Before We Burn

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What You Know

Oaklyn sat motionless on the edge of her bed. Her hands clutched the ivory towel around her body while she stared at the wall in front of her.

She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there, but it was long enough for the water droplets to stop traveling down her back.

She blinked when her focus returned but succumbed to an empty gaze all over again.

She swore she could hear the sound of her brother’s piano playing softly in his bedroom next to hers, but she knew it was only an illusion.

Without moving too much, she slid on a plain black oversized shirt and baggy grey sweatpants.

She had classes to get to, but her effort had flown out the window.

The day prior, her mother had driven her to piano lessons. Instead of leaving the building like she usually would, she had stayed seated in the back of the small music room.

The piano teacher had begun to boil in anger at her mother’s backseat teaching and constant judgment of Oaklyn’s musical ability.

“It’s not as good as Brian’s music,” she repeated throughout the evening.

“I think she’s coming along beautifully,” the teacher had retorted.

She had even continued to criticize her on the ride home about how she needed to practice more and continue watching Brian’s performances.

I’m not good enough, she thought. I’ll never be good enough.

Rather than getting ready for school, Oaklyn slipped back underneath her covers.

Tears stung her eyes.

Her mother had gone into work at the hospital early. As a neurosurgeon, she was on call.

When Oaklyn was a child, she hated how little time she spent with her parents because of their busy schedules at the law firm and surgery wing.

The more she grew up and got to know their personalities, the more she idolized time away from them.

She didn’t have to worry about making an excuse for why she wasn’t going to school. She had already taken the approach of emailing her professors as not to miss any lessons or homework.

As she was about to let slumber wash over her, she heard something knock against her window. She ignored it, but after a couple more times, she arose to look.

She huffed when she tugged back her ebony curtains to discover Wesley tossing small pebbles at the glass.

She gritted her teeth in frustration. She wanted to go back to bed, but he had already noticed her peeking through her blinds.

Oaklyn lifted the window and yelled, “What the hell are you doing?”

Wesley lowered his arm, which was about to wield another pebble, and a brilliant smile adorned his face.

His black leather jacket hung loosely and unzipped around his torso. A basic black shirt tucked into a pair of matching black jeans. White shoes sported his feet, and the shine of a metal buckle on a black belt winked at her.

“You weren’t on campus this morning,” he yelled back.

She rubbed her eyes with her palm to soothe her anger. “And why is that any of your business?”

He shrugged, but his grin never faltered. “It’s not, but I’d rather know you’re not just a figment of my imagination.”

She swallowed a smile.

Although he was charming, she didn’t prefer to be around him. He wouldn’t leave her be when she told him to. The guy didn’t understand boundaries.

“Now, you know. So, go home.”

He groaned playfully and shifted on his feet. “Come on! I want to show you something.”

She twisted her lips as she weighed her options on leaving or staying in bed. She glanced over her shoulder to observe the mess of music sheets from her flute and piano classes on her bedside table.

If she stayed around, the more possibilities she was to have run into either one of her parents if they were to come home early.

Oaklyn swiveled back to him and groaned in defeat, “Fine! If one bad thing happens, you’re taking me back home.”

His eyes grew wide with excitement, and he lowered the pebble onto the grass.

“Deal,” he beamed.

She hustled to change into a black tennis skirt and a white V-neck, which she had tucked into the waistband. She decided to throw her wavy hair into a loose bun at the top of her head before sliding her feet into a pair of red converse.

She greeted him on her front porch.

When she opened the door, he hurriedly stood up from the stone steps and ogled at her appearance. Though he had seen her in similar attire before, his mouth ran dry at the sight of her.

He grabbed her hand, to her surprise, and guided her along beside him.

The more limp her fingers were around his hand, the tighter he held hers.

“At least tell me where we’re going,” Oaklyn asserted as she battled to keep up her pace with his long strides.

Wesley shook his head. “If I do, you’re going to back out on me.”

She cocked her head to the side and furrowed her eyebrows. She tried to stop walking, but he proceeded to heave her along.

“Gee, I wonder why.”

“You’re not easy on trusting people, are you?” he asked as he occasionally glanced at her.

Oaklyn nibbled her lip nervously.

Though she knew it was true, she detested that he was right to assume it.

“Well, when all of your friends drop you when the going gets tough, it’s hard to expect anything different,” she quietly answered.

His smile slightly faltered, but his light eyes peeked at her softly. “I know how that feels better than anyone.”

Silence fell between them as they proceeded to walk along the road.

She occasionally snuck a peek at the side of his face.

