It proved difficult since my heart was screaming out for him, but I was more than careful to avoid Loren’s gaze at school the next day. I stopped next to Andrew, hoping that maybe I could draw strength from him. I wondered if he knew the soothing effect he had on others, if he knew just how strong he was.
A squeal of a giggle erupted from beside me. I blinking longer than necessary before the sadistic part of me made me look. Chelsea was there, cheer and menace, though the latter was carefully disguised. Loren had come up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist lovingly, or maybe possessively, his head resting on her shoulder. Oh, how I hated her. How I wanted to grab her by a fistful of hair and drag her from his arms. She didn’t belong there in the comfortable compassion of his grasp. But then, a part of hating her was knowing that I so longed to be in her place. And that was the worst part of all.
A warm hand on my forearm caused me to turn away, thankfully, back towards Andrew. He didn’t speak, but his expression said it all. I could tell that he knew. He knew how hard I’d fallen. How hard I was still falling. “We should hang out soon,” Andrew said off-handedly. Distracting me, perhaps, or trying to. It most certainly was not working.
“Actually,” I said suddenly, “on Friday I promised my cousin I’d go to that Twilight party at Walmart.” I raised my brows ever so slightly. Of course, the invitation was for more than just Andrew. Did I truly expect Loren to want anything to do with me after his harsh words the night before? No. Bt if there was even a miniscule possibility, I would take it. From the corner of my eye, I glanced over at Chelsea. If I had to resort to more degrading methods…I tucked that thought away for later.
Andrew cocked his head, contemplating. “I’ll see what I can do,” he replied then.
“Great,” I said with a smile. “You can make it more…enjoyable.” With that, I tossed my straight brown hair and, with all the confidence I could muster, strutted away towards my first hour class. I didn’t look back to see if Loren was looking. I didn’t think I wanted to know the answer.
I ascended the steps to my cousin’s house, letting myself in without knocking. Elena Williams was three years older, and although we were alike in many ways, we were also very different people. Where all my demons and dragons were displayed in the form of my thick black mask and veil of bangs that I could hide behind, Elena was careful to conceal hers. Sometimes I wondered if she wasn’t the one they should have been watching out for.
Still, then I pushed open the door to her bedroom and dropped my bags to her floor, she welcomed me with a smile. The familiar sounds of Rise Against offered comfort and soothed the silence. As of late, there had been some distance between Elena and I. We’d been through so much together; I was sure we would overcome it. We were family, after all. I suppose that eventually all of our differences had gotten the best of us. Maybe it was just that she was free of Black Hills High, of the curse that school put upon its inhabitants. And I was not.
Anyway, we took some time to catch up and eat a bit before setting off for Walmart. Let me make it perfectly clear that I was not a Twilight fan. I was only going because I’d promised Elena, and because I truly hated the space between us. I’d make it a good time.
Elena informed me we were to be stuck there until around eleven or so, when my uncle would come to pick us up. As we scavenged about the aisles, digging through clearance movies and clothes and makeup, I kept scanning, because I sincerely believed Andrew would come. We ran into a few of Elena’s high school friends, and I stood by awkwardly as they reminisced on memories of their own days trapped in Black Hills High. Had they too felt the constant shadow that kept vigil over the palace of pain?
When my phone rang, it nearly gave me a heart attack, but I fumbled to yank it from the back pocket of my dark blue skinny jeans. Sure enough, Andrew’s name flashed across the screen. “Hey,” I spoke into the receiver.
“Salem!” Andrew cried cheerfully. “Good news: we’re here. Come towards the main entrance.” He’d hung up before I could reply. I told Elena I’d be back, speaking vaguely and sliding my phone back into place before scurrying away.
Wait. He’d said we.
It didn’t take me more than a minute to get across the store at the pace I was going. When Andrew came into view, he smiled widely, a motion I was surprised to find myself mimicking. “Told you I’d make it work,” Andrew called out.
“Salem!” A second, booming voice caught me off guard, and then I was swept up into a massive hug.
“Hey, Tyler,” I replied sweetly, hugging him back. But the second my Converse hit the floor once again, the world stopped turning. Less than twenty feet away was Loren Hale. His black hair was dripping with rain water, his chin was held high in disregard for the rest of the world. As he came towards us he repositioned his heavy letter coat.
I swallowed hard. “I’m glad you could make it.” I knew I was talking only to Loren, but of course they didn’t. Or so I told myself, but Loren’s ever-present impish smirk had me second guessing every more I made.
“We’re here for you, Salem,” Tyler said softly. I pretended there was no double meaning intended.
Basically, we did the same thing I’d been doing with Elena, wandering aimlessly and making pointless conversation. The boys made everything seem so much more thrilling. They were always laughing and singing and running about carelessly. Away from school, Loren seemed to transform into someone less…intimidating. Like his badass front had lightened up a bit. He was still just as enchanting to me. He was still just as frightening.
For reasons unknown to me, we seemed to always migrate back towards the toys department. Andrew and Tyler acted more like children than most children. Loren joined them in all their immaturity, but he somehow made it seem more glamorous. Like he knew he had everyone’s attention and he loved it while pretending to hate it.
