- The Arrangement 9
Marty nods, as his eyes cut to the side, landing on the movie on the tray. “I thought we’d eat and do stuff you like. I wanted to give you a break from all this, so you didn’t have to think about anything for a while.”
“No, don’t even try to say anything, because there’s nothing you can say.” He grabs his coat from the closet and heads toward the door, but he has to pass me to get out. “I should go. I’ll send Mel over or something.”
I stand quickly, blocking his way. “Look me in the eye and tell me that you didn’t hope something sexual would happen. If it’s the truth, tell me.” My eyes are glassy when I look up into his face. The plea in my voice is clear enough—I don’t want to lose him.
Marty’s gaze meets mine and holds for half a beat before he shakes his head and looks away. “Intentions and hopes are two different things, but after this, you don’t have to worry about either anymore.” He tries to shoulder past me, but I step in front of him again.
“Don’t leave things like this.”
“Why would I stay? Look at you. I tried to make you happy and let you rest, and look what I’ve done. I’m not the right person. I messed it up. I thought you’d—” his voice drifts off as his eyes lower. “I’m so sorry, Avery. I’d never do that to you—force you like that.”
Marty steps past me and takes the knob in his hand. He stops and tenses before twisting the metal. My heartbeat jumps to stroke territory. Gabe is going to see him leave and not come back. It’ll be another unfulfilled contract, and Black already threatened me. But, that isn’t why I’m afraid. My pulse is pounding because I’ve made a horrible mistake, and I know if he walks out that door, I’ll never see him again.
Marty is paused, stuck in place. It feels like hours, but it can’t be more than a few seconds. I’m afraid of saying something, but saying nothing sounds like a bad idea, too. I start talking and have no idea where I’m going with it. “I remember when I first met you, how you were larger than life. You were always there, and it didn’t matter what I’d done—you stood by me. We could have been good friends, maybe more, but it’s too late now. The stupid part is one day I know I’ll remember you and this won’t be what comes to mind first. It’ll be your decade style clothes and the way you said things so absurdly that I couldn’t help but smile, or the way you seemed to show up at the right time, every time. When I remember you—”
His shoulders stiffen as I talk, like I’m stabbing him in the back over and over again. Then he rounds on me suddenly, and looks down into my face. His hands slip up my wet cheeks, wiping the tears away, as his gaze dips to my lips. Suddenly, he’s there, kissing me and pressing his lips lightly to mine.
The emotional whiplash leaves me stunned, so I don’t move. His lips press against mine, softly before deepening. The kiss doesn’t last very long, but time has lost all measure. I keep thinking his lips are on mine and it’s not disgusting. They feel nice, safe, and certain. Marty knows what he wants, and he wants to protect me. He loves me, without a doubt, I feel it coursing through him, especially when he pulls away and I see his eyes.
Stunned, I remain still and watch him turn to leave. “Good-bye, Avery.” Just as he opens the door, I grab his wrist.
“Wait.” My voice catches in my throat as I squeeze his arm harder. “Tell me how to fix it, because I can’t let you leave.”
His eyes drink me in like he’ll never see me again. “I think I messed things up beyond that point, Avery.”
“Nothing is ever past that point. Things only fall apart when one of us gives up, and it won’t be me.”
“It is with us. Besides, it only takes one person to end a relationship and I think I managed to mess this one up beyond repair.” He presses his lips together, like he knows he’s going to regret it. I feel him mentally leaving me behind and walking through the door without looking back.
Desperation fills my chest, I want him to stay, I want to fix this, but I don’t know how. “Thank you.” He glances at me, not understanding. “For the reprieve. I need it.” A sad smile lines my lips, and nearly cracks my face into shards.
“So, why didn’t you tell me?” Marty watches me closely, waiting for his meaning to show up on my face. Those dark eyes hold mine, and I know what he means—what he wants me to say.
My eyes fall to the side as my stomach twists. He knows how he makes me feel. I tuck my hair behind my ear and glance up at him. “I didn’t know what it was.” The feelings I have for him could be attraction or a myriad of anything else. It’s hard to say. We’ve been through so much and everything got out of hand. “Don’t go. I can’t stand the idea of losing anyone else. Not tonight. Please, Marty. You were right. I need this. Stay with me?”
He smiles and looks up at my face. He sighs and then finally says, “At my apartment, after I picked you up at your parent’s house that night… Things were weird between us the next morning. I felt it, and I know you did, too.” He watches me, waiting for me to deny it.
“I don’t know what that was, and I was such a wreck that night. It’s hard to know what I felt.”
Looking down at me with a vulnerable expression, he suggests, “Then let’s settle it. One night, sleep next to me for one night—actual sleep—nothing else. If you feel anything for me, you’ll know. It’ll be like that night at my place, and you’ll be certain.”
The thought terrifies me. Is it possible that I like this guy and never noticed? Is that why we fight so much? Is that why I can’t let him walk away? I let Sean walk away and I regret it horribly.
No more regrets. “All right, one night.”
