Unraveling You, Page 4Jessica Sorensen
The death glare vanishes from Lanson’s face when Lyric looks back at him. “Oh, time for class.” Lyric springs up and grabs my hand, hauling me to my feet.
That move earns me the darkest scowl from Lanson. I have a feeling things are going to get a hell of a lot worse.
I wish I could follow Lyric, but the teacher splits up the class—boys on one side, girls on the other. Then we’re divided into teams of three and handed a basketball. Athletics was never my thing, but I try my best, even when I start to get criticized by Lanson, who of course has to be on the team I’m playing against.
He smirks at me as he throws the ball over my head to another member of the team then “accidentally” elbows me in the gut.
“Where are you from?” he asks as we both jog down the court toward the ball.
“Nowhere important.” I dodge to the right when the ball is thrown again and surprisingly catch it.
My shoe squeaks against the floor as he knocks the ball out of my hand before I can even start dribbling. “One thing’s for sure; you sure as hell aren’t from here.” He stares me up and down as if I’m trash. “I heard you were adopted or some shit. Not sure why the hell anyone would want you.” He jabs me in the side with his elbow.
It takes all my strength not to clock him in the face.
“And why the hell is Lyric Scott hanging out with you?” Another elbow rammed to the rib cage, this time with so much force it nearly knocks the wind out of me.
For a brief moment, I tumble into a memory from two years ago. The exact same thing occurred then, only it was an adult who took the air from me. As fast as I fall into the memory, it fizzles out like a flame.
“I mean, I get that she thinks she needs to be friends with everyone,” Lanson continues, “but seriously, she’s sinking to the bottom of the barrel with you.”
When he stomps on my foot, I can’t take it anymore. I was taught not to fight back when I was younger, but once I entered the system, all bets were off, and I did pretty much whatever the hell I wanted. I was going to try to be better, though, because the Gregorys seemed genuinely nice, but fuck it.
I push him. “Dude, shut the fuck up.”
A shit-eating smirk spreads across his face at my reaction. “Or what?” He inches toward me and gives me a shove back. “What are you going to do about it? Because in case you haven’t heard, I’m the shit around here.”
“Wow, there’s an accomplishment,” I retort, regaining my balance. “The shit of Glensview High School. I’m sure that’s going to get you far in life.”
“Way farther than you,” he bites back as he glances at my piercings, black nail polish, and gauges. “Seriously, I bet if they searched your room, they’d find dead animals everywhere.”
I inhale and exhale, trying to stay calm. “And if they searched yours, I’m sure they’d find steroids.”
His smirk shifts to a scowl. Then he’s spinning around to catch the ball, but mid-turn, he brings his elbow up and slams it hard into my face. Blood gushes from my nostrils and pain radiates all the way up to my head as I hunch over, groaning.
Fuck that hurt.
Goddamnit, I hate life.
Life always hurts.
I should have just taken the bottle of pills this morning. Spared myself another day’s worth of pain.
I’m about to stand upright and go after him—who gives a shit about the consequences—but then I hear a burst of commotion and someone shouting.
When I glance up, Lanson is on his knees, cupping his own nose, and Lyric’s standing in front of him with her hands on her hips.
“Next time, it’s going to be my fist, asshole,” she says to him then reels around to me. “Are you okay?” She lowers my hands from my nose, wincing at the sight. “We need to get you to the nurse.”
“What did you do to him?” My voice sounds all nasally.
“I threw the basketball at his face.” She winks at me. “I told you I got your back, dude.”
I’m not sure how to respond. No one has ever had my back. Not even my brother and sister, but that wasn’t their fault. None of us could take care of ourselves at the time, let alone each other. It feels nice. More than nice. Nice is something new to me. Different. For a moment, I feel different.
And for a fleeting, life-changing moment, I’m kind of glad I didn’t take those pills this morning.
“So what happened?” is the first thing Ayden says when I approach his locker after school.
“Not much. I got detention for a few days, but the principal loves me and always goes easy on me.” I slide my backpack on. “What about you?”
He shrugs as he retrieves his bag out of his locker and unzips it. “Nothing, really. I went to the nurse. She put some ice on my nose then sent me on my way.”
I squint at his nose. “It looks really gnarly.”
He touches the brim of it and winces. “It feels really gnarly.” He removes a few textbooks out of his locker, stuffing them in his bag. “How much trouble do you think we’re going to be in when we get home?”
“You know, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into that,” I say as he slams his locker. “And I’ve come up with a plan.”
“A plan?” he questions as he secures his backpack onto his back. “What kind of plan?”
“Well, the best bet is to play Uncle Ethan right from the start, because he gets really uncomfortable over almost everything.” I link arms with him as we start down the busy hall. I’ve been touching him a lot today, and while I can tell it bothers him, I’m not going to stop until he asks me to. I like touching him. It feels like he’s mine, which makes me feel special. “If we can have him convinced that it was an accident right from the start, then we should be good to go when we get home.”
