Self Hatred

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Chapter 3

Tara and I bum a ride from Tim’s party to Greg’s house, and there are already a handful of people there as we pull up.

I ask where his parents are and get a nonchalant shrug.

A warm bonfire in the back provides the only light, and a table with liquor and mixers acts as the city center for high school kids.

Greg tells us to stay clear of the moonshine because it’s really strong, but that spurs Tara on.

I on the other hand pour a glass of vodka and juice, and then find a seat on a log near the fire as she mingles.

I don’t typically drink, but I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, right?

Given my step dad’s extracurriculars, you’d think I’d steer clear, but I don’t.

Maybe I’m a glutton like him.

Turning my attention back to Tara is easy.

She’s a social butterfly naturally, even if these aren’t our people.

I see some faces I recognize whether I want to or not.

Carla and Susan are talking quietly with their boyfriends, Mark and Phil.

They wave and I smile back.

Megan sits on the back porch in the dark making out with Steve from the soccer team.

Tara talks animatedly with Brittany and Tia from Trig, her eyes dart around in hopes of finding Brandon but I haven’t spotted her favorite bad boy yet.

As the night grows colder, more and more people circle by the fire.

I’m glad now that I copped this spot when we first got here.

There are a lot of people here that weren’t at Tim’s party, but I don’t have it in me enough to care about the reason why.

I put my cup to my lips and down the rest of my drink. It tastes like fruit punch at this point, so I know I’m definitely feeling no pain.

“He’s here!” Tara drunkenly whispers to me.

I turn my head to see where she’s giggle-pointing and note my thoughts are correct. ′I’m drunk...

My head spins and I laugh at her laughter and she laughs at mine and we’re both falling into each other.

I’m sure we’re making a scene, but I can’t care right now. Not when the only thing I can think of is my best friend laughing and in lust with a guy she never talks to.

I feel good. This feels good.

“Go say something...” I urged.

“Not when I’m fucked up...” Tara said, standing to her feet, swaying slightly.

“He probably is too... Just go to tell him your name...” I said.

Tara looks at me and squeals before turning and practically prancing over to where her crush and his friend stand near the table of drinks.

As Tara stumbles toward them, she trips over her feet and falls into Brandon’s chest.

He pulls her up and rights her, making sure she can stand on her own before he releases her arms.

It’s so much like a scene from a movie that I wonder if it was planned.

Tara isn’t dumb. I have no idea what they’re saying, but she giggles once before turning back around.

That didn’t take long...′ I thought to myself.

She comes back to me and falls at my side on the log.

Lavender and cranberry juice breeze around us when she returns.

Her short dark hair curls in at the ends.

She has a petite frame, a jutting collarbone, and dancer’s legs.

Tara is quirky and cute and unashamedly herself.

She’s too good to be my friend, but I’m so glad she is.

“What happened?” I asked, smiling at her smile.

“I told him my name...” She laughs.

“That’s all you said?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

She can’t catch her breath. “Yes...” she laughs even harder.

“Oh my god...” I drunkenly whisper-yelled, palming my forehead.

Emboldened by the fire in my cup, I stand and make my way over.

I’m short like Tara, but nowhere near as petite.

My thighs rub together when I walk, my waist and hips are curvier, and my face less oval and more round.

She’s a size 4 and I’m a tight 10.

When I arrive, I pay no attention to Jason as I uncap the vodka and pour some in my cup.

“That’s Tara...” I said to Brandon, reaching over to grab the cranberry juice.

For whatever nonsensical reason, I feel right in this moment that he and I have a bond.

Maybe it’s that I watched him last night as he sprayed graffiti on the court, or that he pretty much walked me home, or maybe he knows my deepest secret and hasn’t shamed me about it.

Why did he do it?

Why did he go back to get my bike and backpack?

Why did he leave my bike right there?

Did he do it on purpose?

I gnaw at my bottom lip as I spiral.

Brandon passes the bottle. The plastic hits against my tingling fingers, pulling me out of my thoughts.

“Yes, she told me...” His words are precise and straight, no slur at all.

I glared at him, scrutinizing his face.

He has a bottle of water and nothing else.

