Unlikely Allies, page 17
"Do tell big brother," Brad teased, bringing up the fact that Dan was a minute older than him.
"We're waiting until after break to mention it to anyone," he said with twinkling eyes, knowing full well he was tormenting us.
"You're worse than a teenage drama show," Brad griped. "Will Serena tell Dan the truth, or will she follow Carter to the moon?" he said, mocking one of my favorite shows.
"Hey, no reason to throw my show under the bus," I said laughing, throwing my crumpled up napkin at him.
"Who is she?" Brad asked.
"Can't tell," Dan said, winking at me.
"Well, whoever the lucky girl is, I'm happy for you," I said, flipping on the TV so we wouldn't miss our show.
"You know, it's a sickness that we watch this together," Brad muttered, sinking down on the couch next to me.
"Look, what happens in this apartment, stays in this apartment," I said, laughing as the opening theme song came on for the popular teenage show we were all hooked on.
Brad laughed and started to say something, but Dan shushed him, making me giggle. After earning a dirty look from him, I covered my mouth with my hand.
Brad winked at me and I smiled at him. At times like this, Mason's rejection didn't hurt quite as much.
I was still thinking about them the next day as Mom and I spent a quiet holiday alone. Mom fixed a small turkey breast for us, while I grudgingly entered the kitchen to make some of our favorite sides. When dinner was over, I cleaned up the kitchen so Mom could grade the stack of papers she had dragged home for the long weekend. Once the kitchen was done, I sat down at the table with her so I could catch up on schoolwork. We stayed up late, working at the table, not talking much.
The next day, we were both done with our schoolwork and hit the kitchen together after sleeping in.
"Have you talked to your dad lately?" Mom asked as we were fixing leftovers.
"Last week. Why?" I asked, trying to ignore the way my pulse quickened.
"Did he mention Christmas?"
"He wanted to know if he could come spend the holidays with us," she said, looking at me critically, well aware of what I was thinking.
"What about Mason?" I asked quietly, slathering mayo on my bread.
"He said Mason has his own plans for the holiday," she said.
My heart dropped and I fought the urge to curl up in a ball like the weakling I had turned into. "Okay," I said, turning to leave the kitchen. I dropped my sandwich in the trash on my way to my room. Blindly, I closed the door behind me before collapsing on my bed.
As a rule, Mom and I did not discuss my puffy eyes the next morning, and I vowed to not shed another tear over Mason. I spent the last two days of break catching up on laundry and packing up the rest of my childhood stuff.
"You know, maybe finishing the year at UCLA wouldn't be a bad thing," Mom said, joining me my last evening at home.
"I already told Amy I'd be sharing her apartment come January. She's counting on me to help split the bills," I said, tossing a couple of my favorite childhood stuffed animals into the box marked "attic." "Besides, I'm already preregistered there and I handed in my withdraw papers to UCLA."
"I just thought, with the whole Mason thing, you might've changed your mind."
"Seriously, Mom, my transferring wasn't based entirely on him. I want to be closer to Dad for a while, and if that means moving halfway across the country, then so be it."
"And what about Mason?" she asked.
"What about him?"
"Well, he's bound to be there, and you're going to bump into him."
"Well, I don't run from my problems like other people I know," I spit out, hating that the same thought had plagued me.
She sucked in a deep breath at my words.
Sighing, I sank down on the edge of my bed. "I'm sorry, Mom. I know he's going to be there, but I have to stop making decisions solely based on him."
"I know, sweetie," she said, kissing the top of my head. "Why don't you leave these and we can go grab a bite to eat. You can finish going through this stuff when you come home for Christmas break."
"Okay," I said, abandoning the quilt I was folding.
Carol was already in our dorm when I returned late Sunday evening.
"Hey, you're late. I was beginning to worry."
"Sorry, my mom and I decided to spend the whole day together," I said, hanging my sweater on the coat rack. "How was your Thanksgiving?"
