Self Hatred

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Chapter 6


The most disturbing, anxiety provoking, fear inducing thing that I can imagine is my biggest secret being discovered: Lovely little Hailey is abused by her alcoholic step-father.

Tonight, that came damn near to happening.

Being around Carl and his easy laughter makes me feel weightless.

I forget what awaits me across the street.

Abused Hailey gets snubbed out by Normal Hailey, so I let him shot gun me and blow smoke in my face, and kiss the corner of my mouth when no one is watching.

When Daphne opens her dumb mouth, and I’ve had enough, I let Carl walk me home, only we don’t make it far.

He asks if he can really kiss me, and I meet him half way.

Thin, wet lips attack mine and his tongue wrestles for dominance.

He pulls back and with his eyes asks for permission to put his hands in my pants.

Thick fingers trace the skin above my pants and when my belly quivers from anticipation I nod yes.

The tips of his fingers trace the outline of my slit and as he presses against my clit through the thin cotton of my underwear, my head smashes against the cheap siding of the house.

He languidly strokes my slit a few more times, and I cannot believe it feels this good.

Carl presses a finger into the fabric of my underwear just above my clit, and rocks up and down, concentrating on the tight bundle of nerves that has just been discovered.

I cannot form words or thoughts. I can barely remember to breathe as I reach to grip anything that will ground me in this experience.

The jarring sound of glass connecting to siding and raining onto concrete causes us to jump.

The muffled yelling follows suit.

“Fuck...” Carl whispered, pulling his hand from my pants and walking back from where we came from.

Like a puppy in search of a treat, I follow.

Around the corner, Jason hovers over some kid and beats into him.

Carl goes to pull him off and Jason shoves him back, into me, and I’m falling to the ground before I can stop.

The fleshy meat of my palm breaks my fall, but I’m coming down to hard, so it slides and my skull connects with concrete.

For a moment I can’t hear, or see, or breathe.

Then my hand is in someone’s palm and I’m on my feet, and Brandon’s instructing Jason to call his dad.

A doctor.

The hospital.


I don’t remember a whole lot until Dr. Morgan wheels me into a bright, sterile room.

I shiver from the cold and the pain of glass being pulled from my palm.

“How have you been, Hailey?” He asks quietly.

“How did you...” I asked stopping myself from finishing the question when Dr. Morgan looks up.

“Remember my son’s first and only girlfriend?” He laughs softly. I cringe at the sudden memory of 7 year old Jason kissing my cheek, handing me flowers picked from the meadow, and calling me his girlfriend. “I’d know you anywhere, sweetie... You look exactly like your mother...” He whispered the last part as tenderly as he can.

I smile softly.

My arm and my heart sting the same in this moment.

“Thank you...” I said softly.

Very few people around town still remember my mom.

Mrs. Carson at the grocery store, Mr. Marks at the hardware store, and now Jason’s dad.

Every compliment stings.

My mom was beautiful, and while I carry some of her striking features, I resemble a mix of both my parents.

Dr. Morgan works efficiently.

“You’re going to need stitches...” He said after cleaning the cut and removing shards of glass covered in thick red. “Did your dad’s insurance change since your mom passed?” He asked.

“Um, yeah I guess... He lost his job... No insurance now...” I said looking down.

“I see...” He began, looking right at me. His eyes are a clear blue. They’re friendly and gentle unlike his sons. “I’m sure I can get this covered... I’ll talk to billing tomorrow...” He continued until I cut him off.

“Can you just put a band aid on it or something? I can’t really take that chance, Dr. Morgan... I can’t afford...” I began to say until he cut me off.

“You misunderstood me, Hailey...” Dr. Morgan said immediately. “It will be covered...” His fingers busy themselves by pulling out a suture kit and cleaning the area.

I calm slightly and nod. “Okay...” I said softly.

Dr. Morgan takes his time stitching me up. He moves me wrist around and when I hiss, he asked if it’s tender.

I nod.

It’s been tender since my dad ′accidentally′ pushed me onto the kitchen floor last year.

He does a quick exam, bending and circling it, touching where it’s tender. It clicks when moved to the right.

“Did you get an injury here?” He asked, his tone laced in concern.

“Yeah, I um, I fell on it a week ago...” I lied.

“This is an old injury, isn’t it? No swelling or bruising…” He points out but making it sound like a normal question.

“Oh, maybe it was longer than I thought... Are we done here?” I asked, impatient to go.

“Almost...” He said with a smile.

He cleaned up his area and asked the nurses for some random medical items that I couldn’t even remember the names of if I was offered a thousand dollars.

When she comes back in, I snapped my neck and whined, grabbing the back of my head.

“She’s bleeding...” The nurse said.

Dr. Morgan examined the area. “There’s blood down your back and your shirt... Does this hurt?” He asked, pressing a finger into the bottom right side of my skull.

“Yes...” I hissed.

He pushed my hair away to the other side and cuts the neck of my shirt.

“I will get you another top...” He said as I protested. “Hailey, I think it’s best we do a scan just in case... I’m not sure how hard you hit your head, but there’s some concerning amount of blood...” He said in his doctor tone which sort of sounds similar to a normal father’s tone.

Almost like he’s scolding me.

I don’t even care at this point so I let him do whatever.

The old nurse braids my hair slowly so it’s out of the way, and I carve crescents into my palm.

My mom used to do the same and I remember running away when she’d try.

Now I’d give anything to have her being the one to braid my hair.

“Such long, silky hair...” The nurse said. “It’s very soft...” She added.

If I answer her, I’ll cry, so I say nothing.

The machine is scary, and small, and just as I feel like I’m going to lose it, the bed pulls me out and I’m back into the wheelchair.

Dr. Morgan appeared a little later and said everything looks good but to be careful with the wounds.

“Thanks for everything...” I said to him honestly. “If there’s a bill...” I began but he cut me off.

“It’s taken care of...” He smiled softly.

I see the kindness in his eyes and wonder where all of Jason’s went.

In the lobby, we fight about who will take me for my follow up in 2 weeks to get the stitches out, but I give up knowing full well I’ll just take them out myself.

Brandon walks me to the car and buckles me up like I’m an invalid.

“Let me fucking help...” Brandon sighed after I batted his hands away.

Dejection and blame lace his voice, so I let him buckle me in.

I’m almost asleep before Jason pulls the passenger door open.

Halfway home, I call out over the music, “You didn’t have to be so mean to Carl...” I scolded.

Jason turned in his seat and looks at me. “I wasn’t...” He snapped.

“You were... You told him to go home...” I snapped back.

“He overstayed his welcome...” He all but growled.

“Something tells me you don’t think he’s the only one...” I began but he cut me off.

“Shut up, Hailey...” Jason said, clearly annoyed.

“You shut up, Jason! You don’t just get...” I started to yell but his glare made me snap my mouth shut.

“You mad I didn’t let him finish getting you off?” He said quietly.

