Secret Smiles | Teen Ink

Secret Smiles

February 16, 2011
By AshleyY. SILVER, Chesterfield, Missouri
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AshleyY. SILVER, Chesterfield, Missouri
8 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.
Barbara Kingsolver

I literally had no idea what to do anymore. I didn’t know how to fix this. I didn’t know how to fix us. I don’t think we could honestly fix us anymore, no matter how hard I tried. No matter how hard either of us tried.
So I plopped down on the cold floor. I curled up into myself, wrapping my arms tightly around my knees, and let the tears pour. I didn’t know what else to do anymore, so I cry. I curled into myself, and I cry, and cry, and cry, until I can no longer cry anymore.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to fix us, and I had always known how to fix us. I think that’s what secretly terrified him the most. I had always known what to do, and now that I didn’t, he completely unraveled our relationship from the inside out. And I was left with absolutely nothing. Now I only had a blank sheet of empty memories to desperately clutch onto, and torture myself into never forgetting.
Those empty memories were what clogged my thoughts for the rest of that endless, sleepless night. It was the worst torture I have ever unintentionally put myself through.

I love him, in its purest and simplest form. I loved him. I couldn’t tell you why I loved him. If you sat me down and questioned why I loved this boy, there would not be a single logical, reasonable answer I could give you. I loved him because he loved me, too, no matter what either of us said, or had once tried to hide.

I loved him because he was everything I was not. I loved him because he was everything I was, too. I loved him because he let me put him back together, me, plain and simple me. I loved him because he was breathtakingly beautiful, and he did not seem to mind that I myself was not.

I loved him because he was himself. I loved him because it had never felt right loving anyone else.
And now I had screwed it all up, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do to get him back. For once, I didn’t think I could fix him. I was done trying to fix him, so we were over. We were over, because I could no longer heal him, something he and I both knew he needed the most.

So we were done. For good. Officially. And I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to make it through this horrific, looming lifestyle without him to effortlessly guide me.

Because I no longer had the strength, or the energy to fix him, he no longer had the strength, or the energy to guide me. Without each other, we were lost. So here we both sat, lost forever without the other.

