0.0.17. Chapter Seventeen
“This is delicious,” I praise, smiling at Suzanne. She had cooked a four cheese homemade lasagne dinner with mouthwatering, crisp garlic bread that crunched after every bite. There was also a fresh Caesar salad with eggs, croutons, carrots, cheese, cranberries, and dressing. I was practically inhaling my plate because lasagne had always been my favorite food and this tasted amazing.
“Thank you Lilly! This was my grandmother’s recipe.”
“She must’ve been a genius,” I mumbled between bites and Justin bursts into laughter.
“Wha?” I ask, quickly grabbing a napkin to cover my mouth. I was never this expressive, or frankly, messy when eating but lasagne changes everything. I like to call it the Lasagne Affect. When the thick pasta and sauce encounters my tastebuds and the gooey melted cheese stretches from my fork I lose all plausible thoughts and I begin inhaling my food.
“You! You’re acting like you’ve never eaten a day in your life,” He laughs and I pout before taking another bite of my food.
“It’s so good though! I love lasagne more than I love myself,” I say, pointing my fork at him.
“Well there’s plenty sweetheart if you want another plate,” Suzanne is practically glowing at my praise and I remind myself to ask her for the recipe before I leave.
“You did a nice job son, finding a girl who likes to eat. That’s especially important in this family when your mother cooks enough for an entire army,” He jokes good naturedly, causing me to blush. Everyone laughs along with him and Justin’s sister, Charlotte, leans over and whispers in my ear.
“Justin hasn’t stopped staring at you. I’d find it creepy if it wasn’t so pathetically adorable,” She giggles and I sneak a glance at Justin to find him already looking at me. I blush harder.
“There’s not much to look at,” I say feebly, munching on my salad in absolute bliss. It was amazing how his mom made all of my favorite foods for dinner.
“Oh!” I exclaim, setting my fork down as something dawned on me.
“Justin, after you helped me study and I miraculously got a B, I’ve decided I need your help again. With precalc,” I say, basically pleading for him to say yes. I almost technically needed help in all subjects, but I’m at a point where I’m passing majority of my classes. Except precalculus. Math is and always has been the enemy.
“Is this you asking me to help you in precalc?” He asks, chuckling slightly. I groan in annoyance.
“Yes! Because honestly the day I begin to understand and enjoy math will be the day I don’t love lasagne. So, basically never. So please help me!” I beg and Justin along with everyone else at the table begin laughing and I join in nervously.
“You’re quite an interesting girl Lilly. I’m sure my son won’t mind helping you out. Do you have any plans after high school?” His father asks with genuine interest. I stab at my lettuce before letting my fork clank against the black ceramic bowl.
“I’ve been thinking about community college, since I don’t think my grades could get me into a larger university. By lately I’ve been working harder so I might apply to a few,” I say, and his father nods alongside my words.
“Do you know what you want to major in?” He queries. Taking another bite of my salad, I ponder my answer while chewing. I had given it a lot of thought admittedly, about what I wanted to be and what career path I wanted.
“English has always been my favorite and strongest subject. I’ve always thought it’d be amazing to be an English teacher and have influence over kids’ lives and learning. Reading and writing has always been a safe haven for me, and I’d love to help younger kids to realize that for themselves. So I think I’d do an education major and a minor in creative writing.” I was slightly afraid they’d think my dreams were stupid. Teachers always have bad reps, and it’s definitely not the most prestigious job to most. You definitely won’t make six figures in a high school that’s for sure. And even pursuing my writing career further could be seen as futile because I could just be another starving artist. But it was important to me. And that’s all that really mattered.
“I never knew you wanted to be an English teacher,” Justin says in pleasant shock. I shrug.
“I love English. I’ve always wanted to either teach English or pursue my writing. But I could always write in my free time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other in my book.”
“That’s awesome Lilly,” Suzanne beams, “Justin has an academic baseball scholarship and was offered a multitude of academic merit scholarships. He could’ve went straight to the leagues but he opted out for college. He loves the game but he’s never thought about pursuing it professionally.” My eyes widen at I look at Justin impressed.
“Really? That’s amazing Justin! What are you gonna study in college?”
