“You sure you’re not cold?” I ask Lacey as we near the house.
“I’m great!” she exclaims with a clap of her hands. “Now let’s party.”
Lacey heads for the house, but I stop her with a hand on the shoulder. Pausing to see what I need, she looks like a horse corralled against its will. “These guys can be a bit obnoxious,” I explain to her, “so if they give you any trouble, just let me know and I’ll handle it, alright?”
She nods and the purple bow in her hair bounces slightly. I still can’t get over how fast she threw an outfit together, using the fabric I gave her. “I will,” she says. “Don’t worry.”
Easy for her to say. When it comes to this girl I worry about everything. Throwing her into the mix with a bunch of juiced up frat boys, seems more and more like a bad idea, “Alright, just stay close to me,” I say apprehensively.
“I’ll be right here,” she says pressing the end of my nose. “Now lets go!”
“WELL!! You finally made it!” Turq shouts out over the blasting music. Lacey and I step through the front door and the party is buzzing all around us. It’s not quite as crazy as Turq made it sound, but it’s busy. People are wandering through the halls, shouting, cheering and laughter ring out through the main floor. Turq is standing near the juice keg with the most ridiculous 80’s style glasses I’ve ever seen on him. “Welcome,” he says. “Welcome to the par-tay Lace-ay!”
“Thank you!” Lacey says excitedly as a naked co-ed streaks behind us. “Oh my sweet berries!” she giggles.
Turq laughs, “He’s been up on the stand too many times if you know what I mean.” Then he gives me a knowing grin and I shake my head. “Lacey,” he says still watching me, “would you like to get up here? I am the resident stand representative tonight. I would not be fulfilling my duties if I didn’t offer.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had juice before.” Lacey says.
“Well, perfect time to try then! Get over here. Merlot can help you. Come on.”
“We don’t have to,” I tell her nervously, “Just say pass.”
I start to lead her away, but Lacey steps up to bat, “All right, lets do it,” she says confidently.
Turq cheers and a small group starts to gather. I’m fidgeting nervously as someone pushes me forward to help. “Get up there Romeo,” Turq teases, “Your Juliet awaits.”
Standing next to the keg, I can’t hide my concern, “You don’t have to do this,” I tell her under my breath, but I’m not sure hears over the party around us. “He’s just being stupid,” I say a bit louder.
The crowd starts to cheer, “Chug chug chug chug!”
“We’re doing this!” she says grinning, “now help me.”
Apprehensively, I help her up and the crowd gets bigger. “LACEY! LACEY! LACEY! they shout. Lacey drinks in way more than I would recommend, before she signals me to bring her down. Bouncing and giggling she throws triumphant hands above her head, “WOOOOOO!!!”
“WOOOOOO!!!” The crowd cheers back!
Now that she is back on the ground, I feel a little better. Turq walks up beside Lacey and throws his hand up. “YEAH!! Just like a pro!” he shouts.
The crowd cheers and Lacey opens her mouth sticking out her tongue, “YEAH!” she shouts, but a burp comes out instead, the crowd cheers louder. Turning around Lacey grabs a cup and fills it to the top with juice. “You won’t need that in a few minutes,” I say trying to take her cup. She pulls it back and little splashes over the edge, “Mine,” she teases playfully, before taking a sip.
“One cup,” I tell her, “take it easy.”
“I’m fine!” she shouts, “right guys!!”
“OOOOOOOW!!!!!” the crowd replies.
Lacey takes her cup, holding it above her head, and then starts to wander the house, “Lace come back!” I call out running after her.
When I finally catch up, Lacey is watching a juice pong game, and she awws every time someone takes a drink. I walk up next to her,”Ohhh this looks like fun!” she squeaks, her voice a little bit different than usual. “Let’s play! You and me! You’ve played before right?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure if that it’s a good idea,” I’m trying to explain how quickly it can get out of hand, but she isn’t really paying attention. “PLEASE! Teach me! Teach me!” Grabbing my hands, she leads me further into the room. I search the walls, but there is no one around willing to help me talk her out of it. “You got to take it easy Lace.” I tell her, “If you drink too much, you’re going to get sick. You don’t want to spend the whole night hugging the toilet.”
