In through the nose. Out through the mouth.
Over and over again, my breaths drew in harshly, my trainers hitting the pavement with solid steps as I used everything in my body to propel forward along the track. I raced past the bleachers, my body feeling every pull and ache of the strain. It was what I wanted. What I needed to drown out the day.
Music blasted in my ears, some random energy mix that kept me going. I was so close to the finish line, to hitting my daily goal. I checked my watch, pulling the blonde hair that whipped my face, out of my way. I was going to make it, my personal best was only a few seconds away. I pushed harder, my chest tightening, my stomach doing the same, my eyes narrowing on the finish line ahead of me.
I was so focused on the white line that I didn’t see the football come flying out of nowhere and smack me straight in the face. I fell to the ground, my cheek stinging as the football rolled off the track. I clenched my jaw against the searing in my elbow that I had landed on and the ache in my ass.
“Shit, sorry Taylor, your brother has no aim.” Pierce, the joker, my brother’s best friend and my main tormentor, laughed as he came over to me in his sweat shorts and trainers. I glared up at him, squinting against the afternoon sun, hating that Pierce had for the millionth time, decided not to wear a shirt because it meant I was momentarily distracted and found it even harder to be pissed at him. I shoved my inconvenient libido aside then narrowed my gaze over at my twin brother who was looking the other way, laughing with his stupid football friends. I held my cheek and went to stand up, refusing Pierce’s hand up. He had played that trick one too many times for me to fall for it. The 'it wasn’t me’ trick that he was so fond of had gotten really old over the past couple of years and not even his charming smile, bright green eyes and single dimple could get me to believe it anymore. Maybe once before, or a few hundred times before but not since I had grown tits and he had made it very clear that he had noticed.
I got to my feet and brushed myself off.
“Yeah, I’m sure it was just an accident.” I looked over at my brother, Hayden and flipped him off. He laughed harder and jogged over.
“Sorry, Tay. Pierce dared me to. I said I could kick any goal, he said moving target and it spiraled from there.” Hayden tried to excuse his and Pierce’s asshole actions but I wasn’t having it, rolling my eyes and moving away from them. I grabbed the ball and rolled it between my fingers, looking over at the goal.
“Of course he did. Next time he dares you to do something, how about you use that tongue of yours and say no.” I snapped, then dropped the ball and kicked it over the goal. Hayden rolled his eyes.
“Careful, H. Your green is showing.” I teased and he mocked me then went to get the ball. Pierce let out a low whistle and smirked at me.
“Is there a reason you’re still standing there not apologizing? Or is getting other people to do your dirty work your new form of torture I get to look forward to?” I asked, looking down at my grazed elbow and clenching my jaw.
“I said sorry. And I genuinely didn’t think your brother would be able to get you.”
“Whatever. See you round, Pierce.” I shook my head, turning away from him, giving up on my record and tucking the pieces of hair that had escaped my tie, behind my ears. Every day he found some new, imaginative way to fuck with me and I was over it. No matter what I did, he never gave up. This year was even worse than last year but then again, I was under no illusions that senior year was going to be a craptastic time. All I had to do was survive the rest of the year and then I could make my escape, leaving high school and all the people in it, behind.
“Don’t be like that, Tay. We’ve got a connection, it’s our thing. I annoy the shit out of you, you swear and flip me off and then eventually you’ll be on your knees sucking my cock like a good little girl so I can teach you some manners.” He taunted, his arm going around my shoulders as I walked towards the changing rooms. I scoffed and pushed him away, his muscular frame and drool-worthy biceps feeling too good against my body for me to think more about his statement. He was not the kind of guy that girls normally said no to and I was guessing that’s why he was so transfixed on teasing me about it. The chase was all he cared about.
“Or, you can fuck off.”
“See, baby. Our connection.” He grinned, putting his arm back along my shoulders. I sighed irritably and grabbed his arm, escaping from under it and opening the changing room door. He stood at the entrance, leaning against the frame with that cocky smirk I hated to admit looked damn good on him.
