tenth

SCOTT

October left and November came, bringing with it colder—albeit, not by much—weather, and more and more school work. The events with the journal and meeting Liam sort of derailed me and I tried to focus more on my classes. I was basically flunking out of pre-calculus, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to raise that by more than a hair, but I had to try. Art was a breeze, of course, and english with Mrs. Coffman was always a fun time. Chemistry was easy, I continued to draw in that class, just like always; while U.S. Government continued to be a bore, no surprise there. Life continued to be as slow for me academically just as it always had been. My private life, however, couldn’t have changed more drastically as the days went on.

The events of the record store only marked the beginning of me and Liam trying to figure out the logistics of everything surrounding he and I. There was the matter of who to tell, I had already told Harper and Daniel so it wasn’t a complete secret, and after some prodding I found of that Liam had told two of his friends also. Beyond that we decided that there wouldn’t be any more people we wanted to know about us, secrecy was what I needed, and he respected that. Then there was the whole ordeal of what “us” even meant, what we would tell our friends we were. We weren’t dating. We weren’t . . . boyfriends or anything.

“What do we call it?” I had asked Liam one afternoon after school when the pressure for an answer to this question was coming more from Harper and Danny than it actually was me. I was content where I was, but for some reason they needed more of an answer than just “we’re trying to figure where all of the pieces go right now.”

“Why do we need to call it something?” Liam had retorted genuinely, stretching his arm over my shoulder while we sat in the bed of his truck. “You know how I feel about labels. Trying to figure out every angle and dissect every meaning behind what we do is just gonna ruin it. Let’s just be.”

It was a point I couldn’t argue with. My relationship with Liam, whatever it may be, was just that: with Liam. All of the particulars didn’t matter as long as it was him on the other end of things, we had already established that at the record store.

So the following two weeks consisted of us just being, which was a lot harder than it actually initially sounded. My fear got in the way of me from time to time, and Liam’s confidence was a constant grapple. Both of our issues stemmed from opposite ends of the spectrum but met equally in the middle just as we did. A lot of the time it was mostly just he and I trying to find a balance between secrecy and complete nonexistence when it came to us being together. What was okay, when were things okay, and where? Questions came from high and low on both ends: Can I kiss you now? Can anyone see us? What happens if someone does? When can I see you again? Over and over and over again as we tried desperately to find our rhythm, our middle ground, so to speak.

It wasn’t always a challenge, though. When I wasn’t paranoid and when he wasn’t overdoing things we slowly fell into ourselves, seemingly out of nowhere we would find that middle ground and it would make all of the confusion and all of the questions worth it. Even if only for a moment. Just him, and me, and our secret us.

In the middle of the first week of November was one of those times, I was staying back during my free period to work on a piece for AP art and Liam asked to join me despite the fact that normally at this time he would be headed to work at Rick’s. I protested, saying he should be responsible, he sang me a song about how responsibility is boring and convinced me to let him stay and watch me work in Ms. Ludgate’s room when I let him in after she had locked up. She said she may come back later, it just depended, so I was a little apprehensive. What would she think if she walked in her classroom and saw an unfamiliar boy waiting with me? Probably nothing, Julianna was really chill, but it still sent my anxiety through the roof.

I heard a knock at the door and knew it could only be one person, Juliana had left about five minutes ago and if she needed something she would have just let herself in with her key. I rubbed paint off my fingers on the top of my painting jeans and walked over to the door, my heart doing a little backflip in preparation for what I would see on the other side.

Two weeks of us and still the sight of him gave me chills, even now when I opened the door and saw him leaning against the threshold, his arm above his head, flexing, a warm smirk on his face. My stomach started to churn into a knot. I still wasn’t used to how unparalleled he was, so new and exciting every single time I saw him. Every day was a new surprise with him, I silently feared that it was the opposite for him with me and one day I would just completely bore him. I wasn’t particularly exciting or interesting, at least not like he was.

“Hey,” I said, blushing as I pulled the door into my body so he would have room to walk through and into the room.

He passed through the doorway without taking his brown eyes off of mine, and I closed the door behind him, hearing the lock click into place as he said, “Hey yourself.”

