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All My Days - Alexi Murdoch

Benji

After arguing with my mom for several minutes about whether or not I was going to put on a heavier jacket, Jey and I finally stepped out the front door. It was only mid-September, but a heavy chill had settled over the town and I could see Jey's breath for just a moment before he stepped out of the shade. We walked side by side and for a while the only sound in the air between us was the scrape of his chucks on the pavement. I noticed that he dragged his feet when he walked and kept his head hung most of the time. We hadn't found a rhythm in talking to each other just yet. I felt a really important bond to him now that we had been through the accident together but I felt like I was still learning to be friends with him. The silence was just starting to grow awkward when he cleared his throat and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke?" I tried to keep my nose from wrinkling and smiled tightly instead, "oh sure," I said.

I watched as he pulled a single cigarette out of his pants pocket and fit it between his teeth. He pulled a tiny book of matches out of the other one and lit it, his chest swelling with a deep breath. I watched a hazy blue twirl of smoke rise up from the end. "You, uh," I started, "you really shouldn't though." He looked over at me and raised one eyebrow. He even stopped walking. I felt nervousness flutter at the bottom of my stomach. He laughed cynically, then, and crinkled his nose. He took one last long pull, then dropped the cigarette on the ground and crushed it under his foot, "you are so right, Benji." I smiled and nodded down at the smashed butt on the ground, putting on my best impressed face. "I dunno," he sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets and resuming our walk. "Aspen's really my only friend and smoking is like one of her personality traits. It was only natural for me to pick it up," he explained. After a long pause, he added, "plus I look so damn cool doing it." This made me laugh out loud and he wrinkled his nose up again and laughed too. Watching him stand there, his mouth open and head thrown back in a laugh with the sun making his deep, brown eyes tinged with gold made my heart feel like it was squeezing in my chest. I had to look away.

"Aspen's awesome," I said, kicking at a rock in the sidewalk, "but she's not your only friend." He looked over at me, studying my face. "I'm your friend," I said, then held out my hands in a 'ta-da' motion. This made Jey smile again and he reached out a hand and shoved me lightly, "you're right! I have two whole friends." I bumped him back with my shoulder, gently. We walked longer than I had meant to. So long that my back was starting to ache by the time we were walking back up the driveway, but I felt like we had found our groove. We talked about music and movies and his family. He told me about how his dad got in a car accident not that long ago and had some sort of life-changing epiphany and left his mom and brother. "That's why she's gone kind of ballistic with the grounding," he said as we navigated the path up to the front door, "I guess she's afraid that I'm going to freak out, too."
"Well are you?" I teased him. He chuckled.
"I haven't so far."

Back inside, Mom and the kids were sitting on the living room floor playing Apples to Apples around a plate of cheese and crackers. As soon as Zoe looked up and saw Jey, a pink flush spread across her cheeks. "This is Jorge," I introduced him and he leaned over the couch to shake her hand. As she sat back down, she knocked over her water bottle and the lid popped off, sending a puddle across the living room rug. "Oh Zoe," Mom sighed, exasperated, reaching for a towel underneath their plate of snacks. Zoe blushed even harder and held up the cards in her hands in front of her face. Jey smiled sweetly at her. "Benji, there's some more snacks for you boys in the kitchen. It's time for your next pill and you should probably lay down and rest," she pointed absentmindedly toward the kitchen, blotting at the carpet. "Thanks, Mommy," I said, steering Jey into the kitchen. We picked at the cheese and crackers for a little while, chatting more about school before I finally swallowed the pill mom had set out for me. "Hey, this stuff makes me real sleepy," I told him, "if you need to go, that's okay." He shook his head, making his curls bounce, "I want to stay. I can watch TV or something if you need to sleep." I felt a smile taking over my mouth, my stomach jumping again,. "Okay, cool."

We went back upstairs and Jey helped me pull off my brace. Underneath it, my shirt was soaked with sweat and I carefully pulled it off. I could feel his eyes on me, trailing across my chest until I pointed into my closet and asked if he could get me a sweatshirt. He shook his head slightly and made a funny noise in his throat as he got up. I checked my phone as he looked. There was a text from Hannah. I could feel a cold burn in the pit of my stomach, all the feelings of that night flashing through my head until I heard Jey chuckling. "What?" I looked up at him and shoved my phone, text unread, under my pillow. He was holding a soft, baby pink sweatshirt with 'Panama City Beach' printed across the front. "Everything in your closet is white, black, grey, or red. Or it has a sports logo on it. So what is this doing in there?" His voice was light and teasing and he wiggled his eyebrows at me. I groaned, "last year, I got really into, like, Instagram for a while. I spent hours scrolling through these cute pictures of boys in wearing soft colors and flowers. I dunno what it was but I had never seen anyone that looked like that here and I was captivated. So when we went on vacation, I was feeling pretty bold and bought that bad boy. Wore it to school once and the guys were relentless. So now it lives in the back of my closet."
Jey's eyes were shining now, "Benji Krol. You're a closeted soft boy," he grinned.
"Oh I don't know about that."
"You are! Don't worry, we'll get this beautiful sweatshirt some friends soon. I'll take you to the thrift store."

I rolled my eyes at him, but let him come around to my side of the bed and help me slide it on anyway. I could feel his hands brush against my skin as I arched my back to slide it down. Standing over me, the window behind him, Jey's dark curls were illuminated golden. His eyes were soft, locked with mine for a heavy, silent second. "Comfy?" He asked quietly, breaking the trance and coming to sit on the bed next to me. I nodded. The meds were starting to kick in and my eyes were starting to burn, begging for me to close them. I watched Jey out of the corner of my eye as he made a little nest out of my pillows and settled in to find something to watch on Netflix. I felt drunk. My head was full of cotton and my tongue felt swollen and sticky. I scooted a little closer to him, relishing the feeling of my leg being so close to his that I could feel the heat rolling off him.

"Jey?" I whispered to him. He looked down at me, a small smile playing at his lips. "Jey, I think I might have a little crush on you," slipped out of my mouth. It felt like silk sliding across my lips to say. My heart was pounding but I couldn't keep my eyes open any more. Every time I tried, they would flutter closed again but I caught a glimpse of his face. A dimple in one of his cheeks gave away that he was holding back a smile and I felt his gentle fingers in my hair. I slipped into a thick and dreamless sleep then, the sun warming my room and the smell of Jey filling my head.

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