A/N: Long chapter, be warned. Working title for chapter. Credit to Bullet For My Valentine.

Megan's POV:

The face in the mirror disappoints me.

There is a girl staring listlessly back. A broken girl, diminished. Half of who she used to be. Her black hair lays in tangles around her shoulders, her blue eyes reflect hopelessness and defeat. A large reddish-purple bruise covers the entirety of her cheek.

My fingers brush the smooth glass, the kindest gesture she will never feel. I know this poor, wretched girl. Know her very well.

It's my own reflection I'm gazing at.

With a sigh, I sweep my hair back into a ponytail and unscrew the cap of an arnica gel tube. I have to squeeze hard to coax even a drop out; it's just about empty. The thin layer I'm able to apply to the bruise may not get rid of it, but it will temporarily ease the pain.

Ever since last night, when I got it, my face has been on fire.

My only concern now is hiding it from my mom.

She's been getting harder to avoid; she has been noticing drastic changes in me and suspects Trey for them. She's been trying to get a confession out of me and confirm her suspicions. She knows he's doing something wrong and probably illegal behind her back and she doesn't like it.

I don't like it either, but if I tell her, she'll snitch to the police and Trey will be arrested. His sentence will start off easy: maybe a slap on the wrist and anger management classes, perhaps a trip to rehab. But after they look at the impressive criminal record he's made for himself, he'll never come back out. I've been dating him for three years; sure some of the time it hasn't been really pleasant, but I love him. I can't send him off to prison.

And so I hide it. Hide it from the world. I wear long sleeve shirts and pants, no matter how hot it gets and pretend as if nothing is wrong.

Trey does, and does it well. He doesn't seem to think he's doing anything wrong—or doesn't remember doing it. Usually when he hits me, it's because he's drunk out of his mind. When he's sober, he's usually appalled by next morning's results. Usually. But there are exceptions.

Even I can't deny the fact that he has a vicious temper.

A vicious temper and an aggressive nature.

Both of these traits have helped Trey, alias Trevor Montgomery, take over my school. Call him by his real name and you lose a few teeth. Insult him, either to his face (though who'd be stupid enough?) or behind his back, and he'll hunt you down. God forbid you threaten him. The likelihood is that you will get shot.

And killed.

Maybe not by him personally, because he's too smart to do something like that. (I also feel that he has too much of a conscience—but that's because I know him better than most people). He has connections with some pretty powerful gangsters, people who don't lose a minute of sleep over taking someone else's life.

"Honey, are you up?"

I freeze.

Oh, shit. My mom. I can hear her coming down the hall.

What the hell is she doing home? She's should be at work. Work is so much more important than taking off for my birthday. (I mean on occasion I like hanging out with her, but it's just my seventeenth birthday, no big deal). If anything, she should be working over time. We need every penny just to barely get by.

And then she's right on top of me, knocking lightly at the door.

I'm trapped. If I try to leave the bathroom, she'll unquestionably see my bruise and jump all over it. What happened? Where did you get that? Who did this to you?

I can't deal with being cross-examined. I turn the shower on full blast.

"I just got in the shower!" I yell, trying to make my voice heard over the water pounding on the shower floor. Suspecting nothing, Mom goes away.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

My hearts pounds away crazily against my rib cage. Too close.

It's not fun to be constantly walking on eggshells, constantly worrying about something so huge being discovered. That seems to be the story of my life nowadays, always living in fear.

It sucks.

The pre-Trey Megan wasn't afraid of anything. Reckless and carefree almost to a fault. I miss those days. I miss her.

But I just have to deal.

To make my white lie plausible, I have no choice but to strip and step under the stream of water.

I jump back in shock. Goosebumps are prickling on my skin. Shit, that was cold.

When I turn the handle the other way, scalding hot water came gushing out, again making me leap out of range. With this cruddy shower, we have one of two options: option #1 freeze or #2 burn. There is no in between.

At least if you use cold water, the bathroom doesn't get all humid and stuffy. And it motivates you to take a quicker shower: good for both the environment and the water bill. Everyone wins.

I give up on trying to alternate between hot and cold water—which requires too much jumping around—and simply dunk my head in the sink. Funny enough, the tap water is always warm.

My hair is in need of fixing, but I don't do much to it. I'm just going to be jamming a hood on over it to help cover the bruise.