“It kind of was an accident,” he points out as we exit the doors and enter the deliciously warm sunlight.
“Yeah, but I kind of have a habit of doing stuff like this,” I explain as we cross the freshly mowed grass toward the loading area in front of the school. “You’ll get off the hook easily, but I might have to do some time.”
His arm flexes beneath my touch. “I’m not going to let you get into trouble over this—over me. I’ll make sure of that.”
“Aw, so you’re the hero type.” I playfully bump my shoulder into his. “Never would have guessed that about you.”
He comes so close to smiling. Just a little more joking, and I know I can make it happen.
I open my mouth to crack another joke, but snap my jaw shut when I spot the Gregory’s gigantic sedan parked amongst the other line of cars. “Crap.”
“What?” Ayden tracks my gaze to the driver’s seat where Aunt Lila is sitting. And in the passenger seat is my mother. “Okay, so now what do we do?”
I overdramatically bobble my head back. “Now, we go face the music.”
Aunt Lila is so grateful for my stepping in for Ayden that she actually starts to tear up. She seems heartbroken that someone would want to hurt him. She keeps saying to him, “You’ve already been through so much. This isn’t fair.” I can tell Ayden gets really uncomfortable with the waterworks. Thankfully, my mom intervenes and calms Lila down. Then, she turns around in her seat and lays my punishment on me.
The punishment is the stupidest thing ever, though. One week of cleaning my room and one week of hanging out with Ayden after school. Plus, I have to help out at the shelter on Thanksgiving. Like that’s a punishment. I have to clean my room anyway and the shelter thing is a tradition.
After we get home, I end up in Ayden’s room, sprawled on the bed with the door agape. Lila keeps coming in to check on us, as if she half expects to catch us naked and fondling each other. Fat chance that’ll happen. Even though Ayden is ridiculously adorable in a self-tortured artist, gothic, I’m-internally-tortured sort of way, I’m saving myself for someone who will capture my wild soul and tame it. I know I sound like a sap, but I blame it on my parents’ undying love story. Even after twent
y years of marriage, they're still ridiculously in love, so the bar for my own love story is set pretty high.
“Are you sure you two don’t want a snack?” Lila sticks her head into the room for the umpteenth time.
Ayden nods as he situates against the headboard, working on his English assignment. “I’m sure.”
She looks at me and I shrug. “I ate a buttload of cookies before I came up here.”
“Okay,” she says disappointedly then leaves us to get back to our homework.
The soft tune of “Cardiac Arrest” by Bad Suns flows from the stereo as Ayden continues to jot answers down, but. I’m more fixated on him than my assignment.
“So, did the gauges hurt when you got them?” I ask as I doodle thorny vines all over my math paper.
When he glances up from his paper, strands of his black hair hang in his grey eyes. “I don’t know. Probably about as bad as your ear piercings.”
I touch the rose earrings in my ears then kneel up on the mattress. “What about tattoos?”
“What about them?”
“Do you have any?”
“I’m only sixteen.”
“Yeah, so.” I arch my back as I stretch. “I bet you do, don’t you?” When he wavers, I immediately perk up. “Where are they?”
“There’s no they.” He sets down the pencil in the spine of the book and flexes his fingers like he has a cramp. “Just one.”
“Can I see it?” I eagerly move over to sit down beside him.
His expression plummets. “I don’t think …” He trails off when my mouth sinks. “Fine, I’ll show you, but only if you promise not to ask questions.”
I draw an X over my chest with my finger. “I promise.”
A nervous exhale escapes his lips as he reaches for the hem of his black T-shirt. Excitement bubbles inside me as he lifts it up and shows me his stomach then his side. Black ink stains his flesh in swirls and patterns that form a jagged circle. The tattoo doesn’t look professional by any means. In fact, it looks as though someone branded him with an iron rod then dumped ink into the wound.
“Whoa. Does it mean anything?” I extend my hand forward to touch the tattoo, but he quickly jerks his shirt down.
“I don’t know if it does or not, since I can’t really remember how it got there,” he says coldly. He collects his pencil and returns his book to his lap. “And you promised me you wouldn’t ask questions.”
He begins working on the assignment again, leaving me with so many questions I feel like I’m going to combust. There’s so much I don’t know about him, and so much I want to know.
“Can I just learn one tiny thing about you?” I clasp my hands in front of me. “Pretty please. It doesn’t have to be about the tattoo.” When he sighs, I add, “Okay, I’ll tell you something that no one else knows about me first.” I deliberate what to divulge. I’m not much of a secret keeper, but there is one thing I never tell anyone. “Okay, so no one knows this, but I totally suffer from stage fright, which is a big, huge problem since I want to be the lead singer in a fucking awesome rock band one day.” I pat him on the arm. “See, not so bad. Now it’s your turn.”
