A sting of pain rushed through my tongue, yet I ignored it as I pushed my teeth harder down on it. My lips were sealed in a tight line and I kept my eyes cast downward as I continued with my tasks. Tonight, I was responsible for bagging up the newest shipment we had just received.
Methamphetamines to be exact; also known as crystal meth.
Being the getaway driver to their late night schemes had rendered me to feel particularly disgusting about my role in Rick’s dirty crimes, but tonight he had taken it to another level and was treating me like one of his goons. I tried to mask the disgust on my face when he had ordered Roman and I to join in and help package the drugs, but I knew my father could sense my hesitance to do so. He ignored the pleading look on my face, and simply shoved me over to the corner of the room, Roman following closely behind me.
Rick was in an especially sour mood tonight after one of his men nearly had a run in with the law. Although he managed to get away with it, it had delayed Rick’s plans of distributing the drugs to smaller drug lords, and his other clients. Despite him being off schedule, he remained useless as he sat in the corner of the room; alternating between threatening someone on the phone, or threatening one of his men that were completing tasks with us.
Roman, who sat beside me, was particularly quiet today. He hadn’t said much on the car ride here, and didn’t reprimand me as he usually did whenever he came by. I sensed that he had a lot on his mind, so I too remained quiet, hoping that whatever it was stressing him would be resolved soon. Though Roman was technically one of my father’s men, I had developed a brotherly liking to him. He hid it behind a cold exterior, but I could see right through his eyes. He was a good man. Roman had a pure heart that had been tainted with darkness and a loss of innocence at a young age, which had left him where he was now.
It was a cruel reality. But that’s what it was.
Letting out an inaudible sigh, I pushed my hair out of my face and forced myself to ignore the tiny voice in my head that told me there was a way out of this mess- all I needed to do was take that step.
“There you go, good as new.” Isla said as she ran the mascara through my eyelashes one last time. Sorting the bags had taken longer than I had expected, and had led to me to get back to the dorms right at sunrise.
Isla, who had just gotten back from an early morning run, ran into me at the lobby and nearly did a double take when she saw me. To put it frankly, I looked like hell. My hair was a mess, and clothes were wrinkly, and I looked exhausted. I was able to play it off as me pulling an all nighter in the library to study, and since it was midterm season, she thankfully bought the excuse.
She insisted that she help me clean up a little before heading to class, claiming that ‘Mason would be terrified’. Despite letting out a genuine laugh at her comment, I couldn’t help but feel the dread settle into my stomach. It had been two days since I had seen Mason, and I had been anxious about seeing him since our last meeting.
I had messed up. Big time. Although I played it off and fed him a random excuse about the marks on my arm, I could sense that he was hesitant to let it go. I had enough time to beat myself up about the situation, but all I could do now was hope that he had let it go and we could move past it.
It was bound to happen.. A tiny voice repeated in my head, but I couldn’t help but blame my newfound carelessness. It wasn’t like me to slip up like that. In fact, it wasn’t like me to do any of this. A couple months prior to this, the most human interaction I had was with the mailman. And yet here I was, going out with some guy that was slowly tearing down every wall I had ever built.
And the worst part is,
Deep down, I wanted him to continue doing so. I wanted Mason to peel back the layers and see me for who I really was. Not the timid girl who had been backed into a corner all her life.
“Hello! Earth to Isabella..you’re going to be late for class!” Isla loudly said in my ear, snapping me out of the trance I had fallen in. Shaking my head, I focused on Isla who was staring at me with a wide grin on her face.
“Look’s like someone was daydreaming about her boyfriend.” Isla teased as I walked across the room to pick up my book bag. Rolling my eyes at her comment, I returned her smile with one of my own as I opened up the door to our dorm.
“You are relentless.” I said to her. She let out a loud laugh and made her way into the bathroom to freshen up. We exchanged a quick goodbye, before I scurried across campus towards my lecture hall.
I could feel my heartbeat accelerate at a more rapid pace the closer I got to the door. I had barely made it in time, and rushed into the room with the other students who had also been running late. Stopping at the top of the steps, my eyes scanned the room for a familiar head of hair. I had decided that although I needed to be more careful around Mason, it was best to act normal and not avoid him.
