Chapter 27-I’d Forgotten

breath

 

A gigantic, bustling crowd snaked around the emergency vehicles in front of Valentine Hall. I shoved my hands in my pockets, but it didn’t stop them from trembling. Everything around me looked and sounded like panic.

I could see an outline of Char. She must have hopped off the roof because she was standing on a decorative ledge. She looked like a little doll so far away. A little doll that I wanted to pluck up and cradle in my arms. I concentrated on my breathing after noticing that I had stopped.

Trina, Leah, and Mallory were all gathered next to me. They followed me out to Albert’s car and climbed in, uninvited. I spotted a familiar face behind the yellow caution tape.

I gasped and shoved my way through the crowd, to the edge of the bright yellow tape. “Officer! Officer! Over here!” I said as I waved my arms around. My friends pushed their way through and joined me.

The young officer squinted his eyes and drew closer. “May I help you?” He said with the same stone eyes and expression that he had the day he came to Theta.

“Yes, it’s me. Brie Merritt. We met.”

“Ah, yes, Miss Merritt.”

“What’s your name, again, sir?”

“I’m officer Crew. What do you need?”

“Um,” I said glancing up at Char. “Officer Crew, please let me go up there and talk to her. Please. I have experience with this kind of thing.”

I felt Trina squeeze my shoulder. It reminded me to root my feet in the ground and stare directly into his eyes. Even if I knew there was no way in hell he would let me help.

“We have our best negotiator up there right now,” Officer Crew said with a softer tone.

I made my hand into a shade for my eyes to see through the darkness of night and the splash of red and blue lights.

“I don’t see anyone up there.”

“She won’t let anyone-” Officer Crew’s eyes darted around and he leaned closer, “this isn’t public knowledge, Miss Merritt. Off the record, she will not let anyone come close to her. It’s a stand off of sorts.”

“I need to get up there, please, help me!” I said reaching across the tape and touching Officer Crew’s arm.

Why did you do that! Hold it together! 

Officer Crew stepped back three steps and his eyes burned into mine.

“Young lady, never-”

“I’m a survivor,” I admitted, cutting him off.

“What’s that?”

I heard Leah and Mallory gasp. They didn’t know. But I didn’t care who knew anymore.

“I’m a suicide survivor!” I yelled. “I think I can help!”

“Leave it to us, everything that can be done, is being done, I assure you,” Officer Crew said. He turned his back to me.

“Brie! Leah!” A pained voice croaked from behind me.

“Oh my God, Krissy!” I said as I threw my arms around Krissy’s small frame. Krissy returned my embrace and sobbed into my shoulder.

“Krissy, I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling my lunch swirl around in a tornado in my stomach. “I’m sorry for everything!”

“Oh my god, stop,” Krissy said as she held her thin fingers to my lips. “Like any of that stupid shit matters now?”

“Has she been struggling with depression?” I asked.

“No!” Krissy said stepping back and wiping her mascara stained cheeks. “I had no idea. I mean, she’s moody, but we all are moody. We’re girls.”

“I want to help,” I said peeking up at Char.  I’m a survivor and I’ve learned a thing or two eight years of intensive therapy. Plus she knows me.”

“Sneak around back?” Krissy asked, nodding.

“Here,” Trina said reaching into her bust and pulling out a swipe card. “I live here, so use this. There is a door back behind the building. It’s behind a  few tall bushes, where the janitors sneek smokes. You know which one I’m talking about, love?”

I nodded. “Yes. I know where that is. I know how to get to the roof, once inside.”

“I never tried to use it on that door,” Trina nodded to the card in my palm. “I think it’s a service entrance. I hope it works there, too.”

“Wait,” Mallory said. “Think about this, though. If you do manage to get up there. What if seeing you…I hate to say this…what if it makes it worse? You know…you guys aren’t exactly on the best terms.”

She’s so right, I thought. But if I don’t at least try, I will always regret this moment. If anyone knows where Char’s head is, it’s me. Only I took the plunge and she’s still standing there. Oh, what I would have said to the clueless, desparate hopeless Brie if I could go back in time. Besides, I’m pretty sure that Mr. Negotiator has never stuck a razor an inch into his wrist. 

“You’re right Mallory,” I said eyeing the distant Char. “But I have to try.”

“Good luck,” Mallory said dropping her gaze.

My group of friends wished me luck as I shoved my way through the crowd. I wandered into the trees that surrounded most of Valentine Hall. I snuck all the way to the back, where the chain link fence stood and outlined the dormitory’s grounds. I walked along the  fence. My leg scraped against some kind of thorny bush and I covered my mouth to muffle my yelp of pain. I kept going and a branch poked through my sweater and broke the skin on my chest. I didn’t stop.

When I came out the other side, the secluded service door was in view. There was also an officer standing watch in front of the other student/public entry which was just a few yards from my door. I guessed that the building was closed, and all entry ways were secured. Besides the janitors’ door. They might not have even realized it was there.

My resolve faded as I yanked a leaf out of the tangles of my hair and stared at the policewoman. She hadn’t noticed me yet. I could have easily went back without any questions. After all, I didn’t know if the card would even work. If I managed to get there unnoticed and it didn’t work, could I sneak away? Would I be arrested if she caught me?

If I get in, I just have eleven stories, I thought to myself. Holy shit. Eleven. The same age as I was on that Christmas. 

For some reason that’s all it took. It was like the universe saw all of my offerings the other night when I let go of my tragedy box and this was her way of giving me a little push. It made sense at that moment. And I didn’t have a single doubt.

I took off my heels and ducked back into the shadows. It felt like I was a Charlie’s Angel, or a secret agent. My adrenaline flooded through every inch of me. I waited for what seemed like forever, before the policewoman  paced towards the opposite direction. She had her back towards me. It was my chance.

I darted towards the service entrance and stepped into a tall bush that was on the side of the sidewalk. From inside of the bush, I held out the swipe card and slid it through the card reader next to the door handle. It blinked yellow for a few minutes.

Fuck, it won’t work. Now what?

Then it turned green.

It made a buzzing sound when I crept from the bush and slid inside. My heart jumped into my throat. The buzz was too loud for comfort. I sprinted, in case the officer heard it and came to investigate.

I winded my way through the abandoned halls of the lower level, and found my staircase. Hardly anyone used it, most everyone used the elevator. I even saw people from floor 2 using it when I had lived there. My only hope is that they were vacant as usual.

I let out a sigh and started up the metal stairs. It helped that I was barefoot for noise level, but I knew I would pay for it later. The pads of my feet screamed with each slap onto metal, only passing floor four.

It wasn’t long before  I was at the upstairs landing. The pain from the scratches of the woods and bare feet died in an instant and was replaced by my heart crashing into my ribs. There were two shadows by an open door. I could see the night sky outlining their figures. A full moon.

Just like that night.

I took a few steps closer and I figured that I must be staring at the back of the negotiator guy. He looked more like a grizzly bear in a suit. There was also a younger officer next to him. They didn’t notice me, until I squared my shoulders, marched up behind them and cleared my throat.

“Hold it right there!” The police officer demanded in a startled voice and he whipped around.

The negotiator man turned around slowly and met my gaze. There was a hit of a smile beneath his salt and pepper mustache. His calming energy allowed me to find my words right away.

“Sir, I know I’m not supposed to be here.”

“You’re right,” the man said in a gruff, but soothing voice.

“I’m a former dorm mate of Char’s and a survivor of suicide. I want to, I mean, I need to speak with Char.” I took a few steps closer.

“I said don’t move!” The officer screamed, pulling his gun out.

Oh my God. I’m at fucking gunpoint. My inner self screamed.

“For Pete sake, kid,” Negotiator man said. “Quiet or the gal will hear yas.”

“Mam,” The officer said, in a quiet, but firm voice, with his gun pointed at my head. “Put your hands up.”

“Stand down, officer,” Negotiator said, putting his baseball-mitt hand on his shoulder.

“Yes, sir,” the officer said lowering his weapon.

My hands flew up. “Look, I’ll comply! But you have to let me see her.”

The negotiator just stared at me and folded his hands. I wondered if he was profiling me.”I’m Saul. What’s your name?”

“Brie. I just want to help.”

“You are a brave girl,” Saul said giving me a wink.

I heard a wail on the roof and Saul and officer turned around.

“What’s going on?” I heard a distant Char yell.

“Nothing to worry about,” Saul answered.

I couldn’t get over the serenity in his voice. This was life or death and Saul must have mentally been on a Flordia beach.

“I heard someone. Tell me who is there, or I’ll fucking jump!” Char said from her spot on the ledge.

“You climb up a little closer for me. You do that for me, I’ll tell ya.”

Saul gave me another wink. He leaned out to watch Char, but blocked my view of the roof.

“See? ‘At a girl, Char. Now I live up to my word. It’s a friend of yours, a blonde. Goes by the name of Brie.”

“What? You have to be fucking kidding me!” I heard Char yell. “Of all the fucking people in the world….”

I gave myself a hug as Saul turned around and met my eyes.

He turned back around. “Char, remember I’m on your side, see? Never mind her. What can I get for you?”

“Tell Brie to come here. I want to talk to her before I do it. I’m doing it at midnight, still, Saul. I have some time.”

“Char, I want to let Brie out with ya, but this is a restricted area.” Saul gave me a single nod. “If I let Brie talk to you from here, it’s my ass on the line, you got me?”

“Get Brie up here! I’m not playing this game with you, I already told you that.”

“Brie’ll talk to ya from here, but you won’t be able to hear her very well, see? We have to scream as it is. Now, if she comes and talks to you, will you come closer, to the middle of the roof and sit down?”

“Saul, I’ll jump right fucking now if you are shitting me!” Char screamed.

“You are in charge here, Char, not me. I just want you to talk to your friend, here.”

Saul reached behind me and pulled me in front of him, placing me at the door frame. “See?”

This guy is a fucking badass, I thought as I saw Char creep off the ledge. She walked closer to us and sat down. She looked like a black widow spider as she folded her legs and stared at me. So tiny and dark, but so lethal.

“Give us space, Saul,” Char snapped.

“Sure thing,” Saul replied as he took a step away and removed himself from Char’s view.

He was still close, which gave me comfort. I didn’t know what to expect when I got up to the roof. I suppose I thought I knew more than a seasoned expert. Now that I was there and heard Char screaming about jumping off, I realized I knew nothing. The only thing I did know was that I was a damn fool. A fool who was out of her league.

“Brie, why the fuck are you here?”

“Honestly, Char,” I yelled across the roof. “When I heard what was happening I just wanted reach out to you.”

“Don’t talk so loud, sweetheart,” Saul advised in my ear. “If ya gradually decrease your volume, she’ll be drawn closer, you see.”

“Why, so you can feel better about yourself?”

“No. I just wanted you to know that someone understands. You’re not alone. And it gets better.”

Char stared at me in silence as the wind ruffled through her short dark hair. I shifted uncomfortably and darted my eyes to Saul.

“Doin’ great, kid,” Saul whispered.

“You don’t know anything about me,” Char grumbled.

“Maybe not, but I do know a thing or two about suicide. I’m a survivor.”

“No you’re not. You’re like, fucking perfect.”

“If I had one wish, I would go back in time and beg young me not to kill myself,” I said, feeling a flood of emotions that were dark, yet cleansing. “It’s like I’m looking in a mirror.”

Char rose up and folded her arms around herself. She walked a closer to me.

“Is that so?” Char said, now close enough to look into my eyes. “Were you pimped out by your mother for drug money as little girl?”

“No, I wasn’t.”

Char sneered.”Were you abused by your foster dad so much, that you had to slather on makeup everyday, just to hide the bruises?”

“No, but-”

“Did you think things were going better when you got into Baylor, only to be rejected by something that meant the fucking world to you?” Char’s eyes gleamed with tears.

It felt like something was in my throat. I shook my head.

“Then you are not looking at a mirror. You are looking at someone who has nothing to live for. Nothing to look back on and nothing to look forward to. You have everything, Brie. I have nothing!”

Char buried her face in her hands and sniffled.

“Okay kid, this is good,” Saul said.

“What?” I whispered out of the side of my mouth. “How?”

“Speak from your heart. Walk out only a few inches, and then open your arms for her to come to you. You got this.”

Okay, here it goes. Speak from your heart.

“When I was eleven, I found my pregnant mother in the snow Christmas Eve. She was dead. She had vomit dribbling from her lips, her skin was as cold and white as the snow, her lips were purplish and her eyes were opened half way.”

Char sniffled and looked up. “Are…are you shitting me?”

“No,” I said, taking a few steps on the roof, as instructed by Saul. I lowered my voice, hoping to lure Char in. “For years, every time I closed my eyes, I saw that look on her lifeless face.”

“That’s…there are no words.”

“There really aren’t. What’s worse, everyone thinks she overdosed on pills as suicide.”

“Really?”

“Well, I think that she started to kill herself, but then, she realized she wanted to live. So she bolted outside to get to her car and drive to the ER.”

Char paced a few steps closer. With a crackling voice she said,”She wouldn’t have called an ambulance?”

“No, we were dirt poor. No phone.”

“Shit…”

“And my neglectful dad was an alcoholic. She probably thought she had to drive herself because he was drunk. Or maybe she was trying to reach the neighbors. I’ll never know.”

Char mumbled, “Sorry, that is horrible.”

“It was. I was traumatized,” I said, feeling my cheeks grow warm. ” I wore sunglasses for a year after that, I couldn’t stop crying. I haven’t cried ever since. I can’t.”

Char took a few more strides. She was only a arms length away.

“I had flashbacks for years,” I said opening my arms, motioning Char in. “I only recently started healing. You can heal, too. I will help you.”

Char’s lips trembled as she collapsed into my arms. “I can’t go back down, Brie. I’ll never live this down. I’m humiliated.”

“Screw Baylor,” I said, resting my cheek on the top of Char’s head. “You can leave. You can stay. You can do whatever you want. You’re alive.”

I took a deep, cleansing breath. “You know Char, I just know my mom changed her mind, but didn’t make it. I almost didn’t make it but someone pulled me back to life. Let me pull you back. Please.”

“What do I do?” Char’s voice trembled.

“Just breathe,” I whispered to Char. “Breathe.”

I felt Char’s lungs inflate against my chest, and heard her sigh. The lump in my throat swelled. My eyes felt heavy. Then blurry. A single tear slid down my cheek and was absorbed by Char’s hair.

Tears are warm, I thought.

I’d forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 26-Now or Never

Lauren’s heels clicked into the kitchen and she casually grabbed an orange. It was as if she never moved out of Theta. She spotted me sitting at the long picnic-style table in the dining area. She raised an eyebrow as she joined me.

“So,” I said flashing a tight smile. “How did coffee with Dillon go?”

Lauren dug her hot pink nails into the skin of her orange. “It was fine.”

“Do you think he’ll dump me for you?”

“I don’t know,” Lauren shook her head softly. “We’ve always liked each other. Yet, he’s very loyal. Very loyal to you.”

“His one redeeming quality,” I said with a snort.

“Please don’t talk shit about Dillon,” Lauren frowned as she nibbled her orange. “Brie, sometimes I wonder if you have a lick of common sense.”

“I wonder the same thing myself,” I said looking down at my untouched soup. It was getting cold. “Sorry.”

“Anyway, I’m going to the Lambda’s ‘Guys in Ties, Girls in Pearls’ party tonight,” Lauren said. “I’ll work stealing Dillon more…you really owe me one, Brie.”

“I owe you several.”

“Meanwhile, I was looking at apartments in Coralvalley. I wish I could just have my old Theta room back. The national committee would never allow it.”

“You can sleep in my room.”

Lauren narrowed her eyes.

“Nevermind,” I said shaking my head. “So, Leah had an idea, that I should ditch  out on Lambda’s Guys in Ties party and go to Sigma’s foam soap party instead. Dillon would be so mad at me.”

