Chapter 1:Just Like Suffocating

If you haven't the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you. —T.S. Eliot

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Hand gliding up and down through the air, Dylan Andrews watched his hand fly weightless outside his passenger side window. He sighed as he saw the scenery change before his very eyes from the rural settings of Harlingen, Texas on the plane ride over to those of Darlington, South Carolina spent driving in his mothers vehicle.

The plane ride over from Texas had been spent sitting silently beside his mother as he ignored any and all attempts from her part to start up conversation. It was the longest ride of his entire life and the moment they touched ground Dylan had shoved his way out. He'd spent a good fifteen minutes after trying his hardest to lose his mother in the large crowds of the airport. Yet she had stuck by his side like a damn five o'clock shadow.

Now they sat silent and equally as awkward as it was on the plane. He'd kill for a cigarette. Better yet, he'd kill for a nice long hit off a tightly packed joint, and a shot of tequila.

Life was changing and every muscle in his body seemed to shake and shift in transition. His attentive cobalt eyes squinted against the bright sun as he thought of what was to come. He was not looking forward to his switch back into the public from the time spent in the private boarding school. His life back at the academy had become routine, something Dylan had come to rely on like a close relative.

His mother, who was blissfully unaware of her sons doubts, sat silent and clearly in her own little world beside him. Her hands resting lightly on the wheel as the wind from the open windows blew her short blonde hair from her troubled face. She was scared. Afraid that she was making the wrong decision in pulling Dylan out from the Military Academy he'd been sentenced to for the last 2 ½ years. But there was one thing she was even more afraid of… being alone.

Dylan pulled his hand back inside the his mothers Silver BMW and pressed the up button on the door, his window sliding closed, blocking out the outside world. Sealing him and his mother inside. It was as if he were in his own little bubble. Just Dylan and his mother. Like old times. Before she changed. Before his father, Eric Andrews, destroyed what was left of the real woman he once called mother.

Things were different now. She, was different. Dylan had no expectations, he knew exactly why his mother was bringing him home.

Eric was dead. Heart attack.

The town of Darlington was still in mourning over the loss. With the exception of Dylan of course. He would have killed the man himself had he ever been given the opportunity. He'd lived most of his entire life under the constant scrutiny of Eric's drive to make Dylan the best basketball player.

Bend your knees Dylan! Bend!

Okay, you need to make 25 throws in a row. You miss one, you start over.

You call that a three pointer? My grandmother could do better.

Watch your feet! Watch your feet! Stop shuffling around the court like you got ants in your damn pants!

"Alex will be pleased to see you." Bev spoke for the first time, interrupting her son's belligerent thoughts. "She was very excited to hear you were coming back." She cleared her throat and fidgeted nervously in her seat.

Dylan grunted in response. He hadn't seen Alex since he was 15 years old. The thought of seeing her again only tightened the muscles in his stomach tighter. She was so pure, so innocent. While he was so damaged and so jaded. How it was that they could have ever been friends in the first place was puzzling. He doubted very much that Alex was as enthused to see him again as his mother let on. He hadn't replied to a single one of Alex's letters over the years. Not a one.

There were times he regretted his decision that night, the one that would ultimately change his fate. One simple act that would forever label him a dangerous threat to the Darlington community. It had enraged his father to the point of sending his only son to a military school for troubled adolescents. He'd lost his life that night. Having lost his spot on the team, his friends, his father's respect, his mother's trust…

He could still remember his first few nights spent in that small twin bunk back at the academy. He'd been stripped of all his personal belongings, being told that sentiment was for wussies. He was there to become a man, not to remain the reckless and irresponsible boy that had brought him there. It seemed that every waking moment of his life spent in that institution was chalked full of tall, large intimidating men screaming in his face. It was done so frequently that even as he was finally allowed to rest his head at night he could still feel the hot breath of a commanding marine in his face, or the loud deafening shout of an order or insult in his ear. Or worse yet, he could still feel the spittle drying on his flesh.

