"Hey, before you wake them up, I've got something of yours inside." He walks toward his house so I follow him inside and into the kitchen.
My heart is still pounding against my chest, although I can't distinguish if it's the aftermath of the search for our brothers, or if it's just being in Will's presence.
He pulls something out of his satchel and hands it to me. "Your keys" he says as he drops them into my hand.
"Oh, thanks," I say, somewhat disappointed. I don’t know what I expected him to have but I was fantasizing that maybe it was his resignation letter.
"It's running fine now. You should be able to drive it home tomorrow." He makes his way to his couch and sits.
"What? You fixed it?" I say.
"Well, I didn't fix it. I know a guy who was able to put an alternator on it this afternoon."
His comparison in the parking lot comes back to mind. Somehow I doubt he would have an alternator put on any other student's vehicle.
"Will, you didn't have to do that," I say as I sit beside him on the couch. "Thanks though. I'll pay you back."
"Don't worry about it. You guys have helped me a lot with Caulder lately, it's the least I can do."
And yet again, I'm at a loss for what to say next. It feels like that first day I was standing in his kitchen, contemplating my next move after he helped me with my bandage. I know I should get up and leave, but I like being here next to him. Even if I am finding myself in his debt again. I finally find the confidence to speak again.
"So, can we finish our conversation from earlier?"
He adjusts himself in the couch and props his feet on the coffee table in front of us. "That depends," he says. "Did you come up with a solution?"
"Well, no," I reply, just as a possible solution comes to mind. I lean my head against the back of the couch and meekly suggest my idea.
"Suppose these feelings we have just get more… complex." I pause for a moment. I'm not sure how he's going to take this new suggestion of mine, so I tread lightly.
"I wouldn't be opposed to the idea of getting a G.E.D."
"That's ridiculous," he says, eyeing me sharply. "Don't even think like that. There's no way you’re quitting school, Lake."
I'm Lake again.
"It was just an idea," I say.
"Well, it was a dumb one.”
We both think silently, neither of us coming up with any other solutions. My head is still resting against the back of the couch as I watch him. His arms are crossed behind his head as he stares up at the ceiling. His jaw is clenched tight and he's absentmindedly popping his knuckles.
He's no longer wearing the clothes he wears as a teacher. Instead, he has a plain white fitted t-shirt on and grey jogging pants that are almost identical to the ones I'm wearing. For the first time tonight, I notice his hair is wet. I haven't been this close to him in weeks; I was beginning to forget what he smells like. I inhale as I take in the scent of his aftershave. It smells like the air in Texas right before it starts to rain. If thunder had a smell, I imagine Will would smell just like it.
There's a small dab of shaving cream right below his left ear. My hand instinctively moves up to his neck as I wipe it away. He flinches and turns toward me and I defensively hold up my finger as if to prove my reason for touching him. He pulls my hand toward him as he rubs my finger across his shirt, wiping off the excess shaving cream.
Our hands come to rest on his chest as we continue to look at each other in silence. My palm is flat against his heart and I can feel it rapidly beating against my hand. I know this exchange between us is wrong, but it feels incredibly right.
He allows my hand to remain on his chest as it moves up and down to the rhythm of his breath. The look in his eyes is the exact look he had when he was watching me in class today. Although this time, my physical response is more intense and I struggle to control the powerful urge to lean in and kiss him. I’ve wanted to talk to him like this for over a month now. I still had so much to say before he started pretending I didn’t exist. I’m afraid as soon as I walk out of his house tonight, the isolation will return. I decide to tell him what I’ve wanted to say to him for weeks.
"Will?" I whisper. "I'll wait for you-until I graduate."
He exhales and closes his eyes as he strokes his thumb across the back of my hand. "That's a long wait, Lake. A lot can happen in a year." His pulse increases against my palm.
I don’t know what comes over me, but I lean closer and turn his face toward mine. I just need him to look at me.
He doesn't meet my gaze. Instead, his eyes focus on his hand as he slowly moves it up my arm. All the same sensations that flowed through me the first night we kissed come flooding back. I've missed his touch so much.
I watch him as he moves his hand to my shoulder. He slides his fingers underneath the strap of my shirt as he traces along the edges. His movements are slow and methodical as he pulls his legs off of the table in front of him and turns his body toward me. His expression seems full of conflict as he slowly leans in and presses his lips against my shoulder. I wrap my arms around him as I inhale. His breath becomes heavier as his lips move across my shoulder and onto my neck. The room starts to spin, so I close my eyes. His lips make their way to my jaw and closer to my mouth. When I feel him pull away I open my eyes again and he's watching me. There's a slight moment of hesitation in his eyes just before his lips close over mine.
