Being More Social – Chapter 17

There couldn’t have been a better example of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ in human history. May was staring me down, just daring me to make the first move and spill the beans. If I didn’t, she would start, and then she would really have the upper hand. Either she would have free reign to twist the story inevitably to make her look worse than she did, or I would keep interjecting with the ‘that’s not true’s, which would get weaker and weaker with every interjection I was goaded to make.

Well fucking played, May. I stared her down coldly as she stared back, her grin never fading. In the two opposite corners of the room sat Megan, so shy and shriveled up she may as well have been through a food dehydrating machine, and Nicole, sitting about as casually as one does when reading the Sunday paper.

“No? Nothing?” May inquired almost evilly. “Well then, shall I begin? After all, your little whores deserve to know just who you’ve been sleeping with, right?”

I nervously looked over at Megan, who was just staring straight down at her desk. It was almost funny, considering about a semester ago she was doing the exact same thing with May. How quickly the tables turned.

“So you fucked? Cut the histrionics, I’m already bored.” Nicole piped up lazily.

“We sure did.” May responded smugly. “More than once. And guess when the first time was?”

“A romantic candlelit dinner?” Nicole quipped. “Who fucking cares when y-”

“Jeff Swanson’s party.”

At that, the lazy look left Nicole’s eye. She sat up straight and put her arms down on the table. In less than a second, serious mode had been activated. “Excuse me?” she asked with a little heat.

“Ring any bells?” May asked her innocently, then turned to Megan. “It should for you. You were in a relationship with him at the time. Remember?”

Megan didn’t respond. Her focus on the table only sharpened and she began quivering slightly. I didn’t dare look at Nicole – I was too scared of whatever expression would have been on her face.

“Remember?” May pressured her.

“Hey, pipsqueak, lay off a little.” Nicole told her with force. “This is meant to be entertainment. You’re making her feel uncomfortable.”

“She should feel uncomfortable. She was with a cheating fuck.” May countered.

Nicole folded her arms but didn’t say anything. I was looking away from her, but I couldn’t help but feel her eyes on me. She wasn’t looking at May, she was looking at me.

“Not to mention, I was drunk at the time.” May continued matter-of-factly. “He took advantage of m-”

“Oh, shut the fuck up.” I cut in for the first time, enraged. “You kept trying to seduce me and didn’t take no for an answer. I told you I was in a relationship with you and you wouldn’t stop.”

“Neither would you after a little convincing.” May countered, staring me down.

I gestured around me. “Do you really think you’re accomplishing anything here? You’re only just making the both of us look like assholes.”

“Lying assholes.” Nicole said a little too casually, looking down at her camera.

“I don’t even care anymore. These girls probably already think I’m an asshole thanks to you.” May replied. “And you don’t know me.”

Yup, there it was. The good old ‘you don’t know me’ line. Even for a grade nine, I could tell that was stupid and immature.

“Why might they think you’re an asshole?” I asked only half-seriously.

“Because you like to think you’re right about everything and have to be the best and everyone else is a dick.”

Mature. “I sure as hell know why you’re an asshole. You fucking lured me out to a public place and took advantage of me right there, not taking no for an answer.” I retorted. “Among other reasons.”

“Oh, come on. You wanted it, you enjoyed it, I know it.” May challenged me. “You just decided to be a little bitch about it after the fact.”

“Is that the same attitude you had with Phil?! Or is it different because that was you, not me?” I challenged her, ice shards flying through my tone.

“Too far.” Nicole pointed at me fiercely, enough heat in her voice to melt the ice.

“Shut the fuck up!” I exploded at her, then pointed at May. “This little fucking bitch had her way with me after I said, I distincted said, ‘I do not consent.’ I said those words, Nicole. Those exact fucking words. If you’re so adamant in defending things like consent, it would be nice if you didn’t fucking side with the girl who raped me.”

“As if raping guys is a thing.” May scoffed.

“No, it is.” Nicole replied, chewing on my words. She looked down for a bit, then looked at me. “You will not mention the traumatizing event with May again. In fact, just forget that party happened, period.”

“Thank you.” May said smugly.

Nicole turned to her. “Shut up.” she said with authority. “He’s right. If what he’s saying is the truth, he’s right. Did he tell you that he didn’t consent?”

“No, he never said anything.” May lied. Right through her fucking teeth, too.

Nicole’s eyes flared, then narrowed. “You’re lying.” she told her, and my heart rose. My fucking hero. I audibly sighed in relief. She could tell. She was on my side.

May was visibly taken aback. “What, you’re just going to ta-”

“Yes I am. Because you’re lying. Stop pretending.” Nicole told her sternly. “The only way you can be more of a scumbag than doing what you did is lying about it afterwards. People have gone to jail for lesser things.”

May chuckled. “Call the fucking cops, then. Let’s see who they side with.” she folded her arms. “Besides, I’m not done.”

“Yes, you are.” Nicole replied, standing up. “I was hoping this would be some entertaining gossip. But nope, fuck it, I’m allowing a raping fuck to get the upper hand here. Fuck you.”

She walked over to me and embraced me in a hug. “I’m sorry.” she whispered. “I hope you’re okay.”

“Yeah?” May sputtered. “Well if you can spot liars, why doesn’t Adam tell you what happened after? When I approached him in the halls? He fucking punched me.”

Nicole broke off our hug and gave May an annoyed look. “Oh, fuck off.” she told her. “Adam is too much of a wuss to hit anyone, much less you. No offense, squirt.”

She may have been looking back at me during that last part, but I wouldn’t have known. I was staring down at the floor, not willing to meet her gaze.

“…Wait, seriously?” Nicole asked me, grabbing my chin and moving my head back up so our gazes could meet. My eyes left hers and stared off to some corner in the room. She let go of my chin, allowing my head to hang, and looked off. “Damn.” she muttered, almost impressed. “So something finally got through to you, huh?”

“You’re not fucking mad?!” May asked incredulously. “He hit a girl!”

“He hit a scumbag is what he did.” Nicole retorted. “What’s wrong, too dainty to get hit? Can’t take it? You’re strong enough to force yourself on someone, be strong enough to take it.”

“Violence isn’t right.” Megan’s shy voice piped up for just about the first time. “He shouldn’t have hit her.”

“Fucking finally.” May muttered. “Someone who sees reason. It’s a shame this fucker cheated on you, Megan. You deserve so much better, you’re such a good person.” May’s tone was a poisonous sweet. She was clearly trying to shift someone, clearly anyone at this point, to her side.

Megan didn’t respond. Her arms were on the desk in front of her and her head just sank into her arms. May shrugged and took this as the time the continue. “See? Look at all the pain you’re causing her, Adam. I bet Nicole is angry at you too. This is what happens when you fucking cross me. I can blow all of your fucking dirty little secrets. You can try t-”

A knock at the door caught the attention of all of us. Mid-speech, May whirled around to meet her interruptor. Nicole looked to the door, as did Megan.

Fucking Jenna was at the door, extending her upper body into the room. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” she began in a tone that clearly showed that she didn’t care, “but are you all going to be out of this room soon?”

“Oh, hey Jenna. Yeah, this is wrapping up soon.” Nicole replied casually. “Just give us a minute.”

“A minute.” Jenna repeated then was gone.

“Why the fuck is she here?!” I asked urgently.

“What, her?” Nicole asked. “Hall monitor. Makes sure rooms are closed and clean at the end of the day.”

My first thought was to wonder why I was even surprised at this point. Of fucking course. My second response was a giant knot forming in my stomach. The school has fucking hall monitors? How in the sheer force of fuck did I never get caught? Wait, how did Carson? If he really fucked in the hallways, he would have been nabbed for sure.

“We have hall monitors?” I managed to ask, hiding my surprise.

Nicole nodded. “She’s only part-time, but I mean it helps the school keep u-”

“Excuse me!” May snarled. “We’re not finished here.”

Nicole slowly turned to face May and slowly started to chuckle. Without uttering a single word, she walked over to her bag and scooped it up. “You guys coming? I’ve had enough of this.”

Megan got up and meekly followed Nicole, who was moving towards the door. May stood there, the little gears turning in her head, before her eyes lit up with yet more unlit gunpowder to fling around the room.

“I bet you’re no angel yourself, camera girl.” May began.

Nicole lowered an eyebrow, thoroughly bored and unimpressed. “Camera girl?” she asked annoyedly.

“I bet you two have been having casual sex for a while. Before we first kissed, before you even blew him.” she pointed at Megan. “So all three of you are assholes.”

Nicole grasped at her heart. “Shit.” she sobbed. “Fuck, you’re right. I’m a monster. Arrest me, why don’t you.” Her expression instantly went back to its bored demeanor. “Grow up. Everyone knows I’m a slut. Welcome to like two years ago, kiddo.”

“And how many people know Megan’s a good-for-nothing slut too? She just uses sex to get whatever guy she wants, even if she knows he’s got his eye on someone else.”

Megan cleared her throat with nervousness yet determination. “Why do you have to be so rude?” she asked, her voice having more structure than I thought it would.

“I’m not rude, I’m just right. If you can’t take it-”

“You’re a bitch! That’s all you are!!” Megan’s face unhinged in a way I had never seen before.

Time stopped. Shit. Holy shit. An uneasy breeze passed through the room as the tension, already at asphyxiating levels, piled up. No one said anything for a good while. Megan swore. Nicole and I slowly looked at each other.

‘Wow,’ Nicole mouthed to me. She looked halfway between that kind of playing-it-cool amused and genuinely concerned. I won’t lie, I was downright scared. Megan had never shown anything remotely close to this side of her before, and I think she was noticing it.

