this week’s writing challenge is about silence, or rather,
breaking it. it’s been awhile since I’ve dabbled in original fiction
and my college’s contest is coming up, so I decided to go for it

also applicable here: daily prompt #2

disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.
but (sorta like ellen page) i’m bored with lying by omission so if the shoe fits …
lace that bitch up and wear it

Keeping Score is the Worst Kind of Habit

She crosses her arms tightly over her chest, partly because the chilled night air is beginning to draw goosebumps down between her shoulder blades, but mostly because she’s just agitated. Cal nudges her with one elbow and smirks.

“The guy’s good, don’t worry about it,” he says, and her nose wrinkles up, apprehensive.

The chlorinated spray of Cal’s dive flicks at her skin in a thousand tiny, frigid kisses. Her teeth go to work on the inside of her cheek, she allows her eyes to creep along the length of the pool and examine him: the new guy. In the glare of the floodlights dancing off the water, his sparking emerald eyes laugh. There’s a lop-sided smile on his face that tells her he’s been waiting for her to look.

He’s a word she’s seen a hundred times and never read out loud.

She doesn’t like him.

Maybe she’s just on edge. After all, intramural water polo isn’t a joke. For the swim team, at least, it’s severe competition. Halfway through the second fourteen-minute half it doesn’t matter anymore; she’s flailing her legs, churning up water, pumping her fists, howling like an Elvis Presley hound with a coon up a tree. Eleven of their fifteen goals fly from his fingertips, so after the game she bristles with enough excitement that she could grab his face and hug him, but instead settles for pretending to be a meteorologist as she maps out the thunderstorms rolling between them.

~

“Your friend wasn’t too bad,” she tells Cal as nonchalantly as she can manage, her still-wet feet slapping on the uneven concrete as they cross the parking lot. “Does he have a girlfriend, or what?”

She doesn’t even mean it.

But in the musky dark of the party three hours later, Cal doesn’t stroll in alone. He’s there too, strutting with that palpable, borderline jackass confidence to match the charismatic rumble of his voice, the sharp line of his jaw brushed with a layer of stubble she figures would just chafe the edges of her mouth.

Still, she bites down hard on her upper lip, then the lower, when they betray her with pulling up into her flushed face, because he nudges her in that teasing disguised-as-an-accident sort of way. The arch of his nose is flecked with constellations informing her she didn’t realize she liked freckles until now. His calloused hands hold two brown bottles, and one of them is for her.

“Cheers, captain, you deserve it.”

“I was more of a coach, honestly,” The beer isn’t particularly to her taste, but she takes pulls from the long neck anyway. “I didn’t help put any of those points on the board.”

“Well, you know, I like a girl who takes charge.”

A hand jumps to stifle her bubbling laughter – she knows she’s got a tendency to snort obnoxiously when she gets going – and she shakes her head, eyes peeking up at his through the curves of her mascara-lined lashes. It might be one of the stupidest things she’s ever heard (without thinking she tells him so, but this he already knows).

“Just a bad excuse to get your number, I guess.”

Seven beers later and his sweat-dampened hand is intertwined with one of hers, their buzzing feet trailing each other down the sidewalk as best they can. Glossed lips keep repeating his name because she likes the way it sounds, while misbehaving fingers barely focus long enough to type out coherent text messages to her brother.

justin: bring me food when you come home

i’m out getting drinks. with a boy.

justin: bullshit. who are you and what have you done
with my sister? she doesn’t go on dates anymore lol

omg j good one, try to be hapy for me

justin: call me if you need a ride tho

i’m okay i promise, i’ll prolly see ya in the mornin

This will just be another notch in the belt, a tally on the bedpost.

The extra pair of his gym shorts hangs loosely on her narrow frame as she crawls between his sheets, but his fingers busy themselves with tangling in the curls of her hair instead of fumbling with the waistband. Milky drippings of moonlight and starshine spill through the plastic shades of his window to glaze the tips of his hair with quicksilver. One thumb traces lazy sketches on her cheekbones as he dozes off. He whispers another kiss to the space behind her ear before the thrumming rhythm of his heartbeat lulls her to sleep.

In the morning, his verdant eyes search her like he’s trying to find something he forgot.

“We should do this again.”

Their noses bump together as she steals a kiss for the road.

Home: 0 Away: 2

Sitting at a wooden island for two in the far back corner of Starbucks, with the chair across from her empty, she glances up expectantly with every new tinkling of the frequently swinging door’s bell.

Cal whisks in with a half-hearted wave, trades a handful of wrinkled bills for a tall, charcoal-colored coffee, and lets in a nipping October breeze as he darts back out before the door can ring a second time. She allows her eyes to follow the ghostly tendrils of steam pirouetting up off the top of her own fall-infused beverage; the sweetened scent coaxes her nose closer and she winds her fingers around the cup to warm them. Two weeks since their last date, three days since she’s seen him, not that she’s keeping track. Her shoes don’t usually choreograph anticipation tap dances, but today they do.

