Defining Us (Book 2 of Discovering Me Series)

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Chapter 33: Next Year - Two Door Cinema Club

:Nick:

I unlocked the front door of my suite, struggling to balance my bass guitar case, music stand and sheet music bag, and my backpack.

“Nick.” Morgan greeted with a smile, walking out of the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” I yanked up my backpack strap, attempting to keep it from falling down my arm.

She took my guitar case and music bag from my hands. “The first couple of weeks in life skills have proven to be more difficult than we expected. Izzie and I are helping the others grasp sewing in the living room.”

I was left to solely manage my backpack. “Is Finn here? Sami is in the music building practicing.”

“In his room. Our official senior project proposals are due on Friday.”

“Are you finished with yours? “

“No, but it is only Wednesday. I have time.”

“You make them right about us.” I started walking in the direction of my room.

“Hello.” I waved at the crowd in the living room. It consisted of Ryan, Adam, Elle, Izzie, and Milo.

“You should join us.” Elle recommended.

“I will in a little while. I need to call my mom.” I opened my bedroom door.

Morgan went inside. She put my bags on my bed.

“Thank you. I appreciate it.”

“Tell Mrs. Monroe I said hello.” She shut the door behind her.

I put my belongings in their appropriate locations. I changed into leisure appropriate apparel. I sat down at my desk with my cellphone.

“I lost patience trying to ring you. Five times, Nicholas, five times.”

I muted my sigh. “I had to study for a test.”

“What kind of test?” Her tone softened.

“Music proficiency. We were assigned a piece to play. How well I play my part within it will be graded.”

“No reading required?”

I looked up at the ceiling. “I can read. I have difficulties at times, but I can do it.”

“I know you can, Baby, but things are hard for you. You need to accept that.”

“I have. I can to go through it.”

“Work through it, Baby.” She corrected.

I was ashamed. I bawled my fist to the point of my nails digging into my palm.

“I-I-I-I n-n-n-eed –“ My childhood stuttered resurfaced. My shame grew tenfold. I shook my head and swallowed hard. “I need to do my homework.”

“What kind? Can I help?”

“I have friends to do it.”

“If you need –“

“I won’t.”

“I love you, Nicholas.”

“I love you too, Mama. Morgan says hello.”

“Such a sugar. You should be sweet on her.”

“She is my friend.”

“Your daddy started out as my friend. Since we were five years old.”

There was someone else.

“I will think about it.”

“No thinking needs to be done. Matters of the heart just happen.”

“I should be getting to that work.”

“Right, I love you. You better be taking good care of yourself.”

“I am. I love you too. Goodbye.” I hung up before she thought of something else to ask.

I propped my elbows up on the desk and buried my face in my hands.

I endured years of speech therapy as a child. My stutter was undetectable for the most part. It only resurfaced when I was very upset. She was the only one that could get me to that point. She masked her manipulation as helping. She had a way of hurting me each time she spoke. I was too much of a coward to tell her.

I logged into my laptop in hopes of finding a way to make myself feel better. The circle beside her name was green. I clicked on it and prayed that she would answer.

“Hey, Cutie.” She was seated in her chair such a way that her ribs were in view. The sides of her tank top were cut low enough to see the side of her black bra and the script tattoo beneath it. She was inhaled from a small black cylinder and blew white smoke out of the nearby window.

“I thought you gave up smoking.”

“I did. Water vapor. It helps when I miss the feeling.” Bex inhaled once again. She turned in her seat to face me and blew the vapor out the side of her mouth. “So, what’s new?”

“I am trying to go to California next year.”

“No Berklee?”

“Too expensive. My parents have already invested so much into music. I can get a producing certificate at UCLA. Perhaps even a scoring one too. I am not good in school.” I looked down at my keyboard.

“Dyslexia is not a death sentence. Music is the only language that matters.”

I looked up at her. “If only everyone saw it that way.”

“I can get you job.”

“Where?”

“Rouge. You’ve got a good ear. I’ve got clout with the boss.”

“I need to get there on my own.”

“In this day and age, it is nearly impossible to break into the behind the scenes music industry without at least one connection. You start at the bottom and work your way up. I’ll just get you in the door.”

“I will have to take you up on that then.” I drew a circle on my desk with my index finger.

“Not to say that I’m not agitated that I won’t see you at Berklee next year. You’re my musical soulmate. Together, we’d turn this place on its head with our sound.”

I cracked a smile. “We’ll always have New York.”

“I’ll get you back there, just wait.” She took a puff.

“Thanks for pretending to be my girlfriend at prom. People keep asking about you, clearly impressed. You are impossibly beautiful.”

She blew vapor to the side. “I showed you a good time in NYC. You did the same at Sella Moora. Consider it squared away.”

She finally put her vaporizer down and ran a hand through her long dark hair.

“Cutie, I’m into you. You’ve held my attention, which is no easy task, but I can’t do long distance. I know the way I am. You’d worry about where I am, whom I am with, and if I am being treated well because that is who you are. I’d break your heart.”

“You’re not a femme fatale.”

