Carbon

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Chapter 56

My room appeared bland and vacant as I did one last survey to ascertain I collected everything I would potentially need for college. My clothes packed away, my knick-knacks and photos packaged, and my hesitations and anxiety stored intimately in my mind. I ran my fingers through my hair ruggedly. I had been nervous for tomorrow for nearly a month, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to appear amiable and normal—not embittered and vengeful. I pursed my lips and fell upon my bed, staring at the fan slowly twirling in the anticipation of a boiling August. How funny, I was moving in nearly on the anniversary of Heath’s death, and I could barely think about him with everything going on.

I was neglecting him. Devin worked so hard to keep him alive in her heart, and I managed to destroy a good portion of her dream. Maybe if I had kept him in the forefront of my mind, I would have been kinder to her regarding everything. And as I began to piece together the true nature of their explosive friendship, a sense of guilt rushed over me. How can you easily manage to separate yourself from the one person who understood every detail of your life?

Maybe I really wasn’t a friend to Heath.

“Yo, Ned!” Heath dropped on the park bench beside me without a hint of grace. He handed me a cup of hot tea with the service of a toothy grin. He leaned back after I retrieved the treat and took a long sip. His arms spread out along the back of the bench as we began to watch as the people went by, their paces and strides in cadence with the rhythm of rushing from place to place.

“What’s up?”

The guy’s eyebrows rose as he closed his eyes. He murmured, “You hear that?”

“What?”

“The birds. Just listen to the birds.”

I failed to hear the birds, but I pretended to because a part of me felt guilty for being deaf to the beauty of nature. Somehow, I had lost the ability of not focusing on girls and the next drink and of absorbing the natural environment.

And Devin brought that back.

I sat up on my bed and stared at the doorway. Devin had been fairly absent in my life since she denied me after telling me she loved me. She tried to explain to me that she needed to have a reprieve from her “drug of choice.” I had never realized she saw me as something so destructive in her life, but here I was believing for nearly the whole summer the idea that she was poisonous to my existence. I released a forlorn sigh.

Every time I initiated a conversation, she shut me down with a meek stare that begged for me to remain silent. I prayed something would pick her up and set her down in my warm embrace one last time because my instincts told me that last fight was the last time I would ever get to believe she was mine.

But she never really was mine.

I brought myself to my feet and scurried across the carpet, my feet shuffling lazily as if I could not manage to peel them from the floor. I leaned across the entrance of the doorway, staring down the corridor to the open door of Devin’s room. I glanced back down the hallway, wondering if my parents were downstairs, and they were by the way Lex was giggling downstairs. I furtively slunk down the corridor and snaked my face into Devin’s room, and I froze from the image.

Devin morphed into her normal ball of flesh and bone, but she faced the doorway—she never faced the doorway. I furrowed my brow as she shifted under the warm comforter, oblivious to someone observing her, but then I heard the soft breath of her snore. I collapsed into myself and debated further endeavoring into her territory or denying myself my one last goodbye to the girl who changed me for both the worse and the better.

My foot slid across the hearth, and then Devin’s eyes shot open, glaring vacantly at me. I stiffened and remained immobile under her gaze, afraid to lose her even more with my lurking around. She slowly blinked, computing my image, and then twisted back into her ball of flesh, allowing her eyes to close. “Please go away.” Her voice heavily shook.

Wounded, I retreated back into the hallway. I longingly observed her from afar as she twisted so her back was to me. She snatched the comforter and pulled it over her head hastily, staring at the other side of the room. I knew she could sense I was desiring to just be in her company. I didn’t care if we talked or didn’t or if we accomplished anything. I just wanted to be with her one last time before I was thrown into another brand new environment.

I just didn’t appreciate change. Everything was changing. I was changing every minute in every day. I was growing older, but my mind was stagnant and then manic. Every aspect of my life morphed into something I was not used to, and I was cursed with the unfortunate task to meditate on each of these changes. Things seemed to slow down and then rampantly hasten. I couldn’t compute but I could. I understood but was lost. It was like my sanity was leaking from my pores the closer I got to the move-in date.

