Don’t be naive and think I missed the look on Ari’s face when Kodi sidled close to me.
Raising my glass to my lips I looked at the gang from the corner of my eye. While Ari was fixated on Kodi and whatever staring-contest-with-underlying-meaning they were having, I looked at Casey, at Lake, even at Jeff. Casey had settled comfortably into Lake’s personal bubble, though her posture was somewhat rigid. Now their relationship wasn’t complicated. Casey was a laid-back guy, a smile always tugging on the corners of his mouth. He was the kind of guy you’d go out with to shoot pool or even the breeze, sit in comfortable silence. The only fallbacks were you had to listen to his radio station (country) and for once in your life, you’d play the grenade. Casey just had that way with people; girls instantly flocked to him and guys raised their glasses to him.
But Lake? Lake was a spitfire. You either loved her or you hated her and she didn’t give a rat’s ass about you either way. She was exuberant: always over the top and always an extreme. When she was happy to see you, her eyes would light up and she would smile so wide you thought her face might split in half. But when she was angry….just don’t get her angry, ok?
She was tightly wound, too. Witty, clever, and ready to attack which was fine and all for some, unless you hated confrontation.
Like Ari did. Regardless of whether or not it was with her, Ari hated fighting. She liked to keep her head down and blend in, content with life. The only time her shell cracked was when she was with the rest of the gang and if anybody made her open up…
“You sure you aren’t hungry?” Jeff asks, turning to face Ari so their foreheads are touching. She scoffs and pulls away, the glimmer of a smile dropping when she sees my fingers trailing lazily over Kodi’s shoulder. I pause, but she doesn’t notice, her attention turned back to Jeff. Her shoulders have slumped and she fidgets with the ends of her hair, a habit she does when she’s in need of distraction. “Positive.”
“Babydoll…” Jeff murmurs, placing two fingers under her chin and turning her to face him. She recoils. I smirk.
“Ahem.” Kodi coughs, looking up at me and then at where my eyes are. I feel her sit up and I move my arm out of the way.
“You know guys, I’d love to stay and continue this awkward silence thing we’re doing, but Tony and I actually have a job to get to and all so ya know…” Kodi states with a shrug.
Lake looks up then, turning a sharp glance at Kodi. Her perfectly shaped eyebrows are raised and her expression is one of mock scorn. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot the rest of us just loiter around and use saved up graduation money to pay the bills.”
Kodi rolls her eyes in exasperation and pulls on my wrist as we slide out of the booth. Shooting a glance over her shoulder she calls snarkily, “Put it on my tab, hun.”
I hear Lake call out a curse and then Darlene huff and storm toward our abandoned table. I let Kodi pull me out the door and the brisk fall breeze hits me like a slap to the face. She release me from her grip and begins to fiddle with a packet of cigarettes in the pocket of her cropped moto jacket. I pull the sleeves of my thermal down and watch as Kodi’s fingers tremble as she tries to flick open her lighter.
I sigh and take it from her freezing fingers. Flipping the Zippo open, Kodi leans forward and a flame dances on the end of her cigarette. Pulling back, she blows a thin line of smoke before removing the cigarette from between her lips. “Thanks.”
I shrug, placing the lighter into her free hand, curling her fingers around it. “Thought you quit.”
Kodi looks at me as she places the cig between her lips. “I could say the same to you.”
I take a step back and feel my brow furrow. Kodi places a hand on her hip, staring at me accusingly. “Wait what? Are you talking about Ari?”
Kodi just blinks, her long lashes lingering on her cheekbones for just a second longer than necessary. When she looks back up at me, she slowly pulls the cigarette out from between her lips and exhales a line of smoke in my direction.
I grit my teeth together. “This has nothing to do with Ari, Kodi. This has to do with the fact that you and I—“
Kodi tosses her head back. “This has everything to do with Ari! Even when you’re banging me I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re picturing her in my place!”
“We hooked up once and you’re gonna–“
Kodi turns a sharp glare in my direction and I lock my hands behind my head. “You slept with me once. We hooked up for other things several times.”
“No.” She shakes her head and begins walking away from me. “Just no.”
“Dakota. Would you get your ass back over here?!”
She flips me the bird as she makes her way toward her car, tossing her cigarette to the side.
