Of Thorns and Lightning

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Untitled chapter

Bad at Love

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"God damn it!" Peter swore, slamming his door behind him and running his hands down his tired face. He was kicking himself for, in his opinion, fucking things up again. He should have kissed her, he should have kissed her, he should have kissed her... he repeated in his head. He didn’t even think of the pros and cons of kissing her at this point. He knew what the right move was and what was the wrong one, and he knew that he made the wrong choice. He should have just kissed her. It was long overdue, and she wanted to kiss him back, too. He knew it. He saw it in her eyes, he read the situation. He knew, he knew, he knew. And he screwed it up.

It wasn’t about him being afraid to love her because he didn’t think he could love anyone else. He had moved on from that. He was now afraid that because he didn’t kiss her, even though he really wanted to, that their relationship would never be the same. They would be caught in the spiraling vortex of “we almost dated” because that was a strange place to be in with someone else since all Peter knew he would think about what could have been love, what should have been...

Just then, he made the same mistake Maize had made not too long ago. Peter looked at pictures of him and Liz, him and MJ, and he was painfully reminded of all the mistakes he made in the past, taunting him, his own face laughing at him from inside the glossy pictures. Some were blurry, bad angled pictures of them when they were half clothed, or out on dates when Liz was camera shy, but all Peter’s eyes were doing were admiring her, eyes on her at all times. With one glance of a picture of Liz’s face, a cheeky smile hidden behind half of her hand, her skin aglow underneath soft lighting, he was immediately taken back to their last night together in the city. In hindsight, Peter was glad he made it worthwhile.

“Liz, come on! I just want to show you something beautiful, something even more beautiful than you.” Peter said in his attempt to convince Liz to climb out her window and sneak out with him.

“Unless you’re going to take me on a magic carpet ride of the city, Aladdin-style, then no! Do you know what time it is?! It is 2:37!”

“God, Liz, you ruined the whole surprise! And yes, I am well aware of what time it is. You’ve been studying all night and you deserve a break since I know you won’t be getting to sleep soon.”

“What, like you can fly?” She questioned, skeptical. “Now get off my fire escape before my neighbor’s notice... my dad has them keep an eye on me at all times, not like they didn’t already. They are the literal DEFINITION of nosy neighbors, Peter.”

“Liz, I promise it’ll be quick, I’ll have you back by dawn. I have something special I want to show you.”

“Okay, Peter Lannigan, you’ve got me.” Liz said as she climbed out her window and onto the fire escape, meeting Peter’s lips to kiss him before they tiptoed in their descent down their fire escape. They walked a few blocks uptown and then up another fire escape, to which Liz was skeptical of their permission to be there. But Peter was persistent that it was all fine, and he held her hand and led her up the metal stairs, passing dark windows as they rose.

It wasn’t long before Peter and Liz found themselves at the top of an apartment building that was decorated with bistro lights and some small cafe tables, as well as a lattice on the far wall with ivy crawling up its weathered wood rungs, against the brick siding of the building. Liz needed a moment to take it all in.

“Wow, Peter, what is this?”

“It’s this building’s common garden. Come look, it’s gorgeous up here. It gives a different angle of the city that you don’t get at your building, and I thought you’d like it. Look, there’s Central Park, and you can even see some of the bridges over there if you look hard enough on a clear night. I just thought you’d like it up here.”

“Peter, I don’t have any words.” She admitted, speechless.

“That’s okay. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything in order to say something.” He responded.

“You’re right.” She said before she turned to Peter and cupped his face in her hands and kissed him, over and over. She leaned against the brick wall underneath the lights and she kissed Peter until her lips were sore and she had bruises on her hips from the brick and Peter’s hands as they pressed into her weak spot.

After they had spent a good part of the night kissing and touching each other-as if they weren’t close enough-on the rooftop, Peter said that it was probably best she was returned home safely, especially before the sun rose.

They arrived back at Liz’s building and they climbed through Liz’s bedroom window that was still open from when she left earlier that night.

“Peter, wow, I...”

“Aren’t you glad you came out with me tonight?”

“I’m not.” A deep voice spoke, coming from behind them. Liz gulped. It was her father.

Both Peter and Liz were frozen in their places; afraid of their punishment and the consequences.