I slink back to my room to get dressed, keeping a sharp eye out for my mom. Wrapped in only a towel, my limbs are exposed. The bruises on my arms and legs, pale from lack of exposure to the sun, are very prominent.

Fortunately that is very easily taken care of when I pull on my favorite pair of jeans and tug on the nearest hoodie. The hoodie is large, hanging well below where it should. The faintest hint of cologne clings to the fabric, sharp and spicy. Somehow both mine and Trey's clothes manage to find their way into one another's rooms.

So far so good.

I'm ready in about ten minutes: hair done, really just blow-dried and brushed forward so it hangs over my face, eyeliner on. There is still no sign of my mom. I can sneak out unnoticed and be on my way.

I love my mom; I'm not trying to avoid her. Okay. Maybe today I am.

Mom was thinking we have a girls' day out. Head into the city, get some lunch, and go shopping. She's completely willing to sacrifice some of the rent money (and thus have to work harder to make it up) to ensure I have a good birthday and I'm just totally blowing her off.

Not intentionally. I wasn't expecting her to take off today, so I already made plans with Trey. Now I feel really guilty about it.

Which is why I'm trying to sneak off so I won't have to tell her.

I move unnoticed through our apartment, grab my keys, and slip outside. Or at least that is how my plan should've gone. Unfortunately, I can't even clear the kitchen.

Something sparkles on the counter as I edge past and I realize in dismay that that's where I left my keys. To make matters worse, my mom is in there, back to me as she fixes herself a cup of coffee.

I sidled along the wall until I was at the edge of the kitchen. Now I drop on all fours and quickly scoot over to the island in the middle of the kitchen. I'm plastered against one side of the island and my mom is on the other. I've grown considerably since the last time I tried this, so my head is almost visible.

I slip my hand into my pocket and draw out my cell phone. Carefully I enter our number and the phone begins ringing.

"Who could that be?" Mom wonders aloud.

A gentle clink as she sets her coffee mug down and she heads over to the phone. "Hello?" she asks. "Hello?" Thank God we don't have caller I.D.

I stretch my hand up and begin groping around for my keys. My fingers skim over a few envelopes, sure to be more bills, scratch the wicker of the fruit bowl, and finally knock into the ceramic World's Best Mom mug.

The mug falls and my hand is immersed in wetness. Shit. Coffee floods the counter and dribbles down the side, where it splatters on the floor. I draw my hand to my mouth and suck on it, trying to ease the burns from the coffee.

"I think you have the wrong number," Mom informs the person who isn't there. "Shit!" she exclaims when she hears the coffee mug fall. She slams the phone back in the cradle and, armed with a dish towel, runs back to get the spill.

I had raised myself into a squatting position, allowing for easier counter access, but before I have a chance to duck back down, I find myself looking uncomfortably up into my mother's eyes.

"Hi, Mom."

She gives me a strange look, but doesn't bother asking me what I'm doing on the floor. Judging by her slightly hurt expression, she has a pretty good idea of what I was trying to do. My hand had just closed on my keys. Subtle. Extremely subtle.

I climb to my feet, the keys jingling. "I'll drive," I volunteer, feigning excitement.

Wow, can you say ungrateful bitch?

I guess it won't hurt to spend a few hours hanging out with her. She's going all out for me today and Trey doesn't usually wake up until the late afternoon or early evening. I could have a whole day before he even rolls out of bed…

Mom slides her purse up onto her shoulder. "You sure you don't want to change?" she suggests. As a person, definitely. Change as in my outfit and risk exposing my bruises, hell no. "I can wait. It's no problem."

I sigh. I've lost count of how many times I've heard this speech. She has her suspicions and wants to get proof. "I'm fine, Mom," I assure her.

Now, if I'm correct, Mom will lecture, determined to get me out of my hoodie. "It's going to get really hot today. You'll pass out bundled up in jeans and a hoodie. Then guess where you'll be spending the rest of your birthday."

Ugh. I hate hospitals. Nice try, Mom, but I'm not taking the jacket off. As much as you hate Trey, you're not getting a reason to arrest him. Especially not out of me.

"I'm not going to die. The car will be air-conditioned, as well the shops." I tug my hood down lower. "Can we please stop talking about it?"

Mom next switches to flattery. "Megan, you shouldn't be covering your body at such a young age. You're an extremely pretty girl, blessed with amazing bone structure. Hell, if I looked like you, I would hardly wear anything."