“I don’t drink...” He said, like he was reading my thoughts.

“Why not?” I pushed.

He shrugged. “Just don’t...” He said.

“But you do drugs?” I asked boldly.

He nods.

His smile crooked and playful. “Sure... Sometimes...” He said with amusement in his tone.

I nod back. “Okay...” I said.

“Okay...” He said.

“I think she likes you...” I said.

“Who?” He asked.

“My friend...” I replied.

He looks behind me. “Tara?” He asked.

“Yeah, that’s her name, remember?” I asked.

“I remember...” He said.

“She likes you...” I said again.

“That’s what you said...” He said.

“Do you like her?” I asked.

“I don’t know her...” He replied.

“Well get to know her...” I said, though I’ll admit it sounded more like a demand.

“Okay...” He said with a chuckle.

“Okay...” I said as I brought my cup to my lips and grunt down a big slurp.

It tasted more like nail polish remover than it did fruit, and my gag reveals that.

Jason pulls it from my fingers, careful not to touch, and sniffs before dumping some out and filling the rest with juice.

I want to yell at him, to punch him right in his nose, to scratch the dark ink of his skin and see if he bleeds black, but all I muster is a mean stink eye that says ′I fucking hate you’.

He says nothing to me as he hands me back the cup and walks away with a can of beer.

I look back to Brandon just as he asked, “What really happened to your face?” Like the words have been itching his tongue since he first saw me tonight.

I swallowed thickly.

Irrational anger bubbles up and I have to swallow it back down.

I don’t want to think about that, think about him, right now.

“I told you... I fell...” I began but Brandon cuts me off.

“Bullshit...” Brandon said.

“Well, that’s what happened...” My snarky tone screams defensive. “I can’t help it if you don’t believe...” I started to say until he cuts me off again.

“I live down the street from you...” He says calmly.

“What? No you don’t... I would have noticed...” I said until he cuts me off again.

“I moved in with my ma last month...” He said.

My eyes pierce him with daggers.

It’s confirmed.

He knows.

He knows and he hasn’t said anything. Yet.

“Brandon... You can’t...” But I don’t get to finish my sentence as Tara walks up to me, throwing her arm around my shoulder, and kissing my cheek.

I’m suddenly sober and clammy and nervous.

The news or the booze fill my belly with bile and it steams up my throat.

He knows.

“This is my best friend, Hailey Dawson... Isn’t she pretty?” Tara said looking at Brandon, pinching my cheeks, and kissing my nose.

I close my eyes and breathe through anxiety.

In through my nose. Out through my mouth.

Tara’s lips are soft and warm, and I ground myself to the feeling.

Brandon laughs slightly and runs a hand through his hair.

He pulls a cigarette from his pack and lights up.

His eyes give nothing away as he stares at Tara.

“She has this beautiful loooong hair...” Tara giggled, as she tugged at my ends.

My scalp tingles and I hold onto the feeling.

“I prefer short hair...” He said. Brandon gives a flirty wink before he walks away.

“Oh my god, Hails!” Tara said loudly. “I have short hair!” Tara flits off when someone calls her name and I stay standing next to the table, fingers white-knuckling the edge until I’m grounded and can finally place one foot in front of the other.

When I look up to move, Brandon, Jason, and Daphne are all looking my way.

I’m the only one around.

Daphne smirks and says something but neither boy acknowledge.

Brandon’s lips move as he speaks and the other 2 laugh.

It hurts me, but I don’t even feel it in my heart anymore.

We stay a few more hours, and I’ve pretty much come down from the excited high and overall drunkenness I was in previously.

Now, I’m tired, hungry, and worried Brandon fucking Cruz is going to spill my secrets to everyone in the school.

Whatever stupid bond I thought we had before is totally gone.

Brandon doesn’t care about protecting me.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he already told Jason and Daphne and by Monday, the entire school would know.

That must have been what he was saying to Jason and Daphne earlier.

That’s why they were laughing.

What am I to him but a laughing stock?

He owes me absolutely nothing.

I can’t stop the panic attack this time.

My breathing increases drastically, and I try to tell Tara I’ll be right back, but I can only stumble away to the nearest dark corner, away from my peers.