The sudden snap of a motorcycle helmet jars her from her daze.

“What’d you order?”

“Pumpkin spice latte, duh.” she drawls to him, snickering at the stereotypical girliness. And then she’s grinning ear-to-ear, feet tilting to the tips of her toes under the table, and her head doing the same as she looks up for her new favorite shade of green.

He doesn’t even sit down.

“Look, I don’t know how else to say this, but like, I think this is becoming too much, obviously I’m really attracted to you and everything, but I don’t really know you. When we hang out and stuff, you like never talk, you know? I don’t want to rush into anything, just to put a label on it.” When she counts, it’s the most words she’s ever heard him say at one time. Her eyes drift back to her cooling coffee, not exactly the orangey color she had thought it would be.

Apparently his sister recently got divorced, her marriage was pretty short-lived and he never really liked the guy anyway, but now she’s already seeing someone new, something about settling for just picking the first pretty flower you see. It all sounds like a pop quiz in her Resurrecting Renaissance Poetry class, and she tries to recall what pastoral she probably skipped stanzas of that could’ve provided her with any textual counterpoints. (It occurs to her suddenly, she forgot to take her ADD medication this morning).

He shoots down her drifting train of thought with only two bullets.

“Just friends?”

If she had known it was going to come to this, she might have brought ammunition.

“Friends, just friends is fine… of course.” The girl who ordered the pumpkin spice latte trills with a voice that sort of sounds like hers. He checks his phone and takes his helmet off the table. No more steam circles the rim of her recycled paper cup when the door chimes to remind her he’s left.

It tasted pretty awful for five dollars and seventy cents.

Home: 1 Away: 3

Vampire Diaries?” Justin lolls back over the arm of the Craigslist-adopted couch and heaves with a dramatic sigh of exasperation, comparable to the acting talent of the c-list celebrities reading cue cards on their television. “Really? This is literal shit. I’m getting stupider watching this.”

“Implying you were stupid already,” she fires back pointedly. “So it sounds like a personal problem, J.”

“I recorded that Game of Thrones episode you missed, let’s watch that,” Justin ignores the way her eyes roll back to check the insides of her head. “Or, hey!” From the unfathomable depths of her brother’s backpack comes a brand-new, plastic wrapped video game. “Guess what was on sale yesterday? Pretty freakin’ perfect since we’ve both been dying to play it. Eternal gratitude is an acceptable form of reimburs—”

“Shut up. This is def important and I can’t hear what they’re saying.” comes her hissed interruption.

“Ohmigod, Elena! Stefan and Damon?” When Justin throws one half of himself theatrically onto her lap, his face puckers up and he clutches desperately at his heart. “How will you ever choose between the two, when they’re both so, so in love with you?”

A venomous remark ready to fly from the tip of her tongue fizzles out when her phone vibrates audibly from its perch atop one of her literature books, a hard copy of Wuthering Heights. The name that pops onto the screen throws a fluorescent glow up into her eyes.

She scrambles from the couch, tugs on her converse without tying them, and leaves her brother with only a rushed “Umm, you can change it, I’m going out for a bit,” before their apartment door clicks shut behind her.

~

Under the waning, yellow halo of a tired streetlamp, she finds him waiting. He lifts her from the sidewalk and buries his face in the crook of her neck, smiles against her skin like she’s been hiding all this time and he’s finally found her.

“I dunno what I was thinking, I was being an idiot.”

(She agrees with him).

He leans in and brushes kisses on her cheeks, nose, eyelids, forehead, and she squirms giggling against his hold. Her heart beats fervently against her ribcage like they’re on the verge of being caught doing something they shouldn’t. In the rugged lines of his hands, she picks out each of the thin, white scars and tries to decide which she likes best. All the things he says end up sticking like needles, shooting giddiness up into her veins with anagrams for the three words that shouldn’t be said after knowing someone for only seventy-two days.

Their lips reacquaint themselves and roman candles burst between their mouths.

~

hey i’m having people over tonight 

justin: aka ‘justin please clean the apartment
before leaving to busy yourself elsewhere’

omg that’s not what i meant!
there will be heavy drinking,
and you are invited to join (:

justin: lol jk i know. i was gonna stay over at
blair’s tonight anyway. take an extra shot for me sis

~

The ping-pong ball tauntingly skirts the edge of the cup. She winces as it bounces away, and a clump of her teammates crowded along the length of the table echo with such a collective sigh she might as well have missed a putt for double birdie against Tiger Woods. Kurt and Brody high-five from where they’ve been playing on the opposite side, barking with laughter over the drunken hum of the party, and she waves a hand at them dismissively.