This time he smirks because he knows.

Jason saw us.

If I could cross my arms and pout right now I would because yes, yes I am mad about that!

Brandon pulled into his driveway and I’m still pretty mad, but I’m ready to go home.

It’s late, and when I step out of the car, I can see my dad’s car in the driveway.

“Shit...” I whispered.

Climbing up the lattice will be trickier now with the stitches.

Brandon and Jason walk me to my house even though I tell them not to.

All the lights are off except my desk lamp that makes my room glow.

How the fuck am I going to explain this to Tara?′ I asked myself internally.

“You good?” Brandon asked, lighting a cigarette and inhaling.

“Fine...” I said.

I scale the wall, but I’m not as quick or as quiet as normal.

The withered plastic digs into my gauze covered wound, but I make it finally.

When I look down, though, neither boy is there.

I’m glad they didn’t stick around to see my struggle.

“I have to tell you something...” I said to Tara the next morning when I called her.

"Okay, what?" Tara asked.

“Pick me up in an hour... It’s a long story...” I said.

We hang up and I jump in the shower.

I can hear my dad’s snores from all the way in my room, so I know he’s not awake yet.

In the shower, I scrub my hair with one hand, keeping the hurt one wrapped in a towel and dry.

It’s sore and sensitive, but I’ve felt worse.

I pull on a pair of jeans and a hoodie.

I don’t hear my dad’s snores anymore as I walked down the stairs.

He scares the shit out of me when I round the corner to the kitchen.

He’s bent over the sink, scrubbing. No doubt he’s cleaning up his puke, but at least it’s him this time and not me.

He turns and looks and grunts.

Every few weeks, my dad takes a day off from drinking.

It’s his cycle.

Probably when his liver or kidneys or maybe his barely beating heart tells him to knock it off, he’ll take the day and clean up his mess, he dumps all his beer cans in the trash, scrubs the floors, washes his piss soaked clothes.

Today must be one of those days.

“Going somewhere?” He asked gruffly as I stuff my feet into a pair of dirty, black and pink DC’s.

“With Tara...” I said, exiting the house.

He pisses me the fuck off during these cycles, he can’t go from hitting me weeks ago to caring about my well-being today.

“Who’s Tara?” He called.

“Only my best fucking friend since I was 11...” I muttered, running down my steps.

I turn left and walk down the road.

I guess I’ll just meet Tara.

I’m walking for only a few minutes when I see her car.

She unlocks her door and greets me.

“Spill it, bitch...” She said.

I tell her about the movies, and kissing Tim, and Jason eating Daphne’s soul, and Brandon with that blonde.

She doesn’t stop me or say anything, so I pause.

“Well?” I asked after a moment.

“He didn’t technically do anything wrong, Hails...” Tara explains evenly.

“What do you mean?” I asked as though she’s being completely absurd.

“We talked about it... Neither of us are really interested in… More...” She explained.

I feel like I’m in bad movie right now.

“Didn’t you tell me he’s like so hot and you want to...” I began and she finishes my sentence for me.

“Fuck him? Yes, yes I did say that... I never said I wanted to be his girlfriend and live happily ever after, Hails...” She said.

“So… So you don’t care he was kissing another girl?” I asked skeptically.

She purses her lips and thinks.

“Not particularly... I will say that I wasn’t going to play the field while he and I fucked around, but if he’s going to, so will I...” Tara’s snarky tone comes out to play, and I feel a little more normal now.

“Good...” I said. “That leads me to the next part of the night...” I began, lifting my hands and pulling back my sleeve. “And how this happened...” I said.

“Jesus, Hails!” She said, glancing over at my bandaged palm.

“Long story short: Tim and I fooled around back at his house... He couldn’t get me off again… Well, it could have maybe happened, but then he nearly came in his pants, Tara... I feel so bad, but I’m like dry as a bone when he and I are together...” I explained.

“That’s definitely not good...” She agreed.

“So, Tim takes me home, and I’m still so pissed at Brandon, right? I see him walking home and I call out to him... In more words, I basically tell him he’s a fucker, and then this big guy interrupts us... Now, don’t be pissed, but Carl invited me to the fire in Brandon’s backyard... I go and sit with Carl... We talk for awhile...” I began but Tara cuts me off.

“Is he hot?” Tara asked, interrupting me.

“He’s really hot... Tall, tan, short brown hair, cute smile…” I trailed off, reminiscing. “Anyways, we start kissing and then fucking Daphne and her big ass mouth starts... I’m over it, so I stand to leave... Carl goes to walk me home, but then we stop at the side of the house and he...” I explained until she cuts me off.

“Oh my god!” She screams in excitement. “Two guys in one night?” She asked her eyes bright and shining.

“That’s what Daphne said... Am I a...” I asked but don’t finish the question.

“No...” Tara said knowing what I was going to ask. “Not at all... Good for you...” She said encouragingly.

“Carl’s such a good kisser, and I already had blue balls from Tim, so I let Carl touch me...” I said.

“Did you come?” She asked.

“I was damn near getting there when this huge fight started in the backyard...” I shake my head, remembering. “Carl goes to break it up and I follow... It’s Morgan and Carl’s friend, and Morgan is beating the shit out of him... Carl tried to stop him, but Jason shoved him off and Carl stumbled backward into me... I fell back, catching myself on a piece of broken glass... Brandon and Jason take me to Dr. fucking Morgan where he puts stitches in here...” I finished, lifting my palm.

“So basically, Jason’s the reason you got those stitches?” Tara asked.

“No...” I defended initially but then think about it. “Well, I guess?” I said.

Back at Tara’s, I let her cut open the gauze, clean my wound, and wrap it back up.

She hands me 2 prescription strength ibuprofen’s, and then we pass out on her couch.

Tara and I don’t wake up until my phone rings just after 3 in the afternoon.

“Hello?” I say groggily into the phone.

"Hailey?" A male voice asked.

“Yeah... Who’s this?” I asked.

"Hi, this is Carl Stokes… From last night..." He sounded nervous but calm.

“Oh, hi Carl...” I said, yawning.

"Did I wake you up?" He asked with a laugh.

“Um, yeah kind of I guess... I was just napping with my friend...” I said.

“Is this a girl friend or a boy friend?" He asked.

“Girl friend, Carl...” I said rolling my eyes.

"Oh, okay, nice..." He said.

“What’s up?” I asked.

"Right... So, I’m throwing a little party down here at the valley tonight... Bonfire, beer, marshmallows, that kind of thing... Please come..." He practically begs.

“Can she bring a friend?” Tara interrupted.

Carl full on laughs now. ”Yeah, the more the merrier..." He said.

“Do you have any hot friends?” she asked.

"I’m sure I can find someone for you..." Carl said.

“Hailey said you’re hot, so make sure he’s as hot as you...” Tara began but I snapped and cut her off.