Eventually, I make it against the cool brick of the house and slide my back down until I’m squatting, my head between my legs, swallowing memories of dad’s puke all over the kitchen floor, his unfocused eyes as he hits me, the times he calls me by my mom’s name.

A sob stifles in my chest, but it climbs out the back of my throat, strangled as I gasp for air.

I clutch my neck then my mouth to stop anymore sounds.

Shut up, shut up, shut up... Someone will hear!′ I thought silently as I regained control of my breaths.

Footsteps crunch on the fallen leaves that scatter the side of the house but my labored breaths account for half of what I’m hearing.

Please leave me alone... Please go away... Please... Please... Please...′ I chant internally.

And then there’s silence.

It takes me 15 minutes to work through this attack.

Breathing tricks are becoming much more useless, and I make a mental note to google some better coping skills.

When I return back to the fire, I find Tara sitting next to Brandon, and the only other spot is closer to Jason than I ever want be.

I decided to head to the table and pour myself a glass of juice.

Now that Tara has Brandon near her, there’s no chance of leaving soon.

I need the sugar and energy to get through the rest of tonight.

Tara’s laughter dies down, and she’s not as crazy-loud as she was before.

I watch with rapt attention as my best friend sucks Brandon Cruz into her orbit.

She’s striking in the best way possible.

I’m mid smile when Jason Morgan leans over to me.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” He whispers into my ear.

I turn my head to face him slowly.

Is he serious?

“Fuck off...” I snapped.

I don’t know what gives him the right.

Why, after everything, is he talking to me now?

“Not until B’s ready...” Jason said.

“And when’s that going to be? I want to set my watch so I can count down the seconds until I don’t have to look at your ugly face anymore...” I spat.

“Oh, come on, Dawson... I may be a lot of things, but ugly isn’t one...” His joke makes my lips twitch into a smile only the smallest little bit.

But I cover it with my cup.

Jason’s right, unfortunately.

He has grown into a pretty good looking dude, if you like perfectly white teeth, and sea-water eyes, and lashes as long as my heartache.

But he won’t see the affect he has on me.

The ugly inside of him makes up for the attractive outside.

“Maybe you could do us both a favor, though, and get my cousin off his dick so we can both leave...” He sounded irritated and bored.

“She can stay on his dick as long she likes...” I said.

Truth is, I definitely want to leave, but if staying here makes Jason even the least bit uncomfortable, then I guess I’ll take one for the team.

“Besides, Greg gave us a ride... We have to wait until he’s ready to take us home...” I said as I looked around wondering where Greg even is.

I haven’t seen him in a while.

“Greg passed out inside an hour ago...” Jason said with a shrug.

“Shit...” I said, looking around at who else is left.

Carla and some guy are dry humping in the corner, and Susan, Mark, and anyone else I’d even think about asking are so drunk they’re practically falling over.

“Shit...” I groaned shaking my head in annoyance.

“Why don’t you call your boyfriend?” Jason suggests, lighting a cigarette and inhaling deeply.

It’s a nasty, disgusting, smelly habit, but the way his lips perch on the end of the stick and the way his eyes crinkle when he inhales has me gazing.

He smirks, looking down at his fingers.


I don’t tell him Tim isn’t my boyfriend because frankly I don’t care what Jason thinks, but he makes a good point.

Before I can pull out my phone and call Tim, Brandon calls out, “Hailey...” His arm wrapped all the way around Tara, and she’s in absolute bliss.

I can’t take this away from her.

Not tonight.

“Yeah?” I asked looking down still intending on pulling my phone out.

“We’re headed out... I’ll give you a ride...” Brandon said making me pull my hand away from the pocket I have my phone in.

I trudged past the bodies of my peers who didn’t make it as long as we did.

I wave bye to some friends and grab Tara’s hand as she leads me to Brandon’s car.

“He says he wants to show me something...” Tara excitedly giggles. “Do you think it’s his dick?” She asked.

My laughter bubbles out of my throat before I can stop it.

“Tara...” I hissed in a whisper-laugh. “Are you okay? You’re not too drunk, are you?” I asked a bit concerned.

