In the comfort and safety of my bedroom—far from the jaws of danger—I had thought how Jared Reynolds would look if I ever had been struck with bad luck, forced to see him again in my life. Jared had changed severely since I last had seen him, sitting in an orange jumpsuit with his ankles and wrists shackled together. He was larger in those times of the court case, barreling around a beer gut that hung over his belt loops like a truck driver. During his time behind bars, he had dropped the weight, shedding the protuberant stomach for a flatter abdomen. The diet change didn’t help his grossly hideous face. His teeth, yellowed from tobacco, were crooked and was the only remaining detail of him that hadn’t transformed—along with his aquiline nose.
“I have been waiting for the day that would bring
“Losing your freedom didn’t do anything for you,” I noted, backing in to the door. He was closer to me, huffing his coffee breath across my face, and shutting the door behind me with his hand. “Killing me now won’t get you back the years you lost. You can leave. Save yourself the risk of getting arrested again.”
He stifled a laugh, grazing the cold metal of the knife in his hand against my hot skin. Amusement played in the endless abyss of his black eyes, sparked with life for once. “Who’s to say you won’t call the police on me when I get out of here, hmm?”
“Ah, but you could be lying,” he said, moving the blade up my arm. Keeping track of where he placed it left me breathless, waiting to see where it would land next and if I could survive the first blow that broke skin. “You’ve grown a lot. You’re no longer the little girl I recall.”
There was an underlying sense of disappointment in his voice, making my skin crawl at the longing for a girl who I couldn’t recognize if someone showed me a picture of her. I couldn’t go back to then with any amount of strength. I blocked it out, acting as though it didn’t exist. It was an exhausting game of make believe that I’d been deluding myself with for years.
A hiss escaped my lips, reacting to the contact of the knife poking my stomach. He had the power to push further, rip the fabric of my shirt, and jab me with the sharp edge. He didn’t, though. And that was what scared me more, the fact that he knew he could end my life now but didn’t because of the level of joy that my anxiety feed into his sick, twisted mind. He would toy with me like this, I figured, until he grew bored and realized it was better off with me dead.
“What do you want? Money?” I asked. “I can give you money.”
“I didn’t come for your money.” He tilted his head, flipping the knife around and pushing the end of it to my chin, jolting my jaw. “I came for you.”
“You’re going to leave empty handed. My family is coming back any minute.”
“No, they aren’t. Your family is at the hospital.”
My fists unfold from their clenched form, relaxing to my side. “How do you...how do you know that? That’s not true.”
He chuckled darkly, switching up his hold on the knife and pressing the cool metal against my throat. “You can’t lie to me, Silvia. If you keep that up, I won’t be nice enough to give you a head start. That might change, though.” He inched in closer, inhaling my sent by burying his head in my hair. “I’m a man who can be easily swayed with a bit of begging. Why don’t get on your knees and start pleading?” He took one step back, unlatching his belt with his free hand. When I didn’t fall to his feet at once, he held on to my chin. “You remember how to beg, right? I know you couldn’t have forgotten.” He swiped his grimy thumb across my lower lip. “I’ve missed that mouth on me.”
“Ok,” I said, sounding defeated.
“That’s my girl.” He nodded his head, completely unzipping his pants and releasing his length from his boxers. I winced, but he only smiled wider.
“I need more room,” I said.
“Of course.” He scooted himself back, giving me more room to kneel before him and do the task he was asking of me. “Don’t go too fast. I want to really savor those sweet lips.”
“I won’t,” I promised, coming out more as a whisper.
I hunch forward, acting as though I was on my way down. But faster than I had descended, I sprang back to a straight position. Hoisting my foot up, I joined my shoe to his flaccid member with a hard kick that sent him flying. Not far, sadly. I didn’t mind that the blow didn’t have him on his ass, but rather stumbling in to the nearby wall. I saw my chance of liberation and I clutched for it, hurrying up the stairs and right in my bedroom. I shut the door behind me and locked the door, violently shaking the whole time. With the last ounce of strength in me, I skirted my dresser to the left so that it was closing off my door. The hinges shook under Jared’s powerful punches, screaming at me to open the door.