I let out a yell in frustration and run after her. She pulls her keys out of her pocket as I come up behind her and grab her waist, turning her to face me. She blows more smoke in my face and I grab each side of her face. Her eyes are shining and she smirks at me, her gaze lingering on mine just long enough to show some flicker of emotion.
“Hey, hey.” She scoffs and a tear finally escapes. I press my forehead against hers and she shakes her head, her brown hair hitting the sides of my face. “Hey.” Kodi finally stops shaking her head and instead presses her small frame into mine until my arms have found their way around her and she is shaking and all I can think to say is, “I never once pictured her” over and over and I feel like I’m about to start shaking because part of that is true.
When Kodi finally pulls herself together, she pushes herself away from me, throws her shoulders back. Her hazel eyes meet mine and I give her a gentle smile, wiping my thumb against her cheek. She rolls her eyes. “We still have a shift to get to, ya know.”
“I know.” I shove my hands in my pockets and rock back on my heels.
“You know, Tone, if you ever…I mean…” Her eyes have dropped and I tilt her chin up so she’s looking at me. “I know.” I murmur, “But don’t expect me to just because you want it.”
“Oh, I don’t always want it…” She scoffs, pulling back.
“Come on, Kodi.” I smirk. “It’s me we’re talking about here.”
She flips me the bird and then slides into the driver’s seat, turning on the ignition. “See your late ass at work, okay?”
I give her a salute and she shuts her door. I back away from her car as she pulls out of her spot and watch as she heads off down toward downtown.
I stand in the parking lot for a while. Staring at the space where I basically let myself get close to another girl I shouldn’t be bothering with. What Kodi and I had…well what we didn’t have was a relationship. Not like what Ari and I had at least. But Kodi was—Kodi is everything Ari never was and nothing was ever meant to happen, but one day we’re taking the trash out behind work and she makes some comment about how I good I looked and I make some comment right back and she’s squeezing my arm before walking away and I’m pulling her toward me and the next thing you know we’re making out next to a dumpster. Because we’re classy like that.
And everything that happened after that…
I turn away from the road, and pull my keys out of my pocket and head toward my car. As I look up I notice Casey is standing outside the diner watching me. I sigh, stopping in the middle of the parking lot. “How much did you see?”
Because whatever me and Kodi have, none of them knew about until just a few seconds ago. Whatever me and Ari had, to them, wasn’t technically over.
Casey’s gaze is unrelenting. “Enough.”
I run my hands back over my head and seethe between my teeth. Not meeting his gaze I ask, “And how much are you gonna tell her?”
He chuckles mirthlessly at that one. “That’s up to you, man.”
“Do you think she knows?”
Casey begins to open his mouth, but just then Lake exits the diner, her fingers flying across the keys on her phone. Looking up she spots me and her gaze flicks over to Casey. “I can tell I’m interrupting some type of moment. I’ll be at your car, kay?” Her eyes have flickered up to Casey’s. He looks away from me to gently smile down at her and I realize, that Casey’s hung up on Lake; for how long, I don’t know, but right then his eyes read more than just a friend. “Okay.”
She skips off and he turns back to look at me, coming down the sidewalk, away from the diner. He sighs, coming to a stop a few feet in front of me. “No, I don’t think she does.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
Casey raises his eyebrows. “You didn’t let me finish.” I meet his gaze and Casey’s expression is serious. “I don’t think she knows, but I also don’t think she cares.”
And just when he says that, Jeff exits the diner, holding open the door for Ari who’s laughing. Once she’s made her way outside, he slings an arm around her shoulders and heads off toward his car. He seems to forget I was the one who picked Ari up in the first place, but maybe he just assumes he’ll take her home because of my shift.
I look back at Casey who shrugs. “Can you blame her?”
And even though I glare at him, I watch Jeff open the passenger door for her. I watch as Ari slides in smiling. I watch Jeff go around his car and shoot me a look over his shoulder, a lop-sided smirk on his face. A look of pure smugness. Casey has walked away now and it’s just me standing there watch as the old sports’ car pulls out of the lot, 80’s classic rock blasting.
And as much as I don’t want Casey to be right and as much as I want to just think about Kodi, it’s Ari’s smiling face that lingers in my mind.
No; no, I can’t.