We were in need of assistance from Heath and Ronnie. There was no way I could calmly sit across from that smug fucker and not pounce from my chair, going right for his jugular. I remained in my room, pacing by my bed, while I waited for them to arrive. I couldn’t have a real conversation with him without support. Silvia kept them at bay, seating the entirety of Crescent High’s Lacrosse team in the living room.
Who would’ve expected such a sight? It was cowardly, but I was passed that by now. He was smart to not come alone, proving not to be an idiot. I would’ve dragged his ass back to the gate by the time he strolled up to my porch, denying him access into the house. Truth be told, I was secretly patting myself on the back for being the responsible one and stepped out of the scene before things got nasty. That was for own safety and also because I wasn’t an idiot either.
“They’re here,” Silvia called out.
I twisted the doorknob, reappearing in the living room with a prickly sensation swooping through my limbs like a torrential downpour of unfortunate news. Heath went up to me and gave me a brief side hug, matching it with a lackluster look. “How you been? Have you talked to them at all?”
“I haven’t,” I mused, slipping out of her reach and to the side of Silvia. She put her hand in mine, slightly tightening her fingers around mine with a beautiful grin on her soft lips. I needed her, more than ever for this conversation. I was grateful that she could see that, too.
I looked at my friends. “Was there something I missed?”
“I was telling them about the last time I was in this house,” Hunter inserted, lowering the cup in his hands. Who the fuck gave him a drink? He wasn’t worth hospitality. I would’ve served him a cup full of my snot. Maybe it was really for the best I didn’t interact with them sooner and excused myself to the bedroom...what was he talking about? I had stopped listening.
“Wait,” I cut in, “Backtrack there.”
“I came here a lot when Diana was around.”
“When she was alive,” I went on to say. “She’s dead. Say it.”
He gulped loudly. “I haven’t completely grasped with the grim fact that she’s dead.”
“You could’ve fooled me,” I laughed, “You looked too busy boning Carmen to even be fazed by her suicide. That was why it was so hard to see who her father was. This town didn’t really react when she died. They kept living. And so did you.”
“People have different ways of grieving.” He countered. “You didn’t see me at every hour of the day, Dakota. I had my moments of remorse when I was in privacy.”
“Moments? All she was worth to you were messily moments of remorse.”
“That came out wrong—”
“No, it didn’t. It’s a wonderful depiction of what she meant to you. She wasn’t worth more than that. Only the bare minimal, I can see. You couldn’t even be open about your relationship with her.”
“She wanted it that way.”
“Yes,” I nodded, “Yes because the one that isn’t in a committed relationship with someone else would want secrecy.” I took a step at him, but Silvia gently brought me back. I fought against the pull. “If you wanted to come here to lie in my face, you can gladly get the fuck out of here and do that lying shit to someone else. I’m not in the mood for your stories. I want to hear the truth. If you’re not man enough for that, you aren’t ready for this talk. Come back when you are.”
“I loved her, Dakota,” he burst out in tears. “I loved her and I fucked up, ok? I didn’t know how selfish I was until it was too late, when there was no way in going back.”
“Yeah, you really are too late. You can’t wish for the dead to come back.”
“I have lost count how many nights I’ve woken up in sweats, panicking at what I did to her. At times, it’s hard to separate this high school bullshit from reality. You think everything is going to be like this forever, but then you’re reminded that there’s repercussions for your actions. Losing Diana taught me that and it made me want to change for the better. After she died, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror—I still can’t.”
“I don’t know if you ever can,” I muttered. “I can’t see how you call what you had for her love when you had people verbally attack her and her friend.”
“That wasn’t him,” one of the players chimed in. “It didn’t start with him. Carmen found out about the two of them messing around and she got in between the two. She deleted her number from his phone, blocked her information and then proceeded in asking us through Finn to get Diana away from Hunter.”
“By the time I caught word of what was going on,” Hunter went on, “it had gotten worse. I did talk to her before she took her life—a few days before I believe. She was far gone and refused to speak to me, saying that I was behind the behavior the team was inflicting on her. I reached out to her, look,” he rushed his phone on to the table. Silvia picked it up, showing me the screen. It was opened to his text messages to Diana, all marked on the same week she killed herself. “I’m so sorry, Dakota. I should’ve told you about this sooner. I was so scared after I heard she took her own life. I expected you wouldn’t listen and would resort to fighting. I blamed myself. I didn’t know Carmen was behind the bullying until a couple weeks when Silvia was already in town and I broke up with her.”