I collapsed into my desk chair and stared at the uncovered desk. A light layer of dust framed where I had once placed my post-its and my pens and pencils. Everything was in such an order that my mother could barely dissect, but I knew exactly where each figment of my desk went. I leaned forward and swept the dust off of the darkly stained wood, erasing my past upon this artifact. I mean, I was going to be forced into change, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to understand myself anymore.

I absentmindedly ran my fingers across the drawers of my desk, fingering each groove as I managed to fantasize different scenarios in my mind of the experiences awaiting me. I pulled open the top two drawers with great ease, but the third one stuck. I turned my attention to the desk and yanked heartily against the friction, but nothing happened. I placed my other hand upon the drawer and snapped my wrists backwards, and the drawer finally gave way. A black, leather-bound notebook snaked at an angle to jam the drawer, but I had managed to persuade it to release the jam.

My heart stopped in my chest.

I had all but forgotten this facet of Heath, the last article of my past. I glanced at my doorway, expecting Devin to peer around the frame of the door and bother me, her senses alerting her to another mystery. However, she failed to comply with my expectations. I whipped my gaze back to the soft leather, gently prodding the curved edge. I wiggled the journal from the otherwise useless drawer full of documents from high school.

I confess that I didn’t have the heart or the head to just let Heath have his secrets kept, but I just couldn’t. A fraction of my heart doubted that Heath was in love with me, and I was afraid to know that he harbored these emotions for me for so long. I desired to pretend that I never knew his struggle with his identity, yet here I was.

I delicately opened the front page of the journal and just stared at the articulate calligraphy of Heath’s handwriting. He wrote in a mixture of cursive and print with wild curves and sharp edges emphasizing the vowels and consonants respectively. I glossed over the page without interpreting the words, still in awe of the beautiful handwriting that was lost from the world forever.

I huffed a sigh and finally persuaded myself to read the journal, but I didn’t even know where to start. None of the pages were dated nor did he sign his name at the end of each passage. Each vignette was ended with a line skipped and then on to the next one. I shrugged away my thoughts and turned to the first page.

I know I honestly shouldn’t be writing things down because then everyone would understand, and I don’t know if I want them to. I read somewhere that the best way to mourn a loss or grieve was to just write it all out, and I guess I put all of my secrets in print, but I hate that. I hate a lot of things though.

I flipped to the next page after he continued to explain why he wanted to deny the act of journaling, how he felt it was a piece of him that needed to remain hidden. He didn’t want his parents to know they failed. He didn’t want to acknowledge that he failed despite all of his hard work. I didn’t understand what his failure exactly was, but maybe that was because I never knew the true Heath.

But does sexuality define who you are? I mean, I’m straight, but I’m also this and that. I’m also a person lost in the misery of Devin caused by the death and acts of my best friend. We are more than sexuality, but here I was expecting his journal to merely focus on his sexuality.

Because what else could he hide?

Today was another day at work, and Devin showed up about ten minutes late. I was glad the boss didn’t fire her, but I could tell she just came from an appointment. Her wrists were red and irritated, and I worry that Jude is using her more frequently after I told him about the fraud. I feel guilty for confessing her actions to him because I knew she did it for me. She was doing all of this sneaking around and slandering to protect me from him.

And I couldn’t let that be the reason she had to die.

I wish there was a way I could protect her.

I turned back to the door frame. I recalled the night in the shower and the way her eyes glowed with a new desperation after Jude threatened me. “Do this for me. I couldn’t live with myself.” I furrowed my brow and swallowed guilt deep within my chest. I frowned and shook my head fervently.

I threw my fist into the desk and turned back to the journal.

Devin pisses me off when she does this. She tries to protect everyone but herself. She’ll willingly throw herself in front of me when Jude is angry with me, and then she just lays there and takes everything he gives her. She just lets the johns do what they want with her even though I can tell in her eyes that it destroys her. She won’t let me help her.

And I wonder if none of this would never have happened if I just never was found out. I wish my dad never found my notes for Ned. I mean, I thought I hid them well underneath my bed, but I guess I failed in that, too. If I was never found out for being a faggot, she would never had met me. Sure, she would have probably been raped some more, but she never would have had to endure me. It sickens me that the only way I can get better is through this conversion therapy. What a load of bullshit. If I was normal, Devin and I would never have had this twisted relationship, but I’m also ashamed to say that I’m happy I know her.

