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Chapter Twenty Two

“How passed out drunk was I to not witness the first ever stinlly kiss? This is a tragedy! I couldn’t even take a picture to commemorate this moment forever!” Lou moans, banging her head repeatedly against the hard surface of our lunch table. I wince, looking at Gracson helplessly.

“Please get your girlfriend. She’s going to injure herself.” Gracson’s pretty blue eyes roll to the back of his head as he stares at Lou distastefully. Well then.

“I’m just going to let her do whatever she wants. I don’t have the time or patience to deal with this.” His hand mockingly gestures over her figure. I frown at him as he continues to ignore everyone once again and glues his attention to his cell-phone. I guess things haven’t gotten much better between the two of them. I wish they’d just talk it out already or break up. As much as I’d hate seeing them split up, if they’re both sad and miserable together it may just be for the best.

“It’s okay Lou honey. They’re together now, you should be happy!” Amiyah pipes in, smiling cheerfully. Lou only lifts her head to shoot a nasty glare Amiyah’s way, her eyes narrowing into slits.

Happy? How can I be happy when Lilly’s ex was there and Shane beat the shit out of him? I missed a kiss and a fight! And you two kept your relationship from me!” Lou accuses, sitting up to point a finger our way. I’m taken aback by the sudden turn of events.

“No we didn’t. We just spent the past week together, no stress, no outside people in our relationship. You left the state to visit your family, remember?” I say calmly as Lou finally sits upright.

“You have a cell-phone.” She scowls. Justin chooses this moment to unnecessarily tune in.

“Hey, don’t feel bad. By time I found Lilly at the party Shane had beat me to the punch; quite literally with Bryce. I wish I was the one to teach that jackass a lesson.”

“Violence isn’t the answer.” I pipe in, rolling my eyes.

“It is when your ex boyfriend’s name rhymes with lice.”

“That’s extremely petty of you!” I exclaim, slapping Justin’s chest as he laughs at me.

“Oh, and by the way I never got to say thank you Shane. Despite everything I really appreciate what you did for me on New Years.” His dark eyes flicker to me and a small, almost unnoticeable smile crosses his lips.

“Don’t worry about it. It was insulting to me that he thought I’d ever date you anyways. Besides, only I get to mess with you.”

“And Shane Rikers is back ladies and gentlemen!” Everyone around the table laughs and I grin as I continue eating my lunch. I’m excited for school to let out since Alex promised me that we were going out together. I can’t remember the last time him and I hung out somewhere just the two of us. Even when we were younger Grant was always there wherever we went. Alex has consistently been pestering me about it and his excitement was contagious. Justin also had baseball practice after school, so I’d have something productive to do besides missing him.

“What’s on your mind baby girl?” Justin mumbles in his deep, baritone voice as he presses a kiss to the top of my head. I can physically feel myself melt in his arms at his term of endearment. Nothing had ever sounded so good.

“Just thinking about going bowling with Alex tonight. I’m pretty excited. I miss doing things with him.”

“It’s just going to be the two of you?” Justin asks casually, but I can catch the underlying question.

“Don’t worry, Grant isn’t going to be there.” I say, rolling my eyes at his jealous behavior. Justin huffs.

“You might not see it, but dammit the guy has a thing for you. And you used to have a crush on him, which doesn’t make me feel any better.” I smooth the crease between his eyebrows and I lean up to kiss his frown away.

“You have nothing to be jealous about. I’m your girlfriend. And I had a crush on Grant when I was fifteen. Trust me, you have nothing to worry about.” His lips curve into that grin I love, and he prevents me from escaping his arms as he captures my lips in a searing kiss. We ignore the bell that signifies the end of lunch and Lou’s increasingly louder echoes of “aw!” as we mold together; addicted to the taste of one another.

“That’s not fair! What did you do at Vincents? Become a pro at bowling?” I hiss, throwing a fit as Alex scores yet another strike.

“I forgot what a sore loser you are.” Alex laughs, taunting me as I go up to bowl. Swinging my arm back, I release the ball on the upturn and watch as it slides down the alley. I curse up a storm as I score a spare.

“And I forgot when you became so good at bowling.” I snap. “I used to always beat you!”

“Did you ever consider the fact that I let you win?”

