It Goes a Little Something Like This
It isn’t that complicated, but kind of is. I mean, we see this kind of thing in rom coms and silly television shows on a regular basis. And we always assume we know how it’s going to end. Until you’re in the middle of it, and there are suddenly all these equations you never considered. It’s just, well, it goes a little something like this: he loves her, she doesn’t even know he exists, and I am crazy for him.
Now this could go one of three ways in my head. They could fall madly in love and make me want to lose my lunch every time I see them together. I could finally become brave enough to admit my feelings for him and we end up together. Or all of us continue living our lives, pining over the people we can’t have.
“Is it a deal?”
I roll my eyes and look over at Kyle, this black haired, blue eyed, snarky bastard who thinks he has my predicament all figured out. See Kyle, he isn’t a regular player in this scenario. I don’t even know where he came from. That’s a lie; he goes to my gym. He’s also lives in the apartment across from mine. And yet, here he is, offering me his unwanted help.
“Let me guess, you like Claire Russo too?”
“Who doesn’t? Anyone guy with a-“ I clamp my hand over his mouth before he can finish. He licks my hand, a completely juvenile move I might add, and I wipe his slobber off on his shirt.
“I don’t want to pretend to date you. You’re not my type and it’s such a played out lie.” I turn to finish unlocking my door, but he jerks me around with a laugh and shakes his head.
“Oh no, not dating. We don’t want to become suddenly unavailable to them. We’ll act like we’re hooking up. Having a little harmless fun.” His hand lands on my hip, and he pulls me closer. “Everyone knows I have a strict no girlfriend policy.”
I smack his hand away, groaning in disgust, and make my way into my apartment. Unfortunately, he does as well. “And how will this make Zack fall for me and Claire fall for you?”
“Claire secretly likes me flirting with her. It’ll put her off if I ignore her for someone like you.” I throw the sandal I just took off at his head. He ducks with a laugh and catches the next one in midair. “Hey, no offense, but you don’t exactly try to impress anyone.”
I look down at my loose tank top and sweats, shrugging a little. Class is too early to try to look cute. It’s not my problem if Miss Morning Person Claire Russo makes sure her hair is perfectly styled and her make up is done up without looking like it’s on, and her yoga wear accentuates every desirable curve on her body. Crap, do I also have a crush on Claire?
“And Zack? How will me supposedly smashing you make him want me?”
“Didn’t think you were into wrestling, but hey, if you are, it’ll make my job way more fun.” He nods towards my bottom half, and I look down at which sweats I chose for today. Sure enough, I am wearing Zack’s high school wrestling sweats. “He seems pretty possessive of you. Pretty sure he wouldn’t want anyone taking what’s his, even though he doesn’t know it yet.”
“You think I really have a chance?” I hate how hopeful my voice is. Like, how much more desperate could I sound? Kyle makes a small grunting noise and nods. His eyes are looking around my apartment, maybe trying to find other signs of Zack’s presence.
Zack is over almost every day, but to be fair, it isn’t always to see me. I live with my brother, Nate, which may sound terrible, but he’s my twin. We aren’t the joined at the hip kind of twins, but we don’t like being too far from each other either. Nate and Zack have been best friends since high school, and I’ve been crushing on Zack for just as long. I almost convinced him to be our roommate, but our apartment is only two rooms. Apparently, he didn’t want to share a room with Nate, or with me. Unfortunately.
“It’ll never work.”
“Trust me. It will.”
I can hear yelling, but not the angry yelling that Old Man Kroger blesses us with every afternoon during his game shows. No, it’s a happy whooping, and I’d recognize that loud laughter anywhere. Nate is down the hall, and it sounds like Zack is with him. I turn in a panic towards Kyle, and choke on the air I take in too quickly at seeing him shirtless and undoing his pants.
“What the hell do you think-” His hand claps over my mouth, his jeans hanging off his hips a little, and he shushes me with angry eyes.
“I’m making the decision for you.” His hands pull out my pony tail and he flips the strands around. He gently pinches my cheeks and the door opens just as his lips latch onto my neck.
My head flies back in surprise, and I hear two bags hit the floor near the couch. Kyle pulls away from me with a secret wink and fixes his jeans. I am too shocked to do anything but turn an embarrassed glance towards Nate. He has something balled up in his hand and throws it at Kyle, all while glaring at me. Zack is looking anywhere else but us.