I dialed for the police. They asked for me to stay in the line until the cops arrived. “I will, I will,” I said to the operator. “Wait, you’re already here?” I asked in response to the sound of screeching tires in the front yard. I ran to my window, dumbfounded that it wasn’t a wailing police cruiser in my driver way but Dakota’s black mustang.
He had said he was coming around after his visit to the local community college, but I had hoped it wasn’t so soon. Jared’s relentless pounding hadn’t stopped. I threw open the window and yelled, “Don’t come in! Someone’s in here with a knife! Don’t come inside. I called the cops.”
It was as though Dakota had taken what I said as only a light suggestion and nothing more. Because just as I had said that, he went to the front porch and I cried out when the door shut. He was coming inside.
“No, no, no,” I muttered, rushing to push away the dresser. I wasn’t fast enough. I could hear the fight ensuing downstairs. Something shattered as they tossed together, shoving each other in to walls. I didn’t see it, but the noises painted the picture for me as I struggled to get out of my room. The silence stopped me. It happened so quick. Things were so loud before, but quietness was the only sound greeting me from beyond the thick walls. I didn’t move. I wasn’t sure who had won, who had lost, and if I should be scared about opening the door.
The solemn nature of footsteps coming up to the second level left me chilled with goosebumps. “Silvia,” the voice on the other side said, “Silvia, it’s me.”
A wave of relief washed through me, unlocking the door to see Dakota with tousled hair and a cut running from his forearm to his wrist. I leaped in to his arms, making sure to not bother the visible wound. The blade had grazed his skin, slicing the surface level. “I didn’t think you would go in,” I huffed, “You should’ve stayed outside, Dakota. Look at you.”
“I’ll heal. It isn’t deep. What about you? I’m more worried about what’s happened to you,” he admitted, scanning my body to see if had any cuts. “Did he hurt you?”
“No, not this time.”
“I was scared I didn’t make it on time.”
“You...you knew about him being here?”
“Your mom called me.”
“My what?” I boomed. “How did she even get your number?”
“I was wondering the same thing,” he said, bringing out his phone. “She said she got tipped off by Jared herself that he was going to stop by at your house. Since she was in San Diego, that’s probably why he did it. He knew she was too far to stop it from happening herself.”
“But how did she get your number?”
“Ollie,” Dakota replied. “He’s with her in San Diego. She asked him if he had my number and he did. I told Heath, too, about this just in case he could get here before I could. He’s with Ronnie at the moment and he told me they were still on their way when I pulled up to your place.”
That added up to me. Ollie, Beth’s brother, was on the Lacrosse team and so was Dakota before I knew him. They were in the same social group of friends until Dakota had a falling out with Maven. After hearing that, I brought out my phone and checked my messages, now realizing that since I had shifted my phone to do not disturb for my mother it had stopped me from receiving calls from her. She had sent me numerous text messages, all sent in caps lock.
Dakota took the risk of losing his life by coming here, confronting Jared head on without any weapons. He came in fearless, he came in for me. That meant a great deal to me, seeing how much I mattered to him in real time. I wasn’t sure of it before, having gone through trails of mistrust in our past. The doubt I had reserved for Dakota in my heart became to melt away like ice; overshadowed by the doubt was a new sense of security in him, in us.
Was there even an us? I thought, knowing how often I had pushed against a relationship with him, I wondered if he had hope of us mending what we had before. Did he see no point in us getting back together graduation so close by? I had to ask, but not now. I had more important things to tend to.
“Let me bandage this up,” I said, grabbing his hand with the nasty cut. I walked him to the bathroom and did my best to wash it and treat the wound. “The police are on their way. I told them he had knife so hopefully they also bring an ambulance with them so they can look at this.”
“I hope so, too.” Dakota winced in pain, grimacing even more when I tightly bound a cloth around his cut. “That fucking hurts. Easy, babe.”
“Sorry,” I whispered, smiling at his words. “What did you do to him? Is he...dead?”
“No, he’s not.” Dakota shocked me with his next set of words. “Do you want to see him?”
