Friday was an exercise in frustration. I'd slept fitfully, thinking of seeing Cole and time not moving fast enough. My rear end felt weird from my experimenting the night before, school seemed like it would never end, and every time I saw Brax in the hallways he'd tease me about getting busy that night. Those were the consistent weird things. There were several odd spots throughout the day, though. First, in the morning Monique sat beside me and I raised an eyebrow at her. She and I hadn't really interacted since the whole 'do you like her shaggy-dog-as-a-sweater' thing.
“You could have just said,” she told me quietly. “Do you know how stupid I felt after?”
“Well, I mean, it was a nice sweater. Sort of,” I said, not sure where she was headed.
“Sweater?” she asked, her nose wrinkling. “What are you talking about?”
“Not what you're talking about, I guess. Can you be a little clearer?” I asked.
She pressed her lips together, but didn't appear to be angry. “I liked you. You're still super cute, but I was trying to get with you. Couldn't you take mercy on a girl and tell her you wanted the D?”
I let out a breath and smiled a little. “I didn't know that was what was going on, Monique. Flirting? Not really my strong suit. If you'd have asked, I probably would have told you the truth – that my mother didn't let me date.”
She frowned. “And about you being gay?”
I shrugged. “Either one works, I guess. Calling my house? You got me in a world of trouble, Monique.”
“How?” she asked, sounding put upon.
“My mom is a little nuts,” I said as plainly as I could. “She thought I was going to get every girl I spoke to pregnant and alone to raise a kid, just like my dad did to her. So when you called, she ended up beating me because she thought you and I were doing the nasty.”
An astonished look settled on her face. “Are you for real?”
I raised my hand up. “Swear. Honest, Monique, if I had realized I'd have said something.”
She rolled her eyes. “So much for being subtle. Don't get me wrong, you're adorable and all, but that's a little much.” She gave me an appraising look. “So. Cole, huh?”
I smiled. “Yeah.”
“How he go from Haylee to you? I mean...not even the same body type, you know? She's got boobs for days,” she asked, smiling and settling in to chat.
I shook my head and kept smiling. “I just thought he was pretty. And straight. But he worked his way over to me, and...I love him.”
“Aww. I saw you two at the dance. Made a few girls all sweaty,” she said with a smile and pretending to fan herself. “You worry? I mean since he was with Haylee? Knocked her up and everything?”
“Nah. We talked. I understand what was going on.”
She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hand. The bell rang but she kept looking at me. “I'm jealous like that. I hate the idea of my man dropping his line in any other pond. And you're right, he's pretty – pretty enough to give other people ideas. I'd lock that one up if I were you.”
We stood and I mentally rolled my eyes. I've never understood people that talk about locking others up. What she really means is watching someone so much you become the relationship version of a helicopter parent. I wanted to be around Cole all the time, and I was sure he wanted to spend most of his time with me. But we still had separate stuff to do. This...enforced separation was a different thing altogether.
I had a free period and was thinking about heading to the computer lab to email Cole when the most unlikely person to block my path actually did. Haylee Johnstone. She looked at me uncertainly, as if she couldn't remember why she wanted to speak to me, my name, or hers for that matter.
“Excuse me,” I grumbled as I made to go around her.
“Why won't he talk to me?” she asked.
“What? Who? Cole?”
“Cole,” she affirmed. “I understood when we broke up. He told me he was in love with someone else, and I can understand that. I mean,” she laid her fingertips on her chest, hand spread, “I understand falling in and out of love. I probably did it twelve times when I was with Cole. You meet someone and for a little while love sets in, you know?” She waved her hands around. “People talk about how that's not true love and just lust, but it's not. If someone is nice to you and good looking too, that doesn't make it lust. You're loving that part that's nice. When you have tits like mine, boys are nice.”
I blinked at her, not completely sure if there was anything in that statement I should respond to. Fortunately, I didn't need to say anything as she rambled on.
“That was one thing I loved about Cole. He never pushed. He was a gentleman, and he could teach a lot of guys a thing or two about being a man. When he told me he was in love with someone else, it made total sense to me. I could see the signs – I've done that to him off and on myself. He told me all about you, after some poking, and I could see it was one of those, you know, long-term things. He'd been wanting to move on and be with you – and people change, don't they?”
“Um. Yeah, I guess.”
