RoomHate(14)

By: Penelope Ward



Shit.

Justin stood inches away from me. He smelled so effing good, like soap and cologne. I could feel the heat of his body, and my knees started to feel weak. He stared deeply into my eyes. It wasn’t necessarily an angry glare, but it wasn’t a happy or amused look either.

After several seconds of silence, he took a deep breath in and said, “You smell like vomit.”

Just as I opened my mouth to respond, he turned around and walked away back toward the stairs before disappearing.

That was it?

I smelled like vomit?

He was going to let the whole thing go? Or was he just saving it for later when Jade came home? I would have to wait anxiously to find out.



***



Business at Sandy’s had really suffered since losing The Ruckus—their headlining band. Salvatore had managed to fill the spot each night with mediocre local talent, but people were noticing the difference. The place would empty out much earlier than normal, and we weren’t getting as many customers in general.

I knew that Jade had spoken to Justin about taking on a few nights, but last I’d heard, he wasn’t interested. So, you could imagine my surprise when he turned up at Sandy’s one early Friday evening with his guitar strap wrapped around him.

At first, I didn’t realize it was him until he looked over at me. Butterflies swarmed in my stomach the moment I noticed him standing near the door, looking like he didn’t know where to go. Since it was unseasonably cool out, he was wearing a navy hoodie and a beanie. God, he looked sexy in that hat. It always seemed to bring out his eyes. Really, he looked sexy in anything, but today, he was particularly hot because he also hadn’t shaved in days.

Given how he’d treated me, my physical attraction to him never ceased to amaze me. It was easier to focus on the physical, I suppose. Justin’s exterior, which was so different from what I remembered, helped distract from what I knew was inside. The truth was, as much as I wanted him physically, it still didn’t compare to the longing that remained for my old friend. Somewhere hidden beneath the brawn and beauty, I knew he was still in there, and that frustrated me.

As far as I knew, Justin never mentioned the jerk-off encounter to Jade, nor did he torture me about it. I didn’t know why he decided to give me a pass on that, but I was eternally grateful.

Jade had gotten called out of town for an audition this morning. I’d assumed that he was going to go back with her.

I stopped wiping the table I’d been cleaning and walked over to him. “What are you doing here?”

He lifted his guitar from around his neck. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“I thought you went to New York with Jade.”

“She’s not going to be gone very long. And I already committed to this...gig.” He’d said it almost scornfully.

“I thought you were against playing here. I overheard you telling Jade that you’d rather perform at a prison than a lowly beach hut.”

“Yeah. Well, I guess she showed your boss some footage of me, and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

“How long will you be playing here?”

“I don’t know. A few weeks. Until we leave.”

“You’re not staying the whole summer?”

“No. That was never the plan.”

Disappointment set in. I should have been happy that he was leaving soon, but hearing that news had the opposite effect on me.

“Wow. Okay. Well…do you need me to show you around?”

“I’m good,” he said before walking away from me, heading toward the back of the restaurant.

Justin disappeared for at least an hour. He was scheduled to perform at eight, so he had about twenty minutes to go before show time.

My curiosity got the best of me as I went in search of him. The door to one of the back rooms was cracked open, and I could see him downing a bottle of beer and looking stressed. I wondered if he ever got nervous before a show. Even though he considered performing here a joke, he was still going to be putting himself out there.

His eyes darted to the side, and he noticed me standing there. We just stared at each other. It was ironic, but the only times I could ever feel the remnants of our old connection were in fleeting moments of silent eye contact. Sometimes moments of silence spoke the loudest.

I left him alone again, making my way back down the hall and into the restaurant to tend to the customers I’d been ignoring.

Things really started to get busy. Without Jade working tonight, we were short-staffed, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the orders. Sandy’s had indoor and outdoor seating. Normally, I would only be working one section, but tonight I was going back and forth between the two.

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