All That Jazz – Natasha Boyd

OUCH,” I HİSS as I lie down gingerly on the scratchy motel sheets in Florida for our senior year “after finals break.” The skin of my back is on fire and only getting worse. The male body passed out next to me grunts and rolls over in his sleep, revealing his tousled brown hair and smooth, lean body. “Sorry,” I grouch at him. “Am I disturbing your beauty sleep?” There’s no answer. So much for asking him to put some cooling lotion on my back. I’ll have to sleep on my front. Grabbing my phone to check the time, my stomach drops, and my skin goes ice cold despite the burn. I see seven missed calls and a bunch of “call me urgently” texts from my best friend, Keri Ann. Oh shit. Joey. Her brother is my first thought. It isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a frantic middle of the night call like that from Keri Ann. First when their parents died. Then when their Nana died.

Me: Sorry, phone was in room charging. Everything ok? My phone dings immediately. KA: No. Nothing is ok. Can you talk? As the blood drains from me, my hand trembles. I dial. I feel like I might vomit. Please let Joey be all right. Why else would his sister call me like this? “Thanks for calling,” Keri Ann greets me without even a hello. My stomach crunches in on itself. “What’s the matter? You okay?” I swallow. “Is Joey —?” “Fine. He’s fine,” she says hurriedly. My breath explodes out of me in relief. Followed by irritation at myself for being so dramatic.

“Sorry to freak you out. I’m fine, I just … Oh, God, Jazz. Jack is back in Butler Cove.” I’m completely taken aback. Jack Eversea (yes, the movie star, and yes, he’s also an asshole) is back in Butler Cove? “I saw him today.” “Oh my God. Seriously?” Over the past seven months, I’ve watched my best friend hit rock bottom with a shattered heart from the way Jack left her and then haul her own way out of the carnage by sheer force of will. I’m so surprised by the news that Jack Eversea showed up after all this time that it gives me a reprieve from having to over examine my reaction to thinking the news was about her brother. Keri Ann and I have been best friends since fifth grade. I can’t imagine my life without her in it. The problem is “she” comes with a “he.” In the form of a brother I’ve had a crush on for about as long as I’ve known her and who broke my heart at the tender age of eighteen. I’ve finally given up on my childish dreams of Joey, and I’m dating like a grown up. Hence the lump of man-flesh next to me sharing a motel room. Brandon.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a grown up relationship. He’s very pretty, but it’s a wonder he’s getting through college because there doesn’t seem to be much between his ears. On the phone Keri Ann tells me how Jack showed up out of the blue while she was changing a tire on the truck. She was with Colt, her brother’s best friend, who apparently bestowed upon Jack a long overdue punch in the face. By the time she’s done telling me about changing the tire, the punch thrown, and her rain-soaked t-shirt that left both guys gawking at her chest and speechless on the side of the highway, I’m giggling madly. Beside me Brandon groans again, but this time his hand snakes over to my lap and slips between my legs. I push it away. “Shh,” I whisper at him, rolling my eyes. He’s pretty and a horn dog. “Go back to sleep.” “Is that Brandon?” Keri Ann asks. “Sorry to make you call me in the middle of the night.” “It’s fine. I would have called you back earlier if I’d had my phone.” And avoided giving myself a heart attack.

“Yeah, big choco-eyes over here has been hitting the sauce since the pool this afternoon. He is baked and done.” Hence why he left me sleeping in the sun this afternoon with no sunscreen on. We chat a little longer, but I’m tired. I can tell from Keri Ann’s voice that Jack being back is going to put her through the ringer. I feel the need to get back home and be close by in case of fall out. It probably wouldn’t hurt if Joey knew either. If it ended badly again between Keri Ann and Jack, she’d need all the support she could get. I glance over at Brandon’s sleeping form, his long dark eyelashes resting against his cheekbones, and feel nothing but annoyance and irritation. What am I even doing here? I know I said I wanted casual, fun relationships, and it has been. After finals break in Florida with about twenty friends. Beach, pool, dancing, drinking. Repeat. Fun. And just a little empty.

But now I know I need to move on. We’re graduating soon anyway. At least I am. I did it in three years. It was a stretch financially and mentally. If Brandon continues skipping classes like he has been, he’ll be at college another year. First thing tomorrow, I’m ending our … whatever this is. I hope he’s not too crushed. He’s been trying to get me to go out with him for over a year. Honestly, I’m not sure if I was super attracted to him or if he finally wore me down. I’ve made it four weeks. His deep brown eyes, six-pack abs, and devil-may-care attitude didn’t keep me engaged for very long. I huff and shift to try and get comfortable, hissing again in pain. Yep. Definitely over.

