Chapter 9- Havoc of the Heart
“And I’d choose you;
In a hundred lifetimes
In a hundred worlds
In any version of reality,
I’d find you and
I’d choose you.”
-The Chaos of Stars
Lexi held my hand between hers. The difference was sickening. My hand was tan and strong, while hers were thin, frail, and birdlike. If I moved too fast, I might break them.
“How’d you do on the Physics test?” she asked. She tried to infuse her tone with cheer, but it only made what she wasn’t saying even louder.
“Lexi,” I whispered. She shook her head quickly, thinning hair flying from side to side. She stared at the far wall, tears slowly tracking down her cheeks.
“It’s supposed to get easier, you know? In the books and movies, people like me meet their fate with all these epic last words and quiet strength. But every time,” her voice cracked, “every time the doctor walks in here with that pity on his face, another piece of me dies. Soon there won’t be anything left. Why isn’t it getting any easier, Soph? Why does it still feel like I’m nowhere near the finish line?”
Screw the nurse. My sister needed me. I climbed into the small bed, careful not to jerk her IV, and snuggled against her. She curled into me as sobs wracked her thin body.
When she was finished, I quickly wiped my own tears.
I needed to stay strong for Lexi. She couldn’t see me cry. Pushing the pain and torment deep, deep down into the back of my mind, I smoothed her hair and forced a smile.
“So,” she murmured, her voice hoarse. “You never told me how you did on the Physics test.”
“Sophia? Earth to Sophia!” Raven waved her hand in front of my face. I jerked, blinking back to reality.
Raven looked concerned. “You okay?”
I slapped on a practiced smile and nodded. Her skeptical expression told me she wasn’t buying into my crap. “I’m heading over to the Sound with Jesse. You coming?” She was dressed in her usual flashy clothing. Lots of eyeliner, a cool studded choker that offset her smooth chocolate complexion, and large feather earrings brushing her chin.
“Nah,” I said. “It’s my first Saturday without work, so I’ll probably hang out here.”
“You should come.” She sighed. “Landon will be there.”
I looked at Raven, and it hit me that she cared about me, like really cared about me. If I asked her to, I had no doubt she’d drop whatever she had planned and stay in.
Moving quickly, I enveloped her in a hug. She didn’t do anything for a second, but her arms quickly encircled me. “Okay, we’re hugging now.”
“Thanks for being my friend.”
She gave me one last squeeze and pulled away. “Now don’t get mushy on me. No thanks necessary. You absolutely certain you don’t want to join? Jesse won’t mind.”
“Maybe later. Give me an hour or so. It’s been a long week.”
She was hesitant, but I finally got her out of the door with the promise to call in an hour to inform her whether or not I was coming.
Taking advantage of my alone time, I opened some candles and plugged in my twinkle lights. Raven always said the candles made her fidgety (despite the fact that they were electric, what with the fire hazard mumbo jumbo) and twinkle lights burned her retinas.
I laid a blanket on my window seat, since Poe shed over the other ones. The felon-sorry, feline- in question curled at my feet, meowing in protest when I wiggled my toes into his fur.
Resting my cheek against the cold glass, I watched the lights of the Sound reflect against the darkened buildings of Franklin. I hadn’t zoned out like that in a while. Sometimes, like today, memories of Lexi assaulted me, sharp knives tearing through the paper barrier I protected myself with. When would the day come when I could remember her without feeling as if my soul was being shredded?
“Why isn’t it getting any easier, Soph? Why does it
still feel like I’m nowhere near the finish line?”
I blinked back moisture. Poe, sensing his mommy’s sadness, squeezed between my legs and settled his comforting weight on my chest.
“I don’t know why it doesn’t get easier, Lex. I really wish it did.”
The window fogged as my breaths grew heavier with my struggle to keep my tears at bay. I’d vowed I would remember my sister with a smile and a light heart, because if I started to cry?
I’d never stop.
That was the day the doctors told Lexi that they needed to pursue a more aggressive form of chemotherapy. Neither of us understood the fancy medical lingo they were throwing out there, but the gist was clear.
She wasn’t getting any better. Ultimately, their aggressive approach failed. Like Lexi’s heart.
I petted Poe’s head and tried to redirect my thoughts to something else.
“Repressing your sister isn’t going to work, Sophia. In order to truly move on, you need to accept your loss. Pretending it never happened is not the solution.”
Great. Even thousands of miles across the country and my damn psychologist’s voice echoed in my head.
My phone buzzed. Physically and mentally shaking myself, I reached over and nabbed the phone from my nightstand. Poe’s claws dug into my blouse, a reminder that he was there and he did not appreciate the merry-go-ride.
A notification from Raven blinked across the screen. Upon being pressed, it revealed a picture of none other than Landon, his hand poised to raise his soda to his lips as he listened to Jesse speak. Under the photo, Raven had simply written, ‘Your boy toy is ruining my itsy bitsy spidering plans.’