“I figure he's trying to spend every waking second with you, but this is silly. I haven't seen him in school. Why isn't he replying to my texts? We said we'd be friends,” she said, pouting a little.
“Well, uh, you know things were rough for him at home. Right?”
“Yeah.” She leaned in closer. “His mom is weird. She practically encouraged us to screw. I wasn't opposed, exactly,” she said with a smile and I felt a little jealous. Maybe Monique has a point. “But still, I think she'd have been real happy if I'd'a gotten pregnant. I mean, we had to hide that first one, you know? Still, when his dad left, Cole was real mad.” She paused as if she'd been unplugged. “Hey. You think he was jealous? Like 'cause he wanted you and now his dad was out with a man?”
“I...don't know. But, um, he's not able to use his phone right now. He's with family. I am going to see him. I can give him a message if you like?” I asked, desperate to get away.
Her gaze focused on me and she smiled. “Just tell him I miss him.”
I nodded and was about to walk away when I just had to ask a question. “Um, Haylee?”
She smiled brightly. “Yeah?”
“Doesn't it bother you that he was with you – a girl – and wanted to be with me – a boy?”
She rolled her eyes. “Why? That's stupid. Why does anyone fall in love with someone? He said you were sweet and generous and listened to him talk about things that interested him. Body parts don't matter if you love someone or not.”
“Oh, I gotta go! Me and Carol are going to sneak out for a smoke and then watch the boys basketball team practice.” She paused. “I wish they wore shorter shorts like they did in the old times.” Then she smiled again and was gone.
That's enough to throw anyone for a loop. Unfortunately all this talk about Cole boning her had left me feeling kind of jelly. It got me thinking about the nature of relationships. People liked to say someone was 'their girl/boy', but that implied ownership. In fact, anyone could freely give their affections to whomever they chose at any point – regardless of relationship. That was hard to swallow. The idea of Haylee with Cole...made my stomach sour. Worse, I could see it in my mind's eye. I could practically feel his discomfort at being with Haylee with his mother practically at his back.
Made me a little bit of a basket case for a few hours. I wondered if I should go home and clean out to try and take that step with him tonight....
“Bruh,” Brax said as he dropped down beside me for lunch. “You look like you lost your dog instead of getting to see your boy. What's bugging you?”
We were alone for the moment so I quietly said, “Haylee talked to me.”
“Oh? How many IQ points did you lose?”
“None,” I said. “I just...when you date someone, does it bother you to think about people they've been with before?”
“Ah. She got in your head,” he said with a knowing look. “Reality is everyone has a past. Alessia knows I've been with other girls, but I'm choosing to be with her and she's choosing to be with me. You're the same, bruh. You're where Cole wants to be.” He paused. “Think of it like this. When you walk into the ice cream shop you may not know what you like. Someone, like your overbearing mother, might tell you that you should pick a certain flavor. And maybe you keep up with that flavor each time you go because it wasn't awful even if it was nothing special. Plus that person keeps insisting you like that one flavor and only that flavor.” He leaned toward me and smiled. “But you keep looking at some other flavor, dying to try it out. One day you leave that old flavor and take the things you learned – like that it's cold, melts fast, you like it better in a waffle cone versus sugar – experience in other words. And you take that new flavor and you find out your instincts were right. It's not at all like the old flavor.”
I frowned a little. “But then all of them melt and all are cold.”
He laughed. “You're taking the analogy too far, bruh. Look. He was with her, yeah. He was able to take that experience and what he didn't like about it and find someone who does give him what he needs. In my mind he's applying what he's learned to make a better choice. I mean, I told you about that girl I lost my v-card to, right? How we weren't really good together?”
“I still learned things. Valuable stuff. Don't stay in a relationship I'm not happy in. Define what actually makes me happy, 'cause sex is pretty good and all, but there's more to a person than that.”
I smiled at him. “You're pretty smart for a jock, you know.”
He raised a finger to his lips. “Shh. The linemen find out I'm acting smart they'll try and get my brain cell count down to match theirs.”
I smiled and shook my head, then started to yawn. “Damn. I'm getting worn out worrying about Cole and what he did with Haylee. Plus, you know, everything else.”
“Yeah,” he said as Alessia made her way toward us with some other friends. “Well, everyone makes mistakes. I wouldn't be happy to hear anyone talk about making time with Alessia, so I feel your pain there. You have to let that shit go and get him while the gettin's good, huh?”