“What? I don’t understand that logic.”

“I can’t dump him,” I said. “Our relationship has improved Theta’s status. Mallory said we had never been invited to so many parties and events. In the past, we could never get into Lambda, now we are regulars there. If I dump him, everyone will hate me. But, if he is the one doing the dumping, things should just coast back to normal. He and everyone else won’t hate me with a passion.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Lauren said, rolling her eyes.

I felt my blood boil. “Well, Mallory thinks so and I agree. Dillon will hate me if I dump him. Hate! I know him. That’s why I haven’t done it. He would get with Krissy just to spite me. Theta would be back in the social mud and I can’t let that happen.”

“There is no guarantee, after he breaks up with you, that he won’t go straight to Krissy.”

“That’s where you come in.”

“But I’m not a student,” Lauren said folding her arms. “I’m not in the game anymore. You underestimate how deeply Dillon loves to play.”

“That may be,” I said with a shrug. “It’s worth a shot.”

“If you say so.”

****

“I’m Albert,” The greeter at Sigma said with a sideways smile. He reached out to shake my hand. It felt like shaking hands with a skeleton you see hanging in Science classes.

“I’m-”

“Oh I know who you are,” Albert said as he squeezed my hands. “Brie Merritt from Theta. So glad you guys accepted our invite. Wow, didn’t expect you, though. Wow.”

I hoped that the darkness of the night hid my flushed cheeks. I pulled on my rose-gold sequin dress, resurrected from New Years Eve. It had brought me luck catching Dillon, now if only it would help me throw him back in the sea.

Leah, Mallory, Daisy, and about ten other sisters were gathered behind me. Trina met us a few minutes earlier, in front of Sigma. She got to gossiping with the girls immediately. At least I didn’t have to worry about taking care of Trina. She can make friends with a rock.

When Albert lead me in, they all trailed behind me like little ducklings. The familiar smell of spilled, stale beer, cologne, and B.O. greeted us as she walked up the stairs.

He lead us to the grand room where they were setting up a long white table for beer pong, and adding soap to the room.

“I never been to a foam party before,” Leah said biting her lip as she eyed the foaming soap.

“Me neither,” I said gazing around. There were hardly any guests yet and the music was lower than it would be in a few hours.

I felt butterflies as I thought of Dillon. He’s going to be furious., I thought. My phone vibrated. Text from Nash.

Nash: Are you single?

Me: Soon. Tonight I’m making this happen.

Nash: I guess I’ll talk to you tomorrow then.

Me: What? Why?

Nash: You know why.

Me: But I miss you…

Nash: I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

I groaned at looked at Trina.

“Was that Nashy-poo?” Trina asked, batting her long, false eyelashes.

“Yes. Now he won’t even talk to me until it’s done.”

“Why don’t I just call Dillon and pretend to be you? I will have that Dillon McCloud running away so fast…”

I cringed. “Ya, he’d never fall for it…”

Trina pinched her nose and did her best Brie-impression. “Hi, Dillon, it’s me, Brianne. I hope you know I just plopped a big ol’ turd in the toilet.”

Leah and the other girls giggled. I waved my arm and grinned.

My phone buzzed, again. I felt my heart pick up the pace .

I gave Leah and Trina a thumbs up as I answered. They leaned forward with big doe eyes.”Hello?”

“Brie,” Dillon yelled. I heard party-goers in the background. “Where the fuck are you?”

“Oh didn’t I tell you? The sisters and I wanted to go to Sigma’s foam party tonight.”

Silence.

“Dillon, sorry, how forgetful of me. Is Lauren there?”

“She just got here, I asked where you were but didn’t believe her. I couldn’t. You ditching me for another frat? Another frat? Are you fucking serious?”

“They chose Sigma. I’m sorry…but my sisters come first.” I gave my friends a wink. He couldn’t hate me for that. Could he?

“Brie.”

“Yes, Dillon?”

“It’s over.”

I swallowed. I knew that it was coming. I prayed that it was coming. But, now that it was here, I felt my limbs paralyze.

“Are you sure?” I whispered. A little sliver, somewhere inside, wanted him to say no.

“Very. You’ve been wanting this for awhile. Happy?”

“What?”

“You have been trying to get me to dump you.”

“No…”

“Take responsibility,” Dillon barked. “For once, just tell the truth.”

The truth burned on my lips. I hesitated.

“I wasn’t trying to get you to dump me,” I fibbed. “Look, I want to return the ring you got me. Thanks for it. Thanks for everything. And I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us, but I still want you to be happy.”

“I wanted you to be happy, too,” Dillon said. “Turns out, that is impossible.”

My heart sunk. I felt so bad. Part of me wanted to just hang up.

“No hard feelings, then?” I asked.

“Well,” Dillon huffed. “I don’t know. I suppose not.”

“Then,” I said shifting my weight. I cringed as I spat out words.”You won’t date Krissy out of revenge?”

Dillon laughed so loud that I had to move the phone away from my ear. “You are worried about that? Hell no. Krissy is certainly not someone I would ever date. No. I got a glimpse of her character. Just, no.”

“So you and I can be friends, right?” I said, glancing at Leah.

“Normally, no,” Dillon said. “But for you, I’m not sure. We’ll see how it goes.”

He hung up. It was done and he didn’t hate me. Before I could even soak in the glory of that moment. Mallory grabbed my wrist. Her cheeks were so pale that they were glowing.

“I just got a text from a friend who lives in Valentine Hall!”

“What?” I said bracing myself.

“Char is up on top of the building, threatening to jump!”

“What!” I yelled. Without a thought, I ran for the staircase.

Mallory scurried behind me. “Where are you going, Brie?”

“Are the police there?”

“Yes, fire trucks, ambulances. I guess she’s threatening if anyone comes near her, she’ll jump. They have a detective or something trying to talk her down.”

“Alfred!” I said as I arrived at the door.

“It’s Albert, but that’s okay-”

“Can one of your pledges drive me to Valentine Hall? It’s an emergency.”

“Well, yes. I’ll do it.”

“Okay, were is your car? We need to leave,” I said. “Now!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 25-The Lucky One

 

 

four-leaf-clover-image

I crossed my legs, Indian-style, at our table in Downtown Cafe. It didn’t matter if my sneakers touched the restaurant’s cushion, the seat was missing almost all of its fabric. The yellow spongy cushion peeked out, adding to the local, hip, artsy vibe. I figured it was the perfect spot to meet Dillon for my fourth unlovable date. It was so unrefined at Downtown Cafe. So me. So not Dillon.

The first Saturday after I returned from Kansas, I went easy on the ‘make-under’. I couldn’t have Dillon think I was looking like a ghoul on purpose. Plus, I didn’t want to be seen out in public that way. Like it or not, dating Dillon quickly thrust me into the social spot light. Everyone knew Dillon. Everyone. Now, they knew me, too.

I opened my antique of a laptop. I had to hurry, it only got 45 minutes battery life, and I had to look at the online portal for a class assignment. I pray that it didn’t do this BEEP as it does sometimes. It sounds like a car alarm. I have to take the battery out when it does that.

“I need to get you a new one,” Dillon said from behind me. I turned to find him crinkling his upturned nose.

I shrugged. “I got a cool desktop with my scholarship money. I don’t need a new one laptop, this one still works.”

Dillon eyed the cushion that I was sitting on, the one that looked like it had seen Armageddon. He reached for a chair and scraped it towards my table. I saw a few hippies peek up from their paperbacks at the sound.

“Come on babe,” I said with a wink. “Sit by me.”

“Looks a little crowded over there,” Dillon said, peeking at the seat. “You and all of those billions of bacteria that are in that bare cushion has inside of it. I’m fine over here.”

I laughed and added two pig snorts after I was done. It was something I was adding each time I burst out. Dillon leaned back.

Is it working? It’s working! 

He grabbed my hand and placed a tender peck on my knuckles. He then twirled the morganite ring around my finger.

But not fast enough, I thought with a frown.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“Oh,” I said, feeling as if he could read my mind. “Nothing, I was just thinking about that cop again.”

“That poor, classless little girl. Actions of a desperation,” Dillon said with a chuckle.

I gathered my lips to the side. I hated when Dillon showed solidarity with me. It made it harder for me to deceive him. And with each moment that passed, that is what I was doing: lying. Not because I was acting like a grosser, less sexy version of myself, but because he thought we were in a relationship and I was long gone.

“You know,” Dillon said narrowing his eyes and giving me a once over, “Do you need a spa day, or something? I can arrange that for you, ya know.”

“No,” I said opening up the homework assignment and squinting at the screen. “Thanks though.”

“How about something like, a facial at least. You look….stressed.”

“Nope. Thanks.”

“How about a little fun at Macy’s? New jeans always lightens my mood, at least.”

“Does it? Not for me.”

“Why won’t you let me help you?” Dillon slapping his hand on the table. The table wobbled.

“I, um,” I said adjusting the tilt of the screen. “I’m a little hard headed, I guess?”

“What is the use of being with someone if you don’t let them help you?” Dillon demanded, in a grumbled whisper.

I slammed my laptop shut.”I don’t need the kind of help you offer me, Dillon. You don’t know the first thing about what I really need.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me so that I know?” Dillon’s eyes clouded to a darker shade of blue.

I thought of Nash and folded my arms. “I shouldn’t have to tell you.”

Woa, Brie, slow your role. You don’t want him to hate you.

“Um, sorry,” I said peeking at the crooked clock hanging against the red brick wall.

She’s so late.

“I have better things to do,” Dillon said, getting up.

“No, stop!” I took a wad of his shirt in my hand. “I really am sorry and I do want you to be here right now.”

My heart rejoiced when I saw Lauren in her perfect glory gliding into the coffee shop.

“Hi Brie,” Lauren said sitting down next to me. “Dillon.”

“Hey, Lauren,” Dillon said sitting back down. “Why the hell are you in town?”

“Visiting, of course,” Lauren said as she folded her leg. She spotted a busboy and said, “Oh excuse me hun, can I have a non-fat iced caramel latte with no artificial sweetener.

The boy looked confused, but went behind the counter anyway.

“My stomach hurts,” I said, right on cue. “I think I need to get home. You guys stay. Chat.”

I curled into my stomach, for dramatic emphasis.

Dillon studied my face. He reached out and stroked my cheek. “Sweetie, I will take you home if you aren’t well.”

“No-no,” I said popping up, probably a bit too fast. “I want to be alone. I think I need the bathroom.”

Lauren did the ‘disgusted face’, showing her straight, perfect teeth.

Dillon looked into my eyes.

Can he read my mind? I thought as I forced a smile.

I gathered up my things and scurried out of Downtown Cafe. I crossed my fingers, hoping Lauren wasn’t rusty.

*******

“Hey,” I said to Nash over FaceTime. He got to see the freshly showered, happy, not pretend sick Brie. What a relief.

“Hey beeotch,” Nash said. He took a crunch out of a big red apple.

“Are you eating a fruit?

“And?”

“It’s not in your normal raccoon eating garbage inspired diet plan.”

“Oh wow, I almost laughed,” Nash said, with sparkling eyes. “No, wait, I didn’t.”

I flicked him off.

“So, Brie,” Nash said leaning closer. “Are you 180 lbs lighter?”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means, did you lose the loser?”

“Woa…didn’t know where you were going with the weight thing. Clever.”

“Not really, I heard it before.”

I fiddled with a lock of my blonde hair.

“Brie…”

I tucked my hair behind my ears and let out a puff of air.

“Are you fucking kidding me.” Nash said wheeling back in his computer chair.

“Nash, it’s only been, like, a week.”

“Like the timeline matters. Do you realize what you are doing?”

I took a moment to think. Nothing but ugly thoughts came to mind, so I shook it off.

“Give me a break, Christ, Nash, I told you that it might take some time. My sisters and I hatched this plan-”

“You better be careful,” Nash said with pained eyes. “I love you, Brie, but I’m not going to be played.”

“W-what? You love me?”

“Well,” Nash said with a half shrug, “ya. I thought you knew that.”

“You’ve never said that to me before.”

“But I thought I did,” Nash said cracking his knuckles, “in different ways. Of course, then I thought you knew I loved you as a best friend. But now that, well, you know. I thought that you just knew.”

“I guess I did,” I mummbled.

“I always thought actions are the most telling.”

“I agree.”

“Be careful with your actions,” Nash said. He logged off. Probably to make a point, but it was unfourtunate for my sake.

I groaned. Then, I looked around the house for someone. Anyone. Of course I would run in to someone I wasn’t ready to forgive.

“Hey,” Leah McCloud said, giving herself a hug.

“Oh hi,” I said scratching my elbow.

“I need to talk to you, girlfriend,” Leah said, motioning me to follow her. We arrived at the vacant formal living room. “Please. Sit.”

I sat arossed from Leah and folded my arms.

“Brie, I don’t know what to say.”

“Neither do I,” I said rolling my eyes, despite myself.

“Okay,” Leah said adjusting her blouse. “I’ll try. I’m sorry for what I said to you in front of the other girls, the other day. I have a big mouth, sometimes.”

I snorted.

“Honestly, Brie, it’s hard for me to hear you say bad things about my cousin.”

“What do you want me to do?” I snipped.

“Nothing! I don’t want you to do anything. I’m just explaining what happened.”

“Is that all?”

“No…now girl, come on,” Leah urged.

I took a deep breath. “I’m listening.”

“I don’t expect you to understand. But, I want you to know, that I know my cousin can be a dick. I know it! I don’t like it. It sucks. It doesn’t make it any easier to hear another person say it. Especially my best friend.”

I cocked my head. I’m her best friend? She never said that before. I guess she kind of became my best friend, without me even realizing….. But she can’t know that now. I’m still pissed. I thought as my heart felt like it was in front of a crackling fire.

“Brie, I never thought you dating my cousin would be difficult, but it is. I always wanted to be closer to him, but he pushes me away. Like I’m some mangy mutt from the alley. I guess I was excited when you first started dating because I thought…well…now it all seems so stupid-”

“It’s not stupid,” I said leaning forward. “Don’t say that.”

“You don’t hate me then?” Two large tears plopped on her cheeks.

“I never hated you! I couldn’t even if I tried.”

“But I would hate me, especially after saying something about Nash in front of everyone,” Leah said, sniffing and wiping her eyes, “that was a dick move.”

“Leah, the only one making dick moves is me.” I moved over to sit next to her. “I am, after all, the one who is technically dating two men.”

Leah laughed through her tears. “How do we get you out of this debaucal?”

“If you have any ideas on how to speed this up, let me know. I can’t risk losing Nash. I’ve learned so much over the past year and a half. But the thing that is most clear is that Nash is my soul mate. He is everything to me.”

“Oh, girl,” Leah said draping her arm around me. “I wish I had a Nash growing up.”

“It’s crazy, I always thought I had the worst fortune in life,” I said, thoughtfully looking at the ceiling. “Turns out, I was the lucky one.”

I turned my eyes back to Leah’s. “I just can’t mess this up.”

“Okay,” Leah said, with an expression resembling a boxer getting ready for the championship match. “We have to get you out?”

“What are you thinking?”

“Whatever it is, you’ll be out by tomorrow, even if that means you are the one doing the dumping.”

“But the sorority?”

“The sorority will survive. That’s always been the truth. You have so much pressure on you and you care about everyone so much. At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do. And we aren’t truly your sisters if we don’t support that.”

“Leah, you are so right. I guess I never thought of it that way.”

“I appologize.”

“For what?”

“That you were allowed to think that way for all that time. You know, I’m starting to think that this Mascot Girl this is the biggest bullshit.”

I snickered. “So how are we getting me out by tomorrow night?”

Leah cleared her throat and started talking.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 24-The Real Mascot Girl

I opened the scarlet oak door of Theta Gamma Nu, hoping to sneak upstairs unseen. No such luck.