“But the thing is, I am in most people’s eyes. The only thing I am committed to is my taste in music. Everything else is an afterthought and it tends to hurt people. I don’t want to do that to you; you’d actually care.”

“I am just a friend once again.” Tears swelled in my eyes.

“If we were in the same place, I’d be yours in a heartbeat. This is coming from someone that has never had interest in a relationship. That is how special you are.” She pleaded me to understand.

“Bex, I passed Pete in the hall. I presume he is on his way here.” I heard her roommate in the background.

She looked in her direction. “Yeah. We have plans. You don’t need to leave. He’s just picking me up.”

“What happened to Jones? I liked him more.”

“Terrible taste in music. It was like talking to my little brother about which band is best. Artificial and overproduction are requirements for his interest.” She stood up from her chair.

I looked down when I saw that she was not wearing pants, standing in only her shirt and underwear. “Still here.” My cheeks warmed.

“Good. I haven’t said goodbye.” She angled her computer screen upward, putting her face in view as well as her body.

“She’s far from shy.” Her roommate Emily walked past the camera.

“He knows, but never ceases to be a gentleman.” She fixed her eyes on me. “You are one of the good ones, Cutie. Stay awesome. Tell my Izzie Baby I said hello.” She blew me a kiss and shut her computer.

I sighed and hung my head.

She paid me many compliments, but it didn’t stop the truth from hurting. She wouldn’t me mine.

I left my room in pursuit of a snack. I picked up a bag of just and a pouch of juice from the kitchen and went into the living room. I sat down on the floor by Elle’s feet, resting my back on the base of the armchair she was seated in.

“Have you finished yours?”

“No, but I need a break. My head is full.” I opened my back of chips.

“I think I’ve got something that will empty it a bit.” Elle reached into her sewing bag.

She tapped on my shoulder and I looked back.

“For dealing with my mother’s weirdness on move in day.” She subtly offered me a completed hand-sewn pouch.

“I told you it was okay.”

“You’re way too nice for your own good. Demand things from people. They won’t say ‘yes’ every time, but at least they’ll know you value yourself. It is the only way to get anywhere.” She slid it behind my back.

“Thank you.” I smiled at her.

“Thank yourself for being my favorite.” She winked at me.

I settled back into my seat and put my first chip into my mouth.

“Honey. Honey, you need to stop. You’re just making knots. You’re going to rip it.” Izzie put her hand over both of Milo’s.

“I need to finish this tonight.” He kept tugging against her advice. His needle snapped.

Ryan started cackling.

Milo glared at him. “What, like you haven’t snapped one?”

Ry’s lip quivered as he tried to stop laughing long enough to explain why he was doing it. “Life skills will be the death of you.”

“No, it will not.”

“Would you like to share how old you were when you learned to tie your shoes?”

“Chiudere il becco!”, was Milo’s retort.

“Now I need to know. Language switches signify embarrassment or anger. Tell me which one.” Iz rubbed his back.

“Ten.” He groaned.

“Ten what?” Elle continued to stitch.

“I went to the bathroom and ate on my own, but servants did virtually everything else for me until I left for boarding school.”

“Including bathe?” Morgan tilted her head down a touch, trying to grasp what he just admitted to.

“Yes, I didn’t learn basic life skills until the summer before I left for school.”

“No wonder you’re struggling.” Iz kissed him on the cheek. “Do you want me to do –“

“No, Babydoll, he’s fine. By that time he was fluent in three languages, a classical pianist and a professional level dancer. He could swim, sail, and ride horses as well. He can figure out how to sew.” Elle crossed her legs to make herself more comfortable.

“But I still need your help.” He inserted.

“Try harder. I know you have it in you now.”

“Is it true that you were taught to sword fight for tradition’s sake?” Adam inquired as he breezed through his assignment.

“Yes. I took to it initially. Things feel to pieces when Salvatore learned and we became sparing partners. He was not as conscious of me and my vision stipulations as the sword masters.” He rolled up his sleeve and exposed his forearm. “He slashed me.”

“They trusted you with a real swords?” Iz traced the large but faint ‘x’ with her fingertip.

“Rapier swords are not considered to be particularly dangerous.” His eyes were on her as hers were on his old injury.

“I know what you are trying to do, Sir. It’s not going to work this time.” She pulled down his shirt, catching on to the way he was looking at her.

She went into his sewing kit and handed him a new needle.

“I do not like it when we do course work as group.” He pouted as he pushed his glasses up and tried to focus on threading.

“Because I am more determined to keep you on task?” She grinned at his side.

“Precisely.”

She nudged him playfully.

“Do you want me to drop this? I will do it and end up getting hurt the next time I sit down to watch television in here.” He momentarily stopped trying to insert thread into the minuscule eye of the needle.

“No, then you’d blame me and I’d never hear the end of it.”

“You are the one that still mentions the time I hit you with my skateboard.”

“We all do that.” Fed up, Ryan tossed is sewing project on the coffee table. “Ellie, can you finish that up?” He pointed to it.

“Absolutely not. You’ve got to do work, just like everyone else.”

I smiled to myself, knowing she had secretly done mine.

