
"Hey, Anna." Vance said, pushing his way inside the house. Anna smiled her thanks and stepped aside to let us both in.
Vance stopped inside the door, looking around. "Where's all the people at?" he asked, and I covered my mouth to hide a smile at his confusion.
"Well, I'm not a big fan of big parties," she admitted sheepishly, much to Vance's shock. I stifled a small laugh. Maybe I should have told him so he wouldn't make a scene. "I do have someone I wanted you to meet, though! Come on!" She grabbed his arm and firmly but gently dragged the reluctant Vance into the living room. The sight of her holding on to my best friend's arm filled me with jealousy as I followed a respectable distance behind them. I tried to focus my attention on the house itself, but was unable to pay attention to anything other than her soft hand on his arm.
In actuality, it was only a few seconds of torture for me, despite it feeling like an eternity. Her hand only lingered on Vance only for the few steps it took to walk through the eastern doorway into the well lit living room. The room was small but homely, with a glass cabinet displaying intricately decorated teacups and pictures of Anna's family. A large flat-screen TV perched on a small flat table, and a bookshelf filled with DVD's stood against the wall beside it. A comfortable recliner sat in one corner of the room. She released Vance from her grasp, moving towards a black leather chesterfield on which a smaller willowy girl with dark hair sat. She eyed us keenly as we entered the room.
"Vance, Graham," Anna began, "This is my friend Samantha."
Vance stepped forward to shake Samantha's hand, eyeing her coyly. "Pleasure to meet you, Samantha," he said with a smile.
I rolled my eyes as he moved aside to let me shake her hand. Her skin was calloused, like she spent her whole life working hard, despite her small size, but the physical touch rewarded me with more information. Sam has known Anna since grade seven. She studies biochemistry at the University downtown and works in the lab there. Her older brother is a drug addict and a street thug. She finds Vance attractive.
I forced myself to stop the handshake after an appropriate amount of time, and I turned to face Anna. "No one else?" I ask simply.
She drooped a little. "Nobody else could make it, and Mom's showing a house today. Even Kristina is out with her boyfriend." I allowed myself to relax, figuring I'd overthought things earlier.
Vance flopped down on the couch beside Samantha, leaning back and stretching his arm suavely across the back, behind her head. "Well, shall we get this party started?"
Anna giggled delicately, sending a shiver down my spine. She walked towards the bookshelf, where one DVD was pulled slightly forward. "Wanna watch a movie?"
I took a step forward and leaned in for a better look at what she had chosen, and was not at all surprised.
"Are you kidding me?" he complained, "That movie?"
Anna threw her shoulders back and gave him a haughty look. "Of course! It's a tradition in my family to watch Batman on your birthday!"
Vance groaned and rolled his eyes. "Does it have to be that old one, though? Why can't it be one of the good ones?"
"I think it's fine..." I quietly interjected, but my voice was lost in the raised voices of conflict.
"Fine! Then what do you think we should watch?" Anna challenged.
Vance got up and looked over the DVD shelf. "Hmmmm..." His eyes scanned the movie choices available to him. Suddenly he grabbed one and held it out towards Anna with a big grin on his face. It was The Ring.
"Fine," she said, snatching it from his hand while Vance cheered victoriously.
Samantha laughed as Vance returned to his spot on the couch, but I watched Anna as she hesitantly put the DVD in.
I glanced briefly over at Vance as he flopped on the couch, making himself comfortable, and found myself angered by his rudeness. Rather than confront him, however, I focused instead on comforting Anna. I walked over to her and spoke in a low tone, ensuring that those on the couch could not hear me. "It's your house and your birthday. Why didn't you tell him to like it or leave?"
"He would have left," she answered simply and quietly, not looking up from her task.
"And you didn't want him to leave?" I asked, confused.
She straightened up as the DVD drive slid back into the player and her eyes met mine. "You would have left too." She smiled weakly.
"Hey, lovebirds!" Vance made a shooing motion with his hand. "We're trying to watch a movie here!"
"Shut up." I snapped coldly back at him, and Anna blushed and looked away. She moved past me and collapsed on the couch beside Vance, who kept inching closer to Samantha. She squished over to make room for me.
I sat down on the chair.
"Hey," Anna whined, "there's enough room here for you!"
"With his shoulders, I doubt it," Vance mumbled under his breath, drawing a laugh from Samantha.
Anna shot him a dirty glare, then turned back to me quickly. "Graham, come sit down here," she pleaded, her full lips in a slight pout. Perfect lips. Kissable lips. Addictive lips. That's why I had to keep away.
