Over the next three days I devoured as much of the journal as I could in whatever free time I had, which turned out to be a lot. I hadn’t seen Liam since the supply closet on Wednesday and Harper and Danny seemed to be just as busy as always with their own agendas. So I spent most of my time until the weekend at home in my bed with my nose turned to the pages of the mystery that was the boy in the journal. After everything that happened at Scottsdale Prep I was consumed, there was a fire burning in me even brighter and more passionate to uncover the truth behind the boy’s identity.

 When I got home on Wednesday night after being nearly assaulted by a crying teenager—of which I still felt awful about—I cheated by skimming through the entire journal. I wasn’t reading the entries rather than trying to find some sort of clue as to who the boy was; a name, a location, anything. But he never mentioned his adoptive parents by name, the only two people he consistently talked about were Rose Gallagher and the ever mysterious Eden. Here and there I caught names of kids in the writer’s guild he had joined like Karson and Julien, the boy who had cried. All of which, to me, were dead ends. I couldn’t possibly head back to Scottsdale Prep after what happened, and as a result of that I was absolutely terrified what happened if I tried to approach Rose in AP art and ask her what she knew.

So there was nothing, no option but to continue reading along and hope to find clues as I gobbled up each individual entry. Mostly he just talked about school and Rose but there were two entries in particular that captured my attention, each about a month apart from the last (I had done a lot of reading.) The reason the two stuck out to me most was because they were the two most correlated entries I had read thus far, one lead to the other and ended in utter disaster. The first read:

October 3 2011       

Today mom woke up having contractions (again.) at first we thought they were those braxon ticks whatevers but after a few hours of waiting and waiting and things only getting worse my dad decided it was time for the three of us to go to the hospital. When we got there mom and dad were taken away to the maternity unit and I had to wait in the lobby.

After about an hour moms older brother who I only have met once or twice came to sit with me as I waited but I wasnt really interested in trying to keep up a conversation with him. He kept asking me how excited I was to have a baby sister and all of this stuff but honestly none of it had really hit me yet so I really just shrugged him off as I tried to read passages from my new book in between texts from Rose.

We seemed to be waiting for an eternity, we got there at about 11 and i don’t think I heard any news from any nurses or anything tell about 3 and at that point my mom still hadn’t given birth yet, she was still in labor. I honestly wanted to just go home, or walk and go meet up with Rose somewhere. we weren’t too far from home cuz we went to a hospital close by in case my mom wasnt able to make it but here we were hours and hours later and no sign of the baby. I was starting to get annoyed.

At 4 (i had completely finished the book I was reading at this point) a smiling nurse came into the lobby and asked if I would like to meet my new baby sister. I wanted to say “not really” but instead I followed her back to where mom and dad were waiting. Her name was Jane and she was really ugly. All red and puffy and swollen and didn’t look anything at all like the new born babies in the movies. I thought that they were supposed to be all quiet and pink and cooing and smell really good. Jane hadnt really had a bath yet and there was still some weird white gunk in her hair that I didn’t want to ask too many questions about.

After I came in the room I watched as one of the nurses gave her her very first bath in the sink and I guess it was kind of cute except her belly button had a clip on it with this huge black and red looking thing on the end of it that mom told me was her embelacal cord and that it would fall off.  I tried to act excited but honestly every second that past was just a reminder of how this was their kid and I wasn’t especially when mom asked me to sit down and hold her for a bit while dad took her to the bathroom.

I wanted to feel something when I held her. Desperately. I looked down as she squirmed around in my arms hoping for some sort of connection to form between me and my little sister. But as she sat there crying and screaming and begging for a mom that was hers and not mine I knew that I didn’t belong in this family. I never had and I never will. 

*      *      *

You don’t often equate sadness with birth. At least I never had, but as I read about the addition to this boy’s family I couldn’t help but mourn for he was experiencing a loss I couldn’t even fathom, the loss of himself so to speak. In many ways I could understand what it felt like not to belong somewhere heaven knew that I didn’t feel like I belonged at home most of the time. But to actually feel like you weren’t a part of your own family, an outcast, more than a stranger, an unwanted guest.

I couldn’t even comprehend the sort of sadness that was attached to those feelings, because even as much as I related to them my situation wasn’t nearly the same. Even as much as I felt I didn’t belong I was still at home in my own house, there was still a connection, despite everything with Dana and my father I knew very much that my mother and my younger sisters loved me. But as hard as this boy tried he couldn’t tell himself the same thing, I’d seen it before in previous entries as he tried to convinced himself that his parents loved him and he them, but it just wasn’t there.

