LET’S NOT PRETEND

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Summary

Marvin Morgonti and Alexander Abramowitz have known each other since they were teenagers. They innately know each other’s temperaments, niche interests, the gory details of one another's messy upbringing. One of them can figure what the other is feeling with the smallest inflection and will know how to shake them out of the doldrums. Despite many people coming and going in their lives, they are the only ones who really know each other best. They also know the best way how to hurt one another. The cracks in their relationship begin with a conflict rooted in mundanity - competing for a girl who stands out from her peers come junior year of high school. But when the attempts to undermine one another forgo routine nastiness and veer straight into psychological warfare, the relationship repairs itself over the years the same way a shattered vase would - never quite fitting the same way again, painful to touch and visibly broken on the outside. Entering their thirties, LET’S NOT PRETEND focuses on the perspectives of three - Marvin, Alex and the catalyst of their disintegrating relationship, Parker McIntyre - as they navigate adulthood with scarring memories, past resentments and a fractured sense of self. Artwork by Santiago Ydañez

Genre:
Drama / Other
Author:
miaowa culpa
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
6
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
18+

ACT I: MARVIN


[content warning for ableist/misogynist slurs, suicide mention and description of childhood abuse]

ACT I:

MARVIN

If I’m honest, I can’t remember how or when or why we decided to become friends. At the time it just made sense. Not just for us. I mean, on paper. It just clicked with everyone else. We were the two gangliest, moodiest, most socially awkward boys in freshman year of Riverside Academy. We both had a penchant for chaotic electro-punk, obscure graphic novels and self-loathing, so of course we took to each other. But after a while, the gaping discrepancies began to show. Maybe I expected too much from him. A lot of people had that impression at the time. Or maybe he expected too little of me.

Either way, there was a mutual understanding between us that we could not understand each other. And it grew stronger and stronger with each term until the point where the resentment had poisoned the entire foundation of our relationship and to continue keeping in touch for the sake of forgiveness was essentially signing up for a slow death. Not a silent death that would just quietly fall into the ether - a painstaking, shit-stained bedridden in a hospital death.

What was worse was that I didn’t expect this death to stretch out to our early thirties, either.

The last time I saw Alexander Abramowitz, he had his back to the ground of a desolate field nearby his own house and was writhing against me aggressively, his face swollen and caked in blood. A mixture of mine and his. He had his fingers around my throat and I was trying to jam mine down his. At one point I had attempted to gouge his eyes out with little success. We had agreed to arrange the third and final fight in a decade, with the following deal - if he won the fight, I would have to leave town; if I won, he would have to leave town. I don’t know how much faith either of us had in winning but we both knew we wanted to pulverise each other into bloody mush and were ready to spring at the opportunity to do so.

I used to think he was the more humane one out of our twosome when I was fifteen - something I know now to this day is utter horseshit. I remember chucking my stress ball at the backcourt of Riverside because a bunch of sophomores were acting like cunts about me taking time out of class to get handwriting lessons in Special Ed. Eventually after a few kids in my year yelled out “RETARD ALERT” in their best South Park impression, the annoyance snowballed into rage and I was kicking the poor fucking thing like a football. The only thing stopping me from bursting the stress ball altogether was a lanky blonde kid around my age sitting nearby with his legs stretched out, listening to music. He eyed up the stress ball nonchalantly as it trailed towards his feet before picking it up and casually tossing it to and fro between his hands.

He paused his music and turned to face me like it was an arduous effort. “This yours?”

“No,” I lied. Then I blurted out, “uh yeah. Yeah it is. Can I have it?”

“Say please,” he grunted sardonically but he nudged the stress ball back in my direction like it didn’t matter either way. “Don’t you have classes right now?”

“I’d be in Physics right now but I’ve been asked to do these stupid handwriting classes for the next two weeks and they finished early. What about you?”

“Skipping Chemistry. Mr Murray is such a twat. Think I might just go home when lunch starts.” The kid scanned me over, as though trying to place me. “I think I’ve seen you before. Did you used to live in Fall River?”

“My mom stays there so I might have visited,” I lied, omitting the fact I grew up there.

“Huh. Yeah, I have relatives there too ...” His eyebrows furled for a moment and his voice trailed off. He didn’t care to go into which relatives. “What’s your name?”