I ran my fingers through my hair with repulsion as he continued to note how his sexuality was the cause of all of these problems. He confessed that his dad would beat him when his dad got a little too drunk and would harass Heath for his sexuality, but Heath merely blamed himself. He never succumbed to the notion that there were other factors involved besides his existence; he was so focused on trying to perfect himself to prevent these incidents. I flipped to the middle of the journal, and then I saw my name deliberately scribbled hastily—a slant to the right invaded his writing.

There is something so wrong with me. All I can do is think about Ned, and I’m crushed because I know he’ll never see me the way I wish he would. And I know if I admit my feelings to him, he will never speak to me again. I’m wavering on the fence between friendship and a romance, and I know he’s so far in the friendship field. It fucking isn’t fair.

Why does God sit there and put these people in my life? He must sit there and think to Himself, Hell, let’s make things interesting. My life isn’t a game, but it feels like I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do.

Ned is just so composed, and he seems like he’s got his stuff together. He always has this gigantic, goofy smile on his face when he sees me, and my heart breaks each time because I know that smile isn’t just for me. And I hate whenever his girlfriend comes over to hang out with us. She is always all over him, and I feel like a bitch for being jealous. I find myself daydreaming that one day Ned will open his eyes and realize that everything he ever needed and wanted was right here.

But let’s be honest. Ned is too perfect to be gay. I mean, I’ve known him for nearly five years, and I can’t stop thinking about him. His blond-brunette hair is always combed to a flair, and his green eyes always embrace me in comfort. His tawny skin remains dark even in the winter, forcing me to beg for the cool air to rid itself. His amiability and openness towards people allows him to be admired by many, but here I am pining for someone I could never have.

Picture it, the hottest guy in school with the likes of me.

Psh, and top it off that he’s straight as a line.

Sometimes he and I will have a deep conversation, and I can feel this tension between us but I don’t know what kind it is. I find myself staring at his pink, cherub lips as he talks, and I find myself wanting to just grab his face and kiss him. Young and reckless, I would hope he would reciprocate the act, but I’m also young and stupid.

Sometimes Devin tries to tell me that he drops hints that he likes me, but I know those are all just platonic jokes and faux flirtations. She wants me to be happy so badly she over-analyzes things to the extremes. I don’t think him asking if I wanted the rest of my hot dog was a pseudonym for having oral. Let’s be honest, he was just hungry.

This one time, I was really drunk at a party, and I saw him across the dance floor. Something in the environment made him glow, luminescent in his frail but handsome features. We acknowledged each other with a head nod as his girlfriend grinded against him much to his chagrin. He kind of shoved her off of him and marched across the room. Butterflies don’t cover the things batting around in my stomach when I see him—it is a freaking zoo. I almost told him right then at Ethan Carr’s party in front of all of these other drunkards, and then my inhibitions came back to save the day.

My chest hurts at night when I think about him because I have to admit he will never see me any other way than his friend. I sometimes can’t sleep because I’m obsessed when I know it’s wrong. Sometimes when I sleep with Devin, I try to pretend that maybe this is supposed to be what life is like. Sometimes you can’t have what you want, and that’s what hurts the most.

You have to settle.

Rain splattered against my window and startled me. I whipped my gaze to the blue window to finally see droplets collide against the glass, begging to be let in and soak the shelter of my home. I turned back to the journal and flipped through several pages. He griped about school, soccer practice, me, and just everything else a teenager would find troublesome.

I finally peeled to one of the last pages of the novella and started as I saw this one confession unroll across the parchment pages. I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my hand for a moment, lost in the fact that this was actually happening. This all was actually the truth coming from Heath’s own mind. Devin and I didn’t have to just assume and inspire these radical thoughts anymore. My jaw dropped as I read this one passage, afraid of the gravity that may befall Devin.

Sometimes I look at this strange world and feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have things I need. I don’t have my sanity and organization in my brain like I’m supposed to. I know I’m not as screwed up as Devin with her anxiety attacks, but there has to be something wrong with my brain.

