“When I look at him I recognize all those things he sees in me, the answers to questions I’ve been asking myself for years so blatantly visible in his irises, that I can’t help but believe him.”
I really thought we could just have this day without any interruptions, but I guess I should’ve known better.
“What are you doing here, Jer?” I ask, tightening my grip around Lincoln who just tugs me closer, obviously not liking this situation.
Jeremy looks from Lincoln to me, observing us cautiously before taking a step toward us. “I need to talk to you. I got to know about some stuff that might be important.”
“Can’t we do that another time?” I look up at Lincoln, signaling that I really don’t want this night to be disturbed any further. He looks back at me, and I can literally feel how he relaxes as soon as our eyes meet, as soon as he sees that I want to stay by his side.
“That depends. I know some stuff that involves Max...”
And just like that, both Lincoln and I tense up, turning our heads to look at Jeremy with wide eyes. “What?!” Lincoln asks, already seething with rage from the sole mention of my brother’s name. And I can’t even blame him...
“Yeah, I uh...” Jer seems actually a bit intimidated by Lincoln, scratching the back of his head before he continues, “It involves Riley.”
“I knew it,” I say through gritted teeth, “I knew you were hiding something!”
He sighs, running a hand through his hair when he nods his head. “Yeah, yeah. It’s complicated, though, and I promised not to tell...”
My blood is boiling again, already. I am so goddamn tired of being the one that’s kept out of the loop, that doesn’t know about important things just because people think it’s okay to hide shit from me.
“What is it?!” I ask, trying my hardest not to lash out completely. Lincoln tugs me even closer to him, his fingers running over my arm in a soothing manner, calming my nerves as I take a few deep breaths.
“We should go somewhere more quiet to talk...” Jer tries again, his pleading eyes looking so guilty and apologetic that I almost, just almost, feel for him.
“No, you can tell me right here. I’m sick of this...”
“Mia,” Lincoln interrupts me, making me look up at him, those storming blue eyes instantly pinning me to the spot, calming my very being in a matter of seconds. “This seems to be a longer conversation. Let’s go back to my place, it’s close. Maybe you feel more comfortable there than in the middle of this noise.”
I study him for a moment, and I instantly see the understanding in his eyes, see that he knows how much this hurts me, whatever it is they hid from me. And I decide he’s right. I’d feel more comfortable in a safe space, and even though I only spent one night at Lincoln’s place, I feel safe and cared for there. Because that’s where he is, too.
It doesn’t take long until we reach his apartment, Jeremy doesn’t say a word as we walk there, Link’s hand firmly tucked in mine when he opens the door and invites us in.
He leads us into the kitchen I got to know at breakfast this morning, pulling me right next to him as he occupies the bench on one side, meaning Jer will have to sit opposite to us.
I sit next to him and he instantly moves his arm over my shoulder again, his eyes gazing right into my soul when I scoot closer. It almost looks like there’s a question in them, and I don’t know what it is, but I take a wild guess and whisper, “Please stay.”
It seems like I guessed right, this understanding smile breaking out on his lips before he feathers a quick kiss on my nose, tugging me even closer, if that’s even possible.
“Okay, let me just say I’m sorry, Mia, I...”
“Jer,” I interrupt him, “I don’t care about the apology now, I want to know what you hid from me.”
There’s that apologetic expression again, but I honestly don’t give a damn anymore. I’m having a hard time shielding my heart from this pain again, from the betrayal and secrets and lies that are a glaring constant in my life.
Jer sighs while once again running his hand through his hair, his glance still apologetic when he speaks, “You know how Riley pulled back from you when... I mean when you two had your... thing?”
Lincoln raises an eyebrow, obviously more than unimpressed by Jer’s choice of words. “Well, that’s because, uh, fuck, I don’t even know how to say this...”
“I believe words always work when you want to say something,” Link chimes in, still unimpressed as hell, and despite the tension in this situation I actually have to smirk at his interference.
“Hah, funny...” Jer narrows his eyes at Lincoln before looking back at me, “Yeah, well. You remember the last time you saw her back then?”
“That was the day I met Lincoln again. Of course, I remember,” I say, thinking back to that day when I came back from Riley’s place and saw Lincoln standing at that bridge. God, who would’ve thought we’d end up right here, right now...
“Oh wow, I didn’t even know that... Okay. Uh, well, she kind of broke up with your brother that same night, after you left?” he says it like a question, like I’m supposed to give him an answer to the words I did not think I’d hear today.