Chapter 1: Stage One: Shock & Denial My life used to be average. I had two parents. I went to an average public school. I had average friends. I ate average dinners at the average time of 7 PM. I got average grades. Then everything changed. Everything shattered beneath my feet, and before I had time to catch myself on anything, I was falling. I was falling too fast and too hard, and then I was crashing, no padding beneath me, and no time to scream before everything blacked out. When I woke up, my life was different from what it was before. It was no longer average. When I woke up from my unconscious state, my parents were divorced. My mom won full custody over me. We sold our house, the house I had lived in for seventeen and a half years of my life. She met a hotshot businessman. She married the hotshot businessman. His name was Steven. I was her Maid of Honor. I cried in the bathroom at the reception. We moved to Chicago, into his huge, breathtaking house in the richest suburb in the outskirts of Chicago. I lost my friends. It’s been an entire summer. I haven’t made any new friends. My life used to be average. I wished for something wonderful. I wished for something different and unique to happen to me. My life isn’t average anymore. But that was never my wish. ________________________________________ I sat on the front porch of Steven’s house, finishing the remains of my third cherry Popsicle. It was the last day of summer. School started tomorrow. Steven took me shopping yesterday. He bought me the best backpack. Steven bought me the most expensive school supplies. Steven bought me an entirely new fall wardrobe. Steven took me to the salon, where he made the hairdresser cut my hair and give me the cutest, most fashionable highlights. Steven let me get a manicure and pedicure. Steven bought me the newest iTouch and the prettiest, most technologically advanced Macbook Air. But Steven didn’t seem to understand. No matter how much he bought me, or how big or great or spectacular it was, he couldn’t put my life back together. He couldn’t give me my friends back. He couldn’t make the luxurious private school they were sending me to look any more inviting or appealing. He couldn’t make what I knew was going to be a miserable senior year of high school fly by. No matter how hard he tried, Steven couldn’t put me back together. But Steven didn’t understand. I wasn’t broken, and when something isn’t broken, you leave it alone. You don’t ask if it’s okay. You don’t ask if it needs anything. You don’t ask if it wants a hug, or someone to vent to. If it’s not broken, you can’t fix it, right? ________________________________________ “Lottie, sweetheart, I think you should go introduce yourself to that boy across the street. Steven told me he goes to your new school. His Dad is one of the managers of Steven’s business. Steven said the boy is wonderful. You could use a friend like him,” my Mother prodded, giving me a hopeful glance. She stepped out onto the porch, joining me on the porch swing Steven installed the night we had arrived. Because a porch swing was going to win me over. “I’m okay, Mom. I have no interest. He’s probably your typical pretty boy, going to your typical private school. I’ll make friends elsewhere.” She sighed, attempting to kiss my temple, a physical interaction I chose to dodge. I pulled out another cherry Popsicle, and tore off the wrapper, pulling out the deliciously frozen treat. “You shouldn’t be eating all of that sugar, either, dear. Maybe you could go play basketball with him and burn off some of those calories.” I sent her a glare, licking some of the cherry flavored juice from my lips to spite her. “Maybe later. I still have three more Popsicles to make my way through. And no, before you ask, he is not allowed to come over and help me devour them. This is my personal mission I set for myself to accomplish before the last day of my summer ends.” The front door slammed abruptly behind her. Thank god that had gotten rid of her. I looked up cautiously, still intently eating my fourth Popsicle. The neighborhood boy was indeed playing basketball. I wouldn’t have told Mom if she asked, but he had been playing for the past two and a half hours, while I baked in the sun and knocked back two and a half boxes of cherry flavored Popsicles, my skin burning in the humid Chicago sun. My phone had sat on my tanned thigh, silent, as it had been for the entire summer. No text messages, no phone calls, no e-mails. So I drowned myself in cherry Popsicle juice and the sight of the beautiful neighborhood boy as he made basket after basket. And like the past five times I had looked up and shyly sent a glance his way, he offered me a flawless smile. And like the past five times he gave me those flawless, perfect smiles, a sent a shy one of my own, relishing in the one summer day where everything had been okay, for once. Cherry flavored Popsicles, and beautiful boys I was too shy to talk to sending me beautiful smiles I always returned. Those secret, bashful smiles were the beginning of a wonderfully exhilaratingly horrific relationship. I just didn’t know it, yet. So I keep eating my cherry Popsicles, and sending this beautiful boy beautiful smiles. ________________________________________ “Lottie, this is Leyton. He’ll be showing you around Lancester Prep for the first week or so, and help you find all of your classes. Maybe you two will even be friends,” Principal Evans spoke up, voice way too energetic and peppy for only 7:30 AM. I couldn’t believe it. Leyton, my tour guide, was my next door neighbor. The completely gorgeous basketball player. Secret Smiles boy. Leyton shrugged, sending me a soft smile (which I returned, because it seemed absolutely necessary). “We’ll see, Evans. It looks like Lottie and I will be on our way, though. I want to go through her schedule with her a couple of times and walk her around, make sure she has the gist of where a couple of vital places are before first bell rings.” “Alright Leyton. Thanks so much for volunteering to show the new kid around. I know how taxing it can be,” Evans responded, already shooing us out of his office, closing the door behind him. “So what are your classes?” Leyton asked, and then swiped my schedule from my sweaty, anxious hands before I could read it to him. I shrugged my backpack further onto my shoulders, running my hands through my newly honey blonde hair. I spent all of last night picking out the perfect outfit, only to find that Steven had completely forgotten about my private school uniform: plaid skirt, white button-up, and black socks, any shoes besides tennis shoes being acceptable for shoe wear. The whole new wardrobe was cute and everything, but it was a complete fail when we both realized that I was going to have to wear the same thing, every single day, for the next thirty six weeks. I loved this school more and more, really. I was almost glad for Leyton, secretly. I knew without him, I would have gotten lost trying to find even my first class on this huge campus. There were seven different buildings, not including the Dining Room. There was a different building for each different field: a building for Science, Math, History, English, Foreign Language, Media & Arts, and another building for the rest of the elective classes, entitled Electives. Trust me. It was confusing enough, so I was happy I had Leyton to lead me around, like a lost little puppy, despite the fact that he hadn’t talked to me yet, even though we’d been standing here for approximately five minutes while he absolutely scrutinized my schedule. “So, um, where’s my first class?” I asked awkwardly, putting all my weight on one foot, than the other, as he immediately looked up at me upon hearing my voice, his scrutinization now focused on me and me only. Though I couldn’t say it wasn’t nice to have his deep, piercing ocean blue eyes focused on me, I couldn’t say it wasn’t unnevering in the least. They weren’t exactly filled with warmth or sympathy towards me, or anything to do with me, or even anything at all, and it was slightly freaking me out, the more he starred, and the less he talked. “It’s this way. C’mon,” he stated, grabbing roughly at my wrist. He tugged me down a couple of flights of stairs, and we exited the Administrators building, and outside into the humid Chicago atmosphere. Well this was definitely going to be a pleasant first day of school with Mr. Grumpy Pants. I could already tell. ________________________________________ It was lunchtime. Finally. I’d gone to the majority of my classes, all of which were core classes. I had completed all of my useless electives, foreign language credits, and other nonsense the state decided to throw in early on, so now I was only taking four classes, and was allowed to leave after lunch. Which was awkward and almost unbearable as it possibly could be. Leyton was now sitting silently besides me, munching on some sort of sandwich while I pathetically bunched and unbunched my cardigan, in desperate need of food, but too afraid to ask how to achieve of some. “What are you doing?” Leyton asked sharply, sending daggers my way. Before I could mumble out a pathetic, embarrassed excuse, he swiftly reached over, grabbing my hands and unraveling them, setting them face down on the pristine, beautiful oak cafeteria table. Electric shock waves sizzled throughout my body at his touch, and I shivered, pushing back my hair before I remembered his initial question I had promptly forgotten at just a simple physical interaction with him. “I don’t know where to buy food,” I whispered quietly, head tucked into my chin, too nervous to face him and his steel blue, hard gaze. He had seemed nice yesterday as gorgeous Secret Smiles boy, no obligations to tie him down as he shot basket after basket, hour after hour, and me, watching him so slyly, so articulately, as I ate those wonderful cherry Popsicles, hour after hour. What happened to that boy? He was so different now. He was much more enclosed into himself. He was much more guarded, much more tight-lipped and unwelcoming. I didn’t like it, but I knew my opinion didn’t matter to him as some foreign, awkward new girl he had been forced to lead around for a week. So I kept my mouth shut, looking at anything and everything else other than his completely shattered, heartbroken gaze. I couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes. The pain was too intense, too passionate, and too personal for me to handle. I didn’t know what to do to fix it, to fix him, so I curled into myself, refusing to communicate. I knew he wouldn’t appreciate it, or even acknowledge it, if I did, anyway. He sighed, startling me in the process. He motioned for me to stand, and I did, grabbing for my wallet as he dragged me away, yet again, to some unknown place to buy lunch. He finally stopped walking through the masses of students, each and every one of them starring at me like I was an alien. We approached a counter entitled: “Gourmet Dining.” I raised my eyebrows, wanting to question what time of ‘gourmet dining’ they served you here, exactly, but upon one glance at his frustrated, heartbroken facial features, I thought better of it, shutting up and staying silent, like I had been the entire day. “They have hot food over there, near the soda machines, to the left,” he declared, pointing out an area of the food stations which students were clustered around, swiping their Student ID cards and ordering different types of hot meals. “It’s stuff like chicken noodle soup, or broccoli soup, or even clam chowder, sometimes, depending on the weekly special. They can grill a Panini for you, or warm up something you’ve brought for home. They have really good fresh desserts, right out of the oven, too: brownies, and cookies, and cake, stuff like that. If you don’t like any of that stuff, they have chicken strips, French fries, hot pretzels with cheese, nachos, and pizza, too, normal, teenage stuff.” “And then there’s the cold menu,” he gestured, pointing to the right side of the lunch area. “It’s stuff like cheese and turkey sandwiches, or whatever you ask them to put on your sandwich. They have different types of bread, meats, cheeses, and toppings, so you can get whatever you want on it.” “They also have a lot healthier options over there, like Caesar salads, fruit salads, vegetables in general, fruit, granola bars and Cliff bars, Vitamin water, and Propels and Gatorades, too. Basically, if you can think of something you want for lunch, they’ll most likely have it.” I rubbed at my temples, overwhelmed with all of my choices, yet also surprised with how much he had actually spoken to me. I had expected him to thrust me at some lunch lady, demanding that she tell me the specials for the day, or how the lunch system worked, and walk away, leaving me to fend for myself. I was proud of him in almost sort of a weird way, for stepping up to the plate, and, for once, verbally explained something to me, instead of weighing me down with books for different classes, and grabbing at my wrists to lead me from class to class, not caring about me physically, or emotionally. It was the first time I was the one who grabbed his wrist, confidently leading him forward to the hot menu lunch line. I swiped my Student ID card I’d been presented with in my first class as I made my way to the counter, then asked for a broccoli cheese soup bread bowl, before making my way to the cold line. I got a bottle of chocolate milk, and an apple. I obediently followed Leyton back to our table, wondering why he wasn’t sitting with anyone else. It wasn’t like he didn’t have friends. He had plenty of friends. He high-fived different guys in the hallway. Cute guys. Gorgeous guys. Insanely popular guys, from what I could tell. He let pretty girls wrap their arms tightly around his waist, squeezing the life out of him, but didn’t return their hugs, no matter how stunning the girl. He allowed them to whisper words into his ear, give him looks, their eyebrows raised confidently, before they’d waltz away, hips swinging, their perfect little short skirts riding on their perfect little tiny waists. It wasn’t like he didn’t know people. He wasn’t a complete outcast. He wasn’t an outcast at all. And so I wasn’t quite sure why he wasn’t sitting with anyone else. I didn’t count, obviously, because I was basically another part of his life for the next four days, and though he didn’t have to get used to it, it wasn’t like I was going to immediately snatch all of his friends if he introduced me to any of them. I wouldn’t fit in with the insanely popular, insanely gorgeous crowd, anyway. I wanted to question him as I stirred my hot broccoli cheese soup around, and struggled to open my huge bottle of chocolate milk. I wanted to ask him why he refused to associate with these beautiful, seemingly wonderful people, when they were absolutely enamored and completely infatuated with him. But every time I would think of another question, and I almost started to blurt it out to him, I’d look up at those eyes of his, and immediately blush, hiding my face, trying to busy myself with something else, anything else. He huffed, pulling the chocolate milk out of my hands and effortlessly twisting the cap open, breaking the seal and exposing the delicious drink I wouldn’t have even had the option of drinking at my old school, nonetheless eating actually hot soup, or even having as many options to choose from. There were definite perks of going to a private school. “Um, Leyton? Are you okay? You seem really upset over something, and I wasn’t sure if it was because you had to lead me around, and didn’t get to sit with your normal friends or something, and I didn’t mean to be a hassle so if you want to you can, I just didn’t want to stop you, you know-” “Stop babbling. Shouldn’t you hurry up and finish your food?” And the way he said it made me know that it was not a question. It wasn’t even a rhetorical question. It was moreso along the lines of a, “Shut up and eat your food, and please, for the love of God, stop talking to me,” statement. So I did exactly that. I shut up, just like I had been doing for the entirety of the day, curling into myself and gulping down my food. He was different than he had been yesterday. I had too many questions to ask, and no patience whatsoever from the only boy who could give me all the answers. ________________________________________ “There’s this party on Friday night. I figured it’d be a night for you to show off and wear something pretty, since LP is positively ridiculous and has us in these strict dress codes. And I mean it’s a Friday night. There’s that, too. Partying won’t hurt anything,” Leyton stated, looking over to glance at me as he drove us to school. Steven had decided to go all “Green and Environmentally Friendly” at work on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Leyton was pulling up into my driveway in his gorgeous sky blue Lexus, the same blue as his eyes, demanding that I get into the car, because Steven asked his Dad if it was okay if Leyton gave me rides to and from school. We didn’t want to hurt the planet any further, now did we? Leyton’s Dad couldn’t exactly say no, either, since Steven was his overall boss, and he was always out to gain extra brownie points with the guy, something I didn’t quite understand. Steven wasn’t special or anything. So there was Leyton, with really no choice in the matter, telling me to get the hell into his car, because his Dad was definitely peeking through the front windows of their house, making sure I was safely in the car, mission accomplished for both Leyton’s Dad, and Steven. Today was Thursday. School hadn’t really gotten much better. We still ate by ourselves. I still hadn’t gotten any answers to the millions of questions that constantly flooded my brain. The schoolwork was at least manageable, and though it involved a lot of writing, and a lot of essays and analyzing different questions, no matter the topic, it was nothing I couldn’t manage, and I was almost beginning to enjoy it. I locked myself into my room, rejecting our housekeeper’s questionings of if I wanted an afternoon snack, or if I needed my uniform dry-cleaned for the next day. I immersed myself in school, the only thing I could always interpret my own way, no longer needing anyone else to help me. When my parents got divorced, and my Mom got remarried so quickly, I was scrambling to find something that was mine, anything that was mine, and mine only, that I could grab onto, and latch onto, and never let go of. School was becoming my safe haven, no matter how pissed off a mood Leyton was, or how prying my Mother was, or how overbearing and annoying Steven was. It was the only thing that made sense to me right now, and if at least something made sense, I wasn’t going to question it. I simply held on with all of my strength, and tried to make my way through it all. And it came as a complete and utter surprise when Leyton asked me to go to the party with him on Friday. He hadn’t gotten any more social, or any more welcoming than he had been on Monday. He might have become even more immersed in himself, and a lot less immersed in the real world since then, and though it deeply bothered me, simply because I was beginning to spend the majority of my days with him, there was nothing I could do. He didn’t even talk to me, honestly. So it was more than a surprise, really, that he was asking me this question, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted my answer to be. Yes, I wanted to go to a party with him. Just not him, Leyton. I wanted to go to a party with beautiful, wonderful Secret Smiles boy. Not this deep, dark, and brooding, cold, steel blue eyes boy who had no interest in me, anything around me, or even his friends or family. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that boy. I wanted Secret Smiles boy back, and if the only way I was going to be able to have that happen was to go to a party with him, loosen him up a little, maybe, than I guess I was going to have to suck up my already trodden-on emotions, and accept his offer, whether it was laced with grumpiness and extreme doubt, or not. “That would be really fun, actually. Thanks so much for inviting me!” I replied, sending him my biggest, brightest smile I could possibly muster at 7:15 AM. He scoffed. “Your Dad—” “He’s my step father, you idiot. Please get it right,” I snapped, seething at him, no longer able to take anymore of this kid’s crap, especially when it came to him thinking Steven was my real, true, biological father. It was almost despicable, and it was something I absolutely could not tolerate, no matter what. “Sorry. Your step father overheard mine talking about it, because it’s a family friend of ours daughter whose throwing the whole shebang. He immediately told your step father, thinking it was something you’d be interested in, I presume, and somehow I was caged into asking you, and talking you, if you said yes.” “Well, still, thanks for asking me, I guess,” I mumbled, biting back another sarcastic comment at his bitter, monotonous tone he’d carried on throughout his entire spiel, minus his sarcastic words, which had an even more bitter and angry tone interlaced between them. It was no surprise when he simply nodded his head, turning towards the road, not giving me a reply. He never gave me a reply, no matter the question. I was getting really sick of this kid. ________________________________________ “So this is Koltyn’s house. She was, um, she was one of my friends, once upon a time, so please don’t trash anything, alright? We’ll only stay for an hour or two, so don’t go totally wild. And are you sure you don’t need a sweatshirt? Your tank is sort of um, it will attract guys, needless to say, and I’m not sure if you can deal with the guys at these parties. They get a little crazy, and that leads to possessiveness-” I stopped Leyton, sending him a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine. Since when have you ever been concerned or protective over me?” I teased, laughing softly as he stuttered over his words, before his soft, questioning facial features morphed into their usual hard, unwelcoming ways. “I wasn’t trying to be protective. I wasn’t trying to be nice or concerned. It was just a question. Have fun or whatever. Meet me back here in an hour or so.” And then he was gone, leaving me stranded outside this beautiful house, not knowing anyone, or my way around this breathtaking palace, either. Well this was just awesome. I sighed, stepping around already half-drunk, half-buzzed and/or already high kids I’d never met in my entire life, sending them polite, awkward smiles as I dodged their reaching hands, obviously liking the way the light shimmered off my golden, sequined tank top. Maybe Leyton was right. I shook the preposterous notion from my head, walking through the front door, immediately faced with dozens of people dancing up on each other, around each other, and near each other, most of them holding a notorious red paper cup, hands in the air, no worries towards where the liquid in their cup actually went. The majority of it was spilling all over the gorgeous dark hardwood, if you were wondering. Poor Koltyn. Her parents were going to murder her, no doubt about it. I squeezed, pushed, and prodded my way through the crowd until I managed to find the main source of noise: the kitchen. Upon entering, I immediately went towards the counter, pushing back different bottles before I found a huge bottle of Diet Pepsi, unopened. I twisted the cap, giving it a double-sniff check, just to make sure, before pouring some into a red cup. I made my way through the crowd yet again, not too comfortable with grinding up on some guy I’d never met in my entire life. I wasn’t much of a partier. I had figured Leyton would at least stick with me for a couple of minutes, but I had seemingly lost my mind, and along with my mind, forgotten the fact that you could never believe what you expected out of Leyton. Plus, this wasn’t school. It wasn’t like he had to babysit me. It would have been nice if he had, at least for a bit, even introducing me to at least a couple of people before he completely disappeared, but then again, like he’d stated before, he wasn’t nice, either. The loud, thumping music and the screaming, rambunctious teens were worsening my migraine, something I’d had for the past two hours, in pure frustration from writing my current English essay, determined to get an A-, at least. Our teacher was a crazed psychopath, something I wished I could talk to Leyton about, but he’d gotten an A on his last essay. This wasn’t something he had expressed to me, of course. He wasn’t like that, anyway. Our teacher had made him stand up during class when she was handing our first round of essays back and clap for him. He’d gotten a 100%. So it felt awkward, almost, asking him for help at something he perfected at. And it’s not like he would have helped me. He was absolutely perfect in every way, and I wasn’t. There was nothing I could fix within myself to become perfect. I just wasn’t, and he was, and that was all there was to the fact. I sighed, rubbing at my temples as I held my cup close to my chest, not stupid enough to raise it high in the air like everyone else, risking some random person dropping alcohol in it. Alcohol wasn’t my thing. And it wasn’t really my mother’s thing, or Steven’s thing, for me to be drinking it, either. I wasn’t a goody-two-shoes, but I wasn’t really a rebel, either. I fell in-between, like I did with everything else in my life, too. I found a clear glass door, the night dark, but star-filled, and I squeezed through a couple of people before making my way to the door leading to the gorgeous balcony, shutting it behind me and walking over to the banister, setting me cup down gently before resting my head in my hands. It was quiet and peaceful for a couple of minutes, and then that absolute serene quietness and peacefulness was shattered as the door slammed behind someone. “Hey pretty little thing,” a soft, hushed voice whispered in my ear, his breath hot, his skin tingling and warm against my waist as he wrapped an arm around me. I pushed him off, laughing softly to myself as he stumbled for a bit before gaining his balance again. He leaned over, and I figured he was about to sit down, taking his time. And then he started making gagging sounds. And before I could move, or push him desperately away, or even scream, he was puking all over my shoes, moaning and heaving as mucus dripped from his mouth as he finished. I slid off my Birkenstocks in pure and utter disgust, flinging them over the balcony, knowing there was no one, not even my housekeeper, that could get the utter retch and filth off of them. I sighed, sitting down against the back of the house, not wanting to leave the kid outside all by himself, having just puked all over my shoes, or not. He was obviously drunk, and had obviously drank a lot more than his worth, something neither his stomach, nor his kidneys agreed with, apparently. He mimicked my actions, leaning his head back against the new brick of Koltyn’s house. We were both quiet for awhile, him breathing in deeply, me leaning as far away as possible from him each time he did so, braiding, unbraiding, and re-braiding my hair in pure boredom. I’d checked my phone a couple of times just to make sure it hadn’t been an hour yet (it hadn’t, unfortunately), so Leyton wouldn’t get pissed at me and just leave me, stranded here, knowing no one, or anything really, about how to get back to Steven’s house. “Hey, you’re that new girl, aren’t you?” Drunk kid questioned, using the edge of his long sleeve shirt to wipe his mouth, seeming to come back from pure oblivion. “Yeah, I am,” I stated, not really willing to give him any other information besides that. “You’re the pretty little thing Leyton’s been showing around all week, and Koltyn has been super pissed about, right?” I shrugged, not really knowing who Koltyn was. All I knew was that Leyton had some bitter feelings behind anything/everything dealing with her, yet here we were, still present at her house. I’d never actually seen this girl, or at least, I didn’t think I had. Like I’d previously stated, Leyton hadn’t introduced me to any of the gorgeous boys, or the pretty girls that had all said hi to him in the hallways, or tried to talk to him during our classes, no matter how many times he rejected their questionings, or their mindless jabber. “Yeah, you’re that girl. Well, it’s nice to meet you, and I’m sorry Leyton has his head stuck up his ass this week. It’s just been a tough couple of days for him. It’ll get better, I promise. Don’t give up hope on him, okay?” He seemed to immediately sober up upon talk of Leyton, suddenly turning serious and intense. I shrugged, refusing to acknowledge, or even listen to, anything dealing with Leyton. “Here,” I stated, handing him the last of my Diet Pepsi, which was about 3/4’s of a cup, “drink this. You need to absorb something that isn’t alcohol, and though I’ve never drank before, I’m sure soda isn’t going to kill you or anything. Plus, I really don’t feel like pushing and/or possibly even shoving my way through all those people to get you some water from the kitchen. If this house even has water, that is.” He chuckled slightly, graciously accepting my red cup, gingerly sipping on the substance, not positive of the reactions his stomach were going to have because of it. “So what’s your name, anyway?” “Lottie. Yours, mysterious drunk kid?” He chucked hysterically at that, and I was grateful for the fact that he was drunk, because if he hadn’t been, I’m sure he wouldn’t be laughing so hard at all of my sarcastic comments, but laughter was something I needed, now days, especially when it was positive laughter about something I’d said, when I was positive everybody hated me for reasons I couldn’t quite grasp. “Bryce. The name’s Bryce. And I’m being serious about giving Leyton some time, Lottie.” I raised my eyebrows. “And why is that, exactly? He hasn’t really been the nicest person to me in the past couple of days.” He gave me a soft, sad grin. “I know. And that’s exactly why you should be nice to him, oaky? He just broke up with Koltyn, and they were going out since the summer before freshman year. Four years. He’s completely torn up about it, so he’s just not the nicest person. He’s kind of retracted himself from all of his friends, including me, even though I’m his best friend. It just happened on Monday.” “She went over to his house at something crazy like, six AM, trying to do it before school so he’d have some time to get himself together, you know? But she shattered his heart. You’re the first person he’s even uttered a sentence to, so don’t take those sentences he does manage to get out lightly.” It all made sense now, honestly. I had a little bit more sympathy for him. I gave Bryce a soft nod, telling him I understood, as I pulled my phone from the pocket of my dark skinny jeans. 11:59 PM. S**t. “Hey Bryce, it was really nice to meet you and everything, but-” “You have to go,” he finished for me, sending me a soft smile. “Yeah, I do, actually. But it honestly was nice meeting you,” I offered him a small smile in return, grinning even bigger as I realized the oxymoron in this situation. With Leyton, we had Secret Smiles. With any other boy, it was just a soft, casual, unspoken exchange between two different people, and they usually didn’t mean anything. These smiles didn’t mean anything. “By the way,” he spoke up a bit as I swiftly pulled open the balcony door, one sock-clad foot inside the house, the other still outside, “L & L sounds awfully adorable together, don’t you think?” I blushed, looking down at my feet, unable to offer him any response. “I owe you a pair of Birkenstocks on Monday. Don’t let me forget. And thanks for the Diet Pepsi!” With a nod, I was gone, bolting through the people and out the door, hazardously sprinting down the driveway, catching my breath and sighing to myself in relief as I saw his blue Lexus, still parked in the driveway. I walked up to the car, yanking open the passenger door and slid in, not paying attention as I reached for my seatbelt, panting from all of the exertion I’d just exhibited. “I’m so sorry I was almost late, I was outside on the deck with your friend, um, Bryce? He said you guys were best friends. I was talking to him, and I didn’t realize the time, but I swear, once I did, I ran as fast as I could-” I shut up without him asking when I looked over at him, sucking in a breath at the sight. He was curled up into the driver’s seat, knees tucked into his arms, his entire body racketing. And when I looked at his face, I realized he was crying. Big, tough, steel, cold, hard, Mr. Grumpy Pants, evil blue eyes, Leyton was crying. He was crying. I unbuckled my seatbelt, hesitant upon what my initial reaction should be, but he made it insanely clear to me. He launched himself into my arms, holding tightly to my waist as his tears fell down my neck. I awkwardly patted his back, running my other hand through his hair, not sure what I was supposed to say in a situation like this. “I shouldn’t have come here. I shouldn’t have tortured myself. I thought it would make it seem like we hadn’t even broken up. I was denying the fact we’d even broken up – denying the fact that we weren’t together anymore, we were never going to be together anymore. I thought I could handle it, and all I needed to do was see her. But I came here, and I saw her, and I couldn’t take it. I absolutely could not take it.” “I tried to act like it hadn’t even happened. Like I was a tough guy, and she couldn’t get to me. She couldn’t break me. I’m the guy. I’m supposed to be the strong one, always holding steady, no matter what happens, never exposing my emotions, no matter how terrible it gets.” “But I couldn’t do it. I tried to stay strong, and act like it wasn’t even real. It never even happened, you know? But I got here, and I saw her, and I couldn’t even…I couldn’t even f*ing stay at the party. She’s here, and she looked so god damn gorgeous, and absolutely flawless, and she was with a new guy, already, she was with a new f*ing guy, she’s already with a new guy, and it’s only been a week. She’s perfectly fine, and I’m still torn up about it, torn up about her, torn up about us, and I couldn’t…I couldn’t…I can’t…do it. So I ran. And I’m sorry…god, I’m so sorry…” He’s unable to finish as he chokes back tears, gasping for air as I stroke his back, desperate to find something I can do which will calm him down. “I thought I was going to be fine. I thought we were going to be fine. I thought it was a joke, like some stupid “JUST KIDDING” type of prank, and I’d come to her stupid little party. I’d bring my girl I’d had to lead around all week with me, and she’d see me, and she’d see us, and she’d want to get back together, because this wasn’t real. It wasn’t real, and it was never meant to be real.” “But it’s real, it’s f*ing real. I get out of the car, and there she is, there she is, and suddenly, I’m bolting. I can’t stay and talk to you. I can’t stay and find someone for you to talk to. I can’t do anything but run, and find something, or someone to take my mind away from her.” “So I went to the place here I’ve always escaped to when I couldn’t deal with her, anymore. But there were people there, there were already people there, so I ran here. I ran here, and then you came back, and I’m sorry, I’m so f*ing sorry, I didn’t mean to be so mean to you…I couldn’t…I can’t…” “I didn’t mean to be so vicious towards you. I’m sorry Lottie, I’m so sorry. I’ll be nicer, I promise, I’ll be nicer, and better, and bigger, and stronger. I promise I will, I promise.” I shushed him, rubbing his back softly, soothing his tears. He didn’t have to tell me who he was talking about. He didn’t have to explain to me why he was crying, or what had happened, or why they had broken up, or even why he had tortured himself so badly, even when he knew it would undoubtedly end in even further heartbroken, painfully dreadful torture. For once, I understood, no questions asked, without a doubt. He didn’t have to say anything more, and for once, I didn’t have to say anything at all. I had no questions that needed answering. I understood. I understood everything. It’s quiet for awhile as he pulls himself together, his sobs lessening, and I begin to think it’s over, he’s done, he’s okay now. And then he ruins it all, opening his mouth against my neck, his hot breath sending shivers down my spine for all the wrong reasons. “I love her, you know? I still love her, even though she’ll never love me again. I love her, and I’ll always love her, no matter what she says, or does to try to desperately convince me otherwise. I’m hers, and I’ll always be hers, even if she’ll never be mine.” “I love her. I love her so much.” My heart bursts at the words, shattering into a million, tiny, unrecognizable pieces at his words, and I let out a gasp myself, unable to stop it, or control it. And before long, I’m crying with him, too, sobbing quietly against his hair as he sobs into my chest, my chest heaving as Leyton’s chest heaves deeply beneath mine. I cry for the old endings, and for the new beginnings. I cry because I lost my best friends, the girls that were supposed to hold me through anything, through thick and thin. I cry because they hadn’t done their job. I cry because my Mom didn’t ask me if I liked Steven before she married him. I cry because I wasn’t broken, but I was still hurting, and hurting deep, at that, and no one noticed. I cry because he was crying, and that just made me cry harder, knowing the pain he was going through, too. I cry because there was no other way I knew of to calm myself down. And once I was done crying, having no more tears, I ran my fingers through his (now damp) hair, rubbing his back softly with my other hand, acting like I had never shed a single tear. And as soon as it erupted, it ended. He pulled himself away, pawing at his face to dry his tears. He pulled his keys out of pocket of his jeans, started the car, and backed out of the driveway. He sped far away from the girl who had made, and destroyed his life, in such a little amount of time. We acted as if that night hadn’t happened on Monday. I went back to asking too much, thinking too much, and generally being too much for him, and he went back to consistently telling me to shut up, and just let him lead the way. I acted as if I had never bawled next to him, beneath him, with him, and he acted like he had never cried into me, with me, and besides me. And even though I was always the leader, never the follow, I effortlessly followed him, hoping he’d open up to me just a little bit more, if only once more, so I could fix him. I just wanted to fix him. He was so broken, and it broke my own heart into two uneasily solved jigsaw pieces. ________________________________________ I sat outside on Steven’s porch, on the same porch swing I had sat on just a week earlier. For some stupid, idiotic reason, I thought that if innocent, naïve little me sat on this stupid porch swing and ate a million stupid cherry Popsicles, wonderful Secret Smiles boy would make a Secret appearance. I sat there and downed an entire box of Popsicles, ignoring the weather as it got colder and colder, and the sun began to set. But he never came. I knew he wouldn’t. He was him, and I was me, and together, we just weren’t going to be. It was something I was fully aware of, but refused to believe. I didn’t want to be in love with Leyton. I wanted to be in love with Secret Smiles boy. I wanted Secret Smiles boy to come outside, courageously cross the street, and take a Popsicle from the box. I wanted him to sit right here next to me, and wrap his arm around me, and tell me all about him and Koltyn. I wanted him to tell me everything. He fascinated me, no matter how cruel he could be. He absolutely, positively fascinated me, and I wanted to know all the bits and pieces of him he was willing to tell me. And when the sun finally set, and the moon rose to its full capacity, I gave up. I gathered the empty Popsicle box and the empty Popsicle wrappers. I gave his house one last longing glance, but there was nothing there to see. That was the first day I began giving up on Secret Smiles boy ever making another appearance.