“Uh, Marvin M-”

The kid’s eyebrows raised with surprised recognition. “Oh shit yeah, Marvin Morgonti! Didn’t they mention you over the PA system for some extracurricular arts competition?”

“Hahahahaha yeah. I wanna make short movies when I’m older. My work is total shit but I’m gonna go try for it anyway. By the time I make an actual career out of it I’ll be going by Marvin Lovell ’cuz fuck my dad, but yeah. What’s your name?”

“I’m Alexander but there’s about fifty Alexes in our year so I go by Sandy.”

“That’s stupid,” I remember groaning. “You’re not a Spongebob Squarepants character. I’m just gonna call you Alex and you can lump it.”

“Whatever.” He glanced at my backpack and nodded at the patches with a small smirk. “Wolf Eyes? Nifty.”

“Um yeah, they’re alright.” I didn’t know what to say to match Alex’s artful detachment. I just rambled. “If you’re into stuff that sounds like being thrashed to death by a mutated computer. Which I am. You a fan?”

“Yeah, I like listening to them when I’m mad.” His eyes darkened. “Knowing my parents, that’s quite often.”

“Pfft, right. Cools. I’ll keep calling you Alex so you can put them on, then.”

Alex looked miffed at the time when I said that but accepted it. I can’t remember when he started to accept it. I just know that I was the only person who he would allow to call him that. Whenever anyone else referred to him that way, he’d blank them outright until they eventually gave in. This even extended to wearied teachers who gritted their teeth as they reluctantly caved to his demand. However, I could bellow “ALEX” at the top of my lungs from a fifty metre distance on the track fields and naturally he’d turn around with a grin and go, “can you speak up? I didn’t quite catch that.”

I remember from there on it just seemed like we would bump into each other and wouldn’t be able to leave each other alone. I would rave to him about The Muppets and Maus and Mouse on Mars and Aphex Twin, whatever weird obscure Adult Swim cartoon took my fancy at the time. He would actually listen. He would talk to me about Harmony Korrine and the latest Boris album and the bizarre, hilarious videos he found by accident on LimeWire. No matter how big or obscure the topic was, we would always find something to waffle about it, even if we found ourselves butting heads. Soon after that we fell into a pattern of joining each other in the backcourt for lunch. I don’t know when it started - I couldn’t tell you the exact timeline. It felt like we had fallen into becoming best friends by accident.

It was an accident we never corrected and for good reason - at that point, we understood each other in a way no one was able to come close to. Alex could flounce next to me and pull a face, his googly brown eyes crossing madly and I would know exactly what teacher had pissed him off that day and rip straight into Mr Lacey and his creepy niche fetish for refusing bathroom passes. I could blurt out “suicide” and he was immediately able to clock whether it was the band I was talking about or the urge to top myself. When he casually remarked, “Oh hey so I just listened to Beck’s new record” I could tell from the slight shift in his tone whether he wanted to rip into it or give it praise. I think for the the first two years we knew each other there was rarely a weekend missed where we wouldn’t roam the local record store together, rifling through the latest indie selects and classic deep cuts like kids rifling through a treasure trove of forgotten toys they never stopped loving.

I learned a lot about Alex over the first semester I knew him. I learned that he was an only child who was the victim of a horrific, scarring divorce when he was seven that he never quite recovered from. Like, mommy breaking into daddy’s new apartment to clobber the new girlfriend sort of scarring. He loved both of his parents fiercely and was vehemently defensive of them whenever I mentioned how fucked up it was that they were both cornering them into taking their side. He became even more defensive when I suggested that maybe his dad (who he lived with at the time) shouldn’t actively begrudge him for not taking a side to the point of openly berating him on a regular basis. He learned that my parents also went through a messy divorce and that my dad only started giving a shit the moment he remarried the founder of a locally famous cosmetics brand because hey, he could finally pay alimony. In the end I chose not to put his ambiguous feelings under the microscope because it felt like it was me and Alex against the world and if we didn’t have our folks then at least we had each other.

Soon it wasn’t just me and Alex. It was me and Alex and Vonn and Parker. Vonn was a bubbly, good natured spindly dude with a spring to his step and a tangled mass of hot pink hair. He looked like a cross between a candy cane and the Warden from Superjail. Despite his best efforts to appear as flamboyant and bombastic as possible Vonn was surprisingly shy and sensitive. Whereas Parker was a tiny opinionated indie kid who plaited the two front strands of her long brown hair and clipped them around her head like a crown. The impression of royalty wasn’t just an aesthetic, either - she has this air of unwarranted self-importance, like there was some great prestige to her merely acknowledging your presence.

