"Carmen?” I slammed my palm against the door, forcing it open. My worst thoughts had come true. It was indeed Carmen, tangled in the white bed sheets. She pushed the sheets up to her face, tucking it under her chin and then over her head. It was too late. I had already seen her. One look at the both of them caused the puzzle pieces to come together.
Clinching my fists inside my pockets, I tried to put my angry at bay. I shouldn’t act on the rage boiling inside of me, putting purpose behind the fire. Heaving a deep breath and keeping my stance firm, I reevaluated my thoughts as Dion began to babble endlessly about how ”it’s not what it looks like" and ”it’s not something serious.” He went for a third lie, but it didn’t have a chance to reach me.
My fist collided to his face before he could explain himself any further, lining up perfectly with his jaw. Dion didn’t have time to react to the first blow, before he knew it, another was sent his way.
He didn’t leave me unscathed, reluctantly he swung his own punch, causing me to stumble into the hallway. We were at each other’s throats with little to no space between us. I’d fought Dion in the past, out of childish reasons, but it was always halfhearted without much intent to hurt him.
It was different this time. I wanted him to bleed.
Carmen emerged from the bedroom, dressed in his white T-shirt and shorts. The fabric swallowed up her petite frame, looking almost humorous. She wedged herself in, moving in front of Dion and acting as his guard.
“Stop it,” she shouted, waving her hands around. “Stop it right now. You don’t need to fight over me.”
Those words snagged at me. I became motionless when she said that. I couldn’t help it, but it caused me to start genuinely laughing in her face. “Fight over you?”
“Yeah. It’s about me. I didn’t really think me being with your brother would have this much of an emotional effect on you.” Carmen straightened her shirt, fiddling with the material in her slim fingers and avoiding eye contact. When her eyes did open, she sidestepped and placed her hand on my chest. “I didn’t think you’d be this jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” I proclaimed, stepping away from the hand she touched me with. This was getting pathetic. “I could give two shits about you guys screwing.”
“You’re clearly angry about something.”
“Yeah, I am angry—”
She gave a knowing grin. “I knew it.”
“It’s not about you guys,” Heath noted, entering from the hallway opening. “It’s about Silvia.”
“It’s always about her. She does this, she does that. Why do you guys have always bring her up?” Carmen grumbled, hatred dripping each word. “How is this about Canada?”
I clenched my jaw as I scanned my brother, up and down. “Silvia hates me because she saw a video of Carmen and my lookalike making out. The entire school saw it on the last day of school. And also, Silvia saw a video of me going to a party I didn’t even attend.”
Dion’s face paled. “That’s why you guys broke up? I didn’t know that, Dakota. You know I wouldn’t backstab your relationship like that.”
“Carmen didn’t make it any better. She insisted that it was me in the video on the last day of school.” I motioned to his latest fling and my ex-girlfriend. “I can’t even wrap my mind around the idea of you with Carmen. Of all the people in Crescent Heights, you choose my ex?”
“I thought you said you didn’t care.” Carmen recalled, arching a brow. “You shouldn’t mind.”
“It’s his brother. Do you not have limits Carmen?” Heath snapped his gaze to Dion. “And don’t act like you’re out of this Dion. You’re twenty-seven. What the fuck is wrong with you? She’s been eighteen for like three months. Get your life together.”
Dion touched the back of hand to his busted lip, laughing at the sight of blood. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Would you mind if I started sleeping with Olivia?” I boomed.
“No, I wouldn’t like that.” He said, realizing the stupidity in his actions. Reaching out to me, he attempted to grab my shoulder, but I swatted him off of me. “I’m sorry, Dakota. You know more than anyone else, I wouldn’t do something to you to if I knew you’d be upset about it. I practically raised you after what happened with mom and dad. I’m the last person to hurt you.”
I shuffled away from him and relaxed on to the hallway ways. Biting the inside of my cheek, I contemplated on how I could killing the both of them and get away with it.
“I thought you were with Olivia.” Heath brought up. “What happened with her?”
“We’re on a break.”