“Tara!” I giggled, pulling the phone back to shut her up.

"I’ll text you that address..." Carl said with a chuckle. ”And Hailey?" He asked.


"Can’t wait to see you..." Carl said before he hung up and I smiled down at my phone, saving his number.

“Is it weird I have butterflies?” I asked.

“No!” Tara giggles. “Hails’ getting laid tonight! Hails’ getting laid tonight!” Tara sang.

“No, not laid... I’m not going to lose my virginity to some guy I met last night at a party in the middle of the woods...” I said.

“Why not? That’s hot... I lost mine to...” Tara began but I cut her off.

“Marcus Cole in his pool house...” I finished for her since I know this story like the back of my hand because I was fucking there.

We were at a pool party in the middle of July with half the grade when they went missing for 10 minutes.

“And it was the best thing I ever did just getting it over with... It opened the door for many other suitors...” she explained, and I just shake my head.

Tara and I relax until early evening.

We eat dinner and then start getting ready.

Carl had texted me the address, and she put it in her GPS on her phone.

We know it’ll take about 30 minutes to get there, and we don’t want to be too early, so we plan to leave around 9:30.

“Can I curl your hair?” She asked, and I agree.

She curls my hair sometimes when we’re just hanging out, and I love it so much I tried to buy a cheap curling iron, but it broke in 2 days.

While she curls my hair, I put on makeup.

I wing my liner, and really exaggerate my lashes with mascara.

I pull out a pair of dark skinny jeans and Tara lets me wear an off the shoulder red sweater.

It was really lose on her, but fits like a normal sweater on me.

“Here, wear this...” She said, wrapping a black choker around my neck, clasping it tightly in the back. “It’ll make you feel like sex all night...” Tara said.

Tara dresses similarly to me, but she trades a sweater for a plaid button up and Vans for combat boots.

“I’d do us...” She said, spritzing a fine mist of perfume around us.

My phone bings and I see a text from Carl.

"Can’t wait to see you." ~Carl

"Likewise." ~Hailey

I’m nervous as we drive to the party.

I don’t know if it’s because of Carl or if it’s because I won’t know anyone, but I confuse anxiety for butterflies and vice versa.

When Tara pulls up, we hold hands as we walk through someone’s backyard into the woods a few yards, and finally into a clearing where a huge bonfire provides just enough light.

There are dozens of people who all look fairly similar, long, dark, shiny hair, dark eyes, and darker skin.

Some greet Tara and I kindly, some do not.

We find the table with cups and keg.

Tara pours us a cup, and we drink quickly.

I’m filling my 2nd cup when arms wrap around my waist.

“Hailey...” Carl said over the music.

I turn in his arms and he kisses me on the lips.

“Hi...” I said nervously.

“And I’m Tara...” My best friend interrupts, offering her hand.

Carl looks down and smirks. “Hi, Tara...” Carl said and cocks his head to the side where an equally tall, just as handsome guy stands, arms crossed. “This is John...” He said.

Tara smiles slyly and slithers up to him.

“Hello, John...” She said, waving to me as they walk away.

“Is he nice?” I asked, worried for my friend.

“I don’t think he’s the one you should be worried about between those 2...” Carl laughed, and I join in with him.

He reaches down to touch my palm.

“I’m sorry about this...” He said softly.

“It’s mostly a scratch...” I tried to play it off, but he cut me off.

“Brandon said you got some stitches...” Carl said.

“Did you ask about me?” I asked with a smile.

“Of course... How else was I going to get your number?” Carl said.

I pulled back, confused. “Brandon doesn’t have my number... He’s not even my friend...” I said still a bit confused.

Carl just shrugs. “Can I show you something?” He asked.

I nod, sipping my beer.

We walk further into the forest, past the clearing, and into a tiny wooden cabin.

“This is a hunting cabin, but we don’t use it as that anymore...” He explains, flipping on a few flashlights throughout the small cabin.

“No? What do you use it for?” I asked.

Carl’s smirk stirs something in me.

The butterflies start in my belly but travel southward.

“Different things...” He said quietly.

“Oh yeah?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

He walks closer to me. “Yeah...” His lips lower, tasting mine gently until I comply, and then he places his large hand on the small of my back, closing the distance.

There’s a small, one person cot in the corner that would barely fit me, but there is a love-seat against the opposite wall, and Carl backs us up, falling onto the old cushions, pulling me on top of him.

My knees go on either side of his hips, and he lets me control everything.

I kiss him hot, heavy, needy.

His grunts spur me on as does the growing hard on between us.

I grind down, and Carl puts his hands on my hips to help.

I try to make this as less awkward as I can, but it’s really my first time in this predicament, and I’m glad he’s helping.

“Carl...” I moaned as his lips move from my mouth to my neck and down towards my clavicle.

He pulls my sweater overhead and then unhooks my bra.

My breasts bounce in front of his face and soon in his mouth.

The moment he scrapes his teeth against my nipple, he presses his hips up, and the whimper that leaves my lips is louder than intended.

Carl tries to unsuccessfully put his hand down my jeans, but this position doesn’t allow him to, so he flips us, laying me down on the couch, slipping his hand into my panties easier than before.

His lips are on mine as his fingers tease my lower lips.

He spreads them and drags his middle finger from my opening to my clit.

Holy. Shit.

“Fuck...” I moaned softly, my hips quivering.

This is nothing like being with Tim.

“You’re so wet...” He whispered.

I can hear the party growing louder from inside this quiet cabin as Carl slowly circles my clit.

My breathing picks up and soon I’m gasping.

“Let me see you come...” Carl moaned into my ear.

“Yes...” I pleaded.

Just a little more.

I move my hips to help him hit where I need it.

I gasp as he presses harder.

“Yes!” I moaned louder. “Oh my god...” I began, but the sound of someone’s boot kicking in the door stops us both.

“Fuck!” Carl yelled as someone pulls him off me and throws him into the small, makeshift kitchen.

“What the hell, Morgan?” He asked in surprise.

Morgan?′ I asked internally confused.

“You were 2 grand short, Stokes...” Jason yelled, raising his fist to deliver another blow. “I told you last time...” Jason punched then kicked then punched again. “I’m not someone you want to fuck with, Stokes...” Jason yelled in his face as he kept up his assault

“Mike has it!” Carl yelled back, trying to fight Jason off.

Carl is physically bigger, broader shoulders, more athletic looking, so he must not be fighting Jason back for other reasons.

What the fuck is going on?′ I asked internally.

I’m still laying on the couch, frozen in fear.

“No he fucking doesn’t!” Jason’s anger fills the room until I’m suffocating.

This anger is different than last night. This anger is frightening.

“He does... I gave it to him myself...” Carl yelled.

Jason backs off Carl long enough to say, “Then why, when I went through his bag this afternoon, was it not in there with the rest?” Jason asked.