The moment before we kissed would always be . . . not awkward, but anticipated. I couldn’t just do it without thinking about it first. So when he came forward now, leaning down slightly to place his lips gently against my own it still took too much time for my brain to process what was really happening until it actually happened. He pulled away much too soon, somehow the kisses between us were always somehow incredibly long, but never long enough, even if only a few seconds.

He took me in for a hug and I breathed in deeply, the knot in my stomach began to tighten as I smell his cologne and wondered if he had gone out for coffee at lunchtime, he smelt heavily of his usual black coffee scent. I could have gotten drunk off of it, just like always. I clawed my fingers into the back of his shirt pulling him into me. Again, the hug wasn’t long enough, they never were, and he pulled away kissing the top of my head and said, “How was your day today?”

I looked up at his face, which was smiling, just like always and said, “Slow, I really need to get this piece in before Friday and my hands aren’t flowing like they usually do. I’m struggling.”
“Should I leave then?” Liam asked as I walked over to my easel where my painting waited for me, he followed close behind—very close behind, I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. “Will my being here distract you?”

Liam put his hands on my hips, causing more knots to form in abdomen, and I turned around in them, my face almost meeting his, I stared at him challengingly for a moment before saying, “You have a lot of confidence in yourself, Mr. Everett.”

He kissed me then, proving his point as my head went completely wild the second his lips touched my own. This time I broke it off, trying my best not to blush and said, “Point taken.” I took a deep breath, trying to regain control of my own thoughts and stepped away from him, “Did you bring anything to work on?”

He bounced up and down a little, the contents of his backpack shaking and I smiled at him and nodded.

“But mostly I just wanted to watch you,” Liam said, “see the great artíst at work.”

I blushed, walking away from him again and said, “I’m no great artist.”

“I would have to argue,” Liam began, walking around me to examine my painting and I suddenly became oddly self conscious. He had seen my stuff before, when I left my sketchbook at the shop and he looked through it, but this was different, him watching me work, “this is fantastic! . . . What is it?!”

I laughed, “It’s my little sister, Sasha, she’s six. Here. You start with the undertones and build on top of it to light, you see. There are her cheekbones and her eyes. Her hair is almost all done, but I have so much more to do. It doesn’t really look like her.”

“No, I can see it,” Liam nodded, putting his finger under his chin seriously.

“You’ve never even met her!” I laughed and shoved him with my elbow, he chuckled as well.

“Doesn’t mean it isn’t good,” Liam retorted, looking at me with a cross expression, shoving me back. “Is that what the assignment is? Your little sister?”
“No,” I shook my head, looking from Liam to the painting and then back to Liam, “we’re supposed to portray innocence, and honestly, Lia is the one of most innocent things I know. So I’m painting her.”

“Is painting your favorite medium?” Liam asked looking at me after examining my art a little further.

I shook my head and looked at the piece before us, “No, but it’s what I do the most, especially for assignments. I love everything, they all have their own strengths, but also their weaknesses. Sometimes I feel like pencil drawings look unfinished, and colored pencil can look cheap, and watercolor can look dull, so I go with oil paints or acrylics when I do stuff like this for class. They always have a very finished look to me, even if they take ten times as long.”

I looked over at Liam out of the corner of my eye as I spoke, and saw that he was watching me with an intense gaze, drinking in every word that I spoke about something as insignificant as my personal preferences to art medium. I tried not to blush but my stomach tighten even more so when I finished my rant I said, “You’re doing it again . . .”

Liam blinked, shaking his head and said, “Huh?”

This time I couldn’t help but blush, I looked down and said, “You’re staring again.”

I felt him take my hand in his as he said, “Can you blame me?”

He kissed my cheek and my face flushed even redder as I pulled away. Okay . . . that was enough. I swallowed hard, trying to force my stomach to untangle from the knots he had caused since walking in and took my hand away from his, “I gotta get working.”

“Absolutely,” Liam said seriously, backing away and motioning towards my easel with both his hands.

After that he let me work, he went over to the closer of the two long desks that lined the room where we usually sat to work and pulled out a textbook and some notebook paper and began to read while I headed back to my painting. I couldn’t be sure, because every time I turned around he was still hard at work, but I could have sworn I felt his eyes on me half the time. I wasn’t sure which gave me more butterflies, the thought of him staring like he usually did or if I had actually caught him. I never found out though, because I never caught him.