“Never gonna happen, Pierce. Now go annoy your girlfriend with your cock. Maybe she’ll learn how to shut up for once.” I smiled then slammed the door in his face, leaning back against it with a heavy sigh. He wound me up so tight, it was enough to drive me insane. His girlfriend Brooke Harding was one of those girls that had everything easy in life and liked to rub that fact in everyone’s faces as often as possible. She had money to burn, a picture perfect family. Not like me. I would never have that. Not since my parents had died in a car accident when I was younger. I loved my Grandmother and was so grateful for everything she had given up to give me and my siblings what she could but my parent’s savings were running out, my grandmother’s too. I just hoped I could get out of my Grandmother’s hair before it was too late and she had to give up even more of her life for me, Hayden and our younger sister, Tori.
Shaking my head of the thoughts that were constantly there, I headed for my locker. I got undressed and wrapped a towel around me, heading for the showers. I loved running in the afternoon when everyone else had gone home, well except the ones that had sports. It meant if I left early enough, I got alone time in the shower. That was few and far between being at my small home and sharing a room with my sister, the fight for the bathroom a never ending one.
I let the spray wash away the sweat from my run and the blood from my graze, hissing as the sting got me. I ignored it and washed my body then rinsed off, jumping as there was a clang on the lockers. I spun to the sound but nothing was there. I frowned and switched off the shower.
“Hello?” I asked but there was only a dark chuckle in return. I groaned out loud and leaned my head against the wall. Fucking high school, one nightmare after another.
“Don’t Niko.” I almost begged, knowing what was coming. His laugh grew deeper before the sound of drumsticks beat against the lockers. I snatched up the towel I had, right before he got to it. He rounded a locker with a smirk, spinning a stick in his hand, leaning against the locker, chewing gum. It’s what made his tongue always taste like mint.
I scowled at him as he stepped closer, his ripped black jeans hanging low on his lean build. He shoved his hand through his shoulder length black and blue hair, his nose piercing glinting off the artificial lights that started flickering.
I sucked in a breath as I backed up against the shower wall. He watched the movement before coming closer, his drumstick pulling apart my towel, separating the folds, slipping beneath the fabric, tracing over my skin. My eyes fluttered closed before I could collect my thoughts.
“Hey Gorgeous,” he breathed against me, his overbearing scent keeping me stuck there. His drumstick moved over my belly button piercing, lowering down my stomach until it was way too close to my center. But I didn’t move. My breaths were short as I looked up at Niko, his deep brown eyes watching me blush. He had always enjoyed making me uncomfortable. Especially in bed.
“Get out.” I tried but my voice wavered and his smirk widened.
“Hmm. Is that what you really want, little liar?” He teased, pressing his body against mine so his drumstick was between my thighs, pressing hard, teasing my clit until I had to bite on my lip to stop from moaning.
“We’re not together anymore. You made sure of that.”
He shrugged and leaned down, his breath on my neck. I tried to stay strong but it was so hard when I remembered every part of his body, the way he felt giving me the pleasure that took me out of my head for hours. I almost trembled but then I remembered the rest of it. The summer break that had been another nightmare. Where he had partied and fucked with my ex best friend, the vocalist in his band, the singer. What a fucking cliche. And they had gone behind my back for months. It was enough of a reminder that I could find my back bone again. I put my hands on his chest and shoved him away. He went easily, smirking as he popped his gum.
“I miss you.” He said and I shook my head at the lie. He missed my pussy, the sex on demand, the lie.
“Then you shouldn’t have fucked my friend who you said you were just ‘at band practice’ with. Fuck off Niko.” I snarled and tightened my towel. He scowled at that and something that resembled regret, flickered in his eyes but it was gone so fast I wasn’t sure it had been there at all. But the truth was, that hurt like a bitch so I strode past him and went to my locker. He didn’t say anything after that, instead he left, whistling before his chuckle echoed and the door to the changing rooms shut.
I realised a moment later, what he had been laughing about when I went to get changed and found my clothes missing. Fuck him. He didn’t get the right to harass me for breaking up with him after what he did. I slammed my locker shut, grabbed my empty bag. I had no choice but to go home in my towel. I secured it tighter then left the changing room, glaring at Niko who was there waiting. He snapped a picture with his fancy ass camera he loved more than me just as I pulled the fingers at him. He winked before pulling his shirt off and chucking at me.