In the past, his kisses have been very delicate and smooth. There is a different hunger behind him now as he slides his hands under my shirt and grasps at my waist. I return his kisses with the same feverish passion. I run my hands through his hair and pull him to me as I lay back on the couch. As soon as he begins to ease his body on top of mine, his lips break away and he sits back up.
"We've got to stop," he says. "We can't do this." He squeezes his eyes shut and rests his head against the couch.
I sit back up and ignore his protest as I slide my hands up his neck and through his hair. I press my lips to his and pull myself onto his lap. His hands wrap around my waist and he pulls me into him as he returns my kiss with even more intensity than before. He’s right; they do get better every time.
My hands find the bottom edge of his shirt and I slide it up. Our lips separate for a brief moment as his shirt passes between us. I place my hands on his chest and run them over the contours of his muscles as we continue to kiss. His hands grip my arms and he pushes me down onto the couch. I'm waiting for him to find his way back to my mouth, but instead he pushes away from me and stands up.
"Layken, get up!" He demands as he grabs my hand and pulls me up from the couch.
I stand up, still caught up in the moment and unable to catch my breath.
"This—this can't happen!" He’s attempting to catch his breath too. "I'm your teacher now. Everything has changed, we can't do this.”
His timing sucks. My knees are weak so I sit back down on the couch for support. "Will, I won’t say anything. I swear." I don't want him to regret what just happened between us. For a moment, it felt like we were back where we belonged. Now, seconds later I'm confused again.
"I'm sorry, Layken but it's not right,” he says as he paces the floor. “This isn't good for either of us. This isn't good for you."
"You don't know what's good for me," I snap. I'm getting defensive again.
He stops pacing and turns toward me. "You won't wait for me. I won't let you give up what should be the best year of your life. I had to grow up way too fast, I'm not taking that away from you, too. It's not fair. I don’t want you to wait for me, Layken."
The shift in his demeanor and the way my entire first name is flowing from his mouth is causing the oxygen to deplete from the room. I’m dizzy.
"I won't be giving anything up," I reply weakly. I would have screamed it if I could muster enough energy.
He grabs his shirt and pulls it on over his head as he moves further away from me. He walks to the opposite side of the living room and grips the back of the couch, his head falling between his shoulders.
"My life is nothing but responsibilities. I'm raising a child for Christ’s sake. I wouldn't be able to put your needs first. Hell, I wouldn't even be able to put them second. You deserve better than third."
I stand up and walk over to him, kneeling on the couch in front of him. I place my hands on top of his. "Your responsibilities should come before me, which is why I want to wait for you, Will. You're a good person. This thing about you that you think is your flaw-it's the reason I'm falling in love with you."
My last few words trickle out as though I've lost what little control over myself I had left. I don't regret saying it, though.
He pulls his hands out from under mine and places them firmly on either side of my face. He looks me directly in the eyes. "You are not falling in love with me." He says this as if it's a command. “You cannot fall in love with me.” His face is hard as he clenches his jaw again. I feel the tears begin to well in my eyes as he releases me and walks toward the front door.
"What happened tonight-" He's pointing to the couch as he speaks. "That can't happen again. That won't happen again." He says this as though he's trying to convince more than just me.
After he walks outside, he slams the door behind him and I'm left alone in his living room. My hands clutch at my stomach as the nausea intensifies. I'm afraid if I don't regain my composure soon, I won't be able to stand long enough to make it out of the house. I inhale through my nose and exhale from my mouth as I count backwards from ten.
It's a coping technique I learned when I was younger from my father. I used to have what my parent’s referred to as "emotional overloads." My dad would wrap his arms around me and squeeze me as tight as he could as we counted down. Sometimes I would fake the tantrums just so he would have to squeeze me. What I wouldn't give for my dad's embrace right now.
The front door opens and Will re-enters carrying a sleeping Caulder in his arms. "Kel woke up, he's walking home now. You should go too," he says quietly.
I feel completely embarrassed. Embarrassed of what just happened between us and the fact that he is making me feel desperate; weaker than him. I snatch my keys off the coffee table and turn toward the door, stopping in front of him.
“You're an asshole,” I say. I turn and leave, slamming the door behind me.
As soon as I get to my bedroom, I collapse on the bed and cry. Although it's negative, I finally have inspiration for my poem. I grab a pen and simultaneously start writing as I wipe away smudged tears off of the paper.
"You can’t be like me
But be happy that you can’t
I see pain but I don’t feel it
I am like the old Tin Man.”
-The Avett Brothers, Tin Man
According to Elizabeth Kubler Ross, there are five stages of grief a person passes through after the death of a loved one: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I took a psychology class during the last semester of my junior year when we lived in Texas. We were discussing stage four when the principal walked into the room, pale as a ghost.