He stares at me with uncertainty.
“Just one thing.” I hold a finger up. “That’s not so bad, right?”
He considers my proposal, and then in the softest voice admits, “I’m terrified of the dark.” His gaze drops to the scars on his hand.
“See, that wasn’t so bad.” I try to remain cheery even though he looks absolutely horrified that he just admitted that secret to me. “And now I know what to get you for your birthday.”
“And what’s that?” A frown etches into his face.
I wink at him, hoping to cheer him up. “A nightlight.” I settle down in the bed beside him. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“I wasn’t worried about that.”
“Then why do you look so upset?”
He shrugs, staring at the foot of the bed. “It’s nothing.” His gaze collides with mine, and he gapes at me in bafflement. “It’s just … how can you be so happy all the time?”
His question makes me pause and really think about who I am.
“I’m not that happy, am I?” Am I?
“Kind of. I mean, I barely know you, but … you just smile a lot.” I self-consciously bring my fingers to my lips, but he swiftly catches my hand, stopping me. The contact sends fireworks blazing across my skin and makes me want to smile even more. “I don’t mean it as a bad thing. I just wish I could … understand it.” His shoulders sag as he removes his hand.
Such a sad boy.
With sad eyes.
And a sad heart.
I need to make him happy.
“I’ll make you smile a lot in the future,” I promise him after the silence finally gets to me. “You just wait and see. I will drive you so damn crazy, to the brink of insanity, where all you can do is smile. My form of torture will be lots and lots of jokes that will be so hilarious they’ll make you pee your pants.”
He snorts a laugh but then his eyes widen.
I thought I was being funny, but maybe I scared him. Some people say I come on too strong.
“I was just kidding,” I say. “Sort of.”
He searches my eyes, his forehead creasing. “I’ll be right back,” he mumbles as he scrambles to his feet. He bends over to unzip his bag then digs an orange bottle out before running out of the room.
Okay, maybe I need to tone it down a bit. Perhaps he’s not quite ready for my sparkling personality and odd sense of humor.
Tone it down, Lyric.
It’s not so complicated.
When he reappears in the doorway, his hands are empty and he seems a bit more relaxed.
“Everything okay?” I cautiously ask as he climbs back onto his bed and opens up his Life Sciences book.
He nods, propping the book on his lap. “Yeah, but could you help me with this assignment?” He avoids eye contact with me, and his fingers tremble as he picks up the pencil. “Science really isn’t my thing.”
I want to ask him about the bottle. About the fear in his eyes. Crack his head open and see what’s inside. Write songs about his inner workings. But I also promised I’d make him smile from now on, and my questions seem to have the opposite effect on him.
So I do what he asks and help him, silently telling myself that one day he’ll trust me enough that I’ll be able to learn what makes him tick. Then I will write the longest, most meaningful song about everything I’ve discovered.
Everything about him.
Even his secrets.
I’ve had the same dream for over two years now. Claws. Bleeding flesh. Scars. Scars. Scars. Pain. Metal. Biting. My Flesh. Over and over again. The images are so vague, yet bright as my mind battles not to fully see what happened to me during that week a couple of years ago.
God, I hate this.
The chains were always the worst. They’re what I remember the most. Other details are hazy, though, like the people I met while I was locked up. The people who stole everything from me and my brother and sister.
I thought the dreams would go away once I was adopted, or at least hoped they would. But the memories still haunt me most nights, and sometimes during the day when I’m awake. They’re extra worse tonight, probably because tomorrow marks a month since I left the shithole of a home I was in before I ended up at the Gregorys. One month since I started my new life. Yet, even a month later, I worry that when I wake up, my nightmares are reality—that this isn’t really my life.
Music is the only thing that can calm me down. Well, that and the crazy black light nightlight Lyric bought me for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. She thought she was being funny when she gave it to me, but I was oddly touched that she remembered my stupid confession about being afraid of the dark.
Fortunately, I never told h
er why I was afraid. Then again, I don’t even know the whole reason since I blocked out most of the darker stuff that happened to me. No matter how hard my therapist tries to unravel my mind, they still refuse to surface.
After turning on the black light, everything white in my room glowing neon, I put in my earbuds then toss and turn for half the night until I fall asleep around two in the morning.
Hours later, I’m woken up out of a nightmare by the soft sound of breathing. And not mine. Someone is lying next to me in bed, and for a moment, I have a panic attack, thinking that somehow I’ve traveled back in time when I was never alone. Then I catch the faintest scent of strawberries and relax. The person lying next to me is the same person who’s been climbing into my bed almost every morning since I moved here.