Her addition to the friendship group was less of an organic development and more to do with her insinuating herself into our trio come junior year. After relocating from California to Massachusetts, she was determined to join a social clique closest to the ragtag team of fuckups she belonged to before and if that meant befriending a walking anxiety attack, a motormouthed ball of hate and a dazzleship at her new school then she was all too willing to take that on.

Suffice to say, this noxious behaviour and attitude didn’t stop Alex from developing a crush on her. And eventually, it didn’t stop me either.

He danced around the subject for ages. He pretended that he wasn’t interested, he feigned nonchalance when Parker mentioned another boy had asked her out. It was all staged, she was merely dangling the suggestion that another kid might like her because she wanted to gauge his reaction. She was mutually attracted to Alex but didn’t want to come across as too keen. She gave up pursuing him after he pulled his shtick of calculated indifference for the umpteenth time, mistaking it for, you know, actual indifference. Eventually, it did become an issue when other kids started approaching Parker with genuine interest - Alex would just lose it and storm off without a word if he saw someone getting too chummy with her. And obviously Parker found it confusing, like she had assumed long ago he wasn’t reciprocating her affections, so why pull this bullshit now?

“Dude I know why he’s upset but it’s on him to tell you, not me,” I recall mentioning to her at a particularly disgusting college party both of us were too young to be at. “Just ignore the bullshit he’s pulling until he’s ready to be straight with you.”

This was my biggest mistake.

Parker not only appreciated my bluntness by that point but also came to me for personal advice. Not just about Alex but about personal issues with friends and family. It became more and more apparent that we had more commonalities than I previously imagined - growing up with neglectful parents we still had conflicted feelings towards, feeling disconnected with social cliques, being vociferous about our opinions on music, films, politics, television .... everything really. Soon it felt like me and Parker had our own individual friendship outside of our quartet, where I would walk her to her bus stop after school and we would chat for five minutes before she got her ride home.

One day, the bus was late. It was late autumn and it was already getting dark. Parker moved closer to me, nearly slipping into my jacket. I brushed it off, assuming it was unintentional. But the way she was looking at me suggested something else entirely and I must have subconsciously picked up on it. Because soon she was nuzzling next to me, and soon I had my arm around her to keep her warm, and soon we were kissing.

I knew that it would hurt Alex and throw a sledgehammer into our friendship. But I couldn’t pass this. It felt too real. It felt too good. Me and Parker continued to date for a month. No, three. Three months without disclosing it to him at the time. We frequented local cafes he was unaware of, provided code names for corners of the school we would make out in, snuck in brief evening visits to each other’s house when I knew he was studying after school. I knew it was the worst decision I could have made. I knew it was cruel to omit something of that significance. But I wanted Parker and I wanted Alex to still be in my life, so I kept it to myself.

Unfortunately Vonn didn’t keep schtum when he found out. After too many sour apple shots he pretty much broadcasted out to the entire population of a house party we all attended that me and Parker were together and he was shocked that Alex hadn’t picked up sooner.

I wish I could say the story ends there.

It doesn’t.

Alex was shockingly composed when he approached me. Well, as composed as someone could be in that situation. His eyes were telling me that he wanted to belt me but his mouth was saying something else. He told me he was upset that I hadn’t came forward about it before, but he supported us anyway, even if it hurt him.

“Look. I - I missed my opportunity long ago, Marvin,” he said. It was hard not to notice the hesitation in his words. His body was tense and his eyes were wide. “So make the best of it.” He did start forward but only to slap me on the back affectionately. His rigid stare softened and his words were tender. “I love you, man. Don’t fuck this up.”

At the time I considered this a blessing rather than the threat that it was.

I noticed him wince whenever I put my arm around Parker and avert his eyes whenever we kissed. Whenever I mentioned staying over at hers for the afternoon or vice versa he would try to change the subject abruptly. Eventually it just became uncomfortable for the three of us to be in the same room together for him, and he slowly drifted away. Plans we made were tossed aside because he wanted to try out playing keyboards with Jean-Claude Donovan in Battle of the Bands. Our conversations became shorter and more curt. He seemed to want to avoid any intimacy with me despite us previously pouring our hearts out to each other.

