Carbon

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Chapter 55

“Here.”

I glanced up from my last-minute dormitory application as Devin slid a spiral notebook on top of my laptop’s keys. Our eyes innocently locked, tension building as the seconds passed. I raised my eyebrows and simply inquired, “What are you talking about?”

“You wanted to know,” Devin simply responded. Her dark locks pulled back into a loose ponytail she wore when she slept. My t-shirt kept slipping down her shoulders, revealing her thin collar bones that curved in so delicately toward her heart. Her boxers barely peeked underneath my shirt. I remember it was nearly three on a Sunday afternoon, my parents and Lex running off to the grocery store. It was unusual she hadn’t changed into her usual uniform, and it was strange she hadn’t begged to go for a run or something where one of the family members had to remind her that she couldn’t—doctor’s orders.

I turned back to the notebook and confessed, “I’m confused.”

She slunk out of the kitchen, leaving me to the applications. I shut my laptop and glanced back at the entry from whence she came, hesitating to absorb the information she was unveiling. I considered foregoing reading the notebook and just handing it back to avoid more confrontation. My parents were beginning to notice the strange tension between us that never existed before. I don’t know if it was because I finally knew about Heath or whether I was mad at her for never confiding in me to begin with. Maybe I was just mad at Heath, or maybe I was frustrated with myself for never noticing the small cues.

My fingers slid against the slick black cover, noticing the pristine condition of a notebook whose pages were yellowed by the sun. The wire tethering the pages together was warm from Devin’s touch, and I considered that maybe this was like Heath’s journal—something I couldn’t confront just yet.

But I was leaving soon.

I wouldn’t be able to ask Devin any questions once I attended college because my parents would probably monitor our correspondence for her sake. I wouldn’t be able to regale everything on my mind regarding this new artifact. I wouldn’t be able to dissect it for what it was worth.

My discolored eyes fell back to the notebook, and I gently opened it, terrified to rip anything from its original stance. Would Devin notice? Was she that keen to detail?

A name sat on the first line of the page, and a series of numbers and dashes fell down the page in a certain order. As I glossed over the numbers, I realized they were dates. Above the dates sat a small list of little details—occupation, relationship status, age. I flipped to the second page, and a different name sat at the top of the page. Occupation: Engineer. Relationship Status: Married. Age: 46. Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual. A series of dates concluded the page.

My heart caught in my throat as I began to realize what this notebook was. I flipped to the next page—a different name. Name: Robert Kreuger. Occupation: Administration. Relationship Status: Single. Age: 29. Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual.Again, a recording of dates sprawled down the page like an ominous reminder.

I quickly flipped through the pages.

Name: Terra Stone. Occupation: Personal Trainer. Relationship Status: Single. Sexual Orientation: Bisexual. One date followed the name.

Name: Heath Frey. Occupation: Student. Relationship Status: Single. Age: 14-17. Sexual Orientation: Homosexual. The longest list of dates fell across two pages, and my heart sank as I continued to realize what this was. The dates spanned nearly four years…

I frantically tore through the pages in anticipation of my own name showing up.

Nothing.

I furrowed my brow and flipped through the pages, wondering if maybe she utilized a pseudonym to depict her records. None of the dates corresponded correctly with me. I came across Heath’s page again, and a torrent of anger boiled up inside of me. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but it sickened me to see the abundance of dates scribbled below his name. I slammed the notebook close and turned back to whence Devin had entered. I silently begged for this to be a joke, for this black little notebook to be a hijinks.

I pulled away from the table and snatched the booklet from the table. I thundered up the stairs and rolled through the hallway. I came to her door and gently rapped on it.

She curled away from the door into a taut ball under the comforter and sheets of her bed. She nestled her head into the pillow and fell into a statuesque stance that rivaled those of real stone. Her brunette hair cascaded down her back, and her hand combed through the ends lightly.

I rapped on the door again. “Devin?” I almost whispered.

She slowly slithered to a sitting position and glanced over her shoulder nonchalantly. Her piercing blue eyes nailed me to the spot, daring me to enter her domain like a feral cat. Her brow rose as she recognized me. She reclined with her back against the wall as she pulled her legs to the forefront of the bed, lilting over the edge of the mattress. Her hands fell in between her knees as she leaned forward in exasperation, relieving a hearty sigh.

“What is this?”

“You know exactly what it is,” she retorted. Her eyes narrowed, and the corners of her lips fell as she stared at me intently. “You thought I couldn’t remember them all?”

“You… you kept record of them?”

She slowly nodded. I could tell be her glazed eyes that she wasn’t fully present in the conversation. I wished to know what she was exactly thinking, if seeing the records brought her back to those days.

“Why?”

“I thought I should track,” she said coldly. “I have an eidetic memory—might as well use it. It may come in handy someday.”

“All of them?”

