Chapter 143

By the time Vince stumbled into his room at the beach house, he’d managed to put down a solid eight beers through the course of the evening. This placed him well behind the rest of the drinkers, who had completed Violet’s centennial club then immediately switched to a different drinking activity, yet still left him buzzed without pushing him into the realm of being a useless vomiting heap on the bathroom floor. It was that gentle place of intoxication where everything is pleasant and the nausea is more fun than worrying. He opened the door, expecting to tumble into his bed and allow the ever-increasing sleepiness to whisk him away from his overworked consciousness. Instead what greeted him as he stepped through the door was a soft pair of lips pressing furtively against his own, filling his mouth with a familiar taste.

Dimly he registered hearing the door close behind him as he was led firmly toward the bed, however Vince suspected sleep was no longer the primary objective. Not that it would have come easily anyway; the deft hands that were running across his body had wiped away his drowsiness and left tingles of anticipation in its place. With no small effort, Vince rallied his self-control and freed his tongue for the purpose of speaking.

“Sasha, I-”

“I know,” she interrupted, her breath heavy. She looked like she’d been readying herself for bed; a thin pink t-shirt and a pair grey sweats were draped across her body, creating an all-too thin layer of separation between them. “I know you haven’t made your choice. I know you aren’t sure what you want. That isn’t what this is about.” She pressed against him and worked her hand under his shirt, her nails trailing lightly as they rose up his back.

“How can this not be about us getting back together?” He found he was having trouble remembering why he was objecting, and his beer-laden brain didn’t seem eager to dig up the reason.

“Together can mean a lot of things,” Sasha damn near purred, so close he could feel her breath in his ear. “This isn’t the complicated one.”

“Sasha, please.” Vince placed his own hand on the back of her head, trying to slow her down and steady himself at the same time. “I need to understand.”

Sasha pulled back a begrudging few inches with an exasperated huff. “For fuck’s sake, Vince, what is so hard to grasp? I MISS you. Yes, I want to be together again, but I also miss the way you smell and taste and feel. I miss holding your hand. I miss laying naked and exhausted next you. I told you I wanted to be together as a couple and I meant it, but don’t you miss being physically engaged with one another?”

“I do,” Vince admitted. “And I miss you, too. I’ve missed you all year long.”

“You don’t have to anymore.” Sasha pushed closer to Vince once more, this time with less furtive vigor and more careful delicacy. Her kiss was almost more a brushing against his lips at first, then as she drew nearer the force slowly grew.

Vince’s head swam, an unexpected cocktail of hormones, vodka, and beer all catalyzing into a mind-dissolving acid that was rapidly destroying his capacity for rational thought. He knew what he wanted to do - dear lord it was hard to focus on anything besides that - but he didn’t know if it was the right thing. Some part of him, a rapidly growing one at that, screamed that he could figure that out later. Sasha wanted this. He wanted this. It didn’t carry any implications about his choice. What could be wrong with giving in to some physical comfort?

*    *    *

“Promise me you’ll be here when I wake up.” Vince’s voice was still weak; the smoke’s damage to his vocal chords would likely have left him with a permanent rasp in other circumstances. His eyes, in contrast, were unyielding, staring up at her with absolute need.

She smiled and leaned down, giving him a careful kiss. It was strange that he never saw her apply anything to her lips, yet they still always tasted like cherries and root beer. He never would have imagined that combination before, now Vince couldn’t picture a world without it. Her dark curls tumbled against one of the burns on his face and he winced involuntarily, breaking their embrace.

“I’ll be here. You think I’m not going to stick around to make sure you’re okay? Give me a little credit here, Tights.”

Vince squeezed her hand with as much strength as he had, which was very little. “Thank you. For everything.”

*    *    *

“I can’t.” Vince pulled away, the jerking motion pushing him from a pleasant head swim into momentary disorientation. “I’m sorry, Sasha, I can’t. Even if you say this doesn’t impact my other decision, that’s not true. If I stay with you tonight, then we’re going to get back together. I know myself well enough to know I won’t be able to say no.”

“But... oh. So, I guess you already have an answer for me then.”

Vince nodded slowly, both out of respect to the importance of the situation and to let his brain regain its grasp on proper motion. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s... I guess I won’t say it’s okay, because we both know that isn’t true, but I understand. We had a lot come between us since last year. I get why you wouldn’t want to be with me anymore.”

“No, Sasha, it’s not that. I want to be with you. I want to be with you so bad that I’m barely able to say all this. I’ve just come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t ready for another relationship. Some of my wounds from the last one still haven’t healed all the way.”

Sasha let out a harsh snort of a laugh. “Fucking A, you’re giving me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech?”

“The what?” Vince’s knitted eyebrows and tilted head told all the story she needed to hear. Sometimes it was easy to forget that he’d grown up without the usual cultural experiences, like sitcoms or dating. Not to mention the fact that he was so stupidly honest. It was a bit maddening; however, it seemed that he truly meant what he said - the issues were his own, not with her.

“Never mind.” She moved a few feet away, trying to quiet her body’s vocal cries to keep at it until he touched her in all the ways she could remember too damned clearly. “This girl from your past, was it the one who took your v-card?”

“Yes. She was my first.”

“Must have been one hell of a lay. Sorry, sorry, I knew that was too much as soon as I said it.” She knit her hands together to stop them from trying to mosey across the divide between them. “So, I guess we’re just classmates now.”

“I like to think of us as friends.”

“Friends.” Of course he didn’t know how hard that would be. He hadn’t been down this road like everyone else. He was like a child in so many ways, seeing only possibilities where everyone else had already tasted bitter failure. He had no idea what he was asking, of her or of himself. He didn’t know the odds of them being able to make that transition were staggeringly low. He just believed it was doable, like he believed in so much other stupid bullshit. Yet he was always so goddamned happy. No one else she'd ever met was able to move through life the way he did, with surety at every decision and optimism at every outcome. So, maybe there was something to be said for taking the long shots after all. Perhaps stupid bullshit deserved a chance, if only once in a while.

“I think we can manage that,” she said, giving him an earnest smile.