A Special Sneak Peek
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Kemdi Ik
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher.
Cover Design by Kemdi Ik
K.I. Publishing 2016
Although this is a free sampler, copies must be purchased individually before being read. Please respect the hard work of the author.
This is a special sampler as it gets up to 50% or more from each book, which is 30% more than any preview anywhere. Enjoy the read.
Can be read in any order
1 | Letting It Go
2 | Take Me Far Away
I had a plan—my plan.
I had a sister—my twin.
I had a past life—everyone does, right?
One of these is never going to have a ‘now’ or ‘future’ moment anymore. I used to think I had my whole life ahead of me. That’s what you’re supposed to think when you’re sixteen, right? It was meant to be just another day. Just another regular day of the week. But it wasn’t.
As someone who’s been playing baseball for years now, you’d think that curve balls would seize to shock me; after all, I threw them on the daily. But like I said, it was not a regular day. And this curve ball wasn’t one I ever wished to witness. Some time after this, I lost myself . . .
deals with sensitive issues
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
~ Joseph Campbell
I HEARD A DOOR BANG, and I knew instantly what came next. Haley tended to have the same routine every morning after I threw a party. “Your music is what’s wrong with the planet.” There went my twin sister bellowing her lungs out about my musical choices. Just because my genre of choice was rock, and hers was . . . not exactly what I’d call music.
“Au contraire, Haley. Your voice is exactly what’s wrong with this world.” I made no effort to decrease the sound seeping through my speakers. As a matter of fact, I was very tempted to increase it even more. But I didn’t. I wasn’t a complete jerk, plus, I was suffering from an early morning migraine.
“I hate you!” I heard her yell from outside my bedroom doors, followed by a loud bang. One point for being the most frustrating sister ever.
“Is she gone?” a female voice that I didn’t recognize emerged from my room. Huh?
I quickly glanced around and noticed its owner wrapped around my sheets. Shit, I didn’t even remember her name, or that she was even there at all.
“Right . . . you . . .”
“The name’s Rosie, asshole.”
I was already being a douchebag, and I didn’t want to risk being a bigger one. So, as you can imagine, it took a lot of strength to avoid taking her body in as she stepped out of the sheets and scampered for her clothes.
“So . . . breakfast, or . . . coffee, at least,” I offered, trying to sound as nice as I could in such an awkward predicament.
She glared at me, like offering her breakfast was even worse than forgetting her name. God, girls were so confusing.
“That’s a no?”
She threw a pillow out of her way and brushed her hair to the side. “That’s a fucking never.” She slipped on her shoes and banged the doors behind her. Could people stop banging doors? I was still suffering from a massive hangover.
“Bye, Mary.” Crap, I thought as soon as I said it. Her name was Rosie, not Mary, idiot.
“It’s Rosie.” I heard her echo from the hallway.
Okay, let’s get one thing straight, I wasn’t born a douchebag, but alas that was the category I found myself in, I was indeed being a huge douchebag, standing shirtless in the corner of my room and forgetting Mary–Rosie’s name. With tired eyes, I pulled a shirt over my head and headed downstairs to the kitchen. I needed Pop Tarts and a cup of very creamy vanilla cappuccino.
“Nice one, asshole.” Why couldn’t anyone get my name right? “At least, this one was pretty and didn’t look like a drug dealer, but you never know.”
Haley looked a lot better than I felt. Bright and preppy at eight in the morning, while I, on the other hand, felt like death.
“How many times do I have to tell you? That was one time. I smoked weed, that one time.”
She shrugged and poured herself a cup of steamy tea. Tea, really? Sometimes, I forgot we were twins.
“What, Ryan? Mad at me for actually spending the weekend studying?” she took a sip from her mug while I turned on the coffee maker. Why couldn’t they make these more silent? “Oh, and Luke called. You missed baseball practice.”
Shit, I had to make up for that if I intended to actually do something with baseball. Luke was a senior, but in the midst of all that high school blah, we had become tight friends initially due to our love of the game, baseball. My game.
“You know Dad supports your dreams.” I didn’t know why she felt she had to add that to the conversation. Especially given that it was a bland lie.
I couldn’t help but laugh. My dad had—on rare occasions—said the words, but I never actually took it to heart, because that would only make me a fool. I poured myself a cup of coffee and popped two tarts into the toaster. I could still feel Haley’s eyes on me. “Only because he has you to live out his.”
“You have to stop that.”
“But it’s true. You take AP Calculus; I take Fine Arts. You’re sure to be valedictorian, and I’m sure to be baseball jock of the year.” It wasn’t that she had all the brains in the family. I found math extremely easy, I just didn’t have a passion for it like she did.
“It’s going to be okay. You’ll see. When the scholarships come rolling in, Dad would be too happy to remember to be pissed.”
And that was where we diverted in characteristics. She had so much faith in the love that our father bestowed upon us (and yes, I just used the word, bestowed). I just couldn’t care enough to be worried about it. “Speaking of parents, when are ours coming back from the ‘short’ trip?”
“Mom called me last night, they’ll be spending an extra day in Spain. They’ll be back on Tuesday,” she said while tapping her fingers on the kitchen island.
I grinned slightly. Two more days of freedom. Could I possibly ask for a better outcome?
“If you’re thinking of throwing another party, just don’t. Okay?”
I nodded silently.
“Seriously, Ryan. Don’t. Do not do it. I have this big test coming up, and I just can’t take it lightly.”
“Okay, okay. Besides, I’m sure you’ll pass whether you study or not.” I took a bite of my Pop Tart. Awesome strawberry goodness. “Why did Luke call you anyway? Why didn’t he just call me?”
“I’m sure he tried several times, but you didn’t pick up. Did you forget about the stupid loud ass party you threw? And he didn’t call me, he called the home phone.”
“Right.” I was going to have to talk to Luke later about some rules. Haley had this very weird look on her face. “What?”
“I need your help.” Nothing new there.
“Don’t you always?”
“I am taking the driver’s test soon, and I need to pass it.”
Haley had set this notion in her mind that if she were to take the test, she would fail. I had already taken mine, and passed, if I may add. So it had become sort of my job to keep reassuring her that it would be fine and that if it wasn’t, it was just a driver’s test. Dad would probably get her a personal driver anyway. “And like I told you the other ten times, you’re going to be fine. Look at me.”
“Just ‘cause you passed doesn’t mean that I will. Unfortunately, that’s not how this twin thing works. Everyone’s going to be able to drive, except for me.”
“Fine, how about in two hours, we go for a test drive?”
“Fine,” she said in agreement.
We clanked our mugs and I had my first taste of coffee. It was, oh, so riveting.
After hours of procrastinating and browsing through boring T.V. channels, I finally took Haley in my car for the test drive along the driveway. Just like I had said repeatedly, she did just fine. She already had her learner’s permit, she would have no problem getting her license.
“Not to toot my own horn, but I told you so.”
“Yeah, you did. Thanks.”
“Not to ruin this awesome brother-sister moment, but I called James earlier on. There’s a party.”
She threw a scorned look my way and huffed.
“You were the one who told me not to throw one at home. Anyway, it’s at Max’s. Maybe you should come.” I never invited her to parties because she hated them, like, really hated them. She also wasn’t a big fan of underage drinking.
“I would rather be caught dead in a ditch than party with drunken teens who love killing their brain cells.”
Did she not realize I was going to be one of the drunken teens? “And that’s why you never get invited.”
“Really? I thought it was because there was some sort of GPA requirement. You know, guests must have a GPA of less than 1.0.”
“Ouch. Why so harsh? You know I have a 3.9.”
She shrieked angrily before opening the driver’s door and rushing back into the house. Was it something I said? Whatever. Party, yes. Beer, yes. Let night come already.
“YOU AND ROSIE? NO WAY MAN.”
I shrugged. I was never one to brag about my social conquests. James, on the other hand, well, let’s just say he wasn’t born with a mute button. So, I might have been guilty of forgetting a few names, but there was a limit to my douchebag-ness.
The music was blaring, my friends were somewhere here, and everything was good. I just needed a drink.
“Hi, Ryan,” an unknown female voice that sounded like she definitely knew me said. Fake blonde, nice body, and I might have seen her in an English class once or twice.
This was one of my favourite games, ‘Guess the Name’. She didn’t look like a Jane or an Abbie. Right, I actually did know her name. “Bree, right?”
“Yes,” she bit her bottom lip. An invitation perhaps? “We have a math class together,” she stated, like it was something I should already know. We did?
“Cool.” I traced my fingers on hers just for the hell of it. She giggled in response. This was almost too easy.
She leaned into my ear and whispered, “Come find me later.” Her voice was both seductive and filled with intrigue, and normally I would have taken her up on her tempting offer, but I couldn’t risk another morning like the one I’d had today. She walked away before I could say anything.
Luke spotted me before I could avoid him. I knew he was going to be so pissed. We had a local game in one week and we couldn’t afford to miss a single practice.
“We missed you yesterday,” he noted.
“I take total responsibility. I forgot.”
“Ryan, you know we can’t have that.”
I picked up a can of beer before speaking. “Sorry, man. I’m going to be there tomorrow after classes. You can count on me, okay?”
“Good. Now, let’s drink.”
Five cans and a beer pong game later, and I was finally in the zone. The party zone.
“Truth or dare!” Leah yelled from the top of the stairwell. Her hands were wrapped around her boyfriend, Max, who was also the host. Fun times, I thought sarcastically. I guess I should explain my sudden bitterness. In the not-so-distant past, there might have been an incident that involved Leah and me partaking in a lot more than making out in my bedroom the exact same day she got together with Sale Coast High’s jock prince wannabe. So, yeah. We were each other’s firsts. In my own defence, I had no fucking clue she was going to get with Max. Matter of fact, she had said and I quote, it’s all you, babe. So much for young love. I felt nothing but annoyance for the smile she just threw my way. I needed more alcohol to get through tonight.
As I made my way to the living room, making sure to avoid Leah, I ended up bumping right into the boyfriend. “Watch where you’re going, man,” I mumbled as I finally approached the stack of beers that had attracted my eyes in the first place.
“You bumped into me,” he said, his voice tight. Sure, Max was tough, but I was definitely tougher.
“Whatever you say.” Why did I always attract fights?
“Are we going to have a problem?”
I dropped the cool can of beer back on the counter. Little did he know, we already did have a problem. “I don’t know, are we?” I couldn’t help it and I was bored, so maybe I could use a fight.
“There you are, babe.” Leah. I remembered the first time I ever saw her, I had thought my heart skipped a beat.
Great, the voice of the person I was trying to avoid in the first place. From the way Leah just kissed him in my presence, you’d think we were nothing more than mere acquaintances which I guessed, is exactly what she was trying to tell me. I picked up the can again and popped it open. Perhaps, I should have taken my sister’s lead and skipped this party.
“We’re all in the back, playing Truth or Dare. Ryan, are you coming?” she asked in a voice that eluded a hint of seduction. God, she loved games. I reminded myself this was only going to be a game of stupid dares and cringe-worthy truths, nothing more. What the hell could go wrong?
Several turns and near deaths later, and it was finally my turn.
“It’s your turn, Ryan. Truth or dare?” a brunette asked.
Whatever shall it be, Ryan? Truth or dare? I took a gulp from the red soda cup in my hand and thought for a second. “Truth.” I figured I better play it safe, but as soon as the word left my lips, I recalled something about dares always being the easier option. I shook my head and awaited the question.
“Ooh, I’ve got one,” drunk Whitney that I ‘hung out’ with last week slurred between her teeth. “All the girls are just dying to know . . .” she seemed to forget what she was saying, but she got back up again. “Ever been in love?”
Easy question, good. “That would be a nope.”
Her face turned sad, like a puppy. Cute. “That is so sad.”
I wouldn’t call it sad, I’d call it being a teenager. My gaze landed on Leah’s. It stayed there for a while before she looked away slowly. I wouldn’t say what we had was love. I was a sixteen-year-old boy, after all, but it wasn’t nothing. However, in the end, she had treated it that way, so, sue me for trying to do the same. Besides, love wasn’t something I believed in. Granted, my parents seemed in love, but . . . my dad was a piece of work. Maybe not to my mom or to my sister, or to anyone for that matter, but than me. My mind was getting too crowded for my liking so, I got up from the lounge chair and dropped the cup of soda I was holding before heading towards the kitchen for another can of beer.
Beer pong with the rest of the guys tended to be a quick way to boost up my mood. After a couple more cans of beer, the drunken effect finally began to descend upon me. I straddled towards the small gathering of half drunken teenagers in the back. The small game of Truth or Dare was still going on.
“Just in time, it’s your turn again,” some girl said as I walked closer. It took some time to realize that she was speaking to me.
“Huh?” yeah, I was definitely drunk. I quickly subsided an out-of-nowhere chuckle.
“Truth or dare?”
I grinned before I spoke again, “Dare.” I found Leah staring at me, probably thinking that ‘drunk’ me was a bad idea. Oh, yes. It was.
The girl bit her lip and snickered. “Okay, um . . . I dare you to,” she looked like she was thinking.
“Spit it out already,” someone else said.
“I know. I dare you to kiss someone on the lips. Like, a real kiss. Preferably, French.” She winked and licked her lips. Too bad, I only planned on kissing one girl tonight, and her name rhymed with Hell Yeah.
As I neared Leah, she picked herself up from the chaise and shook her head very slowly before her gaze fell on my lips. In turn, I looked at hers, and then I took it. There were some echoes of ‘oohs’ and ‘oh-no, he-didn’t’. Oh yes, I did. And she kissed me back without hesitation. I knew she wanted more, I could feel it in her kiss—the way her tongued begged for it. But I wasn’t that big of a dick, so I ended the kiss and winked at her. She looked flushed, her boyfriend who was now standing beside me shared the same shade of red that was resting on Leah’s face. Only difference was, his was out of anger.
I stiffened my lips and nodded. It was his house, and I had just kissed his girlfriend—well, done a little more than kissing. “Party’s over, isn’t it?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“For you, it is.” He spoke like he’d won something. I guess in a way, he had. Leah would definitely not be spending the night with me anytime soon. I could see his whitened knuckles clench over his bottle of soda. He was attempting to hold back. Please tell me he was kidding, I could beat him with both eyes closed. But currently, I was a little drunk and like I said, I had kissed his girlfriend. I was on the wrong here. You did nothing wrong. It was a dare. There went the evil voice in my head tempting me to throw a punch. I chose to ignore it, at least, for the time being.
I signalled Luke and threw my keys towards him. I thanked God he despised drinking, because there was no way I was walking all the way home.
“Dude, that was crazy,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, it was.”
“So, is your sister home?” he asked out of the blue.
