Chapter 15

We hit the highway instantly. I sat there smiling a little to myself watching all the cars go by. The lights and the skyline. I felt happy. Today was one of those days that everything was perfect. If only I never had to go back. Ashley said into the phone. I looked over. She was calling Charlotte to see where everyone was. I just listened ot her talk. They were all at Josh's house. But from the sound of her tone- Charlotte was probably drunk. Okay, we'll be there in a few minutes.

She hung up her phone and threw it into her change-tray. I just looked over uncomfortably. She had sounded perfectly fine on the phone. I didn't know what to do. I just awkwardly looked out the window. It was quiet for a few minutes. "Hey, Will," She said my name- I felt chills slip through me. I looked over. "Why aren't you asking me why I even bother with her?"

"What?" I didn't really know what to say to that. I mean, I understood what she said, I was just shocked. You always see yourself asking questions like that, but never do. I thought she was still angry, but her eyebrows weren't bent down slightly. Her mouth was a smooth, slightly curling line. She wasn't mad, or anything. She was just calm. She was sincere about that.

She said glancing over. I mean, you have to think I hate her guts, right? I leaned my head against the seat looking at her. Her hair was really curly tonight, she had said it was because of the humidity or something. I thought it looked nice. I hadn't had the guts to say anything about it- that'd be creepy- but she had complained about it.

"No," I said. "Everyone gets annoyed with their friends."

She looked over at me. She exhaled, something she does from time to time. "I just feel like I get annoyed all the time," She said. "Am I an awful person for that?"

"No way," I said. I looked forward. "I am always annoyed with Josh. But he's one of my best friends. It just happens."

"You're the only person I don't get annoyed with," She said. "All Charlotte does is piss me off. But I still consider her a friend. I don't get why, I just do."

"Nobody knows why," I looked out the window. We breezed by the street that gets you right to Josh's. "Hey, Ash, I think we just missed where we were supposed to get off."

She looked behind us. She sighed turning forward. Long way it is, then. She wasn't being mean to me, in fact her voice was the same as it always was. But she ws upset. I sat back and looked at the highway. I wasn't going to protest taking the long way. The last thing I wanted was to have to deal with drunk people tonight. Her phone started ringing. She looked at it and then leaned forward and picked it up.

I saw her glance at me. "Don't worry about it," I said.

She slowly answered, giving me one last glance. I smiled a little and looked out the window. After being apart for so long, it was weird how we never missed anything. Now we knew exactly what the other was thinking. "Hello?" She said. "Oh, hey. How are you?" The way her voice changed- so quickly. Like something snapped into place. I just knew. I twitched and tried to keep my face away from her direction. "I'm just with Will- we're going to meet up with Charlotte and people."

I swallowed. I was "just Will." Was I allowed to be bothered by that? I didn't like her or anything, but it made me sound like a wimp. Like I was the little brother or something. I didn't think of Ashley as my sister, which is probably why it bothered me. "Look, I don't want to get into this right now. I'll call you tonight. Okay?"

I braced myself.

"I love you,"

I blinked slowly, moving my elbow onto the seat. My hand fell in front of my mouth. I just stared out the window. "Bye," She hung up, her phone returning to the change-tray.

She exhaled. "You know," She said. I looked over slowly. "I think you're the only person in the world I never get annoyed with."

Zach and I were off to the side. We weren't completely isolated, but we just weren't listening to everyone else. Ashley was with everyone else. I watched her, she was smiling. She wasn't talking- just listening to Josh tell a funny story to the group of four or five people. I exhaled through my nose and crossed my arms. I felt Zach nudge me.

"You like her," He said. "I can tell." I looked at him. He was grinning- so pleased with himself. "You can't even deny it, you've been staring at her for at least ten minutes, dude. It's getting creepy. You're like... pining for her-"

"I'm not," I said. "I wasn't looking at her."

He rolled his eyes. "Okay dude," He said. "But you can't keep telling me you don't secretly love her. I can tell." I rolled my eyes. Then looked back at her quickly. "You wouldn't be fighting me if you didn't, Will. Come on, I know you." I didn't love her or like her in any way other than a friend. She was pretty, but I thought a lot of girls were pretty. She was nice and easy to talk to, but so was Zach. That didn't mean I had a crush on him. But it was Ashley Hansen. Then on top of that, she had a boyfriend. I had a family to worry about. I looked over at Zach.

"Then I'm going to stop fighting," I said. "I don't like her. That's it."

He gave me a look. "It's okay to like a girl," He said. "Hell, Josh and I were trying to decide if you were asexual or something. You haven't liked a girl since Ashley. And that was what? A hundred years ago? It's not that big of a deal, I'm not going to go tell everyone."

I sighed. I pushed off of the table. "It's getting late," I said. "Can you give me a ride to my car?"

He looked at the group. "Yeah," He said. "Sure." He pushed off of the table and I followed. We didn't bother saying anything to anyone. We just left. I sat there in Zach's dad's car. It was a few months old, but still smelled new. I looked over at Zach. I really wished I had it easy like him. He just drove me to the parking lot of the grocery store. I said a quick goodbye but he kept giving me a look.

"Look, dude," I said. I leaned into the window of the passenger door. "I can't like her."

"Will," He said suddenly. "You are the most miserable person I've ever met."

I stared at him. "I'll see you on Monday, I guess," He said.

In one minute I was watching him drive away. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Those words were just sticking to me. Will, you're the most miserable person I've ever met. I fell back against my car and stood there. Was I miserable? It hit me finally that I was. I was sixteen years old and worried about bills. I was taking care of my little brother in ways no big brother should. I was wasting away. But I didn't remember being unhappy for so long. I inhaled and exhaled. It was cold out. I could see my breath. These past few weeks I haven't been unhappy.

That was just because I had Ashley.

I stood there at my register. I rang up people's groceries, I tried to smile. I tried to tell them all to have a good day, but I was tired. I was anxious. Loaves of bread, milk went past me, but I was unaware of it all. Coffee, magazines, and donuts. But across my the light came on. I looked and saw her. She smiled at me. Her hair was braided behind her, but she smiled at me.

It's barely been that long but all of a sudden it came out right. No matter how terrible I was at math, everything finally came out right. I smiled back at her as I mindlessly rang up three pounds of coffee.

I am in love with Ashley Hansen.