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Chapter Nine

“I’m wondering if I should be meeting this boy you’ve been hanging around,” My mom tuts, immediately making my head swivel towards her. Her hair is slicked back in a tight ponytail and her ruby red lips were pursed. She had been dashing all around the house, cleaning and nagging constantly. She’s been on edge more than usual lately and I swear we have a conversation involving Justin multiple times a day.

“It’s not that big of a deal!” I groan, “he’s just a friend of mine!”

“You haven’t had friends in years!” My mother accuses. I clench my fists and try really hard to not get myself into trouble.

“You know exactly why that is,” I say quietly. “Besides, instead of questioning things so much, why can’t you just be happy for me?” I ask in exasperation.

“I am happy for you! I’m just cautious you know? How well do you know these people? And this Justin boy?”

“They’re good people!” I yell at her in frustration. “God, how many times do I have to say that? I am almost eighteen years old, mom! I’m more than capable of making my own decisions. Just let me to live my life for once and not be so afraid of me making mistakes!” I cry out, frustrated tears pooling in my eyes. I hate that she doesn’t trust me to make smart choices. I wasn’t the one who betrayed her trust. It wasn’t me who fell into a bad crowd that ultimately set off a chain of events that tore everything apart. I am still paying for Alex’s mistakes and I am goddamn tired of it. My mom is so terrified of me making the same mistakes as him and in return makes me afraid to live my own life. But things need to change.

“I know that you are capable of making good decisions! But I also know how easy it is to choose the wrong path despite your good intentions! I’m just looking out for you, why don’t you understand that?” I watched as her lipstick stained lips that were now smeared trembled as tears streamed down her rosy cheeks. I sigh deeply, feeling my hands shake along with my emotions. I hated to see her cry. It was far from my intentions to make her crumble in front of me. I shove away from the dining room table and walk towards her before wrapping her in a comforting hug. This reminded me of all the times her and dad would fight and I’d comfort her after he got pissed off and left us all night. I would soothe back down her obsidian hair, and wrap my arms around her tight, wanting to eliminate all the hurt he inflicted. Her frail shoulders would cave in and shake, and I would coo at her like a mother would her child as our respective roles reversed. Now I was the cause of her tears. And that made me feel sick.

“It’s just, I just love you and I can’t lose you too Lilly. And I’ll be damned if you fuck up and I could have prevented it. Your dad leaving was my fault, and it was both his and my fault that Alex has ended up where he is now. But things can be different with you. They have to be,” Her body quivered as she pulled back from me, her brown eyes that swam in tears locking on me in determination.

“You know that I won’t do anything like that. I think I have proven that by now. You can’t hold on and control every little thing in my life forever mom. I know you worry and it’s because you care, but I’m just asking for your complete trust. Allow me to choose right from wrong. Mistakes aren’t all necessarily bad. I won’t learn any other way.”

“I know but-”

“Mom,” I stress, “please just promise that you’ll trust me.”

“I do trust you. I just don’t trust that everyone in your life will have good intentions.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Now come on. You were ready and looked beautiful until you ruined your makeup. Now go!” I laugh, shooing her back up the stairs to fix herself after her emotional spell. I was extremely happy and relieved that we finally broke the silence between us and discussed some things that were long past due. There were many conversations we still needed to have but I am content at the place we are currently at. I hope she does choose to trust me more. I also need to invite Justin and everyone over soon so she can meet them and be more comfortable with me leaving the house to hang with them. I’m afraid though.

What would they think of my mother and I in this big empty house, just the two of us? I’m not good at questions pertaining my family. I can’t imagine how my mom would react if my dad was asked about in front of her, or heaven forbid Alex. I don’t think any of them even know I have an older brother, and for now I want it to stay that way. Alex is someone I’m just not ready to talk about.

I hear a honk outside of the house and just as I grab my phone to make a quick dash out of the door, my mom comes barreling down the stairs. Shit.

“Don’t leave so quick! Can’t I just say hello to this boy you’re hanging out with once again?”

