"Was it something I said? Something I did to make you destroy all we’ve built? And it was something you said, something you did to make me think that you weren’t real.” - You Me At Six, There’s No Such Thing As Accidental Infidelity
My mother was on the phone with Alex again. Of course, she didn’t share this with me but it wasn’t a hard conclusion to reach. Her face has a certain glow or quality to it when Alex calls. Her eyes have a light within them, the worry lines and wrinkles on her face
decreases, and her whole mood brightens. It’s as if during a five or six minute phone call with my brother my mom shifts into a whole new person. One with hopes and aspirations. The women she used to be. Before everything was irrevocably destroyed.
“I’m leaving for school mom, Justin’s here!” My voice echoes and reverberates as I exit the house. Justin made it his personal mission to take me to and from school each day. We argued about it for a solid five minutes until he started to raise his voice and make illegible sounds to drown my voice out until I agreed. I swear he is such a child sometimes.
“How are you this fine morning?” Justin asks cheekily as I slammed his passenger door shut. I groan and roll my eyes before shuffling down further in my seat, putting on a pair of sunglasses to block my eyes from the early morning sunshine. Justin knows I am irritable and grumpy in the morning and makes it his duty to bother me any and every way he possibly can.
“Drink bleach,” I hiss. His warm laugh fills the interior of the car as the engine rumbles and screeches to life.
“I love you too,” He teases, hopefully choosing to ignore my blush as he begins driving us to school.
The car ride is quiet for a while, and I’m just calmly listening to Justin softly sing along to the radio. He was no Beyoncé, but he was pretty decent and I loved to hear his deep baritone voice attempt all the notes despite most morning where I’d bitch and moan about it.
“I’m nervous to see my test results,” I admit. I had taken the exam two days ago and my teacher Mr. Timmons said that he had gotten all of our multiple choice and short answers graded. Justin worked so hard to tutor me and I hope I didn’t fail. It would disappoint me, my mom, and probably him. Which would suck majorly.
Justin’s easy going smile and encouraging words washed over me as he told me I probably did fine and if not I could always retake it. And he even offered to tutor me for a second time.
“That probably won’t be necessary. We’ll see though,” I say, sliding out of his car and bounding to the school doors with his sure and steady footsteps behind me.
“I know it won’t. You probably did amazing with the top score in your class.”
“Don’t flatter me. I most definitely did not receive the highest score. You’re brilliant but you’re not a miracle worker,” I tease, and we laugh before parting ways, Justin meandering through the masses, dodging people and twisting down the opposite hallway. Satisfied with watching him go, I turn the opposite way and stride to the nearest staircase. I steadily stomp on every step, my feet carrying me to my first period as thoughts circle my head of test scores, Alex, and always inevitably Justin.
During class my mind wanders once again, and I suddenly feel a deep pool of anxiety fill me as a startling predicament renters my mind. I had almost managed to overlook the fact that my mom, dad, and Karen have been planning and managing behind my back to force me into a horribly awkward dinner with Charlotte. Just her and I. Alone. I of course objected profusely and screeched my distress with the potential disaster. But no.
I had to eat dinner with my father’s girlfriend and there was ultimately nothing I could do to get out of it. The stress and expectancy of my test score caused me to completely overlook what today’s date. Disregard what was going to happen tonight and I’m currently having a break down.
Every time I see or even remotely hear Karen’s name distaste and fury gnaws at me because every time she flashes that blindingly pure smile I can only imagine her vindictive actions of screwing around with my father and the dark, ugly black smudges of my mother’s makeup as she fell apart, cradling a cup of wine on our living room couch alone. Night after night. As my brother and I lived on cluelessly to our parents drifting and shredding apart. Until things were so achingly clear that I felt like a fool for not seeing things sooner. The long nights my father spent out late ‘working’. The days he’d actually grace us with his presence and the way they treated one another like complete strangers and you could taste the tension of words unsaid.
Finally, when the divorce papers were swiftly laid on our kitchen table the truth came out. My father had met Karen on a business trip in Albany, and they had stumbled upon one another in a coffee shop. My father had been on his way out the door when the beautiful blonde vixen flung herself towards him. He had almost forgotten his wallet, and his bluetooth was blaring away, voices and important discussions being made. Karen, ever the hero, was praised and thanked by my father, and upon meetings being cancelled that day due to the absence of a key member, when she graciously offered to show him around the city since he had never had time to sightsee because of work, he agreed. And to make a long story achingly short, they stayed in contact and he would always find ways to frequently visit her in New York and it wasn’t long until my mother noticed his odd behavior and distance. She got ahold of his phone records and talked to some of his colleagues at work, discovering a woman named Karen Johnson who her husband had been having an affair with.
