23 | Rely
I just stare at him, processing everything, but I can’t seem to form a coherent thought. Chase... cares about me? But... he just... I mean, he just said that he did, but that doesn’t... does it? Have I been...
I let out a shaky breath and force myself to stop thinking. “I need a shower,” I decide. I can’t think about anything with him this close.
“There’s one down the hallway,” he offers, looking at me like he can read my mind. “Of course, I could also take you home—”
I shake my head. “I don’t want to go home,” I say before he can finish. One, I’m too tired to deal with Cassadee right now, and, two, despite how rundown this place is, it’s comfortable.
“All right,” he agrees. “Towels are in the closet next to the bathroom.”
“Thanks,” I say but don’t make any effort to move.
I really need to be alone, to think and organize and just... breathe, but... but I also want to stay like this, leaning against him with his arms around me. The rise and fall of his chest as he breathes is weirdly comforting despite the fact that there isn’t a heartbeat to go with it.
It makes me feel... I don’t know. Sorta solid, I think.
Chase chuckles, and I can feel it through my entire body. “Aren’t you going?”
“Right,” I say, shaking myself as I stand up.
He chuckles again, and I glare at him, getting the distinct feeling he knows what’s going on. With a burning face, I head down the narrow hallway and quickly grab two towels from the closet he mentioned before locking myself in the bathroom.
The walls and flooring are somehow worse in here than in the living room, which is impressive really. Water stains are all over the flamingo pink wallpaper. I have nothing against the color pink—obviously—but of all the shades of pink, who the hell would choose flamingo pink for anything, let alone their bathroom? On top of that, the tile is some off-white, nearly grey color that has some of the ugly pink spotted in it.
Grumbling, I pull back the white curtain—the only thing in the bathroom that looks new—and turn on the water, waiting until steam rises in the room before stepping in.
At first, I let the hot water roll over me, burning my skin, trying not to think...
Just like you hurt when they’re hurt, love, they hurt when you’re hurt.
I chew on the inside of my lip.
That can’t be true, right? I mean, it makes sense, but I... I’m nothing compared to Nikki or Whitler or... or anyone really. I’m just... just in the way. Just a problem to be fixed. As long as Nikki and them are safe, then that’s all that matters.
Don’t you think they feel the same way about you?
I shake my head, grabbing the 3-in-1 bottle of soap to wash my hair.
There’s no way! Even if something happened to me, no one would bat an eye. Hell, Mother might even celebrate it. The entirety of Silverstein might celebrate it. Because they know I’m... I’m...
And I’m sitting here, telling you rather openly that I care for you, yet you’re so sure that no one in this world would be bothered by you getting hurt? Are you sure? After everything?
Everything sort of... breaks for a minute. I accidentally drop the shampoo bottle and have to bend over to get it, but I notice my hands are shaking as I pick it up, eyes burning.
I can’t believe I’m crying again.
It’s an ugly, hoarse kind of crying too, the kind where the walls feel like they’re caving in, trying to crush me. I can’t breathe, but I cover my mouth anyway, trying to keep my voice down so Chase can’t hear me falling apart.
I... I hate myself so much that I... I didn’t even think about how Whitler and Leon felt... God, this is why Leon’s always so worried, and Whit’s so overbearing... If they thought like I do... If they even entertained the idea that they weren’t worth anything, I’d probably be the same way. They’re worth so much to me, and that’s enough for me, so maybe... Maybe being worth so much to them is...
I realize I haven’t been breathing, so I force myself to take a breath, to slow down. As soon as I do, I notice the water’s gone cold, and I’m standing in an ice storm.
It’s probably because of this old, rackety house.
Shaking myself, I rinse the 3-in-1 out of my hair, splashing my face with cold water to calm the puffiness around my eyes before stepping out, completely drained.
I really want a nap—my eyes are heavy, and my head feels like it’s filled with mud—but I dry off and slip on the same clothes I had on, going back to the living room instead.
Chase is in the same place he was, perched on the window’s ledge with a neutral expression.
“You were crying,” he notes easily.
I sigh, running a hand through my hair, and look away. “Yeah,” I croak, clearing my throat.
His expression is understanding as he opens his arms for me—an invitation.
I bite my lip, unsure.
He tilts his head, asking.
I’m tired, mentally and physically, and I just... Quite frankly, I just want to be close to him.
There. I admitted it.
Even it’s only in my head.
Sighing, I collapse between his legs, leaning against his chest.
Chase runs his fingers through my wet hair, getting water all over the back of my shirt. “You don’t have to love yourself immediately, Vixen,” he murmurs. “You don’t even have to like yourself right now.”
I let out a breath. “I don’t even know how to like myself,” I mutter. “I’ve always... always...”
“You start simple,” he says, pulling me closer. “Instead of staying alone in a mansion—”
I groan. “It’s a house.”
He smirks. “Instead of staying alone in a mansion, you stay with a friend,” he continues. “You don’t put yourself in danger just because you don’t want to inconvenience anyone.”
“But, Calvin already—”
“And instead of trying to walk home alone when someone’s after you,” he interrupts, “you accept a ride from those who are offering.”
“Leon had a class, and Calvin kissed my sister, something which she wouldn’t—”
“Yes, and I had nothing to do, yet you insisted you would be okay.”
It’s short and reprimanding, making me close my mouth.
“Your friends are here to help,” he says, point-blank. “I’m here to help.”
I purse my lips, somehow both happy and unhappy with what he’s saying. “So, what? I rely on everyone?”
“Yes,” he says simply.
“I rely on you?”
I sigh. “You say all of this like it’ll be easy.”