I laughed, and Poe, sick of my shenanigans, huffily jumped off me and onto Raven’s bed. Oh boy, she was going to have a conniption if he left fur on her favorite quilt.
“Sorry,” I crooned. Poe gave me his I’d-flip-you-offif-I-had-fingers look and resumed his nap.
My attention returned to the photo, and my stomach flip-flopped.
Things had been strange between us since that day in
Psych when he’d had his freak out. His stricken expression and the way his knuckles tightened around his pen wasn’t an image I was liable to forget. I remembered recognizing the trapped look in his eyes and doing the only thing I knew to help.
We hadn’t really spoken much. We had a session to work on our project tomorrow, and I planned to make major headway. My questions were prepared with a precision only a veritable nerd could pull off.
The picture seemed to draw me in, and with an annoyed grunt, I knew Raven had won. There was no way I would be able to resist going now.
I pulled my grey fleece coat on over my blue blouse, belted my black skinny jeans, and tied my converse. Tucking my phone and some cash into my back pocket, I stopped to rub the top of Poe’s little head. “Who’s my favorite kitty ever?” I cooed.
He hissed. If cats could be murderers, I’d be dead on the floor with claw marks all over me.
I locked the door and meandered through the dorms. Coeds sprawled the length of the hall. Our RA was more lenient about bringing boys in after hours during the weekends. As I passed the rec room, I caught sight of Madison hanging out with a few of her friends. She waved excitedly, and I returned it with a grin. I was awfully glad my initial fear of her hating my guts was unfounded. If a random cat pilfered through my underwear, I’d probably be annoyed too.
The Sound was noisy and crowded. Weaving through the crowd, I finally spotted them at a table near the juice bar. Raven had her arms crossed over her chest and was scowling. Jesse’s hair flopped adorably onto his forehead as he spoke animatedly to his best friend, completely oblivious to his pissed off girlfriend.
Finally, I found the reason I was braving the Sound at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. My anticipation grew with each step. As if by magnetic pull, he glanced up. Surprise turned to sly interest, and a slow smile spread over his face.
My breath caught in my chest, and I nearly stumbled.
Oh God. I was so screwed.
In my distraction, I didn’t notice where I was going, and I tripped over a guy kneeling besides a girl’s chair and went sprawling, the guy half on me.
“Sorry! I’m sorry!” I scrambled to my feet and extended a hand to the guy. He smacked it aside and clambered to his feet. He glowered, clearly upset I’d ruined whatever game he had.
“Watch where you fuckin’ walk, dumbass,” he snapped.
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I opened my mouth one more time to apologize and leave when someone beat me to the punch.
The word seethed with Landon’s rage. His eyes were flashing, a stormy ocean promising retribution.
The guy, although shorter than Landon, had beefed up muscles and was clearly drunk.
“Who the hell you think you are, huh? She fell on me.” He turned his gaze to me, and at this point I was grasping what my Literature teacher meant when she said frat boys were major thorns in the side. “If she wants a little a this, she only gotta ask. ’Nuff to go around.” He leered to the laughter of his cronies.
I pulled at Landon’s sleeve, absently noting that he was wearing the Carpe Diem leather cuffs today. “Let’s go, he’s not worth it.”
Landon glanced at me, but he wasn’t really seeing me. There was pain hiding behind his eyes, and I could tell despite his anger on my behalf, he did not want to touch Frat Asshole.
Call me strange, but seeing his in discomfort pissed me off way more than Frat Asshole’s rudeness did. Nothing he could say would get under my skin, but indirectly screwing with Landon?
“Shut up and leave,” I warned Frat Asshole, still tightly gripping Landon’s sleeve.
Frat Asshole said something vulgar, and I could practically see Landon’s control breaking.
Faster than I preferred to move, I dug my nails into
Frat Asshole’s neck and kneed him in the gonads. He made a wheezing noise suspiciously similar to a dying frog, and collapsed to the floor, his hands cupping the damaged family jewels.
A grin spread across Landon’s face as I used my hold on his sleeve to drag him back to the table. Raven and Jesse were on the edge of the small crowd that had gathered. Jesse was wincing at Frat Asshole, who was still howling on the floor. He glanced at Landon, and something passed between them. Relief crossed Jesse’s face.
Huh. I didn’t get much time to scrutinize them before
Raven was slinging her arm over my shoulder. “Look at my roommate, the Ball Buster!”
Giddy from my maneuver, I didn’t even let the nickname bother me. “Yep. It’s kind of a problem I have. In my defense, I only did it when they deserved it. Otherwise I settled for a good old fashioned slap.” I’d tried to stop kneeing in the crotch when my Dad had told me, after a very awkward call from the principal, that some boys might not be able to have kids if I hit them hard again, and I should only save it for when I had absolutely no choice. A good punch to the throat was also quite effective.