"Hectic, busy, loud and too crowded. Would you like me to continue?" she said, smiling at me.
"Ha, so typical. Did you finish your project?" I asked, laughing.
"Yes, but only because I came back yesterday," she admitted.
"What? Did your family have a conniption fit?"
"Oh, they tried to guilt me, but I totally turned the tables on them by turning on the waterworks, claiming I'd fail out if I didn't get it done," she said, mischievously. "Now we can go out for coffee with Dan and Brad," she added, pulling out her phone to send a text.
"But it's almost ten," I objected.
"And you're worried your dress will turn to rags and your coach will return to a pumpkin?" she teased.
"Well no, but how do you even know they're back or even awake?"
"Oh they are, we've just been waiting for you to get home," she said, jumping off the couch and throwing my sweater to me.
"Why the sudden interest in them?" I asked, pulling my sweater back on.
"They're cool," she said, blushing slightly.
"Car," I said with a warning tone. She had been so busy with a guy she had met at the Halloween party that I hadn't had a chance to introduce her to Brad and Dan until the week before Thanksgiving break.
"What, you're the only one who can be friends with them?"
"No. I just don't want them hurt," I said, defending my new friends.
"Kim, I'm not going to hurt them," she said, looking hurt herself.
"Car, I know you won't intend to, but you're so full of life, and when you love something, you put your all in to it, but when you're done, you move on quickly. Brad was put through the wringer by his ex."
"What makes you think it's Brad I'm interested in," she said saucily, stomping down the stairs ahead of me.
Shocked, I followed behind her meekly.
The brothers were waiting for us at the bottom of the steps of our dorm, cutting off our conversation. I had to swallow my disbelief when Carol bent down to give Dan a kiss on the lips.
"What the hell?" I looked at Brad confused, who shrugged his shoulders, clearly as confused as me.
"Um, what did we miss?" I asked.
"Dan and I've been dating," Car confessed.
"Since when? You just met a week and a half ago," Brad said incredulously.
"Well, not all of us enter relationships at a snail's pace like you, Gary," Dan teased. "I told you two before break I was seeing someone."
"Really? You throw out a SpongeBob reference. What are we, twelve?"
"Well, you act like one when it comes to girls," Dan teased, wheeling his chair out of the way.
Car and I watched their antics, smiling. "Seriously?" I asked, nodding toward him.
"Yeah," she said, defensively.
"I think it's great," I said, meaning it. There was no denying their happiness.
We stayed out late, drinking coffee and catching up on the holiday. I glossed over my decision to let Mason go, and they had the good graces to leave it alone, which made me even more certain I had made the right decision. Instead, we talked about Dan and Car's budding relationship and Brad's solely lacking relationships.
Over the next few weeks, I watched my new friend's and my best friend's relationship grow from casual to something more, and I tried not to dwell on how easy it was for them. It became abundantly clear that Mason and I had gone about our relationship the wrong way from the very beginning. A relationship based on snarkiness and insults was doomed
"I can't believe you're really leaving!" Carol wailed as I was packing up the last of my stuff the day before winter break started.
"Um, seriously, Car, you've known for months that I was leaving," I pointed out.
"I know, I just thought you'd change your mind or something," she admitted. "What am I going to do without you?" she wailed.
"I think you'll be fine. After all, you've been pretty absent lately."
"True," she said, smiling mischievously. "I can't help it. I think I love him. Is that crazy?"
"No, I think it's pretty cool. How do his parents feel about you?"
"I don't know. I'm going to spend the second part of winter break with them, so I guess we will see."
"Really?" I asked surprised. "Holding out on me, huh?"
"I didn't want to rub salt in any wounds."
"Oh Car, I'm over him," I said for emphasis.
"Right," she said, eyeing me knowingly.
"Well, I'm almost there," I said, laughing ruefully.
"Do you want to go grab some grub?"