Carl looked totally confused. “I don’t...” Jason punched his ribs. “I don’t know! Fuck!” Carl’s loss of breath makes him sound weak.

“Remember what I said last time? You only get one warning...” Jason said but Carl cut him off.

“Don’t...” Carl said, standing taller. “Don’t touch him...” Carl growled.

“They’re not my rules, Stokes... You know that...” Jason sounded numb for a moment before he stood tall. “You better get to him before I do... I’ll give you a head start...” Jason said with no emotion.

Carl moved quickly, ignoring me altogether as he runs out of the cabin.

It’s just me and Jason, and he turns slowly, leaning against the wall.

Our eyes meet.

Mine are confused, like totally and utterly lost.

His eyes are rage-black, and his chest heaves as he pants.

“Put your tits away, Dawson...” He said, pushing off the wall. “No one wants to see that...” He said still void of emotion.

My cheeks burn with embarrassment.

I stand to grab my shirt and bra.

He doesn’t turn around, so I do.

“You can leave now...” I said with a quivering, embarrassed lip, throwing on my bra and sweater.

The fact that Jason Morgan walked in on Carl fingering me and has now stared at my bare breasts burns my skin with blistering humiliation.

I turn around and button my jeans to find Jason smirking.

“Did he make you come, Princess?” He asked with a condescending, lazy smile.


It’s like he says it on purpose. It’s like he’s reminding me of everything I’m not or will never be.

I’m so beyond pissed at this point that I’ll say anything to get him to fuck off.

“Many times...” I said with a smile. “I’m mostly upset I didn’t get to feel his huge dick inside me...” I said.

Jason doesn’t miss a beat.

His snort says you ′liar’. “I guess you’ll have get your cherry popped some other time, Dawson...” He said.

I laugh it off like it’s funny even though I’m uncomfortable.

“I’m no saint, Jason... There hasn’t been a cherry on this sundae for a very long time...” I all but snapped.

“That right, Hailey?” Jason asked, walking closer.

He pins me into a corner.

If I step back any further, I’ll fall into the couch.

Jason ghosts his hands up and down my arms, not really touching but the closeness feels heavy.

“Then why is it when I do this do your nipples harden?” Jason bent down and pressed his lips onto the black fabric of the choker and my nipples betray me.

“Because I’m not a dead fish like Daphne... My body’s responsive, her body is used to a train being ran over it...” I retorted.

Jason genuinely laughs at this and backs away.

His fingers land on my palm and I try to pull it back, but his grip is stronger.

He unwraps the gauze Tara fixed this morning, opening the bandage and dropping it on the floor.

“You need to leave this open...” He said, looking at my lips, and I nod twice in agreement.

Jason and I leave the cabin together because there’s nothing else do in there.

“If you’re going to smoke with Stokes, don’t use the shit he gets from the valley...” Jason said. “It’s laced and shitty quality...” He explained.

“How will I know?” I asked.

“Ask him what strain it is...” He said.

“Okay?” I said though it sounds like a question.

“If it’s not Dove or White, don’t fuck with it... Or do... Whatever... It’s your funeral...” He said and I’m getting whiplash, and I mean to ask him what his problem is, but then Tara runs up to me.

“We gotta go... Now!” She said in a slight panic.

“Why?” I asked.

“Huge fight and someone called the cops...” Tara said, grabbing my wrist and pulling me through the crowd.

“Who’s fighting?” I called out.

“Brandon...” Jason said like he already knows.

“Is he okay?” I asked, but Jason’s gone. “Tara, is he okay?” I asked.

“I don’t know!” She yelled. “I’ll call him when we get the fuck out of here... Let’s go...” Tara said.

Tara and I maneuver through the crowd until we find her car.

She tried to reverse, but her car goes nowhere.

I hop out and look around, thinking she’s stuck in mud.

She is stuck, but not because of mud.

Someone slashed her front tire.

“Shit!” She yelled. “Shit, shit, shit!” She keeps yelling.

“Where’s the jack? Do you have a spare?” I asked.

“I can’t change a tire, Hails! Look at my nails!” She whined.

“Did I say anything about you?” I asked annoyed.

“You have stitches!” She yelled.

“Tara!” I yelled.

“I don’t even have a spare!” She yelled.

“Fuck!” I groaned.

Just when I go to her trunk to look around, a black Honda pulls up and beeps.

When he rolls down the window, Brandon asked, “Need a ride?” His busted lip smears red across his pretty white teeth, but he looks okay other than that.

Tara and I don’t need to be asked twice.

We hop into the backseat just as the sirens sound behind us.

“I’m never going to another party here again...” Tara huffed, crossing her arms.

I notice a red mark on the swell of her breast.

“What happened to your chest, Tara?” I asked, looking closely.

“John fucking bit my tit!” She said, pulling her shirt down and showing me. “Like, what the actual fuck?” She asked no one in particular.

I’m stunned into silent shock until I can’t hold back and keel over laughing.

I laugh so hard I cry right into her lap.

“He bit your boob?” I asked through my laughter.

“Yes!” She exclaimed annoyed.

“Imagine what he would have done to your vagina...” I giggled.

Tara finally cracks and starts laughing with me.

“What did you let Carl do to yours?” She asked suggestively.

Jason turned his head and opened his ears, so I leaned into Tara

“His fingers felt so good...” I whispered in her ear.

Tara gasped and playfully slapped my arm.

“Your dirty slut... I fucking love it...” She said.

The boys up front share hushed whispers, but I’m so over it, so I lean forward to hear.

“Can I help you?” Jason asked.

“Yeah, you can explain what the fuck is going on, Morgan...” I asked but it sounds more like a demand.

They’re quiet for a minute.

Jason looks back, “We’re going home...” He said.

“No, dumbass... Why did you guys break up the party? Why were you even there?” I asked.

“Why were you guys there?” He retorted.

“We were invited...” I snapped.

“Valley parties are always a shit show... Someone’s taking Quaalude’s or doing a line of coke or fucking in front of each other... They’re ratchet... I don’t even fuck with the girls in the Valley...” Jason explained.

I can’t help but roll my eyes. He thinks he’s some God.

“Oh wow... Well if you don’t even mess with the girls there, it must be bad...” I said sarcastically.

Jason totally ignored my sarcasm.

“Carl should have never invited you guys... He knew it would be a blood bath tonight...” Brandon answered.

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“It means he wanted to get our attention, Hailey! He used you as a pawn...” Jason yelled suddenly.

“Why?” I asked.

No one answers.

Tara settles in next to me.

The boys ignore us.

“How was he getting your attention? Why did he use me?” I asked.

Brandon looks to Jason and Jason shakes his head.

“It’s nothing, Hailey... He just… They owe us money and Carl was trying to get out of it...” Brandon said calmly.

“By, what, hooking up with me?” I asked confused.

Brandon meets my eyes in the rear view mirror, answering silently.

