He flipped me off in response to my sarcastic tone. I flipped him off in return. We were clearly becoming best friends.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing. I was supposed to rehearse with the band, but Eric came down with the flu or a cold, or he was going out of town or something.”
“We need you to work on your communication skills.”
“You’re probably right. Anyway, I was going to invite another friend over if that’s okay . . . ?” He sounded timid, embarrassed even.
“You’re asking me if you can have a friend over?” I laughed. “You do know this is your house, right? And wasn’t one of the ground rules that I wasn’t allowed to judge you for your manwhore ways?”
He ran his hands through his hair and bit the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, I know, but well, it’s your place right now, too, and I don’t want to, like . . . I just want you to feel comfortable.”
“Ian . . .” I looked down at my attire, which was footie pajamas. “I’m wearing a onesie. I’ve never been more comfortable in my life, and if you are really asking if it’s okay for you to bring a woman back and have sexual intercourse with her, then yes. Balls to the wall, best friend.”
He cringed. “Do you know how awkward you are?”
“I am fully aware.”
“We have to work on your communication skills,” he mocked. “Okay, well, have a good night. If you need anything”—he paused—“don’t need anything tonight, okay?”
I chuckled and nodded. “Okay. Just make sure to not play her any of your music during sex. It’s like an instant turnoff,” I joked.
He flipped me off with both middle fingers this time.
I returned the gesture. Obviously.
A few hours later, I was awakened by a panicked Ian standing over me, shaking my shoulders. “Hazel, get up!”
I sat up straight in my bed and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Shh,” he whispered, placing his finger against my lips. My eyes moved to his finger, and his eyes moved to his finger. We stared at our touch for moments, which felt a little like eternity, before he slowly removed his finger from my mouth. “Sorry. But I need your help.”
“It’s still dark outside, Ian,” I muttered, trying to push myself back to my pillow, but he wouldn’t let me.
“I know, I know, but I need you. Please.” He sounded really desperate.
I sighed and sat up straighter. “What is it?”
“Remember I said I had a friend coming over?” he said.
“Well, I need her to leave.”
I looked over to my clock. Four in the morning. I cocked an eyebrow. “You want me to scare her off? At four in the morning?” He nodded. “You do see that it’s a really crappy thing to kick a girl out of a house at four in the morning, right?” He nodded again. But he stopped making eye contact. I took the time to really wake up and stared at him. His hands were closed in fists, and his face was flushed. His foot nervously tapped against the floor nonstop.
It looked as if there was something really bothering him, eating at him under the surface, but he wouldn’t say. I didn’t know him well enough to ask, so I climbed out of bed.
“Do you want me to be mean or nice?” I asked.
He didn’t reply, yet he dug his hands into the side of the mattress and kept tapping his feet. Now the taps didn’t seem nervous.
Mean it was.
When I woke up the next morning, the house was empty. I brushed my teeth, wondering if my interaction with Ian last night had been real or only a weird dream. Moving to the kitchen, I glanced out of the window to the backyard, where I saw Ian chopping away at pieces of lumber. His white shirt wasn’t on his body but was tucked into the side of his jeans as he swung the ax through a piece of wood.
His arms were muscular and tan, as if he worked most days in the sun. I grabbed myself a cup of water and went out on the small back porch. There was a porch swing that I gladly sat on, still in my footed pajamas. I swung back and forth, and I watched his body react to the sound of the swing squeaking as it swayed with me on it. He knew I was there, but he didn’t turn my way.
After opening and closing my mouth a few times, I finally built up the nerve to ask him a question. “Do you want to talk about last night?”
He swung the ax up and then snapped another piece of wood in half. “Nope.”
He still hadn’t turned to look at me.
I wished I could crawl into Ian’s head and see what he was thinking. Even though he and I joked a lot about him sleeping around, I knew that his issues were much deeper than he let on. I should’ve let him be, allowed him to have his alone time, but something in my heart was telling me to not leave. Something in my heart was asking me to stay.
“You don’t have to be so closed off all the time.”
“I know, but I want to be.”
“Nobody wants to be closed off.”
“Stop pushing,” he ordered, slicing into a piece of wood, but I couldn’t help it. I had a feeling that most people other than his grandparents didn’t push Ian in any way, shape, or form.