I’ve spent nearly four years of my life around this one person, and I can honestly say some of the ugliest and most wondrous things have happened when I’m with her. Some experiences make me want to cringe and fall into myself while others make me feel alive. When she smiles, I can’t help but smile, and when she breaks and shatters, I have this urge to glue her back together. I just want to fix her like she and Jude tried to fix me.

And the weirdest thing is when I’m with her, I have to question myself. Like, I feel gay except when it comes to Devin. I don’t know what to do anymore because these emotions keep growing like a malignant tumor. She’s breached the surface of understanding what’s been going on in my head. She’s the only one who kind of understands what goes on inside of me, and I have to find a reason, or a something for me to change or say something to her. I mean, I’ve told her I love her, but I don’t know if she takes it as seriously as I mean it.

But I’m also scared I feel these things for her because I know of her past, I know how broken she is and how she sees herself. She pushes people away so easily if they ever mention an affinity for her, but she never did with me. She told me she loved me, too, but I’m afraid she assumed it was platonic.

It shouldn’t be this way. I don’t stand a chance in my head anymore. I’m leaning towards this one love, and then she completely blindsides me. It was almost like the love I have for her was steadily growing in the shadows and then suddenly bombarded me one afternoon.

It was when she was talking about the stars—that’s when I knew. Her blue eyes gleamed with the graciousness of curiosity and of longing. Her hand reached out toward the sky and clenched shut around a star she wanted around her. She seemed so enthralled by the same chemicals flowing through us and those almost fable-like objects. She leaned back against the glass of my car and murmured, “I wish I could be away from here. Run away and never come back.”

I turned to her as rain began to spit upon us. Normal girls always seemed to be running away from moisture and humidity, but she was a different story. I leaned back with her and held her hand—trying to be real suave. “Yeah, I wish we could.”

I felt her gaze fall on me as she twisted her face to see me. She whispered, “Heath?”

I harrumphed or groaned as I turned to face her.

“You know I love you, right?”

I nodded.

“Okay.”

I should have responded with something more sincere than a nod. I should have just confessed my… I don’t know if I would call it a secret. It was obvious to the oblivious as most people believe we are a couple. Most people assume we are boyfriend and girlfriend, so why couldn’t we actually mold to the standards?

Oh yeah, because I’m gay… or bisexual… I don’t know what I am anymore.

Because I love her, and I don’t know what to do anymore.

But I loved him since the beginning of time.

I rustled my fingers through my hair loosely and glanced back at the doorway. I needed to tell her the news. I needed to tell her that the feeling she held for him was reciprocated in the story of skinny love. I cuffed my hands over my mouth and released a cascade of warm breath. My eyes fluttered across the script several times as my heart continued to break for Devin. She was wrapped up in believing that Heath could never love her, but he had been in love with her near the end of this journal. I wish I knew when the journal was written so I could date this history, but Heath remained ambiguous.

I turned to the very last page and sunk into my chair. I glanced at the clock and noticed it was nearly two in the morning, and I recognized I needed to sleep to drive the three hours to school. However, this seemed like a more important matter than staying awake during freshman orientation.

Something clicked in my mind today before the end of seventh period. I was just sitting in Calculus and realized something—maybe it was possible to be in love with two different people at the same time. I mean, I never believed it could happen because aren’t people supposed to be monogamous?

I turned to Devin doodling during lecture, mostly flowers—tulips and carnations. I smiled sheepishly as she then began to draw a portrait, and I recognized my crooked nose and scar just below my right eye. I turned back to my notes and considered what that even meant.

My eyes slithered to the front of the room with Ned in the very front. He kept nodding off, and I couldn’t help but smile.

Even though I was miles away from where they were. I prayed something would bring them to me. Something would steer Devin to see that this relationship didn’t have to be forced, and maybe it had been natural from the very beginning, we were just too scared to accept it. Maybe Ned would realize the trash of the relationship he was in and would succumb to the idea that he didn’t need her. Maybe, somehow, thoughts would flutter into his mind like music notes and reveal that I had been here the whole time. That I loved him more than I could even understand. Because I love them both more than I can understand, and I could never choose between the two of them because my heart won’t let me.