“Spoke with Lauren,” Mallory said with a sour face. “She requested we remove you.”

Mallory folded her arms,and ran her tongue over the gap in her teeth. The hairs on my neck stood up.

Can’t I catch a fucking break? My internal thoughts yelled.

“Mallory, no offence,” I said allowing my duffle bag to slide off my shoulder and crash at my feet. “I’m in mourning right now. I just took a long flight with a very pissed off selfish man. Every molecule in my body is tired. Can you just spare me?”

Mallory’s face turned a few shades lighter. “I, ugh, yeah…sure.” She turned on her heel and I watched her frizzy mess of hair bounce with each stride. I exhaled and grabbed my bag and suitcase.

My body felt a hundred times heavier as I climbed up the stairs to my room. I changed into grey yoga pants and my over-sized Baylor sweatshirt. I let down my hair and fixed it into a careless, side braid. As soon as my head hit the pillow, the lamp in my brain switched off.

“Oh, my God,” Leah said crashing into my room. I felt my stomach jump into my throat as I was ripped out of unconsciousness.

“Leah? When did you get back?”

“Brie, there is a police officer outside the door. He’s asking for you.”

I jutted up from my bed and scurried down the stairs. Leah said something behind me but I didn’t understand. My feet could hardly keep pace with my body on my way down.

At the door was a young officer wearing a golden badge on a crisp navy blue uniform. I wrapped my arms around myself and felt my nails dig into my skin, as I approached him. His squad car was parked in front of the house, and I could see the flashing lights strobe behind him, like red and blue flames.

“Um, yes, officer?”

“Brianne Merritt?”

“I am she.”

“There has been a report made by a Charlene and a Krissy. It was regarding an instance when you resided at Vallentine Hall.”

“Um, yes sir. I know of them.”

“Do you know which incident that they have reported?”

“Honestly?” I said, glancing over my shoulder at a cluster of nervous looking sisters.

“Yes honestly,” The officer responded, with stone eyes.

“I think I do know….there was a misunderstanding. I was walking to the bathroom late at night. Char stumbled out of her bedroom in men’s clothes, and she looked rather…impaired. Look, I don’t want to get her in trouble.”

“Frankly, Miss Merritt, she seems to have the opposite wishes for you. She filed an incident report after the fact.”

“Oh my God.”

“Realistically, and she knows this, it won’t hold up well in court if she chooses to press charges. There is no definitive proof and her witness is unreliable due to apparent bias.”

“Witness? Whom? No one was there.”

“Krissy alleged she was there.”

“No, that’s not how it went, she’s lying.”

“And what is your version, Miss Merritt?”

“Beg your pardon, it’s not my version, this is what really happened. I had a razor with me. When I was in my room, um, I just saw that my eyebrows looked off and there was this guy in my class the next day I liked, so I went to the bathroom to shape them. Better lighting in there.”

That’s true enough,  I thought.

“And what time? You said late at night.”

“Yes, it was probably about 11. But I’m sorry, I really don’t remember, this was like, what, 9 or 10 months ago?”

“Why were you shaping you eyebrows so late?”

“Er, honestly, I don’t have a good answer. I was under a lot of stress and up late and I just felt like doing it right then.”

“Mmm,” the officer said, shifting his weight. “Go on.”

“Char thought what I was holding was a needle and she accused me of doing drugs.”

“Were you?”

“What? No! Then she tried to grab the razor from me and she cut her hand pretty good. I mean, it was super sharp. I felt so bad.”

“She tells a completely different story.”

“She’s lying! What did she say?”

“Young lady, I’m not here to gossip. I grew out of those games and I believe you and Char should as well.”

“Well, if she’s making bogus reports I don’t know what to do about that.”

The way the officer’s eyes changed shape made me regret my word choices.

“I’m sorry,Officer, that sounded rude. I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just…I barley even see her, I don’t know why this is coming out right now. My dad just died only a week ago. It’s like she’s trying to kick me when I’m down. She already spread these awful rumors on campus. Now all this time later she’s talking with authorities?”

“Many times victims of crimes don’t speak up until much later, making it almost impossible to prove anything.”

Holy crap. He thinks I’m lying. He thinks I’m a monster who goes around stabbing people!

“Sir, Char is not a victim! She is trying to ruin my life. Isn’t it obvious?”

“Nothing is obvious to me,” the officer said, crossing his arms. “I wasn’t there. Everything thus far is hearsay, which equates to nothing.”

“I, just,” I said, bring my hand to my flushed cheek. “I don’t know what to say. Should I get a lawyer? What’s going to happen?”

“It’s within your rights to obtain legal representation at anytime. I will recommend that you to stay away from the victim. No contact over social media, through mutual friends, and no acknowledging her presence in public or private places, should you cross paths.”

“I promise,” I said nodding. “It would be my pleasure, in fact.”

“Good. Keep in mind, Miss Merritt, it’s not my job to mediate social issues. Whatever it is, I suggest you let it go.”

I bit my tongue. Literally and figuratively. I forced a smile as the police officer gave me a single nod and retreated back to his car. His radio chirped attached to his chest and he jogged to his car.

I slammed the door, and leaned against it. My fellow Thetas who stayed to watch the drama looked at me as if I was a naked man in a park talking to a leather boot. Leah approached me and offered a pained smile.

“Char strikes again,” Leah said as she massaged the back of her neck. “Bitch.”

I threw my hands up in the air and let them crash back down, smacking my thighs.

“She’s trying to ruin me,” I said. “She’s trying to ruin us!”

“Don’t let her!” One of my sisters chimed in.

“Fuck that witch-nose mess,” another added.

Mallory shoved through from the back. Her balled fists were resting on her hips. “She’s a joke, Brie. She’s insane with jealousy, and everyone knows that. You have Dillon and are in a sorority. She couldn’t even get into a sorority and her boyfriend is this old, gross townie. And Dillon blew off her best friend for you.”

“We got your back, Brie!”, “Yeah!”, “Screw her.”, “Maybe you really should have stabbed her.”

I felt as if I swallowed a batch of fuzzies. “Thanks everyone. This has been the worst, well, one of the worst things that has ever happened to me…this whole situation with Char. It’s gotten so out of hand. It feels so good to know you all have my back.”

“Lauren wanted us to strip you of your roll,” Mallory said. “She didn’t think you were committed enough.”

“Guys,” I said as I twirled my braid around my finger. “Maybe I’m not. I just don’t compare to Lauren.”

“You don’t,” Mallory said, her eyes burning into mine. ” But you are what we’ve got.”

“I wanted this to wait,” I said burying my face in my hands for a moment. I resurfaced.

“What?” Leah asked.

“I didn’t want to let everyone down, but. I don’t think I can stay with Dillon for much longer than a month. He’s a shitty per-.”

“Brie!” Leah yelled before I could finish my sentence. “You can’t dump him, Krissy would snatch him up and Kappa wins! Can’t you just wait until he graduates? That’s like, not that long off.”

“Leah, listen to yourself!” I said, my throat suddenly feeling dry. I was tired of talking. “You of all people know him.”

“Yes. I do. And he’s not that bad,” Leah said with arched brows. “I know you like cute country boy. But girl, you have to get it together.”

I felt as if the wind was knocked out of my lungs. I stared with Leah with unblinking eyes. “Excuse me? You need to get it together. That country boy that you are talking about is something that was between us. As friends. I trusted you!”

Leah’s eyes dropped to her toes.

So this is what it feels like to have a knife in your back, I thought. I’ll have to remember this for the stage.

Leah turned and marched into the kitchen.

Looks like someone is about to relapse, I jabbed, internally. I shuttered at my awful thoughts.

“Why do you need to dump him?” Mallory asked studying my eyes.

“He’s possessive. Condescending. He’s like, psycho.”

“Well, then you need to get rid of him,” Mallory said, chewing on a cuticle.

I slapped my forehead. “Mallory. That is the last thing I’d expect you to say.”

Mallory’s eyes darted to the others standing by. “Um, why? You are my sister.”

I opened my mouth and snapped it shut.

“So,” Mallory continued, “Do we need to get a baseball bat and a bucket of paint?”

“Woa…no-no,” I said. “But thanks.”

Mallory squared her shoulders. “Very well then. We can spin this to our advantage. Don’t worry, Brie.”
“Don’t worry? I am deathly worried! About all of you. I know I’m not the best Mascot Girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you guys. That’s the only reason I haven’t dumped him yet.”

“Stop it, I am the head of the social committee. I have some ideas.”

I felt the knots in my back unwind. “Really?”

Mallory wiggled her blonde, almost nonexistent, eyebrows.

*****

I inched closer to the mirror above my vanity. “Is this really me?” I asked Daisy with a giggle.

Daisy flipped her shiny black hair over her shoulder and made a gummy smile. “Yep. Inverted makeup, just like Mallory suggested.”

I inspected the greyish marks under my eyes and false blemishes scattered on my cheeks. It looked so real.

“Daisy, you are really good!”

“I used to do zombie makeup and stuff, I know some fun techniques.”

“Ya, but this looks like, real, not like I have makeup on.”

“That’s the point!”

Mallory trotted in with a jar of coconut oil and a ornery grimace. She dug in and wiped it on my roots.

“It’s a two-fer.” Mallory said. “One, it’ll make your roots look greasy. Two, it’ll give your hair a nice healthy drink.”

“Guys…are you sure about this?” I said snickering at the ugly Brie in the mirror.

“Well, ya,” Mallory said with a half shrug. “You made him love you, make him unlove you.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said with a sigh. “Thank you for this.”

Mallory frowned. “Why are you thanking me? You shouldn’t be with someone who treats you like shit.”

“He’s so controlling. Yes, he is a hunk, okay, but he starts looking really ugly when his bratty side comes out.”

“Lauren doesn’t see him like that,” Mallory commented, rolling her eyes.

“Oh my God,” I shrieked. “That’s it.”

“What?”

“I know a way that Theta can remain unscathed by this break up. It’s actually perfect.”

“What! What!” Mallory said with a jump.

“It’s time to call Lauren Cunnigham,” I said smiling with my teeth that were coated with beeswax, to make them look plaque ridden. “The real Mascot Girl!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 23-Confronting Ghosts

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“It’s time to let go,” I said.

The wind caressed my cheeks, like a gentle stoke of a ghost. Such a breezy evening,their ashes were sure to fly far away from Rivertown. At last, my mother’s wishes were coming true: getting out of this hell-hole.

I stood at the top of the hill in Frink Park and combined my parents together. I yelped when  I spilled some of “mom” on the grass.

Oh well, I thought.

Dillon reached down to assist me and a shook my head ‘no’ so fast, that my head probably looked like a blur. I heard Trina say ‘uh-u, look at him’ under her breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leah shush her.I bit my lip.

Trina had a hard time pretending to like someone. That was an admirable quality, in my opinion. It’s much worse to fake-like someone, like I did all of the time. My mind bounced to Charlene and Krissy back at Baylor U. Maybe I didn’t give them enough credit. They made their feelings about me loud and clear.

I grunted when I lift up Dad’s gold urn.. I opened the top and sandy pebbles rushed into the plastic container that mom-dust was in. It made a roaring sound as it fell, like the distant sound of rain splattering on the sidewalk. A plume of dust rose up and met my face. I breathed in my dad. I cringed and felt my stomach twist.

Nevertheless I was happy he was out of the fake-gold jar. He wouldn’t have wanted his remains in that.

I glanced at Nash and the greyish hue of mom-dust and dad-dust and his concerned face reminded me of something.

I remembered when Nash and I snuck down to the Rivertown’s quarry one fourth of July. We were 12, no, maybe 14. Anyway, everyone else was with their families. I wanted to get away from my dad and his gross buddies. They were all over drinking. Nash and I escaped our families and fled to watch the town fireworks over the water. No one else was in that spot, so we brought a gallon of chocolate chip ice cream and two spoons, for our own private party.

There was patches of rocks and sand by the quarry, which at that time, I had no idea looked like cremated human remains. Looking at Nash, as I hovered over my dead parents, switched on the film and that night played on the blank, white screen of my imagination.

I shouldn’t have worn my pink, glitter, plastic jelly shoes because I slipped on the rocks and busted open my knee. I still have a half-dollar sized scar. Nash washed the gravel off with his water bottle and then wrapped it up with his white tshirt. He encouraged me to go home, but I didn’t want him to miss the fireworks. So I pretended it didn’t hurt as much as it did, just so I didn’t spoil his night. I remembered when the gargantuan explosions of light turned night into day, I saw his expression. He sat there with a forehead crinkled, as he twiddled his thumbs. When he caught my stare, he gave me a car-salesman smile.

That night summarized Nash and me. I sat there with blood seeping through white cotton blend fabric and he didn’t voice his worry. Both sacrificing self for one another.

My memory faded  as I lugged the container of remains to the peek of the hill. I huffed when I peered at the group of people fifty yards away from me. I wished it were just Nash and me. But no. I had to have a little audience. My grandma, Leah, Trina, Nash, and Dillon. I wasn’t sure where Lauren went, but I didn’t give a shit. If I were a wizard, I’d snap my fingers and have them all disappear.

When a gust of wind roared over the hill, I dug both of my hands into the cold, lifeless, soot, and threw a huge handful in the air. Most of it came crashing down, but some caught in the air stream, like I desired.

I didn’t know what I expected when I threw the ashes in the wind. But it wasn’t that.

An hour later and I was back in my private hotel room. It looked like housecleaning didn’t live up to their job-title. I didn’t care.  I kicked off my sweaty flats and let my body thump down on the bed. The adrenaline that fueled me through the wake, funeral, luncheon, and ash tossing was gone, leaving me without a drop of energy and full of pain.

I massaged my temples and heard a knock on the door. I knew it was Dillon. He thought it was cute to do a rhythm with his knocks. I ignored it and allowed my breaths to become as heavy as my heart.

Confused, I awoke hours later. I wasn’t sure where I was, or what year it even was. When I remembered, I looked at my clock. 10pm. Dillon was probably thrilled with the fact I didn’t make travel plans with him for the next day, like he bugged me to do after I threw my ashes.

I staggered over to my little box of horrors. Now, with only five things. My share of my mom’s ashes were gone, the rest my grandparents would forever hold onto next to a professional head shot on the mantle. Of course, I still had my heart necklace.

Do I need my necklace anymore? I wondered. Without much thought, I ripped it off of my neck, breaking the chain. It was the first time since I was eleven that I had it off. I didn’t want it anymore. In that moment I knew that the time had come.

I secretly arranged with Trina and Nash to return to Frink Park, but this time, just the three of us, and this time, I was really going to let go.

Trina picked me up and we met Nash at the top, who had brought the shovel that I requested. He was already digging a hole.

“I hope you don’t think I’m digging, Brie,” Trina said curling her lip. “I love you, boo, but…”

“It’s fine, I just wanted you to be here for support,” I said, as we reached Nash. “You won’t have to dig.”

“Guess not!” Trina said looking Nash up and down. “Didn’t know you hired a professional.”

Nash was wearing work pants and gloves and had a LED lantern sitting next his hole. Nash stabbed the earth with the shovel and leaned on it.

“When I was a kid, my dad used to make me dig holes when I was in trouble,” Nash said, reaching down to retrieve his water bottle. He took a swig.

“No!” Trina said with bulging eyes. “Did you see what hole digging did to Shia LeBeaouf? Mothafucka went cray-cray!”

“What?” Nash said, giving me puzzled eyes.

“Trina, that was a movie and he was just an actor,” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder and tucking my cardboard box under my armpit. .

“Girl, what?” Trina put her hands on her hips. “You think I didn’t…oh please, let’s just get the show on the road before you chicken out. Stop stalling. Bury the box.”

“I’m not burring the box,” I said, gliding towards Nash, with my best Mascot Girl smile.

