Actions

Work Header

Aftertaste

Work Text:

I.

The soft wind messes up your hair and you wrap the bed sheet a bit tighter around your shoulders. Waves dance underneath you, wetting your feet that are dangling off the pier leading to the beach house. You take a deep breath, trying to savor the smell of the salty air, the feeling of peace.

Time passes like a whirlwind when you don’t notice it. One day you’re learning to spell your name and the next you’re packing your life into boxes for college, for a new chapter to begin in your life. You have no idea where all this time went that you thought you had. It seems like last week when you and your friends received your diploma, ready to take on life. But now that you think about it you are not sure if you are ready to leave everything behind.

You glance behind you, the curtain in front of the glass covered front are being blown outside by the wind and you can almost see everyone sleeping inside in a pile of sleeping bags and pillows, you almost hear Robbie’s soft snoring and Cat’s quiet whispering while she sleeps. Sleep seems like a waste of time when you feel like you’re running out of it.

You think of the few boxes in the living room that you’re going to load into your car tomorrow for your new dorm room in a different state, far away from your home. Far away from the life you have gotten so used to. You packed so little of the things that made your room yours. It almost looks like you’re coming back but in reality you just wanted to take the most important things, start the new chapter with as little baggage as possible. You don’t know if you mean emotional baggage as well.

Just thinking about leaving your friends behind makes you tear up. The people you have been calling your family for the past few years and spent almost every minute of your free time with are all moving somewhere else and who knows how long it will take till you see them all again.

You sigh sadly and let your feet disappear into the water. Your gaze falls onto the horizon, the moon is covered by clouds, the sea a black abyss in front of you. It’s going to rain.

Maybe leaving everything behind is not a bad idea. No matter how many good memories you made in the city you feel like the things you never had the courage to do are tying you back down. Regrets are like weights tied around your ankles, making it impossible to move and you feel like the only way to get rid of them is to move on, move out of your house and to a different state.

“It is for the best.” You say loudly, trying to convince yourself.

“What is for the best?” Startled you whip your head around and only then do you notice the soft pitter patter of bare feet on the wood. Jade is walking towards you, two steaming mugs held firmly in front of her. She keeps her distance when she sits down next to you, handing you one of the mugs. You take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of freshly brewed coffee. You’re not going to sleep anyway so what’s caffeine in your system?

“Can’t sleep either?” You ask, completely ignoring her question. You don’t want to talk to her about it. She is going to say something that’s going to crush you even more so you don’t bother.

You have stopped bothering a while ago, when you got the acceptance letter for NYU. It’s then when you started giving up on her, stopped hoping that she would finally admit that you two are indeed friends. But her sharp tongue never stopped with the vicious remarks and that’s when you decided that it didn’t matter anyway. Because you’re leaving tomorrow and all she will remain is a bitter aftertaste.

You used to put her on a pedestal. Beautiful, beautiful Jade. Smart and witty and more talented than any of the other kids at your school. What she makes you feel is beyond comprehension but it took you a while to understand that she is not this divine girl that you always thought she was.

She is mean and cold and she pushes everyone away. The more she hurts someone the more she feels threatened by them. You always thought that this was a good sign but with every mean remark she pushed you further and further away and if you ever thought that you could take it you were terribly, terribly mistaking.

Now when you look at her all you see is a puppeteer, playing with the people that try to get close to her. You know that she is fire and whoever tries to touch her will get burned. You know because you got burned more than once.

There was a time when you two were still dancing around the lines between friends, enemies and something more. But none of you talked about it, too afraid to acknowledge the elephant in the room that was taking up all the space. Then she got back together with Beck and neither of you looked at each other ever again if you didn’t have to.

And that was the last time you let her burn you. The final straw before you decided that you were going to leave for a while.

You dare to look at her just in time when she shakes her head. She is hiding in a giant sweater that makes her look so small. Never in your life have you seen her looking as tiny as she is now.

“I can’t believe summer is almost over.” You say just because you can’t keep on that heavy silence that lingers whenever you two are alone. ‘I can’t believe I’m leaving.’ You add in your head. Jade nods in response and then she averts her eyes from the water to look at you.

She doesn’t say anything, she just stares at you and for a moment you feel like she is going to say something. Anything that would just lift this weight that has settled on your chest ever since she sat next to you and just won’t budge. But she doesn’t, instead she sighs and looks back down to the waves dancing underneath you. You can’t help but feel disappointed even though you knew that she wasn’t going to say anything.