“So, he used me?” I asked, baffled. “Carl used me?” I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline, or the beers, but I am pissed. “That son of a bitch!” I yelled.

“What a bastard...” Tara agreed.

I sit silently, staring out the window, fuming inside.

It begins to rain lightly then heavily and suddenly it’s a full-blown thunderstorm.

“Are you okay?” Tara asked, leaning over, touching Brandon’s shoulder.

“Yeah... I don’t drink, remember?” He answered stoically.

“I know... I meant from the fight, are you okay?” She asked.

He laughed softly. “Yeah, they’re a bunch of bitches... Where am I dropping you guys off?” Brandon asked.

“Can we stay at your house, Hails? I can’t go home without my car...” Tara began but I cut her off.

“No, I can’t sneak in with my hand in this rain...” I said shaking my head.

“Hails, please...” She tried to plead with me.

“Tara, I can’t... My dad will hear and...” I began but Brandon cut me off.

“You can stay in the shed...” Brandon said. “They’re couches and a TV in there... Might smell like bud, but it’s better than your other options...” Brandon glanced at me in the rear view mirror and I thank him with a nod.

I hate that I may owe him one for this.

We’re not friends. We don’t do overly friendly things. And we certainly don’t have sleepovers.

We’re quiet the rest of the way, and when we turn onto my street, I notice my dad’s car still in the driveway with someone else’s.

Brandon and Jason share a look, but I don’t think anything of it.

“I wonder who that is...” I asked out loud but mostly to myself.

It’s a black Durango, a polished diamond amongst the turds on this street.

We pull into Brandon’s driveway as another crack of thunder sounds above us.

The wipers swipe against the windshield, squeaking with each second.

The rain grows heavier, and I can hear the splat of the fat drops on the metal roof.

Brandon turns the car off and stares ahead.

No one moves until he does.

“Jason, can you and Hailey get everything in there set up while Tara and I talk?” Brandon asked.

Jason nodded and I guess I’m supposed to follow him?

I get out and walk with him.

It takes him a minute to open the shed, and we’re soaking wet by the time we get in.

Both of us are dripping wet everywhere.

Inside is much bigger than it looks from the outside.

Brandon is right, I can smell the marijuana, but it’s not too bad.

On the right side is a large couch, a love seat, and a recliner chair that takes up most of the room.

There’s a rectangular coffee table cluttered with stuff, and a huge TV against the wall on the other side.

There are some mismatched end tables with snacks and cups, and a mini-fridge under the TV.

“Earth to Hailey...” Jason said, waving a hand in front of me.

“Huh?” I said blinking as came back to my senses.

“Here...” He hands me a pair of sweats and a ratty t-shirt. “Change into these for now... You’re wet...” Jason said.

I watched as Jason ripped off his shirt and jeans.

Tattoos continue onto his shoulders and down onto his chest.

Barbells pierce through his nipples.

A tiny cursive word blackens a spot across his ribs.

Jason turned and pulled his boxers down, revealing his naked ass, which is tattoo-less, as he pulls on a pair of gray sweats.

When he turns back around, Jason pulls at his crotch in the joggers.

His cocky smirk irritates me.

The hand on his crotch moves.

I don’t think he’s hard, but there’s still a pretty prominent bulge.

“See something you like?” He asked.

I squint my eyes and lie through my teeth.

“I don’t really see much of anything...” I lied, gripping the edge of my shirt, waiting for him to leave. When he doesn’t, I asked, “Can you, like, go outside or something?” I can’t help the snap I have in my voice.

Jason looks back at me like I’m the crazy one.

“It’s pouring... I’m not going back out there... Just change... You don’t have a whole lot to see either, Dawson...” He said.

I guess we’re both lying.

I roll my eyes so hard it hurts.

My breasts are a full C, so there’s definitely a handful, but if he wants to play this game, fine.

I pull off my sweater leaving me in a black lacy bra.

When I slip into the band t-shirt, I unhook and pull off my bra through the arm hole.

I know my nipples are hard, it’s freezing in this room, but Jason challenged me and I’m not about to back down.

I peel off my jeans that are almost painted on at this point.

Jason turns around to get a pile of blankets and to turn on the space heater.

I take this time to pull my wet underwear off, too.

By the time he turns back around, the sweatpants are on and I’m sitting on the couch.

He bends to grab my clothes and puts them in a bag to stop them from dripping everywhere.

When he stands up, I can see a better outline of his dick in the gray sweatpants.

It hangs low and to the right, and boy is it long.

A chill runs up my spine in disgust, but my nipples harden.


I take a blanket from the pile and pull it around me on the couch.

Jason sits on the other end of the couch, feet on the coffee table, as he flips through the channels.

“What are they talking about out there?” I asked, checking the time. “It’s been like 20 minutes...” I said.

“You really that naive, Hailey?” He asked with a boredom laced tone.

It’s weird to hear him go from calling me Dawson to Hailey.

“Huh?” I asked.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of talking going on out there if you catch my drift...” He said.

I shake my head in embarrassment.


“You sure you’re not a virgin?” He teased.

“Shut up...” I groaned.

We watched an entire episode of Friends and 10 minutes of another and they’re still not back.

“What is taking so long?” I asked myself, annoyed that I have to sit in here with Jason like he didn’t ruin my life, tease me beyond belief, ignore me for years.

A huge bolt of thunder sounds outside, and we both jump at the noise.

“Some people like to take their time when they fuck...” Jason answered.

“Whatever... I wasn’t actually talking to you...” I snapped.

“Was Carl able to find your clit better than Tim could?” He teased.

I look right at him. “For someone who hates my guts, you sure are awfully concerned about my vagina, Jason...” I said.

He doesn’t respond, and I take this time to burrow down, curl up, and try to sleep.

At some point, the door opens, and I can hear Tara’s giggle.

“Hails...” She whispered, but I keep my eyes closed.

“Let them sleep...” Brandon said.

Someone drapes a blanket over my feet.

Comfortable, I roll over and stretch my legs out.

Tara must have passed out laying at the other end.

She holds my legs inside her own, and we tangle in each other.

I sleep deeply, peacefully, heavily and I don’t wake up until the ruckus starts the next morning.

I stretch lazily and yawn, moaning because that kind of deep sleep is something I don’t get very often.

When I open my eyes, the boys stare back at me.

“Morning...” Brandon smiled.

I sit up immediately remembering where I am.

Tara is curled up on the love seat under a fuzzy blanket.

“Who slept there...” I asked, pointing to the spot with a folded blanket.

I recall entwining my legs with Tara’s, so I’m not sure how she got over there.

Brandon jams a thumb towards Jason, and I groan, laying back down.

“Slept isn’t the word I would have used...” Jason said. “Someone kept me up all night with her snoring...” He added.

“Me?” I asked. “I don’t snore...” I said dismissively to him.

“How would you know? Your ass is sound asleep when you do it...” Jason doesn’t mention falling asleep tangled together, and relief floods me.