But they are too oblivious to ever know.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I just disappeared. Would anyone even care? I mean, my parents are so aloof in my life, and my best friends are people I’m secretly in love with and are oblivious to it. The acquaintances and people I know would just continue in their lives where I left off. Sometimes, I fantasize about just not existing, knowing it would be so much easier than staying alive. I wouldn’t have to deal with the past, the drunken and sober past. I wouldn’t have to deal with the discrimination that torments my identity, and I wouldn’t have to worry about losing friends for my actions. Honestly, sometimes I wish I could just die.

But I pray that these feelings don’t haunt me as much as they do. And when I look at Ned and Devin, I know in my heart that I am loved—even if it isn’t to the degree I give them. I can’t leave Devin alone because I know she’ll be lost, which gives me a sadistic happiness from her dependency. And Ned, handsome Ned, would be able to manage it with his calm composure. Maybe, one day, I’ll figure out a way to confess my love to at least one of them. One day, I’ll have the courage I should have been born with to be who I really am.

And that was that.

I pulled myself from the desk, snatching the journal from the desktop, and hurriedly, furtively slithered down the hallway to the open doorway of Devin’s room. I froze again, taken aback by her aloof stare as her eyes wandered back and forth across the wall covered in family portraits.

Her piercing blue orbs locked onto me vacantly, and she gingerly sat up slowly on the bed, pulling the sheets down from her chest. Her brow fell as she pursed her lips, her cheek bones sharpened with the tightening of her facial muscles. She whispered with a hint of sadness taunting the soft lull of her voice, “You should be asleep.”

I took a step across the hearth timidly, turning my gaze back to the black leather of the journal. I murmured, “I’ve got to tell you something.”

Her alabaster hand slid through her hair, the brunette strands flowing softly to her shoulders. I finally noticed her cast had been removed and part of me wondered if that’s why my dad’s circular saw was so dull. She slowly shook her head as her lashes fell across her gaze. “Ned, I can’t—”

“It’s not about us. This is—”

“It’s always about us,” she retorted snidely. She brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her slim arms around her muscular, curvaceous legs gracefully, like she was dancing instead of settling. Her expression succumbed to coldness as she continued to evaluate my presence in the room. Her cupid’s bow flitted and fluttered as if she desired to speak again, tear me down and build me back up, but she remained stoic.

I shrugged. “You should know… when I went to get Heath’s cell phone from the house, his dad was there. He gave me the phone along with a journal—Heath’s journal.”

Her breath caught in her throat.

“He said—”

“I don’t want to know,” she snapped.

“Devin…” My shoulders drooped as she turned her gaze to the wall and clenched her jaw.

A hand shot to her mouth, covering her nose from view as her eyes began to water. She whimpered, “He probably said all these awful things about me. He knew me. He knew me.”

“Devin, no, he—”

She roared, “I don’t want to know!” She ripped her hand away from her face and nailed me into place with her icy stare. She echoed as she hissed, “I don’t want to know, dammit. I don’t need to know what he really thought of me. I know I held him back. If he didn’t work so hard with me, he could have gotten a better scholarship. If he didn’t know me, he would be a normal kid, and he would have had the perfect life. He knew I held him back, and he probably resented me for it. I bet he—” Her hand rustled her hair as a tear sluggishly slid down her cheek before I interrupted her.

“Goddammit, listen to me!”

Silenced, she fell into her statuesque pose, just meekly staring at me as the ferocity building up within her began to dissipate as if she struggled to hold on to her strength.

I flipped open the journal to a page and read it for a few moments, rehearsing how I wanted to say it, but then I just lost my gall and humility. I snapped my gaze back to her and grimaced as I said the words I so desperately wanted to say to her—but I never had the words or diction to say. “‘Devin Sebold is the best friend someone could ever ask for, and I’m lucky to have this emotion overwhelming me every time I see her. Every time I see her, I want to give her the world. I want to give her everything she ever wanted because she deserves it. When I see those baby blues and that glint in her eyes, I fall deeper in love with her. If I ever grew the balls to confess how I felt, I would hope she would accept it and not fall away from me.’”

She buried her face in her hands and fervently shook her head.

“‘When she loves someone, she gives them all she can afford. Even though I’ll probably never have the pleasure of being truly loved by her, I’ll be happy for her because that’s all one can be when you’re in love.’”