“No.” I gasp, unwilling to listen to this treachery anymore.

“Deep down you know it’s true flower!” Alex yells, laughing as I plug my ears like a child, refusing to hear anymore of his lies.

“I’m not listening! I refuse to let you try and convince me that my whole life has been a lie!” Alex is bent over, tears streaming down his face as his loud laughter booms out of him.

“I hate you. I mean it this time!” I shout when he gets another strike. He’s still laughing when he walks towards me, throwing his arm over my shoulders and forcing me into his chest. I struggle to escape but he just holds me tighter in his embrace.

“When we were little, Grant and I used to always pick on you. We’d hide your silverware from you before you got to the kitchen table and you were still too small to reach the drawer they were in. We also stole your dolls from you and you’d scream at us how much you hated us and that you really meant it.” Alex’s face is bright with joy at our childhood memories and I stopped trying to escape as I listened to him.

“You actually remember that?”

“Of course I do. You’d always come to us crying not even ten minutes later because you felt awful and wanted to make sure we knew you loved us still.” I laugh along with him, astounded still that he remembers. I hardly remember doing that.

“I really do love you Alex. The house actually feels full now that your back. I felt so much pressure and anguish weighing down on my chest when you were gone. I can genuinely say that I’m happy now.” I smile up at him but my expression falters slightly at his frown. His eyebrows were furrowed as he looked at me with a look I couldn’t place.

“What’s wrong Alex? Did I say something wrong?” He shakes his head quickly, grinning once again.

“No flower, you didn’t say anything bad. I’m glad to be home with you and mom. There’s no place I’d rather be. Now, shoo. It’s your turn and I’m prepared to beat your ass.”

Huffing at him, I stroll back to our lane and grab my bowling ball. Saying a quick prayer for luck, I swing back and release the ball. Watching it roll down the alley as a swirl of purple hues I stare anxiously as it reaches the awaiting pins. A scream reaches through my lips when I knock all the pins down. I start doing a happy, albeit embarrassing, dance. I skip over to Alex, smirking triumphantly.

“Did you see that! There’s no faking that!”

“It is literally one strike Lilly. I’m still winning.”

“I don’t have time for your negative vibes.” I say, holding a hand out to stop him from speaking. “Feel free to bask in my glory.” He eyes me warily, shaking his head and turning away to complete his turn.

“How you ever got a boyfriend is beyond me.”

When Alex and I finally got home, I left him outside to gather up our bowling equipment because I was still pissed at him for beating me. Either he’s become a pro since he’s been gone, I’ve lost my touch, or he truly did let me win all those years. I still like to think it’s the first option.

Walking inside the house, I’m surprised to see Grant in the living room watching t.v.

“Hey Grant. I didn’t know you’d be here.” Sitting down on the couch beside him, I start pondering the fact that he’s been over quite a bit lately. He used to be over all the time when we were younger, but now it’s a bit strange to see him here so much. Him and Alex always disappear upstairs together when he’s here and every time I walk into the room they’re both whispering and immediately clam up when they spot me. It’s been making me extremely suspicious.

“I was just waiting for Alex. He told me you guys went bowling and that I could wait for him here. Next time you guys have to let me tag along like old times.” I fake a smile, laughing along with him. There was a time I trusted Grant with my life but right now I feel agitated and like he’s lying to me about something.

I know Grant wasn’t doing drugs before and that Alex’s addiction is why they stopped being friends, but they’ve both been so secretive lately and I can only fear the worse. I have to protect Alex, and I desperately hope my suspicions are wrong.

My thoughts are disrupted when Alex walks in lugging our bags. They thump onto the ground as he drops them with a loud groan. He rubs his back dramatically.

“I’m going to have a hump back because of you Lilly.”

“It’s nothing less than what you deserve.” I huff, crossing my arms. Grant starts laughing.

“What’d you do to piss her off Alex?” Grants asks curiously.

“He beat me! Which should have been impossible!” I shout. Grant starts to snicker.

“I see. You finally stopped letting her win.” I throw my hands up in disbelief. I can’t believe this.

“You guys are ridiculous! You really let me win all of those years! How about this, I challenge you both to a night of bowling and you guys can’t go easy on me. Sound good?” I stare at them both expectantly and they grin while simultaneously nodding their heads.