“Wear it tonight when you touch yourself.” He teased and pain lacerated my chest. I had done that for him once. He walked away from me and I refused to cry. I would wait until the house was quiet and I could climb out on my roof to let it all out. I stormed over to Hayden’s car and climbed in, huffing as I tugged Niko’s shirt on, knowing the interrogation from Gram if I turned up in a towel was not worth my pride.
I pulled my books out of my bag and studied the mechanisms of muscles and bones for my paper on health and fitness, an assignment I needed to ace if I had any hope of getting into a decent college to study sports injuries and physical therapy. It was my only hope of an escape from the hell that was high school and the bullies that occupied it. My bullies in particular. One, a popular, nice guy when he wanted to be who was always around because of my brother and never gave up the chase and the other, a dark musician who had broken my heart. I hated that I was so affected by them but they both came at me every day with a new way to remind me of everything I didn’t want to feel around them. Like insatiable teenage lust and an intense frustration. But that was my luck, constantly on edge, constantly wondering what they were going to do next and constantly walking the fine line between giving in and staying strong.
Hayden climbed in the car ten minutes later and the silence was filled with tension. He sighed and looked over at me, the short two minute car ride home from Berkley High School not enough time for me to list how much of an asshole he was for always taunting me and putting me directly in Pierce’s line of sight when it came to his stupid pranks and dares.
“I’m sorry, Tay. I should’ve told Pierce to fuck off.”
“Mhmm.” I sulked, looking out the window, not bothering with my music since we were almost home. As soon as we pulled into the drive, my heart filled with warmth. Love and a sense of home enveloped me and I couldn’t even be mad at Hayden anymore.
“You’re doing dishes tonight, if you’re really sorry, that’s what it’ll cost you for me not to tell Gran that the red rash on my cheek is because of you.” I taunted, playing him back at his own game. He scowled before weighing up his options in his hazel eyes that matched mine. He finally conceded with a single nod.
“Fine.” He said but the little twitch on his lips had me scowling at him.
“And don’t you dare bribe Tori into it.” I warned and he scoffed, acting all fake offended like he hadn’t been about to go and do exactly that. He was only five minutes older than me but sometimes I wondered if I had actually been the twin born first.
“I would never.” He said and I rolled my eyes, climbing from the car, heading up our small front yard to the the porch.
Our house blended in with so many on the street. Grandma had lived in Michigan for her entire life and the entire street knew her, loved her, they had all taken us in when our parents had passed. It had been a tragic event that they had since forgotten but as I walked through the threshold into the home I had known for the last seven years of my life, I couldn’t help remember that my mother had stepped through the same threshold at her age.
Ignoring the ache in my chest from that daily reminder, I clutched my bag to my shoulder and went through to the kitchen where Gram was bustling around, her apron on, the benches a mess as she put together scones, muffins and cookies that we’d all devour in a day. Her baking was insanely good. Most of the street lived for her food, organizing bake sales just to get a sample. I grinned as she beamed up at us.
“Hey Gram.” I said, squeezing in between her and Hayden’s big ass to give her a kiss on the cheek. Our house was small but it had enough love to fill the void in my chest so I could make it to bedtime without a mental breakdown, so I’d take it.
“Hello, sweetheart. How was track, did you beat your record?” She asked, pausing to take a sip of her tea. She pushed mine towards me and I smiled over at Hayden who had tensed, taking a suspiciously long time to get whatever he was raiding from the fridge.
“Not today, Grams. But I’ll try again tomorrow.” I said, eyeing him and he smirked. He was so going to get Tori to do it. Speaking of my little sister, I looked around for her.
“Where’s Tori?” I asked, leaning against the bench, sipping the tea, the relaxation coming over me at the familiar habit of having afternoon tea with Gram.
“She is in your room.” Gram leaned closer then, “Boy trouble, I think.” She whispered before smiling mischievously and I laughed as Hayden shot straight up, slamming the fridge.
“Better fucking not be.” Hayden cursed and Gram picked up her roll of baking paper to whack his ass with it.
