School’s out and so is Aviana River Moore’s luck.
Having moved to New Orleans after
Katrina, Aviana met Xavier Thomas Rousseau.
Between his smart-aleck remarks and her sassy ways, they bonded like shrimp and gumbo.
They’ve done everything together. Dances, family affairs, even college. It was her way of keeping him. College is out, and he’s joined Doctors without Borders, leaving after the summer break.
Aviana has three months to do the one thing she’s never done. Tell him how she feels. Can she get her courage, and show Xavier what he’s been missing? Will Xavier see past the girl down the road facade and let love in or will Aviana forever be just a friend?
I get him up the stairs and into my home, then help him to the couch. “Why didn’t you come to me? I spoke to you after everything. You seemed okay. I thought something was wrong, but you played it off, and I just assumed it was because you were still mad at me,” I say, getting a bottle of water from the fridge and taking it back to him.
He waves the bottle away. “I was the last one. Ya know?” He falls off the couch and sits with his knees in his chest.
“The last one for what?”
“I talked to him, he was happy. He’d just gotten into medical school. He was out of the rut. He promised…” Xav sniffs, wiping his face with his hands. “He pulled away too.”
“Pulled away? Who else pulled away?” I hold the bottle out to him again as I sit beside him on my couch. “Please drink this.”
“Non! Sispann! Koute! You don’t listen… Jessop, he didn’t drop out… He hung himself in his dorm room. They hushed it. Swept him under. I don’t want them hushing you.” He’s getting loud, sounding desperate.
I set the bottle on the table and put my hands on Xavier’s face to try to keep him looking at me. “Nobody’s hushing me. I haven’t found anyone who could keep me quiet for long either.” I try to make a joke, but he doesn’t like it. I pull him to me, which I’m sure is a funny sight. “Xavier, I promise you, nothing is going to happen to me. Please calm down.”
He grabs me tightly. It hurts, but I’ll take it. His head is against my arms, and I can feel the tears. “I can’t lose someone else that means so much to me.”
I run my fingers through his dreads. “Never, you’d never, ever completely lose me. It doesn’t matter if we’re a world apart, if you need me, I’ll drop everything to help you. Always, I’ll always come when you call.”
“Not lately.” He sounds so broken.
“You’ve wanted to go out at night, and I’ve been too tired. You’re really upset with me? Two weeks! I don’t stop everything and come to you for two weeks, and you show up like this!” I push him off me and stand. “What about all five years of college? You were always too busy for me.” Now I’m the one raising my voice.
He lurches forward. “I may have been busy, but I knew what you were up to. Who do ya think took care of Billy Newman? Or Mike Birbiglia? I always knew who you were cattin’ with, so I didn’t worry! You might not have seen me, but I was there!”
“UGH! You’re so fucking blind! All you think about is me, me, me, me, me! Oh, let’s make sure Aviana isn’t fucking anyone I don’t like. Why keep tabs on me? What’s the point?” I turn my back to him, I’m starting to get upset, and when I get upset, I cry. I wipe at my face before turning back. “You make me so mad I could just smack you, but then I’d be the one hurt because I hurt you when you hurt me all the time.”
He pushes his dreads back out of his face. Christ, we’re both blubbering messes. Only it looks good on him, the bastard. “Hurt you? How have I ever hurt you?” Sniff. “I’ve only ever stood in your corner, rallied for ya. Celebrated when ya did well, took out any who fucked with ya that you couldn’t handle. All I’ve ever done was try to keep my best friend happy and whole.” He stands up. “This- comin’ here. Comin’ back to this place- I shoulda just left. Since all I’m doing is fuckin’ it up for everyone. You, my family, my mentors.” He starts fishing in his pockets. “Fuck are my keys?”
I poke Xavier in the chest. “You aren’t going anywhere! You really want to know how you hurt me? I can tell you. It’s not like you’ll remember it in the morning. You’ve hurt me because you’re blind! I’ve shown you, in every possible way I can think of, how I feel. You don’t feel the same, I’m getting it now, it was a lost cause. However, I’ve been in love with you for YEARS! I was right in what I said coming home. We may talk in passing, but you’ll get too busy, and I’ll be here or somewhere trying to get on with my life.” One last poke to the chest and he hits the ground. I turn and walk away, the tears coming down my face, making me look a mess.
Bon Seyè a, kisa m ‘fè? Mama Isa, she said the Lord was plannin’ somethin’. Wouldn’t tell me what. I bet the leaves and the bones showed her. I kissed my best friend. I sit up and the living room is dark, but the smell of gumbo invades my nostrils. Not just any gumbo, but Mama Isa’s. I know her spices anywhere. How long was I out? I look at my cell and see it’s after nine. Last I remember looking, it was like five-ish. That was before she spilled her guts. Told me she’s in love with me. Has been. Has been? That’s how I feel. I feel like the last one to the party, and now everyone expects me to be the entertainment. She’s gonna wanna know how I feel. How do I tell her I don’t know? I love her, but am I in love with her?
Can’t I just pretend it didn’t happen? Stand up, go looking for her, and act like I don’t remember until I suss it out? She said it herself, she doesn’t expect me to remember it. I touch my mouth. I still feel her lips, soft, plump and juicy. They taste like salt and flesh. I can’t help but imagine what the rest of her may taste like. I crack my neck. Do we owe it to ourselves to explore what could be? Is it worth ruining an almost twenty-year friendship over a little thing like a kiss? I get up, following my nose. There’s the food, untouched, but simmering on the stove. I turn on the light, find the baguette, and cracking it, I smother it with herbed butter before fixing the bowls. Gettin’ them and a couple beers on a tray, I head for Ana’s room.
I knock and wait. I’m pretty sure I just heard a sniffle and a throat clear before the door opens. “Feel any better?” she asks, opening the door wider. From the light behind her, I can see the puffiness under her red-rimmed eyes.
“It’s yet to be determined, but I figure Mama Isa’s gumbo will clear both our heads. C’mere and eat with me.” I hold up the tray as I pass her and set it on the bed.
She grabs her computer, moving it to the bedside table, then speaks with her back to me. “If you’re going to tell me you only think of me as a friend, just do it and get it over with, please.”