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Rules of a Rebel and a Shy Girl, Page 19

Jessica Sorensen


  He traces the folds of my fingers. “You’re not fine. I know you. I know you well enough to know you’re worrying about your mom. Just like how I know those bags under your eyes are because you didn’t sleep last night, probably because you worried about your mom and bills and God knows what else. I can help you if you’ll just let me.” His voice softens. “Just say yes, move in with me, and let me take some of the stress out of your life.”

  He offers too much.

  I want it too much.

  “You’ve already taken care of my sorry ass too many times.” I rub my free hand across my forehead, feeling a headache coming on.

  I wish I could fully explain to him why I can’t accept his help. Explain that I hate relying on people. I need to take care of myself. I hate trusting people when they generally break that trust, like my stupid father who thinks he can walk out then just come back and think everything is going to be okay. Like my mom who rips me to shreds when I don’t do what she wants. I want to explain how I’m scared all the damn time of failing, of turning into my mother, of being a terrible person, getting perfection then losing it, of losing Beck, of getting my heart broken. And not just broken, but broken by him …

  What the hell? When did that change? When did I stop worrying about getting my heart broken in general to just worrying about Beck smashing my heart to pieces?

  Blood roars in my eardrums as all my fears and worries pour through me simultaneously. Panic strangles my throat. I’m about to fall off that cliff. A fall that I think has been coming for months now.

  “Calm down and take a deep breath, Wills. Everything’s okay.” He squeezes my hand. “I’m going to let go of your hand. I need to get something out of my pocket.”

  I obey, inhaling and exhaling as he reaches into his pocket. I expect him to take out his phone, so when he sets a folded piece of paper onto the table, confusion pierces through my storm of anxiety.

  “What is that?” I ask as he slides the paper across the table toward me. “Is that the list I gave you?”

  He shakes his head, his eyes fixed on me. “It is a list, though, of all the reasons you should move in with me.”

  When I don’t pick the paper up, he takes my hand and sets it in my palm.

  “I knew that talking to you probably wouldn’t work,” he says. “You need to have something you can really look at and think about.”

  I fold my fingers around the paper as tears threaten to pour out of my eyes. How can he know me so well? How can he see me?

  What else has he seen?

  I hold on to the paper, too afraid to look at the list, afraid of what’s on there, of what’s not on there. Afraid I want what’s on there.

  “Beck, I really love that you want to help me—I do,” I say, trying to breathe and think straight. “And taking care of me all these years when you didn’t have to … There aren’t even words that can express how grateful I am. You’re my hero. Seriously, I don’t know where I’d be without you … if I’d even be alive. Which might sound dramatic, but I’m not kidding. There’ve been so many times when you’ve picked me up and saved me from sleeping in a car and getting harassed by drug dealers. Or that time my mom dropped me off on a street corner near a crack house because she wanted me to go buy drugs for her, and when I wouldn’t, she got pissed and kicked me out of the car. You came and picked me up, and I was so scared because there were those people who kept trying to convince me to come into their houses … And I really thought they were going to kill me …” I trail off as the tears start to fall. “But you don’t have to take care of me anymore. Trust me, if you knew the whole story, you’d stop trying so hard.”

  “You’re wrong.” He grabs my hand as I shake my head and start to pull away. “Maybe you should tell me the whole story and let me be the judge of that.”

  I can’t tell him.

  Won’t.

  I won’t risk losing him.

  I can’t handle letting him look at me differently.

  I want him to always look at me like he’s looking at me now.

  With compassion.

  And need.

  Want.

  And something else that scares me half to death, something I’m pretty sure might break rule number three on the list.

  But, as my lips part, all of it spills out, foul, ugly words that sum up the bad choices I’ve made over the last couple of months. My job. The lies I told him. How much I hate myself. My dad showing up. How much I think I might hate him and my mom. That all I am is hate anymore. And how he can’t want something so ugly and messed up?

  When I finish, there’s only silence. No one moves. Breathes. Even when my name is called to come get our order, neither of us budge or say anything.

  Really, is there anything left to say?

  “I can’t breathe,” I whisper, staring at the table, unable to look at him.

  I want to take it all back, but I can’t.

  My chest splinters apart as the silence goes on.

  Pressure builds inside me.

  Hold it back, Willow. Do not lose your shit.

  “Wills, I didn’t even realize it was that—”

  He gets cut off by chair legs scraping against the floor as I push to my feet.

  I dash away from him like a coward and run into the bathroom, locking myself in a stall. Then I slide to the floor, clutching Beck’s list while sobbing my heart out. Just. Like. My. Mom.

  I don’t know how long I cry, but by the time the tears stop, my eyes are swollen and my chest hurts. I think about getting up, but moving means facing Beck, and I don’t think I’m ready yet. That is, if he’s even still out there.

  Does it matter? You have to pull yourself off the bathroom floor eventually.

  Swallowing down the shame and agony, I reach for some tissue, but then I note the list clutched in my hand. I unfold my fingers from around it. Do I dare read it? Can I handle what’s on it?

