Chapter 22: Libby
“Sorry for being sad.”
He shrugs closing the door behind us and throwing me a reassuring smile. “Hey, no unneeded apologies in this house.”
Shaking my head, I brush my fingers back through my short hair and let out a much-needed breath of anxiety. My phone vibrates against my butt in my back pocket and I cringe at the thought of answering the call. But I have to. No, I need to.
While getting ready for tonight’s date with Liam, I had been in my hotel room picking out my clothes when my phone rang in notice of an email. Without even thinking, I opened it up and saw that it was a message, not from Mom, but from Dad. I curiously opened it, surprised that he even put forth the effort to try to contact me.
Libby, it read.
It’s been on my mind about how we left things off between us when you left - I hated how we said goodbye. It’s only been about a week since you’ve left (not even, actually), but you’re very missed in this town.
The neighbors keep asking about you - and that young boy who use to chase after you ever since the fifth grade keeps calling to check up on you. I don’t know why he doesn’t just call you himself. I still think he’s chicken-shit.
Give us a call sometime? We miss your voice. We miss you singing Broadway songs in the shower and having our picture taken at least twice a day in ridiculous poses (sorry).
We love you, and I’m sorry again for the shitty goodbye.
I pursed my lips after that, hesitantly setting my phone back on the bedside table. I thought about the email as I got dressed, staring at myself in the crappy mirror in the bathroom but not really taking in my physique. Instead, I was thinking roughly on my reply. What all should I tell them?
My brows scrunched together and I picked my phone back up from the table, hitting the ‘new’ button and typing in my reply.
Dad, I said.
Have you heard the term ‘big things often have small beginnings?’ Well... have an open mind when I tell you about my less-than-a-week adventure I’ve had in the great state of New York.
I tell him about the kiss.
Our tiny adventures together.
And our upcoming date.
But I didn’t make it all about Liam; I included my - Liv’s - bucket list achievements and... well that’s it. Other than Liam and the bucket list, I had nothing else to worry about - nothing else to do. This realization caused me to stand up straighter, my face grew brighter, and wiped my mind clear of any stressers that I had hidden in the back of my mind.
But this didn’t last long.
A few minutes after, and I was already shutting off the lights in my room, my phone rang with a new email notice. Dad. I waited until I had slid into the bench of a cab and given the kind driver Liam’s address to finally read the message.
To say the least, there was a lot of caps and a lot of cussing.
I bit my lip and slid my phone back into my pocket. The driver asked if I was okay, and it was then that I noticed I was crying. “Yeah,” I had replied, sniffing up the creud snot and and blinking hard to keep the tears from spilling even more onto my cheeks. I wiped the tears pathetically off my chin, and when I saw that we were already rounding off to the apartments Liam lived in, I requested for us to stop off to the side of them and not at the front - I needed time to prep myself back up.
At dinner they began to text me. And then call. Each time, I ended the call slyly, hoping Liam didn’t suspect anything fishy about me and my discomfort. Not from our date, but from my ignorant parents. But when he was distracted by talking to the waiter, I took the opportunity to read a few of the texts. I shouldn’t have; I should have just continued to ignore them. I should’ve just turned my phone off. That would’ve been the sensible thing to do.
But Liam then caught on to my disproportianite emotions and I finally told him the inevitable - what had been on the tip of my tongue ever since our dance number yesterday: I was falling for him.
In the cab he distracted me in the greatest of ways, but then the phone rang again in my pocket and I had enough. I wanted to break out in tears, but Liam had reached up to my face and calmed me before I had the chance.
And now we’re here - Jimmy asleep on the couch, Liam leading me up the stairs, and my phone buzzing constantly in my khaki pant’s pocket. When we reach the top of the stairs, I shake my head and take my phone out and hold it in front of me. “Dad” flashes on my screen, and the green “accept” button haunts me.
A touch on my wrist startles me and I look up and meet Liam’s concerned eyes.
“I have to,” I whisper, aware that Jere is asleep in the next room. He nods solemnly and takes my hand in his, walking me to the opposite side of the house from his room and quietly opens Jere’s door. Crooking my eyebrow, he puts a finger to his lips and we step quietly towards a sliding door on the other side of the room.
When he reaches the door and slides it open enough to where we will be able to squeeze through, I step out to a tiny balcony and see that the call has ended. Closing the door behind us, he rubs his hands together and gestures to foldable chairs that sit on the cement. Smiling in a silent thanks, I sit on a slouchy low-rider one and answer the on-coming call from Mom.
“Hey?” Mom’s voice rings in disbelief over the line. “About ten missed calls, and all you say is ‘hey?’”
