Before We Burn

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“What were you doing there? I’d never have imagined a party being your type of scene,” Wesley teased as he watched her saunter around his room.

She had discarded her jacket on the back of his desk chair. The color from her face gradually came back, but she wasn’t completely sober.

Wesley had also given her mouth wash to get rid of the barf taste, and the miracle pill she had taken was still working its magic.

Oaklyn eyed intently at each canvas he had dangling on his walls and resting on the floor. Tiny doodles made on the walls with a pen.

“I needed a distraction,” she answered quietly. “Sandy told me it would help.”

He nodded without looking away. “Distraction from what?”

She sighed heavily and bit her lip before she whirled around to face him. A nervous smile flooded her face as she dug her hands into her pockets.

“I get these nightmares,” Oaklyn began, “I’ve had them ever since they found his body.”

His gaze softened while he reached toward her and grabbed both of her hands.

“I just keep imagining him screaming in pain with these flames all around him.”

She closed her eyes as she played it back in her head. “He was supposed to have a recital that night. He promised me that after the show, we were going to leave this place. Take our music somewhere else.”

“You guys were close.” It wasn’t a question.

Oaklyn nodded, and her breathing quivered as she fought tears.

Wesley tugged her onto the bed, and she straddled his lap.

“Ever since he died, it’s like I don’t exist. Everyone looks at me as a mini version of my brother,” she scoffed. “Hell, even my mom pushes me to replace him, but constantly complains how I’m not good enough. I can’t just be me anymore.”

She glanced up at him nervously. She was becoming worried she was saying too much.

However, he was listening to her. He didn’t tell her to stop or chastised her about her feelings. If anything, he seemed to recognize where she was coming from and agreed with all of it.

“What about you, Mr. Gangbanger?” she teased as she caressed the tip of his scar above his brow.

Wesley snorted, “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep that a secret.”

Oaklyn shook her head playfully before she draped her arms behind his neck.

“I only did all of that for money to support my brother and sister. My father was a deadbeat who only got his kicks by hurting people and drinking beer. The family was no exception.”

His voice quickly showed his irritation but remained soft while he spoke to her. He didn’t want to scare her by showing his anger.

“When I got caught, I decided to give it all up and play it straight. Then, the police arrested my dad. None of us knew, but it wasn’t a surprise.”

Oaklyn bit her lip and tightened her grip around him when he tugged back a stray hair behind her ear.

“The scar?” she asked in a broken whisper.

A shadow fell over his grey eyes. His hands fell from Oaklyn’s waist. She went to move off of him, but he stopped her from unraveling her arms.

“I roughed up the ones who wouldn’t pay,” Wesley answered. “My eye has looked like this ever since. They still work perfectly, other than the bright lights blinding me.”

Oaklyn giggled and teased, “So, that’s why it’s always so gloomy in here.”

A smile brightened his tense face, and he tossed her down next to him. She cheerfully shrieked when he began to tickle her.

The laughter faded once they caught each other’s gaze.

“Oaklyn, what happened that night? At the park?” Wesley begged her in a calm voice.

Her mouth twitched. “A fight with my mom. It just confirmed everything I’ve been feeling.”

When the atmosphere shifted, Oaklyn glanced up and noticed the poster peeling off of the ceiling.

She hastily maneuvered herself from underneath him and fought off his hands when he tried to yank her back down.

“I will see it!” she shouted.

“Never!” he yelled back.

Her fingers caught the corner and gently peeled the paper as not to tear it. She gasped after she dropped the poster on to the floor, and her eyes widened in delight.

The painting was perfect and clear to see. Oaklyn knew who it was the second she peered up.

The color of the irises, details within the colors, and the small veins of the whites of the eyes were heavily detailed. The darkness of the brows was feathered flawlessly to resemble Oaklyn’s hair.

She turned her attention toward him.

His gaze darted around the room with his lips pursed.

“Wes,” Oaklyn grinned.

When Wesley finally looked at her, he acted as if he was just as surprised.

“Wha... I don’t know how that got there. Some creep must have broken into my room,” he flushed. “I’ll cover it back up. Who paints part of someone’s face above their bed?”