My father had vehemently denied her accusations before finally admitting to what he had done. What they had done. Being the snake he was, my father didn’t tell Karen he was married at first. She was just as ignorant as my mother. But when the truth finally came out, instead of being a decent human being and cutting my father out of her life, she stayed with him. Knowing he was a taken man. That he had a wife that adored him and two children who needed him. She just didn’t care. And when my mother finally discovered that the man she made vows with was being unfaithful, she tried her damndest to make things work. Begged him to stay with her, despite the lying and cheating. She was willing to overlook his betrayal because she loved him. A beautiful, stupid woman married to a man who was in love with someone that was not her.
But after months of arguing and her sobbing herself to sleep, he convinced Karen and her daughter to move here and signed the divorce papers. So I was not going to be thrilled with being forced to eat dinner with a woman who took a part in destroying my family. What she and my father did was unforgivable. She stayed in a relationship with a married man knowingly. She didn’t care about going behind my mother’s back. She didn’t care about him already having a family because she wanted him to complete her own.
Her actions proved that she never cared about us so I refuse to ever care about her or treat her with even the tiniest speck of respect.
The ringing of the bell startled me so bad that I jumped a mile from my seat, earning multitudes of stares and snickers. My face flushes as I scurry from the room, dreading my next class. Economics. The test score and my mother’s expectations taunting me. I purposefully take my time walking the halls, tittering around as the warning bell rings.
“Don’t worry, you’ve got this,” Amiyah smiles encouragingly as she passes me by, shooting me two thumbs up. I breathe in deeply, before facing the classroom door and yanking it open. A few eyes flicker to me as the door slams behind me, and I circle around to my desk. The girl next to me, Bailey, shoots me a nervous smile.
“I’m so nervous about this test. I already know I did bad. I can feel it.”
“You and me both,” I mutter under my breath, and we both stop talking as the deep growl of a throat being cleared captures our attention. Our eyes reach their focal point as Mr. Timmons begins his lesson.
“As you all are aware, I have your exams graded,” He begins, starting to pass them out. I watch each person’s face pointedly, some people have content smiles, others letting out breaths of relief, and the poor other few whose faces were dejected and their posture slumped. I feel as if I’ll fall into the latter category.
“Some of you did very excellent, which you should be very proud of yourselves. Others of you, although, did not meet the expectations. Of course, test corrections and retakes will be available until it’s been a week since we’ve taken this section of the unit test. Take time to reflect on why you scored so low. Did you study? Did you understand the material? If your answer is no to either of those questions then only you are to blame. You’re responsible for your own success, and if you don’t seek help I nor no one else can aid you.”
I start to tap my finger in angst as Mr. Timmons made his way towards me, possibly in the longest amount of time possible. His hairy hand slams the paper on my desk upside down, slowly slipping his palm away. I bite my lip before flipping the page over quickly, breathing an audible sigh of relief.
“Nicely done Lilly,” Mr. Timmons grumbles before stalking off to the next anxious student. Oh my god. I passed. I quickly snatch my phone out, takinga quick snapshot of my score before sending two separate messages to my mom and Justin.
My phone vibrates with a message from Justin and I am unable to wipe the unbelievably large smile on my face.
I knew you could do it. I’m so happy for you. Want to celebrate?
What did you have in mind tutor?
Let’s go somewhere for lunch. Your pick and I’ll pay. You deserve it.
No, we’ll split. You’re the only reason I passed anyways. Besides I’ll feel bad.
Lillian Grace Alvarado I am going to treat you. End of discussion. Don’t feel bad either because Shane and I bet on you and I’m $20 richer ;)
“Lilly, I’d like to see more test scores like that from you, but I’m afraid that won’t happen if your focus is on your phone,” Mr Timmons says, gaining my attention. I sheepishly put my phone away and grab a piece of paper, watching his hairy hands scribble notes on the board.
“So where do you want to eat my prodigy student?” Justin twists to smirk at me, and I roll my eyes but the cheeky grin refuses to leave my face. We only had a thirty minute lunch period so we couldn’t stay long.