Pursing my lips, I murmur, “Yeah.” She nearly growls and I flinch at the uncanny sound. “Look,” I state, interrupting her before she could say a word. “I don’t know what exactly you’re so angry about-”
“It’s not me, it’s your dad,” she says from the other end of the line, stopping me mid-sentence.
“I don’t care!” I find myself saying. I don’t take a second to process a thing that I’m saying; I’m mad now. No, furious. There’s nothing that they should be mad about from what I said in the e-mail I sent them - there’s nothing they should be mad at me for at all. I tell her this.
“Your father and I are worried,” she sighs, her voice defeated and her tone filled-to-the-top with concern.
“With what?” I asked, my anger dying down and befuddlement replacing it. Liam notices my change in tone and he looks over to me and away from the sky, his eyebrows squinching together and creasing the space between them. “My sanity?”
Mom laughs and it lifts a medicine ball off my chest. “No.” I’m about to say “good” when she continues, “With your virtue.”
I crack up. “My virtue? Are you kidding me?”
From over the line in the background, I can hear Dad’s voice demanding Mom to hand over the phone. She refuses at first, aware of his agitated behavior, but she gives in all too quickly and he clears his throat. “Elizabeth?” Shit. “Darling?” Okay, better.
“Yeah, Dad?” I answer, trying to use all the virtue I’ve got mustered inside me. I’ve got virtue, for goodness sake!
“The hell are you thinking, getting involved with a stranger like that? You could catch something! Is he a bum? Did you feel bad for him or something? He was fucking fourteen when he had a child, Lib! Does that not scream ‘un-safe’ to you? Does it not send ‘danger’ signals to your brain and make you want to walk away?”
I don’t reply. I don’t even take a second to consider what he’s telling me, because I’d already gone through this multiple times in my head beforehand. “Yes, Dad. You’re right. It isn’t safe. But, you know what, I don’t care. I don’t. I truly do not care. Y’know why? Because y’all have protected me from living for so long and I don’t even know if the sky is truly blue anymore, or if the grass is really green...
You have tricked me from reality just to protect me, but I didn’t need that kind of protection - you can see that from me now, Dad. And if I ever got hurt in the past, it was because of you and not me. Liam is the best thing that ever happened to me since Liv, Dad. I can’t let you take him away from me. No, you won’t take him away from me.”
I take a breath and Liam comes to sit by me on the cement. I stare at him, and for a second I don’t even comprehend that Dad is replying to my message. He’s angry. But I don’t care. Not now. He reaches up to my face and rubs his thumb against my cheek, wiping something wet off it.
I cringe at the thought of him seeing me cry - again - and then reach up to his face and do the same. He has no tears to wipe off, but he does have a frown that needs to be turned upside down.
“Elizabeth, listen to me,” Dad demands to me over the phone and I frown myself, Liam laughing and then using both his thumbs to spread my lips up to my nose. I laugh, only making Dad’s behavior worsen.
“What?” I ask, and he can tell that I’m not even caring about what he’s going to tell me.
“I’m cancelling your hotel room reservations. You’re kicked out of this house as for now, until you get rid of that stupid-ass boy of yours. You are not to speak to us again, and you are not to even think about letting us back into your life until you’ve got your life straightened up.”
I scream profanities, standing up from my spot on the chair quickly and nearly racing to the brick fence that stops me from throwing myself off the friggin’ balcony. “You are completely overreacting!”
“And you are completely out of your mind right now!”
“It’s not like I’m having sex or doing drugs,” I yell, and he nearly screams from frustration.
“I don’t need to know any of that, Elizabeth. I don’t need to know anything - not even if you’re alive.” This stops me. I stop pacing. I stop floundering for words to say. I stop breathing. I stop feeling Liam’s presence - even when his hand touches my shoulder in an attempt to comfort me. “But this can all end,” Dad soothes, catching on to my abrupt change of mood. “But only if you agree to never see that boy again. Never to speak to; never to look at; never to find.”
And then I can see again. I can breathe. I can feel Liam’s fingers squeezing my shoulder and I can feel the comfort he’s providing me. “I’m eighteen,” I state profoundly, reaching up to rest my hand on top of Liam’s. “I decide what’s good for me, now. I decide what I want to do, who I want to be, who I want to be in contact with and who I don’t....”
I pause, waiting for a reply. None comes.
I expect words, but all I hear is the tone of the call ending.
After prolonged moments of silence between Liam and me, I’m worried about one thing and one thing only: What Liam thinks of me now. I’m scared to look at him, much less talk to him. I can feel his gaze baring into the side of my face, almost as if he’s begginig for me to turn and meet him halfway.