I was still having trouble though, I would look back and forth between the picture of my sister on my phone and the painting and not place a single stroke. I could feel the inspiration and motivation to get started inside of me, I knew that if I reached out I would know right where to start and exactly how to go about finishing, but I couldn’t access it. I was blocked and it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I could hear Liam’s low breathing coming from behind me as I continued to play with the mystery of his stare. Or, at least that is what I told myself.

I took a deep breath and yanked my headphones out of my pocket, I needed to distract myself. I plugged them into my phone and selected my art playlist and tried to let the music drown out everything else as it started to play. I stared at my painting for probably five minutes, trying to see the colors and not the actual picture, sometimes if you focused too hard on what you were drawing instead of actually drawing it it could through you into a funk.

I put a dab of brown here, a stroke there, checking the photo on my phone to make sure it was all going where it needed to be. I tried to breathe, find my center as I worked on the shadow under my sister’s neck, and then the ones inside her ear and under her hair, soon enough, about twenty minutes after forcing myself into it I finally had a good rhythm going. I moved on from dark shades and was working on putting down the medium tones in Wanda’s skin.

I smiled to myself as I began to mix together a sort of light golden tannish color, happy I finally got it together, I wasn’t even thinking about Liam anymore, only the painting. Music was blasting in my ears so I didn’t hear anything around me, so when I felt a hand slowly place itself on the small of my back I curled into it in surprise as another hand pulled out one of my headphones. There was a sudden weight on my right shoulder as Liam rested his chin on it, wrapping his arms around it and breathed into my ear before speaking.

“Don’t stop,” he said, his hands wandering, roaming across my chest and abdomen. Stop what? Breathing? Too late for that. I arched away from him as he pressed his lips against my neck, kissing, sucking on the skin there. “Keep working, just ignore me.”

He was kidding right?

“Liam no,” I said trying to pull out from under him, but his hands had other plans as they tried to pull me in. I looked around the art room warily, no one was here but I couldn’t help but feel like there were eyes on us even if Ms. Ludgate had locked the door when she left. She had said she might come back, what if she walked in now on us doing . . .  what were we doing? Why had I let him in here again? My mind was drifting as I felt his tongue against the skin under my ear.

“What do you mean ‘Liam no?’” his hand started to move down and up my shirt and I whipped around in his hold, pushing away from him, careful to make sure that the brush in my hands that was covered in paint didn’t touch his clothes or skin. I looked up at his deep brown eyes and a fake expression of confusion crossed his face.

“Not here.”

“What here?” he asked.

I looked from side to side, again afraid that someone might hear me or see me. I knew my paranoia was out of control, but it wasn’t without reason. “We can’t do that here, I have to work, and Ms. Ludgate could walk in on us at any time. She said she might come back.”

He sauntered towards me and I had nowhere to go but back until I was right in front of my painting, my hip barely touching the bottom of the easel. If I moved any further I would knock it over.

“There’s only twenty minutes left of class,” he said leisurely, his eyes looking me up and down and I tried my best not feel feel small under his gaze, “she’s not gonna come back, and the door is locked so no one is going to come in here. We’re fine.”

His voice was both reassuring and seductive, it dripped off his tongue like soft poetry that I shouldn’t have been able to resist. But I had to, or, I wanted to. But it was getting harder and harder with every passing second as he came closer and closer to me.

“We just can’t” I said weakly, shaking my head.

Liam half-laughed, half-smirked, the corner of his mouth turning up slightly, “That is what your mouth is saying,” he began, reaching out to grab my waist just around the hips, “but your body . . .”

He trailed off, forcing my mind to finish the thought on it’s own, “My body?”

As if on cue his hips seemed to twitch and he leaned in, hovering over me even more. He wasn’t even that much taller than me but still I felt so small underneath him. It felt like my feet were sinking to quicksand. If there was one thing Liam wasn’t it was subtle. I knew what he wanted, he knew how I felt about it. But neither of us were really saying what we were thinking.

The way Liam looked at me now was almost hungrily, like he was having to force himself to hold back and I wasn’t sure how I felt about being looked at that way. We’d kissed, we’d held hands, we’d even cuddled (much to my dismay,) but this was just . . . something more.

It was all so fast, the way he spoke and acted sexual with me, the way he seemed to want me. And sure, I wanted him too, Liam was, after all, a teenage boy just like me who thought about sex and kissing just as much as I did. But he was so experienced, and I was so . . . not. It made me self-conscious whenever things got intimate, like I wasn’t living up to what I should be. Or what he expected.