“I’d take you somewhere better than fast food, but you know how short lunch is. I actually know the perfect place though,” Justin says with such conviction that I don’t doubt him for even a second. It wasn’t long before we pulled up to an old fashioned burger joint and I smiled in satisfaction. I could already taste their greasy deliciousness and spices sparking life to my tastebuds.
We grab a cozy booth in the corner of the diner after ordering up front. The nice neutral gray and blue hues of the diner walls left me in a happy and content state. The scratches and ridges raised upon the table gave it a more genuine feel than a polished, brand new surface would have. The other patrons were talking quietly amongst themselves in a nice reserved manner.
“I really like it here. It’s far better than the crowded, loud cafeteria.” Justin nods in agreement as a middle aged woman swings by our table. Her hair was curled into swirling wisps as she sat our waffle fries and double decker burgers down. We thanked her politely before she departed.
“This is so flipping good,” I moan. I can’t remember the last time I had a decent burger. Justin smirks deceptively at me and I immediately blush, not trusting his conniving expression.
“What?” I mumble, feeling even more embarrassed since I was talking with a mouthful of food. Can you embarrass yourself anymore?
“Nothing I just like your moans,” Justin says cheekily and my face is flaming and I damn near choked on my food. Pervert!
“Seriously!” I shriek, throwing a few of my fries at him. The idiot just laughs, picking them up and eating them. His cute dimples are on show and his iridescent eyes are twinkling. I could get lost in this moment. I could get lost in him.
“Oh crap. We should probably head back to school,” Justin says after checking the time. We leave cash and our plates on the booth before walking side by side to his car. The ride back is quiet but I can’t help but fidget at the thought of tonight. I didn’t want to be anywhere near Karen in an intimate and close proximity event. It was making me very anxious and I had no idea how to get myself out of it. I guess I was wearing my feelings because Justin spoke up.
“Are you okay Lilly?” I was just going to give him a basic answer of ‘I’m fine’. I could have disregarded his question quite honestly and things still would have moved on. But I didn’t. Because for some inexplicable reason I trusted Justin. I felt comfortable in his presence and I always get this inkling that he somehow understands things about me I don’t even get myself. I wanted to be riskful and rebellious with him. I wanted him to know me like a childhood scent you never quite forget. ANd that won’t happen if I never let him in. Even if it happens gradually.
So I was truthful to him.
“I’m being forced to have dinner with my dad’s girlfriend Karen tonight. She’s the last person I’d like to be around and the prospect of tonight is making me exceedingly nervous,” I let out in one heaving and gasping breath. I hated when I got worked up like this. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t calm myself down and stop thinking negatively.
“Hey, hey,” Justin says as he parks in the student parking lot. He turns to face me and startles me when he grabs my hand. He’s strangely warm, and his hand encases my with an odd familiarity with his firm grip. HIs fingers slightly rub mine and my mind is so befuddled and consumed with thoughts of him that I feel my heartbeat slow and physically felt myself relax.
“Everything will be okay. It’s just one dinner. You don’t have to like her, and it doesn’t have to change how you feel about her either. Just push through it and it’ll be over before you know it. I have faith in you,” Justin says with stark honesty and I am so amazed by this beautiful boy sitting beside me. A boy who could clear my thoughts so quickly with just a glance or few words. A boy you write novels about. An startlingly kind individual you can’t help being drawn to.
Justin Grey is magnificent.
He was so close to me. Physically speaking and it felt as if he was on the path to being emotionally close to me also. I could feel his tepid breath caress my lips and I could feel my frantic heart thrumming in my chest. I could see constellations in his freckles and his eyes were green cosmos. I was entranced and slowly everything separating us began to diminish. My eyes flutter close as I anxiously wait for him to find me.
He was a whisper away before the blaring of his phone caused us to violently yank away from each other, the invisible strings binding us snapping.
“Fuck,” He mutters, fishing his phone out of his pocket. It was Lou calling.
“Yes?” He asks, clear frustration evident in his features and the way he growled the words.
“The bell for sixth period is about to ring dipshit. So I suggest you and Lilly save the sexy time for later and get your asses in here!” She says loud enough for me to overhear before I assume she hung up. He doesn’t have to say anything before we both exit his car.
I’m trembling with a new nervous energy and I can’t help but glance at him every chance I got. I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that we almost kissed. What did that mean? And could he feel his heart in his throat like I did?
I learned the hard way about wearing my heart on my sleeve when the disaster I called love occured with Bryce. I swore to myself I’d never fall that easily for anyone ever again. But love was a bitch along with life, and I’m afraid I might make the same mistake twice.