Sitting up, I throw my hair in a messy bun.

“I’m sorry...” I said. “I don’t normally sleep that…” I shake my head and stand.

I notice how cold it is and cross my arms when I feel my nipples tighten.

“Did you turn off the space heater or something?” I asked.

Brandon shrugged.

Jason tossed my clothes at me. They’re clean and dry.

Someone must have put them in the dryer or something.

I nod my thanks.

My undies from last night are folded neatly on top.

Of course he would do that.

Anything to embarrass me.

“Can I use your bathroom?” I asked Brandon.

“Ordinarily, no, but my mom just left, so sure...” He answered.

“What, no strange girls allowed in the house?” I teased.

He smiled and nodded. “Something like that...” He said.

I follow him out of the shed and into the backdoor.

“No dad?” I asked.

“Not anymore...” He answered honestly.

Brandon’s house is set up like mine.

Small eat in kitchen, large living room, powder room, and stairs.

What is different, though, are the things inside.

Family pictures line the walls, nice furniture occupy the home, and fresh soap sit on the counter in the bathroom.

After I flush and wash my hands, I change back into my clothes while looking for toothpaste.

When I find it, I use my finger as a makeshift toothbrush, and scrub my morning breath away.

I head back into the shed and the boys sit on the couch, so I fall onto Tara.

“Good morning, sleeping beauty...” I said, kissing her awake.

She groaned, pulling the blanket over her head.

As she stretches, I notice the small bruises peppered along her throat.

“Jesus, Brandon...” I said, pulling the blanket down. “She looks like a leopard!” I giggled.

Brandon doesn’t say or do anything, but Tara’s giggle told me she had a good time, so I swat her ass and leave it alone.

Tara fell back asleep for another 20 minutes, so I curl up with her, spooning behind her, and try to as well.

Every few minutes loud whispers from the other couch rouse me, but I try to ignore.

“What’s he doing?” Brandon asked.

“There must be a motive...” Jason responded.

“Does Raf know about her?” Brandon asked.

“I haven’t heard anything...” Jason said.

“You know how he...” Brandon went to say but Jason cuts him off.

“I fucking know, B...” Jason snapped.

Burrowing down doesn’t help because I can still hear Brandon when he speaks again.

“What’s he doing with her dad?”

There is no response, and the room is quiet.

I’m half asleep when Jason said, “Someone should make sure her room is secure...” His tone sounded serious.

Brandon and Jason drive us back to Tara’s car and change her tire in ten minutes flat.

“I thought you didn’t have a spare?” I asked looking at Tara.

“I didn’t think I did...” She said with shrug of her shoulders.

“I could have just done this last night...” I said.

“And break a nail, Princess?” Jason teased, releasing the jack.

His muscles stretch the cotton of his band tee shirt, and I take this moment to realize how broad he is.

His wide shoulders taper down into an athletic waist.

I saw him shirtless last night, but I guess I didn’t really see past the tattoos.

I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but I bite my tongue only because he’s helping us out now.

Brandon pulled Tara aside and kissed her hard and deep.

I can’t help but stare at the passion he gives her.

When Jason slams the door of Brandon’s car, I do the same to Tara’s.

Tara and I drive back to her house, and when we get there, I make her tell me everything.

“We talked in the car for a while... He sat in the backseat with me... I told him I don’t expect anything and if he wants to see other people, that’s fine but…” She began but trails off.

“But what?” I asked urging her to continue.

“But I’m not going to fuck him if he’s fucking other girls... You know, safety reasons...” She said.

I nod because that’s smart.

“And he’s okay with that?” I asked.

“He said he’ll let me know if he sleeps with anyone else, and I told him I’d do the same...” She said.

“And then...” I asked, pushing him for more.

“And then I finally gave him the best head of his life...” She said it so nonchalantly, like it’s everyday conversation. “What’d you and Jason do?” She asked.

“Um, try not to kill each other?” I said, sitting back with my arms crossed.

“He’s so annoying, isn’t he?” Tara asked.

“I thought it was just me who thought that...” I admitted.

“He was in an okay mood last night until he asked where Carl was, said he needed to collect a debt... I told him with you, and then everything changed...” Tara explained.

“Is he why Brandon got in that fight?” I asked.

Tara shook her head. “Nah, they were talking about money, and then one of them threw the first punch after Jason left... What a shit show, huh?” She said.

I nod remembering what the boys said last night.

“Can you believe Carl used me?” I asked. “I’m kind of upset...” I admitted.

Tara nodded. “It doesn’t hurt so bad when you know you’re being used, though...” Tara said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you know he just wants to hook up, he just wants to use you to get a rise out of someone or something, so as long as you know nothing more will come of it, I say do it...” She said.

I think it over and shrug. “Maybe... He does know where my clitoris is...” I joked.

“Plus, you can probably do the same...” Tara said.

“Do what?” I asked.

“If he’s using you to get a rise out of someone, maybe you could use him to do that same...” She explained.

“Who am I getting a rise out of?” I asked dumbfounded.

“Are you serious?” She asked, and I look at her like she’s crazy. “When Jason found out Carl was with you in the cabin, everything changed... He stormed off...” She began saying but I cut her off.

“Hold on... Are you insinuating that Jason was jealous?” I asked still confused.

“I don’t know if it’s jealousy or what, but it’s something, Hails... He’s being fucking weird... When I walked into the shed last night, he was holding your legs to his chest...” Tara explained.

“Jason hates me... He’s teased me, made fun of me, called me names for years... He doesn’t want me, Tara...” I said and the accusation actually infuriates me.

“I don’t know, Hails... You never found out why he did all those things... Maybe he...” She began but I cut her off.

“If you’re going to say ′maybe he liked you′ I’m going to punch you in the tit, Tara Matthews...” I snapped.

She laughed because it’s funny and I laughed because if I don’t I’ll cry.

No freaking way Jason likes me, and Tara’s insinuation makes me want to cry.

For years he put me through hell, and I’ll be damned if it was because some stupid crush.

Later that day, Tara tells her dad she got a flat and that I helped her change it.

He’s thoroughly impressed but concerned.

His eyes dart to my hand with the stitches, but he doesn’t comment.

He has it towed it to a garage to get fixed, and Tara used her dad’s car to drop me off.

“Love you, bitch...” She said, kissing my cheek.

I kiss her back and grab the handle to get out, but before I can, she grabs my wrist and motions to my house.

“You okay...” She asked.

I plaster on the smallest smile I can muster and nod.

“Yeah...” I offered.

“Hailey, you can tell me...” She began but I cut her off.

“I’m okay, Tara... I promise...” This lie hurts my heart.

Tara sat back and nodded. “See you Monday...” She said before driving off.

No car in the driveway means no dad which means I don’t have to walk on eggshells.

I do some laundry and clean myself up.