I imagined him holding his adoptive baby sister, a faceless boy holding a screaming and writhing newborn. trying to force himself to feel something, anything for the person that was only a reminder of how he was out of place in the world he lived. My heart broke for him as I realized that he was much too young to be feeling the things he was feeling and in many ways so was I.

I read on, completely engulfed by the internal tragedy that was rocking this boy’s universe, yet no one around him seemed to care or let alone hear his screaming. Each entry was darker than the last, taking the baby girl home only made him more and more depressed as he isolated himself in the bedroom, rarely going out and seeing the girl who made his whole world better. She was the one connection he had in a universe full of severed strings, and Eden still hadn’t written back in weeks. Where was she? Where had she gone? Why had she been unable to adopt him like she promised. The boy constantly wondered if things would be different had he been living in her home instead of this one.

Weeks passed and I finally came across the post that changed this boy’s entire story for him and me, and though I still wasn’t any closer to discovering who this boy was I was haunted by the newly learned fact that neither was he. This wasn’t a one-sided journey; it was two; we were both searching for a faceless boy in a crowded room:

November 18 2011  

It was 1 year ago today. 1 year ago today that my whole life changed when mom and dad picked me up, took me home and made a part of this little “family.” Obviously the process was a lot longer than that, I was already their foster child for weeks when they made the decision to adopt me. But for some reason when I look back on it all it feels like I’m looking back on someone elses life on things that never even happened. I keep on picturing a sad boy in an orphanage being picked at random by 2 nice strangers who take him home and act like he was part of their family the whole time. But life isn’t Stuart Little or Annie. I can’t even remember my time in the orphanage, just foster home after foster home after foster home and then Eden and then foster home and then here, a home where Ive never belonged.

Mom and dad promised me a few weeks ago that we would go out to dinner today just the 3 of us to celebrate a year together as family without Jane. They would get a babysitter and we would go to my favorite restrant and maybe we would even go see the new Twilight movie that came out at midnite last night.

But instead moms siblings came into town, all of her sisters dropped in without warning to see 1 month old Jane. None of them came into town when they adopted me, which again was just a reminder that I’m not really a part of this family.

The house was really crowded mom has 5 sisters and they were all there passing around the baby 1 by 1 and I wasn’t allowed to just read in  my room so instead I read in the living room while they all talked and chatted and gushed about how beautiful the baby was. None of them even really said hi to me when they got there but I didnt mind I was to invested in my book until 1 of them said something that really caught my attention. 

“She looks just like Robbie,” one of my aunts said was really confused because I had never heard of a Robbie before so I asked who Robbie was and little sister looked like she was confused even tho she was the one bringing up people I had never heard about and my parents looked horrified cuz I swear there eyes were the size of plates. I asked again but to them this time and they looked at each other. I was getting anxous now so I asked one more time almost yelling at them and finally my dad said that he would tell me later once everyone had left. I tried to fight with him because it wasnt fair that they were keeping secrets with me and then he told me to go to my room and read and so I did and then a few hours later after all of my moms sisters left my dad came in while I was reading and told me to put the book away.

At first I said no cuz I was still really mad cuz I felt like he and mom were keeping secrets from me but when mom came in the room after putting Jane down and said that we needed to talk as a family I finally closed my book and listened.

Thats when I learned the truth.

Im a replacement!!!!

Robbie is there son. There dead son. He died in Febuary before they adopted me. He was 12 yrs old and he had lukemia and was really really sick for a long time and when he died my parents thought that they had this huge hole in their hearts and they needed to fill it. So they did some testing and mom didnt think she could get pregnant again (HA!) and then they decided to adopt a boy around my age cause they already had so much stuff and they felt it would be a good fit for them AND I REPLACED THERE DEAD SON.

I am Robbie 2.0. I am nothing to them but a plug in there hearts where there dead son once was and now everything makes sense. They don’t even love me they just didn’t want to face the fact that there son was dead so they got me. Like some sort of dog that dies so you buy a new one Im nothing to them but proof that they aren’t bad parents who killed there son or something. I know it. I know it!!

I dont care what they said. It was hours ago and I haven’t stopped cry and I was crying when they told me and they tried to make it better and tell me that they loved me but all that did was make it worse. I feel like an idiot for ever thinking that someone could ever want me for just being me. None of my foster parents wanted me, I only have 1 friend in the whole world who I havent seen in weeks cause of the stupid BABY and even Eden who said she wanted me more than anything ending up giving me away.