Chapter 2:
Stage Two:
Pain & Guilt

It’s a couple of weeks later, and I invited Leyton over to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I figured baked goods were something that would take both of us out of our foul moods, especially because Mom & Steven were out to dinner, leaving me the house for myself.

Which meant neither of them would try to pry information out of me after he left, making my life altogether a lot easier.

After that Friday night, we had a mutual respect for each other. We weren’t exactly friends, but we weren’t exactly enemies, which was what we basically were, beforehand. We understood each other, and respected each other because of that mutual understanding, and we tolerated each other, no matter what our fathers made us do (we were now carpooling every other day: I would carpool one day, he would carpool the next. It dealt with something along the lines of me actually using my car sometimes instead of Leyton, because gas was expensive, and his Dad didn’t like giving him gas money. Don’t ask, because I don’t really know), because we knew putting up a fight would only make things worse.

And it was pretty damn hard to make things any worse than the current situation(s) we were in.

After we made two batches of cookies, we headed upstairs to my room, a plate of cookies in hand. Leyton hadn’t wanted to go home, (something about his mother being too demanding and needy, and his father constantly belittling him) so I opted to go upstairs and simply chill.

This turned into me scrutinizing him until he broke underneath my intense, questioning gaze, because I knew I couldn’t ask him how he was feeling about Koltyn. Koltyn was off limits, and this was the only way I could get to the subject of Koltyn without directly asking him.

“What do you want?” He seethed, pulling himself up off of my blue bean bag, his face turning an immediate red as all the blood rushed to its correct location.

I rolled my eyes, no longer intimidated by his harsh, snarky tone. It was Leyton, and that was how you were going to get him. If you didn’t like it, you simply ignored him. I choose to take him as he was, no matter how harsh he could sometimes be.

“How are you today, happy little camper?” I teased, giggling quietly to myself when he frowned at my word choice.

“I feel guilty, L,” he gushed, running his hands over the sharp plains of his jaw before cupping his face, refusing to meet my gaze.

He had recently taken to calling me L, demanding Lottie too hard to pronounce, and spell (clearly, our English teacher was positively delusional, aka: completely biased, when she graded his essays, if the boy couldn’t spell something as easy as Lottie), and deemed L much simpler and more me, whatever that meant.

My eyebrows rose, immediately curious.

“I feel like…if I had done better, or been more for her, or tried harder to keep our relationship together, we would still be together. If I had been better at simply being me, the boy she used to love, the boy she still could have loved, if I had changed, and been what she needed, instead of the boy she thought she needed.”

I rolled my eyes, scoffing, efficiently shutting him up, and causing him to quickly turn his head my way at the sound, wanting to know what I thought of his musings.

“You can’t change yourself to fit someone else, Leyton. Don’t you know that? You can’t change yourself, or your emotions, or even your personality to fit someone else’s. You are your own unique person, and your personality, and your emotions, and you yourself will fit someone else who actually gets you. It was a stupid high school relationship, no matter how long it lasted.”

He shook his head, steadfast in telling me I was wrong, and he was right, he was absolutely right.

”But that’s not how it was, L. That wasn’t how it was. She loved me, and I loved her, I promise I did, I promise we did. God L, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that, we loved each other, and it wasn’t some stupid high school relationship.”
“I just…I wish I could have done more to make her mine. To have kept her as mine. I know I made mistakes, that people make mistakes, and no one is perfect, but god, L, she was perfect, I swore, she was.”

I laughed bitterly, whispering softly, “If she was perfect, she wouldn’t have broken your heart, Leyton. She would have kept loving you, even throughout all your imperfections, because those imperfections made you who you were, and that was why she loved you. She would have continuously loved you because of your imperfections. She would still be in love with you, and she’s not, Leyton.”

He rolled his eyes, huffing, crossing his arms and refusing to look at me.

“You have to be in control of your emotions, Leyton. You have to be in control of them, instead of letting them be in control of you, and you have to let go of the past. It’s the past now, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.”

And then he was quiet, starring me down, no longer speaking to me.

“So what about you, Lottie? What kind of deep, dark secret has made you move here at the beginning of your senior year of high school?” He questioned, a small smirk playing at his lips, now that he was able to question and interrogate me, instead of the other way around.

I sighed, knowing this was coming, but refusing to acknowledge it before it happened, not wanting it to be real. It still didn’t feel real to me, and if it wasn’t real, it didn’t have to be mentioned, or talked about, or felt.
“My parents got divorced at the beginning of the summer. In May, to be exact. Mom won full custody. Mom started dating Steven, or who I more commonly refer to as the “hotshot businessman,” two weeks later.”
“My Mom and I moved in with him, effectively twenty five hours from my entire life. I lost my friends. They got married at the end of August. I was the Maid of Honor. I met you. There. That’s my life story,” I huffed, refusing to meet his eyes.
I didn’t want to see regret. I didn’t want to see remorse, or sorrow, or pain, or any of the emotions associated with apologies, like I had seen from everyone I had recently met, and told this story to.

I didn’t want to see anything but acceptance. I wanted him to accept what had recently forced me to become who I was right now. I wanted him to accept that it was difficult for me, but I was going to be just fine. I wasn’t broken. I was going to be okay.

He was quiet for a moment, brooding intensely besides me, his knees uncomfortably settled against the dashboard. He was entirely too tall to fit inside my car, but he didn’t seem to mind. He wasn’t a complainer, about anything. I was learning that about him, and very quickly.
If you wanted to know how he was feeling about something, he wasn’t going to immediately sense it, and tell you right away. You were going to have to go to him, and ask him yourself. He wasn’t an open emotional book. He figured it was a lot easier to keep everything bottled up inside, and only when it was impossible to stand any longer, would the bottle break, and his emotions would explode.
“You told me facts, though. You didn’t tell me how you felt about any of that happening. You didn’t tell me how you feel about not having any friends. You didn’t tell me how you felt about not seeing your Dad anymore. You didn’t tell me how you felt about your Mom getting-”
I interrupt him before he can continue, knowing it will tear my heart even more to hear him state everything that happened to me in such a tiny, yet tragic, period of time.
“I was horrified. I was horrified that my friends deserted me. They were the girls who were supposed to be with me through anything, no matter how far we got pulled apart. They were the girls who grew up with me. Who took dance lessons, and gymnastic lessons, and swimming and piano lessons together. They were the girl who I spent all of my weekends with.”
“They were the girls who got me through elementary school, the girls who made new friends with me during middle school, and the girls who made fun of the horrible teachers and sucked up to the amazing teachers with me in high school. They were my girls.”
“They were my absolute best friends, and the second I moved away, it was like they didn’t even know who I was.”
“I’m not the girl they spent all of their lives with. I’m no longer the girl they grew up next to. I’m no longer the girl they spent their weekends with, or drive around town with, or went to school with. I’m an absolute foreigner to them. We went from being absolutely everything to each other, to being absolutely nothing, in a matter of seconds.”
“And it sucks, because it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t help it. I was powerless in the situation at hand. It wasn’t my fault I had to move away. I couldn’t do anything about it, yet I was punished all the same for it. I was devastated, but there was nothing I could do. I’m trying to move on without them, but it’s so weird. They’ve always been there for me, and now I have to do it all alone. I’m not used to doing it all alone.”

I take a deep breath, squeezing my eyes shut tightly. I can’t cry around him (again). He didn’t realize I was crying the first time, for he was too involved in his own emotional state to think about, or feel, or be concerned for anyone but himself, but it still counts. It counts because I was him, and he was me, and everything counted between the two of us. Everything mattered, no matter how big, or how small.

“I was torn to bits and pieces when my Mom got remarried. I thought it was a joke, at first. I thought my parents getting divorced was an absolute joke. They had always been so happy. But I guess that was a joke, just an illusion of my mind for the longest time, too.”
“It was hard enough coming to terms with never seeing my Dad again. I’ll be turning eighteen soon, so I can go see him whenever I please, but it’s not the same. I don’t have time on the weekends to go fly out to see him, and phone calls just aren’t cutting it anymore, so instead of calling him every night or at least every other day, I don’t call him at all.”
“I can’t stand to hear his heartbroken voice anymore, so I don’t. I e-mail him almost every week, letting him know that yes, I am actually alive, and yes, I’m doing okay, but besides that, I don’t have any other interaction with him. It hurts too much to have any other interaction with him.”
“And being my Mom’s Maid of Honor was equivalent to the sickest prank someone could ever play on me. I thought she was kidding when she first brought it up to me, but when I found out she was being serious, I wanted to cry.”
“But I couldn’t cry. I was done with crying. I’d done too much crying, and I was strong. I was strong, and I wasn’t going to cry anymore, no matter what. So I didn’t. I didn’t cry throughout the entire wedding process. I didn’t cry at the rehearsal dinner, or at the wedding, even when she promised to love him forever. I didn’t cry at the reception, when I had to give my speech.”
“But when it was all over, when the caterers and the workers at the hotel started cleaning the room where the reception had been held, I ran to the bathroom and curled up into a stall, putting my feet up on the toilet so no one could see it was me.”
“And I cried. I cried hard, and I cried for awhile, and then I dried my tears, and promised myself I was done crying, because I was fine, and I wasn’t broken. I was whole, and people who weren’t broken didn’t cry.”

Instead of apologizing, Leyton pulls me into him, wrapping his arms around me, squeezing me tightly to his chest. He hold me, and kisses my hair, and rocks me back and forth, like he wants to take the hurt and the memories out of me, instead of apologizing until he believes I know he’s sorry for all my pain.

He doesn’t ask if I’m okay. He doesn’t tell me he’s sorry. He simply holds me, and for once, that’s enough, because no one has ever cared this much for me. For once, it’s enough, because he knows it’s not enough to say he was sorry.
He knows it’s not enough to tell me it was going to get better, or I was going to feel better about the entire situation, or I was going to make new friends, and pretty soon, I would be as good as new, again. He holds me; because that’s the only form of comfort he knows he can offer to me.

After awhile, I wrap my arms around him, too, squeezing him as tightly as I possibly can.

And we sit together, being absolutely miserable and completely full to the brim with pain, for the rest of the day.
I sit outside with my box stock full of cherry Popsicles, waiting, like I always did.
We were a lot closer than a couple of weekends ago, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything significant from him. It didn’t mean he liked me. It didn’t mean he wanted to join me. It didn’t mean he was completely and utterly over Koltyn, if he was ever going to fully be over Koltyn.
And yet, I wished it would mean something. Even though I knew he wouldn’t, I sat out here every evening with my box of Popsicles, after I finished my piles of homework, and waited for him.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And even though I knew he was never going to join me, I couldn’t help but wish he would. Because I was falling in love with him, day after day, even though he was still in love with Koltyn, and was never going to get over her. I was falling more and more in love with him, and he wasn’t falling in love with me, no matter how much I wished he would.
I loved him, simply because of the discussions we were having, and the time we were spending together. I fell hard, and I fell fast, and there was really nothing I could do about it.
And even though it broke my heart, falling for a guy who was never going to fall for me, because his own heart was shattered into smithereens, I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t stop myself from loving him, because the more time I spent with him, the more I fell for him.
And I knew it was wrong. I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing, for me, or for him, but I couldn’t help it. I absolutely couldn’t help falling for him.
And it broke my heart. Because I was falling in love with him, and he was still in love with someone else, and we were never going to get our fairy tale ending, something I desperately needed after this summer.
And if I couldn’t have my fairy tale ending, I at least needed my Secret Smiles boy back. He had made me happy, if only for those two hours, and I hadn’t been that happy since. If Leyton didn’t love me like I loved him, I at least wanted to fix him until he was back to being Secret Smiles boy, again. We were both happy, at our happiest, no matter our life situations, then.
And we both needed that: happiness. So if he couldn’t love me like I loved him, we could continue playing our Secret Smiles game for however long he’d go along with it, even though he would undoubtedly find out how much I loved him, even if he didn’t love me.
Because Secret Smiles were better than anything else I’d managed to discover here so far. So far, they were the ban of my existence, no matter how pathetic that sounded. And if he couldn’t love me, I at least needed my beautiful Secret Smiles to keep me going.

