On my second day in Los Angeles, it suddenly struck Jared that I had no clothes. “Haven’t any of your sluts left anything?” Richard teased, to which Jared only scowled and I stuck out my tongue.
“I’ll just have to take you downtown to get something,” he concluded. I tried to protest; they had already given me a food and a place to stay. I didn’t need anymore of their charity. “It’s really okay. The shit Dread sold last night brought in almost one thirty. Stupid kids will pay way more that its worth because we’re easy access. And most of them don’t know better.” I nodded like I knew what they meant, like I was privy to the street price of a gram of cocaine.
“Get something sexy for the party tonight,” Richard said as I bent over to retie my Converse. I looked up, silently asking him to elaborate. “Well, yeah. We got four grams, sweetie. And enough weed to overdose on. That’s just begging for a party.” Light laughter, and then Jared was back from changing. He extended a hand to help me to my feet, but didn’t let go even after I was standing. His fingers were warm, entwined in my own. Richard glanced down at them and then back up to our faces. “Pick up some booze while you’re out.” His tone had changed.
Jared nodded, because he obviously hadn’t noticed. Then the blonde pulled me towards the door, out into the bright California sun. I looked up at the sky and smiled. Jared came around to open my door, closing it with a gentle thud once I was fully in. A moment later he had come around and gotten in as well. The engine clicked on, the radio coming into focus on that song where Kurt Cobain was wailing about draining the one he loved. I wondered if everyone saw love and death as tangled as Kurt and I did.
Jared lit up a cigarette, offering it over to me. I took it with a look of gratitude, sucking at it greedily. “So where do you like to shop?” I thought there was a trace of amusement in his voice.
“I dunno. Anywhere, really.” Back in Wintersburg, it had been a trip to go anywhere with decent clothing. Sometimes Brielle’s mom would drive us over to Phoenix, and we’d blow all our money in name brand stores. While she was pulling burgundy polos from the shelves of American Eagle, I usually stuck to the low key band tees. “Hot Topic, I guess, if there is one around here.”
Jared nodded, and started off in what must have been the right direction. I took another drag before handing it back. The blonde didn’t bring it to his lips, instead letting it burn between his fingers. “Can I ask you something, Ruthless?” Nodding was all the response necessary. “Why did you leave?”
I bit down hard on my bottom lip, finding some sort of clarity in the pain. He doesn’t need to know, the voice cried. But there was another voice, one that reminded me of all that this stranger had done for me, and didn’t he deserve to know why? My mind was swirling with images of white blonde hair and soft lips and red splatters and-
“Just…problems at school.” Only mostly a lie. With Brielle by my side I had been almost entirely protected, but there was still the occasional side comment I didn’t miss. Worthless. Cutter. Poser.
Jared nodded like he understood. Maybe be did. But he didn’t press me, and for that I was grateful. She was on my mind enough, and I didn’t need to offer any more invitations into my thoughts. The rest of the ride was silent, except for the occasional exhalation, or the rustle as we passed the cigarette, or Kurt’s last explanation: It is now my duty to completely drain you. I wanted to ask her if that was what she intended to do to me. Instead I focused out the window at the world I wasn’t so sure I belonged in.
Luke was just leaving as I arrived at her house. Judging from the sloppy grin he wore, I could tell they had most certainly made up. It was a miracle I managed to swallow my disgust instead of spilling it onto his shoes. I didn’t ring the bell, just crossed the threshold into the house. I only rang when her parents were home, and only to be polite. Now I did not want to be polite. Now I was pissed.
Brielle was still in bed, just laying there. She didn’t even move when she saw me in the doorway. She wasn’t smiling, but she didn’t look sad either. Mostly she just looked lost. Helpless. I hated to see her like that. Wished that she would find some sort of strength in me, like I did in her. Apparently that was too much for her, because she was looking positively drained.
“So,” I said, which seemed like the thing to say. Brielle angled her body so as to better face me. The blanket covering her fell back a bit; I tried not to notice the pale skin it exposed, the gently curves of her body. Oh, she was perfect. And I was leaning against the doorframe for support, begging for air in the vacuum that suddenly surrounded me.
The blonde cocked her head and smiled. Empty. “I think he thinks we’re back together,” she murmured.
“Aren’t you?” I asked.
Brielle shook her head, tangled strands of hair dancing around her face. “I just…I needed to feel something,” she explained softly. You don’t feel this? I didn’t speak. “Everything is so distant, Ruth. I hate this, but I cant seem to change it.”
Something in her eyes told me I could approach. I did so with hesitation, taking tentative steps toward the bed where she lay. I couldn’t stop my gaze from straying over her smooth, flawless body. Then I was perched on the edge, locking eyes with her because if I looked anywhere else I knew the temptation would devour me.
“You look upset, Ruthie.” Brielle sat up, running her long fingers through her hair. I so longed to hate her. But hate wasn’t so very far from love, was it? All such strong emotions, blurring, blurring… “Tell me what’s wrong.”
I shook my head as if to say nothing, but she knew me better. Narrowed eyes demanded an answer. Deep sigh. I searched for the words to say. “It’s just…I guess I just don’t understand anything.” Speaking broad was better than getting emotional. Brielle didn’t like too much emotion. I’d never realized till then just how cold the queen of Wintersburg could be.
“Like what?” She prompted.
Something inside of me must have snapped then, whatever barrier that had preserved the sanity I still held to. Because all of my words came pouring out, all of my secrets I’d held to for so long. I was thankful for the tears that blinded my vision of her, yet oh so ashamed of them as well.
“Brielle, I don’t know much about the world, okay? We’ve lived in the goddamn town our whole lives, and we don’t know anything about anywhere else. What I do know is that when I’m with you, there’s nowhere else I ever want to be. You keep me happy when nothing else even seems to exist. And I don’t expect you to feel the same, because shit like that doesn’t happen in real life. But I just wanted you to know that I love you. There, I said it. I love you, Brielle.”
With soft, gasping breaths, I realized that she was never going to reply, that I had just ruined everything and there would never be any going back to how things had been. So I did the first thing I could think of. I leaned forward until I could feel her bare skin through my thin shirt, until I thought we might actually be melding into the same person, and I kissed her.
There was nothing passionate about it. There was so great realization in which sparks went flying and everything fell into perfection. There was only my lips against hers and my heart beating fast enough for two. I pulled away before she had the chance to push me. And there she was, her wide eyes staring up at me. Cold.
I couldn’t take it. “Say something,” I spat, my words coming out harsher than I’d meant.
“Like what?” No anger. No sorrow. Nothing, really.
I didn’t reply, then, because it dawned on me that there was nothing to say. Everything was crumbling and it was all my fault. “I’m sorry,” I said quickly, pushing myself up to my feet. Brielle might have called out to me, but it may have all been in my head. I never looked back, never even paused in case she would ask me to stay. I scurried out the door and away from her, my final I love you still burning on my lips.