Random question. Oh, so random. I was drunk, but I wasn’t that drunk. Why was Luke asking about Haley? Like you can’t figure it out for yourself, Ryan. “Why the fu—”
“You’re drunk is all . . . just wondering if you are . . . okay to stay on your own.”
“Suddenly, talking about my sister makes you an awful liar?”
His fingers were still on the steering wheel as he drove. I could literally feel his nervousness, and I was drunk. I felt a little bad, but this was a conversation that was to be had. If there was something going on between my sister and Luke, I would trust him to tell me. Then again, Haley was my twin sister and she had said absolutely nothing either.
“No, and we weren’t talking about your sister. We were talking about you being drunk and kissing Leah.”
“And then you mentioned my sister and went all, uh . . . um . . . uh . . .”
He nudged my shoulder. “I hate you, man,” he said jokingly. At least I hoped it was jokingly. Dating his best friend’s sister had got to be a little awkward for him. Whoa! Dating?
“I hate you, too.” I shook my head and arched a brow. “Seriously, you hurt her, and you’ll end up with far more than a broken hand. Just remember, you really love baseball.”
“If I hurt her, then I’ll deserve it.” As far as I was concerned, he couldn’t have come up with a better response.
“TOLD YOU SO,” HALEY BLURTED cheerfully as she grabbed a toast.
I was suffering from a major hangover, and I honestly could do without her gloating for a day. “Told me what?”
“That the party was a bad idea.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“But you can’t seem to keep it in your pants when Leah’s involved.” She shrugged. “I saw the pictures up on Instagram.”
I almost shuddered from her apparent dislike. Haley had never been a fan, much less a big fan, of Leah. Of course she made it known that she thought Leah was playing with my head the first time around. She was right. “Ouch. What did she ever do to you?”
“Are you kidding me? I’m not sure if you know this, but she knowingly two-timed you, and shattered your very delicate dumb teenage heart. That, and she’s an all-around bitch.”
I had never heard Haley bad mouth anyone in my life. So, her sudden outburst came as a surprise. Yes, I should have probably hated Leah for what she did to me, but . . . let’s just blame it on a boy and his raging teenage hormones.
Desperate to get the conversation off of me, I decided to play the Luke card. “So, you and Luke . . . I don’t get it. He’s a . . .” boy? A teenage boy with a one-track mind. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She twirled around on the barstool. “Because of whatever you were just about to say, and because we are . . . we are just . . . really close.”
“Whatever. If he ever needs a broken nose, I’m your guy.”
“He won’t be needing one, but thanks anyway.” She took another bite of her toast before tossing it into the bin. What a waste. “What?”
She could be so ignorant sometimes. I shook my head.
“We’ve got school in ten. Let’s go. We are so going to be late.”
I reluctantly grabbed my car keys and trailed her to the underground garage. I should probably explain that, my dad always had this slight obsession with anything that rhymed with brand new car. So, we needed a larger than normal garage to go with his uh . . . collection. Waste of space, if you ask me. Could have had my own personal baseball court. Seriously, I could have.
“Won’t be the first time,” I replied to my sister’s unneeded worrying.
“Yeah, but your first period is free, and mine isn’t.”
I raised my eyebrow and hid a grin. How the hell had I forgotten that Leah and I both had a free period . . . at the same time? Yup, I just gave myself a mental high five. This was going to be fun, I just had to keep my hands to myself. Something that seemed damn near impossible whenever I was around her.
“Oh, no. That look.” Haley pointed at me as we walked towards my car. “Do not tell me that you have a free period with what’s-her-name.”
“Leah? Yes.” With that statement, I started my car and pulled out of the driveway.
Haley and I finally arrived to school in one piece. Yes, I had survived our silent bickering. What is silent bickering, you ask? When Leah says nothing about something, and I in turn, say nothing about that same something, while keeping our lips shut. It was a magical sibling talent, really.
“So, I’ve got Algebra, first period, and walking into school with my brother is the nerdiest thing ever,” it is? “So I’ll see you later, bye.” She closed the car door and rushed out before I could say anything at all. Well, there went the sibling time we had going.
James walked towards me as I got of my car, throwing a high five my way. “So, I’m guessing there’s going to be a party at your house later tonight.”
“Nah, I promised Haley I’d be a good boy.” James loved parties, I loved parties. Hence, we tended to get along very easily. You know what they say, friends that get drunk together . . . Well, I’m sure there would be a saying out there for that. “Your house, man,” I suggested, remembering his parents were also out of town. “Aren’t your parents in Brazil or something?”
“Yeah, visiting family.” He laughed and shook his head. “Family . . . my parents seem to forget that I know we are from Hawaii, and the only family we do have, hates them. Fine, my house, but you’re staying over to clean up.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but something changed his mind.
I beeped my car door locked and walked towards the school’s entrance. James followed a few steps behind. “What is it?”
He itched his head and put on a very stiff smile. “Hey, you don’t mind if I invite Rick, right? He’s my friend and you’re my friend, of course, but the two of you don’t really seem to get along, excluding that one time.”
Rick didn’t go to our school, at least, not anymore. He used to, a long time ago before getting kicked out for carrying ‘prescribed’ drugs with him. Now he spent his free time selling said ‘prescribed’ drugs to people who did go to school. And that one time James was referring to, involved free weed. Yup, that same incident that Haley would not shut up about. Rick was not a nice guy or a good guy at all, and I still didn’t understand why James remained friends with him, but I guess boys will be boys, right?
He nudged my shoulder jokingly. “It’s cool. I won’t invite him if you really hate the idea. In other news, Luke and Haley . . .” he wiggled his eyebrows, which only made me want to punch him in the face.
“Gross, do not wiggle your brows when talking about my sister, man.”
“A’ight. Wish we could extend this uncomfortable conversation, but I’ve got a Trig class.” He snapped his fingers before heading off to a room down the hall.
Free period. Leah. Her lips. I shook my head. Man, I had to get my mind in check. Nothing was going on with Leah and me. Nothing could go on. She had a boyfriend. But she kissed you like she didn’t. I also needed to get rid of that devilish voice in my head. Leah and I were hardly even friends. Either way, I found myself walking towards the library, knowing exactly who I expected to find there. And that was exactly who I found as soon as the doors swung open, or maybe she was the only person I could see whenever she was around.
Someone fake-coughed behind me, trying to get me out of the way. I must have unknowingly come to a standstill at the entrance of the library. I muttered a slight apology and walked to the back where Leah’s blond hair was very visible. She was alone, thank goodness, because the last thing I needed was an audience in the way.
Her head was bent to a textbook in front of her. She must not have noticed me yet. I crouched beside her and said, “Hey,” which succeeded in startling her from where she sat.
“Ryan.” She spoke in a hushed tone. “You almost gave me a heart attack.” She placed a hand on her chest for dramatic effect. But then she smiled, which in turn, made me smile.
“I meant to call you last night,” I didn’t because it was a terrible idea, but I thought of it. I pulled the empty seat beside her and slumped on it, placing my bag on the table space in front of me.
We remained silent for a while—she, writing something in her book, and me, sketching her just for the hell of it. The time alone was quiet and nice. Though, she was yet to comment on my confession of wanting to call her last night.
After more minutes went by, she tucked her hair behind her ear and smiled shyly. Holy shit, she was totally nervous. “Why didn’t you?” she shut the book in front of her and faced me.
“Maybe you should have given me a reason to.” Like, maybe, breaking up with Max.
She nodded, but didn’t say it out loud that I was right. “Are you drawing me?”
“You’re very pretty. I’m tempted to say hot, but we both know you have a boyfriend. You do still have a boyfriend, right?” it would make my day if she said no, but, if wishes were horses, right?
She ran a finger along my cheek and smiled again. “Ryan . . .” I should have backed away from her touch, but I didn’t. She probably wasn’t ever going to touch me again like this. Her lips neared mine as she spoke again. “I want you. You know that.” Such a cunning little girl—my girl—but for once, I wished what she said was true.
And then she kissed me. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to say, ‘screw Max’, but I couldn’t, so instead, I pulled away—quite reluctantly. Haley was right. Leah did play with my head a lot. Maybe that was just how she was, but I needed to say something. “If you want me, you’re going to have to break up with him. Like yesterday.” More like, a few months ago, but I would take whatever I could get with Leah.
She bit her bottom lip, and for a while, I could have sworn that she was considering it, but then the bell went off and she shoved me aside, so there went that. “I want to kiss you again . . . but I can’t break up with him.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” She stretched out my sketch back to me. I couldn’t help it, her hand looked so soft, so I ran my thumb along its edges. “You should keep it,” I said and turned to the cafeteria doors as a flock of students headed our way.
As if my day couldn’t get any worse, I was now watching my sister and Luke practically humping it out in the corner of the cafeteria, Kill me now. Just because I pretended to be cool with whatever they had going on didn’t mean that I wanted to have front row seats to it. “Hey, Luke,” I said, slamming my chemistry textbook hard on the table. They both immediately let go of each other, my sister’s face as red as a tomato, and Luke, well, being Luke.
But Luke’s not a bad guy, Ryan.
I knew that, but he was seeing Haley behind my back, and he was supposed to be a friend.
I’m sure he treats her with the respect she deserves.
Shut up, stupid voice.
“Haley, how ‘bout you run off to your non-existent friends.”
“That, or hang out with you and your weed buddies, listening to you cry all day about Leah. I’ll pick non-existent friends over that any day of the year.” She got better every time we had a banter. Dammit, now I had no better comeback.
“Whatever,” I muttered, sliding beside Luke as Haley got up to leave.
“Later, Luke.” And just like that, she walked away while completely ignoring my presence.
Luke tapped his fingers on the cafeteria table. “Leah?” he asked cautiously. Of course he had caught that part of Haley’s dialogue. I had told him weeks ago that I was over her. Now thanks to Haley, he now knew I had been lying.
“It’s nothing. Haley just doesn’t know when to shut up, and you two apparently don’t know when to stop kissing each other. Gross, man.”
“You said you were cool with it.”
“Pretty sure I didn’t use the word cool. And I am . . . cool with it. It’s just that—seriously, my sister? Of all the girls in the school, Haley?”
“I really like her.” He paused and spoke again. “Like more than a lot.” I did not want to hear that.
“I’ve heard enough. And I know you are a good guy. And right now, I’m acting like a child. Haley can date whomever she pleases. I would just have to murder you if you break her heart.”
“And I told you before, if I hurt her. Feel free to hurt me just as bad.” Then he chuckled. “Leah, really? I thought that was over a long time ago.”
“It was—is over. And it has been,” I countered quite weakly.
“Really? Because she’s staring at you right now, bro.”
I snapped my neck around, immediately searching for her in the crowd before figuring out that I was being played. “Dick.”
“Liar. So all this time, you’ve wanted her.”
“Of course I have. Have you seen her? Don’t answer that. You’re with my sister.”
“She played you like a tambourine throughout last year. And there are many fishes in the sea.”
But none of them like Leah, I thought.
“It’s always going to be Max. She’s going to be laughing at all his dumb jokes, she’s going to be kissing him very publicly, and she’s going to be doing everything else with him. Sorry, but you do know she’s a bitch, right?” Why did he have to get all fatherly on me? Ah!
“You sound just like Haley.” He really did, which made me wonder about the amount of hours they spent together.
Not this again, Ryan. Haley isn’t your younger sister. She’s your twin.
Um, she is younger.
By what? Twenty seconds. Really, man. You know she’s smart enough to know what she’s doing. And who better for her to date than Luke?
“Maybe we are both right.” Luke disrupted my internal argument. “What about Whitney? You liked her, right?”
“I liked her body, especially her face, but the girl didn’t seem to grasp that baseball and cricket are two different sports. No thanks.”
He played around with his fork. I honestly didn’t know why we ever showed up in the cafeteria. The food absolutely sucked and I couldn’t seem to pry my eyes away from Leah whenever she was around. God, I sucked.
“Don’t look now, but your girl is macking on her boyfriend, Max.”
Of course, I had to look. “She said she wanted me,” I blurted before I could stop myself.
“Well, she doesn’t kiss him like she wants someone else.”
Except I knew that she did want me. She might have wanted Max too, but it didn’t change the way she spoke to me, or the way she kissed me last night. To hell with being the good guy (so, I hadn’t been much of a good guy, but still, my current dilemma sucked). I got up from the table, not knowing what my next move was.
“What the hell are you doing, man?”
I clicked my tongue and yanked my hand from his grip. “Who the hell knows?”
My sudden burst of adrenaline was about to die down, meaning I had to do whatever stupid thing I needed to do really soon. So, I walked right up to Leah and leaned right next to her face. “Hey, you.”
“Ryan, what are you doing here?” she whispered, even though her boyfriend could still hear everything she said. He was, after all, sitting right beside her. “I’m going to kiss you. And when I do, you can slap me or kiss me back. If you do slap me, that’s it for us. If you do kiss me back, you’re walking out of here with me, okay?” Holy hell, I couldn’t believe I just said that with a straight face. Max was yet to do anything. I think he was just as curious as to what exactly she was going to do.
She closed her eyes, anticipating the kiss, perhaps? Or thinking of a clean way out of this. She loved her good reputation oh-too-much. What the hell did I just do? She rested her forehead on mine, and I already expected a punch by Max, but that was yet to come. She quickly pulled away—her soft look replaced by a determined one. I didn’t like it one bit.
“You’re such a dick. How many times do I have to tell you that I . . . love Max?” Apparently, once was enough. She turned to him and took his hands in hers.
THIS WAS IT: Leah and I were never a thing, and we never would be. And it was a hard pill to swallow, especially given the sly smirk Max just sent my way. “Yeah, I guess you’ve made your choice.” I walked out of there without looking back. Talk about embarrassing.
God, Ryan. What were you thinking? I wasn’t.
Sufficed to say, the rest of my day in school was shit. Leah was ignoring me and whatnot. At least I had a party to look forward to. Baseball practice first, and then the party at James’. My day was going to end on a higher note than it had started on. Hopefully.
Someone bumped—more like, shoved me from behind. Not cool. “What the fu—”
“Locke, try that shit again, and you’re dead,” Max said point-blank. Somehow, I guessed he was not kidding about the death threat.
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked rather cockily.
He punched the locker beside me. I was about to say something highly sarcastic right before his knuckles made their way to my face. He really shouldn’t have done that. I could fight, like really fight, but I hardly ever did. But then again, this was Max, and I didn’t like him at all, so it was going to be worth it—very worth it.
So that was how I ended up with a black eye, how Max earned a few sore ribs, and also how I got my first detention. And how I ended up missing baseball practice twice in a row now. To say Luke would be mad would be an under-exaggeration. I was already more than mad at myself, I couldn’t handle more people being mad at me. I loved baseball and we needed to win our next game to put our names on the list. The list, at least that was what Luke and I called it. You play good enough, so good, in fact, that you just know—the scouts are going to be calling.
