This fluttering in my chest is an inexplicably intoxicating feeling. The rising heat on my skin from your scorching gaze is consistent. The raised bumps on my arms from your touch are indicators that your presence alters my body and mind. I fall asleep to your image in my mind and I crave to hear your gentle voice. You haunt my thoughts and your lips paint my dreams. You terrify and thrill me all at once.
I wonder of what would happen if I decided to close the space separating you and I. To cross that line into an unknown abyss where things could be beautiful or undeniably tragic. Because I want a taste of you and what we could ever possibly be,
but whether you are poison or heaven is still unknown to me. But I refuse to let another person joy ride into my life only to leave on the same specks they rendered me to. Because although I was broken before,
you have the capacity to shatter me.
I glance up from the paper to see Justin peering at me curiously. I blush profusely, quickly closing the notebook. As if I’d be able to write knowing he was looking at me. Justin has the ability to make my mind go completely blank and utterly useless when it comes to writing.
And writing with him on my mind while also being sat across from me was a recipe for disaster. I couldn’t focus on anything but him and I swear it felt like his stare was seared into my skin. Lunch felt uncharacteristically quiet since Jasmine was making up a test, Lou was nowhere to be found, Shane decided to dip, Gracson looked pissed, and Amiyah was just content on her phone. Things were pretty chill and uneventful today.
The weather is cooling quickly, and I felt a slight chill on the way to school today. Winter will be here before we all know it, since the seasons tend to change in fast currents. It’s crazy to think we will all be graduating soon and taking the next step into our lives. I’ve actually been trying my hardest to focus on my grades after I promised by mom, and I think I could get into a decent college if I really wanted, and I’ve already started to fill out an application to the community college. I’m stepping forward with everyone else around me and haven’t felt this content in a while.
“Am I still coming over after school today to help you study for your Economics test?” Justin asks, leaning over the lunch table.
“Yes, you are!” I exclaim, “My mom has literally be pestering me about my grade in there and is banking on me passing this test.”
“Well I’ll help you study since I had the highest grade in that class, not to brag or anything,” Justin smirks, dodging the grape I threw at him.
“Stop it you cocky little shit! We know you’re a supposed genius and everything, but...” I trail off, making a point of looking him over. My eyes linger on his toned biceps and I’m suddenly catapulted back to my front foyer with Justin’s unique scent and arms enveloping me. I want to feel him surrounding me again. I want to be close enough to count his six freckles that are disappearing as quick as the warm weather and be a whisper away from his lips.
I just want him. And that terrifies me because the last time I wanted someone I was left and soon forgotten, like an old book you briefly read once before forgetting every single character and soon giving up and leaving it to collect dust on your shelf.
But it was more than that. Because a boy once devoured my pages and knew me like a well worn book spine. That intrigue soon left though, and as he got bored and uninterested he began to tear page after page out of me until I was shriveled into absolute nothingness.
I gave him my love and trust only to be betrayed and heartbroken.
He didn’t stay with me even after I begged him not to leave. Even after I apologized for things that were never my fault Bryce left. And all I have to remember him by are broken memories of his once beautiful face that I can’t even imagine now without a permanent jagged scar tarnishing his features.
Back when he and I dated sophomore year, I used to hate how he went to a different school and I couldn’t see him as often as I wanted. But as the distance between us increased both physically and emotionally, I now find retribution in the fact that I don’t have to see his face shadow the halls of school.
But back then this fact gave Bryce ample opportunity to cause me stress and worry, making me paranoid that since I couldn’t see him every second of every day, that he could and would slip from my fingertips easily.
“Why should I worry about losing you when I’m surrounded by pretty girls all the time? You’re replaceable.”
He’d always say something like that when we fought, and whenever I got upset the conversation somehow always turned on me and I was suddenly painted as the bad guy.
“Oh really? And what about all those guys your punk ass brother hangs around? Don’t act like you don’t flirt with them. They want you and everyone knows how easy you are.”
Nothing I did was ever right. And I was always the one to apologize and be at fault even after he said all of those horrible things to me. But I was the one who let him.
I let Bryce Evans treat me like shit because at sixteen I wanted a beautiful boy to love me and never saw true value in myself unless words of praise left his lips. It didn’t matter that the cost of his love was self loathing. It didn’t matter that whatever friends I had left were soon gone because the only thing I thought mattered was his happiness. It was all about him. Until it wasn’t.
Until I was left all alone with no one but myself. A girl who had been beaten down and had to learn how to love herself after a boy took every ounce of affection and love she had to offer before running off to give it to someone new.
I had to build myself back up, and I had to do it alone while I isolated myself from everyone. Just like he wanted. But now as I glance over at Justin I am suddenly so thankful because even if he doesn’t know it yet, he found me. And now I’m better than I’ve been in a long while and Bryce’s words of how worthless I am is just static in the background. Because I know I’m worth something, and it just took me taking a chance to discover that. And that chance came in the form of Justin Grey.
