Before We Burn

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Wesley stepped out of his room with Oaklyn in tow.

All was normal between them until the refrigerator door closed, and Minny popped into view.

“Oh, sorry,” she giggled awkwardly.

Her makeup smudged underneath her weary eyes, and her hair tangled from a troubled night. The smell of diner food ruminated off of her uniform.

“I’m Minny,” she said with an exhausted smile and held out her hand.

Oaklyn shook it and replied, “Oaklyn.”

When Oaklyn looked away to pick up her bundle of clothing, Minny widened her eyes at her cousin.

Wesley shook his head, then went back to baseline when the girl twisted back around.

“I’m going to go. I have classes.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Wesley announced before he scowled at Minny from the corner of his eye.

When they reached his front porch steps, he slid his hands into his sweatpants pockets. His shirtless pale chest shined in the morning sun.

Oaklyn closed one eye to look up at him as the light twinkled in her face.

“Um, thanks for letting me stay the night. I’m,” she cleared her throat, “I’m sorry. You know, about last night.”

He shook his head, and a sweet smile spanned across his pink lips. “I just hope you’re going to be okay.”

As the sun hit the sides of his face, his eyes seemed iridescent. His porcelain skin and blond hair appeared angelic. She was too afraid to touch Wesley, in case he would shatter like glass.

She nodded, but she didn’t answer. She wasn’t sure she was going to be okay, so she didn’t promise anything.

When Oaklyn twirled to walk away, he took a stride to stand in front of her.

A small gasp fled from her mouth when she stopped to peer up at him again.

His hand stroked her cheek before he leaned in and kissed her softly.

She stood on the tips of her toes to reach him, and she couldn’t hold back a smile that matched his.

She felt her clothes taken out of her hands, and she pulled away in confusion.

“Gives you a reason to come back,” Wesley smirked.

Oaklyn giggled. She let go of his hand once she was far enough not to reach and walked down the side of the road toward her street.

He contently sighed before he moved inside of his house and met Minny’s wondering gaze.

“So, that’s the famous Oaklyn. What was she doing here last night?” she casually asked as she poured her coffee.

He rolled his eyes and groaned.

“Nothing like that. Oaklyn was having a bad night,” he answered while he sat down and stared at the folded clothes. “A bad, bad night.”

His chest tightened, and he blinked back tears.

He didn’t want to imagine what would have happened if he hadn’t shown up when Wesley did, or if he hadn’t caught a glimpse of her rushing down the road toward the amusement park.

Minny stared at him for a moment, then nodded as she understood.

“I hope you know what you’re doing. I don’t want either of you getting too dependent on each other,” Minny responded.

Wesley whined again, “Yes, mom. I’m going to go take a shower.”

Before he could turn away, Minny tapped her finger on top of an envelope that rested on the counter. Her eyes were wide as she munched on a slice of toast.

“This came for you,” she spoke with bread in her mouth. “It looks important.”

He lifted the white paper to notice an emblem from Child Services. He glanced at Minny before he tore open the envelope and skimmed through the letter.

“Damn it!” Wesley shouted, and he tossed the paper into the trash.

Minny stayed silent as she plucked the letter from the bin and browsed it over.

“They’re not going to give me back my siblings unless I make a drastic change in my financial status and living arrangements,” he growled.

She covered her mouth in shock, and tears threatened to break from her eyes.

“How in the hell am I going to do that if no one will hire me? It can take years for me to become financially stable enough at this rate.”

She balled up the letter in her fist and threw it away. She shoved her hair back in distress while her eyes reddened from tears.

Wesley yanked on his wife beater and headed out the door with his leather jacket.

“Where are you going?” Minny called out to him.

He paused at the entryway for a moment.


The door slammed behind him, and he drove off in Minny’s car that was sitting idly in the driveway.


Oaklyn was in a thick daze as she sat in the classroom.

She was lucky enough that her parents had gone to work, and she was able to change her clothes, shower, and grab her school things.

She gazed out of the classroom window, no longer paying attention to the lecture about Beethoven.

She couldn’t explain it, but she felt a sense of wonderment pass through her while she watched people walk around campus.

She peered down at her notebook and began to write:

People pass me every day. They wouldn’t know it could be the last time. They wouldn’t care.

It wasn’t until she heard her classmates loading their things that made her come out of her head.

Oaklyn snaked through the hallway and held her head low once she noticed Kyle waiting for her by the wall.

She took a big sigh of relief when she found an empty stone bench and settled on it.

Shortly after, she flinched when someone took a seat next to her. Her eyes widened as they stared straight ahead in shock.