I looked up at him now and couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable under his gaze, even if there was that part of me deep inside that wanted him too, especially now with him so close.

But the other, more potent and very loud part of me was screaming at me to run in the other direction.

“I need more crimson red,” I said suddenly, breathily, breaking the silence. I turned and put the brush I was using on the palette at an angle so it didn’t touch any of the other globs of paint scattered across the wood and walked out of Liam’s hold, away from him towards the supply closet.

I looked over my shoulder as I opened the door and his body still looked as though it was hovering over an invisible me, the air where I once stood, he was using his hand that held my wrist to prop himself up against my easel and was watching me walk away from him with a smirk on his face. I hated so much how aware he was of what he did to me, almost like he always had the upperhand. I didn’t let him see how he was making me feel and walked into the closet leaving the door open because it was broken and only opened from the outside, I found that out the hard way the first couple days of class this year.

I stopped just inside the room, closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Everything inside of me was racing, my heart, my brain, my lungs. I couldn’t catch up with myself. I always felt completely out of step when he did stuff like that to me, I needed time to recuperate. Two more deep breaths and I opened my eyes, returning to the task at hand.

The room was tiny, about the size of a janitor closet or small bathroom, with  metal shelves lining all three walls around the door, the room extending further back than across, but it was tall, about eight or so rows. On my left towards the back on the second row of shelves were the tubes of oil paint in tupperware containers, normally you had to buy these from Julianna for fifty cents apiece but she never cared when I used her stuff, I knelt down and scanned through the dozens of little containers on the shelf looking for the one labeled “crimson” because normally I would know right where they are but someone had put them back all wrong it looked like. Julianna would love that.

“Aha!” I exclaimed when I found the box, someone had put it in backwards so the label was facing the wall and not out, I popped the lid off the tupperware and grabbed a tube off the top closing the box back up and turning it so it faced out.

I stood and as my knees popped I heard something else click at the same time. My eyes widened at the sound, I had forgot to prop the door open with the stopper! I whipped around dropping the crimson paint at my feet, hoping and praying that Liam hadn’t left the classroom so he could let me out.

I stopped in my tracks when I saw him, instead, standing before me, one hand behind him still holding the knob of the door he had just closed. My chest felt like it had been run over by a semi. I couldn’t catch my breath. No. No no no no no.

“Liam, are you stupid?! We’re locked in now!” I shouted loudly, running at him and shoving both of my hands into his chest, he didn’t even move despite how hard I pushed, if anything I think I would have been pushed backwards away from him at the force but he grabbed both of my wrists with his hands and smiled at me, pulling me closer to him.

“Good.”

And then suddenly his lips were on mine and he was backing me into the furthest wall of the supply room. We crashed into the shelf, my back arching against it painfully and his hands moved from my wrists. One was in my hair, grabbing a fistful of it, the other was at the small the of my back, pushing me into him as his body kept me held against the art supplies.

For a moment I hesitated, just as I always do. For a moment those four walls that know me so well and are decorated so accordingly in keeping me safe flew up around me and I froze. My lips were a flat line against Liam’s moving and roaming ones. My arms were at my side, fingers out and reaching, searching for something to hold onto. My eyes were open and I knew that they shouldn’t be but I couldn’t help but have this immediate response of fear, just like he couldn’t help but have an immediate response of confidence and over eagerness.

In that moment I saw a painted picture as clear as day of me and Liam with my back turned to his as he reached out for me. So it had been since the moment this all started. Only seldomly had I ever turned around for him.

Yes, I had gone on a date with him. Yes, I had opened up at dinner. Yes, I had agreed to give us a try. But on what conditions? Mine. It was always up to me, it seemed; when we kissed, where we kissed, how long, when we saw each other, what this all meant. Everything came down to my comfort zone, and my insecurities, and my fears. The walls around me were coming down not one at a time, but brick by brick. Yet still, here Liam was, desperately trying to kiss me. And I was just standing there with my eyes open in shock??

Fuck it.

I grabbed his hips loosely, hooking my thumbs into his pant line and started moving my lips with his, which in doing so made his less frantic and aggressive. I could have sworn I heard him laugh to himself when I started kissing back. A victory laugh, knowing him. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but I took faith in knowing that Liam did.