I couldn’t pinpoint it, but everything with Justin felt different. Better. I was confident he’d be there for me and be someone I could count on. Someone who didn’t plan on leaving. Someone determined to stay. And that was expressed through his actions of rediscovering who I was and my name. Being persistent and eating lunch with me everyday. Convincing me to give him and his friends a chance.
I don’t think Justin Grey was a mistake. And I hope he doesn’t prove me wrong.
“I seriously have to dress up for a dinner I don’t even want to attend?” I ask dubiously. My mom gives me a chilling glare and I huff as I browse through my wardrobe once again. I had a few dresses but they weren’t my first pick for comfortable clothing. But I apparently had to dress and act appropriately. My mother’s words not mine.
“Can you get out now so I can get dressed?” I ask annoyedly. She rolls her eyes at my attitude and slams my door shut. Geez it’s like she’s the teenager sometimes.
I peruse my closet again before pulling out a dark blue lace dress. The bodice hugged me tightly and the skirts flowed freely. It was a short sleeve dress and the dark tones complimented my pale skin. I just slicked my hair up in a high ponytail, the ends of my hair slightly curled from my shower when I arrived home. I flicked on a bit of mascara before grabbing a pair of flats and traveling downstairs.
“You look lovely honey,” My mom’s lips curve into one of her beautiful, rare smiles she beheld before the divorce. She’s happy I look nice to have dinner with the woman her ex husband cheated on her with. This is outrageous.
“Whatever. Time to have the most awful dinner of my life,” I mumble, shoving past her to wait for Karen to pull up. I seriously need to get a car soon. When Alex was first being admitted to rehab the divorce had been costly and we didn’t have much to help fund him. But he needed to go. Things were getting worse and worse and eventually he was going to end up killing himself or someone would have killed him. So we sold my car, mom picked up double shifts, and dad helped out too. It was a rough time but we’ve been doing better lately. I hope those frequent phone calls from Alex meant he was doing better too.
A car horn began blasting and I took some slow breaths to prepare myself. Here goes nothing. Karen’s beaming face greeted mine when I walked to her car and opened the passenger door.
“You are so beautiful Lilly! I can’t believe you don’t have a boyfriend!” She sounds like my grandma.
“Well there’s no taken guy I’m particularly interested in. I’m quite happy being single anyways,” I snap and I hear her sharp gasp at my words. Despite my better judgement I felt bad for saying that since she said nothing the rest of the car ride. I already made things awkward just great.
She parked in front of a really nice restaurant, and I felt my nerves spike. What would we even talk about? I’m not a talkative person in general and nothing I have to say to her is nice anyways.
Our server led us to our seats after confirming our reservation. Karen sat across from me and I look everywhere but at her before she begins speaking.
“So, how’s school been? Senior year can be pretty hectic. I remember how stressed I was,” She laughs melodically and I try not to roll my eyes. Her optimism is definitely not shared.
“It’s been fine I guess. A friend of mine has been helping me raise my grades.”
“Oh really! What’s her name?” She asks enthusiastically. My face warms as an image of Justin enters my head and all I can think about is his lips flushed against mine.
“His name is Justin.” Her perfectly plucked eyebrows rise in surprise as she smiles in excitement. Oh no.
“Oh. I understand. Tell me more about Justin. What’s he like?” Feeling a bit awkward I start telling her basic things about him and before I know it describing Justin starts to come naturally.
“He’s honestly such an amazing person. He drives me absolutely mad but he’s so supportive and such a great friend,” I cringe a bit at the word friend. I don’t think friends almost kiss each other. And I definitely haven’t felt this way about any friend before.
“What does he look like?” she queried. I didn’t know what to make of her curiousity but Justin is someone I don’t mind talking about and well, she’s listening.
“He has this swoopy brown hair that slightly curls at the ends. He usually styles it up with jell but I remember when we first met officially it kept falling into his face,” I smile at the memory. I refused to tell him my name, and now that I think about it I wonder why. Maybe it was because I was slightly hurt that he didn’t notice me. I was invisible to him as I was to everyone else. But now I know that I made myself invisible. I purposely avoided attention from being drawn to me and I pushed all of my old friends away. It was my own fault that I wasn’t noticed because I thought I didn’t want to be even though I was waiting for someone to see me. Justin saw me.
