The Phantom Lover Ch. 3 “Love Boat”

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3. Love Boat

Everything moved dreadfully slow, a pace I despised–unless I was kissing or putting on makeup. The minutes dragged, the hours trudged, and my days were starting to feel more and more like years. I’d never been depressed in my life, but this had to be what it felt like.

I leaned in closer to Marilyn’s bathroom mirror before applying my mascara. The bright vanity bulbs exposed the sadness in my hazel eyes. Unlike the white fluorescents, everything had turned dull. My classes had never been so boring, making Math all the more unbearable. Thank God I made it into the drama magnet because if I hadn’t, I probably would’ve been a high school drop-out by now.

I batted my lashes to prevent tears from smearing the mascara, making me look as emo as I felt on the inside. It truly sucked that a guy I barely knew could have such an effect on me. I hadn’t even been on a date with Chris, but I had this annoying connection to him that none of my friends understood–except maybe Mar. She still faithfully crushed on the same guy since seventh grade.

I felt like I’d been running a marathon–and I hated running–but although I knew I wouldn’t win, I kept stubbornly and pathetically trekking on anyway. After our couch conversation in front of his eavesdropping friends, Chris ignored my encouraging instant messages. And he hadn’t said a peep about the drawing I made him and delivered via Landon, with hopeful quotes and me crying in the center saying, “Even though I haven’t been through what you’re going through, I feel your pain.” All the bastard did was have Landon thank me on his behalf. I seriously don’t get it. Is the fact that I actually really care a turn off?

Marilyn walked into the bathroom and stood behind me. In an oversized tee, she looked super comfy and ready for bed. “When are they picking you up? It’s almost seven.”

“Kay should be here soon.” I turned to her. “How do I look?”

She sized me up. “Pretty.”

“Pretty?” I dropped my arms to my short-skirted thighs. “I did not just spend two hours in your bathroom so I can look ‘pretty’.”

“Okay…then you look beautiful.”

“Now you’re just saying that.”

Although a Russian Jew, she planted her hand on her hip and spoke with a slight Latina accent. “Tash, you’re my best friend, you know I be telling you when you look busted.”

I laughed. It was true. Sometimes she was too honest.

My phone vibrated in my butt-pocket. I snatched it. A text from Landon read: We’re outside.

“Oh my God, that’s them.” I scuttled out of the bathroom and to Marilyn’s metal condo door.

She trailed. “Is Chris with them?”

“I guess I’ll find out. Love you!” I ran through the marble floored hall—miraculously not slipping—and jumped into the elevator. Chris could only run for so long. As I exited the elevator and stepped into the fancy lobby, I slowed to a sexy stroll. I approached the sliding doors. Lifting my chin while they opened, I imagined myself in slow motion, though dusk’s humidity threatened to turn my hair into a frizzy lion’s mane.

Chris’s Colombian, Abercrombie best friend, Kay, hopped out of the driver’s seat. Wearing a white polo and overly cologned like most Latino preps, he kissed my cheek. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much.”

He pointed his thumb behind him. “You’re actually gonna have to sit in the trunk with Randy.”

I frowned. Who the hell is Randy?

Kay popped open the trunk, revealing a rather cute red-skinned boy with dirty-blonde dreads and green eyes. He looked like something out of a CW show. Kay held his palm out as if offering me a ride in a magical carriage rather than the hand-me-down family-wagon before us.

I crawled in next to Red-Dreads. “Hi, I’m Natasha.”

“Randy.” He looked away from me.

Alrighty then. I scoped the van for Chris. Three more Hispanic Abercrombie guys, two skater-like black boys in addition to Landon—seated in the passenger—two tan, pretty brunettes, one with ringlets I recognized as Kay’s girlfriend, but no hot Honduran/white boy. He must have been coming in his own car. Wonderful.

“Hey, Tash.” Birthday boy Landon peered back at me. “You excited for the party boat?”

“Yeah.” I raised my empty palms. “Sorry I don’t have a gift for you. I’m pretty broke at the moment.”

“It’s all right. I understand, trust me.”

I smiled as I hugged my knees. Truthfully, I was more excited about seeing Chris, but Landon didn’t need to know that.

Despite Randy creepily staring at me the majority of the time and then looking away when I’d make eye contact, the ride to Bayside didn’t seem that long. Maybe because adrenaline steadily rose in my blood. Hopefully my underarms didn’t stink ’cause before I knew it, we were parked in front of the busy outdoor/waterfront mall. My heart pounded as Kay opened the trunk and released me from my confined quarters with Cute-Creeper. I hopped out first. Where is he, where is he, where is he?

“Whoa, down girl,” Kay said.

I blushed. Talk about anxious. I just needed to calm down so that when I did see-Chris! My heart dropped as he approached. A short brunette with overly hair-sprayed crimps wearing a boring blue long-sleeve and white jeans accompanied him.

It’s okay, Natasha, I told myself. Maybe she’s just a friend of Landon’s who needed a-

Stiff-Crimps leapt onto Chris’s back. “Give me a piggy-back ride!”

My cheeks burned while they laughed as Chris ran around the cars in the parking lot. I tore my gaze off of the two. They appeared to be having a little too much fun and watching them made me want to barf.