I can't help but cringe. Wow, thanks for the disturbing mental image, Mom.

I'm beginning to get frustrated. Why can't she just drop it? "If I didn't like it, I wouldn't be wearing it," I snarl, turning away for fear of her glimpsing the bruise. And towards the door so she might get a hint.

She moves in front of me, blocking my path to the door. "Honey," she pleads, "I'm worried about you. Ever since you started dating Trey, it's like you've morphed into a different person. I wish you would tell me what's going on…" I'm about to explode and I really don't want to.

Not on her. Not after all she's done.

"I'm going out to the car. Whenever you're done trying to play Dr. Phil, we can go." I sidestep her and approach the front door. I'm reaching for the door handle, when she grabs my hand and gently but firmly pulls me around to face her.

"Megan, please. Whatever you're going through, I can help you."

My hand is still held tight in hers, her other one gently rubbing over my knuckles. Unable to look anywhere else, I gaze into her eyes. The look on her face is a mix between concerned, loving, and beseeching. She just wants to know; she's not going to judge me or think any less of me.

She might have even experienced such a thing at one point or another.

Suddenly I get the burning desire to tear off my hood, tell her everything that has happened these last few years, and seek refuge in her arms.

The tears come.

I hate this. I hate myself for dealing with this for so long and not saying anything about it. I hate Trey for doing this to me.

Wait a second.

I don't hate Trey. I love him. He loves me. We understand each other. We complete each other.

Mom is trying to manipulate me. Trying to make me sell out the person who has always been there for me. The only person who has ever cared about me. Just because she hates him.

She wants me to all to herself. Wants to alienate me from Trey by turning me against him. According to her, he's poisoning my mind. Making me act like this.

Well, he's not.

Trey isn't my enemy.

She is.

Wrenching my hand away, I shout, "Mind your own fucking business, bitch. This doesn't concern you." My hand balls up into a fist.

And then I stop dead, seeing the horrified expression on Mom's face and hearing my ugly words. Only those words don't truly belong to me. They're Trey's words. They're the sort of things he says to me all the time. And now they're rushing fluently from my own mouth. It's my turn to be horrified.

I sounded just like him.

I was acting just like him.

My hand is still clenched in a hard fist.

Oh, my God.

I was actually ready to hit my mother. Punch her like it was nothing.

A choking sob rises up out of my throat. This isn't me. This never was me. Who am I? I'm so fucked up I don't even know anymore. This scares me. I dissolve into a puddle of tears and Mom gathers me in her arms, pulling me close.

"I'm so sorry, Mom." My face is buried against her shoulder, so my voice is muffled.

She says nothing, but we hug for a long time. She understands. And forgives me. When I've cut off the last of her air supply, Mom releases me and takes a step back.

"I think you should open your present," she says somberly. Out of nowhere, she produces crisp white envelope

I wipe my eyes. The remainder of my eyeliner comes off on my hands, staining both them and the envelope black. With shaking, smudged fingers I carefully tear open the slightly crumpled, smudged envelope.

A ticket falls out of the torn paper and lands in my lap.

It's a plane ticket.

My jaw drops as I look at it, then at Mom. "Oh, my God! We're going to New York City for my birthday?!"

I used to go to New York all the time to see my dad and brother, but somehow this trip will be a million times more fun.

Tears are still in my eyes, but I can feel my whole face lighting up into a huge smile. Junk food is a commodity in my house, so imagine getting something like this as a gift. Going to New York by plane and getting to stay in a hotel for a few days. This is seriously a HUGE deal. I can't wait to go pack.

Mom however isn't sharing in the joy. Sure, she smiles when she sees how excited I get, but the smile doesn't reach eyes. "No, Megan," she says gently. "We're not going to New York City. You are."

I study the ticket closer. It's to New York, all right, but it's one-way. My stomach plummets. I look at Mom, wordlessly demanding an explanation. What's going on? Does she not want me anymore? Am I being punished?

"These last few years have been rough for you. I think you should start over," Mom tells me, sensing my panic. "Moving to a new city is a good way to start. You can make all new friends, and get away from… Besides," she adds, quickly trying to lighten the mood, "Dad wants to see you and so does Charles. But I'll leave the decision up to you."

You don't give a sixteen, now seventeen-year-old, girl the power to make such a decision.