He shuddered at the memory of those first few days in the Marine Military Academy. Days, upon weeks filled with hellish torture and suicide sprints up and down the Texas fields of Harlingen. He'd been physically and mentally drained for six straight months before it had all finally began to take its toll.

His skin was thicker and his emotions were now almost non-existent. Yet sitting beside his mother in that car, on that particular day and time…

Dylan could almost remember what it felt like to care again. But then his mother had opened her mouth for a second time, shattering his beautiful illusion. Ruining his diminutive fantasy of being some kind of human again.

"Dylan, please. Say something. You haven't spoken to me since we left the Academy." His mother dared to reach a hand out to stroke his face, her heart breaking when he recoiled from her touch.

"There's nothing to say." He uttered nonchalantly. His mind immediately moving on to other things. Like how he was going to deal with living under the same roof as his mother again. Or how he was going to survive high school with a bunch of incompetent teenage idiots. He pressed his forehead to the cool glass and sighed deeply, his eyes closed. "There's nothing to say." He repeated softly.

In the corner of his eye he saw his mother nod her head regrettably. Her eyes glossing over in deep thought. His fingers twitched, his hand instinctively wanting to cover her delicate fingers in a show of comfort. But those days were over. She'd made her choice.

And it wasn't him.

---x---

Head down on her desk, Jodie Ryder suppressed a yawn and turned her head to rest the other cheek on the cold hard wood. Her eyes wandered to outside the window and she thought back to the countless times she and Jenna spent passing notes during these long and boring teachers lectures. Lists of fantasy boy drafts, small recaps of Jodie's dates from the night before, pointless games of 'what if' and Jodie's favorite: surveys.

But those days were gone. Jenna was gone.

A warm touch on her back brought Jodie back to the present and she shrugged away the hand of Aiden Caulder to sit up straighter. Her eyes lingering outside the window for a few more seconds before darting away. The teacher droned on and on about God knew what. Jodie had stopped listening back in grade school.

The seat to her left remained empty, vacant and alone. Just like Jodie. She sighed and forced herself to look away. Her heart ached, her fists tightened down at her sides as she fought against the urge to cry. Anger quickly filling into take its place. She ignored Aiden's many attempts at getting her attention and raised her hand for a bathroom pass. She was denied of course, but she was already up and out the door before hearing her teachers protests. Even then she kept walking down the long empty hallways of Darlington High.

With only the sound of her heels clicking against the linoleum, Jo didn't stop once she rounded the corner towards the girls bathroom. Instead she passed them up and pushed out the doors. A cool breeze slapping her in the face. It was like her feet couldn't stop, it was like she didn't care. She was half way down the block when she finally managed to stop to press her hand to her mouth and suck back a huge sob. She stumbled forward a few feet, her free hand darting out for support.

Leaning against a tree she struggled to pull herself together by watching the passing cars. A red pick up truck, a blue Honda Civic, a green Jetta… her eyes clenched shut as she locked her jaw and grit her teeth to hold back the pain and tears that threatened to rip her apart right there and then.

"Jenna…" She whispered to herself sadly shaking her head.

She glanced up in time to see a mother and her son pass by in a silver BMW. Her vision was blurred by the fast moving motion but she swore the boy in the passenger seat had seen her. His face looked just as pained as her own.

No. She shook her head and wiped under her eyes, a small bitter laugh escaping past her lips. Things like that only happened in books and movies. How could a stranger possibly understand her pain with one simple look? It was impossible. No one would ever fully understand her. Not even Aiden.

She crossed her arms across herself, shivering in the chilly South Carolina weather. It was the middle of September and she was standing outside in a outfit made for summer. A gust of wind shot up her spine, causing her to shiver more violently. She cursed her rash decision to run out into the cold and continued on with her walk. She had no destination, she just knew that it was as far away from humanity as possible.

Had Jenna been there she would have had the sense to think about the repercussions of her actions. She was the balance that Jo needed to help tame her wild and foolish nature. But Jenna was not here. Not anymore.