“Learning to like yourself is anything but easy,” he says. “It’ll be exhausting, irritating, and hard, but you’ll get through it. I know you will.”
“And how do you know that?” I ask.
“Because you have friends that are willing to punch a professor and risk getting expelled just to keep you safe.”
I bite my lip. Thinking about Whitler now makes me emotional, but I refuse to cry anymore tonight, so I rub my eyes and grumble, “You should’ve been a therapist instead of a professor.”
He chuckles, going back to running his fingers through my hair. “Hmm. I was one before coming here.”
I rub my eyes, looking up at him. “Really?”
He nods. “I’m quite fond of listening to humans’ stories,” he explains. “The vast difference between each individual yet the likeness they all share is quite fascinating.”
I snort. “You’re so weird.”
“Not weird,” he corrects, smirking. “Strange.”
I roll my eyes, catching his reference, and his smirk widens. “I can’t stand you.”
“Ah, but here you are, in my arms,” he says.
My face heats up. “Shut up.”
He chuckles, making me turn an even brighter shade of red.
“If you liked it so much, why did you stop?” I wonder, half to distract him, half because I’m curious.
He thinks about it for a moment. “I plateaued,” he decides.
I blink, confused. “What?”
“I plateaued,” he repeats.
I roll my eyes. “What does that mean?”
He hums, thinking about it. “Well, I tend to get rather... apathetic if I’m not learning,” he explains. “It’s a weakness of mine that Darestin likes to poke fun of—if something becomes a routine, I end up losing interest, and I was beginning to lose interest in being a therapist.”
“Because you weren’t learning anything?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “See, while the field of psychology is a science, being a therapist is a lot like being an artist: you have to find creative ways to approach each person. Even if the situations are similar, different people react differently to certain things, so, as a therapist, one has to, essentially, blur the line of science and art: rigid, factual numbers with the flexibility of a paintbrush. It’s a tantalizing line to walk—at least, at first, but, like most things, after you do it for so long, you get the hang of it, and I, of course, got the hang of it fairly quickly.”
“With three thousand years of psychology experience, I can see how,” I mutter.
He chuckles. “Three thousand is hardly enough, but I can tell you get the point, so I won’t give you the exact numbers.”
“But if you were bored as a therapist, why did you decide to become a professor?”
“The most simplistic answer is that it was easy,” he says. “I have a Ph.D. in not only Cognitive Behavioral psychology but also a degree in data analysis—who else would be more qualified?”
“So full of yourself,” I grumble, glaring at him. “What’s the least simplistic answer then?”
“The least simplistic?” he parrots.
“You said ’the most simplistic answer,” I point out, “so what’s the least simplistic answer?”
“Been paying close attention, have you?” he teases. When all I do is swat at him, waiting expectantly, he says, “Psychology and teaching go hand-in-hand to me. I know how the human mind works, and I know all of the signs, so it’s easier for me to spot someone who is struggling with the material. Due to having to be flexible with clients as a therapist, it’s also easier for me to be flexible in a classroom, like not having any tests or mandatory homework.”
“So, there’s a psychological reason you did that?”
He nods. “Of course. While the education system feels like it needs a way to measure a student’s success, tests may be reliable, but they’re hardly valid, especially when you take test anxiety into consideration.”
“Wait. Slow down. Reliable? Valid? What’s the difference?” I say. He’s using too many technical terms for me to keep up.
“Ah. This is a little later in the curriculum,” he muses. “Reliability and validity, as I’ll explain later in the semester, is a concept when it comes to measuring a tool, like a survey or test. If something is reliable, it has a consistent outcome, like a weight scale. Validity, on the other hand, is whether a tool measures what it’s supposed to measure. Tests, for example, are supposed to measure how much of the information you understand. In reality, though, tests don’t do this because of all kinds of factors.”
“Like test anxiety.”
“Right. If you’re anxious when taking a test, or didn’t sleep well the night before, or are hungry, then you won’t do as well as someone who doesn’t have any of those factors. Therefore, the idea of making a student’s entire worth weigh on that single state is absolutely absurd, especially when you take into consideration—”
I can’t help myself: I laugh, shaking my head.
He stops and looks at me. “What?”
“It’s nothing,” I say, laughing. “This is just the first time I’ve seen you so worked up, and it’s kind of cute, you know?”
“I mean, you’re so animated, and I just—” I snort. “—I just love it.”
“Did you just call me cute?” he asks.
It effectively ends my laughing, making me close my mouth. “No,” I deny instantly.
He smirks. “You did, didn’t you?”
I look away. “Don’t think anything of it. I was just... Just caught up in the moment.”
“I see,” he says, still smirking.
“A-anyway, I should really get to bed because I—”
Chase shakes his head, though. “Sorry, love, but there’s one more thing we need to do.”
I look at him, tilting my head. “What?”
There’s a knock at the door—a soft, deliberate knock three times—making me raise an eyebrow.
“We need to tell your friends.”
Lots of news this time around, cupcakes!
I have a Twitter now, and in celebration of that, there’s a personality quiz of sorts that you can take to figure out which character of It’s a Cruel World, Sir you are! I’ll link it in the description, and if you want, you can even tweet your results to me @morbidcupcake!
Also, some beautiful cupcake made a Wiki for It’s a Cruel World, Sir (itsacruelworldsir.wikia.com), so make sure to check it out, vote for your favorite character, and learn more about their personality types~
Oh, and before I forget: I changed the age range (they’re in college now, not high school) for (hopefully) obvious reasons, and I’ve updated every chapter with the change, so if things are off or if you don’t remember specific names of the school, that’s why~
Happy reading, cupcakes, and look forward to the next chapter~