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Chapter Thirteen

“Are you okay?” Bryce asks me and I want to laugh madly because I am the farthest thing from okay right now and of all people it had to be him to see me like this.

“As if you fucking care,” I spit, the tears coming in faster succession as I nearly choke from holding back sobs. This night is a fucking disaster.

“I’ll take that as a no,” He chuckles lightly and I feel lightheaded from the familiarness of it, flashed back to a time where his laughter was a drug I was fixated on. He would always laugh and be so chill. He acted so calm and collected about everything all of the time, an emotionless stone of a person. That was always part of our problem. I felt too much and he didn’t. And when I managed to get his blood pumping and make him just as emotionally wrecked as me during fights he exploded. And I was collateral damage always.

“You are the last person I want to deal with,” My voice cracks and I hate how I’m falling apart in front of him and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’m shaking and the wind is suddenly ferocious and I’m fragile enough to get blown over. I need to get away from him. Before I completely fall apart.

I start to walk away and start to forge a plan to get myself home when he grabs onto my arm. His touch more chilling than the nipping air.

“Please let go of me,” I beg pathetically. I don’t want to be around him or speak with him at all. I don’t want thoughts of us swarding my mind.

“You look fucking terrible. I can’t just let you leave. I’m not that much of an asshole.” He was a toxic kind of beautiful with long, thick blonde hair and calculating blue eyes. He had rounded features and a bit of facial hair was beginning to grow on his face. He was different and exactly the same since we last saw each other.

“Fuck you Bryce. You are an asshole and we both know it,” I gasp, trying to stop crying and think clearly. I need an escape plan.

“Okay maybe you’re right on that,” He looks me over, his eyes lingering on my face and body and I shiver in disgust. There’s only one guy I want to look at me that way.

“I’ve missed you, you know,” He says quietly and my fists clench. Of course. As soon as I think I’m finally free of Bryce Evans’ clutches he tries to yank me back. Like a black hole that constantly tries to suck me in. But not this time. He’s looking at me with a longing in his eyes, and whether it’s longing for what we had or my body doesn’t matter anymore. There is nothing between us now.

“But I don’t miss you,” I say firmly. “The only thing I feel towards you is regret. I don’t know if you ever truly loved me but I know that your feelings for me faded. Because you don’t treat the people you claim to care about the way you treated me.” I say honestly and I can tell my words angered him. And he’ll do what he does best: strike back.

“Always the victim, huh Lilly? I’m such a terrible person right? I can’t believe how much of a bitch you are. You don’t regret being with me and we both know it. I was the best goddamn thing that happened to you!” His voice gets louder and louder until he’s shouting and I flinch at his tone. How many times had we done this before? How many times had I allowed him to scream at me, call me vile names while I scrunch back and just take it? All in the name of so called ‘love’? If that’s love then it’s definitely not what I want. I’ll never let him or anyone treat me like this ever again.

“No, I do regret it. Us. And you can’t stand the fact that I’m not falling at your feet like I normally do. Because I’m over it. I’m over you. I’m done begging for people to stay who I’m better off without. I honestly do wish you the best Bryce. I hope whatever girl you end up with next gets treated better than I was. And if not, that she’s smart enough to get out sooner. We were toxic but I honestly think we’re better people apart from one another.” I smile brokenly before turning away from him again. He doesn’t stop me.

I pull out my phone, trying to find someone who will come and get me. I hover over my mom’s contact but I know she’ll be pissed that I ruined this dinner. I don’t think twice before clicking on another name, hearing it ring. It felt like it was ringing forever until they finally picked up.

“Hello? Lilly?” Justin’s voice offers me instant relief. Thank goodness he picked up.

“’I, I’m so sorry for calling and bothering you, but can you please come and get me? I’ll text you the address,” I say, my teeth chattering as the chill of the night caught up to me.

“Are you okay Lilly? Were you crying?” He asks with so much concern that it makes me tear up once again. Why couldn’t you come into my life a long time ago?

“It doesn’t matter. I just really don’t want to be here right now,” I sniffle.

“I’ll be there soon. Stay put and text me. Please be safe.”

