Authors: Evan Reeves
IF I STAY
IF I STAY
Copyright © 2013 by Evan Reeves
All rights reserved. This book or any portion may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher, except for the use of brief quotations within reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Th
e names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
IF I STAY
“It's official,” Brandon sighed, shutting his laptop with an almost mournful look in his eyes. “I will never in this lifetime be as hilarious as Nicolas Cage.”
He blinked at me, my lifeless body still curled up on his bed. Clad in my only pair of flannel pajamas and probably appearing like the utterly pathetic loser that had managed to eat any last shred of my once beaming personality.
“Gemma,” he said, poking me in the forehead with a pen. Likely one of the few hundred that he kept scattered all over his bedroom floor. “Gemma, don't be like that. Don't be all dead and corpse-like. It's weird.”
“What was that?” I finally asked. “I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you over the sound of Nic Cage losing his shit.”
Slinking over from his L-shaped corner desk, he plunked down next to me, the mattress giving way and sinking slightly under his weight. Then, as not so unusual for Brandon to do, he seized me by the shoulders and I braced myself for a merciless shaking.
“GEMMA. Earth to Gemma! It's time for you to drag yourself out of bed and get out of the apartment. I swear, how long have you been wearing those pajamas?” He stopped, narrowing his eyes, a small grimace sweeping over his mouth. “When is the last time you, you know, actually took a shower?”
I rolled over, looking at him, my unruly strawberry-red hair unquestionably reminiscent of something out of a B-list horror flick.
“Toby,” I finally choked. Brandon groaned.
“Oh, you mean that dude with the perpetual need to stick his penis in anything with a vague pulse? Yeah, I remember that guy. He's a douche-bag. And you shouldn't be wasting yourself away in here over him. Not. Worth. It.”
Brandon kept talking, but truthfully, his words were more like static and white-noise. Some sort of foreign, garbled collection of clashing nonsense that I could only barely focus on as I fixed my eyes on the cardboard cutout of Nicolas Cage that stood in the corner of Brandon's room, right next to his computer. Nic was wearing a bright-pink tie belonging to Brandon, which might have sort of clashed with his otherwise business-like ensemble. But whatever. Why did this even matter?
It didn't. Not really. Not in the midst of the recent monotonous chaos that was my life. Work. Sleep. Work. Sleep. In fact, I'd spent about the entirety of my Christmas break working hours so long at the local retail giant that I could barely keep my eyes open during the drive home, trying to pull together whatever cash I could for the bills – and the rest of the time, well. It was consumed with a whole lot of nothing. And ice cream. Mostly ice cream.
You're over him.
I told myself.
So why are you still doing this to yourself?
Brandon was leaning over me; his inky-black hair swooped over pale blue eyes. Really, Brandon was gorgeous. A total catch. However, it would never work with him. I mean, setting aside the fact that Brandon had zero interest in the female anatomy; he was also sort of a train-wreck. In the most hilarious way possible, sure. Nobody could make me laugh like Brandon. But still. His room was a mess of Teen Zeen magazines, Justin Bieber posters, and alongside his coveted cardboard cutout of Nic Cage, there was also one of Obama. Except Mr. President's tie was green.
“I'm not taking advice from the twenty-two year old with Justin Bieber posters on his bedroom wall,” I muttered. “I think I'm just going to go back to bed.”
“Oh, no you don't.” Brandon grabbed me again, tickling me until I started squirming like a total lunatic. “We're going out. Last semester of college starts tomorrow, angel darling face. We're doing this right. And, if we're lucky, maybe you can find some lucky gent to ease your wounded soul for the evening.”
By easing my wounded soul, Brandon meant a sub-par decent fuck. Still. He had some point, even if he struggled to convey his thoughts in a manner fit for the most eloquent of high-school teens. I looked at him, trying to give him my best genuine smile, but it just came out crooked and awkward and likely very hideous.
At least I'd been keeping up my dental hygiene.
