Ten Years Earlier
“I don’t like it when they start playing these games.”
Justin whispered in my ear, “We don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to, Patch.” His hot breath caused a shiver to run down my spine.
“It’s okay,” I said.
A group of kids from school were hanging out in Brian Bosley’s basement. From time to time, Brian would suggest that we all start playing Truth or Spin. It was a combination of Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle. Brian would select the “victims” as he called them. He would ask a question, and if the person pleaded the fifth, refusing to answer, Brian would spin the green Heineken bottle. The victim would then have to kiss whomever the bottle pointed toward. The kiss needed to last a full minute; that was the rule.
It was fun to watch as long as neither of us got called upon. Part of the deal in getting invited back to Brian’s was to play along with his games. Somehow, neither Justin nor I had ever gotten picked upon to participate the last couple of times we came here.
My heart dropped when I heard Justin’s name.
“Shit,” Justin muttered under his breath.
He flashed me a worried look before Brian posed the question.
“Question. Do you, or do you not secretly want to bone Amelia?”
My best friend’s face turned red. I don’t think I had ever seen it that color before. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe Brian asked him that, and I was truly scared of the answer, whichever way it went.
He shook his head. “Pass.”
Brian sounded surprised at Justin’s refusal. “Pass? Are you sure?”
“Alright, then.” Brian wasted no time bending down to spin the bottle. The glass spun around, scraping across the laminate basement floor before coming to a stop.
“Oh! You’re not-so-lucky victim is…Sophie!”
Justin looked at me. The worry in his eyes was tangible, but he knew he had to go through with it.
“One minute,” Brian reminded.
Sophie, who’d been sitting on the ground, slithered toward him. I watched, devastated, as Justin pressed his lips into hers. She opened her mouth wide and wrapped her hands around the back of his head, pulling him harder into her and practically eating his face. I always knew she liked him.
It felt like my heart was slowly breaking with every second that passed. That was the longest minute of my life. It was the first time the jealousy monster had reared its ugly head to that extent. It was also the first realization of how strong my feelings for him really were.
When the minute was up, Justin wiped his lips with the back of his hand and came back over to me. I wouldn’t even look at him. I knew I shouldn’t have been mad, but my feelings were out of my control.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I continued to look down at my shoes. “Let’s just go.”
He followed me. “Patch…it’s just a game.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
We started the quiet and awkward walk home. I stopped suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk and turned to him. “Why didn’t you just answer the question?”
He just looked at me for the longest time before admitting, “I didn’t know what to say.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I said no, your feelings would have been hurt. If I said yes…then things would be weird between us. And I don’t want that. Ever.”
“Was she your first kiss?”
He hesitated, looking up at the dark sky, then whispered, “No.”
I shook my head and started to walk ahead of him. It felt like I didn’t know him anymore.
“Patch, come on. Don’t do this.”
Tears started falling. I was crying, and I couldn’t even pinpoint exactly why. That was the first time I realized that I’d fallen in love with him. I loved Justin. More than a friend, more than anything. I was so mad at myself.
My biggest fear was losing him. It hit me that it was going to happen someday.
Maybe it was already happening.
A week later, and Justin had practically become a local star in Newport overnight. The crowd at Sandy’s was nearly double what it had been before he became the nightly entertainment. Of course, the newest patrons were primarily young women who had heard about the hot new headlining guitarist.
One late afternoon, Jade and I were just headed out the door to work when her cell phone rang. “Shit. Hold up. It’s my agent,” she said.
I waited in the doorway for her to take the call.
After a few seconds, her hands started trembling. “You’re kidding. You’re kidding!” Jumping up and down, she covered her mouth. “Oh my God. Oh my God! Yes, of course, I can.” Finally, she just let out a yelp of excitement. “Thank you, Andy. Thank you for letting me know! Oh my God. So, what’s next? Okay. Okay. I’ll call you tonight,” she said before hanging up.
“What’s going on?”
Jade let out a scream of joy and pulled me into a hug, her boney frame pressing against my ample chest.
“I got the part of understudy for a pretty big role in The Phenomenals…on Broadway! It was one of the two auditions I had last week. I had thought it was a longshot. My agent wasn’t even going to send me initially!” When she let out another loud squeal, Justin came downstairs.
“What the hell is going on down here?”
She ran toward him and threw herself into his arms. “Baby! I got understudy for the role of Veronica in The Phenomenals!”
“Are you kidding? Holy shit. That’s fucking awesome!” He lifted her up in the air and spun her around.
Feeling awkward and like a third wheel, I cleared my throat and said, “Congratulations, Jade. I’m so happy for you!”
Justin finally put her down. “When does this all go down?”
“They want me in New York in a couple of days.”
He looked frazzled. “Aw, shit. Alright…um…I wish I hadn’t committed to that gig at Sandy’s. I would have just gone back with you.”
“It’s okay. It’s only a couple more weeks that you promised him, right? It’ll go by fast.”
Jade smiled. “Be nice to Amelia.”
From the moment Jade left, Justin made even more of an effort to stay in his room during the day and also ignored me at the restaurant. He never performed She Likes To Watch again.
Aside from my intentionally joining him in the kitchen when I knew he was having his coffee, there was no other interaction. It seemed that Jade’s departure was causing even more distance between us. It went on like that for a few days until the one afternoon that everything changed.
I’d just gotten home from an afternoon shift at Sandy’s when what sounded like wretched hurling coming from upstairs caught my attention. Without thinking it through, I ran up the steps to find Justin keeled over with his face inside the toilet.
“Oh my God, are you throwing up?”
“Nah. I’m giving cunnilingus to the toilet. What the fuck do you think?”
“Did you eat something bad?”
He shook his head before another volcano of puke erupted within him. Looking away, I shut my eyes until he was finished.