Before We Burn

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Heather

Oaklyn’s fingertips drifted over her old skirts that hung in her closet. A sad smile painted her lips, then fell once she breathed.

Her old self seemed foreign to her. She had once been responsible and a bright spirit that could illuminate the room.

She closed the door behind her and sat on the edge of her bed.

Wesley’s black V-neck shirt was large around her shrinking frame. She tried not to bring attention to how much weight she had lost from the start of the school year by wearing his clothing or oversized shirts.

It wasn’t intentional. Oaklyn’s appetite was almost non-existent. Between sleeping, pills, drinking, and being with either Sandra or Wesley, she found it tough remembering to have a meal. It was difficult enough to take a shower and get dressed most days.

Oaklyn glanced at the letter the school had sent her. It laid wrinkled and ripped on her bedside table.

“What a joke,” she muttered to herself.

The school had given her a warning about her attendance and grades.

She had gotten into the habit of skipping class and failing to turn in her work. If she were to continue, the school would have had no other option than to drop her from their curriculum.

The music teacher had spoken to her about her only option to stay in the school; to perform.

The thought made Oaklyn shiver.

She hadn’t been on stage since her brother died. Envisioning herself walking another foot behind a music stand in front of a large audience was not something she aspired to do again.

“Brian would want you to,” her teacher had told her. “This was once your passion. Don’t let it wither away.”

Oaklyn groaned and fell backward onto her mattress. The covers surrounded her, bunching up to nestle her curves.

She didn’t have the haziest idea what her passions were. It was growing clear that music was what her parents taught her from the beginning and only that. She never had the opportunity to explore herself as an individual. It frightened her that she would never get the chance.

Not as long as her mother continued to fight her along the way.

She couldn’t rely on her father for help. He was always too busy in his den, at the office, or on his phone.

She noticed how his phone calls turned into whispers, and the door was always closed. There were times when he would come home with a shroud of expensive perfume among his clothing.

The night prior, she could have sworn a red lipstick stain painted his collar after he had come home later than usual.

Oaklyn groaned again as she shoved a pillow onto her face.

Although Wesley had his demons, she envied how put-together he seemed. No matter what, he was still able to look in other places for answers, with the support from his cousin.

She felt as if she had no one other than him. She once believed she had Kyle on her side, but after the event in the parking lot, it was evident he had become like the rest.

She couldn’t call Sandra for support. All she did was drown her sorrows in men and partying.

“Fuck!” Oaklyn harshly muttered.

She threw her pillow to the side before she jumped to her feet. Her hand scrambled for the small bag of pills, then entered her bathroom.

She hastily opened the toilet lid and hovered the bag over the water.

Still, she hesitated.

“Come on,” Oaklyn mumbled.

She jumped when she heard her phone ring from her dresser. After taking a deep breath, she dropped the bag into the hiding spot.

She furrowed her brows as she answered. “What do you want, Kyle? I thought it was made clear that you’d-”

“Yeah, I know,” Kyle said rather quickly. “I needed to apologize formally. I’m not proud of what happened.”

Oaklyn rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth, “That’s good. It would be a little messed up if you were.”

She paced around her room, and her thumb became raw with how much of the nail she chewed.

“Can I make it up to you? I was wondering if you’d want to meet at our old hang out spot.”

She stopped and turned to look out the window.

The street lights had switched on and shined down on the darkened pavement. The autumn leaves that had fallen looked as if they were floating in a black river. It was only early evening, but the sky made it appear later at night.

“The café?” Oaklyn practically whispered.

Sundown Café was a place she would never have thought she’d go back to visit. Brian, Sandra, and the rest of her friends often circulated the restaurant for the local musicians that would play every Saturday night.

“I know it might be difficult, but it doesn’t hurt to try,” Kyle spoke. “As a way to start anew between us.”

Oaklyn stayed quiet. She cracked her knuckles with her thumb, then glanced at her secret stash.

“Okay,” she replied with a sigh. “Fine. Don’t make me regret this.”

╚»★«╝╚»★«╝

Oaklyn didn’t make an effort to look ready.

She had let her hair tumble loosely out of her bun. The black shirt dropped to the knees of her matching black leggings. Her energy to line her eyes with dark liner had dived out the window, and she decided to bare face it for the first time in a while.

“Don’t look so enthusiastic,” Kyle teased from his side of the booth.

His eyes pierced through his dark bangs as he looked at her. A thin smile stretched across his mouth to challenge her scowl.

“Don’t think we’re okay just because I showed up,” she retorted.

Goosebumps rose along her skin, and her ears perked to the strum of a guitar coming from the miniature stage.

She swallowed hard when she remembered Brian and the others sitting on a couch on the far side of the café.

Joyous laughter rang through her ears once she realized she was gawking at a group of friends who were appreciating their time together.