That was the last time he ever saw Liz.

Peter hadn’t heard one word from Liz since. Of course, he wouldn’t, he’s the reason for it all.

Peter threw down the pictures and they slapped on the desk before scattering on the surface. Then his mind shifted to MJ... all her friends called her MJ... Peter was just lucky enough to still be able to call her MJ, even though he didn’t deserve it, it stuck.

This time, he was directly responsible for destroying MJ.

There was no doubt in his mind, he had taken full responsibility for his bullshit. He didn’t mean it, though. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt MJ. She was there for him when she never had to be; sometimes he told MJ that he didn’t want to bring her into it, but she dove right in anyway just so she could help him. She cared about him more than he cared about her, he realized, and he cared about her a lot. It haunted him every time he thought about MJ and how he left things off. He never had the chance to make it right, but maybe that was the way things were just meant to be between them. He hated to think of it that way. He wanted to be able to talk to her again, but it would be useless. He didn’t change in the way that MJ needed him to in order for their relationship to work. It would never, ever be the same.

MJ had pulled Peter’s shirt off and tossed it over the back of the couch, it is landing on the hardwood floor. She brushed the curls back from his forehead and her freshly manicured almond-shaped nails tickled the skin on his face. But Peter couldn’t look into her eyes. Not in the same way anymore.

“Hey, I just remembered- let me show you this hilarious tweet Maize sent me today-” Peter began, and MJ immediately changed her body language. She pulled away from him immediately and got up off the couch, tossing his shirt back to him and grabbing her backpack.

“That’s it, I’m out here, Peter.”

“Wait, MJ! What just happened! What’s up?”

“Peter, can you not see it?!”

“No, MJ, that’s why I’m asking!”

“You’re an oblivious asshole, you know that?” She answered with another question, but Peter was still standing there, clueless. MJ continued.

“Peter, you know more about her than you do for me. She is ALL you talk about, I can’t have one conversation with you without hearing her name! I know she’s your best friend and you grew up together, but I’m your best friend too and I feel like you don’t care as much for me as you do to her, and I’m your girlfriend, to add.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that I talked about her that much.”

“Hun, look what just happened! I was literally undressing you and you stopped me to talk about some dumb thing she tweeted today, Peter. You just can’t see it, can you? I’m going to leave now, and I don’t want you calling me. You’re ridiculous.”

“MJ, let’s talk this-”

“No, don’t even finish that sentence, Peter. I am not going to listen to you say that one more god damn time, because you don’t mean it, like everything else you’ve said to me.”

“That’s a lie, MJ. You know I mean it.”

“Yeah, you mean it when you blush and talk about Maize and make your schedule to fit Maize so we can’t ever hang out because you’re never free, and when we do, all you want to do is talk about what you did when you were with Maize. You know who you’re in love with? You’re in love with her, Peter. Deny it all you fucking want, but I’m not going to let you waste another second of my time, because it’s mine and it’s not yours to fuck up. Not anymore, at least.”

“I’m not in love with her, MJ.”

“You’re a damn liar, I’m amazed. Completely baffled at how you do it. Go tell it to someone else, Peter. Try Maize, this time, maybe! We’re done.” MJ finished as she walked out the door, slamming it behind her. MJ fixed her lipstick and her hair and readjusted her clothes as she ran down the stairs and out on the street.

That day, she became a “real” New Yorker. She cried on the subway and didn’t care who saw her or what they thought. She played it tough in front of Peter, but she was completely ruined inside. To know that you’re not the one your significant other really wants to be in a relationship with hurts more than the breakup itself.

Peter never called her. She asked him not to. But sometimes he regrets not calling her because then they both would get closure, but the more he thought about it he figured that there wasn’t anything left to say, and “closure” was just something Peter needed to feel better. But with each passing day, he just felt worse. The gravity of his actions was constantly becoming heavier and weighing on him harder and harder each day. He knew he was wrong, but he knew that the further they were away from each other, there was even less of a chance that redemption was going to happen.

But it never worked out because all MJ wanted was to be the one Peter wanted and for him to be happy when he was around her instead of wishing he was with Maize, but Peter couldn’t go for it with Maize because he constantly felt remorse about MJ, and he didn’t want to go home to Maize because she was the only one Peter loved that he hadn’t found a way to screw up yet.