“Just… stop giving me this attitude. You’re not being a good person, you know?” she added awkwardly.

May let a smirk show. “Maybe I am a bitch, but I still managed to get what I wanted using my charms. You had to get down and dirty. Who’s the real bitch here?”

“Me, for allowing this whole thing to go down.” Nicole sigh-whispered to me.

“I second that.” I joke-whispered back.

“Oi.” Nicole shot me a disapproving smile.

A knock on the door sent all gazes back to Jenna, back in the doorway. “It’s been more than a minute.” she sourly reminded us.

“Can you give us a minute? I’m in the middle of something here.” May impatiently told her.

“Is it school-related?” Jenna asked.

“Dear God, no it’s not.” Nicole blurted out, shaking her head. “Yeah, we’re on our way out. Thanks for saving me, Jen.”

“Stay right where you are!” May warned her.

Nicole started to walk out, Megan quickly following her. I stared deeply into May’s eyes and did what I thought would have been impossible from here on out. While looking her in the eyes, I broke out into a smile. Still looking at her and smiling, I began to walk out the door.

May grabbed my arm as I walked past. “Adam, don’t you dare leave. You can’t do this.”

“Get off me.” I simply said, trying to shake her off, still making my way towards the hallway. I was practically dragging her.

“I’m serious. Don’t leave.” May repeated, now in the hallway, still latched onto my arm.

Nicole looked at the two of us. “And here I was, thinking of you as a parasite only figuratively.” she quipped at May, then pointed at Megan and I. “Let’s go, Adam, Meggs Benedict.”

“Hey hey, break it up.” Jenna ordered, moving between May and I as if only noticing for the first time that any kind of conflict was going on. She tried shooing May off, to which May either didn’t notice or pretended not to. Eventually, Jenna’s instincts of ‘I’m some kind of authority in this school’ emboldened her as she grabbed May’s arm. “I said, break it up.”

When one is in a position where they thought they would have a lot of power and influence, it seems only natural that when the tables get turned and everyone groups up on them, they start to lash out. I would be lying if I couldn’t understand May’s thought process, especially given the last few weeks, in what happened next, even if I couldn’t condone it.

As if reliving my personal shame from another perspective, I saw May wind up her other arm as she prepared to let loose all of the pent-up anger and frustration of the past few weeks. In the split second before anything happened, I glanced at Megan, who of course was looking away, not content to spend another second in this situation. Then my eyes turned to Nicole, who stood arms akimbo, eyebrows slightly raising as what was happening was dawning on her.

After the slow motion pre-game show, the spectacle happened as a strong thud was heard. You could only see May’s fist connect with Jenna’s cheek for a split second before Jenna’s ragdoll collapsed onto the ground without even reacting, becoming a Picasso on the floor.

I glanced towards May’s face. Her expression rapidly changed from an enraged girl on a mission to a mix of guilt, worry, regret and panic. She glanced up at me, her eyes pleading for me to have a solution or turn back the clock or something. She was a jerk, but… I couldn’t help but feel pity for her. It seems like May was a victim of herself as much as I was.

I heard Nicole sigh angrily from behind me. “You fucking hypocrite.” she snarled, powerwalking over to Jenna. “The fuck is wrong with you?!” She examined Jenna quickly. “She’s out cold. Meganstein, find a teacher, there should be one in the English office. Adam, there’s an ice machine in the back room of the cafeteria. If it’s locked, use this.” She tossed me a key which I barely caught. “I’m going to have a little chat with May.”

She stood back up and grabbed May’s arm, looking at Megan and I. “Well?! Move!” she ordered. Megan practically jumped and ran off, as Nicole went in the same direction. The cafeteria was in the opposite direction, so I started to walk the other way.

Then I stopped. I couldn’t help myself. I sauntered back to Jenna’s limp body. “Hey.” I whispered. “Since May’s a girl, this must mean she didn’t really hit you, huh?” I smugly quipped. “Or was this the patriarchy’s fault?” I giggled to myself and bolted off.

***

“So she’s going to be okay?” Salvador asked me gravely.

I nodded. “Yeah, she’s fine. May seemed to take it worse than she did.” I let silence fill the air. “What’s going to happen to her?”

“May or Jenna?”

“May.” I clarified, shifting in my seat.

“I don’t know, and even if I did, I couldn’t tell you.” Salvador shrugged. “What I can tell you is that violence does not get taken lightly at Hazelwood.”

I gulped nervously in my seat, realizing that May could spill the beans about me hitting her whenever she wanted, and I’d be fucked. It’s not like she was above snitching.

Salvador read my face. “Thinking about the fight with the mystery person?” he asked me, lowering an eyebrow.

I almost shook my head no, but then realizing the implications of that, thought better of it. “I don’t like getting people in trouble.” I told him.

“It’s not about getting people in trouble. These people have done unacceptable things knowingly, and they’re being punished for it. That’s how justice works.”

“It seems weirdly unfair.” I mumbled. “Like, if people’s lives don’t have to be made worse, why should we punish them?”

“Couldn’t you say the same thing to those people for what they did in the first place?” Salvador challenged me.

I huffed. “Yeah, I suppose.” I admitted.

“Is there anything else?” he asked me, picking up a pile of papers and collating them.

“No, that’s about all.” I still wasn’t ready to tell him how May assaulted me, or how I punched her. I wasn’t sure which one I was more nervous telling him, but for now I sure as hell knew I wouldn’t be bringing either one up. I picked up my backpack, slumped it over my lap, and started zipping it up.

“Why do you have Paul’s mask on your bag?” Salvador asked me, stopping his paper-sorting.

I looked at my bag and saw the mask Mom sewed on. The weird green mask with the big forehead, its eyes blankly staring off into the distance.

“That day you gave him his marks back, he got disgusted with it and threw it away.” I told him. “I found it in the trashcan and asked him if he wanted it. He said no, so I just sort of took it.”

“He threw it away?” Salvador asked me, then made a disappointed face. “What a shame.”

“Well it’s not like you liked it either.” I pointed out. “What was the mark you gave him, like a 4.7?”

“My job is to be critical and give marks, Adam.” he responded.

“Why don’t you like it, anyway?” I asked, eyeing the mask.

He put the stack of papers down on his desk and turned his attention to the mask. “It’s not well made,” he muttered, looking the mask over. “There’s no clear defining feature of the face, and the paper maché job leaves the mask with coarse skin when the assignment asked for smooth. The colors don’t blend together in a visually appealing way, and the strap was put on lazily, at least when the strap was still on. As well, look at the sides. They’re sharp. He wasn’t careful with the edges. That’s a telltale sign of lazy craftsmanship.”

Damn, son. I didn’t realize I’d be getting Gordon Ramsay. “Oh.” I simply said, looking the mask over. “Well… I mean, I like it.”

Salvador chuckled. “You have the right.”

I stared back at the mask and tried to make sense of Salvador’s comments. The more I stared, the more his comments made sense, but none of them really bothered me. I wouldn’t have liked the mask with smooth skin, it wouldn’t have… fit the tone. The color was unusual and I liked it. Plus, if the mask had an obnoxiously obvious feature, I wouldn’t have appreciated its subtleties.

“Do you think maybe I like it more because it’s like this?” I asked. “Like, that I like it more because it’s, as you say, flawed?”

“I don’t think I ever said it was.” Salvador clarified, then nodded. “Absolutely it can. Sometimes the most beautiful things aren’t beautiful objectively, but because they’re unique to us. Flaws help us relate to the more nuanced human emotions. If something is perfect, we can’t bond to it as deeply.”

“So things can mean more to us when they’re clearly flawed?”

“Yes.” Salvador replied simply. “That’s why art is subjective. You don’t know what you’re going to bond with, but it’s definitely not going to be as meaningful to others.” He sat back in his chair. “As long as you don’t hurt anyone and don’t get hurt yourself, your memories will be the same way.” he mused. “A lot of people like to romanticize high school, and despite all of the drama you may be experiencing now, you’re likely going to look back at high school fondly.”

I scoffed. “I don’t think so.”

“I know.” he nodded. “That’s why I said it about memories, not in-the-moment events.”

I wanted to tell him about the time I was a scumbag and hit May. I wanted to tell him about the time I was raped. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s not a kind of ‘I opened my mouth but nothing came out’ thing. It was worse. I was too scared, too nervous to open my mouth in the first place. I was just sitting there, staring straight ahead, probably a nervous look on my face, trying feebly to work up the courage to tell him.

“I know it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about.” he continued, shutting off the possibility of me opening up once and for all. “I don’t need you to be able to believe in me. I don’t need to be right either.”

“Then why say it?” I asked, trying to be as polite as possible in my tone.

“Hm?” He sat up.

“One of the lines you use so often in your class is, ‘don’t speak unless what you have to say is more beautiful than the silence it eliminates’ or something like that.” I explained. “So if you’re telling me something I don’t need to believe, and it may not be right, what’s the point?”

“I want you to at least keep it in mind.” he told me. I waited for a further explanation, but as usual, he didn’t give one.

“So that was more beautiful than the silence it eliminated, huh?” I huffed. “Is this another one of those subjective things that I may not find beautiful?”

His eyes danced. “If you like.”

“I don’t get you at all sometimes.” I remarked as I stood up and slung my backpack over my shoulder.

“The important thing is not to get me. I’m hoping you get yourself a little more from coming here.” he retorted.

“Do you want to get me too?” I asked him.

“If it means being able to teach you better, and if it means I can help you get through high school without having bad emotions manipulate you, I don’t really have another option.” He picked up his stack of papers again and peeled one off the top from the stack.

“Okay.” My hands gripped the back of the chair as I leaned in. “Your impression of me. Go.”