“Sure,” I said and followed him to the living room. Seated in a dining chair, Jared was tapped to a chair. I wasn’t joking, tapped. “You couldn’t have used rope? I can’t believe you duck tapped him.”
“I couldn’t find any. Sorry, it’s not like I know the layout of your house.” Dakota snickered. “I know if I had a lot of time to find it before he’d wake up.”
Jared’s head lolled to the side. He was unconscious still, softly breathing from his open mouth. To his side, a wallet was placed where his feet were planted. I kneeled down to the floor, collecting it and examining the content inside.
“Look.” I handed Dakota the paper. “It’s my address. This isn’t his writing, though. I remember it, and it was different than this. Someone else wrote this for him.”
“What the...” he squinted, hard. “How the fuck did he get it?”
Ronnie and Heath arrived the same time the police did. They didn’t allow them to come inside, asking them to remain on the sidewalk while they did their questioning. I was short with my answers, mostly so I could get back to Dakota. He was outside, having his wound treated. When he was done, they questioned us separately. Jared was ushered out of the house long ago, fighting against the hold of the cops that had him handcuffed and guided to a police van.
“How are you?” Ronnie was the first to come inside after the cops left. Right behind here, Heath rushed inside. They had walked in Dakota and I embracing each other. I let go of him, walking up to my friend. “I got here as soon as Dakota told us about it. Are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m ok,” I lied. I wasn’t going to be ok for some time, but they didn’t need to know about that. No one everyone wants to hear that you’re not ok. They want to know that you’re fine, that you’re doing well, so that they don’t have to live with the awkward silence of knowing they can’t do anything to fix that. Not a single soul could rework the unstable ground I stood on; no soul other than my own. “I’m feeling shaken up about it all. I’ll be fine.”
“The convenience of it doesn’t make sense to me,” Ronnie uttered, pulling me in to a hug. “How did he know your family wasn’t going to be here? It’s so spooky.”
“I have a slight idea,” I said. I backed out of the hug and went in to my pocket, fishing out the scrap of paper that had my address scribbled on it. “Whoever wrote this maybe.”
Ronnie snatched it from me, blinking at the words as though they were moving in front of her and were difficult to read. “That can’t be.”
“It’s Finn’s handwriting,” she croaked. “He wrote this.”
“Are you sure?”
“I have letters he’s written from when we were together. Most are in a shoe box in my room. I can show you for comparison.”
“You kept them?” Dakota asked.
“I keep everything my exes give me,” she replied. “Just because I’m not with someone anymore doesn’t mean I can’t remember the things I’ve experienced with them. How often to guys write letter for girls anyway?”
“I would’ve burned them,” Heath murmured.
“So would I,” Dakota countered. “But only because its Finn and I’d get enjoyment in burning anything of his. Matter of fact, that gives me an idea-”
“No,” I boomed, flattening my hand on his chest. “He has what’s coming for him.”
“He must know the attack is coming. You think one of the jocks snitched on us?” Heath asked the question I was starting to ponder myself. “I bet one of them did, fucking snakes.”
“I don’t know. Jared was in town before we talked to Hunter, though,” I informed them. “I got word of his arrival to Los Angeles when we stole Beth’s stuff.”
“Regardless, he has his eyes on us.”
“When hasn’t he?” I scoffed. “He’s taking this high school game too damn serious. He needs a hobby.”
“And he needs to be taught a lesson.” Dakota proclaimed. “That’s why I propose that we cut his breaks.”
“I appreciate the enthusiasm, buddy, but I’m not trying to go to jail for being your accomplice,” Heath scoffed. “I’ve got a final to study for.”
“Yeah, and I have heaps of Trig homework.” Ronnie raised her hand. “Think you can wrap up your master mind making plans by lunch?”
“Silvia almost lost her life today and you guys are making jokes.” Dakota snapped. “Why am I the only one who’s taking this note seriously?”
“We already have something set for Finn. Ease up, man,” Heath said, motioning for him to relax. As he did that, the front door reopened and in strolled my family. Their absence wasn’t missed, and I wish they would’ve stayed at the hospital longer so I could get Dakota out of my house. I wasn’t granted such good fortune.
My dad’s frown didn’t go unnoticed. “What is he doing here?!”