“Mom that is really not necessary. Me and him have plans so if you don’t mind-” My ramble is harshly cut off by the loud knocking on our front door. Just great. I see it happening but am too slow to beat my mom to the front door as she makes a mad sprint for it.

“Mom please let me answer the door!” I yell in frustration as we both childishly fight each other to open the door and greet Justin. As I try to elbow her out of the way my foot catches on the smooth tile in front of the door and the next thing I know I’m cursing as my foot stumbles and slips and I fall on my ass in front of my mom and a wide eyed Justin as she swings the door open.

“Hello!” “Shit!” We both yell as Justin stands in front of us both awkwardly, biting his bottom lip in that annoyingly sexy way. God why is this happening?

“Um, hi? Lilly are you okay?” He asks, although I can see by the way his lips are trying to not twitch into a smile, he is laughing at me. My face is burning and I am utterly embarrassed. My mom only makes it worse by exclaiming loudly and hauling me up by my shoulders and babying me and making the situation worse.

“Honey I am so sorry! You should have just let me answer the door and meet the boy for christ’s sake! Why are you so flustered? I haven’t seen you this red since I read your diary that one time when you wrote about how cute that one boy was-”

“Mom, enough! You are so embarrassing! Justin, can we please just leave,” I say, trying to push him out the door. He just has to stop me though.

“Hey, what’s the rush? I want to know more about this diary of yours. Is it the same one you write in everyday that you refuse to let me see?”

“For the last time that is not a diary! I haven’t written in a diary since the 7th grade!” We were so busy bickering that I forgot about our audience.

“You two are just the cutest,” My mother says, a gleam in her eyes I haven’t seen in a long time. Is she serious? Literally just fifteen minutes ago she thought Justin and his friends would turn me into some delinquent.

“I’m being rude. Hi, I’m Justin, it’s nice to meet you ma’am,” I stare baffled as he reaches his hand out to my mom and she has the nerve to blush! Justin Grey made my mother blush. I guess I’m not the only one who’s not immune to his charms.

“Oh please, call me Jane,” she gives one of her rare wide smile and I find myself completely shocked.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Lilly didn’t mention how beautiful you were, but then again she had to of gotten her looks from somewhere,” Is he serious? I thought he was a charming little shit before but this is just ruthless. Justin Grey is a womanizer. It’s official.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I say as my mom actually giggles like a schoolgirl. Are they both being serious right now?

“Lilly didn’t mention how charming you were Justin.”

“Oh so she must mention me a lot,” He grins cheekily, even having the audacity to wink at me. Someone please save me from this utter humiliation.

“Oh you wouldn’t believe-”

“Okay, that’s enough! Can we please leave now Justin before I lock myself in my room for the rest of eternity?” He laughs at me and it makes me feel all kinds of knots in my stomach. He isn’t good for my health.

“You two be good, and Justin don’t bring her home too late,” My mother says, giving me one of her secretive looks. She’s going to pester the hell out of me when I get home later.

“He won’t. See you later, love you bye!” I call in a rush, finally managing to shove Justin out of the way and slamming the door behind me. I take a few deep breaths, bending over with my hands clasping my knees. Those were the longest minutes of my life.

“Your mother is lovely,” Justin says, a teasing smile on his tempting face. I want to punch that look off of his face.

“You’re cruel.”

“What? Why?” He asks, laughing in disbelief.

“You keep laughing at my embarrassment! Not to mention your ass kissing back there. I mean, if you find my mother that attractive maybe you should be hanging out with her instead of me,” I say, jumping from my porch and making my way to his car. Justin scoffs from behind me.

“Yeah right. Besides, I doubt your dad would appreciate it very much if I did that. At first I thought that he’d be the one answering your door to intimidate and terrify me.”

“He wouldn’t care enough to do that,” I say, rolling my eyes. Justin buckles his seatbelt and glances over at me with his eyebrows raised.

“What do you mean?” He asks in confusion and I suddenly realize what I just said. Shit.