Salvador lowered an eyebrow. “I don’t do impressions.”

“Well, do you get me or not?” I asked him.

“You’re an anxious teenager wanting to do good in the world. I once was you.” he replied.

***

“I’m not going to sit here and bullshit you about how it was right to hit her. I’m disappointed in you.” Nicole dryly told me, not taking her eyes off the sunset as we both sat looking out the window of the church.

“I’m disappointed in myself.” I admitted in a small tone.

At this point, I was beginning to understand how to talk to Nicole more. After she drove me home after the talk with Salvador, she didn’t even have to talk to me to get me to realize she wanted me to follow her this time. We didn’t say anything for the whole walk, or when we got to the cemetery. She didn’t even look at Mitch’s gravestone this time. She just immediately went into the church and plopped down. We sat for about five minutes, then made a little small talk. Then the tears started coming, and I was all too happy to be her literal shoulder to cry on. Then after she eventually shoved me away and continued to stare out the window, more silence. Her telling me she was disappointed was the first thing she said to me since she started crying.

“That said…” she began uneasily, turning towards me. “I’m so sorry she had her way with you. That’s not okay at all.”

“It’s fine.” I brushed it off with a fake smile. “Shit happens, right?”

She gave me a disapproving look. “Shut the fuck up, squirt.” she said in a low, dry, serious voice, bringing me in for a hug. I accepted thankfully, not even registering how long the hug was. It was a long one, and a few seconds in, I started shaking. Not crying, I wasn’t sad. I was just… shaken. I didn’t like thinking about the event. I was just… upset. So upset. Almost giddy, but like a terrible kind of giddy. Every time I thought about the event, I buried my head into her shoulder more and cringed.

Her hand stroked the back of my head soothingly. “Don’t you dare think it was your fault.”

She knew I was thinking exactly that. I sighed uncomfortably as she held me closer, tighter. “It’s okay.” she told me gently in little more than a whisper.

Eventually the hug broke off and we just eyed each other awkwardly.

“So… you lied to me.” Nicole broke the silence.

“What?”

“At Phil’s party. You told me you’d never cheat. And you’d never be with someone that had a partner.”

“Oh. Yeah.” I replied lamely.

Silence hung through the air. “Are you ready to tell me about it?”

“I think so.” I nodded, then sighed. “So… At Jeff Swanson’s party, May was there. This was shortly after we kissed and Megan did her thing. You know?”

Nicole nodded. “I remember.”

Of course, she remembers everything. “Well she was really drunk and stuff, and she just sorta… got over it and came on to me.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow. “I know, I know, it sounds weird.” I defended myself, hands flailing in front of my face.

“As long as you’re telling me the whole story.” Nicole said with just enough of a threatening edge to her voice, coupled with a stare that could bore a hole in solid diamond.

I nodded solemnly. “Yeah. So she starts hitting on me out of the blue, and like a fucking idiot, I fall for it. For the record, your precious fucking Kenny told me to go for it, knowing she’s in a relationship.”

Nicole waved me off. “Kenny’s a tool. Protip: don’t listen to him.”

“So we go upstairs and… y’know, it happens. Afterwards though it starts to sink in what happened. May starts freaking out, right? She tells me that if I tell anyone, she’ll say I took her… against her will.”

“You’re making this shit up.” Nicole interrupted in disbelief.

“I’m not, I swear. I wanted to tell Megan, I did.”

“And you did, right?” Nicole asked.

I nodded. “Never said it was May though, so I guess she finally got to know who. I told Carson too.”

Nicole nodded. “Right thing to do.” She thought to herself for a second. “And then I kissed you the next morning, huh?”

“Yeah.” I admitted uneasily.

Silence hung over us. “Well, thank you for telling me the whole story.” she said softly, pulling me in for another hug.

“I’m sorry I lied to you.” I said lamely into her shirt.

“I forgive you, ya nut.” Nicole sighed. “Just tell me the whole thing next time. I only wanna help you out.”

“She tried to blackmail me.” I broke the silence with a quivering voice.

“Yeah, that crossed my mind.” Nicole huffed. “Welcome to high school. Ever heard of a ‘toxic’ person? Textbook example.”

“I bet May thinks you and I are toxic people.” I mumbled.

Nicole shrugged. “Probably. That’s the beauty of perspective.”

“I wish I had a bigger perspective.” I said in a small voice.

Nicole turned to me and smiled slightly. “Yeah?”

I nodded, still staring out the window.

“Wanna start now?”

I turned to her with a confused expression. “What do you mean?”

“I’m being spontaneous, squirt. Keep up.” Nicole answered me, leaping to her feet and walking with determination down the stairs.

I just stared at her as she disappeared from view. “You’re supposed to follow me, dolt.” Nicole’s voice echoed through the church’s lofts. Quickly, I got to my feet and followed her downstairs, then out the door.

Nicole kept walking until she stopped at a familiar sight. Good ol’ Mitch. She stood in front of the gravestone, looking down at it, never moving until she motioned impatiently at me without even looking away from the stone for me to join her.

I approached her slowly. I knew better than to ask what was going on, since I didn’t want to upset her in case she was vulnerable again. She visibly breathed in and out a few times before clearing her throat.

“Hey.” she began softly. I looked back to the gravestone. I wanted to be respectful, but she was talking to a hunk of rock.

“So, this is the friend I was talking about.” She gestured towards me with a small smile, which got noticeably impatient as seconds lew by. “Give him your name, knucklehead.” she whispered to me on the side annoyedly, as if there was a real person in front of us.

I turned to the gravestone. “Uh…” I began weirdly, “A-Adam.”

This was fucking awkward. Either Nicole was not noticing it, or was trying super hard to pretend it wasn’t. I gazed over to her, who was smiling and looking intently at the gravestone, occasionally nodding.

She chuckled. “Yup, karate. He’s still a white belt, but he’s got a lot of promise to him. Remember what you said? I believe in him too.”

I sighed and looked down, making sure not to make it too loud. What was this? Why was this? This kind of made me uncomfortable.

“Yeah, it’s going well. I practically have the yearbook done at this point.” she continued. “Classes are stupid, but, I mean, what’s new.”

I had to stand there for maybe two minutes as she made conversation with a dead guy. I tried to be as respectful as possible, and more often than not, I found myself just staring at my shoes. The pauses were the worst part. To entertain myself, I tried imagining what he must have said to warrant her responses, like guessing who’s on the other end of a telephone.

Finally, she uneasily told him, “Well, I guess we should go. Thanks for listening.” She leant forward and gently kissed the gravestone. “I love you.” she whispered.

She turned to me and smiled slightly. “Thanks.” she half-whispered.

“For what?” I asked her, pretending to be oblivious.

“I get it, that’s kind of weird.” she admitted. “It’s just how I get through it and stuff.” She went quiet for a second. “He means a lot to me. Blood is thicker than water and all that.”

I smiled faintly at her. “I understand.” I felt like I lied when I said that. “It’s just weird to me. Like, I didn’t even know him or anything.”

“Yeah, that’s a fair point.” Nicole nodded, then grabbed my hand, tugging me towards the graveyard’s exit. “Come on. I want to show you something.”

***

She was still dragging me by the hand when we got inside her front door. “Hey mom, hey dad!” she called as she kicked off her shoes. “I’ve got Adam with me again.”

“That’s fine!” Mrs. Baker called from the kitchen.

Really? It was? I normally felt as welcome there as a slow walker in New York City. Did Nicole speak to them?

I barely kept up with Nicole, hastily kicking off my shoes by the time she ran to the kitchen.

“So I was just telling Mitch that I’m nearly done the yearbook.” Nicole said gleefully, practically bouncing around as I walked into the kitchen.

Her mom didn’t share her enthusiasm. “That’s great!” she said with just a tad too little energy. She caught my gaze and shared my slight worry for Nicole’s tendency to talk to her dead brother, it seemed.

Her dad didn’t look up from his newspaper. I’m surprised he wasn’t reading The Charles Dickens Times or something. I tried to scan his face for any reaction to Nicole bringing up Poor Yorick, but his face was so blank one would feel compelled to draw something on it.

Mrs. Baker cleared her throat abruptly. “So, are you two hungry?” she asked us. “Would you like something?”

“I’m fine.” Nicole waved her off, going upstairs in a hurry, stopping only for a second to motion for me to follow her.

Just as I was about to follow her, Mrs. Baker turned her attention to me. “Adam?”

“Yeah?” I asked dumbly, distracted by Nicole’s signal.

Mrs. Baker hesitated as if her question was obvious. Eventually she repeated, “Are you hungry?”

Oh. Right. I guess that was obvious. I looked nervously to my left, then my right. Why was Mrs. Baker being kind to me all of a sudden? It didn’t make sense. Did she seriously just turn on a dime and start treating me better because I wasn’t having sex with her pride and joy? That’s all it took?! That was kind of sad.

“Um… I’m cool. Fine. I mean I’m fine.” I sputtered.

Mrs. Baker just looked at me. “Okay,” she finally said. “Let us know if you two need anything.”

“Yeah,” I awkwardly mumbled as I went up the stairs. Nicole was waiting for me in the upper hallway, checking an invisible watch.

“About time. I’m starting to think you come here for my parents but not me.” she complained.

“I’m Nicole. I’m not the jealous type. Stop hanging out with my parents so much, it’s been at least five whole seconds.” I shot back in a high voice.

“That sounds nothing like me, you clod.” she replied with a grin, shoving me.

“What’s with your mom, anyway?” I asked her, balancing myself.

“What do you mean?”

“A few weeks ago she gave me these death glares and now she’s just welcoming me into her home, offering me stuff to eat.” I pointed out.