He loved Liz.

He loved MJ.

He knew in his heart that was never a lie.

But he loves Maize.

And the tense of the word “love” that Peter felt made the difference.

Peter was sitting on the edge of his bed, his hands folded motionless in his lap as he looked at the rain outside of his window. He was miserable, and that was immediately obvious to William when he came around knocking.

“Peter, can I come in?” William asked from the hall. Peter couldn’t seem to find the energy to answer him, especially because he didn’t know how to answer. It was a simple yes or no question that Peter couldn’t respond to. William opened the door just enough to look in and see a downtrodden Peter.

“Alright, kid, what the hell happened?” William asked, straightforward but softly as he sat at the foot of the bed next to Peter.

“What happened? Oh, well, I always seem to get the same things wrong but I don’t want to risk a friendship just so I can be happy, is what happened, William.”

“Okay, that was big. You’ve got a lot on your mind.”

“I wanted to kiss Maize, William.” He responded, having to start there in order to explain his previous statement.

“Alright, then why didn’t you kiss her, may I ask?”

“I... I just couldn’t, Mr. Townsend. And it’s not for the lack of feelings- God I wished I either kissed her or didn’t have so many fucking feelings about it!”

“But why couldn’t you? You have all the feelings and I’d be willing to bet a lot on the fact that she’s got all the right feelings too.”

“But it’s not about feelings. Wait- no, it’s not about having the romantic or the “right” feelings, it’s about having all the wrong ones. You know?”

“No. Absolutely not. You lost me, kid.”

“William, putting this simply, I am perpetually, chronically bad at love. Instead of remembering all the things that can go right, all I can ever think about are how things can go wrong because I am bad at loving someone else. I can’t even love myself enough sometimes.”

“Kid, love isn’t always something you can judge your ability on with a scale of “good” and “bad”. It takes practice and determination sometimes, but if this means anything, I don’t think you’re “bad” at love. But this seems to be a problem you think about a lot.”

“Of course, it is, how can it not, especially when I always ruin everything and everybody I try to keep. How can you say that I’m not physically bad at this?! Look at my history, Mr. Townsend. Seriously. See this from my eyes: Liz is over 3,000 miles away because of me. I fucked it all up with MJ because I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I did with Liz, but that just devastated her and pushed her so far away from me that Maize and Meaghan are all that I have left. They’re my only friends and I’m having a hard-enough time keeping that stable that I can’t bear to risk bringing Maize into a relationship with me. I don’t want her to leave, too.”

“Have you ever considered the fact that, well, she’s not going to leave?! Maize needs you, kid. When you two are apart, you two begin to go a little crazy, you get a little bit on the fray. Even when things were bad, like when you two had the argument about the flash drive, you still needed each other. Even in the bad times you can’t be separated. I don’t think it’s possible for her to be driven away, she’s too damn stubborn and you will do anything in your power to keep her in your life. Those other girls? You and Liz were doomed from the start. Her dad is your arch enemy, for god’s sake! And MJ? She saw that your heart was somewhere else. I don’t think it’s fair for you to not give you and Maize a real fighting chance just because things were different with other girls. She’s not them, she’s Maize. So, you can say you’re bad at love until you’re purple, but I don’t believe it, and I don’t think Maize believes it either.”

“She doesn’t know that this was all because of her, William. MJ broke up with me because I was more invested in Maize than I was with her. Maize doesn’t know that, William.”

“You know, I can believe that. I don’t care if you told her a lie or not as to why MJ broke up with you, she’s too damn stubborn to believe anybody, even you, could love her.” William shrugged, giving Peter a reassuring pat on his shoulder before walking out and shutting the door behind him.

In Meaghan’s room, it was just about time for her dressing to be changed and Dike had promised to help her with it. He knocked gently on the slightly ajar door with his knuckles and Meaghan turned around to see his face through the crack in the door as he stood in the hallway. They were good friends at that point, but he was still so shy around her. Meaghan sometimes wished that he was a little more relaxed with her, it wasn’t like she would bite him if he didn’t want her to. She had the same character attributes as he did, they were practically the same person, it’s not like she was some alien from outer space that he couldn’t understand or wasn’t comfortable around. He was just hesitating at the fact that they were so similar, and he was coming to terms with just how much he really liked her. He didn’t want to get too close out of fear of losing it.