That would only raise more questions, and lead to an even bigger mess.
Just as I was going to sit down in some random seat, my eyes locked with Mason, who had been watching me the entire time. I watched as a slow smile grew on his face as he waved me over to where he was seated. Squeezing past the students, I whispered a quick hello to Mason before settling into the seat beside him and pulling out my books.
I could feel his gaze on the side of my face, and I felt my face redden slightly with embarrassment as I avoided eye contact with him. I was very inexperienced when it came to boys, and felt particularly shy around Mason today since it was my first time seeing him since our dinner.
And since kissing him on the cheek.
I still didn’t know what possessed me to do something that bold, but I would be lying if I said I regretted it. Although that night had left me stressed and more on edge, it also made me feel giddy. I had tried my best to keep Mason out of my life, but he somehow still managed to find a way in.
“You look beautiful.” Mason’s quiet voice whispered into my ear as I felt my face begin to burn. Glancing over at him, I saw that he wore a boyish grin on his face as his eyes scanned my face. I knew he was looking to see if there was any new wounds or bruises on my face, but Rick wasn’t an idiot. Despite voicing his urge to punch me in my face, he knew to leave my face alone because it would only cause him more issues in the end. Courtesy of Roman, who had advised him to avoid any visible areas.
“Thank you.” I shyly answered him as I diverted my attention back to the professor. Our midterm was next week, and today was the last class of the week before I had to begin studying. Despite every possible distraction coming my way, I still made it a priority to put effort into school. Attending school was all I had ever dreamed of while I was locked away in my room, and now that I was finally here, I was going to make the most of it.
For the remainder of class, I tried my best to focus on what the professor was lecturing about. Mason and I would whisper to one another every now and then, but for the most part, I tried to give the professor my undivided attention.
As soon as class was dismissed, students quickly began filing out of the room as Mason and I packed our things.
“Do you have any plans after class?” Mason asked as we both made our way out of the lecture hall. Shaking my head as an answer, I peeked up at Mason as I waited for him to continue.
I watched as he slightly hesitated and rubbed a hand on the back of his neck sheepishly, before speaking up with a slight tint on his cheeks, “I actually have a small gift for you. I forgot it at my dorm, but if you don’t have plans we can go get it now” He finally spit out as a small smile erupted on my face. My heart did a little leap at his comment, and I couldn’t help but find Mason’s shyness adorable. Like Roman, Mason also had a bit of a barrier when it came to showing his emotions. I could tell he was slightly uncomfortable when he mentioned the gift, but I couldn’t help but think it was sweet.
I hadn’t received a gift in nearly over a decade, and Isla had been the first to ever give me anything. Now that Mason had also gotten me something, I didn’t know how to process my emotions. I had always thought that kindness in this world was rare and that the world was nothing but a tainted garden, but for the first time in years, that dark mindset seemed to be shifting in a different direction.
Good people in this world still existed. And they had somehow all ended up in my life.
“I would love to.” I responded to him, the grin still lining my face.
What could he have possibly gotten me?
Mason and I only knew each other for a few months now, and considering the fact that most of what he knew about me was a fabricated lie, there weren’t many options I could narrow down to.
I decided to keep my curiosity at bay, and simply wait for him to show me when we got to his building. As we made our way up to the dorm room, realization settled in that I would be seeing Mason’s room for the first time. I felt a glimmer of hope at the idea that maybe I could learn more about Mason today. Although he appeared to be an open book, he was actually more private than I had expected. He had a tendency to get others to open up, yet never reveal a single thing about himself.
I watched as Mason fiddled around with his keys before opening the door, and holding it open for me to walk into. Stepping into the room, the smell of Mason’s cologne mixed with a citrus scent greeted me as I took small steps towards the middle of the room.
The room was laid out identically to mine and Isla’s, with the two beds pushed against opposite ends of the wall. Fletcher’s corner of the room was tidy, with his bed perfectly made, and everything organized neatly. Various comic book and movie posters lined the wall above his bed, bringing a pop of color into the room. Mason’s side of the room was the opposite of Fletcher’s in terms of decoration. Although Mason’s bed was also neatly made like Fletcher’s, there were no posters or decorations hanging up on his side of the room, and it was plain for the most part.