Eventually one day, after he cancelled thirty minutes before we were supposed to meet up, I got pissed.

“Why is it whenever Jean-Claude Daffodil pages you you’re on beck and call but whenever I try to hang out you fucking blow me off for whatever bullshit reason you pull out of your ass?!?” I snapped down the phone, ready to hang up and hurl it across my bedroom. “I’m sorry, am I not cool enough for you anymore ’cuz I actually give a shit and don’t just run around befriending everybody and their momma like that motherfucking whitebread dullard does?!?”

“Why are my failings up for question but yours aren’t?!” he yelled back.

“The fuck do you mean by that?!” I shouted.

“Ever since you’ve been with Parker, it’s been ... it’s been like my feelings are irrelevant, like they don’t even matter. You can do whatever you want but fuck me, right?”

“Fuck you?!? Hahahahahaha right. I knew this was what this was about. Good luck with that ya fucking virgin,” I sneered, ending the conversation by bashing my phone against the wall.

It wasn’t our last fight.

Alex occasionally would stop by for a five minute conversation before class whenever he saw me with Parker and Vonn, but we both knew that things weren’t the same. It was almost as though our friendship had become an obligation out of politeness rather than genuine interest. He could talk a million words a minute to Parker and his face still lit up in the presence of Vonn but talking to me was something necessary rather than something real. Like the facade of our failing friendship would fall apart if he attempted to be open.

At the beginning of senior year I felt ready to take my relationship with Parker to the next level. It was scary for both of us because she had hang-ups about being perceived as a slut due to some eighth grade bullshit back in California and I found the prospect of intimacy ... scary. I mean, it wasn’t like I was a virgin - there had been some regrettable fumblings here and there - but that alone was something I’d rather forget. Whenever anything happened - or was about to happen, I would ... just freeze up. It felt like going through the motions. I didn’t know why, exactly - I chalked it up just to nervousness and immaturity. But one night, at a house party hosted by kids from another local school I happened to come across a fairly tipsy Alex who had made it his mission to drink his feelings that evening. When he saw me, it was like nothing had happened - we resumed to being as close as we were before, mocking the poor selection of indie pop on the stereo and talking about our college plans. I wanted to go to film school, Alex wanted to study psychology.

It wasn’t until I was seven or eight cups of boxed wine in that I began to open up about fearing for my relationship. I could hear my voice crack but I suppressed the tears. The tears were tangible in my words, as they all spilt out when we sat on the floor drinking in Patrick West’s parents’ coat room.

“I dunno if I’m a good boyfriend for Parker,” I blurted, looking downward.

Alex frowned. “Why not?”

“I just ... we have problems. With, like, you know ...” I made a crass hand gesture and he hiccup-laughed. It’s weird how teenagers pretend to be so brazen about sex, but when push comes to shove, the subject just devolves them into gibbering wrecks.

“Relationships aren’t all about sex,” he went. “You have to have some sort of genuine investment in the person you’re with. Like, trust them. Actually give a shit. If you have all three of those you’ll be good to go.” He then playfully clipped me on the back of the head with a grin. “So stop worrying ya goober.”

“No, it’s not that like. I want to. But every time we try, it’s like ...” My voice trailed off. “I dunno. I can’t.”

Alex frowned again. I didn’t like this new habit of his. “How long has this been going on for?”

“Couple of months.”

Alex appeared to be thawing on the subject. “Ever think you might not be attracted to her?”

“No! I mean, I am. I really am. It’s just ... I dunno. I get so scared. Like there’s this creeping feeling that something horribly wrong will happen. I dry-retched at hers once ’cuz it was so intense. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why it keeps happening, especially with someone I love.”

The word “love” seemed to stop Alex in his tracks, a flicker of bitterness present in his expression. It created this tangible atmosphere of tension that I’d grown to loathe so much with him. “Well, maybe you’re not in love if she makes you want to be sick. That isn’t a normal reaction to something like that.”

“But I DO love her, Alex,” I protested. “I do. I just can’t stand not being able to offer her anything more. It makes me feel like a lesser being, like some kinda fucked up half-person.”

The cogs were turning in his mind and I knew I wouldn’t like what I was about to hear. “Being with someone you love wouldn’t make you feel like a lesser man, Marvin. Clearly there’s something really wrong with you or with you and Parker being together if you feel that way. I don’t know what to tell you.”