  Does it even matter anymore?

  Knowing Beck will probably never talk to me again, I take a deep breath and start reading.

  All the reasons you should move in with me:

  Because it would make your life a bit easier.

  Because it will eliminate some of your stress.

  Because you won’t have to worry about trying to sleep through loud, obnoxious parties. In fact, you’ll always get final say in whether we have a party.

  My place is closer to the school, which means you won’t have to drive around in that piece of shit car so much.

  Because I love having you around.

  Because we can have pillow fights at two o o’clock in the morning.

  And don’t forget those midnight talks we always have. Only, instead of having them over the phone, we can lie in bed together and talk.

  Because I’ll be the most awesome roommate ever.

  Because, while you think you don’t deserve someone helping you, you do.

  Because I made a promise to you when we were younger, and making sure I keep that promise is absolutely the most important thing to me.

  Because every single night you’re at that apartment, I lie awake in bed, worrying about you.

  Because your mom doesn’t deserve to have you around.

  Because you shouldn’t be paying for your mom’s rent when she treats you so poorly.

  Because I want you to live with me more than I think you realize.

  Because you’re my best friend, and I care about you more than anything in the world.

  I have more, but I’ll stop there for now. If you’re stubborn about this, I’ll make a list long enough that it takes you forever to read, and then you’ll just be stuck with me until you’re finished.

  Care.

  Care.

  Care.

  He cares about me more than anything in the world?

  By the time I reach the end, I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

  “I want to take it all back,” I whisper through the tears. “Not just the lies, but the decisions.” />
  That’s the thing. I can’t take stuff back, no matter how much I want to.

  I don’t know how long I stay in the stall, letting tears slip from my eyes, but eventually, I manage to drag my ass off the filthy tile floor.

  Unlatching the door, I open the stall and walk out and immediately grind to a halt, blinking and blinking and blinking again, wondering if stress has finally made me hallucinate. No matter how many times I blink, Beck remains leaning against the bathroom door with my bag in his hand and a look on his face like he’s about to approach a skittish cat.

  “What are you doing in here?” I rub my eyes, trying to wipe away all the tears. “This is the girls’ bathroom.”

  “Really?” He mocks being shocked. “Good thing you told me. I was about to pee in one of the sinks.”

  I smile, but the movement aches. “You’re such a little rule breaker.”

  “I know.” His intense gaze causes me to step back.

  I take another step back as he approaches me, only stopping to avoid bumping into the wall.

  “Don’t worry; I’m not going to break your rules,” he says, stopping in front of me.

  Breaking the rules was actually the last thought on my mind.

  I swallow hard, begging my voice to come out semi-normal. “Why are you in here?”

  “To make sure you’re okay.” His gaze travels across me before coming to rest on my eyes.

  I can’t read him at all, so I wait for him to say something. All he does is take my hand, brings my palm to his lips, and places a soft kiss against my skin.

  “Let me help you, please,” he whispers. “I can’t stand seeing you like this … in so much pain.”

  I choke on my next breath as tears flood my eyes. “How can you even want to anymore … after what I told you?”

  He places another kiss on my palm. “Nothing you said changed how I feel about you. If anything, it just makes me even more determined to get you to move in with me and get you away from that shit.”

  “No one forced me to do it, Beck,” I say, shivering from another kiss. “I chose to work at that place because the money was good, and I was tired of working three jobs and still barely being able to pay the bills. I chose to lie about it because I was too much of a coward to face up to my bad decisions.”

  “We all make bad decisions. You know me well enough to know how many times I’ve fucked up.”

  “Just because your dad thinks you fuck up, doesn’t mean you actually do.”

  “That’s completely untrue. And only you see it that way because you’re a good person who only wants to see the good in me.”

  “I’m not a good person,” I choke out.

  “Yes, you are.” He touches his lips to my palm again.

  “No. I’m. Not.” I’m losing the battle, my will, my everything.

  Another kiss. Then another. “You need to stop thinking so poorly of yourself and start seeing yourself for who you are: a kind, caring, beautiful, strong girl who’s survived the shitty hand she was dealt and come out on top. Who graduated, got into college, and paid for her own way. Who took care of her mom when she was way too young to be doing so. Who cares about other people so fucking much she lets herself break apart to take care of them. I just wish you’d let other people care about you … Let me care about you.”

  Care.

  Care.

  Care.

  He cares about me.

  My mom was wrong.

  Maybe she was wrong about everything. Maybe not all guys bail.

  Beck hasn’t bailed, and he saw me at my worst. And I didn’t break when I thought he left. I picked myself up off that bathroom floor.

  I want to kiss him so badly I can barely breathe. The only way I can think of to get the air back into my lungs is to seal my lips to his.

  So, I do.

  His lips part in shock, and I almost pull back, fearing he doesn’t want this anymore after what I told him. Then his arms loop around my waist, and he presses me so closely there’s no room left to breathe. Air doesn’t seem so important anymore. Just kissing him. Touching him. Feeling safe.

  He always makes me feel so safe.

  Tears burn my eyes as I realize why that might be.