“I always thought you guys broke up because she threatened to attack me,” Silvia mused. “And then actually did attack me.”
“I was already planning to dump her before then. It wasn’t you.” He shook his head. “I found out about it before the night at the Smell. It just happened to coincide with that event.”
“What about the baby?” Ronnie asked the question on most of our minds. “Did you know about it?”
“I did know. After she showed me the positive pregnancy test, I told her she shouldn’t be using her medication while carrying the fetus. I know it sounds messed in retrospect, but her pregnancy was why I proposed. I wanted the kid to be born with both parents together, but right around that time was also when Carmen found out.” He revealed. “But with us no longer in communication toward the end, I didn’t know if she had kept the baby or not. When Dion came out with a daughter, for a second I thought maybe it was ours, but I was too scared to come forth and say anything. It was complicated time for me.”
Hunter, red in the face and on the verge to break again, extended his hand out for his phone. Silvia gave it back to him, slumping into me with her head on my shoulder.
“I want to apologize, Dakota. Sincerely apologize to you from the start of it all, to Diana, to not being there for the girl.”
“Ophelia.” I said sternly. “Her name is Ophelia.”
“It’s a beautiful name.” His sad expression broke away, reveal a weak smile. “If there’s anything I can do, anything at all, we would all like to help.”
“There is something...” Silvia trailed off.
“No,” I boomed. “I don’t want to involve them.”
“I mean the more the merrier.” Ronnie noted. “I don’t see why they can’t. It would be great.”
“I said no,” I repeated. “They’ll just run back to their master and tell them what we’re doing. I don’t trust these bastards.”
Hunter’s eyes went to the carpeted floor, blinking away the moisture from his eyes. “I deserve every ounce of that, Dakota. I really do.”
Damn, he was such a pussy. What did Carmen see in him?
I wanted him to fight back more, snap at me, but he didn’t.
Hunter cleared his throat and followed it with a deep inhale. “In the coming weeks, there’s going to be a pep rally the school has been preparing for to debut new banners for the athletes at Crescent High.”
“We’re aware of it,” Heath said. “What about it?”
“Pierson is going to be out of town and they wanted him to do the introduction for the banners. Since he’s gone, I will be taking the spot as introducer because I’m second in command for the team. I thought maybe we could do something against Segg for that pep rally—show the school who the real monsters are.”
You, I wanted to say, you are the real monster. But someone spoke before I did.
“That slot is already taken,” Ronnie cooed. I darted a gaze at her and her hands went up. “What? He is essentially planning to do the same thing we are.”
“You guys wanted to do something on that day, too?” Hunter’s eyes brightened. “That’s great. What is it?”
“None of your damn business.” I snarled. “Which portion of I don’t trust you don’t you comprehend? Do I need to translate it into a different language? Tattoo it to you fucking forehead? Huh?” I rushed up to him. Heath and Silvia held on to my wrists, reeling me away from him. The Lacrosse team were all up on their feet, adding a barrier that wasn’t there before.
The rest of the meeting continued with the Lacrosse agreeing to add on to their collection of videos that exposed the ruthless path of Segg. They separately scheduled time with Ronnie and Heath so they could be added in.
I stayed in my room for a lot of it. I didn’t want them to be a part of it, but none of my friends or Silvia were on my side for the matter. When I heard the front door open, I made my way to the living room again, seeing Hunter on the porch talking to his step-sister, Silvia.
He saw me, and despite everything, had smile on his face. “I’m sorry about all of this.”
“It’s not going to fix what happened.” I reminded him, making sure not to get any closer. Silvia was the buffer between us, acting as the needed division. I would’ve had him on the floor by now if she wasn’t here to save him. “I want you to know that no matter how many times you say sorry and work to better the rift between us, there will be nothing that will bring her back.”
