Carbon

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Chapter 35

The doorbell rang, and I started, suddenly realizing I drifted off into a slumber I had not anticipated. I glanced around the family room to see the TV flashing with different characters and blaring with different monologues of each individual. I pulled myself off the leather sofa, peeling away from a maroon throw my great-grandmother knit several lazy afternoons when she baby-sat my mother after school. It still had the faint scent of tobacco and earl grey tea permeating its seams. I shuffled across the house into the foyer to see the faint silhouette of a figure and its shadow from the windows as I passed portraits of my family branching back to when Lexi could barely stand. The back of my hand rubbed into my eyes, trying to erase any sign of sleep. I finally grabbed the brass handle and threw open the door, half-expecting a kid selling fund-raising equipment consisting of useless knick-knacks, obnoxious wrapping paper, stale popcorn, or sweet cookies. “I don’t—”

Devin twisted her eyes from staring at the light bulb above the porch to me. She herself looked confused as to why she made her way to my house as she mindlessly stared at me. I would not have known it was raining except for the fact her blonde hair darkened as it wrapped itself around her neck and against her clothing. Her athletic shorts pressed against her legs, and her sweatshirt that was twelve sizes too big was spotted and speckled with tiny rain droplets. The soft pelting of rain fell at an angle behind her petite frame, and then I caught myself staring unintentionally.

She meekly proposed, “If you weren’t expecting me, I can go back. I didn’t mean to bother you when you were sleeping. I can go back.”

I quickly shook my head and took a step beside the door, allowing her entry in. “No, no, I just fell asleep for a little bit. Come on in.” She slid inside the house, meticulously rubbing her shoes on the welcome mat and then easing off to the foyer. She patiently waited for me as I closed the front door. Again, I felt uncharismatic and awkward as I turned back to her.

Devin ran her fingers through her hair, rubbing her roots to give the image of volume, I presumed, as her locks plumped from the movement. Her rich blue eyes absorbed the portraits as if she would be drilled on the detail later. Her full lips parted as she met my eyes abruptly, and she smiled. “What?”

I vehemently shook my head. I couldn’t muster up an answer or anything.

She twisted around on the balls of her feet and stared up at the chandelier in the foyer. I titled my chin back, too, finally noticing the eloquence of the structure, how each blade of glass sat strategically and how each face shone like a diamond. Colorful light danced on the walls surrounding the massive chandelier like tiny pixies.

“Your house is really nice, Ned.”

I turned my chin back to Dev, her eyes mesmerized by the massive glass sculpture. The light twinkled against her eyes like tiny stars fighting to be seen amidst the rest of the constellations. “Um, so what do you want to do?” I could have smacked myself in the face for not thinking of a better comeback. Some suave guy would have said something so smooth that a normal girl would melt, but not me. Here I was trying to just talk to Devin, but all of my thoughts collided into each other to create fragments of ideas that made absolutely no sense in context.

Without tearing away from her entertainment, she shrugged her delicate shoulders. “I’m just the guest.”

My chest swelled at the idea that she was actually willing to hang out with me, but then I was suddenly stuck in indecisiveness. I realized I knew she loved to read, animals, and soccer, but I couldn’t participate in such actions with her. I scoured my brain for any ideas or any recollections of a movie in which the guy got the girl he loved so desperately. My mind was frozen though in the fact that I couldn’t figure out one little thing to do.

“I’m sorry to do this to you, but do you have anything to eat? I just realized I haven’t eaten today.”

I noticed the puffiness of her eyes hadn’t peeled away yet from all of the tears she shed the past couple of days because of Holden. The redness tainted her clear eyes as her eyes finally met mine and lingered. Her blonde hair slid off her shoulder and cascaded down her back. She swore she kept forgetting to nourish herself, but I was afraid she was fasting as a form of punishment. Punishment for nothing she caused but for what she believed she did. I glanced at the clock on the microwave’s screen to see it was nearly nine o’clock, and my heart sunk knowing she was doing this to herself.

I silently sauntered down the foyer and slammed open some doors to the kitchen and the family room, a bar separating the two rooms along with a transition from tile floors to wooden floors. I turned back to see her observe this room as well, attentive to every detail and pensive about how to proceed. I pointed out the wooden cabinets and stainless steel refrigerator. “You’re welcome to anything you want. We have microwaveable dinners and ice cream and granola bars and yogurt. You know, whatever you want.”

Devin wandered across the kitchen to beside the toaster oven. A Tupperware container sat indiscriminately beside the toaster along with a loaf of bread and a bear claw my sister persuaded my parents to get for her breakfast for Monday morning after a long weekend of soccer. She glanced over her shoulder and asked, “Do you have anything you guys made?”

A lump caught in my throat. I had forgotten how Devin no longer had a family, how her mother so easily abandoned her. When I visited her the other day, she only had cracker boxes in the waste bins. “There are blueberry muffins my mom made this morning in the red container.”

“Thanks,” she whispered. Her small hands opened the container and picked out a mottled blueberry muffin, moving her fingers as to not contaminate the others. She closed the container and turned back to me, leaning against the counter as she peeled back the wax paper. She took a large bite out of the muffin, some crumbs sticking to her chin.

“Any good?” I asked, pressing against the marble bar with my back. My foot slid into her small feet, and we held each other up with friction and pressure.

She nodded her head and put a thumb up, her cheeks too swollen with muffin to answer me legibly.

I smirked as I watched her delicate hands tear a piece of the muffin off and place it in her mouth. I watched how her lips pursed and how her eyes glued to the food as her hunger was hopefully being satiated. I watched how her throat swelled as she swallowed and how she languidly enjoyed the thing she so desperately wanted—family through any media.

She threw away the wrapper and rubbed her palms together to get the crumbs off of her hands. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

A silence fell over us, and it was not one of those good ones. For some reason, tension filled the air, and maybe it was just my mind misinterpreting signals for me. The only thing that I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears. I thought of intellectual conversation starters and perhaps actual things to say, but I failed to abide by my need to fill the silence.

“You like having the place to yourself?”

Our eyes met again, and I fumbled, “Yeah, I mean, I can do pretty much whatever. My mom doesn’t bother me about actually being a productive member of society, so I obviously did nothing today.”

She grinned. “Sounds like a fantastic way to spend the day.”

