There were myriad of things nobody has the capability to control. Take happiness, for example, a form of a feeling or state, an inconspicuous source of beauty that is gruelling and traumatic yet bewitching.
Everyone owns a ladder and moves at a different pace. It is an eminence that requires profusion of struggling. Endeavour is crucial to reach that high point, but there will be times the ladder crumbles and breaks or times when we fall and have to start over. I climbed that ladder, but in front of my eyes, the piece I stood on collapsed. From there I gave up, letting emptiness consume me whole. Nothing else mattered from that moment. All I wanted was for that person who caused my fall to undergo the same agony.
I did it, and everything is clear now. I found myself a step away from the final step.
The indescribable void in my chest deliberately filled, and I felt as if I could see the world inversely from before—the way an artist with a pallet of a diversity of scintillating colours do, unconstrained to produce chosen creations. Carefree was the only word that could define it.
It had been forever since I felt this way.
“Hopey,” Grayson uttered.
I turned over to see him sitting on Tyler’s couch with Justice lying on his arm with his eyes shut.
Their bond is discernibly strong from the start. Grayson first held him in his arms this morning, and I swore there were tears in his eyes.
“How are you dealing with all of this?” he asked. Josh is gone, and I could not exactly say I was beatific it happened. Tyler claimed he is fine, but anyone would know it was bothering him. It takes time to heal from every second of the mess we have been through. But one thing was for sure.
It is over.
“I don’t think it affected me as much as it did to Tyler, but I’m okay.” All words uttered were truthful. Soon, it will all be just a mere memory of the past.
“What?” Tyler snapped out of his state of stupefaction.
“They were just talking about your late best friend,” Ashley filled him in bluntly. We were having one of those nights when we gather in Tyler’s house. I brought Justice along with Danielle, and Ashley decided to join.
“I’ll get better after a while.” He shrugged.
Scanning the group of people, I found out that I was beginning to trust more. I learned that not everyone has hearts as dark as Calvin’s. Everyone has flaws, and there might be two sides to the story.
“Don’t trust anyone but yourself or you will get hurt,” said my father. He was right, but after the gruelling and traumatic pain, there might be bewitching happiness. It was worth the struggle each person went through.
I was glad Tyler offered an extra room for Danielle and Justice, so staying the night will not be a problem. Though all felt perfect, I was bothered that we still had not once talked about that day and what happened between us.
“Hope, can I see Justice tomorrow?” Grayson’s voice was pleading.
“I’ll be accompanying Tyler in the hospital to visit his father tomorrow night with Justice. I’m sure he won’t mind,” I responded.
I received a contented nod as Danielle strolled into the living room, shooting me a small smile before lifting Justice from Grayson’s hands despite his reluctance.
After just a few minutes, Grayson and Tyler started enjoying the night with video games while Ashley and I sat a few seats away, watching the screen.
“So, anything interesting happened lately?” she questioned, turning to face me. I shook my head. My mind promptly roamed to Tyler. Ash’s eyes widened, and a smile reached her face.
“Spill, right now. You’re blushing, and you never blush.”
I thought about keeping everything to myself like I always do, but realized I’ve never talked about my problems much to anyone besides Tyler. I might only have started to know more about Ashley, but I had a feeling I would not regret telling her about what was happening between Tyler and me.
“We might have—”
“Wait, stop, I’m not ready,” she cut me off, knowing what the last words in my sentence would be. Her hand raised to cover her mouth.
“How was it?”
“Haven’t you kissed him before?” I asked, remembering the times she used to cling onto his hand and follow wherever he went.
“I’ve known and liked him for a long time, but he’s never felt the same. After you came in, I knew it was only a matter of time.” She pouted. “Are you going to reply? How was it?”
I eyed the two best friends for a moment before turning back. “We haven’t had that conversation about it with each other yet,” I told her instead, not quite responding to her question. “I’m so confused. He did it in a random second, and I have no idea if I could just pretend as if it never happened.”
She stared back at me blankly, then asked a question I had pondered about, but still did not have the answer. “What would you prefer him to be? A friend?”
“No, not really. I do feel different with him, and we’ve been through a lot together too. He was there when I needed him, but I’m not sure he sees me in that way.” I realized how much he had done for me in the last few months. He is the first I trusted in years, and it was he who taught me it is okay to trust.
She snorted with laughter, looking at me in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right? So he randomly decided ‘I’m going to kiss Hope because why not?’” she said sardonically, and I realized she had a fair point.
I changed the topic, and we started talking about a boy Ashley currently had an infatuation with.
It was somewhat late when she decided it was time to leave for home, followed by Grayson half an hour later. I was already in Tyler’s room when he entered. I slid my phone under the pillow as he dimmed the lights and climbed onto his bed beside me.
“Where is Justice living now that the mansion burnt down?” he asked. After the ambulance came the day before, and Josh was found deceased on the first floor, we explained everything to the police and showed them the footage captured from the baby monitor. We parted ways from the police station.
“With me, in my apartment. I’ll be moving out soon,” I briefly filled Tyler in.
“Are you moving in with me?” he raised a suggestive eyebrow. I was unable to tell if he was joking, but I have some cash of my own, and I planned to buy a small comfortable house.
“I could,” I said, considering, “but I’m probably buying one.”
I visited my mother this afternoon and explained the chaos that happened in her former house and filled her in about more of my life she missed out. I told her my plans of supporting myself financially and how I decided to take matters into my own hands to help Justice.
