Authors: Jennah Scott
Tags: #Young Adult
“Because I’m dating someone else, and I wanted to make sure you knew we were just friends.”
Chelsea patted me on the back. “I’m happy for you, and thank you for caring about me enough to make sure I didn’t get hurt.”
“You’re welcome, I think.”
That gave her a reason to laugh. “Not what you expected?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Were you expecting a sob fest?”
“Not so much that, but I thought you’d at least act disappointed.”
This time Chelsea didn’t let out a short laugh, she broke into full-blown, doubled over laughter. Everyone around us turned to see what was so funny. I scowled at her in hopes she’d shut up. Even I wasn’t sure what was so damn funny.
She brushed the tears off her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have laughed at you. You should see your face right now; you look like you want to rip my head off. It wasn’t my intention to embarrass you.”
My fists balled up next to my sides. “Whatever.”
“Come on, Luke. I didn’t mean it. It’s just that you were so surprised I wasn’t disappointed. I mean sure I like you, and I think we’d make a great couple. But it’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything. Besides, you didn’t say you didn’t want to be friends anymore. That’s all I ever wanted anyway. Me liking you is a bonus.”
“Yeah, okay. I’m going to class.” I crumpled up my trash and tossed it into the bin on the way to my locker.
The slap, slap, slap sound of flip-flops behind me alerted me to Chelsea’s approach. A couple of seconds later she wrapped her arms around my neck and dangled there. I leaned forward to support her weight. She giggled in my ear then fell away. Chelsea ducked under my arm while I reached into my locker and pulled out my books.
“I really am sorry.” She hopped up and kissed my cheek. “Forgive me please?”
“Fine. You’re forgiven.”
“So easy. So, when are we going to talk about that stunt your dad?”
“Stepfather.” I corrected her.
“Sorry…that stunt your stepfather pulled yesterday?” “Never?”
Her chin tilted up and she made a clicking noise with her tongue. “How am I supposed to help you if you won’t talk to me?”
I couldn’t take any more people trying to help me. Dr. G and Stacey were more than enough. Chelsea made it clear from day one that she wanted to help, and I appreciated that. She still hadn’t given me any information about her brother’s condition. But telling everyone how I felt or why I dealt with things the way I did wasn’t helping at all. It only made thing worse.
Rather than talk, I wanted to clam up and deal with this shit on my own. Finding a place to work out began to sound real fucking good if it meant I could beat on things to make my problems go away rather than talk them out like a pansy-ass piece of shit.
“That’s enough. I don’t want to talk about anything. Got it?” I lifted Chelsea up and away from my locker. Her mouth gaped open. I pointed at her. “Don’t. Don’t tell me that you’re sorry. Don’t tell me that I need to talk this out. I don’t need to fucking talk it out. If I want to talk, I will. I wish everyone would quit pushing me to share my feelings. I know how I feel. I don’t need anyone else to tell me that. What I need is someone to tell me how to keep from lashing out and hitting whatever gets in my way. If you can do that, great. If not, then I suggest now would be a great time for you to leave.”
There was something wrong with me; moody was not a word I would use to describe myself. Asshole, scary, pissed off, brooding; that’s how people described me. It seemed I’d been spending too much time around girls and their emotional mood swings. I needed honest, real guy time. The guys at the store were cool, but hanging out with them listening to music all night wouldn’t be enough. I wanted hard hittin’, raising hell fun.
Right after classes let out for the day Mike found me by my locker. His timing couldn’t have been better. “Hey man, a couple of us are going to the TSU game tomorrow. You wanna come?”
“Who’re they playing?” Just what I needed.
“Northwestern State, I think.”
“Yeah. What time and where?”
“We’re all meeting up at The Mushroom at five. It’s a seven o’clock game.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.” I slammed my locker shut.
The store had me on the schedule for a split shift, nine to noon and three to five. It wasn’t the best schedule, but I told them I’d take what they had for hours. I needed the money and I wasn’t going to complain how I got it. Rushing around from one place to another wasn’t always fun, but it’d be worth it.