It will impact the next year of my life—and maybe even the rest of it. That's a lot of pressure. And then I would have to deal and cope with a ton of changes, on top of all the other shit I'm dealing with right now.

And what about my current life? I'd have to throw it all away to make a new start. Drop all my friends, one missed phone call at a time. 'Misplace' all my yearbooks as not to remember the last three years of school. Break up with Trey.

A lump rises and settles in my throat.

Can I really move get over that part of my life so quickly? He's been in it for so long, but long-distance relationships rarely work.

Mom can't seriously expect me to make my decision right now. There's a lot to think about. Of course I'll have to tell her if I'm going in advance—so plans can be made. But I have time to think.

About twenty-four hours worth of time. When I'm restudying the ticket (I have got to start paying closer attention to these things!), I see the flight date and it's tomorrow morning.

The time crunch definitely isn't going to make my decision any easier. Rather, it'll pressure me into making a poor choice. And whatever it is, I'll be stuck with it. It doesn't help that I have different people pulling me in different directions.

There's Mom, who is pro-New York.

As we browse through the shops, she tells me that there are so many more shops on Fifth Avenue. So much more to do in general. (Because Chicago is Boringsville, U.S.A, right?) New York is the "city that never sleeps" for a reason. No matter the time, there is always something to, she assures me. Great way to meet people and make some friends. She even buys me a matching set of suitcases.

She's convinced that I will be aboard tomorrow's plane. I know it's (probably) for my own good, but I'm not particularly thrilled about how she's shoving me out the door.

And then there's Trey, who doesn't know.

Maybe he doesn't have to know. What would I say anyways? That he's the reason I'm moving out of state? That Mom hates his guts and wants me as far away from him as I can get?

Yeah, that would go well.

The evening had been nice so far. Why open my big mouth and ruin it?

Trey surprised me with his romantic side and took me out to my favorite restaurant. We looked out of place in our street clothes in the fancy Italian restaurant, but we were paying customers, so they overlooked that little detail.

"I can't believe you got a reservation," I said, impressed. "It's next to impossible to get one."

He swallowed. "Yeah, about that…"

Turns out, Trey hadn't made a reservation—he was more of a spur-of-the-moment type—so he had to try and wheedle a table out of one of the hostesses, but there was no luck on his part. It was the thought that counted most, and that he at least tried.

I was a bit tense when the hostess snootily dismissed us ("I'm sorry, but we're full". Not, of course, sounding sorry at all), but Trey's temper remained in check. He thanked her, but when we got to the door, he muttered something to the effect of hoping that she burn in hell. He said this angry slur a little bit on the louder side, shocking diners and staff alike with his colorful language—including a family who was just coming in.

A couple of whom were small children. ("Mommy, what does cu—mean?") The parents ushered them off quickly, telling them that it was a word no one should say, not even grown-ups. They glared over their shoulders at Trey. While he faced off against the father, I caught a glimpse of the manager on the phone, mentioning as inconspicuously as possible a public disturbance. I poked Trey.

"We gotta go."

A few minutes later, we heard sirens. We walked quickly out of there, got in his car, and the car crept past the cops. All the while, we had to look as innocent as we possibly could. One of them looked after Trey, certain that he recognized him. Trey subtly slid his own hood over his head and—the second he got the chance—stomped down on the gas pedal.

We opted for Chinese. Much safer—and less expensive.

We ate it kind of clumsily in his car as we cruised down the brightly lit streets. I had using chopsticks down to a fine art—though he was taking turns too fast for me to truly demonstrate my experties—so I would feed him an occasional piece of orange chicken as we drove.

Our next destination was a club. Trey had a slightly infamous reputation and a long history of bar brawls both with fellow club goers and even a bouncer on occasion. Needless to say, we rarely visited the same club. Fortunately there were plenty around to choose from.

Tonight's was Eclipse.

When we finally got to the front of the line, I gave the bouncer my fake ID. I went by Jessica Knight and 'I' was twenty-two-years old. I had Jessica's whole autobiography down pact just in case anybody might ask.

Nobody ever did.

The bouncer scarcely glanced at my fake driver's license, although he did ask me to remove my jacket for 'security reasons'. Satisfied by with seeing me in my black halter top, he reached the decision that I was a) female and b) attractive from what he could of my face. So regardless of who I was, I passed inspection, so I headed inside for nothing. He was much more particular about men though, or maybe just Trey.

