Pepped Up Forever(5)By: Ali Dean
“Yeah, you don’t want to start a relationship with an ‘I could take it or leave it’ mentality,” Ryan jokes. Yet his words are right on point.
The truth is, I respect Ryan as a runner, as a good guy. I recognize he’s an attractive dude. But I’d get bored with him. We might be able to love each other, but it’d be so predictable and anti-climactic. There aren’t any fireworks. Because I’ve seen fireworks between two people. Experienced them. Felt the sizzle and crack deep in my bones. It’s awesome and terribly painful. Would I do it again? Or do I want something less earth-shattering, less heart-breaking? I don’t know.
There was a time after we broke up that I wanted Pepper to see other guys. I wanted her to get over me and move on. I thought I wanted that. Until Annie left, the second time, I always wanted what I thought was best for Pepper. I wasn’t always right about it, that’s for sure, but my instincts have always been to protect her, make sure she’s happy and safe. Ever since we were little kids. A little less than two years ago, that changed. My self-preservation came first. I knew I was hurting her. But I couldn’t help it. It hurt too much to feel, and being with Pepper always makes me feel everything. The good, and the bad.
And when I eventually started to snap out of my self-imposed prison, a sick part of me hoped Pepper would see other guys just so she’d know that what we had doesn’t happen with just anyone. I’d had enough experience to know that what Pepper and I shared is rare. It was extraordinary, and not something she would find again. But Pepper wasn’t like other girls. She didn’t need experience with other guys to know that I was it for her. I think she always knew. The girl just got it.
At least, that was what I tried to tell myself on nights I knew she was out, getting hit on, maybe meeting her new boyfriend. Because really, I might have just been telling myself lies. Maybe she would find something even better with someone else. It was so fucking confusing. I wanted her to be happy. God, I wanted that more than I wanted my own happiness. I just hoped so bad she’d find it with me. And I had no fucking clue how to do that. We could barely even have a conversation anymore.
I was getting ready to turn in for the night, my body aching and tired from the run this morning, when I got a few text messages from people telling me about the Rockies team hanging out at the Tavern. Pepper waitressed there most Saturday nights, so of course, I had to drive over there. The parking lot was packed, and I didn’t want to go in and deal with the crowds or upset her. She would’ve known I was there for her, and that would’ve made her uneasy. I had accepted that she didn’t really need me, but I couldn’t help shadowing her like a stalker, just in case. It gave me a sense of purpose. Made me feel connected to her.
One time I probably overstepped a little, but I liked to think I helped her out. A guy on the hockey team walked her home a few months ago from a party, and I followed them. I knew it was messed up, but I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I knew Pepper and her body language said she wasn’t into him. And he wanted at least a kiss, but probably an invitation to her room. She managed to leave with neither, but I could tell she was uncomfortable. The dude totally wasn’t going to back down, I’m sure had plans to keep after her the next time she was out, so I had a few words with him, without Pepper’s knowledge, of course. He didn’t bother her again.
Anyway, Pepper with Ryan was a different story altogether. I knew he gave her rides home from work, but it still sucked watching her get in his Jeep tonight. Pepper liked Ryan, and he wouldn’t hurt her, so I had no right to intervene. I just hoped she didn’t fall for the guy again. Or maybe I did. He was probably perfect for her. Shit. And now I was sitting on the front steps at my dad’s house on Shadow Lane, wondering what the hell she was still doing in his car and wondering if there was any logical reason I could fabricate for walking down the sidewalk in the middle of the night. It was taking a lot of self-restraint not to go over there and bang on the window. I had serious issues.
The front door opened, and I heard my dad behind me. “You okay, Jace?” he asked, his voice raspy with sleep.
“Yeah Dad, what are you doing up?”
“Got up to pee and heard you pull in, then saw you sitting out here, thought it was a little odd.” He joined me on the stairs, and we sat in silence for a minute.
There was no need to explain my compulsive tendency to follow Pepper around, pretending I was her bodyguard or some shit. My dad probably already knew it anyway. Hell, he knew I was in love with the girl years before I figured it out. But over the last year I had gotten better about talking stuff through with my dad. Even when it seemed pointless, it sometimes helped me figure out why I did the things I did. But sometimes I could just have the conversation in my head. And I knew why I shadowed her like a stalker. I wanted any reason to be close to her, and that was the best I could do.