“My mom and dad are divorced. And he’s a real piece of work so I doubt that even if he still lived with us he’d give two shits to intimidate a guy picking me up.”

“I don’t think so. He probably does care about you, it’s just you can’t see it,” Justin says, reversing out of my driveway. I feel my eyebrows furrow as I stare at him questionably. He knows nothing about my dad and how much of a douche he is, so how could he have any inclination about his feelings towards me?

“And how do you figure that? You don’t even know him,” I scoff.

“Because,” he says as we come to a stoplight. His eyes flicker over to me and I held his stare. “You’re the type of person people can’t help but care about.”

My next breath got caught in my throat as the light turned green and Justin drove forward, breaking eye contact with me. There were so any things I wanted to ask in that moment. Did he mean what he just said? And if he did, did that mean he cares about me? I know he’s said so before, but this felt different. If he does care about me, how much? And by the rapid beating of my heart, how much did I care about him in return?

“You have so much stuff,” I say incredulously as I looked around his bedroom. He had a full sized bed in the center of his room that had gray sheets and tons of white fluffy pillows. He had a thick dark gray comforter that was silky smooth to the touch and I didn’t fail to sprawl myself on his bed and mess up his perfectly made bed that surprised me the most when he brought me in here to show me his room. I didn’t even make my own bed ever. I couldn’t resist messing it up. His bedroom walls were painted a navy blue which contrasted nicely with his sheets.

Justin also had a desk in the far corner of his room that had all kinds of books and papers sprawled messily on its surface, with a coffee mug most likely from this morning sitting on it also. What was probably the most interesting to me was the shelves in his room that had items ranging on them from books, baseball trophies, collectible figurines, awards, and other various memorabilia. You could tell his room had character from the rumpled clothes strayed all about the room, his overflowing trash bin, the picture frames, and the way it was obvious by how his covers were slightly untucked in one corner that making his bed was a last ditch effort. His room actually looked lived in. It had allure and was imperfect in the best way. It was Justin, and I liked that.

“What do you mean?” He asks, laughing as he takes a seat on his bed beside me. “I’m sorry it’s nice that nice or clean, but I started cleaning it and even made my bed that you so eloquently flopped on, but I ended up saying fuck it.”

“No, it’s nice,” I say, “I like all of your stuff. It makes your room feel more comfy.”

“You don’t have a lot of stuff cluttering your room? Charlotte’s room is a minefield, she has so much stuff and clothes literally tumble from her closet yet she insists every morning to have nothing to wear.” I laugh, amused at his clueless face as he tries to understand his sister. Justin, you may be incredibly smart, but girls are a subject I’m afraid no man has mastered.

“No, I really don’t. I’m a pretty plain person and so is my room. I just have the necessities really,” I say while shrugging. I didn’t see a need to have a lot of things or try to characterize my room. I didn’t feel the need to make my room anything special.

“Your anything but plain, trust me. You probably haven’t felt inspired enough to do anything with your room. Wait until you see Lou’s room, it’s filled to the max with all kinds of stuff, she has posters and pictures spanning every single wall without a blank spot in sight. She has so many CD’s and albums that they literally are stacked up in the corners of her room, and god don’t get me started on all the clothes she has. You can’t even see her floor,” He laughs, and his eyes crinkle in the corners in that weird way that always makes something in my stomach flutter and causes me to be lightheaded.

“That makes sense. Lou is crazy and so full of life, I can’t imagine anything less really. So, what do you want to do? You begged me to come over and I faced the embarrassment of a lifetime with my mom in front of you, so you better have something worthwhile planned,” I tease, groaning as I rolled over on my stomach and cupped my chin, staring up at Justin. He was sat on the edge of his bed, sitting slouched over with his hands clasped between his knees.

“You know, I totally do I just…” He trails off and I roll my eyes.

“No you don’t. So you decided to bombard my phone this morning so we can hang and do nothing?”