“Maybe I do!” she laughs, “This is the best night ever!”
Stumbling through the kitchen I find a pair of white jean legs dangling from the fridge, “Lace?” I ask with a giggle. “What are you doing up there?”
“Shhhh,” I’m hiding from Merlot,” she explains.
“I’m Merlooooot,” I tell her
“Oh yeah,” she taps her shoes against the fridge door, “You should see what it’s like up here. A whole new perspective on life.”
Still giggling I lean against the door, that last round of juice pong is kicking my butt, “Get down you goof!”
Lacey throws out her arms like she’s flying, “I can show you the world!” she sings.
“All right,” I say tugging on her leg, “You’re juiced, time to get down.”
“You’re juiced, time to get up,” she mocks back.
“HEY!!!” A voice booms from the hallway, “Off the fridge weirdo!!”
“Come on,” I say again, “I’ll help.”
She sighs, “FIIIIINE.”
Lacey hops down from the fridge with a little inebriated help from me. Falling into my arms, I try and catch her before her knees buckle and we somehow make it without crumbling to ground, “Whoooops!” she swoons woozily.
“Caught you!” I say louder than expected. The kitchen is strangely empty and the large quantities of juice only makes it more apparent as we try to get our bearings “Echo!” I shout into the cupboards.
“Echo!” Lacey mimics back and then laughs, “I love juice. Juice is fun. Almost as fun as you,” she pauses momentarily, “But not quite. You’re still more fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. OH!!!! You know what else is fun?” she asks taking out her phone.
“Juiced photos?” I reply.
“Juiced photos!” she exclaims in a sing song voice.
Lacey slides her arm over my shoulder, bringing me in close, the aroma and of Vanilla and juice swirl around us like an intoxicating scented cocktail, “Smile and say Berryboobles!”
Before I have a chance to say anything, the camera flashes. A second later vanilla berrysmacker lip gloss makes contact with my lips and the camera flashes again. Out of instinct I close my eyes, just as Lacey pulls back. “OH! That doesn’t count!” she blurts out in a laugh. She could have just easily stabbed a knife in my heart, her words are excruciating. Doesn’t count…
The room is unusually warm now and Lacey is flapping the fabric of her top, “Whoo I wish I had worn something under this, it’s hot.”
Disappointed, I take her by the arm, leading for the back door of the kitchen, “Let’s go out then. That will cool you down.”
Lacey skips and bobs her head as we head out back into cold winter air.
Sitting on the porch, Lacey clutches her arms, but when I ask if she needs a coat, shakes her head no, “It feels good.” she says.
“If you say so.” My words are still slightly slurred and now and again I feel like I’m going to spin right off the planet. Lacey is watching the brilliant Berrymas night sky, her button nose crinkles as she counts the stars. After a while she loses interest and looks my direction, “What time is it?” she asks with a hiccup.
Pulling back my sleeve I look at my watch, “11:42″ I tell her.
Still incredibly juiced, Lacey smiles sleepily, leans in close, and whispers in my ear, “Sweet Berrymas Merlot.” My body tries to melt in the floors boards of the porch, and my eyes drift close, “Sweet Berrymas Lace.”
“I do have one present for you,” she says softly, her bottom lips brushes up against my ear and if it weren’t for the fact my eyes are closed, they would be rolling back in my head. “What is it?” I ask dreamily.
“Close your… oh,” Lacey giggles, “Keep em closed.”
“Okay,” I say with a grin, “Still closed.” Holding out my hands, I wait for something to be placed in them. With an overly strong force, Lacey presses her lips to mine, only this time she doesn’t pull back. Without thinking my hand cups her face and the kiss continues. It’s crazy, it’s exhilarating, her lips are the only warmth in the cold winter air around us and I cling on for dear life. Playfully she bites my lip and I kiss her harder. “Oh Lo,” she whispers. A shiver of excitement runs through me and I pull her closer. Our kiss turns desperate, like we know it has to end, but neither wants to release. Her taste is enough to intoxicate me all over again, like the sweetest honey and… juice.