A small chuckle escaped my lips as I realized the irony of Mason and Fletcher’s room. It resembled mine and Isla’s in the sense that her side of the room was perfectly decorated to march her personality, and my side was plain and empty, just like Mason’s.
As Mason set his things down beside his bed, I made my way over to his desk to take a seat. My eyes caught onto a small picture frame tilted downward on the desk, and I couldn’t help my curiosity when I picked it up and turned it over. Three smiling faces greeted me as I scanned the frame. I immediately recognized Mason as the person standing in the middle of two younger kids. He appeared to be no older than sixteen or seventeen in the picture, and the two kids beside him looked to be a couple years his junior. They all had the exact same smile, and appeared to be hysterically laughing in the photo as they each stared everywhere but the camera lens.
I couldn’t help but focus more on Mason who looked like a completely different person. Aside from the braces and longer hair, it was his eyes that drew me in. Something about the way his eyes shone in that photo compared to his eyes now seemed to be galaxies apart. There was a certain shine glimmering in his eyes in the photo that didn’t resemble his eyes now.
It reminded me of myself.
Maybe it was just a part of growing up, where the sparkle we once had as children slowly faded as the reality of a cruel world settled in.
I could feel Mason walking up behind me, before occupying the spot directly beside me. He didn’t say anything, but I could see that his attention was also focused on the photo frame in my hand. I kept my eyes latched onto the photo as I quietly asked, “Your siblings?”
“Yes, twins.” He answered after a brief pause. Nodding my head in response, I remained silent as I watched him stare at the photo.
“You guys all have identical smiles.” I commented as Mason let out a small chuckle in response.
“My mom used to say that all the time. She said it creeped her out.” He shared as I let out a small giggle. Setting the photo frame back down on his desk, I took a seat on his desk chair.
“How old are they now?” I asked him, as he took a seat on Fletchers desk chair which was directly across from Mason’s.
I watched as the smile dropped on Mason’s face as my question registered in his mind. Mason didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and I almost thought he didn’t hear me, but he finally answered quietly.
“Brielle is a junior in high school now. Nick passed away a couple years ago.” Mason finally said as a deafening silence hung in the air at his words. I was stunned into silence as I registered what he had just told me.
Mason’s brother had passed away.
I kept my eyes focused intently on Mason who was now staring out his dorm window. I could feel my heart clenching in pain for Mason as I watched him silently. Losing a sibling was like losing a part of yourself. It had been so long since I had seen my own brother, and although he was still alive, there was a void in my heart. I could tell that this was something that Mason didn’t really speak about, and I felt my heart squeeze at how painful it must have been for his family to endure that.
“I’m so sorry, Mason. I shouldn’t have ever asked.” I apologized sincerely as I refrained from hitting myself in the head for asking too many questions.
“Don’t apologize, you didn’t know.” He softly said as he finally looked up at me. I could see the dimness in his eyes compared to the sparkle in the photo and felt my heart break. His brother’s death had changed him, and a part of me wanted so badly to help Mason find that spark again, but I knew that grief varied from person to person, and that only he could help himself heal.
“He fell in with the wrong crowd, and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He vaguely said as I nodded my head. I didn’t want to probe him any further for details, but I wanted to comfort him. I didn’t know what came over me, but I suddenly got up and made my way over to Mason and pulled him into a hug.
Physical touch was still a new concept to me, and I was still learning how to be more comfortable with it, but in that instance, all of my uncertainty and fears escaped me. All I wanted was to help Mason feel better, even if that meant pushing past the barriers I had created for myself.
I could tell Mason was taken aback for a moment, but he quickly returned the hug as he wrapped his arms around my body. I could feel the tension in his body slowly fade away as I squeezed his torso.
“Sometimes people are meant to be in our lives for a short time only. He’s still with you, Mason.” I gently said to him as I pulled back from the hug. I could fully see the sorrow in Mason’s eyes as he connected gazes with me. I felt my heart drop at the blatant pain on Mason’s face, as I pushed his hair out of his face.