My Lauren education has to be for something, right? I said as I morphed into bedroom eyes.

I set the box down and slid my arms, like two snakes, around Nash’s neck. It was still weird to greet him in that way. I wondered when it would feel normal.

He placed his large, gloved hands on my waist. My eyes closed by themselves as we leaned into each other. I wasn’t sure who started it, but I didn’t want to be the first to end it. Nash got distracted and looked up. He laughed and I followed his stare. Trina was doing some ridiculous combination of a touchdown dance and the Carlton from Fresh Prince.

Nash laughed and my heart quickened as I watched his handsome face in the crispy yellow light of the lantern.

“What’s funny, Romeo?” Trina asked while doing the wave with her arms. “Everything is normal over here.” She started to breathe heavily when she flapped her arms like chicken wings, and I saw a bead of sweat trickle down her forehead. She was committed.

“Okay, okay, let’s go. The hole is deep enough,” I said.

Trina stopped and put her hands on her knees as she caught her breath.

I picked up the box and opened the lid. I sucked in a breath and let my lungs deflate like a balloon. Expecting a barage of emotions, I braced myself. My eyes scanned the items. Nothing.

I didn’t know which item I hated the most. But I had a guess.

“Bye razor,” I said as I plucked up the silver handle and dropped it into the hole. It made a sound like a baseball into a mit. It was right where it was meant to be.

“Necklace, you were more like a collar,” I said. “I don’t have to be reminded of death each time I look in the mirror. I choose life.” The chain slipped through my fingers, and fell into it’s grave.

Next, I opened a folded, piece of paper. The edges were worn from being folded and refolded and handled for so long. There were few circles of brown blood on the back.  I opened it up. I was going to feel something with this one. I always did.

“Dear Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Nash, Thomas, and the rest of the world. I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

I held up the paper and ripped it in half. Then by fours then again and again, until it was confetti. “For someone who loves poetry, I wasn’t very creative with that one.”

Trina shifted her weight and Nash scratched the back of his neck.

“Oh lighten up,” I said, as the confetti-suicide note floated down like snow into the hole. “This actually isn’t as sad as I expected. It feels good. Like when you were really sick and you don’t want to throw up. But then you do, and you feel better than ever. Even better than before you were sick.”

“A miracle,” Trina said, with lips curving into a smile.

“I’m ready to move on,” I said nodding my head.

I chucked the broken sunglasses, and then…

“What is that?” Trina asked taking a two steps forward.

“Her empty bottle of pills,” I said. I tossed it in, and the plastic made a ‘dink’ noise against the razor.

“Oh Heavens,” Trina said balling her fist and placing it by her lips. Her eyes gleamed with tears.

“Just like Marilyn Monroe,” I said leering at the orangey-brown pill container in the hole. “Accident or intentional. No one knows.”

“You are okay to talk about this?” Nash asked in gentle tone. “You never talk about this.”

“Never,” Trina agreed, wiping away an run-away tear.

“I’m fine,” I said with a nod. “That’s what happened. Someone once told me that if you are afraid of ghosts, you are supposed to come out from hiding from under the blankets. Once you do, and tell them to go away, they leave. The topic of my mother’s death has always been my number one ghost.”

Trina’s shoulders began to bop up and down as she sobbed. She threw her large arms around me and Nash followed suit on the other side. I heard a sniffle from Nash. I half expected for that moment to be my crying break-through. I blinked dry eyes.

“Okay, here we go,” I said shaking off my best friends and reaching back down towards the box.

I held up the blue rattle for the last time and gave it a shake. On an exhale, I uncurled my fingers and let it go.

“Last thing guys,” I said. I felt my chest tighten. I hadn’t looked at this piece for quite sometime. It was always too much.

Nash and Trina peeked at each other out of the corners of eyes. Trina slid her arm around my back and caressed the back of my shoulder.

I unfolded it. There we were. My mom, my dad, and cheesy smiles Brie. I pointing to my shirt that said “Big Sister”.

“That’s how they told me, you know,” I explained as two headed peeked over my shoulder. “It was one of my mom’s old plain shirts, that’s why it’s so big. Nothing fancy, I think they used pink permanent marker or something. Later on, my grandma came over to celebrate with us. She was the one who took this picture. I think that’s the happiest that we ever were, simultaneously.”

“Maybe you should hang on to it,” Nash suggested.

“Later that night, my parents got into, yet another, epic fight. I hid in my closet. I took my baby doll and wrapped her head to toe with this baby blue blanket I had. I had to cover the baby’s face because it only had one eye. It ruined my visualization. Anyway. I figured I’d need practice for my brother, so I rocked that bundle and sang it a song. I read my baby a book. That was first of many times I had sister practice in the closet.”

“Oh sweet Jesus,” Trina said squeezing my shoulder.

“I loved him before I even met him. I just knew that I would take care of him and protect him from our parents when it got bad. And selfishly, I looked forward to not being alone. To having a closet mate, or sorts”

I closed my eyes. When I opened them, the picture was already on it’s way down into the hole.

“Are you sure?” Trina said in a quivering voice.

I dropped down to my knees and pushed dirt into the hole with my hands.

“It’s over,” I said as I scooped more soil. “Maybe it was moving away, joining Theta, Dad dying, and finally telling you, Nash, how I feel. Whatever it is, I feel different.”

I stood up and wiped my dirty hands on my jeans.

“What now? Are you going back to school?”

“Of course,” I said rolling my eyes. “I got so mixed up in Mascot Girl and my social life, I forgot the reason I went to Baylor in the first place. Education! Free education.”

“But,” Trina said scratching her chin, “what about the whole Dillon mess. When you dump his ass, it’s not going to be pretty.”

“I know. And I had to go and piss Lauren off on top of everything else.Who knows what Theta will do to me. Maybe take away my title or even kick me out of sisterhood. That would be horrible to be kicked out. I love it there.”

“When will you be dismissing dildo?” Nash asked taking off his work gloves and stuffing them into his back pocket. Trina snickered.

“I don’t know, I want to let him down with ease. In his warped mind, we are close to sending out wedding invitations. My goal will be over this next month.”

“Merritt, you are fuckin’ with me,” Nash said, studying my face.

“What?”

“A month!”

“You said you would give me time,” I said cocking my head. “I want to minimalise backlash against my sisters, if at all possible. Not to mention, that this is going to really hurt him, I want him to at least guess that it’s coming before I tear the rug out from him.”

Nash blew a puff of air out of his mouth. “This has been a difficult day for you, I wouldn’t dare make it worse on you, Merritt. But you have to understand, until you are no longer with Dillon, there is no ‘we’. Keep that in mind.”

“Nash!” I said feeling the temperature of my blood spike. “You said you would give me time!”

“Yeah, I was thinking a few days. Maybe a week. Now you will be expected to kiss him and be in his arms, ugh,” Nash cringed. “Who knows what else.”

I watched as Nash grab his shovel and light and charged down the hill.

“Nash, come on!”

I met Trina’s eyes. She didn’t have to say anything. I already knew what she was thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22- Cutting Strings

My eyes scanned the crowd when I arrived at the podium. A distant crow cawed, as if urging me to get it over with.

“Um, hi,” I said.

My hands flew to my ears when feedback from the microphone squealed. The funeral director let out a ‘whoo!’  jumped to action, adjusting this and that. The noise subsided.

My eyes lingered over familiar faces. High school teachers. Dr. Jones and his wife. I had to blink several times when I discovered that Tabitha had returned from New York for the funeral.In the front rows was the Nash family, my grandma, and Dillon. Trina and her mom, Billy, Leah, and Lauren were in the second rows. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. They flew open with renewed determination.

“Mmkay, s-sorry about that,” the funeral director said. He bowed. I returned his bow.

I love how awkward this guy is, I thought. His nervousness, for some reason, helped me to relax. I like weird people, for I am one of them. I felt guilty for making fun of his suit in my mind the day before. At least people can’t read my mind. I winked at the funeral director.

“It’s okay,” I assured him, patting his back.

“I didn’t write anything down,” I said into the microphone, to close lipped, expressionless crowd, “so just bare with me, here. So, most of you know that my parents were not in the PTA and didn’t have me in karate, piano, and ballet before the age of five.”

I saw a few eyes drop to the grass below. Okay Brie, you need to spin this somehow. Spin it for the good. Was there any good? 

“But,” I continued, “this is not a day to focus on that. This is a day of reflection. A day of forgiveness. So that we might all walk away feeling appreciative of our ordinary, everyday blessings.”

I paused to gaze up at the sky. Pure clouds slipped past a orangey golden sun. The wind on my face brought a scent of clean, fresh earth and the trees behind me sounded like a ocean crashing into the the sand. I closed my eyes and thought of my parents. My mind cleared. I connected to the elements around me. The beauty among pain in that moment was the meaning of life. It all made sense.

“Through pain, addiction, broken dreams, and mental illness, my parents managed to keep me alive and well. Despite all of their shortcomings, they gave me life and then managed to feed me, change me, and keep me safe. No one saw the way I use to love Christmas. Despite empty pockets and unpaid bills, I always had things to open on Christmas and I always had a full belly. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure how they did it. All those dark, evil things destroyed them both. But not me.”

I felt a lump form in my throat. The crow in the distance cawed at me again. No matter how difficult if got. I knew I couldn’t leave her out of this. Everyone was thinking of it.

“So I ask you all, please…when you think of Dad and beautiful, sweet, innocent Jessica Fabian….don’t forget to think of me. When you see one of my mother’s low budget movies, think of me. When you hear my dad’s name in the whispers in the bar, think of me. When you hear about  life stolen because of addiction, remember that rebirth is always possible. Healing is possible. Survival is in the clutches of your hands. Because against all odds, I was reborn, I healed, and I survived.”

I glanced at Nash, who looked like an everyday angel, sitting in a uncomfortable metal folding chair. He had a stoic expression. His eyes didn’t blink as he focused his attention onto my words. I saw him give me a gentle nod when he noticed my stare. My shoulders physically felt lighter. I remembered doing this funeral for others, and not me. But this purge was exactly what I needed to move on. I kept my eyes on him as I unlocked my heart and let it pour out like cream in a glass.

“Breath in lungs and a beating heart is a promise of a new day. Each moment of life is another chance, even when you’ve already had second, third, fourth and fifth chances. Out of ugliness and death, life emerges from the ashes. Even when the stars fall, and the world around your burns, there is always hope, there is always a chance, there is always beauty.  And when you forget, just place your palm on your heart and then think of my mom. Think of my dad. And then, take a minute to think of me.”

My eyes swept the gathering of people. Not a single dry eye.

“Um, thank you.”

****

“Your speech was gorgeous. Kind of like listening to a symphony. Or something,” Mrs. Jones said. She stroked my arm with her tender hand. “I am so proud of you, Brie.”

I glanced next to me, and Dillon had the same scowl on that he had the entire day. It was as if it was part of his outfit. My grandmother, next to me, was chewing, slurping, and smacking her lips as she ate the overcooked tilapia at the after funeral luncheon.

I smirked when I nibbled on the rice pilaf. My stomach was still full from breakfast at the Nash’s. How I wished I could stab Dillon in the gut with that information.

“Brie,” Dr. Jones said, “please introduce me to this fine young lad at your side.”

“Brie forgets introductions, sir,” Dillon said rolling his eyes. He stood up and held out his hand for a shake. “Allow me. I am Dillon. Dillon McCloud. Brie’s boyfriend.”

Dr. Jones’s jaw dropped a bit. “Okay. I am Dr. Jones.” Dr. Jones shook Dillon’s hand.

“Ah, Brie’s doc, I assume?” Dillon asked, sitting down and putting his paper napkin back over his lap. I wondered if it were the first time Dillon had been to a restaurant without cloth napkins.

“I’m afraid that would violate some severely strict HIPA laws, kind sir.” Dr. Jones replied, his face growing more and more bewildered.

“I’ll ask you again after Brie and I are married,” Dillon said, straightening his back. “If things keep on track, it shouldn’t be too far off, we are entering that season of life. Right dear?”

Dillon leaned in and kissed my cheek. I felt like baby spiders hatched on the skin that Dillon’s lips had grazed. I forced a teeny smile, but refused to answer.

“You are moving right along, aren’t you, young man?” Dr. Jones said, stroking his chin.

“You truly are,” my grandma added, with raised eyebrows.

Dillon lifted his hand to his chest and tilted his head. “Am I? Brie, did you show them your promise ring?”

“No,” I said with a miniature shrug.

“Show them, dear.”

My heart fluttered when I remembered that Nash had took it off and dropped it on the closet floor at Stella’s. I had enough sense through the haze of floating hearts and fireworks to reach down and pick it up, and stuff it in my pocket. The problem was, it was still in my pocket, in the clothes I left in the Nash’s laundry room.

“I-I, um, forgot to wear it. Crazy morning.”

“Well, then,” Dillon said, eyes darting from Dr. Jones to my grandma. “Maybe you should have taken more time, hun. That ring was very expensive and means a lot to us. If you didn’t rush off with Grandma for breakfast at the crack of dawn…”

“What?” My grandma said, with a crinkled forehead. “We didn’t go to breakfast.”

My heart stopped, and I gently kicked my grandma’s ankle. She looked at me.

“Oh-I, um, I mean…” Grandma fumbled.

I didn’t even have to look at Dillon to know that it was too late. I felt his glare radiating on my skin.

“Brie,” Dr. Jones said leaning down and giving me a hug. “Please, let’s get together before you leave.”

“I’ll call you later, Dr. Jones.”

Dr. Jones and Mrs. Jones linked arms and walked away. Dr. Jones kept sneaking glances back. I felt my face grow hot.

“Brie,” Dillon said as he reached over and gripped my wrist. “I think we should go out to my rental and talk.”

“I can’t right now, Dillon,” I said glancing his way once, then quickly away, catching a glimpse of his powder blue eyes. “I need to be here in case any of the guests want to speak to me.”

“Oh Brie,” my grandma said narrowing her eyes, “you don’t need to go to his car at all.”

“Of course, of course,” Dillon said lifting up both of his palms, sending a puppy dog look to my grandma. She rolled her eyes.

“I need some fresh air,” I said, feeling like a pair of hands was clasped over my windpipes.

“I’ll come with,” Dillon said in a quiet voice, scootching back his chair.

“No-no,” I said holding out my palm. “Just me. I need to reflect for a moment. In silence and solitude.”

“Okay,” Dillon said, dropping his eyes. He folded his hands on his lap.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I felt guilt smack me in the chest. Dillon looked so miserable and even though my feelings floated away like a runaway balloon, he loved me. He was hurt and not just his pride and ego. If anyone could empathize with heartache, it was me.

This is fucking ridiculous, my thoughts screamed. I can’t just go to almost hating, to feeling pity, and noticing just how blue his Zac fucking Effron eyes are. Ridiculousness! Pure insanity. From baby spiders to the flaps of butterfly wings and back again. I can’t even. 

I scurried out of the door and saw several eyes glance up. I took a gulp of chilly air when I got outside, and my body immediately relaxed to be away from Dillon. Billy was outside smoking. He nodded at me and I flashed a tight lipped smile.

Nope, not in the mood for you, buddy, I thought. Go away.

I turned my back to him and started off in the other direction, heading for no where in particular. Just away from Billy. I rubbed my hands together to get some warmth.

Dillon knows I was lying about my morning whereabouts, I thought. How the fuck do I play this one off? 

“Brie?” Lauren called from behind me. “What’s up? Where are you going?”

Lauren spun me around. Her hazel eyes squinted as she studied my own. She buttoned up her black pea coat.

“Needed some air,” I said. “Dillon is…I mean…he’s being Dillon.”

Lauren scrunched her face. “What are you talking about?”

“Did you know he was like this? So overly mannered, so domineering, so quick to make things super serious?” I rubbed the goosebumps on my biceps and stared at Lauren’s jacket with envy.