Even though these were the words of a jealous ex-friend, somehow it got to me. And whenever I was in the presence of Alex, he would raise the topic again and his stance would be constantly reinforced stronger with each and every time - that I shouldn’t feel this way around someone I love, that my body’s reaction to intimacy was a reflection of my own repulsion for Parker and that I was forcing myself into a situation that I inherently didn’t want. At first, I brushed it off as someone kicking themselves repeatedly for blowing their shot with their crush, but eventually, when I was alone and sat down to try to imagine myself with Parker, I felt a lump in my throat swell up and tears dribbling down my cheeks and I began to wonder if there was something in the water with Alex’s words.

The act of intimacy became this ugly and devastating ritual me and Parker took part in regularly. She would initiate, I would reciprocate for five minutes, wanting her and wanting to be wanted by her ... and then this furious wave of sickness would overcome me and I would aggressively separate, immediately needing space to breathe. Her body leaning into mine felt like an invasion; her hands gliding over my chest felt like the fists of an angry patron kicking off in a bar fight. No matter how frequently I tried to entertain fantasies to reignite the spark, no matter how much I tried to ease myself into anything further than second base, this creeping sensation of fear was unearthed whenever she would run her hands below my waistband. I’d shoot up and pace back and forth.

It made no sense. I’d done this before with other people. I loved Parker. I loved the way her eyes lit up when she saw me. I loved her head nestling against me as we rode the bus down to her mother’s house, the murmurs she made as she dozed off, auburn brown hair cloaking my shoulder. I loved her wit. I loved running up to her during lunch breaks and unloading whatever was on my mind because I knew she’d always have a fresh and insightful opinion to offer. I loved everything about her. So why was my stomach churning whenever I tried to show this to her?

It bled into our relationship. I only answered calls so often. I cut dates short. I made my own way home after spending the afternoon at Parker’s and didn’t send her a text later checking up on her. The fear of intimacy with Parker graduated to a fear of intimacy in general. I felt like a pathetic child whenever I heard my peers brag about getting lucky or even getting to third base. It felt like I was developmentally delayed, like I was some fucked up anomaly who couldn’t function like a normal human being. Eventually this took a toll on my grades and took a toll on my social life and I dipped out of senior year altogether. Compounded with the mistreatment at her previous school for losing her virginity earlier, Parker was enraged with my lack of attention towards our relationship and the more I was swallowed by this black hole, the more she grew to resent me.

“I’m guessing my reputation precedes me if you can’t even bring yourself to hang out for a film,” she said coldly down the phone one evening. “Marvin Morgonti fell prey to the poisonous Parker McIntyre, am I right? You can no longer be with such a scandalous whore, of course. I thought you were different. This is such a fucking joke.” And with that she hung up.

My Ma was concerned about me but didn’t let it show; I only found out through her co-workers from the laundrette that she was “worried sick”. My Pa couldn’t give a shit but he put on a spectacular performance of blowing up my ass with pantomime support. He had many patronising talks with me about not needing to have sex until I’m ready, failing to recognise I was all too savvy about it by that point. Each carefully phrased speech failed to sink in, merging them from calming pep-talks to anxiety provoking rants.

“Look Marvin, I dunno what the hell to tell ya but no boy your age should be so stricken by awkward fumbling that ya drop outta school altogether,” he snapped. “Just apply to a college and you’ll get over the hump.” He was about to slam the door before he added a much needed cheesy remark. “Quite literally.”

Eventually my Pa’s wife Marion suggested therapy and offered to pay. We booked the cheapest shrink in the area, just so Pa’s stingy ass could breathe a sigh of relief in case he needed Marion to pay towards his future BMW. Nine sessions. I was introduced to a young man in his late twenties with light brown skin and black hair called Erik Sullivan. He was polite and even-tempered so of course I didn’t trust him. But that wasn’t forever.

The first couple of times I went in, I felt like most of my appointments consisted of me looking at the wall and vaguely mumbling about feeling insecure and aimlessly sad. But after the third or fourth session I was beginning to let it all out - my parents’ knockdown drag-out divorce that lasted five years, my friendship with Alex going awry, going to college parties at sixteen and getting plastered, my fear of sex, my failed relationship with Parker. Eventually Dr Sullivan had began to shape my situation and had some probing questions of his own that I wasn’t ready for.