Like I said before, I had never been to detention, so I wasn’t quite sure how it worked. Were Max and I meant to stay here quietly, pretending like we didn’t want to rip each other’s necks off? And was Mr Clark going to keep his attention distant, like he couldn’t care less if we talked or not? Not that we were going to do much of talking anyway.
“Earlier today, I felt pretty bad for you. I mean, how embarrassing has that got to be for you? Being told off by the girl I’m dating. You did remember that, didn’t you?”
Dick. Who was I kidding? We were both douchebags. I leaned in and spoke my mind. There was no filtering involved. “Just remember, when I kissed her the other night, she kissed me right back. She kissed me like she was single, and she had craved my kiss . . . for a while.” I never thought Max was oblivious. I always thought he guessed that something had occurred between me and his girlfriend. Maybe he was yet to say anything because of the time last week that involved him kissing a girl who was not Leah, or maybe he was just waiting for this precise moment. Who knew?
The look in his eyes, the feeling of my clenched fist, this was definitely round two. Ding, ding. And that was how my black eye almost got permanent, how Max almost gained a broken arm, and also how I ended up almost getting another detention which I really couldn’t risk. Almost. Yeah, I got lucky. If I ended up missing baseball practice again, it would be my fault and no one else’s.
I texted Luke that I would happily meet up with him for extra practices once I was finally able to leave detention, and I did. He was mightily pissed at me, but he was dating my sister and I think he wanted to suck up to my good side, so he acted like it wasn’t that big of a deal.
“So, earlier at school. That didn’t look like fun.”
I wondered if Luke was talking about the cafeteria incident or the later incident involving Max and I. I figured, either way, it didn’t matter. “I’m going to kill her.”
“Haley.” So much for having a twin. She was supposed to have my back, and she had totally outed that I still had a thing with Leah for half the cafeteria to hear. But then again, I had absolutely gone all out with my display of . . . something. Affection? Stupidity? I shook my head, remembering how crappy my day had been.
He raised an eyebrow at my now darkened eye socket. “It doesn’t look half bad. Hopefully, it would not leave a mark.”
“Eh. You should see the other guy.”
“I did. Ouch.” He raised his knuckles in front of me. Who was I to decline? Fist bumping was so ‘eighties’, but that didn’t stop Luke and me from doing it.
After some more small talk, we got to practicing. Billy Wagner. Billy Wagner was the only pitcher in 2003 to throw at least twenty-five pitches at, like, a hundred miles-per-hour. He’s who I aim to be by the time I’m twenty-five. A high standard? Maybe? But it’s like that saying, go big or go home.
We had a few more throws and batting sessions before Luke finally called it. He reminded me that we had only three more practices before our first big game of the semester. The list, he reminded me, not that I could ever forget. Knowing my dad’s detest for my love of the game gave me the incentive I needed to ‘wow’ the scouts. But then again, I was only sixteen and Luke was almost eighteen. He had less time to wow them than I did, but we were a team, and we all needed to be good, which was why I knew I had to make every practice count.
“Nothing like that,” Haley said, covering her face with her palms before sliding them down. “I’ve been thinking, maybe a bike is more my style.” She said, trying to answer my previous question of what car she wanted to get. Not that I know cars.
“Have you?” I gotta say, I had never seen Haley as a biker. In fact, thinking about it right now made me want to burst out laughing.
I laughed internally. Was she serious? Because I did not see that coming. “Like a motorbike? Since when, because I was thinking, maybe a boring Prius for you.”
She tossed a rumpled piece of paper at me. “No seriously, bikes are cooler.”
“Then there was no point getting your license and there’s no way Dad’ll go for it.” She wiggled her eyebrows. Who was I kidding, she’d probably already had the conversation with Dad, and knowing him, he would most likely let her do anything. “And bikes are not cooler. They are just more dangerous. I think you’ve been watching too many episodes Sons of Anarchy lately.”
“No, that would be you.” She pointed at me before pouring herself a glass of chilled milk and dunking an Oreo. Yeah, she was the exact opposite of a health freak, and so was I, but I had to stay fit. Especially during the baseball season. “He already said yes.”
I looked at her suspiciously. “You already talked to dad? When? Did he freak out?” I already knew the answer to the third question. She was his precious. Yup, I totally thought that in Gollum’s voice.
“Yesterday, and he didn’t freak out. He didn’t exactly say yes, but he didn’t freak out. He probably wants to talk about it later this week.”
I grabbed two red apples from the fruit bowl and threw one towards her. “An apple a day . . .”
She caught it as she said, “doesn’t actually keep the doctor away, but thanks anyway.”
We talked some more about little things.
It might have slipped from my lips that I was heading later to the party at James’. Except this time, unlike her usual banter having to do teen parties, her lecture was yet to come. In fact, she said she might check it out. What the hell had happened to my sister?
“What do you mean by you might check it out?” I asked curiously.
“I mean exactly what I said. I might check it out.”
“Luke invited me. And I always turn him down for parties, but I don’t know . . . why not? You love them. I might love them.”
I dropped my hand around her shoulders. She always hated when I did that. “Oh, Haley. The only thing we have in common are the strong feelings we have towards Luke,” I winked at her, “oops you weren’t supposed to find out about that.”
She nudged me away and escaped my hold. “I’m definitely coming. As a matter of fact, I just confirmed it with Luke.” She said, waving her phone around. “You don’t mind taking me, right? I told him I’d meet him there.”
So, the party was a blast. Duh. At least it was, when my sister and Luke were out of sights. Leah finally cornered me at some point. But I had to stick to my decision. Or rather, her decision. She said something about her decision being difficult, and I said something about not giving a shit. Which I did. I still cared, I just didn’t want her knowing that. I ended up crashing at James’ house after I helped him clean up. Man, the place ended up being more than a mess.
Luke had taken Haley home. I made it extremely clear that he was in no way, shape, or form, staying over. He was to take her home, and leave immediately. Hopefully, he listened. Another night, another party, right? No big deal, right? Wrong. Leah ended up leaving with Max as she tended to do every party. I didn’t know why I was surprised, and I did tell her that I was done caring.
I TUGGED ON THE STUPID TIE hanging around my neck, the knot just wouldn’t stay straight. No matter how frequently I wore it, it was always just as annoying as the first time I wore it. Stupid uniform, stupid blazer, stupid everything. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt a bit out of my element today. Maybe after baseball practice, I’d be back to normal. Whatever that was. As I caught my reflection in the mirror, I noticed that the bruise on my eye was yet to heal. Perfect, black eye to go with my black pants.
I got out of my room and brushed past my parents without so much as a hey. Because then they’d be inclined to ask what exactly I was doing with a bruised eye, and how I’d gotten it. I was already having a shitty morning, there was absolutely no need for it to get worse. I had no idea why I felt so crappy. I wasn’t suffering from a hangover, my dad wasn’t being a douche, and Haley was yet to annoy me. But I still felt shitty, and on top of that, I had this feeling at the back of my mind that something was about to go terribly wrong, which made absolutely no sense. It wasn’t like I had partied in the house last night. As a matter of fact, I had totally not done that. But the stupid feeling just wouldn’t go away, and it was very difficult to ignore, no matter how hard I tried. So I pretty much was just going to have to drive it further into the back of my mind and go on with my life.
“Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
“Uh . . .” I slumped on a bar stool and turned around on it very sluggishly. “You look well.” I commented. Haley looked more than well. She looked happy, the complete opposite of what I was sure I looked like.
“You look like hell.” Thanks for confirming that for me, Haley. “Maybe you should smile more.” Huh? Oh, no. Blah, blah, blah. Delete visuals. Luke, my sister? Blah! That would totally explain her attitude.
“Tell me you didn’t.”
“Didn’t do what, Ryan? Do what you did with Susan last week, or was that Rosie? No, maybe it was Nicole.” She laughed hard before clamping her lips shut. “No, I didn’t. Or maybe I did.”
Now I knew she purposely put that visual in my head. “I hate you.”
“Not as much as I hate you.” She sang as she grabbed her backpack. “Seriously, you look like shit. Let’s get out of here before Mom and Dad start with their unnecessary conversations.”
I grabbed a slice of toast and followed her to my Beamer. “I bet you just can’t wait to see Luke.” If she was going to rub my face in that fact, then I was going to make fun of her. It was the least her very annoying twin brother could do for her.
“Maybe this time Leah will kiss you. That’s right, I heard about the big unnecessary showdown. At least now you know, right?”
I still knew nothing. I could make a few guesses here and there, but I wouldn’t say that I knew anything. “So you and Luke have been doing whatever you’ve been doing for a while now, right?”
She rolled her eyes as if anticipating the next round of ‘make fun of Haley’, which, by the way, wasn’t really a thing, but that didn’t stop Haley from thinking so. Okay, maybe it was a little bit of a thing.
“Do you, like, love him or something?” as soon as I asked, I realized that I really didn’t want to know just how . . . strong my sister’s relationship with Luke was. She’s not a little girl anymore, Ryan. You do remember that she’s the exact same age you are, right? Right.
She groaned and turned her attention to me. “Oh God, are we really doing this?”
“Why not? It’s going to be a while before we get to school, and I want to know.” Did I really?
“I mean . . . yeah, I guess.”
I stifled a laugh. I just couldn’t help it. My sister was in love? Weird. “Really?”
“Whatever. Someday, you’re going to find a girl that makes it hard for you to breathe when she’s not around.”
“Care to place a wager on that?” I asked Haley.
“You’re such a douche. Seriously, do you not believe in love?”
“I want to say, I love Leah, but that wouldn’t be true, so I guess my answer would be ‘who the hell knows?’”
“Well, I can bet you that someday, you’ll fall in love with someone who isn’t Leah.” She said it so seriously that for a moment, I forgot how not plausible it was. “Not a ‘maybe’ love, a ‘real’ love, and something tells me you’ll fall hard.” She grinned a little. “Just don’t come telling me that the world would tilt from its spinning course if the two of you don’t date. But first, you should probably shave whatever that is off. I hear girls dig the clean shaven type. Girls that aren’t Leah, that is.”
I ignored her comment on my hardly noticeable beard. “Well, I’d like you to tell something that Ryan will not be falling in love until he’s sixty years old or older.”
After our morning talk, we made it to school and resumed our regular patterns. She, hopping out of my car, waving a goodbye and me, meeting up with James. Except today didn’t feel normal. I felt on alert for no reason. I kept trying my best to brush the feeling off, but it stayed. Sometimes, the human body was a stupid mystery. I blamed it on the gloomy weather we were having today. Oh, Michigan.
I pushed through classes and avoided Leah as covertly as I possibly could, and I guessed she was doing the same. After Digital Photography class, one of Leah’s friends, Hannah, came over to relay a message from her. Apparently, she wanted to talk. She had my number, and she could text or call if she really needed to, and that was exactly what I told Hannah. I have to say, I was a little proud of myself for not running over to Leah like her little puppy. Imaginary high five.
“So, that’s the license, huh.” I quickly noticed how Haley’s face held such an uncanny resemblance with mine. It was at odd times like these that our familiarity could not be ignored. “What are you, my twin?” No shit.
She snatched it from my hand and continued texting whoever it was she was texting. Most likely Luke, given the amount of times she had blushed already. Gag. “That’s what they say. Unfortunately.”
“So, what are we waiting for?”
“What?” she asked lazily.
“You have your license, I have my car, so let’s do it.”
She caught the key that I tossed towards her. “It’s raining. Are you sure you trust me with your car?”
“Hurt it, and I’ll tell dad. Then I’d get an upgrade without a lecture.”
She stuck her tongue out and made a silly face. “Whatever, let’s do this.”
Then we made our way to the garage. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t tempted to just take one of my dad’s cars instead, because I was, but I didn’t. It was enough that we never seemed to be on the same page. Driving one of his precious cars would give him more of a reason to never listen to what I had to say.
“Keys are in the ignition, right?” I asked worriedly. Just because I was brave enough to hand her my keys, didn’t mean I was brave enough to be a passenger in my own car.
“Dude, I passed the test. Hence, the license, and this was your idea.”
Haley looked at her phone as it rang, but didn’t pick it up. She was, after all, driving. Perfectly, if I do say so myself. “Shit, mom’s calling.”
Dad’s picture kept flashing on my phone, which was extremely weird because we never spoke on the phone. Ever. “Yeah, dad’s also calling.”
“What did you do?” she asked.
“What did I do? Maybe you did something.”
“Let’s go to the closest coffee shop and call them back. It could be important.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I really did not want to speak to dad. I was pretty sure my life would be better if we never spoke to one another. Whatever.
It all happened so slowly. I remembered thinking how blond her hair was. Had it always been that blond or did she just dye it? This was exactly what I had been feeling all along. I knew it. This was it. And I instantly despised it. That stupid feeling. Oh, so stupid. There was a tree. I knew that, because I had seen it. Where did the tree even come from? There was the sound of broken glass. Large shards of glass were floating all around us. Haley remained wide-eyed, staring at me. I wanted to tell her that it was okay, but it wasn’t okay, so I didn’t. She, however, managed to mouth the words. Although, she might have shouted it. Everything was muted from my end.
My gaze drifted from her face to the thing that was pierced through her abdomen. I wanted to puke, I wanted to shout, but I couldn’t do anything. We were still floating in mid-air. I wondered how much longer it would take for us to feel the impact of the ground. I lost sight of the car and the tree. Everything in my head felt disoriented. I blinked and then everything else occurred swiftly. I was on the ground, and right beside me, was Haley. Haley, and a lot of blood. My bones felt broken, but I somehow rolled closer to her. And then I told her, even if this time there was absolutely no truth to the words, I told her everything was going to be okay.
She nodded. Although, I didn’t know how she pulled that off, her head didn’t seem attached to her neck anymore. Oh, God. What the . . . fuck?! I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t get the words out. What words? I couldn’t even think. “Haley.”
“Ryan,” I heard her say. And I knew. I just knew that that would be the last thing she would ever say to me.
Her face was on my hands, or was it my hands that were on her face? I couldn’t think straight. What—Why—How? Everything was red and sticky, and her face . . . I couldn’t—why wasn’t she blinking. When I spoke, I felt nothing, like my body wasn’t mine anymore, and my voice belonged to anyone but me. Her tears were red. Tears aren’t supposed to be red, I remembered thinking. The world tilted slightly, and my sight was anything but clear. I slumped involuntarily to her side and wrapped my fingers around hers, wishing everything to be okay, even with the presence of that dark voice in my head shouting that it wouldn’t be. “Everything is going to be okay,” I said in a hoarse whisper. But it wasn’t going to be okay ever again. I knew instantly that it wouldn’t be.
