My books felt heavy in my hands as I pushed through the crowds in search for Tyler. My mind was still trying to make sense of the messages Lexi had sent me the night before while simultaneously trying to block them out. She couldn’t possibly hate me. She just couldn’t.
Hopefully Tyler would have some insight as to what was going on. Then again, Lexi and Melissa seemed to have some powerful sway over the darker scene. People appeared to believe them blindly whether their words made sense or not. Hell, I’d even followed them blindly, hadn’t I? If they hated me now- for reasons unknown- there was a possibility that, well, everyone might.
Eventually I stumbled across a familiar face, but it wasn’t that of Tyler. This face could have frozen me in place for hours on end, and I doubted he’d have even noticed. Or maybe noticed, but certainly not cared. Loren looked up and caught me staring. Still I could not tear my gaze away even as an amused smile erupted onto his lips. “Salem,” he called out in a seductive voice. Perhaps it was only seductive to me. I thought I felt a chill creeping up my spine. “Come sit with us.”
I would like to say that I thought of Lexi’s messages even for a moment. But with Loren’s gaze fixed upon me, my mind was void of anything but him. I had to force myself to look down as I approached where he was leaning against the wall. Everything about him screamed arrogance, from his tight black skinny jeans to his black button down and tie to the devious grin he wore as he watched me coming closer.
“Hi,” I said, a little too breathlessly.
“Hi,” Loren replied nonchalantly. “How are you?”
I opened my mouth to reply, for I was sure a million things could have been said to answer that question. Standing there trying to hide my awe, my complete lack of understanding as to how someone could appear so strong and so fragile all at once, I felt something within me shifting. And he did seem broken, but much better at hiding it than I. Then again, we were all broken, weren’t we? Loren Hale was no acception.
Anyway, I never got a chance to reply, for at that moment another advanced upon us, a girl with long tresses of light brown hair and a broad smile. I could feel my face and heart drop as she threw her arms around Loren’s neck and kissed him on the cheek. “Hey, baby,” she purred into his ear. Loren’s devilish expression still had not faltered. A spark lit in his eyes as he caught my gaze once again.
“Salem,” my name suddenly seemed harsh upon his lips. “This is Chelsea. My girlfriend.”
Her smile was perfect, innocent and sweet. “So, youre the Salem everyone’s been talking about. It’s nice to finally meet you.” Go figure. Loren Hale had a girlfriend, and she wasn’t even hate-able.
I forced a smile. “Hi, Chelsea.”
Tyler saved me then, appearing behind me and surprising me with a hug. I turned to face him, but not before casting one last glance at Loren. He had turned his full attention to Chelsea, listening to her talk and brushing back a strand of her auburn-ish hair.
I’d long since come to realize that life was full of unfair things. Walking off with Tyler, leaving Loren behind me, I told myself that maybe Lexi and Melissa hadn’t been so very wrong about him. Part of me wished that I could just turn the clocks back and never have agreed to sit with them. Of course, that was impossible. All I could do was more forward, push through the throngs with Tyler at my side, and pretend that Loren had not already utterly consumed my mind.
There was nothing as soothing as a massive glass of orange juice and the reverberating sounds of The Gaslight Anthem at full volume. I slipped into the melancholy sound of Brian Fallon, so raw and emotional. It was easy to pretend that life was simpler that way, that my best friend didn’t suddenly hate me and I wasn’t so pathetic to have let someone I didn’t even know infatuate me so.
I shook the thoughts away with a slight toss of my dark brown hair, forced myself to return my focus to the open biology book on the table before me. As if I particularly cared about parasites. I knew enough about emotional ones. How memories could bury themselves within one’s heart and suck away their life. I’d been there before, so near to death, at least emotionally.
The click of the door falling into place brought me out of my darkened tendrils of thought. “Turn that God-awful racket down,” my mother groaned as she trudged up the steps to our small apartment. Rolling my pale green eyes, I held the volume down until the music was barely even background noise.
Since the divorce, my mom and I had been less than close. When she wasn’t working she was out with her friends and on the rare occasion she happened to be home she was taking every opportunity to reprimand me. Since she’d been merely eighteen when she’d had me, most of her hopes and dreams had been pushed to the back burner. So aside from basically blaming me for ruining her life, she was also trying to relive it through me. Most people didn’t understand why I worried so much about school. Most didn’t understand that without it, I had nothing.
My mother quickly disappeared into her bedroom, mumbling something about her unwavering headache. I knew that meant she was off to pop a few Vicodin. Brushing back a strand of hair from my pale face, I turned my gaze back to the book. Slipped into a place somewhere between forced apathy and complete nothingness.
Days dragged by as they often did in Black Hills. In that town, in that cursed school, everyone felt the same as me. Everyone was just as lost. We all just had different ways of showing it, or coping with it. Still, there was a pattern there, and everything was routine. In but a week, I’d grown used to sitting with Loren, Chelsea, and the others, both in the mornings and at lunch. I still caught myself staring, falling into his bottomless eyes. On several occasions only the radiating hate from Chelsea caused me to turn away.
I knew that Lexi and Melissa were doing all they could to turn the population of Black Hills against me, and I could barely bring myself to care. I’d come to recognize that I was living for the moments Loren would speak to me, or glance at me, and when they came I felt the madness within me transform.
Loren had begun to introduce me to more of his friends as well. For the first time, I met Xander Ocher; I could feel the magic in him they spoke of, but I could also see the immense vacancy in his bright blue eyes. I met a boy named Dakota, who was supposedly still in love with Lexi but would die before he’d admit it. And I met Loren’s best friends, an optimistic blonde named Andrew, and a quiet sort of boy with light, wispy hair ad delicate looking eyes. His name was Terris, and I knew right away that he was Loren’s counterpart, and that he needed him more than anything else. As for Andrew, he had been through more emotional trauma than anyone deserved in one life, and yet he always found something new to smile about. I didn’t learn until later that Reina and Wynter Pewter had been his cousins, and from that moment I could never truly look at him the same again. I thought that many people were waiting for him to snap or break down. I wondered if his happiness was a way to prove them wrong, or if it was only a front. After all, there everyone was fronting at least a little bit.
That particular thought brought a chill up my spine, and I couldn’t help but ask myself what the real Loren Hale was like. If I really, truly wanted to find out.
March 9, 2010
Thanks for, like, being nice to me. It’s nice to know there’s someone there. Text me if you want. 262-604-8828.