Juice, all I can taste now is juice. My head is screaming for me to stop, but my heart is completely content to keep going. I love her, there is no doubt in my mind, but this is not the way it should happen. This isn’t fair to her or me. Abruptly I pull back, my lips refusing to obey, but I manage to put space between us, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this,” I tell her breathlessly.
Lacey blinks with confusion, her lip trembling slightly and I can actually hear my heart shattering underneath my shirt. A cough escapes me and I cover my mouth. “But,” she says sadly.
“You’re juiced,” I explain as if she doesn’t know. “I’m not going to sit here and take advantage of you. I’m won’t do it.”
“You’re not,” Lacey drops her head and I’m afraid to look at her directly. If she’s crying, I’m going to lose it.
Covering my face with cold hands, “I’m sorry,” is all I can think to say. “Maybe if we wait, until tomorrow just to see how we-” Too late she is already up and rushing back inside. “Lace! Wait!” The door slams loudly and I’m left out in the cold. Alone wouldn’t even begin to express how I feel in this moment. The world tilts on it’s axis and I welcome the thought of slipping off. I had her and I let her go, but what good would it have done? She’d probably wake in the morning so betrayed, that we’d never talk again. The way things are going though, that might be the case anyways.
“Arghhhh,” I shout into the empty backyard. Thankfully it is way too cold for anyone to venture outside, so I can nurse my wounds in private. Well this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into now Lo.
The door slams over and over again in my head as Lacey’s disappointed face etches itself in my mind. Then the door shuts for real and footsteps follow, stopping beside me, “Lady troubles?” Turq asks, playfully bumping my side with his sneaker. I’m in no mood to joke and am currently holding my head in place to keep myself from falling off the porch, or crumbling into tears… maybe both. “Lady disaster,” I explain brokenly.
“Awww,” Turq plops into Lacey’s spot on the porch and I miss her more. I should go talk to her. I start to get up, but Turq pulls me back down. “Hold on there, man. She seems really upset, I wouldn’t bother her just yet.”
“I need to talk to her, I need to explain why I did,” I let out a disappointed sigh, “what I did.”
Turq claps my shoulder, “Dude I’m going to be completely straight with you. If you go in there right now, she is just going to be more angry. You need to let her cool down. I don’t know what happened, but she needs some time. Talk to me instead dude. What happened?”
My voice along with the rest of my body has run cold and anger fuels my shortness, “You don’t even like her, what do you care?”
“Because you look like death right now and I’ll admit it, I don’t like the frost box, but I hate seeing you like this. Tell me what happened man.”
“I think you did the right thing,” Turq replies after I give a short rundown of what happened.
Lifting my head I turn to look at him in those ridiculous glasses, “You do?”
“Yeah. First time drinking juice, jumpin on the fridge, she’s not thinking straight and if you’re as close as you say you are, she is going to resent it.”
“What if she does mean it, she just couldn’t do it without the juice?”
“Well in that scenario, you screwed up big time.”
Rolling my eyes, I drop my head, gripping my hair so tightly I can feel it in my scalp. “I’ve just ruined my life,” a sob leaps from throat and bite my lip to stop it even though it’s too late.
“Little over dramatic don’t you think?” Turq laughs. “Dude talk to her tomorrow. It’s going to be fine. It’s obvious emotions are running high on both sides of the arena here. So untwist your undies and chill out. Go have another drink.”
I lift my head and glare, “Or not,” he says. “Sheesh.”
Suddenly the sound of breaking glass rings out, followed by a dozen voices shouting “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”
I hear Lacey scream and in less than a second I am up to my feet running inside, Turq isn’t far behind.