“I will. Promise. Thank you Justin,” I say, feeling calm once again. I was so thankful for him.

“Don’t even worry about it. I got you,” He hung up and I began to dry my eyes. I was startled by Bryce, who I had assumed left.

“Who was that? Your new boyfriend?” He asks spitefully. I just sigh.

“I’ve said all I had to say Bryce. Just let it go. Let me go.” I say, exhaustion from this entire night catching up to me. I don’t even know why Bryce is here and I don’t care either.

“You say so much shit Lilly but I’m not buying your crap. You’ll regret this. Tell your bitch ass boyfriend to watch his back.” Bryce finally storms off and his parting words are chilling. I watch him through the glass windows of the restaurant. He sits down at a table with his father who’s too busy on his cellphone to notice him.

“Lilly! Why did you run off like that? I go to call your father after you stormed off so you can have some space and when I went to look for you, you were nowhere to be found! Who was that boy?” Karen gushes, looking distraught. Her and I both.

“Nobody important,” I mumble, not wanting to talk to her in general, let alone about Bryce.

“Well I paid for dinner and we can leave if you want?” She asks passively, looking like a sad puppy since her perfect little dinner was ruined and I just proved my father right.

“Justin’s coming to get me. So you can leave and go home to my father and let him patronize you since he was absolutely right about tonight.”

“Lilly I would have drove you home.”

“I don’t want to be around you right now,” I say, intentionally being mean and not giving a fuck about it. She sighs deeply, and I finally don’t see traces of the beautiful, put together woman she tries to be all of the time. I see a human being who’s been faced with tragedies and the hell life has to bring.

“If it counts for anything Lilly, I really am sorry for all of it. It hurt me to know how upset I made you. It hurts me that I’m painted as the villain to you. What your father and I did was wrong. Trust me I know that. But, honest to god I didn’t know about him being married when we first met. And when I did find out I was already in love with him. Whether you choose to believe it or not their marriage was already on the rocks before he met me. And I think they would have divorced even if I hadn’t been in the picture. I’m not saying this to be a bitch or anything but I think you deserve to know. But I’m sorry it happened the way it did. And I’m sorry for hurting you Lilly. At least choose to believe that.”

I see Justin’s car pull up so I thankfully don’t have to say anything to her. He quickly exits the car and rushes to me. He takes my face into his steady hands and examines me, searching for what I don’t know. His hands sink into my hair that has mostly tumbled out of its hair tie. He softly pulls the band, letting my tresses fall swiftly and curtain my face.

“Are you okay? Why were you crying?” He frets and even though I feel like complete and utter crap I smile at his concern.

“I’m fine now. Will you drive me home?” I ask. He nods quickly and glances over at Karen, giving her a polite smile. He gathers me in his arms and ushers me to his car. Pulling the passenger door open and holding it for me, I slip inside while basking in the warmth of the heat being on full blast. When his door slams he immediately starts the car engine. I glance back at Karen and my eyes inevitably flicker to the window of the restaurant where I swear Bryce’s eyes stare back at me. I don’t trust the look on his face. His words echo in my head. You’ll regret this. Tell your bitch ass boyfriend to watch his back.

Bryce said a lot of things during bouts of anger. And I hope he didn’t mean what he said. Because if he hurt Justin because of me I’d never be able to forgive myself.

Justin drove off and soon Karen and Bryce became invisible.

The weather was steadily cooling, and the sporadically colored leaves crunched beneath my feet as I stumbled around aimlessly in the school courtyard, feeling lost. Images of Karen’s sad puppy eyes, my mother’s scowl and disappointed simmer, and Bryce’s hauntingly beautiful face flash in my mind, flickering like an old film before disintegrating completely.

I don’t even know why I’m out here really. I’ve been avoiding Justin all day and totally skipped out on eating lunch with everyone. Between my almost kiss with Justin, the dinner fiasco with Karen, and the appearance of Bryce and his lingering words, I was confused. I had so many troubling thoughts in my head I had no idea what to do with. I know ignoring Justin and not sitting with everyone at lunch is petty but I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I can face him or anyone else without making an even bigger fool of myself.