Chapter 3: Anger “Look, I don’t really care, okay? I just wanna go home. I don’t wanna do anything. I don’t wanna hangout, okay? I’m tired. I don’t feel good.” I sighed, rolling my eyes. He wasn’t going to do this tonight. Leyton honestly wasn’t going to do this tonight. It wasn’t fair to me. It wasn’t fair to either of us. He was getting pissy and mean for no reason, simply because he missed her. And by her, I didn’t mean her. He missed her, Koltyn. He missed her, and there was nothing I could do about it, so he lashed out at me. He said he didn’t need me. He said he could walk home, even. He said he didn’t want to hangout, something that was becoming a usual, daily occurrence between the two of us. He said he didn’t want to talk to me. He said he didn’t want to be around me. He said he didn’t want me. I was lying if I said it didn’t hurt. I was lying if it didn’t puncture the broken, wounded, pieces of my bloody, bruised, destroyed heart even more than before. I was lying if I said it didn’t bring tears to my eyes. How someone could be so lovely, and welcoming, and just, completely, invitingly broken in front of me one second, and closed up and secluded the next astounded me, and hurt me even more than anything else possibly could. He was a walking contradiction, yet no matter how much I wanted to hate it, and hate him, in particular, I couldn’t. I loved him, despite how much of a walking contradiction, and complete and utter bipolar mess he was to me, and especially others around him, sometimes. I loved him, and though I wish it would, nothing was ever going to change that. I sighed, mimicking him as I sped down the short road that led to our neighborhood from school. Whatever. I didn’t even care (lies). I didn’t have to hangout with him, because I had other friends (lies). I could do cooler stuff with cooler people (lies). I had tons and tons of homework I could make my way through that I hadn’t completed in school (lies). Whatever. It wasn’t a big deal (lies). “Will you stop being utterly mean to me today, for once? My god,” Leyton snarled, obviously having seen me mimic him. I stuck out my lower lip, whimpering, “Aw, you poor, poor baby. Get over it. Suck it up. You can’t just be a b***h to me simply because you’re not “feeling good,” aka you’re pissed off at Koltyn because you saw her all day today, and it’s absolutely, positively killing you.” “You can’t get mad at me, and yell at me, simply because you aren’t happy, and aren’t in the best mood. I’m sorry to tell you, superstar, but the world doesn’t work like that.” “The world doesn’t revolve around you and your utter heartbreak, no matter how much you wish it did, and wish it could. It just doesn’t work like that, and it’s a lesson I had really, truly and honestly, thought you had learned by now. I mean, c’mon, kid. You’re a senior. You’re not five.” He grimaced at me, not even having the decency to give me a response as I pulled up into his driveway, slamming the door shut as he exited the car. I rolled down my window, unable to resist. “You know, you could at least have the decency to say goodbye…I mean…I didn’t think I was that annoying, or that evil to you today, or anything. I didn’t even honestly talk to you.” His whole body went rigid, his chest tightening, before he dropped his backpack, turning around and facing me, running a hand through his hair, sighing deeply before he opened and closed his mouth, desperately trying to find his words. “You know what, Lottie? Today really isn’t the day to mess with me. I like you and everything, but honestly. Stop being so obsessed. Stop following me. Stop eating lunch with me. Stop trying to act like my best friend, okay? You’re not my best friend. I have a best friend.” I narrowed my eyes, laughing ironically to myself (yet only on the inside, because I didn’t have the guts to laugh at him. I was scared he’d rip one into me, and I’d leave bawling my eyes out, completely torn to shreds). He thought he had a best friend? Was he insane? “Leyton, you know you haven’t talked to Bryce since school started, right? I’ve talked to Bryce more than you have, and I’m not even his best friend. Don’t even start with me. This is just freaking ridiculous.” “We both know I’m not obsessed with you – not like those crazy girls at school who are absolutely in love with you, and you don’t even pay a shred of attention to.” He rolled his eyes, huffing in clear irritation. “You know what, Lottie? Just stay away from me, okay? Stay away until I tell you to come back. I can’t handle you right now. I can’t handle your stupid little rhetorical questions. And I can’t handle how freaking condescending you are. I can’t handle how you always seem to know the answer, but you’re not really giving me one right now.” “I just…I can’t handle any of this right now, and I’m done with it, okay? I’m done with all of this.” I rolled my eyes, refusing to simply shut down at his words. I was used to his words. None of these words were affecting me. They were things he had used to say daily, trying to get me to leave him alone, to go away, to just stop talking to him, or meeting up with him, or eating lunch with him. I had gotten passed all of it soon enough and this was just like that. I would get past it all soon enough, and tomorrow, he’d be just like he usually was: slightly sarcastic, yet manageable, steering very well clear of any of the hallways Koltyn walked through, or any of the classrooms she was near, or even the lunchroom. Today had just been a bad day. She wasn’t supposed to stay in the cafeteria during lunch, but she had. And she’d sat right in front of us. And she’d laughed with her new boy experiment (aka: her new “boyfriend”…or boytoy, as I liked to “affectionately” term them as, because that was, in all honesty, really what they were, no matter how harsh or cruel it sounded). And she’d seemed fine. She wasn’t heartbroken. She wasn’t turning around to look at him, or trying to get his attention, or laying her head down on the table, too tired to be at all coherent, not having slept the night before because she was so heartbroken, it kept her up at night, her broken, battered pieces of her heart beating hurriedly, furiously against her chest, the shattered pieces stabbing her painfully each and every time it beat painfully against her, like a steady, hammering, murderous drum, just like it did to Leyton. She wasn’t sending her one and only friend text after text at 1:30 am, 2:45 am, 3:05 am, begging, needing, wanting, wishing, for new music, or a new movie she hadn’t heard of, if only to get her mind off of him, off of the beautiful, wonderful boy who had broken her heart, kept her up all night, every night, for the past month and a half. She was fine without him. She was absolutely, totally fine without him, and I think that was what destroyed Leyton today, and made him lash out so suddenly, so viciously at me, this afternoon. And even though I knew he didn’t mean it, he didn’t mean any of it, I couldn’t help but take certain words to heart. He didn’t like me. He didn’t need me. He didn’t want me. They hurt, even though I knew that’s what he was trying to do. He was trying to push and shove me as far away, and as hard away as possible, so I’d never come back…but the problem was, he’d be calling for me, again, soon. He’d be wanting me, and needing me, and wishing for me again, and I knew that, and I knew that he knew that I knew that. I knew what game he was trying to play. It was just a matter of if I could win it, or not. And I knew I had to win. Because if I lost, I probably wasn’t going to ever talk to him again. If I lost, he was going to say some of the meanest, most hurtful things that had ever been lashed out at me, or strewn out my way. I knew he didn’t mean them, right now, because he was intertwined within his beautiful, broken, white, hot lashing mistaken misery, but I kept taking them to heart, over and over again, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Even though he was intentionally making them hurt. I had to keep a clear mind, and I had to get through this. I just had to get through this. “I mean, honestly, I know you love me, Lottie. I know you’re in love with me, and you’re absolutely, completely enthralled with me, and you want me, and you need me, and you absolutely, positively adore me, but I don’t return those feelings, okay?” “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you. I don’t know how many times I have to stress this matter to you, because if this has to be the first time, yet not the last time, I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can keep unintentionally, subconsciously leading you along.” “Because I know how it feels, okay? It’s what Koltyn did to me for three and a half years, even though she’ll never tell me. She’ll never admit it to me, but that’s okay. I know she doesn’t love me. I know she never loved me.” “So I can’t do something so similar to you. I just…I know I’m being too harsh about it, and way too rude about it, but I just…I have to tell you. I have to let you know. I don’t, and I can’t, I absolutely can’t, love you the way you want to be loved by me, and the way you need to, and wish to, be loved by me.” “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t, but I had to tell you. I have to tell you that, and that’s all there is to that. Now please, will you please, Lottie, I’m begging you, please, go home. Just…go home, and leave me alone. I don’t need you, anymore. I don’t want you, and I don’t wish for you, and I will never, ever need, want, or wish for you like you do for me.” “I still love Koltyn, even though she’ll never love me, and I might always love Koltyn, even though she’ll never return those same feelings. I love her. I don’t love you.” And he steps closer, taking my face into his hands, tenderly stroking my cheeks. And I, innocently, naively, stupidly, think he’s going to take it all back. I begin to think all his words were a joke. That he was just kidding with me. I begin to think he’s going to kiss me. The way he looks at me, the way he’s touching me, the way he’s holding me, they aren’t the way you would do any of this to someone you don’t like. To someone you don’t need. To someone you don’t want. And then it’s all shattered in a millisecond. My racing heart is let down. My flushed cheeks quickly loose all their color. My hands suddenly become cold, unlike how clammy they had been only a few seconds ago. I was innocent, and naïve, and incredibly, ridiculously stupid, because I thought he was going to take back all his words. I thought he was going to kiss me, and apologize for everything. I thought he was going to say, despite all of that, we could still be friends. Because I wanted him, for something. I didn’t even have to be his girlfriend. I just needed something. But as soon as he got my hopes up, he crashed them, something he was too good at, and seemed way too proud of. And then he drops the bomb, closing his eyes and letting out a deep breath as he leans forward and kisses me on the forward. Then he lets go of me, as gently, as softly, and as harshly as possible, stepping back and shoving his hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels before he announces his last sentence. “…please just…go home, for once.” And I couldn’t even do anything. I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. I couldn’t blink. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even feel my heart hammering against my chest. I didn’t even know if my heart was hammering against my chest. I couldn’t move my arms to start my car, to back out of the driveway and get into my own driveway as fast, and as quickly, and as painlessly as possible. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t do. I couldn’t be. I couldn’t feel. For once, I did exactly as he said. I didn’t fight him back, like I usually did. I didn’t tell him he was wrong, and proceed to list all of the reasons he was wrong, and exactly why he was wrong. I didn’t tell him to just shut up, and go home, and leave me alone. I didn’t tell him I didn’t love him (because it wasn’t true, anyway, so there was no reason to deny something that was a false testament, and a false so called “statement” of his, anyway). I didn’t tell him Koltyn didn’t love him. I didn’t tell him he didn’t really love Koltyn, anymore, either. I didn’t tell him anything. I didn’t even say anything. I strapped on my seatbelt, put my car in reverse, and proclaimed in the softest voice he was probably ever heard from me, “okay. I’ll do that. I’ll do exactly as you said. And I’ll never talk to you again. I’ll never look at you. I’ll never sit next to you at lunch. I’ll never be with you. I’ll never be your friend. And I promise I don’t love you, okay? I promise you I don’t.” And I’m about to back out of his driveway. I’m about to drive up to mine, and get out of the car, and act like everything is perfectly okay, and I’m not about to run up the stairs and through our copious house, and cry myself to sleep. I’m about to pretend like none of that is going to happen, and he’s about to pretend that he doesn’t realize this, or acknowledge this, too. But I can’t. I stop myself. Because, like always, I always have to say something. Even if I didn’t win the fight, I can still have the last word. And that’s something that I realize, and quickly use to my last, and very last, advantage of our short-lived, tragic, horrific, wonderful friendship of a never relationship. “And promise me, too…promise me, you’ll never fall in love with me, like I fell so hard, so fast, so effortlessly in love with you. I promise you it hurts, being rejected by someone you love. It hurts bad, and it hurts deep, and if you do, it’s something you’re never, ever going to forget. It’ll never go away, that pain, and you’ll always try to get them to fall in love with you, even if you know it’s ridiculously hopeless, and it’s never going to happen, because they don’t love you, and they’ve never loved you, and they’ve never even thought of you that way.” “Promise me that? Promise me you won’t fall in love with me?” And he laughs softly at my words. He looks at me like I’ve absolutely, positively lost my mind, and he sends me a soft, joshing smile, but it’s not a secret smile, so it doesn’t count. It’s not a real smile. It’s not one of our smiles. It’s not something I can treasure and hold close to my heart for the rest of eternity. And he realizes I’m serious, after awhile, and his smile falls flat. He looks deep into my eyes, past all my confusion, and my pain, and my clouded tears. “I promise,” he whispers softly. And then, and only then, does he send me a gorgeously heartbreaking, completely and utterly breathtaking Secret Smile. And I send him one in return, no longer bashful, or shy about it, even though I’m crying, even though the tears have started and I can’t get them to stop. Even as I’m backing out of his driveway, and leaving him, and promising both myself and him, that I’ll never return. We keep our Secret Smiles on our faces, both understanding and realizing that that is really, and truly the last thing we both need to see, because it’s what started our whirlwind of a heartbreaking, crashing, halted relationship, and that’s exactly what it’s ending with, too, and that’s something we both need to see, no matter what. No matter what, not even if I’m the one ending the relationship in utter heartbreak, and he started the relationship in complete in utter heartbreak – we both need to leave with the same reassurance, and the same brilliance, and the same broken heartedness that we came into the relationship with. We at least need that. We at least need that consistency, and if that’s the very least we can offer each other right now, that’s the very most we’re going to give. And it was funny. Before, when he had started fighting, both too stressed out, worn down, and torn to shreds to stop ourselves from wanting to pour all of this hurt and pain and guilt and regret into someone else, anyone else, I had promised myself I wouldn’t leave like this. I wouldn’t leave with tears streaming down my face, having just gotten ripped into a million different shattered, exploded pieces. It was funny. It was ironic, almost; because that was the exact way I had left, anyway, even with the intentional, conscious thought to not leave that way. And it was funny, because that was how my life always worked out. I left crying, big, fat, heavy tears, ruining my makeup I had spent a painstaking fifteen minutes on, dumbly, hopelessly hoping something like makeup would help me get Leyton’s attention, if anything, at all, would get Leyton’s attention. Hoping that this beautiful boy would, for once, actually look at me, and realize I was there, and acknowledge me, instead of beautifully, mistakenly ignoring me, and everything and everyone around me, only spitting out sarcastic remarks and mean comments to anyone who tried to talk to them, or not even gracing them with such a simple thing as a spoken sentence, as a couple of words, strung together, simply ignoring them, and everything around them. I left crying, because this beautiful boy continuously ignored me, and though I knew why, I refused to accept it. I lashed out and repeatedly tried to change his mind, even though I knew it was hopeless. But I had to keep trying. Because this beautiful boy was absolutely wonderful. And all I wanted was another Secret Smile, no matter what I had to do. I knew those Secret Smiles were in there. I knew they were there, somewhere within him, no matter how deep I had to go to find them. And each completed hour, and each completed day, and each completed week where he slowly lashed out at me less and less, and started opening up to me, and telling me more and more, seemed like another step to a beautiful, wonderful, heartbreakingly beautiful Secret Smile. And this happened. And all those painstakingly slow steps I had taken towards just one, just one, Secret Smile? Suddenly flew out the door too quickly for me to even blink, and hurriedly chase after them, begging them desperately not to go. ________________________________________ I was on my third box of Popsicles. Clearly, I was absolutely, positively heartbroken, and a cold, delicious treat was the only thing that could cure me (or so I desperately hoped and wished. If only). I was wrapped up in my warmest blanket, (something Steven had hurriedly shoved at me before I could escape from dinner and an essay I refused to write – it was about relationships, and the different relationships we, as students, went through in our lives, and what we thought about them. I was quickly becoming to hate Composition class –, needing to get out, and get away from it all, even though I was unintentionally getting as close to him as possible the further I went out of my house) turned away from Leyton’s house, and everything within. Especially within. I ignored all of the texts he had sent me tonight. I ignored all of them, even the most heartfelt, and the sweetest ones. “I miss you.” “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to lash out at you. I didn’t mean it, I promise. Please forgive me?” “Can we forget any of this ever happened? I need someone to talk to, and you’re right. Don’t girls always want to hear that? That they’re right, and the guy is wrong? Because you’re the girl, and I’m the guy, and you’re right, and I’m wrong, like always. Please talk to me.” “…You were truly right, okay? Honestly. Bryce isn’t really my best friend, anymore. He won’t answer my calls, and I need someone to just…talk to. You’ve always been the only one who would just continuously listen.” “Please, Lottie? I really do miss you. And I really do need you, and I promise I didn’t mean what I said. I didn’t mean it, okay? I wasn’t thinking, okay? It was all said in the heat of the moment, and I’ll take it back within a heartbeat, if only you’re reply, and let me.” “Please respond?” “My Dad wants to know if we’re still car-pooling in the morning. I haven’t told him anything about what either of us said (especially me. I’m so sorry. Really, I am), but you’re not over here right now, and I guess he finds that suspicious.” “…so what should I tell him?” “I’m not going to just come over there, even though I know you’re outside, eating your box(es) of popsicles. I’m not going to intrude on your space like that. I know you need your room, and your time, too, to calm down, so I’ll just stay away, and tell you I’m sorry a million times from here, until you start believing me.” “Please don’t do this to me, Lottie. I can’t do this (again). I can’t lose both of my girls, so close together. You know you’re my girl, too, even though you won’t admit it. And if it helps, Koltyn isn’t really my girl anymore, either, so forget I even said that. Erase it from your memory.” “…please talk to me.” I sighed, getting fed up really fast as his nonstop spam of text messages continued, turning my phone on silent, and opening another Popsicle. He was being pathetic. He was being stupid. He was being utterly ignorant. He didn’t realize why I wasn’t talking to him, and that’s what hurt the most. It wasn’t because of what he said, per say. It was because of what he wasn’t saying, and that was the worst of it all – because he was ever going to realize what he wasn’t saying, and he wasn’t ever going to start saying it. I needed him to say one thing, and that was the one thing he was never going to say, so I was never going to forgive him, no matter how many times he desperately apologized, begging me to come back to him, to be his friend again (not like I actually, truly, wanted to be his friend, anyway, even from the start), to talk to him, to want him, to need him, to like him. He needed to say he was sorry, and he loved me, and love triumphed over all, no matter the situation, or the circumstances, and we were going to make this work, because he loved me. He needed to say he was over Koltyn. He needed to say he wanted to be with me. He needed to ask me to be his girlfriend. He needed to say he loved me. But he wasn’t ever going to do any of that, ever, no matter what, and it broke my heart all over again. He was continuously, constantly building me up, and reconstructing my heart, only to all of the sudden, within the blink of an eye, shatter it to a million, tiny different pieces he suddenly didn’t seem to have the courage, the drive, nor the strength, or will to put back together (again…) for me. And it hurt. It hurt like no other, and I was sick of it. I was sick of this all. I was sick of this never-ending, horrific rollercoaster he span my emotions on each and every single day. I was sick of this Catch 22. I was done with this. I was done with him. I was done with it all. And so I felt no regret when I finally replied to his mass spam of text messages, stuffing the empty wrappers of the three Popsicle boxes (my Mother was beginning to limit how many boxes I could take out onto the porch with me, unless I had someone over with me. And since I had just gotten into a fight with the only person in our entire school who had talked to me, or even tolerated me, it didn’t seem like my maximum number of Popsicle boxes was going to get raised anytime soon) into one box, wrapping my (read: Steven’s blanket which smelled like a golf course, and peanuts, and dark, rich coffee) blanket even more tightly around me, and heading inside, done with this all. And not just for the night. With it all. With everything. I was just done, and that was all there was to it. “…no.”