Carl texted me, but I don’t look at it right away.

It’s just after dinner and I’m bored, so I decide to head down to the playground.

The air turns cool, and I’m glad I put on this sweatshirt.

I don’t know why, but I let the events of the last few days get to me.

I allow a few hot tears to fall before I smack them away.

Meeting Carl felt like a high, but come to find out he’s not even interested sort of upsets me.

Maybe Tara is right, though.

Maybe I should let him.

I want to have experiences and memories, and I can’t have those if I stay cooped up in my room afraid all the time.

At the playground, I sit on the merry go round and spin myself lazily before remembering Carl’s text.

"I’m sorry." ~Carl

Yeah, well, you can be sorry for a little longer.

I don’t plan on responding to him anytime soon.

I’m here an hour before I hear the spray paint behind me.

Slowly, I turn the merry go round and watch Jason in black joggers and a black hoodie work diligently on his piece.

A headphone chord dangles from his ear into his pocket.

He couldn’t hear me even if I wanted to say hello, and I definitely don’t want to.

I think about Tara’s words from earlier.

Jason doesn’t like me. I don’t even entertain the idea.

If anything, he probably wishes I never existed.

But then why is he so concerned about Carl getting me off.

And why was he staring at my breasts.

I shake the thought from my head.

I was staring at his dick, does that mean I like him? No, absolutely not.

I laid my back flat on the bumpy metal and spin myself again with my feet.

This time of year is pretty tough, it’s my mom’s birthday in a few weeks, and I count down to it like it’s D-day.

The last few years, I’ve spent the day at the cemetery talking to her.

This year won’t be any different.

Memories of her smile, her laugh, her love fill my brain, and they play like a movie.

I was 8 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.

I watched her slowly slip away from the woman she was.

It wasn’t long before her body stopped functioning altogether.

The malignant tumor was pressing on her brain, taking my mom away from me.

Just before she lost motor control, my mom wrote me a letter that I’ve pretty much memorized at this point.

One part I’ll never forget.


Please don’t hate me. You have made me so incredibly proud, and I know you will continue to do so.

You’re a fighter, baby girl. Please remember one thing, though. If you never heal from what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.

Be good.

I will love you forever.


I hope that I’m still making her proud.

On Monday, Brandon sits with us, but Jason and his harem do not.

Tara and I work together on our English project in the library, and Daphne tried to start some shit, but I give her the finger, and she settles pretty quickly.

Jason stands and walks away when Daphne calls me a whore.

“She’s so goddamn annoying...” Tara said as we pack up our stuff when the bell rings.

“She must give incredible head... I don’t know why else any guy would keep her around...” I joked.

My eyes roll heavily, but he doesn’t see.

Carl tries to call around 7pm, but I let it go to voicemail.

After thinking about it from Tara’s perspective, being used doesn’t bother me as much.

Sure, Carl’s fun and easy going, and from what I could tell he was a pretty good lover, and I think that’s all I really want right now.

If he wants to use me for sex, then I want to do the same.

But I’m going to let him sweat it a little longer.

Tuesday and Wednesday I do research in the school library on colleges, and I receive emails from the admissions offices of 3 universities that if I tour the campus, they’ll waive the admissions fee.

I wonder if Tara will go with me.

"Jason just shunned Daphne.” ~Tara

I really don’t care so I ignore the text.

"Okay now she’s accusing him of cheating. Wtf were they even together?!" ~Tara

Don’t know and definitely don’t care.

"She dumped her whole bottle of water over his head!" ~Tara

Okay, this intrigues me a little and I can’t help the small laugh that bubbles out of my throat.

Last I saw them on Saturday night, they were as close as ever so I wonder what happened in the meantime.

Daphne skips science, but Jason doesn’t.

His hair is slicked back, wet from lunch, and a plain white tee shirt replaces his black Adidas hoodie.

The stark black ink looks darker in contrast to the crisp white of his tee.

Something about him, about this moment, attracts my attention and I can’t stop looking at him.

In fact, everyone watches, but he focuses on copying down the notes from the board.

Jason looks bored, like he’s dealt with Daphne’s bullshit before.

He’s numb to it, and maybe he is.

The rest of the class looks on like Jason’s the lecture.

When I can gain control of my actions, I finish the assignment in 15 minutes.

I walk to Mr. Swanson’s desk to hand it in and run into Jason.

He stops and lets me go first.

“Done so soon?” Mr. Swanson questioned.

“Really wasn’t that difficult...” I explained awkwardly, regretting the words immediately.

He grabbed my paper and Jason’s and grades them right there.

Neither of us miss a question.

“Very good...” He said waving us off. “Read chapter 17 and study for Friday’s exam...” He added.

But I don’t.

I text Tara the answers so we can talk the rest of the class.

“You should have seen it...” She whispered. “Daphne just stood up, screeched, and dumped her water all over him...” Tara explained as she giggled quietly.

“Wonder what he said to her...” I questioned.

“She’s totally unstable...” Tara said shaking her head.

"Can we talk tonight?" ~Carl

Carl texted, and I show it to Tara.

She giggled and said, “Eh, make him wait a little longer... And then make sure he apologizes right to your...” She was saying until I cut her off before she could finish her sentence.

“Tara!” I screech-laughed, snorting not so lady like with my head thrown back in pure bliss. “You’re so bad...” I giggled.

Jason turned around and clears his throat.

He’s one lab table ahead of mine but with plenty of distance.

No way he heard our conversation.

“Some people are trying to study...” He said.

His head isn’t totally turned, and I can’t really tell if he’s serious or not.

Tara mocks him when he looks away.

By Thursday night, I finally decide to answer when Carl calls.

"I didn’t expect you to pick up..." Carl said.

“I can hang up if you want?” I replied.

"No, no!" He said hurriedly. ”I wanted to apologize..." He said.

“Okay so do it...” I said.

"Well, that’s it really... I apologize, Hailey..." He said.

“For what, exactly?” I asked, wanting to know why it is he’s sorry.

"For 1, your hand..." I stretch my palm and feel the ache of healing skin. It’s starting to itch around the stitches and I ignore it. ”And 2, leading you on..." He said.

“Leading me on?” I asked.

"Yeah… I definitely don’t want anything more, Hailey... I’m sorry if I made it seem that way..." He explained.

“Carl... Did I make it seem like I wanted more?” I asked.

Uh, no?” He questioned.

“Good because I definitely don’t...” I said.

So, you just want, what? To hook up?” His smooth voice surprises me.

He switches so easily from sorry to charming leading me to believe one of the 2 isn’t sincere.

“That’s all...” I admitted.

He chuckled. “I think I can handle that, Hailey...” His arrogance pisses me off, so I tell him I’ll call him some other time.

It’s still early-ish, so I decide to head to the playground.

It’s dark, and my dad’s passed out on the couch, so sneaking out won’t be too hard.

