Before We Burn

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Deep End

“It’s so difficult. One minute Brian was here, the next minute...” Oaklyn’s mother sobbed into her damp tissue.

A barely used box sat next to her anxious, bouncing leg. She had vehemently declined to grab a fresh tissue and insisted on using the shredded one balled into her palm.

A couple of bangles clinked around her wrist when she wiped her fresh tears away. She hissed through her teeth as the surface of her cheeks had become chapped and raw from frequently drying her face.

Her blue eyes were bloodshot and endlessly wet with every blink of her drenched lashes.

The cotton-white pants had stained with tear droplets on each of her pant legs. Her straight chestnut hair began to frizz at the ends from continually raking her fingers through the threads.

She patted at the sensitive skin of her chest that peeked out from her purple blouse in an attempt to collect fallen tears that cascaded from her chin down to her neck.

“It’s okay,” Oaklyn’s father attempted to coo her mother as he murmured into her ear.

His strong hand rested on her mother’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. His silver watch flashed in the sunlight emanating from the uncovered window beside them, the light striking Oaklyn at the side of her crown.

His fit stature was clothed in a neatly ironed black suit, no sign of wrinkles in the fabric of his white dress shirt beneath. His red tie loosened around his collar in fervor distress.

His silver, short hair was slicked back flawlessly while his face was cleanly shaven, and his dull grey eyes stared hard at the side of her mother’s chapped face.

He scooted closer to her mother on the cushioned loveseat, and the couch squeaked from the distribution of his weight.

Oaklyn, however, sat wordlessly in a single leather chair.

Her fingers picked at the cuticle of her thumbs, and her upper teeth gnawed at the tender skin of her bottom lip. The taste of blood didn’t surprise her when it hit the tip of her tongue.

Her long hair was drawn into a messy bun as she had grown bothered by the feeling of her strands laying around her neck.

She gently tugged down the hem of her skirt when she began to feel the leather material adhere to the backside of her thighs.

“What about you, Oaklyn? How have you been handling all of this?” the therapist asked with a not-so-subtle look of compassion.

Oaklyn shrugged her shoulders but did not submit any further of a response.

The therapist sighed quietly to herself before peering down at her notepad that sat on her knee.

Her brown eyes squinted behind her thick glasses, and her short bobbed hairstyle of blonde hair swayed with the movement of her head.

“You’re just going to say nothing? He was your brother! Act as you care,” her mother said with a jittery voice.

Oaklyn couldn’t control herself from rolling her eyes.

She resented therapy. No one was willing to acknowledge the real purpose of why they were in the office in the first place.

It wasn’t because everyone was having a troublesome time getting over her brother’s death. It was because her mother had a tough time separating her from her brother.

Ever since the fire, her mother became determined to introduce Oaklyn to her brother’s hobbies, things that he cherished, and she rejected.

He was very engrossed in photography, and she was not.

Regardless, her mother elected to spend hundreds of dollars on photography workshops for Oaklyn to become more involved.

No one else in the family was into photography, so there was no other purpose to why her mother subjected her to the classes.

In just a week of burying her brother, her mother had rearranged Oaklyn’s playlist to only classical musicians and composers her brother admired.

Her brother was a pianist, and she was a flutist. Her mother had additionally spent money on Oaklyn to participate in piano lessons.

Her father was never around to have a say in it, nor did it seem like he bothered to agree or disagree with her mother’s arrangements.

He became less and less present in the family, consuming most of his time at the law firm and fighting for cases more than his own family.

Oaklyn had also speculated that he was escorting another woman but, she had never seen enough evidence to know for sure.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to claim she doesn’t care. Everyone has their grieving pattern, and we must accept that this is Oaklyn’s way of grieving,” the therapist explained with a calm voice that made Oaklyn’s insides coil.

Oaklyn’s eyes darted around the room, taking in the cream walls were decorated with black and white portraits.

A few vases of fake flowers patterned the room corners, and children’s toys stacked under the therapist’s boarded desk.

The sight of fake perfection made her ill.

“At least show some emotion. If only Brian could see her now...” her mother trailed off.

Oaklyn’s eyes fastened to her mom, who sat on the couch beside her. Her fingers gouged into the leather upholstery of her chair as ferocity swelled her core.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

She hated whenever her mother would say her brother’s name to get a reaction out of her.

“Now she speaks!”

Her father’s hand dropped from her shoulder, and he rubbed his palm against his face in defeat.

“Theresa, I don’t think this is going to help anybody. We’re here to help build each other, not destroy one another.”

“Very great insight, Russell,” the therapist beamed, completely disregarding everything else.