“Parents do that. In fact, parents do those two specific things all the time.” Nicole replied. “I think it’s a union thing.”

“Yeah, but it feels like your parents are treating me differently.” I responded. “Why?”

“I don’t think they are.” Nicole simply said.

“Well it feels like they are.” I mumbled.

“Lucky you then.” she shot back bitterly. “Maybe someday they’ll start treating me differently too. Maybe I’ll feel like they actually care. They already care about you so fucking much.”

“Whoa.” I stepped back, throwing my hands up. “I’m sorry. Did I touch a nerve or something?”

Nicole pouted to herself. “No, I’m sorry.” she quietly said. “Firstly, try not to bring up my parents to me, okay? I’m well aware that shit’s unfair. Secondly, it’s the thing I wanna show you. I’m…” She shuffled around. “I’m kinda, like, building up the courage to show it to you.”

I glanced around the hallway. “Is it… is it like a wall or something?”

She pointed to a door next to her. “It’s this room you dork.”

One of these days she was going to run out of insulting words for me. “What’s the room?”

“The study.” Nicole answered, her voice trembling just a tad. “But it still has Mitch’s bed still in it. Dad just uses that room when he wants to be alone with stuff he reads.” She cleared her throat to stifle something. “I know you probably think at me talking to gravestones and crying all the time and you think, ‘damn, she’s messed up.’”

“No.” I told her supportively.

She smiled a sad smile. “It’s okay, squirt. You don’t have to lie. I know you do. But it affects all of us. Sometimes dad comes in here and he doesn’t leave for days. Once or twice I even caught him crying.” Her gaze fell to the floor. “Dad’s one of those guys. He never cries.”

“Literal days?” I asked her.

“Okay, not literal days.” Her gaze travelled back up to meet mine. “But long amounts of time. He’ll skip supper and everything.” She eyed the door. “I think the last time I’ve been in here was before I met you. A lot of bad memories come from this place.”

I reached over and grabbed her hand, holding it in mine. Her head slowly turned to face me, and she gave a small smile.

“But since I’m fine going to see him now, I feel like I’m ready. Plus, I want you to meet the real him, not just his name on a stone.”

“Okay.” I said, and we just stood there, looking at the door, hand in hand, not moving at all.

“Are… are we just gonna-”

“Building up the courage. Don’t rush me.” Nicole said firmly.

“Do you want me to open the door for you?” I offered.

She shook her head determinedly. “If I’m going in there, I’m doing it the right way.” She took a few deep breaths and let go of my hand to put hers on the doorknob. “Count me down.”

“Eighty, seventy-nine, seventy-eight…” I began jokingly.

“Remember that I can kick your ass if I wanted to.” she smirked towards me.

I chuckled. “Three, two, one.”

In the span of a microsecond, Nicole opened the door with the force of an atom bomb. Her hand was back at her side in an instant, and the door swung open to reveal a few bookshelves and a dusty bed in the corner.

Nicole started to wordlessly walk inside, as if in a trance, and I followed her. The room was barely visible given the sun was all but gone at this time. I felt around the wall for a light, eventually finding one and turning it on.

To say the room felt busy was an understatement. Behind the door sat a desk, presumably the one Mr. Baker used, and the walls were filled with posters and corkboards. None of the posters were anything recognizable though. No Marvel stuff, no gaming stuff, just these weird drawings of caricatures.

“Mitch liked to draw, huh?” I asked awkwardly.

Nicole nodded. “He loved drawing. He loved creating people, like his own people. He used to explain how they think, why they wanted what they wanted.”

Nicole certainly was enthralled with them, but me, a little less so. To be polite, Mitch didn’t appear to be Rembrandt. The characters were bizarre in some kind of abstract way. Some didn’t have noses. Some didn’t really have faces at all. They were all crudely drawn, some even hastily.

Nicole was looking at the room like she was playing Where’s Waldo. Eyeing every detail, almost breathing in the moment. I decided not to pepper her with more questions and do a little more of my own observing.

I walked over to the bookshelf. So, what did the great Mitchell Baker read? Apparently Dickens. Like father like son. Either that or Mr. Baker just liked to keep his books in this room.

“Your dad keeps all his Dickens books in here I see.” I remarked, trying to keep up conversation.

I went back to observing the books before Nicole joined me. Upon seeing her, I turned to face her, and she did the same.

“Dad never read a single Dickens book before Mitch passed on.” she told me in a warm, soft, sad voice. “This is Mitch’s bookshelf.”

Oh. Well, I suppose this was a great shot of perspective, running from my heart all the way through my body. So… Mr. Baker… that’s how he coped. He carried on his son’s legacy, or something. Through Dickens books.

“I dunno how to feel about that.” I told Nicole honestly.

She responded by wrapping her arm around my shoulder and rubbing it softly. “Neither do I a lot of the time.” she told me. “I don’t know why I talk to him. Hell, I bet if he were back within a few months I’d start to wonder sometimes why I missed him. He could be a bit of a jerk sometimes. He would…” she breathed heavily for a second. “Sorry. He would shove me around, make me feel like a child, but he never stopped believing in me. I think you would have liked him.”

“If you liked him, I think I would have too.” I replied, smiling at her. She smiled back.

Silence fell afterwards. Out of boredom, I took out a copy of Our Mutual Friend and looked it over. “I haven’t even heard of half of these.” I mumbled to myself.

Nicole followed suit, taking out a copy of Bleak House. “You should read them, they’re pretty cool.” she remarked. “I mean, they’re kind of boring if you compare them to today’s books, but if you take them in the context of their time period, they’re actually quite interesting.”

I moved to put the book back when something caught my eye. In the space between books was something shiny, sitting on the further-back part of the shelf.

“What’s that?” I asked Nicole, nudging her. She looked at the shelf, and I pointed out the shiny metal thing.

“I… don’t know.” replied Nicole, surprisingly dumbfounded. “Hold this.” She immediately dumped her book on me, which I barely caught in time. She started taking books off of the shelf, slowly revealing a locked box.

“Holy shit, a treasure chest!” I exclaimed excitedly. I dumped the books to the floor as Nicole carried it carefully to the bed.

It appeared to be some kind of huge cylinder with seven tumblers, all letters. It looked fancy, some kind of imitation gold with black letters on white tile circling the cylinder. Both ends had some kind of brass plating on them. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Cryptex.” she answered, studying it.

“Bless you.” I joked.

“A cryptex is like a portable vault. Dan Brown coined the term in 2003. It’s a lockbox that only opens if you spell the secret word. See these sevens letter tumblers? If I can spell the correct word, it opens.”

“Couldn’t you just force it open?” I asked her.

“Too easy.” She winked. “If you try to force it open, it breaks a vial of vinegar and it dissolves the parchment inside the cryptex.”

“Parchment?”” I asked, my tone reflecting how stupid that sounded.

“Or whatever is inside. Basically a cryptex is designed so that the only way to safely find out what’s inside is to guess the word on the lock. Try to force it open and whatever’s inside is lost.”

“Is this one of those things? Like, is there actually vinegar in there?” I asked.

“Not a clue.” she answered honestly. “But I sure as hell don’t want to risk it.”

“So then what’s the word?” I asked her eagerly.

She shrugged. “Not a damn clue.” she reported sourly.

“Well, you’re smart, you could figure it out, right? Trial and error.” I stayed optimistic.

She turned to face me. “Squirt, there are…” Her eyes glazed over as she looked beyond me. “…eight billion, thirty-one million, eight hundred ten thousand, one hundred seventy-six different possible combinations to this sucker. There’s no guarantee the correct password is even a proper word, or an English one.”

“Well, how many languages do you know?” I asked her.

“Only five. Point is, there’s no way we can open this. At least, not now.”

“So… what do we do?” I asked. “Seems kinda unfair we found this huge thing and now we don’t even get to see what’s in it.”

Nicole kept staring at it, lost in her own little world. “What is in this?” she whispered aloud. “What kinds of secrets could he possibly have? What did he keep from me?”

I began to get uneasy. “Nico-”

“I know.” she replied flatly. “I’m stopping. But, like, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. He didn’t really use any seven-letter words more often than any others.” She started moving some letters around. “Maybe Dickens…?” She completed the word and tugged. Nothing. “Nope. I give up.”

It seemed almost weird that Nicole would give up so easily. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She took the lockbox and put it back in the shelf. “To be honest, this box kinda freaks me out. I want to put it away and pretend it doesn’t exist, until I can properly figure out what it means.” She put all of the books back. “And don’t tell mom and dad this exists just yet, okay?”

“Yeah, of course.” I nodded.

“Thanks, squirt.” she sighed. “Mario Kart?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” I grinned, then stopped. “But… are you okay? Like, content  with visiting here?”

She smiled. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little burnt out from school and everything. Visiting here is nice, but it’s a dark kind of nice. Right now I need mindless fun. Like, ‘stupid fun.’ And who better to be stupid with than you?” She winked at me, flashing me a coy smile.

“You’re dead.” I muttered, smiling back.

“First one there gets to be Luigi!” She shouted behind her as she bolted out of the room. I chuckled and got up slowly. I learned around the third time that she always got there first.

Just before getting out of the room, I stopped. Slowly, I turned around and flicked on the light. That couldn’t have been it. There had to be more.

I looked around his room again. The shelf, the bed, the corkboards. And there it was, a little memo that mentioned some daily tasks and reminded him that ‘the password sheet is in the desk.’

My eyes travelled from the board to the desk, to the board again, back to the desk. Could it really have been that easy? I almost got tingly as I slowly approached the desk, opening the desk drawer, expecting the answer to fall right in front of my eyes.