I begged my body not to, but it stood up almost by itself and sat like a willing slave at her side. Her allure and her intoxicating power over me was too much to handle. I found myself drawn to her, yet repulsed by the thought of touching her - tainting her with my wretched curse.
Anna leaned into me, her head resting gently against my shoulder. I stiffened instinctively, simultaneously enjoying the contact, but fearing to read anything more from her. I angled my face away from hers to avoid any part of my skin touching hers.
Samantha noticed my awkward movement and shifted to get a better look at me. "What's wrong, Graham? Are you too hot with that long-sleeved shirt on?"
I chuckled nervously and nodded, trying to inch away from Anna, who was pressed close against my side.
Vance laughed and gave a dismissive wave. "Don't worry about him, girls. I've known Graham for years and I've never seen him wear short sleeves. He doesn't get hot."
"Really?" Anna asked, looking up at me through her eyelashes.
I felt my face flush and knew I had to get away. I managed to stand up without invoking my curse against Anna's skin.
"He looks like he's getting hot now!" Samantha said, drawing a laugh from Vance.
I glared at him before storming off.
"Graham, wait!" Anna hurried after me, grabbing my shoulder as I exited the room and turning me to face her. "Graham..." Her eyes looked up at me, concern and pity etched into her face. "Are you okay?"
I looked away, unable to meet her gaze. "I'm fine," I said, rubbing the back of my neck sheepishly. Why did she always make me feel like such an idiot?
She released my shoulder and stepped in close, so close I could smell her shampoo. The scent of peppermint hung around the air around us, and I was too afraid to even breathe it in. She looked up at me, her eyes full of concern. "Are you sure?" she asked as her hand gingerly reached up to touch my face.
I turned away from it and stepped backwards, breaking the spell. "Yeah."
For a moment I swore I saw pain flash across her face, but she closed her eyes and smiled. "I'm glad," she said. She turned to walk back to the living room, but stopped as though she'd hit a wall.
"Well," she said, pointing at the Vance and Samantha, "maybe we should give them some space."
I did not argue as I spotted the two figures intertwined, making out on the couch. Anna turned back to me and giggled as I rolled my eyes.
"I knew they would get along," she whispered, "but I didn't expect them to get along this well!"
"We should leave them to their movie," I agreed, moving to walk through the opposite doorway. Anna nodded hesitantly and followed me.
I found myself in a small kitchen, with a table to eat on occupying part of the room. Cupboards and shelves lined the walls, covered in all sorts of memorabilia - mostly Batman iconography. There was a cookie jar with the bat symbol on it and a few figurines on the higher shelves. As I sat down in a chair at the table, Anna made herself busy by reaching into a cupboard and pulling out an unpopped bag of popcorn. Throwing it in the microwave and pushing the button, she grabbed a serving bowl and waited, turning to me.
"I knew you loved Batman," I said, looking around in awe, "but I didn't expect this."
She giggled, leaning over the top of a chair casually. "My whole family does. Mom said it's how her and dad met."
"Oh?" I inquired. I had already found out this story through other means, but it felt necessary to hear it from her own mouth.
"Yeah," she started, staring off distractedly, "they both went to see Adam West and Burt Ward back in the late 80's when they were doing signings in Toronto. They stood in line forever and got talking."
"Sounds like a match made in heaven," I said.
"It was," she admitted, looking down at the ground and leaning heavier on the back of the chair.
We both sat in silence for a moment until we were interrupted by the microwave's incessant beeping. Anna seemed startled by it, as though she was lost in thought and forgotten she had put popcorn in. She moved quickly to it, however, carefully opening the bag and pouring its contents into the serving bowl. Moving around, she unceremoniously plunked it on the table as she took the seat to my left.559Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡeh12JbwjR8
I grabbed a handful of the still hot snack and ate it, content with the silence. Anna, however, was intent on watching me. I raised an eyebrow at her as I caught her staring at me.
"Sorry," she said, shaking her head, "I was just wondering something."
"What is it?" I asked, my nerves racing.
"It's just, what Samantha asked. I noticed you were wearing long sleeves all through summer, but I didn't want to ask about it..."
In response, I rolled up each of my sleeves in turn to show my pale arms underneath. "Unscarred," I stated blandly. "Is that what you were wondering?"
She grew visibly flustered, and I felt bad for being so up front. "I mean," she stammered, "when someone doesn't show... I mean... You know..."
I found myself smiling as I rolled my sleeves down. She was cute when she was uncomfortable. "Relax," I started, "it's fine. If you want to know something, ask me."
"Why do you wear long sleeves, then?" the inevitable question came.