Jesse guffawed. Landon’s expression wavered from admiration to a desire to edge away. Raven giggled, and Jesse snagged her wrist, reeling her in for a kiss that made me want to be anywhere else.
Do NOT look at Landon, repeat, Do NOT look at the hot guy as your friends make out, I chanted.
Landon cleared his throat, and they broke apart. Raven had a blissful glow, and Jesse was smiling at her with unmistakable adoration. Something flared in my chest. I was happy for her, I really was, but seeing the lovey-dovey only served to remind me of my own loneliness.
“You boys want to go get us a drink?” Raven said, saccharine sweet.
“Sure,” Jesse said. He glanced at Landon, who snorted and said, “Man, you are so whipped.” At Jesse’s glare, he rolled his eyes and bowed to Raven.
“Of course, your Vampire Majesty,” he drawled. The boys vanished into the crowd. Raven didn’t waste a second. “Did you SEE that?”
“See what?” I asked slowly. I feared what the answer might be, given her over-the-top excitement.
“Okay, I’ve got to admit I’m not the guy’s biggest fan-or even on the list-but the ‘rescuing the damsel in distress’ move right there?” She touched her index finger to her thumb and lifted the other three fingers. “Nice.”
I fiddled with my scarf. “He was just being polite.”
She snorted. “Landon Sinclair? Babe, his last name literally has the word sin in it. He’s not going to stick his neck out for the sake of ‘polite’.”
Now this bothered me enough to argue. “Landon would help anyone who needed it. He’s a good person. If you’re surprised about it, you’re the only one.”
Her brows lifted, and she opened her mouth to speak, but her gaze found something above my head. The familiar
Cheshire smile spread across her face. “Hey boys!”
I turned slightly in my seat and found Landon and Jesse, both staring at me with differing expressions. Jesse looked pleased, but I couldn’t help noticing the flash of worry.
Landon…he was staring in a way that made me flush. Raven cleared her throat. “That was fast.”
Jesse reached for the black leather wallet on the table. “Forgot the money.”
When they left again, I gathered my wits and stayed quiet. Whatever this was I felt around Landon, it needed to stop. I was setting myself up for a world of pain. I’d never gotten serious with a guy in high school, and I’d planned college the same way.
I’d just never expected a boy with blue eyes and scars deeper than I could imagine to blow my plans right out of the water.
We had drinks, thanks to Landon’s ability to legally purchase alcohol. Raven and Jesse were smashed by midnight while Landon and I sat with our club sodas.
Landon hadn’t approved of Jesse’s drinking, that much I could tell. He’d been smoothly replacing his cups with soda for the last thirty minutes.
“Why don’t you drink alcohol?” I blurted. It had been bothering me for the last two hours. Raven and I were underage, but Landon was legal, and Jesse’s twenty-first birthday was only a few months away. Yet I didn’t think the rules were part of the reason Landon abstained.
“I mean, you’re a bartender,” I elaborated, when he continued to study me. “You serve alcohol for a living.”
Landon took a long pull from his water. I battled the urge to snatch it from his grip so he would focus.
He set the glass down with a thud. “Plenty of reasons, buttercup.”
I rolled my eyes. His lips quirked up. “I don’t drink because I like control. I’ve seen people in bars, in life…” his gaze became faraway, “I’ve seen people lose control and do some pretty horrible shit.” He tilted his glass with a finger. “I’ve never been great at resisting temptation, but I try.”
Unconsciously, I found myself scooting my chair closer to him. The bleakness of his tone, the way he avoided my gaze…I wanted to hold him until it went away. I hoped the urge to spontaneously hug him had died with the last one.
My nose wrinkled absently. The amount of sappy I’d experienced tonight was not a point of future pride.
I placed my hand over his. He stiffened. “You’re only human, Landon.”
He took another sip of his drink. “That’s the problem.”
“ITSY BITSY SPIDER!” Raven’s shout effectively broke the moment. I swiftly removed my hand from
Landon’s as my cheeks reddened. He must have thought I was a total freak, getting all up in his personal space and asking him those questions. At least when we were working on our project, I had a smoke screen.
“ME AND JESSE ARE GONNA ITSY BITSY
SPIDER!” Raven continued her loud declaration.
“Unh-uh,” I clucked, rounding the table to hoist Raven up. She threw an arm around my shoulders and gave me a wet smooch on the cheek. “This bitch right here is my best friend ever!”
I chuckled nervously and began to move us backwards. Jesse appeared a second away from crawling after his intoxicated beloved.
Raven suddenly squished me into her shoulder as her hands came together to form a gun pointing at Landon. “You hurt her, you deal with me and Sir Poe. Jus’ cause he’s a cat don’t mean he doesn’t have cah-razy skills. We will mess you UP,” she threatened, squinting as she aimed.