“But?” Justin prods, acknowledging my earlier words. I smile at him, pausing for dramatic effect.
“But, you still look and act dumb so it doesn’t matter!” I exclaim, my laughter turning into squeals of protest as Justin suddenly was on my side of the table, hauling me up and over his shoulder.
“Take it back!” He laughs, spinning me around in quick circles, causing my arms to flail around, my hair to swamp my face, and for my head to whirl.
“Justin!” I scream, “stop! People are staring!”
“Apologize! Or I’m gonna let you puke and fail your test tomorrow!”
“I’m sorry!” I cave, screaming as he starts to spin me around even faster.
“I said I’m sorry!” I yell once again, gasping as he stops suddenly. He slowly puts me down on my feet, and I stumble a bit, gripping his shoulders for stability. I’m breathing really hard as I try to catch my breath and balance. Justin starts to smile slowly as he looks at me and my face flushes under his intense gaze.
“What?” I mutter. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
“Because you look beautiful,” He says it so simply and as if it’s not a big deal. Can he not hear my heart thundering? Does he not know how his words catch me off guard and send my senses into overdrive?
Can he tell how much I want to kiss him right now?
“Excuse me,” Amy says harshly, narrowing her eyes at mine and Justin’s close proximity. Her gorgeous face is twisted in an angry frown as she shoves past us, nearly knocking me to the ground. What the hell?
“Oh she is so lucky Lou isn’t here. She would have demolished that bitch,” Amiyah mutters, texting frantically on her phone to who I can only assume is Lou. Glancing back at Justin, it’s clear the moment is over as his eyes follow Amy out of the cafeteria. Ouch.
“I’m sorry about her,” He sighs, glancing once again to where she just dissapeared off to.
“It’s fine,” I say nonchalantly. But is it? I wonder. Amy looked pissed and everyone knows she doesn’t keep her thoughts to herself for long. The bell rings and people quickly grab their bags and make way to their next class.
“I’ll see you after school,” Justin says, and I nod at him before heading to class.
How much longer would Amy be content with glaring at me at every chance she’d get? When would she actually make her move?
Sooner rather than later I hope.
“This is stupid,” I groan, throwing the textbook as far from me as possible. Justin and I have only been studying for thirty minutes and I was ready to call it quits. Economics didn’t interest me at all, and there was no way I’d do good on that unit test tomorrow.
“You’ve only done five review questions though,” Justin says.
“Lilly there’s thirty all together,” Justin laughs, and I groan even louder.
“I need a break!” I declare, getting up and almost tripping on my bed sheets. Justin bites his lip, trying hard not to laugh at me.
“Maybe you’re right,” He teases, following me out of my room and down the stairs. My mom left a little while ago to run some errands, but made sure to thoroughly embarrass me beforehand by warning us about unprotected sex and stds.
I couldn’t look Justin in the eye for a good fifteen minutes after that.
After I got home from spending the weekend at my dad’s, my mom pestered me for details on how things went. Judging from the fact that I wasn’t kicked out, I told her relatively well. I promised I would behave, and in attempt to turn over a new leaf, I did. Doesn’t mean I enjoyed myself or even enjoyed anyone’s company’s besides Frankie’s. But I still did it.
“Okay, I have an idea!” Justin exclaims, opening my pantry before rummaging through things. I heard the rustling of bags, the loud clanking noise of things falling, and multiple curses before he finally emerged with a container of chocolate chip cookies. Honestly? That’s what he was looking for?
“Are you hungry or something? Cause I would have found those for you.”
“I’m sorry,” He laughs, “I just got excited but couldn’t find them.” I smile sheepishly.
“That’s my fault. I always eat all of the cookies so my mom hides them from me. I still find them though,” I smirk.
“What a savage,”Justin teases, earning a punch in the arm from me.
“Just shut up and tell me why the hell you wanted cookies so bad,” I grumble. Justin rubs his hands together in excitement and I groan. Oh no.
“Okay, so I think a better studying tactic would give you an incentive to get the correct answer. And these,” he shakes the cookies, “are the incentive. Every question you get right, you can have a cookie. If not, then I’ll eat them in front of you. Deal?”
“That sounds like cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Just say yes,” Justin laughs.
“Fine,” I mumble, “but I get a freebie cookie to start out.” I reach over the counter to grab a cookie before Justin snatches them from me. My eyes widen in incredulity.
“There are no freebies. This is all or nothing. I don’t give out participation prizes.”
“Is that some type of baseball talk?” I ask in confusion. I can tell he’s trying really hard not to but he laughs at me, the corners of his eyes crinkling with delight as his irises light up, shining in an indescribable way. I’d kill to see and hear him laugh all the time, even if it was at my own expense. After laughing for a really long time I spoke up once again.