She whispered, “Stop.”

I continued, “‘God, even if she’s the only girl I ever go straight for, I wouldn’t mind because I know I could make her happy, and just her presence can make me happy. I try to protect her from everything going on in the world—’”

“Stop.”

“‘—but she manages to always find trouble. But I don’t care. I don’t care if she’s rugged and scarred. I don’t care about anything but who she is when it comes to Devin. I can’t stop thinking about her…’” I flipped a couple pages to the one in particular I dog-eared. I breathed in deeply as I began another verse as if I was delivering a sermon and not a confession of love.

“Stop.”

“‘Like, I feel gay except when it comes to Devin. I don’t know what to do anymore… She’s the only one who kind of understands what goes on inside of me, and I have to find a reason, or a something for me to change or say something to her. I mean, I’ve told her I love her, but I don’t know if she takes it as seriously as I mean it.’”

“Stop.”

“‘It shouldn’t be this way. I don’t stand a chance in my head anymore. I’m leaning towards this one love, and then she completely blindsides me. It was almost like the love I have for her was steadily—’”

She roared, “Stop!”

I let the journal drop down from my grasp and placed it on the drawer we replaced by the door. I pulled the journal close and turned back to Devin.

She had pulled herself to her feet, her arms pinned to her sides. She gently shook her head as she clenched her eyes shut. Tendrils of hair were clawed tautly in her frail fingers, and tears stained her raw cheeks. “Please, stop.”

I hesitantly took a couple steps toward her and reached out lightly with my fingertips brushing against the back of her clammy hands. She shifted her hands away from me, but she remained steadfast in her stance. Our eyes locked as she shone with a rebellious but minute fire. I attempted to place my hands on the curve of her jaw, but I recoiled for a moment. She never withdrew from me, so I gently brushed the curve of her jaw with my fingertips, hoping to give her some source of shelter and stability.

She hissed, “Don’t lie to me.”

I nodded my head and languidly blinked. “Okay.”

She murmured, “He never loved me, Ned. He was in love with you. He was so deeply in love with you.” She fervently shook her head as the memories flashed across in discrete images that slowly became continuous reel of colors and people. Her face scrunched as she choked back a sob. “He was so in love you, Ned.”

“I know, Dev, I know.”

“He didn’t love me, did he?”

I gritted my teeth, expecting her to snap or recoil or do something. Maybe throw a dresser at me. I don’t know. “He loved you so much.”

She collapsed to her knees, falling through my grasp. She stared at the carpet for what seemed like hours, evaluating each hair and each fiber, evaluating the debris left over from when she vacuumed earlier in the day. She then violently clenched her eyes shut and whispered, “That bastard. That bastard.”

I only could observe her as she succumbed to whatever thoughts were polluting her mind as she became victim to her own mind. She slammed her fists into her quads and stared at the clenched fists, pounding against her legs one last time.

Her gaze shifted up to me as her brows furrowed, as if something finally computed in her mind. “He was in love with us both?”

I nodded.

Devin burst into a giggle, and she continued to shake her head. Her hand shot to her mouth, covering it from the rest of the world. She laughed and chortled for a couple minutes before allowing herself to just sob. Her shoulders shook, and her back lurched forward as she stifled her cries into her hand.

I sat in the front of my SUV, staring intently at the end of the driveway as I realized a totally new adventure was ahead of me. My dad was coming with me, but my mom wanted to stay home because she didn’t want to “embarrass me with her emotions” once she left me. I knew I was her first-born, but she was acting as if she would never see me again. I mean, I would have things to do and people to see, but I would still manage to visit my family.

My mom and Lex stood outside the car on the edge of the driveway, tilting back and forth on the balls of their feet and heels. My dad rushed inside one last time to take a leak, and the remainder of my family stood outside the car impatiently.

My mom rocked back and forth from being an emotional mess to falling to a vacant stare. I don’t think she could figure out how she was supposed to feel. I don’t think she was supposed to know what she was supposed to do or feel. It was a drastic change for her—perhaps a bigger change in the fact that I was leaving her with full responsibility of Devin. I wouldn’t be there to warrant or supervise her during her episodes—my mom would have to deal with everything.

