Have you ever looked back and tried to figure out where your life took a wrong turn? The exact moment—that precise action—that turned your whole life to shit? And now you wish like hell that you could go back and change it?
Here’s life lesson number 1: You can never fucking go back. What’s done is done. Whatever damage you’ve caused is permanent. Life doesn’t have an undo button—no matter how much you wish it did.
Which leads me to life lesson number 2: Don’t waste your time wishing. It doesn’t work and you just wind up looking like a fucking loser. Don’t believe me? Let’s try a little experiment. Wish in one hand and shit in the other. Now tell me which hand filled up faster.
Life lesson number 3: Life is shitty. Fucking deal with it. You want something? Take it. Take it and fuck everything and everybody else. There is not a line outside your door waiting to hand it to you.
I can pinpoint the exact moment it all goes wrong for me. I do something that I’ve done probably fifty times before. Jessie has one rule for borrowing his equipment: Return it promptly. He was cool enough to hand it over, the least I can do is honor his simple request.
I leave the party, and my girl, to take Jessie’s shit back to him. That’s it. This simple fucking act that I’ve done so many times before. Only, when I come back, I’ve lost my girl. My best friend has betrayed me, and the new kid has everything that’s mine.
I lower myself onto the bed beside Hope and notice the spot’s warm, like someone had just been sitting in it. I hope it was Guy, because if it was Mason, I’m going to lose my shit with him. I don’t like the way he’s been looking at Hope. I don’t like the way she looks at him, either.
I’ve had this feeling lately, like this itch I can’t quite reach, and it’s been driving me insane. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or not, but I feel like something’s shifted between me and Hope and I’m scared we can’t get it back. I haven’t mentioned it to her. I’m too afraid to find out if I’m right.
I press into my girl and kiss her on the cheek. I want to remind the new dude she’s mine. I feel Hope’s body stiffen and my gaze automatically flicks to Mason. New or not, he gets what I’m doing and he doesn’t like it. His face is expressionless, but his body is coiled tight, his hands fisted at his sides. What the fuck? I shoot a questioning look at Guy. My best friend. Hope’s foster brother. My. Best. Friend.
My stomach churns from the guilt I read in his eyes as he looks away from me. I turn back to Hope and nuzzle her ear. “You smell good,” I say softly as I try to fight against the panic flowing through my veins. I just want to get her away from Mason. I want her to myself, like it used to be. “Let’s go somewhere.” Mason clenches his jaw and I add, “Alone.”
“Yeah, okay,” she agrees. “We need to talk.” But she isn’t even looking at me. Her eyes are glued to Mason and he—fuck—he looks relieved, and happy, and fucking hopeful as hell.
My head is getting hot from the blood rushing there. Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion. Guy says something and Mason follows him out. I don’t know how long we sit in the uncomfortable silence, but I feel like I’m going to puke. So I turn to her, hoping she’ll make everything all right.
“What’s going on?”
And then she just does it. She rips my fucking heart out of my chest. “We need a break.”
We need a break. We need a break. We. I stare at the door Mason just walked through while her words replay in my head.
And then I fucking laugh. Not because it’s funny. It’s anything but funny. I laugh because I was right. As much as I tried to ignore it, hoped I was wrong, wished for it to not be true, deep down I knew it. “We don’t need a break. You do.” I shake my head hard. “Why? Or should I say who?” I already know why. I know who. I just want to hear her say it.
She glares at me like she has a right to be pissed. “We had a deal,” she fires back.
“Mm, yeah. Our non-committal relationship that isn’t really a relationship. Except it is. For me. It is.” It always was. From the moment I met her, I knew I wanted her for life. How can she do this to me? I’ve given her over a year and this is all I get? “So that’s it? We’re done? Do I even get to know why? What I did wrong?” Maybe I can fix this. I can change. I’ll be whatever she wants. Whatever she needs.
I love her.
I never told her that. I should have told her.
Hope’s breathing increases until she’s panting, fighting for air. Fuck. She’s having a panic attack. Because of me.