I was scared of my feelings and when my anxiety gets this bad I tend avoid things and people.

“What am I doing? I am such a fucking mess,” I laugh pathetically at myself and start to feel lost and stupid. I’m startled when someone actually answers me though.

“I actually have no idea what you’re doing. But it’s pretty chilly and lonely out here all by yourself isn’t it?” Someone pipes up and I turn around to see the serene face of Jasmine. She’s smiling kindly at me and I am relieved she’s not Justin but still feel stupid for being out here like this.

“Would you believe me if I said I was just getting fresh air?” I smile feebly. She comes to stand next to me, her breaths puffing out in misty, white smoky tendrils.

“I could appease you and say yes. But I suspect you’re avoiding everyone. Particularly Justin,” Her knowing brown eyes regarded me quietly as I sigh deeply. She hit the nail right on the head.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Well he’s been acting weird all day and constantly looking around for something. Or someone,” She stares directly in my eyes as she says this. My face heats up against the cold temperature.

“I’m just so confused about him and everything else.”

“Him? How he makes you feel?”

“I don’t even understand how he makes me feel. And my reaction to whatever feelings these are isn’t very promising,” I run my hands through my hair in vexation.

“Can I tell you what I think? I know it’s not my place or anything but I feel like you’re a person I can really connect with. And I’d like to get to know you better,” Jasmine says kindly and I’m astounded about what a genuine person she is.

“Of course. And I’d like getting to know you better too,” I say, smiling back at her.

“I think you’re developing feelings for Justin, and the stronger they get the more scared you become. I don’t know if you’re afraid of him, the potential outcome of anything happening between you two, or scarred from a past relationship, but you’re reluctant and undecided on whether to act on your feelings. I notice how you both are around each other. It’s like no one else matters. And that’s not something you should let go of.”

Jasmine had a far away look in her eyes, as if what she said could also apply to herself. I wonder if she’s thinking about Braxton, and if she ever decided to message him back. I suddenly wondered a lot about her, because I realize there isn’t much I know about who she really is.

“I just don’t want to make a mistake,” I puff out, glancing around the courtyard to gather my surroundings and bearings.

“But what if the mistake is letting those feelings fade?” We’re both silent as we consume those words.

“Let’s head back in. Everyone is probably worried and I know Justin wants to see you,” We laugh as we head back to a side door, slipping inside and basking in the warm heat of the building.

“Thanks for talking with me Jasmine. I think I really needed that,” I confess honestly.

“It’s no problem. I’m always here if you wanna talk or need some advice. I’m not loud or outspoken like Lou, or ambitious and determined like Amiyah, but I’m a pretty good person to vent to. We all balance each other out. And I think you’re what our whole group has been missing. Justin is so happy around you, Lou loves you, Amiyah thinks you are so adorable and such a sweet person, and despite his shit I know Shane cares for you deep down. He’s just a complex person.” I raise my eyebrows when she mentions Shane.

“You know Jasmine,” I say as we steadily make our way to the lunchroom, “it’s so achingly obvious that Shane is into you.” Her pale complexion lights up like a firework as she laughs nervously.

“We’re just friends,” She says hurriedly. “There is no way he has feelings for me.” I smile sardonically.

“It looks like we’re both in denial,” We finally enter the cafeteria and stroll to our table. Everyone glances up to us and I can see relief clearly on Justin and Shane’s faces. Trying to be nonchalant, I take a seat and Jasmine follows suit. Everyone’s quiet for a minute as they continue to eat their lunch.

“Okay let’s address the issue at hand. Lilly, where the fuck were you? Everyone agrees you’ve been acting strange all day. Justin was like a little lost puppy when no one could find you. And then Jasmine disappears too and Shane raises hell like his favorite toy was taken away!” Lou rants and finally stops when Amiyah clamps her mouth shut with her hand.

“Enough Lou, we get it,” Amiyah rolls her eyes playfully before the crazy redhead slaps her hand away. Justin is embarrassed and Shane is being his usual,, indifferent self. But as much as he’d like to come off as unemotional everyone knows Jasmine is his soft spot. It’s honestly fucking adorable.