“Hi, Oaklyn,” Sandra said quietly.

An awkward silence encircled them when she refused to speak.

Oaklyn was just about to grab her bag and flee until Sandra clasped her arm. She peeked down at Sandra’s curled fingers.

“How have you been?”

Oaklyn lifted an eyebrow. She couldn’t believe it after so long that Sandra thought it was best to talk to her again.

“Oh, you know. My brother died, my friends threw me away, and everyone else looks at me like I’m a freak. How are you?” she sarcastically smiled at her.

“I didn’t throw you aw-”

“No?” Oaklyn cocked her head to the side. “Lose this number isn’t exactly what I’d call an invite to hang out.”

Again, she snatched her bag and began to walk away.

Yet, Sandra scrambled to stop in front of her.

“You’re mad. I get that. You have every reason to be. I just... I didn’t know how to handle it. I was having a hard time, too,” Sandra explained while stammering over her tongue.

Oaklyn’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I’m glad you were able to move on.”

Her former friend groaned and ran a hand through her black hair. Her brown eyes stared hard at her.

“Is that what you think?” she growled.

Sandra looked through her purse. The sound of her fingers rifling through random items made Oaklyn more anxious.

She smacked something into Oaklyn’s palm, and she almost dropped the small baggy of pills out of surprise.

“It helps take my mind off of it,” her voice seemed calmer. “Nobody cares anyway.”

Oaklyn quickly put it back in Sandra’s purse. She glanced around nervously until she felt hands on her shoulders to calm her down.

“I came over here to invite you to a party. I figured you needed to get out of that damn house.”

Although Oaklyn was raving mad at her former friend, a lightbulb went off in her head.

Her parents made it very clear to Oaklyn that whatever she wanted to do didn’t matter as long as it was in Brian’s footsteps. Her existence didn’t matter because she wasn’t the golden child.

Why would anyone care that she went out and had some fun? She was of legal age.

“When?” Oaklyn asked.

Sandra looked at her in shock, but a wide smile scattered across her mouth.

“Saturday night at David’s house. Be there by nine,” she replied. “Oh! Here.”

She snatched Oaklyn’s water bottle from the cup holder of her backpack, then poured some of the liquid from her water bottle that was in her large purse.

Oaklyn sniffed it when she gave it to her, and she immediately turned her nose away. It was not water, that much she knew.

“To take the edge off,” Sandra grinned before she walked away.

Oaklyn strolled up to a garbage can but found herself contemplating over whether or not to throw it away. She ultimately decided to keep it with her.

She was never too big about partying or drinking, but she figured she had to start somewhere.

She took a swig and felt a burn journey down the back of her throat. She took a second gulp before wiping her mouth. She pinched her eyes shut when the alcohol traveled toward her stomach.

“Oaklyn!” Wesley breathlessly said as if he had been running.

She twirled around in surprise when he caught up to her.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “I thought you didn’t have class today.”

She noticed he hadn’t changed since she had seen him that morning.

Students began to gawk at the two of them as they passed. It seemed it was only a gigantic story of gossip when the two of them were together.

Individually, the whispers weren’t as loud.

“I wanted to drive you home.”

Wesley stopped as he glanced between her and her bottle. The odor was strong.

His mouth lifted into an amused smirk, and he stooped closer to her ear, “I’ve always pictured you to be more of a wine girl.”

She smiled innocently and shrugged again. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

As if she was challenging him, he grabbed the bottle and took a drink for himself.

His face instantly contorted in various ways, and he shivered violently.

“That,” he coughed, “that’s straight-up moonshine. You’re drinking,” cough, “you’re drinking moonshine on campus.”

Oaklyn giggled before she grabbed his hand and directed him toward the parking lot from where he had arrived.


“Shit,” Oaklyn muttered.

Her mother’s car was in the driveway. The one time she was home early was the day Oaklyn wanted to avoid her like the plague.

“We can just go back to my place,” Wesley chimed in behind the steering wheel.

She sighed heavily and shook her head. Her hands shook as she unbuckled her seat belt.

“I’m going to have to face the dragon lady at some point,” she huffed. “Might as well get it over with.”

He jotted down his number on her palm. “If you need anything.”

She gave him a slight smile before she exited the car and walked into her house.

She sighed in relief when she saw her mother napping on the couch in her blue scrubs.

She tiptoed up the stairs and wormed underneath her covers. Her backpack was abandoned in the corner of her room, and the water bottle next to her bed.

All effort to do homework had gone out of the window when she started to feel drowsy from the alcohol.

“Finally,” she mumbled. “Maybe I can sleep well for once.”


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