I hooted a laugh. “You guys were fighting less than three hours ago.”
Ronnie was in the hallway, watching everything unfold. “I can now see where your commitment issues come from. You’ve never witnessed a normal relationship.”
“Not now, Ronnie.” Heath sighed.
Ronnie backed out of the hallway and announced that she would be in the living room, ready to come back whenever the family affair was done with. Heath suggested that we do things in a calm, orderly fashion. He took control of the moment and informed Dion and Carmen to get dress and meet us all in the living room. Carmen objected to this, but it was hard to go against three other people. Dion had some things to explain and so did Carmen.
With Carmen there, I was a bit cautious on what she would say.
I kept my thoughts to myself as Heath started his long list of questions about Segg for Carmen. It was obvious that she had some kind of linkage to the incident on the last day of school. At first, she refused to speak but Ronnie was good at “convincing” her to speak. All of Ronnie’s tact’s were menacing and vicious. I think she was channeling in Silvia’s pain for this moment.
She shrieked away from Ronnie, scooting to the far-end of the couch. “Why should I tell you guys anything?”
“Because if you don’t tell me right now, I’m going to call the police and accuse you of recording me without my knowledge. So start talking or I’ll start calling them right now,” Dion snarled and brought out his phone.
Carmen rushed up and pushed his phone down. “Okay. Okay. I’ll tell you. But only if you keep Veronica away from me.”
Ronnie beamed a satisfied smile and backed away from Carmen. ”Proceed.”
Carmen massaged her temple, collecting herself before she began to speak. Dion had given her a glass of water before her confession. I observed her as she ran her hands up and down on the length of the glass, unintentionally trying to buy herself some more time by messing with the cup. “Let me see what you do and don’t know first. What’s everything you know about Segg?”
“For one, I know it stands for Seniors Gag Group,” Ronnie stated. “You guys pull pranks, do competitions, and do other barbaric and stupid things. And I know that the only way you can join the group is by dating a member or being relating to a member.”
“That rule excludes the maestro.” Carmen noted. “Go on. What else?”
“Well,” Heath spoke up. “I know that the creator of Segg is unknown but it was Jonah Ellington who made notorious and eventually banned back in the 80s for what he did to Dakota’s mom. I don’t think there’s been group activity until this year.”
“That’s wrong. Segg never left, Heath. They just got better at hiding who they would prank and how they did it. They didn’t need a repeat of what happened in the 80s.” Carmen’s lips tugged into a smile. “What else do you know?”
“I know Dakota’s involved in Segg somehow,” Ronnie murmured and I darted a look at her. “What? You are. You practically confessed it earlier.”
“Dakota is a part of Segg.” Carmen confirmed. “He’s the reason I was able to join it in the first place. We were at each other’s initiation ceremony.”
"Initiation Ceremony?” Heath cocked his head to the side, puzzled. “What the actual hell is wrong with you people? Are you in some kind of cult?”
Ronnie didn’t wait to see what Carmen’s response would be. She jumped right in and ignored Heaths previous statements. “Let’s get to the point, Carmen. How were you involved in Silvia’s Segg prank?”
She smiled against the rim of her cup. “That wasn’t a prank for Canada. That was a prank for Dakota. Finn kicked him out of the group a while ago for reasons I’m unaware of. But, I do know that he helped arrange the prank against Dakota.”
“I don’t get what you mean. What do you mean he arranged for my prank?” I asked, muddled.
“I don’t know if you losers know this,” Carmen said, motioning to Ronnie and Heath, “but there’s this thing in Segg where you can outsource a prank. Let’s say for example, my prank was to have someone fake-date Ronnie for an entire year. I would have to outsource the prank and have someone do it for me because I’m not a guy and I know Ronnie doesn’t date girls. I’d have to hire someone within Segg who is a guy to do my dirty work. They don’t know who I am, but they’ll get paid for their work. It’s pretty simple. You do whatever your sponsor is asking you to do. It’s just a different way of pranking and it isn’t used all that often, only for certain pranks.”