“I’m sorry. I just needed a breather,” I say, not looking at anyone directly.

“Bullshit.” Shane pipes up and I raise my eyebrow at him. He wants to play this game? Game on.

“Quite frankly whether it’s bullshit or not is none of your damn business. It’s clear that you hate me for an apparent reason I don’t seem to have the privilege of knowing. So if I decide to take time to myself it’s of no concern to you. So don’t call me out on something you don’t know shit about.” I snap, feeling the long strung cord inside me split and unwind. I immediately feel bad for being so malicious but I can’t take it back. Shane’s already pissed, and I realize once again that’s exactly what I wanted. I’m slowly evolving into someone who manipulates the emotions of others. And that isn’t someone I want to be.

“I don’t have to deal with your bullshit. We aren’t friends, and you’re right; I don’t fucking like you. And this is exactly why; you’re a vindictive, inconsiderate bitch.” I watch the familiar scene of him shoving himself back and hear the clatter of his chair on the linoleum floor. Gracson curses and starts to stand to chase after him, but Jasmine stops him.

“I’ve got this,” She grimaces before calmly following a fuming Shane. She’s probably the only one who can knock some sense into his thick skull.

“I knew I shouldn’t have come in here,” I mutter before grabbing my bag to make like Shane and get the fuck out of here.

What is wrong with me? Why even provoke him? Just because he made snide comments at me constantly doesn’t make it right to sink to that level and retaliate. I feel like I’m becoming an emotionless monster.

“Lilly wait!” Justin yells but I ignore him because I’m currently a storm and I don’t want him to come into my vicinity and get hurt. I don’t want my destructiveness that’s slowly overpowering me to overcome him.

“Please Justin. I just want to be alone,” I gasp, feeling trapped and in need to escape so I can wind down.

“Just stop running. Stop running from everything. Quit running from me. Just slow down. Talk to me,” he begs, his mossy eyes pleading with me to stay here in this moment with him. There’s nowhere left to hide.

“I don’t know what to say Justin,” I tell him, running a hand through my hair as I glance around the hallway. Lunch is gonna end and soon people will crowd and fill up this space.

“Then don’t say anything. It’s okay. Just don’t run away from me. Please,” He’s looking at me with those pleading eyes and I feel breathless. My emotions are crazy around him and I don’t want to do anything stupid to ruin what we have. Whether that’s friendship or some other fucked up thing.

“Stay?” He asks, grabbing my hand and embedding himself in my life.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I confirm, squeezing his hand back. I analyze his face, my eyes roaming over his sharp jawline, potent green eyes, those envying eyebrows, and I stop on his swollen lips. They looked a bit chapped and I can’t tear my gaze from them. I glance back up at his dark eyes before settling back on his lips. I crave him but I sometimes question if he feels this connection between us too. And I fear that I may be mistaken and preparing myself for another heartache. So against my better judgment and what I truly want, I pull away from him. I put space between us.

“Last weekend was just really confusing. The dinner with Karen was disastrous and…” I trail off, shaking my head. Stormy blue eyes filled my mind and the words of his threat reverberate.

“We’re you okay that night? I know things were tense between you and Karen but it felt like more happened,” Justin asks me and I’m shocked to know that he pays enough attention to me to even notice. I debated telling him the truth, overlooking this wide abyss, standing on this leery edge where I could tumble and let myself be vulnerable or cling strictly to my set boundaries and regret what could’ve been.

“Actually,” I sigh, “I saw my ex boyfriend at the restaurant. He’s a real asshole, who I thought I loved. Seeing him after blowing up at Karen was hard, and I’m just still reeling from a night involving them both. And other things,” I stare directly at him when I speak my last words. “I’m just confused I guess and I’m afraid if I let myself be happy and take risks I’ll be burned and I don’t think I’ll survive another heartbreak,” I tell him honestly.

“Come here,” He whispers, tugging me close. I shut my eyes tightly, relaxing in the comfort of his arms. He squeezes me tighter and I’m enveloped in his essence. He smells amazing and I feel like nothing or no one can touch me when I’m wrapped up in him.