I practically tumbled before Dakota to protect him, rushing to say what happened. There was a series of changing emotions as I told him why Dakota and my friends were here and what the cause of the bandage on Dakota’s arm was. I didn’t foresee that he would let me speak so much and explain the full scale of what happened, but he did.
What was even more extended was when he reached out to Dakota, saying, “Thank you for coming here as quickly as you did. I can’t thank you enough for keeping Silvia out harms way. But I do ask of you, all of you,” he said to my other friends, “to please leave the matter for the family. I’d like to speak with Silvia alone..”
“I understand,” Ronnie said, tapping Heath’s arm to move out of the way so they could get out of the house. Dakota was the last one to leave, trailing behind Ronnie. I followed after him, catching him on the front porch.
“Wait,” I said, grabbing his arm. I stayed silent till the front door was closed, detaching us from my father who was in the living room. “I was hoping you could come by again later.”
“With your dad home?” he smirked.
“I’d sneak you in. I have my ways around.”
“I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“I won’t,” I said, moving my hand from his arm to his hand, “so does that mean you’ll come over?”
Dakota’s eyes lowered to our intertwined fingers. “I’ll make the attempt.”
I wasn’t aware of it then, hopelessly holding on to him, but that was the start of what would grow in to our nightly routine. In the coming weeks, I snuck Dakota in through my window every night until the end of the summer. During the day, I stayed at his house after school. It took time, but my father amended his previous rule that I couldn’t hang out with Dakota.
The walls of my room acted as an incubator, curating the health foundation of something new. Something that was a branch of what we had, but so much more, mesmerizing me in the person I got to rediscover. We spent hours talking, laughing over internet jokes together, watching films, and not enough time on kissing. That was all I regretted.
On the eve of the pep rally that was due to change the course of our lives, I invited Dakota in to my room as I had for weeks at this point. I was dressed in gray sweatpants and a concert shirt for the boyband BROCKHAMPTON. I wanted Dakota to try to the meatless spinach lasagna I had made for my family - but really was intended for him. I had improved, only slightly, on my cooking skills and I needed someone to gloat to who knew where I started, understanding the growth.
“This isn’t bad.” Dakota slowly chewed.
“It’s not good?” I sighed.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” Dakota assured me, setting the plate down on the bed. “I’m sorry, but you can’t give me a lasagna without meat. It’s torture. Other than that, the flavor profile is there.”
“The flavor profile,” I echoed, muffling the words. “Ok, Bobby Flay.”
I took the plate from him and walked it to the desk, leaving it next to my notebooks. From behind me, I heard Dakota take a long intake of air and saying, “Silvia I have to tell you something. You should sit down first.”
My knees felt weak at the choice of his words. I could never know with him. I was able to make it to my bed without falling, miraculously. “What is it?”
“It’s about our visit to the state prison. I didn’t tell you everything and it’s eating me up.”
Dakota divulged on what his father had revealed to him, rattling me to my core at the gravity of what he was accusing his mother of doing. “That’s not all,” Dakota said somberly, furthering my level of horror by telling me the relation I had to Dion.
“That’s disgusting,” I gagged. “I’m not okay with that.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how to process that either. I didn’t want to tell you right away.”
“You think it’s true? It could be wrong.”
“It could be right,” he suggested. “I don’t want to know though if it is or if it isn’t.”
“If the legitimacy of that is being questioned, then who’s to say he’s lying about your mom setting the fire, too?”
“I was thinking of that. I can’t see my mother doing that, being the cause of a fire that not only ruined her image but took the life of her sister. Who would be that demented?”
“I don’t think your mother would do it either. There’s a lot of reasons not to trust your dad. For someone being locked up for life, I’d make up stories too to prove my innocence.”
“I think that’s the case. And if it is, then I don’t know where that leaves me with him. I was hoping that one day, somewhere down the line, I could at least be in speaking terms with the man. But if he keeps holding on to this story, then I can’t. I love my mother and I believe her. I can’t imagine a relationship with a man who wants to tarnish her name.”
I scooted in, kissing Dakota’s forehead. “Then you know the answer.”