Rats. Nothing. It was completely bare. It was worth a shot, but even still, I let out a huff of disappointment as I closed the desk, shut off the lights, and closed the door behind me.

He had something still to him. Imagine that. A dead guy, and yet it felt like he was still clutching an item close to his chest, moving away if you got too close. It kinda was like he was living. Maybe talking to him wasn’t so nutty, because my insanely curious nature made me want to grab him by the collar and ask him what the thing was. The craptex thing.

“About time,” Nicole complained when I walked into her room. “What, did you get lost?”

“I wish you would.” I mumbled, stifling a smile.

“Already talking smack, huh?” Nicole smirked. “Bowser’s castle it is then, bitch. Now hurry up and connect your damn controller.”

Seconds turned to minutes, which turned into about an hour, so effortlessly. With Nicole, it was hard to say my life wasn’t blessed. There wasn’t a moment we weren’t exchanging jokes, hooting and hollering, and grinning knowingly from ear to ear. It’s like we were telepathic at this point. Nigh inseparable. Even with our problems, we knew how to relax with each other and just… enjoy the moment. The rest of the world may as well not exist.

“I win.” Nicole smugly pointed out and the end of our third grand prix tournament, both of us lying on our stomachs on her bed, controllers in front of us.

“I noticed.” I replied sourly.

“One of these days you’re going to beat me.” Nicole added playfully, rustling up my hair with her hand.

“I barely beat you in one race, and that’s because you got three red shells in a row.” I pointed out. “Plus I don’t play video games. You do.”

“You’re playing one now.” Nicole quipped dryly. “Who knows? Lady luck may eventually side with you.” She started absentmindedly playing with my hair some more.

I playfully pouted. “You’re going to mess it up.” I whined.

“It’s already messy.” Nicole giggled, continuing to mess up my hair. I smiled and reached over to mess hers up. Soon we were two people interlocked in a circle of messing up hair.

“Mine just falls back into position, I’m not sure what you think you’re accomplishing here.” Nicole remarked.

I shrugged and gave a small chuckle. “I dunno.” I replied. I slowly stopped as did she, and just looked into her eyes. She didn’t look away. Eventually she started moving her eyebrows in weird positions, making weird faces. “You’re fun.” I said, smiling at every face she made.

“Damn right I am.” she replied with a smile. “You’re not so boring yourself.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

“Of course.” she replied. “You’re a great time. Who needs twister when you’re around?” We both shared a weak chuckle at that, never taking our eyes off of each other. Eventually the chuckling stopped and we were just staring into each other’s eyes. No giggling, no weird faces. Just staring.

I never forgot how amazing she looked. It almost pained me every day. Her piercing, beautiful blue eyes, she way she drew me in… her black, gorgeous hair… somehow it managed to remain in place and tidy after all the rustling. Even her nose was perfect. I never thought someone’s nose could be perfect until I saw Nicole’s. I gave a weak giggle as I drank in the sight of her face.

“What?” her voice greeted me.

“Nothin’…” I murmured, staring straight at her. “It’s just… you’re beautiful.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, squirt.” She chuckled.

“No, like… Nicole, you look absolutely wonderful. You’re so beautiful.” I said slowly, meaningfully.

She didn’t say anything for a bit. A smile slowly formed on her lips. “Thanks, Adam.” she replied quietly. Slowly, her hand went to grab my head again, only it wasn’t to play with my hair this time. She used my head and pulled on it to get herself closer to me.

“Remember when we used to cuddle? Like this?” she asked me softly her head almost nuzzled into my chest, looking away from my face.

“I think about it every day.” I told her, pushing my luck and looping my arm around her, caressing her back.

“I’m not supposed to think about it that often.” she continued quietly. The last words I could barely hear, they were practically a whisper.

“But I do.”

There was no way that Nicole and I were on different pages here. Something was clearly happening. Remembering the cautious words of Salvador, I decided to go for it, once and for all.

“Nicole… do you feel something right now?” I asked. Her head moved up to look at me, saying nothing. “Because I do.”

Nicole stared into my eyes for the longest time. After a few seconds her view narrowed, as if she was looking for something. Finally a huge smile grew on her face.

“What?” I finally asked.

In answer, she moved her head forwards and spontaneously gave me a slow, deep, sweet kiss on the lips. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but I still had some element of shock to me.

I missed feeling her lips on mine. Her lips were the perfect shape, the perfect size, the perfect feeling. I felt a tingle go through my body as I felt the nostalgic rush of happiness surge through me. I responded immediately, kissing her back with as much passion as she gave me. Our arms wrapped around each other as the kisses get more heated, more desperate, losing none of the passion. We just lost the subtlety.

I was kissing Nicole again. And this clearly wasn’t some one-off in a car after we talked about our feelings. This felt so much more real, more perfect.

I broke off the kiss first. I wanted to ask her, to make sure. It was stupid to make her doubt herself, but above all, I wanted to make sure she wanted this. It didn’t feel right knowing what she told me before to just continue without another word.

Nicole, however, was a little distracted. As soon as the kiss was broken, a sound that almost sounded like a whine escaped from her lips, as she kept peppering my face with kisses. The kisses trailed downwards until they reached my neck. Every movement of her lips hit the mark perfectly. As she graduated from kissing to light sucking and biting, I felt my hand move up her back to cradle the back of her head subconsciously. Every movement of hers was like creating art. I lightly moaned as she continued.

“That feels so good…” I whispered, our first words said since the kiss.

Nicole took a break from kissing, her fingers tracing lines on my back. “Good.” she purred. “Wanna lose the shirt then?”

“Are you sure you want this?” I asked cautiously. Here goes, I thought. My chance to fuck this up, to lose everything we just built up. “I mean, in the car you s-”

“I want this, Adam. I want you. It doesn’t hurt right now, and I think… I just… it feels right.” Nicole responded, nothing but sincerity on her face, besides the hint of lust in her eyes.

I studied her face for a bit. “Okay.” I finally said, smiling. I sat up and began to work the shirt over my head. “Are you gonna do it too?”

“Say please.” Nicole teased, leaning in and giving me a quick kiss before the shirt went over my head.

“Please, mistress?” I teased right back.

She gave a slight chuckle. “How could I say no to that face?” She quickly worked her shirt over her head, taking it off and revealing a black bra underneath.

“Aw, you wore a bra today.” I mock-complained.

“If it bothers you so much, take it off, stud.” Nicole replied smoothly. I had no clue what changed her attitude so much today, but I wasn’t about to question it. I moved in, my arms snaking behind her back. I felt the back of the bra and unhinged the latch.

No I didn’t. I thought I did. Frowning to myself, I fiddled around with it some more, causing Nicole to lightly laugh.

“Here. Need some help?” she reached her arms around to her back, unsnapping the bra in record time. She shuffled around, allowing the bra to fall naturally, her beautiful D-cups falling into view with a slight jiggle.

They were just as beautiful as I remembered them. The amazing round shape, the curve they brought her body, the way her nipples stood atop them proudly, reaching out to the open air around her as if begging to be sucked. I couldn’t help but stare.

That made her smile. “I bet you missed the girls, didn’t ya?” she coyly asked.

“Fuck yes I did.” I replied hungrily, already moving forward.

“They’re all yours, squirt.” she sighed. Remind me why I love it when you play with them.”

I knew better than to just latch on immediately. I started by feeling them, caressing and tracing around the edge of her breasts with my fingertips, my touch just light enough to make her want more. Next came the attention I gave her nipples, tracing around them until they were even harder than when they first came into view. For good measure, I tweaked one just a tad, earning a sharp ‘ooh’ from Nicole.

I grinned cheekily at her reaction, and gently pushed her down onto the bed. She smiled in anticipation, making herself comfortable as I hovered over her, lowering myself down mouth first. Gently, I extended my tongue and made contact with her skin. Slowly, teasingly, I made circles around her areolae, teasing her and making sure she was lightly whimpering by the time my tongue dared to flick across her nipple.

The effect was visible. She flinched ever so slightly, wanting me to go harder and faster so badly. I didn’t afford her such a luxury, keeping up my efforts until I myself couldn’t take it anymore and dove in, using every trick in the book and every function my mouth could provide to make her experience a memorable one. My tongue traced, flicked and ran around her nipple as I sucked. Every once in a while, I would suck the nipple into the back of my mouth and let my teeth graze the nipple on its way back out. Each time she cooed and sighed and panted.

“Adam… oh baby, you’re doing such a good job…” she whispered.

Baby, I smugly thought to myself. That’s a new one. The other breast got the attention it craved from my hand as I tweaked and played with her other nipple. Eventually I thought that fair is fair and switched my mouth from one nipple to the next as my hand snaked its way down her body, slowly gliding its way down her stomach until it reached the beginning of her pants. I attempted to start putting pressure on her pussy, but alas, she was wearing jeans.

As psychic as ever, Nicole reached down, undoing the button of her pants, then lowering the zipper. She couldn’t contain her smile as she slid the pants and her underwear down her leg. “Full access.” she murmured. “Do your best, squirt.”

I had planned to do my best. ‘Squirt’ was going to be her nickname by the end of the night. Skipping the plan to finger her, I took my mouth off of her amazing breasts and slid down, smiling at the familiar sight. I ran my hand through her almost trimmed pubic hair and marvelled at the sight. She even had an amazing-looking pussy, as if she wasn’t already the perfect girl. I loved seeing her engorged clitoris, practically begging for me to play with it with my tongue. I sure as hell didn’t want to disappoint.

I leaned my head down and began in my usual teasing fashion, licking around her folds instead of going right in.

“Adaaaaam…” she whined. “Just go for iiiiit…”

“Beg for it.” I ordered sarcastically before going back to my teasing.

