Speak & Listen

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I FORGIVE YOU, HAIR!

I Forgive You, Hair!

Flashback:

“You have symptoms of hypomania, borderline personality disorder and anxiety.” The psychologist said as he looked through his clipboard. Mr Wells, trusted psychology in our family. Well, my father’s family.

Although I had never met my father’s family, I knew the negativity he tried to escape from them. They didn’t like Cynthia.

It was not because of the disrespectful outfit she had worn that day when she was introduced to David’s parents that made them despise her...but her attitude stank like a skunk.

She was loud.

She was indecent.

She wasn’t of the appropriate class.

But what they didn’t want to say about her that both David’s parents hated the most was that she was a black girl from Bellington. Cynthia was literally what most would call a ‘stereotypical version’ of a black woman. Loud, aggressive and always ready to smuggle drugs, so Cynthia was accused of doing drugs by David’s parents.

“I don’t like her.” David’s mother had said. “That girl is barely dressed, she’s yelling all over this place and staring at every corner of the room as if she had stepped inside the Louvre. It’s embarrassing.”

“The girl called me zaddy.” David’s father had added. “Asked if my chandelier is pure diamond or fake.” This is the first thing she had said before even opening her mouth to greet the parents. In fact, she almost never did.

“She’s just...not familiar with this kind of environment. But trust me, mom and dad, she’s wonderful. She has the voice of an angel when she sings, she’s funny and supportive...”

“Supportive of milking you dry, alright. Son, you need to let that girl go. I’m not taking in that hoodlum as part of this family. She’s unwelcome here. Ask her to leave!” His father whisper-yelled.

They were in the kitchen, as both parents wanted to ‘have a word’ with David after they were settled at the dinner table, eating a feast that David’s mother had prepared for them in high anticipation of a modest woman. But in turn, she turned out to be a disappointment to both of the parents.

But David loved her. It had been a year since the day they met in Alex. They were both still young, still students from college. But something in David believed in Cynthia. He was convinced that he was irrevocably in love with her, despite her outer character that almost everyone seemingly overlooks.

“Too bad, mom and dad...but...” He took out a small black jewel box. He opened it and a silver, glistening ring appeared. “But I’m marrying her.”

His mother stepped towards him and threw a slap across his face. “Over my dead body will you marry that hoodlum!” She yelled.

“And not under my roof!” His father added. “I thought you were doing some better things out there. Little did I know you were out there ‘hooking up’ with Bellington sex workers!”

David just stood there in utter shock. He had no idea that his parents saw people for colour until that moment. Bellington sex worker? Hoodlum? It said it all. The problem wasn’t majorly her personality, but entirely her race!

That was the day they found a small apartment in Alex. Subsequently, he quit his band because he had to get a ‘real job’ to balance his academics and his domestic living. Cynthia had dropped out of school, living with her fiance as she balanced her domestic living by getting two jobs: at one of the bakeries in Alex that was at least enough to put food on the table and at night, she would mop hospital floors.

She had not told David how did Serriah, Nana that is, agreed to let her live with his fiance without meeting him and neither did it make sense, but as said, David was in love. As much as he struggled to find work, Cynthia was there for him as his source of support.

The reality was: it was the time when black and white was still a distinction. Nana hated David. Not because he was white, but how he seemed to be Cynthia’s distraction ‘in life’. But because of Nana relating to a similar experience of being ostracized by her family, she gave them her blessings but was never in the court room when they got married. To David, that was all that mattered. For them to receive the blessings.

David ‘found a job’ and hid that from his wife, but because of the conspicuous change of lifestyle and quality of life, it began to be suspicious. She was distracted entirely the day he had bought her her own bakery. It was her dream. She saw an opportunity to actually be someone. They left everything behind to begin their lives in Belvyn, where the bakery was.

After happy years of marriage, then came me. We all know that story, but that was when everything came back. David’s inconspicuous, back-to-back business trips only caused deep rage and regret having a mixed race son that symbolized both wealth and poverty. She hated that.

When she was diagnosed with post-natal depression, she refused to believe that was her weakness. Which only made her weaker mentally, but grew a heart of resentment and acrimony for her son. It always started with something as simple as leaving cutlery at the sink, then as little as breathing then total intolerance for her son.

“Your father is a liar. Do you want to become like him?” She slapped me again, it was three times now.

“I swear momma, I don’t have no money with me.” I sobbed.

“You think I’m playing, dontcha? Huh? You think I is your friend?” She screamed. She instantly took a broom and unexpectedly, she whooped me with the stick. My body numbed as I screamed. Some of the hits were directly on my skin, my legs, my face. She had energy, she was impossible to outrun.

I attempted running, as limp as I was, and as I was about to climb the stairs, she tripped me with her hand on my ankle, which made me fall on my chin on the stairs. She now had a baseball bat. Apparently, the broomstick broke while she was busy missing me and it broke while hitting the floor.

“Where you think you going?” She forcefully, with all her strength, beat me multiple times as ear-sore shrieks escaped my mouth. When she felt like the baseball bat wasn’t so subservient, she handled me with her hands and threw fist after fist, kick after kick.

This continued for years. Years of fear and desolation. Years of tears, years of feeling unloved. Alan, at some point, came into my life. To him, I was the most amazing, most gorgeous, most intelligent, most interesting and most approachable person he has ever met.

He had no idea how much I needed him. I did. Some nights, I’d drive to Garden Heights for refuge until at some point, I told him what’s going on and he respected my sought for him not to report her.

Thanks to David, the abuse worsened.

Things worsened personally when Alan had to leave for college but leaving me generally. The allegations that he cheated brought more heartache, more sorrow and despair. I had learned to lock her out of my room and she would try but fail to break down the door, but that was not it. That was not the reason why she stopped.

She stopped because after the divorce, after the venomous fury, she became weak. Serriah, my late grandmother, was of great assistance in both helping her redeem herself spiritually and ending the violence towards me at home and herself. She became strangely calm, but I didn’t allow myself to be entirely comfortable.

Both my parent side-eyed my mental condition...Generalized Anxiety. David had forgotten that leaving me with that woman would kill me. Cynthia’s abuse tore my spirit apart. I felt different like sometimes I would scrub my body so hard, I would almost bleed trying to make myself white. Because I thought that’s why she hated me so much.