“I can’t control when other people hurt you or let you down,” he mumbles into my hair.

“But I can promise that I won’t ever be a person to purposefully harm you. I’ll be here as long as you’ll have me.” I shudder against him, feeling everything between us like a bubbling heat. I just want you. I want us and I never want you to leave.

“I don’t understand how people like you exist Justin,” I say as the bell rings and people swarm us from every corner.

“What do you mean Lilly bear?” He teases, smirking down at me sexily. I laugh at his stupid nickname for me and slap his chest.

“You’re such an amazing person, and lately someone like that is rare to find. You’re a rarity I’m glad to have in my life,” I smile broadly at him, my lips stretching at both corners in contentment.

“I’m here as long as you want me Lilly,” I wrap my arms around his neck before pulling back, seeing a blur of blonde hair behind his shoulder. I squint to make the person out and before I know it I spot Amy sauntering past us. She catches my eye and glares coldly, rolling her eyes at the lack of space between Justin and I. I grimace.

As she walks away and falls into Justin’s view, I notice he doesn’t turn to watch her as she goes.

His eyes never leave my face.

I’m all he sees.

“Why do you even take this class? You go to Italy almost every other summer and have basically mastered the language,” I say as Lou pops her bubblegum and stares at the review paper in boredom.

“Because, my sweet, sex deprived Lilly, this class is an easy A and looks good on my transcript,” She smiles cheekily at me as I slap her hand.

“Seriously Lou!” I groan, blushing at all the people who overheard her comment and started snickering.

“Hey it’s the truth! As much as it breaks my stinlly heart, you and Justin haven’t even hit first base,” She sighs dramatically.

“That’s because we are just friends. And how would you know anyways?” I ask out of curiosity that I’m probably going to regret soon.

“Bullshit. And to answer your question, I can just sense these things. I’m like a crazy ginger psychic. I know you guys haven’t had sex yet but something did happen that would explain your avoidance of him during lunch and your closeness in the hall afterwards. So,” She smiles wickedly and leans in way too close to me, “spill bitch.”

“Nothing happened,” I lie, nervously tapping my fingers.

“Once again, I call bullshit. Don’t lie to your best friend now Lilly. I’ll find out one way or another. This mind knows all,” She taps a manicured red finger to her temple. I roll my eyes.

“It was nothing important,” I mumble. “Besides, nothing actually happened. It was just an almost thing.”

“I am dying! Please just stop talking in circles, you’re a writer, so the words should come easily. Wait,” Her brown eyes widen and I start to think she’s more psychotic than psychic.

“Did you, my innocent little virgin Lilly, kiss Justin!” She whispers loudly, knowing I’ll hit her again if she screams it.

“Almost,” I say, flinching at her violent outburst.

“Stinlly is happening! Oh my gosh why the fuck did you not tell me! You know what it doesn’t matter. Tell me everything, starting at the beginning. Do not leave out any details whatsoever,” Lou leans in and gives me her undivided attention. I tell her it was the day me and him went out for lunch and that we almost kissed in his car.

“What happened? I can’t believe you didn’t jump that boy!”

You happened. You called him and we broke apart before anything could happen,” I laugh at her crestfallen expression as she bangs her head against the desk.

“I interrupted you guys. Fuck, don’t let him pick up next time and shove your tongue down his throat!”

“Lou!” I scold.

“Lilly!” She mocks. She rolls her eyes. “Virgins.”

I smirk a little, “who says I’m a virgin?” Her cherry red lips fall open in astonishment and I hide my face as she screams, loudly.

“It’s official, I hate you,” I groan in embarrassment.

“You love me though. I’m creating a group chat for all of us girls because clearly we need a girls night to discuss your love life. Plus we haven’t hung out without the boys in forever.” My phone buzzes with a new message notification from the group chat named Lilly needs to get laid.

“Louisa!” I bark, punching her hard.

“Ouch! Damn you’re violent and apparently in need of some rough sex.”