“He has beautiful green eyes. They are his most potent feature. He has a slightly crooked nose that’s adorable and barely discernable freckles that are fading away like summer. No, I think I lied. His smile is probably his best feature. His teeth are perfect and his smile washes over you like a cozy fire.” I got lost in describing him that I nearly forgot who I was with and where we were. Nearly.
“He sounds like a very handsome young man. Are you sure you guys are just friends?” She teases and I nearly choke on the sprite our waiter had brought round minutes ago.
“God no we’re just friends.”
“Lilly, I know I am definitely not your favorite person and you don’t like me. You might never like me and this dinner might just be in vain but I do care about you. Your father talks about you all the time and he is so proud of you. We both are. For the short amount of time I’ve actually spent around you, you never looked happy. And I know I am part to blame for that and I take full responsibility. But when you talk about that boy your whole face brightens with passion. Don’t let me and your parents mistakes stop you from going after what you want. And even if you aren’t ready to see it you want Justin.”
Karen has a serene look upon her face and I am startled to see that she meant every word. I wanted to shout that she doesn’t have the right to assume anything about me. She doesn’t know me and she’s just a homewrecker. Just the woman who demolished my family. But I don’t think I have much anger left. My angry outbursts won’t ever change anything. My parent’s will still be divorced and Karen would still exist in the equation. One day I need to move on, but what if I can’t? My response is cut off by the waiter bringing our food.
“Here is your guys meal. Enjoy ladies,” He smiles charmingly before going to a different table he’s being flagged to. I salivate at the steak before me and conclude that if anything, the food will be the only good thing that occurred during this dinner.
“How’s Frankie?” I ask, suddenly missing her infectious laughter. I really loved that little girl and I would never blame her for her mother’s and my father’s actions. That would be cruel.
“She’s been doing great actually! She’s a little bugger and refuses to go to sleep at night, but once she exhausts herself it’s inevitable. She’s been asking about you actually. About when you’ll stay over again,” She looks at me hopefully.
“I really have no interest in staying over,” I snap, and immediately feel bad when her face falls.
“I want a relationship with you Lilly. But I have no idea how to do that when you won’t meet me halfway. It was my idea for us to have this dinner, not your father’s. He was vehemently against it actually. Said that I shouldn’t be around you without him because you’re still angry and he didn’t want me to leave upset. But I insisted.”
“Why though? Why do you want me to like you? Why should I actually? Everytime I see you all I can think about is how after you everything fell apart. My family is fragmented. No matter how irrational it is all I can do is blame you,” I say, balling my hands into fists because here we are addressing the elephant in the room we had been avoiding for months.
“I’ve already told you that even if I wanted to, I can’t take back the past! I can’t change what’s already happened. And you might hate me for saying this, but I don’t want to. I don’t regret meeting your father. And I don’t regret our relationship. The only thing I regret is hurting you, your brother, and mother. But I can’t change the past and I am well and done dwelling in it,” She says firmly and all I can see is red and a fire is raging within me, that ugly monster inside of me like it is in most people surfacing. Rising, lurking. Striking.
“No your not!” I scream, not caring one bit that we are raising eyebrows, eyes flickering to us nervously as everyone whispers.
“You don’t care that you hurt us. Hurt me. Hurt my mom. Shattered us. I know things can’t be changed but I can dwell on things for as long as I damn well please!” It’s clear that my words hurt her but I am well past caring.
“You don’t give a fuck that you slept with a married man. You don’t. You never even apologized. All I ever wanted was an apology. Even if it wasn’t me you did wrong. But you aren’t sorry. You don’t even regret any of it happening. So I won’t regret hating you.” I shove my chair back, storming from the table. Karen shouts after me, begging me to stay and I know she’s crying but I don’t want to care. I don’t care about anything anymore.
I’m standing outside the restaurant and it’s a freezing night and the wind is slashing at my bare arms. I’m breathing deeply and trying to hold back these damn tears but I feel so lost and I don’t know what to do. I need to go before Karen chases me out here because she’s the last person I want to be around. My father was right about this dinner. All I did was hurt her. That was probably my main goal all along and it made me sick. I made me sick.
“Lillian?” I stopped breathing. The whole world paused. The wind now felt like a calm breeze. The moon was luminescent but it was as if I couldn’t see anything. I felt like I was standing in the eye of a hurricane, everything inexplicably calm in the midst of a disastrous storm. The tears finally fall as I turn to face Bryce Evans. My first love. The boy who didn’t stay.