Before We Burn

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Just The Way You Are

Sighing heavily, Oaklyn moved her index finger underneath the printed words of the page as she read.

She periodically peered around the full, noisy cafeteria, only to pay attention to her book again. Her slender hand raked her hair back, but her strands fell against her cheeks.

Suddenly feeling restless, she extended her back and felt relief when her joints cracked in her shoulders.

She exhaled heavily once more, then watched the chattering students from underneath her thick lashes.

Her former friend group laughed with each other at the corner of her sight, and she gnawed her lip.

Oaklyn wanted to go over to the table and strike up discussions, but they were the ones who had rejected her. They didn’t care about her well-being.

“What are you reading?” A sweet voice called out to her from opposite the lunch table.

Her body twitched, and her heart abruptly stimulated in pace, only to unwind soon after noticing Kyle had slumped in front of her.

“Um, Ghostly,” she answered quietly.

She half-closed the book cover for him to see a dark design of a black cat raveled in a lower case ‘G.’

Kyle raised a dark eyebrow and smiled gaily, “You have a thing for the supernatural, huh?”

She shrugged her shoulders before she closed the cover entirely. She figured she was not going to have any more time reading with Kyle around.

Although she had been growing lonely as the weeks went by, she still felt no motivation to speak to anybody. She desired to hide away and suffer in peace, but Kyle strived to make it almost impossible.

Since the first day of school, Kyle made it his goal to talk to her at least once a day.

He would accompany her to her classes or lunch while enduring the frequent silence she’d give him.

Occasionally, she would crumble from her stone wall, bestow a smile, or engage a small giggle.

Still, the cracks would rebuild just as abruptly as she had let them drift from her control.

Just as she began to feel herself relax, she heard her former friends unleash a wave of laughter over the lunchroom.

Her back straightened, and she gazed unhappily at the closed novel lying in front of her.

“Oaklyn, don’t pay them attention. It was shitty how they left you. Specifically, Sandra.”

Her saddened eyes slowly lifted to confront his gentle stare.

Sandra Kirouac had been Oaklyn’s best friend since elementary school. Then, she went on to become Brian’s girlfriend in the last year of his life.

After his death, she had cut ties with Oaklyn and her family.

Oaklyn assumed it was too hard to grieve, but she never reached out no matter how many times Oaklyn tried to talk to her.

She eventually answered with only three words that shattered Oaklyn’s heart into pieces:

Lose this number.

She had not only lost her brother, but Oaklyn also lost her best friend.

All the memories she had of her and Sandra’s sugar-highs off of Mountain Dew at three o’clock in the morning and ice cube fights in the kitchen had all became a distant dream.

Sandra was laughing in the background of the large room. Her brown, almost black, hair shined underneath the bright fluorescent lights.

Her Filipino tanned skin looked soft against her blue v-neck. Her brown gaze adorned black liquid eyeliner in a small, classy flick of a wing at the corners.

Oaklyn blinked back tears that stung her eyes and darted back down at the table.

“You’re better and stronger than them,” Kyle’s deep voice went soft enough for only her to hear.

She felt somewhat annoyed at his expressions of support, but she stayed quiet and nodded.

Her eyebrows furrowed together when she saw Wesley observing her from his table.

Like before, the neighboring seats were vacant. Wesley’s eyes appeared hard as he watched the two of them. A flow of chills skittered along her spine; the scar only intimidated her further.

“Do you know who he is?” Oaklyn asked.

Her stare moved between the two of them.

Kyle checked over his shoulder, then looked back at her with squinted eyes. “Who?”

She scoffed, “The guy all by himself; white hair. He’s hard to miss.”

He examined the table again, only to look back at her with a grimace. He shook his head and shrugged in distaste.

“That’s Wesley Michaels,” Kyle answered with a roll of his eyes. “Stay away from him. He’s bad business.”

Her body froze. “What do you mean?”

He leaned over the table. He glanced at Wesley from the corner of his eye before he turned back to her.

She could feel the heat of Wesley’s gaze against her cheek, but she attempted to ignore the tension that arose in the distance between the two men.

“His father is a criminal, and he’s not too far behind. I doubt that’s something you want, all things considering.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she quickly packed up her things.

“I didn’t mean-” he began, but she gave him a tight smile that stopped him.

“Class awaits,” Oaklyn muttered.

She hurried through the hallways toward her next class.

She didn’t mean to leave Kyle behind her so abruptly, but she felt like she was beginning to lose her grasp on reality.

She was finding it hard to sleep almost every night. It was never about anything important or anything she could remember the next day. It was as if her mind was continually racing.

Oaklyn eventually began taking a sleeping aid to help her fall asleep. It had worked at first, but then it had started not to work, and the racing thoughts occasionally would come back.

She just assumed it was because she was secluded for so long that she was beginning to talk to herself.

“Where you off to so quick?” Wesley stopped her by clutching her forearm when she shuffled past him.

She glanced down at his strong veiny hand that enclasped around her narrow arm. She hadn’t realized just how bony her body had become as the days had passed; her appetite was almost non-existent.

“I have nothing better to do than to sit at a desk,” she timidly replied. Oaklyn pushed off his fingers and pressed her book to her chest.

He glanced down at the black cover, and a smirk fell against his mouth.

“My favorites are from Edgar Allen Poe,” he gestured to the black cat. “It’s hard to find a decent collection of ghost stories put together in one book.”

“I prefer Edgar’s too. He wrote such tragic stories.”

Wesley blinked at her in awe.

She didn’t appear to be the type to like dark content.

Oaklyn was someone who was suffering deeply, and depression was no exception. She was bound to like dark stories about death and sorrow.

However, her interest in the topic could be dangerous, and that slightly disturbed and fascinated him.

“There’s no emotion more raw and real than passion, even if it’s agonizing,” he said with his chin held confidently in the air.

Her lip lifted at one corner, and a small sparkle in her eyes gleamed at him. “Exactly.”

He shifted on his feet, but his soft gaze never moved away from hers.

“Are you busy tomorrow after school? I was thinking of meeting at the park.”

The eyes of students walking through the halls landed on them. She was the talk of the town, and, from what she gathered from Kyle, so was Wesley.

She swallowed hard.

She didn’t understand why she opposed letting Kyle get close to her when Oaklyn had known him for so long but had no issues allowing a guy she had just met to get to know her.

Oaklyn hesitantly nodded. “Okay.”

He smiled at her. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously, and she giggled quietly into her book.

Maybe she was okay with it because she felt connected to him.

He seemed like an outcast who preferred to avoid everyone else in the school but somehow settled his attention on her.

He must have had felt a similar way, or he wouldn’t have given her attention just like he didn’t for the rest of the student body. Maybe it was the curiosity growing in her head about his appearance and his story, even though she had only spoken to him once.

Either way, she didn’t feel any opposition when it came to approaching Wesley.

The bell rang, and both of them flinched.

“Sorry for making you late,” he chuckled, and his face carried enjoyment, “but I think it was worth it.”

She bit her lip as she attempted to hinder a rosiness from creeping up to her cheeks.

“Me too.”


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