“Thanks.” Kyle puts his shirt back on, watching me all the while with his stupid secretive smirk. His hands are back at my hair, smoothing it out a little, and his fingers stroke one strand as if he just can’t tear himself away from me. And before I can smack him, or apologize to the two guys who are still standing a few feet from us, Kyle locks his lips over mine.
Maybe if I had been more prepared, I could say if the kiss had been good or bad. It was unexpected, so there was more bite than softness to it. He kissed me hard, maybe to warn me not to ruin our little charade that I’m still not sure I agreed to. And then, he steps away from me, leaving me breathing a little heavier than I wish, as if his stupid kiss left me breathless and wanting.
He saunters over to the door, nodding to the two guys as if this is an everyday occurrence. Before leaving, he turns back to me with a wicked smile, and I am almost afraid of what he has thought up next. “My place next time, then?” And with that, he leaves me to deal with this mess.
The second, and I mean the millisecond the door closes, Nate is in my face. “You have got to be kidding me, Natalie. Kyle Richards? Really? He’s the biggest player ever. No way is my sister hooking up with that walking STD cesspool.”
“Nathan, you can’t really think…”
“I saw what I saw. What we saw. Oh, gross, I need to go wash the image out of my eyes now.” Nate toes off his shoes and shoots Zack a wary look. “I’m going for a quick shower. We can grab a bite after.”
“Yeah, whatever, man.” Zack jumps over the back of the couch and plops down, grabbing for the remote. “I’m good.” Nate throws me one more exasperated look and disappears into his room. I hear the tv turn on, some basketball game, and shift uncomfortably. Deciding that my humiliation has exceeded capacity for today, I also turn to disappear in my room.
“Hey, Nat!” Zack calls from behind me. I stall for a second, not believing my ears, and turn back around. His eyes rove over me with something I’ve never seen in them before. He smiles softly and pats the spot next to him. I hesitate, for maybe a split second, and all but gallop to sit down. His arm falls over the back of the couch, but I think I can feel his fingers brushing the ends of my hair.
We sit in silence, and every minute that passes feels more charged with something, like anticipation or dread, not sure which to act on yet. I hear Nathan’s door opening and can feel Zack inching away. My heart falls, and I think that maybe I imagined there being some kind of moment between us. Zack moves to stand up, but before he straightens, he bends down towards me.
“Nice sweats.” His lips brush against my ear, causing me to shiver, and I look up at him, my face probably reading in shock. He looks calms as he catches his car keys from Nate, who won’t even look at me, and they leave without another word.
I finger the emblem of the battering ram on the blessed sweat pants and look back at the door, where just outside of it and across the hall is Kyle’s door. By God, he was right. The smug asshat knew what he was talking about.
You can guess what happened next. Or can you? If you guessed that I started hooking up with Kyle every chance I got to make Zack jealous, all I can say is, what the hell kind of girl do you take me for? But if you guessed that Kyle and I went to great lengths to make it look like we were hooking up, well then kudos to you. Because that is exactly what we are doing.
“You have to quit giggling.” This only makes me giggle louder, and Kyle rhythmically thumps the wall harder with his hand to drown me out. “No one giggles while having sex with me. That’s just insulting.”
“How much longer do we have to stay in this closet?”
“I have a rep to protect still. Not exactly a two minute man, alright?” I nod with a sigh and close my eyes.
I’m pretty sure Zack saw us “sneak” off into the closet, but Claire is also at this party and I really don’t want to give them more alone time than necessary. He has been trying to hang out with me more without Nate around this past month that I’ve been supposedly hooking up with Kyle. Though not completely trustworthy, the man’s a genius.
“Okay, almost done. You just need to say my name. Make it sound real.” I try it out, but the few beers I had earlier make me laugh at how ridiculous our situation is, and to shut me up this time, he kisses me. We’ve kissed a lot, have pretty much had to sell this lie in public. But he’s never kissed me in private before.
It starts off hard, but once I’ve quieted down, he softens the kiss. And then his hands are cupping my cheeks, his lips caressing over mine in such a way that I moan for real. My eyes fly open, and his are closed, which surprises me. I would’ve taken him for a creepy, watch you as he kisses you, kind of guy. I close my eyes again to not be that creepy girl, and find myself fisting his shirt, practically climbing him to get a better taste. What the hell is wrong with me?
He breaks the kiss and smiles a little, moving my hair behind my ear. “Good girl. You look good and tousled now. That almost sounded real.” My face reddens as I realize a little too late that I had been making sounds, obvious enjoyment sounds. I shove away from him and run my hands over my jean skirt before escaping the closet.