I caught a ride with Mike and one of the other guys from the team. By halftime, girls had filled any empty spaces around and between us. If there was room between two guys at the start of the game by then a girl had wiggled her way in. Some of the guys flirted with the girls, while others, myself included, laughed. College girls hung all over us. It was an ego boost, but I had my girl already. Watching these girls made me think of Stacey.
I’d forgotten to tell her about the game, but she knew I had to work. Unsure of the protocol for whether or not I should tell Stacey I was going out with the guys, I sent her a quick text.
At a TSU game tonight with the guys. Have a good night.
It didn’t take her long to respond.
Why did I worry about what she meant by “okay?” If she didn’t want me to go she’d have said so. Of course, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t have gone. But I would have tried to explain to her that it was a guy’s night out and I needed to go. She would have understood. We’d been living together for almost two months and seen each other every night. It shouldn’t have been unexpected. We weren’t married. We were roommates.
“Man, what’s with the far off look in your eyes?” Mike asked.
“It’s nothing.” I waved him off.
“Bullshit. Who is she? That girl from school. What’s her name… Chelsea?”
“Nah. We’re just friends.”
“That’s too bad. She’s hot.”
“Yeah, she’s not bad. A little overbearing sometimes, but hot as hell.”
“If it’s not Chelsea, then what girl has you daydreaming rather than watching the game?” Mike asked, then continued, “Even though the game isn’t all that. TSU is suckin’ ass this season. It’s too bad we aren’t closer to UT. I’d love to make it to a Longhorns game.”
Mike’s eyes glazed over. There was no doubt he had football running through his blood. From what he’d told me both his dad and brother went to TSU on full ride scholarships to play. He worked his ass off for the same chance. I liked playing a quick game here and there with friends, but school organized sports were too restrictive. There were too many rules. In Florida, a bunch of us played a game or two a week, the beatin’ and bangin’ was a great way to let off some steam. Afterwards we’d hit the water for a swim.
“You’re doin’ it again. This girl’s got you whipped. Who is she?”
“No one you’d know. She’s a student here at TSU.”
“Goin’ older are ya? I’m impressed. That why you aren’t your usual self tonight?”
I stood up. “Pretty much. I’m gonna go get a drink. I’ll be back.”
The line at the concessions went on forever. My phone vibrated and I pulled it out of my pocket and answered without looking at caller id. “S’up?”
“You still at the game?” Stacey’s voice was off. She sounded distant, sad.
“Yeah, is everything okay?”
“Not really.” She sniffled and tried to cover a sob with a cough.
“Stace, what’s wrong?” Son of a bitch. I rode to the game with Mike, and left my car at The Mushroom. Figures the night Stacey needs me, I’m stranded. More sobs. “Come on, talk to me please. Tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s nothing. I had a shitty day at work and wanted to talk. Since you’re one of the few people that I trust not to blab, I thought maybe if you’d be home soon I could bug you. Don’t worry about it. Enjoy the game.”
“Oh no, you don’t. You don’t get to call me crying then hang up. I don’t have my car, but if you’re up to it you could come pick me up at the game and we can go somewhere. We came to a TSU game, so I’m up here at the stadium.”
“You don’t have to leave for me. I’ll be fine. Really.”
“Stacey.” I let out a long sigh. Stubborn didn’t begin to describe Stace when she got like this. I could continue arguing, but knew in the end it wasn’t worth it. More than once I tried to convince her to go into law rather than psychology.
“Fine. But we’ll talk as soon as I get back. I promise.”
“Sounds like a plan, and I’m sorry for interrupting your night. I’ll see you when you get here.” She disconnected before I could tell her goodbye.
After I got my drink I weaved back through the crowd and watched the rest of the game in silence. Mike must have recognized I wasn’t up for talking because he didn’t ask any more questions about Stacey during the game or the drive back to The Mushroom.
Stacey tackled me the minute I walked through the door, her eyes puffy and red with a matching nose. “Hey Rudolph.”
She smacked my arm. “Be nice.”
“I’ll try. How you feelin’?”