“You take it back!” Lacey screeches out as Turq and I enter the room. Jubee, a girl I dated for an embarrassingly brief amount of time and Lacey are going at it, Lacey is pulling hair and just before I get to her, she hauls off and punches Jubee in the nose. The crowd around gasps in horror, while others cheer.
“Lacey!” I shout, pulling her back, “Lace lets get out of here.”
“YOU TAKE IT BACK!” Lacey screams even louder, ignoring the hold I have around her waist.
A group of girls form a security ring about Jubee and she continues holding her nose. “Like a baby,” she smirks from behind her hand. “Boo hoo!”
Lacey roars and lurches forward, but I’ve got a hold on her this time. “Your an awful person!” Lacey yowls as I drag her out of the room.
“Mommy, mommy, I miss my mommy boo, hoo!!!” Jubee persists with her taunting until we are out of the room. Something in her words hit a nerve and suddenly I feel sick to my stomach. “Come on Lace.”She’s not worth it.”
Once we are outside, I try to walk Lacey home, but all the excitement and warmth from the party and juice has evaporated and she shivers so hard I can hear her teeth chatter. Detouring and leading her around back, I stop directly in front of the vacant fire pit. She sure knows how to clear a room.
“Are you okay?” I ask as she warms her hands over the flames.
She nods and the flicker of firelight dances over her face. The silence, that awful silence we share, is enough to make my blood run cold, “I’m sorry about earlier.” I confess into her shoulder. It’s a chilling metaphor that I would rather not experience again.
With one flick of the wrist, Lacey waves my thoughts from the air like smoke, “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine. Lacey I-
“Who’s the pink princess?”
The words in my mouth, skitter and careen, but fail make much sense, “I uh, well, you see, the-
“Jubee said you were waiting for the pink princess. That’s why you always run. What does that mean? Is that true? Or was she lying?”
My mouth feels glued shut at the jaw bone, but I manage to shake my head. I would never lie to her, so what else can I do? My gaze turns to the dancing flames and I can feel her eyes burning into my temple. “It was a long time ago.” I start slowly, because I know I’m on a slippery slope, one false move and down I go. “There was a girl. A girl with no name. Pink hair and skin to match. I was just a kid when we…” Clearing my throat I start again. “I had just heard a story about a princess and then when I went to sleep-
“You dreamt about her.”
I nod my head, “But that was a long time ago.”
“Like the park,” Lacey adds.
“Yes, but I-
“So she could be real too.”
“Maybe, Lacey listen to me.” Turning quickly I lock my eyes with hers and my tongue turns to mush.
“You said once you gave up on ‘the one’ and that’s why you became bitter,” she repeats our conversation, putting emphasis on certain words that seem to fall on my head like a ton of bricks. I can’t help but reel over her amazing powers of memory recall.
“I did say that,” I agree regrettably.
“Do you think she dreams about you?”
“I have no idea. It was a very long time ago,” I say again, trying what I can to get that point through to her, but it seems to bounce off each time.
“You miss her don’t you,” Lacey says after a long pause.
The desperation inside me begins to rise, “I don’t even know her,” I snap back with frustration. “We’ve never even met. I was a kid. Kids have silly dreams. They don’t always mean something.”
“Dreams are never silly,” she says and then shakes her head, “But I meant your mother.”
“Oh,” Back again at the one conversation I’ve tried to avoid. I can talk about my mother just fine under normal circumstances, but add Lacey to the mix and I want to curl up at her feet and cry.
“She knows a lot about you, that Jubee girl.”
“Yeah, unfortunately. It’s part of the reason she can’t stand me.”
Looking skyward I try to swallow the shameful embarrassment meddling with my vocal cords. “Just a generic sob story,” I tell her, “We met at a club, I had a little bit too much juice, and well, an evening encounter turned into confession hour of the worst kind. I spilled everything. Everything. She thought we had a real connection, that I was sharing my inner most secrets, because there was something between us. Truth is I don’t remember half of it.”
“She says you cried,” Lacey mutters softly.
I don’t really remember, but the cringe currently running through my body is pretty a good indication, “I probably did.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know. I miss my dad too.”