I dress in a thick black leggings, old boots, and the white sweatshirt Dr. Morgan gave me last weekend.

It’s definitely a little snug, but whatever.

I walk down the street and into the alleyway.

Mr. Leaks, a nice old bum, is passed out on an old mattress.

If I look too close I might see the needles he attempts to hide.

Usually, he says hello, but not tonight.

When I make it to the playground, I see the boys sitting on the cracked blacktop smoking.

I decide to head over.

“Hey...” I said, standing in front of Brandon.

“What’s up?” Brandon greeted, it’s more a ′hello′ and less of an actual question about my well being.

No one talks after a few minutes, and I get the distinct feeling I interrupted a conversation they don’t want to have in front of me.

I’m about to stand when Brandon speaks.

“How’s the hand?” He asked.

I shrug and pull it up to look. “It’s really itchy but okay otherwise...” I said.

Brandon nods and stubs the rest of his joint onto the blacktop, pocketing it in a container for later.

He stands, tall and lanky, and grabs the backpack full of spray paint.

Jason doesn’t move closer, and neither do I, but Carl’s words have me feeling a certain way.

So I asked, “May I?” Gesturing to his joint.

Jason looked from me to his joint to me again with raised brows.

He pulls it to his lips and squints as he inhales, a trait of his I’ve noticed lately.

He passes it to me and our and bumped briefly.

He watches as I take the smallest inhales.

“You smoke like 4 times and all of a sudden think you’re a stoner, Dawson?” His words are light and so is his attitude.

It’s sort of nice he’s not so on edge, but I remember he’s still Jason.

“If my best friend is going to fuck your best friend, I figure I may as well try and fit in...” I said.

Jason sighed and shook his head. “You’re never going to feel the full effects unless you inhale deeper... Keep it in as long as you can, and then exhale...” He explained.

My gaze lands on his. “What exactly are the full effects?” I asked.

His dangerous, knowing smirk makes the ants march inside my belly.

“Weightless...” He said.

I follow his directions and finish the rest of his joint, and I actually feel higher than I’ve ever been before.

The world moves slowly.

My heart pounds in my chest.

The air in my lungs whistled in and out.

I laid back and watched the black sky for what feels like hours and then giggle as I connect the stars into a penis.

“Do you ever watch the stars?” I asked.

I’m not even sure he’s around anymore.

For all I know Jason went to help Brandon.

“Every night...” Jason answered quietly.

“I never noticed how magnificent they are...” I said just as quietly.

Stars twinkle above in Morris Code, and I lift a finger to trace hearts and giraffes and bananas out of hydrogen and helium light years away.

“What else is out there?” I whispered. Suddenly, a fresh joint is being held above me. “I think I’m good...” I laughed, pushing the hand away.

A chuckle sounds to my left. “Not for now, dumbass... This way, you can stop stealing mine and B’s and smoke your own...” Jason explained.

I sit up way too suddenly and it’s like the world catches up with me.

My torso leans too forward and Jason has to grab my shoulders to keep me up right.

“Dude, you’re fucked... Maybe I shouldn’t give this to you...” Jason chuckled.

“I thought you said I’d feel weightless?” I asked dizzily.

“Not here...” He said with a roll of his eyes, gesturing to my form before lifting his fingers to tap the hair on my head, “I meant here...” And then presses his index finger into the thin cotton of the sweatshirt over my heart, “And here...” He said.

I don’t why, maybe it’s the way Jason said fucked a minute ago, but I tell him.

“Carl just wants to fuck me...” I said.

“I know...” Jason stated.

“How do you know?” I asked.

Jason lights another joint and inhales deeper.

I watch him, waiting for him to offer it, but he never does.

I scoot my bottom so my front faces Brandon and hug my knees to my chest.

For the first time in years, I’m not on edge around Jason.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe I finally am weightless.

“Apparently everyone wants to fuck you...” He drawls slowly.

Looking over at him, the joint to his mouth, and his eyes so hooded I can barely see blue, his ease scares me.

“Not everyone...” I laughed like he’s absurd. Jason stared so intensely, my stomach ties in a knot, and I need to close my legs together to feel comfort. “Not you...” I said as a matter-of-fact-ly.

He chuckled and shook his head confirming.

Air that was previously stuck in my lungs finally blows out.

The settlement of something weird sticks to my belly, my fingertips, the back of my throat, dismay.

I talk with Jason about easy things for the next hour.

Things that don’t involve boys and who does or doesn’t want to fuck me.

Instead, we talk about things like Mr. Swanson, and those round pizzas they serve us for lunch on Wednesdays, and the art teacher who we think is sleeping with the gym teacher.

His laugh isn’t foreign, but it feels taboo, like I shouldn’t be the one to make it happen and vice versa.

There’s still a disgusting, dirty, hurtful elephant in the room labeled with all the mean things we’ve ever said or done to each other, but I don’t feel like acknowledging it right now, and neither does he.

So, we sit and talk and laugh and bet how long Tara and Brandon will last.

It’s easy to be this, and I almost miss the way things were, but I have to remember that was 8 years ago.

That meek boy and tough girl duo have been traded in for solo acts.

Now, he’s solid, powerful, angry, and she’s wounded, rough, grudgeful.

On the way home, we walk through the alley and stop by Mr. Leak’s makeshift home.

He’s in the same place, and while Brandon and Jason walk ahead, I don’t.

Something feels off. “Mr. Leak?” I called out.

Needles I originally ignored now shine brightly under three cell phone flashlights.

Sharp points lay haphazardly along the mattress and beside the dumpster.

“Hailey, leave him...” Brandon said, jogging back.

“I think somethings wrong...” I kick the mattress and nothing.

Brandon bent down and touched his arm. “He’s cold...” I watched as Brandon tried to move his arm to find a pulse but can’t.

“Why are his muscles like that?” I asked.

“Rigor mortis, Hailey... He’s gone...” Brandon said.

A lump forms in my throat.

I only knew this man to say hi and that’s it, so why do I want to cry?

“Should we call someone?” I asked.

“He was a junkie bum who lived on the streets... No one’s going to miss him...” Jason spits irritably.

It’s like showing any emotion at all makes him uncomfortable.

“I’ll call it in when I get home...” Brandon said, steering me away from the body.

Back at my house, Jason and Brandon pause at the lattice.

I’ve got 1 foot in the hole and 1 on the ground as Jason pulls out a baggie and a lighter.

“I’m charging you next time...” Jason stated a matter-of-fact-ly, and I believe him. “Need a hand, Princess?” Jason asked.

Ease and fun are replaced with seriousness and venom.

It was nice while it lasted.

I answer Jason by scaling the lattice in record time, only hurting my hand twice in the process.

When I climb up, I don’t look down.

I’m too busy weirded out that my light is on when I know my room was dark when I left.

My bedroom door is unlocked since I left out the front door.

Was my dad in my room?

What was he looking for?

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