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Authors: Caisey Quinn

Keep Me Still

BOOK: Keep Me Still
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Girl With Guitar

For Sommer

I’m in awe of you. Of your strength and your ability to handle a condition that would be more than most of us could bear. I consider myself fortunate to know you and beyond blessed to call you my niece.

I try not to live in the past. But sometimes the past lives in me.

-James Ford

I
can feel them watching me. Warily. Wondering if something will happen that will cause me to snap like before. Some of the looks say they pity me, a few are intrigued, and the rest try to pretend I don’t exist because they don’t want to think about it. About how one second things can be perfectly normal and the next it can all be torn to shreds. Destroyed, ripped apart, and broken. Like me.

The hallway is crowded but no one bumps or brushes against me. An overstuffed backpack barely grazes me, and it’s the closest I’ve come to physical contact in years. This time last year, the steady hum of voices and shouts would have caused me to crawl inside myself and hide, but I can handle it now. I work on my deep breathing like Dr. McCalla taught me and it helps.

Even though I’ve made it through the first two weeks of my senior year without a single incident, everyone still avoids me. No one wants to accept that they have no control whatsoever and tomorrow they could be walking down these halls just like me. Stared at like a ticking time bomb about to blow. Or ignored completely.

What they don’t realize is I’m fine now. Mostly.

I raise my hand twice in Physics and Dr. Anders looks right through me both times. Even though I’m in the front row. Same thing happens with Mrs. Tatum in English. And Dr. Sands in Calc.

Maybe I should hold up a sign. I’M OKAY NOW FOR FUCK’S SAKE!

Then they couldn’t ignore me. Whatever. I promised Aunt Kate I would try, and try I did. For two long and painful weeks. I’m over it. On Monday I’ll sit in the back and sink down into myself like before. I’m invisible anyways.

“Y
ou’re
not really wearing that?” my aunt asks as I pull the dark hoodie over my jeans. “For God’s sakes, Layla. It’s eighty-five degrees outside.”

I sigh and pull it back off, not really wanting to argue this early in the morning. And especially not with Aunt Kate. She’s tried so hard to help me. She’s been patient and supportive, and I know she spent a ton of money on designer clothes for my return to school. I’d get a job so I could pay her back but she’d just have to drive me to it. I know she wants me to be happy more than she wants money. Not much I can do for her in that department either.

Who knew trying to convince everyone you’re normal could be so freaking exhausting?

“Fine,” I tell her as I pull on a green short-sleeved plaid button-up over my black tank top instead. “Better?” I ask.

“Much,” she says with a smile and hands me a cup of black coffee. “Maybe put some eye makeup on. You look a little tired.”

“Thanks. You look fabulous today by the way, as usual,” I call out to her back as she and her designer suit and perfect raven-colored up-do saunter down the hall. Leaning over to glance in the full-length mirror propped against my closet door, I see that she’s right. I look tired. Probably because I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since I was thirteen. I scrub a hand over my face and look around for some eyeliner.

Poor Aunt Kate. She just doesn’t get it. It wouldn’t matter if I spent all morning getting ready, putting on makeup, straightening my hair, and picking out the right outfit. I could probably strut down the hall in my underwear and it wouldn’t make a difference. The image almost makes me giggle. And cringe. The last two weeks were hell. And here I was about to do it all over again. How did I get this far-gone?

“I
t’s
just for a year,” my mom says, like that makes it better.

“Yeah, just my senior year. No big, right?” I feel a little guilty smart-mouthing her when I know it isn’t her fault. The sadness in her eyes keeps me from any further bitching I had planned. Taking the plate she hands me, I wrap it in newspaper before lowering into the nearly full box.

“Hope Springs is nice. It’s gorgeous actually. You’ll like it.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I will,” I mumble as I close up the box, folding the sides in to keep it closed without tape. “And if I don’t, I can always drop out and become a professional mover.”

“Landen,” she sighs, putting the bowl she’s holding down. My mom winces, and I lean over to hug her tiny frame. Lately she seems to be shrinking. At six feet, I’m average size for most guys, but she’s barely five feet tall. I don’t even hug her too tightly for fear I might break her. “Promise me, no more fighting when we get to Hope Springs. You’re eighteen now and—”

“Have you eaten today?” I break in as I step out of the embrace, knowing she hasn’t because all of the dishes are packed.

“I’m okay. Why, you hungry?” she asks as she writes “kitchen” on the brown box with a black Sharpie.

I just laugh because she knows I can always eat.

“I’ll order a pizza.” She reaches for the phone but we’ve already had it disconnected so I hand her my cell and smile as I lift a box to carry it outside.

“No mushrooms,” is all I say as I step out of the kitchen.

Once I’m outside, I put the box of dishes into the back of the rental truck and look around. Mountains and a cool breeze greet me. I liked Colorado. More than Texas even.

Tuck and Danni will come by later and say goodbye and it will suck. They’re the first real friends I’ve made since elementary school and leaving them blows. Even worse than leaving the guys on the soccer team.

Part of me wishes I could just load the crap in the truck, grab Mom, and go. Make a clean break. But thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t really work like that. Fucking Facebook. Not that I haven’t considered just going off the grid. But Danni would be pissed. And hurt. And I’ve hurt enough people for one lifetime.

“D
ude,
this fucking sucks,” Tuck says, slapping a hand against the rental truck I’m leaning on.

“I know,” is all I say. Danni is quiet, but I meet her gaze and I know she’s holding back tears. She’s not my girlfriend or anything, but we both know we were on the verge of…something. Lifeguarding at the pool all summer, we bonded. And so did our mouths. And a few other essential body parts.