“Dillon is a great catch,” Lauren said. “What are you getting at?”

“Did you know he was so intense when you set me up with him? Or is hearing this news to you?”

Well, that came out sharper than intended, I thought.

“I thought Dillon was the perfect match for my Mascot Girl trainee, if that’s what you are asking.”

“Before you even knew me?”

Lauren folded her arms. “Yes. Before I knew you…it didn’t matter who you are, any girl would benefit from dating a guy like him.”

“Then why didn’t you date him?” I asked, also folding my arms.

“I was with Bradley,” Lauren said, taking a step forward. “But if I wasn’t…I would have been with Dillon. Okay? Is that what you wanted to hear?”

I blinked hard. “Yes…I mean, no.”

“I went on several dates with Dillon when he was just a freshman and I was the brand new Mascot Girl. I tried to lure him in. All of the Thetas wanted that. And I wanted what they wanted. It was my job, it wasn’t about me. But he chose someone else. A freaking Kappa. She was a junior and they dated for what seemed like ever. I guess he dumped her when she graduated. Anyway, we were all devastated when he went with some Kappa slut. Especially me. Because I couldn’t do the first thing that Theta ever wanted of me.”

“Is that why you pushed so hard for me to be with Dillon? To compensate for what you thought was a shortcoming?”

“Yeah, kind of. Something like that. But I ended up getting close to him anyway. Dillon and I spent a lot of time together, I was always at the frat house. That’s why I was sweetheart. The truth, Brie? You don’t want it.”

“For the love of Christ, tell me. I deserve to know.”

“Well, fine. He drunkenly told me that he made a mistake when he chose someone else. But we knew we couldn’t betray Bradley. It would ruin both of our reputations.”

“Oh my God,” I gasped.

Good news, I’m not in a Rivertown love triangle after all. I’m in a love polygon!

“I found out you were staying with Leah. I guess she mentioned it to one of the girls. I told Dillon ask you out on Christmas. The newbie Mascot Girl. My mini me.”

“Lauren,” I said throwing my hands up. “How could you tell him that? I hadn’t even fully agreed to Mascot Girl.”

“I knew you would.”

“I’m seriously wondering if I should have.”

“Don’t you say that,” Lauren said, pointing her index finger at me.

“I am not a mini Lauren!”

“Well, that has become abundantly clear.”

“All this time I thought that Dillon had given me his number and then asked me out because he genuinely wanted to get to know me. I didn’t know that you were playing us both like your little marionette dolls. I feel sick, right now.”

“Look,” Lauren said, hugging her arms into her chest, ” Like I said, I do care about you. I never knew how difficult your upbringing was and never in a million years did I think my first visit to Kansas would be to support you when your father passed.”

“Which I do appreciate.”

“But you have to understand. Dillon was getting ready to date Krissy, that bimbo Kappa pledge. I had to intervene and convince him to date you, a Theta, instead.”

“Fine, but why behind my back? Why did you both have me believe he just, I don’t know, liked me?”

“He did end up liking you, Brie! Why does it matter how it all started?”

“It just does,” I said, walking past Lauren, and knocking into her shoulder.

Lauren reached out and grabbed my hand. “Stop, Brie, stop. Everything I did. Everything I am. It’s for the love of Theta.”

“Oh I know. And thank you for helping me, in your own way. I appreciate it. I just don’t need anything like that from you ever again. You are alumni now, Lauren. I’m the Mascot Girl. I’m cutting this off. Right now.”

“Brie, I am your friend. You can’t do that to me.”

Fuck you, I have enough friends, I thought as I stared at Lauren. There was always something off about her, no matter how much I grew to like her when she trained me.

“Just watch me,” I said, spinning around and walking back towards the restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21- Oh, @#!%

lucyhide

“Brie?,” Mrs. Nash whispered, as she gave my shoulder a jiggle. “I don’t want to wake you, darling, but, your Dad’s funeral is in a few hours.”

My eyes fluttered opened. I peeled myself off of the Nash family’s crackled leather couch and made a face that probably looked liked Lucille Ball’s “ewwwwww”, whenever Lucy made a mess of things.

“I have to get back to my hotel,” I croaked, as my thoughts flew around like debris in a tornado. “My clothes…oh my gosh, Dillon…Leah. They are probably calling the police right now reporting a missing person!”

My heart felt like it had received a jolt of electricity after a sleep of death. I jumped up and the red, velvety blanket that Nash draped over me, just hours before, slid to the ground. My feet carried me to the miniature downstairs bathroom off of the kitchen. I cranked the faucet on and splashed icy water on my cheeks. Everything shivered.

Mrs. Nash had followed me and was standing in the door frame. Her expression was ultra-maternal under her feathered bangs and short, soccer mom hairstyle.

“Sweetheart, I have a plain black dress somewhere in my wardrobe. You are so tiny, but I kept a lot of dresses from my ‘before kids days’.”

A brief smile sprouted on my face. I couldn’t seem to hold onto it for long. My thoughts jumped to my dead father. It was like the truth of his death/manslaughter exited my brain for a few hours. Then, in a flash, it was back. Along with the slow, painful, burn in the winding cracks in my heart. The burn was a new normal, ever since he died.

“Thank you Mrs. Nash,” I managed to say. “That would be a great help to borrow something, and I really have nothing in my closet next door at home. When I left last, I wasn’t sure when I’d be back.”

“I understand,” Mrs. Nash said, giving me a sympathetic smile. “I am glad to see you back, but, of course, not under these circumstances. Oh Lord. I just, I’m not sure what to say.”

“It’s okay.”

“Let me get you a towel and a few options.”

When she left, I grabbed my phone from my purse next to the couch, and an iPhone charger that the Nash family left in the kitchen by the toaster. I trotted up the, plush carpeted stairs to the full bathroom. It was just remodeled, and it still had that fresh paint, new drywall scent about it. The mint green paint color was pretty and there were vanilla scented candles on the marble counter tops. I suddenly wished I had time for a bath.

I glared at sleepy-eyed Brie in the mirror. Through the years, I’ve been in self-dug holes. But this was the biggest ‘oh shit!’ of my life. I spent the night at Nash’s house. Drunk on nothing but passion, we left out of the bar, unnoticed. My phone died at some point, but I didn’t even consider that I should charge it. It was as if the rest of the world melted into a fuzzy, black and white, backdrop. The only thing I saw was Nash.

My stomach flopped when I thought about how tiny I felt in Nash’s arms, snuggled into the cozy couch. I’m sure that we broke the Guinness Book of World Records with the length of our make-out session. It lasted for hours until sleep pulled me away. I suppose that we both had it pent up for years. It was difficult to come to terms with what was happening between us. Although, I couldn’t fully appreciate the flames that he set in my heart. My feelings blended together in a unsavory kind of soup. It was almost too much for me.

I inhaled new construction and exhaled through my mouth. The way that Dr. Jones suggested. Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones. A single eyebrow inched higher.

All of this and I haven’t even considered cutting, I pondered. I ran the pad of my index finger over my deep, silver scar on my wrist. I shook my head. No part of me wanted to injure myself. Not even a little. I flashed my reflection a sideways grin.

It took me a half an hour to get completely ready. My phone charged as I showered and primped. Mrs. Nash even gave me a set of freebie Mary-Kay samples. She let me try on a sleeveless, stretchy cocktail dress with a lacy hem. The stretchy material made it so that it fit like it was tailored for my body. It was much cuter than I expected when she first suggested borrowing her clothes. Mrs. Nash wasn’t exactly a fashionista. I twirled my hair into a thick, bun and pinned it in place. I heaved a sigh at my reflection. At least I looked okay. Actually, I looked pretty, if I was being honest with myself.

I jumped when Nash joined me in the bathroom and shut the door. I watched in the mirror as he looped his arms around me from behind. It was like an out of body experience, peering at our reflection. We looked like a couple. The kind of couple that everyone stopped at stared at.

Nash, already dressed in an ironed button up and dark blue Levi’s, planted a small peck on the place where my neck and shoulder met. My limbs tingled at his touch.

“Hey, Merritt.”

“Hi,” I said, biting my lip.

“You look beautiful,” Nash said as he spun me around. He placed his lips upon mine. His familiar smell and the warmth of his body pulled me away from my predicament. Yet again. His touch was like a prick of heroine. When he leaned back, I wiped the shining golden brown lip gloss off of his lips.

“Not your shade, I’m afraid,” I said.

“Bitch, please,” Nash said with a pretend lisp.

I couldn’t help but giggle.

I had a flash in my mind of wiping lipstick from Dillon’s lips. I felt a trickle of ‘icky’ down my spine.

“Well, I let you get ready. I just had to kiss you before we have to go back and pretend none of this ever happened. That’s what you want, right?”

I scrunched my nose and shook my head. With my hands settled in his back pockets I said, “Now what?”

Nash shrugged.  “I know you have stuff to sort out, and it’s only fair to give you time. I just…I just hope you don’t take too long.”

I ran my fingers through his hair and traced a line down his cheek to his strong jawline. His stubble tickled my fingers.

“I already know what I want,” I said, gazing right through Nash’s eyes. “You.”

“I am yours for the taking,” Nash said, tugging me closer. “But first, you must cut off your Dill-do”

I burst out in laughter. “He really is a dildo, isn’t he?”

“I would call him a tool… but tools are too useful.”

“Lord, Nash, why didn’t you tell me how you felt as soon as Tabitha dumped you?”

“I suppose I could ask you the same question.”

“True. Honestly, though, I’m not sure if I really ever liked Dillon. I think I lost myself, a little, with this Mascot Girl thing. And Greek life. Then he gave me that ring and everything spun out of control.”

“He didn’t seem like your type.” Nash said. “I knew he wouldn’t last.” He interlaced his fingers with mine and leaned into my lips.

The bathroom door swung open. Nash jumped back.

Too late.

“Oh!” The surprised Mr. Nash said. His beady eyes grew five sizes behind his square glasses. He nervously ran his hand over his bald spot. “I-I should have knocked. Um, pardon me.”

He shut the door, sending a gust of wind our way.

Nash’s raised brows mirrored my own. “Well,” he said, “that just happened.”

I shook my head. “I have bigger issues,” I glanced at my phone resting on the bathroom sink. “My messages should be interesting.”

Nash made a sour, twisted, face and headed towards the door. “Good luck.”

****

“I’m with my grandma, Dillon, for Christ’s sake, chill the fuck out,” I hissed into my iPhone. I reached over to lock the door. Then, I turned on the fan in the bathroom. I didn’t want the Nash family to hear this. I began pacing back and fourth, like a lion trapped in a cage.

“Why don’t I believe you?” Dillon responded, with icicles forming on his words.

“Well, I don’t know!”

“Put Grandma on the phone, then.” I thought I heard Dillon grinding his teeth.

“Hell, no. What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong is… I can’t remember seeing you at all last night. Then, I couldn’t get a hold of you. I am so fucking pissed off.”

“Are you really?” I snapped. “Because I couldn’t tell!”

“Brie! Where the fuck did you go?”

I pressed the red button and growled.

“Screw you, you pompous ass!” I wanted to toss my phone, but didn’t want to break it. Too bad I couldn’t have the satisfaction of slamming a old-school phone into the receiver. Giving a red dot a little ‘boop’ wasn’t satisfying. I needed to end that conversation with some kind of hypothetical exclamation point.

I felt my cheeks burn. If only I could call him back and tell him that I spent the night in Nash’s sexy arms. Dillon’s reaction to not getting his way would be absolutely priceless. I felt an evil smile curve on my face.

Then, my smile faded. The faces of the Theta social committee flashed in my mind. And worse than that, what would Lauren Cunningham say? I thought of the repercussions on campus when the most popular guy gets castrated by a member of the ‘left over’ sorority. I actually felt a wave of fear.

He wouldn’t hurt me, I reassured myself. He’s a brat, but he’s not that kind of guy. 

My mind quickly went to my closet full of free clothes. The way I get my nails and highlights on the dollar of the sorority. My fury transferred from Dillon to myself. I should have listened to my gut.

My phone started ringing again. Dillon. I cleared my throat.

“Listen!” Dillon hollered.

“Wait,” I said, forcing myself to be calm. “Truth is, I didn’t feel like being at a bar. Okay? My dad just died because of alcohol and you and Billy were at the bar getting lit. I don’t judge you for it, but it was difficult for me to witness.” Half truths. 

“You should have told me that!”

“I didn’t want to ruin your good time. So I went back to the hotel. My grandma came really early and we went to breakfast. Now I’m…I am…back at my old house. I needed to do this for me.”

Dillon let out a gust of air that sounded like static on the other end.”And I need to be with you.”

“I’m fine. I’ll just see you at the funeral service. You and everyone have the directions, right? If not, I can text them again.”

“Brie. You need to get back here right now.”

I took two cleansing breaths. “I can’t. There is not enough time. I’m not going to be late to my dad’s funeral.” And certainly not for you, I added in my head.

“When I arrive, you are not to leave my side. Do you understand? I am your guest. Act like it.”

“Fine, okay, whatever,” I grumbled. I heard a click.

I went back downstairs to find a table jammed with breakfast food. Ruby-red strawberries, silver dollar pancakes, fluffy scrambled eggs… There was a collective steam that swirled together and crept into my nose.

“Breakfast Heaven,” I muttered. Four pairs of eyes gleamed at me from the table. Nash’s brother, Anthony, had arrived home last night from dentistry school, just for the funeral.

I saw Mr. and Mrs. Nash exchange glances. Mrs. Nash’s cheeks looked like two apples, hovering besides her button nose. Her eyes twinkled as she watched me pull out a chair next to Nash.

Nash grinned; cheeks stuffed with food when I took a seat. He reached down and squeezed my knee.

I shrieked and my leg, involuntarily jerked up, knocking into the table. The dishes chattered, and Anthony grabbed his glasses of orange juice to steady it. Mrs. Nash’s coffee splashed over the rim.

I whipped Nash in the chest. “Nash! I hate when you squeeze my knee.  That, like, ultra tickles in the worst way.”

“I know,” Nash said, his eyes shining with mischief, “that’s why I did it.”

“Grow up!” I said, sticking my tongue out at him.

“Well, hello, kettle,” Nash stabbed his fork full of eggs and stuffed them into his mouth. “My name is pot.”

I pointed to Nash and pressed my lips together firm, to prevent the smile that was desperately trying to form. “Mrs. Nash, do I really I have to sit by him? He is nothing but trouble.”

Mrs. Nash’s eyes darted to Mr. Nash and then back into mine. She tilted her head and heaved a sigh. “Brie, you can sit wherever you want. James, you behave.”

I sent a mocking expression to Nash. He responded by stealing the bacon that I had just put on my plate.

“James, good lord,” Anthony said with a chuckle. “Here, Brie.”

Anthony dumped the rest of his bacon onto my plate. I gathered up as much food as my plate would allow. My moth watered. Then, without any games and without any cutting pancakes into little pieces. Without counting, or thought, or guilt, I devoured the best meal of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20-Secrets in the Closet

Chapter 20

An hour later, and the wake was buzzing. I didn’t think too many would show their faces, especially since Jessica Fabian’s wake was at the same time. But they came. I made my way back to the urn because people were lining up as they would if they were passing by a coffin. After the steady line of well wishers dwindled down, I escaped for a break.

I went down to the family refreshment area and turned on the sink in the kitchenette. I soaped up my hands and splashed some cold water on my face. I leaned over the sink and let the droplets slip down my face and into the sink.

“Princess, are you crying?”

I spun around and felt a twinge of guilt mixed with a grossed out feeling. Dillon placed his hands on my shoulders. Pity haunted his eyes.

“You can cry,” Dillon said. “No need to sneak away.”

“I know,” I said, setting my palms on his chest. “I’m so sorry for snapping at you.”