The only person in this whole world who ever wanted me was my birth mom and from what I know I was taken AWAY from her. Eden told me back when I first started staying with her. My mom wanted me so bad but she couldnt keep me because the stupid state said she wasn’t fit to parent or whatever! She HAD to give me up she didn’t WANT to! Its STUPID!

I hate this. I hate Eden. I hate Jane. I hate my parents. I hate everyone. I hate this whole stupid world. I just want to go and run away and find the only person I know for a fact has ever loved me.

My birth mom.

I have to try and find her. I don’t even know wher I am going to start, probably online, look up adoption regulations and what not. But there has to be something out there some sort of way I can look up a file or hospital record or find my birth certificate or SOMETHING. Some sort of way to figure out who they are so I can beg her to take me back.

I was always told that my my mom tried to give me a life that she didnt think she could give me on her own that in the end when the state took me away it was because it was what was best. I think my mom wanted me to be happy even tho she couldnt take care of me herself. I don’t think that she ever pictured that that sort of life would look like this but I cant blame her for that. Ive never hated my birth mom but Ive never wanted to go looking for her either. Until now.

I keep thinking my mom figured it out that she found a way to get her life together and maybe shes even looking for me to. Who knows? Ive been moved around so much in my life maybe I just got lost in the system and maybe if we are looking for each other it will be easier for her to find me. I just know I cant spend another day in this house let alone another year. I have to find them. I have to.

I have to.

*     *     *

I wiped the tears away from my face, pulling myself away from the journal just as my phone began to ring next to me on my bed. I looked down at the face of it and saw a crinkly-eyed Liam smiling back at me. I had almost forgotten about the boy with brown eyes who was rocking my world to it’s core, but then again I tended to forget about everything when I was reading the journal.

I picked up my phone, answering the call with my thumb as I put it up to my ear.

“Hey,” I said trying my hardest to mask that fact that my eyes were still wet, pulling myself back into reality and away from the broken world of the boy in the journal.

“Hey back,” Liam replied and there was something in his voice, I couldn’t tell what it was, but he sounded frustrated and on edge, there was a sharpness to his tone that I couldn’t place. Something was wrong, something was bothering him, “What are you doing?”

“Doing homework,” I lied immediately, it’s what I should be doing right now but I had been procrastinating for days now, consumed by the mystery of Journal-Boy, “Daniel and Harper never called to hang out today and you had that pool party so I just decided to get caught up on some reading for English and try and write that essay I was telling you about.” the first part wasn’t a lie, Harper and Danny were supposed to call but never had, “what about you?”

“Getting dressed,” Liam said and I flushed red, what sort of call was this, not that I was complaining, it was just late in the afternoon and Liam was supposed to have company over “the pool party ended early on sort of a sour note and I wanted to see if we could jump our plans to meet up to like . . . say, now?”

“We weren’t supposed to meet until midnight,” I said, my voice wavering a little as I looked over at the iHome on my nightstand and down at the journal which was still open in my lap, a few of the blue words smudged from my tears that had fallen on its pages. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see Liam, not at all. It was only that after what I had just learned in the journal I was itching to read further, understand more, follow the boy along and see what he had learned in the following entries if anything at all.

“I know,” Liam said and I heard a bit of rustling on the other end of the line as he paused, “but I’m free now, and if you wanted to be you could be and we could see each other for a lot longer than just two hours for once. It could be nice.”

I thought for a moment, I felt bad, he just had said that the pool party had ended badly and early and here I was concerned about someone else’s life in a journal entry that took place nearly three years ago instead of a boy who needed me right this moment. Then Liam added, “You really shouldn’t be out past midnight anyway, you’re only sixteen.”

This actually made me laugh, I looked back down at the journal, it could wait a few hours. I closed it in my lap and turned my attention to the phone call adding sarcastically, “Since when have you been the moderator of curfews?”

“Since I decided one of us needs to be the responsible one in the relationship,” Liam chuckled.

“And that’s going to be you?” I rolled my eyes, laughing as I stood and walked over to my closet which only gave me an idea to further mock him, “The guy who locked us in a supply closet?”

“I think you’re forgetting I’m also the guy who got us out,” Liam said and he chortled once more, his laugh airy and light and the memory that came with his comment warmed my heart. He was such a little preener it drove me mad, of course he would have to be the one who trapped me and set me free. It was almost too metaphorical to be real.

“That’s true,” I said, standing at the threshold without making a move, looking at my clothes before me but not really seeing them, waiting on the end of a line for Liam to respond, to say something that would make me put on my shoes and follow him to the edge of the universe, or at least to the edge of the state line because let’s be real here I couldn’t stay out that late.