Chris approached Landon and the rest of us, finally coming back to earth from his little joy ride to the moon with Mini-Me. “Happy birthday, little bro!” He bent his knees, and the girl slid down to her feet, still smiling. Then, Chris turned to me, that hot, but now agitating smile of amusement on his face. “Hey, Tasha.”

I forced confidence. “Hey, Chris.”

After an awkward moment of silence, Landon addressed the group. “All right guys, let’s head out so we don’t miss the next boat.”

I lagged behind as we walked toward the bay. Yet again another ballon-popping Saturday night. Seriously, what the hell was wrong with me? Why did I keep hoping things would work out with me and Chris when he continued to push me away and apparently found another chick who must’ve enjoyed marijuana and beers more than myself.

Landon slowed down until he sauntered beside me. “What’s up, Tash?”

At this point, I didn’t care about secrecy. “Who’s Chris with?”

“That’s Christina.”

Chris and Christina. Are you freaking kidding me?

“Does he like her?” I asked.

Landon hesitated and then slowly slid his palms into his pant-pockets. “He told me over the phone earlier today that he wanted me to meet her. He was really excited to bring her.”

I guess that’s a yes. So much for my positive prediction. Things were not off to a good start with Chris, and at this rate, they were only going to get worse.

As we waited for the party boat, I played with my phone, occasionally glancing up despite being terrified of what I might see. Chris held Christina’s hand, smiling as he gently brushed her hair out of her face. She smiled back, like some cheesy Hallmark movie.

I shifted my attention back to my phone. We hadn’t even gotten on the boat yet, but I was already nauseous. What did he see in her? If it had anything to do with looks, it wasn’t like she was a model or something. And how much of a bad girl could she have been? What level of bad did you need to be in order to be accepted by the Catholic school boy with a wealthy dad?

Kay strolled over to me. “Heeey, buddy!”

I recoiled at the random, joyous greeting. “Hi.”

He beamed, flashing a set of perfectly straight, pearly-white teeth. “We went to middle school together. I was Ziggy’s friend.”

“Oh yeah.”

“You ready to break it down to some reggaeton?”

“I guess.”

His brow furrowed as he squinted at me. I pretended to check my phone. Kay was sweet, and obviously tried to cheer me up–he must have known all about pathetic Tasha’s crush on his best buddy–but I just wanted to mope in solitude. He finally got the hint.

“All right, well, I’ll be seeing you. Peace!” He shot me a thumbs up before striding over to the two brunettes. He wrapped an arm around the curly-haired one and gave her a tender kiss on the cheek.

My heart ached. God, she’s lucky. Why can’t I like a good looking and genuinely sweet guy who’s also interested in me? Why did I torture myself with a guy who was apparently unwilling to change; who enjoyed bad company more than good?

A horn blared and a white, bi-level yacht slowly parked at the dock as darkness overtook the skies. I put my phone in my pocket while we piled on and then scurried to one of the seats bordering the dance floor. The yacht began its smooth sail across the still ocean. Luckily, I didn’t get seasick.

Chris and Christina walked by-hand in hand-before disappearing into the bow. My stomach churned. I take it back.

I got up from my chair and slipped through the hip-swaying crowd before climbing up to the upper deck. I stood by the railing and gazed at the sea, my vision hazed by tears. The multi-colored city lights swirled atop the black water like a rainbow in a storm. If I wasn’t so depressed, maybe I’d appreciate the view surrounding me, but even its beauty seemed bitter at the moment.

I leaned against the silver railing. Why did I like him so much? I’d only known what he put out there online and during our three-hour instant message convo, and what others said about him. Could I really like someone that much in so little time?

Landon appeared beside me. “Hey, Tash, why aren’t you dancing?”

I shrugged. “I’m not in the mood.”

Landon stared out at the ocean. “Oh.”

I closed my eyes. I wished he’d leave. I wished I’d leave, but I was stuck on that damn boat for another hour with Chris at the front of it probably making out with some other chick. The tears rolled down my cheeks.

“Tash…” Landon frowned at me, practicing his pity face. “I’m sorry.”

I turned away from him, trying to put on my tough girl act, though I knew it wasn’t believable. “It’s okay, I’m fine.”

“Come on, just try to have fun. Forget about him.”

“I’m just gonna stay here for a little while. I’ll dance later. Don’t worry about me. Go enjoy your party.”

Landon put on his pity face once more before trudging off.

Time dragged by as I cried and tortured myself with images of Chris and Christina…Him holding her hand, them hugging, his thick luscious lips kissing her stupid mouth.

I sank onto the floor, my head throbbing from all the continuous crying. What did she have that I didn’t? What made him like her instead of me? What did I do wrong, and she do right?

The boat stopped moving. I picked myself up and trotted down the stairs. Finally, I could lea-I halted at the landing. In the walkway to the bow, Chris stood across from Christina, pressed against the wall and clasping his neck as he kissed her.

I winced, tears once again blurring my vision. Just when I had finally stopped crying. They finished lip-locking and glided my way. As they passed, Chris’s eyes fastened onto mine. His smooth forehead wrinkled with…sympathy.

