Before We Burn

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Something's Gotta Give

Oaklyn’s eyes trained on the laptop screen as she scrolled. Her eyes watered as she read the newspaper articles about the Sumwoods Strangler.

“Brutally assaulted and strangled over fifty women, one of them presumed to be his wife,” she whispered to herself.

She rubbed her face and felt resentment boil up inside of her.

Not only was it inhumane and monstrous, but it also left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth when it came to the rest of the family.

“The two smallest children were placed into foster care while the eldest son finished his probation for drug possession and,” her eyes widened, “assault and battery.”

Oaklyn gave herself another moment before she continued.

“It is safe to assume Wesley Michaels, age twenty-one, will be fighting for custody rights over his siblings in the next coming years.”

She glanced at her phone that laid beside her. She had put in Wesley’s number but never had called him.

She tried to hide it the last time she was with him, but she felt nervous.

To him, he saved her life. To her, he hindered her death.

Oaklyn reached for her phone, but a notification from her laptop distracted her.

Hey. Are you going to David’s?
I heard Sandra invited you.
You’re talking again??

Thinking about it and not necessarily.

When did you start hanging out with the albino?

Oaklyn gritted her teeth. Even though she was uncertain about him based on his priors with the law, there was still no need to treat him like dirt.

Wesley had been nothing but kind to her and gave her a place to cool off.

Albino? He has a heart of gold.

Black gold, maybe.
He’s a criminal for a reason.
You’ll see.

“Like you’re any better,” she scoffed. “You play around with girls every chance you get. It’s just not illegal.”

She narrowed her eyes at the last sentence of his message. She blew air out of her mouth in a huff and slammed her laptop closed.

“You’ll see,” she smiled sarcastically. “Everyone loves to throw those words around.”

She anticipated hearing more of it later on at the party.

Oaklyn stood up from her bed and yanked on a pair of black skinny-jeans that hung from the back of her closet.

A white v-neck hung loosely on her shoulders, and she chose to leave her long hair down.

She made sure to line her eyes with a dark liner that made them pop in contrast. She put on the denim jacket that she hadn’t worn in years, along with her red converse.

She glanced back one more time at her room.

Her bedroom was no longer clean and pristine like it used to be. She began to spend most of her time in her bed, which meant less clean up of soda cans and food wrappers.

Clothing was either sprawled out on the floor or piled carelessly on top of her full hamper.

“Who cares,” she muttered.

She grabbed her phone and keys before she snuck out of her window.

Though she was sure her parents were asleep, she couldn’t be too careful about making too much noise in the house.

Oaklyn felt like a rebellious teenager that was breaking the law.

However, considering the short leash her mother had around her neck, she was to act like a teenager.

Her mother didn’t even allow her to have a car, even though she had her license.

She jumped down off the ledge and began to jog to the next street over toward David’s house.

When she got there, Oaklyn tried her best to get into the vibe of the party.

Stoners sat on the couches, and all sorts of drug paraphernalia laid on the tables in the front room. A heavy smell of smoke and weed mingled in with the alcohol.

The main party was in the kitchen and the backyard. The loud music vibrated against Oaklyn’s ears, and interchanging colored LED lights made her squint.

Sandra came barreling towards her and squeezed her tightly. The potent whiff of liquor tarnished her breath.

Oaklyn didn’t hold her back, and she twisted her head away to avoid her mouth.

“This is my best friend,” she slurred to a bunch of people Oaklyn had never met.

She frowned at Sandra. They were no longer friends, but she decided not to say anything since she was intoxicated.

“Woah, flamer’s sister got hot,” one guy announced as he stooped against the kitchen sink.

“Hanging out with Wesley agrees with her,” another chimed in.

Oaklyn gritted her teeth and took a shot that Sandra presented to her.

She was not going to be able to handle all of the whispers and remarks soberly.

“That’s what happens when you become a gang member’s girl.”

She winced and didn’t hesitate to take another.

“I’m nobody’s girl,” she replied.

Though Wesley had kissed her a couple of times, there was no definite answer as to if they were an item or not.

Gang member, she thought.

It would make sense why the guys bothered them in the park and had referred to Wesley as one of them. The charges of his probation she read about also provided more answers.

Though, it seemed he was no longer a member of their group.