The smile only made Oaklyn even more enraged.

He only says something when someone is watching.

She clenched her teeth. “It’s all bullshit.”

The therapist leaned closer to the side, “What was that, Oaklyn?”

Her head snapped back to her and grounded her teeth. She could have sworn her jaw was about to break from how hard her back molars grated against each other.

“It’s bullshit!” she yelled before shoving herself off of the chair and dashing into the lobby.

She could hear her parents calling for her, but her feet led her down the winding corridors.

The landscape around her transformed into a blur, but she refused to quit running until she was out of breath.

Locating a green planked park bench nearby, she plopped down and bowed over her knees. She scrubbed her face with her palms, and a headache began to twist around her skull.

All the rumors about her brother were starting to get to her. It wasn’t easier knowing her parents, specifically her mother, only seemed to care about her if she were to act like Brian.

Out of everyone in the world, she was the closest to him. She knew the assumptions that he had arranged the fire himself were untrue.

He would never leave her alone with their combative mother and avoidant father.

Brian had promised to take her away after Oaklyn’s graduation to travel the world with him as he would play music. He had come up with a plan to play on stage and maybe even went as far as to open a workshop with just the two of them.

Even though the case was unexplained, she was certain Brian wouldn’t damage or injure himself in any way with her into consideration.

“You’re not wearing a tracksuit. I’m wondering how crazy you are to run in your skirt,” a deep voice said in front of Oaklyn.

She peered up and became wide-eyed when the blonde-haired boy stood in front of her.

A black pullover hoodie matched his black jeans. The stranger’s hoodie produced a contrast to the light of his eyes and the paleness of his skin.

Upclose, the grey shade appeared to be sheer enough to blend with the whites of his eyes.

The scar of his dark, right brow also seemed to be more noticeable. The gaze of his deformed pupil sent chills down her spine. It only added more exotic attractiveness to his overall image.

His height was towering, and his form was lean with broad shoulders. He was insanely good looking for someone who appeared so intimidating.

He resembled what the word pure would define if it hadn’t been for the right side of his face.

“Running away from my family,” she finally uttered.

One corner of his mouth lifted when her tender voice rolled through his pale ears.

A gentle chuckle reverberated from his throat. “I’m no stranger to that.”

“Really?”

He nodded his head and burrowed his hands into the front pocket of his black sweatshirt. His feet shifted comfortably underneath him.

“Sure. To not be infected by the crazy, you must escape the crazy.”

She let out a small giggle, and a tiny smile danced on her lips. It was the first conversation she was gladly participating in that had nothing to do with her family members.

Her grin slumped when her guard rose back up immediately. There was no such thing as being too careful.

“I’m Wesley,” he replied after a moment.

Oaklyn’s heart jumped. She finally had a name to his face.

“I’m Oaklyn.”

Wesley sent her a charming smirk, “Oh, I know who you are. Oaklyn Willows, sister of the late Brian Willows, and musical wonder of Sumwoods.”

Her motivation to hold a conversation had left her. She knew she couldn’t feel too comfortable with someone like Wesley or anybody. They only wanted to get close to her because she was the talk of the town.

She felt so naive to believe that he was going to be anything different.

“It must be difficult to be the subject of everyone’s conversations. I know I hate it.”

“Are you new here?” she questioned him while striving to neglect the topic entirely.

He stroked the back of his neck, then settled his hand back into his sweatshirt pocket.

“You can say that. As I said, I’m no stranger to running from crazy.”

Oaklyn nodded her head. She noticed how he hardly moved in front of her, and his eyes seldom blinked as he proceeded to observe her beneath his long lashes.

How odd.

“Then, you came to the wrong place,” she laughed to herself, but amusement escaped her tone as a grin refused to perform on her face.

Wesley shrugged his broad shoulders and beamed at her with perfect teeth, “From where I’m standing, it seems quite alright.”

A minute blush crawled up her face, and she nibbled her lip. Her pulse struck against her eardrums, and the sensation made her increasingly agitated.

Yet, she couldn’t disregard the butterflies that fluttered within her stomach.

“Same here.”

Suddenly, a car horn trumpeted from the side of the road, and her father scowled at her through the driver’s side window.

“Oaklyn, get in!” he barked at her.

How they found her, she didn’t know.

She breathed heavily, “Well, it was ni-”

Oaklyn stopped short when she noticed Wesley was no longer standing in front of her.

Her turquoise eyes swiftly darted around the barren park, but his immediate disappearance remained an enigma.

She hesitantly rose from the boarded bench and obeyed the beckon of her father’s car horn in dread of the discussion they were all to have on the drive home.

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