“So. You’ve previously said that your parents divorced but you rarely go into why they did.” He looked up and held eye contact with me, his gaze less interrogating and more sincere. “Would you be comfortable talking about that subject?”

“Uh.” Uhhhh. I didn’t know if I would, really. “I think it was like, my Ma saw Uncle Ray knock me over the head as a toddler and she blew a fuse. He got hit in a car accident and is essentially a vegetable -”

“Oh, wow. So this was before the injury?”

“Well, no. I dunno if that’s, like, the right way to ... it’s more like, the accident’s essentially rendered him permanently brain damaged.” I spaced out for a moment. This vague disorientation emerged. Racing thoughts were dulled by an inexplicable sensation of dread. I wanted rid of it. I moved onto a cheap childhood anecdote. “I mean, they had a lotta fights, Mom and Pa, just that this was the one that made them go nuclear. There was one day she was passing Pa’s car when she was walking me to school and threw a massive rock at the windshield ’cuz she thought he -”

“Let’s stick to one topic,” Dr Sullivan stressed. “HOW did Uncle Ray influence your parents’ divorce?”

“She thought him being about was reckless and my Pa felt obligated to look after him. Something must have happened ’cuz he was shipped off to a care home. I haven’t seen him in years.” I sat for a moment and felt the familiar queasiness I’d been experiencing with Parker. I added an off-colour anecdote to alleviate the tension. “But I mean. She also said my Pa cheated with her with one of the girls at the escort agency he worked at so I dunno, my guess is as good as yours, ahaha.”

Dr Sullivan frowned. “What do you remember about Uncle Ray?”

“Hmmm.” I tried to rattle my brain for any clear memories. None came to the surface. “He couldn’t talk. I remember Gramps coming in to pull him away whenever he saw him in my bedroom.” I then recalled something vague and pernicious. “I remember when I was like four, hearing humping and it was coming from Gramps’ room and he slammed the door.”

“Humping?”

“Yeah, like. He had a woman in there with him, I think.” The memory was making me feel sick. I didn’t know why - it was just an old man and his urges. It didn’t impact me at the time. So why did discussing it feel like my intestines were clenched together?

Dr Sullivan said nothing, but jotted down notes. The cogs were turning in his mind, but the answers he would provide me were nothing like Alex’s.

On our eighth - and near final - session, I began to describe my relationship with another uncle, Gio. Alky Gio. I mentioned how he got drunk during the day but when Pa had to work he would go out of his way to take me out of the house and walk me around the park and get me ice cream. How he’d cradle me if he heard me screaming. How at seven years old, I bawled during Gio’s funeral and couldn’t conceptualise death at the time because it seemed so sad and too horrific to believe that the only family member who went out of his way to love me was never coming back to look after me again.

By the time I relayed this I felt hot tears well up and I felt this omnipresent grief overcome me. I was convulsing in sobs in front of another young man, simultaneously heartbroken and humiliated to be put in this situation. I outright resented Marion for even bothering to pay for my therapy and making me sit with this pain. I hated this. I hated this feeling. I hated these tears and how they would go on and on and on and just wouldn’t stop, even though Dr Sullivan was more than accustomed to seeing his patients break down in front of him.

On the final day, Dr Sullivan came to a conclusion that changed the fabric of my life.

He had referred me to a psychiatrist to look into a diagnosis for major depressive disorder and revealed something I would have never believed a month ago - I was not sexually dysfunctional. He had suggested that many of my sexual fears were unrelated to a lack of attraction, but more related to a lack of faith in the personal relationships around me growing up. When we talked, he noted that the way I talked about Parker was not a front nor an attraction that could be faked. It was genuine love. And when I - still entrenched in my own disbelief - prodded him for answers about my impotence, he stopped to close his file, looked me in the eye and sighed sadly.

“Marvin.” He took a breath. “I don’t want to put ideas in your head but your descriptions of growing up in Milliken Boulevard were particularly alarming.” He paused, watching my reaction. “Divorce can be incredibly stressful on parents. Even more so if the possibility of childhood sexual abuse was involved.”

My gut dropped.

My heart exploded.

“What the fuck do you mean. I wasn’t abused,” I protested. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that. The idea was too ugly a notion. I couldn’t place it in my picture. The room was spinning.