“Pl… please…” she panted, really getting into it. I think she missed this just as much as I did. I was half-surprised I wasn’t panting myself.

Well, since she said please… I moved my tongue slowly from outside the folds to inside, beginning to experiment with different speeds and tongue movements, listening for which got the best reactions from her. Every so often I would give the clit a gentle lick, making sure that I always left her wanting more.

“Yes, that’s so good…” Nicole sighed in approval, squirming around slightly in a subconscious effort to match my movements. Most girls might have closed their eyes, but not Nicole. She looked intently at me, smiling as much as she could given her panting as I continued my efforts.

“I missed this so much…” she purred softly as my tongue traced patterns between her folds, occasionally lightly dancing on her clit. Every so often I’d challenge myself to see how deep my tongue could go inside her, then what I could do in that position. Every little moan she made let me know what worked, what made her feel good. I so desperately wanted to give her the grand finale she desired. If nothing else, to prove to her why she should never second-guess doing this with me, having sex with me, being with me.

As her pants got shorter and more pronounced, my energy and enthusiasm got higher, my actions became more precise, more stimulating. I used everything I knew, everything I learned, to make her feel as good as I could.

Before long, her hand subconsciously went to the back of my head, holding me down as I performed the last few notes of my orchestra. Her pants and moans turned into soft cries, then sharp ones, then at the crescendo, she froze in place and her eyes closed, her face contorted as time froze for her. My tongue could feel her spasms as her muscles danced and a short spurt of her juices shot into my mouth, complimented by a sharp “Ahh!” I could practically feel the waves of bliss and ecstasy flowing through her as she remained still for a good ten seconds before letting out the first of many satisfied long sighs.

Slowly I pulled my head up, mostly because my need to breathe started to surpass my desire to give her pleasure. “How was that?” I practically wheezed.

Nicole beamed lazily. “You did great, squirt.” she cooed happily.

I wiped my face. “Should that be my nickname or yours?” I noted suavely.

Still smiling, one of Nicole’s eyebrows lowered. Okay, not as suave as I thought. “Wow, nice one. First time I heard that. How long were you holding that one in?” She reached her nightstand and pulled out her mint water. She brought it to her lips, chugging a bit, before passing it to me.

“You want me to drink this?” I asked, a tad hesitantly. “Does this mean…”

“Round two.” She smiled, almost shyly. “If you’re up for it.”

“Are you?” I asked. “Like, are you su-”

“I want you inside me, Adam.” Nicole confirmed. “I want this.”

I smiled at her as I held the bottle dumbly. She wanted this. What changed? Did she finally snap, did she reach a conclusion? I resolved to not ask myself so many dumb questions as I took a good swig, then reached over her to put the bottle away.

“Now that your mouth is all clean…” Nicole trailed off seductively, pulling me into a sweet little peck on the lips. “Ready to do this?”

“You seem eager.” I joked.

I looked into her eyes to see they were hazy with lust. “Don’t fucking joke around with me.” she ordered. “I want you. I want you now, and I’ve put this off for way too fuckin’ long.” She smiled at me. “So do you want me to guide you in or do you want to do it yourself?”

I smiled back as I reached down to grasp my cock, pulsating and all-too-ready to enter her, the girl I was denied for too long. I pulled my dick up to her entrance, enjoying the friction of rubbing up against her the whole way there. She lightly jumped, just a touch, when she felt my cock hit the outer folds of her pussy for the first time. She sighed contentedly.

“I missed this.” she cooed. “The anticipation… the teasing… but it’s been too long. Please, no more. Don’t tease me.”

The tip of my cock, practically bouncing in pulsing anticipation, slid across the surface of her beautiful pussy, shining with its temptation. Poised, set and ready, I gave Nicole one last look for confirmation. She nodded, and slowly, I slid in, feeling every inch of my cokc glide into her pussy, her warm, caressing walls enveloping my manhood as the pair of us connected in that way we were craving, becoming one.

Testing the waters, I pushed all the way in, only seeing a slight wince from Nicole at the very end as I felt her pelvis against mine. Slowly, I started to pull back, feeling our skin depart as the sensations built up around my dick and spread like a fire over my whole body. Every second that I took, my lust grew, and soon I couldn’t resist it anymore as I picked up speed, knowing full well my desire to animalistically ream Nicole for all her worth.

Given her sighs-turned-moans, this was exactly what Nicole wanted as well. As I began to pick up speed, her hand grasped around my arm for support as her cries got more desperate, more lustful, more wild. Nicole wanted more, she wanted me. I began to feel her hips grind against mine as all logic was turned off in her brain and she just went mindlessly for what she wanted: more pleasure. Gladly, I gave it to her, savoring the look of my beautiful princess as ecstasy painted her face and sweat lightly caressed her body, accentuating every curve. She was more than getting into this, she was in her own world. Her own world of pleasure, and I was the key to that lock.

Every cry she gave made her pussy clench against my cock, amplifying our orchestra further. Not that she got the opportunity to cry out for long as I dove forward, desiring to feel her amazing lips on mine. As we kissed, so too did our bodies, pushing us towards the state of bliss we both knew was arriving shortly. Every movement sent a jolt of joyous electricity up my body, reminding me each and every second every way I loved Nicole, and why I did.

I truly did. I loved her. The way she kissed me back, energetic passion in her movements, traveling through her tongue to meet mine, it couldn’t possibly have been any different for her. Every thrust, every push, sent me closer and closer to giving her that built-up surprise I never thought I would get to give her again. As I hammered my full self into her over and over, I felt a surge of gratefulness that almost brought me to tears. I was fucking Nicole Baker again. No, I was making love to her.

We broke the kiss as Nicole moaned in carnal desperation. “Oh, fuck, Adam,” she panted. “Fuck me, please, yes, fuck me. Just like that. Keep going, you’re driving me crazy.”

“You’re amazing, Nicole.” I panted right back. “I love you so much.”

A few seconds of silence passed, and as I kept thrusting, I worried that I went too far. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought that up so early as the first time we’re doing it again. She’s going to make us stop again. She’s going to put up walls, and e-

“I love you too.” she panted, almost in a whisper, as I kept going.

A unique surge went through me and positively uplifted my body. This wasn’t quite like the electric shocks sex gave me, but the two complimented each other very well. I found myself subconsciously smiling as I kept drilling her pussy, knowing that I was getting close.

“Ni… Nicole…” I breathed as I tried to last as long as I could.

She read my mind. “Almost there, squirt… Please just try to last a little longer…” Her face was contorted in concentration, the feelings building up in her body almost too much for her to take.

I wasn’t about to last too much longer. I tried thinking of other things to prolong the event but it always came back to Nicole and how amazing she looked, how sex y she looked, how good being inside her felt. My whole body was tingling and every breath came out as an increasingly pained moan as I held out as long as I could.

“Oh my God…” Nicole all but squealed, “It’s coming. Shit, it’s coming. This feels fucking incredible, Adam, oh fuck, Adam, it-”

She cut herself off, taking one long breath in and squeezing her eyes shut so hard it must have hurt. She was buzzing, she was shaking so hard. In the nick of time too – I could only handle one more thrust before I let loose a load with a prolonged “Ooooooh,” slamming into her as the first rope of cum erupted from my dick. I could practically hear her filling up and knew this only heightened the immense pleasures Nicole felt from our tryst.

We didn’t say anything. Eventually I collapsed on her and practically blacked out. We just held each other afterwards for God knows how long. We didn’t say words. Words weren’t needed. The whole thing felt right, too right to ruin with words. After a while, Nicole opened her eyes, looked at me, and giggled.

“Just like I remember.” she told me softly.

“It was even better for me.” I grinned back.

“Well, you’ll have to earn that one.” she winked at me.

We lay there in silence for a bit until I decided to sit up. “So, now what? I inquired. “Not to be that guy, but I wanna make sure. What happens from here?”

“I’m not sure.” she answered. “I honestly didn’t think this would happen. Now that it has though, I guess we’re through the looking glass. As long as…” she trailed off, looking away.

“As long as?” I asked.

She shook her head at me. “Never mind. Nothing.” she rolled over and picked up our clothes from the floor, tossing my shirt at me. “Put this on.”

“Just the shirt?” I laughed. I was rewarded for that comment with a pair of my underwear to the face. “Well played.”

As Nicole put her pants back on, she made oddly little eye contact with me. Being the overthinker that I was, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the start of something amazing or something terrible.

***

“Not meaning to say it’s not good to see you again.” I clarified to Carson as he booted up his Xbox.

“I get ya.” he waved me off. “Everyone’s busy this time of year.” He sat down and waited for the system to boot.

Carson had lost his ‘natural glow.’ The spark that once surrounded him abundantly, filled with childish glee yet mature superiority, with a dash of mischievousness, was all but gone. The air around him felt dead.

“You okay, man?” I asked him. “You don’t seem as chipper as you usually are. Is something up?”

“Nah, nothin’…” he trailed off, slumping over the couch so much he may as well have been one with it.

“You’re a shit liar.” I quipped.

He smiled lazily. Even when he smiled, all of his usual charm was gone. “Yeah, probably.” His smile faded as he sat up.

“So…” I trailed off expectantly.

“…So what?” he asked me, looking over at me. If his glance hadn’t been so dead I would have thought he was challenging me with his eyes.

“So are you just gonna sit here like this or are you gonna tell me?” I asked exasperatedly.

“I dunno.” he slurred, slumping back down. “I think…”

I waited with bated breath as he collected his thoughts or something.

“I think I’m gonna try to get back together with May.”

Yeah, of course. What the fuck else was I expecting? “May?!” I asked in disbelief. “Why? She-”

“I feel like…” Carson interjected, his voice just powerful enough to make me stop talking. “I dunno. Just feel like it.”