Because I was breathing, and she definitely wasn’t.
WHEN I WOKE UP, I instantly hated the feel of air entering and leaving my lungs. I despised it, because it meant I was still alive. Alive in a world where my twin was dead. No thanks. I knew she was dead. I vividly remembered the look on her face as she died. There had been so much blood. So much red, sticky liquid from such a tiny person. Nurses entered my room constantly before I was finally ready to speak with my parents. I never asked my doctor if Haley was fine. Not because I watched her die, and not because of the sorrowful look he kept throwing my way every time he walked in, but because I wasn’t ready to hear the words. I just wasn’t.
Luke, James, and a few more guys from school came to see me. I tried my best to put on a brave front. I didn’t want any consoling because I knew that would break me. Luke wore shades every time he came around. Not that he needed to, I already knew Haley’s death destroyed a part of him. It was clear that he too, was trying to put on a brave front.
My mom looked dead from the outside, my dad looked even worse, but they both managed warm smiles when my eyes collided with theirs. I still couldn’t feel my bones, so I didn’t even attempt to smile. If they looked this terrible, I knew I could only look worse.
“I want to see her.”
“Honey, I thought you knew, she’s—” my mom started but I immediately cut her off. I still wasn’t ready to hear the words. But you know she’s dead.
“I know what she is.” I snapped. “I just want to see her. I need to.” Why, Ryan? Why on Earth do you need to see Haley’s dead body? “I have to see her. Please, don’t stop me.”
My mom looked heartbroken at my request. My father on the other hand, well, I never knew how to read him. He seemed distraught, but I couldn’t be too sure.
I was pretty sure my heart rate reached a new high when I saw her—Haley. She looked so . . . peaceful? Dead? As opposed to the last time I saw her. Scared. I remembered it all, the look on her face, she had been more than scared. I remembered her scream when the impact occurred. Oh, God, she was dead. She was dead! Dad hadn’t followed me to the morgue, but mom thought I could use some support. It had been six days since the accident, shouldn’t she already be buried or something? I had no idea how any of this worked. And I didn’t want to know. “She’s dead.” I finally said out loud.
My mom quickly embraced me from the side. “I know, honey.” I heard her sob. I couldn’t look at her because for some sadistic reason, I still couldn’t tear my eyes away from Haley’s. Haley’s dead. She’s dead. She was dead. No heartbeat, no movement. She was just dead. The end.
Well, we had the funeral . . . in North Carolina due to dad’s suggestion. Haley had loved it the last time we went there for spring break, so I hadn’t objected. All of that was still hazy in my memory. That part I could easily forget. Watching her die, that seemed much harder. I eventually quit the baseball team, and stopped putting effort in my art projects. One would think that would make my dad happy, but it only made him worry for my well-being. Not that he knew how to do that either. Ever since Haley died, fifteen days and counting, dad and I started seeing more of one another, not on purpose though. And it always ended in an awkward silence.
Mom tried her best to make up conversations during dinners. I was not interested in talking, so I said nothing during those dinners.
“So how’s that art project coming along?” she would ask me. And then I’d shrug, drop my fork, and leave to my room.
“Maybe you should go back to school.” She’d suggest. And then I’d say, “Sure, school. Because that’s what I’m thinking about since my twin sister died.” I hated snapping at my mom. She was my mom after all, and I loved her, and I knew she only asked because she was worried about me. Then I would mumble an apology and leave.
Luke called and called and called and called. You get the point. He wasn’t the only one, unfortunately. It seemed like the whole student body was so worried for my well-being. Sure, let’s pretend like it’s because you’re worried about me, and not because you’re worried about the lack of parties lately.
But then one day, a few weeks after Haley’s funeral, I shocked my parents. I got up, wore the stupid school uniform and made myself a cup of coffee. Granted, I still looked like shit and I still felt as miserable as I’d felt since Haley died, but it was something I was going to do sooner or later. Like ripping an old, glued bandage off, I guess.
“So, you’re going to school?” my mother asked very warily. Like she was walking on thin ice or something.
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s . . . good. That’s very good. How are you getting there?”
I totally forgot my car had been wrecked because . . . I couldn’t do this. What the hell had I been thinking? My breathing hitched, but I managed to break a smile. I had forgotten what that felt like. “You wouldn’t mind driving me, would you?”
“Of course not,” she said gladly, grabbing her keys and heading towards me. “Let’s go.”
So, yeah . . . I guess somewhere deep down, I knew this school thing was a terrible idea. A very terrible idea. I got sideway glances everywhere I stepped. Life sucked. Everything sucked. And as I walked past Haley’s locker, everything sucked a lot more.
“The zombie has risen.” James commented when he saw me. I guess it was good seeing him after the weird break that I had taken.
“Hey, man,” I said as I made my way to my locker.
“So, you’re back.”
Yes, James that was why I was in school, wasn’t it? “I guess.”
“How have you been? Ignoring all my calls, huh.”
I told him I felt fucked up and I just needed a break from people for a little while, but that now, I was definitely better. I wasn’t better at all, but he didn’t need all the details. He asked about baseball and I told him that I still needed some time to think about that.
As for Luke, he had apparently been approached by a few scouts after their previous game. I was happy for him. He had gotten better since Haley’s death, but I knew he was still thinking about her because it had been over one month (close to exams), and he still told girls that he was taken, and then he’d send me a very wary glance.
It took weeks before I came to a decision. My mother could not drive me to school every day for the rest of my life. I already knew what my next ride was going to be. It was time to talk to my father about it.
“You will not be riding in that deadly contraption.” My dad spoke to me as if I gave a shit about what he thought. I was getting the bike with or without his permission.
“Thanks, dad, but I already got it. I just wanted you to know.”
I slammed my fists on the door, trying to keep my anger hidden. “Haley was going to get it. She’s dead now, so I’m getting it.” And that was the end of that.
After our last banter, dad had finally cooled down. And by ‘cooled down’, I meant, he had returned to his regular rendition of ‘Ignore Ryan and there will be no problem’. An act I had learned to love in the past few years of my life. His silence was a better outcome than when he spoke to me.
I had picked up smoking. So what?
I knew I had promised myself and Haley that the one time I tried weed would be the last. And I had hated it then, but this was now. And it helped me forget for only a few seconds. And I reasoned that a few seconds were better than none.
I was now about to light a cigarette three feet away from where my dad was currently sitting. So what? Sue me.
“You are not lighting that in here.” If only dad knew that the other times, I smoked, I wasn’t smoking a cigarette.
That’s not funny, Ryan? Why are you laughing?
Wait, was I laughing? Shit, I felt high, and I wasn’t even high. Not yet, at least.
You have got to be kidding me. Who cares?
“I care, so put that out right now.” Shit, did I say that out loud? But I needed to smoke, so screw him. “No child of mine will be a smoker.” Stop it, dad, your tone makes me quake with fear . . . not.
“And what are you going to do about it?” I challenged. He glared at me, but returned his attention to his iPad. “That’s what I thought.” I muttered and headed up to my room.
No matter what I did, no matter how I lived my life, I had already lived the worst day of it, and nothing could ever compare. So, yeah. I might have stood in front of a few moving cars on my worst days, and I might have abused some pills more than once, and yes, I might have hung out voluntarily with Rick and scored a few illegal substances. Who cared, anyway?
Funny enough, I was yet to see a therapist. I mean, my mom had suggested it several times, but I just did the thing I now did when I pretended that neither of my parents had spoken.
Oh, and by the way, Hannah and I had been spending a considerable amount of time together. Yes, that Hannah. Leah’s friend. Or ex-friend. Girls could be so dramatic. Leah did break up with Max, but it was a little too late, and I was passed giving a shit about her feelings. Yes, how she played with me wasn’t cool, but she still didn’t deserve my bullshit excuse for an attitude, but I had forgotten how to care for anything since the car accident, it was too hard, so I just didn’t.
One night after a tedious day in school, I entered my room and downed my entire bottle of anti-depressants. They hadn’t been working anyway.
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I feel scared.
I feel lost.
I feel broken.
And I feel them all at the same time.
Life isn’t fair . . .
Seventeen-year-old Jeanne Rowe used to love Life… until Life took a sharp turn and never straightened out. Haunted by memories she would rather forget, she tries to push forward, leaving those despised memories locked in a dark place. Four months after the life-altering incident, all seems well, until an unforeseen figure reenters her life. Then she discovers that those memories weren’t ever locked up. They had only been waiting for the right moment to take her down—beneath rock bottom.
Take Me Far Away is a stand-alone novel with one companion novella, Letting It Go.
this book deals with a heavy subject matter
THE NIGHT SKY—dark and beautiful, signalling a storm to come. I hated that the skies could be so stunning when my day had been so shitty.
My hands grazed along the brick wall beside me. It was a short walk, but by the time I decided to actually head home, the night sky had arrived, the sun had almost fully descended, and the wind turned chilly. I must have been walking without paying attention because I somehow got off my usual sidewalk route. I still knew the way from here, but anyone who was anyone, knew this wasn’t a place to be when the sun was up so I hurried my steps. Perhaps, I should have thought this through before I decided to go for a walk all by my lonesome in this neighbourhood. I wiped a streaming tear from my right cheek. Stupid memories.
My mother had been dead for a few days now, ten days to be exact. Cancer—Leukaemia, they said. When she got the news, I think I was even more devastated than she was. She somehow found a way to cope with it, and if she was sad in anyway, she knew how to hide it because no one could ever tell. She was given three months to live, but because life was a bitch and didn’t give a shit about anyone, death came early for my mom. Three weeks earlier, give or take two days.
I heard someone whistle from behind and that was enough to snap me out of my sad thoughts. I flinched but didn’t turn around. I just focused on speed walking the hell out of there.
“I know you heard me whistling for you.” His voice was gravelly and even more relentless.
Please, leave me alone, leave me alone. I felt my heart rate increase and my fingers fidget out of fear.
A strong arm grabbed me from behind and twirled me around. “Didn’t your mother teach you to respect your elders?”
I spat on him and tried to push him away. He returned my actions with a slap across my face and hooked his arm around my neck. It was like he read my mind because as I felt a scream arise from within me, he wrapped his right palm around my mouth and it came out muffled. He licked my face in one swift, disgusting motion, like a dog. I tried to kick myself free of his hold but to no avail. This man, whomever he was, seemed not only to be triple my weight, but also triple my age. He backed me into an even darker corner and I felt the forceful impact of the wall behind me before I could react. I got a hold of my phone to dial anyone at all, but he swung it away from my reach. It was then that I came to the sad realization that there was no one around to help me. And there really was nothing I could do because this man had a knife to my throat and his other arm covering my mouth.
He slipped the Swiss knife into his back pocket and removed his palm from my mouth. “Don’t do that again.” He reached down to his trousers and I heard the very audible sound of his zippers unlock.
“Please, don’t do this.” That was all I could say.
In that moment, the time I felt the most violated, I wished for four things:
ONE: I wished for the strength of a thousand men, but nothing came and within time, I gave up and drifted off to somewhere else. As far as my mind was concerned, I wasn’t really there, I was somewhere far away, somewhere safe. Somewhere where no one could hurt me. But reality set in one more time and I could feel every inch of him, in me and all around me. His heavy breath was eerie and the grunting noises escaping from his mouth only made me want to puke. I wanted to be strong, but wailing them around, my hands felt heavy and immovable. Now I wished I hadn’t forgone the bottle of vodka that was sitting on Lola’s desk.
TWO: I wished I had been drugged or drunk, that way, I figure, I’d be too numb to feel anything. The last thing I wanted to do was remember being forced to have sex with some grumpy older man. All I wanted was a quiet lonely walk after my mother’s funeral and this was where I found myself, practically stripped naked, under the weight of a stranger. I tried to scream, at least, I think I did, but my sounds were muffled by the contact of his lips on mine. I swear, I felt him grin when his mouth met mine for the dozenth time.
THREE: I wished not to cry, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction, but my face was covered with my tears. The stench of his body was suffocating and the slime protruding from his sweat glands didn’t help matters. What I hated most wasn’t the fact that I was being raped, it was the fact that he took this away from me so easily. I wanted to push him off, I wanted to scream, I wanted to break free and I wanted to run but I couldn’t do either of those things under the immense pressure of his body.
AND MOST OF ALL, I wished to come out of it unscathed and with my dignity intact. But I knew, only time would tell.
EXACTLY ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE DAYS LATER, and I still remembered his scent. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but replay that night in my head over and over again. I should have gone to the cops. I should have told my dad. I should have told someone, anyone, but I didn’t. I fell silent. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have had a problem retrieving his DNA from me, given the amount of times I scratched his skin. But instead, I panicked, I was scared when I needed to be strong. I couldn’t explain it, but immediately after the incident occurred, I felt brain dead. Maybe if I had gotten help back then, I wouldn’t be such a nervous wreck now.
The sound of his voice had never left my memory. It haunted me every single second of my life since then. I wished for my life to return to the way it was before, the day before my rape, the day before my mom died. The day before I fell into a deep hole of depression and never got out.
But sadly, I learnt that life is unfair and in order for people to enjoy it, others have to pay the price. I saw it as a balance in life, it was an unfair one, but it was a balance nonetheless. Basically, life sucked and there was nothing anyone could do about that. I had gone through thousands of rape cases on the internet thinking that it would give me the strength I needed to tell someone about what happened to me, but it didn’t. It only heightened my fear. A few weeks after my attack, I finally accepted that it wasn’t my fault and I had done nothing wrong, but it didn’t make me feel any better. Nothing did.
I wanted so badly to confide in my best friend, Lola, but I didn’t. All that night succeeded in doing was ruining my life and I was letting it. I closed off the outside world. No one questioned it, they all thought my change in attitude was due to the death of my mother. Only I knew the truth.
I stared at the school’s hallway for what felt like merely a few seconds, but was much longer in reality. The bell jolted me conscious and I strolled to my locker to get my books. I probably should rush but I just couldn’t. I was having one of those days again, the days when my mind felt trapped and I couldn’t escape. I straddled slowly to my locker and entered in my combination.
Lola rushed right by me. “You’re going to be late to History, I’ll save you a seat.”
She left my sight before I could respond. Thank God for that. Talking wasn’t something I did much anymore. I picked my books and slid my bag into my locker. I looked at the little remnants of the pictures I had hanging there previously. I ripped them out in a fit of rage and I just never replaced them. I felt a pair of eyes peering through the back of my skull. I took a deep breath before turning around.
