“You’re just walking around and suddenly/ Everything that you thought you knew about love is gone/ You find out it’s all been wrong/ And all my scars don’t seem to matter anymore/ Because they lead me here to you” ~Daughtry; Start of Something Good
“You made it!”
I turned to see Shelly coming over to me, shouting -- no, screaming -- over the loud music that was sure to cause me to go deaf by the time the night was over. I only nodded and smiled nervously in response. She already had a red cup in her hand and was wearing a crop top along with holed-up jeans. I focused on her face instead. Already, I felt out of place and uncomfortable.
She linked arms with me and pulled me into the large bar area, which I assumed was the kitchen. The smell of strong drinks hit my nose and my stomach turned. I pulled my arm away from hers and looked around at the laughing teenagers with their bottles and cups.
I recognized most of them, a lot of them Seniors, a few Juniors. Marcus and Jimmy were laughing with some girls, practically drooling over them. Someone shoved a bottle under my nose and I made eye contact with Shelly.
Quickly, I shook my head. No drinking. It’s disgusting and really wrong.
Then she walked away, but not before throwing me her signature flirtatious look. I drew my eyebrows together in confusion. I thought she hated me, but now she was flirting with me and offering me drinks? I shook my head and found my way out of the already crowded room.
I made my way to the backdoor and out into the open air, which was thick with smoke from cigarettes and the bonfire alike. A few insane people were swimming in the pool, even if it was the middle of October. Hayden was among them and then it hit me: where in the world was Ace, Shelly’s boyfriend? Wouldn’t she invite him?
And then it dawned on me; they probably broke up. Why wouldn’t she be all over him here? And why did she invite me? She didn’t invite me to take pictures, she invited me to get me hooked. The thought made me sick. This was the same person who tripped me on my crutches, challenged me to beat the record in cross country, and made Jimmy and Marcus leave me at the movie theater.
No way, I was not falling for her.
Even if a small part of me was in awe with her house. It was huge, she was rich.
“But she’s not Alivia,” I thought to myself.
I clutched my camera, willing myself to at least get some cash out of this. However, this wasn’t something I wanted to remember. More than anything, I wanted to leave. I was only there for ten minutes and I wanted to leave. I’d be called a coward for wanting to leave. Getting invited to one of Shelly’s parties was suppose to be an honor. Why did it feel like a burden?
“Tin Tin!” someone shouted.
I turned to see Hayden with a bunch of girls following him.
“Get this on camera!”
I merely nodded and forced a smile. A circle formed around Hayden as a song started from inside the house, which could easily be heard from outside, and he began to break dance.
As I raised my camera to take some shots, I knew it was going to be a long night.
  
My eyes burned with exhaustion as I forced them open.
It was late at night, really late. All of the neighbors lights were off and literally everyone I came in contact with was slurring their speech and giggling like a bunch of little girls playing with dolls. The smell of alcohol overpowered me whenever I went into the house, so I stayed out the best I could.
The past five hours consisted of me denying drinks, photographing stupid stuff, and isolating myself from girls who really needed some full length shirts. It was the middle of fall, and people were acting like it’s summer. I was chilly in my long sleeved shirt and jeans.
By then, I had found a spot at the corner of the lawn in a pool chair, watching the mayhem unfold in front of me. I checked my watch and saw it was midnight. It was too early to be yawning, especially with this crowd, but I tried to hide it as I fiddled with my camera.
“Hey man,” Jimmy said, sitting down beside me.
I glanced over and mumbled a greeting back. Surprisingly, his words didn’t run together as bad as some of the other people I had encountered. Just from a glance, I could see his eyes were red and he smelled terrible. Like pool-water and beer mixed together. I almost threw up.
Not eating or drinking anything was due to the fear of the refreshments being intoxicated. My stomach was uneasy from the initial smell, but being so close to it made my insides lurch.
“You having fun?”
I shrugged and he chuckled. I suddenly remembered the day they ditched me and I felt my thoughts stop cold.
“Man, I didn’t know Shelly liked you this much.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“She told me she was crazy for you just an hour ago.”