“Okay it wasn’t that funny.”
“Sorry, sorry. Let’s study.”
“But my books and papers are upstairs?” I ask in confusion.
“We don’t need them. I know all the information you have to remember.”
“Seriously? I can’t even remember what we learned last week let alone remember any of this a year from now.” Justin took Economics as an AP course junior year. I’ve always known he’s incredibly smart but I sometimes forget how smart he is.
And have I mentioned how incredibly sexy an intelligent guy is?
“Okay, first question. What is microeconomics?” I bite my lip as I mull over the answer, the carton of delicious cookies taunting me. What’s the answer?
“Isn’t it economic decisions made at a low level?”
“Nice. Here’s a cookie for you my lady,” Justin says, handing one to me as I try to not cringe at his corniness.
“You’re so lame,” I complain, munching on my cookie.
“You know you love it,” He says, preparing another question for me. I scoff at his words but I know he’s not buying it. Because he’s right.
I do love it.
“I can’t answer another problem. I’m serious this time,” I groan. We had gotten more than halfway through the review questions and I desperately needed a break. My brain can only focus and function for so long.
“You said that five minutes ago.”
“I meant it five minutes ago! I keep getting the stupid question wrong and I want a cookie dammit.”
“Then get the right answer,” Justin stated obviously.
“You don’t think I’ve been trying!” I yell, throwing my hands up. Justin was absolutely unreasonable when it comes to studying. We haven’t paused or taken a break in forever, he makes me do a question over and over again until I get it right, and he eats cookies in front of me. And says I can’t have any. That is despicable.
“Calm down,” He laughs. “I need to go to the bathroom anyways. Where is it again?”
I tell him to go upstairs and that it’s the third door to the left since the downstairs toilet hasn’t been working. Someone was supposed to come out here tomorrow for that.
My phone vibrates and I check the message from my mom.
Start dinner for me please? It’s in the fridge. Love you!
I groan and stand up, grabbing the thawed pork chops from the refrigerator. I start grabbing all of the stuff I’ll need. After obtaining a skillet, spices, and flour I turn on the stove top. As they begin to fry, I waltz back over to where Justin and I were studying. He began to write down questions and had me answer on paper. I start reviewing what we’ve already gone over, and attempt the last problem again.
What does the invisible hand metaphor refer to?
I erase my previous answer and try again, confident that I got it right this time. Hearing the sizzling from the pan, I stand and begin to flip the pork chops, seasoning them as I do. I repeat the questions in my head, trying to remember all my answers. Hopefully I do well tomorrow.
As the pork chops begin to get done, I grab a plate to put them on and paper towels to soak the grease. After flipping them one more time, I plonk them onto the plate and smile in satisfaction. I was no chef, but I knew how to cook decently.
After washing my hands, I start to wonder what’s taking Justin so long. Did he get lost on his way to the bathroom? He only had so many doors to open before finding the right one. Is he okay?
Biting my lip, I decide to go upstairs and investigate. Leaving our papers on the table, I take the stairs two at a time as worry and curiosity gnaws my bones.
“Justin?” My voice echoes quietly through the empty hallway. The bathroom door is wide open so he’s clearly not in there. Walking further down the hall, I notice a door slightly ajar. A door to a room that no one should be in. Alex’s room.
Rushing down the hall I shove Alex’s door open, my heart in my throat. But I stop short. Because Justin isn’t in here either. Maybe my mom was in here earlier? But why? She hasn’t stepped foot in this room since Alex left over a year ago.
I walk back out of the room and down the hall, confused as hell. Where’s Justin? Then I see a light under my bedroom door that I didn’t notice before. Why’s Justin in my room?
“Hey Justin, did you get lost or something-” I ask teasingly, swinging my door open before letting it slam against the opposite wall. My eyes widen and I suddenly can’t breathe. Because there, sitting on my bed is Justin with my notebook wide open, his fingertips clutching onto the ink stained pages.
There he is, reading my notebook filled with all of my darkest thoughts and emotions, a book containing anything and everything there is to know about me or my life. The good, the bad, the ugly. He’s doing the one thing I have ever asked him not to.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I ask darkly, stomping over to him. He’s looking at me, startled and guilty. His grip is loose when I snatch my notebook from him, feeling fury pump in my veins.
“Shit Lilly, I’m sorry I didn’t-”
“You didn’t what? Think? Clearly. I can’t believe you right now,” I growl, feeling so angry and upset. How dare he go through my things? Especially after I explicitly told him not to. I feel my face pale as something registers in my mind.
“What did you read?” I ask, my voice breaking the tense silence in the room. Justin takes a deep breath, rubbing the back of his neck. I desperately try to calms down and convince myself that it’s okay. That Justin most likely read something I’m not ready to tell him about and that it’s okay. But it’s not. And I’m freaking out.