I blink a few times, trying to register what exactly he just said, but coming up with pure emptiness. “I’m sorry... What?”
Jer sighs, running his hands over his face while muttering under his breath, “God, why couldn’t she just tell you...”
My eyes are still widened while I just look at Jer, trying to understand what on earth everyone kept hiding from me. I can’t really sort my thoughts, and I’m really glad when Link tugs me closer, my back now resting against his chest when he interlaces our fingers, squeezing them tightly before he speaks. “Okay, you better start talking in a way that we understand whatever the fuck it is you have to say. Cut the bullshit.”
The threat in his voice makes me look up at him, and I run my hand over his thigh when I see the daggers he shoots at Jer, obviously demanding answers for both of us.
“Fuck... He’s intense, Mia,” Jer laughs humorlessly, looking from Lincoln to me. “Yeah, okay. I don’t know much. I know that they got together back then, and they didn’t want anyone to know. Something about Max not wanting his family to know, no idea why. Ri wasn’t convinced but I guess she loved him, so yeah, she agreed. After a while she got sick of hiding though, and she felt bad for not telling you, and then she heard about the fight with your dad...”
“Wait, what does that have to do with anything?” I ask, not really following his line of thought.
“I have no idea. I didn’t understand half of it when she told me, either. I didn’t even know about this until your birthday...” he whispers, and he actually looks like he’s sorry for not telling me sooner, too. But that doesn’t help me much now.
Lincoln rubs my back, and I can’t help but sigh as I close my eyes for a moment, trying to figure out how this all comes together.
“Why exactly are you coming here now, though? You hid this for weeks and now you suddenly need to get it off your chest?” Link asks, the scepticism audible in his voice. I look up at him, watching how he keeps on looking straight at Jer, his fingers still drawing patterns on my back.
“I was coming to that, just give me a sec...”
“Yeah, I think you’ve hidden shit long enough, didn’t you? Hurry up.” I widen my eyes at the growl in Lincoln’s voice, and somehow he actually seems dangerous now.
Jer sighs, and I feel his eyes on me, but I can’t stop looking at Lincoln, at the way he’s standing up for me right now. I don’t need him to; I know that - he knows that. But he fights for me, and that just warms my heart.
“Jesus... Yeah, okay. Long story short, Ri thinks that Max said that stuff to him,” he nods at Link, “because he was angry at her. They apparently saw each other again a few weeks before your grandpa died, and she said some bad stuff, and she thinks that’s what triggered him.”
I don’t even know what to say to that. I just know that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this. It seems so unreal.
I can feel both Link’s and Jer’s eyes on me, but I just take a deep and shaky breath, trying to make sense of this all. Lincoln’s finger on my chin makes me look up at him, and he just studies me for a moment, his eyes so full of love and warmth that I almost burst into tears from the sole sight of them.
“Is that all?” he asks, only averting his gaze for a second to look at Jer, waiting for his answer.
“Yeah, I mean, I think so...”
“Good, you can go then.”
“What? Don’t you want to discuss...”
“I said leave. You’ll find your way out, I’m sure.” Lincoln looks back at me, completely disregarding Jeremy who is sighing and muttering under his breath before he finally gets up from his chair.
“I’m sorry, Mia, really... I wanted to tell you, I just didn’t know how,” Jer says, and I don’t know why, but his words pierce straight into my heart, latching onto that exact spot I’ve been fearing all my life.
He didn’t know how. Isn’t that the issue? Nobody knows how to talk to me.
“Jeremy, you don’t know me, but believe me you will regret it if you don’t leave now,” Lincoln suddenly growls again, my vision already getting blurry from tears as I turn away from Jer and toward Link’s chest.
“Fuck... I’m sorry. I’ll go.”
All it takes is the door clicking behind him for Lincoln to pull me into his arms, and I don’t even try to stop the tears now, the sudden realization striking like an ice-cold arrow into my heart.
My best friend didn’t think she could talk to me, and she hid this from me for years.
She saw my pain, she saw how heartbroken I was, how confused about why Lincoln left so suddenly... Granted, she might not have known it was Max’s fault, back then. But I told her about his weird behavior, about how I thought he was distancing himself, and not once did she say something.