“I’ve been better. Have you ever considered killing yourself?” She ran the back of her hand across her eyes. “Not a fleeting thought, but serious contemplation and planning?”
“Umm no. Where are you going with this?”
“One of our patients committed suicide last night. That’s why Lissa called me in today. Normally they don’t have the office open on Saturdays, but they wanted to be available to the family of the patient.”
I tilted her chin up to meet my gaze. “Ahh, I’m so sorry. No wonder you called me crying.”
“I got a lot of homework done today. All in all it wasn’t that bad. We had very few calls, mostly just people trying to make a last minute appointment.”
“What happened when you got home that you ended up in tears?” I walked Stacey over to the couch, her grip around my waist stayed firm.
She settled onto my lap and relaxed in my arms. It felt good to hold her close and keep her safe. Her acceptance gave me a chance to return the favor for once: the favor of offering me safety.
When Stacey didn’t answer I prompted her again. “What happened Stace? Why were you cryin’ earlier?”
Her head was buried in the crook of my arm. “I don’t know. I’d been home for a little while enjoying the quiet and finishing up a paper I’ve got to turn in Monday. Before I knew it, tears rolled down my cheek. The slow trickle turned into a waterfall that wouldn’t stop. Thinking about what the family must have felt when they found their son hanging from the ceiling by a rope made me realize how much I’ve removed myself from my family. Then I started thinking about you and your family.”
“You and Chris talk all the time. I don’t know much about your parents, but I know he loves you. He’d do anything for you without question.”
“I know that. Chris is great, overprotective sometimes, but that’s how big brothers are supposed to be. When I moved to San Marcos to go to school, I pretty much quit talking to Mom and Dad. Me choosing to be a psychiatrist rather than an engineer disappointed them. Rather than put up with my mom’s constant diatribe about how I could be so much more, or how she didn’t understand what I could possibly enjoy about working with crazy people, I cut her off. Chris and I go see them for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that’s it. Every other year one of them will remember my birthday and call me, but I don’t wait for the phone to ring.” Stacey moved her head to the crook of my neck. The vibration when she talked made my heart leap.
“Do you ever wonder who you might turn to if you got to the point of no return? How bad must life feel if you’re willing to give up everything? If I called my mom and told her I wanted to kill myself she’d probably laugh and tell me to cut the drama. Dad doesn’t answer my calls anymore, so I know he wouldn’t care. As far as Chris, I’d never tell him. He doesn’t deserve to deal with that stress.
“What about you? Who would you turn to?” She asked.
I knew she’d want my opinion. Stacey’s insatiable curiosity thrilled me until she turned it my way. But the strength to deny her faded. She’d been open again, all of her secrets out there. In fairness, I felt the desire to do the same.
“I don’t have anyone.”
“No one? Not an aunt, uncle, cousin.” I shook my head. “Brother? Sister?”
“A year ago, she topped my list. Now, as much as I want to go back to the relationship we had in Florida, I’ll never be able to. Dave’s messed up any chance of that happening.” I felt my muscles tense at the mention of his name.
“What’s he done to you?”
Stacey traced circles on my chest. I felt the heat of her touch through my t-shirt.
“Besides bein’ a full-blooded dick?” She nodded. “Dave’s idea of punishment is mixed martial arts.” The lines on her forehead squished together. “It doesn’t sound bad, but he doesn’t know when to stop. Most people stop when they start feeling fatigued. To Dave fatigue is just another weakness to overcome. Shocking, I know. Anyway, when he’s on the brink of falling down he taps into his adrenaline reserves. If I end up on my back, his kicks and punches become relentless. I’ve lost track of how many nights I’ve slept face down on the mat because I couldn’t walk back to my room. In the morning I’m so sore and black and blue it takes what little energy I have to make it to the shower. After a shower, I fall into bed and sleep the day away. That’s part of the reason I’m not in the top ten percent of my class.”
I watched as she tightened her grip on the chair until her knuckles went white. “But that’s abuse.”
“Yep. If no one reports it who’s going to fix it?”
“What about your…”