I walked up to the large, familiar house. I’d been here so often over the years. But it’d been months now since I’d been here. Part of me still wasn’t sure if I was ready, but it was long past time to have this conversation.
I approached the door and rang the bell. A few moments later, Elaine appeared in the doorframe. She blinked at me in surprise. “Josh, what are you doing here?”
I smiled a little. “I was hoping to see Alison.”
She waved me inside. “What has been going on with you two? I’ve asked her why you two haven’t been hanging out, but she just says you’re fine.”
“I’ve been a real ass,” I told her honestly. “I guess I needed some space to accept things as they are.”
Elaine frowned softly at me, a knowing look in her eye. “And you think that you have?”
“I really hope so.”
She nodded and motioned to the stairs. “Alison is in her room.”
I thanked her and went up the stairs. At Alison’s door, I hesitated. She’d be well within her right to tell me to get lost. Dad had warned me – Watcher, I still couldn’t believe I was taking advice from him now – not to expect too much from this first conversation, but I couldn’t help but feel my hopes rising. I missed the friendship I had with Alison. We’d been able to tell each other anything. What if that was gone now, ruined forever?
There was only one way of knowing, I guessed.
I reached over and knocked on the front door.
I heard her moving around inside and then the door swung open. She looked at me with undisguised surprise. “Josh. What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”
“Hey, Alison. Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to talk to you.”
She looked up at me, her gray eyes wary. “Talk to me.”
I nodded. “Could I come in?”
For a long minute, she just looked at me before finally stepping back and admitting me to the room.
I’d been here many times over the years, but it felt unfamiliar now. It wasn’t a space that I could casually be in anymore. I’d been my own island for too long.
Trying not to look as awkward as I felt, I sat down on the side of her bed. “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry, Allie. I’ve been such a dick.”
A small smile curved her lips and she sat down next to me. “Yeah, you have.”
“I miss you,” I said. “Nobody understands me the way you do. I miss when we could just be around each other without having to do anything.” I remember all those weekends where we’d sat around the living room, just watching TV. Sometimes she’d read. We wouldn’t even be talking to each other, but we were better for being together.
“Watcher, Josh, I miss you, too. But I’m not – I mean, I don’t want – “
I shook my head. “I’m not trying to ask you out again. That’s why it took me so long to come here. I was trying to be really sure of what I could be okay with. And I’m okay with us, just as we are. My feelings are my own, and I’ll deal with them. But I need you a lot more than I need to be angry for not having everything that I want.” I looked up at the ceiling, chagrined. “I figured out that your friendship is a lot better than anything else.” Looking back, it hadn’t actually been all that long since we’d fallen out. And I hadn’t gone on a huge, momentous journey or anything. But I felt different. After that final blow out with Dad, so much of the anger that had been propelling me had slackened off.
Alison beamed at me. “You really mean it? We can go back to the way we used to be?”
My heart leapt in my chest at her smile. “Yes,” I agreed, nodding enthusiastically. “There’s nothing I want more.”
“It’s about time, you dork.”
Our traditions changed may have changed, but we still found ways to spend much of our time together. Alison had gotten a job as a babysitter, so she didn’t have the time to come over everyday like she used to. I didn’t really have the time either, as I was trying to actually be a better student. I’d been a typical jock, just eeking by for a long time, but it was a new me, so I’d decided my grades should reflect that.
We started meeting at Simmie’s. Not usually everyday, but several times a week. It was the most popular spot in Willow Creek, probably, besides the movie theater. Even Loralee was constantly coming over from Newcrest to go here. Even on days she wasn’t behind the counter as a barista.
Alison and I were just leaving the café. The enticing smell of coffee chased us out of the door, beckoning us back inside, but we both had things we needed to do.
Like not run into Brittney. But apparently that wasn’t to be.
“Oh, hey, Josh,” she said as she came up to us. “Long time no see.”
Alison looked between us curiously. “Who is she?”
I coughed awkwardly. “That’s Brittney…my ex.”
“Is this your new girl?” Brittney sniffed at her. “She doesn’t look like much. Is she a gymnast or something?”
I ushered Alison around Brittney. “We’re not together. Nice seeing you, Britt.” I couldn’t possibly describe how relieved I was that she didn’t follow us as I guided Alison down the walking path.
“What was she talking about, being a gymnast?” I looked over at her and wanted to figure out some kind of lie. But I could see the gears in Alison’s head turning. When here eyes widened, I knew she’d figured out Brittney was being crude. “Oh.” Surprise flashed across her face. “Did you two…” She trailed off suggestively.
I really wanted to deny it, but what was the point? “Yeah. We did.”
“Oh.” She said again.
I bit the inside of my cheek. Oh? What did that mean? Was she jealous – not that I wanted her to be. Disgusted at me? What?
“I can’t believe you slept with a girl like that,” she finally said. One corner of her mouth crooked up in a half-smile. “I mean, really.”
I smiled ruefully and shook my head. “I told you, I wasn’t making very good decisions.” I had to thank Brittney, though. She didn’t know it, but she’d helped me. I knew now that I never wanted a meaningless relationship again. Maybe I couldn’t have Alison, but you don’t just love once, do you? Mom fell in love again. So did Dad. I could find someone else.
“I hope you didn’t catch anything. She looks skanky.”
I snorted softly. “I didn’t catch anything.”
She grinned and shoved my shoulder. “You might have cooties.”
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “Maybe you’ve got cooties.”