The fear that this all comes full circle, that this all comes back to me, hits me like a freight train, and suddenly I’m gasping for air in between sobs. “Mia,” Lincoln tilts up my head while my lungs work on getting enough oxygen to calm my raging heart.
“Hey, Sola, look at me,” he whispers, cupping my face and wiping the tears from my cheeks as I open my eyes, this mountain of emotion in his irises instantly making me dizzy again, because he looks at me with so much love that I don’t know what to feel anymore.
“Take a deep breath. Slowly, in and out. You know this all. You’re okay.”
I nod my head, following his words, finding my own mechanisms at dealing with this. “Why can’t they speak to me? This is my best friend we’re talking about, Link...” I speak in between deep breaths, drying the tears from my face before looking back at him.
The sole understanding in his eyes catches me off guard, and I release a shaky breath as I bathe in this feeling, soak in it. When I look at him I recognize all those things he sees in me, the answers to questions I’ve been asking myself for years so blatantly visible in his irises.
He sees me as gentle, understanding, empathic, and so goddamn precious... The way he looks at me shows me that this is not my fault, that this is not what I deserve. “I can’t tell you why they didn’t speak to you - I honestly don’t understand that. But I can tell you that you’re not at fault for any of this. Don’t take responsibility for other people’s actions.”
His eyes dive straight into my soul, as if he’s trying his hardest to make me understand, to make me believe. “Fuck...” I mutter, chuckling quietly before running my fingers through his hair. “You’re really wise now. You’ve learned so much.”
That makes him laugh, and I just dwell on the sound of that, letting his melody calm my soul until he retorts, “So have you.”
I raise an eyebrow, my fingers still working on his hair when he wipes the residue of my tears from my cheeks. “You’ve grown so much. Look at you, letting yourself go like that.” He smiles. “I’m so proud of you, really. You’ve worked a lot on yourself, I see that, too, you know.”
And those words alone almost make me tear up again. Because as much as my family recognized this, saw how much I’ve done for myself over the past years, Lincoln just knows what I mean. He understands me on a completely different level somehow. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” He smiles, placing a quick kiss on my lips before pulling me into his lap again, making me straddle him on this way too uncomfortable bench, not that I mind.
“What do you want to do?” he asks, and I sigh as I dig my fingers deeper into his hair, resting my head on his shoulders when I whisper, “I don’t know. I need to speak to Ri. To Max... I’m just sick of this chaos. I want to be able to start my life again, without those ghosts haunting us every day.”
He wraps his arms around me, letting his palms glide over my back as he takes a deep breath. “They can’t haunt us. We’re solid now... I don’t doubt that. But we need to sort this out. Because they hurt you. And I can’t see you hurt, Mia... I just can’t.”
His words make me sit up again, my hands resting on his cheeks as I take him in, as I see the truth of his words in his eyes. They’re filled with so much love and gratitude that I feel my heart thunder in my chest from the mere sight of him. “I’m sorry for what I said in the past, Mia. I hope you know I didn’t mean any of it...”
“It’s okay,” I chime in, shooting him a smile. “I said some bad stuff, too.”
“No,” he shakes his head, those storming eyes diving straight into my soul again. “It’s not okay. And your words might have been harsh, but they were mostly true. Mine were blatant lies, orchestrated to make you let me go... I won’t forgive myself for that.”
“You should,” I immediately respond, “You really should. I do. I just need some time to let that fact sink in.”
We just look at each other for a moment, our souls resting in the other’s presence, in this unprecedented feeling of support, love, and openness. The pain of my friend’s betrayal still hits me deep, but the truth is, I know I will survive all of this, as long as Lincoln is by my side. He proved that today.
“I should go see my family tomorrow. I want to talk to them before I go see Max.”
He nods his head, approving of my words. “Okay. Do you want me to come with you? I have to work until six, but I’m free after that...”
“You can just come pick me up at my parents’ place after work, and then we’ll go see Max together?”
“Good. We’ll figure this out.”
“I know we will.”
He smiles at my response, his arms now pushing me closer to him. “Now, do you know what else I learned?” I widen my eyes when he gets up and holds me in his arms, walking through the kitchen as he whispers, “I learned that a good amount of sleep can get you anywhere. And that’s exactly what we’ll do now. We’ll sleep.”
“Just sleep?” I ask, raising my eyebrow with a smirk on my lips when he kicks the bedroom door open.
He laughs, that beautiful mischievous grin on his lips when he growls, “You’re about to find out, Sola...”