This is Jade after all, you have learned not to expect anything. Yet you always feel disappointed when she doesn’t say or do what you want her to.

“How long do you think it will take till we all come back?” She finally asks.

You’re back to thinking about time. How it will pass and you will come back during winter break to celebrate Christmas with your family. But then there will be the breaks in between with no holiday and at first you will visit because you miss home but then the times that you will drive back will turn less and then you’ll settle in New York, meet new people, find new places and it will turn into your home. And then you won’t be coming back at all. You won’t be seeing your friends anymore. You will drift apart until all of them will just be a name in the back of your memory.

You’re not exactly sure if you should tell her all of this so you settle for an ‘I don’t know’ and the way she looks at you makes you think that this isn’t the answer she wanted to hear.

“You still haven’t told us where you’re going.” You tell her after taking a small sip, the liquid warming you up. You have always known that Jade is a mystery but not telling her friends where she is going to go to college seems a bit over the top for her. You almost see the gears turning in her head as she contemplates her answer. She lifts the mug to her lips, breathing deeply before she shrugs.

“That depends.” Jade answers and that leaves you exactly where you started. Confused, as it always is when you are with her. You nod, you want to ask her what it depends on but you don’t. She isn’t going to answer you anyway. “Aren’t you going to ask me why?”

“It’s my last day here, Jade.” You look at her, see the nervous look she has been giving you ever since she came outside. “I don’t really want to play your games anymore. I’m tired.”

She nods and she almost looks hurt. The confidence that you seem to have is such an act. You don’t even know what to tell her, all you have wanted is to lay down your feelings in front of her. Make her see that you don’t want to be just anyone to her. That you don’t want her to be a former fellow student of yours that you’re going to see in ten years at your reunion.

But now you just don’t feel anything but sorry for yourself.

“Thanks for the coffee.” You tell her, collecting the bed sheet and making a move to get up. This conversation is exhausting. Sitting here with her just makes you feel suffocated.  But she reaches out to you, stopping you from leaving. Her fingers are cold but they still manage to heat you up. 

“I’m sorry.” She whispers and you sit back down too astounded to say anything. She doesn’t dare look at you. Instead she concentrates on her coffee, swirling the left over liquid round and round. It takes her a while but eventually she opens her mouth. “Do you have any regrets, Tori?” The fact that she doesn’t call you by your sure name tells you that she is indeed serious about this conversation.

“Sure.” You shrug. “I have always wanted to get my belly button pierced but I always chickened out.” A small smile tugs at her lips, albeit sad.

“That’s not what I meant.” She pulls her feet out of the water and turns around, fully facing you. The tiny girl is still in front of you, hiding. Yet the determination on her face is evident. “Real regrets. Like wasting time. Overthinking too many things because you are afraid.” She tries to keep the eye contact between you but every so often the nervousness wins and her eyes fleet over the space between you. “Not saying what you really thought and felt.”

“You always say what you think, Jade. It’s what makes you, you.” You don’t know where she is going with this conversation but the more she continues the harder your heart beats in your chest. You’re starting to feel again, the drawer in your mind where you hid everything regarding her is threatening to spill over and flood your brain and body.

“When you leave tomorrow will you look back at your life here and think that you lived it to its fullest? Will you look back and think: Yes, I did everything I wanted to do? Are you leaving with a good feeling?” She runs her fingers through her hair, trying to bring it into an order. With every word she speaks she becomes more agitated, voice increasing its volume. You study her face for any trace of dishonesty. But all you come up with is nothing. You can never just look at her without making yourself feel miserable for falling for someone so unavailable.

You look down, suddenly too afraid to look at her without the urge to just tell her everything.

“Why does it matter? We’re all leaving, maybe not tomorrow but at least soon. Time has run out. What is there left to change?” You’re not even trying to sound convincing. No matter what you say it is going to be a lie. So why bother anymore?

“Because I can’t accept it!” Jade shouts but it’s swallowed by the sound of waves. You feel like you’re running in circles, ending nowhere. You rub your forehead, trying to comprehend and bring this mess in your head into an order.

She is tip toeing around the subject of you two. You know it, you’re not dumb and any other day you would have said: Fuck it, let’s be together! But tonight you are rational enough to see that it won’t work. You thought you were falling for her but instead you fell on concrete and that woke you up. 