Trey was also 'twenty-two' and on his current ID, he entitled himself creatively "Sam Adams". Which nobody would be stupid enough to believe. I could only wait by the door, knowing that we'd be busted any minute.

"Is he with you?" the bouncer asked me.

Of course I said yes, so he made Trey fork over an entrance fee and opened the velvet rope for him, still watching warily as he went. We vanished into the packed club, out of the bouncer's line of vision.

"Sam Adams?" I asked Trey incredulously over the blasting music. "Were you trying to get busted or just rub the fact that you're a minor in his face?"

Trey returned this with a cocky smirk. He never got caught. "That top looks hot on you," he said, paying absolutely no attention to my comment. Well, at least in the dim club light the bruises were scarcely noticeable.

And I really did enjoy all of the looks I was getting.

He shrugged off his own hoodie (we were probably the only people who wore hoods during the summer, but for different reasons) and tossed it off, revealing a muscle tee that complimented his wiry but muscular frame extremely well. "Come on." Automatically I slid my hand into his and he guided me through the packed dance floor.

For the next few hours it was nothing but blasting reggae, hip-hop, rap, a few cold beers, and me and Trey out on the dance floor. It was packed wall-to-wall with people. People all around you, sweating, grinding impartially against whoever was nearest.

Hot from all of the dancing, the bright lights beaming directly down on us, and all of the other people, I moved off the dance floor to catch my breath and flick some damp hair out of my face.

"What can I get you?" the bartender asked.

"Bottle of water," I said gratefully. "Thanks." He produced one and I drained most of it in one gulp.

The bartender leaned on the counter, waiting for me to slow down. He was a young-ish guy with choppy brown hair and a barbell in his eyebrow. He grinned at me. "So you here with your boyfriend?" With a sexy smirk.

I looked over at Trey. He had two girls rubbing up against him, but his eyes were searching for me. They scoured the dance floor, passing disinterestedly over everyone else until they locked on mine. He glared and firmly mouthed Get over here.

I was surprised (and amazed) that he didn't storm across the dance floor, knocking everybody aside, and throttle the bartender for talking to me. That was completely out of character for him.

Come to think of it, he had been acting differently all night. Stopped after two beers. Kept the infamous temper under control, only letting a poison remark slip out on occasion. He even peppered in some compliments.

It was like he was actually taking my advice. I didn't exactly say he should shower me with compliments, but I let it 'slip' that he should really cut back on the alcohol and try to control his temper. I loved him in spite of his flaws, but these were among his more detrimental.

He again mouthed Get your ass over here, but stayed where he was. He was listening to me. Trey, who never let anyone tell him what to do, was actually listening to me.

Maybe in time, he could almost fully break these horrible habits.

Then the hitting would stop, and so would the verbal abuse. And I could stay. In Chicago. With him.

I loved Charles and my dad and all, but right now, Trey is the most important man in my life.

Around two o'clock in the morning, we leave the bar and head back to Trey's house. He jumps in his shower to cool off from partying. I sit on his bed waiting for him. My phone makes little ringing sounds and I realize I missed a txt from Mom.

My mother knows how to text. She's fast too, able to type more words a minute than I can. That is a little bit sad.

It says: Don't stay out 2 late. U hav a flight 2 catch 2morrow.

Oh, shit.

It's bad enough that Mom is using chatspeak and words like "lol" have entered her daily vocabulary, but now…

Oh, God. Now she's convinced I'm going. I have to go. Otherwise, I'll feel horribly guilty about making her spend so much money on a ticket for me and then suitcases.

I stare hopelessly at the phone, at the text message that just sealed my fate. I'm going to New York. Yippee. (Note the blatant usage of sarcasm). Should I at least tell Trey? Or leave him suspecting nothing?

He was making so much progress too. I don't want to go, nor do I want to tell him. But I can't lie to him.

He deserves to know the truth.

I give a start and snap my phone shut when Trey comes shuffling back into the room. He is naked except for the towel secured around his waist. He mills around, finds a pair of boxers, and goes looking for a shirt. Trey looks around in a half-assed fashion, before he gives up his hunt and drops backwards onto his bed.

Never mind the fact that he is still soaking wet.

He lays flat on his back, his arms behind his head, and stretches out, but he strategically leaves enough room for me. I lay down next to him, my head resting against his chest, looking up into the gorgeous, familiar face, and slowly comb my fingers through his wet blonde hair.