“So what’s the deal with this new place? Will you still play soccer or what?” Tuck kicks a boot against the tire of the truck.

“Don’t worry, buddy. I won’t cheat on you.” I smirk and he fakes a punch at me. Danni rolls her eyes. “Yeah, the Colonel called, probably told them it was their civic duty to let me have a late tryout or something since we’re moving because he got stationed there.”

“I don’t understand why you and your mom have to go,” Danni says quietly. “Your dad’s never even home but he totes you both around like luggage.” She doesn’t raise her voice but I can tell she’s mad. Apparently so can Tuck because he takes a few steps back to give us some space and busies himself lighting a cigarette.

“Danni,” I say, reaching out to hug her. “It’s shitty, I know.” Resting my chin on top of her head, I inhale her clean girly smell. Flowery shampoo and some kind of vanilla body spray I saw her putting on in the pool’s locker room. Makes me want cookies. “My mom wants us to stay together, like a real family.” I snort because we both know there’s no such thing.

She looks up at me with big brown eyes and I can see the hurt in them. I know from a few of our late night chats that their dad walked out not long after she was born. “Yeah, I get that,” she tells me, and I want to kick my own ass.
Nice, O’Brien. Just pour some salt in the fucking wound while you’re at it.
“Call or text and let us know when you make it to Hickville.”

I give her one last hug and Tuck salutes me. As they pull away in his old beater, I realize it doesn’t really matter if I say goodbye to people or not. Shit hurts either way.

“N
ice
truck,” someone shouts as I get out of the new Silverado my dad bought me. For my eighteenth birthday, he said, but we both knew it was a suck-it-up gift for my not giving him or Mom too much hell about this move. Or it’s a warning to keep my mouth shut. With the Colonel I never know for sure.

“Thanks,” I holler with a head nod in the direction of the voice.

A few female heads turn as I make my way into the generic school building, and I don’t even bother to keep the smirk off my face. “Here we go again,” I mutter to myself.

Finding the office wasn’t too difficult since it was right inside the entrance. Now I’ve got the new kid special in my hand: a schedule and a map complete with locker number and combination.

“Hey, man. You Landen O’Brien?” a guy’s voice greets me as I find my locker and fidget with the lock.

“Last I checked,” I answer, wondering if this is an actual welcome or the typical there’s-only-room-for-one-cocky-badass-in-this-school-so-watch-your-back greeting.

“Dwight Wilkins, but everyone calls me DW,” the blond guy says, reaching out to shake my hand. I take it, giving it a firm shake before cramming my bag into my locker. “You’re trying out for the soccer team today right?”

“Yeah, after school.”

“Cool.”

Jesus. Hope Springs must be a small town if this random dude knows my business already.

Apparently he isn’t done. “I don’t play with the grass fairies, man, but our football team just lost its kicker, and I’ve seen some YouTube videos of you scoring some badass Beckham goals.” He shrugs. “So if you want to come play with the big boys, I can talk to coach.”

For a moment I’m seriously confused. An insult, and not even an original one, tucked into a…what exactly? Compliment? Proposition? Whatever. It’s too early for this shit.

“Yeah, man. I’ll get back to you. When my fairy costume comes back from the cleaners.”
You’re welcome, Mom.
The old me would have just decked his ass on principle.

DW, or whatever his name is, laughs and grins widely. “Cool,” he says. “Who you got first period?” he asks, nodding at my schedule.

“D-dub! You already harassing the new guy? What the hell, man?” A stocky dark-skinned kid comes up and claps me on the shoulder before I can answer. “Welcome to Hope Springs, soccer boy.” I shrug out from under his grip. “Pay no attention to D-dub. He’s just scoping out the competition,” he says loud enough for the other guy to hear. “Miles Cameron, but everyone calls me Cam.” He holds out his hand. What’s with this place? Nicknames and handshakes a requirement?

I shake it and adjust my bag on my shoulder. “Yeah, uh, it’s been swell, and I appreciate the welcoming committee shit and all,” I say to both of them. “But I’m gonna head on to class now. Later.”

“Whoa, hold up,” Cam says, coming up behind me. “Seriously, DW can be a real dick – that’s what the D stands for actually.” I almost laugh. “But he’s cool, for real.”

“Sure he is,” I say, not believing him and not really caring.

“It’s just the last new guy snagged his spot on the team and made a play for his girl, so he’s trying to make sure you’re not…” But I don’t hear anything else he says. Because this girl—if she’s real—just walked into the building and I can’t stop staring.

Fuck me if this is “DW’s girl” but I can’t help myself. At every school in the past few years, I’ve ended up hooking up with some random who attached herself to me for whatever reason. It always just worked out that way and I never gave it much thought. Trish in Texas, Amy in Ohio, Lyndsie in Florida. None of them really mattered much until Danni in Colorado, but we were mostly just friends who happened to make out occasionally. I never actually
noticed
any of them until they forced me to. But this girl—this girl I cannot look away from.

“Who’s that?” I ask, gesturing at the girl with hair a color I don’t know how to name. From a distance it looks a normal shade of blonde, but the light coming in from the door behind her makes it look almost white and also like she’s glowing. I know I’m staring but she doesn’t seem to notice. In fact, she doesn’t seem to notice anything as she makes her way towards us. Cam takes my schedule and points at a door to my left, but it can wait. “Seriously, who is that?” I ask again because I have to know.

“Who?” When he looks up, she’s gone, disappeared into the classroom I’m about to go into, and I’m wondering if I imagined her.

BOOK: Keep Me Still
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