The Space Between Us


the space between us by Kayla Mathys

The row of cars overflowing from the driveway onto the street when we arrived made it pretty clear the party wouldn’t be the small get-together I’d been promised.

“Looks like a lot of people,” I grumbled as my boyfriend, Brad, parked his truck on a patch of grass between two other cars several yards from the driveway. 

“It’ll be fun,” he said, reaching for my hand. 

I slipped my hand out from underneath his, and folded my arms over my chest. Fun. Dread coiled in my stomach at the thought.

Lately, his definition of fun consisted of the night ending with someone having to drag his half-unconscious body back home, and that someone was usually me and his best friend Dave.

The three of us had been friends all our lives, but none of us were prepared when Brad’s dad suddenly decided to abandon his family at the beginning of this past school year.

Tonight, during Brad’s post-graduation dinner, was the first time Brad had seen him since the night he left, and the encounter hadn’t been pleasant. 

His father had looked like he’d spent the past year living on the streets. His grey-black hair had looked disheveled and unwashed while his face had been covered in a soot-like layer of unshaven stubble. Dark circles were haloed around his bloodshot blue eyes, and his dry lips had cracked at his attempt of a smile in our direction.

When I had seen the row of empty scotch glasses in front of him, my first thought was the worry that the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

Brad hopped out of the truck and ran over to open up my passenger door. Childishly, I kept my arms crossed over my chest and glared out the windshield, refusing to move. 

It wasn’t raining yet, but thick gray clouds swirled above us, hiding any glimpse of the stars. I knew it would only be a matter of time before the night’s predicted storm rolled in and we were stuck here. 

“Come on, Sarah. Don’t be like this. We’ll just stop by for a few minutes, and if you want to leave after that we can, okay?” Brad pleaded. “There probably won’t even be any booze left. We’re already late.”

The house was obstructed from our view by a thick line of trees, but I could still hear the music thumping inside, and the rowdy chorus of drink, drink, drink probably coming from somewhere in the backyard.

So much for there not being any booze.

“You promised, Brad. No more parties. You promised.”

“I know. I did. And I’m keeping that promise, okay? I won’t drink tonight. We’ll just go in and say a quick hello to be polite and then we’ll leave, I swear. It’d be stupid to just leave after we came all this way.” 

Dave was heading toward us then, his hands tucked into his pockets, and I caught his gaze through the windshield as he approached the truck. 

“What’s going on?” Dave asked.

“Sarah doesn’t want to get out of the car. She says there’s too many people.”

“Correction: You promised no more parties. This is a party,” I said.

Dave turned around to face the sound of the blaring music and then turned back to look at me. “That does appear to be the case,” he said. He looked at Brad. “And you did promise to cut back on the partying.”

“Fine. Whatever. I’m just going in to say hello. Stay in the car and pout if you want, Sarah.” Brad said. He looked at Dave. “You coming, man?”

“In a sec,” Dave said. “We’ll meet you in there.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Brad scoffed, shaking his head as he turned to walk away. I watched the tense lines of his silhouette disappear in the rearview mirror. 

“So,” Dave said, “you gonna scoot over and let me in or am I just gonna have to stand here till he gets back?”

I sighed. “He’s not coming back,” I said, meeting his eyes with a steely gaze, “and you know it.”

I slid over and Dave hopped in beside me. I was hyperaware of his leg pressed against mine ever so slightly, his hand resting on top of his thigh.

I wondered what it would feel like to be with someone I didn’t have to constantly worry about as I fought the urge to reach over and take his hand in mine.

i wondered what it would feel like to be with someone I didn't have to constantly worry about as I fought the urge to reach over and take his hand in mine quote

“I’m sorry, Sarah. I wish I could fix it. All of it,” Dave said, breaking the silence.

“Yeah,” I said, sliding away from him into the driver’s seat, “me too.”

I hopped out of the truck and slammed the door behind me, storming past the line of cars leading toward the party. Dave followed suit and fell casually into step beside me as we walked in silence to the house.

The music was deafening when we stepped inside, pushing past the crowd of people dancing in front of the stereo system in the living room. I noticed Brad was nowhere in sight as the party’s lively host, Rebecka, bounced into view, wrapping her arms around me with a squeal.

“Yay, you made it!” she said. “Brad said you weren’t coming."

“Have you seen him? Where is he?”

She swayed a little on her feet, pouting her lips in a frown. “I’m not too sure. I just saw him…”

I rolled my eyes and let out a frustrated sigh as I stepped past her toward the kitchen. A row of just about every kind of alcohol stood next to a tower of red plastic cups on the counter.

I poured myself a shot of tequila, the burn of the liquid matching my fury as it slid down my throat. 

“I can’t believe him,” I said to Dave, shaking my head as I poured myself another shot. “He promised.”

Brad had promised he wouldn’t do this anymore after he ruined our prom night together a month earlier. Our pictures from that night feature Brad’s bloodshot blue eyes staring hungrily at my chest, his hand a blur in motion as he reached to grope me, my mouth frozen open in a perfect O of shock and horror. He wound up causing such a scene that we got kicked out of the dance and had to leave early.

The next day, he had shown up at my door with a bouquet of flowers fresh-picked from his mother’s garden and begged me to forgive him. I’d wanted to end it then, slam the door in his face, and let him know I couldn’t do it anymore.

But when I had looked into his eyes, I’d seen the nervous fourteen year old he was the first time he brought me flowers for our very first date, and the six year old boy he was when we first met, our childhood filled with adventures together. I wanted to believe the Brad I had always known and loved would keep his promise, and he had.