“What do you mean? Is this temporary? Did he say something to you?” I asked, getting worked up.
“Did who say something?” Alessia asked, setting her tray down.
Brax looked up at her. “Haylee was planting evil images of her and Cole going at it in our boy's head,” he said easily.
“Bitch,” she said. She looked at me. “She had him and lost him. You have him – and more important, you're where he wants to be. Fuck that whore.”
Brax snickered. “Hoor.”
Alessia smiled him. “Hooor.”
“Who we talking about?” someone else asked.
“Oh. Hoooooor.” Soon the table was doing it, and it made me laugh to hear them all. Brax and 'Less were right. Cole was mine because he chose to be, and I'd do well not to forget it.
The day finally ended and I met Teo, Ashley and Alessia at his car. Brax was going to meet us at their house in an hour and a half or so for the ride over. We had to meet Cole's dad and then he'd guide us over. It was rankling me something fierce that he still wasn't forthcoming with information, but I was biting my tongue to achieve my goal of seeing Cole. I decided I was going to look my best, though, so I showered and shaved, brushed my teeth and seriously considered using that thing on my behind and decided against it. I didn't need to spread my legs to keep Cole, and I wasn't entirely sure I was ready for that. I mean I kind of was, but I wasn't sure so...besides. How long does that cleaning out last? What if we had soup for dinner? Or something that runs right through me, what then?
Ugh. Maybe I'll take the stuff with me? What would Cole think if he saw it? Maybe he'd feel pressured? Maybe he's not ready, despite the things he's said about anytime, anywhere, any way I want him. He was probably being silly or in the heat of the moment. Right? Does he know how these things work? I wonder if I should tell him. How embarrassing would that conversation be?
Or should it be embarrassing at all? I've seen his body, all of it. I mean, I haven't stared deeply into his butt, but I've seen it. Shouldn't that come with a certain level of...not comfort, but a lack of embarrassment? I wasn't sure we were there yet. Better to leave them at home and think about a talk first.
By the time we got ready to leave my nerves were humming and I was getting tired. We met up at Cole's dad's apartment, and his dad put his arm around my shoulders as he addressed us.
“So guys, an update. First, thank you for sticking behind my son through all this craziness. I know it's been difficult to handle from your end, and it hasn't been a picnic on mine or Cole's. I'm not sure who is looking forward to this visit more – you guys or him. Second, there was an emergency session of family court today. A couple of really, really important things happened. First is that Cole and Emily are in my custody full time.”
“Yes!” I said, gripping my hand into a fist.
“Is it impolite to ‘Hell, yeah’ that?” Brax asked with a crooked grin.
“It's the best outcome for the short term,” he said. “Laurie is moving out of the house this weekend, so the kids can have their normal spaces back, and Keith can get his apartment back to the way he's used to it.”
“You guys are welcome anytime. You're not as bad as I expected,” Keith said, trying to be nice.
“Um, what about you guys, though?” I asked. “I mean, you're a couple.”
Keith smiled at me. “Darling boy, we're probably going to sub-let the apartment eventually. It's going to be a huge adjustment, and not everyone is going to transition well.”
“You mean Emily?” I asked. “She seemed all right with you. She just wanted her room was all.”
Cole's dad winced. “Actually, it's Ginger. She's moving in with Laurie.”
“Oh. Um. I'm sorry.”
He nodded and then cleared his throat. “With that, there are also certain things said to both Laurie and her father. Cole will meet with them with the lawyers in the courthouse to prevent any funny business, but they still think they can influence him.” He hesitated and continued, “I'd like to believe that what happened Wednesday would never happen again. I can't be blind, though. Not when it comes down to the safety of my children.” He turned me and held me by my shoulders. “However, my kids also have to be able to live.”
“Amen,” Brax said.
Cole's dad raised an eyebrow at him, then resumed. “I have control over the cell accounts, so Cole gets his phone back tonight. He'll come home Sunday, once the house is a little settled. I'm going to have to ask you guys, though, to buddy up with him after school. He shouldn't leave with anyone, and if you guys see his mom or grandfather outside he should stay in the building. The school has been made aware of the expanded order of protection, and neither of them are allowed within one hundred feet of him for the time being.”
“I won't let anyone near him,” I said.
“Done,” Brax agreed.