“How many bottles has she had?” I questioned, rolling my eyes.
“Dunno. I’d say maybe four, probably more,” he answered, taking a swig from his own drink.
“Figures. I don’t like her that way.”
“Because of Alivia,” he stated, a stupid grin on his face.
“Shelly just isn’t appealing to me,” I countered.
“Because of Alivia Olson.”
“Because I’d rather have a kind-hearted person than Shelly.”
“Because of Alivia.”
I sighed. I wanted to leave Alivia out of this, it would just end up bad for her anyway.
“Listen, dude,” Jimmy started, turning to me and swallowing another mouthful of liquid. “Alivia is just a girl we pranked for Shelly and Ace’s sake. Shelly asked Hayden to ask you. She wanted to see what you would do. She’s liked you for a while, and when Alivia started getting in the way, she decided to invite you here. When she was doing all that other stuff to you, she wanted to see if you’d put up with her plans.”
I felt my eyes grow wide as I looked at my camera. If that was true, Alivia was in a lot more trouble than I anticipated to begin with. The conversation made me shift in my seat and I was suddenly a lot more anxious to leave than I was five minutes earlier.
As if to save me, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I checked the caller, and saw it was Grandma.
“I’ll be back, Jimmy. I gotta take this,” I said, jumping up and making my way to the house. I figured I could go to the bathroom and talk to her without interruption in there.
I shoved my phone in my pocket and squeezed through the patio crowd. Everyone seemed to have move out of the house, and for some reason that made me nervous. I noticed the speakers for the music were moved outside.
Eventually, I made it to the house and looked around. A few groups of people were shouting like idiots and I made my way to the staircase in the corner. Dashing up the stairs, I went to the end of the hall, then turned and nearly tripped in surprise. Ace was sitting on the floor, his legs stretched out in front of him. He looked sober and bored.
“Hey Tin Tin,” he said, looking up from his phone and shoving it in his pocket. He smiled and blinked.
“Ace,” I said, nodding curtly.
“What are you doing up here? I thought you’d be down at the party,” he said, pulling his knees up to his chest.
“I was about to ask you the same question,” I replied. I don’t know why, but I sat down across from him and leaned against the wall. I didn’t exactly want to talk to him. But he looked a little disappointed, and maybe I felt sympathy for Ace for the first time in my life.
“Oh me?” he chuckled. “Shelly and I broke up, but I came with some of my buddies. I hate the whole getting drunk thing, so I’ve been up here all night. No one else has come up.”
“I’m sorry you lost your girlfriend,” I said. He shrugged.
“Eh, I’m over it,” he said.
“You sound like Alivia,” I blurted without thinking. His eyebrows shot up in surprise and I looked away.
“Alivia Olson? That girl?” he said.
I nodded and fidgeted with my camera.
“I know her. We go to the same church,” he confessed. Now it was my turn to be surprised.
“You’re a Christian?” I asked.
“Kinda. I guess you could call it that. I just go to church. Shelly didn’t and I guess that’s why we broke up. I was a setback for her. I didn’t do what she wanted,” he explained and pain flashed across his face. “It just stinks getting dumped over something you don’t know if you want.”
“I don’t know if I really wanted to follow God diligently or not. I mean, it broke up Shelly and I,” he stated. He sounded worn down.
I thought about my response for a moment. Not knowing much about God didn’t help the situation. Ace was the most popular guy in school, yet he was unsure of his life, his faith. Did that say something about God?
No, it says something about Ace.
“I guess we’re in the same boat,” I said. He nodded and grinned a little.
“I guess so.”
“I mean, I don’t go to church, but since I’ve been hanging out with Alivia, I’ve been thinking about it,” I elaborated.
“Alivia’s a good person to talk to about that sort of thing,” he agree. “Sawyer too.”
I moment of silence feel between us and I realized that Ace and I were more alike than I thought. I got up from the floor and pulled my phone out of my pocket.
“Is there a bathroom up here?” I asked.
“Yeah, last door on the right.”