Remember the freshman party? The day I almost kissed Craig? The first time smoking marijuana...I wanted to be too high and drunk that as soon as I’d get home, I’d slide into my bed and sleep so as to not hear her knocking at 3 am in the morning for money. Sometimes, I’d sleep over at Jeremiah’s on purpose. I’d sleep at Mia’s and mostly at Sophia’s. Gabriel too, but Charles wasn’t so much of an over-pretentious man and just by the grin, you could tell he is ASKING you euphraxically to leave before he drags you out.

I wanted to escape the pain of knowing that there was something wrong with me, my skin, my existence, my sexual orientation eventually and basically my life. But we all know the ends of the highs are lows, and the fast tequila shots turn to slow headaches of regret and despondency the following day.

I also didn’t continue taking medication after the divorce. I didn’t bother.

But the scratching, the demonic maniacal laughs and the gratification of seeing others going through vengeful pain got to me, eventually. Harm to self and others, hallucinogenic thoughts, an overwhelming amount of unnecessary anxiety, even in the most soluble circumstances...it all spelt Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Present:

And most would think this mental disorder is all just being about being afraid of the unknown from every aspect of my life. True, but not entirely. It’s sometimes rage, retardation, hallucinations and illogical reasoning.

I was awkwardly sitting alone in my room with the door open, on my bed doing absolutely nothing. I was told that Cynthia was visiting that afternoon, and as much as I said I couldn’t wait...I could. I felt like reversing my words.

God, I was afraid of her!

I felt a warm tear escaping my face, then another. But it felt like my body was crying. It was the one that experienced physical trauma after all. I just felt afraid, like I was being sent back to her again. Like I was going to be abandoned with her again.

“Adrian...”

I jumped and instantly wiped the tears. “Uh...Yes, Alejandro?” I said, looking down but recognizing his voice.

He walked in and crouched down to me. “Are you alright, Adrian?”

I shook my head.

“Your mother is downstairs to see you, but I can still ask her to leave.”

Although that was exactly what I wanted, I declined. “No. Where’s Gabriel?”

“In the music room, I assume.”

“Please call him for me,” I said weakly.

He froze for a second. “I...am not on speaking terms with him.”

“Because you tried a move on him twice?” I looked at him.

He looked back at me. “Adrian, I am so sorry for the way I treated your friend. It’s just that...he speaks casually about sex and sometimes I find it as an obligation to break my virginity because of how almost everyone in our ages is not.”

“Are you attracted to him?” I sighed.

“I’m afraid not. I just wanted the experience of sex. That is all. I assumed seduction would work, but he told me everything. He told me about his father and the heavy impact my seduction had on his mentality...I’ll call him for you but...please do not tell your father.” He begged.

“Dude, I wasn’t going to tell anyone. In fact, Alejandro, if you try that shit again on Gabriel without his consent or any of my friends for that matter, I will make you eat your own penis on a platter!” I stormed out and ran to the music room downstairs.

I got inside and shut the door, which caught Gabriel’s attention. He instantly stood up from the piano, which I didn’t even know he played and attended me. “You are crying. Is there something wrong?”

“Mom is at the lounge waiting for me.”

His eyes widened. “And...you know you don’t have to see her today, right? But if you procrastinate, what if you never have a chance to say goodbye to her again?”

“I want to see her.” I nodded certainly. “But I can’t go into that room alone.”

He smiled and opened his arms. I went in and hugged him. He was so warm, he knew this. Hugging him was always a tranquillizing effect. He stopped hugging and held both my hands. “Listen to me, Adrian. I let you go once, betrayed you and I am never EVER doing that to you ever again. We will walk hand in hand to that room and you will say whatever you need to say to her. Alright?” He played with my hair.

I nodded. He kissed my forehead. “You kiss me too much for someone who calls me his friend,” I smirked.

“I just like seeing you nervous when I do it.” He smiled. He stood with me for a while and his eyes narrowed like he just thought of something.

I furrowed an eyebrow. “What are you thinking?”

“How beautiful you are in this...sun-kissed outfit. You’re perfect.”

“Gabriel...what’s going on?” I laughed.

“Nothing. I wanted to see the pinkness in your cheeks and ears again. I think I like seeing that on you too. Curly hair...”

“Dude, I’m mixed...”

“Almost olive coloured eyes...your lips and your body...it’s art.” He said these words so absentmindedly, yet looking at the features he was talking about. “Adrian, you’re not just beautiful, but you embody sexiness. Something about you is so provocative like it’s a summon or your eyes pull me to the ground like they demand respect. Everyone was so busy with everything, but no one thought of telling you this.

You are warm, you’re just like mom...she was tender, kind and compassionate.” He put my hands on his large chest. It was as if he wanted me to feel his heartbeat or honesty. “You remind me of her so much, just like somehow, I remind you of David. I abused that. For that, I want to prove to you that I will be loyal to you as anything until the day I die. You...spared my life. You should be hating me, but you don’t. I owe you.”

“You’re right, you do. And can that favour come as you walking with me to the living room? Cynthia has been waiting for more than ten minutes now.” I laughed.

He laughed as well. “She’ll be fine. But are you fine?”

“I am now. DAD!” I play-punched his chest. When I was about to walk up front, I remembered that I wasn’t going to, wouldn’t be able to leave the room without him. Before I even looked back, he wrapped his right hand with my left.

He smiled then frowned. “Let’s go, son.”

We left the music room. Every step felt heavier as I walked to the living room. My legs were becoming limp again, like the day she beat me at the stairs. I held his hand firm as we walked in. Alejandro was at least keeping her company. They seemed to get along very well.

“Oh. Ms Jones, your son is here.” Alejandro smiled at me.

She turned and saw me a distance from her. A tidal wave of perplexing emotions overwhelmed me. Gabriel could feel this by the grip I had on his hand and was I the only one in the room who could literally hear my heart beat?

She was so beautiful. She wore her favourite long maxi dress and wore stilettos and had a very curvy yet opulent-looking weave on her head. She had chandelier earrings as if she was just coming from a function. She was different. And that made me relax because it made me believe she has changed her life around. I loved that.

“Mom. You look...” I laughed, joyfully. “Beautiful.”

She showed a shy smile, one so modest. “Thank you, baby. Gabriel’s your man now?”

Gabriel and I looked at each other and laughed. “Uhm...no.” I laughed as I responded.

Gabriel and I sat down, which was the opposite distance from both of us. Alejandro knew it was his cue to leave. “Ms Jones.” He nodded and stuck out his hand to her. “It was an honour.”

“Nice to meet you too, son.” Mom, for the first time in a long while, smiled. This showed her crystal-white glistening teeth which attracted my father to her in the first place, I’d assume.

Alejandro disappeared. “You’ve grown so much since the last time I soberly remember you. I mean, since the last time I saw my son in you.”