I scampered off of the yacht as fast as I could, certain he noticed my tears. I reached the van as Kay and his girlfriend did. This time, I sat behind the driver’s seat.

Chris and Christina finally arrived with the others. Chris took the passenger and Christina crawled into his lap.

I stared out of the window. Was there anything able to distract me from this hellish nightmare?

“So, we out to Chris’s house?” Kay asked the crammed group.

“Unfortunately, I have to go home,” Christina answered in a voice as mousy as her face.

I glimpsed at her. Yes, fly away on your broom, witch.

“Anyone else need to go home?” Kay asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Can you take me please?”

Landon, sitting beside me, slapped my knee. “Aw, come on, Tash, you can’t come to Chris’s?”

I glowered at him. Did he seriously just ask me that after witnessing my cry-fest on the boat?

I spoke steadily, donning my best apathetic tone though again, I knew it wasn’t the most convincing. “No, Landon, I can’t.”

Chris peered at me. His brow creased like it had on the boat as though he were…sad. Regretful perhaps? Or maybe it was pity.

Ugh. I gazed out the window again, my heart tingling. I wish it didn’t do that whenever he looked at me. It was pointless now to feel this way for Chris. He already found someone else.

“All right, let’s listen to some of that Don Omar!” Kay turned the volume up full blast, swelling the car with vibrating bass.

Despite the annoying music trying to take over my mind with its repetitive rhythm and Spanish rapping, it wasn’t distracting enough to prevent me from shedding a few more silent tears. Depression didn’t grant good acting skills; I couldn’t display joy when such sorrow battered my heart.

Eventually, we pulled up to a small gray house. Christina bid everyone farewell, and then Chris hopped out and walked her to the door. I shut my eyes. Why can’t I just say, “There’s no place like home,” click my heels together three times, and wake up in my bed so I can escape this nightmare already?

The ride home was completely different than the one coming. Instead of it feeling like ten minutes, it was more like ten days. The excitement and hope for something good to happen with Chris had instead become a night of deeper depression and shattered dreams.

The moment we pulled into my driveway I hugged Landon, bade everyone a quick goodbye, and then bustled out of the van. I hurried into my house without looking back. Mom cooked in the kitchen, but before she could greet me, I trotted up the stairs and into my room. I threw myself onto my blood-colored bed comforter. Although I ached with hurt and humiliation, I at least survived the worst night of my life.

***

My weeks just keep getting better and better don’t they? I rested my head against the spill-out’s concrete wall near the gym doors as Marilyn plopped down beside me and handed me a turkey-sub.

“Thanks.” I bit into the soft bread. It didn’t taste as good as it usually did. Nothing seemed as good as it once was.

“You know”-Mar chomped into hers-“you’re probably never going to be able to repay me for all the times I’ve bought you lunch.”

I smiled despite the residue of Saturday night’s letdown still harassing my heart. “You’re probably right-unless I make it to Hollywood.”

“Hey, that’s actually quite possible.” She observed me over a long chew. Her brow puckered, she swallowed and then spoke tenderly. “I’m sorry about what happened with Chris.”

“I don’t even wanna think about that son of a—”

“‘Sup, Tash!” Landon strode in front of us, his silver braces gleaming as he flashed his usual doofy smile.

I bit into my sub and waved. Yay, Chris is on my mind again.

Landon wiped his sweaty forehead. “Do you guys always eat out here?”

“Pretty much,” I replied.

“Man, it’s too hot. You gotta eat inside the lunchroom sometimes. All the drama kids do.”

I jabbed a thumb toward Marilyn. “She also prefers the spill-out.”

“All right then, cool, cool.” He dug into his jean pocket and removed his cell phone. His eyes widened.

“Everything all right?” I asked.

His happy-go-lucky grin turned upside down. “Chris and Christina are going out.”

My heart skipped a beat as Marilyn glanced at me.

“That’s great,” I said. “I’m over him anyway.”

“Oh, okay.” He stuffed his phone back into his pocket. “Well, I’m gonna go and say hi to some peoples. See you in drama!”

I faked a smile. “See you.”

Marilyn turned to me as he walked off, rolling his shoulders and pointing finger-guns at a group of dance magnet students chatting by the vending machines. “I don’t like that kid. He totally did that on purpose.

I seethed as I squeezed my now-soggy sandwich. That was certainly a bad act. It was purposeful, the little Denzel wannabe. I knew that pity-face on the boat was fake.

“Was that true about you being over Chris?” Marilyn asked.

It’d been almost a week since I’d share with her the horror story of Landon’s birthday. And how Chris proved to be even more of a Class A butthole when Red-Dreads Randy told me he’d kissed another chick in the pool later that night. Apart from that, I hadn’t spoken another word about him or his mousy playmate.

As Landon shook his hips by the vending machines with a mini Beyonce, I balled up my sub’s paper wrapping and choked it with my fist. “It will be.”


Liking the story so far? Please feel free to leave comments on your thoughts! Feedback is always helpful and appreciated. Stay tuned for chapter 4! Stumble across this and now your interest is piqued? Read it from chapter 1.

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