Truck Stop

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Chapter XX.

Recovery is a long process.

Not just for Oliver, who signed himself out of the hospital as soon as he was cleared, but for everyone. Lincoln could tell that they were beating themselves up for not noticing. Even Lincoln felt stricken with guilt, which he buried under his workload and two jobs, working himself to the bone.

His week was oddly silent, no calls or texts from anyone, not even Snapchats besides those maintaining their streaks. No one came to visit him at the cafe, and his Friday night shift at the bar went without incident. Even Yong-sun was scarcely at the apartment, and when he was, it didn’t make much of a difference between when he wasn’t. He rarely came out of his room, and if he did he would wander about the apartment like a lost ghost.

Lincoln kept his panic at bay by immersing himself in his schoolwork. He berated himself for feeling like shit. He felt selfish for wanting the others to text and call when clearly they were going through a rough time.

Now isn’t the time to feel sorry for yourself, Lincoln thought harshly, turning his phone off completely so he’d stop looking at it. He turned back to the stack of assignments on the coffee table and picked up the next one. His hand was starting to cramp but he needed to get them done since tomorrow was his date with Jupiter. Lincoln felt a little rush as the word date came to mind, immediately feeling like a lovestruck kid in high school. He couldn’t help being a little excited, though. His last relationship hadn’t ended quite that well, the girl getting bored and dumping him publicly.

It was getting late, or early depending on how you thought about it. It was nearing 4 AM, and Lincoln was still working. He didn’t want to crawl into bed and either have a nightmare or suffer from the childish, selfish thoughts that lingered in his head. The only way he could stop himself from thinking about things he didn’t want to think about was keeping himself busy.

A couple hours later, the sun was rising and exhaustion hit him full-force. Lincoln was too tired to even reach for his mug of coffee that had long gone cold. He forced his body up in the middle of writing a paper on murderous children, staggering off the couch. He was aiming for his bedroom, he really was, but he ended up keeling over and dropping to the floor.

Exhausted as hell, Lincoln just curled up and went to sleep on the floor, only to wake up to Jupiter’s grinning face and the smell of food being cooked in the kitchen. Lincoln shut his eyes again before he realized just what he was supposed to be doing today, then he bolted upright so quickly he felt lightheaded.

“Shit, Jupiter,” Lincoln fumbled, pressing a hand to his forehead. “Fuck, I’m so sorry, I swear I didn’t forget, I just‒”

“Yo, chill out,” Jupiter cut him off with another ridiculous grin. “It’s only like nine-thirty. Yong-sun came home like twenty minutes ago and you wouldn’t wake up, so he called me to help him haul your ass to bed.”

“Oh,” Lincoln said stupidly. His muscles screamed as he stood up, shaking with the effort. He could feel the beginnings of a headache creeping at the back of his skull but chose to ignore it.

“What time did you go to sleep, anyway?” Jupiter asked curiously, popping what looked like one of Lincoln’s brownies into his mouth. It was cool, Lincoln didn’t really like brownies much anyway.

“ I think?” Lincoln guessed. He probably looked like an utter disaster right now, and it was a good thing Jupiter’s already seen him look ugly as shit (read: all the fucking time) or else he’d imagine the younger would be very put off. He couldn’t help but notice that Jupiter looked amazing, clad in a dark sweater, his bangs pushed back under a snapback to show off his thick, sharp eyebrows. Jupiter shoved the last of the brownie into his mouth and pushed the large glasses up his nose before ushering Lincoln into the kitchen.

Lincoln stumbled through the doorway and collapsed in one of the unstable chairs. Yong-sun laughed at him from where he was stirring something on the stove. Lincoln offered a weak smile in return while Jupiter fumbled with their shitty coffee maker until he got it to pour a decent cup. Jupiter handed the mug to Lincoln who curled around it protectively.

“I’m so fucking tired,” He slurred out. “I should drop out of school and just resign myself to working at Happy Go Lucky for the rest of my life.”

“There, there,” Yong-sun said, patting Lincoln’s head in an attempt to be comforting. Lincoln scowled blearily at him before inhaling some of his coffee, uncaring of the fact that it was burning his mouth.

“Why do I even go to school?”

“Because you want to get a better job than working at a cafe?”

“I don’t even care anymore,” Lincoln groaned, gulping down the rest of his coffee, praying the caffeine would wake up him. Everything felt kind of distorted, maybe from the lack of sleep or the fact that he hadn’t seen any of his friends for the past week and now all of a sudden they were in his apartment like nothing happened.

“You need a shower,” Jupiter declared, wrinkling his nose playfully and tugging at Lincoln’s hair.

“I was too tired after my shift,” Lincoln said, pushing up from the table and making his way to his room.