So now Jodie had to struggle to depend on herself. She snorted, disgusted with what she'd become. She was 17 years old and unable to think for herself. It was beyond sad. As the minutes passed by she wondered how long it would be before Aiden came for her. He always did.

She laughed at the idea of Aiden just letting her be, it was impossible. Jenna had Aiden down like clockwork. She knew how long it would take before he'd find her after a fight. How long it would take for his tantrums to subside and for his sweet side to come back into play. How long before he'd admit to her face that he wasn't in love with her anymore…

Jenna knew things about everyone before they even knew it about themselves.

When a large dark SUV began to slow beside her she quickened her pace. Eager to escape her assailant. "Jo," Aiden's voice called out from inside the black navigator to her left. "Baby, get in the car and I'll take you home." He promised, slowing to a crawl. "Don't make me get out." His voice hardened in warning.

She sighed and stopped moving her feet to stare back at him. Seconds passed where they just stared at one another without words. But then again, they never needed words. Aiden understood her, maybe not the way Jenna did. But he understood her enough. He was good at making decisions for her too. Her shoulders sagged, her once driven ambition to walk away from the world gone. She took one shaky step forward and grabbed onto the door handle. Her delicate fingers wrapping around the cold steal.

"I already told your tutor that you wouldn't be there today. And I signed you out of classes. Your homework will be in the front office after school, I'll swing by and pick it up for you..." He said once she was within the safety of his truck. Each word flowing in and out her ears.

She remained silent as she stared forward out the windshield. Her fingers lightly brushing over the hand he had possessively placed on her knee. "It's going to be okay." He said turning his hand palm side up to entwine his fingers with hers.

She nodded, playing along with the lie they had both fought to perfect since Jenna left. She inwardly cringed when he brought her hand to his lips and pressed a small kiss against her knuckles. He loved her, she knew. There was once a time when she believed she had loved him too—but he was with Jenna then.

However, Jenna was gone now, the infamous 'girlfriend' spot now vacant and open for applications. By then it was too late to give into the passionate desires she knew Aiden longed for. Jodie didn't know how to love anymore. Not since losing Jenna. The love of her life. Her best friend. The only one who knew and accepted Jodie just as she was.

Aiden tried, dear god had he tried to be her 'Jenna'. But each time he failed miserably, having ruined the moments by falling in love with her. Soon he found himself being used as a buffer, a temporary tattoo in exchange for the real deal that was later to come. She clung to him because there was no one else to cling to. Not because she loved him. Not the way he loved her. He vowed to win her over before she was threw with him, before she moved on.

"Wait there, I'll get your door." He said after parking in her driveway. She watched him jump out his side of the car and jog around the front in a calm silence. Hand held out for her to take, Aiden pulled open her door.

The sun overhead ducked behind a waiting cloud and for a split second Jodie swore it was a sign from her dearly departed friend. She snatched her hand back quickly, as if his skin were vile and contagious. Disappointed but not swayed, Aiden followed Jodie up to her door and removed the house key from underneath the 'Ryder Family' doormat. The one Jenna had bought Jodie as a joke. Aiden never really caught the meaning behind the doormat joke. But then again very few ever understood Jodie and Jenna at all.

The instant the door was opened she brushed past him, quickly making her way inside and up the stairs to her room without more than a muttered 'thank you'. But Aiden was used to Jodie's moody behavior. Though at the beginning it was hard not to take personal, he was now able to handle her like a pro. It shocked him sometimes though. Her new attitude towards life was in complete contrast to the cheery Jodie Ryder she once was.

Taking the stairs two at a time he was not fully prepared for what he would come across entering her room. He knew it was going to be a bad day and like all the others he expected her to shut him out. He would hold her while she cried into his shoulder about Jenna. He would grit his teeth and allow her to yell and scream at him, to blame him for things he knew were not his fault.