“What did you do today?”

“I slept off a wicked hangover.”

“Damn, you and your vodka.”

“Can I be honest with you?”

Startled, I nodded my head, my conscience begging to know more about this mysterious specimen of the human race. She wasn’t normal in even the slightest bit according to my brain, and I became intrigued by this nonconformity.

“I don’t even like vodka. I’d rather have a pink wine any day. Vodka just happens to be the drink that gets me the drunkest the quickest. If I were a real demure lady, I would simply sip on the finest pink wine like a duchess.”

I furrowed my brow, stunned she actually would enjoy imbibing something so mature, so geriatric. “I never knew that.”

“Yeah, no one did until now. How about you? Drink of choice.”

I leaned against my elbows and gently kicked her in the shin playfully. “Seeing as I’m a good kid and don’t break laws regarding underage drinking, I’m going to go with a good chocolate milkshake. Non-frothy, non-adult beverage, go.”

“Green tea.”

“How do you take it?”

“Pure. Adult beverage, go.”

“Um, this is going to sound so stupid. Appletini.”

She picked up her right foot and settled it on my left foot. “Uh oh, you sure you got a dick?”

I stood up and put my hands to either side of her waist, pressing her against the counter. I leaned in, our faces merely inches apart. Our hips pressed against each other, and I could feel her warmth through my jeans. She smugly smirked up at me and lazily stared up at me. “You want to bet,” I whispered. I lost any sense of time or any sense of reality as I fell deeply into her blue eyes reminiscent of a sunny day.

Something moist pressed against the tip of my nose, and I shook myself back into reality to find that Devin poked my nose with the tip of her tongue playfully.

I sat up, and she mirrored my actions. I strolled back to the family room and sat back down on the leather loveseat. Devin nestled herself next to me and leaned back against the back, pulling her knees to her chest and then pushing her feet to her side. “What are you watching?”

“You.”

Devin froze, her eyes wide and shocked. She turned her face toward me and absorbed my appearance for the longest time, making me begin to feel self-conscience of my eyes and freckles as well as my small bouts of acne.I couldn’t hide from her. My fingers pushed the hair off of her left shoulder behind her back, and I leaned in to her. She leaned in, and our lips brushed against each other for a second before she pulled back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

I opened my eyes. Her face hung millimeters from mine, begging for the space to disappear between us.

“I wish I didn’t look like this.”

I murmured, “Stop.”

“But it’s true. You don’t want to kiss a girl wearing a sweatshirt two times too big and athletic shorts along with crew socks. You don’t deserve this.”

I smiled incredulously and cradled her jaw in my palms. “You’re right. I don’t deserve someone like you because I am not nearly as kind and as smart as you. Just stop demoralizing what and who you are, because you are perfect in my eyes.”

“Don’t call me that. A lie isn’t a compliment.”

I silenced.

“Call me something erratic or destroyed, mangled or damaged. Then tell me you still want me for them.”

“I do.”

She leaned into me, her hands in her lap, still. My lips folded over hers gently, and then I pulled back.

“What?” she whimpered sheepishly. Her eyes snapped open to see me on my side of the couch with a sneer carved into my mouth. “What?”

I laughed, “You taste like blueberry muffin.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she hissed, “I could totally take that out of context and take it the wrong way.”

I pressed my lips against her forehead. My arm wrapped around her shoulders as I leaned back. “What do you want to watch?” I found the remote control and placed it in her lap, the device sliding in between her knees. Her feet rocked back and forth as she could barely touch the floor while she sat in the sofa like a child on a porch swing.

She rolled her neck and stared up at me. “Aren’t you supposed to pick the movie? Be some sly guy trying to get me to jump in your lap because I’m so scared or whatever?”

I smirked meekly. “You know I have absolutely no idea how to do anything right when it comes to that stuff.”

“Getting a girl?”

I grabbed the remote control from her lap and patted her right thigh. “Okay, you make me sound like a total creep. How about a comedy?”

She leaned back into the couch, nestling in between the cushions like a small domestic pet. She furtively glanced at me and then turned back to the television. “Just choose something please.” She tucked her knees into her chest, catching my hand in her folded body, and she fell over to her side, resting her head on the armrest with her feet pressed against my left thigh. I tried to pull my hand from her, but she pulled her knees tighter to her chest.

“Hey, I want that back.”

“Nope, it’s mine now. It invaded my bubble, and it is now mine.” She gently closed her eyes and tucked her chin into her chest.

I curled my fingers and tried to tickle her stomach.

“Stop that,” she moaned.

I quickened the scratching to hopefully get her to giggle or laugh, but she stayed completely still. “Are you seriously not ticklish?” Her blonde hair splayed out away from her, sitting in different arrangements like a fluid.

She resignedly sighed and folded her knees away from her chest enough for me to rip my hand away. “I’m immune to your silly threats.” She turned to face the couch as she nested on the throws and on the decorative pillows depicting opaque patterns of flowers and embroidery. She began to softly breathe.

“Hey, stop going to sleep.”

She whined, muffled by the pillow she turned to, “I’m too tired…”

I stared at her and finally said, “You could go to my bed if you wanted. I won’t bother you if you want to sleep. You could even go in Lex’s bed—I’ll change the sheets before she comes back tomorrow night. You’re probably really cramped on the sofa with me here.”

She didn’t answer.

“Dev?”

Nothing.

“Devin?” I lulled.

I chuckled and turned back to the comedy movie I had flipped to while she and I argued playfully. I couldn’t get into the movie as the comedy became less believable and more contrived, and I tried flipping to another channel with little success. I supposed most companies thought people were out and about late on a Saturday night but not me. Before this, I would have been extremely antsy and anxious to leave for a party to get hammered or to hang out with my buddies, but this suddenly defined content. This was what I needed for so long; I just didn’t know it.

Devin slowly sat up and rubbed her eye for a moment. She yawned, “How long was I out?”

I motioned to the clock beneath the television. “Just a second.”

“Sorry, you must think I came here to just sleep.”

I turned to her as she moved the pillows to prop herself up. She set her feet on my lap, and I playfully flicked them to signal her to get those nasty things off of me. She slid her feet across my lap and rested her muscular calves atop my thighs. “You’re fine. Do whatever you want to do. I mean, I would love to sleep if I were you. How much sleep have you gotten this past week?”

