It was almost as if time had come to an absolute halt.
His warm hands held onto my arms with an unforgiving grip that was everything but familiar. The kiss rendered me speechless and thoughtless, the taste metallic from the remnants of blood that covered his lips moments prior.
He only pulled away when he had no other choice but, panting as he tried to catch his breath. I was silent as I stared at him with the utmost dazed expression on my face. I couldn't focus on a single thing, I could barely see straight...
"Aspen." He mumbled, hands still holding onto me.
I snapped out of my teenage stupor. "Hm?"
I couldn't stop myself from sighing, fingers running through my hair in an attempt to get it out of my eyes. "I kind of got that vibe, y'know? It's not like you've said it a million times."
He chuckled, albeit anxiously, releasing the hold he had on my arms. I took that as my cue to take a couple steps back, thumb jabbing over in the direction of the general merriment. "I'm going to go now... thanks for the thing." My face must've been a billion shades of red as I stumbled over my feet, way too bashful to even mention the word kiss.
Tony took a step forward, almost as if he would stop me right in my tracks. "Can I please talk to you, Aspen? Explain myself a little?"
I sighed (again) loudly, shoulders deflating as I raised a hand to cover my face. This was a can of worms that I wasn't sure I wanted to open. It had been so long since we were teenagers. Did it really matter anymore? Would any of it actually help me feel better? "Fuck it." I muttered to myself. A little closer couldn't hurt, right?
I approached him hesitantly, dropping down to the gravel to sit back against the tour bus; he was quick to follow suit.
"So..." He chuckled nervously. "I don't even know where to begin."
I rolled my eyes, "at the beginning."
He nodded, "right..." Tony rubbed at the back of his neck, his other hand wringing the bloody t-shirt he used to tend to his nose. "I really did love you, Aspen. I know that probably doesn't mean any-"
"It doesn't." I was quick to cut him off.
This time it was his turn to roll his eyes. "I deserve that but this is just as important for me as it is for you."
"Important? I really don't care. It was just a big shock to see you after all these years." I tried my best to act uninterested. I'd be damned if he learned the true extent of how badly he messed me up.
"Well, it's still important to me." He brought his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs. "I loved you with everything I had. It's just that back then... I didn't know what love meant."
I tried my best to bite back my scoff but it didn't quite work. Tony gave me a pointed look and shook his head at me. "I left suddenly because I had this opportunity to play in a friend's band but I had to relocate to Northern Cali. I didn't have a cellphone back then, as you knew, and I didn't remember the number to your house. I would've just shown up in person but your father..." He shivered and I completely agreed with that sentiment. My father was not an easily digestible man.
"I even wrote you a letter. Although I suppose you never received it. The band stuff ended up falling through and I came back after five or six months. I was too embarrassed to go looking for you. I knew that what I had done was stupid and I couldn't face you. I didn't want to face what I had done to you... to a girl who deserved much better."
I nodded slowly as I tried to process his words, even when I wanted nothing more than to call him out on his lies.
"I thought about you everyday back then and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought of you every now and then. I was just as shocked when I saw you too..."
"You could've told someone else." I stood up suddenly, "you could've told Allison..."
"Huh?" He just stared up at me.
"When you left," I crossed my arms over my chest. "You could've told Allison. You could've passed the message along to absolutely anybody. Instead, you just disappeared without a trace, Tony. So excuse me if I'm not too eager to swallow all of your bullshit." I dusted my clothes off, fists clenched as I squeezed my eyes shut. "Just...--stay away from me, okay? I don't need any of this shit right now."
I turned on my heel, head spinning as I rushed to head back to the 'party'. How dare he just sit there and spoonfeed me excuses? At the very least he could've harnessed some of his creativity and told me something interesting. Knowing the truth only made me feel worse. Back when he first left I was worried sick the first few days. I knew what his lifestyle was like and I could only imagine the worst: gang violence, overdose, kidnapping, and so on.
I was too wrapped up in my thoughts that I hadn't noticed someone heading in my direct path.
"Aspen?" I looked up to find Austin smiling down at me, two drinks cradled carefully in his hands. "Everyone's been looking for you. You okay?" He held one of the drinks out to me.
I nodded, "never been better." As soon as the cup was in my hand, I downed all of the liquid, noting only once it was gone that it happened to be beer. Shitty beer at that. "Actually, fuck that. I've been better."
Austin gave me another smile, although this one was much more comforting. He nodded towards the large group of people lounging around, drinking, and generally having a good time. "I know what will make you feel better."
"You gonna kill me?" I teased, nudging him in the side.
He shook his head. "Nuh uh. You're too cute to kill."
I fake gagged, laughing as I narrowed my eyes at him. "If I was in a better mood... I might've blushed super hard at that."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm just being honest. But anyways, let's get you good and drunk, alright?"
"Finally something I can't argue."
Austin wrapped an arm around my shoulders, leading me towards the table where the refreshments laid. My body leaned into his instinctively, lips pushed outwards in a very childish pout. I wrapped my arm around his hip, "you ever feel like life's out to get you."
He chuckled sarcastically, peering down at me with the most amused expression imaginable. "I guess you could say that. My life hasn't been all rainbows and sunshine either."
"Wanna start a club or something?"
"Only if I get to be vice president." He retracted the arm he had around me, but I stayed attached to him like a tick. He cocked an eyebrow at me but decided that was more than enough. I wouldn't have been in the mood to explain how pitiful I felt right then and there.
"What can I serve you up?"
"Something so strong I'll regret it in the morning..."
"Aye aye boss."
He was quick at work as he mixed something together for me. Considering the fact that I didn't know him all that well, I probably should've been watching him carefully. However, i just didn't have the heart to be present. A large part of me assumed Tony would have chased after me. Especially due to the fact that he had been pretty persistent throughout the day just to grab a second of my time.
"You have a lot on your mind." He spoke, dangling the drink in front of my face.
I had no idea how long he had ben doing that. I grabbed it from his hands, taking a cautious sip and almost choking from how strong the drink was. I peered inside the red solo cup and saw nothing but misery and darkness. I bet he just poured every damn liquor available into the cup.
"You can tell? Sorry I'm being a Debbie Downer right now..."
He lead me over to a pair of open lawn chairs, settling down with nothing but concern written on his face. "Wanna talk about it?"
I sighed, leaning back into my chair, wishing it would swallow me whole. "This is so unlike me. I'm not a person who dwells on shit she can't control. I mean, at least now anymore. I was super neurotic in high school but I was also the biggest fucking nerd..." I swished the liquid around in my cup, glaring at it before taking the biggest gulp I could muster. "I guess it makes sense that I feel like a child all over again. This is something that's been following me for years. Kind of like a ghost, I guess..."
I sat up and leaned forward to make eye contact with Austin. "You ever have something absolutely crush your soul? Something that you never really got over even though a billion years have gone by? I never properly dealt with it and it's plagued every single relationship of mine." Seriously, I had developed trust issues and even though it wasn't at the forefront of my mind, I always felt like the person I was dating was going to up and leave me one day. It caused me to live most of my life on the offence.
"Sounds like this person really fucked you up..."
I snorted, "that's an understatement. But hey, there's no one like your first love, right?"
He nodded in agreement, although I'm sure that had more to do with the fact that he didn't quite know what to say to me. I bit down on the inside of my cheek, "do you know how to get over someone you didn't know you still had feelings for?"
Austin shrugged, a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Date someone new."
I rubbed at my chin, humming as if I was in deep thought. "Hm... not a bad idea. Got any suggestions?"
He grinned, eyes crinkling at the corners as he chuckled bashfully. "I got one."