It was just what he did during these dark emotional times. Jenna was all she knew, and he accepted that… to a point. It had been almost six months since Jenna had decided to leave them. Six months since he'd last seen a smile pass along Jodie's face, six months since he'd heard the sound of her laughter. He'd been with Jenna at the time, he'd been with Jenna since they were 15. Two years later he was 17, in love with his dead girlfriends best friend and alone.

"Go home Aiden." He heard Jodie's raspy voice choke out from the bed. He crossed the threshold in three swift strides and sat beside her. "I mean it." She cried into her pillow, her shoulders shaking. He placed a comforting hand against her back and began to rub her gently. "I mean it! Go!" She screamed, sitting up to point a stern finger at the door.

Shaking his head he stood, "You know what Jo? One of these days I'm going to walk out that door and I'm not going to come back."

She rolled her tearful hazel eyes and snorted, "Promise?"

"I miss her too you know." He snapped, his anger rising. "You're not the only one dealing."

"Did you grow up with Jenna?" She asked, he shook his head, knowing where this conversation was going. "Did you hold her hand and wipe her tears when she found out her mother had cancer?" He shook his head, "Were you there by her side every day when she went to visit her dying mother in the hospital? Were you the one to comfort her when her mom died?" She growled as he shook his head again and again. "No. You weren't. Were you there to get her mind off things when you decided to be an ass to her? No. I didn't think so. Were you there—"

"I get it Jodie!" He roared, hands held out helplessly. "I get it." He clenched his eyes shut in shame.

She glared, "Then just answer me this last question, Aiden." She whispered, "And then I'll let you stay. With me. Here." She pulled back the covers, inviting.

He gulped then, desire heating up his insides like an inferno. He wanted her, so badly. He wanted to be the one she clung to like a lifeline, she was so broken. All Aiden wanted to do was fix her. Love her. He longed to feel the smooth softness of her skin, he dreamt of what it would be like to run his fingers through her silky hair. He wanted nothing more than to press her small delicate frame against those white silk sheets and shove into her over and over again until her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she bit into his shoulder after screaming out his name.

He could do it. Right now. He witnessed her lean back against the headboard, her legs spreading out in a seductive manner. His mouth dry, his mind racing, he clenched his eyes shut. Willed his hormones to behave and grit his teeth as a deep hiss passed through his lips.

She was in front of him now, her hands roaming his hard sculptured body. Her lips pressed against his throat, leaving behind small wet pecks. She paused at his ear, her breath small and short against his skin. He shivered in ecstasy, his fingers instinctively running up her sides, his palms stopping to cup her breasts through her small thin camisole.

She moaned and leaned into his hands, "Ready?" She whispered into his ear, her tongue flicking out to tease him.

He nodded his head vigorously, too enthralled in his lust for her to remember to control himself. He pulled her closer then, her bottom half pressing against his swollen lower half.

She chuckled huskily and circled her arms around his neck. She pushed to her tip toes to stand eye level with him, their noses almost touching. She grinned, her eyes sadly hollow, "My last question…" She said, her eyes traveling down to his mouth, she laughed again when he licked his tongue against his lips to wet them. Eager to answer her question and fuck her raw.

She sighed, her breasts rising against his chest before she leaned in to whisper in his ear, "Were you the one who found her in the tub?" His shoulders stiffened, his hands gently pushing her away to reveal her tearful gaze. "What? You don't want to play anymore?" She laughed bitterly, a tear sliding down her cheek.

"Jo—"

"Get out." She barked. Her hands furiously wiping at her face. "Get out!" She screamed, her voice loud and shaky.

"Jo," He started again, "I just—"

"Get the fuck out of my room and out of my house Aiden!" She cried, her hand reeling back to strike him.

He waited for the blow, taking it in stride. Savoring the contact. He was sick. He was so sick. He was so in love with her that even the most simplistic and cruelest act of attention she could provide for him was enough to bring him back every time.

He touched his stinging cheek. Turned, and walked out her room.

But he refused to ever walk out of her life.

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A/N: Thanks Lynn for helping me out with the summary and encouraging me to post. You rock!