His hand in my hair moved behind neck and his other hand crawled up my back, my shirt riding up as it did so. I was able to move my hips into him more now with his arm out of the way and immediately his response was to do the same, in an almost rolling motion, he arched his back and pulled away for a fraction of a second and then went right back to kissing me from a different angle.

I was over-aware of everything that was happening; Liam’s hand finding its way up the back of my shirt against my bare skin, his peonies lips fighting my own, his nails scratching my neck, his breath hot, mixing with my own, the rattling paint cans on the shelf  over our head, the shuffling of our feet as we lost and regained our balance over and again, the fact that the door was locked and I had no idea how were were getting out of here. Every touch, every breath, every sigh and moan was strung together in this intense vibrant thread of thoughts in my head and they were all happening separately but also all at the same time. There was no real perception of time, only of now.

I curled my arms around his head so that I could run the tips of my fingers through his hair and he rolled, throwing himself into the shelf next to us. There was a crash of supplies falling off, cans of spray paint and stacks of artist paper falling to the ground in a clank and a whirl. My tongue was inside his mouth now and he tasted like black coffee and 5 Gum and I didn’t care that we were making a mess as he lifted me into him and kissed me deeper too, tasting me.

Suddenly my feet weren’t on the floor anymore, I was disoriented as Liam reached under my ass and pulled me up to straddle his hips and wrap my legs around him, it happened so fast. He smiled under a kiss and I gasped so he bit my open lip gently. I started to fall backwards and we landed against the shelf on the opposite side, the boxes with paint tubes in them falling and a stack of sketchbooks scattering, one hitting me on the shoulder. Under normal circumstances I think that hitting my back against a hard metal shelf would really hurt, but I was too high off of Liam to care or even feel it. He kept one hand under me and used another to prop himself up against the shelf, without his hands on my face or back it almost felt like I was suspended in midair, which I tended to feel like a lot around Liam.

“Scott,” Liam moaned into my mouth, and a chill skittered down my spine. He began peppering kisses across my neck and jawline, I threw my head back, it hit one of the shelves and I let out a yelp that was half caused by pain and half arousal.

“Liam,” I responded in a moan of my own and that was all that really needed to be said because the sound of his name on my lips in that way seemed to drive Liam into a sexual frenzy. He kissed me harder, so much so that I feared my lips might bruise. my back was completely arched against one of the shelves and I could feel Liam’s pelvis grinding into me at the same rhythm as his kisses. I leaned over and began kissing his neck now, sucking on his birthmark for a moment before returning to his lips

He let go of the shelf and locked his fingers in my hair, pulling hard and biting my lip when I breathed out heavily at his touch. His tongue was hot on mine and I ached for more of him, gripping at his t-shirt and shoulders trying to hold all of him at the same time. I was so involved I didn’t even feel the shift of gravity when he lost his balance and went tumbling backwards, hitting the shelf behind him extra hard as I landed on him and more items fell.

Liam struggled to stand back up and stepped on one of the cans of spray paint causing us to plunge to the ground completely. I fell off of him and used one of my hands to break the fall, it landed on one of the paint tubes which I heard squirt open but my lips didn’t break away from his for even a second. Liam pulled me back on top of him so that now I was sitting on his lap, and both his hands were free to hold my face against his while I gripped at the neck of his shirt pulling him into me as well.

I didn’t even care that I was banged up and bruised, that I had spilled paint or made a mess. I didn’t care that we were locked in here with no way out and Ms. Ludgate could walk in here any minute and find us here in a heap on the floor. None of that mattered. Not while Liam was kissing me. All that mattered was him, that he was holding me. He had this spell on me I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to break and if that meant kissing him for eternity that was fine. Who was I to say that this should ever end?

But it did end, much to my dismay when the bell signaling the end of seventh period rang. With me lying on my back covered in paint and with him hovering over me, his forehead on my chest which was heaving, trying to catch my breath. He lifted his head and smiled at me, kissing me on the mouth once more and let out a small laugh which I responded to with my own.

“We should clean up,” I said my voice struggling to sound out, it felt like I hadn’t breathed for a full hour. My head was spinning and light, but I could get used to it, I thought.