“So what do you say?” Liam asked and I could hear an eagerness in his voice that I just knew he was trying to mask, “Wanna take some time out of your very busy schedule and meet me at our spot a little earlier today?”

My shoes were already on, but he didn’t know to know that. I hummed a little, tossing my head back and forth in silence as I pretended to weigh my options in my head, but in reality I was walking over to my nightstand to grab the keys to my little white Sedan and head out the door. I already knew ere we would be meeting, our usual agreed upon place. After a pause followed by an even lengthier and heavier pause I said in an uninterested yet somehow equally enthused voice, “See you in twenty,” and hung up the phone.

I spent the entire drive in my head thinking about what I had read, trying but failing to pay attention to any and all road signs. The boy’s parents had had a son just like him who had died not even a year before they decided to bring him into their lives. It was disgusting, now that I wasn’t crying along with the boy I was sick to my stomach. They had replaced Robbie literally replaced Robbie with the poor boy in the journal who only wanted a family to call his own, not to fill in the hole of a family who already had a son of their own but lost him.

I merged onto the freeway a little light headed, I couldn’t even imagine the pain and hurt that the boy was going through and it only made me ache to read more, to see if he was okay, to find him and tell him somehow that he isn’t alone, that I saw him and understood, or at least that I yearned to understand. I found little hope in the fact that the entries continued on passed where I had left off all the way to the end of the journal. Perhaps, I thought, he had found his birth mom and right now he was with them writing in a new journal about their lives together far far away from the people who had said they loved him but only ever used him.

No. That wasn’t fair of me to assume, it had to be so hard for those parents to lose their son, I wanted to try and understand them also, understand their need to fill a gaping hole that was left in their lives. It could be a beautiful thought, I told myself, they had so much love to give one single human and then that human was gone and their only option was to try and focus all that love onto someone else, someone who didn’t have a family, reverse the roles so to speak. Give someone who lost their parents a home when they had just lost their son, try and fit the pieces together. But I couldn’t expect the boy in the journal to try and think that way, he could only be hurt and betrayed and broken at this point, of course he felt like he had no other option to try and find his birth mom, look for the person who had loved him before anyone else had, loved him enough to give him away and hope he would have a better life somewhere else.

It was all so backwards, so unfair . . . and I thought that I had it bad in my life. There was no real comparing the two at this point honestly, the boy in the journal and I both had our own struggles that were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum; he had completely lost all sense of who he was, he was searching but failing to find that piece of himself that made him, him. I, on the other hand, was too overly aware of who I was most of the time, and hated every single bit of it.

I shook my head trying to bring myself into the moment, I didn’t want to be all harped up on the boy in the journal while I was with Liam. I didn’t want to get lost in the past, I needed to ground myself in the present, this was getting dangerous. I was getting a little too involved, but I couldn’t help myself. I was in too deep at this point, after Scottsdale, after what I had just read, there was no heading back, no moving on until I uncovered the truth, maybe even found the boy and returned the journal to him. But I couldn’t worry about that right now, I told myself as I merged off the freeway and headed down the road that would take me to mine and Liam’s meeting place. I had an equally important matter to attend to at the top of the hill.

*     *     *

“I have three sisters,” I was Liam telling an hour or so later after we fell out of silence and into our usual lengthy conversation, “you’ve seen the youngest, Sasha, she’s six, the one who I was painting the day with the supply closet—” I blushed at the thought but tried not to let it faze me and continued “—next is Wanda, she’s twelve, and my older sister Dana is eighteen. She and I don’t really get along that much. Difference in personality, closeness in age, stuff like that, we’re always on edge.”

“But you’re closer to your other sisters?” Liam asked, and I knew he was avoiding the continued subject of Dana just in case it would make me uncomfortable. I would have been fine to expand on that, but it was nice he was being considerate.

“Yeah, I would say so,” I nodded curling into Liam’s chest a little bit more, staring past is face up at the stars overhead, it was completely dark out now, the sky a deep dark indigo sprinkled with white from end to end, the horizon glowing a little because of the lights in Phoenix and its neighboring cities. “I think that with my father away at work as often as he is that sometimes they substitute me as a father figure. Not that they even need to, not that I’m even close to the sort of responsible that that role requires, it just sort of happened that way.”

“Why is your dad away so much?” Liam asked and I sighed.