Her blue eyes lingered on my face before turning to gaze off at the wall, glazed with embarrassment. “I don’t know.”

“Yeah, you do.”

“Six hours I think,” she said.

“Oh, that isn’t too bad.”

“For the whole week?”

“Holy shit, Dev, I thought you meant per night. What have you been doing?”

A light flickered across her eyes as she recalled something she was trying to bury. “Nightmares. Thinking about stuff. Nightmares. Homework. Reading. Anything not to sleep pretty much.”

“Nightmares about your dad?”

She turned back to me, her brow furrowed seriously. She shook her head slowly and murmured, “I don’t remember. I just remember being terrified to fall asleep and then feeling it rise up in the darkness, you know?”

I wasn’t honest but wasn’t lying when I did not acknowledge her question. She had such a peculiar way of describing things and of visualizing things—it made me lost. “I’m sorry.” Being lost in her mind made me feel inadequate but also left me in awe to decipher what she meant with each passing sentence.

The blue hue of the television danced across her complexion in a variety of shadows. Her powder blue eyes pierced through the shadows and into mine. Her full lips pulled tight as she waited for either of us to respond. The muscles in her jaw clenched and unclenched impatiently, and she then tore her gaze away from me back to the couch. She nestled underneath the throws and threw shadows over her petite body, hiding in the darkness of the dim room. She cuffed her arms tautly to her chest and gently closed her eyes. I leaned over and pulled her blonde tendrils behind her ear as she tried to slow her breathing.

“That feels nice,” she murmured. She scooted her body to the lip of the couch and patted the sofa behind her. “You can lie back, too, if you’re still tired. I’ll go to bed in like an hour, but I’m just going to lie back for a little bit down here, okay?”

I nodded nonchalantly. I slithered behind her body and wrapped my arm across her abdomen, pulling her hips back into mine. I fit my other arm under her torso, wrapping her in a warm embrace as I buried my face into her thin, blonde hair. Cinnamon permeated each strand and tried to overwhelm me with the spice, but I could have lain with her for the rest of my life. Her hand patted my thigh as she grabbed the throw over the head of the couch and tucked it around my legs and over hers.

“Thanks.”

“Not a problem,” she yawned. She rolled over again, facing me for the first time in what seemed like forever. Her blue eyes meekly glanced up at me for a moment before falling behind heavy lids. My arm rested on her low back, and she wiggled underneath my touch. She buried her face into my neck, and her warm breath tickled my collar bone. Her lips brushed against my neck as she fiddled with her sweatshirt collar before settling on a position to rest in.

My lips pressed against her cheek, and then I traced up her jawline to her forehead and pressed against her again. I rested my chin on her head as my thumb gently rubbed her side as her breathing continued to slow.

“Ned?”

“Hmm?”

“Never mind.”

“What?” I opened my eyes, and her eyes were in the middle of tracing my features. Our eyes met for a moment. I awkwardly inquired, “You want a drink?”

Devin sat down beside me as I flipped through the channels of the television before settling on something that looked remotely interesting. Her long blonde hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail that accentuated her sharp cheek bones and smooth jawline. She pulled her knees on top of one another, and then that was when I noticed the smell on her breath. I cocked my brow to the ultra-sweetness illuminating from her mouth as she spoke about something regarding the program not being realistic in the scientific sense.

“With a fall from that high—”

“Did you drink before you came here?”

Her irises swam across her sclera as she glanced at me through her periphery. Her lips parted and twitched as I could tell thoughts clustered behind her eyes, searching for an excuse or perhaps how critical I would be upon her response.

“It’s not even six o’ clock.”

She just remained fixed on me.

“You weren’t even with people.”

Her gaze turned to her lap as her chin dipped. She clenched her hands into small fists and gently tapped them against her thighs methodically.

“Devin, are you okay?”

She slowly nodded.

“Why were you drinking then?”

Her eyes peeked at me before she finally murmured, “I just like to. I like to not remember.”

“Why would you drink when you’re just hanging out with me?”

“In case I do something I regret.”

“What could you regret?”

“Everything.”

She silently shook her head. “No.”

“Well, I’m a little thirsty.”

“Go quench your thirst then,” she whispered as she settled into the cushions again without bothering to break eye contact. My fingers pulled back more strands of golden hair behind her small ears that I noticed were a little too big in proportion to her body. My palm rested on her cheek as I memorized the deep curve of the cupid’s bow of her rosy lips, the smooth transition of her chin to her slim neck, the crooked middle of her minute nose, the mole mottling her skin an inch below her lip, the way her hair always fell in her eyes despite her constant styling and manipulation.

“Hey,” I muttered to my own dismay. Here I was in love with this girl, and all I could do was talk about stupid things or repeat generic phrases.

“Hey,” she whispered softly.

My heart pounded in my chest as our noses touched, and then the space between us ceased to exist at all. She was safe, and she was home. Her hands rested on my chest, and I wrapped my arms tautly around her upper back, pulling her closer to me. I felt her smile as I kissed her, and she and I unfolded into each other. I sat up and pulled her onto my lap. Her knees nestled beside my waist, straddling me. My hands clenched her sweatshirt as her sweet taste overwhelmed me. She pulled away suddenly, and I felt guilty that perhaps I went too far. Maybe I misread the signals. Our eyes met, and then she leaned in again.

My hands grabbed the back of her thighs as she pressed against me. Her arms wrapped around my neck and around my shoulders. She and I struggled to get close to one another, fighting through clothes, skin, muscle, molecules to just touch. Red streaks resonated on her skin as my nails dug into her skin from the ecstatic dream of Devin Sebold.

I stood up, wrapping her legs around my waist and clumsily carried her to my room. I dropped her on the bed, and she laughed at how she popped up off the bed and fell back. Her blue eyes absorbed the generic teen’s room—white walls, few pictures, a television in front of the bed, a bench in front of the bed. My unmade sheets sat at the foot of the bed. I straddled Devin, my hands placed by the sides of her face. My eyes fell across her body—ignoring her incredible mind and the way she thought. I finally noticed the curves and muscles I did not expect to find on any girl. My lips fell over her mouth, and then I traveled down to her neck. “The things I would do to you,” I whispered into her neck, “You and your body...”