“Yeah basically,” He says, laughing at me. I groan out loud, stretching out across his bed. When he got in my way I shoved him with my feet, the force of my push sending him sprawling on his bedroom floor.

“What the hell Lilly!” He growls out, rolling onto his stomach, slowly pushing himself up to glare at me. I find myself staring at his toned forearms in admiration, the way they naturally flexed from holding up his body captivating my attention. His sharp jaw was set in aggravation, and leaning over the bed to get a closer look, I noticed how his pupils looking slightly dilated. Justin’s attractiveness is too much for me to handle sometimes.

“On second thought,” I say, standing off of the bed and offering him a hand, “I know what we can do.” He takes my hand and I help haul him up.

“Oh yeah? And what’s that? Please tell me it doesn’t involve you shoving me to the floor,” Justin replies snarkily.

“I barely pushed you, stop whining. And you, are going to cook for me,” I say cheekily.

“And why would I do that?”

“Because I’m just that awesome?” I tried, and rolled my eyes when he just stared at me blankly.

“Please?” I ask, resorting to begging. I tried to widen my eyes real big, and I even clasped my hands in front of me. I probably resembled a fish rather than the cute puppy dog I am envisioning.

“You look ridiculous,” Justin chuckles.

“Come on! Please? I’m hungry,” I whine, following him out of the room and downstairs.

“What do you want to eat?” He asks, browsing his cabinets for something.

“What do you have?” I counter, standing on my tiptoes to glance over his shoulder at the upper shelves filled with food.

“I could make macaroni and cheese,” He offers, glancing over his shoulder at me and raising an eyebrow at my proximity. I immediately blush, taking a step back from him.

“That’s so basic though,” I tease.

“What do you want then? A four course meal?” He replies sarcastically and I pretend to actually consider his offer.

“Hmm, as tempting as that sounds, I think I’m good,” I say, trying to think of something he could make. I grin in excitement when it hits me.

“Cookies!” I exclaim happily.

“Cookies? I don’t have any cookies though,” He argues. I smile devilishly at him.

“That, my dear friend, is why we make them from scratch,” I say, maneuvering around him to start the ingredients. This should be interesting.

It was an absolute disaster. I pinch my face in disgust as I pick up one of the gooey clumps that were supposed to resemble sugar cookies.

“I don’t think they’re supposed to look like that,” Justin mumbles, trying his damndest not to laugh as I gave him a dirty look. This was all his fault!

“No shit sherlock. What did you do?!” I exclaim. I told him all of the ingredients to get me and that I’d do everything from there and this is what happens!

“What do you mean? You made them!” He accuses me, pointing a finger at me. I slap it down.

“You gave me the ingredients and I mixed them. You must of given me the wrong ingredients because I did everything right!” I say, throwing my hands up in the air as I look over the pans of mush that were supposed to be cookies. The counters were slathered in flour and baking soda. As brilliant as Justin is, clearly cooking isn’t his thing. I specifically told him what we needed and gave exact measurements.

“I got what you told me to!” He laughs, sticking a finger into some of the goo. He hesitantly lifted it to his mouth before his pink tongue swiped over his thumb. Almost immediately his face pinched and he started to gag.

“That is so disgusting oh my god I’m never letting you cook again!”

“It’s not my fault!” I fume. “It can’t taste that bad,” I scoff, shoving him out of the way to try it for myself. I slowly raise my finger to my lips before almost unwillingly tasting it. Just as quick as I took a bite I started to spit it out. It tastes like I just swallowed a mouthful of salt.

“Justin,” I say slowly, turning towards him with a sharp glance. His eyes widen as he eyes me warily.

“Yes Lilly?” He asks cautiously, most likely recognizing the murderous look on my face. I breathe in deeply as to not kill this attractive yet stupid boy.

“You do know that, despite their similar look, salt and sugar have very distinctive tastes. And you can’t have sugar cookies without sugar!” I throw my hands up in defeat and shove the ruined cookies away from me.

“Oh shit,” he mutters, “maybe I should have read that label clearer…”

“Really Justin? How exactly are you the smartest kid in our grade?”