“I have to say too, you’re not as formidable as I once thought you were.” I frowned. I mean, who says that to their son? ‘Since the last time I soberly remember you’?

She frowned a bit but forced herself to smile again. “That’s fair. Regardless, I have forgiven myself for the things I did in the past, to you and everyone else including your father. Rehabilitation comes with a whole amount of therapy sessions trying to figure out what started everything and...I cannot blame my past for being the person I was. I don’t want you to understand anything, I get it that you wouldn’t...”

“I actually get it, ma.”

“You do?” She sat up straight.

“Yes.” I smiled. “I mean, who goes through abandonment, divorce, separation, infidelity all at one, married for years with one man only for him to leave one day, eventually loss and still remains to stand? I mean, I’m mentally sick already with my experiences but they’re truly unmatched to yours. You’ve been through a lot, so it’s understandable. It’s perceivable how frustrating it is to be left alone, isolated and feeling different. I know the history of it now, ma.

So...I forgive you. For the beatings, pain, suffering, trauma...for everything, ma. I’m freeing you from my heart, soul, spirit...I am taking off the burden of guilt and regret I had apologetically placed on myself only to make you feel less terrible about yourself. Damn, you indeed were a terrible mom...but individually, you are a very strong woman. That’s why I’m forgiving you. I want you to try again.” I smiled contently, with my body balling out in tears.

“You...forgive...” She held her hand towards her chest and sighed with her eyes shut tight together, crying.

“Yes, mom. I forgive you.”

She stood up. I assumed she was coming to give me a hug. “Stop!” Gabriel yelled.

She stopped. “What’s going on, Gabriel?” She asked.

Gabriel, in just another blink, was in front of me. Crouching. I was also confused. “Look...” He showed her my hand that clung onto his for dear life. “Adrian, you’re not breathing. Breathe.” He said this looking at me.

That was when I noticed that her standing up triggered a very traumatic memory. One I didn’t know where exactly it came from, but I then acknowledged that I was having another panic attack. My heart began slowing as if I was shutting down. I tried so much to breathe, but it hurt

“Let me just leave, Gabriel.” She said lamely, sounding disappointed in herself.

“NO!!” I screamed, but it felt like there was a fourth person in the room. That was out of control. In fact, I thought the most convenient option was for her to leave that’s if that will stop the attack.

I ran to Cynthia and hugged her, almost tackling her to the floor. I had never felt such a thing, it felt unfamiliar yet so warm? It was soothing. Her hug. It pacified every inner turmoil, every negative energy and traumatic past. Because the only thing I yearned to hear from her since the day I was born was...

“Adrian...I love you. I love you so much for everything.” She, for the first time ever, whispered these words as she held me tighter.

“Momma!” I sobbed, and it was as if all my senses were evoked but the emotion I got was not at all sadness, but mental and spiritual relief. Every painful memory washed away, broke down like crashing buildings in the core of the back of my brain as I allowed myself to be completely vulnerable. Every caress of her hand across my hair was all, in life, I needed...that’s how it felt.

I wondered how it would have been if I had let her leave. How I would have found that closure. I had to love again the person who hated me when they were supposed to love me. I was okay with that, starting all over again

But she understood that she couldn’t start all over again. I was with David, who also happened to be not just my father, but my protector and best friend. Life wasn’t going to be all peaches and thyme again because I had reconciled with my mother. This means I was not leaving David for Cynthia. That would be over my dead body. I was okay with letting her go and moving on with her life, consequently me moving on with mine as well. Afar.

I needed to, after this reconciliation, to heal. I needed to know now how I can fix the inner bigger mess. Now I had to focus on myself, my mentality and my state of mind. I needed to check on myself daily if I was okay.

And I was.

A few days later, exactly the last weekend before the second semester, I had been at least allowed to go to the backyard by my father, where there was the most beautiful garden I have ever seen, with every hue of flower petals from the bright white lilies to the yellowest of jasmines and greenest of thyme and clover. I sat there, ever since the day mom and I reconciled.

How was I? Oh, I was at peace. I was writing songs again. I loved the feeling of the sun’s heat rays touching my skin, I loved the sound of birds chirping. I loved imagining myself going to the beach with my friends, even though I wasn’t entirely sure I could. Charles still seems to be a danger, but my theory is: it has something to do with me. It always does, somehow.

“You can go.” Dad said over the phone. I had found myself subconsciously dialling his number after that thought. To think about it, my friends and I had never been to the Nahoo beach together.

“We can?” My eyes widened. I don’t know why this surprised me if I called him in the first place to ask. The most obvious answer was no, that was the problem.

“Yes. I might be back sooner than expected. I’m guessing Monday, after the weekend. I’m not expecting you to throw a party...”

“Throw a party? That was when Sophia and I were still friends. It was her who always insisted on extroversion.” I laughed.

“You sound...happy.” His voice brightened too.

“That’s because your valet allowed me to at least touch the grass outside.”

“I told him to tone it down a bit. He’s just obedient, that’s all. Maybe you can take him with to the beach.” I could see him smile over the phone.

“I don’t mind that, as long as he won’t be guarding every move I make. Well...he can guard the stupid moves. Or maybe I should just stay indoors...”

“No...noooo! It’s Friday. You need to be out there catching waves or something.”

“Dad, you’ve never seen me near water and will not anytime soon. Doesn’t anyone think of how dirty the sea is before they dunk their entire heads inside the water? Hypothermia?”

“Oh my goodness, I had no idea you were so uptight. I’m calling Gabriel to make sure he organizes everything. I don’t know, go camping afterwards and have sex in the woods and play...Truth or Dare or something. Be young, for once.” His voice softened at the last part.

“Wait...” I sighed. “Why are you suddenly so allowing? What happened to the threat? Whatever threat that almost got me shot and quarantined for my entire summer?” My eyebrow furrowed.

“It’s alright. You just gotta trust me. There’s no threat anymore!”

My eyes widened. “Dad!” I looked around, seemingly Mr Thesaurus or anyone wasn’t around. “You killed Charles?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Adrian. I wouldn’t kill Gabriel’s father even if he asked me to. We...sort of...made a deal.”

“What is that deal, dad? And I’m not going out until you tell me?”

“How will that help?”

“Dad!”

He groaned, seeing he was failing to reason with me. “I spoke to Charles while I was gone. I paid for both damages in his apartment because of Gabriel and the short amount of money he had not paid him with a condition...that I was going to fosterGabriel as my own son.”