“Yeah, all thirty-six of them.”

Taken aback, my eyes widened as my heart abruptly halted from the damning news.

“… Counting the two men on the last page.”

I strolled across the carpet of the guestroom and initiated an invitation to sit beside her. She lazily patted the bed beside her, welcoming me with those intense eyes. I noticed the black circles under her eyes had darkened since the morning before—she worked on this last night. I nestled down beside her, placing the notebook in between us. I stared at the carpeted floor and fought back the urge to be emotional. “I noticed Heath was in there quite a bit.”

She turned to the floor as well and admitted, “Yeah, he is.”

“Why?”

Her blue eyes flickered to me and then retreated back to the floor. “Because I was forced to sleep with him the most.”

“You loved him, though. Didn’t you want to have sex with him? Shouldn’t it have been natural for you to do that with him?”

“I loved him enough to not want to have sex with him. I loved him so much I didn’t want to have any physical relationship with him.”

Silence fell between us, and I finally understood the love she had for him was powerful enough to want to see him flower instead of suffocate. She loved him enough to sacrifice her own emotions for him despite everything affecting her life.

I clenched my eyes shut as I finally built up the courage to ask the question that had been nibbling at my insides since I’d seen the records. I whispered, “Why am I not in it?”

She turned to me, and I reflected her. Our eyes locked as she gingerly licked her lips. Her mouth opened but hesitated to speak. She shelled into herself as her gaze fell to the side and then back to me. Something caught in her throat as she admitted, “You were my first.”

Confused, I muttered, “What?”

“You were the first person I wasn’t forced upon. I didn’t have to. You were my first by choice.”

“But what about that party? What about—?”

“I don’t want to remember you that way because I don’t. I don’t think of you in that way anymore, and I just remember the night you made me feel loved and treasured. I just remember you and me.”

I leaned into her and enveloped her lips with mine. The hatred and loathing didn’t penetrate my heart as sharply as it used to. I pulled away slowly, and I smiled at her. “You’re beautiful, okay? What I said about you—I wish I could take it all back.”

“We’re never getting back together, Ned.”

Shocked and choking, I just stared back at her wildly, incredulousness barely describing the titanic amount of disbelief blanketing over me. “What?”

Tears collected in the corner of her eyes as she admitted, “I know how you look at me. I know how much you hate me some days. I know how much I torture you.”

“Dev, if this is about me going to college, I can make it work.”

She choked, “No, no, this is about me. I need to work on myself before anyone else. You know, gotta figure out how I can love myself before trying to love someone else.” And then she began to sob as I watched her break herself like a promise. “God, I can’t do this, Ned.”

I couldn’t reply. I knew we weren’t together anymore. I knew it, but hearing it verbally spoken terrified me.

“I want to be with you, I do, but I can’t. I can’t be with you.”

I frantically kissed her again, and I felt her lashes brush against my cheek as she closed her eyes. Her cinnamon scent blanketed me in an immeasurable warmth. I tangled my fingers into her hair and pulled her closer to me. I pulled away from her mouth and traveled down to her bare collar bone. I pressed my lips against it as I tried to keep calm, but my breathing became labored with fear.

I felt her hand brush my hair back gently. “Ned…” she whispered, her voice distorted from the congestion of her tears.

I kissed her neck forcefully, trying to get her to change her mind, trying to get her to remember how much I once loved her. My fingers clawed into her back, forcing her to arch from the tension.

Her lips brushed against my ear as she whispered something I thought I would never hear.

“I love you.”

I stopped and tore away from her neck. Our eyes locked, and I began to blubber as something wrenched at my heart. My brows furrowed as I begged, “What?”

She meekly smiled, tears still streaming down her face. “Ned, I love you.”

My hands cradled her chin, and our foreheads pressed against each other. I managed to breathe and give a small laugh, “Are you drunk?”

She giggled and murmured, “I wish.”

I leaned in and kissed her softly, and her fingertips brushed against my jawline. She breathed me in, and I fell into her. She lay on her back, and I pulled myself on top of her. Her body curved into mine, and her hands fell onto my neck. I loved her once, so I could love her again. I could love her for everything she was before I knew her, really understood her. My hands slid down to the lip of her shirt, and her hands caught mine. She whispered, her eyes still closed, “You know I can’t.”

“It doesn’t mean we can’t try.”

She buried her face into my neck and sobbed into my skin, and I could only hold her. “Oh, Ned, God…” she cried somberly, falling apart like the fragile pieces of china against a wall. She began to wheeze and huff from her sobbing, and I gently traced shapes on her back underneath her shirt like I used to when she was breaking.

“It’s okay.”

Eventually, her breathing softened, and she calmed down. I pulled back her bangs and pressed my lips against her forehead, and she twisted her chin up helplessly, a look of desperation in her eyes, as if she wanted to believe me but feared she couldn’t.


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