I closed my eyes to shut Dr Sullivan out and felt those grubby hands. The dimly lit mustard coloured bedroom. That low, scraping, hollow giggle that made me feel so helpless and terrified, that was my own personal alarm that today my body would belong to someone else. My granddad barging in as Uncle Ray lurched over my crib. I opened my eyes. My chest felt like lead. My soul was crumbling on a cellular level.

“Well, you know your life better than I do,” he said, “but many of your accounts showed a lot of red flags. You confessed to me that talking about growing up with both parents in early childhood gave you the same sick feeling you had when you and Parker tried to have sex. You rarely mention Uncle Ray and whenever the topic is broached you try to change it immediately. Your mother admitted that he hurt you when you were a child and that he had to be sent away. Whether or not sexual abuse is the right assessment, it’s clear that some sort of abusive or harmful situation took place that contributes to your difficulties with intimacy now.”

I didn’t say anything.

Because I knew he was right.

Despite the sensation that my guts had been twisted inside out, there was something powerful at beginning to identify my suffering. I wasn’t someone who was malfunctioning. I was someone responding to a chaotic environment where over cookies and coffee my parents shot the breeze next door to me being molested. It became more than an explanation - it unlocked the door and gave me answers for the confused anger issues that never subsided, the sense of agitated desperation to keep those I loved in my life and the ceaseless pit of loneliness that could never be identified.

I began to have more loud verbal fights with my Pa, much to the chagrin of my reclusive half-brother Elliott, who preferred the dead silence of an empty room to a lively conversation with any person. I blamed him for his ambivalence towards me, the tenderness towards Uncle Ray he tried and failed so hard to stifle, his resentment towards my Ma during the divorce for wanting to go to the police after discovering I was abused. I initially couldn’t bring myself to believe how cavalier he was about me in general, like how he could just dip in and out of my life on a whim whenever suits. Eventually this came to a head when I threw one of his bowling trophies at Marion’s glass-sliding doors and he demanded for me to get the fuck out. With a dead-end job, I saved up to rent a dingy box of an apartment where I could get to be alone and just be me.

I was snooping around on Facebook when I received an invitation to a house party by Vonn. Even though there was still a hell of a lot of work to do with my personal grieving process, there was still a latent urge to get myself out there. After all, I wasn’t a fuckup who was sexually stunted. I was just a victim of trauma of course. How hard could it be?

Probably the worst decision I ever made.

I came in around 8PM and the house was already flooded - it looked like a grotesque parody of a teen drama the way people were bustling and barging around, like the last days of Rome. I smelt cheap liquor and hunch punch and felt gross, drunk off the smell alone. Vonn greeted me with a bear hug and he smelt like cranberry cocktail and tequila. I couldn’t make heads or tails of anyone there, I barely recognised any of the partygoers. To me they just morphed into a homogenised blob of noise and vacancy. Drinking was even a torturous endurance test as there were about fifty people clamouring around the kitchen table to poison themselves with shots the size of a pint. Two hours in, I all but gave up and marched into one of the bedrooms, just wanting to sit with some boxed Merlot and drink the night away until I forgot my own existence.

Fuck. Nearly every room was in use. Whether it was some stupid cluster of Silicon Valley up-and-comings playing Warhammer or a drunk girl crying about her ex boyfriend flirting with so-and-so, there was no space for me. Finally, I found a boxy, dimly-lit room that seemed quiet with a door that was ajar. Hopefully, not in use. I pushed it open to -

Wait. Some poor saps have fell victim to the inevitable shameful house party hookup. Fuck. I was about to close the door on them when I heard a cough, and it weirded me out. Because I knew that cough.

And I looked down at those shoes and I knew those shoes.

And I knew that backpack.

“Next time you come, try to pace yourself,” I heard someone murmur who I pretended not to know. My stomach was twisting and turning. Surely I got it all wrong, huh? It had been a year since high school. It couldn’t be -

“I can’t help it when you know too well what you’re doing,” I heard a female voice say pointedly. I needed to run out of the room but I was glued to the spot. I just stood paralysed in the terror of the truth. I could tell they sensed something as I heard hushed whispers before one half of the couple peeked their head from the covers and gasped when they caught a glimpse of me.

“Marvin!” Parker snapped, blushing furiously. “What - what are you even doing here?! Why are you just standing there all ...” She ducked her head under the covers, too mortified to even acknowledge me by this point. I was slowly stepping from the scene, not wanting to even make eye contact with the other half when he went and did it for me.

