They gathered around the television after cleaning up from dinner. The pizza had been slightly undercooked, but no one complained. There was not a word said as they all pretended to pay very close attention to the news on the television that kept going in and out of service until, finally, it turned off.
There was about two minutes of awkward silence as the three of them waited to see if it would come back on. If it would save them from trying to socialize. It didn’t.
Chad was the first to speak. “You still have Monopoly in the closet, right Rach?”
He had addressed her but hadn’t waited for her reply to make his way to the closet and grab the board game. Mark moved his chair to face the coffee table and Rachel got up to light the candles placed around her house for such an occasion as well as for decoration. By the time she had lit all the ones she could find, the board was set up and the guys waiting for her. She took a seat on the couch, across from Chad, who seemed just fine sitting on the floor.
“You remembered!” She said, picking up the top hat, her usual piece.
“Of Course.” Chad replied. It wasn’t until he said something that she realized she hadn’t known who she had been talking to.
“What did you used to say? Something about musicals?” He prompted.
“It reminds me of Broadway.” She smiled at him. She had wanted to run away to Broadway their Sophomore year after being in the chorus of Oklahoma. Chad had sent her flowers. Mark had come to every performance.
As they played, they seemed to fall into the normal rhythm of friendship. That is until Rachel and Mark bought all of Chad’s property.
“Yes!” Mark exclaimed, lifting his hand to give Rachel a high five. She reached for his hand and lost her balance. Before she knew it she was in Mark’s lap. She struggled to get up but he trapped her there and planted a kiss on top of her head. She brushed him off and managed to get back on the couch just in time to see Chad face turn red.
She giggled and threw Chad a “sorry” to try and diffuse the whole situation. It didn’t work.
“You said it was over.” Chad barked through his teeth to Mark.
“Yeah, well it’s not. What are you going to do about it?” Mark teased back.
“C’mon guys, it’s nothing. Nothing is going on between any of us. Let’s just play the game.” Rachel’s voice was trembling just a little bit, but she covered it with a smile.
Chad stood up and clenched his fists by his side. Mark reciprocated.
“Are we really going to do this now, Chad?” Mark prompted. “You know who’s going to get her in the end. Just give up now. Maybe save yourself some pride.”
That had been it. Chad was a prideful person, and to have Mark say something so out of character, so antagonizing, was the limit. Chad leapt at Mark and tackled him to the ground, knocking the recliner out of the way. Rachel hopped up to try and get out of the way before she became collateral damage.
Chad threw a few punched before Mark caught him off guard with an upper cut. That knocked Chad off of him and Mark was able to take the place on top.
It wasn’t Rachel or even a win that broke the fight up. It was the sound of shattering glass with wind and rain right behind it. All three heads looked at the front window at the same time. The boys got up and Mark grabbed a large piece of wood that hadn’t been used. Chad grabbed the hammer and nails, and together they managed to somewhat brace the window again from the inside.
Rachel grabbed a few blankets and ran upstairs, with the guys quick on her trail. After making their way into her room they stood and panted for a good couple of minutes, try to catch their breath and the fact of what had just happened.
“Are you okay?” Chad finally asked Rachel.
She took a quick inventory. Nothing was scratched, broken or bruised. “Yeah, I’m good.”
She wrapped a blanket around herself. “What about you guys, are you-“ She stopped as she looked over their faces, the recent points of war already showing and stopped at a scrap gushing blood across the side of Mark’s face.
“Sit down!” She grabbed Mark’s arm and yanked him onto her bed. “I’ll be right back.” She shot Chad a Be good look as she left the room and went to the bathroom across the hall. She grabbed the first aide kit and ran back before any more testosterone could do worse damage. She sat next to Mark and opened the case on the bed, searching for the rubbing alcohol and bandages.
“Here.” She handed him a towel. “Hold this on your head.”
“Guess we know who won.” Chad proclaimed, crossing his arms.
“Leave!” Rachel yelled at him.
“Wha-?!” Chad tried to say.
“Just leave. If you can’t believe me when I say we’re over, or that there is nothing going on between Mark and I, then believe me when I say I will personally give you a gash twice as bad if you don’t leave now.”
Chad reluctantly opened the door, shrunk off behind it and shut it quietly. There was a loud BANG as the guest room across the hall had its door slammed.
She rolled her eyes and looked back at Mark. He was smiling.
“This doesn’t mean anything.” She told him.
“Of course not.” He said, trying unsuccessfully not to smile at her.
“Just let me see the cut.” He took the towel off, revealing a long but superficial cut next to his brow. She coated a cotton ball with some of the alcohol and began wiping the blood away. He placed one hand on her waist as she worked.
“This doesn’t mean anything.” She repeated. “I’m not very happy with Chad for starting that fight, but I’m not very happy with you for provoking him. Or for what you said.”
“What did I say?” He almost sounded innocent.
“That whole ‘I’m the one who’s going to get the girl’ crap. Oh, you didn’t think I heard that?”
“I didn’t think it would be so bad, speaking the truth and all.”
She rolled her eyes and opened the band-aid package. She stuck one side down then, running it over the cut, stuck the other side down. Throwing the trash away, she turned towards him.
“What makes you think I want either of you? How do you know I don’t have a boyfriend waiting for me in Virginia?” She wished after they words came out that she had put more confidence behind them. It sounds like she didn’t even believe what she was saying, which she didn’t.
He just looked back at her, seeing straight through her convictions. “I can’t really say what I think about Virginia. I can only say that I believe in you, and in us. And I believe that we belong together.”
“Why are you saying all this now? What brought this on?”
“You mean why am I not just conceding to Chad, yet again.” He grabbed a blanket and threw it over his legs, leaning back against the headboard of her bed. “When I realized I love you, Rach, it was too much for me. It was too much to see you run off with him again, only to see you hurt. It was too much to think you were just using me for convenience, only to see how much more we were than that. And so, I’m not taking a backseat any more, I won’t wait for Chad to be finished with you to get my shot. I want you, Rachel. I want all of you, forever. Because I love you.”
The words stopped meaning anything after that. She only heard the pounding of a migraine setting on, and the pain in her legs that wanted her to run, to run as far away as possible. She started breathing short shallow breathes and her heart raced as she remembered they were stuck in a storm, that she was trapped.
She ran for the door and found herself in the bathroom, throwing up the frozen pizza into the toilet and laying on the bathroom floor, trying to let it’s coolness wake her up from this nightmare.
She couldn’t have anyone love her. It wasn’t just that she didn’t know whether she loved him or not, whether she even wanted to love him or not, but that she was unlovable, unworthy. She was a mess, she knew that, but she figured that by the time she was thirty-something, all that would be worked out. She would want to love, want to get married, want to have children and a future with someone who wanted her. She would be able to find the courage to be loved. That time was not now and she had no intention of being rushed into it by old flames.
The memory of her old friends in the medicene cabinet awoke her from the panic attack and she had swallowed four white pills before lying down again on the cold tile.
Drifting away in the high was easy, she even found she was able to sleep, and the colors kept her company. Everything melted away like ice cream on a summer day, all that was relevant was here and now and her. The present, the only constant in her life. There was a horrible past that she rejected and a future as uncertain as her mom’s natural hair color. So she clung to the present, to what she could feel and do now.
And that was enough for her as she fell asleep swiftly, and the rain pounded in her ears. That was enough.