Chapter 4: Loneliness: Koltyn Smith was the perfect person to keep my mind off Leyton, and everything surrounding Leyton, I knew for sure. Or so I thought. We’d been assigned partners for our English project about love, what we thought of it, and our past and present experiences with it. But it turns out, it wasn’t exactly going the way I wish it would be, as Koltyn dragged me to her favorite cute little diner after school, insisting we order their famous double double chocolate trouble milkshakes and talk about our thoughts on love. “I truly think love is a game in high school,” Koltyn exclaimed, exhaling a deep breath in pure happiness as our waitress interrupted her, setting down her double double chocolate trouble shake, extra whipped cream, in front of her. I took a drink of mine as she set it in front of me, offering her a smile at the gesture. I was pleasantly surprised as the deliciously chocolate drink hit my taste buds, not having expected Koltyn Smith to actually be aware of a good diner’s existence. I leaned into my hand, beginning to understand one thing, of only one thing, about Koltyn Smith: she never shut up. “It’s all about who can play it the fastest, who can get in and out as quick and as unscathed as possible; who can, ultimately, win the entire game overall. The person that wins is, of course, the person who hasn’t been scathed, injured, either mentally or physically, or even both, by the end of four complicated years of schooling.” “No one makes it out in a relationship, and if they do, most of them break up before college even starts. They’re interested in the newest, freshest, prettiest, brightest freshman at college, and you can’t exactly do that if you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, pinning away for you, thousands and thousands of miles away in some different state, at some foreign school.” “And that’s something I’ve learning to become okay with. With Leyton, it was serious. It was serious all the time, from the very start, and I began to feel like someone was strangling me. You have to realize that you’re not going to find your perfect person, your soul mate, in high school. It’s just not going to happen. You know immediately upon meeting someone and spending a couple of seconds with them that they’re not the real thing. They’re not the real deal.” “There are the exceptions, of course, you know. In general though, high school relationships are all just in good fun. It’s beginning to become my motto for high school, now that I’m single and ready to mingle, for lack of a better saying.” “High school relationships can’t really mean anything to you. High school relationships don’t really mean anything to me. They’re simple flings, something you laugh and joke about latter on in life, because I mean, god, how could you be so effing stupid to ever have dated that person, or thought they were cute, or thought they were so amazing at football, or soccer, or baseball, and actually believed them when they told you there were gonna make it big time, when they’re stuffed up in some cubicle, working some idiotic 9-5 PM job?” It’s taking all of my willpower to keep my facial expressions to a minimum. I sit down, thinking I’m going to have a cute little Hawaiian flavored drink at some cute little diner with the dizziest of the ditzy most popular girls at my prestigious private school, and what do I get? Some crazed, psychopathic girl who rants on and on about love, not even pausing to give me time to actually converse with her, which was what I had (wrongfully so) assumed we were here to do all along. Apparently, today was all about her, and nothing else but her. Excuse me, but I had assumed that was everyday, and not just today? I figured she could spare at least an hour or so to let me talk, and voice my own opinions on love, and relationships, and actually pull out my laptop for two point five seconds to start typing all of our thoughts into a document for a project, but no. I see how it was. So I continued to let her babble, rolling my eyes secretly at the waitress as she did her rounds. I sent her a thankful smile as she set another double double chocolate trouble shake in front of me, sending me a sympathetic smile of her own as she realized Koltyn was practically lecturing me on her own beliefs. “I quickly learned, as early as freshman year, not to put my heart on my sleeve. I used to work that way. I used to walk around with my heart on my sleeve, effortlessly offering it up to a boy whenever I thought he was cute, or even a potential boyfriend prospect, or I’d been in love with him since fifth grade, or something stupid like that. And I began to realize that boys don’t know how to treat girls in high school.” “They don’t know how to take care of them, or hold them, or comfort them. They don’t know what they’re doing, anymore then we ourselves, as girls, know what we’re doing in our own high school relationships, and that’s something you have to learn.” “I stopped effortlessly, quickly putting my heart into relationships as soon as I learned that lesson. And I stopped putting my emotions into relationships, too. I can’t put my emotions, or my love, or even my full heart into relationships anymore. I’ve been shattered and battered way too many times.” “When a relationship is all in good fun, there simply isn’t a price to pay. There’s a mutual, unspoken agreement: you don’t fall in love with me, and I won’t fall in love with you, you know? And suddenly, it’s all so easy.” “You accompany them to their parents highly prestigious business dinners, they accompany you to special openings of movies and plays and albums in the area, some sort of pretty eye candy to cart around and show everyone else, making them ridiculously jealous.” “You automatically have a built-in homecoming and prom date for all for years, and there’s nothing to worry about with your relationship life. It’s all so easy, and it’s all in good fun. There’s nothing to worry about, like, voila, you’re gonna be my date for everything important I need to go to for the next four years, and I for you, easy as 1, 2, 3.” “It’s really something I think we should write about, or at least add a tidbit about in our project, don’t you think? It’s one of my philosophies about dating, right now, so I think we should add it.” “…But of course, if you don’t think it’s important enough, or you don’t like the idea of it, or it’s something you yourself haven’t been doing in high school, we don’t have to add it. I simply wanted to get all of my ideas about love and relationships right now out there for you, so you could have stuff to choose from and pick from for our project.” I had assumed I was going to be writing the entire project for the both of us, and simply scribbling her name on the back carelessly somewhere last minute, but I hadn’t expected her to be so blunt and outright tell me that I was doing the project for both of us. Way to be an awesome team player, and contribute to our group assignment. This is honestly why I’d much rather work by myself on all “group” projects. Group projects are absolute crap, and constantly piss me off. If you’re partner isn’t going to work by themselves, partnering them up with some smart kid isn’t going to make them work any better than it had before. They’re just going to shove the information and the entire project off on their partner, and contribute one little miniscule portion so they can smugly say they actually did the project, and actually contributed, and they better see their name somewhere on that piece of paper. Bi***es. But it wasn’t like Koltyn’s points weren’t valid, or I didn’t like them, or I didn’t even agree with them. They made perfect, logical sense, and everything immediately clicked into place: I understood why she had broken up with Leyton, immediately upon listening to her babble about her entire love philosophy for thirty minutes. I understood. It didn’t mean it was right, or she should have even started a relationship with him in the first place, but it made sense. It made sense in a sick, twisted, evil way, but it still made sense, nonetheless, and I wasn’t going to write something horrible about her philosophy because of that. Her philosophy made perfect sense, and it obviously worked for some people, because about fifty eight (and that was an exact estimate and everything – not) percent of our student population at Lancaster Prep operated that way. And it seemed to me like it was a really good operating system. It just wasn’t for everyone. And in that group that it wasn’t meant for? Leyton. And that was exactly why they hadn’t worked out, and weren’t ever going to work out, right from the start. It was just something that stupid little immature Koltyn & Leyton hadn’t realized when they started dating: it was understandable, though. They were only fourteen. I finally spoke, for what seemed like the first time during our little meeting, asking softly, “So what happens if you never find your perfect person? What happens, between all of this “just for fun” dating? What happens if you never find your soul mate, and you’re all alone?” Koltyn’s brilliant, million watt smile immediately turned upside down, and she frowned at my words, thinking before she spoke, explaining it to me like I was some cute, yet unintelligent little four year old. “You’ll know when they real, true guy comes along. You’ll know immediately, and you’ll keep ironically running into each other until, magically, you get together, and you start getting it right.” And I honestly hate to say it, but who Leyton had portrayed as his horrific; b**ch of an ex-girlfriend actually had some really valid points. And I was really starting to like this girl, no matter how many times it had seemingly been programmed into my soul to hate her, and despise her, with every breath I took. ________________________________________ “If I could make myself fall in love with him again, I would, you know,” she muses softly, almost like she’s talking to herself, yet acknowledging that I’m there at the same time, too. I suck down more of my fourth double double chocolate trouble shake, having quickly gotten used to her random musings on love. I had pulled out my laptop from my satchel long ago, and opened a word document and began typing what she was saying into it, adding my own side notes and after thoughts along with it. With the way she was rambling, we would (hopefully, dear lord) be done with our project by the time we got out of here. “If I could go back and tell myself what to do and how to do it and what to keep myself emotionally, mentally, and physically satisfied in a relationship so I could tell him that, so we could still actually be in a relationship, I would do it. I would do it in a heartbeat, and I want you to know that.” “If I could even go back to liking him, simply liking him, not even thinking about loving him, or really and truly loving him, I would. There is no doubt about it. I would do it without even a second thought. It would just happen, because he’s Leyton, and he was my first love, and will always be my first love.” “There’s something deliciously, thrillingly devastating about first loves that you can never give up on, or flee from, or get away from. They were who took you through love, step by step, patient and everlasting when you got mad, or annoyed with them, or even loved them too much.” “I would do anything to have kept from shattering his heart, but in the end, I realized doing so was what was best for both of us. He might not acknowledge it. He might not ever acknowledge it, but it’s the truth, no matter if he’ll never believe it. He was so much better off without me. I promise, he was so much better off without me, and it kills me inside, everyday, that he doesn’t realize that…that he wasn’t yet realized it.” I give her a soft smile, because I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, or even say. I’ve had a couple of boyfriends before, but nothing serious. Nothing like three and a half years. Normal relationship outside of high school barely even last three and a half years. I’m not sure what to say because I don’t know her. And it’s not like I really know him, either. It’s not like I’m even talking to him, right now, and I don’t feel like I can stand up for him. And no matter how mad I am at him, or how much I want to punch him in the face and tell him never to talk to me ever again for the rest of my life, I can’t help but want to bunch Koltyn in the face, too. I can’t help but want to just deck her, and deck her hard; because she has to know what she did was wrong. Even if she herself is hurting, she’s the one that made the decision, and came to the conclusion that she was going to have to break up with him because it was “better for both of them,” some of the biggest bs I’ve heard in awhile. But I sit and take it all in; unconsciously taking notes inside my head to feed back to Leyton later, refusing to believe that I won’t see him later, even though it’s the truth. For the next couple of hours, (possibly days) I’m going to lie to myself. I’m going to lie to myself, and tell myself I’m actually not lying, I’m just bending the truth. If I tell myself I’m lying, and Leyton and I actually aren’t friends anymore, and we might not be friends anymore, and his ex-girlfriend is babbling their entire relationship sob story to me, while I myself am head-over-heels in love with him, I will burst into tears and never stop. And that’s something I can’t handle right now. That’s something I’ve never been able to handle. And that’s exactly why I lie. I lie to myself, and I lie well, and I lie quickly, shoving the truth to the back of my mind, and refusing to think about it, act upon it, or even bring it up in current situations and conversations for the next couple of hours. So I tune back into their tragic end of a love story, lying to myself the entire time. “If I was any other girl, he’d be the perfect boy for me, and I’d be tragically, devastatingly in love with him. He’s the perfect boy for any other girl, but me. I’m not his perfect girl, but he’s never seemed to understand this. He’s never seemed to honestly want to understand this.” “And it hurts, okay Lottie? It hurts a lot. Because if I was anyone else, we’d still be in this amazing relationship, and I would have never wanted to break up with him. I never would have broken up with him, and it hurts to think about that. It hurts more than anything, I swear it does. It really, truly does.” I hide my smirk, wanting to laugh at all of this. I know that’s mean, and that’s crude, and I really should be respectful of this beautiful, extremely popular, intelligent girl, but I can’t be. No matter how hard I try, I can’t be nice and genuine towards her, no matter the fact that she’s exhibiting both of these positive qualities freely, and effortlessly, towards me. I can’t, because I’m extremely biased. I’m biased towards Leyton, no matter how much I don’t want to be. Without even trying, I’m subconsciously biased towards him. I know his story like the back of my hand, and his story and her story don’t match up at all, no matter how hard she tries. No matter how intense her eyes get, or how many teardrops collect behind them. This is all bs, but I have to somehow pick myself up and respect her. I have to respect her and her feelings, and act like Leyton and I are strictly neighbors and carpool buddies. I have to act like I haven’t heard his side of the story, too, because if I tell her that, or even hint at that fact, she’ll know her cover was immediately blown. He was perfect, and she wasn’t. She was perfect, and he wasn’t. Both ways, his heart is still the heart that was unexpectedly torn to shreds at the end, and there’s no way she can put a positive spin on that part of the nonfictional, yet slightly fictional story of theirs, no matter how hard she tries. And because I’m clearly biased towards Leyton, the words seem to form and spew from my mouth before I have time to stop myself and think them over. “So why is it, then, that you destructively tore his chest open, ripped it open right before his horror-struck eyes, and pulled out his heart, forever yours for keeping? What qualified you to do that?” It’s awhile before we start talking again, after that, because she has no type of justification towards my question (aka statement), and I have nothing else to say to her, now that I ripped into her chest and tore her own heart out, too, just so she could see how it feels. ________________________________________ I sigh, saving “our” paper one more time before shutting my laptop closed with a click, moving it to the side as Koltyn walks in with two bowls of mac and cheese and a bright smile alight her perfect little face. I might be a little bitter. Just a little. My stomach feels sick, like this is wrong, this is so wrong, desperately so, and I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be going into the city with her, a present her parents promised us if we finished “our” paper in time. If they realized that I was the one who did the majority (read: all) of the work, I’m sure they wouldn’t have rewarded their daughter so graciously. But then again, I never said what I felt. I kept it all bottled up, too shy and intimidated by everyone and everything to speak out and tell the truth, or voice my real opinion, no matter if people necessarily wanted to hear it. It was my opinion, and if I felt like it was important enough to voice it, then damn it, I was going to voice it. At least, that’s what I told myself. I’d just never tried out that little hypothesis of mine. Unfortunately. So I sit, and be quiet, like I always am, saying a quiet thank you to Koltyn as she hands me my lunch, something quick we’ll scarf down before booking it the forty minute drive to the city for the rest of the day. We don’t speak as we eat. We don’t speak as her parents gush and fawn over us, reading “our” paper three times and declaring how astoundingly well written it is, especially for their daughter; she’s smart, but she’s not that smart. I stay quiet, lips sealed tight, unable to tell them the truth. I could never tell the truth. I can never tell the truth, and it sucks, and it hurts, and I wish it could change, but it won’t, and I can’t, so it stays the same. I smile graciously at them, instead, refusing their $250 for “helping” their daughter finish her project, and as spending money in the big city, scoffing silently to myself as Koltyn seems to appear out of thin air, snatching up the money, like some greedy little money hungry…person (see? I can’t even call her a bad name). And then we’re gone, Koltyn pulling me out of the house, barely leaving me any time to grab my huge person, stuffing my new Macbook Pro (courtesy of Steven, of course) inside, and grabbing my jacket, before we’re pushed down the driveway, prodded towards a gorgeous, off-white Escalade, one of the many cars in their driveway. And then we’re off, not even looking back as Koltyn speeds out of her neighborhood, down a couple of streets, and kicks it up a couple of notches as we reach the highway (…maybe I should have driven). And it’s silent the entire way, because that’s what I do best: silence. I am silent with everyone, never voicing my opinions, because I learned my lesson. The one time I voiced my opinion with Leyton, I left in tears and utter defeat, and he left tearless, in utter victory. I didn’t win fights. I didn’t win when someone screamed at me. I didn’t win, because I couldn’t scream back. I couldn’t scream at anyone, at least out loud, no matter how frustrated I was with them. I couldn’t, especially not with Leyton. I couldn’t do that to him – I couldn’t do that to his heart. He was mine, to me, even though I would never be his, and I couldn’t destroy him like that, especially when Koltyn had so quickly, and so easily, destroyed him just a couple of days before. So I stayed quiet, as I always did, taking the brunt of all the hardships, and all the pain, and all the remorse, and all the regret, and all the utter hate. I took all of it, because that was all I’d ever been trained to do. And when I cracked, I wasn’t allowed to show pain. I wasn’t allowed to demand an apology, or refuse to speak to somebody. I wasn’t allowed to crack, in reality. I was supposed to be perfect little monotone, robot me, and that was all there was to it. No one ever expected anything else from me. I was not allowed to be different. I was not allowed to be odd. I was not allowed to be strange. I was to stay how I was, and that was it, and there was no editing of this document, or consideration of deleting specific parts if they suddenly didn’t apply to your life anymore. I was signed, sealed, and delivered, and that was all there was to it. Yet, everyone had seemingly received this package, but me. And I was getting pretty f*ing sick of it. ________________________________________ “So how are you and Leyton? Are you guys dating? I heard you guys were dating,” Koltyn excitedly exclaimed, practically breathless, loaded down with bags from all the stores we’d practically lived in for the past three hours. I didn’t have anything. Honestly, this wasn’t my thing. But I didn’t want to tell Koltyn that. I didn’t feel like spending $500 on some pretty little silk blouse. I could find something much better somewhere else for an actual decent price. Then again, I wasn’t going to say no to a trip into the city. I missed the city. I’d been there practically every weekend during the summer, simply because my Mom got bored, and it wasn’t like I had friends or anything. Those trips had been fun. But this trip, this trip, with one of my friends/not-really-friends ex-girlfriend? This trip wasn’t fun. She dragged me from store to store, and pretended to care about me, when we all knew it was a lie. This was a big, at, atrocious lie, and I was about ready to burst if she asked me one more time if Leyton & I were dating. And she promised I could tell her the truth, she should know she could trust me, she was her, after all, and she was one of the most trustable people out there. Yeah. Right. Okay. Like I’m going to believe that. I sighed, shoving my bangs out of my face, for the fifth millionth time. “Look, Koltyn, seriously, we’re not dating, okay? I don’t know why you keep asking me. Like. We aren’t even talk—you know what? Never mind. It’s not really any of your business, anyway,” I snarled, snapping in half. And this time, when I cracked, I wasn’t going to hold anything back. This wasn’t going to be a repeat like my “fight,” if you could even call it that, with Leyton. I’d confessed everything, and he’d blown up on me, refusing to talk to me, to even acknowledge me, to even be anything with me. It was funny, because I was willing to accept basically anything from him. He didn’t even have to be my boyfriend. I could deal with being his friend. It would break my heart into absolute smithereens, but I could deal with it, because I needed him, anyway I could get him. And I’m sure that made me sound like an absolute drug addict, but whatever. He was my drug, and I was positively addicted to him, and anything/everything surrounding him. I wanted to be his friend, because I knew he wasn’t going to accept me as anything else. I was happy he was even talking to me. He’d forced even his best friend away from him, a kid he’d known since kindergarten, and when I found that out, I was astonished. I was proud he at least acknowledged me, and talked to me, nonetheless, no matter how mean he had constantly been to me. I was in love with him, and I was still in love with him, no matter what he did, and no matter what he said. And the way Koltyn had been talking about him all day was honestly driving me up the wall. She was trying to get me to admit I was dating him. She was trying to get me to admit I loved him. If she wanted me to admit it, I would have admitted it. Hell, I would have admitted it to my Mom, or even Steven, if it meant Leyton would talk to me, acknowledge me, touch me, look at me, be near me. But none of that was going to happen, so it was pointless. It was pointless to give her stupid facts about us. It was pointless for me to talk to her. It was pointless for me to even acknowledge her. It was pointless for me to have done our entire project. This was utter bs, and we both knew it. She thought I was bulletproof, but I was about to show her I wasn’t. Because I had cracked. I had broken, and it was her fault, and there was nothing she could say to deny this fact. I had cracked, and it was all her doing, and she was about to find that out. And it wasn’t going to be nice, either. “Look, Koltyn…,” I stated, hoping if I said this slowly, and I breathed deeply, she’d understand that I was serious. That her asking a million times wasn’t going to make me magically, suddenly, tell her something new, something I hadn’t told her the other nine hundred thousand times she had asked me, “we’re not dating, okay? We’re not dating, and we’re never going to date, so get over it. If you want him, still, you can have him. He’s still yours. I know it, and you know it, and he knows it. We all know it. So just…stop asking me. Stop torturing me, because I never did anything to you.” She takes a deep breath in, looking at me with a shocked face, opening and closing her mouth like she has something to, but she’s not quite sure how to say it, before she starts walking towards the next store, clearly going to leave me behind in her absolute astonishment if I don’t catch up. And luckily for me, it’s silent for the next couple of blocks, for the first time in three and a half hours. ________________________________________ “So, honestly, in all seriousness, is there anything going on with you and Leyton?” Koltyn smiles at me, like she’s trying to give me a Secret Smile. Like she knows anything about our Secret Smiles. Like she knows what they did to me. Like she knows what they did to him. Like she knows absolutely everything about our relationship, when in reality, she knows absolutely nothing. I roll my eyes. Is this girl dumb? In all seriousness, is she dumb? I didn’t think she was stupid, but my god, this has been a conversation (or a one-sided conversation, really) we’ve been going through all day. My answer has been the same all day. Why would it be any different right now, at dinner? What makes her think a Diet Coke would make me think any differently before I’d gotten the Diet Coke? Had she been hit upside the head with something? Was she honestly delusional or something? Did she have short term memory loss? Because I honestly and truly hope she had. I hope something drastic had happened to her, because this was positively ridiculous, and I starting to get the urge to hurt her (not that I would react upon this urge, of course…). “Koltyn, are you being serious right now? Because this isn’t funny. Where have you even gotten the idea that Leyton and I are dating? Who told you that? Tell me who told you,” I demand, sick of all of this. I’m sick of it all. I’d cracked a while ago, and now this was being confronted. I was done with not confronting people. I was done with not telling people what I truly thought of them, or what they said, or what they did. Because when it was bad, and it was this wrong, they deserved to know. They had to know what they were doing was wrong. They only did it because it wasn’t right, and they felt like a rebel. They were breaking the rules, the unspoken moral code no one talked about, but everyone silently followed, and they felt like a daredevil. They felt like it was the ultimate thing for them to do, like it would gain them brownie points with someone. Someone had to care, right? Wrong. It was exactly what Koltyn was doing, and I was honestly done with it. I was done with it all, and she was going to learn this. She was going to learn this right now, right here, and she wasn’t going to like it. She wasn’t going to like it at all. And it was ironic. It was funny, almost, because we’d had this conversation already. You would think she would learn from her lessons; from my lessons. You would think she would acknowledge the fact that I didn’t want to f*ing talk about Leyton. I didn’t want to talk about him. I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to touch him. I didn’t want to know