She scoffed into my t-shirt.

I sat up and pulled her up by her lower back onto my lap. I cradled her chin and kissed her passionately and unapologetically, no longer caring about looking or being suave, of being what she wanted. My hands slithered under the hem of her sweat shirt and sat on her lower back, feeling the sweep of her back to her shoulders. I pulled back for a moment and twisted out of my shirt, throwing it to the side of the room. I turned back to her to see her face and chest flushed, out of breath. I smiled, and she caught my eyes and grinned at me. She pulled me to her and took my breath away. I kissed her lips, her mole, and then her neck. I could feel the vibrations of her vocal cords as she giggled. Our lips intertwined again, and then I asked quietly, “What are you laughing at?” My hands pressed into her lower back and pulled her closer to me, our trunks colliding and melding together.

She mumbled into my collar bone, “Just why are you doing this?” I couldn’t tell if she meant the general act or if why I was doing this to her. Why was she making me fall deeper in love with her? Why was I willing to do whatever I could to please this girl? Of all the things I were to abandon, my feeling of insecurity was the thing I held closest, but she made me forget it and wish it away.

I whispered into her ear, “I love you so much… I love you more than I should.”

Devin separated from me immediately upon hearing my regrettable words, and I longed for the ability to swallow my words back down my throat. Her brows furrowed as she stared up at me. She hissed venomously, “Please don’t say that again.”

I rushed, my hands still touching her small waist, “I’m so sorry, Dev.” She turned away from me and vacantly stared at the bare wall, and I sensed she felt embarrassed or perhaps disgusted by me. I felt so ashamed that this happened again as she threatened to abandon me if she heard it again. I knew not to expect her to reciprocate the grave phrase, so I was not quite as hurt as initially. It still grated against a strong nerve, though.

I shifted her back to my gaze and kissed her, taking away all of the issues and all of the demises I built upon this relationship. All of the walls she had built, I had taken particular care to gently knock down or push back until she opened up. Her elbows rested on my shoulders as she sat up on her knees and shifted her weight into me.

My hands slowly slid up the back of her shirt, massaging the smooth muscles as my fingertips traveled up her skin, bumps rising along the way. She inhaled as my fingers found a knot and rubbed through it, and then she melted into me. No bra interrupted her massage, much to my pleasure to prevent an awkward situation if I couldn’t unhook it. My hands slid back down to the hem of her shirt and remained there in anticipation. I breathed, “Do you mind?”

She shook her head.

My fingers slid across her torso as I slipped the sweatshirt off of her head, placing it gently beside the bed as she kicked off her socks. My eyes widened as I noticed a keloid stretched from below her waistband to her first rib. Her petite breasts were illuminant, virgin to the sunlight or any light it seemed. A visible tan-line of a sports bra splayed across her tawny skin, but she was perfect and beautiful. A freckle or two mottled her skin spontaneously with the occasional mole. She meekly smiled and pulled back a strand of her hair, pushing it behind her shoulder. She grabbed my sheet and placed it particularly on top of the scar, careful not to unveil it. “I’m sorry.”

Stunned, I immediately parried, “What are you apologizing for? Are you serious right now?” I grasped her hand and interlaced our fingers, leaving her scar out for the world to see, her tattoo with a story I didn’t need to know. It was a story she would tell me one day I hoped, but I was not going to harass her about it then. Her eyes slid up on our mirrored hands up my arm, up my neck, up my cheeks and chin to my eyes. Her lips pulled back to reveal the most magnificently alarming, bashful smile I had ever seen.

“You are the most beautiful person I have ever met.”

She jeered, “I suppose I should warn you I have a tattoo on my back, too.”

I smirked and gave her a peck on the lips. “What is wrong with you?”

“Too many things to count.”

I embraced her to my chest, pulling her onto my lap. Our bare chests curved into each other and molded together like two pieces of a puzzle. We tried to synchronize our respirations and our pulses, but I was too excited to fall back. Her cold body pressed into mine as her arms wrapped around my neck, and she kissed me. My fingers danced across her back, pressing into her spine and ribs with each beating of my heart. And then I noticed her breathing got shallow, and her hands slid down my chest to my abs. Heat radiated into my groin.

I quickly pulled away from her. Our locked eyes searched for any doubt or insecurity in each other, careful not to cross a line where we felt uncomfortable. My heart began to beat through my chest, creating a primal fear that maybe it would explode. “Whoa, I can’t take this…” I wiggled out of my jeans and threw it across the room, closing the white door upon impact. “It’s not you, I promise. I just can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to kiss you. How many times I’ve wanted to show you how much I lo—cared for you.”

She pressed her lips against my neck and whispered, “I like you so much.” Pride grew in my chest as her equivalent to love was finally mine. She was finally mine, and she was finally starting to let herself be with me emotionally and physically.

I maneuvered under her and deceased the space in between our lips yet again, breathing her air, being her everything for a moment. She fell into my torso, our legs intertwining and our bodies forming into a complex puzzle. My hand slid down her back and grabbed her right buttock, massaging the knots out of all of the ligaments and muscles tenderly. I pulled away from her for a moment and stared intently at her beautiful face.

The rosy cheeks emphasized her luminescent blue eyes, streaks of shine and blue cascading over me like a river. Her blonde hair fell everywhere, stray hairs falling on my face and the rest wrapped around to her left shoulder. She furrowed her brow in concern, staring at me as if I knew of the world, if I knew of everything she ever dreamed of hopefully.

I asked, “Are you sure, Dev? We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I won’t like you any less or anymore if you do or don’t.” I swear to God I truthfully felt this way.

Devin hesitated for a moment, staring at our respective shorts and boxers, questioning how far she should go with me. Her blue eyes met my discolored ones again, and she then leaned into me, her lips folding over mine gently and languidly.

I was disgusted by how people called sex “making love” because it just seemed so foreign. How could this kind of “impure” action be considered an attribute of love? How could sex make anyone love another more? But she had this spell over me, and I could believe the words for the first time.

My fingertips ran up her forearms and then fell into her palm. Our fingers interlaced as if they were always meant to be together, and she clenched my hands as I kissed her.