“Nah, I’m good...” Tara slurred, kissing my cheek wetly.

I hopped into the back of Brandon’s old car, and Tara slides in next to him.

Brandon starts the car but lets it idle.

“What are we waiting for?” I ask after a minute.

“Morgan...” Brandon answered.

“Great...” I whisper sarcastically, rolling my eyes.

Brandon catches my stare in his rear view mirror, but I look away before he can read into anything.

When Jason climbs in next to me, and we reverse down Greg’s long driveway, I ask him under the heavy music playing.

“Why don’t you just walk? Don’t you live like right there?” I point to Jason’s house, the one with the wrap around porch and white pillars.

It looked pristine, untouched, the same as it did when we were kids.

“I’m not going home...” He simply said.

“Where am I taking you?” Brandon asked, and I tell him to drop me off at Tara’s.

She looks utterly confused.

“But...” She tried to say but I cut her off.

“I can’t sneak into my house... I locked my bedroom window...” I lied. I don’t want to go home. I can’t go home. “It’ll be okay... I’ll climb up your window...” I said.

She shrugged. “Okay...” She said.

We make a few turns and drop Jason off at a house 2 streets from mine.

It’s in worse shape than mine.

The stairs have caved in, shutters are half torn from the siding, and 2 windows have golf ball sized holes in them.

“Daph waiting up for you?” Brandon asked in a playful tone.

“Daph and her cousin...” Jason chuckled.

“Her cousin?” I gagged on my words. “Gross...” I grumbled next to him, sliding as close to the door as I can get.

“See ya, dude...” Brandon said, pulling away from the curb when Jason shuts the door.

I glance behind me and watch as he jogged to the back of the house we dropped him off at.

When Brandon drops me off at Tara’s, I lean forward and kiss her cheek.

“Be safe...” I whispered in her ear.

She nods. “Don’t wait up...” She said with a giggle.

After I scale the siding, climbing onto the pergola in the backyard and up onto the roof, I slide open her window and hop into her bedroom.

I leave it unlocked for when she gets back.

I’m asleep in minutes.

The sun blazes through the window when I wake up the next morning.

I turn to my right and Tara’s snoozing away, hair a mess, clothes from the night before still on her body.

“Tara,” I whispered, shaking her slightly. “Tara, wake up!” Her snoozing continues. “TARA!” I yelled a bit louder.

“Huh?” She asked, sitting up quickly, rubbing her eyes.

“What time did you get in?” I asked.

She looks over at the clock and groans. “2 hours ago...” She said.

“You came back at 7 in the morning? What happened? Did you do it? Was it everything you wanted it to be?” I ask excitedly.

She laughed and shook her head.

“No, we didn’t have sex... He drove me to some overhang and asked me to hike up a mountain with him... I was like hell yeah I love freaky woods sex, but then we just sat on a cliff and watched the sunrise...” She explained.

I’m a little taken aback. “What? So, you didn’t fuck… Like, at all?” I asked.

“He kissed me, but that’s about it... Well, actually, I kissed him...” Tara said with a giggle.

“Wow...” I said, laying back in bed. “I’m surprised...” I added.

“Me too, honestly... On the way home, I asked why he didn’t want to hook up, and he said he doesn’t mess around with girls if they’ve been drinking... He said it’s not fair to me...” She explained.

I nod in understanding. “That’s… Gentlemanly...” I said with confusion in my tone.

“I know, right? Like, can you believe Brandon Cruz is actually a gentleman?” She asked.

I shrugged. “I guess everyone’s got their secrets...” I said.

I spent the day with Tara relaxing on the couch, enjoying the peacefulness of family life, and wondering how she got so lucky.

Her dad comes home with pizzas and sour gummy worms.

“Extra mushrooms, right Hailey?” He asked pulling down 3 plates from the cupboard.

“Yeah... How’d you...” I start, but Tara cuts me off.

“We’re eating in my room...” She said in huff.

He doesn’t look crushed, but he’s not exactly thrilled either.

“You should cut him a break...” I said to her as she sets the box of pizza on the floor.

“He’s so annoying...” She rolled her eyes and pulled the 2 liter from my hands. “We just had pizza on Thursday...” She said.

Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes.

“Tara, really?” I asked.

She ignores me and goes into detail about how dumb Karen looked last night.

“I mean, did you see her dress?” She asked.

“No...” I answered half heartedly.

“Exactly!” She exclaimed.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

After dinner, we trample down the steps so she can take me home.

Her dad enjoys a glass of wine and the news.

“Thanks for dinner, Mr. Matthews...” I said with a smile.

He smiled back and nodded.

Tara stays back looking for her shoes and I sneak out the front door.

Just before the screen door closes, I heard her say, “Thanks for dinner, dad...”

I don’t bring it up in the car.

When she drops me off at home that night, dad’s car isn’t in the driveway.

A gentle sigh of relief escapes me, and I wonder briefly if he’s on another bender.

I don’t really care though.

8 more months until I’m 18 and legally free to get the hell out of here.

It isn’t until after 11pm when the banging wakes me up.

Belligerent yelling and inaudible comments are made, masked by the sounds of pots hitting the wall or plates shattering on old linoleum.

The fear creeps all the way up my shins into my belly and bubbles up past my heart.

Footsteps on the wood creak under his weight.

Fight, flight, or freeze.

I have to get out of here.

I throw off my blanket and slip into sneakers just as my doorknob twists and turns.

There’s a sudden, quiet pause before his fists bang and thud on my door and in my ears.

I can feel the weight of his fist even through the door, and my cheek burns from where his palm hit not so long ago.

“Hailey!” he roars.

The lock rattles, and it’s not until this moment that I’m grateful for the 2nd one I installed this summer.

I throw open the window and quietly, quickly descend.

The air chills my arms, but I don’t think that’s the reason for my shivering.

“Open this fucking door...” I heard as I took off running as fast as my feet could keep up.

I don’t want to know what he’ll do if he breaks through the wood, beating my door down, and finds me gone, just out of reach.

My dad is overweight and swollen from all the beer, but I don’t think that would stop him.

I reach the playground in no time at all, sitting on the swing, and I can’t help the saddened sobs that catch in my throat and filter through the darkness around me.

My playground. My playground.

The one place I’m safe from everything is tainted by the events, the fears of my stupid fucking step father.

My breaths catch in my lungs and my right-hand massages my neck, coaxing it open.

In through my nose, out through my mouth.

I’m losing it faster than I ever have before.

At this rate, I’ll be keeled over and dead within the hour.

I reach for my pulse on my wrist and the fluttering is too fast to count right now.

Wrapping my fingers around cold steel doesn’t work.

Swinging my feet doesn’t work.

I need to stop crying.

I need to catch my breath.

I need to— And then the sobs that I’ve kept at bay squeak past my last resolve.

Reluctantly, I cry softly into the midnight air.

Dark, cold wind whips past me.

My tears warm my cheeks.

I hang my head low and feel the relief of my heart rate slowing, my breathing starting to even out, my hands become less shaky.

I’m so mad this is the reaction my body needs.

Crying over him, because of him, makes my stomach churn.

When I open my eyes, I feel reprieve and relief and exhaustion.

I hate crying out of fear. If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a weak little girl.

My dad may be an alcoholic, my mom may have died, I may be abused in every sense of the word, but I’m not fragile.

I’m a 17 year old girl who convinces the customer service lady to turn the heat back on.

I’m a 17 year old girl who hangs out in the junkies neighborhood, at this run down playground, not fearful of being mugged.

Everyone around here knows the Dawson’s have nothing to steal.

As my body returns to normal and my senses resume, I hear the distinct sound of spray paint cans in the distance.

I lift my head and notice the same lone person just out of the halo of the streetlamp, shaking the can on the basketball court.

My legs carry me over before my brain has a chance to decide.

He’s tall and quiet as I approach.

He gives no indication of my presence.

“Hi, Brandon...” I said softly, wiping my tears from my cheeks.

“Hey...” He said not bothering to turn his head.

“What are you working on tonight?” I asked, kicking loose rocks with the toe of my shoe.

“Nothing...” He simply replies.

Okay, I guess he’s silent tonight.

Remembering my previous words help ′we all have our secrets’.