“He’s the co-owner of a local grocery store,” and it felt so lame, I knew already that Liam’s father was some sort of doctor, an occupation that actually warranted long hours away from home. My dad was just over-worked and underpaid. Gone before the sun even was up and home and in bed the moment the sun was down again, I couldn’t even think of the last time that he and I had a decently long conversation about anything that actually mattered. I saw him this morning but I wasn’t sure we had even exchanged pleasantries. “But they are franchising soon so I’m not really sure what that means, more responsibility or less. We’ll just have to see.”

Again, Liam didn’t push the subject. He was really good at gauging when a topic needed to be pursued further or whether we could move on and talk about something else, little did he know that when it came to the subject I was always willing to move on. I thought for a moment about the boy in the journal and wondered if he felt the same way but pushed the thought out immediately, changing the subject myself. “My mom is a kindergarten teacher, and that’s pretty cool. She always has the funniest stories I didn’t know that five year olds were so wild.”

Liam laughed and I could feel his forefinger tracing circles on my shoulder as my head bounced against his chest, “Like what?”

And I told him about the time one of her students threw up in their backpack on the way to school but was afraid of getting in trouble so they tried to hide it in the closet and it was left there for two days, and the time that a girl got her head stuck in a chair and the fire department came, and finally the time that a kid was crushing up smarties, rolling them into ‘joints’, and selling them like cigarettes to other kids, “you just smoke ‘em,” he had said. Liam laughed especially hard at that one.

“It’s a funny job, she always comes home with something new. What about you?”

“Me?” Liam asked and he seemed almost surprised that I would ask such a simple question.

“Yes you,” I chuckled, “tell me about your family, your parents, I know you have a sister. Tell me about them.”

Liam paused for a moment and something felt off, like for some reason he was uncomfortable talking about this. No, not uncomfortable, just wary, uncertain of what to say for some reason. After a few seconds he said with a somewhat rehearsed tone, “Dr.’s Lucille and Lawrence Everett work at St. Joseph’s Medical center. My dad is a cardiothoracic surgeon and my mom does surgery with neonates—or newborns if you aren’t sure of the terminology. That’s where they met and fell in love like some sort of weird episode of  Grey’s Anatomy. Then they got married and had me and my sister Ruby, she’s eleven” he paused, “oh, and they are really old.”

I snorted, turning to look up at him in question of his odd addition, “What?”

“Yeah,” Liam nodded, smiling half-heartedly, “my dad just turned sixty.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Wow, that is old.”

“He’s cool. They both are, they work really hard and they do really well for me and my sister.”

I nodded, looking back out at the sea of city lights ahead of us, it was still early in the night so the roads were still teeming with cars and pedestrians, I could see the streetlights changing from yellow to red to green and then back to yellow again in rapid succession all across the valley. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Liam was holding back somehow, the way he spoke about his family was so minimal, so rigid and practiced. It made me wonder if there was something more, something he wasn’t telling me but I wasn’t sure if I should push to find out. Liam certainly hadn’t done that with me, even his body was tighter than it had been a moment ago, his hold on me more taught and his shoulders arched back a little.

“I imagine that they would be, letting you live all by yourself in the guest house. That’s pretty awesome how much they trust you,” I finally said, deciding to prod a little. I didn’t want to invade, I wanted to invite, let him tell me more if there was more to tell without outright asking.

“I think,” Liam started and he hesitated for a moment, taking a deep breath in through his nose, his entire body relaxing on the exhale, “that that was less about being awesome and trusting, and more about them wanting me out of their house while still being able to keep an eye on me.”

I sat up, pulling out of his arms completely and turning my torso towards him, “What do you mean?” I asked and I expected an answer, he couldn’t just say something like that and then leave me hanging, not that I was thinking that he would but I had to be certain, his face was cold, a little broken and scared looking. Corners of his brown eyes were turned down and there was a dent in his brow. Oh something was bothering him for sure, I could see it.

“A lot happened last spring,” Liam said and there was a exhausted laugh inside the words, like he couldn’t believe the course of events that had lead up to him expressing those words in this manner. I waited, watched him, tried to read his eyes. Was he just telling me that a lot happened last spring because it was a fact, or was he telling me that it was a lot because he was wanting to prepare me for it all instead of just diving right in.

Liam looked down at his lap,  his hands were resting there now that I was not wrapped up in them, after what seemed like years and years he looked up and I could see tears in his eyes. I saw for the first time behind the exterior of a man who had it all together someone who was still lost and figuring it out, if it weren’t so heartbreaking it would be absolutely beautiful, “I don’t want you to think of me any differently.”