The way she moved and the way my heart sang persuaded me. The way I never wanted her to leave me, the way I never needed to leave her. Everything was so confusing but so easy to do, too. I loved her so deeply and so fervently that I was terrified. And then, I also did not notice her body anymore. It was only her mind and soul I could love—I was not distracted by her body or her actions. I could fully focus on her heart and know that every flaw she had was an imperfection that I praised and every mistake was something I could forgive.

Devin and I stared at the ceiling, our fingers intertwined between us like invasive vines. I turned to her, watching her eyes dance and shift across the ceiling. She finally noticed my gaze and turned to me, our bodies mirroring each other. She mumbled lazily, “What?”

The navy sheets pulled to her collarbone, her hair tangled from my fingers and our perspiration, her face reddened, her chest blushing, her eyes pondering and curious, her lips split by a giddy grin… I would always remember her in her most perfectly imperfect state.

I propped myself up on my elbow, the sheet resting on my waist, leaving my bare chest out to the bitter cold outside of the bed. I laughed, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

She slid across the bed and rested her head on my chest, pulling the sheet over her bare shoulder. She pulled our interlaced hands up and straightened her fingers. I flexed my phalanges, and she smiled as my fingers greatly overlapped the length of hers. She began to hum lowly, and I immediately recognized the beat.

“You are not humming that song.”

“Do you like pińa coladas, Ned?”

“No, Dev, stop it!” I laughed.

“If you are not into yoga, if you have half a brain…”

I pinched her nose, and her voice fell an octave as she continued to sing Rupert Holmes. “Hey now, I have at least three-quarters of a brain.”

She giggled and twisted her chin up, her blue eyes illuminated and excited.

“What?”

“I’m just so happy, and I don’t remember being like this for a long time.”

“It’s the dick, man.”

She burst into laughter and smacked my thigh through the sheets. “Fuck off.”

“Already did.”

She punched me in the leg.

“Can I ask you something?”

She retorted, “No.”

“Too bad. What does your tattoo mean? ‘Free?’”

She dipped her chin to her shoulder and glanced at her back. “Eh, it was kind of a compulsory purchase on my part. Heath was getting his tattoo, and I decided that I wanted one. And then I got one.”

“You’re acting like a politician.”

“What? I answered your question. It doesn’t mean anything.” Her gaze shifted back to me and nonchalantly shrugged. Her eyes told a different story about struggle and hurt inspiring a piece that resembled some unknown agenda or experience.

I pursed my lips and stared at our interlaced hands. “Did it hurt?”

She smirked smugly. “Not really, but Heath cried like a bitch.”

Most people would have considered Devin’s cussing so unbecoming, but I found it so endearing. Censorship did not affect her thoughts and ideas when she relayed them to me unlike everyone else. She could allow herself to be who she was—habits seen as repulsive and all. In a weird way, I loved how she relied on her cacophonous diction to relay her dreams and idealistic imaginings. It was just so perfect and open.

Eventually, she and I became exhausted from conversation and caught each other drifting off to sleep, slurring words and whispers, and rudely woke one another up. I couldn’t believe I was falling asleep as I found myself just so exuberant and ecstatic to just stay awake and watch her beauty seep from her pores.

When she fell asleep, it was like she never experienced pain and never experienced suffering. Her utopia came from the darkness, but it became interrupted by her nightmares. However, she claimed she didn’t have any nightmares that night, but I also kept annoying her with a soft shake to her shoulder.

I heard her breathing turn soft and her humming ultimately stop. “Dev?” I whispered.

Her chin fell to the right away from me, and I smiled at how childish she really was. She constantly harassing me for wanting to sleep after the pillow talk and her just desiring to talk to me for hours with that silly smile carved into her face had to succumb to her body’s compulsion to fall asleep.

I rested on my side and wrapped my arm around her waist, burying my face into her back. Her soft breathing returned to her awake state, and I gave her a gentle squeeze. “Night, Dev.”

She sleepily replied, “I like you.”

I closed my eyes and smirked. “I like you more.”

“You know, I must have made you up in my head.”

And then sleep hit me unexpectedly like a train smashing into the side of a brick building.

My eyelids snapped open as Ned began to snore in this shallow, soft whisper—so frighteningly familiar. His warm breath bathed my neck in his musk, and his arm relaxed across my waist. He buried his forehead into my shoulder subconsciously, dead to the world. His breathing, his heart rate, his everything suddenly terrified me.

I found myself struggling to breathe as faint recollections of the night I couldn’t remember reverberated around my skull, bouncing angrily against my temples like bongos. My chest jittered as I tried to gasp, but all I could do was let out a silent scream. I turned my face into the suddenly coarse sheets and bit down into the flesh of the mattress, deafening a small cry. My vision glazed over in tears as I became disgusted with every touch he had given me, and I regretted having sex with him as the epiphany dawned on me. I clenched my hands into tight fists as my skin felt alien and barbed.

He raped me that night.

Vomit rose in the back of my throat abruptly, and I sat up in his bed quickly. I stared down at him, flabbergasted that this boy who I thought I could love if I tried harder lied to me so many times. How he held me when I cried, how he promised me things would be alright, how he said he loved me.

How he said he never would hurt me.

My hair rose as my naked body froze in complete shock. The only thing that quivered was my chin as the tears poured down my cheeks, falling upon my small breasts like rain. I couldn’t even muster the courage to confront him. I couldn’t wake him up or even beat him while I had the chance.

His alabaster skin glowed below the sheen of the moon streaming in from his window. His mousey brown hair settled softly around his face as he breathed in quietly. I remembered how his green eye and blue eye rested on me, just taking me in so gently and unveiling, I thought, his beautiful heart. How he thought I was beautiful without a mask, how my scars were flawless, and how my past didn’t matter to him.

I considered telling him about it.

And the worst part about this night was I let this happen. He gained my consent, and he did nothing wrong. I wish I could have taken back the intimate moments we had just shared and how he caressed me so lightly and tenderly, and how our bodies entwined so perfectly. I couldn’t blame it on the alcohol.

For once in my life, I wished I was more of a drinker so I could’ve been drunk.

He suddenly turned over, facing away from the window, no longer holding me in his arms, no longer ever knowing me in that way again.

I hesitated for a moment, frightened for an unknown reason. Perhaps a primal instinct was set off by the torrent of fears and memories.