“Is the bedroom down the hall belong to the Alex you write about?” He asks quietly. I don’t answer him. I can feel my pulse behind my eyelids. Justin breathes deeply once again.
“Your writing Lilly… It’s so deep, so provoking and absolutely raw. I had no idea you could write like that. I know you’re mad at me. And you have every right to be. But I came in here to grab your economics packet and saw your notebook wide open. And I couldn’t help myself. Once I started reading I just couldn’t stop. Your words captivate me,” I meet his gaze, his green eyes burning with passion and remorse.
He knows about Alex. How much, that I don’t know. He’s caught a glimpse into my twisty and awful mind yet he’s still sitting here.
“What are you doing to me?” I groan, clutching my hair in despair. Because I should be pissed at him. Absolutely ragingly furious. But all I want to do is talk to him for hours and have him watching me. I have this desperate inclination to be close to him and it drives me insane. I can’t stay mad at him and I hate it.
“Every time I try writing around you I can’t. I have so many thoughts and words cramming my mind then poof! They’re gone. I’m always able to find the precise words to describe what I’m feeling but when it comes to you I can’t. I can’t even explain my emotions right now because I’m so pissed at you but at the same time I don’t want to be.” I say, confessing all of these thoughts and feelings plaguing me. And I don’t know if it clarified anything or made things all the more confusing. And maybe it was a mistake to say that or Justin doesn’t feel any of this but it had to be said.
“Lilly I’m home! Have you ate yet?” My mom yells from downstairs, startling Justin and I from our trance. Biting my lip I begin to leave the room before Justin stops me by putting his hand in mine. Butterflies swarm my stomach as he gives me a heartwarming smile with his sparkling eyes, squeezing my hand once before letting go. And I read his message perfectly.
“I got you”
We go downstairs and greet my mom. After cleaning up our papers from the kitchen my mom asks Justin if he wants to stay for dinner. He declines politely, explaining how he should be heading home. Walking him to the door, we stand before each other quietly.
“You make me nervous,” Justin says, breaking the silence. I look at him in surprise.
“Really? But why?” I ask.
“Because you can be so unpredictable sometimes, but in the best way. I never know what to expect from you and the more I learn there’s seemingly more pieces to put together.”
“I’m not a simple person,” I say, smiling at him.
“I know,” he replies, “and I’m glad you’re not. Goodnight Lilly.”
Justin surprises me once again by leaning forward and kissing my cheek. It only lasted for a second but the pressure of his soft lips and the caress of his warm breath left me speechless. My face is burning a bright crimson and I’ve forgotten how to breathe. Why does he do this to me?
I jumble a bunch of words together in a pathetic attempt in saying goodbye as Justin smiles at me and shuts the door behind him. I squeeze my eyes shut in frustration groaning loudly. God sometimes I hate him but then he does crap like this that throws me off guard.
Walking back to the kitchen, I pause when I hear my mom on the house phone. Usually I don’t think much about it because only bill collectors and Alex call that number, and I don’t want to talk to one and the other doesn’t want to talk to me. But she sounds different. She sounds excited. I know she usually acts all peppy and like her day has gone better than it really has to cheer him up but this is different. This seems real.
I tiptoe further towards the living room, listening to what my mother is saying.
“Oh sweetheart I am so happy! I don’t know what to say. I’ll have to call your dad, and prepare-” I curse under my breath as she pauses speaking, since Alex obviously interrupted her. Damn our impatient gene.
“Alright honey. I love you with all of my heart. Please call as soon as you can. Mhhm. Bye,” She finally hung up, and I watch as she wipes a tear from her eye. I’m shocked, not because she’s crying, but she’s crying tears of joy. I’ve seen my mom cry plenty of times, but I don’t know how long it’s been since she’s done it out of happiness. What the hell did she and Alex talk about?
I wait for my mom to disappear into the next room before stealthily walking to the phone. Picking it up, my eyes widen at the about of times Alex has called in the past few days. Usually he calls once or twice a week. He’s called six times this week alone. And it’s not even the weekend yet. Every time I scroll through the caller ID it says Vincent Care Rehabilitation Center. What could Alex and my mom be talking so frequently about?
Maybe it’s nothing and I’m just so curious because he refuses to talk to me. Ever since Alex was checked into rehab he’s refused to talk to me. I don’t know if it’s because he feels ashamed or embarrassed that he’s there, or if I did something wrong to him and that he’s angry. All I do know is that I miss my older brother so much. And against my better judgement I’m going to find out what’s going on with him regardless if my mom decides to tell me or not.
Alex is still my brother despite falling into the wrong crowd and abusing drugs. He’s been getting better and I miss him. I can only hope he’s the same person I grew up with.
What if we’ve both changed so much that we can never have the relationship we once had?