“Um,” he says, scratching his neck in embarrassment, “I’ve been interested in marine biology ever since I was a kid,” He admits, “I’ve always been intrigued about aquatic life and the depths of the ocean yet to be discovered. I won’t to protect and study sea life.” If it was even possible I admired him even more in that moment. I never thought of him as a marine biologist but I could picture it now; his forehead slick with perspiration as he closely studied a plant or organism. His dark brown hair would be damp from saltwater, his upper torso clad in a white lab coat that’d for some reason would look extremely sexy on him. The thought of him in lab goggles made me want to giggle. Damn Justin would be a hot scientist. A sudden thought hit me.
“Where are you going to college?” I ask. If he’s already accepted a scholarship somewhere then his decision is concrete.
“I accepted to LSU,” He says casually and my heart drops. Louisiana State University. That’s hours away from Indiana. And nowhere near a community college here. I begin to tap my fingers nervously.
“Oh,” I say, “I’m happy for you Justin.” I mean the words but they taste bitter on my tongue. That’s over 800 miles from here. I can’t imagine a 800 mile distance between us.
“It’s a great school with a beautiful campus. We’re extremely proud of Justin,” His father says, clapping him on the back. Justin jokingly says it’s not a big deal but it is. He’s extremely intelligent and talented so it’s no shock that he has an amazing opportunity like this.
So why can’t I just be happy for him?
Suzanne collects are plates and Justin and I head back upstairs to his room. I flop on his bed, my head hanging off the edge with the ends of my hair touching the floor.
“I think it’s really cool that you want to be a marine biologist,” I say, looking at Justin from my upside down position. Damn he was still hella attractive from this angle with his lean legs in a computer chair. Damn the Grey family and their stunning genes.
“Thank you. It’s really great that you want to be an English teacher. Your writing is phenomenal and your thought process is evoking and raw. You’ll be amazing to whatever lucky kids are taught by you,” I sit up, smiling broadly at him. Gosh this guy is damn near perfect.
Deciding to worry about the college situation later, I start fidgeting with my fingers, wondering how to start this conversation and being prepared to stop myself from falling apart.
“So,” I mumble.
“I feel a strong John Green vibe from us right now,” I burst into giggles and I want to smother him in my arms right there.
“The fact that you know about or have read novels by my favorite author makes me happier than you could ever know,” I gush before quieting down. No sense beating around the bush. I might as well delve into this topic.
“I met Bryce Evans, ironically, at a party towards the end of freshman year. It was hosted by a kid from their private school, and my friends at the time convinced me to go. I wasn’t really into the whole party scene, but I felt bad that I always blew my friends off Friday nights so I agreed.
It was a typical party with drinking and drugs. My so called friends had ditched me within the first thirty minutes of arriving of course, so I was alone at a party with kids from a high school I didn’t even go to. That’s when Bryce first approached me,” I sigh.
“Guess he could detect a lonely and unsuspecting girl from a mile away. I was so naive then. He started chatting me up and I was thrilled to have a cute boy talk and hang around me, seemingly interested in what I had to say. He ended up driving me home and I gave him my number when he asked for it. Maybe if I hadn’t everything that happened afterwards could have been prevented,” Justin is hanging on to my every word and I’m so grateful to have met someone like him. I’m glad I can spot genuine kindness from a kindness that is just to serve selfish purposes.
“We texted and hung out nonstop for about a month before he asked me to be his girlfriend. He was my first serious relationship and it was such a thrilling thing at the time, you know? Like you said with Amy, it wasn’t bad in the beginning. Hell, it was damn near perfect. But,” I say, my voice beginning to tremble. I hated this story. It wasn’t some love story that ended romanticized heartbreak. It was real, it was raw, and it was shattering. Justin walks to sit on his bed with me, grabbing my hand. Grounding me. Lending the support I need.
“It always starts with the little things you know? Things you don’t notice until it’s too late. Bryce was an extremely possessive person. He almost got into fist fights with any guy who’d flirt with me, he demanded all of my passwords to make sure I wasn’t talking to any guy other than him, and he’d accuse me endlessly of cheating. He began dictating what I could or couldn’t wear, who I hung out with. I lost all of my friends and Bryce made sure he was the main person in my life.