His snore continued.

I hopped out of the bed and scoured for my worn clothes that never would be considered sexy. I shoved my shorts up, and I pulled on my ratty sweatshirt, fighting back the compulsion to scream or cry or just let anything escape from inside.

The guilt that cascaded over me outweighed any animosity I held for Ned because, somehow, my fornication was a betrayal. And it was all my fault. I fell to my knees. I curled into a ball on the soft carpet, burying my face into my thighs. My hands grabbed the sides of my head as I silently screamed into my legs. My saliva fell onto my skin as I rocked back and forth in the ball, deadened and guilt-ridden.

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I’m so sorry, Heath. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have. I’m so sorry. I quickly stood up as I needed punishment. The urge to destroy myself with alcohol poured over me, and I could imagine the sharp sting of the vodka biting at my throat.

I choked back a wail as I scoured to find my shoes in the darkness but forewent them once I felt the urge to vomit overwhelm me again. I sprinted through his door, whizzing past photographs of a younger Ned and a man and a woman who looked remotely like him down the corridor. I shuffled down the stairs to the foyer as quickly as I could as I felt my heart fight to stay inside my chest.

And then I felt the cold blades of grass beat against my feet, and my throat ached from the crisp, cool air. My arms pumped back and forth as my feet pounded against the ground thoughtlessly. My stomach ached as I clenched it down, as I clenched all of my emotions down inside my gut. The tears wouldn’t stop coming.

The sounds of my steps startled a few neighborhood dogs, and their barks became my personification of desperation to get out of here, to get out of my skin, to get away from me. The barks echoed throughout the neighborhood and seemed to reverberate against the houses, perpetually reminding me of my poor decisions and my poor comprehension.

You whore, you’re nothing but a slut.

How dare you? How dare you!

Preacher kid behavior for you.

Daddy’s little girl.

The sour taste of acid fell on my tongue, and my feet dragged to a stop as I came to a curb. I put my hands on my knees and leaned over. My lower back rolled up my skin, and I vomited on the edge of the street like I used to when I got drunk with Heath.

“Devin, really, I think you’re almost done. You’re just dry-heaving now.” I remembered him counseling me after he made me attend a party I wanted no part in. I downed so many beers and shots to just feel comfortable and normal, scared to be nonconforming in front of my peers. Then I ended up in the front yard, puking my guts out on the curb.

He let me go over my limit and never lectured me about being too drunk or too reckless. I never got that drunk except with him and if I was alone—I could only trust him.

I lurched forward as my body forcefully made me expel acidic liquid, dismayed that I had not eaten in quite some time. My knees shook under my hands as my body lost control in the usual way when one succumbs to her stomach. I glanced to my side for a moment as I watched car lights grow from the horizon. A sense of urgency to get away rose in my chest, but I knew my legs would not be able to move me away from the curb. I turned back to the asphalt and noticed the mess I had become in the eerie moonlight. The acidic liquid had splashed into my hair, and I began to skirt it off of me before the lights turned off.

My blue eyes glanced up to see the silhouettes of Esther and Leslie. I shook my head in frustration as of course my sister would come upon me as a disgusting asshole. She would come upon me as soon as I lost control of myself. She always seemed to find me and save me at my lowest moments. Sometimes I wish she just abandoned me like a normal person instead of keeping me alive.

I noticed vomit had splashed on the tops of my feet.

I turned back to the asphalt to throw up again, and then a pain radiated from my eyeball. I clenched down on my teeth as the pain from my broken vessel eased away. “Fuck,” I muttered as Esther put her hand on my low back.

“Devin, are you okay?”

I stared at the asphalt intently. My eyes glazed over as a new flood of tears begged to escape as I could smell his essence on my sweatshirt. I bit my lip and dry-heaved again, as I began to force myself to throw up.

“Are you drunk again? Where the heck are your shoes?” she said, repulsed by my actions.

Leslie yelled from behind the wheel, “Esther May, come on, let’s go. She’s drunk again.”

I spit some acidic saliva away from my sister, trying to get the taste out of my mouth to no avail.

Esther glanced at me quizzically and then turned back to Leslie.

“I’m not drunk,” I sobbed.

Esther then turned her attention back to me. “Are you alright, Devin?” She began to rub my back gently. “Are you sure you’re not drunk, Dev? It is totally okay if you are. We’ll just take you home. Where do you live now?”

I was silent as I then was reminded of the new lives we were living. She lived with our reunited parents while my mother abandoned me in a stupor after lacing one of my water bottles. I was living in a vacant house living on one month left of water.

I didn’t have a family anymore.

“Devin, are you okay?”

His hand cradled my chin so delicately as he pulled me onto his lap. His lips folded over mine, and his warmth seeped from his clothes into my flesh. He pulled away for a moment and pulled off his shirt, and then he slipped his hands under my sweatshirt and rested them on my stomach. He kissed my neck, and I didn’t know if I liked it or not. I closed my eyes as his lips traveled up my neck back to my mouth, and I couldn’t help but giggle, amused that someone could find a girl attractive in a huge sweatshirt and athletic shorts along with messy hair with tendrils wildly splaying off to all different directions.

“What are you laughing at?” he whispered in my ear, and his hands slid around to my back and rested on my lower back, pressing me further into him.

I mumbled into his clavicle, “Just why you are doing this?”

He replied, tickling my ear, “I love you so much… I love you more than I should.”

My heart stopped, and I peeled away from him. He and I stared at each other for a moment, shocked that he admitted it again. I murmured, “Please don’t say that again.” It wasn’t like I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to hear that word. I didn’t want it to be true because I didn’t want to see him again. Whenever that word came up, a part of me remembered how he used to say it.

“I’m so sorry, Dev,” he whispered.

I glanced away from him, staring at the wall of his bedroom. I had never been in here before because his parents didn’t allow the opposite sex in bedrooms. They didn’t know I was here while they and Lexi were at a soccer tournament.

His hands pulled my chin to face him, and the space between his DNA and mine disappeared. My elbows rested on his clavicles as I rose to my knees to kiss him back, and his hands fell to my lower back. His sweet taste muted the nervous iron that tickled my tongue.

