Building Friction (Part 29)

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I went back inside and walked up to the small group around the dart boards, hugging Matt from behind. He smiled at me and threw the last dart that was in his hand, hitting the bullseye, then turned toward me and leaned down for a kiss.

"You know what guys? I'm really wanting to just go home. I hope you don't mind if I cut out," I said wearily.

The group all did a mock groan and then lined up to start giving me hugs and saying their goodbyes. Matt looked quizzically at me.

"Are you OK?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm just feeling tired. I think I'd like to get to sleep early tonight. The kids have really been wearing me out." At least the last part was true, teaching had been rough over the last few days. No one seemed to be much in the mood for listening since it was nearing the end of the school year.

"Alright," he said softly. "Do you want me to follow you home?"

"Nah, I'll be OK." I grabbed up my purse and started for the door, Matt on my heels. As we were on our way out, Matt noticed Geoff sitting at the table with Alex.

"Man, that asshole just never quits, does he?" he remarked.

"Please, I don't want to start anything. That's over with." I tugged at his hand. Geoff had caught Matt looking at him and raised his beer up, shooting Matt a snarky grin.

"Did you see that fucker smile at me?" Matt had stopped walking and was beginning to pull away from me and in the direction of the table.

"Matt! Please! Just let it go!" I was starting to get exasperated with the whole scenario. If he wanted to fight, he was going to have to do it without me around. I let go of his hand and shot him one last glare of warning. He didn't notice. I started for the door again.

"You got a problem?" I heard Matt say.

I stopped to glance over my shoulder. Geoff was still smiling, but was now shaking his head in response to Matt's question. Matt was walking towards the table. I could see Alex stand and make his way out of the line of fire.

"Then why are you looking at me like that?" Matt challenged.

"I'm not looking at you in any way," Geoff responded. "You're the one looking at me. You sure it's not you who has the problem?"

Matt stepped up to the table. Geoff stayed seated and returned his blazing glare with one of indifference. Matt drummed his knuckles on the table.

"I just don't see why you need to keep coming around Chloe," Matt said.

"Look, I came here to spend some time with my friends. They happen to know Chloe. So that would mean that we travel in the same circles. If you can't handle that..." Geoff paused for a moment and looked over at me. "Perhaps you should have a talk with your girlfriend then."

Matt looked over at me. My eyes widened in panic. I started to shake my head wildly, to convey that I didn't have anything to do with what Geoff was talking about. Matt turned his attention back to his adversary.

"She seems disturbed by your presence. I wonder if half of the reason why she wants to cut out of here early is because she saw you here." Matt tilted his head back and looked down his nose at Geoff.

Geoff looked over at me, arching an eyebrow. I met his gaze, then sighed softly. "I don't know," Geoff started, before turning his attention back to Matt. "I haven't talked to her all night. And if you ask me, she just looks tired. Maybe you're over-analyzing things."

"Whatever." Matt rapped his knuckled on the table again. "Just stay the fuck away from her. I don't know what it is about you, but there's something that just isn't right. She might not be able to speak up about it, but you can bet your ass I will." With that, Matt turned and started to walk towards me again.

I saw Geoff snort in laughter. Matt whipped back around and gave him a look that begged for an excuse. People were starting to gather around closer, anticipating a reprisal of what had gone down on the beach. Geoff held up his hands in protest.

"You don't need to worry about me, Pet Store Boy. Trust me. I'm the least of your worries." Geoff settled back into his chair.

I saw Matt make towards the table and rushed forward, grabbing his arm. Alex stepped back in and stood in front of the table, along with Casey and Ken. The guys didn't look like they were taking Geoff's side as much as they were trying to keep all of us from getting kicked out of the bar because of a fight.

"Matt!" I hissed. "Get your ass outside right now, or you can forget about me ever talking to you again!" His head snapped in my direction, a look of confusion clouding his blue eyes.

"You heard me," I threatened.