“Even better,” the guy next to the sink snickered.

Bile threatened to lurch from her stomach.

Sandra grabbed her hand and hurried her out of the sliding door toward the backyard.

“You and Wesley? Oh, my God,” she laughed drunkenly, then took a puff from her weed pen. “How did that happen?”

Oaklyn shrugged. “He came up to me and made conversation. Easy.”

Sandra nodded, then handed her a small white pill that resembled a children’s vitamin.

She swallowed hard as she held it in her palm.

She had drunk alcohol before but never touched drugs. She had heard way too many scary stories, and the fact that Wesley arrested for possession made her the more hesitant.

“These thoughts I have, they’re constant. The anger, the sadness, they all go away with just one of these,” Sandra said, her voice sounding the soberest since Oaklyn arrived. “Nightmares go away, too.”

“What is it?”

Her former friend smirked at her, then raised Oaklyn’s hand to her mouth.

“I call it a miracle pill. It calms you down and doesn’t make you hallucinate,” Oaklyn smiled wider. “Try it.”

After taking a deep breath, Oaklyn placed the small tablet on her tongue. She swallowed it with the liquor inside of Sandra’s cup.

With the alcohol kicking into her system, she followed Sandra to the dancing area.

The corners of her mouth tug into a grin while they strutted to the beat, and the tension between them quickly fell apart as if nothing terrible had ever happened to their friendship.

They laughed and smiled with one another throughout the night. They had fun with the inside jokes that had been on hold during their year apart.

Wherever one went, the other followed closely behind.

Oaklyn felt someone tap on her shoulder. She turned to see Kyle watching her in amusement.

“Glad to see you’re having fun,” he shouted into her ear over the music.

Before she could reply, Sandra shoved Oaklyn’s back to tumble her forward into his broad chest. She grabbed on to his shoulders to steady her stumbling feet, and he held on to her waist protectively.

The dancing bodies around her seemed to slow down in time. She worried that if she were to speak, it would come out as gibberish.

“Sorry,” Oaklyn mumbled.

He shook his head and chuckled, “It’s okay. Take it slow. It’s not easy to catch up to Sandy.”

Then, a series of gasps echoed around the party. Most of the people froze and started to whisper once a tall silhouette came through the sliding door.

She turned her head to see Wesley walking through the crowd with a cigarette in his mouth.

He smokes? she wondered.

She was not one to say anything. She had taken a pill for the first time.

His light eyes found her gawking at him through the sea of people.

The partiers gradually enjoyed their time again, and the dancing and shouting over the music started up once more.

Oaklyn was unexpectedly sick to her stomach and ran to the vacant side of the house. She emptied her stomach against the bricks and became relieved when she felt her hair drag away from her face.

He examined her face and eyes. He knew too well that it wasn’t just the alcohol affecting her.

“What did you take?” Wesley asked once she straightened her spine and looked at him.

“A... miracle pill. I don’t know,” Oaklyn slurred a reply. “What are you doing here?”

“I got an invite. Boy, how glad I am to arrive when I did,” Wesley grumbled.

He lifted her arm around his shoulders and walked her to the front of the house.

“What are you doing? She’s having a good time,” Kyle said when he ran up to them.

Wesley gritted his teeth and glanced toward Oaklyn, who was not feeling well.

“I think she’s had enough fun for one night. She’s going to throw up on the side of the road if I don’t take her home,” he asserted in irritation.

He went to step toward the street until Kyle strutted in front of him.

“Is this some a gang initiation? Or you plotting some a murder trap?”

Wesley’s anger simmered inside his veins, but the girl around him helped keep him calm.

“I’m just looking out for her. Now, move out of my way.”

Kyle refused to move.

Instead, he crossed his arms and glared. “I find it hard to believe that you, of all people, know what’s best for her.”

Oaklyn mustered enough strength to withdraw her arm from around Wesley’s neck and came between the two of them.

She narrowed her eyes at Kyle in irritation.

“I’m going home. Wesley’s done more for me than any of you have,” she spat with a gravelly voice.

Her stomach bubbled again, and she heaved on Kyle’s shoes.

When she slowly stood back up, she smirked. “Oops.”

“Told you,” Wesley smirked.

He grasped her hand and walked her toward his house, leaving a fuming Kyle behind them.

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