His hands ran up my back. Embarrassed, I considered turning off the lights so he wouldn’t see my bare breasts, but his cool hands slid up the back of my sweatshirt anyway and found he couldn’t unhook a bra. I laughed into his skin as I realized he probably didn’t know I slept without one on, because we were supposed to be sleeping. Maybe he didn’t know about that weird rule or myth or legend or whatever you call it.

“Do you mind?” he inquired, his hands at the end seam of my sweatshirt. My eyes fell to his hands and followed them to my gray sweatshirt Heath let me borrow and never gave back. I slowly shook my head. Ned’s warm fingers grazed against my stomach as he languidly took off my sweatshirt. He gently tossed it to the side and turned back to me, eyes wide and stunned.

Burn scars littered the curve of my waist into my hip. My hand fell to the burn, and I found myself apologizing. Embarrassed, I tried to hide it with his sheets or tried to hide it in shadow.

Ned stuttered, flabbergasted, “Why are you apologizing? Are you serious right now?” He gently pulled my hands away from my keloids, lacing our fingers together nonchalantly. My eyes slid down his fingers and up his arm to his boyish face, and our eyes met.

I couldn’t help but smile.

“You are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”

I argued with him, and then I joked, “I suppose I should warn you I have a tattoo on my back, too.” Free was displayed so plainly in between my shoulder blades, often hidden behind the elastic of a sports bra.

He pecked me gently on the lips and smirked, “What is wrong with you?”

“Too many things to count.”

He grabbed my forearms and pulled me into his lap and put my arms on his shoulders. I wrapped my arms around his neck easily, and his heart pounded against me. I just remember his warmth blanketing me from the cool A/C. His lips folded over mine, and he kissed me so passionately and so wonderfully.

I was alive. My hands fell down his chest to his abs, not chiseled but hard, and his stomach shrunk away from my touch, and he stopped kissing me. “Whoa,” he whispered, “I can’t take this.”

My blue eyes scoured his face for any discomfort or plea for me to leave because I was uneager to comply but willing. He twisted out of his jeans and unveiled some white boxers with bacon strips on it with the words I love Bacon scrawled across his boxers randomly.

He shook his head as he turned back to me, my blonde hair falling upon his shoulders and chest. “It’s not you, I promise. I just can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to kiss you. How many times I’ve wanted to show you how much I lo—cared for you.”

I leaned in and kissed his neck slowly and traveled up to his ear. I whispered, “I like you so much.” I think he abandoned the need or desire for me to say, “I love you.” He wasn’t going to receive any reward like that, but I was trying to change my past for him and make myself love him.

I knew I was supposed to love him.

He twisted underneath me and maneuvered his lips to mine. He wrapped his rippled arms around me and pulled me back into the bed with him. His hand slithered down my lower back and grabbed my right buttocks, and I usually was so against anyone grabbing my butt. However, I trusted him so much that I began to enjoy it. His hand rested on my buttock as he pulled away from me. His discolored eyes stared at me aloofly and inquiringly, hoping to not cross a boundary I wasn’t ready for.

His touch was as alluring as sin and his kiss as vibrant as red.

“Are you sure, Dev? We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I won’t like you any less or any more if you do or don’t.”

I stared intently into his trusting eyes. Our bare chests pressed together, his heart pounding against my breasts in anticipation. My arms wrapped around his neck, and I glanced down at my shorts and his boxers on our respective bodies. And then I kissed him, and his hand fell to my waistband.

Vomit expelled from my mouth forcefully, and I imagined the veins on my neck bulging under the pressure and stress of this whole event. The tears came again, but I tried to stifle the screams, allowing tiny whimpers to come out of the corners of my lips. It became hard to breathe, and I rocked back and forth on my heels like a child trying to soothe herself.

“Devin, oh my god, Devin. Do we need to take you to the hospital? You don’t have alcohol poisoning, do you?” Her hand settled in between my shoulders and rubbed gently, creating an easing warmth for my body.

My teeth chattered together as I shook underneath my sister’s grasp. I tried to say it without exploding, but I couldn’t help but explode under the comfort of my sister’s watch. “We had sex,” I whispered.

My sister’s hand froze on my back. She sat down on the curb next to me and gently pulled me down beside her. I could see peripherally that she was stunned, stunned I did something that was so in my character of reckless behavior and “rancid morals.” “What?”

“We fucked, and we shouldn’t have.” I stared at my clenched fists as I resisted the urge to dry-heave again. My hands cradled my head as I leaned over in between my knees, rocking back and forth with wild eyes. My lungs ached as I finally allowed myself to cry and sob like a child. I could already imagine Leslie frozen behind the wheel, lost in this complex relationship of sisterhood. I rocked back and forth as if it could assuage my fears and guilt from my poor decisions. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…

After she let me get most of my wails stifled, she asked, “He was your first after Heath, wasn’t he?”

I couldn’t live with myself.

I didn’t even answer her. I sobbed into my legs, and she wrapped her arm around my shoulders and pulled me to her side. Not many people believed we were the same age as she is four inches taller than me, and almost no one believes I am the older twin. She pulled me onto her lap, and I buried my face into her clavicle like a toddler, sobbing loudly as her hand trickled up and down my back like a spider until I became silent.

Esther just stared vacantly at the horizon as the sun peaked over the world in a display of pink and orange paint strokes. I wondered if she ever was envious of my life surrounded by alcohol, drugs, and sex, but I then realized she pitied me. Even though she was missing out on what normal teens pined for, she was content with remaining untouched and pure of heart. She would enjoy the occasional social drink, but she never took it as far as one drink. She wasn’t belligerent like her twin. People spread rumors she was a trollop, which was the farthest thing from the truth, and then people spread rumors that I was a virgin, which was the last thing that should be associated with me.

“You guys want some coffee?”

Embarrassed I peeled away from my sister and sat beside her. I did not make any eye contact with Leslie, and I had not even noticed he left to get coffee or breakfast or anything like that. The world always seems to be put on pause when I cry, like the tears are not going to end until perhaps I die or the world ends. Then in one way or another, something in my body clicks, be it an awful headache or just lack of tears, and the world is suddenly continued. Leslie was never supposed to move, but then I assumed I cried for hours, or I ran for hours, for the sun to peak over the horizon.