"Can't. I told Brad I'd grab a coffee with him. I think he's finally worked up the nerve to ask that girl out from his Conspiracy Theories class."
"It's about time. For a while I thought he was hooked on you," she admitted.
"Nah, there's no spark there. He's a great guy and I will always treasure our friendship, but it was just missing that something special. You know?"
"Yeah, I know," she said, looking at me sadly.
Taking that as my cue to leave, I headed out to meet Brad. I found him waiting on the steps of my building, per usual. He held a cup of steaming coffee in each hand. "I picked up our poison so we could hang outside since it's so nice out."
"Good idea," I said, taking my cup and breathing in the fragrant aroma.
We settled on a bench not far from my dorm. "So, did you ask her, Gary?" I teased, stealing Dan's line.
"Nah, I figured asking her out before break was lame. I'll ask when I get back."
"You're a mess," I teased.
"And you're not?" he asked, raising his eyebrow at me.
"Oh well, we know I'm a mess."
"We can start a lonely hearts club," he said, ruffling my hair like a sibling would.
"Stop," I grumbled. "That means you'll have to move to Colorado," I teased.
"Ugh, cold weather? I think not," he said, shuddering. "I'm going to miss you though. I've never had a girl for a friend. It's kind of nice not always worrying about you getting in my pants."
"Ha-ha, you wish, big boy," I said, laughing.
"Maybe," he said, turning serious before leaning in to give me a kiss on the lips. I didn't protest when he deepened it before pulling back. "Well, nuts."
"Destined to be friends," I said, smiling sadly at the spark we were missing. I almost wished there was something there so I wouldn't feel so alone.
"Destined to be friends," he repeated, kissing my forehead. "We could be friends with benefits," he teased.
I socked him in the arm. "You're such a guy."
The rest of our time passed quickly as we chatted about more lighthearted topics.
"I better head to my dorm," I finally said. "I'm hitting the road early."
"When is your dad coming?" he asked, walking me back toward my dorm.
"On Monday, the day before Christmas Eve."
"Are you excited?"
"Yeah, I kind of am. I've dreamed about spending Christmas with my father my whole life."
"I'm going to miss you," he said, pulling me in for a tight hug.
"Me too," I said, wiping a stray tear away.
"I'll visit, and you better call me whenever you're in town."
"I will. I promise," I said, watching as he descended the stairs. I couldn't help feeling a small pinch in my heart, wondering if I was making the right decision. Just because we were missing a spark didn't mean we couldn't be together. For a brief moment, I debated calling him back. As if he sensed it, he paused on the stairs, but didn't turn around. After a moment, he moved on.
I swiped another tear away as I headed up to my room. I knew the decision was right, it just felt like déjà vu.
My departure the following morning was gut-wrenching and filled with tears. After promising to text daily and call with weekly updates, I was finally on the road. The three-hour ride passed quickly as the excitement of my new venture began to creep in. I would miss my old life, but I was looking forward to spending time with Rick and Amy.
I pulled into the driveway just before noon and Mom greeted me at the door.
"How was the drive?"
"Uneventful. Hopefully, my trip with dad will be the same."
"It was nice of Rick to offer to make the drive with you," she said, grabbing my suitcase from the trunk of the car.
"Yep, it'll definitely help getting all my crap there."
"Are you hungry?" she asked, dumping my bag on my bed.
"Sure," I said, unpacking my art bag. My sketchpad flipped open when I tossed it on my bed.
"Is this Dan?" Mom asked, bending over to pick it up.
"Yeah, he wasn't crazy about me sketching him with the wheelchair and all, but I told him it might be really helpful with the campers at Unlikely Allies."
"You're portraits are spectacular," she said, flipping through the pad, past the one of Dan. I reached out to grab the pad before she could flip the page again, but I was too late.
She studied the drawing carefully and then flipped to the next page and then the next and the next after that. "They're amazing," she finally said, stopping on the last drawing of Mason I had done.