“Thank you, Isabella.” He softly said as he gave my hand a small squeeze. I watched as his eyes briefly scanned over my face, as he wordlessly observed me. I wanted to ask him what he was thinking, but decided against it. Returning back to my seat at his desk, I watched as Mason made his way over to his closet. He rummaged through a couple things before pulling out a book.
“Our dinner ended abruptly, and I never got to finish telling you about the rest of the constellations. I bought this book a couple years back, and figured you might like it.” Mason said as he held the book out to me. I felt my heart explode with joy at his thoughtfulness as I grabbed the book from him. Skimming through the pages briefly, I saw various illustrations of different constellations followed by brief descriptions about each of them.
Setting the book down on the desk, I got up once again to thank Mason. He met me halfway, and returned my hug. I didn’t say anything, but could only hope that he sensed my gratitude. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions, but I pushed it back, not wanting to make a fool out of myself. Pulling back from the hug, I stared at up Mason with a shaky smile, “Thank you, Mason. You didn’t have to.” I said to him in the most steady voice that I could muster as he gave me a small smile.
It was in that moment that I realized how close he and I were standing. Our faces were merely inches apart from one another, and I suddenly found myself in a trance as all outside noise faded. Mason and I didn’t say anything as his eyes remained locked on mine before briefly settling on my lips. I could feel my heart pumping out of my chest, and felt as if time was frozen as Mason’s face inched closer to mine.
I felt my body take control, as I mirrored his actions. Just as I felt Mason’s warm breath on my face, I felt him pull back suddenly. The trance we had fallen in was now broken as Mason stared down at me with a torn look on his face. I could see the conflict in his eyes as he ran a hand through his hair. I felt confusion settle in my mind at his actions, wondering what it was that was bothering him.
I didn’t say anything as Mason grabbed my hand and gently squeezed it, “Isabella, I want you to be completely honest with me, okay?” Mason softly said as he kept his eyes glued to mine. I could sense the tenseness in his voice, and felt my stomach slightly drop as I quickly nodded my head in response.
I held my breath as I waited for Mason to finish his question. “Those wounds. Did you actually get those from cooking?” He finally uttered as I felt my heart skip a beat. I tried my best to keep a poker face, but felt myself falter as Mason looked closely at my face.
“I know I already asked you, but I just want you to be completely honest with me. You know you can tell me anything right?” Mason continued on as I registered what he was saying. The world around my suddenly felt like it was spinning as I tried to find the words. My throat felt like it was closing, as I stared into Mason’s eyes.
No! I was lying, Mason.
In that moment, I wanted to tell him everything. Tell him about Rick and how he had torn me away from my family at a young. Tell him about the years of abuse, torture, pain, and torment that Rick had put me through.
I wanted to tell Mason.
But I couldn’t.
Forcing myself to clear my mind, I tilted my head to the side in mock confusion.
“Yes, Mason those came from cooking! You don’t have to worry about anything.” I tried to assure him as I kept my voice steady. I forced a smile on my face for emphasis as Mason’s eyes remained locked on my face. I could see a hint of defeat in his eyes as he let out a small sigh before letting go of my hand.
“Okay, Isabella.” He shortly said as he made his way over to Fletcher’s desk. The air in the room had completely shifted, and it was clear that Mason still didn’t believe me. I could see it in his eyes that he was searching for something on my face when he asked me that question, and I couldn’t help but feel that Mason would be relentless until he found what he was looking for.
And the mere thought of that terrified me.
It has been a long time since I have put out an update. These past two months have been a bit rough in terms of my health. It is unrelated to COVID, but I have been in and out of hospital and doctors appointments these past few weeks. I could barely find the energy to take my final exams for the semester, let alone put out an update for you guys. I consider you all an important factor in my life, and feel that it is only fair if I am transparent with you all about why I have been MIA.
My health is finally getting better, but I would just like to take the time to thank you all for your patience. I just caught up with reading every message and comment you all have left in the past few weeks. You are all amazing supporters, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am for you all.
I hope you all enjoyed this update.
I love you all.