“You have a deal flower. Be prepared to lose again.” I scoff.

“Today was just a fluke. I’ll be handing your asses to the both of you. Now if you don’t mind, I need to shower and text Justin. He should be done with baseball practice by now.” Ignoring Grant’s strange look when I mention Justin, I head upstairs and start gathering clothes to change into. Turning on the water, I test the temperature of the water. When it’s warm enough to my liking I step into the tub, standing underneath the stream of water.

Multiple thoughts are scattered throughout my brain and I have a hard time trying to make sense of them all. I get that Alex and Grant are best friends and are bound to spend a lot of time together, but they’re just acting so shady. Alex has been working with Grant at his grandfather’s mechanic shop, and I’m glad he’s working and straightening out his life.

But what if he’s on something again? Grant was never the type to get into drugs but people change. I don’t want to accuse Alex because I need to trust him now more than ever doing his recovery. It’s so goddamn hard to let go of the past. What if he OD’s again and I fail to stop it? It will be an awful repeat of last summer and I swore to myself I’d never let that happen again.

Hopping out of the shower, I start getting dressed with determination. I’m going to confront both Alex and Grant and I just hope that they tell me the truth. That my suspicions are wrong. I have never wanted to be more wrong about something before in my life.

Anxiety wears me down on the staircase as I begin my descent. My hands are shaking erratically and my nerves are shot. I slow down however when I hear hushed voices. I peak over the stairs at my brother and Grant as they both stand huddled together whispering heatedly. I strain my ears to hear them clearly.

“You still haven’t told her? What the hell Alex! You told me you’d speak to her about it when you guys went bowling.” Grant was saying, and my breathing hitches when I realize they’re talking about me.

“And I was going to! But we were having such a good time and I didn’t want to spoil the night. It was just like old times with me and her hanging out together. I’m afraid on how she’s going to take the news.”

“She’ll be even more upset the longer you wait to tell her. And that Justin kid knows about it too so it’s only a matter of time until she finds out.”

My heart was racing as I tried to make sense of what they were saying. What weren’t they telling me? And how the hell does Justin know before I do? Why are they all keeping some secret from me.

“Here I brought this to you. Take it and keep it somewhere safe.” Grant shoves something into my brother’s hands and I’m too far away to tell what it is. I feel anger start to bubble in my veins. What the hell is Grant doing? If he’s giving my brother drugs I swear to god… I choose that moment to make my presence known, stomping down the stairs towards the both of them. Pointing an accusing finger, I begin to shout.

“What the hell are you two doing? Do you think I’m fucking stupid? How dare you Grant! I trusted you!” I yell, feeling frustrated tears brim at the corner of my eyes. I can’t believe this.

“Lilly, this isn’t what you think-” Grant begins but I roughly disrupt him.

“No, this is exactly what I think it is. How dare you come back into our lives and get my brother back on that shit! You were his only friend that was fucking sober but I guess that was a lie too!” I fume as tears flow freely down my cheeks. I was so angry I could feel myself physically shaking.

“Flower you’ve got the wrong idea-”

“And you!” I turn on Alex, feeling the tears fall freely, “Don’t you dare ‘flower’ me! You were actually doing better! I swore that you weren’t faking it this time but apparently I’m the most gullible person on the planet! Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” I ask, pleading for him to explain to me why. Why does he self-destruct this way? Why does he have to be high in order to be happy? To feel complete? Aren’t mom and dad enough for him? Wasn’t I enough for him?

“Lilly!” Alex shouts, gripping my shoulders so tightly that I force myself to stare into his pleading eyes. “I’m not doing drugs! And neither is Grant. Please calm down.” He starts rubbing my shoulders, trying to provide me comfort but I tear myself away from him.

“What’s in your hand then?” I ask, reaching for his palm but he yanks his arm back. He shoots Grant an anxious glance.

“I saw Grant hand something to you. What is it?” I demand. I’m not leaving this spot until I get some answers. I watch as Alex begins to deflate, his body sagging as he lets out a defeated groan. Eyes shut tightly, he uncurls his fingers to show me a brass key sat in the middle of his palm. My eyebrows furrow in confusion. What the hell?