“Oh...” I began, I looked down and pointed to the thick blades of grass spray painted different shades of green. “Are you done with this?” I asked.

“Not mine...” He said.

I’m confused, and before I can ask him to elaborate, Jason walks out from the woods, buttoning up his pants, pulling his dark gray hood overhead.

“If I get a tick bite on my dick, I swear to Christ...” Jason mumbles, walking past me to grab the cans from a backpack. “You all done crying?” He asked.

It’s rhetorical. I think.

I don’t know why, but I let his comment get to me.

My heart aches in a way I’ve never really felt.

I can’t put my finger on it.

Wiping the wetness off my cheeks with the backs of my fingers stings but I revel in it.

Brandon says nothing to either of us, and that sort of stings, too.

I’m being a moody bitch.

I don’t know why I expected Brandon to say something defending me against his best friend.

And then I sort of feel guilty that these 2 assholes have seen more of me than Tara ever has.

“You going to stand there all night, Crybaby?” Jason teased.

I have 2 choices, and he knows it.

I can cower and crumple and cry streams of tears, or I can buck up and face it.

So, I stand taller because crying over Jason Morgan is no longer an option.

“What if I am?” I challenged back.

This is my playground.

Jason stared at me as he shakes 2 spray cans.

His eyes are on my nose then my hair then my black pajamas.

“Make yourself useful then...” He said, handing me a can to shake.

Snatching it from his grip, I walk over to Brandon.

He lights up a joint and breathes in heavily, lazily.

When he passes it to me without speaking, I shake my head no.

“Try it...” He says leaning over to me. “This can help with shit...” He added when I still wouldn’t take it.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Anxiety...” He simply said.

I take it from him his fingers and bring it to my lips.

Jason switches cans momentarily before slipping on a mask as I inhale deeper than I did at the party.

I know what to expect this time, and I don’t cough nearly as much.

I only take one hit before I pass it back.

He nods like he maybe gets it and leans back, looking at the dark sky.

It’s cloud covered and black, so I don’t know what he could possibly be looking at, but I lean back with him.

“Come find me next time you have some extra cash... I’ll give you a deal on a pre-rolled blunt... You can smoke it as needed...” He offered.

I know I won’t, but I nod. “Okay...” I said.

Brandon sighs loudly and inhales again. He seems a bit off.

“Bad day?” I asked prying a bit.

“Aren’t they all?” He answered.

My snort catches him off guard and he laughs back.

“They sure as shit are...” I said.

He isn’t secretive like I am.

He doesn’t hide from his present.

I bet if I ask him what happened, he’d tell me.

Brandon doesn’t give me the chance, though.

“Your friend is a firecracker...” He said, changing the subject.

I giggled, thinking about the conversation I had with her this morning.

“Tara said you were ever the gentleman...” I whispered.

It’s Brandon’s turn to snort. “For not fucking her when she was fucked up? Wow, what a shitty world we live in if that’s the definition of a gentleman...” He said.

“I don’t know why, Brandon, but she likes you...” I said.

I watch from my peripheral as he brings the joint back to his lips and sucks in deeply.

He seemed to be looser, more talkative since smoking.

“I have no fucking idea why Tara would want a piece of shit like me either, but hey, a girl wants what a girl wants, right, Dawson?” He asked, looking over at me.

I shrugged. “I guess so... But don’t break her heart, jackass... If you only want sex, just tell her... She’s down for it...” I explained.

“Her heart isn’t the organ I’m planning to crush if you catch my drift...” He joked.

I sit up and watch Jason as he sprays and moves and sprays again.

He works for the next half hour on a colorful piece.

Brandon said nothing as he leaned back on gravel and gets lost in the overcast sky.

Jason moves around the image and I watch as he gracefully spills colors, mixing them together.

“What’s the story with you 2?” Brandon asked after a while.

“Huh?” I asked as I was caught off guard.

“Don’t play dumb, he already is...” Brandon said, his tone laced with slight annoyance.

“There is no...” I began but he cut me off.

“I’m not a fucking idiot...” Brandon interrupts. “I’m also not a snitch...” I’m quiet as he thinks. “He said you used to be neighbors...” He said after a moment.