“It dawned on me recently that we don’t have anyone who has the mind-set to kill us anymore, Calvin is gone, forever,” I said, my lips stretching to a smile. “It feels so unfamiliar.”
I look to my left to see Tyler watching me intently.
“Thank you,” my voice was a little louder than a whisper.
“For?” He raised a curious eyebrow.
“Everything. From fighting for me to saving my life. I would have been dead if you weren’t there at Calvin’s annual business party. You’re always there. He might not be in prison if it wasn’t for you. I don’t deserve you at all.” The truth just sputtered out from my mouth like liquid escaping from a shaken gassy drink.
“Angel, you deserve so much more.”
In that silent moment, I decided to blurt the question I have wanted to ask for a while. Repentance filled my chest instantly, and I mentally cursed for starting the conversation.
“Why did you do it?”
“Do what?” A perplexed expression engraved on his face. There was no backing out now.
“You kissed me two days ago.” The side of his lips tugged up, and I felt my face flush at the topic.
“And you kissed back,” he stated in a calm tone. “Would you prefer it if it didn’t happen at all?”
“No, I’m asking for the reason you did it,” I said, ignoring his earlier question.
A long pause followed that short sentence. The disrupting, crisp air caressed my skin, and suddenly I felt exposed. Tyler’s eyes spoke the words his mouth struggled to say, an explicit message I could understand without much thought.
“I like you, Hope, I think I always have.” The feelings were overwhelming, but it made me feel whole again. It was ferocious yet safe. It left me rapacious. The words flooded my mind and conquered my chest, and my metronomic heartbeat became a feral creature, liberated from confinement. The emptiness was entirely gone; it was just him.
I wanted to reply, but my lips glued shut. I doubted words could escape my mouth even if they weren’t. Although I had not admitted it to myself, I know I felt the same way about him.
“Hey, you don’t have to feel the same. I’ve just been keeping it to myself for a moment now,” Tyler told me, giving me a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. I struggled to find words because everything sounded nauseating in my head, and I could barely imagine saying it out loud.
“I like you too,” I muttered. It came out soft, but audible. I wondered how this would end. Would I rue sharing my true feelings?
“But I’m so new to it all, and I don’t know how this works,” I said.
“We can face this together.” He coiled a hand around my waist and planted a kiss on my head. “Do you want to do this properly?”
His eyes were looking so fervently into mine. I was certain he could read every information I barely knew about myself.
I nodded, and both of us let out a chuckle. His arm around me tightened protectively while a smile softer as morning sunshine reached his lips.
“Angel, will you go out with me?”
The smile on my face broadened, and I said without hesitation, “Yes.”
Tyler and I masqueraded to date on a few occasions, and it felt different now because we can say it without deceiving. We spent the day like we always do—together. Except, it felt dissimilar. Like there were no more boundaries between us.
We promised to take it slow, to watch every small step before becoming something more. We are both contented, and that’s all that matters.
“Are you hungry?” he asked while we strolled to the hospital. Justice lies comfortably on the stroller in front of me, mercifully not causing a ruckus.
“I’m not eating hospital food.” I grimaced. “Also, didn’t we already eat a few hours ago?
Tyler pushed the glass door open for us to enter, and the distinguishable scent of the hospital hits my nose.
“Yeah, but in another hour—” His sentence was cut off as a figure sprinted with inconceivable haste into sight. He scooped Justice into his arms, receiving an adorable grin from my brother.
“Finally, I’ve been waiting for years,” Grayson exaggerated. I let out a snort as we tailed behind Tyler to his father’s hospital room.
Grayson sat on a plastic chair with Justice on his lap with a protective hand snaked him. Tyler and I remained standing beside the bed, where his father slept peacefully, unaware of his visitors. My mind wandered to that lamentable memory when Tyler was on the bed instead, and how I wished every day for him to rouse from his long slumber.
“I haven’t put much thought into it, but my father has been giving me more choices than he used to,” he said, more to himself than anyone. I remembered when he used to complain about his father and how his opinion about him started to change.
Our views change consistently, like how I once thought trusting would never turn out positive.
My father is my hero, and that will never change. He, unfortunately, left the world because of Calvin Woodland, who now spends his day where he belongs. It is a punishment bound to happen. In the midst of it all, I met Tyler, who helped altered my opinion of the world.
That was our story, from two different points of view but the same story, nonetheless. We faced the same thing with the same goal but with different perspectives.
We landed Calvin in a place he deserves to be in, something I never thought I would achieve. I considered it to be an issue that would besiege me my whole life. Yet we stood beside each other, knowing we had done it. I thought I wanted revenge, but as our journey progresses, I realized I did not need my stepfather to atone for what he had done. I just required justice to be served.
I learned that I was never weak. That scar that spreads from lower to my upper back will ceaselessly remind me that I am strong. Tyler told me that I taught him several things too, like how he should work hard for his own sake and not his parents.
“Do you think he’ll wake up soon?” Grayson asked with a gloomy smile on his lips as he looked at the man on the bed.
“Yeah, I do,” Tyler replied, without irresolution. He reached out to grab my hand, holding it firmly as if he never plans to let go. We met each other’s gaze before a smile reached his face.
“I have hope.”
From the corner of my eyes, a hand twitched, and the eyes of the father fluttered open.