anything about him. I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t she understand that? Why didn’t she understand that? How far was she planning on pushing me before I absolutely broke underneath the pressure? Because she’d already pushed me too far. She’d pushed me too hard, and now I was done. I was done with it all, and for once, I didn’t give a s**t about what she thought about me, or what she thought about him, or us. For once, I was going to stand up for something I loved, and it was going to feel good. I was going to tell her my opinion, and afterwards, she would be done. She would shut up, and I would leave, and that would be the end of this, the end of it all, the end of us. This English project had been absolute hell, and now I was done with it all. Too bad she wasn’t a nice girl. She could have been my first actual friend who didn’t claim he hated me and completely deserted and ostracized me. She had seemed like a nice girl, too. Too bad appearances were apparently completely deceiving in this wonderful, gorgeous little horrific town. “Well…I was being serious. I mean, I still love him. I’m not in love with him, but I still love him, and I just want to make sure he’s okay, you know? I just want to make sure he isn’t absolutely, positively depressed without me, like, you know?” Was this a nightmare? Was this for real? Because of this was for real…I couldn’t even…she couldn’t actually believe…was she stupid? I was honestly starting to question her ACT score. And her GPA. And how she was even thinking of applying to Harvard and Stanford in the fall (Her Dad obviously paid off every single person who worked there. There was just no other logical way for her to get in – with thoughts like these, her GPA and ACT score could NOT have been something to be proud of, or something to admit to Stanford, or Harvard.). “You know what, Koltyn? You’re positively ridiculous. I told you this last time. I told you to stop playing with his mind. I told you to stop playing with his heart. You know what you’re doing is wrong, and I know what you’re doing is wrong, and everyone on the entire f*ing planet knows what you’re doing is wrong, and that’s exactly why you do it – if it was right, you wouldn’t do it – you wouldn’t have gotten any thrill out of it, if it was right, oh so right. You wouldn’t have thought of it. You wouldn’t have tortured him like that, and you know it, and I know it, and everyone knows it – if it was right, you wouldn’t have even looked twice at him.” “People don’t do right things for the thrill of out – they do it because they know it’s right, and they know they should do it, if their morals are situated correctly, unlike yours.” “When someone does a bad thing, they don’t do it because they like it. They don’t do it because they’re addicted, or because they love the person, or even the thing, they were messing with, or immersing themselves within.” “They did what they did because it was wrong, and that’s the only thrill they got out of it: because it was wrong, and they knew they weren’t supposed to do wrong things, and there was that horrifying, completely scary moment where they think, what if I get caught? What do I do then?” “And your adrenaline is pumping, your adrenaline is absolutely pumping, and so you do it. You do that wrong thing, especially, only, because you know it’s wrong. And then you can’t stop, because you love that adrenaline rush. You love knowing what you’re doing is wrong, and you could get in trouble for doing it. You could get in so, so much trouble for what you’re doing.” “So you did it. Just for the thrill of knowing what you were doing is wrong. And now it’s over. Your wrong deed is over. How does that make you feel Koltyn? Does that make you feel wonderful? Does that make you feel absolutely amazing, having done that wrong deed for three and a half years, and never getting caught – until now?” “It was wrong, and you absolutely broke his heart, and it was wrong, so, so wrong of you to do so, and you know it was wrong, I know it was wrong, everyone in the entire f*ing school knew it was wrong, and yet, you still do it?” “Please explain to me how this makes sense, because I honestly don’t understand. And wait, holdup, do not explain it to me. I do not want to hear your delusional, absolutely warped thoughts on this. Don’t even open your mouth. Don’t even talk to me.” My hands were shaking I was so enraged, and yet, I kept going, only able to see blinding, flashing white hot rage. Once I was there, there was no returning point. It was all or nothing from here on out, and no that I started, it looked like I was headed turned all. Too bad she looked like a petrified, mortified deer in headlights, and probably wouldn’t get over her shock fast enough to run away. Because if I was her, well, I definitely would have started running a long, long time ago. “You’re crazy, okay? I hate that you do this to him. He never played your stupid little game, the game you’re so obsessed with and completely enthralled by. He never played that game, and you knew that, right from the start, and you still reeled him in. you still played with his heart.” “He fell for you, and he fell hard for you, because god forbid, he thought you actually like him for him, even as a stupid freshman in high school. He thought you were beautiful, and you were amazing, and awe-inspiring, and you played him. He fell hopelessly in love with you, and this entire time, he thought you were being serious.” “He never knew it was a game, Koltyn, and that what hurts me the most. He thought you were being serious, this entire three and a half year relationship. He thought you were being honest, and completely innocent in your love for him, when, it turns out it was all just a fake, cruel, unusually harsh act, because I mean, god forbid someone doesn’t love you back when you’ve been dating them for three and a half years, you know?” “And I’ll be damned if I ever tell him you played him so hard like this. I’ll never let it slip, because I, unlike some, actually love him, and when something like this would hurt him even more, would make him slip even further, if at all possible into his chaotic, horrific depression, I’m not going to tell him.” “I’m not going to utter a peep, and neither are you. In fact, you’re not going to ever talk to him again, I don’t think, and I think you know that, too. This, like so many other things, is going to be our own little dirty secret, and you’re going to agree with me, now aren’t you?” And she nods her head quickly, terrified, horrified that I find this out, that I’m finding this out, and I’m actually confronting her about it – she can’t let the word get out, and she can’t possibly damage him anymore, so she’ll be quiet. We both know she’ll be absolutely silent, for once, it seems. “He still loves you, you know? He still loves you, and I’m in love with him. There. I finally admitted it to you. Is that what you wanted to hear? Is that what you want to gossip about to the entire school?” “That the new girl and the poor, poor boy whose heart you absolutely shattered into five million different tiny little pieces are positively in love with each other? Well too bad, because that’s not what I’m going to tell you.” “Because that’s not going to happen, because you ruined it all. You ruined all my chances with him, and I bet you’re positively over the moon about that. I bet you’re so ecstatic about that. And that sickens me. It sickens me, and it makes my heart hurt.” “You shattered his heart, because it was all just some stupid little sick game to you. It was a sick game, and it’s still a sick game to you.” “We got into a fight, you know. I told him I loved him. I knew he didn’t love me. I knew he was still desperately in love with you, even though you were never going to be in love with him. Even though it was all a sick game to you.” “I couldn’t tell him that. I couldn’t tell him that I knew. You hadn’t told me, yet, but I knew. I knew, because that’s the type of girl you are, you know? Everything is a funny, cute little game, and it doesn’t even stop when someone gets hurt.” “It continues, even when someone gets hurt – so long as it isn’t you. It can never be you. You break it off as soon as there’s a chance, a stupid little warning sign there’s the slightest possibility you’ll get hurt.” “If there’s the possibility you’ll get hurt, you’re done. You quit, cold turkey, without a reason, destroying his heart for the rest of eternity. For all other girls who come along, desperately and hopelessly falling head over heels for him.” “You ruined all his future chances for him. He won’t ever be happy without you, and you know it, and I think that’s why you did it. You’ll never admit it to him, and especially not to me, in absolute and positive fear I’ll immediately run to him and tell him all your stupid little dirty secrets no one actually gives a f**k about, anyway.” “But you know, it’s funny, you know,” I whispered softly, the tears beginning to fall as my chest heaved, deep and heavy and hard and hurting, unable to look anywhere but her piercing, hurting, deep green eyes. Unable to look anywhere else in fear I wouldn’t get my point across, in fear she wasn’t actually listening, in fear she wasn’t aware of what she’d actually done, of what she was actually currently doing, no matter if she was aware of it or not. “It’s f-funny, you know,” I whimper, stubbornly brushing away my waterfall of tears, determined to make it through all of this, to tell her everything, “because we’re not talking anymore, and I think that’s exactly what you wanted, right from the start, the very first second you heard word of a new girl. It’s funny, because I know that’s exactly what you wanted. You couldn’t have the fear of a new girl coming along and taking your “position,” so to speak, as the cute little cheerleader girl the quarterback of the football team carted around to all of his fancy events and all the school dances.” “So you broke his heart. You shattered it, heartlessly, shamelessly, and left him to die in his own bloody heap, and you didn’t look back. You didn’t look back, not once.” “S-so aren’t you happy now, Koltyn? Aren’t you happy, that you broke his heart? Aren’t you happy, that you broke my heart? Aren’t you happy, that even though you broke up with him, and it’s been a good, solid month and a half, you still love him, no matter how much you try to deny him?” “Aren’t you just f*ing peachy that you’ll never have another chance with him; that he himself will never have a chance with anyone else?” “I’m sure you’re happy. Because it sure made me as f*ing happy as I possibly can be. Yeah, I’m so happy, Koltyn. I’m so happy I’m in love with a boy who will never love me. I’m so happy I’m in love with a boy who won’t even talk to me. I’m so happy I’m in love with a boy who is utterly repulsed at the very prospect, the very idea, of me. I’m just so happy.” “I hope you’re deliciously, wonderfully happy, too. I hope you’re happy with you’re new little candidate on your new little game show for the best boy’s heart to break. I hope he knows what he’s getting into. You better worn him before he gets into anything, with a girl like you.” “You play with fire and you get burned, you know? Too bad you just met your match. Too bad you just met a huge blazing fire, a fire that will never go out. How does it feel, being burned, Koltyn?” “But you know what I hope, Koltyn?” I asked, almost smiling ironically to myself at the thought of what I was about to say. “Even though my heart is broken, and even though his heart is broken, and even though I don’t have any friends, and I lost all my old friends, and my step-father doesn’t give a crap about me, and I miss my old town like someone ripped a huge chunk of my heart out, and never even offered to return it, even though I’m in love with a beautiful disaster of a utterly perfect boy, you know who I feel sorry for?” “Do you know who I feel sorry for, Koltyn?” She shakes her head no, like she’s terrified not to answer me, terrified I’ll lash out (…again) at her for not even answering something as simple as a yes or no question. I laugh ironically, almost scaring her at my seemingly evil, yet actually pathetic, brokenhearted, scratchy laugh. “I feel sorry for you. I feel so f*ing sorry for you, and it’s funny, because I just realized that. I always thought I was supposed to feel sorry for myself, or even, god, beautiful, amazing, perfectly destructed Leyton, but never you. I never thought I would feel sorry for you, but, well, here I am, feeling so ridiculously sorry for you.” “I feel so sorry for you, because you’ll never have anyone better than him. He’s Leyton, and no matter what he says, and no matter what he does, he’ll always be so much more wonderful than any other boy you ever meet, and I think you know it, too. I think that’s why you did this, from the very beginning – torturing me, trying to get inside my head and ruin me from the inside out.” “But see, what you didn’t realize, is you’d already ruined me. You’d already gotten to me, from the very last day of summer, and I didn’t even know it. I didn’t know this boy who was sending me these absolutely gorgeous, absolutely stunning, Secret Smiles of his was going to impact my life like this. And it was all your fault, and I didn’t even know it, yet.” “And it sucks. It really does, because the short, little tragically beautiful relationship Leyton and I shared for this past month has been…so phenomenal…something so wonderful, and so special, and absolutely magical…something not everyone gets to experience.” And I’m almost glad when she starts crying. I’m almost glad when her chest starts heaving, and her eyes water over, and she can’t breathe she’s crying so hard, and for so long. And her makeup starts to run, and she sniffles and snorts her way through her massive chaotic mess of pain and heartbreak and destruction she herself caused. I’m almost glad she starts crying, but I don’t feel sorry for her. I don’t comfort her. I don’t acknowledge the fact that she’s even crying, because I have no sympathy for her. I have no remorse. I hold no pain. She did this to herself, and because of that, she gets to suffer the consequences all by herself, no one to hold her, or nurture her, or comfort her in her time of need. No one was there to comfort, or nurture, or hold Leyton in his (I don’t count, since we’re not currently on speaking terms) time of need, and he wasn’t even the one who caused all of this. It’s the very least she deserves for everyone’s pain. “It’s something you never got to experience with him, and you know it, too. You know it, and it makes you even madder. It makes you want to destroy us even further, but you realize, there’s nothing you can possibly ever destroy, because you’ve done it all. You’ve destroyed everything, and you try to sit back and watch the utter mass chaos you, and only you, created happen right in front of your eyes, but you can’t do it.” “You have to f*ing…you have to f*ing question me every two seconds about every single stupid little thing, even though you know what happened. You know everything that happened, and you know why it happened, but you still have to ask. You still have to know how it affected me. How it affected him. You still have to know what it did to me; what it did to him. You can’t just be happy with your utter perfection of mass chaos. You can never be happy, and I’m glad you realize this, too.” “I’m glad you could never stay with him. I’m glad you were never happy with utter perfection, because then you’d still be with Leyton, and we both know it.” “So I hope you’re happy, Koltyn. I hope you’re happy you destroyed his heart, and my heart, and your own heart, and every other person’s heart either of all three of us will ever come across. You and I will never be satisfied fully in life without Leyton, and he will never be fully satisfied without one of us.” “But it’s sort of sad, now isn’t it, because he can only end up with one of us. And after all of that, we both know it will never be you.” “But it’ll never be me, either, because you’re the girl who shattered his heart. And you can’t help but hopelessly love, and pin after, and desperately want your first love, no matter how treacherous the things they did to you. And that’s you. That’s you, who did those positively treacherous, murderous things to his heart, and you know it.” “So I hope you’re happy, that you won’t ever find anyone, and he won’t ever find anyone, and I won’t ever find anyone, though I’m sure you don’t care about me, and honestly won’t ever care about me, no matter what happens.” “But I hope you sit here, and you cry for awhile. You cry for a good, long while. And you realize, and you come to terms with the fact that he isn’t yours anymore, and he’ll never be yours anymore. And I hope you cry good, and long, and hard, because he loved you. He loved you so much, and you took his love as a desperate little puppy dog joke, and it shattered him.” “I hope your heart absolutely, positively breaks, and you can’t breathe you’re crying so hard, you can’t breathe, you can’t breathe, and you can’t think, you can’t drive home, you can’t talk, you can’t be. Because that’s exactly what you did to him. And I want you to feel the exact same devastating pain, but I want it to be worse. I want it to be so much worse. Because his heartbreak was unintentional – and you unintentionally caused your own heartbreak in the most intentional of ironic ways, and I love that.” “I hope it hurts for a long time. I hope you’ll always regret this. I hope you’ll never do this again. I hope you’ll never get over him. I hope you’ll always love him, but you’ll never be able to have him, because we both know, him including, now, that he’s so much better, and you’ll never deserve him. You’ll never deserve someone like him, and you know it.” “But you know what? Even though I know it’ll never happen, I hope he ends up with anyone but you. Because anyone and I mean anyone, would be better than you. He’s going to end up with someone so much better than you, and you’ll regret leaving him for the rest of your life.” “So I hope you’re happy, Koltyn. I hope you’re real damn happy with how things worked out for you. I hope you’re real happy.” And I was done. I got up, slipping on my jacket and pulling my purse over my shoulder. I wipe away my tears and pull my hair into a loose ponytail at the nape of my neck, laughing softly to myself at how much I cried and how much I still hurt, even after all of that. “So, you know, I hope you have a good f*ing life and everything,” I said softly, sending her a Secret Smile, something she had only wished and desperately hoped to understand, and then I was gone, back to being polite and graceful and full-of-sunshine little Lottie, saying “excuse me” and “thank you” as I made my way through clients and waiters and waitresses, and out of the restaurant, to the curb. I whistled for a taxi, taking deep breaths and trying to curb my tears. When a taxi finally arrived, I yanked open the door, telling the driver my address, and simply to “shut up and just please drive me home, for god’s sakes, I don’t care how much it costs,” when he looked back at me like I was a maniac when I said how far away I lived from the city. I laid my head on the window of the taxi, sniffling every now and then, determined to get home and safely inside my room before I fully broke down. And when my phone vibrated, I pulled it out of my pocket, laughing bitterly through my tears as I read the text message. From: Koltyn: “I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll fix this. I’ll fix all of this.” That wasn’t the first text message I scoffed at and immediately deleted that night. ________________________________________ I sit with my box of popsicles, the porch swing creaking lightly underneath me. Its cold, but I wrap my jacket tighter around me and ignore it. Or desperately try to, at least. I wish he would come outside. I wish he would acknowledge that I’m even outside, that I’m even awake right now, waiting for him, even though I know he’ll never come, even though it’s 11:30 PM. I couldn’t sleep. I blame him. I sigh, ripping into a new Popsicle as I grow tired of breaking my first Popsicle stick into tiny little pieces as soon as I eat it. I wait for a couple of minutes, eating my second Popsicle, simply starring at his bedroom window, like I know if I do so, he’ll magically appear. And he’ll give me one of those Secret Smiles, race downstairs, and out the door, and across the street to me, wrapping his arms around me and telling me I really shouldn’t be outside this late at night, when it’s this dark, and this cold, no matter if I’m waiting for him or not. And it makes me laugh, in all honesty. Because my dreams, and my fairy tales aren’t going to come true. Even if I want them to come true. No matter how hard I think about it, or wish for it, or want for it, nothing is ever going to happen, and that makes my heart break more than Leyton declaring his non-love for me, and telling me he never wanted to see me again ever would. That hurt more than him telling me he was always going to be in love with Koltyn ever would, no matter what he told Koltyn herself. The fact that no matter how hard I wanted something, no matter what I did, it was never going to come true made me cry harder and faster and longer than anything else I’d previously experienced in all of my years. I loved him, and he didn’t love me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I loved him, and he was never going to love me. He was always going to love her, because I wasn’t that girl. I wasn’t the girl guys fell in love with. I wasn’t the girl guys took out on wonderful dates. I wasn’t the girl guys pulled out all the stops for. I simply, well, wasn’t that girl. And it was something I was getting used to; having to drill into my brain, day by day, night by night, the longer Leyton ignored me, and desperately tried to talk to Koltyn. The more I realized it, the more it hurt. And the more it hurt, the more I realized it. And if that wasn’t a Catch 22, I didn’t quite know what really was. And before I can stop myself, I’m pulling my phone from my back jeans pocket. And I’m opening a new SMS message, scrolling through all of my contacts until I find Leyton’s number (SBIL – Stupid Boy I Love. Yes, I am aware of my maturity). And when the blank SMS message box finally pulls up, awaiting for my message, I don’t stop myself. I’m not even sure I’m actually the one sending the text message, or if I’m the one whose even writing the text message, because it seems like such an out of body experience. And I cry while I write it. I let the tears fall down my cheeks, hot and flushed and rapid, and I type out the words I’ve been dying to say since my first couple of days without him, my tears intertwining with my fingers as they fall, frequently, to the keyboard of my phone. And I don’t wipe them away, because after all, they’re for the boy the message is being sent to. And I don’t stop myself when I send the message. I don’t even stop myself. I just keep on going, taking up as many text messages as I need until it’s all done and sent. And then I chuck the box of melting Popsicle sticks as far as I possibly can (which isn’t too far, but our houses are little like ten feet apart from each other), laughing haughtily to myself as it collides and crashes, smearing down the side of Leyton’s gorgeous, highly expensive car. He’ll have a beautiful messy, sugary, syrupy present in the morning, from yours truly. I hope he loved it. And then I went inside, clambering up the stairs, no longer caring if my Mom heard me. She could ask all the questions she wanted, but I wasn’t answering them. I was never going to answer them. Because as far as I was convinced, just like Koltyn had practically drilled into my brain this weekend, high school relationships were just stupid little games everyone played on everyone else. And so far? So far, in Leyton & I’s book, I was losing. But not for long. Because after that text message, I was done. It was all just a game, from here on out, unless he realized what he’d done, and we somehow magically, majestically, made up. But that wasn’t going to happen, because I clearly wasn’t his type of girl. And that didn’t matter any longer. Because I was done loving him. I was done wearing my heart on my sleeve for a boy who was never going to return those feelings; who was only going to shred that heart into a million tiny different little pieces every single time he saw it. Text 1 of 12: “It’s late, and can’t sleep. I blame you. I sat outside on my porch and ate popsicles for the better part of two hours, thinking about you, and thinking about us. Text 2 of 12: Remember the first day I moved in, and I sat on my porch, eating popsicles, and you shot baskets in your driveway, and we shared those gorgeous, wonderful, heart-stopping secret smiles? I miss those. Text 3 of 12: What happened to those? Some girl came along and shattered your heart, and suddenly, you didn’t have time, nor the appreciation, for anyone else, no matter how desperately in love she was with you. Text 4 of 12: You push and shove her away, and yell at her and scream at her until she can’t help but push and shove you away, and yell at you, and scream at you, and run as far away as she possibly can from you. Text 5 of 12: Unluckily for you (and her, for the record), the furthest away she can get from you is right across the street. If you’re not okay with that, get over it. There’s nothing she can do about it. Text 6 of 12: Trust me, if she could, she would. Text 7 of 12: I can’t stop thinking about you. But I think, for once, finally, you’re getting what you want. I’m going to stop thinking about you. I’m going to force myself to stop thinking about you. Text 8 of 12: I missed you, and I loved you, too, but no more. I’m going to stop missing you, and I’m going to stop loving you. Text 9 of 12: Because whenever you don’t get what you want, you chase after it until you get it. That was the way I was, too. But I’m done chasing. Text 10 of 12: I’m done pinning after someone who will never, ever pin after me. If you ever want a chance with me, you’ll have to come to me, now. Text 11 of 12: I’m done with this heartbreak. I’m done with the tears. I used to love you. Show me it was ever worth it. Text 11 of 12: PS: I hope your enjoy your present in the morning. I knew orange was always your favorite color.” ________________________________________ I shed my clothes, throwing them angrily as soon as I manage to strip them off my body, plunging into the burning hot water and soapy bubbles it took me an hour and a half to effectively create through my white, burning hot madness. I immerse myself until the only part of me that’s outside of the steamy, soapy cocoon is my nose, and for the next forty five minutes, I ignore everything. I ignore the fact that I went outside and actually waited for him tonight. I ignore the fact I haven’t spoken to him in almost a week, a world record for us, obviously. I ignore the fact that I spent the entire weekend with his horrific girlfriend. I ignore the fact that she actually made me cry on the way home, when I was supposed to be having a completely exotic, wonderful time in Chicago, for once. And I especially, completely ignore the fact that I admitted to his ex-girlfriend that I love him, and there’s nothing’s ever going to change that. Lastly, I ignore the fact that I’m crying, something I haven’t done in the longest time, because my heart is broken that the boy I love’s heart is broken, and I’m crying because I just spent an entire weekend with the girl who broke his heart, and it’s not fair, because I was supposed to be that perfect girl. I was that perfect girl, and Leyton was my perfect boy, or I would have been, and he would have been, too, if stupid perfect little Koltyn hadn’t come along and shattered it all three and a half years too early for me to get out here and even notice him, or befriend him. I cry because crying is all I seem to be good at, recently, and for once, I need to do something I’m good at, and know I can’t screw up. And with everything that’s been happening lately, it seems that crying is all it’s going to be for a really, really long time.