Until tonight.

“Whoa, okay. Slow down, Sarah,” Dave said, grabbing the cup from my hand before I could empty it again. “I’ll take this one and you can take the next one once we find him. Fair?”

“Whatever,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. 

He tilted his head back and drained the cup before crumpling it up and throwing it over his shoulder.

“Damn, that’s strong.” He shook his head. Then, looking at me, he asked, “Shall we continue our search?”

“You know what? No,” I said. “If he wants to enjoy himself, then so should we.”

“O-kay,” Dave said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “What did you have in mind?”

I grinned, and held out my hand. “Dance with me?”

“Happily,” he said, taking my hand.

I led him back to the crowd of people moving to the music in the living room. I let my arms drape around his neck, our bodies close, his hands on my waist, as I moved my hips to the rhythm of the music.

It might have been the strength of the drink, but as his sparkling green eyes met mine, it felt like the rest of the world ceased to exist. In that moment, it was just the two of us, our bodies moving together as one, and I could tell he felt it too.

He leaned his head toward mine, and my breath caught in my throat in anticipation of our lips meeting.

“Sarah!” Rebecka squealed, and Dave and I snapped away from each other. Rebecka grasped my arms with her manicured hands. “I found him! Come with me! I’ll show you!”

I felt dazed as she began pulling me away from the music. My heart was pounding, and my mind was racing as I tried to process what just happened between Dave and I.

My awareness jumped to the present as she practically yanked me through the sliding back door and onto the patio deck where Brad was upside down chugging beer from a keg to the sound of his classmates cheering and encouragement.

“See! I found him!” she said. She bounced up and down, and waved her hand in the air. “Brad, guess what? Sarah’s here! She made it!”

Brad nearly fell over as he jumped back to his feet, letting the keg tube fall to the ground as he turned to face me with a terrified look in his eyes. I noticed his cheeks were flushed, his shirt slightly riding up, exposing a sliver of his muscular torso. He stumbled a little in place, and I could tell he was struggling to keep himself upright.

I took a step back, tears immediately bursting from my eyes as I turned around and ran back inside.

A million thoughts raced through my mind as I pushed my way through the crowd of people and up the staircase in the foyer, the scene blurred by the cascade of water burning my eyes. I ran down the hall and opened the first door I saw, swinging it shut behind me.

I slid onto the floor and hugged my knees to my chest. My breath came in shallow, gasping quakes as tears rained down my cheeks and onto the floor.

I didn’t know what was more upsetting: Brad breaking his promise or the fact that minutes before, I’d been about to kiss his best friend. 

I didn’t know what was more upsetting: Brad breaking his promise or the fact that minutes before, I’d been about to kiss his best friend.

I felt torn apart and confused. I didn’t know what to do. I wished more than anything that we’d just stayed home.

“Sarah,” Dave said from behind the door. “Can I come in?”

I wiped the tears and snot from my face and stood up. But as soon as I opened the door and saw the concerned look on Dave’s face, I dissolved into a puddle of tears again. He wrapped his arms around me and I cried into his chest.

“It’s okay,” he said.

I pulled away from him and backed into the room. “No, it’s not! It’s not okay. How can you even say that?” 

The back of my legs hit the edge of a bed and I sat down, covering my face with my hands. Dave closed the door behind him and took a seat on the edge of the bed next to me. I rested my head on his shoulder and sniveled. He took my hand in his and I laced my fingers through his and held them in his lap, too angry to be afraid of what it meant. 


“You’re right,” he said. “It’s not okay. So why do you keep letting him do this to you?”

“What?” I said, my eyes harsh as they shot up to meet his.

“You don’t have to put up with this, Sarah. Aren’t you tired of being his babysitter all the time? It’s not your job to save him from himself, you know.”

“What else am I supposed to do? Abandon him like his dad? Who else is supposed to look out for him?”

“Maybe it’s not up to you to decide. Have you even thought about what you’re going to do when he goes to college in a couple of months? What do you think is going to happen when you’re not there to save him all the time?”

I ripped my hand away from his as I stood from the bed. “Just stop it, Dave!”

“No. Tell me, Sarah. Honestly. What’s your plan?”

I didn’t have a plan. Not really. Brad and I had worked out a schedule for visits throughout the upcoming school year we’d be apart, but at this point, I didn’t have much reason to believe we’d actually stick to it. Even if we did, the handful of weekends we planned on seeing each other each month wouldn’t be enough to keep him on track, especially if the slightest reminder of his father’s abandonment was all it took to send him over the edge.

Dave had a point. I was tired of worrying. I was thoroughly exhausted by it. But what else could I do? I couldn’t just give up on him. I didn’t have it in me.

I couldn’t just give up on him. I didn’t have it in me.

I started pacing in front of the bed, arms crossed over my chest. “I can’t just end things. You know it’s not that simple.”

“Why not?”


“Because why?”

I stopped pacing, my eyes wild with exasperation. “Because this isn’t how things are supposed to be! It’s always been me and him. Whatever he’s going through, we’ll get through it together. Like always.”

Dave’s green eyes meet mine with a serious intensity. “You know that’s not true. It doesn’t have to be this way, Sarah. You know it doesn’t.”

“Why wouldn’t it be? After everything we’ve been through together already, how could it not?”

“Because I’m here too,” he said.

And then he closed the space between us with a kiss.

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