“Yea...” I agreed.

“Well I know Daddy Morgan never lived in the slums, so I take it you lived by him?” He asked.

I nodded. “My mom died... We were friends until then... I moved that summer... He went to stay with his mom and aunt... When he came back, he never spoke to me again... Well, he never spoke nicely to me again... He was a fucking...” I began saying but Brandon cut me off.

He seemed to have a habit of doing that.

“You know what happened to his mom, right?” Brandon asked skeptically, sitting up.

His serious tone scares me a little.

“She moved in with her sister after his parents divorced...” That was the story, at least.

Brandon shakes his head.

“What happened?” I asked now curious.

“I’m no snitch, remember?” He reminded me.

It’s awkward now.

I wish Tara was here.

She’d make things less awkward.

I always feel like I belong whenever I’m with her.

Brandon must have read my mind because he said, “I’m taking your girl out next Friday...”

“Like… On a date?” I asked.

“You say it like you’re surprised...” He said with a chuckle.

“I am surprised... I thought this was just a quick fuck situation...” I said shrugging my shoulders.

Brandon laughs. “With me, fucking is never quick...” He teased, throwing me a wink. “Make sure you tell your friend that...” He added.

I don’t ask him to elaborate anymore.

In fact, soon after, Brandon stands and helps Jason, but I stay where I am on the asphalt.

Little rocks that fill the cracks in the pavement also poke into my back, but I ignore the pain.

When the first few drops of rain fall, I sit up slowly to watch the boys packing up.

“Later...” I said, not making eye contact as I crossed my arms and stepped onto the sidewalk.

The wind freezes against my now damp top.

“Wait up...” Brandon called over. “We’re headed to the same place...” He said.

“Both of you?” I gulped.

“Yeah...” Brandon said.

I don’t know why they wanted me to wait.

It’s the 2 of them in front and me as the 3rd wheel.

I check my phone and notice it’s just after 2 in the morning, and the closer we get to my house, the more I hope my step dad’s car is gone.

But, just as we turn onto my street, I see immediately it’s not.

Every light in the house is on, and I can hear banging from here.

I take a deep breath and leave what little comfort I felt with these 2 and break away to the back of my house.

“You gonna be okay?” Brandon asked as they back track towards me.

“Why wouldn’t I?” I asked. “I’ll be fine...” I added definitely, putting my foot in the lattice.

“You sure?” Brandon asked lowly.

I don’t know why he whispered it, Jason can still hear.

I look from Brandon to Jason who stares down at my fingers as they grip the lattice tightly.

There’s another bang closer to the wall we’re standing by.

I don’t mean to, but I jump.

Fuck, I look like a little bitch.

“Yes, please go before…” I start but can’t finish.

“Before what?” Jason asked.

I shake my head. I want to finish saying, ′before he hears you’, but I stop myself.

“Just, please go... I’ll be fine...” I said as calm as I could muster.

They do as I asked without a second look back.

Inside my room, the door is still securely locked, and I feel only a small bit of peace in knowing that.

I sit on my bed until I hear his footsteps and the front door slam open.

His car starts and he drives off down the street.

4 hours until I have to be up for school.

Making a mental note to buy a 3rd lock, I open my bedroom door and walk down the steps, tiptoeing as I go.

Finally, I make it to the front door that my dad left wide open, and before I can shut it, I notice a figure standing across the street, smoking a cigarette under the old oak tree.

I don’t know for sure which boy it is.

Standing under my porch light, fingers pulling at the edge of my sleeves, a comfortable calm fills my chest.

Maybe it’s the midnight rendezvous or this staring contest, but gentle tingles tickle under my skin.

After a few minutes, I walk back into my house, shutting the door with a soft click.

I walk around the house, turning off lights as I go.

The kitchen is a war zone.

Glasses and plates pepper the floor.

Walking barefoot probably isn’t the smartest choice, but whatever.

I don’t want to know what might happen if I don’t clean this now.

After an hour, the kitchen looks like the piece of shit it is, but there’s no more glass or debris.

Making my way up the steps, I close my eyes, ignoring the random holes in the drywall from his angry fists, the drunken falls, my sordid childhood.

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