Dillon nodded. “It’s okay.  I’m the one who peeled you off of the restaurant pavement, remember? I know you are sad. A little sass is nothing.”

“Really?”

“Yes. But your friend shouldn’t have witnessed that.”

“You’re right. But I need to be honest. I was really pissed. I don’t like showing off expensive things or talking about custom this and that. It sounds pretentious.” I felt my cheeks warm just thinking about it.

Dillon ran his hand over his face. “I was showing your friend what kind of lifestyle I could provide. He knows your dad neglected you, so I thought he’d like to know I spoil you.”

“For a moment I forgot he was dead,” I said with a sudden chill. Death is an oddity.

“ Sorry, I don’t mean to speak ill of the deceased.”

“Dying doesn’t erase what my father has done.” I wrapped my arms around Dillon’s neck and my body relaxed in his warmth. The gross feeling subsided. “So…you weren’t trying to make Nash envious?”

Dillon rubbed his nose. “No. Why would I do that?”

Because Nash is so hot, you are probably questioning your sexuality. “That’s how it seemed.”

“Hell no,” Dillon said, as he leaned down and laid his tender lips on mine. He leaned into me and the faux granite counter jabbed my lower back.

As we kissed, I wondered how it would have felt with Nash. I pushed back and got lost in the depths of Dillon’s eyes for a moment. I felt something sparkle inside. As much as he annoyed me, I liked him. Still, the sparkle was no comparison to the inferno that raged when I was in Nash’s arms.

            Stop thinking about Nash, Brianne Merritt!

I broke the silence by saying, “Thank you for being so good to me. I’m not sure that I deserve it.”

Dillon placed several small pecks on my neck and whispered in my ear, “You drive me crazy.”

Something inside of me exploded when I saw that Nash had come down the stairs and was staring at us make out. It felt the box closed, after I just found the long lost key. I broke the damn key. Like everything else.

“Um, sorry to interrupt,” Nash said, scratching the back of his neck. “There are some Theta girls here looking for you.”

***

“Leah? I didn’t know you were coming!” I squealed.

Leah removed her big sunglasses and looked around. “Girl, of course. I met up with Lauren at the airport and we traveled together, she’s around somewhere. I think she got caught talking with this skinny, tall guy who was laying it on really heavy outside.”

Oh God. Emergency. E-fucking-mergency.

“Trina!” I said waving down my friend, who was across the waiting room area. Trina rushed over when she saw me wave. Her face was riddled with concern. “Trina, this is Leah. Leah, Trina.”

“At last we finally meet!” Trina said with a sigh, giving Leah a once over. “You are so pretty girl, look at you.”

Leah’s cheeks glowed. “Thank you, girl. You know, I feel like I know you. Brie talks so much about you.”

“Ugh, don’t listen to her, none of it is true!” Trina said waving her finger.

“Okay, you two talk, I will be back. I need to rescue Lauren.”

Leah and Trina began chattering right away. Trina slid her arm through Leah’s and they looked like they were headed for the refreshment room.  They are going to be best friends or sworn enemies, there is literally no in between. It’s one or the other.

I dashed outside and I was right about my prediction. I spotted Lauren from a mile away. She was wearing a lose fitting white sweater, tight dark blue jeans, and white closed toed strappy heels. Her hair was gathered in a thick ponytail, which made her red lips and Raybands stand out.

Then there was Billy in a grubby tshirt and pants that were too big.

“Billy!” I said scurrying out in the parking lot.

“Hey, Merritt,” Billy said as he put his two twiggy arms around me.  A line appeared between his brows. “You look nice.”

“Shutup, be real. Dad dying doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be nice.”

Billy’s face relaxed and he made a sideways smile. “Okay, you look like shit.”

“Um, watch your mouth, young man. You are in the presence of a lady.” I nodded at Lauren.

“Oh. Sorry, sweetheart.”

Lauren held up her hand. “Oh, please. I know boys. Vulgarity doesn’t scare me, I’m completely desensitized. Although I see where your sailors’ language derives from, Miss Merritt.”

“Yep! Oh my God, I can’t believe you are really here. I see you’ve met Billy.”

“Yes,” Lauren said putting her hands on mine. “And I’m so sorry, Brie. I can’t imagine what you must feel. I didn’t know all those things about your life, Billy was just telling me.”

“I just don’t talk about it.”

“I wish you would have opened up more,” Lauren squeezed my hands. “I know I was harsh on you sometimes. But I really do care about you.”

“I know,” I said peering into Lauren’s two hazel eyes.

“Big turn out,” Billy said nodding at the parking lot.

“Yeah. For a killer.” My eyes fell.

“Everyone is here for you, Brie. It doesn’t matter how your dad passed. I feel like I can still talk on behalf of Theta since I was their spokeswoman for four years. Theta feels your pain. We love you.”

****

After the wake was over, my best friends from Baylor University and my childhood best friends decided to go to Stella’s for a few drinks. I wasn’t too keen on the idea; my father lost his life to alcohol. A young woman was dead. Yet, there we go, prancing to the bar. I wasn’t in the mood. But everyone felt it would cheer me up. So there I went in Dillon’s rental car with Lauren and Leah in tow.

We arrived at the bar as the orange sun slipped away, and the darkness slithered across the sky. Before that, I went back to my hotel, and changed into a white elbow length blouse with black stripes. I went bold with red, skin tight, pants with white flats. I topped it all off with a denim jacket. I took my time getting ready because I was enjoying the space. Dillon had gotten us separate rooms, sighting that it wasn’t appropriate to get a room together unwed. It didn’t stop him from sneaking into my room at night.

When we walked in to Stella’s, there were empty tables and hushed country music. It was early. We pushed some tables together. Dillon was velcroed to my side, and made it clear he was sitting by me when the tables were being put together. When everyone was seated I gazed around at my two worlds. Leah, Dillon, and Lauren. Nash, Trina, and Billy. The universe must have had a good laugh when Nash sat down on the other side of me.

Dillon glanced and Nash, and gave him a single nod. Then, he slid his hand on thigh. I couldn’t even look at Nash. I couldn’t believe I tried to kiss him. How many times I swore to myself that that would never happen.

I want to go home. Wait. Where the fuck is home, now? I wondered. I’m going to have to sell that house.

We wasted no time getting drinks. People bought me so many so fast that I had a line of them in front of me. Everyone seemed to think the alcoholic’s child deserved a lot of alcohol. I begged to differ. I didn’t mind having a drink or two, but I refused to get drunk.

Dillon left me to go to sit at the bar with Billy. They bonded over scotch and took turns buying each other drinks. I could tell by the volume of their voices,  that someone would puke or black out before the clock turned twelve. I didn’t mind. As long as it wasn’t me. And as long as they didn’t drive.

Lauren, Leah, and Trina were in deep conversation. Their chairs were pushed together and they each had ten dollar pink panty dropper martini’s in their hands. I heard snit bits of their discussions about fashion, all the evidence proving Justin Timberlake is a God, and what is the kind of bread is perfect for toasting.

They attempted to include me and I tried. I really tried. I just couldn’t concentrate on these “intellectually stimulating topics”. The place reminded me so much of Jessica.

Nash sat beside me in silence. He took turns, looking around, playing with his phone, and staring at the wall. It wasn’t normal Nash. I wondered what he was thinking.

After one pink panty dropper, I turned to Nash. I cleared my throat. “This place will forever remind me of Jessica. It’s where I first met her. The only night we ever hung out.”

“I remember. She gushed about you every time your name came up after that. She admired you.”

“She shouldn’t have.”

“Why? You are older than her, so she looked up to you. That is just how it works.”

“I wish I kept in touch. I wish I talked her into touring Baylor. In normal circumstances, I probably would have. We clicked. But I never reached out to her because. Because…”

“You weren’t ready for me to date anyone other than Tabitha,” Nash said taking a sip of his beer and leaning back. “It’s okay. We both kind of figured that.”

“It’s so selfish, I know. Now I won’t have the chance to tell her I’m sorry.”

“She understood. There wouldn’t have been a need for an apology.”

I rested my face in my hands. “Why her?” I managed. “Why did she have to move down the street from us? I don’t understand how the crash even happened. Why her?”

Nash put his hand on my back. “Dangerous question. Don’t ask it.” Nash removed his hand and rubbed his temples.

“Look! There she is!” A middle aged man said pointing a finger at me. “That son of a bitch’s daughter.”

I looked up and saw three men and a woman with faces twisted in anger, heading my direction. I stood up to meet their eyes.

“Your fucking father is a murder,” The man with a ratty ponytail and a backwards cap hissed.

Nash sprang up and held his hand out in front of me. I glanced over at Dillon and Billy who were still at the bar. They didn’t notice. My sober brain worked fast. I was thankful for that advantage.  I need to defuse this. Billy and Dillon can’t see this, or there will be a brawl, and jail and consequences.

            I patted Nash’s arm. I shot him a look.

“It’s okay, Nash. Let them get what they need to say off of their chest,” I said out of the side of my mouth.

Nash dropped his arm and grinded his teeth. Trina, Lauren, and Leah were beginning to notice something was up.

“You need to get the fuck out of here, little girl,” The woman wearing a bandana and thick eyeliner said with a sneer.

I nodded.

“Take that fucking body, or pile of soot, whatever that Merritt guy is now with you,” the ponytail man added.

I nodded again. The group of four middle aged people began to exchange curious glances.

“You ain’t nothin’ but a white trash,” the smaller man piped in.

“Oh no he didn’t,” I heard Trina grumble. I shot my three girl friends a look and held my finger to my lips. They looked at me as if a pineapple was growing out of my head.

“Your family is garbage,” bandana woman said. “Your dead, addict mama and your murdering daddy. Do us all a favor and get out of town.”

I saw steam pour out of Nash’s ears next to me. He was chewing on his bottom lip. I gave his back a reassuring caress.

“Well!” The woman said making circles with her hands. “Go on. Say something.”

I looked in each of their eyes and took in a deep breath. I exhaled. I felt zen.

“If that’s what you want,” I nodded.

“What do you have to say for yourself, you inbred lil cunt?” The short man said.

“Who do you-” Nash started to defend me. I put my hand over his lips.

“You have every right to be angry,” I said. “If you need someone to yell at, yell at me. Do your worst. I’m mad as hell, too. And my heart is fucking broken. I know how you feel.”

“Oh ha, ha,” the woman said. “You ain’t no mother Theresa. You’re a little slut. Whoring all around town. Like your trick mother.”

I sucked on my bottom lip.

I saw Nash drop his head. His cheeks were the color of tomatoes. I peeked at my three girlfriends, all outspoken and fearless, their faces matched Nash’s. This is probably tourcher for them.

There was a deafening quietness. Then the woman finally said, “Say something, dammit!”

I looked into each other their angry eyes and said, “I understand.”

The woman was the first to curse under her breath and walk away. The men followed one by one after, leaving ponytail behind. Before ponytail turned around I saw his eyes well up.

So much pain in this town.

I released a breath and sat back down in front of my line of unsipped drinks. My three girlfriends marveled at myself control and told me they were proud of me. Nash sat silently and watched the carbonation bubbles of his beer rise to the surface.

An hour or so passed and more townies started to fill the place. I resigned to the fact that Dillon would be at the bar for awhile, as he and Billy started chatting up some older broads. I rolled my eyes. I just started to zone out when Nash leaned over, “Come with me. I want to talk to you.”

He slid his hand into mine and our fingers intertwined. No one saw us slip out together. Except Trina. Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets. I sent her a puzzled look.

He directed me towards the back, passed the pool tables, and into a small room. We slipped in, unnoticed, and he closed the door. He pulled the string on the light bulb. I saw mops leaning up against the wall, ladders, and paint buckets.

“What’s up?” I said folding my arms around myself.

Nash took a few loud breaths. “I’m struggling, Merritt.”

“About…”

“I’m confused.”

“Me, too. My life is a fucking circus.”

“No,” Nash said taking a step forward. “I’m confused about the nature of our friendship.”

“I-um,” I said dropping my eyes. My heart accelerated.

“I’m sorry. I just needed to have a moment of honesty with you. In private. And I didn’t know when I’d see you again without Dilly boy. And I didn’t know when you would be home next. Or answer my phone calls or texts. Now that your dad is gone, I wasn’t sure I would see you again.”

“That makes sense,” was all I could manage.

Nash lifted my chin and my eyes met his. His handsomness in the shadowy closet was blinding. It was like staring at the sun.

“I want you to look at me,” Nash said. I felt his hands hold my hips and my heart thumped. A little fire started to crackle in the pit of my stomach.

I let out an anxious giggle. “You are making me nervous.”

“What?” Nash said, with his Oscar winning smile. “Since when?”

“Well, recently, I guess? You never made me nervous before.”

“Why? It’s only me.”

“Um,” I giggled again. Here goes nothing. I wonder how this is going to come out. “You are mildy attractive.”

Ah, I guess I’m going the sarcastic route. How creative. Damn it, I’m even thinking sarcastically.  Shutup Brie. He’s right. This might be your only chance. Lay it all out. I am going to tie up ‘reason’ and throw her in the trunk. Go! May the force be with you.

“What to know what I think?” Nash said, squeezing my hips.

“What?”

“You are exquisitely beautiful.”

When I heard his words, something changed. It felt as if a warm current flowed through my body and unthawed every frozen place. I couldn’t help but notice Nash’s face mirrored my own.

“Nash, why did you stop me from kissing you?”

“I was pleasantly surprised. I knew how I felt for you, but didn’t think you could ever see me as more than a friend. It took all I had to push you away. I didn’t want you to do something because you weren’t in the right mind. Plus, I didn’t want dill-pickle walking in ruining things for you. If you want him. ”  

            “Wait, why did you think I’d never want you for more than a friend?”

“Clearly,” Nash said, as his fingers crept into my belt loops. “You are way, way, too good for me.”

“What! Are you fucking serious?” I laughed.

“You are.”

“I am not!”

“I want to kiss you, but–” Nash started.

“Then do it.”

Mischief flashed in Nash’s eyes. He snatched my right hand up and yanked the morganite ring off. It fell to the ground with a clink.

Then, everything in the world slowed. He brought me into his arms and I clasped my hands together above his shoulders.  He backed me into the wall. His hand gathered my hair together and he gave it a gentle pull. He brought his lips down upon mine and my eyes snapped shut. I witnessed sparks of light in the darkness of my eyelids as he kissed me. He pinned me to the wall with his weight, and I was grateful. My knees literally shook. Until that moment, I thought that was an expression. Turns out, I didn’t know the first thing about passion.

“You feel incredible in my arms,” Nash said between kisses.

“This is like,” I mumbled, “an out of body experience.”

“I don’t want to let you go,” Nash said, gripping me tight, and kissing my lips.

I leaned back and took a deep, cleansing breath. I blinked a few times, trying to come to terms with reality.

What the hell am I going to do now?

Chapter 19-Tragedy Plus Time

 

Capture

 

Chapter 19

“Here, dear,” The man in generic black suit said. “You can sit in the chair. Some people find it difficult to stand the entire day.”

The man handed me a soft tissue and guided me to the burgundy chair that sat next to my father’s gold plated urn. I shoved the unneeded tissue in my pocket and sat down. I wondered how many people sat in that chair. How many tears must have absorbed in its thick, stiff cushion. My “funeral throne” may as well have been an electric chair. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have had a funeral.

Funerals are traumatic. My brother had his own urn; it was in the shape of a slumbering child with angel wings. They extracted him from my mother when she died to try to save him. It was too late. So he had a funeral. It honestly did more harm than good.

I was present at my father’s funeral only because it’s what everyone else wanted. Death makes everyone feel so helpless and weak. It reminds them of their own mortality. People needed to come see me and offer support for their own well-being. They need to tell me sorry, and if there is anything I ever need, let them know. How I wanted to say the only thing I ever truly needed was parents. That I needed to go home and grieve in private, to protect my fragile mental health. But I put my needs aside.