“You should eat!” Yong-sun called, but Lincoln ignored him. He was going for lunch with Jupiter in a couple hours, it didn’t really matter if he ate now or not. He was really tempted to crawl under the covers of his bed, but he also desperately needed to get clean so he went with the latter.

Lincoln almost fell asleep in the shower, the soothing heat of the water pounding against his muscles made him more relaxed than he’d been all week. So he reached up and cranked the tap to cold, letting the freezing temperature wake him up.

Shivering, he wrapped a towel around his waist and used another to dry his hair. Stepping out of the bathroom, he blinked when he saw Jupiter sprawled across his bed, going through his old sketchbook.

“Love is so painful, goodbyes are more painful?” Jupiter asked, pointing at one of Lincoln’s sketches.

“Shut up, that’s from high school,” Lincoln stressed, matching over and snatching the book from Jupiter’s hands.

“I’m so jealous of your abs,” Jupiter said, smacking Lincoln’s stomach. “How do you find the time to work out?”

“I do HIIT workouts,” Lincoln replied, reaching for a discarded t-shirt and pulling it over his head. “And I bike to the city to see my mom every week.”

“You’re crazy,” Jupiter said, turning around respectfully while Lincoln finished getting changed. They chilled in his bed for a while, Jupiter flicking idly through his comics and Lincoln checking all his social media on his phone. Suddenly, Jupiter sat upright, knocking Lincoln’s comics to the floor.

“Hey, watch it.” Lincoln pouted.

“It’s not as if those are rare,” Jupiter snorted, climbing to his feet and stretching a hand out towards Lincoln. “C’mon, let’s go on that date.”

The date was disastrous.

Jupiter had brought him to a nice, family-owned restaurant and it took twenty minutes for them to be seated. The food took at least thirty minutes to arrive and their waitress was rude to them. Still, they forced themselves to behave and even tipped, though not much.

When they walked outside, it was raining and cold, so they ended up sprinting back to Lincoln’s apartment, dashing up the stairs soaking wet.

“That,” Jupiter declared, flinging the door open. “Was a complete disaster.”

“Please don’t drip on my floor,” Lincoln panted, grabbing towels from the hall closet and tossing them at Jupiter, who belatedly attempted to catch them. Sighing, Jupiter picked up the towels from the floor and dried himself off as best as he could, shaking his hair out like a dog and grinning at Lincoln beneath frizzy, unruly hair.

“You look ridiculous,” Lincoln said, hiding his smile with his own towel. He tossed Jupiter some clothes and managed to convince him that no, it was not a good idea to strip in the middle of the room and just because he thought he had a sexy body, he was not entitled to share it with the rest of the world.

“You’re mean,” Jupiter pouted, wandering down the hall and leaving streaks of water everywhere. Lincoln sighed and went into his own room to change. Collapsing on his bed, he picked up his phone to check the notifications.

miss JACKSON r u nasty now

Frowning, Lincoln quickly unlocked his phone. There was no content, and his phone wouldn’t load the preview, so he had no idea what the video was. Feeling like he might have been rickrolled, Lincoln opened the link in Safari.

It was a video shot somewhere on the art college campus, the title simply “Best Poetry Ever”. It had around 6000 views. Lincoln pressed play and watched as someone walked onto the makeshift stage and people started cheering. The person filming walked closer and he realized that it was Jupiter onstage.

“Uh, hi,” Jupiter said awkwardly. He had brown hair in the video, and Lincoln realized this must have been filmed a while ago. He quickly checked the description and found that it was filmed in spring. “English isn’t my first language, so excuse any mistakes. This poem is called Numbers.

“55 is the amount of hours I spent per week learning English when I came here.

35 is how much I pay every year to go to school here. In thousands.

31 is the amount of times I thought about quitting, just this week.

27 is the amount of people who have told me, in just this month, that I don’t know what it’s like to suffer.

23 is the hours straight I spent in the studio working on my culminating.

21 is the score I got because I misinterpreted the assignment.

18 is how old I am.

15 is how old I was when I met my best friend.

13 is how old I was when I came here.

9 is the amount of times I got sent to the doctors because my teachers thought I had ADHD.

8 is the amount of prescriptions I’ve tried.

7 is the days I spent hating myself per week when I was a kid.

6 is how many months it took for my parents to stop taking me to get tested for mental problems.

5 is how old I was when I first got called weird.

4 point 0 is my GPA.

3 is the amount of people that left when I was so sure they would stay.

2 is how many years it took for me to become fluent in English.

1 is the amount of people I’ve ever loved.

1 is the amount of years I have spent at this school.

1 is the amount of Kim Jupiters there are in the world.

1 is the amount of people you can say with confidence that you understand what they’ve been through, and that person is yourself.

One. One. Zero.”