Before the incident, I was never opposed to attention, in fact I loved it, but since then, I had hated it—tried to escape it. If no one saw me, then maybe—just maybe—no one would know I was broken. I closed my locker and secured the lock. The pair of eyes tearing through my skin belonged to Ryan, at least I think that was what he was called. He had this habit of staring. I didn’t know if he did it solely to irritate me or elicit some other kind of response. I had always noticed his stares, but I did what I did best and ignored them. Even before the incident, I used to notice him watching me when he thought I didn’t see him and when our eyes locked, he’d look away. But lately, it was almost like he wanted me to know that he was staring at me. More or less, he was a loner type that I couldn’t be worried about. I pulled my eyes away and walked towards history class.
When I had my bad days, I found a way to pull through. It was hard but I always made it through. As I thought of pushing open the classroom door, my heart beat accelerated. I couldn’t risk having a panic attack in school. They happened frequently since that night but I hardly ever reported it and for that reason my dad thought they had only occurred three times. That way, his worry for me didn’t take place on a daily basis.
I stood right in front of door, just standing and doing nothing else. I felt my fingers tense up and begin to tingle. Not here, not now. I had only ever skipped school once. It was the day my mother passed away so it wasn’t on my academic record. I stood with my back to wall and held my books tighter to my chest. After a few seconds of inner debate, I slid down till the back of my jeans touched the ground. It was so hard to believe that I once used to have a normal life, whatever that means. I used to be surrounded my friends, I used to smile, I used to be close to my dad, I even used to have a boyfriend—a stupid one, but still.
Ben was a jock, but not as unapproachable as one would expect him to be. He was sweet to me when we first met, but apparently, he hated the fact that I was a virgin who wanted to wait for my first time and make sure it was for the right reasons. After I was raped, I couldn’t even bring myself to hold his hand, much less kiss him and he eventually got fed up with all my wild mood swings and dumped me. By then, I didn’t care, I was glad. If he hadn’t dumped me, I would have dumped him. In his shitty defence, he did try to talk to me once and I shut him down hard. But nevertheless, I viewed it as one less weight on my back. Two words: good riddance.
“Are you going in anytime soon?” I looked up to find out who had spoken. The voice was foreign to me, smooth and rusty at the same time and almost comforting. Almost. My first thought was detention; I was definitely getting detention. But then I found Ryan. Still not sure if that was his name though and I didn’t feel like asking.
I looked at him but didn’t respond. Was he serious? Hopefully, he wasn’t expecting an answer. We’d never spoken ever and we weren’t about to become besties. By the looks of it, he was skipping class to smoke pot or something. I knew I couldn’t conclude that simply by the battered hoody he wore but I was having one of those days when I hated everyone and everything around me for absolutely no reason. I hoped the scowl on my face would be enough to get him to back off. I ignored his presence and looked at the time on my watch. I was already thirty minutes late. No point in going in now. He shrugged and walked away, and I just sat there on the ground with my books on my lap, already regretting my decision to come to school.
LOLA GRABBED MY RIGHT ARM. I hated that, but I didn’t say anything. She pulled me to a corner and held a straight face. “You didn’t come. Why didn’t you come?” Lola asked, seemingly hyper. She paused and stared at my fist. “What’s that?”
I looked at the piece of paper in my grip. Signed and dated. “Um, it’s a detention slip.”
“Oooh. You’ve never had one of those. One word: Boring. I might come bust you out.” She nudged my arm. No doubt, she was trying to get me to smile. I managed a weak one.
Lola was the kind of friend anyone would want to have. She remained very comforting even after the vast amount of times I poured out my anger on her. I always thought I’d tell her eventually, but I never came around to it. She was awesome, both physically and socially.
“Jeanne, you look even more depressed than usual. Are you okay?”
She always asked and I always delivered a fake, assuring answer. “Yeah, just bummed about detention, that’s all.” Actually, I wasn’t. Maybe some boring detention time was just what the doctor ordered.
She grabbed a band from her pockets and pulled her dark brown hair into a ponytail. “I could always join you.”
“Love the offer, but I’m good.” Hopefully, she bought it. I knew she knew I wasn’t alright but she didn’t push the issue.
“Admirer at five o’ clock.” I knew before she told me. It was like my intuition was at its peak whenever he was around. “It’s that super good looking loner guy. Ryan, Riley?”
I guess he decided to get back on school grounds. He had his hoodie pulled up. I didn’t know what it was with loners and hoodies. He looked away as soon as I turned to face him. Just my luck, my eyes drifted to Ben kissing his new beau, Ashleigh. I definitely wasn’t jealous of Ashleigh and Ben dating or hooking up, I was only jealous of the fact that they looked like they had no worry in the world, I used to look like that. My eyes returned to Ryan, who didn’t look away this time. I was starting to think he had a thing with staring. Starting to, Jeanne?
“They’ve been dating for a while now.” Lola stood in front of me, blocking my view of Ryan. “Although, I wouldn’t call it dating, if you catch my drift.”
I must have zoned out. Who the hell were we talking about again? “Who? Oh, right. Ben. I know.”
She interlocked her hands with mine. “Come on, we don’t want to miss Bio, do we?”
Lola must have sensed the time because as soon as she said that, the bell went off.
It was a long day, but I pulled through. I even made it through the very boring Math class without having an incident. I never noticed before how Ryan was in most of my classes and I didn’t know why I noticed now. He mostly sat in the back with his head lowered. He caught me staring once and I wanted to die. Not literally, of course. Why oh, why couldn’t I be invisible for at least a day?
It was torture, but classes were finally over. Detention. I glanced at my sheet one more time before entering the room. Suddenly, detention felt like a terrible idea.
I surveyed the classroom. There were two girls who looked like this wasn’t their first rodeo, and Ryan. Three hours of detention with loner boy. That was just . . . great.
“Miss Rowe, thanks for joining us. Take a seat right there. Our motto here is: peace and quiet.” I didn’t know if he was trying to be funny or not and frankly, I didn’t care.
The teacher pointed towards the empty desk by Ryan. He looked at me looking at him and the atmosphere became really tense for no reason. I could totally do peace and quiet for three hours. Speaking wasn’t my forte, not anymore. Lola could personally testify to that.
I broke eye contact with Ryan and walked straight to my assigned desk without looking at anyone else. I pulled out a random book from my bag and placed it in front of me. It was Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, my assigned reading for a Literature assignment. If there was anything I had learned to hate in the last four months, it was the idea of being in love. It irked me and just disgusted me, and I was glad I’d never been in it. Didn’t take a psychologist to tell me why I felt that way. But knowing the reason didn’t make it easier, in fact, it only made it harder for me.
I wasn’t able to catch the teacher’s name, but he left us alone. I must have been deep in thought because fifteen minutes later, I was still on the tenth page of Romeo and Juliet. I felt a tap on my shoulders and flinched. I couldn’t help it. Ever since the rape, I had this response to flinch or scream whenever someone made contact with me, no matter how little. I tried to hide it when I was with Lola. She noticed once, I know she did but she didn’t pry into it. Part of me wanted her to ask but I knew I wouldn’t tell her the truth.
I wasn’t sure why exactly, but I turned to Ryan. He was sketching something or in his case I guess, doodling. He looked up at me and pulled down his hoodie and that was when I noticed his dirty blond hair. It looked like it was purposely messy and his eyes looked calm like the ocean. They were brownish and nothing close to the colour of the ocean but somehow, they felt just as safe. I didn’t say anything, I waited for him to talk. After all, he was the one that tapped me.
I raised an eyebrow, awaiting a request of some kind.
“Spoiler alert, they die.”
Uh . . . okay . . . that was a weird thing to say. I looked away. What the hell was he talking about? Oh, Romeo and Juliet. I think that was supposed to funny and it probably would have been funny on another day, just not today. He didn’t say anything else. I didn’t blame him; I must have seemed like a Grade A bitch.
I leaned back on my chair, and whispered, “Come here often?” he narrowed his eyes, but remained quiet. “So, is it Ryan or Riley?” my voice came out way weaker than I intended it to. He probably didn’t hear me.
He shook his head very dramatically and blinked several times. “I must be dreaming. Are you talking to me, Jeanne? It only took you an entire year,” he said it like an accusation.
So much for playing the nice card. This was where it got me: in a conversation with a loser who blamed me for his problems. I didn’t say anything. I just picked up my copy of Romeo and Juliet and pretended to be totally immersed in it. In all honesty, I wasn’t. I loved reading more than life itself. It was sort of my escape from reality. But today, it wasn’t helping. All I could see on the page was ‘ten’. Page ten, and it wasn’t changing anytime soon.
I felt another tap on my shoulder. Great, another round of useless accusations. Let the fun begin.
“SORRY ABOUT THAT.” An apology? I didn’t see that coming. “It’s Ryan by the way. My name,” he clarified.
In all honesty, I already knew that. I heard a teacher call him out earlier. But it was either the name topic or asking about the weather. I nodded, at least, I think I did. I hoped he didn’t think that was leading to a conversation. Peace and quiet was what I needed.
“You used to be vastly different.” Oh, my God. He was still speaking. Did this mean I had to reply and what exactly did he mean by that statement? Actually, I knew exactly what he meant. If he noticed, did that mean that everyone else noticed too? Awesome, another thing I had to worry about.
I could catch a glimpse of him from the corner of my eyes staring at me. His glare only made me even more riled up than I already was. I planned on ignoring him some more but I felt myself about to speak. “Yeah, well, my mom died, so, sue me.” That ought to shut him up for a while. He wasn’t the talkative type, so I had no idea why he was talking. Especially to me since all I’d given him before was the death glare in response to his staring.
“It’s not that, it’s something else.” I swear my heart literally skipped a beat but then I remembered there was no way he could know . . . right? I tried not to act startled.
“Really, and what do you know about anything?” I snapped. Damn it, I made a deal to myself to snap a lot less but he was purposely pushing my buttons. That must have been enough to shut him up because he didn’t say another word.
After several hard minutes of trying to ignore his obvious stare, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I shot him a sharp look fully ready to tell him to stop. But he kept his gaze on me and all of a sudden, I lost my train of thoughts. On top of that, I couldn’t seem to look away either.
“What?” he asked innocently in such a low whisper that I hardly heard him. He kept his pencil glued to the paper on his desk.
Really? You were staring first. “You should really stop that.”
“Stop what?” he asked like he didn’t know. But I knew that he knew and he knew that I knew that he knew.
“Staring at me, it’s weird.”
“What makes you think I’m staring at you?”
“Because you are.” I spoke louder than I intended and the other girls turned their heads to face me for a brief moment. I shook my head. This argument was pointless. He knew what he was doing and he didn’t look like he was stopping anytime soon.
I hated the way he looked at me. He looked at me like he knew me from a fundamental level and I hated it. I didn’t want anyone peering into my soul. Most of all, I didn’t want anyone seeing me the way I saw myself; stuck in a deep dark hole, helpless and alone.
He held my gaze and this time, I decided not to be the first to turn away. “What are you doodling?”
“I don’t doodle. I draw.”
“Yeah, and I’m vice president.” I guess my idea of a joke wasn’t as funny as I thought because his facial expression remained unchanged.
“You don’t believe me?”
Did I? Did I even care?
“Here.” He held the paper closer to me.
I picked it from his grip making sure to avoid physical contact. “Wow.” I meant it. It was really good. It was a sketching of a partial female face that showed such raw emotion. He had only gotten to the eyes and I couldn’t tell if it who it was if it was anyone at all. “That’s not terrible at all. It’s also very depressing.” It was.
“I know. It’s you.” I didn’t have any comeback, so I didn’t reply right away. But I also didn’t want him thinking that his comment had made me speechless.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I tried sounding subtle but it only came out angry.
He shrugged and looked at the Romeo and Juliet novel I had placed face down on my desk. “I guess you didn’t do much reading. You must have spent the entire time trying but failing to ignore me.” I hoped he didn’t think this little banter made us friends because it didn’t. “And we are done in five, four,” was I missing something? “Three, two,” He pointed towards the door and the teacher who’d left us all alone earlier walked in, “one.” He mouthed at me and winked. Why did he wink and why did I smile? Wait, did I smile?
He got up from his seat and grabbed his backpack. “You have to let yourself feel alive,” he said that with his head right next to mine. He was so close I could feel the heat radiate from his skin and I immediately felt uneasy.
“Says the loner with no friends.” I didn’t know why I said that. It was mean, I knew it was mean but I couldn’t help myself. It was like word vomit, it just sprang out of my mouth and I couldn’t stop it in time.
Almost as soon as I commented, the smile that almost escaped his mouth was nowhere to be found. Ryan picked up the drawing of me, squeezed it and threw it in the trash can in front of the class.
“Whatever.” He swung the door wide open and walked out.
Can someone say drama queen? Well, there goes the three-hour friendship.
The teacher reminded me it was time to go. I packed my bag and left angrier than when I first came in. Now, I had a question circling around my head. How the hell was I going to get home? I had attained a fear of walking alone in the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina, or anywhere for that matter.
I clutched my bag in front of my chest and slid to the floor. I forgot to factor in the part about me having no ride. Perfect. I texted Lola to come and pick me up. Hopefully, she read it before the sun went out.
“Do you need a ride?”
From you? No thanks. Maybe if I ignored him long enough, he would go away. Ryan crouched down by my right. No, no, no, no. By the looks of it, he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“Just so you know, I have pepper spray,” I said under my breath. I had never been happier to hear back from Lola. According to her text, she was five minutes away. In Lola land that translated to fifteen minutes away. Great.
He handed me a bottle of water. “Are you thirsty?” Not anymore am not.
It could be laced with LSD or something, kids these days. He took a gulp out it and retightened the cap. I think I laughed, I couldn’t be too sure. But I definitely slammed my head. Something told me he wasn’t planning on drugging himself. I pulled out my earphones and connected them to my phone. Music. That was what I needed. I felt his eyes stuck on me. Why did he always do that? I wanted to ask but I wanted to be alone even more.
I moved some loose brownish-red strands of my hair behind my ears and tucked my earphones in them. I put on some random songs, not caring which it landed on. Ryan stayed his position and I shifted away from him to the left.
He brushed my hair out of the way and took my right earphone out. I flinched a little. “So, how long are you planning on ignoring me?”
“I see you’re over your hissy fit.” I removed the left plug from my other ear. “I’m not ignoring you.” He kept his hand rested on my cheek. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I should tell him to keep his hands to himself. I didn’t know if I should tell him to leave me the hell alone. And most of all, I didn’t know if I liked what the feel of his skin on mine was doing to me on the inside. Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out because I got a text from Lola telling me to meet her outside.