“Marvin, please,” I heard Alex plead as I barrelled down the halls. There was no two minute rush to get dressed, he was fully clothed when he left the room. Funnily enough, at that point the only thing I took away from this interaction was that it was weird that he had sex with Parker in his grubby Idiot Pilot T-shirt and jeans. I had always imagined he would have made more effort for a girl he’d been pining for over three years.

I continued to ignore him, running away, doing anything to stretch out the distance between us.

“Marvin, stop fucking WALKING,” I heard him demand but my ears were folded at this point. They were too busy focusing on my hammering heartbeat, pounding and intoxicated on my own concentrated rage. I barged into one of the spare rooms with the crying girl, pacing about frantically before I collapsed on the bed, sprawled out as she was perched in a foetal ball of too much fake tan, bleach blonde hair and tight bandage dress fabric, sobbing.

The moment I had flopped down on the bed next to her was the moment she brought her wailing to a halt, pausing to look me up and down suspiciously. I gave her a second look and noticed the golden necklace with the name CIARA in big bubbly letters. Between this and her skintight dress she really didn’t leave anything to the imagination.

“What’s up ... Ciara,” I asked blankly.

“He just ... really fucking betray me,” she warbled unintelligibly, bursting into a fresh flood of sobs. She wasn’t American. She sounded Mediterranean, young and on foreign exchange. Piecing those sole facts alone gave her situation a sadder context than I anticipated. She probably met someone here, thought he was the love of her life, fell giddy head over heels with him and then into a predictable spiral of fresher’s week binge-drinking when she caught him getting a blowjob from someone whose language he didn’t need to lift a finger to learn.

I sighed. “I know your pain. He just really fucking betray me too.”

At this point you would quit. At this point you would just give up, right? Like game over. Once you’ve seen the worst case scenario in slow motion there’s no real coming back from that, is there? So you’d let it be. You’d dump both the shitty self-serving friend and the ex-girlfriend who didn’t even bother to check up on you when you dropped out of high school. You would walk away and never look back. You would store it in the memory compartment of traumatising experiences that maybe you’ll learn something from one day if you’re lucky. You would leave it alone.

But no.

I did not.

That wasn’t the last time I saw Alexander Abramowitz.

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Further Recommendations

Heather: I loved this story line. I can’t wait to read the other books with this series. I do agree that it could have lore detail about gaining trust and such but it was a great read.

kessosiyoma3: I would recommend it to my girlfriend..we both loves reading novels and she also introduced some that she had read to me…I’m glad I came across yours 1st.

Josie Really: Loved it. Confused by the end

monicamcurry: I love the story but we are just left hanging. Where is the rest of the story?

LiquidGold: Really good! Love football! Thank you for sharing! 💞💞💞

mayra: I like the narrative and all but the author really needed to make the protagonist a little more resentful towards her husband he did treat her really bad isn the beginning but in stead here love grew for him or at least we could of read her POV but even so I'm enjoying it.

trishbertram09: Can’t wait to read the next one.

Columbine Pirouette: Sweet and charming novel! It was a pleasure reading it. 👍👍

burnt2: Really easy read from start to finish. I was hooked and couldn’t put it down until the end. Looking forward to the second instalment.

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g0dDesZ0LiT3: I absolutely love, love, LOVE, this story!!! It had me laughing, raging, tearing up and saying “aaaawww!” …. Did I mention that I LOVE THIS STORY?!! Goodness me, the author, Kristifer Ann deserves more recognition for her work!!!This is an ingenious script of hope, brutality, survival, struggle, ...

Nicola: Wow wow wow.. fantastic.. story lines.. and plot twists. I love it

maggiev8mv: My favorite yet!!! You are developing well am looking forward to continuing to follow your journey. Thanks for sharing your talent

maggiev8mv: I enjoyed this story. You keep the pace going and added lots of plot twists.Only criticism would be there are places more detail would enhance the story. But that's just my opinion. I'm off to read the next story. Thank you for sharing

maggiev8mv: I enjoyed book 1, book 2 freaking loved it. A tad predictable, but the writing style and storytelling skills made up for it. Thank you for sharing your story!!! Now Book 3!!

Peter: Good story line very good characters all round, well done fights, good but ot mushy love story. The author seems to be Good.

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