My eyes widened. Actually, I wasn’t mad. I was just disgusted. And Charles agreed to selling his son. “Does Gabriel know? About this?”

“No. I don’t expect you or Alejandro to tell him yet. It might devastate him, but most of all...are you okay with this?”

“Of course I am. Dad, I’ve never had a brother and I’ve always seen Gabriel as my bigger brother...or father.”

“Father?” He echoed. I could almost see his facial change.

“It’s an inside joke, it has nothing to do with me replacing you.” My eyes rolled.

“Y’all were role-playing?” His voice squeaked while holding in a laugh.

“Eew! Dad! No!” My words hammered respectively as emphasis. “It was over something that happened a long time ago...back when it was cool summer nights and hanging out with my friends, basically...when everything was okay.” My voice saddened a little bit. As much as the story of Gabriel and I daddy-soning each other isn’t exactly depressing, but it’s nostalgic. It was when I felt okay, even if I was closeted and he only suspected I was gay.

“This is exactly the reason why you need to get out of that house! Everything is fine now. Hang out with your friends, have fun and you cannot use your own car, unfortunately. Gabriel will be driving.”

“What if he gets drunk and I’m sober?” I sulked. That was the part I missed the most.

“Alejandro will be around.”

“If Truth or Dare will be played, I can promise you that Alejandro will be coerced to drink.” I now smiled.

“You may drive your car, Adrian. Just...not alone. Have someone with you.”

He had always said this, and understandably I obeyed. “Okay. I can do things by myself now, dad. You just have to learn to trust me.”

“I do trust you. I just think you should be safe. I’m your father after all.”

“Okay...dad.” I mocked.

“Shut up.” He said weakly. “Look, I have to go. I’ll speak to you soon or probably when you’re sober.”

“Bye. Love you, dad.”

“I love you too, son.” He whispered.

I ended the call. Wow! That was, most of all, anticlimactic. It was almost afternoon, tanning my already tan skin in the sun as I indulged in the odours, sight, sensation and sounds of the almost-became-strange external environment. External, as in, at least out of the house.

I had invited my friends to Nahoo, all were coming. Jason, Craig, Mia, Elijah, William, Mason, Alan, Jeremiah and Sebastian. Jeremiah had suddenly become distant from me and others for unknown reasons. It was as if he had a life much bigger than the one we knew. One that was sometimes too busy to respond to calls or visitations.

So by him agreeing to hang out meant a lot to me. I did not realize how much I had missed him until I called. Craig, Gabriel, Alan and Mia made it their obligation to check on me every day without making me think I was being sympathized upon. Sebastian would remain the calm, cool ‘dude’ who never really showed how much he cared for someone until necessary...this means, I’d have to be on a ladder ready to noose myself before he tells me or anyone for that matter.

William and I, despite the weird kiss that aroused him, which he assumed confirmed his sexual orientation, had been growing close too. He, in fact, visited the very same day my mother visited me. Mason was becoming the same Mason I knew, that pranked me for unnecessary reasons. Mia seemed happier, especially now that my dad helped her father go to an old-age home where he could be properly taken care of. She told me this. She disapproved at first, but concerned about her father’s mental health, she had to sacrifice him in exchange for a lesser burden to carry.

Alan, actually, was the one who coerced me to be more present in my music room. This was after my mother’s visit. He’d vocalize Elena Tonra’s lyrics as I’d find the right instrumentation to match. Gabriel and Mia would join in sometimes and help out. Alejandro, occasionally. I had grown to or had taken my head out the fog to understand Alejandro. His mother also had GAD and was the only son out of the seven who was very close with his mother. It’s only natural to be instinctive and protective over a friend or your employer’s son...that’s if he considered me to be his friend.

I had worn, for the first time in a long while, blue denim pants which seemed too tight in the mirror but comfortable and sexually appealing to their owner along with my trademark oversized sweaters but for the first time ever, I let loose my hair. My hair was now almost waist-long, curled and strangely voluminous. Skin brown in colour. I never liked my hair, not because of my background, but how it always remains moisturized and clean even though I didn’t do anything about it. I wanted it to be dry, but instead it looked ridiculously long and curled. Okay, I admit. Somehow it does have to do with my background.

But I’m fine now. That I can promise. She, Cynthia, is in the past.

But there was still something I couldn’t go through or succeed to understand which I do not think I am ready to share. Something that concerned someone, this someone particularly responsible for all these abnormal patterns to overwhelmingly occur. The reason for the hatred and disgust I had towards the world because of her. But as I’ve said, I still didn’t want to talk about it. Especially on a good day.

“Whoa!” Craig, with his hand, almost knocking on the door, exclaimed with widened eyes.

I realized he was looking at my hair. Shame suddenly built upon me. “It’s too long, right? I should tie it back up.” I panicked, looking for a hairband.

“Hey hey hey...” He whispered.

“I know, I’m sorry.” I was really panicking, unknowingly, for some reason.

“God! Your hair is perfect, Adrian!” He exclaimed.

I paused and looked at him. I was, for some reason, trembling. As if, my mother would come out of nowhere and just like in elementary school, she would cut my hair with a razor blade. All of it. I’d cry, not knowing why, but because of the disgust on her face when she noticed that my hair had grown.

“It is?”

“Hell yeah.” He smiled. “You’ve always looked perfect but...this is extraordinarily beautiful.” He added with a whisper.

My cheeks heated. “Thank you. I’m almost done.”

He nodded. “We’re all downstairs.”

ALL?

I nodded. I convinced myself that I looked ‘extraordinarily beautiful’ in my untied hair. I always wore kicks, that had nothing to do with anything. It was preference! It had been a while since I had worn my ear studs. They were a gift from Alan. The thigh-long sweater belonged to Sebastian, but after our break-up, he let me keep it.

I walked down the stairs with my phone in my hand. I was, honestly, very nervous. It was the first time loosening my hair in public. I went into the living room. Everyone was already drinking. Except for Alejandro, of course.

“Adrian.” Alejandro began, and every head turned to look.

The room went silent. At some point, Alan dropped his phone on the tiled floor. This made me more nervous, but I didn’t say a word.

“Adrian...” Alan walked to me with widened eyes. “This is the prettiest look I’ve ever seen on you!”

Everyone cheered, which built tears. But I didn’t want to spoil things. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your hair untied, or you wearing studs.” Mia jubilantly hugged me.

“I was wondering when you were going to join the clique.” Jeremiah played with his curls. He also came to hug me.

“Hey...welcome to the crew.” Alejandro played with his as the room illuminated with laughter.