I waved my phone in his face. “My ride is here.” I wasn’t quite sure if a few exchanges of hostile sentences made us friends and I didn’t know if I wanted that either. Because when he looked at me, he looked like he saw me but I knew he didn’t, he just thought that he did and I still didn’t know why. I stood up and walked away without awaiting a response. Let’s be honest, this was most likely the last time we were ever going to acknowledge each other’s presence, probably for the best.
I rested my hands on the side of Lola’s cobalt blue Chevrolet and opened the passenger’s door. “Thanks for coming.”
“Sure.” She seemed preppy, not sure why. “Hope I didn’t interrupt anything with you and loner boy.” She looked past me to something else behind me. I turned to catch her stare. My eyes landed on Ryan, not sure why I was surprised.
By then, I was a hundred percent sure his favourite pastime was staring at me from a distance. Not sure why he’d like that, the view was anything but pleasant. If I had to pick a word to describe my life in the past four months, I’d choose quiet or plain or boring or uninteresting or dark. You get the point. I sat in the passenger’s seat and tossed my bag over to the back seats without returning my gaze to Ryan.
I noticed Lola was still waiting for a response. “You’re not interrupting anything. Let’s get out of here.” I secured my belt and rested my elbow on the side glass.
She hesitated before turning her keys in the ignition. “So, there’s a party next week. We should totally go for this one. You’ve missed like all the parties and I haven’t pried or anything like that.” She turned a corner.
I wanted to say ‘no thanks, I’m good’ or ‘seriously I’m fine, parties just aren’t my thing anymore’. It was less about Mom’s death and more about the fact that I had been more than a little sexually violated in every way possible. I cringed when the thought crept back into my head. But instead I said, “Sure, why not?” I really wanted to slap my palm on my forehead but then again, maybe a party was what I needed.
Her eyes beamed with joy and shock that I actually agreed to come with her. “That’s great. It’s going to be great.”
Throughout the past four months, I had spent less and less time with her and she wasn’t sure why. I seriously thought that I needed time to forget and then I’d be fine. But four months had come and gone just like that and I was a far cry from being okay.
BENEATH THE WATER HAD QUICKLY COME come to be my favourite place. The noises from the outside world were drowned out and my body felt almost weightless like it couldn’t have a care in the world. Holding my breath was a thing that I’d done since I found out about Mom’s cancer. I always strived to hold it longer and longer. I didn’t know why, but it gave me something to look forward to.
I weighed my body to the deep down corner of the pool and saw my hair flow all around me. Air bubbles from my nostrils seeped through and I knew I wouldn’t last much longer. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and sprung them open as I swam above water to breathe.
I swam to the edge of the pool and grabbed on to it. Someone was standing right above me. I know who those feet belong to. I looked up at my father who seemed bored at most. He wore a pair of flip flops that had been splashed by water. “Hey, Dad.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Did you want to tell me something?”
He heard, he heard. I know he did. “Nothing comes to mind.”
“So, you weren’t given detention then, were you?”
“It was a total misunderstanding.”
“Jeanne, you’re going to see her.”
Dammit. I knew, without asking, whom he was referring to. The therapist he had wanted me to see after my mother died. I’d seen one during her chemotherapy, but after she died, he thought it would be best if I saw a psychologist again. “Dad, it was just a misunderstanding. I’m fine. I don’t need to see a shrink.” I was already forced to see the school’s counsellor next week Tuesday to explain why I skipped class. It was one class, I had felt like saying but kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want the risk of getting double detention.
“Mrs. Branxton is expecting to see you next week.”
I bit my bottom lip as an attempt to stop myself from complaining. I knew by the tone of his voice that he wasn’t changing his mind no matter how hard I huffed and puffed. “You booked an appointment without talking to me?” I asked anyway.
“It’s not like you’ve been talking to me lately.” I wish I could say he was wrong about that but he wasn’t. “Are you still taking self-defence classes?” I silently nodded. He was worried, he had every reason to be. According to as many psych websites I knew he’d been checking up on, it shouldn’t take me this long to get over a death, and I should be getting better, not worse, day after day.
He never understood my sudden interest to defend myself but I know he knew it had less to do with mom’s death. He’d attempted to pry a couple of times, but I just told him it was something everyone in my generation was into, like selfies. I doubted he believed my story but as long as he didn’t ask why again, I was fine. “You’re keeping up to date with your anti-depressants, right?”
I got out of the pool and shrugged without answering. I grabbed a fresh towel from the rack. A trail of water followed behind me. I ignored my father’s worried gaze and entered the house without saying anything. Let’s face it, that conversation was over before it started.
I ran up to my room as soon as I felt the tears rolling in. I hated crying, especially over stupid memories that I just couldn’t seem to forget. They came so unexpectedly. One minute, I would be having a good time and the next I’d be crying. Lola had caught it a couple of times before but with time, I got good at hiding it. The last time, she had seen me crying uncontrollably was two months ago. She patted my back, trying to console me and asked what was wrong. I told her I just had flashes of my mom and it took me over the edge. In truth, I wished they were flashes of my mom but they weren’t. Instead, what I got were flashes of the night I was raped.
After that night, I rested still on my bed for hours after hours with a pool of tears surrounding my face and then my sheets. My dad knocked on my door a couple times to check on me. All the while I thought, if only I hadn’t insisted on taking a walk. But the sad truth was that I did. I told my dad I needed the walk . . . alone. I knew after much debate that nothing that happened that night was my fault, but it didn’t ease the dread I felt . . . not one bit. After my rape incident, I couldn’t leave the house, I was too scared to walk out and check the mail. The mail!!! My behaviour only made my dad even more nervous than he already was.
One day, about eight weeks, after my attack, I sat on my bed trying to level the heavy breathing I woke up with and it was then that I decided to do something about. I couldn’t just wake up, sit around, wallow in self-pity, wake up the next day and repeat. I might not have been able to protect myself the first time around. But if I found myself in that position ever again, I wanted to be prepared. I wanted strength, I wanted to be able to defend myself. So, I got out of my room with a new attitude, albeit fake, and told my dad I wanted self-defence classes.
He questioned my decision, but he was glad I was getting out of the house and not moping around the house twenty-four seven.
• • •
It took a while for Lola to get ready for the party. I had no problem with waiting. The later we went, the less time we spent—hopefully. After changing into more clothes than I could count, she finally decided on a short cool blue dress. I, on the other hand, wore black shredded skinny jeans and a Ramones tee shirt—Lola was not impressed.
“It’s a party, alright!” I yelled at Lola so she could hear me over the blasting Dubstep music that played throughout the house. The music was on so loud that I could literally feel the vibrations beneath my feet.
She swung an arm around my shoulders and brought me into a bear hug. “This is great, right? I’m just glad you’re not locked your room as per usual. P.S. Ben’s here with you-know-who.”
He passed a subtle acquainted wave my way and I returned with a very weak smile. “Like I’ve told you over and over again, I don’t care that he’s seeing someone else. It just gives me one less thing to worry about.” I really didn’t care. He wasn’t the best boyfriend and I wasn’t the best girlfriend, he had his moments of niceness and his even bigger moments of nastiness and I had mine, too. He was never violent; he was just guilty of being a douchebag. In the end, I knew with or without the rape incident, it just wouldn’t have worked out between us.
Lola who seemed to have forgotten about whatever conversation we were just having winked at some guy at the other corner of the room. “Jesse just waved at me, I think I’m going for it.”
I nodded encouragingly. “He’s cute, you definitely should.” I tried to put on a smirk but immensely failed.
“Are you going to be okay?”
“Yup, it’s a party, isn’t it?”
Lola dropped her hand from my shoulder and winked right before leaving my sight. I let out a breath that I was unaware I was holding in. I can totally do this. I think. I fiddled my hand in my bag to make sure my pepper spray was still intact. Even if I wasn’t the designated driver, I still wouldn’t have a drink. In situations like these, I needed my mind to be crystal clear.
I twirled my hand over a cup of supposed Coke. Yeah, I wasn’t taking that chance. Hard to believe I was a self-proclaimed party girl a while ago. I’d gladly retired that title. I wondered whose party this was anyway. I wandered into an empty room on the second floor of the house. I guessed the entire party was taking place on the first floor of the house. I faced the wall beside me and pushed my hands against it. I could still feel the thump of the muffled music below me. I closed my eyes to find a safe place in my mind.
“Hey.” The male voice startled me and my back was faced to him. So, I did what I knew I could. I elbowed his stomach hard and grabbed my pepper spray from my bag. Before whoever it was could react, I turned around to jab my pepper spray directly in his face. I stopped as soon as I saw who it was. Shit.
How exactly did one say I’m sorry for almost temporarily blinding you with my pepper spray when all you said was hey? Sorry for hitting you in your abdomen, Ryan? Probably not. I didn’t know the answer to that and now I was stuck in such an awkward predicament.
He stopped crouching and returned to a straight pose. “You’ve got a really wicked swing.”
I returned my pepper spray to my bag. “You come to parties?”
“It’ll be rude if I didn’t. Seeing as I’m the host.” Now that was a twist I didn’t see coming.
“The loner boy actually has a life. Who would have thought?”
“You hit me.” He felt the need to point out.
We were now standing face to face. He had his hands resting on the walls with my face in between them. He was a few inches taller so he had to duck his head to take in my eyes, my boring brown eyes. No thanks.
“Why did you feel the need to hit me?” He cocked his head to one side and looked at me oddly, like he was surveying me, trying to figure out exactly what was going on with me.
There was no way I was having this conversation with Ryan of all people. We’d only talked a total of three times, why, oh why was I counting? It wasn’t happening, not now and not ever. I ducked under his right arm to leave and he reached out to grab me. His palm only slightly grazed the back of my palm. I winced in shock and rose my hands in front of me. “Don’t touch me,” I warned him. His touch was totally magnetic and I didn’t have a foreseeable reason to pull back but I did anyway.
We stared at each other for a while without moving. He was definitely used to it but I, on the other hand, wasn’t. I meant to look away, I did, but I didn’t. He brushed my hair behind both my ears at the same time. He inched closer and there was something in his eyes, almost like he knew. But I had to constantly remind myself that he didn’t.
“One question. Are you afraid of me or just guys in general?”
I was taken aback by his question but made it a point not to show it. I pried his hands away from my face and took a step back. “I’m not afraid of anyone.” I didn’t wait for a response, I couldn’t. I turned around and headed downstairs.
“Could have fooled me,” he said softly from behind.
I caught sight of Lola dangling from the hungry arms of another drunken teen mess. I dragged Lola from his clutch. “What’s the rush?” from the looks and sounds of it, she had had her fill of alcohol for the day. “You’re such a buzzkill.”
All the while, I was thanking God that I had done the driving for the night. She rested her heavy body around mine and I struggled to walk out of there without stumbling. I reached for my car keys and beeped my Mustang open.
“You’re so thanking me for this.” I opened the back door and haphazardly placed her into the backseat and closed the door shut before she could find a way to crawl out.
“You’re so depressed nowadays, Jeanne. You’re no fun to be around.”
She was drunk so her statements were easy to forgive. “Tell me about it.” Goodbye pubescent night party, we wouldn’t be seeing each other again. I guarantee it.
I WOKE UP SCREAMING AGAIN. I hadn’t screamed that loudly or had that awful nightmare in a few weeks and I thought I never would again. Obviously, I was wrong. Just my luck, the reoccurring nightmare, his breath against my skin, the disgusting sweat sipping from his skin brushing against mine, his lips pushing aggressively against mine, my muffled screams vanishing into the dark empty night, it’s a nightmare alright. One in which when I finally wake, I am drenched in sweat in the middle of October screaming my head off, and my dad is rushing to my side trying to make sure that I haven’t officially lost it.
It was the same routine over and over again, he rushes in, wakes me up, asks me what’s wrong and I say ‘nothing, I just miss Mom’ or something in that calibre. He tries to console me and I lie and say that I’m fine and he pretends to believe me. I did miss Mom but that wasn’t even close to what made me wake up screaming. No matter how many times this happened, I know he didn’t believe my lies, I wouldn’t even believe my lies. But he had never pushed me and I was grateful for that.
“I’m fine, Dad. It’s just another memory.”
“It’s a good thing your appointment is next week. I might try and get it pushed up.”
That didn’t make me feel good. Nothing did except for punching. I need to hit something. I glanced at the night clock on my bedside, it read: 6:00 A.M. “I need to go to the gym.” Like usual, I never let it slip that said gym was a boxing gym, that would just succeed in scaring him even more. If I were to be honest, I still missed Mom but all memories I had of her were good ones, none of which could result in giving me nightmares. I hated lying to my dad about my dreams but I’d done them so often, it just became easier with time. All I vividly remembered about my attacker was his voice, his raw, hungry, absolutely disgusting voice, and even after all this time, I wished I didn’t.
He nodded and stayed silent. Almost like he was too scared he would say the wrong thing and make whatever was going on worse for me. He walked out of my room leaving the door slightly ajar. As soon as he left me alone in my bedroom, I grabbed a pair of my black boxing gloves that I usually stuffed behind my shoe closet and threw them in my gym bag.
I took off the oversized shirt that I wore to sleep and replaced it with a sports bra. I picked up my car keys from my nightstand. I still didn’t know how to specifically refer to that horrible night and I hated that I had to refer to it as something in my head every time I think about it; For a long time after ‘the rape’, I couldn’t go anywhere alone, I couldn’t walk alone, I couldn’t drive alone. I thought I was going crazy bit by bit, and I probably was. But sometime after I started self-defence classes, I knew I could do it, and I did. I just turned the door knob, put a foot out and my other foot followed.
I lay flat on the floor and rolled under the space beneath my bed. I took a deep breath after I saw it, a gun—the gun. If my dad knew about that, he’d freak and I’d probably end up in an asylum for delinquent teens. I obtained it after the assault, I walked into a store, more like staggered into it, no doubt, looking lost and a little crazy. I was covered in dirt from head to toe and a little bit of blood was visible on my arm. I walked straight to the counter and asked for a gun. The man just stared at me for a while like I wasn’t the first battered person to enter the store and request a gun. It almost made me laugh. He showed me a tiny pistol and I could see his lips move. I knew he was saying something about the numbers being filed, how to load it, but I honestly didn’t care. I grabbed it, dropped some cash and walked away. He didn’t call me back to ask for more money, he just stood there while I walked out, back into the stupid North Carolina rain.
I meant to throw it out a few days after I bought it. After the shock of the attack dissolved, I realized how stupid it was for someone my age having a gun taped at the bottom of my bed. But I never did do it. Yup, my dad was definitely going to freak if he saw it. I was freaking right now. I threw the bullets out so that was a plus . . . well, all but one. I slid out from under and double checked for my mini Taser which was still in the drawer where I’d dropped it in a few days ago. I thought about adding it into my gym bag but ultimately decided against it. I slipped on my most comfortable pair of Nikes, hooked my gym bag on one arm and walk out of the house with my car keys in hand.