But all of the stupid romance books I read, social media, and even society in a whole made me believe his possessive and obsessive nature was love. That he was afraid of losing me so that’s why he acted that way. I was then a sixteen year old girl who excused his behavior over and over again. I was a fucking idiot.” I began squeezing Justin’s hand tightly before loosening my grip.
“He stopped hanging out with me in public. And soon he stopped trying to be nice about things. He constantly tore me down and told me I was an embarrassment to him. That I couldn’t live without him. That no one else would want ‘his bitch,’. I couldn’t hang out with him and his friends. I couldn’t live my life or be my own person.
Then I found out how he had been cheating on me. I was so goddamned hurt. At first I believed that it was a mistake and that it’d never happen again. I lived off of his apologies, taking them one after and not bothering to question their validity. He had already taken every shred of respect I had and tore me down. But it did happen again, so many times and we fought constantly. Our relationship became more out of ownership of one another rather than love. I couldn’t let him go and he couldn’t relinquish his control over me.” I feel drained, like the words flowed out of me, turbulent and rampant like a tsunami that washes over everything. I felt empty.
“He broke up with me during sophomore year. I was alone, friendless and heartbroken. Not to mention this was around the time of my parent’s split and everything that went down with Alex.”
“Alex is your brother right?”
“Yeah,” I sigh. I’d talk about Alex soon enough but it was getting late and I needed time for old wounds to scab over before picking at new ones.
“He didn’t deserve you,” Justin says quietly, his calloused fingers caressing my cheek, “he’s a fucking idiot for ever cheating on you and treating you that way.” His grip on my face tightens in anger.
“I know that now,” I smile at Justin’s obvious concern for me. God this boy does things to me.
“I hadn’t seen him months until that dinner I had with Karen. Remember, when I called you to pick me up?” Justin murmurs in agreement.
“Well when I threw a fit and acted childishly, I ran outside and into Bryce. He was being his typical asshole self. He told me he missed me. Ha! What a joke,” I laugh maliciously.
“I wish I would’ve known who he was then. I’d probably break his nose,” Justin growls. Laughing I sit up, punching his chest lightly.
“I am no longer a damsel in distress so an epic battle won’t be necessary, my fine prince. If it were up to me you two will never meet one another. I don’t want your attractive face to be bruised,” I coo, cupping his cheek before sliding off his bed.
“Darling, I wouldn’t give him a chance to even hit me. And if I see him don’t expect me to not hit him.”
“Whatever you say Justin. Come on, you need to drive me home before my mom calls the cops.”
“What, did you call me attractive? Or more specifically by face?” He smirks like a damn fool and I roll my eyes before exiting his room.
“Drive me home pretty boy!”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you baby,” His grin is devilish and cocky as hell. I flip him off before we finally go downstairs.
Thanking Suzanne profusely for my plate of lasagne to go, I say goodbye to everyone, feeling insanely happy and like this crippling weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.
The whole car ride home I couldn’t help but stare at Justin. It was unbelievable that this sweet, charming, insanely attractive guy was into me.
I don’t know if I could ever stop falling for him now.
Basic af. Dark blue. You?
Don’t insult my question! And mine is blue too ;-). This proves we’re soulmates you know.
Or that you’re just a corny little shit.
Oh how you wound me babe. Now ask a damn question
Damn! Bossy. Favorite regular movie and favorite chick flick. And don’t you dare say The Notebook❗️
You’re no fun. Definitely all of the Fast & Furious movies. And the Vow. Charlotte cried like a baby.
More like you cried loser. The newest Maleficent movie with Angelina Jolie is something I absolutely adore. And my chick flick would be The Choice because two words: Benjamin. Walker.
Dude. He’s old
Hey! He’s aged well thank you very much.
Stop calling me that.
Nah you love it. I bet you’re dying to confess your undying love for me
In your dreams Grey :-)
I finally set my phone down, laughing in content. We’ve been asking and quizzing each other on just about anything and it allowed me to have my little doses of Justin throughout the day. We haven’t been seeing much of each other ever since baseball practise started and not that I’d ever admit it, but I found myself missing him.