“Hey! Don’t insult my intelligence! You were rushing me and treating me like your slave!”

“You had one job,” I sass, shaking my head at him. “Now we have crap cookies and I’m starving.”

“Well we could order takeout-”

“Did someone say takeout? Hell yes I knew it was a brilliant idea to come here!” Gracson shouts as he enters the kitchen. Walking in behind him are the rest of the gang, they were all shouting and pushing each other to walk quicker.

“Are those cookies?!” Gracson squeals, literally pushing me out of the way. He grabs a huge one and shoves it in his mouth before Justin and I can say anything. We look at each other in bewilderment. Crap.

“WHAT THE F-” Gracson screams, spitting the food out and all over the counter. He starts coughing and gagging, running to the sink and gulping water. His azure eyes were filled with tears and despite my better judgement I start cracking the hell up.

“Oh my god,” I cry, literally rolling on the floor, grabbing my stomach to try and stop the onslaught of laughter leaving my lips. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and every time I even remotely thought of calming down one look at Gracson’s face sends me reeling again. Soon everyone is laughing and Gracson’s face is flaming. I glance up and see even Shane’s lips twitching.

“Okay that’s enough. Here Lilly, let me help you up,” Justin says, reaching his hand out for mine. I breathe deeply, taking his hand and allowing him to haul me to my feet. I inhale deeply, wiping my eyes. The last time I laughed that hard was… wow months ago. With Alex.

We had decided to go out like we used to all the time when he first got his license. We went bowling and kept badgering one another, trying to bait the other into betting money on who could win. He swore up and down that he could beat me anyday. The whole week leading up to us going he kept taunting me and warning me that I was going to be broke. The thought of his relentless teasing and competitive streak brings a smile to my face. When the day had finally come he was first to bowl. He kept on with his mantras, and bet me twenty bucks that he would get a strike that first time. Needless to say I was twenty dollars richer when he bowled a completely embarrassing gutter ball. I was laughing so hard and loudly that we received all kinds of looks from other patrons and even had an employee come to tell us to quiet the hell down. That day is one of my favorite memories with him.

I wish he were here now.

“What the hell was that,” Gracson gasps as he finally walks towards us all again.

“You!” He says, pointing at me accusingly. “You tried to poison me!” I roll my eyes at his dramaticness.

“Honey I did no such thing. You were the one deciding to eat anything in sight. It was your brilliant friend Justin who confused salt and sugar,” I laugh, shaking my head in amusement.

“Seriously dude? You’re such a dumb twat,” Shane says, punching Justin on the shoulder and smiling. Surprisingly myself by laughing, I admire Shane’s smile. When he isn’t being all dark and broody he’s quite good looking. Also when he’s not so focused on hating me.

“Okay, this totally warrants ordering food. How about chinese?” Amiyah asks, immediately receiving multiple agreements. Chinese sounds heavenly.

“Hold the fuck on,” Lou says, gaining everyone’s attention. I bit my lip, wondering what’s wrong. Lou is hardly ever serious.

“The whole reason we came here is to see what Justin and Lilly were doing without us. Y’all just randomly decide to hang out by yourselves and I want to know is what happened. Every detail. Especially dirty ones,” Lou smiles wickedly, and I find myself groaning loudly.

“Seriously Lou?” I ask in exasperation. Why does she think me and Justin are secretly banging each other like rabbits?

“Seriously Lilly. I want the deets. I also need to know if I should start making my stinlly shirts now rather than later…”

“Stinlly?” Jasmine asks, speaking up for the first time since they got here. I noticed her frequently checking her phone ever since they walked in. She’d start typing a text before shaking her head and pocketing her phone once again. I wonder what was going on with her.

“Uh yeah. Stinlly. Justin and Lilly’s ship name. I can’t obsess over their relationship without a ship name,” Lou says, waving her hands around as if what she was saying was obvious and made complete sense.

Only in her head.