I wore a loose, cheap, suit jacket that was my grandma’s. The style kind of circled back around to where shoulder pads were partially acceptable. Just partially. The Comedy and Tragedy masks glimmered on the front pocket. The sleeves were a little long on me, so it covered the ring. I thanked the 80s suit for that. I couldn’t take it off because Dillon was with me for my dad’s wake. Yet, I wasn’t ready for Rivertown to know how serious my relationship had grown.

Just when I thought I had it all figured out you had to go and die, I thought as I leered at the urn. You ruined my  fucking childhood. Then, you had to go and destroy the most romantic night of my life. Now Dillon is here in Rivertown despite my every objection. And my worlds are about to collide. Eff you, you pile of dirt.

I cringed at my own internal dialogue. A few nuts and bolts must have gotten loose. It might have been due to the fumes that the funeral home’s flowers emitted. I rubbed my defenseless eyes that were absorbing all the allergens drifting around in the air. I hoped it made my eyes look normal and recently cried.

“Do you need anything, babe?” Dillon said running his fingers through my hair.

I shook my head.

“Okay, I’m going to go get us a couple drinks from the gas station across the street. Be right back.” Dillon planted a kiss on my head and asked my grandma if she wanted anything. She fluffed her shoulder length, stark white hair and declined.

“When does the wake begin?” My grandma asked the funeral director.

“About a half an hour, now. And you are certain you don’t want to provide any pictures? Music? Anything for your guests?” The director asked me.

“My answer isn’t going to change.”  Pictures of my father in his younger years might send me into flashback, Mr. Walmart Suit. I’d be amazed if I didn’t have a flashback regardless. So many triggers.

“It’s Brie’s father, it’s whatever she wants,” My grandma said.

A few moments after Dillon left, an attractive dirty blonde haired gentleman in a pale green button up shirt, gray sports coat, and dark blue jeans slid through the doors. Dillon and Nash had to of brushed shoulders one coming in, one going out. They saw each other. It was  happening.

“Sorry sir, it’s immediate family only–”

“He is family,” I said in a crackling voice.  Mr. Walmart Suit’s eyes bulged. He did an awkward bow and left.

I need to start bowing to people. It should be a thing.

Nash rushed to me, and helped me out of the funeral throne. I didn’t notice how weak my body felt until then. I couldn’t keep down any food and Nash wasn’t around to give me his Dramamine and Benadryl potion that helped me sleep and quit the vomiting.

“Merritt!” Nash said as he wrapped his arms around me. My ears rejoiced at the sound of his voice. I couldn’t breathe under his crushing arms. That was okay. I didn’t need oxygen when my body was pressed against his. He was oxygen.

“Nash! I’m sorry I haven’t texted back much since it happened, it’s just –”

“Don’t apologize,” Nash said leaning back to look at me. Up close I could see the whites of his eyes were pink and they were puffy. “Don’t ever apologize for anything.”

“I keep thinking of all the ways that it could have been different. If I stayed here for school, I could have driven dad to and from Louie’s Bar if he relapsed. He was trying to get better you know…”

“I selfishly wanted to keep you home next to me but I was overjoyed that you left. Your dad had issues that weren’t yours to fix. He was your dad that was never your job.”

“I never even got on him about his drinking, much,” I croaked. “In some fucked up miserable way, I understood. After that Christmas Eve, I would have sold my soul to forget about it, even for just a moment. I know why he drown is his bottle. I understand. How fucked up is that?”

“You aren’t fucked up, Brie,” Nash said. His eyes shone with tears that distorted the color of his green irises. “You are just ahead of all of us. You are a phenomenal actress, because you don’t really act. You just are. You go on stage, understanding in ways that the rest of us just can’t. You’re ahead. And everyone admires the passion we want to know, but never will.”

I nestled my head into his chest. Only Nash could take strands of pain and suffering and weave it into something beautiful. I wanted to be that girl he saw. “You really think that about me?”

“I always did.”

“I’m mad at him,” I whispered. “Is that okay?”

“You should be.”

“It’s bad enough he destroyed himself and what’s left of me…”

“Don’t say that. I’m gonna fix you, Brie.”

“…he had to destroy another family, too.”

“You are going to make it through this.”

“Do you think anyone is going to actually come today? Trina is back in town for the funerals. Her mom said that the other funeral is today, as well.”

“Anyone who shows today is for you. Not for him.”

“Jessica should have gotten out of fucking Rivertown when she had the chance. Once she graduated, I thought for sure she’d get as far away as possible. She was going to rush.”

“Um,” Nash said, cringing. “You couldn’t have known this, she wasn’t very public about it, but Jess’s mom was diagnosed with this very aggressive form of cancer and was dying. Jess stayed to be with her mom during her final days.”

Nash’s hand wandered underneath the God awful 80’s suit jacket, and he caressed my back over my thin white T-Shirt. His touch felt different that day. Although I may have forgotten what it felt like. It had been six long months. Maybe it was my imagination.

“Let me say hi to Grandma,” Nash said taking a reluctant step back.

I watched Nash go to where my grandma was sitting. I almost forgot that they knew each other fairly well. She had his phone number and Nash was her eyes in Rivertown. I think they even exchanged Christmas gifts.

He held my grandma’s hands and they both glanced my way a few times. It was awkward knowing that people are talking about you a few feet away. Nash sent a small version of his dreamy smile towards me. I felt my blood warm.

Nash returned. My heart panged. Out of the corner of my eye was my father’s damned urn. I pushed Nash back a few steps so that it was behind me. Nash had an unusual expression. I was so beside myself, that I slid my arms around his waist.

Turns out, grief is stronger than alcohol. Who’da thought, I said to myself, as returned my cheek to his chest and closed my eyes. Nash and I embraced in the past. But not like that. It never lingered past a minute and it was never so close. We were pressed together in new ways. Good ways. His hands returned under 80s jacket, and he caressed my spine.

“I still can’t cry,” I said. I could hear Nash’s heartbeat with my ear upon his chest. It was a comforting sound, like the trickling of rain while lying in bed. “I need to cry.”

“I know.” Nash kissed the top of my head and squeezed me. “But you don’t have to, I’ll cry in your place.”

I swallowed hard.

“You are seriously, the best fucking friend.”

“I’m just doing what I’m called to do. You weren’t meant to face this shit storm on your own. I’ll carry you.”

I peeked up and saw a tear trace a line down Nash’s cheek. I reach up and wiped it away. My insides turned into liquid. They felt like a hot, raging stream of chemistry. My heart was beating with extraordinary force, as I pictured what I wanted to do. I imagined myself, up on tip-toes, and closing my eyes. I saw myself holding the back of his neck and pulling him into me.

I had never kissed Nash. Not once. For some unknown reason, I felt as if he wanted it to happen right then. Maybe my mind was playing a trick. I was in too deep to think. The grief, the hormones, the lack of sleep, the agony, the malnourished body I walked around in all had a part in crazed idea.

My heart was burning as my eyes continued to lock with Nash’s. I felt like we transcended some barrier, like he actually knew what I was thinking. He knew I was going to kiss him and he didn’t back away. I was going to do it. I wanted to do it. He wanted me to. I hoped.

I slipped my hands behind his neck. His skin was so soft. I went up on my toes and leaned into his body. My eyelids fell. His mouth was inches from my own. I moved my waiting lips closer. They almost stroked his when…

“Your grandma told me your boyfriend got you a private jet to Rivertown,” Nash gently pushed me back.

“Oh!” I came crashing down from the clouds like a bird, chopped into pieces by the blade of a helicopter.

I back peddled a hugged myself, stroking my arms. I averted my eyes to the fancy navy blue wallpaper. My ears were on fire. The word ‘embarrassment’ was weak compared to what I felt.

God dammit Nash! I held it in for 11 years and then, when my father kills your ex-girlfriend, and when my serious boyfriend is going to waltz in at any given moment, I decided to finally kiss you. Bravo, Brie. Your timing is priceless. Why can’t you see, Nash? I fucking love you!

Nash held out his hands. In a sweet voice he said, “It’s okay, come here.”

He knows I’m mortified beyond belief. That makes it worse that he knows. Where is the bathroom? I have some stomach acid to purge.

I allowed him to hold my hands. I didn’t realize it until then, that my hands were shaking. The more I focused on them to make them stop, the more they shook. It took so much courage to cross that line. I was shell shocked.

“Y-you know, I’m not feeling myself today,” I stuttered. My eyes anywhere but on his. My stomach churned.

“Sit down, Merritt.” Nash guided me to the funeral throne and I collapsed. He knelt down next to me his hands holding my quivering excuses for hands. “Don’t worry, I don’t feel myself either. I’m in…a very confusing place.”

If Trina was here, she would smack me and say ‘Tell him, bitch’! She would kill me to know I almost kissed Nash, and he knew what I was doing, there was no mistaking it. Then I didn’t even speak my truth. I could absolutely not tell Trina about this. But who else can I tell? Leah just wouldn’t get it, and then there is Dillon…ha.

“Nash. I’m so fucking confused.”

“Are you feeling okay? You look like you are going to get sick.”

“You knowing what I look like when I’m feeling sick makes even more sick.”

“Wait, what?”

The door squeaked open. Cue Dillon McCloud. I peeked down at my shining theater mask broach. Comedy is tragedy plus time. Can’t wait to laugh at this one. How much time till it’s funny, Mr. Twain?

Dillon walked in with two Sprites. I crinkled my nose.

Nash rose from his knees and gave Dillon a nod. “Hey, man, you must be Dillon.”

“Guilty as charged, bub.”

When Dillon got close enough, he raised his eyebrows and scanned Nash, head to toe. He set the Sprites under my nasty chair.

Dillon reached out his hand. I blinked a few times when their hands connected. My worlds had officially collided. I wasn’t ready. At all. I shot my dad’s urn an evil eye.

We should have discussed where you wanted to go, Daddy dearest. Do you prefer water or decomposition? Because you can choose a truck stop toilet or the Rivertown dump.

“I’m James Nash.”

“Here a lil early, eh? Beating the crowd?” Dillon said coming to the other side of my chair. James was on my right, Dillon my left. There was just too much testosterone for comfort.

Dillon cupped my head in his hand, leaned down and kissed my closed, stiff lips. When he pulled back, his palm brushed against my chest. I shook my head slightly. I just knew that his ‘accidental boob bump’ was on purpose. I knew what he was doing.

“Did you show him your fine jewelry?” Dillon asked.

“I can’t think straight.” My father killed a young, innocent girl on his way to hell. You fucktard! No I’m not showing off my shit. He’s a mound of sand now and I’m sitting right next him, but, look at my bling, Nash!.

“I had both pieces custom made. Unfortunately, I gave them to Brie the same night her father died.” Dillon pulled up my sleeve and held up my hand. I fixed my vacant eyes on the back doors. People should be showing up soon. Someone would save me.

“Wow, that is beautiful,” Nash said leaning down to inspect the prettiest ring in the world. “It suits her hand.”

“Custom is always best. Don’t you agree?”

Nash grinned. “Wouldn’t know.”

“Speaking of which, Brie, I will have a better suit tailored for you when we get back home. Heaven forbid anyone else perishes, but we all have to have that dreaded funeral outfit in our closets. One that fits.”

“I don’t intend on going to anymore funerals. My whole family is officially dead. I should get a mercy pass.” I glanced up at Dillon whose face was frozen in shock.

“If someone you know passes, you must to their funeral,” Dillon said. “It’s only proper.”

I jutted up out of my chair. Enough was enough. “That’s one good thing about not coming from high society. In Kansas we do what we want and set our own moral compasses. I get. A mothafucking.  Pass.”

I heard Nash trying to disguise a chuckle as a cough, as I stormed away from my living nightmare. I saw Lauren Cunningham fold her arms and narrow her eyes in my head. I was supposed to be a perfect trophy girlfriend, she instructed.

Lauren, I warned him. And I’ve shielded him from 99 percent of the true Brie Merritt. That must count for something. And my father crashed through a windshield and snapped his fucking neck. That’s a pass right there.

 

****

“Brie! My sweetest Brie!” Trina bellowed throwing open the front doors of the funeral parlor. Her eyes scanned the room. When she saw me she let out a wail. I pressed my lips together. If Theatre ever morphed into human form, it would transform into the body of Trina Lubble.

Trina’s mother slinked in behind her and gave me a shy wave. I returned her wave and felt comfort looking at her familiar, friendly face. I turned to Trina. She was wearing a black lacy ankle length dress and a black hat that actually had a short trimmed veil. I was supposed to remain somber at my own father’s wake, but I wanted to smile. She approached me, already crying streams of black mascara.

Trina scooped me up and kissed each of my cheeks. She let out a loud sigh. “I am so sorry.”

“Thank you. And thank you for coming,” I said, giving Trina another hug. I whispered in her ear, “Nash and Dillon are in there by my dad’s urn. Together. I think.”

Trina’s arms flailed around. “No!” Trina said in a scream whisper. She studied my face and she stepped back. “There is more.”

Well, my resolve to not tell Trina didn’t last long. I grabbed Trina’s hand and led her to the downward staircase. “Down here is the family refreshment area. Come on. We need privacy.”

“Sweet baby Jesus this is big,” Trina said with her hand over her heart.

I pulled her down past the mini kitchen and into a dark spooky hallway.

“I almost kissed Nash,” I said, my heart accelerated as I heard the words spoken aloud.

Trina put both of her hands over her mouth and her almond eyes grew ten times their normal size.

“He knows I was going to kiss him. He cut me off by saying something about Dillon.”

“Brie!”

“I know. So then Dillon comes in and I can just tell, he had no idea that Nash looks like, well, you know.”

“Oh honey, I know.”

“So, then he kisses me and is acting all possessive-ish. You saw the pics I sent you of the ring, so you know. Well, he showboats it off to Nash. I never saw that side of Dillon, but I hated it.”

“What a douche!”

“So I snap at Dillon, for the first time ever, like, in front of Nash and my dead dad. My grandma probably heard it too; she was off in the back of the room sitting down. Then I rush out of the room and have been too afraid to go back in. And I think they are both too afraid to follow me. I feel so bad.”

“Pssh, Dillon is yesterday’s trash, as far as I’m concerned. I need more deets about the almost Nash kiss. I’ve been waiting for this all my life. Oh that sounds so creepy. Hashtag, sorry, not sorry.”

I laughed. For the first time in weeks I laughed. A couple of fuzzy, snuggly, endorphins slid through my veins like a water slide. “Trina! No using hashtag in sentences. We’ve been over this.”

Trina snaked her neck. “Um, excuse me, I was being ironic.”

I threw my arms around Trina. “Thank you for not killing me for not telling Nash I love him.”

“Oh you will,” Trina said with the corners of her mouth curving up. “You will.”

Chapter 18- Courting a Hologram

 

Capture

 

 

PART II

 

Chapter18

I thumbed through my closet and let out a little squeal. It was like looking into a candy dish. There were so many different colors and a lingering scent of department store newness. I had to pinch myself.

“Leah, this is like, the best day of my life,” I glanced back at Leah. She was fifteen pounds lighter than the day the social committee finally convinced me to become Mascot Girl.

Six months had never whooshed by so fast.

“Clothes are a girl’s best friend. Screw diamonds,” Leah said scrolling through her phone.

I released a sigh, unsure if Leah was being sarcastic or not.

“I’ve never had this many nice things.” I pulled out a slinky black cocktail dress. I ran my thumb over the thick, expensive fabric. “I think I never cared about clothing because I couldn’t afford it. But now that I have a new wardrobe for free…”

“Lucky,” Leah said without looking away from her phone.

I hung the dress back on the rack. I padded over to my bed and flopped down. It was still a suprising sensation of being consumed. The Mascot Girl’s bedroom had a memory foam mattress that took some getting used to.