“You should never be ashamed of how you feel,” she says into my ear. The closer she gets the more emotions I feel, closing my eyes I let it all out. “When you’re in my arms, I never want to let go,” my voice no louder than a whisper. “It’s like I’m losing something I know I’ll never get back. That’s how I feel right now. Lace I lo-“
“Don’t. Please don’t.” Lacey pulls back, her face even paler than usual.
“But you just said I shouldn’t be ashamed of how I feel. Lacey I love you.”
“Why are you doing this?” Lacey shakes her head with a disappointed sigh.
“I’m not trying to do anything. That’s just how I feel and if I don’t get it out, well I might just explode.”
“You ask for too much,” she says softly through the space between us, each syllable more heartbroken than the last, “You want something I can’t give. Something I’m not meant to give.”
“I’m not asking for anything.”
“And now you said it, and I can’t say it back. Now what do we do?” she sniffs in a hitched breath, “Merlot, what am I supposed to do now?”
“Nothing,” I answer. “You don’t have to say or do anything.”
“Berry, Merlot! This is just too fast. I told you that! Why would you-” she can’t even finish the words. “It’s just too much for me. Why can’t you understand that!”
“I’m sorry. It’s not something, I’m trying to hold over your head. Love is a great thing,” she shakes her head harder, “Lace I love you as my friend and all the in between,” I try to hold her by the shoulders, but she squirms away, “but you don’t have to. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t.”
“Stop. Just stop. Please I’m begging you.”
Her final words on the matter, knock the wind out of me so I nod. “You promised me,” she says. “That we could be just friends.”
“And I told you, over and over again. I’m not ready.”
Rubbing the aching in my chest, my head slowly nods again.
“I don’t think this is working,” she replies, walking away from the pit.
“What’s not working?” I call out after her.
“You’re waiting for me, waiting for something I’m not sure will ever happen. That’s not fair to you.”
Practically jumping over the fire to get to her, I grab Lacey by the arm, “Whoa what are you saying?” I ask hurriedly, my voice beginning to panic.
“I’m just stringing you along and that’s not fair.”
“I don’t mind! You can string me along as much as you like.”
Lacey slips from my grasp in a quick, accurate jerk, and I feel the world slipping through my fingers. “No,” she says, “I can’t make you wait. It’s not right.”
“It’s right. It is! Things are great! I’m fine!”
She starts to walk away again and I trip almost the instant I get to her, my knees hit the snow hard, but instead of standing, I drop my head against her stomach. I know begging will only push her farther away, but I can’t seem help myself. “You can’t leave.” I sputter into the ruffles of her top, “Okay, so maybe we can’t be… what I want us to be. But we are friends, great friends, best friends… If you take away the friendship too, I wouldn’t survive, it’s all I’ve got. I won’t ever say it again, I promise. Just please, don’t leave me. Please.”
Lacey voice cracks like shattered glass, “How many times must we do this?”
“Never again. I promise. I promise.”
“Everything is just a huge mess! Why do you keep putting yourself through it?!” I start to answer but her hand and my mouth stop me. “I don’t want to lose our friendship either, I swear I don’t, but things keep happening, some my own fault and I’m finding it hard… it’s so hard to fight it.”
“Then don’t fight it,” I tell her earnestly, “If you feel it, don’t fight it. You should never be ashamed of how you feel.”
“You shouldn’t,” she replies, “but I don’t have that luxury.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“I know,” Lacey sniffs again, “There’s no way you could. It barely makes sense in my mind, you couldn’t possibly…” She trails off and I can tell those white canvas shoes are about to make a run for it.
“Please,” I call out with more composure than before. “Don’t let this be the end. We can be friends, just friends. Please give me one more chance, please.”
Lacey stops with her back turned, I can see her shoulders rise and fall as she contemplates my words, then out of nowhere, takes off toward the front of the house. I want so badly to follow, but I’ve said all I can say, there is nothing left for me to do, all I can do is wait.