AFTER THE PHONE call from Keri Ann two nights ago, I drove myself straight back up to the Lowcountry. Home. The wind is chilly this morning. Though I’m rarely up this early to know if it’s colder than most other days. I bet myself that Keri Ann is kayaking right now and decide I’ll go wait for her at Broad Landing. When I get there, her truck is nowhere in sight. I get out anyway. The ponds all over Butler Cove Island are rippling with disturbances as alligators seem to be making up for the cold winter that slowed their blood and deadened their limbs. In front of me though, the estuary is almost dead calm. The fresh spring marsh grasses are singeing my eyes with their vibrant green, and Broad Creek, beyond the small marina, is lake-like and glassy in its stillness. I stand and appreciate the view, giving it the moment it deserves. The Lowcountry is a hard place to dislodge from one’s heart. Once a Lowcountry girl, always a Lowcountry girl. With Jack Eversea trying to get Keri Ann back, I know I should call Joey and let him know so we can all be on alert in case Keri Ann needs us. Since Colt was there when Jack showed up, I’m sure Joey already knows.

But how much do guys really talk? Yet I feel sure about this they would, but perhaps not. And this would be why I am a) looking for Keri Ann so I can get an update and b) debating whether I should do something that makes my palms sweat. Call her brother. Before I allow myself to weigh the wisdom of my actions, I dial his number on my cell. The phone against my ear rings in a far off place. I think of Joey feeling the vibration in his pocket and pulling it out, then frowning as he sees my name. Maybe he’s still in bed. A moment of clear thinking makes my hand loosen so I can slip the phone away from my ear. But then I hear it connect. “Hey.” His deep voice slides with a shudder into my ear and down my spine, wrapping all my vital organs in feelings I’ve spent years trying to keep in check. He sounds slightly out of breath. “Jazz? Is everything okay?” At least he still recognizes my number … or I’m stored in his phone. Probably that. “Fine.

” I wince at the catch in my voice, clear my throat, and muster my armor, going for teasing. “Yes, Doctor. Just wondering if you’ve been in touch with your sister lately.” I can’t help it, I imagine him lying in bed, the sheet kicked up and tangled around his lower body. “Did I wake you?” “I’m up, just been for a run.” I hear the muffled rustle of clothing. “Why, is she okay?” “I guess. Just, uh … Jack’s back.” “I know.” His tone changes. It’ll cross his mind that I used Keri Ann as an excuse to call him. Sadly, he’ll be partially correct. “Has she seen him again?” “I don’t know,” I admit. “I, uh …” “Anything else?” I swallow. Humiliated.

“I just didn’t know if you knew,” I snap, then suck my lips between my teeth and close my eyes. His sigh coincides with the rock that drops into my stomach. I promised myself I wouldn’t lose my cool, that I could handle it. Like addicts who promise themselves they can handle one last hit. Ugh, and I just failed Best Friend Code. I barrel ahead. “Look, it’s probably nothing. She hasn’t called me back since she saw him, so I was worried …” I trail off, worrying now about his reaction to my call. About him reading more into it than concerned friend. The quiet stretches out. Then I hear clicking, maybe it’s typing. Or maybe the signal cut off. “Jay?” My secret name for Joey slips out. Jay Bird. The awkward scale for this conversation just tipped into the red zone, and I feel a vague wash of nausea.

“Yeah, I’ll call her this morning.” He doesn’t acknowledge my slip, thank God. I shouldn’t have freaking called. Keri Ann would be understandably pissed at me if she knew. Why didn’t I think this through better? “Please don’t tell her, I—” “I won’t. I was going to call her anyway and catch up. I’ll see how she’s doing.” “Okay. Thank you.” “No problem. I’ll text you after.” “No,” I say abruptly. “Don’t. I don’t want to go behind her back. I shouldn’t have called you anyway.

But I did, so … whatever. Have a good day.” I move to end the call. “Jazz?” “Yeah?” I respond with as much breeziness as possible. “Thank you for being a good friend to my sister.” I scowl, though he can’t feel its chilling effects, more’s the pity. “I love her. I don’t do it for you, jackass.” Joey laughs softly. And I picture him shaking his head at my inability to control or edit what comes out of my mouth. “Of course not,” he says. “I just want you to know that I always rest easier knowing you’re there for her, and that, like now, you’d let me know if you were worried about something.” Well, that just makes me feel like a shit. Like I’m spying on her for him or something. Gritting my teeth, I try and work out how to express myself.

Joseph Butler can make me mad by just existing. Throw in shit like this, and I can’t think straight. “Look,” he says. “I know you didn’t do this for me. But I appreciate it all the same. I hope we can be friends when I come home.” “I thought, according to you, we were friends. My bad.” I mentally say a thousand thank yous that he can’t see my face. Friends was apparently all he ever thought we were. Even when I was eighteen and naked under his body. “Jazz.” “What?” “I’m sorry, okay. I don’t know how many times I need to say it. Or for how long.

I’m sorry.” “It’s fine,” I snap, hating myself more with every passing second of this stupid, stupid, stupid lapse in judgment I’ve had by calling him. “Clearly, it’s still not. God, I wish I could go back and stop anything happening between us. But I can’t. I can only apologize.” “Well, that’s the difference then,” I respond, unable to be anything but honest. “I don’t. I don’t wish it away. I’d never change it. I just wish we’d had a different ending.” Or any ending at all, actually. “Then I guess that’s what I’m sorry for.” “Whatever,” I say and fumble as I blindly hit the button to end the call. I’m breathing hard.

Why the hell did I call him?


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Updated: 25 July 2021 — 09:18

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