I reached out for him suddenly, a surge, a need to comfort him washing over me. I took his shoulders in mine and kissed him on the cheek forcefully, burying my face into his. When had I become the comforter, the strong one? This was a reversal of roles I had never anticipated since this all began, “Liam, no no no. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. You don’t have to tell me. But I’m also not going to think any differently if you do, no matter what it is.”

Liam looked down again, his shoulders starting to shake, I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying, I gripped his shoulders a little tighter, urging him to look me in the eyes so I could tell him through silence that this was okay, he was okay. A moment later and Liam threw his head back, guffawing out loud, but still there were tears streaming down his face. I dropped my arms, letting him go as he reached around to grab his sides, laughing even harder now.

“It just all falls apart, you know?” he said between laughs and I tried my best to take him seriously in this moment but I was having a hard time following the journey his emotions were taking him on. “One thing after another and all you can do is sit and watch and watch as piece by piece everything falls apart and you’re just helpless to it all—”

He was shaking now, but I couldn’t tell if it was from laughter, a tiny part of me wondered if it was from fury, all I knew for sure is that he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking out into the city lights, his eyes focused and unmoving. He was scaring me a little, I had never seen him this emotionally distraught before, part of me thought that Liam’s emotions weren’t capable of overtaking him in this way.

“—Because one day you’re living life; you’ve got great parents, great friends, an awesome boyfriend, you’re doing well in school and wrestling and then suddenly you’re little sister who’s so young and little and frail and pure collapses in a supermarket.”

I brought my hand to my mouth in stunning surprise, again imagining the little girl who looked just like Liam, except this time in my mind’s eye she lay broken and bent on the white harsh floor of Walmart or Target, and I saw Liam looming over her scared and shouting and shaking as he was now as he realized something was seriously wrong.

“And you take her to the hospital,” Liam continued, and his voice was uneven now, less focused and controlled than it had been a moment ago, and I feared he was going to fall into a fit again, whether in laughter or tears I wasn’t sure but I could feel it coming on. Part of me longed to reach out and take his hands, but another part of me realized that Liam wasn’t in a place that warranted touching at the moment, he needed to be on his own as he processed and told me this difficult story.

“You take her to the hospital because something is wrong and she won’t open your eyes and your dad is in surgery and your mom is at a conference in Cleveland and you’re alone alone in the waiting room and hours of testing turns into days and your mom comes home and there is more waiting and more tests and time seems frozen as a man in a white coat whose name you can’t even remember comes and tells you your little sister, who is so healthy and so bright and has her whole life ahead of her, has stage four multiple myeloma and is going to die.”

His words were fast and furious, they way he spoke them pierced through me but there were somehow so quiet that when they hit the floor like the drop of a pin they shattered everything. Cancer. She was dying. Little Ruby with the brown hair and squinty eyes was going to die.

“Liam,” I yelped, wanting to close the space between us and comfort the boy who couldn’t seem to stop shaking next to me. At the sound of his name on my lips he looked over at me, his eyes locking with mine and I could finally see how hollow and empty they were and in them I saw a pain that stretched far beyond the sickness of his sister. I saw that somehow this was also connected to so many other aspects of his life that I had never anticipated. I couldn’t be sure how far this reached, but I had a feeling he was going to tell me.

Liam cracked a damaged smile, his shoulder’s shaking a little as he began to laugh once, “And it’s just so funny. So fucking funny that my dad literally repairs hearts for a living and puts valves from pigs in old people’s chests for God’s sakes. And my mom, she saves babies before they are even born! They are fucking doctors and their daughter gets fucking cancer and there is nothing they can do. And it’s just so funny. It’s so fuck-ing funny.”

I shook my head, this wasn’t real, this couldn’t possibly be real life. I motioned to speak but closed my mouth when Liam opened his to continue, this story wasn’t over, not nearly, he had much more to tell and I wondered for the first time tonight if this was the first time Liam was speaking these words to someone outside of his family circle. His friend’s had to know, Haden and Drew had to know.