I walked to the bathroom, closed and locked the door. It was small and dressed in blues along with a sink, shower, and a toilet. I put the toilet seat down and called Grandma. I ran a hand through my hair as her phone rang.
“Tin Tin,” she said, relieved.
“Hey Grandma, what’s up?” I asked, suppressing a yawn. I blinked rapidly to clear the sleep from my eyes.
“Dear, don’t be alarmed okay?” she started in a calm voice that made me suspicious something was wrong. I raised my eyebrows at the wall.
“Don’t come home, alright? It’s already too late and everything. I have Asher and Pearl is fine at her friend’s house.”
“Why?” I interrupted.
“Your parents are having a... Well, a heated discussion,” she said, sounding a little nervous.
I remained silent. This wasn’t unexpected, but how bad did it have to be for Grandma to call me and tell me not to come home?
“I don’t want you to get caught up in it, so could you just ask your friend if you can spend the night?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I sighed. That friend wasn’t going to be Shelly.
“Alright, you keep in touch with me dear. We’re all safe, I love you,” she soothed me.
She hung up and I rubbed my face with my hands. I didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to take pictures of my friends doing dumb stuff. I mean, I had enough already to make some pocket money. But a bigger issue was my parents. If it was so severe that Grandma had to call me, what was actually happening? What caused us to get to this point? If I couldn’t even go home, was it really a home?
I shuddered at the thought. Most kids could say they were going home and mean it. I couldn’t. Pearl couldn’t. Asher couldn’t, if we continued on like this.
I stood up and leaned against the sink, peering at my reflection.
“What are you doing here Tin Tin?” I asked myself.
"Isn’t it obvious? You belong here!" a voice jeered at me. Mocked me.
I stepped away from the sink, a little shocked by myself. My hands were suddenly shaking, whether from exhaustion or the words, I didn’t know. Shaking my head at my reflection, the voice continued to repeat. I didn’t want to be here.
I grabbed the door handle and flung it open. Ace was still sitting in the hallway and he looked at me when I came out. I regained my composure as I shoved my phone in my pocket. In attempt to ignore the thought that just flew in my mind, I began to think about where I could go.
“I’m leaving, Ace,” I said as I approached him.
“Lucky,” he said, sounding a little upset.
I gave him a sideways look.
“Why don’t you just go?”
“Because they’ll all judge me. And I’m expected to stay here,” he exclaimed. I noticed the circles under his eyes were becoming more pronounced.
“So? If you don’t like it, leave,” I reasoned.
“Don’t you get it?” he asked. “I can’t.”
I stared down at his desperate expression and the dreadful look in his eye. He didn’t want to be here and was making himself stay. I didn’t want to be here and was letting myself leave.
I nodded at him as he torn his eyes away and stared at the floor. Without another word to anyone, I exited from the front, jumped in my car, and left.
  
I didn’t leave right away. At first, I just sat there, feeling victorious that I had actually gotten a grip on myself and walked out with no shame. Some piece of me wanted to stay there with Ace, but I knew I couldn’t bear to be there any longer.
I was aware I smelled terrible and still had no clue where to go that wasn’t my house. I didn’t want to go to Grandma’s, knowing she was probably asleep and Asher probably was too. After driving around the block twice, I decided it was probably a smart idea to stop circling the neighborhood. Someone could recognize me and then ask me why I wasn’t at the party.
If I was being realistic, I knew where I was going to go all along. I knew it before I even got the call from Grandma. I knew it before I even had to think about it. I began down the highway with my unspoken decision.
I didn’t have any options left unless I wanted to sleep in my car.
The night was dark, the only light was a faded moon and a few stars that showed up. My headlights soon guided me to the dirt road where the trees blocked out even the moon, making the night even blacker. I don’t know why, but my heart wouldn’t stop pounding causing my knuckles to grip the steering wheel tighter than necessary. Eventually, I’m sure I began speeding. No one was out tonight, so I didn’t fear getting caught.