I sighed and braced myself, stiffening and taking a moment to calm my racing heart before answering. "Not all scars are external."
She shook her head. "I've known you for months now, Graham. We've met at the same bar every Friday night for weeks, but I still don't feel like I know you at all."
I shrugged and looked away, growing increasingly embarassed. It was true, I rarely told people about myself and my personal life. It was kind of ironic how little she knew of me considering how much I knew of her. It made me feel like I was cheating her. Using her. Forcing her to unknowingly and unwillingly give me all of her secrets while revealing none of my own.
But I couldn't reveal my scars, not even to her.
She leaned in close to me, looking up at me with those kind blue eyes. "So what are your scars?"
I covered up my uncomfortableness by grabbing another handful of popcorn and eating it slowly. My mind raced. I could not tell her. How could she even believe me? My own mother didn't believe me, until I showed her...
I choked on a kernel momentarily as the bad memories rushed into my mind. I forced them back out with the skill of an expert. No, I told myself, I can't risk telling her.
"Why didn't you stick to your guns with Vance?" I asked in a painfully obvious attempt to change the subject. "He'd understand if you say it had to do with your father."
Anna pouted. It made my heart sink, knowing I'd hurt her by avoiding her question. I knew, however, that telling her would hurt a great deal more.
"You didn't answer my question," she said simply, and I found myself amazed as I watched the set of her face change to pure determination. She was going to get me to talk.
I decided to compromise. "My dad walked out on me and my mom when I was little," I said, "so it was always just me and my mom growing up."
"Awww," she teased, unable to hold back a smile, "you were a momma's boy!"
"Yeah," I felt my face flush, and I shifted awkwardly in my seat.
Before I could react, Anna put a comforting hand on mine, resting beside the bowl on the table. I found myself recieving information I thought I knew. I relived her last phone call with her dad, where she berated him for not leaving work on time for the third time that week. I was given the feelings of fear as her mom recieved the phone call after the accident. The sadness of his funeral. The terror she still feels every time the phone rings.
"I'm sorry your dad left," she said, her eyes fighting back tears, "I know what it's like growing up without a dad."
The emotions I was recieving from her, coupled with my own anxiety and my hatred for myself and my curse was too much for me to handle. Standing up, I dragged my hand away, my heart racing.
"Come on." I commanded her as I started walking into the living room. I heard her behind me grab the popcorn bowl and follow me out.
I was angry, and I didn't know why. Perhaps it was because of the intense emotions I had somehow drawn from Anna's memories. Perhaps it was because I realized I had, in opening up myself, pulled these emotions foremost in her mind. Perhaps I was legitimately pissed off at Vance's earlier actions. It did not matter.
I stood in front of Vance and Samantha, blocking their view of the TV. Too intent on their snogging, they didn't even notice me. I manually ejected the DVD and threw it at them.
Anna gasped from the doorway. Vance looked up at me horrified. "Dude," he complained, "what the hell is your problem?"
"We're going to watch Batman." I said, my tone leaving no room for discussion. I turned and found the DVD still sitting on the edge of the table where Anna had dropped it. I could have sworn I saw her smile out the corner of my eye, but I was too upset and flustered to take full note of it.
"What the hell, Graham?!" Vance stood up. He never was one to back down from an argument.
I drew myself up to my full height, a full head taller than him, and looked down at him with one eyebrow raised.
Still he did not back down. He sure was stubborn.
"We were enjoying that movie!" He complained at me, stepping uncomfortably close.
"Yeah, you sure looked like it." I rolled my eyes. "You're going to enjoy this one."
"Listen!" I said, summoning a commanding tone of voice, "you are going to sit down and watch this movie with Anna! She invited us here for her birthday, and even if she wanted to watch a chick flick, you would be happy. Her house, her birthday, her rules. Do I make myself clear?"
Vance sized me up for a moment. I squared my shoulders, challenging him to try something. Vance had only been in one fight before, back in high school. He was a scrapper, but I had experience, size, and strength. If I needed to, I could take him down.
He must have realized that. Feigning disinterest, he turned and waved dismissively. "Fine, whatever," he said, resuming his position on the couch beside Samantha.
"Good." I waved Anna over to take a seat on the couch as I inserted the movie. As the movie began, I returned to the comfortable chair I sat in before, glancing over at Anna. She had been watching me, and our eyes met. Her lips mouthed "thank you."
I felt my face flush (why did I blush so easily with her?) and I smiled in response. As she turned her head back to watch the movie, I could have sworn I saw a tear run down her cheek.ns 220.127.116.11da2