“Thank you guys. I don’t think I...”

“Dibs on Adrian!” Everyone weirdly looked at Jason as he said this out loud. “He’s still single, isn’t he?” he said. I was unsure whether that was realistic or sarcastic.

“And you’re still straight, aren’t you? And I’m not a piece of meat, what the fuck!” I laughed at him.

“I’ll go gay for you any day lookin’ fine like that.” He bit his lip.

“O-kay, somebody better get him before he crack his pants.” I laughed, so did everyone else in the room. Gabriel had been wearing thobes ever since he got kicked out. And he loves them. He smiled at me in silence. He always gave me that ‘daddy is so proud of you’ silent smile.

I added. “You guys are already fuckin’ drinking?”

“Bought you your favourite.” Jeremiah winked.

“Actually, we happen to be the only people in the house who has not yet tasted alcohol today.” Alejandro laughed.

“THIS MEANS I’M DRIVING!” I laughed mockingly. “KNEW THIS WAS GONNA HAPPEN! Where my keys at? Everybody, outside now. And damn, I’m hungry.” I said this as I packed the alcohol in my arms. Jason seemed sober enough to help. Everyone else was dragging their legs to the car already, but not necessarily drunk.

Jason drove my car as there were only two cars: mine and Alan’s X6. I don’t know why all of us just happened to know how to drive. I think Alejandro was driving Alan’s car. Because Mia was in the car, we played Hip-Hop. And you know how boys are with this genre...crazy! Oh, before you judge Jason, he only had a lid of vodka.

At the back was Mia, Jeremiah, Gabriel and Craig while on the other car, Alejandro was driving with William, Mason, Elijah, Sebastian and Alan...so it was overloaded. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t really ‘a thing’ in Belvyn. Like being stopped by a cop because of not flicking your indicator. They had ‘disappearances’ to worry about.

But before we headed off to Nahoo, we trooped to the nearest retail store to stalk up on food and other essentials. I couldn’t believe this, but Alejandro bought a surfboard! Did he know what the surfboard is for? Is there a beach in Egypt? Okay, parts of Alex do have a beach, that was just insulting.

We bought more alcohol and cigarettes. Craig had marijuana, as always! As soon as we were done with the spree, Jason sped to Nahoo as Hip-Hop played. As much as I hate pop, there was traditional hip-hop I could sing at least fifty songs from. How? Because I once dated Sebastian who was interested in the craft.

It was a long drive, fourteen to fifteen miles away to Nahoo. Mia didn’t stop drinking, Jeremiah too. They even fought over alcohol, whereas there was plenty. Jason kept on glancing once and twice at me with a smile. He was probably endorsing the new look? Regardless, I didn’t find myself confident enough. But it was going to be a harmless day at the beach, right?

After long minutes, we arrived at the LOADED parking lot full of just students. Both college and high school students. It reminded me of Lake Mouth/Smith. I looked at Jason. “Did y’all know about this?” I asked, my social anxiety kicking in.

“About the annual hangout at Nahoo beach before the second semester opens?” Gabriel replied sarcastically.

“Yeah, that,” I responded damply.

“You don’t even know how to swim. You’ll be in the car anyway.” Jason’s eyes rolled. “Oh and your boyfriends Craig and Jeremiah don’t know how to swim, too. So...there you go.”

“I also can’t. Let’s take a walk at the shore while they drown themselves in the ocean.” Mia whispered behind me.

“I am not getting into that water! I’m too high for that.” Gabriel laughed.

“Hold on...in this car, is there anyone who will be swimming with me?” Jason looked at us.

“Good luck, man.” I laughed at him.

In seconds, Alan’s X6 parked next to us. We all got out of the car and the captivating breeze and smell of salt in the sea stung my nostrils. My hair, because of this, flew. The feeling was beyond amazing. “So is y’all swimming?” Jason asked.

“Yeah.” William and Mason sang in unison.

“Is not that the reason why we chose the beach specifically to hang out?” Alejandro instantly took off his thobe and...WOW!

Alan cheered, following by Sebastian, Willam, Elijah, Mason and Jason. Talk about hunks! I may have underestimated Sebastian, but he seemed to be physically improved. Jason had always been ‘the hunk’ so it wasn’t a shock to see the beauty of his physique. Mason? Not so bad. William? Hell yeah! His skin with his physique made him perfect with his shirt off. Elijah was skinny, so he wasn’t to be compared. The idiots ran with their surfboards, unannounced.

Alejandro shook his head as he walked to the water as if he also thought they looked like idiots. “In the meantime, I’m grabbing a cigarette and a cup.” I announced. I went inside the car and poured myself a cup of liqueur and took about two cigarettes. One, I lit.

“Let’s take a walk.” Jeremiah lit his cigarette.

The same social anxiety I seemed to have transpired to Craig as well. He was awfully silent. Or maybe it was the discomfort of being high in public. “Craig, are you okay?” I whispered to him as Jeremiah, Gabriel and Mia were already walking ahead.

“Yeah...I just don’t like being high in public.” He said shyly.

“Can I hold your hand?” I smiled.

He looked at me and smirked. He held my left hand as we walked slower than the others. We were really passing by a lot of people. Perhaps because I was used to people making nasty comments about me, I was okay with people laughing as we passed by uncertain if they’re laughing at us or their own things. I just had to distract Craig.

“How is Kelly?” I started conversation.

“I called her yesterday. She’s fine, I guess. Mom is fine too. I wanted to hide how vulnerable I was around her, but I always fail. But she always insists on taking care of me which is crazy for her age.”

“I heard about what Niall did to her. I’m so sorry.”

He sighed. “The officer told you too?”

“I was a suspect, Craig.” I looked at him. “Are you okay?”

“I am, honestly. I just wish I didn’t put her through so much danger, you know? But there are positives: she’s doing her seventh grade very well. Always been technical and correcting everything, the smartest around the house. I know she’s a strong girl, but I’m more concerned about my mother.”

“Oh,” I said awkwardly.

“Yeah, I’m not proud to call that woman my mother too. You’d think it’s some cocaine addiction shit that made her like that, but it isn’t. Hold up...you once told me you almost hit Kelly. How?”

“I was driving negligently as she was walking on a hump. Fortunately, I saw her before anything happened and when I got her name, her mom came out from your house and thought I was going to steal her.” I snorted with a smile. “I was able to connect the dots once I heard that you live there.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. She’ always been like that with people she doesn’t know, but she can be loving and giving. She’s just been struggling to get jobs ever since dad left and...her source of income is enough to feed us for...I don’t know, three days? So...I had to fall in the trap.”