“But you’re so good at it.”

“No, I’m not. Morgan’s the one that sews recreationally and Iz has been doing minor alterations to her dancewear for years. Consult with them.”

“Miles needs all the help he can get. Mom, can you make that less irritating?” He pointed to his project.

“That depends on your definition of ‘less irritating’.” Morgan stood up from her seat on the couch and walked to where he was seated.

“Go slow. You’re trying to rush through this and that is how knots happen.” Izzie attempted to continue her private lesson with Milo once he had his needle threaded.

“Adam is doing it. It is not impossible.” He gestured to him.

“I have been mending my clothes for years. My brothers and I were very active. Our mother needed to teach us how to maintain our clothes as long as possible.”

“I need an example to feel less guilty for being useless in this regard.”

“My brother Andreas convinced me I was part squirrel once because I loved climbing trees when I was young. I shredded my pants to bits and typically had at least one snag in my shirt a day because I would not stop climbing.”

Morgan stopped catering to Ryan to listen his response with active engagement. “How did you find out you weren’t a squirrel?”

“I was too self-possessed to run to my mother. I climbed the highest tree in the woods behind our house. I jumped out for dinner, my brothers had told me squirrels always landed on their feet. Nothing tells you you’re human more than a broken wrist that required pins and a dislocated shoulder. Very stupid thinking back on it now.”

“How old were you?” I asked between chips.

“Ten. I was way too old to still trust in the things my older brothers told me.”

“I feel less guilty now.”

I finished my snack and juice. I wasn’t particularly sure as to why I waited to dispose of my trash. The moment Adam left to go to the kitchen, I was up and on my way there was well.

“May I ask you a question?” I dropped my garbage into the bin.

“Sure.” He opened the refrigerator door.

“How old were you when you fell out of that tree?”

“Ten. I was asked to protect the prince, not lie to please him.” He took out a bag of carrots. He placed them on the counter along with a cutting board and knife.

“Does this feel old to you?”

“No, I feel as though I am final able to act my age for the first time in a long time. It is easy to lose sight of yourself when you only care about everyone else.”

“You have been in the real world. Do we always finish last?”

He glanced in my direction. “Nice guys?”

I nodded once.

He resumed sectioning his carrots. “No, we simply go about getting what we desire in a different way, one that aligns with our kinder sensibilities.”

“I thought you would be more like them when you started.” I admitted.

“How long did it take you to figure out I am not assertive or particularly confident?”

“Our first real conversation.” I rested my back on the counter’s edge.

“I should get better at hiding it, then.”

I smiled at his subtle humor.

“You were not at dinner.” He put his carrot sticks on a napkin. He cleaned the mess he created.

“I have a test. I needed to practice. I took a box of food to the music building.”

“You were missed.”

We went back into the living room together.

“Mrs. Brodsky will not let either of you cite discrimination as the reason you could not complete a simple sewing project.” Elle argued.

She had finished her pouch. Her open laptop suggested she had moved on to other schoolwork.

“Discrimination?” Adam bit one of his carrot sticks, sitting down on the chair he dragged from his room.

I returned to my seat at Elle’s feet.

“They are both left handed. They are trying to say right-handed instruction and the lack of left-handed scissors are the reasons they are the only two who cannot do it.” Izzie sighed and stared at Milo with evident disapproval.

“Left-handers for life. It’s a struggle.” Ryan put his left hand on his chest and sighed with his eyes closed.

“You’re ambidextrous, idiot!” Elle shouted at him.

His eyes were immediately opened. “You have no proof of that.”

“It’s on the list of skills and talents on your acting resume.”

“Who doesn’t add or edit something to increase their odds of getting hired? I believe a certain female actress lowered her height from 5’11 to 5’10 to do just that.”

Elle maintained eye contact as she picked up the television remote. She threw it at him without restraint. He caught it with his right hand, keeping his eyes on hers.

“Point proven.” She pointed to his hand.

He looked at it and groaned. “I was distracted.”

“You’re digging yourself a deeper hole here. I suggest you get back to work.” She commanded with finality.

“Why do I get the impression that would have happened with a weapon of some sort if it was available?” Adam’s eyes were wide with horror.

I muted a laugh by pursing my lips.

“They share a knife throwing sort of love. That includes one upping each other to see which one will flinch first.” Iz answered for him.

“Don’t give them any ideas.” Morgan contributed.

“Iz, stop looking at me like that. I am still working, as you can see.” Milo finally addressed the way she was glaring at him.

“You have been doing much better ever since I started doing this. This is proof that you like it when I am mean to you. It’s best that I keep it up.” She struggled to keep her stern expression and not smile.

“You will stop at nothing to get the best out of me.”

“Somebody has to.”

He stole a quick kiss. She was still smiling when he pulled away.

“Bex said hello.” I spoke without thinking.

“Huh?” She looked in my direction.

“Your cousin. I spoke to her today.”

“How was she?”

“She was Bex.”

That brought a smile to her face. “I’m going to try to visit her at Berklee. Would you like to come?”

“Maybe next time.” I fought to keep my face from falling.

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