I wondered how my parents were doing, if they ever gave it up and went to bed. It was well past midnight. The disagreement couldn’t be that serious, could it? Sometimes I wondered why my parents weren’t divorced already, but I was thankful they weren’t. I only had one house, one set of parents. I think I held onto the foolish hope that they would resolve their differences.
Pulling in, I dimmed my headlights and parked as quickly as I could, trying to make hardly any noise at all. I grabbed my backpack and leapt out of the car, not bothering to lock it. I gazed at a tree branches’ silhouettes and raised my camera to capture the moment. A soft click came from it which seemed to bring back my common sense.
Maybe I should’ve let Sawyer know that I was coming. He did warn me not to go to the party and seemed to be in a weird mood all week. What if I showed up at a really bad time? If he was this bothered about something in public, how is he at home?
On the other hand, what choice did I have?
Gazing back up at the Olson house, an idea formed in my head. Sure, the lit window was on the second floor, but what did I have to lose? I walked over to the side of the house and scaled the many porch steps. I could do it, just climb up a beam and on the roof. Not too complicated.
Taking in a deep breath, I walked around the porch that circled the house to the front, crouched on the porch railing, and started to climb up the beam. My legs wrapped around it when I made it to the top and I dared to look down. The ground was a lot farther than I thought. I should’ve noticed that the porch was a good six feet off the ground to begin with. I almost smiled when I realized I was thinking that I was scared of heights. Never in my life have I been.
I hoisted myself onto the roof and sat there for a few seconds. Brushing off my hands, I stood confidently and crept across the shingles to the open window. I didn’t even look in, I just dropped right off the window sill and straightened myself real fast.
“Alright, that wasn’t so bad,” I muttered, checking on the camera hanging around my neck.
“Tin Tin?!” someone said in a shocked whisper from the other side of the room. I automatically assumed it was Sawyer in my tired state.
“I know, I know,” I started, popping off the lens protector and checking it just in case. “This is really unexpected. But dude, it’s been a--”
I glanced up for a moment then back down only to whip my face up again.
“Alivia?!” I exclaimed, my voice scaling up in pitch at the last syllable. She looked just as surprised as I felt, sitting up on her bed quickly and putting her book aside. Her long brown waves were in a messy ponytail and she was in sheep patterned pajama pants with a t-shirt.
“What are you doing here? It’s almost one in the morning for goodness’ sake,” she said in a quieter voice. But she was smiling. My heart thudded, about to burst out of my chest.
“I forgot Sawyer’s bedroom was in the basement,” I whispered back, my cheeks reddening.
She smiled tiredly at me and closed her eyes for a moment before opening them again. I grinned at how at ease she looked.
“So what are you doing here?” she asked, getting up and shutting the door before coming over to me, arms crossed, seeming a bit wobbly on her feet.
“Uh... Well, it’s kind of a long story.” I scratched the back of my neck and looked at her, hoping I wouldn’t have to tell her I was at some stupid party which I really didn’t want to go to in the first place. Plus my parents were fighting. She knew my family had issues, maybe not the whole story. I know Sawyer knew, because I told him, but I was sure Alivia was oblivious.
“I got time,” she yawned, smiling sleepily at me. I shrugged without making eye contact.
“I’m a little tired... Kind of hungry... And I wouldn’t want to wake your parents,” I tried, dancing around the subject.
“My parents won’t care, they love you,” she giggled quietly, a sweet sound that made me physically relax. “Oh, and here.” She walked over to her desk, which had pencils and many sketches scattered over it, and opened one of the drawers. Pulling out a box of Oreos, she came over and handed it to me.
“You’re something else, you know that?” I stated, laughing a bit.
“Been told that more than once,” she mumbled, ripping open the package while I was still holding it. My mood fell a little as some sort of envy settled in. I nearly bet myself ten dollars that it was her ex-boyfriend but I stayed quiet as she glanced at me with a smile. “Kidding, kidding.”
I released a breath I didn’t know I had been holding and shifted the weight on my feet.
“Were you really worried that someone else told me that I’m something else?” she questioned teasingly, glancing at me from the now open package of perfect rows of Oreos.
“What?” I asked, taken off guard that she would pick up on that.