I quickly scanned for a deep hole to bury myself in, but came up short. My second best option was killing Raven; an option I was finding increasingly attractive.
“Can you take her up to your dorm?” Landon asked, rising from his chair. Around us, some of the people had left, but plenty had also arrived, since Saturday night meant music for as long as someone manned the DJ stand or played onstage, and the juice bar closed at three a.m. Raven swayed, and I staggered to the side.
“Yeah, I should be fine,” I replied.
Landon didn’t seem convinced. He pulled out his phone and tapped the screen before putting it at his ear. “Hey. Yeah, I’m at the Sound. Think you can come here and take Jesse home? I’ve got some things I need to take care of.”
“Landon, really we’ll be fi-” He gave me a look that brooked no argument and I stopped.
“A friend will be here in a few minutes to get Jesse,” he said.
“Does this mean no itsy bitsy spidering?” Raven asked sadly. Landon blinked.
“HA HA!” I laughed, and casually slapped my hand over Raven’s mouth. “She’s drunk, guess she saw a spider. You know how we girls love us some spiders!”
Raven licked my fingers. I yanked my hand away and wiped them on her shirt. “You are gross,” I stated.
She winked at Jesse, who turned an adorable shade of pink. Apparently his drunken persona was morphing into a human puppy.
“Corbin!” Jesse called enthusiastically. A short, dark skinned guy with slicked back brown hair and a bemused smile found us. He took in the scene and groaned.
He glanced at Landon. “Why the hell did you let him drink? You know that boy’s a damn lightweight.”
Landon averted his gaze and shrugged. “I was…distracted.”
Corbin glanced at me and Raven, who was currently making a noise that sounded suspiciously like, ‘moo’ and chewing on strands of my hair.
He snorted. “Distracted. I bet you were.” He tipped an imaginary hat in my direction and lifted Jesse by the back of the shirt. Jesse was taller than him, and yet Corbin managed to drag him like a ragdoll away from the Sound.
“Boy, if you expectin’ me to carry you like some damn Disney princess, I’ll leave you on the floor,” he grunted. Jesse waved cheerfully before disappearing around the corner.
While I was waving back, Landon bent and was carrying Raven over his shoulder in fireman’s hold before I realized my hair was no longer being snacked on.
My mouth opened, but he only arched a brow. “You coming?”
Alrighty then. “Lead the way.”
We made our way past the crowd and down the street, Landon trying to keep a squirming Raven from pitching to the ground. I swiped my key card to get us inside. We were climbing the stairs to the dorms with more than a few curious glances from the coeds when we noticed Raven was out.
“She’s asleep,” I declared. Thank goodness.
“Took long enough. Even drunk she’s a pain in the ass.”
I glared and he responded with a boyish grin. Landon stopped in front of our door.
“How do you know where we live?” I inquired suspiciously.
With his free hand, he pointed at the whiteboard hanging on the door reading, “RAVEN AND SOPHIA’S DORM ROOM RICH BITCHES!”
“Right.” I’d have plenty of time to face-palm myself to death later.
Unlocking my door, I immediately crouched in anticipation and caught Poe as he made a run for it. As if the spoiled brat could survive in the real world.
“You can’t make it based on your looks alone, Poe,” I told him seriously, lifting his wiggling body so we were face to face. “And no offense, but your people skills are crap.”
I placed Poe on the ground, and he stuck his tail in the air contemptuously, wagging his little butt over to his bed.
Landon was watching our exchange with rapt attention. Wonderful. Now I had a conversation with my cat to add to, “Reasons Landon Sinclair Thinks I am a Whack Job.”
Raven was snuggling into her pillow, and I noticed Landon had pulled off her combat boots and tucked the covers around her.
Something warm surged through my chest. The something that surges through a girl’s chest when she sees a guy take care of her drunk best friend in even though he’s not her biggest fan.
“Landon…” I trailed off. He moved closer to me, close enough that I felt his body heat through my many layers. His lips were right there. All I would have to do is stand on my tiptoes, and they’d touch. “Thanks for this. Raven’s a lot heavier when she’s drunk,” I said haltingly.
Landon lifted his hand, and I stopped breathing when I felt his finger graze my forehead, gently pulling off my beanie. It fell to the floor.
He tucked my hair behind my ear. “I didn’t do this for Raven.”
Why aren’t my lungs working?
The only sound in the room was our breathing. Landon ran his thumb along my cheek intently, like he was memorizing the feeling of my skin. As much as I’d want to chalk this up to intoxication in the morning, I knew for a fact he was completely sober.
“Landon.” My voice was a whisper. “What are we doing?”
“Whatever it is …I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.”
He pressed his lips to my forehead lightly. It felt like a promise.
“Goodnight, Sophia Michaels.”
He left, closing the door gently behind him.