“Makeup must be gettin’ in your eyes!” Brody calls, using a finger to wipe on imaginary mascara, while Kurt strikes a modelesque pose and bats his lashes. “Missin’ all your shots!”

“Oh thanks guys, really,” she retorts, though before she gets out anything in the defense of actually looking like a girl sometimes, the apartment door opens into her shoulder and allows a new stream of people to pour in. Kayla – a petite freshmen swimmer with high cheekbones and vodka on her underage breath – embraces her instantaneously, ringing with inebriated delight.

“Second loss in a row, someone’s not on their game,” Cal tips his head in close to hers when the underclassmen girl flits away. Her eyebrows knit together and she drains the last half of her fifth beer. “So where’s the boyfriend tonight?”

“Good question,” the hissing crack of a sixth snapping open is her way of trying to sound like she doesn’t really care. “I haven’t heard from him in… three weeks? Somethin’ like that.”

Cal wrinkles his forehead at her. She shrugs her shoulders for good measure.

“Well, lucky for you,” the intoxicating reek of hard liquor hits her before she even sees the tall glass bottle in Cal’s hands. “My girl tequila is here to keep us warm!”

They throw back a shot in unison and the party roars.

Her phone vibrates after their fifth round of emptied glasses but when she reads the name on the screen Cal snatches for it first. She hears something about not being worth it, she thinks. Her hands grab Cal’s arm right before the world turns upside down and she vomits on his shoes.

~

The lawn of the upper quad is so polished with sunlight the very next morning that she decides it to be same color as his eyes, maybe. But she can’t be sure.

They’re sitting on the stairs beside the art building; it’s been fifteen minutes since he came to meet her here and neither of them have said anything. She could reach out and touch him if she really wanted. He doesn’t look at her.

“Neither of us is in a good spot for this right now.”

She stares at the laces of her converse because she doesn’t really get what he’s trying to say. There’s a cloud of hearts drawn on the rubber toe of the right shoe in ballpoint pen. One of her fingernails busies itself with scratching away the ink.

“I just can’t do this with you the way I want to.”

“Fuck you.” she says, (she doesn’t really).

But a week later when he shows up at her apartment and pins her against the kitchen counter with apologies hot on his tongue, she lets him do exactly that. 

Home: 4 Away: 5

Twenty-one days of winter break are a long time to be apart, and so the night they’re both back they hide their heads under the sheets of his bed like a pile of dirty laundry that doesn’t want to be cleaned.

“C’mere pretty lady.”

She breathes a laugh into his mouth, shakes her head. An arm loops around under her lower back as he asks her what’s so funny, though he doesn’t exactly wait for an answer before he’s yanking a second question at her belt loops. One of her own hands glides south, down over the muscles of his chest and abdominals, the ridges of his hips, but her breath hitches when he persuades her belt unbuckled first, coaxes her to push eagerly back against his fingers. Their bodies knock together and she nibbles at her lip, his trail of incensed kisses beginning to carve a heated path down her neck and across her collarbones. Her hands crawl up to knot themselves in his hair while she bends with the involuntary arching of her spine, the matches of his tongue drawing hot lines on her belly.

“I don’t know how I got by without you…”

He growls the words against the inside of her thighs and writes them between her ribs in permanent ink. Part of her thinks they sound like sentences she might have read in a book once; she throws that thought off the end of the bed with his shirt. (They haven’t got a great track record, but in the race against her better judgment, she always wins).

Her voice spikes his name a higher pitch and she decides he must be Australian.

justin: are you working late tonight?
justin: okay seriously it’s been like four hours, where are you
justin: sis?

~

Cal’s place is huge.

Music thumps like an extra heartbeat between her lungs and her arms twirl themselves in serpentine patterns. Enough shot glasses of liquid amnesia and she’s forgotten his name along with however many she’s taken. Her hips curl and dip in a sea of sweating bodies, endless pairs of hands explore the blaring pink planes of her face, and gruff voices whisper impossible numbers of secrets in her ears. Galaxies of bubbling stars glimmer at the bottom of every bottle.

Little Kayla materializes, her chocolate hair tangled in a sweetened mess, and they throw their arms around one another’s necks as they tip giggling against a table.

“Quick!” Kayla’s surprisingly deft hands go to work clearing half-empty cans. “Let’s dance up here before Cal notices!” They climb, using each other as handholds and leverage, whooping loudly when they find their footing, swirling with the shifting rush of the next song.

A pair of four-leaf clover eyes find her through the crowd. She blinks once, twice, three times with disbelief and then misplaces them; her high-heeled feet hold a precarious balance, her teeth chew the inside of her cheek. Her eyebrows pinch in misunderstanding when Little Kayla purrs through the music, “He isn’t here.”