“I think you heard my question,” she laughed, shoving one in her mouth.
“Well I... A little,” I answered and she blushed. “Just because I didn’t want you getting caught up in anyone you shouldn’t,” I added quickly.
“Too late,” she said, swallowing. “Already friends with you.”
“Ouch,” I replied, nearly rolling my eyes.
“And I already dated Tanner,” she said under her breath.
She took another Oreo from the box in my hand as a moment of silence passed between us.
“So are you gonna tell me why you’re here?” she finally asked, looking me dead in the eye. A weight seemed to be added to her expression and I realized it was much too familiar. Sawyer had given me that same look all week. I began to worry.
I stared at her, hoping she wasn’t going to make me tell her. She raised her eyebrows and chewed a little slower. I wouldn’t win this.
“Fine,” I gave in. “But not... Not right here.”
“Could we go out on the roof?” I asked, not even bothering to think about the question before it came out.
“I dunno,” she said quietly, her voice sounding shaky. She glanced behind me and out the window. “I’m not a fan of that sort of thing.”
“What? Roofs?” I joked. Her face lightened a shade and I felt a little guilty.
“Oh.” I drew my eyebrows together and set the Oreos on her bookshelf beside me. “It’ll be okay, I won’t let you fall.”
“No, Tin Tin, you don’t understand,” she said, now sounding more scared than ever. She took a step back from me and dropped her arms to her sides. “I am terrified of heights.”
“I don’t think you understand that you mean more to me than most people and I’m completely serious when I say I won’t let you fall,” I blurted.
She smiled a thin lipped smile at me. As she heaved a sigh, she looked more exhausted than ever. The determined expression on her face showed she was going to get the truth out of me one way or another.
“Promise?” she said hesitantly.
“Promise my life on it,” I confirmed, smiling for assurance.
“Alright,” she caved, sighing. “But you have to tell me everything.”
“And we have to take the Oreos.”
I grinned as I turned toward the window and slid the backpack off my shoulders and shoved my phone in my pocket. I heard her grab the cookies and I took the first step out the window. Crouching, I reached out for her hand. Biting her lip, she held the box with one hand and reached for me with the other.
Taking her hand gently, I helped guide her onto the roof. She was trembling a bit and I squeezed her hand tighter. Soon, she was out on her feet beside me.
“Just don’t look over the edge,” I suggested, taking her to the middle of the the two windows. She sat down and I followed her, reluctantly letting go of her hand. But as soon as a breeze started blowing a little, she grabbed my hand again and I smiled.
I laid down and stretched out my legs to get more comfortable. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her lay down too.
“Okay Tin Tin. What’s this all about?” she asked quietly.
I panicked as I instantly thought of ways to stall.
“Why are you afraid of heights?” I shot back playfully. When I looked at her, I saw this was no laughing matter. She was completely serious and stared at me like she was deathly afraid.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she mumbled.
“Why are you at my house past midnight?”
“Don’t want to talk about it,” I said.
I looked at her again and saw a nervous smile come to her lips. She glanced at me before staring back into the sky.
“If I tell you why I’m afraid, do you promise not to tell anyone?”
Her hand held tighter to mine, and I felt goosebumps shoot up my arms.
“I won’t tell a soul.”
She took in a deep breath.
“I’m afraid of heights because this past summer when I was at camp, I was up on a pretty tall ladder and Tanner was holding the bottom. For a second, I felt it slipping and I looked down and he was gone. The ladder was falling fast to the ground and I screamed when someone caught it.”
I stared at her. At this point, her words were coming more slowly, her breathing falling into a steady rhythm. I saw her eyelids drooping and the faraway look in her eye where the moon was reflected.
“He let me fall, Tin. I never thought he would, but he let go. And now it’s over for good and... I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” I assured her, never taking my eyes off her face.
“I wish I could fix things. But I’m glad it’s over. It was exhausting trying to impress him,” she admitted, closing her eyes.
“I think you’re great, just the way you are.”
