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Twenty-One

Ava

 I pulled open the door to the shop, and the scent of coffee hit me. It reminded me of the diner back home. I shoved the thought out of my mind and glanced around the little place. There was a small counter around the kitchen, a couple booths, and a few tables in between. I found Alex’s rustled brown hair at a booth, hiding his face with a big, dark red menu. I glanced up once more at Jace and nodded toward my friend. He nodded once, and I approached.

           I said, “Hey.”

           Immediately, Alex’s head snapped up, and his menu fell from his hands. He scooted over in the booth. “I didn’t know you were, uh, bringing company?” he said.

           “Jace, this is Alex. Alex, Jace,” I said, my voice breaking. Tears filled my eyes, blurring my vision. I felt a hand grab my arm and pull me.

           Next to me on the seat was Alex. Alex, my best friend for how many years? Ten? The kid who stuck up for me when Tyler and Robbie would bully me through middle school? The one who always tried to convince me that I was important, despite the fact that I’d never believe him.

           I rested my head on his shoulder, and he took my hand in his. Jace took a seat across from us.

           “Sammy’s outside, tied to a light,” I told him. “And I need to you to take him.”

           “You know my mom-“

           “I know, I know. But, please? It’s really important,” I begged in a whisper. Jace had told me explicitly not to tell Alex about “what happened with Sammy.” It hurt to keep something from him, as he’d trusted me through the years. I’d also been told not to “tell him anything about present or future whereabouts.’’

           The guilt completely ripped my heart to pieces. I wanted to go back to the old days, when everything was less complicated. When we’d go to his house every Friday night to watch a movie, when his dad would tease us about getting married one day. How Alex would tickle me until I begged him to stop, and how I’d beg my parents to let me stay over or… something. Anything besides go back home.

            Well, I don’t have to go back home- ever. Guess I got my wish, eh?

We ordered our food as soon as a waitress came by- who, I might add, smiled appreciatively at Jace. I was tempted to spill water on this one myself.

           I checked the clock once the waitress dropped the bill on our table. Alex reached for it, but Jace was too quick. “Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head. “What kind of person would I be, letting anyone besides myself pay for a meal of farewell?” He threw a five down on the table. Isn’t that a bit much to be tipping? Definitely more than fifteen percent, I thought.

           Jace excused himself to wait on line so he could pay in the back.

Alex

           I wanted to take her in my arms and shower her in kisses, beg her not to leave me. But she was with… that guy. Eleven years, and I still haven’t even gotten more than a friendly hug or a quick peck on the cheek. I knew she’d never been able to see how beautiful she was, electric blue eyes, brown hair falling in waves against her perfectly smooth face. And yet, she never knew how gorgeous she was. Everyone else must know, I mean it’s completely obvious. But her obliviousness only made her more amazing.

           And she was leaving- today. Getting on a plane and going… Wherever she was going, it was somewhere too far away from me. Anything but in my arms is too far away from- and for- me.

Ava

           I leaned over and whispered in Alex’s ear, “I’ve got a flight at two o’clockthis afternoon, heading to Orlando, Florida. Something’s different about me, Alex. I’m different from other people. I can’t explain now. Jace’ll kill me if he finds out I’ve told you this much. Get a ticket, book the flight, and meet me in the airport. Look surprised to see me. You’re going to meet your dad. Call him, too. He lives right there. Just ask to stay with him for a while. Please? I need you.”

Jace

           I tried glancing over to make sure Ava was okay, but that boy’s head was in the way. They were in some kind of awkward embrace. I shrugged it off. He was just her friend. Her only friend, before. But she’ll be safe after I take her away.

 

Alex

           I leaned down then and there and kissed her, right on the mouth. It was the last phrase that got me- “I need you.” She didn’t understand that I needed her too. And I was so proud of her for doing this. She’d said something was different- did she finally realize how absolutely wonderful she was?

Ava

           And I did the best and worst thing I could- I kissed him back. Just for a second, until he pulled away. But I’d felt a beautiful, electric sensation. It was nice, comfortable, and familiar. While Jace made me feel like I was on fire. And Roman- I couldn’t even think about him. My mind was a mix of emotions as Jace walked over to us.

           Alex pulled me into a hug, crushing his lanky body against mine. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and whispered into his ear, “Two o’clock. Good-bye.” I pushed the tears back and kissed his cheek before turning and leaving, taking more effort than it should’ve to look back over my shoulder.

           I kissed Sammy’s head once before leaving him. I knew Alex would find a way to take care of Sammy if it was another way to take care of me. He was my best friend. That’s why I need him, I tried to convince myself- somewhat unsuccessfully, I might add.

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