Matt hesitated for a brief second, taking one last look at Geoff who was sitting with a smug expression on his face. He reluctantly followed me outside and down to where my car was parked. His breathing was hard, his chest rising and falling in an angry rhythm.

"What the fuck was that about, Chloe?" he shouted.

"Listen to me carefully. And pay attention, because I'm not going to say it twice." I stared hard into his eyes, making sure he was following along. He nodded curtly and held my gaze.

"Geoff and I have history. It's not a long history or a in-depth history. But there is shit there. So he's going to be sniffing around. You don't have to be happy about it and I don't expect you to be nice. But what would work out better in the long run is if you just ignored him. He's going to look at me. He might even talk to me. But I don't want to start shit between my friends. We've had other things that have torn us down the middle, and everyone hated it. I am NOT going to be the catalyst for any more of that bullshit, you got it?" I took a deep breath in.

Matt's eyes darted back and forth across my face. "History?" was all he could manage to squeak out.

I ran my hands down over my face. "Is that all you heard? Do you want details? Because as much as everyone says they want to know, they don't. So be damn clear when you answer that."

He was quiet for a short time. "No," he finally said. "No, I don't want to know."

"Good. But were you clear on the other part of what I said? No more shit. Because I don't care how good you are to me, I still don't know you as well as I know my friends. Right now, they come first. Don't fuck with that." I narrowed my gaze at him.

I expected him to argue with me about it, even if it was meekly. But instead he sighed, his shoulders drooping. "I'm sorry," he said, then moved in close to me. "I was wrong. I'm sorry. I might not be happy about it, but I'll deal with it better next time."

I stepped into his arms and allowed him to hug me. "OK," I said against his chest. "Thank you."

We stood in silence, Matt rocking me back and forth in his arms. On one of the swings, I looked up and saw some of the crowd from indoors lining the back wall of the bar, smoking and trying to look like they weren't snooping on us. Everyone turned away when they saw me look up at them. Everyone except for one.

Geoff had a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth, the smoke trailing upward in a slow curl and obscuring half of his face. But even in the dim light and the distance, it was unmistakably him. He raised a hand up and gave me a slow wave.

I pulled back from Matt. "I really, really want to go home now." He leaned in and gave me a kiss, then held open my door and closed it behind me after I'd gotten in. I sped away, leaving the bar and the drama behind me, but not out of my mind.


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"Ooooo. What is it with you? Why does shit follow you around like a vapor trail?"

Steph was sitting in my living room, her feet propped up on my coffee table, a bag of plain M&M's in her hand. She was half addressing me and half divvying up the colors into little piles in the palm of her other hand.

"Tell me about it," I sighed, dropping down into my armchair and taking a large gulp of whiskey that I'd poured into one of my frosted mugs. "Every time something looks good, it turns rotten."

"Maybe you ask for it." Steph pulled my glass out of my hand and drank generously from it before handing it back. "All you had to do was be cordial the first night you met Geoff, but noooooo. You had to be obstinate little Chloe, all toughass and no thought process. You do realize that if you had reacted a little better to the beer shit, you wouldn't be going though any of this, don't you?"

"OK, that I don't know. Geoff is still pretty intense. If we had gotten along from the start, if I had been able to put the beer past me, who's to say that it wouldn't have just gotten fucked up in some other way?" I sipped at the whiskey again, enjoying the warm burn down my throat.

"True, but you have at least a month in you before you start to fuck things up. So these last few weeks wouldn't have sucked so much." Steph threw another candy into her mouth.

"The thing is, they haven't really sucked. They've just been..." I searched for the word. "Different. I little off from what I'm used to. Difficult, sure. But I don't know if that qualifies as sucking."

Steph pondered on it for awhile. "Yeah, you probably wouldn't have agreed to go out with Matt if you weren't pissed about the Geoff thing. And if you weren't pissed about the Geoff thing, you never would have made that bet that made us lose fooz..." she shot me an angry glare, "and you might never have kissed him like you did."

