Conor’s been a nuisance to me for as long as I could remember. It was stealing my bike when we were four, telling me santa didn’t exist as soon as he found out at six, blaming his shenanigans on me in school in all the classes we had together, and telling every guy I was interested in that I had herpes. The ones who knew Conor, dated me anyway, but Conor could have very well scared away the love of my life-I’d never know.
Ever since we graduated school and I went to college while he focussed on music, we’d seen each other less and the only bothering he did was tagging me in pointless memes. But every so often when I visited home and our gang met up, I would have to put up with him all over again.
“Come over here!” Jessie tugs me as soon as I get out of my uber. Our friends stand around the car parked in front of her house and they greet me while my face stays buried in Jessie’s shoulder
“Tell me it hasn’t been half a year since we saw each other,” Sam joins the hug and Mel says something about taking a picture of us. When they release me I grab Fran in a hug even though she hated them and notice Conor wasn’t around.
“Where’s Conor?” I ask.
“I thought you’d be glad not to see him,” Mel exchanges a glance with Fran but I don’t understand it.
“Just curious,” I say cautiously. “He’s never missed our mini-reunions.”
“He messaged the group, he’ll meet us at the club.” Jessie says. “Probably already attached himself to a girl there. Let’s go before he does anything stupid.”
“In that case, let’s take our time.” I say dryly with a hint of irritation and my friends just laugh.
We pile into the car and eventually find the street after driving in circles for fifteen minutes. “Could that little shite have picked anything more obscure?” Jessie sighs as she parks.
I hadn’t been to our last meet-up a few months ago due to exams and Conor had missed the meet before that so it’d been a little under a year since I saw Conor. The last time was on the weekend of my 20th birthday where he tried to shove a cupcake in my face. But there was a moment I can’t help but remember. As we were waiting for our separate ubers and he’d leaned into me drunkenly, saying something I’d never forget.
“I think I always loved you.”
“Y/N?” Mel snaps. I hadn’t realised the group was already to the door while I stood still on the sidewalk, remembering the way the words felt against my skin.
“Coming!” I hurry, my heels clacking again the pavement. I catch up to Mel and we walk in silence into the club.
“How’s work been?” I ask Mel, the silence becoming too much.
“Been keeping me busy,” she responds quickly. “I think they went that way.”
With that, she walks ahead of me to the bar where our friends are figuring out the drinks.
“Hey,” I pull Jessie aside after we order them. “Is it just me or is Mel acting weird?”
“Mel?” Jessie was the only person I felt comfortable asking since I knew she would always be objective. “She seems fine to me. Why?”
“I dunno,” I couldn’t put my finger on it. Mel was usually silly with me, teasing me that I was becoming a big nerd. But tonight she’d been serious, deliberately cut the conversation short as if she was mad at me. I would ask her if she was alright later, I decide.
“Ladies,” Sam approaches us, wrapping his arm around Jessie. They’d started dating the summer after graduation and it was no surprise to us. A relief actually, to see all the sexual tension built up between them for years disappear overnight. Quite literally.
“Let’s dance?” Jessie asks us but she’s mostly looking to Sam.
“I’ll just finish my drink first,” I smile-I didn’t feel like being a third wheel. Jessie makes me promise I would join in later and I watch them leave, now all alone. I spot Fran and Mel talking but it seems intense so I turn my back to the crowds and lean on the counter.
“Is it hot in here or is it just you?” I hear the familiar gravelly voice in my ear. My heart beats a little faster as my back straightens in anticipation of the stupid routine Conor and I had.
“You’re so full of shite you should probably find a toilet,” I say easily before turning to stare him straight in the eye. Except. He looked different.
I lose my smirk and my defence as I try to remember what I was going to say to him. He looks older; somehow in the last year he’d lost the boyish look and his features were sharpened by maturity…not that he had any….and with that thought, I remember who I was looking at.
“Still a complete arse, I see.” I look Conor up and down.
“A bigger snob than usual, I see.” Conor retorts but it lacks his usual snarkiness too. Almost as if seeing each other knocked us out of the ring we always fought in. I sip my drink as we find our footing still.
“How’s it going?” Conor asks.
“The usual-going to my snobby school and doing my snobby work.”
Conor chuckles. “Nice to know some things don’t change.”
I don’t answer that, thinking back to what he’d said that night. He was so drunk but apparently not drunk enough to forget because a few mornings after, as I was on the train back to school I’d received a text from him.
I was shitfaced the other night so whatever I said was just nonsense.
The text stung a little even though I never really considered being in love with Conor. His next text reminded me why I never considered it: It’s not like it could work out anyway. You’re too freaky.
Thanks, I’d sent back with an eye-roll emoji. And that had been that.
But it hadn’t been just that. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that deep down I enjoyed the banter. It had become familiar, more reliable than a lot of other things in my life. I’d never miss the juvenile pranks he played on me but our banter was our own little language. And it made me realise other things too, like how it might feel to not have that…like it would make a bigger hole in my heart than I initially thought.
“Have you been working out?” Conor asks beside me and I only barely make out the question over the noise.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I roll my eyes but secretly flattered that he’d noticed.
“No I’m being serious!” Conor says. “You look good!”
I turn my body to him and raise an eyebrow, assessing if he was going to tease me but he seemed genuine. “I’ve been rock climbing recently, and training for a marathon.”
Conor whistles. Well he looked like he was whistling but I don’t hear anything.
“You don’t look bad yourself,” I comment without letting on that I thought he looked really good. Like really really really really good.
“I’ve been making some changes,” he says casually. When I raise an eyebrow he continues, “I cut back on the alcohol but that’s cuz my label said I need to clean up my image and stop partying so much.” He laughs but it has an edge. “And I try to go to the gym but it’s…”
“A losing battle?” I laugh. “Remember that one summer we all made a pact to work on our ‘summer bodies’ but you went for a week and missed your alarm every week after that.”