And so I do.
I look up from my silent phone and at Liam, finding, indeed, that he is watching me watch him. Once again, I take in how lucky I am to have chosen him. Not only is he a nice person to look at, but he’s also surprisingly intriguing to get to know. I knew there was a story behind his sad blue eyes the first time I saw them.
But now, I might not even get to hear it all.
Not after this.
“Now what?” I ask, and he smiles one of his crooked smiles. A smile that means that he’s happy, but also one that holds such sadness in them.
“Now,” he says, “you go to sleep.”
“You need to go to sleep.”
I scowl and he places his finger vertically over his lips, signaling me to shut-the-hell-up as we walk through Jere’s room. I give him the finger that’s not exactly the nicest one to show someone and carefully watch my footing as I step over Marvel action figures and comic books meant for kids at least three years older than him.
After reaching the door and Liam has closed it behind him, he takes my hand and drags me over to a bedroom that is definitely not his. This one’s different - cologne and hair product on every flat surface, combs, Playboy magazines thrown haphazardly around the room...
“I’m sleeping in here?”
I don’t have to look at him to know that he’s watching me. “Only if you want to.”
Something starts in my stomach. “Oh?” I know I’m egging him on - I can feel it as he subtly steps closer to me, his chest enveloping my back. I prevent a shudder from coursing through me and my breath hitches in my throat.
“Yes,” he replies, and his hands find mine, squeezing them. “But I think it would be better if you slept in here.”
My heart drops. “Oh.”
He must’ve heard something in my tone, because he twirls me around and lightly grabs my upper arms as if to keep me from running away screaming. “No, no, no!” he hurries to say, each word overlapping the other. “I just- agh! I’m just...” I look at him, his complex expressions and his frustrated eyes; the worried-as-hell creases in his forehead, and the blushing tips of his ears.
I smile, reaching up to his face and pretend as if I’m soothing out the creases in his face - the ones that I had created. “Shh,” I whisper and he closes his eyes, bowing his head and sighing.
“I just want to be good to you,” he whispers back, his voice hoarse. “I don’t want to mess this up. I’m sorry.”
Grinning, I put my hands on either side of his face and force him to look at me. “Hey,” I instruct, lying my forehead on his. He opens his blue eyes and looks directly into my plain ones. “No unneeded apologies in this house.”
I see no point to them existing. They only consist of pain and depression, and neither of those contribute positively towards society. So why? Why, why, why?
But then, I remember, there’s also an antidote to this poison: Coffee. And this is my motivation the next morning; the only reason why I unravel from Jimmy’s cocoon of fluffy covers and step out to the cold-as-friggin’-hell wooden floors and blasting A.C..
Looking down, I see that my lack of apparel isn’t helping my case much - sports bra and pannies. Cute, but not necessarily the type of outfit I’d like to wear in a freezing household. Shuddering, I look around and find my clothes gone. Befuddled, I look harder for them, crouching and even getting on all fours to look under the bed, when I finally give up and result to the only resort.
Tip-toeing, I make sure as to not wake him up. What would he think of me if he woke up with the sight of me pretty much butt-naked in his room, rustling in his drawers for clothes? Probably not anything that’s true.
Almost laughing at the thought, I clap my hand over my mouth and continue onto my journey across the hall and into his room. As I push the cracked-open door wider, I find Liam sprawled out on the bed, his arms tucked behind his head and his head lying to the side. His eyes are closed, at peace, and his body is relaxed for once. I’ve never seen him so calm.
Smiling, I go back to my journey and find a random shirt thrown inside-out on the floor. Mentally shrugging, I pick it up, and as I unfold it I find that the graphic tee has The Beatles on it. I nearly roll my eyes at the cliche coincidence.
I tug the tee on and realize that it’s at least three sizes too big, but then realizing the second after that it doesn’t matter. Knowing Jimmy for the past few days, I know he’s asleep on the couch and is in no way, shape or form going to wake up this early in the morning. Based on this fact, I don’t even waste my time looking for pants.
Taking one small glance at Liam, I resist an oncoming smile and make my way out into the hallway and down the creaking stairs. Stopping midway down the stairs, I crouch and look over the rail to see how deep asleep Jimmy is. He’s, of course, passed out on the couch, a quilt thrown on top of him neatly as if Liam himself had lied it on top of Jim in an act of pity and selflessness.
And something dawns on me - this must be a routine of theirs. Jimmy passing out, Liam cleaning up the beer bottles after him that scattered around the couch, feeling sorry for his roommate because of his pitiful ways, tossing a blanket on top of him just for the sake of being nice.