After the dinner with his family earlier this week, I’d been talking with my English teacher, Mr. Dylan, and a bunch of my other teachers to see if I could make up assignments I never turned in. They all seemed surprised at my sudden interest in my grades but were supportive nonetheless. I had a stack of papers weighing down my book bag but I’m confident I can do well on these assignments.
Being around Justin’s family and hearing his college plans made it more real for me. I realized that if I wanted to get into a good college and not just settle for community college I’d have to step up my game. I did excellent on the SAT and my grades are mostly average because I score well on tests and quizzes. But continuous zeros on homework and other assignments have added up and dented my grades.
I was also determined to participate in class more and ask questions when I didn’t understand the content. It was really comical to see teacher’s and students alike reactions when I participated in class. I had faded into the background and remained there for so long that I was almost unrecognizable in the light.
“Earth to Lilly!” I jump in fright when Lou’s voice screeches my name. Justin grabs my hand and I smile at him thankfully. He knew that when he held my hand it calmed me down significantly.
“Aw you two are so cute!” Amiyah gushes.
“You too Amiyah?” I groan. Ever since Justin and I started this thing between us everyone, Lou especially, has been freaking out. They hounded us with questions and Lou still refuses to accept the fact that we aren’t actually together.
Amiyah was an excited, milder version of Lou. Jasmine was happy and supportive of us. Gracson was pretty chill about it, and Shane makes sure to show his obvious disgust by sneering every time he saw us holding hands or doing and I quote “cheesy romantic bullshit,”. But I expected as much from him so I wasn’t concerned.
I only cared about the rest of our friends opinion about us, if we can even be called an “us,”. But I’m pretty sure they wanted us to be together even before we did ourselves.
“What I was trying to say Lilly, is that I still don’t understand this thing,” she gestures between me and Justin with her hands frantically, “is! How are you guys not actually together. What the hell is wrong with you Justin! Ask her out already goddammit!” Lou exclaims.
“For the last time Lou, we’re taking things slow! We don’t need to rush anything. We know where each other stands.” I sigh in exasperation. The words ‘slow’ and ‘not dating’ when applied to Justin and I somehow didn’t make sense in her brain.
“Okay, fine. Even though that doesn’t make any sense in my stinlly heart, I’m going to work on accepting it. What I can’t accept though is you lying and saying you two haven’t kissed! There’s no way he hasn’t jumped you!”
I begin choking on my water, Amiyah and Gracson burst into laughter, Jasmine’s hand is covering her mouth and Shane is beginning to look a little green. Justin begins thumping his hand against my back as I gasp for air.
“Jesus, Lilly are you okay?” Justin asks frantically.
“I’m fine,” I sputter, finally catching my breath.
“My appetite is fucking gone,” Shane grumbles, shoving his tray forward. Lou’s just sitting across from me innocently, her devil red lips pursed in question. I shake my head.
“Lou you’re awful sometimes.”
“What? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing honey,” Amiyah pats her arm before Lou shoves her off.
“Seriously though man. If you’re going to be with her, or do the friends with benefits whatever thing you’ve both got going on, why the fuck aren’t you reaping the benefits?” If my eyes were lasers they’d burn Shane into a bitter crisp.
“Dude come on. Can you not be an asshole for once?” Gracson speaks up. Shane rolls his steel eyes.
“Nah that’s no fucking fun. I’ll show him how it’s done.” Shane stands abruptly and stalks towards Amy’s table. He leans down and whispers into Marissa’s, Amy’s friend, ear before they both walk out of the cafeteria together, his arms around her waist and his hands gripping her ass. Classic Shane.
“I don’t understand how you’ve been best friends with him all of these years. He’s a rude, inconsiderate dick,” I growl.
“He wasn’t always like that,” Amiyah says quietly, “a lot of shit has happened to him and this is how he copes with it. Doesn’t make it right or okay, but people self destruct in their own ways.” We’re silent as the bell that dismisses lunch rang. Simultaneously everyone stands and wanders off to class. Justin and I walk side by side quietly, our hands brushing each others.
“I’m sorry about Shane. I know you think he’s an asshole, and he hasn’t given you any reason to believe otherwise, but if you guys actually talked you’d get along.
“Doubtful,” I scoff.
“I’m serious.” Justin rubs my palm that’s clasped in his.