“Language, Hayden.” She scolded and he at least looked sheepish.
“Sorry, Gram.” He softened his gaze then gave her a kiss on the cheek. She smiled warmly and offered him a cookie. He scoffed it down like an animal and I put some on a plate to take to Tori.
“I’ll go talk to her. Do you need help cleaning up?” I asked and she chuckled, shaking her head.
“Oh gosh no, deary. This kitchen is tiny, no room for that.” She said and it was her excuse every time. She liked to put things in specific places, odd places but it was her space so we left her to it. She wasn’t wrong though, the kitchen was tiny. I thanked her for the cookies and tea then left down to my room I shared with Tori. It wasn’t too bad sharing but it was kind of a mood killer when I wanted to bring a guy back or release some of the built up tension that seemed to have plagued me ever since Niko and I had broken up.
I gritted my teeth at the memories of him that tried to surface, refusing to let them in.
I was about to go in my room when Hayden came up behind me and opened the door for me. I frowned back at him, wondering if he was going to do something dumb like trip me up or something but instead, he opened it wider for me to go in. I narrowed my eyes on his wide grin. A smile that resembled my own then up to his eyes that were mine too.
“What do you want? You’re not getting out of the dishes just because Gram didn’t notice my cheek.” I snapped and he shook his head.
“I do have a favor to ask but it is not of the dishes kind.”
“What kind of favor then?”
“-Nope.” I shut him down straight away. Anything to doing with him was a bad idea. First of all, he had a girlfriend. Secondly, he was always playing tricks, joking around. He couldn’t take anything seriously and it drove me up the fucking wall. Just once, I wanted to be able to trust something he did or said but instead, I expected the worst. That put whatever it was that Hayden wanted, firmly in the ‘never gonna happen’ column of my life.
“Aw c’mon, Taylor. He’s miserable, just give him a break. He just wants you to go on one date with him.” He asked and my jaw dropped. I moved into my room and looked back at Hayden.
“He has a fuc girlfriend, Hayden. Fuck off.” I slammed the door in his face with my foot before he could respond then turned, raising a brow as Tori laid face down in her pillow. I went over and placed the tea and cookies down on the bedside before chucking my bag on my bed. I sank onto the end of Tori’s and waited for her to turn her head of curly blonde hair to me. Her baby blues were bright with tears and her shoulders were slumped.
“Want to talk about it?” I asked and she cried more, shaking her head and putting her face back in her pillow.
“Yeah, guys are dumb.” I sighed, knowing tears like that didn’t come from anything else. She sniffled and turned to me.
“He said he’d take me to the dance on the weekend and now he’s taking Carmen Sinclair all because I said I had a curfew to be home by.” She groaned and screamed into her pillow again. It was so hard being fifteen. Boys were assholes at that age too. I rubbed her back and tried to think of what to say. Mom would’ve known, she always had the words that helped. I sucked at it.
“You can’t find another date?”
“By this weekend?” She gave me a droll stare and I sighed. My mind jumped to Hayden’s favor and I gritted my teeth. I might not be able to help her get back the guy she wanted but I might be able to make him regret not picking my sister. It would mean talking to Pierce though. I grimaced at the idea as Tori wailed in my lap, curling into it and I knew I had to do it.
Sucking up the pride that I clung to and the tiny amount of dignity I had left over from being wasted by the ball, I pulled my phone out my pocket.
“What if I could get Pierce to take you?” I asked and Tori froze, looking up at me like the sun shone out my ass.
“Pierce? Hayden’s Pierce? He’s a senior!” She squealed and I nodded.
“He’ll come to your dance, he’ll dance with you, make your guy so jealous and probably this Carmen chick too.” I admitted and maybe it was the wrong advice or the wrong tactic but I wasn’t a mother, I was a teenager and the idea sounded great to me. Plus, Tori was beaming so I must be doing something right.
“Oh my god, my whole year is going to flip their sh-”
I glared at her, reminding her of the language she was about to utter. Gram was particularly sensitive about that stuff. She covered her mouth with a giggle.
“Can you? Please?” She begged and I sighed, looking down at my phone like it might bite me. One more look in Tori’s eyes and I was a sucker. I went to Pierce’s number.