A smile pulls at my lips and I let my mouth form the shape.
Walking down the last few steps, not even giving a care anymore if they creak or not, I saunter towards the kitchen that veers off the the left from the stairs and open the freezer as if I’ve done it a thousand times before; as if this was my house as well.
Something tugs at my heart, telling me that what I’m feeling is ridiculous. That there’s no way in hell that I’d be accepted in this household. I mean, I’ve barely known these people for a week and now I’m having these fantasies where I’m living at their house? I scoff. Right.
Taking out the bag of coffee inside, I close the door and come face-to-face with endless pictures clinging onto the doors with homemade magnets. Looking over the disposable camera print-outs, along with some ancient Polaroids, I catch some of Liam when he was tiny. He looked exactly like Jere does now, not to my surprise.
Some are with people that appear to be his parents.
Frowning but deciding to carry on, I look farther down the fridge and glance at some pictures of Jere, Jimmy and Liam all eating ice cream or at the park or even at Juke’s with Bentley. One was of Jere and Liam posing next to Jimmy’s passed out figure on the couch. I laugh, having to cover my mouth to keep from waking anyone up. All of these pictures seeing Liam growing up pull at my heart strings, leaving me to wonder what it would’ve been like to know him at that age.
Once I reach the bottom of the fridge and the gallery of pictures come to an end, I return to my mission of erasing the bruising headache completely and begin to prepare the coffee-maker. Their’s is quite cheap unlike the one back at home-
Home. Last night. The thousand calls. The millions of texts. The e-mail. My honesty. Their madness. The goodbye.
The pounding my head becomes stronger and tears brew in my eyes. Not again, I groan, slamming my finger on the “brew” button at the bottom of the machine and slapping my feet to the kitchen table. Yesterday. I pitiful laugh bubbles out of me as the Beatles song comes to mind. All my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks like as though they’re definitely here to stay.
And that’s when I start crying.
Tears pour down my cheeks as if I’m sitting in the middle of a hurricane, my head screaming and my throat burning as I try to hold in the ridiculous sobs hiccuping in my stomach as I swallow them down.
“Shit,” I whisper, using my palms to wipe away the tears. “Shit.”
“Shit, indeed,” a voice from the living room calls, nearly giving me whiplash from jerking my head over my shoulder so fast. Jimmy is still sprawled out on the couch but his eyes are open for once, and are also very wide. “What’s up, chicken butt?” he asks, groaning to himself as he pulls himself up to a sitting position.
Confused, I don’t move from my spot by the kitchen table. I don’t trust my voice to come out clear, so I only shrug as a reply.
He rolls his eyes at me and bends over to pat the spot beside him on the love-seat. “C’mere.”
Because I don’t know what else to do, I follow instructions and reluctantly drag myself over to the spot next to him. Plopping down and curling my legs up to my stomach as I lean back on the arm of the sofa, I turn to face Jimmy as he smooths out his bedhead and turns to copy me. His socked feet overlap my bare ones, but I don’t mind. I’m too far gone in a trance to even care anymore.
“What’s up, buttercup?” he asks, his tone for once not playful but concerned. “I don’t like seeing pretty girls in tears.”
A one-syllable laugh hiccups out of me, and he smiles. “You’re such a Casanova.”
He laughs. “Yeah, I bet I’d get all the ladies if I weren’t playing for the other team.”
This news shocks me, but I play it off as if I’ve known all along. “So that’s why you’re not checking me out in my pannies.”
He clears his throat, back to business all over again. “Libby,” he states, grabbing my knees lightly and pulling my legs side-to-side. “Talk to me.”
I watch as my legs go where his hands push them to, not even caring how this gesture is weird. Sighing, I open my mouth and tell him all about last night. Everything. All of it. Even the part where I cried myself to sleep afterwards - when I made sure everyone had already gone to sleep.
His brows pull down in concern and his mouth slides ajar. “How come they made such a big deal out of this? It’s not like you’ve secretly come here to be a walking prostitute or something.”
This statement makes me growl in frustration. “I know!” I nearly shout, and he places a finger on his lips. I quiet down, but not by much. “I know. I tried to explain that, but they completely shut me down and now I’m friggin’ homeless. They cancelled my hotel room, and I got a notice last night that I had to move out by tonight. Where the hell am I gonna go?”
“Here,” he says, not even blinking. I do, my stomach flipping and his brown eyes dancing.
“Here?” I ask, my voice suddenly hoarse.
He smiles. “Here.”