“Dirty,” Liam laughed and I smacked his chest playfully.

“I’m serious,” I sighed and propped myself up on my elbows, my right one slicking across one of the puddles of paint.

Liam got off of me and the helped me up so we could assess the damage, it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. One blue paint tube and one turquoise had both broken open by either being stepped or rolled on and were smeared across the floor (and my back.) A couple pieces of paper were ruined but luckily none of the sketchbooks were compromised. Then of course there was the half a dozen spraypaint cans scattered across the floor and some charcoal sets that I hadn’t even notice fall, I looked up at Liam and he smiled, “We did good.”

I shoved him playfully with my elbow and laughed, blushing slightly as I leaned over to gather up the spray paint cans. I heard Liam behind me, beginning to collect the tubes of paint that weren’t ruined into their particular tupperware containers, We worked silently, quickly, brushing past each other as a small current of residual sexual energy flowed between us.

I stacked up the sketchbooks that had fallen and put them back where they belonged while Liam found a place for the charcoal sets and then I walked over to the door to go get a wet rag from the sink towards the front of the classroom. I turned the knob in my hands and it clicked. I pulled and it didn’t open. I turned it once more, another click, and still it wouldn’t open. My eyes widened in shock as I suddenly remembered the predicament we were in: Liam had locked us in here. We had no way out.

I whipped around and shouted, “Liam! We can’t get out! Liam, did you even think this through?! We’re locked in here until someone comes in the room or you break down the fucking door!”

Liam raised his hands up at me defensively as I raised my angrily towards the door, shouting at him, the sexual tension between us dissolving in an instant, “Hey hey, I had no idea it was going to lock behind us! I just wanted to trap you!”

“Oh,” I said indignantly, my hands balling into firsts at my side, I had to resist the temptation to swing a few punches, not really because I was a very non-violent and confrontational person, but I felt like I could have. I couldn’t believe this, “Well you did a mighty fine job of that now, didn’t you?!”

“Scott!” Liam yelled, approaching me with both an aggressive and yet somehow calming expression on his face. Like, he was using his annoyance to take control of the situation and try and intimate me into some sort of composure. I blinked back at him with my own annoyance and he continued, “We are fine. We are going to be o-kay.”

I folded my arms, figuratively blocking him off completely. I didn’t understand how he could possibly be optimistic at this point. Yes, I knew it was in his nature to be oddly, almost overbearingly positive, but it just gets to a point where you need to realize that yes, we are in fact trapped in a fucking supply closet with no way out. And as an effect of such circumstances, it was okay for me to be a little bit ticked off at the person who had caused said predicament.

“Tell that to the locked door behind us,” I countered, forcing back an eyeroll and so much more, “the one that is broken and only opens from the outside.”

Liam smirked at me, I knew he was trying to be playful, but it only made me angrier. One minute I was avoiding him, one minute we were making out, the next I couldn’t stand to look at him. I feel like that said a lot about us, or, at least me. But I didn’t feel any shame in reacting to certain situations accordingly as long as they weren’t ruled by fear, Right now, I had every right to be upset.

“Maybe I’ll just have to have a chat with this Mr. Door, then,” Liam grinned sarcastically and I tried not to show any sort of reaction so instead I stepped aside as he approached me, holding out my arms towards the door. He could be my guest.

Liam walked over to the locked door, pulling something out of his front pocket when he was facing away from me so I couldn’t see. After a few moments of jostling and rattling I heard the door click and Liam threw it open, turning around and flashing a credit card at me between two fingers with a smirky smile on his face, “You worry too much.”

My expression fell, morphing from one of distaste and annoyance into a soft sort of apologetic grimace of embarrassment. Liam wagged the credit card at me in between his fingers, slowly rambling over to me while outstretching his arms. I blushed, my face once again changing into a bashful smile as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders and kissed the top of my head.

“I do,” I said, realizing once again how far I had come from three weeks ago, but how far I still needed to go.

My heart and mind were still racing by the time I pulled up next to my house, I could still feel him all over me as I leaned forward in the car the entire drive so that my paint covered back wouldn’t touch the seats. (Not that I really cared but I knew Dana would.) It had all been so much more than a kiss, more than a silly little make out session in a supply closet. As I continued to think about it further, I was only more certain. Above all, the half hour I spent in the supply room with Liam had been an eye-opening experience for me. Just when I had thought I was in a good place with Liam, open, honest, vulnerable, this whole thing smacked me in the face showing me that there was so much more that I was missing. So much I had convinced myself was right when in fact it was wrong. I thought I was starting to open myself up, but in reality I had just been bringing Liam down to my level, it’s all I had been doing the past two weeks.