“Buddy.” I said sympathetically. At this he gave me an ice-cold glare.

“You don’t get to call me that.”

Woah. Well, okay then, mister. Call me ‘buddy’ all you want, I see where I stand. I sat in silence for a few more seconds before Carson sighed.

“Sorry, buddy.” Of course he got to say it. “I’ve just been… I… It feels weird. Y’know? This whole… just feels weird. I’m just, like, going through the motions and it…” He sighed again. “I’m gonna go to the washroom. When I’m back we can play or some shit.”

I felt almost guilty as I watched him get up and trudge off. What was my social obligation here? He clearly wasn’t feeling well. Should I be supporting him more? Should I offer to leave and give him some alone time? I really didn’t know how to do things here. I felt awkward and uncomfortable.

I saw Jenna getting a glass of orange juice from the kitchen fridge in the corner of my eye. I waved to her, but she didn’t respond, in classic Jenna fashion. Well, what the hell, I thought to myself. If she was going to be a bitch about it, I could flex my proverbial muscles.

“You feeling better?”

Oh. That was supposed to come out as a ‘How’s that punch to the face treating you, biiiitch?’ Maybe I was maturing. The horror.

“Yes.” Jenna simply said from the kitchen, finishing her pouring then putting the juice container away. She picked up the glass and walked to me, looking down the hall.

“Carson might be in there for a bit.” she observed. “He’s feeling like trash lately.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” I nodded, looking down. “Any idea why?”

“I feel like he’s beginning to understand the oppressive nature of his ways.” she muttered, almost to herself.

“Ah, so the patriarchy’s gettin’ to him, huh?” I replied, a little too much dismissiveness to my tone.

“No.” she replied bitterly, staring daggers at me. “He had a girlfriend until recently. They broke up, almost spontaneously. He didn’t even have sex with her, as far as I know.”

I hated to admit it, but that definitely didn’t sound like Carson. It wasn’t like him to go out with a girl and not take advantage of the fact that she had a girl’s anatomy. “What?”

Jenna nodded, looking off towards the washroom. “He kept being all proud, saying this one would be different. This one was different all right.” She huffed. “Maybe he is getting more mature. Sparing her his usual sexual advances was the kindest thing he ever did for a girl.”

Carson being low-energy and slumping and mumbling and shit was one thing, but I knew that Carson in his right mind just wasn’t that kind of person. “Out of curiosity, who was it?” I asked her innocently, trying to play it cool.

“I think her name was Jasmine Dunn. She’s a good person, very kind. I don’t know why he did that. He got her all infatuated with him, then…” She demonstrated letting go of something and letting it fall to the floor.

“Just like that?” I asked her.

“Just like that.”

I stared straight ahead. Carson was definitely not that kind of person. He seemed very intent on what he wanted, but was he the manipulative type to get people to show him affection, only to drop them? No. No he wasn’t at all. Was this why he was so low-energy? Did he do something he regretted? Or was it something else?

“I don’t think Carson would have done that intentionally to her.” I started, realizing talking to Jenna was playing with fire all the while. “He may be ignorant of what he does to girls, but he would never intentionally build a girl up to make her feel awful.”

Jenna didn’t look at me. “I agree.” she said in a factual tone. “Something is unusual here.”

“What do you think it is?” I asked her, practically wide-eyed.

I was expecting the heroic “I intend to find out,” but with Jenna being Jenna, she just shrugged and walked away, still never looking at me. I shrugged too, watching her leave. Blame it on my curious nature, but if she wasn’t going to bother digging deeper, I sure as hell was.

***

Being in the student council came with a surprising amount of connections. With my mind set to it and the right people being around to ask, I was able to find out pretty quickly that Jasmine Dunn partook in French class. This significantly helped, since French was in such little demand that there was only grade nine class for it. Even better, it was during fourth period.

“Mr. Brock,” I wheezed, running up to the Adonis of a teacher a few minutes into the daily jog we had to do.

“Heeey… man.” Mr. Brock replied, trying to use his 90s workout instructor persona to mask the fact that he didn’t bother to learn any names except for the five students that actually were athletes. “How’s it going?”

“I was just wondering if I could be let out of class a little early today.” I started.

Even as he gave me that ‘can’t let you do that’ grimace, the smiled remained on his face, as if it were permanently stuck there. “Sorry, lil’ guy. Can’t let you do that. You’re still a minor and I could get in trouble if I let you go. I’m technically supposed to be watching over you.”

“Okay…” I replied slowly, trying to think on my feet. “But what if I needed to walk home in a hurry? Like if it were a family thing?” I wasn’t saying it was, I was just… implying it. Plus, Mr. Brock didn’t know where I lived, it was worth a shot.

“Um…” He scratched the back of his head, probably removing a few sun-bleached hairs in the process. “Then I guess you would need to talk to the attendance office and call your parents.”

“Cool, can I go do that now?” I asked.

His smile became increasingly forced. “Yeah, of course, go ahead.” he replied, knowing I had a right to anyway given I was a student. I loved knowing my rights. Thanks, James Madison.

I walked almost triumphantly into the office and let the secretary know I wanted to call my mom to ask her if I could go home early. Politely, the secretary complied and after asking for a phone number, handed me the phone.

“Hello?” came the sweet, rehearsed voice of Mom, proving in her voice that this was her line of work.

“Hey mom. It’s me. I… uh…” Crap. I hadn’t really thought this far ahead. “Could I miss the last half of gym today? I’m not feeling all that great and I don’t want to be running around.”

“Oh, hello, sweetie.” she began. “So are you just asking to sit on the side during class?”

Crap. Crap again. Complications. “Um, no…” I attempted to find a way around this one. “I was just thinking of sitting in the cafeteria because it’ll be quieter there.”

“Ohhhh, I see… do you have a headache?” Mom asked, her tinned voice full of concern.

Bingo. “Um, yeah.” I replied, feigning pain in the same way every scumbag kid does when they lie to their parents about feeling sick.

“My poor sweetie.” Mom lamented. It took all of my strength not to roll my eyes. “Yes, of course that’ll be okay. I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks, mom. This will definitely help. Want me to pass you back to the secretary?” I asked.

“Yes, please do. I’ll talk to you at home soon, love you!” Mom’s voice cheerily declared.

“Luhyou.” I lamely mumbled, still childishly embarrassed of saying ‘I love you’ to my mom. I passed the phone back and the secretary talked for a bit before putting down the receiver.

“Okay, everything checks out. You’ll be dismissed from class halfway through, which means you’ll still need to be in class another half hour.” She typed a few things on her computer and some kind of receipt started printing. “If your headache is that bad, tell your teacher and they can make some accommodations for you.” She ripped the receipt out of the machine and handed it to me. “Hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks,” I warmly smiled as I took the paper from her. What a nice lady. I was so glad some of the horror stories about school weren’t entirely true.

I practically skipped back to gym class, handing the paper to Mr. Brock along with a short explanation. I promised him I would be ‘good to go’ for those last thirty minutes despite the headache, mostly because I felt awkward just sitting there while everyone had to jog around the track. A gruelling half an hour later, Mr. Brock called me over and dismissed me, almost disappointedly.

But whatever. Phase one was complete. All I had to do was lie to a bunch of adults that trusted me. No problem. Now to phase two.

I wandered around the school for longer than I would care to admit before finally finding Room 315. ‘The French Room,’ as people called it. Gathering up my social anxiety in one big ol’ basket and chucking it out the window, I knocked on the door.

A few seconds passed and the door opened. A friendly yet stern-looking middle-aged woman with ‘teacher glasses’ and blonde hair clearly out of a bottle opened the door, not stepping outside so that I could get the full experience of every student there staring a hole through my face.

Bonjour.” the woman told me. “T’es correct?”

“Um, hi.” I broke out into a big smile in embarrassment as I pointed at her. “I don’t know what that means, but okay. Could I talk to Jasmine Dunn for a second please?”

“What is this about?” the woman asked me in slightly accented english.

“Just class stuff, it shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.” I lied coolly.

The woman nodded. “D’accord. Jasmine, if you need to see him…”

I wasn’t even sure who I was looking for, all I was staring at was a sea of different-looking wannabe French people. A shy-looking girl with frizzy brown hair and glasses got up nervously and wordlessly walked over out the door, passing me. The door shut behind her and I looked around for a few seconds before turning to her.

“Okay, hi. This clearly isn’t about class stuff. I don’t think we’ve even met before.” I began. Not the best opening liner I’ve ever given.

“Okay,” was all she said. She was looking at me with a bit of a concerned expression.

“I just needed to figure some stuff out. I, uh, understand you were with Carson Carter until recently…”

Her face fell. “Did he say I did something?” she asked timidly.

“No no! No.” I waved my hands in front of my face. “No. I just know that Carson is… I just…” I tripped over my words. “I just know who Carson is as a person, and he seems really sad lately. And the only thing I know about it is that he broke up with you. I just wanted to know, for my friend’s sake, what your side of everything is.”

Jasmine crossed her arms uneasily and let her expression fall to the ground. “Um…” she began nervously.

“I totally get this is weird. This is weird for me too, believe me.” I gave a small laugh out of nervousness. “I’m just trying to fix the situation.” The words of Phil warning me to never get involved in other people’s business floated around my head, but I shooed the thoughts away.

“Well… Carson was a nice guy, at least I thought he was. I knew that he liked to… well… How much do you know about Carson?” she asked.

“Total manslut. You’re good to go, sister.” I reassured her.