I looked at him. “You’ selling?”

“Duh!” His eyes rolled. “How come you don’t know most things that people do? Annual hangouts? Your friend dealing?” He grinned.

I didn’t judge him. I’d go as far as stripping to put food on the table for my father. Not all of us had opportunities in life. I saw that in Cynthia and other people of colour who fail to get equal opportunities as the ‘majority’. “I’m probably good at minding my business,” I replied.

“You met Cynthia...how was that like?” He looked at me.

“Scary. It was the first time seeing her back to...normal. She allowed therapy to change her life and...talking to her was both easy and hard. Like, I was certain she couldn’t hurt me anymore but her mere presence brought back a lot of negative emotions I had stored at the back of my mind and...I had a panic attack when she was about to hug me, only for me to hug her when she wanted to leave. It was, in conclusion, therapeutic.” I shrugged with a slight smile.

“That’s good. I see the new look has something to do with it.”

“I kinda like it too, the look.”

“No one should ever look this pretty. It’s criminal!” He smiled. “It’s true. It’s like a peacock finally opening it’s long tail feathers and it’s just beautiful to watch.”

I side-smiled, hiding my blush. “You know, I’m not used to this. Alan used to tell me I was the prettiest man in the world in his eyes. His infidelity made it feel like his words were just lies. Sebastian too. He wouldn’t stop staring when I was writing a poem or something like that...until I realized that I was dating a puppet. And just when I had taken a vow to become celibate...”

“Celibate? You were really meaning to stay away from men?” His eyebrow furrowed.

“I was planning to die alone, without anyone by my side. But Benjamin, during a time of confusion, came like this knight in shining armour. I may not regret him dying, but I regret the deep pain I felt of apathy and grief and depression that followed. That hurt...as fuck! Kinda feels like I’ll never date or love again.” I frowned.

“Adrian...” He stood, forcing me to stand still as well.

“Yeah?”

“Why aren’t you and I dating?”

I swear something in me paused. Whether it was my brain, heart or the functioning of my lungs...something in me, for a second, paused. And you’d think it’s just beautiful butterflies, but it wasn’t. The pain stung. I didn’t like it.

“Because I don’t want to lose you.” I smiled at him. ”That would hurt most.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Adrian!” He raised his hands. “I mean, you are exactly what I need. The perfect picture in my head of someone I would spend the rest of my life with. Someone I can go afar with, well...if Kelly and ma didn’t exist. I’m wholeheartedly certain that it’s you that I want. But I wanted to see if you’re okay. I wanted to prove myself worthy of a friend before I get there. Now you’re there.”

“Craig...I’m afraid it’s the weed talking. I don’t think you mean this and...I don’t want to lose another life, man. That shit hurts like hell!” I began weeping uncontrollably.

“Listen to me, Adrian. I am not your past. I’m not Alan, Sebastian or Benjamin. I have proven my loyalty to you. You know I am literally incapable of hurting you. By now, you should know I care. By now, you should know I wanted us to be a thing since freshman year.” He sighed as if he thought I wasn’t believing him.

“You brought my traitors right before my feet, even tried to stupidly sabotage Sophia but...your heart was in the right place. But what if I was into you too, how long can I tame you when you have your unexplainable episodes? How will you love a boy you saw naked in the restrooms raped by five men? How will you see me for me?” I walked ahead. The topic was suffocating.

He pulled my wrist. “I see YOU. Adrian, I fucking understand how you feel right now. Uncertain if I may form a fist against you one day, if I may ever leave, if I may change or if I’m just making fun of you because I smoked marijuana almost an hour ago. But I’m not. I saw you at your most vulnerable, you’ve shared with me your childhood to current experiences. The bitterness you’ve carried...I will never question it. Your bitterness, your anger, your frustrations will be OURS and you don’t have to be so strong anymore.”

“What are you asking of me, Craig? Are you saying I should just jump without looking?” A flashback, in an instant, came of Daniel. His words. The memory made me tear up even more.

“Yes! That’s exactly what I’m asking! Let’s hurt and heal each other, let’s carry each other’s burdens and let’s not work it out. I’m asking for a lifelong commitment, between you and me. I want to learn you as much you will be learning me. I want to tell the whole world how much I love you and how you’re mine as much as I’ll be yours.” He nodded.

I looked at him. God, I was terrified. I mean, I had no doubt and reason to say no. He was exactly what I was looking for. Not only he was in love with me, he was committed and loyal to me! To me! He was building a room in my heart, a room for hope that there were men like him out there. From the depth of my soul and the spaces in my heart, I was CERTAIN that I wanted Craig to be part of my life. And damn, that will hurt like hell when he’s gone to some college where he’s supposed to study...

Of course, he’ll leave...

Haven’t you learned your lesson? You might as well date women!

Craig is no different! Do not fall for this stupid picture of romance, there’s no such thing!

Yeah, what if he goes off to college, just like you two years from now? How will you deal with the anxiety, Adrian? The insecurities of knowing that he will indeed cheat on you? Will you be able to live with your stupidity?

Do not listen to him, if you’re wise. We’ve warned you before and you always ignore us. Look what happened! Benjamin died!

That last thought stung. I didn’t notice that I had been silent with my eyes wide open for a long while until Craig waved his hand in front of my face.

“Adrian...”

“Can you wait?” I, out of the blue, said.

“Wait? As in, now?”

“No, I mean...can you wait for me to deal with myself before you come in? My world’s a bit messy. Well...very messy. It would be unfair for me to invite you in only for me to cause a strain or be a strain in the relationship. We need to be even. Craig, we individually need therapy. I witnessed my ex-boyfriend’s death, two break-ups, witness my dad’s abuse, experienced child abuse and it’s a huge spectrum of things I haven’t dealt with psychologically and individually. I need to heal first, Craig. Alone. I need to deal with insecurities such as ‘what will happen to us when we bounce off to college?’ Have you thought that far?”

“No...not really.” Craig suddenly looked confused. “And I can’t do no long-distance shit to you. I know how you feel about it.”

“Exactly. Maybe therapy will make me believe that being away from your lover can be either misfortune or fortune instead of something I’m incapable of doing. Maybe I or Kelly don’t have to be there every time you feel enraged, maybe you can individually deal with it. I know how exciting love is, but after every high there’s a low. I hate that. We should stay like this, Craig. Until we’re both certain that it’s okay for us to date. Regardless, saying no today doesn’t mean at all that I don’t love you. The letter you got says a lot.” I shrugged.