“Why are you telling us this now?” Heath asked the question we were all wondering.
“Well, I was getting to that if you’d just wait.” She sneered. “The prank on Canada was outsourced and given to me. But that prank isn’t under my name. I was hired to do it. I already did my prank and it wasn’t wasted on Canada.”
Ronnie crossed her arms. “So what you’re telling us is that someone outsourced a prank so you could fake-date Dion and make a video that looks like Dion is Dakota? And then when Silvia sees it, you insist that it is Dakota, tricking her into believing he cheated?”
“Yeah basically. I don’t know who it is but I do remember Finn telling me something. He said how if he got Canada to hate Dakota, that would be the biggest lose for Dakota and that it would mess him up.” Carmen scanned my attire and shook her head. “And he was right, you are a mess.”
Carmen raised her glass and set it on the table. “You know what I don’t understand?”
“What?′ I sighed.
“I don’t understand Canada. I’m surprised she believed me so easily and went for it. If you really look at the video, you can tell that I wasn’t really in the backstage portion of that venue. We were someone else. My sponsor had it edited in a way to make it look like I was walking into the venue. I thought I needed to do more just to convince her, but she believed it the moment she saw it.”
“Well Silvia’s not acting like herself lately,” I stated. The Silvia I thought I knew wouldn’t have been so quick to believe Carmen or Pierson. I hadn’t pinpoint the cause of this sudden change, but I felt like it had all started after that night Beth came over. Something—or someone—was making her a pushover. I understood why she hated me after that whole stunt in front of the school, but I didn’t think she’d run into Pierson’s arms right away. I always thought she was stronger than that.
Dion’s got up from his seat and paced the small space. “I can’t believe this.” Dion covered his face with his hands, a slur of profanity words echoing out. Once he caught his breath, he turned to Carmen.“I can’t believe you.”
Carmen ran to him, frowning up at Dion with a look I’d only ever seen on children when they were begging their parents to buy them a toy they wanted. “I didn’t mean to hurt you in all of this. It got really screwed up faster than I thought it would.”
“You only did this for the money you were getting from your sponsor.” He realized, laughing to himself. “Get the hell out of my apartment.”
“I can explain—”
“I said get out! Get out!”
Carmen scrambled to gather her things. In breakneck speed, she was out of the apartment and hopefully also out of our lives forever.
. . .
Ronnie was back to supporting me, but not entirely. I could still feel the tension floating in the air when I got in her car. She held on to the steering wheel hard and murmured things to herself with a tight smile. After what Carmen told us, Ronnie agreed to drive me to the party at Pierson’s house. The party was held in Silvia’s honor since our birthday had recently passed.
Just because I had nearly passed Ronnie’s approval didn’t mean Dion had. Once Carmen’s interrogation was over, Heath and Ronnie pestered my brother on why he had left Alexander’s car, heading to Franklin’s party that one night. He stated that the car was indeed registered to the Iverson’s but it was Iverson’s father who owned the car. I knew they worked together in Los Angeles, but I didn’t know they were actually friends. Dion also explained that he had gone to the party to see Carmen. I believed him, but it wasn’t enough for Ronnie.
“What do you plan on doing when you get to the party?” Ronnie asked out of the blue. “Do you have some kind of cheesy monologue figured out? Are you going to go all Pretty Woman and go on the fire escape with a dozen roses and proclaim your love for her?
I shifted in my seat, thinking over what I had rehearsed a million times in my head since the last day of school. “I was going to walk up to her.”
“What do you mean ‘that’s it’? What were you expecting me to do? Show up on a white horse and tell her I want her back?”
“I’m not asking for you to go rent a horse. Calm down, Dakota. All I’m saying is that you’ve spent this entire time thinking of how you’ll get her back and that’s the only idea you’ve thought of? At least give me some romance.”
"Give you some romance?” I popped up a brow. “Correct me if I’m wrong here, but am I trying to impress you or am I trying to impress Silvia?”
“Both. You’re always trying to impress us both.” She stated firmly and pulled the car into a nearby parking lot.