He dramatically scoffed as he grabbed the poster again.

“Not me. Certainly not me. That’s such a weird thing to do. Psychotic, if you ask me.”

She stifled a laugh while he taped the band poster again.

Wesley sat back down with ears red as the color crimson.

“I’ll call the police in the morning. These hooligans nowadays, I swear,” he proceeded to ramble in embarrassment.

Before he was about to make another excuse, Oaklyn held the side of his face and kissed him passionately. The jokes fell silent once breathing turned heavy and ragged. Their hearts pumped wildly against their chests.

Wesley moved on top of her, and she could no longer resist traveling her fingers into his blond hair.

He slightly pulled away, and her lashes fluttered open to gaze up at him.

“I know this is kinda childish to ask nowadays, but,” he whispered, “Oaklyn, will you be my girlfriend?”

She didn’t want to agree for the sake of not knowing where she would end up, but she didn’t want that to control her decisions.

She liked him, that much she knew. She felt like she could be herself whenever he was around, and he didn’t make her feel guilty for it.

A wide smile stretched across her lips, and she giggled shyly, “Yeah.”

Wesley beamed and kissed her again.

When he pulled away to cuddle her to his chest, her smile slowly faded.

She wanted to be happy. She sensed that she was, but it was underneath a numb, thick fog.

She couldn’t tell if it was her mood souring or her coming down from the miracle pill Sandra had given her.

Whatever it was, she wanted to ask where she had gotten it.


A few days had passed since the party.

Though she felt like her life was somehow getting back to normal, it felt wrong.

Sandra was texting her nonstop like old times. Kyle was still making an effort to look out for her like he had always done. She had a boyfriend who truly cared for her in the same way she cared for him.

She had put in a little bit of effort to clean her room, but it was nowhere near to how it was before. She didn’t want it to be as perfect as it was.

It felt phony to her, as did almost everything else that was changing. She wasn’t the same person she was when she had everything aligned.

Oaklyn put the last of her trash in the trash bag. She had almost half of her laundry done and left the rest of the hamper alone.

She heavily sighed once she gave up and sat on the edge of her bed.

“Best I can do,” she whispered to herself.

Oaklyn tugged at her hair and put it up into a messy bun. The eyeliner she got into the habit of wearing blended slightly into the dark circles that had developed under her eyes. Her grey sweatpants began to fall off her hips from her increasing loss of appetite and constant sleeping.

Her head snapped up when she swore she heard a soft piano key come from the bedroom next door.

Instinctively, she smacked the wall and yelled, “Knock it off, shithead!”

When another note came to her ears, she marched out of the room and barged into Brian’s.

“Didn’t you hear-”

Yet, there was no one there. The keys of his piano dusted over. Everything in his room was left untouched since the last time he had used it.

Pictures of her and Brian were still in their frames on his desk.

His brown hair had been in a buzz cut. Only one dimple on his left cheek decorated his face. His favorite blue polo shirt made his green eyes stand out as he smiled brightly with his arm around her.

Oaklyn hadn’t been in his room since before he died.

Tears she had held off for a long time fell onto her cheeks, and a hard sob escaped her throat.

She backed into the wall and slid to the floor.

She desperately rummaged through her pockets to find another pill Sandra had given her and swallowed it dry.

Her mother had walked into the doorway after seeing the door open. Her mouth turned into a violent scowl, and she was quick to her temper.

“What are you doing in here? No one goes in here!” she hollered.

Blinded by her rage, she ignored how distraught Oaklyn appeared in front of her.

She scrambled to her feet and shoved past her mother angrily. She rushed down the stairs while biting her tongue.

“What has gotten into you?” Theresa followed her after she shut the door.

“I don’t want to fight right now. That seems to be the only thing I’m good for anyways,” Oaklyn muttered.

She roughly snatched her denim jacket that was resting on the back of the couch, then made her way toward the front glass door.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Theresa crossed her arms.

“You don’t want anything to do with me unless it’s to make me feel like shit. I quit being your punching bag.”

Oaklyn yanked on her jacket, then walked out of the house without another word.


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