Chapter 5:

A weight has been lifted off of me ever since I told Leyton everything I was feeling. Everything that was going to go down, really. I told him everything, and in turn, I feel new again. I feel whole again.

And it was okay if he never responded. It was okay if he never talked to me again, or never associated with me, or looked at me, or even thought about me.

It would be nice if he did these things, but I didn’t need him. I could survive without him, but it would, of course, be nice to have him. It would be nice to keep him, to be with him, to cherish him, but I didn’t have to.

If he didn’t want me, I was going to learn to not want him, and slowly, carefully, begin, heartbreakingly, want, and cherish, and yearn for someone else.

It wasn’t ideal, but I could do it, if he never responded.

And that was enough for me.

I passed Koltyn in the hallway at school, and we shared Special Smiles (completely different from Secret Smiles). We understood each other. In a completely demented, odd, desperate sort of way, we understood each other.
But we shouldn’t be friends. We should never be friends. We were too alike, yet too different, and we constantly crashed, and constantly fought each other.

And when I got home from school that day, Mom was home from work early, and spontaneously (this woman is never spontaneous, so it was basically the surprise of my lifetime) took me out for lunch.
We talked about everything.

I think a lot of things are going to be a lot different around the house from here on out. For once, we didn’t yell or scream at each other. I didn’t try to avoid her.

We talked to each other, and for once, that was enough.

I think everything is going to be a lot easier, yet a lot tougher, all at once. And for the first time, I think I’m okay with that. I think I know how to handle that. I think I know how to approach it.

For once, I think I’ll be okay, on my own. I don’t need Leyton, & I don’t need my used to be “best friends” from anywhere else, either. They would both be nice, but I couldn’t have both.

And sometimes, I couldn’t have either, and I was beginning to be okay with that, and finally accept that, too.

And acceptance…acceptance was the biggest sigh of relief I’d had in a really, really long time.

Acceptance…acceptance was deliciously nice and wonderful, warm and hot and soft all at once, something I had needed and yearned for and wished for, for the longest time.

“Lottie? There’s someone at the door for you, sweetheart,” my Mom proclaims from the bottom of the stairs, and I sigh, pushing my laptop to the side.

I mean, it wasn’t like I had three essays due tomorrow or anything. Three essays which I had failed to write until the day before they were due, like the extreme procrastinator I was.

I trotted down the stairs, giving my Mom a smile and a kiss on the cheek, before shooing her away, demanding I could take care of whoever was at the door all by myself, thank you very much.

I pulled open the front door, reminding my heart to keep steady, and not climb out of my chest and lay out his feet, his to keep, at the very sight of him.

He was refreshing and completely invigorating to my eyes. I hadn’t seen him in roughly two and a half weeks. I hadn’t talked to him, I hadn’t looked at him, and I had tired, as hard as possible, to not think about him.

But that was something that seemed to not be underneath my control, no matter how hard I tried. And I tried hard, believe me.

But it wasn’t possible. He was woven, so smoothly, so effortlessly, so sneakily, into every other thought of mine, no matter how hard I tried to block him from my thoughts, and from my mind, as a whole.

And it drove me absolutely crazy. It drove me crazy that he had taken such a long time to get back to me. But I was glad he hadn’t texted me an answer. I was glad he hadn’t called me. I was glad he was here, in pure flesh and blood, ready to tell me exactly how, and why, he was going to smash my heart into smithereens, once again.