“Yeah, he told me about that. That was okay, I didn’t see it as a problem if it was just his past. He said he was going to change for me. He never touched me or anything, he never pressured me. I thought he was the sweetest guy ever. But before anything happened, before we ever went public or anything, he…” Her eyes started to well up. “He just stopped. He just told me that he couldn’t keep going like this anymore. I don’t get it. Nothing changed, I wasn’t doing anything different. He just decided one day that I wasn’t good enough for him.”

“I’m sorry.” I tried to console her. “Was he mean about it?”

“No, it was like he just gave up.” she answered me, trying to blink rapidly to stop any embarrassing tears from happening. “He wasn’t mad, he just… stopped trying. Like I wasn’t worth it.”

“I’m sure he didn’t see it that way at all.” I coaxed her soothingly. “Believe me, if Carson wanted to go out with you, that means something. “Was there something that you know could stop this?”

She shifted her feet uneasily. “I can’t tell. I mean, this could be in my head but I got really jealous and protective knowing his past. Like, I trusted him but I didn’t trust any of the girls that always were around him.”

I never liked admitting to myself how much of a chick magnet Carson was, but he was. Even if he was abstinent he’d have at least three girls a day strike up a conversation with him. And of course, every time they did, he would be charismatic as fuck.

“There was this one girl I really didn’t like. Always flirting with him and stuff. He brushed her off, but she kept clearly trying to one-up me.” she continued.

I was starting to lose faith in Jasmine. I couldn’t help but feel like she was lying or exaggerating to get me on her side. Great. My one lead on why my friend was acting like death warmed over and she was a drama queen.

“I think her name was May.”

Nnnnever mind, this all sounded completely legit now. “May Stevens?” I asked abruptly.

“Yes…” she said slowly. “Do you know her?”

Oh boy did I fucking ever know her. “Yes, I do.” I replied, not trying to let my tone reflect how I felt in the moment. “Um, anyway, I’m sure it’s just Carson not being ready for a relationship like this. I think he learned that with May. You bringing her up reminded me of that.”

She gave me a small smile. “Yeah, maybe.” she pettily admitted. “What’s your name? I never got it.”

“Oh, it’s not important. I mean, it’s Adam, but it’s not important.” I flashed her a polite smile. “Anyway, I’m sorry for bringing you out of class like this. I, um, I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks…” Jasmine said slowly, a little weirded out by my clear sudden shift in demeanor.

I walked down the hallway with purpose. Fucking May. How many people was she willing to steamroll in her quest to manipulate people into believing she was a decent human being? This had to stop, and it had to stop now.

***

As soon as May opened her locker, I shut it. Not knowing I was there, she give out a little yelp and fearfully turned behind her to face me. Once she was it was me though, her fearful expression went away, masked by a fake face of apathy.

“Expecting someone else?” I all but growled.

“What do you want, Adam?” she asked blandly. I realized then and there that this was the first time I shared a conversation with her since Nicole had the talk with her.

“What was the talk with Nicole about?” I asked, leaning on the locker next to her. It was stupid, but I wanted to make sure I always had the upper hand in this conversation. In Salvador’s words, I wanted to make sure I was ‘higher status.’

“None of your business, that’s what it was about.” she replied flatly.

“Look, you burst into the room trying to drag me through the mud. You made all of this my business. So as soon as you’re put in the same situation, you don’t get to pull this shit. Cut the crap.”

She laughed condescendingly. “No, putting you in the same situation would be punching you in the face and putting on a big show to get everyone else on my side.”

“Would it also include me blackmailing you into keeping your mouth shut by threatening to say you raped me, then me raping you a few months later? Or does that not fit your little story of woe?”

“Bite me.” May added coldly yet calmly.

“Not to mention, I sure as hell didn’t try to get back with my ex after they found someone else. It’s curious that you only went after Carson as soon as he got someone else. The way Jasmine tells it, you started flirting with him and trying to one-up her.”

Ugh. I was contributing to teenage drama. I had lived long enough to see myself become the enemy. Still, I was in too deep at this point, and had to keep going.

A look of fury crossed May’s eyes and left as quickly as it came. “Why does this even matter to you?” she asked me, her words delicate and non-confrontational, trying to seem like the better person. “After all, you chose the other two over me. You don’t care about me like I did about you. So really you’re being hypocritical if you’re coming after me as soon as I move on and accusing me of doing the same to my ex.”

My blood boiled. “Okay, first of all, we were never a thing. We were absolutely never a couple. Don’t you even pretend like we were. Nothing happened between us.”

“It can still be something even if there isn’t a label, can’t it? I would have thought you and Camera Girl would know all about that.” May’s grin, not present on her face, was evident in her eyes.

“Leave Nicole the fuck out of this. And I’m following up on this because my friend is hurting, and Jasmine is hurting too. You’re just making everyone around you feel terrible, and that’s not fair to anyone.” I huffed as she stared at me, daring me to continue. “And anyway, If you’re so damn sure you could get Carson wrapped around your finger at the drop of a hat anyway, why even bother with me?”

May rolled her eyes, as if I was asking a stupid question. “Because,” she began, drawing out the word as if it were obvious, “I’ve clearly always loved you more. Loved you more than him, and certainly more than you ever loved me. Or anyone, I bet.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “That’s your fucking argument?” I started, ignoring the small crowd staring at us. “Seriously? May, you throw around the word ‘love’ as if it’s candy on Halloween. I bet you don’t even have a fucking clue what it means. It’s okay if you’re lonely or sad or whatever, but a good person admits their pain and tries to find ways to move on from it, but you like to inflict your pain on everyone around you. You’ve caused God knows how many bad situations this year. You’re the chief cause for a stupid amount of them. To sit back and say that you’ve loved me more is laughable.” I turned to the crowd. “This girl tried to blackmail me at a party after we had sex together. She felt guilty after we did it, so she said if I ever blabbed, she’d tell everyone I raped her. How crazy is that?”

“Adam!” May interjected sharply, the calm look on her face gone.

“What’s up, May?” I asked, my tone full of confidence knowing I won the higher ground. “Was that untrue? By all means, face the people. Tell them I’m lying. Because I fucking wasn’t.”

I practically danced out of the way so that the students could see May. She didn’t make a move to speak. She barely moved at all. She just stood there, her face getting redder.

“That’s right.” I moved back in front of her. “You’ve been a great audience. Get out of here, the rest of this is private.” I just stood in front of her, staring at her, challenging her with my eyes as the students awkwardly moved behind me. It was a good four minutes until every student was gone, and I spent every second staring her down.

“It sure sucks being faced with what you’ve done, doesn’t it?” I asked smugly. “Be thankful I didn’t bring up that you had your way with me after I didn’t give consent. What kind of ‘love’ is that, May? If that’s what you think love is, God help anyone you love ever again.”

“I don’t want to speak to you ever again.” May said softly, the first thing she said in a while.

I chuckled and folded my arms, hiding the twinge of pain I felt from those words. Somewhere inside me, May was still the high school crush I pined for, even if that part of me was getting exponentially smaller every day. “Fine by me.” I said. “But only if you promise.” I held out a hand and stared her down. Slowly, May extended her arm and I firmly shook her hand.

“Goodbye forever, May.” I said, slowly and meaningfully.

“Bye.” she said, half in soft anger, half in fear.

I couldn’t help beaming to myself as I walked away. At this point in time, this was all I wanted. I won. May was out of my life. As far as I was concerned, she was one big problem I wouldn’t ever have to worry about ever again. More importantly, I won. The last conversation we ever had wasn’t dominated by the sneaking, cheating, raping May. I got to have the last word.

I was still smirking to myself as I got to the main hallway. Most of the students were gone – I would have to spare no time in getting to the bus. Either that, or pray to God that Nicole was still here and willing to drive me home. There were only a few students left, just standing in pools talking amongst themselves about classes or whatever.

Among the sounds of the crowds, one stood out, and it sounded like a vaguely familiar one. In the main hallway, there was one branching path that led to a small dead end, so to speak – the elevator hallway, just in case anyone in a wheelchair or something decided to go to Hazelwood. Being the stupidly curious kid I was, of course I had to go investigate.

Very quickly, I discovered why I recognized the sound. It was Megan, because life decided it hadn’t thrown enough shit at me today. She was crying.

‘Crying’ was being generous. She was bawling her eyes out, the quiet kind where you weren’t doing it for attention or anything – you were doing it because your life was as good as over.

“Megan?” I asked her in shock. She didn’t really respond – she was curled up in a ball. I couldn’t see her face. If her hair wasn’t so distinctly beautiful, I wouldn’t have been so sure it was her at all.

I walked over next to her and slid down the wall. If Megan was this devastated, the bus could wait. “What is it, what’s wrong?” I gingerly moved my hand to her back and started stroking it supportively, to which she pulled back and moved away.

Damn, she must have been really upset. I moved my hand back to my side slowly. “Sorry.” I mumbled.

I sat next to her for a good minute before she lifted her head. “I-I-” she attempted to say between sobs.

“It’s okay.” I soothed her. I had no clue what was going on, but I didn’t want to worsen matters. “Do you want to talk about it, or just sit here? Nod if you wanna talk.”

She stared straight ahead crying for a few seconds before hesitantly nodding.

“Okay.” I replied supportively and slowly. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

Megan made a few attempts at words which quickly dissolved into sobs, sniffles and sorrows. Following my advice, she took some deep breaths until she was able to control her breathing, and spoke.

I’ll never forget the shock that hit me when I heard her words. My heart froze and lightning struck me as soon as I processed what she told me. I wanted to refuse she said it, I wanted to pretend it wasn’t real. I have have experienced a lot of shit this year, but never in my life had I expected to deal with what came out of her mouth right then.

“I’m pregnant.”

__________________________

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