“Why are we stopping?”
“Because I am not about to go into that party with your sorry ass and have you simply walk up to her like it’s nothing. You need to think of something better.” She turned the car off. She snuck a look at her phone to see the time. “Ah, and you have about an hour to figure it out.”
I glanced around. “Why only an hour? I thought the party isn’t scheduled to start for another two hours.”
She pointed at the building she had parked us in front of. It was a florist and they closed in approximately one hour. I sighed. “Silvia wouldn’t want flowers.”
“How would you know that? You’ve only known her since August. It’s December now. There’s still a lot you need to learn, young grasshopper.” Ronnie clicked off her seatbelt and exited out of her car. Reluctantly, I went with her to the florist. Ronnie fawned over the large choices of flowers, and for a moment, I was positive she thought I was going to buy her some simply because she drove me here.
“No, Ronnie. Drop the daffodils and step away from the other flowers.”
“But they’re so pretty.” She stuck her nose into the bouquet of flowers. “I want them.”
The woman who owned the place danced around us, checking to see what Ronnie was talking about. “Ah, that’s a lovely choice.”
“I know, right?” Ronnie beamed. “I think it’s perfect.”
“Yeah, for you.” I grumbled. “I’m not here to buy you something.”
She hit my arm. “God, he’s so mean to me. I can never win with him.” She wiped at a fake tear.
The store owner nodded her head as if she knew what she was talking about. Knocking my head back, I groaned at how emotionally attached she was getting to these damn flowers. What was with girls and flowers anyway? They smelled like nothing to me. Sure, I guess they were nice to look at for a while until they inevitably shriveled up and died like we all do in the end.
“What’s the occasion?” the florist asked. “Is today a special day for you as a couple?”
“Oh we’re not a –” I began to say.
“Actually yes it is,” Ronnie stated. “I need something that screams: ′I love you, please forgive me for not defending myself properly and being honest from the get-go.’”
I prodded her, but she didn’t stop to apologize.
“Let’s just go with red roses.” I informed. The florist nodded and rang up the price.
“Red roses are so cliché.”
I brought out my leather wallet, pulling out the cash. “They’re simple, they’re direct, and they’re reliable.”
“Are you buying her flowers or batteries?” She rolled her eyes. “They’re so impersonal. Everyone gets red roses.”
The case was closed and it was settled that I was going to buy the red roses. There was no other option. After paying the florist, we walked back to the car. Ronnie didn’t rush to turn on the car when we piled back inside of it. “Can I ask you something Dakota?”
“I want you to be truthful while answering this,” she said. “When I saw how torn up Dion was about Carmen, I stopped and thought about something. I thought of how Silvia felt when she thought you’d betrayed her and how I’d spent hours upon hours, trying my best to make her feel at least a little better about the situation. You didn’t see that first night after that school presentation, but I did.” Ronnie turned to me with red rimmed eyes that were glossed over. “I want you to promise that you won’t make her feeling like that again. Silvia’s not acting like herself anymore, she’s trusting all the wrong people and I’d hate to see her get hurt again by someone who supposedly loves her. By giving you my trust, I’m hoping that you won’t break it. I’m not going to sit here and ask you to tell me what you did in Segg or what you were planning on doing. I want you to tell Silvia. If you’re going to take Silvia back, tell her everything. Everything you didn’t tell her the first time. Everything you wish you told her.”
“I promise,” I said in a hush tone. “I’ll be honest with Silvia.”
“Good.” She wiped under her eye, collecting the few fallen tears that had gotten away. “I know you didn’t mean harm by keeping things to yourself, but after what happened, I think it’s best that you tell her whatever it is you’re holding back. Silvia’s had a lot of people deceive her and I really hope you’re not one of that.”
“Yeah, I know with her messed friends back in Maine.”
“She told you about Ian Prescott and how he backstabbed her?”
“She did mention someone who she confided in someone at her middle school. But the moment she did, he turned around and gossiped about it. He called her mom all kinds of awful things and teased her for the kind of financial status she had at the time.”