After a few minutes of driving, I finally arrived at my somewhat safe haven. I had never been to the gym this early before, the sun was nowhere in sight outside and it actually smelt welcoming, no odour around me. I normally went when the sun was up and it smelt of sweat. Not the best smell but when I was swinging my arms around, it never bothered me.
I swung the door open and immediately, I heard the punching of a bag right before I walked in. I guess, it wasn’t as empty as I thought it was.
I walked straight to my spot without looking around to find the other boxer. I dropped my bag beside my feet and unzipped it to get my boxing gloves. Curiosity won and I glanced slightly behind to see who else was in the gym with me. I didn’t get a clear picture, but the boxer was definitely a guy and was being spotted by someone else who by the looks of it, was also male.
I focused on the heavy bag hanging in front of me and picked up my gloves. Before I put them on, I tied my hair in a high pony tail to get it out of the way. I felt the bag for a few minutes, the next part was the part that I knew I needed, the boxing. In one swift move, I strap on my gloves and started boxing. I delivered punch after punch after punch, and I was yet to feel better. I removed my gloves and tossed them aside. I positioned my body back to the bag and continued hitting it, harder and harder each time. I quickly delivered a high kick and felt a little better, the operative word being ‘little’. I stopped to catch my breath and wiped the sweat on my forehead with the back of my palm.
The sound of punching from across the room stopped a few minutes after. Footsteps. I heard footsteps approach me. Just walk by and leave me the hell alone.
“Hey.” His voice called out to me. I didn’t recognize it and I really didn’t want to ever hear it again.
I gulped down my bottle of water, ignoring the call. But whoever he was, he kept on walking closer to me.
“I don’t think you heard me before. I could probably help you—”
By then, he stood right behind me. I had no time to run another thought through my mind before turning around, sending a few punches his way, and kneeing him hard in the abdomen which sent him crouching down.
He tried speaking again but by the way he was struggling, he was clearly in pain. Good for me. I rushed to my gym bag and clasped my pepper spray in my right hand. I zipped my bag quickly and dragged it up from the bench. I guess my workout session was over.
Before I turned around and had a chance to head for the door, I heard another voice call me . . . by my name. It was a familiar voice, a very familiar voice. I rubbed my right palm on my head. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said in a very hushed tone.
I turned around, hoping not to show a hint of the embarrassment that I was feeling. “You.” Loner boy.
“It’s Ryan.” I could finally see his face clearly. I glanced down at his hands and spotted his gloves. He was the other boxer. His friend walked in pain behind him. “He just wanted to spot you. That, and he thought you were hot.” I thought I saw a slight smile on his face.
“You’ve got skills,” his friend said, still standing behind Ryan.
This was a very embarrassing moment and I wasn’t one to easily be embarrassed. Whatever the reason, I clenched tighter on my pepper spray and Ryan noticed the motion.
“Careful, the way you’re swinging that pepper spray around, people might think you hate guys or just me. At least, you’ve had two opportunities to mace me but you didn’t, so that’s a good sign. I think.” I didn’t say anything, mostly because I really didn’t know what to say. He nodded and bit his lip and then I stared at his lips. It was just for a second, but I stared. “See you in school,” he said; well, more like whispered, because I hardly heard him.
I narrowed my eyes in confusion or frustration, I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t enough that I had contact with him in school, but now I had to deal with him at my gym too. I took in a deep breath; I wasn’t angry because of him. I was just angry. He was trying to have another conversation in another weird moment. I tossed my pepper spray in my bag and left the building, leaving him hanging again. Lola always said I could be a bit on the bitchy side, I guess she was right.
THIS TIME, I ARRIVED PREPARED—forty minutes before my first period. Detention just wasn’t my zone. I stared at the empty hallway for a while before making it down to my locker. I propped my locker open and was welcomed with a piece of paper that literally flew to my face. I grabbed it before it left my view and looked at it. It was Ryan’s drawing, the same one he had been so inclined to show me at detention except this time, it was complete and he was right about two things: He did draw and it was me in the picture. It was a side angle that showed a little of my bangs and my hair was tucked behind my right ear.
I just stood there with my locker wide open, staring at the drawing in my hand. I turned it to the back and there was one word written on it: smile. I didn’t know why a piece of paper had such an effect on me. It confused the hell out of me and my supposed good mood flew out of the window. He depicted me as sad and lacking a smile. Even if I knew that to be true, no one else should.
I looked up and found him staring at me from the other end of the hall. I slammed my locker shut and walked straight in his direction. I had no idea what I was doing, but I needed to make things clear that he couldn’t just, all of a sudden, peer into my soul.
I thumped the paper at his chest. “Take your stupid drawing back.” I heard my voice echo across the hall so I lowered it. “Smile?! What does that even mean? I smile just fine.”
His demeanour didn’t change, not even for a second and that just annoyed me more. It was then that I noticed his palm was over mine on his chest. I slid it out and fully intended to walk away when he grabbed my arm again and pulled me back to face him. He didn’t say anything. I figured if you were going to pull someone you’d say something but he didn’t. “Don’t touch me.” I yanked my arm away and stormed off without any idea where I was headed next.
“Fine. Avoid me, but we do have a bunch of classes together. Just so you know.” He talked so low, I barely heard him and he was totally wrong. We didn’t have a bunch of classes together but then again, he was one to skip.
My phone vibrated with a text from Lola. She was sick and decided to skip school for the day. I’d believe that the day I find out that I was batman all along. I looked up and saw the first rush of students pass right by me. Shit, I should have totally taken the sick route too. I didn’t have to check the time to know that the first bell was about to go off, so I headed straight to my first class of the day. I always loved History . . . not.
I kept my head low and entered the classroom right before the bell went off. No fidgeting or trembling of hands, no hyperventilating, no day tremors. All these and I had skipped my anti-depressants. Wow, I deserved a gold star. I picked a seat by the window just in case my lungs suddenly decided to suffer from a lack of oxygen. You never know, right?
Just keep walking, Ben. I shook my head. Just keep going. That’s right, move along. Are you seriously stopping beside me, really? “Ben, are you lost?”
“Nice to see you too, Jeanne.” We’d perfected our fake compliments with time. It was seriously a thing of beauty. “I’ve decided to take this class.”
It was always the same song and dance with Ben. Of course, there were lingering feelings with Ben. The feelings being synonymous to annoyance, disgust, you get the point. You don’t dump someone and then spread hateful rumours around just because you couldn’t get some. I knew no matter how many times I told Lola we were cool, she didn’t believe me one bit. I really needed less drama in my life. “Why Ben? This is History not ‘How to be a Loser’, now that’s a class you can get an easy A in.” I mustered up a very fake smile. Some days we kept up the façade that we were nice to one another, other days we didn’t. Take a guess as to which day today was. “I’m only looking out for your best interest.”
He traced his finger along my hairline. Ugh, really? “Ben, Ben, Ben.” I subtly flicked his wrist away from my face. “Don’t touch me and you won’t have to explain to your mom how you fractured your wrist. You’re still working on that football scholarship, right? We both know your brain power won’t get you into college.” I tapped my finger on the side of his face.
“Why does my presence bother you so much?”
Could it have something with the rumour he started about ripping my virginity from me? Absolutely. No Ben, I didn’t sleep with you. I have standards. “It’s only ‘cause I love you. We can go out again and you can pretend like I actually let you fuck me.” I covered my mouth with my palm like I never meant to say it. “Oh, my. Did I say that out loud? Take a seat, Ben. The class is starting.” I sent him a wink.
“Listen, you little b—”
“That’s me.” Ryan interjected from behind him. I guess he wasn’t kidding, we actually had a bunch of classes together. He pointed at the empty desk beside me that Ben had been hovering around.
“So, the loner boy comes to my rescue,” I said low enough for Ryan to hear. “So, are you spending this class staring at me or what?”
“Ssshhh, Jeannie.” It’s Jeanne, just Jeanne, but I didn’t correct him. “The class is starting. Have some respect for Mr. . . . um . . .”
“Williams. You know, the teacher’s name. Is this your first time actually attending? Just my luck.” He didn’t seem affected by my harsh comebacks which made me even more infuriated.
He took the seat beside me and leaned towards my ear. “So, what did you think about the dr—”
“Ssshhh, Ryan. The class is starting.” I threw his own words back at him. I couldn’t be more bothered by his hovering eyes and his obvious presence.
I looked up at the board. Mr. Williams was writing something down about Jefferson or Kennedy or maybe George Bush. No, no, no. I didn’t take my pills for a reason. They made my fidgeting worse but turned out that not taking them made them a lot worse. I looked at the door and wondered if I could make it out without having a full blown panic attack in front of everyone. The only reason I still existed in an average social circle was because no one knew about my attacks except my dad. And Lola I guess, but she had no idea just how serious they could get.
I clenched my fists at my sides to control the fast movement of my fingers. I closed my eyes to keep my breathing levelled. That was when I felt his palm wrap around mine. I didn’t have to open my eyes to know the hand belonged to him. Great, now the loner boy saw me as a freak, how ironic. But when I opened my eyes and looked at his, I got a whole different reaction. He kept his calm expression, like my sudden fidgeting didn’t affect him. I realized his palm was still over my right fist. I don’t know why I didn’t pull away but I didn’t, and the fidgeting finally subsided. He didn’t need to keep his palm on mine but he did. I was not quite sure what his aid made me feel, but it made me feel something I wasn’t ready to, so I finally pulled away and walked out of the room a few seconds before the bell went off. I didn’t make it very far before dropping my books on the ground to catch a breath. I always knew there was a chance of this happening so I brought my pills with me. They were in my backpack.
I knew the pills were supposed to help pull me out of my frenzy. I knew that, but if you were unfortunate to feel what I felt when I took them, you’d understand my dilemma. Without the drugs, I had a better chance of knowing when the attacks were going to start but with the drugs, although the attacks reduced, when they did come, I had no idea when to expect them or how bad they would be and that just pissed me off.
“Stop hovering, loner boy.”
“Stop with the pet name, people might start to think you’re in love with me.”
“I gave my dog a pet name, am I in love with him?” He seemed impressed by my response which was hard to tell given his monotone facial expression. One that I knew too well how to put on.
“Ouch. Good comeback. A little mediocre, but we can’t all be comeback geniuses.”
And for the first time in a long time, I smiled and meant it. It was a small smile that quickly dissipated, but it was a smile nonetheless.
“Did I just make you smile?”
Yes. “No, I just remembered a funny incident. That’s all.”
“I guess we also have to work on your honesty.”
There was an awkward pause. No doubt, he was waiting for an explanation of what went on in History class. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give him one. “It was nothing, don’t worry about it, I’m fine.”
“Wow, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you rehearsed that response. Unfortunately for you, I don’t know any better.” He stretched out his hand and I grabbed on to it as he pulled me from the ground. “Let’s go.”
“Anywhere. But only if you promise not to go all shaky on me.”
I don’t know why I did what I did after, but I felt oddly comfortable, like he wouldn’t judge or ask questions that he knew I wouldn’t want to answer. I took the bottle of my pills from my backpack and popped in my daily dose. “I promise.” I couldn’t believe I was skipping school with loner boy. Lola was so going to freak out. I had never skipped school with her and skipping school was her specialty.
We walked side by side to the main exit and I made sure to keep my distance to avoid brushing up against him.
“It’s a bike.” I pointed out as my eyes landed on the shiny black motor bike with neon blue stripes running along its sides.
A smile tugged the corner of his lips, “and the sky is blue. Good observation, Jeannie.” He hooked his helmet one of the handle bars of his bike. It went along nicely with his black leather jacket.
He held out another helmet in my direction. “It’s a 2015 Harley Softail Deluxe.”
“Of course, it is.” I had to ask, “Is this even legal on the road?” I hovered a hand over my forehead to shelter my eyes from the harsh rays of the sun. “You just happen to have an extra helmet?” I stated rather than questioned.
His half smile peeked on the right side of his mouth. “Everybody with a bike happens to have an extra helmet. You never know when a beautiful girl is going to want to have a ride with you.” He winked.
That was the second time he’d winked in my direction for no reason. I suddenly felt weird, it was like reality hit me hard without mercy. I was about to hop on a motor bike with a guy I’d had a total of four conversations with. What the hell was wrong with me?
Ryan somehow was able to catch the retreat in my eyes. “You’ve changed your mind.” He held my hands and dragged me closer. “Why?” he held on to the other helmet.
Up close, I couldn’t help but notice every detail of his facial features, ash blonde hair, perfect lips and a face that was chiselled to perfection. The way one single drop of sweat trickled down his right cheek and vanished around his Adam’s apple. He smiled almost like he noticed me checking him out. Oh God, I was totally checking him out. I hated that in that moment, he gave me butterflies. Because butterflies lead to romance, romance lead to intimacy, and that I couldn’t do.
He kept his hold on my hand. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Why would his mind even go there? I wasn’t being that obvious. Was I?
“I don’t even know you.”
“That’s why we need to spend more time together.”
“I’ve got issues.”
“Welcome to my world,” he said that with his lips almost brushing up against mine. Half a centimetre more and we’d literally be kissing.
“Issues like, if you don’t move away, I’ll knee you in the groin.” He moved backwards, but kept his gaze locked on me. I also took a step back, “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure of the exact reason I apologized, but I did.
Was he trying to elicit some sort of response from me? If he was, he irrevocably failed, because I brushed passed him without turning back. I had to take in a few deep breaths to keep my composure in check. My heart had only beat this hard twice in my life. The first was when my mother told me about her diagnostic and the second was when I was shoved against a brick wall by my rapist four months ago. I knew it meant fear and I hated it. I wrapped my arms around my waist and paced back to school without turning to face him, I knew he was staring. Someday when I finally remembered how to have a normal conversation, I was going to ask him why he did that. But ‘someday’ obviously wasn’t this day.
MRS. BRANXTON HAD HER LEGS CROSSED with the right one over the lap of the other, and her glasses perfectly balanced on the ridge of her nose. Her straight expression was yet to change which was a disappointment to me. I thought the more I said nothing about . . . nothing, the faster the session would go. Wrong. Absolutely wrong. It was like she called my bullshit with her mind or something. Frankly, I just wanted out of the shrink’s office as soon as possible. I didn’t care how many happy lies had to escape my lips to have the session over with.
She brought her pen to her pad again. Jotting down something for the zillionth time, I lost count.
Mrs—or Dr—Branxton, whatever the hell her title was, the silence from her end was killing me. It had been about twenty minutes and neither of us had said a word. If anything, it made me more worried than calm.