One would think that I would remember each and every detail of that night. But of course I don’t. I can only recall now the stolen glances and the shivers up my spine if we so happened to accidentally brush arms. I can remember Loren’s eyes, so dark and profound and filled with more emotions than I could count. And I remember the way it felt whenever I came close to him.
I do not remember how we wound up alone, where Andrew and Tyler had disappeared to, or the words Loren uttered to make me start to close the short distance between us. Nevertheless, I found myself inching closer, our gazes locked in a steady stare, depthless brown to pale emerald. Soon I was near enough to reach out, to stabilize myself by placing my hands on his chest. I looked up at him through my lashes, lips parting ever so slightly, body trembling in his grace. And Loren looked down at me, and I had to wonder just what he saw, and if he thought it was worth seeing some more. I got the feeling he was staring far beyond alabaster skin and wide eyes, into that place where my soul might have been. My legs twitched, urging me to raise myself to m tiptoes, to press myself against him, to kiss him. In my heart I considered that he would kiss me back and somehow everything would fall into place. He would draw me into his arms, into perfection.
In my mind I knew that if I kissed him, he would only push me away and remind me that he had a girlfriend and I wasn’t even a micro-speck in his radar. Any chance I had would be ruined, forfeit. And yet I couldn’t stop myself from leaning in.
“Hey!” Andrew’s voice, unusually harsh, brought me back to solid ground, causing me to pull myself away from Loren. I was quick to advert my gaze to the floor. I thought about saying sorry but knew that I wasn’t. “C’mon.” In all of my fluster I started off towards Andrew. I didn’t need to look to know that Loren wasn’t following.
I was tense, trailing behind Andrew. Tyler still seemed to ne missing, but I wasn’t paying much attention anyway. M body was still shaking, thoughts still racing. Loren Hale. I’d almost kissed Loren Hale. If I hadn’t been sure that I loved him, I was certain now. Nothing but Loren himself could satisfy me.
After we’d wound through a few aisles, Andrew stopped and spun around to face me full on. I’d never seen him look so enraged. “Salem, what was that?” he demanded. I only stared back, opening my mouth without ever speaking. Andrew barely gave me time. I watched as he seemed to instantly compose himself, his entire body softening as he let out a sigh. “I need you to make me promise. If you ever want anything to happen between you and Loren, you need to swear it.”
I nodded, perhaps a bit too eagerly. “Anything,” I replied. Andrew may have known Loren better than almost anyone, and if he thought he knew what would help I was willing to listen.
“Promise me that you wont make a move on Loren,” he said solemnly. “Promise me you wont do anything unless he makes the first move.”
I bit down hard on my bottom lip, his words embedding themselves upon my heart. “Alright,” I said at long last. “Alright. I wont.”
Andrew stepped closer to give me a quick hug. “Thanks, Salem. I swear it’ll be the best thing you can do.”
With my newly made promise and all its limitations swimming through my mind, I broke away from Andrew, back towards cosmetics. I was anxious to soak up the atmosphere of the most girl-oriented part of the store. Makeup could hide anything, couldn’t it? I doubted it could conceal a shattered heart.
My heart was shattering, too. I was beginning to wonder if this whole thing was ridiculous. If I was meant to have Loren, wouldn’t I have him?
No. These things took time. I loved him, I knew I loved him, and so I would fight on to make him mine. I turned the final corner, and for the umpteenth time that night I found myself enthralled by the presence of Loren. This was all starting to feel a bit like déjà vu. I didn’t think this night could become any more out of control.
He was sitting on a bench in the main aisle, facing away from me. I studied him as I came closer, immensely surprised a what I found there. I’d never seen him look so broken, so lost. His gaze was cast downward, his shoulders slumped, and he looked adrift in his own transparent thoughts. He still seemed to me an angel. I was running out of adjectives to describe his perfection.
At last I sat down beside him, folding my hands in my lap. I didn’t speak for fear of completely demolishing the moment. I waited on edge for him to address me. When he did, it was with the slightest turn of the head and the refusal to make eye contact. What he said, however, caught me completely off guard. “I’m not sure how things are working out with Chelsea and I.”
I most certainly was not expecting him to say that. Especially to me. And how did I even reply without sounding like a complete bitch? “I…uh…”
“Just lately, you know. She’s been different. Quite frankly she’s being a bitch,” Loren explained. “I don’t know if I can stay with her, or if I should dump her.”
I nodded hesitantly, planning out my words very carefully. “I think,” I began, “that you need to do whatever makes you happy. Don’t think about anyone else for just one minute, and make yourself happy.” Only after I spoke the words did I realize how true they were. I wanted Loren to be happy. I thought that maybe of everything that proved I loved him more than anything. Love wasn’t about battling and scheming to get what I wanted; it was about accepting the fact that maybe their happiness didn’t involve you. Although the epiphany was an especially painful one, I knew it was a needed one.
Loren nodded slowly, placing his warm hand upon my leg. “Thanks, Salem,” he said before rising to his feet and walking away. I made no motion to follow, instead watching as he disappeared once again, taking my heart with him. I doubted I’d ever see it again.
April 1, 2010
So, I know I’m going to come off like a bitch here. I know that you and Loren are friends or whatever, but I just don’t like how close to him you are. It’s not you, exactly. I just want you to understand that I love him and will not lose him to anyone. Least of all you.