Lincoln was left speechless as the audience applauded and the video cut off. He hadn’t know Jupiter could write poetry, had never even heard of this video.was speechless as the crowd applauded and the video ended. He just stared at the screen until the next video on AutoPlay started. He shut off his phone and rolled over until he fell off the bed and onto the giant stuffed tiger Jupiter had given him when Yong-sun first moved in.

“Hey Lincoln,” Jupiter said, walking into Lincoln’s room. He paused when he caught sight of Lincoln’s face. “You okay?”

“I saw your poetry video,” Lincoln said, hugging the tiger close to his chest. Jupiter immediately turned red and covered his face with his hands.

“Oh god no,” He moaned distressingly. “I’m pretty shameless, but that’s kind of humiliating.”

“No, it was good!” Lincoln protested. “I liked it.”

Jupiter snorted, finally removing his hands. He flopped onto the bed, splaying out like a starfish and taking up a lot of room for such a tiny guy.

“I have an art show coming up,” Jupiter said casually. “December 9th. Wanna come?”

“Sure,” Lincoln mumbled, sitting up. “Yeah, sounds cool. I’ll go.”

“Great!” Jupiter flashed him a grin that made him feel warm inside. He felt like he might walk to the end of the world just to keep Jupiter smiling like that. He didn’t even notice Jupiter playing with his phone until it buzzed with a notification and he saw Jupiter’s face.

“What’s up?” Lincoln asked, peering at his own phone. It was a YouTube notification, informing him that ButtonBrooks has posted a new video. “Huh, that’s odd.”

“Didn’t think he’d be posting anytime soon,” Jupiter said, exhaling shortly and handing over the phone so Lincoln could unlock it. As they waited impatiently for the YouTube app to load, Lincoln climbed onto the bed and laid next to Jupiter, who curled up next to him.

The video was titled like most of Oliver’s tracks; the name of his song and his pseudonym. Except when Lincoln tapped ‘Play’, the logo art disappeared and it showed Oliver’s face instead. Someone must have been recording him, because he was sitting upright in bed, bandages and bruises displayed for the whole world to see.

“Check how many views there are,” Jupiter pointed out. Lincoln paused the video and minimized it so he could check the views. There were over 300 000 and counting. The two of them exchanged looks before continuing the video.

“Hi, my name is Oliver Brooks. Many of you know me as Button. As the title of this video says, I’m here to give you a warning,” Oliver said on-screen. He leaned forward, barely concealing his wince as he pulled up his shirt to reveal more bruising and bandages wrapped around his torso.

“I was a victim of long-term abuse, and it took me a really long time to see it.” He took a deep breath. “I believed, for the longest time, that everything happened to me because I deserved it. Because I wasn’t good enough. The woman who transformed me into someone I hated is still out there, and there’s many more like her. She told me she loved me, and that she was the only one who would ever love me. I’m telling you right now; if someone loved you, they would never intentionally hurt you.”

“We were in a relationship,” Oliver continued. “She told me that she was supporting me. She told me that she was hurting me for my benefit. Punishing me for things I’ve done wrong so I can get better. Here’s the thing, though. She didn’t have the right to play god, she never did. She couldn’t pass judgment on my actions, and yet I let her. Because I thought I deserved it. If it weren’t for the help of my friends, I would still think I deserve it. I might never fully recover from that constant abuse.”

“This isn’t for attention. This isn’t for sympathy. This is for all the people out there who are trapped in an abusive relationship and don’t know it. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. She pushed me down two flights of stairs and had people beat me up. She could have killed me. Please, if someone is hurting you, or you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, get help. Nobody should have to go through shit like this.”

Even with the poor lighting, it was easy to see tears streaming down Oliver’s face. Lincoln was rendered speechless, his chest aching when he thought of the pain that Oliver had to go through. He was reminded of exactly why he decided on majoring in Criminology, to prevent things like this from happening. He knew he couldn’t save the world, but helping at least a few people escape from people like Oliver’s ex would make him happy. He felt Jupiter’s hand nudge his own, and he carefully wrapped his fingers around Jupiter’s, squeezing tightly.

Oliver was wrapping up his video with thank-yous and a list of resources for those in need. He laughed brokenly and wiped his eyes. “I promise you, new tracks will be uploaded once I’ve fully healed. This is ButtonBrooks, signing out.”

The screen flashed to his logo and the video ended. Lincoln let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, dropping his phone on the bed and turning to Jupiter, who looked like he was about to cry himself.

“That’s our best friend,” Jupiter whispered.

“Yeah, and he’s getting better,” Lincoln said gently, offering Jupiter a reassuring smile. Jupiter looked up at him, doe-eyed and face open, and it was hard to tell that this was the same kid who’d been through so much and yet acted perfectly okay.

“I’m really proud of him,” Jupiter said softly, rolling over to lie on his back, almost falling off the bed. He stared up at the ceiling like it held the answer to every problem he’d ever had.

“Me too, Jupiter,” Lincoln said quietly. “Me too.”

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