She turned her face to me, eyes now shining with tears. As she smiled weakly at me, I knew she wasn’t over it. I knew deep down she wasn’t, but a part of me was hoping she had forgotten about him.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
We gazed at each other for a long moment before a question rose in my throat that I was afraid to ask. I knew if I didn’t, it would be burning in my gut for all of eternity.
She was struggling to stay awake and I smiled. My cheeks were already heated with the embarrassment that the words I wanted to say were pathetic.
“Do you ever... you know? Uh, do you ever think of me?” I managed.
It took everything in me to look at her and ask that. She smiled even bigger and I was struck by how perfect it was.
“Of course,” she said in a quiet, soft voice. “Tin Tin, I’m glad you decided to come here.”
“Me too,” was all I could manage.
My pulse quickened immediately and I was grinning so hard my cheeks hurt. She laughed softly and reached out to touch my shoulder lightly, leaving my hand cold. But her fingers shot warmth through me again.
A strong breeze blew across the roof and I grabbed for her hand as she gasped softly. Closing her eyes, she seemed to be waiting for it to be over. She truly was scared, but she faced her fear just so she could talk to me. After a couple minutes of neither of us speaking, I knew she had given into sleep.
I didn’t watch her sleep, that’s a little creepy, but I felt her hand relax while I held on. I took my camera and pointed it toward the truly amazing sky to get a shot of it. After a few clicks, I turned toward Alivia sleeping peacefully beside me. I took a couple of her, just so I could remember when I decided this:
I was falling for Alivia Lilly.
For a good ten minutes, everything was perfectly silent except for our breaths and some leaves rustling in the woods surrounding us. Then I heard someone grip the window sill, startling me a little. I turned my attention in that direction to see Sawyer poking his head out.
“Tin Tin?” he asked, squinting.
“What in the world are you doing here?” he asked.
“Sorry I didn’t listen to you.” I paused and he waited. “I went to that stupid party because they were paying me to take some pictures. I didn’t want to go home and couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, so I came here, climbed in Alivia’s room instead of yours and then I explained it all to her here on the roof.”
“You’re a moron,” he groaned, but I could hear a hint of amusement in his voice. I also knew he could tell I was lying about not wanting to go home. It wasn’t an option; I couldn’t.
“So can I stay?” I asked, slowly letting go of Alivia’s hand.
“Of course you can stay. Just not out on the roof,” he said. “You can come sleep in my room.”
“Sounds good to me.”
I stood up and Sawyer climbed out on the roof, cautiously making his way toward us. He picked up his sleeping sister gently and she mumbled something.
“Shh, it’s okay. It’s just Sawyer,” he said softly in her ear. She slipped her arms around his neck and rested her cheek on his shoulder.
I grabbed the Oreos and climbed back through in the window after Sawyer. Before I slung my backpack over my shoulder, I latched the window shut. Then I slipped the food back into her desk while he was walking over to her bed. Hurriedly, I moved the book she had been reading so he wouldn’t lay her on it. He had to take her arms off from his shoulders, reminding me of when I have to put Asher to bed.
He stood there for a moment and looked at her. Finally when he moved, he put the sheet over her and clicked off the lamp.
“Goodnight Livvy,” he whispered before shutting the door.
We crept down the stairs, skipping the landing to the second floor and going all the way down to the basement. Before I could step foot in his room, he turned and held out a hand to stop me.
“Whoa man,” he said. “You smell terrible.”
“You don’t smell much better yourself Mr. I-Didn’t-Brush-My-Teeth-Before-Bed,” I remarked. I felt guilty. I hope he didn’t think I had been drinking.
He ignored my statement and went into his room while I stood in the hall. He came back and handed me some pajama pants and a clean shirt.
“Towels are in the closest, extra toothbrushes under the sink, and yes I did brush them before bed,” he said, yawning. I crinkled my nose and he smirked. “I’ll get out a sleeping bag.”
He started to turn away.
“Yeah man?” He opened his closet.
“Thanks for... You know?” What was with me and not being able to finish a sentence?
“Anytime Tin Tin,” he replied. Then he turned to face me with a genuine smile. “Anytime.”