“That’s Ian.” Ronnie retrieved her car keys and put them into the ignition. “I really do hope you don’t do anything like Ian, Dakota. Because if you even get close to making her breakdown like that again, I swear I will castrate you and sell your organs on the black-market.” There wasn’t a start of a grin on her face, but I laughed regardless. “Oh, you think it’s funny now. But when you wake up inside of a bathtub full of ice at some motel with a scar on your side, you won’t be laughing.”
“I’m not going to hurt her, Ronnie. I’ll be completely honest with her the moment I see her...if she lets me talk, that is.” I blurted.
“I could help you, but only to a certain extent. I’ll get a way to have you two alone in a room together.”
“No, that’s not a good idea. Knowing Silvia, she’s not going to want to talk to me if we’re stuck in a room together.”
“You could just say all you need to say before she does.”
An idea came to mind after she suggested that, sparking the perfectly plan that would get her to listen to me without her running off.
Pierson and Hunter had gone outside to get away from the party. I hadn’t seen them for a while and I was starting to get a bit worried on what they were caught up doing. I had a hunch it was Hunter who beat up Pierson before Thanksgiving. I had spotted bruised and battered knuckles on Hunter minutes before I saw Pierson’s black-eye. The cause of the fight wasn’t obvious to me yet. Asking Pierson about it was no use, he only disregarded it whenever I brought it up.
Bringing a drink with me, I walked outside to the front porch where more classmates were streaming into Pierson’s house. I plopped down on the steps and took a sip of my beverage, quite hating the weird after taste. Warmth spread around my shoulders. A weight that wasn’t there before hung on my back. I turned to see Gabriel standing there, leaving his long coat on my shoulders as if I was James Brown.
“You were shivering.” He explained and took the seat next to me.
“Thanks,” I smiled, slipping my arms into the sleeves. “How are you liking the party so far?”
Gabriel pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Well, it’s not like any party I’ve gone to.”
“Have you gone to parties before?”
He puffed air between his lips. “Uh. Yeah, um. I’ve been to loads of parties. You know, during my freshman year they used to call me the party animal. A boogie king.”
I scoffed. “No, they didn’t. No calls anyone that--ever.”
“Fine. You’ve figured me out.” He sighed, pretending to be defeated and raised his hands up. “This is technically my first party with teenagers.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, I hosted Bingo night at my church every week and that can get pretty intense. You’d be surprised at how often I have to break up fights between senior citizens on Bingo night. They are very serious about the game.” I snorted a laugh that eventually grew into a smirk. Gabriel noticed this and pointed it out. “Hey, there’s a smile. It’s small, but it’s a start. I’m doing something right.”
Unintentionally, the smile expanded, but instantly faltered when I reminded myself why I was even here. Alone. “Look Gabriel—”
He wouldn’t let me finish. “Oh, I already know where this is going. It’s about your ex. It’s too soon to start something, I get it. I’m not asking for you to be my girlfriend, Silvia—even though having a Senior girlfriend would be great.” He added. “But I can just as easily be your friend if you want me to.”
Resting my head on his shoulder and shutting my eyes, I felt relieved at what he said. “Thank you for understanding.”
His arm circled around me, hesitating on where to place his hand. Laughing to myself, I open my eyes. I was about to say something to him, but my response vanished into thin air when I saw who was walking towards us.
Seeing him again hurt just as much as it did last time. It was going to hurt twice as much to know I had to act like I didn’t care about him or that I didn’t want to hear what he had to tell me. Digging my hands further in my pocket, I scrambled to distract myself, but with little to no success.
It had to be a mirage of some sort because there was no way what I saw was real. The guy walking to Pierson’s house from across the street had a bouche of red roses in his left hand and an envelope in another. Dakota didn’t buy flowers for anyone.
Gabriel inched away from me. “I’ll see you back inside.”
I hooked on to his wrist. “You don’t have to leave.”
“I think it’s best if I leave you to alone for this conversation,” he rushed to say and got up and out of there faster than I could stop him.