Though the scar had once scared her, it was adding an attractive effect to his kind face. The once intimidating aura around him had faded into a welcoming one.

“We’re here,” Wesley announced after a while.

Oaklyn peered up at a weathered sign in front of an abandoned amusement park. She dropped her hand from his and shook her head in a panic.

“Are we even allowed to be here?”

When she looked back at him for an answer, he only shrugged and grinned.

She started to step backward, but he jerked her forward while he entered the park.

A lot of the rides were torn down or weathered. Other than the buildings coated in graffiti, it almost seemed as if the amusement park had never existed.

Her soft eyes flickered worriedly in each direction, although it was apparent they were alone.

Wesley stopped at one of the last of the small buildings left standing that had once been for carnival games.

The mechanics and prizes were gone, but it didn’t stop him from climbing over the shabby counter.

He stood proudly next to the wall and gestured to where the game once was played.

“Step right up, step right up. This game is tough, but you can win. Who is our beautiful competitor of the evening?” he announced as if he was a park employee.

Oaklyn looked around in confusion. There was nothing to be played.

She hesitated to speak, “I am?”

His smile grew wider, appearing like a box, and showed most of his teeth.

Butterflies fluttered her stomach, and she couldn’t help but let a grin show either.

“Right you are. You need to shoot this here water from this water gun right into the clown’s mouth. The first person to pop the balloon on the clown’s head wins a prize,” he declared.

He clasped his soft, long fingers over her hands and positioned them to look like a gun. Her thumbs stuck upward while her index fingers pointed at the wall in front of her.

“Ready? Go!” Wesley shouted, then began to make sound effects as if the water was shooting from her fingertips.

She squinted her eyes playfully once she began to relax and have fun.

“Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!”

He ducked his head to the side of the counter, then sprang with a small-sized white bear with a red ribbon around its neck.

She joyously gasped before she brushed the dust off of the soft fur.

“You’re lucky. It’s the only one here,” Wesley laughed. “I was just winging it until I saw that.”

Oaklyn smiled at the stuffed animal.

Because of her family’s busy schedule, she and her brother had never been to carnivals or fairs. Her mother had always said it was a waste of time and money.

“Thank you,” she uttered with a gleam in her eye.

Wesley noticed, and his heart squeezed in his chest.

It’s working, he thought.

He clambered over the counter again, then guided her with his hand in hers once more.

He noticed the more time she spent with him, the more she tightened her grip around his palm.

After they did a few rounds of monkey bars on low hanging tracks, they sat on top of a high platform for the abandoned water slides. The stand looked over the city skyline with a vast range of trees in between.

She gawked at the cosmic sight of the sunset above shimmering city lights.

“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered to herself as she cuddled the bear to her chest.

They both sat crisscrossed on the cement flooring.

He swiveled his head toward her to take in the view next to him.

Sure is, he wanted to say, but he bit his tongue.

“My father used to take my family and me here all the time when we were younger. It’s the last happy memory I have of all of us,” he confessed after a moment.

She veered her attention to him, only to notice he was staring back at her.

“Your father,” she began to approach the topic delicately, “is that how you-?”

She stopped herself as she motioned toward his eye.

A corner of his mouth lifted. “No. Just a dumb mistake on my part. Trying to show off and all that.”

She wanted to believe him, but a cloud passed over his eyes that told her not to.

“I’ve never been here before, or any place like it. Thank you,” Oaklyn blushed.

She began to shudder when the evening breeze passed over her skin.

Wesley shed off his thick jacket and had her slide her arms through the holes.

“Perfect. Looks better on you,” Wesley said.

They intently gazed at one another while the sound of the wind flew by the railings of the platform.

When they were about to lean in, Oaklyn’s phone went off from her waistband. She closed her eyes and bit her lip out of frustration before she checked her phone.

“Shit!” she exclaimed.

She had numerous text messages left by her mother, and only one from her father, which she assumed her mother forced him to send.

All of them were yelling at her for skipping curfew and not answering her phone.

“I’ve got to go. My mom is on the warpath,” she panicked.

Wesley stood up quickly with her and raced out of the park.

Once they made it back to her place, he hid in the shadows while she lent him his jacket.

“I had a great time,” she whispered.

He smiled. “So did I.”

When she went to turn to her porch, he spun her around and kissed her softly.

She pulled away after a few moments and gazed up at him in surprise.

“Just in case you don’t make it out alive.”

She remained in shock when he left her by the steps.

She traced her lips with her fingertips before she recovered her composure and clutched the teddy bear to her side.

Here we go, she told herself before she opened her front door.

___

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