The phrase, This is weird, keeps replaying through my head like a witch’s chant. Marty is asleep next to me and it’s the middle of the night. The clock on the nightstand blinks as another minute passes and the number changes. My heart is racing, like I’m scared about something. I wish I knew what it was. So much stuff has happened that it feels like I’m standing in the center of a vortex, getting my freakin’ brains sucked out. I’m pretty sure they’re all gone, because why am I here? Better yet, why does it offend me to sleep—literally sleep—with Marty, but I’m okay with sleeping with a stranger?
Stuffing the pillow under my head, I try to get comfortable, but I can’t. I’m a liar. I lie to myself and everyone I know. My life has been torn to shreds and I’m the one who did it. Before Black, I was dirt poor—as in dirt for dinner was too expensive—but now friendships are too expensive. I’ve lost everyone who matters. Since the time I walked in on Sean and Mel, things with her have been weird, then Marty’s confession threw me for a loop, and now Sean is gone.
I’m alone. It hits me like a boulder crashing down from space. I guess that’s an asteroid, right? Oh God, it’s so late and I’m so tired, but sleep won’t come.
I roll the other way and see Marty’s peaceful face. The first thing I think is, He’s not Sean, and that’s the problem. I like Marty, I can admit that. That little tug at the center of my chest when I see him is attraction. I’m not brain dead, it’s just that someone else overshadows that little flirtation and Marty is eclipsed. Completely.
So, in the morning when I wake up, I can tell him that I like him—that he was right—but nothing good will come from it. Sometimes knowledge isn’t freeing and those words will just trap him. Marty won’t move on if I say those things. Lying to his face is going to suck, but I have to do it. Regret lines my mouth and tastes as awesome as burnt coffee grinds. I sucked this up. Maybe we both did.
My mind wanders to Mel and her advice to chase down Sean and propose. She’s so insane. Well, it’s not that the idea is insane, it’s more that it’s emotional suicide. If he said no, I think I’d walk right up to the top of the Empire State Building and throw myself off. Okay, that’s too dramatic, but I’m so fried. After he says no, then what?
What if he doesn’t say no? a little voice chirps inside my mind. What if he says yes?
And that’s the issue—what if? The ‘what ifs’ suck. They wedge themselves into the corners of my mind and f**k up my life. What if I proposed? What if he said yes? What if we were happy and had two fat babies, a dog, and a little house with a white picket fence? What if I got everything I ever wanted? What if I wasn’t a coward lying in bed next to a guy that I’m attracted to, but not in love with? Where would I be?
The reality of that answer makes me close my eyes and roll onto my back. Draping my arm over my face, I breathe in and out. If I wasn’t with Marty right now, I’d be with a stranger. I’d be a hollow shell of a woman, selling my body so I don’t have to eat freeze-dried noodles every night. It’s not that simple, but in some ways it is. Grabbing a pillow, I pull it over my face and hold it there so I’m in a vice of fluffiness.
“Do you always try to suffocate yourself while you sleep?”
I toss the pillow on the floor and turn my head toward him. My eyes aren’t filled with sleep like his. They’re strained, tense, and tired. Words are bursting inside my mind and I haven’t said a single thought out loud for hours. I have a plan. Lie to him, trick Black into thinking we did it, and hope I don’t get my ass kicked when she finds out I’m lying.
Sighing, I fiddle with the black bead on my bracelet. “Nah, normally I try to jump out the window, but these are bolted shut.” He gives me a concerned look. “Kidding, Marty. I wouldn’t be wrapped up in this crap with Black if I didn’t want to survive.”
“So, you’re going to keep doing that?” He’s on his side looking at me.
My eyes are downturned as my fingers play with the blankets. “I don’t know… It pays well enough. Hey, I have a rude question for you—how’d you afford all this? I mean, Black isn’t cheap, and requesting a specific girl jacks up the price.”
He gives me a crooked smile. “I have some money—correction, I had some money, and credit cards. I used the rest of my student loans for the semester too. I’m going to write this off as an education expense and take a tax deduction.”
I chuckle a little. “An educational experience?”
“Sure, why not. I think I learned more about human nature tonight than I did the entire time I’ve been in college.”
“And what’s that?”
“Don’t buy friends that are hookers—they don’t like it.”
I smack him with my other pillow, before tucking it back under my head. “Hooking and friendship doesn’t mix.”
“Hooking and pancakes don’t mix either. I’m never going to have the same thoughts about iHOP ever again, thanks to Mel.”
That gets another light laugh, and my tired brain launches words out of my mouth. Before I have a second to think, I blurt it out. Maybe I suck, or maybe I don’t—I don’t know anymore. I just want to do something right and not make things messier, but I have a feeling that I should shut my mouth. Nothing good ever comes after 2am, and it’s nearly an hour and a half later. “I don’t want to lie anymore—not to you—and not to me. The truth is, I think you’re great, but my brain didn’t realize how great because you were under the g*y guise—the mask of Gay-o.”