Not to say that there hadn’t been progress, not at all, I really did think that I had made some steps forward out of my comfort zone. But not as much as I would have liked at this point in time. There was just so much more I could do, so much more I could give, that I could put into us. Obviously, I wasn’t ready to be out with him, that was more of a personal preference than it had to do with Liam. But I knew for sure I needed to stop making everything happen on my terms, when I was ready.

Liam was spontaneous, he didn’t like restraint and I couldn’t be the one to restrain him, that wasn’t fair. Him kissing me out of the blue was less about him wanting to kiss me to get his jollies and more about him showing affection on his terms., I had already set up so many boundaries and he just needed to find his own sort of center in all of this jumbled up and uncertain mess between us. Him coming up behind me and kissing my neck wasn’t him completely ignoring the boundaries I had set up. It was him trying to set up his own boundaries in line with my own, in response I couldn’t turn around and set up more stipulations, it was completely backwards.

The moment when he opened the door with the credit card and the minutes after completely defined this. One second I’m kissing Liam, completely enraptured by him and his touch and his smell and his lips on mine. I feel like I’ve let go and in the moment I truly believe I have, until that moment ends, just like the kiss does and immediately I fall back into my pattern of needing to be in control, literally yelling at Liam because he locked us in the closet. Even though he was the one that did it, it still somehow ended up being in my terms.

That needed to change, I needed to change.

I groaned as I put my car in park and got out, slamming the door behind me. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew I had to figure it out. We were two weeks into this, I was involved now, I wanted this, wanted to come outside myself. Wanted more of those moments where I wasn’t ruled by fear and he wasn’t trying to be an enhanced version of himself. I wanted more moments where we were just us, it was what we had said we wanted all along.

I went inside the house quietly, trying to avoid any confrontation that might lead to questions about why I had turqoise paint all over my back. I stripped down in the bathroom and climbed in the shower, there was paint all over my neck and my arm from when I had slipped and fallen, also bits in the back of my hair. I was sticky with sweat, not a gross smelly kind of sweat that came from working out, it was more of a light sheen that made my hair stick to my forehead and my palms uncomfortably clammy. But most of all, I felt like I could still smell him on me, like I had been bathed in coffee beans and mint leaves. I doused myself with my body wash twice, afraid someone else might smell him on me, too. It was ridiculous, but like most things I felt, I couldn’t help it.

The smell, however, didn’t go away. So I dried off and climbed into a clean pair of jeans and a tank top, trying to pretend that I couldn’t still feel his lips on my skin or his hands in my hair, that my back didn’t hurt a little from being arched into metal shelves, that my head wasn’t still spinning from falling down and being thrown around. I had heard that sex flashbacks were a thing that happened to people, but this? It felt like I was still there, I had been reliving it in my mind ever since I walked out of the classroom.

I wasn’t really in the right mindset to talk to Danny or Harper to distract me, and even if talking to Liam would help (which it wouldn’t) he was at work. I had left my art stuff in the classroom in a rush after cleaning up and couldn’t work on that, so I ended up pulling out the journal and flipping to where I left off last in hopes that the boy’s thoughts would enrapture ne enough to make the ghost of Liam’s lips leave me the fuck alone.

His life, in comparison to my own, had been just about as simple and boring as mine in every aspect save for Rose. (The parallels still never ceased to astound me.) His summer had been long and he didn’t write every day, but when he did they were longer rather than short, catching up on what he missed in the days he didn’t record his life. His relationship with Rose continued to grow at a surprising rate, but just like Liam and I they were an “us” not an “it” with no real label to define them.

I found my place and curled into myself on my bed, trying to ignore the feeling of Liam’s fingers on my back as I read what was written there:

September 9, 2011

And with that the second week at my new school comes to a close. I’ve tried to keep a posotive attitude, tried to go into it hopeful and with an optimistic mind, but its just so much easier said than done. My life at my old school wasnt even that much better than it is here, but it least it had Rose, I feel like I hardly see her at all anymore, especialy after seeing her basically every day over the summer. 