All these things she is saying echo inside your head, reopening drawers, bringing up feelings that you thought were hidden away. It’s such a Jade thing to do and it almost feels like a game. Except she looks so vulnerable and it’s the first time that she is the one who tries to get closer.

“Well,” you start and suddenly you don’t know what you wanted to say because she is looking at you with that pleading look that just makes your resolve crumble. Makes you just want to forget everything and start over with her.

“Tori.” Her voice a pleading whisper. Jade sets her mug aside and slowly starts sliding closer to you. Her front presses to your side, you still can’t turn around. Her cold fingertips brush against your cheek, move some stray locks behind your ear and you try so vehemently to ignore the wave of feelings that floods your body like a tsunami. “Please.”

You turn your face, you didn’t know she was that close. You’re favorite thing about her are her eyes and you don’t remember them being so clear and full of emotion as they are now. Her breath hits your face, the smell of coffee invading your nostrils and you bite your lip in anticipation. You hate yourself that it is so easy for her to pull you back in. That you want her to touch you even though you are afraid of her burning you.

“I’m sorry.” Jade says and for the first time she sounds so genuine it makes you want to scream out in frustration. “I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you, Tori. I was so afraid.” You glance down into the water and for the first time you realize that her regrets are way heavier than yours, you can almost see them trying to pull her down into the depths of the sea. 

She wipes at your face and only then do you notice that you have been crying. You lift your hands to your face, trying to hide the tears from her. You don’t want her seeing you vulnerable like that. You have waited so long for her to finally apologize for the pain she’s caused you, to finally acknowledge her mistakes. 

She wipes at your tears till the last one has fallen and you cling to her sweater, pulling her closer to you. You can’t take it anymore. You have been fighting Jade for so long, trying to suppress your feelings for her, trying to not be in love with her. It is a fight that you knew you would lose. And you are finally surrendering.

Jade lifts her hands to your cheeks, her touch sending goosebumps down your spine and then she does something that you have been waiting so long for.

She kisses you.

 

II.

You are mess when you load the last box into your car. Your mom stands on the curb next to your car and tries not to cry while your dad secures everything in the trunk. You feel like a wreck, you are so exhausted you might as well fall asleep right now.

Your parents keep talking to you, probably lecturing you but you can’t concentrate on anything they are saying. Your brain is working on full speed, firing thoughts through your synapses a million miles per hour. The headache that you already start feeling will be torture.

You don’t know what you were thinking with Jade last night or what you were expecting, you always thought that your resolve was stronger than just simply giving into her without her having to work for it. You are going to leave anyway, you shouldn’t have let her get to you so easily. It only makes saying goodbye so much harder.

Your limps ache, your head pounds and you should have known that Jade would be gone the minute you woke up, leaving you naked and hurt in your bed. She was gone and you were a mess again. Stupid is one of the traits you didn’t know you had in you.

Everything is packed, you are ready to leave. Leave this town behind you and start new somewhere else. New people will be good for you, will help you and in time your broken heart will mend. You are eighteen, you have your whole life ahead of you. What is a stupid heartbreak compared to that? Absolutely nothing. Yet you can’t help but let this hell inside you consume you.

Your dad hugs you. His embrace is warm and familiar and you cling to him. He won’t be in New York to protect you if anything happens.

“No matter what.” He mumbles into your hair. “We’re just a phone call away.” You almost start crying when he tells you that but you just tighten your grip around him and nod. Your mother is a bit more emotional, wetting your shirt with tears and telling you to call every day.

And then suddenly it’s time to leave. You walk the last remaining steps to your car and for a moment you just stand there and look at the house you grew up in. The driveway that you and Trina used to paint on with colorful chalk, the countless game nights in your living room. Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, everything took place in there. This is your home and the sudden realization that it always will be even if you move away hits you like a ton of bricks.

You are trying so hard to run away when it obviously is impossible to ever leave this place without coming back.

You spare one last glance to your childhood home before you open the door of your car, ready to leave everything behind. But something stops you, you hear the wheels of a suitcase scratching over the curb, the thud of heavy boots and you turn around to see Jade walk up to you with a packed box in her free hand.

You don’t say anything, your heart is beating too rapidly to even comprehend that she is here. She walks up to you, drops the box to the ground and reaches into the back pocket of her ripped jeans.

“This is what it depends on.” Is the only thing she says before she hands you a folded sheet of paper. Your hands shake when you open it, not daring to look at her. Your breath catches in your throat before you can even register what this actually is.

An acceptance letter to NYU.