“God Lou, we aren’t in a relationship over having sex okay? Now will you just drop it,” Justin mutters, rolling his eyes. Lou immediately backs down, throwing her hands up.

“Fine, fine it’s whatever. You guys will see, just watch. Stinlly is going to happen,” Justin just sighs before walking out of the kitchen and into the living room. We all slowly follow in pursuit, but I find myself slowly lagging behind.

What was that? Justin went from being playful to serious in seconds. Is what Lou said bothering him that bad? I know we aren’t dating or anything and insinuating constantly that we are can be pretty annoying, but Justin looked pissed. I don’t know if I’m overthinking this or not, but as much as I love hanging with everyone, I find myself suddenly wishing I was alone with Justin. No people, no complications, just us.

Because as much as I complained, I enjoyed when he and I ate alone in the library together, and hanging with him here was a nice relief from the constant loneliness I typically experienced by myself. I’m suddenly stopped by a hand grabbing onto my arm. I look over to see Jasmine staring at me.

“Hey, don’t worry about Justin okay? He just tends to get confused sometimes about his feelings and will ignore what is obviously right in front of him. But he’ll come around. He’s a great guy,” Jasmine says, a wistfulness to her tone. I feel my heart seize in my chest.

“Do you have feelings for him?” I ask her quietly, feeling my heartbeat thundering, its echo reverberating in my ear. I am so desperate yet terrified to hear her answer. She’s been closer to him than I have. And she’s nice and gorgeous and just the type of person who has a smile like the call of a siren that could beckon any guy she so desires. And me? I have nothing compared to that and just a need to fill this hole in my chest but with what? Or who? And at what cost?

“Oh god no,” She laughs, and I’m broken out of my spell as she smiles her siren smile at me, sincerity bright in her brown eyes.

“Justin and I are just friends. Promise. Besides, when I moved here, I left someone I love behind. And I’m starting to question whether or not I made the right choice,” She says, gripping her phone tightly in her hands. I nod towards it.

“Is he the one you’ve been texting all night?” I ask. She smiles but i can detect the undercurrent of sadness lurking there.

“More like he’s been texting me. And every time I type I reply I find myself deleting it, yet I won’t delete any of his messages. I just watch as they pile up yet I still never press send. There’s so many words to say that I can type, but how can they mean anything over texting? Or even a call? All I want is to see him, but I don’t know if that’s what I should do. I don’t know if that will hurt worse if I decide I need to leave again one day,” She says, lost in thought as she probably remembered that boy she loves and most likely has no clue that he loves her back. How can love be so blind sometimes? No guy would continue to text her even though she never replies unless his heart belonged entirely to her.

“Is it worth it to see if he feels the same?” I ask her quietly. I can hear the hoots and hollers in the adjacent room, they probably are watching some sports game.

“But what if he doesn’t?” She asks fearfully. I laugh softly.

“Jasmine,” I say slowly, “if a guy still texted me months after I’ve been gone and after all the time of me not replying, I would never let him go.” She smiles finally, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

“You’re right,” She says, “I’m glad we’ve gotten to meet. I understand what Justin see’s in you.”

“We are just friends though. We haven’t even been friends for long,” I argue.

“But does that truly matter? You may not want to admit to it now, but you wouldn’t mind blurring the line between just friends and something more. I don’t think Justin would either. The real question is, are you willing to risk it?” Jasmine asks, and I suddenly see her in a whole new like. She is a siren, but her call doesn’t lure you to inevitable death. She calls out to you and sheds light. When I don’t say anything else she nods forward.

“Shall we?”

Together we walk into Justin’s living room to wait on our food. Everyone gives us questioning glances but I’m too consumed in my thoughts. What if Jasmine is right?

It wouldn’t matter. I tell myself firmly. I could barely start out being Justin’s friend, and lord only knows if I won’t manage to chase these amazing people out of my life. I don’t have the capacity to fully trust Justin or anyone. And I can’t think straight or focus on a relationship until I see my brother again.

And who knows when that will be?

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