Flowers from Afghanistan (Dylan)

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Flowers from Afghanistan (Dylan)

Bad idea, I thought. Really bad idea. First of all, it was a Saturday night, and I was walking to Alex’s dorm room to meet her and pick her up for our non-date. We were going to a bar, where people would be drinking, and loud, and obnoxious, and my only tenuous connection to reality would be the one person I could not reach out to.

This was a really fucking bad idea.

I checked my phone. Ten after ten already. I was late. I quickly sent her a text.

She wrote back damn near instantly.

Oh, come on. Seriously? Hugs? That was the absolute last thing either one of us needed to be doing.

After our way too open morning run and breakfast, I’d worked hard to reestablish a tone of normality. It was necessary. But we were still spending a huge amount of time together. The next Thursday morning, at six am, she’d shown up on the green without a word, in running shoes, and a significantly less revealing outfit than the first day. That was a relief. If she’d only known how my breath had caught when I first caught eyes of her that first day.

Better she didn’t.

So, not only did I follow her rules, but I made up my own.

No flirting.

No excessive eye contact.

Above all, nothing that could be misconstrued as a date.

I was protecting myself, but I was also protecting her. And then, Friday afternoon, after we left the library, she approached me about tonight. It’s for Kelly, she said. Kelly and her boyfriend, whatever his name is, are on the verge of getting back together. This is the first time they’re going out since they broke up, and Kelly needed a buffer, something to keep them from getting into a huge fight or something. But three is a crowd, and going as two couples wouldn’t be so painfully awkward, she said.

Yeah, sure it wouldn’t.

I found the building and hit the buzzer for her room.

She buzzed me in.

Damn. I’d hoped she’d just meet me down here. Seeing her room was going to be awkward in its own way. Somehow we’d managed to avoid that level of intimacy. And I desperately needed to keep my distance.

Whatever.

So I worked my way up the stairs to the fourth floor. This was my own personal challenge for the last week. Never take an elevator when there were stairs. In two weeks of running, more strength had returned to my right leg than I’d felt in a long time. I was a long way from whole, but I was even further away from where I’d been seven months ago, when they were debating whether or not to cut off my leg.

On the fourth floor, I followed the room numbers to hers, then knocked. A cute chalk board was attached to the door, saying simply “Kelly and Alex.”

“Be right there!” I heard her call. She opened the door, and I caught my breath.

Oh, my God.

Her hair was in some kind of complicated bun on the back of her head, with long tresses hanging down over her shoulders in a very loose curl. She wore a dark green sleeveless dress, cut just above the knee, that hugged her form perfectly. I took a shallow breath. She’d done something with her makeup. Her deep green eyes looked huge.

Color flew to her cheeks when she looked at me. Both of us averted our eyes.

“Come on in, I’ll be ready in just a second,” she said.

Nervous as hell, I followed her into the room.

It was obvious which side was Alex’s.

Kelly’s side of the room was swathed in pink, movie and band posters, huge fluff pillows.

Alex’s was subdued. A world map hung over her desk, and a stack of books was loosely arranged on one side of the desk.

A picture frame contained dried flowers. A date was written on them. “November 19th, 2009.”

Those were the flowers I sent her when I was in Afghanistan, last year.

On the bureau was a picture that nearly ripped my heart out. It was the two of us, curled up together. I remembered when it was taken. We were in Haifa, at a park near the Central Carmel. I’d been playing guitar most of the night, and when I stopped, we curled up together, laughing and talking. I had a copy of the same photo.

I averted my eyes from him.

“I’m ready,” she said, coming out of the restroom. She looked at me, then her eyes darted to the picture, the flowers, and her cheeks colored.  We avoided each other’s eyes as we left the room.

She headed for the stairs, even in her heels, which looked impossible to walk in, and also impossibly sexy. That dress, complimented by a tiny wrap over her shoulders, hugged her body in a way that made my pulse rush in my temples. I shook my head. This was Alex trying to take care of me, because she knew I’d sworn of elevators. I couldn’t help but scan her entire body with my eyes as she walked ahead of me a few steps. Holy shit, but she was beautiful. This is going to sound crazy obnoxious, but I wanted nothing more at that moment to lay her down, take her legs in my hands and lick her calves.

This was going to be a long, long night.

“We can take the elevator,” I said.

“They’re just heels, it’s fine.”

I shrugged.

When we got to the street, I said, “So, I got an email from my friend Sherman.”

“Oh yeah?”

I nodded.  “He’s coming home next week, and said he wants to come to New York for a couple weeks. I think he’s thinking about college up here.”

“Oh wow, that’s exciting!”

“It’ll be strange. That part of my life and this part of my life… they don’t really connect. It’s hard to imagine having him here.”

“We’ll show him the town,” she said. “It’ll be good for you to have a friend here.”

I took a sharp shallow breath at her use of the word we. Every moment I spent with this girl was a show of restraint. Hard to imagine as it was, I’d had a lot of sleepless nights lately. She was busy making plans for “us” and I was trying my hardest to keep my distance. Maintaining that distance was killing me. I loved her, but let’s be honest. Part of me hated her too.

I tensed up as we approached the 1020 Bar. A small crowd of people stood out front smoking. Inside it looked like a madhouse. Extremely loud music, people packed in like a japanese subway. Screaming and shouting. It sounded like a band was playing inside.

Unconsciously I slowed to a stop as we approached the door.

“You okay?” she asked. “You look a little pale.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t do well with crowded places any more.”

“I’ll stay close,” she said.

That ought to help me relax. Yeah, right.

She took my arm, curling herself close in to me, and we walked into the bar. She was scanning the crowd, looking for Kelly and boyfriend, whose name I couldn’t recall.

After a few minutes pushing our way through the crowd, we found them, sitting at a tall round table with four stools around it.

I froze when I saw the boyfriend.

“Dylan, this is Kelly and Joel. Kelly and Joel, this is Dylan.”

Kelly smiled, a huge grin, and said, “Wow. Dylan, it is so cool to finally get to meet you.”

Joel held out his hand to shake, and said, “Hey man, yeah, it’s good to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much.”

I stared into the face of the man I’d seen in the skype video. The shirtless guy who had been in Alex’s room the night I broke it off from her for good. I couldn’t breath, and my eyes darted to Alex, who was starting to look concerned, then I looked back to him, and muttered, “Motherfucker.”  I shook my arm free from Alex, turned and pushed my way through the crowd back to the exit.

This is first draft material from a story I’m working on during a two week hiatus before I start editing Insurgent. It’s a departure for me, because it falls under the “new adult” genre.You can find the beginning of the story, discussion of what NA books are, and contents of the story, here.

 

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