“Why did Grant give you a key?” None of this is making any sense.

“Because he asked me to move in with him. You know how he’s been going to college in Muncie? Well he got himself an apartment and we’ve been talking about me moving in.” I’m dumbfounded as I stare at the both of them at a loss for words.

“You’re leaving.” Is all I can manage to mutter. I feel as if the world is crashing down upon me.

“Flower, no, you know I’ll always been here for you. Mom and Dad are okay with it and I know I should’ve told you sooner but I didn’t know how.”

“So instead you lie to me and hide things behind my back. We finally got you back and you’re leaving again? I can’t believe this.” I’m shaking my head, frantically wishing that this is some kind of joke. But Grant and Alex are both stood in front of me and that goddamn key is glaring at me.

“It’s not like that and you know it. Moving out of this house will be good for me Lilly. There’s so many bad memories here for me. Going through mom and dad’s broke me. Do you know how many times I spent getting high in my bedroom? I overdosed in there. And it’s hard for me to sleep in there surrounded by my own countless mistakes. I need a fresh start. Please understand Lilly.” He pleads with me and I hate myself for crying again.

“But I don’t want you to go! I just got you back. It was hard on me too Alex! I didn’t only lose mom and dad during their divorce, but I lost you too! I needed my big brother but you needed drugs more than me. And I tried so hard to be selfless when all of mom and dad’s attention was focused on you so you could get better. I knew how much you needed them. But you shut me out and now that we finally have a chance to reconnect you’re leaving again. When do I get to be the selfish one Alex? Here’s me being selfish. I don’t want you to move out. Please don’t go.” I beg, wanting this nightmare to end because I’m slowly losing everyone again and I can’t pick myself back up once I’m alone.

“Lilly, please. You’re leaving for college in the fall anyways! And mom and dad are okay with this. I’m asking for you to support me. I need this to completely heal. I won’t love you any less if I’m 20 or 1,000 miles away!” I’m sobbing now, my body wracked with grief.

Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave.

“Why did everyone get to know but me? Why does everyone leave?” My blood runs cold as a certain thought registers in my brain. Justin knew.

“Justin knew about this.” I don’t shout. I don’t cry. I just state it numbly.

“Don’t be upset with him Lilly. He found out during my birthday party when he overheard Grant and I. I asked him to give me the chance to tell you and he respected my wishes. He promised me he’d take care of you while I was gone.” Alex keeps talking but I’m just shaking my head furiously now. The one person I trust irrevocably is a liar.

“No. He lied to me just like you did! You know what? I don’t care anymore Alex. Just leave! It’s what you do best! I must be an awful person if all the people I love betray me and leave when I need them the most.” I storm out of the house, ignoring Alex and Grant calling out for me.

I don’t know where I’m going but I just need to get out. I was fucking suffocating in that house surrounded by all of the lies and stretches of the truth. I can’t believe Justin knew about this.

No. Not him. Out of everyone, he’s been the one there for me through it all. He wouldn’t keep something like this from me. He knows how I feel when it comes to Alex. He’s seen a side of me no one else has and he still cares.

I fumble with my phone as I dial Justin’s number. My heart is thundering and a lump is sat thickly in my throat. My grip on the phone tightens when Justin answers.

“Lilly? Are you okay? Alex keeps ringing my phone and I don’t even know how he got my number.”

“Tell me it’s a lie.” I beg him, my voice scratchy from all the tears I’ve just cried.

“Lilly? What’s not true? You’re scaring me. Where are you? I’m going to come and get you.” I start shaking my head but I know he can’t see me.

Justin please tell me you didn’t know about Alex moving out.”

“Lilly… just tell me where you are so we can talk. You’re emotional and vulnerable right now so you shouldn’t be wandering the streets alone.”

“Answer my question first.”

“Please tell me where you are.”

“Answer the goddamn question Justin! Did you lie to me too? Were you in on this colossal secret I wasn’t worthy enough of knowing?” I hold my breath as I wait for his answer. I feel as if his next words have the capacity to be the glue that holds me together or the hammer that shatters me into oblivion.

“Baby… it wasn’t my place to tell you. Please understand that I would never lie to you on purpose.”

