NATALIE HAS BEEN TWIRLING that same lock of hair for the past ten minutes and it’s starting to drive me nuts. I shake my head and pull my iced latte toward me, strategically placing my lips on the straw. Natalie sits across from me with her elbows propped on the little round table, chin in one hand.
“He’s gorgeous,” she says staring off toward the guy who just got in line. “Seriously, Cam, would you look at him?”
I roll my eyes and take another sip. “Nat,” I say, placing my drink back on the table, “you have a boyfriend—do I need to constantly remind you?”
Natalie sneers playfully at me. “What are you, my mother?” But she can’t keep her eyes on me for long, not while that walking wall of sexy is standing at the register ordering coffee and scones. “Besides, Damon doesn’t care if I look—as long as I’m bending over for him every night, he’s good with it.”
I let out a spat of air, blushing.
“See! Uh huh,” she says, smiling hugely. “I got a laugh out of you.” She reaches over and thrusts her hand into her little purple purse. “I have to make note of that,” and she pulls out her phone and opens her digital notebook. “Saturday. June 15th.” She moves her finger across the screen. “1:54 p.m. – Camryn Bennett laughed at one of my sexual jokes.” Then she shoves the phone back inside her purse and looks at me with that thoughtful sort of look she always has when she’s about to go into therapy-mode. “Just look once,” she says, all joking aside.
Just to appease her, I turn my chin carefully at an angle so that I can get a quick glimpse of the guy. He moves away from the register and toward the end of the counter where he slides his drink off the edge. Tall. Perfectly sculpted cheekbones. Mesmerizing model green eyes and spiked up brown hair.
“Yes,” I admit, looking back at Natalie, “he’s hot, but so what?”
Natalie has to watch him leave out the double glass doors and glide past the windows before she can look back at me to respond.
“Oh. My. God,” she says eyes wide and full of disbelief.
“He’s just a guy, Nat.” I place my lips on the straw again. “You might as well put a sign that says ‘obsessed’ on your forehead. You’re everything obsessed short of drooling.”
“Are you kidding me?” Her expression has twisted into pure shock. “Camryn, you have a serious problem. You know that, right?” She presses her back against her chair. “You need to up your medication. Seriously.”
“I stopped taking it in April.”
“Because it’s ridiculous,” I say matter-of-factly. “I’m not suicidal, so there’s no reason for me to be taking it.”
She shakes her head at me and crosses her arms over her chest. “You think they prescribe that stuff just for suicidal people? No. They don’t.” She points a finger at me briefly and hides it back in the fold of her arm. “It’s a chemical imbalance thing, or some shit like that.”
I smirk at her. “Oh, really? Since when did you become so educated in mental health issues and the medications they use to treat the hundreds of diagnoses?” My brow rises a little, just enough to let her see how much I know she has no idea what she’s talking about.
When she wrinkles her nose at me instead of answering, I say, “I’ll heal on my own time and I don’t need a pill to fix it for me.” My explanation had started out kind, but unexpectedly turned bitter before I could get the last sentence out. That happens a lot.
Natalie sighs and the smile completely drops from her face.
“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling bad for snapping at her. “Look, I know you’re right. I can’t deny that I have some messed up emotional issues and that I can be a bitch sometimes—.”
“Sometimes?” she mumbles under her breath, but is grinning again and has already forgiven me.
That happens a lot, too.
I half-smile back at her. “I just want to find answers on my own, y’know?”
“Find what answers?” She’s annoyed with me. “Cam,” she says, cocking her head to one side to appear thoughtful. “I hate to say it, but shit really does happen. You just have to get over it. Beat the hell out of it by doing things that make you happy.”
OK, so maybe she isn’t so horrible at the therapy thing after all.
“I know, you’re right,” I say, “but….”
Natalie raises a brow, waiting. “What? Come on, out with it!”
I gaze toward the wall briefly, thinking about it. So often I sit around and think about life and wonder about every possible aspect of it. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Even right now. In this coffee shop with this girl I’ve known practically all my life. Yesterday I thought about why I felt the need to get up at exactly the same time as the day before and do everything like I did the day before. Why? What compels any of us to do the things we do when deep down a part of us just wants to break free from it all?
I look away from the wall and right at my best friend who I know won’t understand what I’m about to say, but because of the need to get it out, I say it anyway.
“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to backpack across the world?”
Natalie’s face goes slack. “Uh, not really,” she says. “That might…suck.”
“Well, think about it for a second,” I say, leaning against the table and focusing all of my attention on her. “Just you and a backpack with a few necessities. No bills. No getting up at the same time every morning to go to a job you hate. Just you and the world out ahead of you. You never know what the next day is going to bring, who you’ll meet, what you’ll have for lunch or where you might sleep.” I realize I’ve become so lost in the imagery that I might’ve seemed a little obsessed for a second, myself.