A few people whistle, and I see Zack looking troubled, but I could care less. I kissed Kyle, really kissed him, and I felt something. I wanted more. Oh crap, I wanted more and he didn’t feel a thing. He all but patted me on the head and congratulated me for a good performance. Beer. I need another beer.
I avoid Zack. And Kyle. And Nate, who might be avoiding me in turn. Even though he accepted he can’t tell me who to date or whatever, he made it abundantly clear that he does not approve. Where to go when you don’t want to be found? Garage, with a stockpile of beers just in case.
“You can’t be serious, Kyle!” I hear a girl’s harsh whisper as light floods the darkened garage. Oh, didn’t I mention I’m hiding in the dark? I shuffle from behind the Cadillac and peer around the fender. Kyle is kissing up Claire’s neck, reaching behind her to shut the door.
“Shh, all the other rooms are taken.” My stomach flips, and the beers feel like a bad idea. I manage to stay hidden, squeezing my eyes shut, even though I couldn’t see them if I wanted to.
“Kyle, no. Just stop.” I hear their feet moving and his heavy breathing.
“What the hell, Claire, you kissed me.”
“What’s going on with you and Natalie?” She sounds angry and I swallow hard. I wasn’t aware she even knew my name.
“A bit of fun.” His voice sound lazy and full of confidence. I want to puke. It’s always been for fun, to win other people. Why am I feeling this way?
“I know what you’re doing. I know what you’ve been doing. Running from girl to girl. Making sure I notice.”
“Paying close attention, huh?” I hear wet smacking sounds, like they fell into a spontaneous make out session. But then out of nowhere comes his cry of indignation, and I crane my neck forward a little.
“I broke up with you months ago. Almost a year now. You have to move on. This isn’t you.” My breath catches in my throat. What is going on? Am I hearing correctly? Mister I Date No One was Claire Russo’s boyfriend once upon a time?
“I’m not me without you.”
“Well, that’s just pathetic.” Light floods the room, and I’m not sure if they both leave, or just one of them. I don’t exactly wait to find out either. Instead, I bolt out and throw up in the bushes on my way out of the house.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that somehow, Zack and Claire ended up together. But, what might surprise you is this happened after he kissed me one night on my couch and I felt nothing. No butterflies or tears of happiness. Instead, it felt like kissing my brother, or close to it. And we both agreed that we were better as friends anyway.
I helped him get Claire’s attention. Figured out what yoga class she attended religiously, and talked him into going. He cursed about his sore muscles a lot those first couple of weeks, but he has her massaging out the pain now. Sometimes on my couch, which I do not care for. I mean, get a room, and in your own apartment!
Also, unsurprisingly, Kyle didn’t seek me out after that party. I haven’t been able to face him myself. And I’m not looking forward to any kind of run in with him, which is why I’ve been coming and going at odd hours. But can you blame me? The guy used me, not to hook up with the girl every guy seemed to want, but to get back with his ex-girlfriend, possibly his first love.
It shouldn’t bother me. Learning that he has a heart in there somewhere, and that heart had once belonged to her, maybe even still does, should not affect me in the least. But it does. And I don’t like it, or even know what it means. When did this happen?
Was it the late night movies we watched to make it seem like we had multiple rounds of mind blowing sex? Or the way he held my hand in public, but softly stroked my thumb with his to help me relax? Or was it that one time he wrapped me up in his hoodie when I complained his apartment was way too cold? Or that closet kiss. The first kiss where I quit pretending.
No, can’t think about this.
“How long are you going to subject me to this?” Nate stumbles out of his room, rubbing his face with the palm of his hand. I look at my watch, noting that it’s only 5:23 am. I’m running later than usual, but why should that bother him? “Go. Talk. To. Him.”
I stumbled on my way to the front door and look back at him in confusion. “What? Who?” Okay, I know who, but I’m hoping I’m wrong.
“Oh, for the love of!” He throws his hands up and walks back into his room, slamming the door closed. I smile, a small insincere thing, because he’s kind of right. But I can’t. No way. I don’t even know why I’m upset with Kyle. I knew where things stood. I can’t like him. Ugh, no.
And as if the universe called out to him, Kyle is walking out of his apartment just as I open my door. And like the coward I never denied being, I go to shut my door. But he’s quicker than I am, and his foot blocks the way. I open my mouth to protest, but his hand finds mine and I am pulled into the hallway with him.