She pulls her hair, something she does when she’s trying to calm herself. I know it’s going to get bad any second. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” she whispers. I swallow roughly. Yeah, it’s bad when she starts whispering. “I just need…” she trails off, searching for the right word. Or name.
Hope stands up abruptly and flies toward the door. I shoot up after her as she tears the door open so hard it slams against the wall, shaking the windows. I pull her into me, hugging her to my chest. I wish this was enough. I wish I was enough. But it never is. I never am.
“Calm down,” I say quietly. “It’s okay.” It’s not okay, but I lie to her, hoping it will work even though I know it won’t. “Just calm down.”
She shakes her head, back and forth quickly, her brightly colored hair brushing against my chin. I can smell her fruity shampoo and even with the pain suffocating me, even with her freaking out against my chest, I acknowledge the fact that I love the way she smells. And I realize how much I’m going to miss her scent.
Shit. She can barely catch her breath. I can’t do this. I don’t know how to make her better.
“Get Guy,” she pleads. I let her go and move as fast as I can down the stairs and out the back door. As soon as he sees me—he knows. His blue eyes darken until it’s hard to distinguish the color. He breaks away from the group he’s talking to and Mason follows.
“Where is she?” Guy asks.
“Room,” I pant. I watch them run back inside and I take a second to breathe. To orient myself with all the fucked up occurrences of the night. I wonder for a moment if this is really my life. It can’t be. It just can’t be.
When I get to Hope’s room, it all hits me at once. This is really happening. She doesn’t want me anymore. She wants him. She needs him.
Mason is kneeling in front of her and she’s clinging to him like he’s her savior. As if he’s all she’ll ever want and need for the rest of her life. And I just…snap.
It’s one of those moments I have often. I know I should pause. I should stop, take a deep breath, walk away. But I can’t. All these emotions attack me at once, overwhelming any good sense I may have had. When I get like this—I can’t fucking take it.
“This is why.” It’s not a question. I don’t need to ask anymore. “I knew it.” I want to hurt her. I want to fucking crush them all. Mason for stealing the only girl I have ever loved. Guy for betraying me. He knew. I know he knew. There’s no way he didn’t.
And Hope—I want to hurt her most of all for the knife she lodged in my chest. She twists it now as her eyes confirm what doesn’t need confirmed.
My brain understands it. But my heart keeps hoping this is some kind of horrible nightmare. This is not my life.
I laugh again and the sound is so dark and broken I cringe. Why does it hurt so badly? I cross my arms over my chest as if it will help the pain there.
I step all the way into her room. And then I smirk at her. I want her to know it’s coming. I want her to realize that I have the ability to crush her too.
“Does he know?” I ask, referring to her secret. Her demon. Nobody knows but me. Me. I kept her secret all this time. I did that. Not Mason.
“Don’t,” she begs.
But I just smile bigger. I know I’m hurting her and it fucking feels good. It takes some of my pain away, even if only temporarily. “Hm-mm,” I say casually. “He must not.” I cock my head to the side in the shittiest, most condescending way possible. “Do you think he’ll still want you when he finds out?”
“Dude, what the fuck? Back the fuck off,” Mason spits.
His voice grates on my nerves. I want to kill him. Part of me wants to jump on his chest and beat him to death with my bare fucking hands. It takes everything in me to not act on it.
I don’t take my eyes off Hope. I want her to witness everything I’m saying and doing. I want her to feel what she’s done to me. “NO! You back the fuck off. I’m having a conversation with Hope.”
“Park, dude, let’s go for a walk,” Guy says. He sounds far away even though I can see him in my peripheral vision. I ignore him. Fuck him.
Fuck them all.
“Did you know Hope cuts herself?” I drop the bomb as quickly as she cut my heart out.
She lunges at me, slapping me across the face. “You motherfucker. Get the fuck out.” Her voice sounds lifeless and I already feel guilty for what I’ve done. Panic pulses through my entire body. It’s over. It’s really over. I sealed the deal with that one sentence.
I don’t know what happened in the hour I was gone to take Jessie his equipment, but she was mine before I left, and Mason’s when I got back. Here’s life lesson number 4: Do not—under any circumstances—fall in love.
© Cheryl McIntyre