I guess things are good with us, its hard to say, neither of us can drive obviously so like I said, I dont see her much which sucks because shes basically the only person I want to see. I guess you could say we’re dating, we’re only 14 so we don’t really have a word for it just yet, we’re just kinda having fun and trying not to be too serious about everything cuz we’re too young for that. Doesn’t mean that my feelings aren’t serious tho. But Ive always had a problem with that, feeling things deeper and stronger than other people do, so if anything if someone gets hurt itll be me not her. Thats how it always is tho. I should be used to being left behind now, what with all of my foster parents before, but Im not. Abandoment isn’t something you just get used to. 

Speaking of which, mom’s baby is only a month away now. Cant wait to be replaced again, I can already smell the neglect from a mile away. We moved my room downstairs to make space for the nursery and I know it was a necesity but it still hurt a ton. I just cant help but take stuff like that more personal then it actually is, not with my history. Everything feels like a personal jab. 

School is fine, it has a great english program which I am excited about, there is a writer’s guild club thing that I am thinking about joining. I dunno yet tho cuz I have never shared anything I’ve written with anyone before (not even Rose) and that is just really scary to me for some reason. Like if they read what I write somehow that are reading my mind? Because that is what I really write about, whats going on in my life. Yeah I don’t use my name or the names of real people but my poetry and short stories all have some sort of truth to them that are based off of me. Vulnerability is terrifying. 

And what if I’m no good? Obviously Im no JK Rowling and I suck at punctuation and grammar and sometimes spelling can be a struggle but outside that I really feel like I have potential, that my stories have to potential to me something to more than just me. Ive been through a lot, more than most 14 year olds, and I feel like thats something that is relatable, readable even. 

Other than that Im not really too excited about any of my other classes. They all bore me and I’m not very good in them and I’ve tried to tell mom and dad to just switch me back to my the high school that rose goes to because I hate being surrounded by all these kids, but they dont listen. No surprise. My day basically consists of me trying not to claw my eyes out from boredom so that by the time the end of the day comes I can go home and call Rose and talk for hours on end and have my parents yell at me later about the phone bill. Its a nice system I have going. 

But no matter how hard I try, days pass slowly, class sucks, and most of the time I really hate my life. 

But then, such is life at Scottsdale Prep.

*     *     *

I nearly dropped the journal. Scottsdale Prep. As in, Scottsdale College Preparatory school, one of the most expensive, high end, (snotty, in my opinion,) private schools in the state. They were in our district . . . we played them in football at the homecoming game. This was the second of two clues that I had found regarding the identity of the person this journal belonged to, the first being Rose Gallagher. But this, to me, was much much bigger than the first one. Not only because there was no way of knowing if the Rose in the journal was the same as the Rose in my AP art class, but because this finally gave some sort of explanation to how the journal must’ve ended up under my car at school. He had been there that night, maybe he had even parked next to me, gotten there before me and the journal had fallen out of his car and I parked over it. That would make sense.

I looked over at the clock on my nightstand, it wasn’t even three yet, but this was insane. I couldn’t go to Scottsdale Prep, what would be my excuse if anyone there asked? Was a school like that even open to visitors like me? How would I know what to look for when I got there? Where would I even start? All I knew about the boy in the journal at this point was that he was two years older than me, a senior, Liam’s age, and he loved to write. Was that enough to go off of?

I looked down at the journal and closed it, the crease down the front of the red-brown cover seemed to pierce through me like lightning. I ran my forefinger across it, again feeling that same magnetic pull that I always felt when I held it in my hands.

What I had was small, what I knew about the boy was sparse. But what I did know was that it would be much better to go and see if I could find anything at all and come up with nothing rather than not go and sit here wondering forever if I ever would have.

I got up out of bed quickly, slipping on some shoes and shoving the journal back in my backpack. I grabbed my car keys, bounding down the stairs hoping desperately that Dana hadn’t told me at some point that she needed the car tonight, because if so, that wasn’t going to happen.

I turned the keys in the engine, my heart pounding excitedly in my chest as a laugh began to bubble there as well. It seemed I had successfully found a way to distract myself from the after-effects of Liam’s kiss.

< RETURN TO CHAPTER NINE | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER ELEVEN >

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