“I’m not making any promises but I’ll ask him.” I said and she squealed, squeezing me hard as I laughed and stood up, escaping.
“Eat your cookies.” I said then grabbed my books out of my bag, racking my head for what the hell I was meant to say to Pierce. I put my headphones in and started on my homework but I couldn’t concentrate. I looked around the room, Tori over by the wardrobe, yanking things off the hangers, looking for a dress to wear, her bed getting destroyed by options. I smiled and turned my head to look out the window next to my bed. It was getting cloudier, the days of fall coming in harshly as the tree leaves died and the wind howled. It had been so sunny on the track and now it was like it knew I had to do something I regretted mentioning. I chewed my lip and watched the grey clouds roll past before sighing and going back to Pierce’s number. I just had to suck it up and get it over and done with.
“Hey what are you up to this weekend?” I asked, easy as, no pressure. And yet my heart was racing a million beats a minute. My cheeks flushed and green eyes flashed in my mind. Ugh why was I like this?
My phone buzzed and I glimpsed down at it.
“Taking you out, Baby. Pick you up at five?” He said back and somehow, my heart raced even faster until I was sure Tori was going to hear it over her singing.
“No. This weekend you’re taking Tori to her dance to make her ex jealous.” I said then forced my thumb to type, “Please.” After it. I waited anxiously for the dots to appear again, tapping my pen against my books, trying to focus when Tori ripped the ear piece out of my ear.
“That,” She grabbed the pen, “Is extremely annoying.” She huffed and chucked the pen back down. “Did Pierce message back?” She asked hopefully and I shook my head.
“Not yet, but he will.” I said, a promise in my voice. Just as I was about to send another message, my phone rang and I gulped.
He was calling. I hated people calling me. Texting was easy, safe. But hearing his voice? I heard it enough at school, tormenting me both in an infuriating way as much as a teasing way. I blew out a breath as Tori grinned, squealing again. I shushed her, putting my finger to my lips and answering the phone.
“Hey.” I said and got off the bed, heading out the door so Tori couldn’t hear in case he said no.
“Hey Babe. Uh, isn’t Tori a freshman?” He asked and I went through the laundry room, out the back door, sitting on the concrete steps, tucking my arm around me as the cold wind found my skin instantly. I shivered in Niko’s shirt, wishing I’d thought to change before coming out but my body recognized his shirts as a comfort or something and removed my brain when I wore them.
“Yeah.” I said, not elaborating because I was only asking him to escort her. She was fifteen not five.
“Right. And why?”
“I already told you why.”
“Not being very nice for someone who wants a favor, babe.” He teased and I bit my tongue, refusing to let out the sharp retort that sat there.
“No because it is not a favor. It’s a mutual thing. Hayden said…you needed a favor too. I thought we could do the whole eye for an eye thing.” I explained badly and he laughed his smokey laugh in my ear. I clenched my eyes shut at the sound and held my phone tighter. Why did he have to have such an effect on me when his entire personality was made up of red flags and trigger warnings?
“Oh I see. So I take your sister to the dance and we can go on a date?”
“One date. And no touching of any kind, you have a girlfriend and you’re a pig.” I snapped but that just made him laugh again.
“I’ll take your sister to the dance then, happy? Less of an asshole now?” He asked and I shook my head. Nope.
“I can work with that.”
“So when am I meant to be going on this date then? I have work at your hotel all weekend and three evenings this week so there’s not many days left.” I huffed, not sure how I was going to juggle work, assignments and training this week but I had to make it work. I needed the money for college and I needed the money so I could take the burden off Gram by moving out. I didn’t really have time for socializing but I’d have to figure it out.
“Nah don’t worry about it, babe. This one’s a freebie. Good to know you want me though. Have a nice night, Tay.” He said and I could just hear the smirk in his voice before he hang up. I stared at the phone, my jaw clenched as I shook my head. Nothing was free. I stormed back inside and told Tori she had a date then spent the next few hours listening to her tell all her friends on Face Time while I tried to figure out why the hell disappointment and the sting of rejection was hounding my heart. Stupid fucking thing.