“Thanks, Lez,” Esther sang as she took a cup of joe from her boyfriend, acting as if nothing ever happened between us. Leslie’s shadow fell over us like a cloud. He shuffled a step to the side and handed me a cup.

“No thanks, I’m not big into coffee.”

Leslie shoved a cup into my hands anyway.

“Look, I’m not hung-over or drunk. I’m actually sober for once, believe it or not.” He and his family judged me so much once Leslie began dating Esther, so afraid I would influence her.

Leslie nodded as he folded his legs down to sit on the other side of Esther. He took a long sip and contently sighed at the deliciousness of his black coffee. It reminded me of a song—“I like my coffee just like my metal.” Somehow I didn’t think Leslie listened to Mindless Self Indulgence since Mom approved of him, so I didn’t reveal my little bit of knowledge. He finally said after swishing the coffee around in the cup, “Yeah, Esther May told me the other day you like green tea in the morning.”

Esther turned to him and smiled. “You remembered when I said that?”

I took a sip and was warmed from the liquid. My heart seemed to come to life again, like coming out of a hibernation but still groggy from the sleep.

Leslie nonchalantly handed Esther a chocolate-iced donut and grabbed a bear claw for himself. He handed me the bag and added, “And it is either blueberry or cinnamon raisin bagels you like, right?” He smirked smugly as I pulled the blueberry bagel out of the bag and began to nibble on it like an oversized bunny.

Esther gave him a peck on the lips and turned back to her breakfast, too.

I watched the two of them as they slowly relaxed in front of me. Leslie was always very judgmental of me as his family thought I would rub off and pervert precious Esther, and Leslie was always very adamant that if Esther began to act or curse like me, he would leave her in a heartbeat. But she never did because she didn’t need to act a certain way for him to love her. His tawny eyes brightened whenever they fell upon her alabaster skin and long, brown hair. I could see that he thought she was the most perfect thing to exist on earth, even when she was being painful by trying to help her strung-out sister. I knew from experience and her body language that Esther reciprocated those emotions and feelings to him as well.

I eventually made it “home.” I found my stash of vodka hidden underneath one of the floor boards in the living room. I did not even try to look for something to peel the board away. I clawed at the board, my nails painfully bending backwards until the plank became unstuck. I removed some of the innards of the house and grabbed a fresh bottle of vodka and went to my family room. I dissipated into the floor like a puddle and leaned against the wall. I popped open the bottle and immediately guzzled half the bottle before staring vacantly at the wall across the way. “Just fucking great, Devin. Just keep drinking.”

Heath and I would make fun of Esther and Leslie as they had been so in love since freshman year, and four years later, they were still together and holding on to each other easily. Their bond apparently couldn’t be severed, and it broke my heart.

I gulped down five ounces before I had to peel away from the fiery taste.

Because I can’t have that.

My hands shot to my eyes and rubbed away the aches from the violent crying and recollections that sent my mind into a chaotic frenzy. My thoughts fell into unorganized forums of too many opinions and wishes about Ned.

He’s good; he just screwed up.

How dare he, how dare he!

I wish he was dead.

Scratch that, I wish I was…

Tired and tied up to the distraction, I realized I neglected my alcohol and then cradled it in my arms like a newborn. I couldn’t even remember opening the bottle again before I realized the fire was pouring back down into my throat.

I can’t have the one I love with me because of me. If Heath hadn’t been in the car with me, he would have been fine. None of this ever would have happened if I was in control. If I had control.

I clenched my eyes shut and gulped down the flames to erase the memories of Heath and the way his body had crumpled in the grass, broken and splayed. The way his eyes held a misty, opaque glaze as a stream of blood trickled over his blue lips.

And then the world and my reality goes blank after that, my reality fled from my fragmented chaos like a terrified child amidst the darkness. I can’t remember what I did next, just a few thoughts that teased me and chastised me like a whore.

I can’t reciprocate love.

And then again, we get the love we deserve, and I just shouldn’t even try.

The sun broke through my slumber like a cleaver. My eyelids rose to sunlight streaming directly onto my naked body. I sat up, rubbing my eyes, and turned over to shield my eyes from the sun with my back. I nestled into the sheets, and then I noticed my bed was almost vacant. I quickly pulled out of my bed and grabbed a pair of boxers from one of my drawers hastily, shoving them on as I scrambled to the other side of my room. I stuck my head into my bathroom and called, “Dev?”

No answer.

I stumbled down the stairs and stuck my head in each room like an anxious child. “Dev?”

No answer.

“Devin?”

I shook my head, rubbing more sleep from my eyes. A great yawn came over me, and a calm cascaded upon my shoulders. I shrugged softly and sauntered back up to the stairs.

Wow, that was a crazy dream, I thought. I massaged the back of my neck and strolled around the house without any agenda, just meandering like a vagrant. It felt so real, though. I went back to the bathroom and took a leak, and I glanced to the trash can to see if there was a condom wrapper or anything evident of last night. The only things resting in the trash bin were Lex’s old nail polish bottles. I bit my lip and continued walking aimlessly to my bedroom, anticipating a couple more hours of peace and sleep before my family came back from their trip.

And then I slammed into the carpeted floor. My hands cushioned my fall impulsively and my chest curled from the impact. “Damn it, I got to put away my stupid shoes.” I turned my vision to what my foot fell upon, and a small shoe crumpled under my heel.

I grabbed it from the floor, the cloth folds sewn together in patches to a rubber sole. The shoes were definitely too small for my feet, and my jaw dropped.

Devin was here.

I lay back onto the carpet and gently placed her shoe against my bed. A smile crept across my face, and I couldn’t help but laugh incredibly obnoxiously as I realized last night was not fantasy but reality.

Devin, the girl I so loved, was here.

I threw a rebellious fist in the air and whooped as loudly as I could.

And then I stopped laughing.

My eyes widened crazily as the gravity of her absence sunk into my skin. My mind flickered through hundreds of thoughts per second as to make excuses and reason she left to both save and destroy my ego.

But none of them made sense. None of them fell into a logical scheme of thought. She was not going out to get breakfast without her shoes. She was not playing hide-and-seek in my house because she was bored. She was not sleeping back at her place because she would be so uncomfortable. I wished she had a cell phone so I could simply call her and see if she was okay, see if we were okay.

Because I thought we were perfect.


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