“And months pass, and there is doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment, and radiation, and chemotherapy and you think people will understand, but no one does. No one gets it. No one realizes that you are literally watching part of yourself turn into a human shell and there is nothing you can do about it,”
Liam shook his head, and tears were falling once more, finally I reached out, putting my hand gently on his knee. Never in a million years could I have seen our conversation taking this turn, we were talking about family, our parents occupations how had we ended up here of all places. It was heavy and almost out of nowhere but I wasn’t going to stop him I could tell it was something he needed off his chest, he was speaking at full force now, “you can’t stop the pain, you can’t make the hair grow back, you can’t bring the light back into the little girl who used to be so radiant

“So she’s been in treatment for month and months, and finally the time comes, the doctor’s appointment that will tell us whether or not the treatment continues, if it’s working. Literally we get to sit down with a man who gets to tell us whether or not my little sister lives or dies and it falls on the same day as my stupid ex-boyfriend’s stupid birthday party. So I didn’t go, I couldn’t go, she’s my sister for God’s sakes and it didn’t matter when we learned that she was in remission, I wasn’t allowed to be happy about it because I missed a stupid little pool party in the middle of April and Corbin wouldn’t talk to me for weeks because I couldn’t tell him why—” and there was my answer, his friend’s didn’t know or at least this Corbin guy didn’t, I shook my head in utter disbelief at all of this.

“—I thought we were going to break up, I didn’t want to but it seemed like it was inevitable at this point. I was with my friend Dillon one night in May, we were drunk off our asses and I was telling him about everything. Ruby, the cancer, the party, Corbin, how I thought it was over, and I guess in my drunken state I was coming off complacent or something. That I was okay with how things were happening with Corbin. That I had accepted and embraced it or whatever. I’m not sure, but I realized whatever message I was trying send out was different from what Dillon received the second he shoved his hands down my pants.”

I brought my hand to my mouth once more, what was even happening? What was this story he was telling me? How had we gotten here? From parents, to sister, to cancer, to pool parties and now friends crossing boundaries they were obviously not to supposed to even pander. It was insane, I could hardly believe it but Liam wasn’t the type to lie, not about something like this. Not at all, actually. I didn’t say anything. I just let him continue.

“I didn’t even know he was gay, or bi, or maybe he was just fucking wasted like I was, I don’t know. But it certainly wasn’t welcome. Dillon was a great friend, I loved him to death and I let him know if he was gay that was awesome and we could work this out but I loved Corbin and he flipped a lid. He refused to acknowledge that he had tried to come onto me. He was drunk, he didn’t know what he was doing and if I told anyone he would ruin me. I was so confused, I think a lot of that had to do with my booze intake, but nothing made sense.

“Corbin and I were already on thin ice, and Dillon was the weight that completely broke us. After that night I think he got scared I might say something, because to his word he told Corbin that I had tried to get with him. The story was pretty much the same, with the one change being the reversal of our roles. I was drunk, Dillon was trying to appease me as I told him I didn’t want to be with Corbin anymore and I tried to come onto him.

“Corbin didn’t believe me, as much as I tried to tell him the truth there was already too much damage for him to try and trust me. He broke up with me and completely left our friend group with Dillon at his side because everyone else had chosen to believe me. Dillon’s story was just too out of character. It took me a long time to realize that it was his choice to believe what he was told by some scared little boy rather than his own boyfriend, but at the time it hurt. It hurt a lot.”

Liam paused for the first time in minutes, looking away from me for a moment to collect himself. The story wasn’t over yet, but almost, he was starting to settle but not quite. I tightened my grip on his knee then, urging him to continue, to finish this out and let the weight off of his shoulders that I could almost physically see weighing him down. He gulped, looking back into my eyes one last time as he opened his mouth and continued.

“That summer, this last summer, I lost my handle on things. It had all been too much, we were trying to readjust to life at home now that my sister was ‘healthy’ again, but things weren’t the same and slowly I was starting to lose my grip on everything else. Corbin was gone, no one knew what was happening at home, my parents were starting to take out their frustration with Ruby’s illness on me and I felt so alone. So fucking alone I couldn’t bare it and on the edges of that loneliness was a pain I can’t even describe. I just felt so abandoned by the person who was supposed to care for me most, and betrayed by a friend that was supposed to have my back and I just wanted it to all go away. I wanted to feel something else, something other than the gnawing aching torment that was shaking through me.

“So it started in California. Drew, Haden, and I took a trip by ourselves in June. We just wanted to get out and away from all the drama, I just don’t think we realized that it followed me everywhere I went. Our first night in LA we went to a club for minors, we just wanted to dance it out, meet some cool people and forget about everything and I met this guy. I didn’t even think he was hot I just liked that he thought I was, that was enough for me. We danced our way right out the door, into a cab, and back . . .”

He trailed off and looked away, gulping, I could see the veins in his neck pulsing in the moonlight. He didn’t need to finish, I squeezed his knee letting him know it was okay, I knew and I understood, he didn’t need to go into further detail it was necessary and I was sure he didn’t want to either, I could only imagine how painful it was.