She turns back and Kayla is watching her with circles of cool sea glass that flutter beneath long, curling lashes, steal glances at her mouth. Condensation on the glass in her hand prickles against her hot fingertips when she trades it into the other, slinks forward and introduces Kayla’s lips to hers. Cat calls spike through the heavy dropping of the beat as their tongues braid together, dancing in a wet rhythm that stings with a mix of vodka and tequila.

Someone takes the room and spins it around, breaking them apart. She blinks again and they’ve fallen back down to earth and suddenly Brody’s forehead is colliding with hers.

“That was fucking hot,” he snarls, their soured breaths intermingling.

A choppy laugh cuts its way out her throat.

There’s a hand pulling around her waist but she’s too curious as to how Brody’s flavor will compare to Kayla’s. Hungry teeth knock into hers, bite too hard. The pull tugs on her more insistently now, and she lets it reel her from Brody’s hold. Fingers are hooked in the front of her jeans, leading her through whirlpooling rivers of people. She accepts a square bottle of Jack Daniel’s to wash the taste of Brody from her mouth.

There are stairs moving beneath her feet. She counts each one out in her head to make sure she can reach the next. Her hand sweeps out to try and steady her swaying legs, but the wall jumps away. Wet carpet squishes under her palm.

A gasp hisses out between her teeth as Cal pins her against a bedroom door. The music pulses in a weighted throb and even from downstairs, the deafening beat vibrates through their chests. Cal catches her mouth with his, allows his fingers to creep up the sides of her neck and hold her head in place. One of her hands tries to push at the thin material of Cal’s shirt, but her arms move slower than she tells them and he doesn’t get it.

“Look, he’s not here,” she wants to ask Cal why not, but her mouth says she doesn’t know who he’s talking about. She can feel his lips wisp along her temple and he slurs, “But I am. Right here, been here the whole time.”

“Do something then,” she dares him (and herself too). “I’m done playing games…”

A string of Christmas lights winds around the ceiling fan, pouring rivulets of camera flashes on their bare skin. In the reflection of the slicked sheen, Cal’s eyes flicker a foggy green.

But she blinks again and they’re a blue that matches hers.

Home: 4 Away: 8

Click. Click. Click.

There’s no other cars driving through the intersection, none she can even see coming. The stoplight glowers down at her, furiously red.

Click. Click. Click.

When the song playing through the radio starts on with that come-back-to-me-baby shit, her knuckles punch a button that kills the volume. Her thumb taps impatiently at her phone but only 12:48 pm looks back through the screen. She switches off her blinker because she’s already in the turn lane and quite frankly, the ticking is just ticking her off.

Faint conversations carry in through the open sunroof. The Friday afternoon farmer’s market is packed per usual, and when she dares a look through her window, one side of her mouth turns up a little at all the middle-aged quilters and strictly organic hipsters trading gluten-free recipes and vegetables. Two elderly women share a pair of crows-feet smiles as their identical pug dogs tie their leashes together. A bald man with thick-rimmed glasses tucked in the front of his shirt closes one eye to catch a shot of his dancing children with an invisible camera. A couple walks down along the sidewalk arm-in-arm.

The girl points at one of the many easy-up tents and tugs her lover along with a porcelain smile. Ringlets of summertime-blonde hair frame her slender face, her long, spidery fingers keep fighting with the flyaway strands. He reaches to tuck them behind her ear and takes her hands in his, throws his head back laughing when her lips find the tip of his nose.

“Okay, fine,” she catches him say. “You win, you win.”

She tries doing the math and the heat of her overworked thoughts starts scalding the backs of her eyelids because the scores aren’t adding up right. The stoplight flips and tells her to go, but she’s waiting for the referee’s interruption, the blaring screech of a whistle, the flag on the play. Her hands grip the steering wheel like they’re hell bent on trying to break it.

His eyes are the insides of Heineken bottles.

~

Her brother stays fixed on the tv when she shuffles in. The case of the game he bought is open on the coffee table; a ball of plastic wrap sits lonely in the far corner of the room. She stands with her purse still hanging on her shoulder and watches him play. From inside one of its pockets, she feels her phone vibrate.

“Is it multiplayer?” she asks, a smear of black staining her skin when she wipes under one eye with the back of her hand. Justin blinks at her, doesn’t say anything.

After a minute he tosses her the second controller.

The joystick rolls obediently beneath the pad of her thumb. With an expertly combined tapping of buttons, the woman she moves on the screen heaves a pitchfork through another character’s chest.

“Fuck that guy.” Justin remarks.
“Yeah.” she says.

Justin clicks his own controller and reminds her mouth how to smile.

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