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Chapter 33

“I’m not crying because of you; I’m crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are.”
~Steve Mariboli


“If he thinks publicly announcing that he believes I’m innocent will get me to pick up my phone to answer one of his bloody calls or texts, he’s sorely mistaken,” Annalise spat, standing up in a huff and stomping to the kitchen. James, Everly, Mia, and I shared a concerned look. In all the years I’d known Annalise, I’d never seen her fully lose her temper until yesterday when she went on a massive tangent after the paparazzi cornered Mia. Ever since then, she seemed to be particularly on edge, every little thing setting her off. It was like walking on eggshells around her. Thankfully, whenever something did set her off, none of her anger was directed towards us.

“I’m going to go get some food for us to eat. I think the police have gotten most of the people away from the building,” James said. “Also, I think we all need something good to eat after the last twenty-four hours.”

“I’d offer to help, but I need to take care of some family matters.” Everly sank into the couch with a groan. “My parents are in a tizzy over this.”

“James, I’ll go with you,” Mia offered.

“I don’t want you getting cornered again,” Annalise said sharply.

“I won’t be. Besides, I’ll have James, and we both know he’d protect us from anything crazy.”

Annalise bit her lip. “Fine, but call me if anything happens.”

“I will. Love you!” The younger Stark nearly dragged James out of the flat, and Everly was soon to follow. I stayed back, worried about my sister. I waited until the door was completely shut before asking, “How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine,” Anna replied stoically.

“Tell me the truth. I’ve known you since literally before I can remember, and that means I know all your signs and quirks. I know that when you’re upset, you get mad. Not at the situation, but at yourself because you hate letting yourself get like that. Especially when it’s because of a person. I also know you developed feelings for Will, so what he’s done to you makes this even worse.” I walked up to her slowly, gauging the situation. Either Anna was going to tell me to shut up, or she was going to tell me everything going on inside her head. There was no middle ground. “You were there for me when I needed you after Everly, so let me be here for you now. Talk to me, vent to me, shout at me- do whatever you need to get it off your chest, Anna, because I know you need to.”

For a few silent seconds, Annalise remained unmoving, the gears turning in her as she processed my words. She appeared unnervingly blank.

Then, in the blink of an eye, her tough and strong facade disappeared. I watched in horror as Annalise broke down into tears as all her resolve dissipated into nothingness. My sister crumpled into my arms, letting out everything she’d been holding in. She shook violently from the sobs wracking her body, and any words Annalise tried to speak came out incoherently, which only made her cry harder.

“I’ve got you, Anna,” I whispered.

“What did I do to deserve this?” she managed to get out. “I’m- I’m only twenty-two! I’ve lost my-my parents, I n-nearly lost Mia, I finally got my life on track and... and then I l-lose my best friend to a red... a red-headed bitch! I loved him, and he turned his back on me! Why?!”

“Because he’s a fucking idiot, that’s why,” I said. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I could’ve told him how I felt, though! I could’ve told him I missed hanging out with him! I could’ve said I had feelings for him too! But no-” Annalise pulled away, angrily wiping the tears off her face- “I kept my mouth shut like I always do because I was scared of ruining what we had, but I ruined it anyway.”

“You ruined nothing,” I said firmly. “Will did that all on his own.”

“Yeah, but-”

“No ‘buts,’ unless it’s me kicking Will’s.”

Annalise laughed through her tears. “The King already wants me in prison. Don’t add yourself to that list.”

“I’ll kick the King’s ass too. I’ll kick anyone’s ass who messes with you or Mia. You’re my sisters. I can promise you, no matter what, you will always have me.”

“I love you, Mark,” Annalise said, hugging me again. “Have I told you that recently?”

“No, but you don’t need to. I know, and I love you too.” I kissed her on top of the head. “What do you say I get James and Mia to buy a shit ton of junk food, and we all pig out tonight?”

“That sounds like a good-” Annalise stopped short when the front door opened.

“I came to see if my house keys fell out of my pocket here,” Everly said. She smiled at us sheepishly until she registered Annalise’s distraught, tear-strained face. Eyes widening in horror, Everly rushed over to Anna, pulling her into a hug. “Oh my god, I know this is a rhetorical question, but are you okay?”

Annalise nodded at first, but then shook her head, breaking down once more as she explained to Everly what she’d told me. The more Annalise spoke, the more livid Everly became.

“I’m going to kill William,” she declared. “I’m absolutely going to kill him and that red-headed bitch of his too.”

“I’d say I’d get the video camera, but I don’t want any proof of our crime,” I said.

“Mark, tell James to get food for me too. I’m not leaving Anna when she’s like this.”

Annalise grabbed a tissue, wiping her nose. “No, no, you can go. I’m fine.”

“No. My parents can wait, your wellbeing can’t. Let’s get you to the couch with some wine and chocolate.”

“I don’t have any wine, but I have some chocolate in my room.”

“Mark, tell James to buy a lot of wine and some more chocolate,” Everly ordered. “We’re going to need it. Anna, go sit down. I’ll grab the chocolate. Where is it?”

“My nightstand drawer. Really, you don’t-”

But Everly already whisked herself away to Anna’s room.

“Trust me, once she sets her mind to something, you’re not going to convince her otherwise,” I said, steering Annalise to the couch. “You sit down and take a load off. You’re always taking care of everyone else, so let us take care of you tonight, okay?”

“I don’t want to burden the rest of you with my problems, though. I’ll be fine. I just need to get over it and-”

“Crying one night isn’t going to make it all go away,” Everly said, joining us with the chocolate in hand. “You need friends, family, wine, chocolate, food, a venting session, and a distraction.”

I scrunched up my face in bewilderment. “You seem to have a system for this.”

Everly shrugged, sitting next to Annalise. “I’ve helped my friends through a lot of breakups. This isn’t a cure, but it helps get you on the right path for healing. The sadness comes first. It always does. I know you hate it, but if it’s any consolation, it’ll be replaced by a wave of anger you didn’t think possible, and that anger will give you the power to move on. Trust me, I’ve been there.”

“I hate crying, and I hate crying over a guy even more,” Annalise remarked, grabbing a handful of Hershey’s kisses. “But no matter how much I tell myself to stop, the waterworks keep freaking coming!”

“Hey, you loved him, and you never expected him to stab you in the back like he did. You have every right to be upset, and you have no reason to apologize.”

“It just... it feels like I’m mourning a death, but rather than it being a life, it’s the death of a friendship.” Annalise shoved some chocolate into her mouth. “It’s almost worse than an actual death because at least when someone dies, you know you won’t see them again. With this, I’m going to see his face for the rest of my life. He’s the future King of Verona, for Christ’s sake.”

“Yeah, but that also means you’ll get to see karma bite him in the ass for how he treated you. He might be my cousin, and I love him, but I have no problem saying he’s going to get what’s coming to him,” Everly declared. “And trust me, it’s coming. He got his ass chewed out by me yesterday. Judging by your phone continually lighting up with messages and calls from him, I’d like to think I got through to him.”

Annalise scoffed. “I’m not answering. I don’t want to talk to him. I’m not ready. I’m very far from ready, and I don’t want to risk saying something I might regret.”

“Why don’t we focus on the distraction part for a bit?” I suggested, wanting to get her mind off of Will.

“That’s a good idea,” Everly agreed. Her expression shifted to a deadly seriousness. “But I need Annalise to tell me one thing.”

“What is it?” Anna asked, cocking her head.

Everly suddenly broke into a massive grin. “Did you really tell Lorraine the world was tired of seeing her pale ass?”

Annalise burst into laughter, and just like that, even if only for a few brief moments, I watched my friend become herself again.

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