I leaned against the doorframe, not willing to be the one who spoke, who started this confrontation, of sorts. I couldn’t do it, no matter how much I wanted to. No matter the desperate, piercing look in his eyes that pleaded with me, bargained with me, to make me say something. Say anything, to start it all.

I smirked, raising my eyebrows, watching as we said everything, and yet nothing, all the same, at each other through a silent confrontation, only spoken with our eyes—something both of us were becoming extreme experts in within our relationship, because I loved talking, and he wasn’t the biggest fan of it, and that was where we had finally decided to meet—in the middle.

But in this conversation, we couldn’t meet in the middle. For me, it was all or nothing. And from the way he was looking at me, it seemed he felt the same, too. And I didn’t want to hear it if he wasn’t going to say what I wanted to hear.

I didn’t want to hear it, because it seemed like, with him, I had been through enough, already. I had been through enough heartbreak, and rejection, and utter and complete depression, knowing I wasn’t going to have him, over and over again, especially when he himself told me this.

And I was okay with this. I had accepted this. I told him everything I felt, and that was all there was to it. But I couldn’t do this again. He couldn’t smash me all over again. He just couldn’t. I couldn’t take it. I wouldn’t take it.

And if he was going to say something horrific, when he finally managed to open his mouth, and speak words, instead of trying to tell me everything he couldn’t say within one single glance, he had to say what I wanted him to say.

He had to say that he loved me, and he needed me, and he hadn’t meant it. He hadn’t meant any of it. Because without those words, I was slamming the door on his face. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t get it. It wasn’t like he would be offended.

He had done and said so many things to me that were a lot more harsher than anything I was sure, I was, and ever would be, capable of doing to him. And I wouldn’t regret it, if he broke my heart again, if he rejected me (again). I wouldn’t regret it one bit, because if he didn’t love me the way I loved him, I didn’t care for his feelings anymore, just like he hadn’t cared for my feelings for the entire time we had been involved, in whatever sort of relationship, if you could even call it such a thing.

“Hi,” he stated shakily, forcing a grin to cover his facial features, bashfully rocking back and forth on his heels.

I rolled my eyes, resting my head against the newly painted dark blue front door, fixing my stripped cardigan before I cross my arms together.

“Hi to you, too,” I reply, in the most monotone voice I can possibly sum up from deep within to give him. It was hard being mean with him. It was hard trying to act like this wasn’t affecting me. Like I didn’t want to simply apologize, and go back to whatever sort of relationship we had, no matter how complicated it might have seemed to anyone from the outside world—to someone who hadn’t been with us, and been deeply involved, and intertwined within our relationship from the very start.

But I knew I couldn’t. it wasn’t my place to apologize, anyway. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and that was something I had to keep telling myself as we stood there, starring each other down. He was the one who had to apologize.

I hadn’t done anything wrong. Confessing your feelings for someone shouldn’t be wrong, no matter if you know they won’t return them, or not. Telling the truth isn’t wrong.

Lying, and cheating, and playing games with people’s minds, and their hearts, all at the same time, for months upon months, like Koltyn Smith had done, was wrong. And everyone knew it was wrong. That was why people did wrong things.

But what I had done, that wasn’t wrong. It was none of those wrong things Koltyn had done to him, so I was okay. I was in the safe zone. He couldn’t cry over me. He couldn’t be devastated over me. He couldn’t hurt for me, and with me, and besides me, because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t hurt him in anyway.

He was the one who had hurt me, who had damaged me, and that was something he was going to have to fix. And I wasn’t going to be the one to help him do that. This was all on him, and he knew, it, too, and that was why he was having a problem with apologizing.

I got the feeling he didn’t do it too often, apologizing. Because he was never wrong. He was always the one in the situation at hand that had to be apologized to. He didn’t make any wrongs, until I came along.

And then it was wrong after wrong and wrong, and he knew it, and that was why this was so hard. He didn’t know where to start. He didn’t know what to say, and it sucked for him, because he wasn’t a man of many words.

Unlike some people (aka: myself. I was a chatter box. Leyton and I had established this on the first day of “officially” knowing each other).

But telling the truth, and confessing what you were feeling, and apologizing to people? That wasn’t wrong. But I couldn’t be the one to do it, because I had nothing to back up the apology with. I had nothing to apologize for. I was right, and he was wrong, and it was something he himself had even admitted to, after we had fought, despite it being through a text message, or not.

“Look, Lottie…I don’t…know how to say this, okay? I don’t know what to say.”

I shrug, emotionless. “Well that’s too bad, now isn’t it? I don’t think you understand that I’m not going to put words in your mouth for you. Unlike other people, that would actually help you, rather than harm you. I’m not helping you. This is your own mistake, and it’s a mistake you’re going to have to fix. I’m not going to chatter and tell you what to say and how to say it to make this all better, if you haven’t realized.”

“And that really sucks for you, now doesn’t it?”

He squints at me, wordlessly telling me to shut up.

I grin evilly, sighing as I switch my position, before I glance up, surprised as he speaks softly, suddenly seeming to find all of the words he so desperately needs to say.
"Do you know what I want?”
I shrug, giving him a look. “Do you think I know what you want, Leyton? I mean, after all, I’m pretty sure we got into a fight because I was exactly what you didn’t want.”
He shakes his head, fast and hard, his hair falling into his eyes. I have to tell myself (twice) to resist the urge to immediately step forward and push it softly, gently, away from his eyes.
But I realize, that’s no longer my duty. I know longer have that privilege—touching him. And it’s not something that was intentional. It wasn’t like I took that privilege away from myself. It was stolen, right from underneath my feet, like my life before Steven was so effortlessly, so easily, so suddenly stolen right from beneath me.
He sighs, frustratingly pushing his hair from his eyes, and I sigh in relief, taking a deep breath, relief flooding through my veins. The urge to touch him, to be near him, to be within him, mentally, emotionally, always held near his heart, within his heart, to climb into his heart, and make it my little niche, my little nook, has lessened. But only by a little.
And I can’t help it. No matter what I do, I want him. No matter what I tell myself, I want to be with him.
“I know you think I don’t want you, Lottie. But that’s not the truth, okay? I promise that’s not the truth.”
I roll my eyes.
“I broke the promise. You told me to promise never to fall in love with you, and I promised. I foolishly promised. And once you left, once you were no longer with me, always besides me, always someone who was willing to lend an ear, or a shoulder, or a hand to hold onto when I just couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t do any of it anymore, I broke the promise.”
“I fell for you. I fell in love with you.”
I can’t help myself. I gasp at his confession, covering my mouth in pure shock, not wanting him to see, to no anvil.
He continues, standing confidently now, his gaze piercing.
“I broke our promise. I love you. I want to be with you, and only you. I love you, and only you, and I'm so sorry for all I've done. I promise I'm done with Koltyn. I promise.”
“You are my one, and my only one, and you will always be my one, and forever be my only one, no matter what happens.”
“You set my heart on fire, and I can’t…I can’t stay away from you.”
“And if you still want me, even after all I've done, even after all the times I've destroyed you and your heart and everything in between, I'm yours to take. I'm yours to have, for as long as you’ll take me, you can have me. You can keep me forever. For as long as you need me."
And he doesn’t even give me time to respond. He doesn’t tell me where to meet him if I want to talk. He doesn’t tell me what I should say. He doesn’t put words into my mouth, because that’s not Leyton. But this, this is Leyton. That boy, that boy was Leyton.
And this boy, who is walking away from me, even after his heartfelt confession, even after he told me he loved me, if only to give me a chance to think it all over, to take away my chance to think it all over, in case I reject him? That boy is Leyton, too.
And I smile, leaning against the door, regaining my breath, and my thoughts, realizing my heart was no longer within me.
For he had taken it, storing it safely within his chest, so carefully, so protectively, his to keep.
And when I looked down, to see what had replaced my own heart, my smile grew wider, and tears lined my eyes.
For where my heart used to be, there was his, beating rapidly and quickly and passionately. And when I listened, I really listened to what it said, I swore it proclaimed, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
And I was never going to give it back to him. I was going to keep him for as long as I could. I was going to take him, and keep him safe, and protect him, and learn from him, and teach him, and breathe him, and be within him, like he was no within me, after all of this time, after all of this wishing, and yearning, and pinning.
He was mine. He had effectively clawed out my heart, ripped it to shreds, only to selfishly make his way up to my chest, climbing into the empty space where my heart had been, nestling within it and making it his own nook, his own cranny, like I had done with his heart.
And in the process, he had sewed my heart back together, stapling it shut, and super-gluing all the missing pieces back into their rightful places so it could never break, ever again.
And it was the most whole it had ever been since any of this had even been thought of.
Since all of this.
And I think that was his purpose, his intentions, from the very beginning.
And it beat rapidly, zealously, fanatically within me, repeating its mantra over and over again, like it was its job; it’s life mission.
“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”
And I was never going to grow sick of it, for as long as I could keep him, for as long as he would keep me, accept me, my heart for his, his heart for mine.

He shoots baskets, again, and again, and again, wiping the sweat from his brow, as he bends his knees, preparing for yet another basket.

I sit on Steven’s porch swing, a box of Popsicles besides me, my phone sitting on my short-clad thigh, silent.

I didn’t get texts or calls often, but that was okay. Because the boy who occupied most of my time was only thirty steps (fifteen for him. We’d counted. Yes, we were pathetic) away from me.

It was a nice day for October, and I enjoyed watching him shoot baskets. Especially when he pushed his basketball shorts down just a little bit more, the very top of his Calvin Klein boxer briefs peeking out from underneath his dark blue shorts.

And before I’m prepared to act like I’m occupying myself with my phone, or unwrapping another Popsicle, clearing uninterested in anything he’s doing, or the delectable sight of him, and the sweat dripping down his defined chest, he looks over at me.

Crap. Caught in the act, completely red-handed, and there’s no defense mechanism that will get me out of this crime, because it was as clear as day.

He smiles at me, a Secret Smile, underlined with bashfulness, but adds a wave my way, anyway.

I wave back, a blush underlining my Secret Smile, I’m sure, at being caught, but I smile back anyway, unable to resist him, any part of him.

Especially his heart within me, continuously telling me, day after day, that he broke his promise, and it was all for me. It was all because of me.

And sends me another grin as he picks up a white v neck, something he had quickly cascaded to the side within thirty minutes of shooting baskets, most definitely just to show off and completely and utterly tease me, trying to get me to admit it.

Which was something both of us knew I’d never do, but he still tried, over and over again, never giving up.

He slides the shirt over his head, pushing his hands through his hair in an effort to get it away from his eyes, and wipe the sweat away.

And now I was repulsed again.

He rolls his eyes at my faces, bouncing the basketball a couple of times before catching it in his hands, heading into the garage and shutting it behind him, but not before he does a little hip shake, turning around to wink at me, just to piss me off, annoy me, and tease me even further.

This boy is completely ridiculous, and he knows it, and he knows that I know he knows it, and yet, he does it anyway, but only with me.

He is only completely himself with me, and I am only completely myself with him, and that is something neither of us will ever, ever forget – because it means everything to the both of us, something never spoken, but acknowledged by the both of us, all the same.

And those little things? Those little things which we did not speak out loud of, but acknowledged, and treasured toward our hearts like they were the most precious components of us, were the ones that I, secretly, liked the best.

And he won’t ever admit it, but he secretly liked those parts of our relationship the most, too. And that meant everything to me. More than anything he could ever tell me, because sometimes, words just weren’t needed. Sometimes, the smallest gestures: the smiles, and holding hands, and hugs, and eye glances, those meant the most, because you were glancing into that other persons soul.

It was something they almost had no control over, something they almost never realized they were doing, and with words, they were intentional. They were well thought out, and well planned (by most, anyway. At least, by the intelligent people of the universe), and the little gestures weren’t.

And that was exactly the best part about them – every single little itty bitty piece of them. They made me, and they completed me. They made me whole again, in the pieces he hadn’t yet reached, hadn’t had the time to journey to, quite yet, hadn’t yet been allowed to openly invade and take over, quite yet.

And he knew this. He knew how much they meant to me, and were worth to me, and it was something he had learned quite early on, I was positive.

And that was why he did them. Because they meant the most to him, and because of this, in turn, quickly became something that meant the most to me, and that was his plan from the very beginning, he had told me. His plan was to make me happy, even from the beginning, though it was subconscious and not something he was always thinking about.

So those Secret Smiles, those things we both loved so dearly, something that was so lovely, so incandescently astounding, were something I was never going to forget, never grow sick of, and never stop giving him.

Because he gave me everything.
So I gave him all of me.
And it was something I would never regret, and never forgot, and never apologize for, because I was repeating the same mantra to him, as he repeated it to me, his heart forever mine to keep, always mine for the taking, no matter what happened in between, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you…iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou.”
He crossed the street for the first time, refusing to meet my gaze. He shoved his hands in his pockets as he bashfully approached the front porch, effortlessly sinking into himself as he plopped down beside me, finally giving in to me, to us, to everything.
I sighed happily, offering him a cherry Popsicle, a silent peace offering, ripping off the paper for him and holding the delicious treat out to him, bright, dark red, the juice already dripping in a cold puddle against my leg, staining my jeans.

He smiled softly, taking it, happily beginning to eat the icy treat.
And then he did something I never expected from him. Something I had always hoped for, and wished for, and yearned for, but had known, deep down inside, that I would never receive; until know.
He leaned forward, placing a delicate kiss to my forehead, then my nose, then both my cheeks. He tilted my chin up, his lips already stained a dark, deep red from our popsicles.
He gives me a heart-stopping smile as he leans in, like he knows that I know what he’s about to do, and I won’t dare stop him, because he’s Leyton, and he’s always broken all of my rules, no matter what I say to try and desperately stop him.
And this time, it’s okay. This time, I let him break this rule. I let him shatter through it, not stopping at the million STOP signs I’ve placed precariously all around my heart.
I let him entire, effortlessly, without a second glance back, because he’s Leyton, and he will always be better, and bigger, and stronger, and greater, than any other boy I have ever, and will ever meet in my entire life.
So I let him do it. I let him kiss me, and it’s one of the most precious, innocently beautiful kisses of my entire life.
It’s one of the most passionate, gentlest, greatest, most revealing, most forgiving, heartbreakingly outstanding, kisses I have ever received in my entire life, and will ever receive.
And I swear, I’m in ecstasy, right at this very moment.
I thread my hands through his soft, straight hair, squeezing my eyes shut, not wanting to wake up from this lovely, intoxicating dream, if it really even is a dream, at all.
And then he’s pulling away, taking big, deep, gasping breaths, rubbing calming, wonderful circles on my side, loosening his grip (if only just a little) from around my waist, from where he’d desperately, fervently, frantically, clutched me to him.
He gives me a beautiful, incandescently, indescribably perfect Secret Smile, and I swear, I can literally feel him putting my heart back together (again), but this time, it’s for real. He’s not going to tear it to shreds any longer; this is infinite, and it’s set in stone, and it’s never going to change.
“I’ve been waiting to do that for the longest time. I don’t think you understand,” he breaths, a shy, bashful smile breaking out onto his face before he confines his bottom lip between his teeth, ducking his head in the most endearing, shyest way I have ever seen him complete any action.
I brush the hair out of his face, placing a gentle, loving kiss to his forehead as I laugh breathlessly at him. “You don’t think I understand?”
He grins, yet again, understanding the irony laced deep within my words.
And like our Secret Smiles, we don’t have to say anything. We don’t have to tell each other the three most important words that can break, or make, any human being on this earth. We don’t have to say anything, because we get it. We get each other. We understand each other, finally, no words thrown harshly at each other, lashing out only to selfishly protect ourselves.
We don’t have to say it, but I do, anyway, like I have to know that he knows what I know, just like it’s always been. “I love you, you know. You know that, right?” I whisper, laying my head against his chest, too ridiculously, fully happy to keep my eyes open.
He breathes in deeply, my body lowering and rising with his, and his chest rumbles deep within as he responds softly, “Of course I know that. I’ve always known that, princess. And I promise the same for you.”
He breaths deeply, before confessing quietly, intensely, “I love you, and my love is yours, for as long as you’re willing to take it, to cherish it, to hold it within your own heart. Always for you. Only for you. Don’t you ever forget it.”

We turned forward again, making our journey through the next three boxes of cherry Popsicles, hands interlaced overtop the box, both sticky with cherry Popsicle juice, something he had quickly become addicted to, too, and grown to love, and enjoy, and appreciate just as much as I did.

And I smiled, softly, a Secret Smile he wasn’t aware of, for once, at what we had become.
Stage Five:

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