“Dike! Come on in. Quit being so timid, you can walk into my room if the door is open. That’s an invitation for everyone to, I don’t know, come in and talk to me? I’m not Medusa. It’s not like I’m going to turn you into stone with one glance.” She giggled, only a tinge of snark in her voice. He stepped inside her room.

Meaghan was wearing her most comfortable sweatpants, a zip-up hoodie that was halfway up and a gray bralette underneath, the band just barely covering her white bandage that wrapped around her ribcage.

“I’ve got the 4x4s, the roll gauze and the tape. Let’s get down to business,” Dike said, holding up the hand that held all the necessary medical supplies. “You’re probably almost healed by now, but until then, I am going to heed the doctor’s orders with you.”

“By all means, go ahead. This thing is itchy anyway, I’ll be glad to get this off for a second so I can scratch this one spot that’s been bugging me for what feels like an eternity. It’s underneath where the tape is so I couldn’t get to it without ruining the wrap, and then I’d have to pick at it all and then we’d have to start all over, which we have to do anyway, but still.” She explained, unzipping her hoodie the rest of the way and tossing it over the back of her desk chair. She started picking at the tape to begin unraveling it around her torso, to which Dike came in handy. He held the end while Meaghan spun around and backed up, unrolling herself from the white bandages. Dike laughed, Meaghan’s bouncy curls danced around her neck and her back as she moved.

When she had finished, she threw away the old gauze and cautiously peeled off the gauze pad that was covering her wound that looked better than it was before but wasn’t quite healed over yet. Meaghan finally was able to scratch the area that had been bothering her, to her satisfaction. Dike wanted to make sure of that before he re-covered it, but that she was more nervous for. Meaghan flipped up the band of her bralette so it wouldn’t get in the way, and she held her arms out to the side so she could wrap the roll of gauze around her body. She was playing with a strand of her loose ponytail that was draped over her shoulder as she looked down at Dike’s handiwork.

Dike tore open the paper packet of bandages with his canine tooth, an act that wasn’t meant to be sensual and was a habit of his, but that didn’t make it any less attractive to Meaghan. He knew it too, and that made him even more nervous since in order to bandage her properly, he had to put his hands on her sides to guide the roll and press against her back for a little bit of counter support and as he pressed around the adhesive edges of the gauze pad that was covering her wound. He taped the end of the gauze to her skin before he started rolling, passing the gauze from hand to hand as she rolled around her back and around her front. Meaghan couldn’t help but giggle to break the tension she knew existed because she was only the slightest bit ticklish around her stomach.

“You okay?” Dike asked with a smile as he finished wrapping her up and securing it with a piece of medical tape.

“Yeah, actually, I’m doing pretty great.” She answered, meeting his eyes. The fine hairs on her skin and up her spine were raised from the feeling of Dike’s hands along her skin, and she was subtly craving those hands back on her waist again. She and Dike both felt breathless in the same moment and Dike’s heart fluttered just enough to let Meaghan know of his crush, for lack of a better word. He caught a glimpse of Meaghan’s eyes as the sun hit them, and he was completely hooked.

Dike was in love... and so was Meaghan.

Dike and Meaghan stood six inches away from each other, silent and motionless for the longest moment of their entire lives. Dike decided to do what neither Peter or Maize could, and that was to just make the move, and kiss the girl. He didn’t care about what would happen, but he had to know what it would be like if he had kissed her and the only way to find out was to do it. Meaghan was standing there, just waiting to be kissed, and when she saw Dike lean towards her, she fell right into him and kissed him like she always wanted to. And it felt just like she imagined it would.

At least one pair of Gods was kissed like they should have been that day. Both Peter and Maize and Dike and Meaghan knew that if you only have one shot, you better take it in that moment before it disappears. Peter and Maize both hoped that they would have another moment and they wouldn’t just wave at it as it passed like they had done that day. Meaghan and Dike were both wondering what was next for them, but only time would be able to tell that for all four Gods. They just hoped time would be good to them.

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