“Would they be that stupid?” Alessia asked. “I mean, the grandfather – he's in deep shit, isn't he?”
“He is,” Cole's dad agreed. “I'm assuming Drew may be pressing charges, so he's got that and the arrest for hitting the deputy and resisting arrest, as well as causing a ruckus at the courthouse. Still,” he said, “I never expected either of them to go this route.”
I walked over to Keith. “Thank you for keeping your word. I owe you. Big.”
He smiled widely. “Darling boy, you owe no such thing. I wish I could have had what you do now. Enjoy every second.”
With no more questions, we headed out in two cars. I was surprised to find that he was a few towns over in Endwell, which seemed kind of prophetic to me. We pulled up on a quiet street in front of a modest ranch-style home with a brick face and a small concrete front porch. Cole opened the front door and I could see right away he was freshly showered, the tips of his hair still damp in that way I loved. He ran down to the cars, and people were greeting him and clapping his shoulders, but they had to do that around my death grip on him – and his on me. It hurt to see him, which was odd. I thought I'd only feel relief, but instead the emotions were so sharp I was metaphysically bleeding over finally seeing him.
I'm fucked up.
We also had to go over the reason I looked a little beat up. That was fun.
We went inside as a group and met his grandparents, who seemed like nice people. We chatted lightly with them. They said they'd been playing board games to help pass the time, and before you knew it Teo had organized a team Scrabble game. I sat beside Cole and leaned on him, feeling the exhaustion seep from my bones. For the first time in more than a week, I was whole again. Pizza arrived and I ate, which perked me up for a little bit, but then I started yawning and fighting to stay awake.
Everyone left a little early, maybe eight, to go do their own 'couple' things and give us the same courtesy. Brax gave Cole a bone crushing hug and said something into his ear that left Cole smiling. Alessia also hugged him and he blushed hard at whatever she said. Teo just shook his hand and then they were all gone.
“You look wiped out, babe,” Cole said to me.
“Didn't sleep the best last night. Been a weird day,” I said to him.
“Want to chill in my room? Watch a movie or something and go to bed early?”
“I so do,” I told him. We brushed and said goodnight to his grandparents, and Cole carried my bag to his room. It had two single beds. He tossed my bag on the unused one and closed the door. I tossed my socks on the floor along with my shirt and laid out my jeans on the bed beside my bag for the next day. Cole copied me and turned to get the TV set up. I climbed into his bed, slipped under the covers and watched him. He got things set up and brought the remote over to the nightstand and then slipped in beside me. I put my head on his chest and breathed in his scent – sweet skin and warmth enough to live by. I snuggled in close and listened to his steady heartbeat.
“So, long day?”
I yawned. “Strange day. Haylee came to talk to me. Gave me a complex.” Shit, I hadn't planned on talking about that.
“How's that?” he asked, sounding a little concerned.
“She just brought up you guys having been intimate, and it put it in my head. I don't like to think about you with anyone else is all.”
“Well, yeah, I hope not,” he said, sounding like he was teasing. “Why'd that come up?”
“Eh. She was just asking after you because she wasn't getting replies to her texts. She misses you, I think.”
“We agreed to be friends. Is that...will that bother you?”
“Only if you're interested in her,” I said with a deep sigh.
“As a friend, nothing more – never again.”
“Okay,” I said in a sleepy voice.
“Aww, babe, you feel so good snuggled in,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice.
“I want to molest you, but I'm too tired,” I said and he chuckled. He stroked my hair and pulled my head a little tighter to his chest.
“I missed you so much,” he said, running his fingers through my hair. “I hate my grandfather for what he did to you.”
“I missed you too,” I replied and turned my head just enough to kiss his chest. “This has been hell, being away from you.”
He stroked my hair and I started to drift a little, until I was pulled back by his voice. “We've been under so much stress. You're the only thing that makes it better. The only thing I look forward to to keep me going. It started me thinking – what are you planning for when you get out of high school?”
“College,” I said. “Not sure what, yet. I was thinking nursing. I can help people.”
“Oh yeah? Where do you go for that? I mean, community college, a four year?”
“Depends on how far you want to go,” I said, on the verge of dozing off. “Takes four years or something to get your Registered Nurse's license.”
He stroked my hair and then kissed the top of my head. “Okay if I come with you?”
“Anything for you, babe,” I said and drifted into sleep with dreams dominated by Cole.