When he spoke again moments later it was to the stars, and in his face I saw a sort of hidden apology for the words he was about to speak, “Six boys. Six boys last summer that I used and abused to take it all away. The pain, the fear, the hopelessness. With each boy I hated myself more, but that didn’t stop the hunger, the need to fill that hole that my sister and my parents and Corbin and my friends carved out of me. I felt like I was walking around with an open wound in my chest for all to see. I lost my balance, got in fights at home, left the house for days at a time and my parents had no idea where I was. I just couldn’t stand to be there because no one knew what I was going through and I hated them for not seeing how much I was hurting.

“After one particularly bad fight with my dad one night I threw some punches and they threw me out, gave me keys to the guesthouse and told me to get my shit together. I guess it could have been a lot worse, they didn’t know what to do but they couldn’t keep me under the same roof as them for much longer but didn’t want me on the streets either. I count my blessings for that, I’ve been there ever since,” he took a deep breath and with that last breath I saw the last ounce of pain and worry and fear fly away from his shoulders as he looked down from the stars and back at me, his eyes a little less vacant and a little warmer than they had been a few minutes ago, “That was in August.”

I nodded silently, trying to figure out how best to go about this. He wasn’t looking for sympathy, I knew that but we were beyond understanding, I couldn’t possible say that I grasped what he was going through. I knew he was afraid of what I might think about his sexual deviancy over the summer but that was the furthest thing on my mind right now, I was worried about him. Just him, so I asked, “And how are you now with everything?”

Liam shrugged, “I like to think I’m better. It’s a process, it doesn’t just all change all at once. When school started back up again I just decided I needed to change. Take off the shaded lenses and put on clear ones. Since then I’ve just wanted to approach every day with a mindset that everything was okay, I was happy and alive and healthy and there was no reason to be hurt or angry. Some days are better than others some days I feel myself slipping back into that negativity, others are really really great. I know that the day I met you was one of those days for me.”

I smiled at the comment, scooting into him a little more and he took me into his arms as slowly everything that I had ever questioned about Liam started to make sense to me. Why he left me the money, why he was so unambiguous and contemplative, why he was hurt by what Haden had pulled at the pool party with the surfer-dude, why he was afraid he had come on too strong at the beginning of all of this. It all made sense, there wasn’t a shred of doubt in me as Liam told me what he had been through, all of the pieces fell into place to show me the flawed (but nowhere near broken) and beautiful person who was nuzzling his nose into my hair right at that moment.

I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Sometimes I just got so blind to everything, so involved with myself and my own troubles that it was impossible for me to believe that someone out there could be going through their own shit that was just as bad for them as mine was for me. The thing about empathy was that you didn’t have to be going through the exact same issue as someone else to understand them. Everyone felt loneliness, everyone felt empty and broken and vulnerable all the time, it’s just too easy sometimes to think that you are the only one who feels it as strongly as you do.

But in the span of an hour I came to realize both through the journal and through Liam that life is messy for everyone, it’s never easy and certainly no one has it easier than anyone else. They just have it different. Different struggles, different lives, different days. But we were all living in the same world and we all experienced the same feelings. How was I ever to know that the boy with the crinkle-cut smile and bright eyes could ever possible know what it felt like to be hurt and lonely?

“I’m sorry,” I said and I didn’t really even mean to say it. It just sort of slipped out of me because I was feeling it so strongly in that moment.

I felt Liam shift under me and he said, “Don’t be. There’s nothing you could have done about any of it.”

I shook my head again, “No, not for that. For assuming all of the wrong things about you. For thinking that you were this pompous rich kid with no regard to other people’s feelings and lives. For thinking that you were that boy that no one could touch cause no one was on your level. It was awful of me; I still feel awful about it. I was so blind.”

“Those aren’t wrong though,” Liam said without missing a beat and I blinked, turning around in his arms to look up at him. He was almost smirking under the dull moonlight, “I am a pompous rich kid with no respect to other people’s feelings and lives—” my jaw almost hit the floor of his truck, his smirk turned into a grin of sheer pleasure, “—but I’m trying everyday to become an increasingly altruistic person. I’m getting there.”

I smiled up at the bright, broken, beautiful boy that held me in his arms. Right before my eyes something was changing, his jaw wasn’t as hard, his nose not as strong, his shoulders not as broad. In the pale moonlight this boy was morphing before me, not into anything less strong or brave or bold than I had perceived him as before, if anything he was stronger and bolder and braver than I could have ever imagined. But there was a vulnerability and a realness, a humanity buried deep deep inside. He was real, he was here, and I didn’t need to be afraid anymore.

I didn’t need to be nervous.