“You're over him.” Brandon gripped my shoulders; his fingers calloused from spending more hours than I likely ever will playing bass, which was a favorite past-time of his. And a total Boy Magnet.
Everyone loves the guy who plays guitar
Toby. Toby played guitar. And I'm pretty convinced, at that very moment that I was actually dying in a sincere and very real way.
I nodded blankly, trying to swallow, trying my best to repeat: “Yes. I'm over him.”
“Totally over him. So over him that you're going to go out and party like nobody's ever partied before, and come tomorrow you'll start anew! Anew, I say!”
And with that, he practically dragged me by the wrist into my bedroom where I tried, rather sluggishly; to select an appropriate outfit for an evening spent consuming alcoholic beverages and trying to avoid second-hand cigarette smoke. Oh. So.
I glanced around my room, which still smarted a little, even though most of the things that had belonged to my old relationship now sat in a cardboard box in the corner. I thought about Toby being in this room. Toby kissing me. Toby and I having sex while Brandon attempted on several occasions to sound-track our hookups. Was it passionate? Not really. Not at all, actually. But it was something I had long been accustomed to. Even if it was true, and Toby sort of had a thing for being unfaithful. All the time.
I swallowed, sighing, hating myself a little and yet holding back a laugh as Brandon stared at me with a knowing half-smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“You're doing that things where you space out and reminisce about your Perpetual Cheating Faced ex-boyfriend aren't you?”
“He has a name, you know.”
“I know. I just said it.”
Groaning, I told Brandon to find something suitable for me to wear while I took a shower. And even though taking a shower in our crumbling apartment was always unexpected, as the water didn't always like to actually warm up, it felt nice to take my time and enjoy the feeling of something against my skin. I shaved, shampooed, and spent a solid five minutes contemplating whether or not my split-ends were visible after my hair was dried and straightened, a towel still wrapped lazily around my chest.
“Hurry up!” Brandon's fist banged against the door. “This isn't Lazy Town. You aren't a snail. Aren't you finished yet?”
I poked my head out, my mouth a straight line, and he handed my clothes. A cute skirt, a black tank-top and thigh-high black stockings that wouldn't show any skin as long as the skirt was kept on.
, I thought.
This could work.
Throwing the clothes on and tossing my hair to the side, I'll admit it: I felt sexy. I finished with my makeup, spritzed on a bit of perfume, and in moments we were heading out the door and into the Chicago nightlife with Brandon's favorite mix to get us going.
“Hey,” I told him as we pulled up to the bar, his hands combing quickly though his hair. He looked hot, too. But
essentially encompassed Brandon. His shabby-chic style and disheveled hair were capable of wooing even the most stoic of gentlemen. And I didn't doubt that tonight, as we headed in, would be any exception. “Sometimes you're awesome.”
“I know,” he grinned, and inside we were instantly hit with a wave of smoke and lights, the music pulsating with such an intensity that I could feel it in my chest. The place was already screaming. “Sometimes I ask myself how it's possible to be this fantastic.”
“None as of yet,” he said, and we seated ourselves at a spot where one of the bartenders, tall blonde girl with honey-golden eyes, was hustling. One look at Brandon and I could instantly see her start to melt, an infectious giggle rising in her voice as she asked:
“What could I get you two?”
But her eyes were only on my wing man.
“This lovely lady would like, I'm going to assume, something sweet that only tastes vaguely of alcohol. It's about the idea...” And he stopped for a moment, looking her over quickly with a subtle smirk. “What's your name?”
She was practically swooning.
“Well, Chelsea,” he continued, classic Brandon. If only the poor girl knew. “As I was saying, it's about the
of alcohol with my good friend Gems here. She doesn't like the taste. She's quite picky.”
It's true. I totally was. Granted, I'd never been to bars all that much, despite being in my College Years. Toby hated bars. Actually, all that Toby ever really enjoyed doing was hopping around record shops and staring at himself in the mirror. If it weren't for Brandon, or even my other best friend, Sacha – who was likely at home, editing photos – I would have never escaped the endless vortex of Dream Scene on vinyl and shitty soy lattes.
sort of a douche-bag. Maybe he was better off overseas, touring Europe while I was here, sitting with one of my best friends, grazing over potential new lovers – for the night, at least.