By the time we were face to face, Dakota handed me the flowers and then the letter long before I could spit out an insult at him. “What is this? I don’t want any more of your gifts.”
“Read it.” He replied. “When you’re done, follow the instructions at the bottom.”
With that, he was gone just as quickly as he had arrived. I stuffed the letter into the jacket and left it there for at least a half hour. Curiosity ate me from inside, wondering what it was he had in the letter. I re-entered the house and found a vacant, quiet portion of the house. Opening the envelope, I brought out the white piece of paper that was inside.
I write to you in the hopes to tell you what I cannot say in person.
Each time I try to tell you the truth, something stops me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of my lack of courage, bad timing, and your incapability to let me speak without you screaming at me first. I figure I’m better writing down my thoughts than saying them out loud. Expressing myself on paper is something I do best.
I don’t know what you’ve been going through these past few weeks apart, so I can only speak on behalf of what I have felt. To be frank, I’ve been kicking myself for leaving at such an inappropriate time. I had called you my girlfriend in front of your family only two hours before breaking up with you. I gave little to no signs that I wanted to leave. If you hate me for doing this, I don’t blame you. I hate myself far more than you’d ever believe.
During the few months we’ve known each other, I know we haven’t had the most picture-perfect relationship. It wasn’t a love straight out of the movie.
But it was ours.
I wouldn’t trade it for any thing else. It was us, it wasn’t pretty--but hey, we both know life isn’t always pretty. Even though things didn’t go as planned, the chance to love you is worth every second of hell or heartbreak I’ll feel. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you and will forever remembered in a positive light, never to be dimmed or darkened by our bitter ending.
I wish I could’ve done a better job at being your boyfriend. I look back at what I’ve done and I take full responsibility for any pain I have caused you with my abrasive attitude and brash comments. You want me to show the world that you were mine, but I was too busy deal with my own demons to even tend to your needs. There was a lot of things going on in the beginning that you don’t know about. Partially because you can’t really force people to talk about things they’ve been blocking off for years.
Before I go on to apologize for something you don’t even know about, I would like to inform you about something. There’s a letter I wrote and handed to Ronnie. If you want to know the complete truth, find me and we’ll have a conversation. I’ll be on Braxton Street and Lincoln Avenue until 8:45pm. But if you don’t want to talk to me, go to her and read that letter. It’ll have everything you need to know.
If you don’t come at 8:45pm, I’ll take that as a sign and I promise I won’t bother you anymore. One thing I will state now –that is true and has always been true –is that I did not cheat. You know how much I hate the idea of cheating. Why would I do that to you? Think about that, Silvia.
My vision blurred, in and out of focus, as I reread the letter. A droplet hit the paper, causing the ink to smear and trail down the letter. At that point, I knew I had to talk to Dakota. Avoiding him wasn’t going to solve any problems. The most I could get out of this conversation was closure. I needed closure.
The clock on the wall told me that it was already 8:30pm. I fished for my phone in my pocket, but I couldn’t find it. Braxton Street was at least a twenty or twenty-five-minute walk. I was hoping to call him, but with my phone gone, I was left with no other option.
Fuck it. You’re gonna have to run.
The training I’d done for the past couple of weeks finally paid off as I ran out of Pierson’s house and sprinted down the street. My feet felt restricted in my Chuck Taylors, but they were better than nothing. Once I arrived on Braxton Street, I came to halt and stared over at where Braxton Street would be joined with Lincoln Avenue. Far away from where I was located, I saw Dakota talking to someone inside of a gold Mazda. I didn’t recognize it.
“Dakota!” I yelled.
He didn’t hear me. He grabbed the door handle and pulled it open. Dakota was a far distance away, but I ran toward him. I pushed my body even further down the street. Sweat dotted my forehead and dripped down side of my face.
“Dakota!” I shouted louder than I did last time, using up all of my energy. I slow down my speed and let out another yell, calling him one last time. “Dakota!”
He entered the car, unaware of the girl calling out his name, and they swerved off in to the night.