“God, I feel stupid!” He covered his face.

“Don’t!” I uncovered his face and held his hands, my hands slid up his large arms up to his well-cut sideburns. His eyes stared into mine in utter confusion, but I kissed him anyway. Patiently.

What the fuck are you doing?

He excitedly giggled while we were kissing. He pulled me dominantly, closer to his large body. My hand extended to the back of his bald head, he breathed heavily and instantly, he picked me up like I was nothing, wrapping my legs around his waist. No one has ever made me feel that way. Like I was beautiful and worthy to kiss in public. Not only did he kiss me, but he also raised me up.

Cheers began, but I didn’t pay so much attention to it. Neither did he. As much as I didn’t listen to pop music, I knew Sabrina Claudio’s voice. Daniel introduced me to her music, because of his obsession of alternative music. Some car nearby blasted a song of hers, “Holding the Gun” which I remembered well. Just when I realized that this was about us, I laughed. Making Craig laugh as well as he put me down, eventually tired of carrying me.

Why did I do that? Because, in an instant, I decided afterwards. When was I going to dismiss my insecurities? I may not know much about love, but I know it’s patient and trusting, especially if loyalty is proven beyond doubt. It took that kiss to make me realize that nothing matters. Anything could happen to him in such a short space of time, I wasn’t willing to go back into my pity hole, regretting and wondering what if. I was going to date him, love him, respect him despite our flaws.

And I’ve learned that a relationship is a contract. A consensual agreement between two parties. In that contract, there are regulations to be followed and mine were to get therapy individually as he will be doing the same. But was that the whole purport. To work on ourselves whether or not we date.

When I opened my eyes, the cheers came with whistles and applause. We were almost surrounded by everyone watching us. My body froze when I saw all my friends, amongst strangers, applauding and cheering as well. Mia, Jeremiah, Gabriel, Jason, Elijah...they all looked genuinely happy for me. Why? They were applauding as if I had just won a trophy.

“Finally!” Jason group-hugged.

“What?” I exclaimed.

“I also was wondering when was the ponder going to end. It was becoming boring to watch.” Alan smiled. “God, I’m so happy for you!”

“And anticlimactic!” Jeremiah added with a smile.

Craig stuttered, honestly feeling embarrassed. “Hey. We’re...”

I shook my head at him. “Don’t. I’ve decided to jump.” Really, I did. I had decided to date him.

His eyebrows furrowed, and a large amount of excitement blossomed on his face. He held my hand and faced everyone. “He just agreed to be my boyfriend!!! HE JUST FUCKING AGREED TO BE MY FUCKIN BOYFRIEND!!!” He yelled out in jubilance and joy.

The whistles and screams became louder, but it was not that that amazed me. It was his sudden courage to speak boldly about a person he loves. It felt like too much of an honour. Like I was a terrible person and he was actually good and pure. He was PROUD to call me his. It was overwhelmingly warm, like I was finally accepted.

“Hi, Craig...Adrian.” A person who I did not expect to be amongst the crowd, Julie, came to greet. She was totally different from the last time I saw her. Although technically the last time I saw her was at school on a wall poster with a thumbnail threatening to release her sex tape. Now, she looked happier(or probably sadder inside) and didn’t give any fucks. I’m saying this because not only she had a ‘glow’, but it was her fashion taste that changed. She was...alive!

“Hey. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.” I hugged her briefly.

“Well...I switched schools. The best part, which may interest you, is that I’m doing okay and it’s all you, Adrian.”

“How? I only saw you twice at school, three times if we’re counting the thumbnail...” I knew where she was getting at and I wanted to stop her. But I was taught well to always remain calm and keep a light face in such situations.

“I mean, your story. It inspired me. Abandoned by your friends when you came out, humiliated, cheated on, bullied...raped, but you managed to find a man like Craig to love you regardless. I mean it’s crazy, isn’t it? Five men and you managed to make them disappear, just like that. Only God knows what happened to Benjamin, who happened to disappear into thin air.”

“It really is crazy. But people move on and become much stronger from their experiences, especially when you have nothing at all to lose.”

“And is that you? The person who has nothing to lose?” She looked at Craig with a smirk. Craig’s hand almost broke mine because of the anger he was slowly beginning to fail to control.

“Yes! I’m not worried about what may happen to this guy. What about you, sis? Are you sure your bullies are gone from your life because you’ve changed schools? Like, I think you’re really smart to change schools because well...that video of yours won’t be leaked just because Niall’s dead, I guess? Your five bullies killed mysteriously.” I shrugged with the most euphraxic smile ever.

Sophia, out of nowhere, came to us. “Adrian...I can see you have completely changed.” She still remained unapologetic, narcissistic and disgusting!

“Oh. Hi Traitor.” I grinned.

“Anyway Craig...I thought I saw you a few weeks ago in Clinton Hills, if not mistaken, behind my yard digging to bury something...or somethings? Was it a dream? I can’t seem to remember...”

Craig smiled. He was semi-high so at least calmness was easy to evoke. “Probably was just a dream. Just like the one you had of you thinking you can ever get back with Matt only to find out that he was only manipulating you that your very best friend Adrian is a man snatcher and lied that Adrian once ‘tried a move’ on your man.”

I looked at him with widened eyes. I looked at Sophia again, who now had a frown with boiling tears in her eyes. “How dumb can you be...to believe your man over me? You’ve got Mono? Didn’t come to school for two weeks after you stole my key...it all makes sense now.” I laughed hysterically.

Craig’s face changed and he let go of my hand. He spoke in a low register whisper...“Look here, you pathetic sluts...you come near Adrian or me...” He looked at Julie. “I will make sure six more men feature on your next pornographic video. And you...” He pointed at Sophia. “You stupid, fat sow! You come near Adrian or me ever...I will cut Matt’s balls and force you to chew and swallow them. Am I clear?”

“You mean...you didn’t try any move on Matt?” Sophia teared up, looking at me.

“No! Of course not! How could I do that to a person I considered to be my best friend? You took the word of the same man who never liked me at all...didn’t it fuckin make sense to you that he’d do anything to separate us?” I laughed again, now patronized.

“As I said...stupid!" Craig shrugged. “Oh and Julie, please delete that recording you’re making right now on your phone. Chances may be...all along you’ve been recording a bunch of songs blasting from cars and teenagers screaming and making riots. Also because I don’t really want to know what will happen to you if you don’t.”