Maybe I was just bitter.
Chelsea handed us our drinks, and I sipped mine anxiously, glancing around the bar where in front of us were scattered tables and beyond that, an empty stage. Musicians played there some evenings, but most of the time, it was just a sort of blank slate for people to gaze at and imagine the
, as Brandon would say, of something radical and jam-worthy up there.
“Another?” Brandon asked as I downed the watery remnants of something that consisted of mostly grenadine and lime. Still, I was starting to already feel warm from whatever the strange concoction was. I didn't have to answer, as Chelsea slid another one of her potions over. The glass, almost like something made for cinema, glided into my hand with a perfect fluidity.
Throwing a few crumpled bills on the counter, I grabbed Brandon by the arm and started to survey the surroundings. Which was hard, given the dimness of this particular floor, but after my third blood-red beverage I wasn't caring so much about the heat and blatant smell of sweat and endorphins.
We dipped into a second room, which was quieter despite still carrying the same smoky haze. People were seated at clustered tea-plate sized tables, faces swept up towards a small stage where there stood a single microphone and a giant sign which read:
OPEN MIC. ALL ENTRIES WELCOME.
“Oh, screw this.” Brandon muttered. “I didn't come here to listen to girls with shaved heads read angry poetry. Or, you know, guys with tattoos screaming about the government and everything.”
I took another sip of my drink, which was mostly water, but at this point my entire body was lit up from the lights and something a little heavier.
“That, Brandon, is a horrible generalization.”
So Brandon stood with me, and we watched as a few of the acts took and left the stage with a certain rapidness to it all. He was right, too. They all read about the same stuff, the same issues, the same proletarian struggle. And I was almost ready to leave and head back to the bar for another one of Chelsea's cocktails before I heard Brandon utter, one word:
“Yeah,” Brandon's mouth was gaped just slightly open. “That beautiful creature currently standing at the microphone. I don't care if the poem he's about to read sucks. I want his adopted babies.”
My eyes darted quickly over to the stage where there stood a man holding a single piece of paper. He held it carelessly between his fingers, smiling with a sort of cunning in the way his lips stretched. He was tall, that much I could already tell. Lean, sinewy, his limbs long and body covered in layers even though the room was smoky and packed. His black button-down was covered in a neon-green and purple checkered pattern, jeans fitted, shoes polished. Not sneakers, I noted. He wasn't wearing sneakers, and his free hand combed through a mess of chocolate-brown hair that coupled perfectly with the way his skin seemed so naturally sun-kissed despite the cold weather. Slippery streets, snow-covered staircases.
When he locked eyes with me, I swear, it was lust at first sight.
“He's like some sort of human/alien hybrid mixed with...I don't know, an angel.”
Brandon laughed, tilting back his drink. Bemused.
I sighed, leaning forward against the railing, my body glowing as I rested my empty drink on one of the many tables so that the glass wouldn't inevitably fall from my hands and onto the tiled floors, shattering into a million pieces. My clumsiness, if I had anything to do with it, would not spoil this fleeting moment of skin-heating perfection.
As The Stranger cleared his throat, I was taken aback by just dark his eyes were. Not in a heated, primal sort of a way, but simply in color. Mine too were brown, but more of melted, milky sort of brown that reminded me vaguely of caramel candy. When he opened his mouth, I practically fell over the balcony – and given my history of totally awkward mishaps, this wouldn't have been an unlikely situation.
However, I caught myself, and managed to keep my swaying body steady as he read the words of his poem, which he'd entitled simply
. It was about how his mind was full of these memories that he longed to hold onto, but was gradually losing them like sand through one of those ancient hourglasses. Gradually trickling and falling away, blurring as the journey of Life continues on the ocean tide. Inevitable and fragile in a way that hung heavy on my heart strings.