“You’re starting to freak me out,” Natalie says, eyeing me across the small table with a look of uncertainty. Her arched brow settles back even with the other one and then she says, “And there’s also all the walking, the risk of getting raped, murdered and tossed on the side of a freeway somewhere. Oh, and then there’s all the walking….”
Clearly, she thinks I’m borderline crazy.
“What brought this on, anyway?” she asks, taking a quick sip of her drink. “That sounds like some kind of mid-life-crisis stuff—you’re only twenty.” She points again as if to underline, “And you’ve hardly paid a bill in your life.”
She takes another sip; an obnoxious slurping noise follows.
“Maybe not,” I say thinking quietly to myself, “but I will be once I move in with you.”
“So true,” she says, tapping her fingertips on her cup. “Everything split down the middle—Wait, you’re not backing out on me, are you?” She sort of freezes, looking warily across at me.
“No, I’m still on. Next week I’ll be out of my mom’s house and living with a slut.”
“You bitch!” she laughs.
I half-smile and go back to my brooding, the stuff before that she wasn’t relating to, but I expected as much. Even before Ian died, I always kind of thought out-of-the-box. Instead of sitting around dreaming up new sex positions, as Natalie often does about Damon, her boyfriend of five years, I dream about things that really matter. At least in my world, they matter. What the air in other countries feels like on my skin, how the ocean smells, why the sound of rain makes me gasp. “You’re one deep chick.” That’s what Damon said to me on more than one occasion.
“Geez!” Natalie says. “You’re a freakin’ downer, you know that right?” She shakes her head with the straw between her lips.
“Come on,” she says suddenly and stands up from the table. “I can’t take this philosophical stuff anymore and quaint little places like this seem to make you worse—we’re going to The Underground tonight.”
“What?—No, I’m not going to that place.”
“Yes. You. Are.” She chucks her empty drink into the trash can a few feet away and grabs my wrist. “You’re going with me this time because you’re supposed to be my best friend and I won’t take no again for an answer.” Her close-lipped smile is spread across the entirety of her slightly tanned face.
I know she means business. She always means business when she has that look in her eyes: the one brimmed with excitement and determination. It’ll probably be easiest just to go this once and get it over with, or else she’ll never leave me alone about it. Such is a necessary evil when it comes to having a pushy best friend.
I get up and slip my purse strap over my shoulder.
“It’s only two o’clock,” I say.
I drink down the last of my latte and toss the empty cup away in the same trash can.
“Yeah, but first we’ve got to get you a new outfit.”
“Uh, no.” I say resolutely as she’s walking me out the glass doors and into the breezy summer air. “Going to The Underground with you is more than good deed enough. I refuse to go shopping. I’ve got plenty of clothes.”
Natalie slips her arm around mine as we walk down the sidewalk and past a long line of parking meters. She grins and glances over at me. “Fine. Then you’ll at least let me dress you from something out of my closet.”
“What’s wrong with my own wardrobe?”
She purses her lips at me and draws her chin in as if to quietly argue why I even asked a question so ridiculous. “It’s The Underground,” she says, as if there is no answer more obvious than that.
OK, she has a point. Natalie and me may be best friends, but with us it’s an opposites attract sort of thing. She’s a rocker chick who’s had a crush on Jared Leto since Fight Club. I’m more of a laid back kind of girl who rarely wears dark-colored clothes unless I’m attending a funeral. Not that Natalie wears all black and has some kind of emo hair thing going on, but she would never be caught dead in anything from my closet because she says it’s all just too plain. I beg to differ. I know how to dress, and guys—when I used to pay attention to the way they eyed my ass in my favorite jeans—have never had a problem with the clothes I choose to wear.
But The Underground was made for people like Natalie and so I guess I’ll have to endure dressing like her for one night just to fit in. I’m not a follower. I never have been. But I’ll definitely become someone I’m not for a few hours if it’ll make me blend in rather than make me a blatant eye sore and draw attention.
Natalie’s bedroom is the complete opposite of OCD clean. And this is yet another way she and I are so completely different. I hang my clothes up by color. She leaves hers in the basket at the foot of her bed for weeks before throwing them all back into the laundry to be washed again because of the wrinkles. I dust my room daily. I don’t think she has ever actually dusted her room unless you call wiping off the two-inches of dust from her laptop keyboard, cleaning.
“This will look perfect on you,” Natalie says holding up a thin, half-sleeve tight white shirt with Scars on Broadway written across the front. “It fits tight and your boobs are perfect.” She puts the shirt up against my chest and examines what I might look like in it.
I snarl at her, not satisfied with her first pick.
She rolls her eyes and her shoulders slump over. “Fine,” she says, tossing the shirt on the bed. She slides her hand in the closet and takes down another one, holding it up with a big smile that is at the same time a manipulation tactic of hers. Big toothy smiles equal me not wanting to crush her efforts.
“How about something that doesn’t have some random band plastered across the front?” I say.