“But you did. You did Justin.” My voice shakes. “How am I ever supposed to trust you now?”

“Fuck, baby come on. We can talk about this. I’m in the car now and I’m coming to find you. Please stay wherever you are.”

“Don’t bother looking for me. Don’t bother calling or texting me anymore. I-I need time to process all these and right now I don’t even think I can look at you.” my voice breaks. Why does this hurt so much? Why do I have to be lied to constantly?

“Don’t shut me out. Please, I’m your boyfriend, let me be here for you.”

“You don’t even have to bother being that for me anymore. Goodbye Justin.”

“Lilly fuck don’t do this! I’m sorry. Just wait for me. Trust me to make this up to you.” I’m sobbing again, feeling pathetic as I stand on the side of the road with my heart diminished.

“I was stupid to think you would be different. Stupid to think you’d never lie to me.”

“Lilly-” I disconnect the call, turning off my phone and stumbling onward, leaving every single piece of myself behind. There was no mending this. This is life and in life people hurt you, lie to you, break you. People don’t stay. And if people want to leave I’ll be damned if I beg them not to go anymore. And I’ll continue pushing people away so I don’t have to stand tall through another goodbye.

40 missed calls. 60 different text messages. Everyone was trying to get ahold of me, even Shane which was surprising. They all consisted of the same thing.

Where the hell are you?

Answer the phone.

I’m worried about you.

Justin and Alex have called and texted me the most, and they are the two people I don’t want to talk to in the first place. I stop in front of my destination and sigh deeply when I knock on the door. I wait patiently before a mop of red hair greets me when the door swings open.

“Thank god! You had everyone worried sick!” Lou embraces me and I all but collapse into her arms. I’m exhausted and completely numb from all the walking and crying I’ve done.

“Oh honey. Come on, I’m bringing you upstairs.” Lou helps me up the stairs and deposits me on her comfy bed. I groan.

“Girl you are a mess.” She says softly, lying beside me. We’re silent for a while.

“Do you want to talk about it?” She finally asks and I shake my head vehemently. She purses her lips.

“I texted everyone that you’re here so that they’d stop looking for you.” I sigh.

“Thank you Lou. Can we talk about something else? Anything but this What’s been going on with you?” I finally fully look at her and I’m surprised to see her wearing a tattered shirt and a baggy pair of sweatpants. Her face is makeup free and her hair pulled into a messy bun atop her head. She’s not her usual glamorous self but she’s still beautiful nonetheless.

“Wow. Where to begin.” Her eyes flicker around her messy bedroom before settling on me once again. “Gracson and I broke up finally. For good. I’ve been cooped up in here listening to old vinyl records. I haven’t cried though. I’m not quite sure why either.” I gasp, immediately hugging her.

“Lou! That’s awful. What happened?” My heart is breaking even more for her.

“He came over earlier, like we had planned. But he was still in his pissy mood like he was at school. And I don’t know, I guess he just addressed the elephant in the room we both refused to acknowledge. He told me how were weren’t the same anymore, and how things just felt like they were coming to a natural end. Just things I already knew.” She breathes deeply, a deep pain reflected in her eyes as she prepares for her next words.

“I asked him if he was still in love with me. And i made him promise to tell me the truth.” Her missing tears finally gathered like tsunamis in her eyes.

“And he did Lilly. He told me the truth. He’s not in love with me anymore. He still has love for me but he’s not in love. God I didn’t realize the stark difference between loving and being in love with someone until today. Until I lost him. Because I am still fucking in love with him. But I can’t make him be in it with me too.” She’s crying so quietly it’s heartbreaking and I just hold her to me, hoping that someway, in each others arms, we can both heal.

“You’ll be okay Lou. We both will be. Maybe not right now. But soon.” I whisper. Why does love have to hurt so much? Why do we have to be entangled in it so deep at this age? I shed a few of my own tears at the realization that I love Justin. That I am in love with him. But, like always, I am so fucking afraid of this feeling. It was so easy for him to deceive me about Alex. What more could he lie to me about? I’m tired of getting hurt.

He had to know this would jeopardize our relationship yet he decided to keep it from me anyways. I just need my space right now. I hope he can respect that. I need time to work through this shit by myself.

Cause right now it feels like I’m all that I have.

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