“Oaklyn, look at me,” Kyle said over the chatter. “It’s okay to be here.”

She met his face.

With a hard swallow, she nodded and attempted to relax into the back of her seat.

“I’m sorry for everything. Those guys, they were jackoffs. I should have stepped in before it even started.”

Oaklyn admired his determination.

However, she didn’t trust his motivation behind why he didn’t step in or why he was willing to make things right in the first place. She had learned rather quickly that most people only wanted to benefit themselves.

“Why didn’t you?” She didn’t seek to suppress her anger.

She glimpsed at the mug of hot chocolate that sat in front of her. The steam whirled over the white porcelain and evaporated into the air. She had yet to reach for it.

“It’s not a good reason, but I don’t trust Wesley,” Kyle admitted. “There’s something not right about him.”

Her shoulders dropped, and she couldn’t resist rolling her eyes.

“Wow, that’s something I haven’t heard before,” Oaklyn scoffed.

The loud chatter that filled the small, dim café began to get on her nerves. The scent of fresh pastries infiltrated her nostrils, and it almost made her want to puke.

She didn’t understand why, but she assumed it was because she was too irritable.

“He may be on the straight and narrow now, but he has a pattern of behavior. I don’t think you know him as much as you think you do.”

She proceeded to glare at him, but he remained unphased.

“He’s dangerous, Oaklyn. There are reasons why people worry about him being like his father. It’s not just because he’s related,” he continued without averting his stare.

After a moment, she leaned over the table until her chest hit the edge. She noticed how startled Kyle appeared from getting so close. She wouldn’t have dared to get into his personal space a couple of months prior during their lunch breaks.

“Wesley is human like the rest of us. He deserves the chance to prove himself,” she returned with caution.

Kyle stayed quiet for a moment while he examined her face. A look of uncertainty flashed, then he tilted forward as well.

She went to move away, but his hand on her wrist stopped her.

“You’re right,” he began, “but don’t say I never warned you.”

She recoiled when she noticed movement from the corner of her eye. She twisted her head toward the door to see Wesley stepping out onto the sidewalk.

“Shit,” she grumbled under her breath, then pushed out of the booth and glared at Kyle.

“How convenient,” Oaklyn spat before she rushed out of the café.

She called after Wesley while she ran down the sidewalk. Though she couldn’t see his face, his shoulders hunched, and his feet marched.

When she eventually caught up to him, he had stopped walking and turned around to greet her.

Oaklyn panted from jogging, “He told me he wanted to apologize.”

Wesley continued to look at her in silence. His brows creased, and a deep sorrow washed over his eyes. His soft stare she had gotten used to had become grim.

A trail of anxiety festered in her gut that she hated to admit. She had to agree with Kyle that she didn’t know Wesley as much as Oaklyn wanted to believe.

He was beginning to open up to her, but she was worried he would close up again. The last thing she wanted was for him to feel rejected.

“What an apology,” he mocked. “I didn’t know it required hand-holding and leaning close to one another in a coffee shop.”

Oaklyn clenched her teeth to stop herself from getting upset.

“Maybe he wanted it to look that way, but that’s not what it was,” she responded calmly. “That place was where my brother and I would go with our friends. The majority of the conversation was me trying to plead your case to him.”

“I didn’t ask you to do that for me!” he growled, and she flinched.

Wesley sighed heavily once his guard withered away. His tensed shoulders fell once he dragged her into his chest to embrace her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I just don’t trust that guy.”

Oaklyn held back a laugh as she drew away from him. “Funny. Kyle said the same thing about you.”

He gave no chuckle or grin in return. His face remained tense, and his lips seemed to have had turned into a long frown.

She was beginning to assume that something might have happened between the two men that would leave such darkened hostility toward one another.

“What were you doing there?” Oaklyn asked, deciding it best to change the topic.

“I worked there for a couple of weeks. I was giving back my apron.”

Although it was clear he was relieved, Wesley’s mood was still apprehensive. He continued to glance behind her as if he was waiting for Kyle to stomp outside.

The continual feud of testosterone was beginning to annoy her.

With a huff, she grabbed both sides of his face. When he finally glanced down at her, Oaklyn’s lips shifted on to his.

She could feel his body eventually begin to ease once his arms coiled around her waist.

Though they were on the sidewalk, it didn’t deter them from turning the heat up a few notches.

Wesley eventually turned away breathlessly. The sparkle in his eyes had reappeared while he peered down at her in a daze.

“If you’re going to do that, I don’t think we should be in public,” he smirked.

She playfully rolled her eyes and grasped his hand with a teasing smile. “Come on, horny. We have a date with a bed.”

While she strolled side-by-side with him, she couldn’t stop herself from glancing back.

What did happen between the two of them? she had wondered. They both know more about each other than I know about either one of them.


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