Julie and Sophia were frightened, I get it, but never in my life did I think Craig could put on such a cold face to scare his enemies off. I don’t know how he knew all the stuff he said, but maybe it was the meetings I was told not to attend by my father in his study room that made him informed about such stuff. Just like how Alejandro seemed to know everything like a programmed cyborg.

Craig and I held hands and walked off. As much as it was a heavy moment, it was therapeutic. I now knew why this all happened. A man got in between us. If I had ever said that I have forgiven Sophia for what she did to me...I LIED!

I still wanted her burning in a fire, screaming to the pain of her skin turning to dust, biting away every cell of her body. I wanted to hear her bewail in extreme agony, begging for mercy. After the threat she tried to make today, I have to say...I may have forgiven myself for being her fool and relying on her, but I will never forgive and forget what she did because she relied on the words of a man.

“Is that the female, Sophia?” Alejandro asked.

We were now away from the crowd, walking together at the shore as a group. “Yes.” I answered blankly.

“And the other girl is?” Alejandro asked.

“Her name is Julie. She’s been threatening to come after Adrian ever since the death of the five suspects.” Jeremiah explained.

“Julie Anilkumar?” Alejandro laughed.

“Yes.” I replied. Now everyone looked at him to get the joke.

“They say never underestimate your enemy, but she is definitely not a threat. For a person who makes threats, she sure has a lot of weak spots. Her father is an Indian man who just happens to be wealthy and because her mother is nothing but a house woman, that makes her nothing but an empty vessel. Adrian...I can assure you, you have nothing to worry about.”

“Good. Can we go back to the car? I’m freezing.” Mia’s teeth actually chattered.

“I feel like going to a club tonight.” Sebastian laughed as he drank a bottle of vodka. Someone needed to assess his levels of drinking. Mia’s and Jeremiah’s too

“Actually...I don’t think we’ve ever gone clubbing together.” Gabriel interjected.

“And I do not think it’s a good idea too. I prefer something indoors.” I opinionated. “I’m only seventeen. Mia and Jeremiah too.”

“And either way, your father would kill me if I would let you enter any club.” Alejandro shrugged.

“How about we start all this by turning back? Like, Alan...Sebastian...Alejandro? Aren’t you guys fucking cold?” Mia’s voice sank into a painful growl. I knew the pain of being cold.

We all laughed together. I was good in Craig’s arms. But we walked back anyway. Drastically, the weather had turned to a cold, cloudy mood. I felt sorry for those who just came out of the water. Hypothermia, as I’ve said.

We finally got to the lot and you know how boys are...taking off their shorts so that their bulge would show. That was my cue to have another cigarette. Distantly. But Craig had a tendency that when he was in public, he would follow me around like he had lost his sense of sight. I understood his social anxiety.

“Craig?” I said as he came closer.

“Yes?” He held both my hands.

“How did you know about Matthew? What he did?”

“He told me.” He smirked. He lit a cigarette.

“Why? Because you’re buddies?”

“No. Adrian, I meant it when I said I will be loyal to you...at all cost. Turn around.” He whispered.

I did as instructed and I was facing towards the crowd of students dancing, getting drunk and screaming for unnecessary reasons. Craig’s body quilted itself around me from behind, wrapping his large arms ’round my waist. I felt his breath as it got closer and warmer to my right ear.

He whispered. “We will start with Julie.” I instantly searched for her in the crowd and saw her, getting herself drunk. “She is the toxicity in Sophia’s life. Has been feeding lies about you to Sophia only to get closer to her, eventually to her boyfriend Matthew. Julie was the one who lied and told her you seduced her boyfriend.

And you see your friend, Sophia?” He whispered again, making me search for her. She was also getting herself drunk. Matthew was with her as well. I still didn’t see what people saw attractive about him. Maybe the fact that people taste in assholes.

“Sophia chose a man and a distant friend’s opinion over yours. All three of them are your enemies, Adrian. Julie lied and said you were responsible for the thumbnail though she knew it was Mason sent by Niall.

She knew the story but lied to your friend only to gain her trust and leave her with absolutely nothing. I want you to unleash the rage you have inside...at the right time...when I bring all three of them to your feet.”

“I want to begin with Matthew.” I laughed as I blew a puff of smoke. “But how did you know, Craig?”

“I forced him to talk. It was a week after the gang-rape. I wanted to know how anything connected with everything. I found out that Sophia had been back with her pig, although they didn’t make it public yet. Julie saw you as a threat, for unknown reasons, and jeopardized your relationship with Sophia after Matthew had fed her lies.”

“But what’s there to gain?” I squinted as I looked at her. “What does Sophia have that they can utilise?”

“She has potential. Think about it...she supported you genuinely after you came out. Supported your relationships with Alan and Sebastian but Matt came back into her life. Matt has never liked homosexuals, he is known for that. And you happened to be friends with her...the part that sucks most was that she was your only available friend for comfort. When he lied and said you once tried a move on him...she believed instantly. Julie perpetuated the lies even more...said that’s why you were raped: you were probably asking for it.”

My eyes widened. “This was all because...I’m gay?”

“Does that surprise you? We’re Queers in a heterosexual world! You need to understand...I will do anything to bring your enemies to your feet!”

I turned around to look at him. “But why?”

“Because I am irrevocably in love with you!” He smiled.

I sighed. I had nothing to say afterwards. I wanted a loyal man, one that understood the toxicity of my rage. It had never been unleashed before, but I’m afraid of going crazy. I saw how I can react to thrills...the day Benjamin died.

I had decided that later that night, I wanted to live. I wanted to be a teenager, a seventeen-year-old. “Let’s go to the club. Tonight.” I whispered to him.

He frowned. “Your father...”

“Said I should go out and have fun. He told me to sleep at Lake Smith if I ever planned. I’m not going there, obviously. So let’s go clubbing.”

“Did someone say clubbing?” William interrupted us.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

Alejandro came forth with a frown. “Your father is going to kill me if I ever allow.”

“Well, he allowed.” I instantly replied. “Have you ever been to a club before?”

“No...but...”

“Craig or Jason will borrow you an outfit. Gabriel may need one too.”

“We won’t tell David if you won’t,” Alan yelled. Mia, Alan and Jeremiah came to us. The rest were still drying off in the X6. Mia was now attired in an oversized fur coat. It fit her style of cropped jeans and oversized thigh-length t-shirts. She always had a modest style, that day, she had curly Marylin Monroe hair.

“Promise me that you won’t get drunk, Adrian.”

“My dad instructed me to get drunk...” I shrugged.

Alejandro sighed. “Damn. Fine!”

I kissed his cheek. “Thank you for living for once.”

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