  Overwhelmed, I pull back enough to get air. Beck rests his forehead against mine, his erratic breathing caressing my cheeks.

  “Are you okay?” he whispers, grasping my waist.

  I shake my head then nod, so unsure of everything. “I don’t really know …”

  He tucks my head underneath his chin and picks me up in his arms. “Everything’s going to be okay. We’ll get you through this.”

  The “we’ll” part breaks something inside me, because it makes me realize I’m no longer alone in this—that I’m choosing not to be. I latch on to him, holding on for dear life. And he does the same, maybe even holding on more tightly.

  The end of the list…

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Beck

  I didn’t expect today to go down like it did. Sure, I knew Willow had secrets, but the weight she was carrying around was heavier than I thought. How she even managed to carry all of that shit around with her is mind-boggling. What’s even more astonishing is how much she blames herself. Seeing the pain connected to her nearly tears my heart in half.

  As she grasps me like I’m her lifeline with her legs and arms wrapped around me, I hold on to her with everything I have in me, afraid to ever put her down again. When a woman enters the bathroom and starts having a shitfit over me being in there, though, I know it’s time to leave.

  That doesn’t mean I’m letting Willow go anywhere.

  “Will you come back to my place with me?” I whisper in her ear.

  She bobs her head up and down. “O-okay.”

  The woman shoots me a nasty look as I pass by her, heading for the door with Willow in my arms.

  “You’re lucky I don’t get the manager,” she sneers with her hands on her hips. “It’s so disrespectful for you to be in here.”

  “Oh, no, not the manager.” I slip my arm underneath Willow’s butt and hold her against me while I maneuver the door open.

  “You little punk,” the woman snaps. “What’s your name so I can go report you?”

  “It’s go-fuck-yourself-and-leave-me-alone. I’m trying to help a friend,” I retort back before stepping out and letting the door shut.

  Willow chuckles with her face pressed against my shoulder. “That was kind of rude.”

  “No, what was rude was her making a big deal when it was clear I was in there helping out a friend who is having a really hard time.” I make my way past the tables, disregarding the stares we get.

  “Yeah, I guess you might be right.” She lifts her head, her muscles tightening. “Maybe you should put me down. People are staring.”

  “Well, people need to mind their own business,” I say loudly enough for everyone to hear then smile when some of them look away.

  Willow rests her head on my shoulder with her face turned toward my neck. “You know, I’m always saying you’re my hero, but you really do feel like one right now … carrying me out of here like this. It seems very hero-ish.”

  “That’s because I am secretly a hero. A superhero, actually.” As I reach the front doors, I turn around and walk through backward.

  When I step outside, I head for the crosswalk. Neither of us speaks, we only hold on to each other as I cross the road and hike across the grass toward the parking lot. When I reach my car, I open the passenger door with one hand then set her in the seat and place her bag on her lap. Keeping my eyes on her, I close the door then hurry around to the other side.

  Once I get in and start up the engine, I back out of the parking space and steer out onto the road. The longer we drive in silence, the more I want to say something. But I’m not sure what to say, and honestly, I want her to talk first so I know she’s ready to talk.

  “She broke my snow globes,” she says so abruptly I jump.

  Gripp
ing the steering wheel, I let my heart settle before I speak. “Who did?”

  She turns her head away from the window, her eyes glassy with tears. “My mom. When she asked me for money yesterday, she broke them ... all except the one you gave me, which was completely by accident, but I was still so glad.” She rolls her eyes at herself and sighs. “I don’t know why I just said that. Out of all the things I could’ve said, that’s my opening line.”

  “I’m glad you told me.” I reach over and lace our fingers together, hoping she doesn’t pull away. “What I don’t like is that she broke them. I know how much they meant to you.”

  She stares at our interlaced fingers. “They only meant something to me because my dad was gone and I thought I’d never see him again. Now that I have … I’m kind of glad they broke.” She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, sniffling before lifting her gaze to mine. “How bad of a person does it make me that I want to forget my dad exists?”

  I shake my head. “It doesn’t make you a bad person at all. I want to forget my dad exists, and he didn’t even walk out on me.”

  She angles her body toward the console. “Yeah, but he treats you so poorly. He doesn’t even deserve to be in your life.”

  “And neither does your dad if you don’t want him to,” I tell her, skimming my thumb along the back of her hand. “You earned the right to hate him the second he bailed on you. You don’t owe him anything, just like you don’t owe your mom anything. The only person you do owe something to is yourself.”

  “I don’t agree with you,” she mutters. “I haven’t done anything to deserve anything.”

  I think she’s referring to that job again. When she told me about it, I wanted to track her mom down and scream at her for being a shitty parent and making Willow think she needed to do anything to take care of her, things that are causing her self-torment. And her dad isn’t any better. He never should’ve left her to begin with. Although, after telling me about the creeper he chased off last night, I’m glad he decided to try to come back into Willow’s life. But fuck, the fact that she was even in that situation makes me want to lock her up and keep her safe forever, even if that does make me sound like a controlling asshole.