“To be honest,” he says. “I never set an alarm after the first week.”
My mouth drops, “You piece of shite! You had us all convinced you were struggling!”
Conor laughs with his whole body and my breath catches with the way the room narrows down just to him. Coming out tonight was not good for my heart-I was only falling
“I can’t piss you off now that you’ve been working out-you could probably beat my arse.”
“Who said I couldn’t do it before I worked out?” I tease as I flex my arm. Conor’s eyes widen and he touches the muscle I’d proudly built over the last few months. His touch sends a zap to my nerves and I drop my arm back to its side.
“That’s like-proper muscle.”
“Yeah!” I’d lost the humour as my heart continued to race. It was just Conor. Just Conor.
“What are you two gossiping about?” Meg and Fran appear and she shouts to be heard. I balk-for a few minutes we were actually getting on.
“Was the world ending or were you two laughing with each other.” Fran reads my thoughts and I blush and glance at Conor who’s glancing at me too.
“I was just getting her comfortable for the trouble I have in store later,” Conor says without the usual sauciness. The girls seem to pick up on it because they glance at one another again. God, that was getting annoying.
“I think Conor’s finally growing a brain in that skull of his,” I joke.
“Is that where my brain’s supposed to be?” Conor bounces off my joke and my laugh’s cut short when I realise Meg is staring at us as if we’d grown another head.
“So Conor,” Meg says after we sip our drinks in silence. “It’s been a while since I saw your face. You haven’t sent me any vocal clips anymore of your music.”
“I’ve been working on lyrics actually…” I tune the conversation out, Meg’s comment making me uncomfortable. I don’t remember Meg being anything but snarky towards Conor yet he was sharing his music with her. And not me. Actually he’d never even talked about his music with me, I have to remind myself. Why was I getting jealous over a stupid comment?
“So Fran-you’re even more quiet tonight than usual.” I say.
“I had a long shift this morning.” She groans. “Kids can be brutal.”
“Aw,” I grab her arm. “Then your next drink’s on me!”
“I have a weird question,” Fran says once we get the drinks. She was never one for beating about the bush.
“Shoot,” I say.
“Do you have a thing for Conor?”
My drink nearly comes out of my nose as I choke. Fran hands me napkins as she pats my back and I begin laughing.
“Why would you think that?” I ask, paranoid that my small-big crush was obvious.
“You two are always going off on one another,” she shrugs. “Maybe that’s your way of flirting?”
“Oh my god,” I laugh. “When I flirt, I’m a lot less aggressive! At least I hope so.”
“So the little piece you were doing just now with him?” She raises an eyebrow.
“Uh-wh-no?” I stutter. Fran and I stare at each other before bursting into laughter.
“You are so bad at lying.” Fran shouts.
“Lying about what?” Jessie shows up with Sam trailing behind her.
“Hey! Weren’t you two dancing?” I ask, hoping to distract from the question.
“Yeah! You never showed!” Jessie says. “And I want a drink. Non-alcoholic don’t worry.”
“I’ll give you the seat,” Fran slides off and says she was going.
“Not a word!” I shout out to her and she makes an X over her heart.
“Shotgun!” I shout into the dark as our eyes adjust from the flashing lights to the night sky.
“Aw no!” Sam complains. “You know my legs don’t stretch in the back!”
“Should have thought of that before! Shotgun rules says it’s my seat.” I say, a little tipsy but mostly just happy having all my friends together again.
“I call a window!” Sam frowns.
“Where does Conor sit?” Meg asks. “There’s not enough seats.”
“I’ll sit in Y/N’s lap,” Conor wraps his arm around my shoulders and pulls me to him so I stumble in my heels.
“Get off!” I shove him away, the scrunchie in my hair sliding off. “Ugh.”
“You cut your hair?” Jessie asks as we get in.
“Yeah! Just last week. So many dead ends…” We continue the small talk as the gang piles in the back, Meg agreeing to sit on the floor as she was the smallest. I connect the car with bluetooth and put on a throwback playlist as we reminisce about the old times. Meg falls asleep and we all laugh, the boys taking snaps of her to make fun of. Just as I feel relaxed, the music goes fuzzy and a familiar voice sings through the speakers.
“Conor!” I twist in my seat and aim to hit his knee but I get Fran instead and while I apologize Conor begins singing out loud which earns groans from everyone.
“Stop hijacking the Bluetooth!” I say and turn my music back on but Conor puts his on again and I feel my frustration rise so I turn it off but Conor just finds a way to play his music again. I cross my arms and sigh, deciding to just ignore it while Jessie starts to hum to the music. Fran and Sam are having a discussion and I feel Conor playing with my hair from the back.
“Stop that!” I twist to see him again and he’s grinning. “Ugh, I hate you.”
“Only because you’re afraid of how much you’d love me,” Conor teases but the words hit too close to home so I flip him off again and turn back in my seat.
Fran and Sam get off first as they lived a few houses down from the other. Next, we drop Meg who took a few shakes and shouts to wake up. Conor says to drop him off at his brother’s and we do so but before he goes in he leans his elbows on my open window.
“You’re gonna get run over,” I say as a car whizzes by behind him.
“So are we doing anything later? This week or something?” Conor ignores my comment.
“Ah I don’t know.” Jessie says. “We can all hang out after work but Y/N’s home for the whole week before she disappears on us again.”
Conor doesn’t even look back at Jessie when he asks me, “Great, maybe I can show you some of my music then.”
I blush, thinking he’d noticed my earlier bitterness about Meg’s comment but his face is casual. “Sounds cool,” I nod and when he’s out of sight Jessie squeals.
“You two are so into each other.”