“That’s my biggest regret,” he sighed. “That’s why I don’t want to miss out on Ophelia’s life—”
“Too soon, buddy,” I interrupted him. “Let’s take this one step at a time. You are her father and I can’t deny you from seeing her forever, but you’re going to have to prove your trustworthy.”
Hunter took what I said with stride, nodding. “I will.”
Evelyn suffered a bad fall this morning while in the backyard, picking the oranges from the trees. In fear of what the accident did to the fetus, Father took her to the hospital. Hunter accompanied them. I thought, for a moment, that Maven had gone with them too because the house was extremely quiet, but after checking his room I saw he wasn’t there, and his bed was made. I couldn’t remember if he had come home at all last night or not.
Earlier in the day, I talked to Dakota. He said he was at the local community college and was doing his last meeting with his counselor and arranging his final transcripts so they were sent to the correct university. He promised to swing by when he was done.
I let out a loud yawn, grabbing an apple from the kitchen counter and walking it to the sink. While pulling out my phone, I sunk my teeth in to the crimson skin. I coughed at the number of messages on my screen. They were from my mother. The last remark demanded that I called her.
“Hi,” I said after she picked up.
“Did you see my texts?”
“I told you the answer mom.”
“It’s going to be fun!”
“I don’t want to go to a wedding, mom. I have homework—”
“It’s a two-hour drive to San Diego,” she interjected, “you can do your homework on the way there.”
“Oh, there’s no way you’re going to keep my trapped in car with Beth for four hours.”
“She’s not coming anymore. She came down with a stomach flu.”
“That’s a good lie.”
She huffed. “Ollie is the only one with me. Does that change your mind? I’m getting everything ready for the drive. I filled the gas up. I got you the most beautiful purple dirac.”
“I’m not going, mom,” I groaned.
“You can bring Dakota.”
“How do you know about him?” I choked on the bit stuck in my throat, struggling to breath for a moment. “I...”
“Beth told me about him. She says you two are close.”
“I don’t want to know what else she said about him.”
“She didn’t say anything bad.”
“I doubt that.”
“I think you paint her out to be worse than she actually is.”
“I have hard hitting proof to go against that statement,” I snorted. “I’m glad you’re getting close with that part of your family, but you shouldn’t try and force a relationship that isn’t going to ever happen, mom.”
“I’m going to get through to you,” she promised.
“You won’t. I’m stubborn.”
“I know, you get it from me,” she noted and we both gave our goodbyes. I tossed the core of the apple that was left. After washing my sticky fingers, my phone began to buzz again. Once again, it was her persuading me to come with her. Another incoming call from her started. I couldn’t take it anymore and switched my phone to do not disturb and slipped it back into my pocket.
I changed out of my pajamas and got into my running shorts and sports bra, swapping my house slippers with sneakers. I did my stretches in the foyer, jogging in place and extending my limbs. The forecast said it would be much hotter in the day so that was why I decided to do my weekend run sooner than I usually did.
Bringing out my headphones, I popped the ear pieces in and shuffled through the collection of songs on my phone. I pressed play on a pop ballad, humming the intro beat the second it started. Waltzing back into the kitchen, I refilled my green stainless-steel bottle. With that, I was ready to go on my way.
The run took up forty minutes of my day, leaving me rejuvenated once I made the turn to get back on my street. I had so much anxiety piled up on my shoulders this morning, worried about what the final weeks of school would be like for us after we took the masks off Segg to the facility members and the students. What would Finn do in response? What would he even be properly punished?
I released a sigh, letting it roll out my body, as I lightly jogged to the driveway of my house...coming to a complete stop when I noticed the door cracked open. Had I left it like that? I was in a hurry to get out, but now it was hard to remember if I had or not.
I shrugged, removing one of the ear pieces while touching the tip of my bottle with the door. Darkness flooded the stairway, encapsulating me in a lightless world as I stumbled inside. I tapped the walls for the switch. My heart sunk when it reached my fingers, causing nothing to change in the poorly lit foyer. The power was cut off.
A husky chuckle took over the space, rattling my bones. I knew that laugh anywhere. The richness, and menacing aura of its volume, echoed in the walls of my mind, holding me captive by the ankles and forcing me into the depths of my memories. I was a child again. I was helpless.
It was the star of my nightmares. It was Jared.