My cousin hired a man-slut to pick me up at the airport. No joke.
Thirty seconds fresh off a six-hour flight, and I spotted him pinned against a pillar holding a sign with my name on it in one hand, and fondling some redhead with the other.
At first, I thought maybe I’d read my name wrong because the “Alex” part was kind of legible, but “Summers” might as well have been Sanskrit. But he was my guy, my only ticket out of LAX, and instead of meeting me with a warm, friendly “hello”, he had his tongue down another girl’s throat.
What an L.A. welcome.
I fought my way over to Skanky Bonnie and Chlamydia Clyde through a stream of angsty passengers, pushing and shoving for survival like neurotic salmon. The midday mob spit me out quick, leaving my hair static, Ray-Bans crooked, and my tank top crumpled to the point of being completely unattractive.
Not that it mattered because my Chapstick commercial of a chauffeur hadn’t even noticed that my plane had landed. I shuffled closer and tightened my grip around the straps of my purse trying to figure out an un-awkward way to interrupt their “conversation”.
“Hi, you’re Caleigh’s friend, right? I’m Alex, her cousin.”
Neither of them batted an eyelash. I stood my ground. The closest thing I got to an answer was that terrible sucky noise couples make when they think they’re the only ones who can hear it. Not to sound like the PDA police or anything, but dry humping was going too far. Even for me.
Chauffer extended a tanned hand to me from around his probably girlfriend’s waist.
“Hi, Caleigh’s cousin. I’m Elias. Call me whatever you want.”
He unstuck his hands from his tawny, tattooed princess just to give himself enough room for a perfectly rehearsed introduction. Elias was something else. Problem was, he knew it.
A dark-haired, dark-horse of a boy wearing a carefully controlled smile, he stood six-foot-something above most of the world with light green eyes made for trouble.
Not the good kind of trouble, not the sexy-mysterious trouble, but the worst kind—Rory’s.
Redhead faded into the backdrop while he pulled me into a half-hug. From the furrows in her forehead to the quiet tension in her jaw, the familiar ache of her insecurity ate away at the pit of my stomach.
She wasn’t his girlfriend. She was his bubblegum girl, only fun until she lost her flavor.
“I have a couple bags downstairs if you’re cool with helping me carry some of my stuff,” I said.
He’d stopped listening somewhere between “bags” and “cool” and let his eyes do the talking. They darted down to my lips, grazed across my lack of chest, and glazed over faster than a donut. Never in my life had I been happier to see a person of the opposite sex completely un-attracted to me. He looked like a “list” guy—quick to pick and sort “hot” or “not” girls into their rightful places.
I’d popped out of the plane looking like I’d escaped a sweat monsoon. Pleasant Airlines, my dad’s choice, by the way, lost its air-conditioning somewhere over Kansas, so by the time we landed the place was a stink box. I’d walked into LA, totally un-glamorous in my pit-stained tank top, rocking smudged eyeliner that Vogue promised would turn out smoky but didn’t, and wearing my comfy travel jeans which weren’t exactly skinny.
Elias came off like he liked his girls well-dressed, wild, and raven-haired. A week ago, I’d chopped my un-wavy, un-beachy, brown hair down to a pixie cut and transformed into the anti-hookup, asexual, queen of New Jersey. If LA didn’t like it, screw ’em.
The creeping disgust on Elias’s face officially confirmed that I’d landed on the very top of the “not” side of his hot girl hit list. His mouth crinkled at the corners. He straightened up like a board and scurried back to redhead.
“Tell you what, Adrian—”
“It’s Alex,” I said.
“Whatever. Anyway, you go ahead, and me and Mindy will meet you downstairs a little later.”
Anyone who understands anything about guys knows that “a little later” means never, so Elias went right back to Fifty Shades of Grey-ing her on the wall like I wouldn’t notice.
But I noticed everything. Within seconds, they graduated from make-out-mania to full on grope-fest, and the longer they sucked face, the louder I wanted to scream at them to stop. But I stood my ground and stared at them in total silence waiting for the moment when they’d finally realize I was still there.
But Elias and his redhead phased me into the background the same way my “friends” phased me out of our hangouts back home. After Rory, everything changed. Sophomore year turned into something I had to learn how to survive—not because I wanted to, but because I had to if I didn’t want the rest of the world to know I was broken.
So, I learned to hide the cracks. Especially from the people I cared about. But Elias wasn’t one of those people—just a pain in the ass who thought he could ignore me until I disappeared.
He thought wrong.
Remember when I said I wasn’t a violent person? Scratch that. It started with my foot—my toes tightened, my muscles tensed, and I sent my shoe soaring through the air and straight into his surfer-strong shins. He crumpled over like a twig in the wind and redhead cracked a smile and winked at me.
Enjoy the bruise, douchebag.
You were so damn beautiful.
First time I saw you, you scared the shit out of me.
You walked around like the ground couldn’t hold you, and if gravity couldn’t hold you, how could I?
But you changed the game. You called my name and called me out ’cause I was a very bad boy, with a very bad rep, but you made me wanna do better.
You didn’t believe my bullshit.
You saw right through it, you saw my life falling apart, but you held me down.
With that smile, and that laugh, and the way you looked in that jersey.
And I fell so hard.
So I chased you hard, ’til you kissed me hard, and let your guard down just for me. You let me push you up against those lockers that night, and God, I wished you’d been my first—everything.
My first kiss.
My first time.
I wanted to backtrack the bases and start over with you.
You never made mistakes, you never played games with anyone or let anyone play games with you, and I loved your innocence.
I loved how you laughed when I kissed you, how you sighed when I touched you, how you cried ’cause it hurt but you never tried to hide it.
I loved that you weren’t afraid of getting ‘caught, or afraid of rumors, or afraid of me.
You took off your heart like you took off your jersey, and you let me wear your number on my sleeve.
I still love that jersey.
I still love thinking about the times you’d take off running towards the outfield, in that jersey, on school grounds, after midnight like you didn’t care about breaking rules.
But you let me break yours.
You’d let me catch you and kiss your double-bubble lips like it was the first time.
Every. Damn. Time.
You didn’t care about the wet grass under our backs, or the sweat on our bodies, because you held onto me in that field, on those nights, like they were the only nights you felt real.
I fell in love with your real. I fell in love with you under those bleachers, under those stars, under all that darkness like it wouldn’t ever take you from me.
Like we’d have enough memories for a million years.
We didn’t even have a hundred days.
‘Cause things got ugly, people talked ugly, life got ugly, I got ugly.
But not you.
You stayed beautiful.
So. Damn. Beautiful.