“We’re not friends anymore. Go terrorize someone else,” I growl. My phone buzzes.


Um, what about Justin?


Yeah Lou I thought they were your new relationship project?


Girls, Justin is very much still in the picture. The goal is to get those two together so they can go at it like rabbits. I propose a girls night so we can talk boys and bitch about people.


I hate you all.


I’m up for a girls night.


Me too. Whose house though?


Mine of course. Now back to important topics: Lilly and Justin


Lou I’m going to punch you again if you talk about my sex life


I’ll talk to you all later :)

“If this conversation is going to continue at this sleepover I’m uninviting myself.” I say as the bell rings and I grab my bag.

“You supposedly aren’t a virgin but you sure act prude. Let loose a little! We’ll help you get Justin, even though you really don’t need our help because he’s crazy about you.”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to push things if this isn’t what he wants or things end badly. I care about him too much to lose him.”

“That’s the thing about love. You never know when it’ll come, or when it will end. Feelings spark and sometimes before you know it, feelings fade. Love is one big gamble where you bet everything and you can’t be afraid of losing it all,” We pass by Gracson and I notice how their eyes don’t meet. I guess my love life isn’t the only one needing to be discussed.

“I’ll see you later Lou,” I smile at her as we get to my classroom.

“See you bitch,” And then she’s off, leaving like the whirlwind that is Louisa Denerise, everything a haze compared to her red spark.

I was lying on my bed, bored out of my mind after binge watching tv shows. I groan as I roll over onto various food wrappers and contemplate what I should do with my life as the crinkling of the plastic resounded off of my walls. I was feeling particularly lazy this Saturday afternoon and my mom was off somewhere doing whatever she does on the weekends. I have been skillfully ignoring the group chat by muting all of its notifications. I would have to deal will Lou’s devil side on Monday but she’s not here right now so I’m safe for one more day.

I sit up quickly and almost fall off my bed as I hear the stomping of multiple footsteps coming up my stairs. What the hell is going on? I’m sluggish in only a pair of sweatpants and a loose camisole. The only weapon at my dispense was the trash I was surrounded by. Well I have a lamp…

“Who’s there?” I yell. “I have a lamp and various food wrappers and I’m not afraid to use them!”

“Lilly I really wish we were robbers so that we could rob you blind then knock your stupid, never replies ass out,” Lou huffs as she stumbles into my room uninvited. I peer around her to see a sheepish Jasmine and a smirking Amiyah.

“Really guys? You had to come all the way here just to drag me out of my own house?” I moan, rolling over and hiding under my comforter.

“No, to crash your place. My mom is pmsing and won’t let me have anyone over. So after some decision making in the group chat you decided to not participate in we decided to hang here!”

“Absolutely not. Besides, my mom wouldn’t go for it either,” I lie, my words sounding muffled against my blanket.

“Already took care of! We caught her as soon as she was walking in and she said a sleepover sounds fantastic! Plus we already brought the snacks and other refreshments.” She snaps her fingers and an annoyed Gracson tumbles into my room, dropping all kinds of junk food on my floor, soda, and vodka.

“Please tell me my mom didn’t see the alcohol because she’ll homeschool me and make sure I never see any of you ever again,” I say seriously, standing up to shut my door firmly. “And what is Gracson doing here? Hello girls night!”

“Your mother saw nothing! And I definitely wasn’t carrying all of that crap, and I wasn’t trying to let Jasmine or Amiyah either.” Lou says, before plopping on my bed, not caring that she was literally on top of me. I groan before rolling over to let her fat ass have more room.

“Honestly Lou? Whatever. I’m out of here,” Gracson flashes us a peace sign before exiting my room and slamming the door behind him. Damn.

Lou rolls her eyes but I could see the underlying hurt in both of their expressions. Looks like we both have relationship problems.

“So, we have snacks, boy problems, alcohol, and friendship. Let’s get this started!” We all laugh at Lou and I stand to grab extra blankets from my closet and a crap ton of extra pillows to make some pallets on the floor. Louisa and Amiyah claim the floor and Jasmine joins me on my bed.

The night has begun.

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