“You’ve been avoiding me.” It comes out as an accusation, and does he sound upset, or could my sleep deprived ears be tricking me? Ugh, I am losing sleep over this guy. I must really like him. Instead of giving in and admitting to my cowardly behavior, I cross my arms and jut out my chin.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, so you’ve always gone to the gym at 5 in the morning?”
“It’s less crowded.”
He crowds me, placing both hands on the wall to cage me in, but I don’t lose my defiant edge. “I don’t believe you.”
“And I should care?” I turn my face away, biting my lip before I can say more. I hate how his body is barely pressed against mine. And how good he smells, even first thing in the morning. I especially hate the way his breath hits my cheek at the same rate of my frantic heart beats.
“Don’t you?” And now I hate the tears that spring to my eyes. I don’t allow them to fall. Instead, I push at him until he backs away. “Hey!” He catches my hand before I can walk away. “Hey.” A little softer this time, and my heart is breaking out of its steely resolve. He reaches up, tucking a stray fly away behind my ear, and his lips press against mine.
I let out this pathetic sound, a cross between a needy whimper and a relieved sob. He groans in return and presses me into the wall, kissing me harder. No. No, the last time I really kissed him, I learned the truth. I can’t forget. I will never forget what I found out about Claire. And about how he really loves her. Only her. God, why do I care?
I shake my head, and shake him off of me. “I know all about Claire. You lied to me.”
“I did.” He looks solemn as he nods his head, but he has a small smile in place that angers me. “But not about that.”
“Oh, there’s more?” It comes out sarcastic, but deep inside, my heart is cracking. I don’t want to know anymore. I’m not sure if I can take it.
“We knew you were in the garage that night. I wanted you to hear that she had been my girlfriend once, that she had broken my heart.” I was right to be wary. He knew, and he never apologized. The tears come without my permission, but I don’t run.
“I needed you to see that I wasn’t this heartless jerk you made me out to be. I’ve wanted you for a while.”
“I am not a hook up kind of girl, in case I didn’t make that clear before.” He grabs my elbow, keeping me in place, and I just wish this weird moment would end. But he won’t let it. Why won’t he just let me leave with the tiny bit of dignity I have?
“I know. I like that about you. Don’t you get it, Natalie? I like you. I’ve liked you for a long time.” My head spins at this new piece of information, and I slump against the wall.
“What about Claire? And our plan?”
“That was all… Look.” He stumbles on his words and scratches the back of his head, as if he can’t figure out how to explain himself. “Yes, Claire and I were together and when she broke up with me, man, it hurt. I got angry, and then sad, and then just reckless. I moved here and drank a lot and slept with a lot of girls. I got sick of that, and I wanted more. I missed being myself. I started working out and that’s when I saw you.
“But you wanted nothing to do with me, and I can’t blame you. I can’t blame you for thinking I was a player. I kind of was at one point. Claire and I talked, agreed to be friends, and she even came up with this whole pretending to hook up thing to make your crush jealous. How do you think she even knew your name back in the garage?”
Okay, process time. Kyle likes me. Has liked me for months, before I even noticed him. And he prefers me to the Claire Russo. Who he dated. And had his heart broken by. And they planned the whole garage thing. But wait a minute.
“You said you weren’t yourself without her. You… how is that supposed to make me want you?” He has the decency to look sheepish now and a small blush graces his cheeks. It is not, I repeat, not adorable.
“I, uh, kind of had too much to drink after you ran out of the closet. I thought you regretted kissing me, like a real boyfriend. She knew you were in the garage, I found out after. But she really thought if you saw that side of me, that you would change your mind. Kind of backfired, huh?”
“It might have been better if you just told me.” I nod in agreement, and wipe my cheeks with the back of my hand.
“I’m not that kind of guy.”
“And what kind are you?” He smirks at my question and leans into me, pressing his forehead against mine.
“The kind that makes the girl he’s crazy about pretend to hook up with him to make the guy she likes jealous on the off chance that she might fall for him instead.”
I close my eyes with a content smile and wind my arms around his neck. “Sounds like you’re just the guy for me.”
“Thank Christ.” And his lips find mine once more, but I don’t fight it or try to read into it this time. No, I savor it. I relish it. Because if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you should never take for granted the things that go like this.
Stella B James runs on coffee, chaos, and Southern sass. You can find her latest short story at SunLit Fiction. Check out her Instagram @stellabjames, where she shares her writing and inner musings.