She shifted her glasses closer to her eyes and spoke. Finally. “There was an incident a while ago involving you and an empty pill bottle. Have you done anything similar since?”
What?! She did not just go there. I shook my head. “That was a misunderstanding. I didn’t purposely overdose.” At least, that wasn’t my initial intent. “You should have that on record or something.”
That was technically the truth—well, not really, but she didn’t have to know that. A while ago there was indeed an incident involving a full bottle of my anti-anxiety pills and my mouth, which ended with an empty pill bottle in my grip. I barely remembered the incident, but from what I unfortunately recalled, I had the pill bottle in my hand when I went into the kitchen and I wanted to dump it all into the sink. Dump it and forget about it but that obviously didn’t go as planned. Everything happened so quickly, I twisted the cap and stared at the sink but instead of pouring out the pills into the sink or the trash, I poured it into my mouth, every single tablet. Right as the last pill entered my mouth, my dad returned home. Yeah, that was weird—more than weird. It was then that I realized what I had done. Of course, being drugged, I couldn’t really form words but I had been a hundred percent certain that my dad’s eyes mirrored my thoughts. I was wrecked. I couldn’t deny it anymore, because when it takes a boatload of pills for one to feel at peace, your life is fucked up; my life was absolutely fucked up.
“Mmmhhh.” That was her reply. What did that even mean? Was that good? Was that bad? Was this going to be over soon? Probably not, but still . . .
She flipped the page over and nodded slightly. “It says here that you are on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. How has that been going for you?”
“Fine,” I lied.
She put her notepad face down on the stool beside her and cleared her throat. “Listen Jeanne, you’re not wasting my time, you’re wasting yours. I still get paid whether you choose to talk or not, so are you going to talk or are we going to pretend like we’ve been talking already?”
I didn’t say anything. Her comment blindsided me. I thought shrinks were supposed to pretend to be nice at least.
“Your father informs me that your grades have been slipping for a while now. You used to get straight As and now you’re surfing in Bs and Cs.” My God, the horror. However shall I graduate with Bs and Cs on my transcript? “You were involved in cheerleading before your mother’s death and then you quit. Why is that?”
“I’ve already had this conversation with the school’s counsellor. I don’t like repeating myself,” I said angrily. That was not what I intended. I wanted to remain calm, pretend like therapy was the last thing I needed.
“Fine,” she said in a much calmer tone. “At least, you’re speaking. Why did you feel the need to skip History class?”
I figured I might as well lay a little bit of truths here and there. “I panicked. Besides, who really needs to spend an hour remembering the past?”
“That’s what your antidepressants are for. To subside them. Did you skip them that day?”
Yeah. And the day before that and the day before that, you get the point. But I was back on them. I might have skipped them today, but still, I didn’t see the point in talking about that. “The first and last time.”
“You were prescribed them around the same time your mother was diagnosed with cancer. Weren’t you?”
She knew the answer to that so I just nodded, wishing time would go by faster. Oh, no. I felt the familiar sensation on my fingers. I felt the tingling about to start. Not now, anytime but now. “I need the washroom.”
“Okay, it’s right over there.” She pointed towards the door beside a bookshelf.
I got up before she finished her sentence and headed for the door she pointed at. I immediately shut the washroom door and placed my hands on the walls as an attempt to steady them. This wasn’t working and I couldn’t risk outing this problem to my therapist, at least not on the same day.
I raced my hand through my hair trying to catch a breath. My muffled screams of the most hated time of my life rushed through my mind without caution. I shut my eyes tightly and mentally screamed at myself as loud as I possibly could to stop. Just stop with the freaking tremors, please. This wasn’t the time to freak out, I knew that but my fingers thought differently. Please, stop. Great, now I was begging my hands. Mrs. Branxton must have heard my aggravated shuffling in the washroom because she called to see if I was alright. I replied with a muffled yes. My trembling fingers finally stilled. “I’ll be right out.” I blinked a couple of times before splashing a handful of water on my face and wiping it off with some dry wipes.
A couple minutes later, I finally gathered up my rapid thoughts and re-met with my therapist.
“You know the rules, Jeanne.” I suspected she was talking about the use of my phone during our sessions, so I laid in face down on the stool to my right.
“What was that, Jeanne?”
“What was what?” I was good at the question game, too.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that was the start of a panic attack.”
“Well, thank God you know better.” Don’t judge me, I couldn’t help the bitch in me; it was an untamed beast.
Her expression turned to one of concern. “How long have you been off them? I don’t buy that you’ve only skipped them once.”
I was really trying to keep my temper on the down low. The last thing I needed was another scribbling on her notepad. “They don’t even help.”
“Really? And how much better have you felt since you’ve been off them?”
Not much, but I wasn’t ready to lose this silent battle so instead I shrugged. She brought out a brand new notepad from her hand bag. This one was a little different from the one she wrote in earlier. It was smaller, more compact. “Great. More notes?”
“Well,” she shifted in her chair and stretched her hand holding the book towards me. “This is a journal for you. I want you to keep a log of your daily pill intake here. I don’t want you skipping anymore.” I reluctantly took it from her hand. “I am going to check regularly if there are positive changes with your pills, if not, we’ll try something else.”
She sighed. “Jeanne, I’m going to ask you something and I want a serious answer. An actual one.” I nodded. What the hell did Mrs. Branxton have to ask this time around? “Was there any other significant event that occurred during or after your mother’s death?”
“You mean, other than . . . I don’t know? Her funeral?” I felt my anger rise once again. For the sake of me ever leaving this therapy session unscathed, I needed it kept under control. I missed Mom, but I didn’t get to dwell on that because of the rape.
“I’m only asking because your symptoms seem to mimic a post traumatic disorder than merely one of depression. I know that you’re not telling me everything and that’s alright, but if not me, someone else. You’re going to have to open up to someone about what’s eating at you.”
“What makes you think something is eating at me? I’m a teenager, I could just be having mood swings or something.”
“I’m going to write you a prescription for a different set of medication that could help with your panic attacks.” She scribbled something down on a pink slip. Great. Just another one I could add to my unending collection of pills. “I think them to be more severe than you let on. Take one every eight hours.” She tapped the top of the small timer in front of her. “Well, this is it for our first session. I want you to take the logs very seriously, okay?”
“Mmmhhh.” I mumbled through my shut lips. I survived.
It had been a few weeks without a panic attack and I hadn’t skipped a single dose. I didn’t know if it was merely the drugs intertwined with my self-determination, but I hadn’t gotten one of my attacks since that day in History class. I also hadn’t spoken to Ryan since. We might have exchanged a few glances here and there, but we never actually spoke to one another.
I popped my daily recommended dose into my mouth before I could stop myself. ‘Here’s a journal’, she said. ‘Keep logs’, she said. I knew she was just doing her job, and it was sort of helping, but . . . whatever, I just wanted to get this therapy thing over with. I’d reluctantly done it when my mother was going through chemotherapy and hated it. Now, I hated it even more. How was that even possible? As far as I was concerned, all shrinks did was attempt to reach into your head and find the inner secrets that you held most dearly, just so they felt better about their mediocre job. Great, now I was getting angry. Deep breaths, Jeanne.
I wondered how long it would take for the person calling my phone to realize I was ignoring them. Not once, not twice, not— The knocking on my door shifted my attention at the exact same time the ringing on my phone died. My hands paused before reaching my door knob. Breathe.
The knocking subsided. “Open up, it’s me, bitch.” Lola sounded exhausted. My shoulders relaxed a little.
I turned the door knob and my door opened with ease. “Hey Lola.” She brushed passed me without another word and plopped herself on my bed. She slid her shoes off and they landed haphazardly on the black and white carpet on my bedroom floor. She glanced around my room, paying cautious attention to my plain white walls. “It’s not that I’m not glad to see you,” I quickly added, “because I am, but why are you here?”
She threw her arms aside. “It’s Sunday. A boring Sunday.” She huffed. “I think it’s time you put up your posters. I only just realized how . . . blank it seems.”
My blank walls. I remembered that day so clearly. It was the morning after my infamous party—also the morning after my mom died. I walked into my room and tore down all my posters. Good bye Julliard, bye giant G clef note hanging by the head of my bed, bye Franz Liszt, bye Ramones. You get the point. Every single thing that hung on the wall of my bedroom was gone in a jiffy. And so were my blue painted walls an hour later. Besides, I’d always preferred white.
“Well, I like blank, so—” I sat down beside her. “What’s up?”
“I’m just trying to get the stupid chem assignment done.” She reached out to her bag and pulled out a notebook. Have you done it yet?”
“Yeah, last night.” I confirmed.
“Did you hear about the new school counsellor?”
My eyes widened and I turned to face her. “What do you mean by the new school counsellor?” I really hated change.
“Well, I think Miss. Stone got a new job helping refugee kids through their change in environment, or something of that calibre. Besides, I heard the new guy is hawt.” She put a slight emphasis on the ‘hawt’. I guess she decided to gloss over the ‘old’ part too.
“Yup. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he’s just as good.” Her attention was on the open book in front of her. She was scribbling something down.
“It doesn’t matter anyway because I already finished my required sessions with Miss. Stone.”
“Cool. So, what’s up with you and Riley?”
“Ryan? Nothing’s up with us—him. W—why would you think that?” And why did I just stutter? I brushed a few loose strands away from my eyes.
“Well, you reciprocated his stare in school on Friday. Don’t pretend like you didn’t.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, you did.” She propped herself up with her right elbow. “Are you guys officially friends or what?”
Friends? I had no clue what the hell was going on between us. Besides, like I said, we hadn’t spoken in weeks. “Acquaintances. We go to the same gym.”
“You go to the gym? No offense, but he creeps me the fuck out. Not just me, everyone in school. Seriously, he’s like a pariah. Or so I hear.” Lola always had a flare for the dramatics. She screwed open an ice cold bottle of water. “I heard that he sells drugs.” She hushed at the last part.
“Lola, I thought you were taking the nice path this semester.”
“I can’t help it. So, what do you think?” She shook her hair free and pointed at her blue highlights. The blue streaks ran between her dark coloured hair. “It took me, like, six hours to get it done. Next time, I’ll just head to a salon.”
“Don’t worry about it, you look good.”
Her face turned to one of concern. I didn’t like that face. That meant she was about to talk about something serious, and I really didn’t want that. “Do you still miss her? Your mom, I mean.”
I was about to make something up on a whim when Buster strutted into my room. Apparently, my dog was the only person I knew who wouldn’t pry into my life. I picked him up from the floor and placed him on my lap. “Hey.” He barked and jumped down to the floor.
“So, do you still miss her? Is that why you’re . . .” She bit her bottom lip as if looking for just the right way to ask without ripping my guts out. Talking about my mom didn’t hurt as much as everyone around me thought that it did. Because in truth, that was not the reason that I forgot to smile. The memories of my mom were the few things I had that kept me on my feet. “Is that why you’re still sad?”
I shifted a little on my bed. “I’m a lot better, I swear.”
“Fine, don’t tell me.” She placed her palm above mine and sent me a comforting smile. “Jeanne, you know you can talk to me, right?”
I nodded without speaking.
After a few minutes of silence, Lola spoke again. “I heard a rumour that he was dating this girl named Sarah, Haley, or something like that,” she said, no doubt, referring to Ryan.
A chuckle escaped me. “How does one confuse Sarah with Haley?”
She closed her book and exhaled. “I think we should have your coming back party soon.”
“Coming back party?”
“Coming back party.” She repeated. “You know, to tell the entire student body of Westlake High that you are back—Jeanne, the party queen.”
It was hard to believe there was a time when I held that title religiously. I hosted a party practically every weekend. Sometimes, it paid when your parents travelled for work. I creased my eyebrows. “More like, Jeanne; the girl who threw a party on the day her mother died.” Yeah, that story was less than pretty. The room grew silent again. “I was serious when I said I dropped my crown. Let’s leave it to the next queen wannabe.”
“That would be Ashleigh. She would gladly grab on to whatever remnant you have left. Ben, being the head of the cheerleading squad, etcetera.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. I really didn’t give a damn what Ashleigh was up to nowadays. Lola was a good friend. Whereas everyone had sort of dumped me after my lack of parties, she’d stayed even when I hadn’t given her any reason to. “Whatever. And there’s nothing going on with Ryan and me.”
She arched an eyebrow and rested her back against the headboard. “Are we still talking about Mr. Weirdo?”
“No.” I stressed it as much as I could. “And he’s not weird, he’s just . . . different.” I said the last apart under my breath. Why was I even defending him? “We’ve talked a total of maybe two or three times, but there’s nothing going on.”
“Trust me. I didn’t even give him my number.”
“Oh.” She exclaimed.
“What’s with the ‘oh’?”
She threw her hands up in a defensive pose. “Don’t blame me. This is your fault because you hardly speak to me anymore. I thought you guys were close and he asked me for your number.”
“If we were close, he’d already have my number and obviously, you told him off . . . right?” Did I want her to tell him off? Why was my mind thinking this way?
She remained silent. So I repeated, “Right?”
My phone rang and disrupted our conversation. “Lola, please tell me that when I answer, it won’t be Ryan.” She rose her shoulders and dropped them. I turned away from her and picked up the call from the unknown number.
There was breathing on the other end, so I knew he was there. Seconds flew by and the silence was comforting, but I was about to break it when he finally spoke.
“Hey.” He said one word and I was ready to smile, but I didn’t.
“Hey,” I responded. When I looked up at Lola, she mouthed that she was leaving, and whispered a goodbye.
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LETTING IT GO: I had a plan—my plan. I had a sister—my twin. I had a past life—everyone does, right? One of these is never going to have a ‘now’ or ‘future’ moment anymore. I used to think I had my whole life ahead of me. That's what you're supposed to think when you're sixteen, right? It was meant to be just another day. Just another regular day of the week. But it wasn’t. As someone who's been playing baseball for years now, you'd think that curve balls would seize to shock me; after all, I threw them on the daily. But like I said, it was not a regular day. And this curve ball wasn't one I ever wished to witness. Some time after this, I lost myself . . . *deals with sensitive issues* TAKE ME FAR AWAY: I feel scared. I feel lost. I feel broken. And I feel them all at the same time. Life isn’t fair . . . Seventeen-year-old Jeanne Rowe used to love Life... until Life took a sharp turn and never straightened out. Haunted by memories she would rather forget, she tries to push forward, leaving those despised memories locked in a dark place. Four months after the life-altering incident, all seems well, until an unforeseen figure reenters her life. Then she discovers that those memories weren’t ever locked up. They had only been waiting for the right moment to take her down—beneath rock bottom. *this book deals with a heavy subject matter* *This is a special sneak peek. Not the entire novel*