Lex remained kind of disappointed and excited because she would be the “only child,” even though Devin would remain. Either way though, Lex would still be getting most of the attention and love, which I’m sure would increase with my dismissal to college. She gave me a hug through the window and hoped she would see me soon. I leaned through the window and gave her a peck on her forehead.

Dad came tumbling down the front steps and launched himself into the passenger seat. He buckled himself in and turned to me with a toothy grin. He managed through huffs and puffs, “Ready to go to college, Ned?”

I sadly nodded my head and glanced back at the house. I had expected someone else to see me go, and part of me kind of expected her to come with me because I somehow expected us to be back to normal by then. This idea was back in May, but I obviously miscalculated the effects of such trauma on a young girl. However, I supposed Devin didn’t deserve to be called a girl anymore because she wasn’t. I don’t think she was a girl even when I met her because her abuse and history forced her to mature expeditiously. She hadn’t been a girl for over a decade.

I turned my gaze back to the wheel and pulled the SUV into drive.

My dad clasped my shoulder and gave me a resigned shrug. “She was asleep when I went by her room. I’m sure if she was awake, she’d see you go.”

I shook my head and pushed down the parking brake, allowing the car to roll backwards down the driveway. I leaned back and settled inside my seat, nestling down in preparation for the three hour drive. I scurried for any other subject to focus on in my sleep-deprived brain, but all I could think about was her and her reaction to Heath’s secret.

It was like she knew all along, but she didn’t want to believe it. She forced herself to work Heath’s confidence up to confront me with his emotions, but she never intentionally stopped to see that he was aloofly loving her, too.

I whipped out of the driveway and began to roll down the neighborhood slowly, as if I didn’t want to separate from my home for the first time. I had known this town, this street, this house for eighteen years. I glanced up at the rearview mirror and noticed a figure streaking through the lens.

We sat on the edge of the curb at the back of the school near the student parking, where we usually sat if we managed to have a conversation before Devin had to hustle off to work. She blindly pulled her blonde tendrils into a taut ponytail, working her fingers through each strand. Her blue eyes remained on the black asphalt as she manipulated her hair so effortlessly.

Devin hurdled over the curb and stumbled into the center of the street.

I remembered struggling to find a conversation to have with her, still raw from my emotions unrolling for this girl I barely knew. Here I was skipping out on dates with my girlfriend to hang out with this mysterious creature. I leaned over and snatched a loose strand. “You missed one.”

Even from afar, I could tell she had just woken up. Her hair fell and cascaded wildly, and her wrinkled clothes loosely flowed in the cool August morning.

Her blue eyes swam across the sclera of her eyes, shivering as they focused on me. She timidly took the strand from my hand, as if she was afraid the touch of her skin against mine would burn my flesh. “Thanks,” she mumbled. She tucked the strand into the rest of the ponytail.

Untamed, she glanced around for a second and recognized the car. She froze. Her chest heaved up and down as she attempted to catch her breath.

I gingerly watched her because I was just so enamored with every little action she completed—so intrigued by what and all she could do. I confess, it was a bit obsessive but what is love but obsession with an idea? I finally mustered up a conversation piece I read you could go over in between dates with a significant other, but I found it had platonic uses. “What’s your biggest pet peeve?”

My eyes remained on the mirror, and my dad finally noticed my distraction. He laughed and twisted around in his seat to catch a glimpse of Devin.

“I don’t know. Give me yours first, and then I can go from there.”

A smile crept across my face as her arm frantically waved in the air.

“I don’t know—I hate it when people smack their lips when their chewing. It’s freaking obnoxious.” She nodded her head in response and turned back to the asphalt.

Her expression remained in awe and somewhat forlorn, aloof to the whole situation. A hint of sadness but mostly numbness carved into her face as she watched the car fall further and further toward the horizon.

“I guess abandonment.”

I blared the horn and then turned back to the road, heading toward change that would hopefully heal the wounds newly scarred across my mind and body.

Her eyes lingered on me after tearing away from the black tar. They glittered with a sense of curiosity and need as she evaluated me. She whispered, “You can’t just abandon someone when they need you most, you know?”

I wish I ruminated on that statement.


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