"Long story short, this all has been a bit of an adventure. Not planned, not entirely wanted, but an adventure nonetheless." I reached over and swiped some candy out of Steph's hand.

"So what next then, Jungle Huntress? You going to keep stalking Matt, wait him out, see if the goods are any.... um.... good?"

"I've put in the time. I think I should stick it out a little longer and try and capture the reward." I laughed. Steph joined me.

"Then the question is Geoff. You planning on continuing to talk to him? Or are you just going to speak when spoken to?" She wrestled my glass away again and took another swig.

"That's the one I can't figure out. It really bugs me that I enjoy his company. The entire time that we were in LA, he didn't mention Matt. And I didn't think about him either. Fuck," it was dawning on me that that might be a very good indicator of where I really stood with Matt, "that is so fucked up!"

"Pssssh. You don't need to be thinking about Matt every single moment of the day," Steph reasoned.

"Yeah, but I should have had some kind of remorse over being there with a guy that he'd beaten up. There should have been some part of me that stopped and thought, 'Hey! Chloe! Maybe this isn't right!' But there was nothing." I sighed.

"You didn't make it out like it was nothing. You were bothered that there might have been something. Just not a something about you and Matt." Steph leaned forward, grabbed my glass and put in on the coffee table. She took both of my hands in hers. "Do you like Geoff?" She asked the question without hesitation, and refused to let me look away until I answered her.

"Yeah. I think a part of me does. I'm just concerned that it's that part of me that likes to get me to do stupid things. You know me. You know how I chase after shit that has no potential, just because it's a challenge. What if that's just another one of those things?" My brow furrowed. My lips formed a tense line.

"Every time we go after love, it's somewhat futile. Nothing is ever safe," she began before I cut her off.

"Love? Jesus, don't say that. This, if anything, is just an odd fascination. A deviant infatuation. A lot of 'ashuns.'" I giggled nervously.

"You fucking dork. You know what I mean!" Steph slapped my upper arm. "All I'm saying is that when we deal with someone that we have feelings for, there's always the possibility that the floor is going to drop out beneath us. We wouldn't go after it if that wasn't the case. Nothing boring or safe is worth that much effort."

"I hear what you're saying. You know," I pulled a hand out of her grasp and reclaimed my whiskey, downing what was left of it. "I had been thinking that Matt was the logical and safe choice, but damned if that man doesn't have some balls."

Steph wrinkled her nose. "You want my honest opinion?" she asked.

"Always," I replied.

"Any man that is that eager to fight makes my stomach upset. I don't care if he does think that he was protecting your honor somehow. Back on the beach was one thing. Geoff was drunk and acting stupid. He deserved to get knocked around a bit. But last night?" She shook her head. "So not called for."

I sighed. "I know what you mean."

"It came off like he was trying to claim you. As if he thought you were his property to protect." she continued.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. And I know what you mean. It bugged me too. But I did give him a chewing out, so I don't think it's going to happen again. He IS rather respectful when I ask him to do something."

"He would have to be," Steph laughed. "Considering that he wants you to be respectful of his reasons for not having sex."

"And I have been. So if he fucks this up, that'll be my answer right there. I can't be with someone who's always at the ready to throw down." I rubbed the end of my nose. Whiskey always made me want to sneeze.

"Come on! Like you wouldn't do Joshua!" Steph laughed.

"Oh, well that's another story!" We both snickered. "I'd do Joshua. I wouldn't date him though."

"Ditto here," Steph agreed.

"Except that you're off the cock," I giggled.

"I don't know...." Steph raised an eyebrow. "For that cute little goofball...." That set us off on another round of giggles.

"The cute ones always wreck us," I commented, after regaining my breath.

"Yeah, you'd almost think we'd have dicks or something, this whole superficial thing we've got going on." Steph wiped at the tears that had formed in the corners of her eyes.

"Well, we kinda do. They're just really little," I added.

And with that, we were laughing again.

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