"He was a good subject," I lied, stowing the sketchpad away.
"Kim..." she started to say.
"Mom, I don't want to talk about it, okay?" I interrupted, not wanting to hear how obsessive it seemed to have a sketchpad half-full of drawings of some guy who didn't want me. I knew it bordered on crazy, but I couldn't help the urge I kept getting to draw him over and over again. "I'm kind of tired from the drive. I think I'm going to take a nap. I'll eat when I get up if that's okay?"
She nodded, biting her lip. I knew it was killing her not to say anything, so I made it easier by turning my back and facing the wall. She left without a word.
Over the next few days, she looked on the verge of mentioning it, but I cut her off each time she tried until she grudgingly let it go. I tried to make up my silence on the subject by throwing myself into helping her decorate the house for Christmas. The prospect of having company spurred us to deck out the house inside and out. Christmas lights twinkled on every tree outside and lighted garland adorned the fireplace and arched doorways. Mom baked every cookie imaginable while I strung popcorn and cranberries for the tree. Spicy cinnamon candles burned in every room tantalizing you with their scent.
"Well, what do you think?" Mom asked as she stacked the last present under the tree.
"It looks like Santa's Workshop threw up in here," I teased. "Kidding," I said when she shot me a dirty look. "It looks amazing."
"I think so too," she said, sinking down on the couch next to me with her cup of coffee.
"Thanks for letting Dad spend the holidays with us," I said, laying my head on her shoulder like I used to when I was little.
"I think it's the least I can do," she said.
"Well, I appreciate it," I said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
She patted my knee while we watched the Christmas lights on the tree twinkle off and on.
"This is nice," I said after awhile.
"Yes, it is," she said, sounding sad.
"I'll visit, Mom, and you can come visit me. The mountain air will do you some good," I teased, expecting her to scoff at my suggestion.
"Maybe it would," she said thoughtfully.
She chuckled. "I'm just thinking, instead of hanging out at the beach on my summer vacation, I'll head up to camp Unlikely Allies and see if I can be of some help."
"Mom, that's so cool," I said, giving her a tight hug.
"Well, you've been singing its praises for months. I figured it's something I should be a part of."
"That's so awesome. Does Dad know?"
"Yes, we've chatted about it quite a lot on the phone," she admitted, sheepishly.
"Really?" I asked, taking in the pinkish tint that was creeping up her cheeks. "Is there something going on I should know about?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but was cut off when the doorbell rang. "Saved by the bell," she muttered as she hurried to the door with a definite bounce in her step.
"I wouldn't count on it," I warned.
She rolled her eyes uncharacteristically, making me laugh. "Rick, it's nice to see you," she said, opening the door for him.
"Kate, merry Christmas," he said, pulling her in for a warm hug that lasted longer than the traditional hug. I watched their exchange from across the room. I was definitely missing something. After a moment, they reluctantly parted and Rick turned to me.
"Merry Christmas, kiddo," he said, pulling me in for a hug.
"Merry Christmas, Dad," I said, fighting the sudden tears that sprang to my eyes. I was so glad to see him, but at the same time, my heart twisted painfully inside me. He represented a part of something I could no longer have. I needed to learn to separate him from the category that I grouped both him and Mason in. Mason was part of my old life and held no place in my new life, but Rick would forever be a part of me.
"It's good to see you," he said warmly, pulling back.
"You too," I said. "Of course, I'm sensing I'm a little out of the loop on a few things," I said, quirking my eyebrows at them both.
Both feigned innocence and I was about to tell them I could see through their ploy when the doorbell rang again.
"Kim, can you get that?" Mom said, leading Rick into the room to see the tree.
"Sure, it's probably Car. We said our goodbyes the other day, but..." I started to say, but my words stuck in my throat when I threw open the door. I stared speechless at the person on our porch as if he was a ghost.
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