“”Leah, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Leah snipped. She rose from the bed and glanced my way. “I need to go workout.”

“Ok, do you want a workout buddy?” I asked with hopeful eyes.

Leah shook her said and waved once before she exited my room.

Oh well, she isn’t going to ruin this moment for me. I thought. I nestled under my covers. I allowed my face to melt into a smile and cleared out my mind. Dr. Jones had suggested awhile back that I should focus on something that made me happy and visualize it. He said that it was possible to rewire your brain. But it took practice.

I thought of the bowing on stage during the curtain call. I pictured laying poolside at the McClouds’ country club all summer. I imagined my new closet filled with designer clothes. I felt my smile fade. In the corner of my closet floor was that little memory box.

Get out of my happy thoughts, you fucking box. I’m rewiring here! My eyes flew open and I propped myself up on my elbows. I could see the box from my bed. It was like it was watching me, making sure that I wasn’t getting too content.

I slipped out of my bed and stomped towards the closet. I am getting rid of you, once and for all! I got on my hands and knees and crawled into the closet. Just then, a memory flooded through, like a river after a damn burst. I remembered sitting in my closet when I was a little girl and covering my ears to drown out the yelling. Our walls were so cardboard thin, I could hear it anyway. There was no use.

Memory floods aren’t flashbacks because I know it’s only a memory and not happening. It was like watching play in my mind. The script was burned in my brain with sizzling hot iron rod.

Mommy-  (screams) Maybe if you didn’t drink all of our money, we wouldn’t have had to move back to fucking Rivertown! Maybe if you worked steady, like a real man. It’s all your fault.

Daddy- (screams/slurs) That’s right, blame me. Your actin’ ain’t done shit for us.

Mommy- You made me leave when my career was heating up. I was in a fucking movie. Now find a way to get me back there! Before I explode all over this shit town.

Daddy- We can live in a house that my parents left us, for free, or pay thousands a month on rent…. for a job you ain’t never gonna get!

Mommy-(throws something that shatters against the wall) You did this to me! You got my pregnant with Brianne when I was in a movie. A movie!

Daddy-Hey there, Rosalee. No one knows you’re in a movie. Maybe you should tell the whole town for the for the 1,000th time.

 Mommy- Fuck you, you piece of hillbilly shit.

Daddy- And don’t go and be pointin no fingers at me. I told you to get rid of it the second you told me you was knocked up. Now you gone and got knocked up, again. I dunno if this one is mine. You ain’t nothin’ but the town bike anyways.

 

I shook my head and picked up the box. I creaked it open and pulled out another one of my dark objects. My cheap, big, black glasses that I wore for six months. I cocked my head as I looked at them. Six months ago, I decided to become something new. Maybe it’s a sign that I should get rid of these glasses. Six months and six months. It had to mean something. Right?

I grinded my teeth as I balled my hand around each lens. The sound of plastic snapping accelerated my heartbeat. I remembered when Trina, who was Thomas, took off my sunglasses and looked me in the eyes for the first time. He said my eyes were the prettiest shade of blue he’d ever seen. Pain thumped in my chest to the beat of my heart. I got up and headed towards the waste paper basket next to my white desk. I tossed the glasses and they clunked against the metal bin.

I charged back to the box. This is it. Fuck you, box of pain. I’m in Theta house, now. You have no power here. I threw it into the trash as hard as I could. The lid flung open and I saw the rattle, the razor, and the three other pieces of terror. I back pedaled towards the door and then slammed the door behind me. I walked a few steps, holding onto the wall.

“Brie, are you okay?” One of my sisters passing by asked.

I offered a weak smile and straightened my spine. With my Lauren Cunnigham walk, I headed for the stairs and floated down several steps when I stopped dead in my tracks. When I was gone, would our house maid be around and empty our garbages? I had only moved in a few days prior, and didn’t know the schedule the maid worked.

I ran back to my room breaking the sound barrier. I dumped the trash and panted from my high speed dash. I stared at my things and apologized to them by scooping them up and placing them back inside the closet. This time, I slid the door shut. That way, I wouldn’t have to see it watching me.

But I still needed it to exist for some unknown masochistic reason.

****

“You really don’t have to do my hair,” I said, feeling guilt tickling beneath my skin.

“You’ll get used to it,” Daisy said. “Lauren was the same way. Then she got accustomed to it. My mom is a hairdresser and I enjoy it. So just sit back and relax.”

I stared at my electric blue eyes, highlighted by the dark brown shadow above thick black lashes. My lips curved at my reflection. I had a vanity in my room that I already planned on stealing whenever I moved out of Theta. It was a garage sale find, they told me. The sisters made it just for Lauren. They spray painted it our color, teal, and then reupholstered the seat with fabric that had our Greek letters. There were big, Hollywood style, bulbs circling the mirror, and a drawer filled with designer makeup.

Daisy hummed along to the music that she had streaming through her portable bluetooth speaker. It was set on 90s pop, and Jesus must have been the DJ, because every song that played was amazing.

“Are you excited about your date?” Daisy asked.

I glanced at her face. She was a Chinese American, and one of the prettier girls at Theta. Especially when her mouth was closed.

“Kind of. He has something planned and wouldn’t tell me what. I hate surprises.”

Daisy smiled, revealing her horse-like gums and tiny teeth. She pinned back a loose braid and sprayed it. She ran her fingers through the tight, curling iron curls, and produced soft, flowing waves.

Being touched was growing on me. Especially having my hair played with.

“Just have fun with it. Okay, Brie, you are all done. You look stunning.”

“Thanks,” I said, with a grin. I agreed with Daisy, I did sort of look stunning. They had given me a teeth whitening kit. Not that my teeth were ever bad, but now they were brilliantly white, and contrasted against my red glamour lipstick.

“Tell me all about it when you get home, mmk?” Daisy gave my shoulders a little squeeze and turned to shuffle out of my room.

I fluffed my hair and gazed at the transformed Brie in the mirror. I was already beginning to understand what life would be as Mascot Girl. I had concerns that a majority of the sisters would hate me. I worried that I would be taken as a joke. There were so many ways that Mascot Girl could be a disaster.

There were a few haters, but I was mostly adored. I was like their little doll.

I walked down the foyer, to be sent right back upstairs. All the girls at home agreed that I needed to make Dillon wait in the foyer, and walk down the stairs like Anastasia. I rolled my eyes at their giggles, but understood the impact of a great entrance. Even though it’s not like Dillon hadn’t seen me before. He’d even seen things weren’t ever seen, even by me.

When the sisters cleared me to descend the stairs, I felt that nervous stage rush again. I focused on my breathing and imagined what an unobtainable, level ten, knockout would do. I let the palm of my hand float over the railing like a dove. Each step was flowy and graceful.  Don’t trip, don’t be yourself.

When my eyes met Dillon’s, I felt as if I were in a movie. Dillon was in a sharp suit and was wearing a crimson silk tie. His face melted when he saw me. It took a lot of will power to keep my cheeks relaxed and my lips curved in a Mona Lisa smile. Am I smiling, or not? I didn’t want Dillon to know how giddy he made me feel. I realized something as I continued my long, dramatic stair decent: pretty is power.

When I arrived at the bottom, Dillon reached for both of my hands and brought them both to his lips for sweet kisses. He let our hands fall, but kept our fingers locked. Off to the side was a cluster of snickering sorority sisters in pajamas and slippers.

“Brianne Merritt. Before I met you, beauty was a word I tossed around carelessly. Now that I’m with you, that word is reserved for you and you alone. Nothing else compares.”

Dillon leaned forward and kissed my lips. I heard a chorus of “awe” from my nosy sisters. He tasted fresh and minty. He pulled back, and I quickly attempted to rub the red lipstick off of his lip. It left a pinkish stain.

“Sorry, you might be stuck wearing Dolce & Gabana lipstick.” I batted my eyelashes. “In shade: ‘The Devil’.”

“I got to kiss your lips,” Dillon said, placing his hands on the small of my back. “It was worth the public scrutiny.”

Dillon guided me to the front door. “Ladies,” Dillon said winking at my sisters, “I’ll have her back at a decent hour.”

There was a response of chatter and giggles.

“Your chariot awaits, princess,” Dillon said, opening the door. A shining white stretch limo was parked in the front of Theta. I gasped.

I followed Dillon to the back door. He shooed the driver away, insisting that he open the door and assist me inside.  Once inside, he put his arm around my back, and placed his other hand on my knee. Thank God I shaved. My inner voice commented.

“I have something for you,” Dillon said, so close to my face, that I could feel his mint breath on my cheek. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a little red box. My eyes widened. Don’t worry, earrings come in boxes that size. Please be earrings. Please. He wouldn’t propose! Right?

“Go on,” Dillon said. “Open it.”

I opened the box carefully, as to not break a nail. I sat back. I was grateful that I emptied my bladder before leaving, because I certainly would have peed.

“Dillon McCloud!” I shrieked. “This is beautiful. Is it really for me?”

I picked up the broach and admired it, shimmering in my palm. It was the Comedy and Tragedy masks with dozens of glittering jewels.

“It’s 2 karat total weights. All diamonds. I had a jeweler tailor it special for you. Flip it over.”

All my love- Dillon McCloud

My lunch tossed around as I stared at the frightening four letter L word. We hadn’t exchanged it yet, and I was light years away from being ready.

I gulped. “T-thank you, Dilly. It’s perfect.” I sealed my gratitude with a kiss.

“You are perfect. You needed the perfect six month celebration gift.” His hand returned to my knee. He ran the tips of his fingers across my skin, and I felt goose bumps sprout in response.

“I don’t get nervous about much,” Dillon said, “but I’m a little curious about your reaction to this one.”

“There’s more?” I felt my face drain of color. I could just open this limo door and tuck and roll. I have options.

“Let me first explain. I asked my father what he thinks, and he adores you, so I hope that it didn’t skew his advice giving.”

“Okay…” If I hold my breath long enough, I’ll turn blue and pass out.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m a bit old fashioned. Courting was done better in the past. Back when men were gentleman.”

Who is this guy, seriously? He’s got to be an alien. Or a hologram projected from some young girl’s fantasy.

            “There used to be a tradition of a class ring as a symbol of going steady.”

Is this the surprise? We are in a time machine limo and traveling back to the good ol’ days when women were houseslaves and addicted to valium?

“Brie, would you wear my ring?”

Dillon reached into his pocket again. There, pinched between his two fingers, was the prettiest ring that I’d ever seen.

My jaw dropped. I plucked the ring from Dillons fingers and held it up to my eyes. I had to blink a few times. The center stone was a shining salmon colored gem and was surrounded with a halo of accent diamonds. The sides had Dillon’s Greek letters in rose gold. Under the letters, there were two feminine bands of diamonds that twisted down the side. The underside of the band was sold pinkish gold. I crossed my eyes to read the delicate cursive.

Dillon’s Girl

 

I slid the ring on my right ring finger, and held up my hand. The center jewel was big enough to be jaw dropping, but not gaudy. It fit well in that, it wasn’t too tight, but wasn’t falling off, either. It looked like a crown upon my lengthy, slender, French tipped, finger.

Dillion took my hand and inspected his gift. “It fits. It must be a sign I fit you.”

“This ring is worth more than I am. Like literally. Put all my possessions together and then sell my body to science, and this ring is worth way more.”

“It’s a morganite. It is a precious stone, but it’s not as rare as a diamond. That is reserved for your left hand. I mean, well, you know what I mean.”

“I never thought I would own any kind of jewel, period.”

“Why?”

“Well,” I said, finding it hard not to look away from the ring, “growing up I didn’t have much. My treasures were people. Not things.”

I felt a pin prick as I heard my admission.

“I see,” Dillon said, running his hand through my hair. “I want you to know that this ring is a promise that I will take care of you. You won’t struggle anymore now that you are mine.”

“I wouldn’t call it a ‘struggle’ per say,” I said meeting Dillon’s eyes. Why the fuck are you defending your poverty! Shutup, Brie.

“Oh?” Dillon raised his eyebrow.

“I wasn’t always comfortable, but I had the love of my friends. I told you about Trina.”

“Yes, the transgender girl who moved into Valentine Hall this fall?”

“Yes. She saved my life.”

“Oh? In what way?”

“She just did, okay?”

“Sorry, princess.”

“No-no, I’m sorry, Dilly, I don’t know why I said it that way. Anyway, I had my next door neighbor I told you about, too.”

“Yes, he sounded like a great guy. Is he still in Kansas?”

“Yep. He’s in trade school but wants to get into a university. So he did, after many attempts, get some decent SAT scores, but hasn’t applied anywhere yet. I don’t know why. It’s been his dream forever to become a dentist like his dad.”

“What a terrible job…looking at people’s mouths?”

“ He would be a really good dentist. Ya know? Everyone hates going to the dentist, he’d be the type to give you a little bit more laughing gas and tell some crappy jokes while he cuts open your gums.”

I beamed at the mental image and smile dissolved when I saw Dillon studying my face.

“You’ll have to tell him about the ring,” Dillon said in stern tone, rocking the ring back and forth on my finger.

For whatever reason, my heart dropped at the thought. I didn’t want Nash to know that Dillon and I were officially together so I never got around to telling him. I was sure he saw it on Facebook, but he never brought it up during the rare times that we FaceTimed or texted. I hadn’t been back to Rivertown since my Christmas break. I hadn’t seen my dad or Nash in person for an uncomfortable amount of time. I stared at the twinkling rock on my finger and it finally hit me. I ran away. For real. And I was staring at my new life and future in the form of a salmon colored gemstone.

“Will you tell your father that you are officially spoken for?” Dillon said a bit gentler. He squeezed my hand.

“What are the rules on that? Were you supposed to ask him?”

Dillon shook his head. “Only for engagement. And honestly, I would never ask your father that. I can’t respect a man who was neglectful to his daughter. There is no excuse. None.”

I nodded.

“If it comes to that point in the future,” Dillon said stroking my cheek, “I will speak with him, but I won’t ask him for your hand. I’ll tell him that I’m going to treat his little girl the way he should have all along. Like the princess she is.”

That was the last straw. I lunged into Dillon’s arms kissed him in a way I knew would drive him insane.

He had to tell the limo to drive around for another hour because we arrived at the restaurant before he was done with me.

*****

Dillon ordered me sushi and I was glad for it. I think I saw his head pop off his neck when I admitted that I never had it. It turned out, he was practically an expert. I was an instant fan, the moment the seaweed paper slid over my tongue.

I hid behind an ivory cloth napkin when I took a piece of sushi into my mouth. My cheeks felt like chipmunk’s cheeks, and it didn’t seem very “Mascot Girl”.

Those were my last thoughts before the sky crumbled into sand crashed down to bury me. They say you will always remember that moment as a before and after. My phone vibrated under the table and I ignored it. Then, it buzzed again and I reached down and sent whoever to voicemail. When I kept receiving the calls, I asked Dillon, with rosy cheeks, to excuse me.

I took my phone outside with me. Where we were didn’t seem like a place you answer cell phones. Our dinners combined were probably worth more than my house. I rubbed my arms as I looked at my phone. It was my grandparents. It wasn’t odd that my grandparents would call; I talked to them about once a month. We never we as close, but that was because my grandpa hated my dad. It drove a wall between us when I refused to move in with them time and time again. I should have moved in with them, I knew that when I was a little girl, just as much as I knew it as an adult. But I couldn’t leave my dad. He needed me.

I called back my grandparents’ number and I my grandma picked up after three rings. I could hardly understand her through her hysteria. Finally, I understood what was happening.

The world went black. I dropped to the asphalt, and felt the skin on my bare knees tear open with sharp little rocks.  My phone slipped from my grip as I fell and sailed to the ground. The screen split into winding cracks. I hardly noticed the disturbed expressions all around me as I screamed.