“He never gave me a chance though. He decided he hated me from the moment we met.”
“You know he hated Jasmine at first too right? And now he’s protective of her. You just remind him too much of a person from his past and he can’t look past that just yet. Don’t give up on him.”
“His sister,” I murmur quietly, pondering how I could ever have a connection to this elusive person. Sighing, I give up trying to solve Shane Rikers.
“Did I ever tell you how good of a person you are Justin Grey?” My lips quirk up as we stand outside of my classroom.
“No, but you can surely show me,” He smirks. This little shit.
“No can do,” I say sadly. “Since we’re taking things slow and all.” I lean in close and whisper in his ear as I say that, my lips caressing his neck as I step away.
“You call me a tease,” He says huskily, his voice deep and bone chilling.
“They were your words not mine. You can still change your mind,” I say, grinning while my heart pounded a beat in my chest.
“Nice try!” Justin yells, barreling away as the bell rings. I hope he doesn’t get detention for being late since he’s been walking me to class. Not that he hasn’t had detention before. I thought wryly. We spoke to each other for the first time since middle school in detention. Plus he has baseball practice so he can’t get his cheeky self into trouble.
Sitting next to Lou, I listen to our French teacher talk as she gives out our assignments to be completed during the duration of the period. When she finally sits back at her desk I tell Lou I’ll be right back and go to stand in front of Mrs. Petit.
Mrs. Pettit was a very excellent yet strict teacher. She had a zero tolerance for anyone who was late or tardy to her class and the tests she gave were brutal. I wasn’t failing this class, but I wanted to bring my C to at least a high B and I had a feeling she wouldn’t be as enthusiastic as my other teachers to help me.
And I was right.
“Miss Alvarado you’ve had the entire semester to talk to me concerning your grade. The grade you’ve earned is the way it’ll remain until final exams. Pass my exam with a 90 or higher and your grade will raise to that B you seek, maybe even a low A. Otherwise I’m afraid I can’t help you.” I wanted to growl in frustration. Is she serious? She wouldn’t let me retake some tests or even do an extra credit assignment? Ridiculous!
“Oka ma’am.” I say through clenched teeth. I stalk back to my seat and drop to a heap into my chair. Lou raises a perfectly plucked eyebrow at me.
“What’s going on?”
“Stupid Mrs. Pettit won’t let me do anything to raise my grade. I have to wait until final exams,” I groan.
“I can help you study if you want.” Lou offers, picking at her chipping nail polish.
“God bless you Lou. Literally all of my other teachers are willing to help me raise my grades but she has to be difficult.” I flop my head down on the desk.
“Well a good way to get started on raising your grade is doing that assignment,” Lou tuts, blowing a bubble with her gum before it bursts. She throws her head back and laughs as I flip her off and get into my bag to grab a pencil.
*Je déteste le français.
“Mom my head hurts and I’m drowning in school work!” I groan while stomping down the stairs. “Please tell me you’re cooking dinner.” I stop short when I see my mom sitting at the kitchen, the home phone clutched in her hands while tears streamed down her face.
“Mom!” I shout, rushing over to her and gathering her in my arms. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh god,” she sniffles, wiping her face. “Nothing sweetheart.”
“But you’re crying,” I say, confused as ever.
“They’re happy tears baby. I have wonderful news.” A large smile I haven’t seen my mother with in a long time graces her face. She looks so happy and overcome with emotions that I can’t even begin to gather what’s going on.
“Tell me.” I demand, sitting across from her.
“Oh alright!” She says playfully, unable to drop the smile from her face. I wait impatiently, my foot tapping incessantly on the tile floor of our kitchen.
“So you might’ve noticed that I’ve been speaking on the phone frequently as of late. And I also imagine you know I’ve been talking to Alex.” Scoffing, I try denying her words.
“How was I supposed to know who you talk to on the phone? For all I know it could be one of your little girlfriends.” She stares at me blankly.
“Lilly I’m your mother. I’m well aware of you eavesdropping on my conversations with Alex and checking the recent calls on the receiver.”
I have the nerve to blush.
“Just get to the point already,” I grumble, embarrassed. Her excitement peaks then and she can barely sit still.
“Alex is coming home.”
Those four words would change everything.