He gives me a tired smile, lightly kisses the top of my head, and shuts his eyes. One of his arms slides down and curls around me.

Gradually his breathing becomes slow and even.

I want this night, this moment, to be my final memory of Trey. Not being shouted at. Not being reduced to tears as I nurse the latest injury. This.

I lay there for a little while, enjoying the sound of his gentle snoring, the peacefulness of the environment. Well, not completely. I still have yet to tell him that I'm leaving. It gnaws ferociously at my mind, until finally I have to get it out in the open.

I give him a soft prod. "Trey?" I ask timidly.

"Wha?" he murmurs sleepily, not bothering to open his eyes.

"I'm going to New York." I'm not happy about it, but I've said it. One of the most painful things I've ever had to say.

He's still partially asleep, so what I'm saying doesn't register. "Why? There's a little less than a week of summer left…"

"I'm not going for vacation, baby. I'm going to be living there."

Normally Trey and I refrain from pet names altogether, unless we're trying to deliver a hard message gently. ("Baby, I'm pregnant." "Honey, I just robbed a bank and now I have every cop in the state looking for me". Thankfully neither of these scenarios are real).

Trey recognizes this and sits up right and looks at me. "Why?" he repeats angrily. "What the hell is in New York that you can't find here?"

"My dad," I say in a small voice. Aside from seeing him and Charles, there is nothing whatsoever that interests me in New York. (Now that I'm being forced to move there). My life is here, part of it right in this very room with me.

"There's a great reason!" Trey snorts. "You see the guy maybe twice a year, he never calls, and, given the choice between which kid he wanted, he chose your brother. You go, we're done. It's me or them, Megan."

"Don't do this," I plead. It wasn't fair that Trey try and make me choose between my family or him. Unfortunately that's Trey for you. He likes to play dirty. "You know I love you…"

"Then stay here!" shouts Trey. "Fuck your dad. The bastard abandoned you. And for all you know, that tool brother of yours probably got killed in a fight."

It's one thing for him to make me choose, but another thing entirely to say such ugly things about them.

"Don't talk about my family like that."

My tone is a bit more threatening than it should be, my heart is racing. I know what's coming. But right now I don't care. Because nobody is allowed to bad mouth my family. Trey should know—and respect—how close I am to them and how important they are to me.

His temper is wearing very thin. "I can talk however the hell I want about whoever the hell I want, bitch."

With that, Trey swats me across the face. I had to admit I was expecting it, so I braced myself. Still, that didn't stop the blow from sending my head almost all the way around. My face is on fire, throbbing from where he it me. The room swims before my eyes, hot tears welling up in them.

His hand comes up again; for some reason he's outraged that I didn't topple over and scream for mercy like I usually did.

Right before my eyes, my boyfriend is again transforming into the savage, dangerous man I don't know. He comes closer.

I take a step back, trying to get closer to the door. The only thing to do in times like this is run for it. In a couple long strides, Trey is standing right in front of me. He grabs my face and jerks it upwards so I have no choice but to meet him in the eye.

"You're not going," he warns threateningly.

Oh, God. Right now the only place in the world I want to be is in that airplane. Taking me miles away from Trey.

I can't meet this guy—this monster—in the eye any longer. He scares me. I try to wriggle free, but he keeps a firm hold, fingers digging into my skin.

Again he jerks my head up. "Is that clear?"

There are so many things I could do right now. Start screaming for help. Send my knee up into his crotch and run for it. Even answer back.

I don't.

Years from now, I'll probably hate myself for my complete and total spinelessness. My lips tremble and tears slide down my bruised face.

I whisper "yes" and avert my gaze. Trying to keep him from seeing me crying.

Okay, Trey, you win.

Just don't hit me anymore.

Please don't hit me anymore.

The anger has passed. He has gotten his way and there is no further need for it.

The hand that had gripped my face like a claw now begins stroking it. Soft. Tender. Loving. Trey inclines his head. His lips brush mine. And then he pulls back, eyes boring into mine.

"I love you," he breathes, voice scarcely audible. "You know that, right?"

I nod and bite my lip to keep a sob from escaping. Tears continue to fall.

"It's okay," he soothes, an entirely different person. He pulls me close and hugs me. "I'm sorry."

I say nothing, do nothing. Simply stand there rigidly. With my head against his chest, I am too aware of his heart beating. Or is that mine?

My senses are heightened. I feel him rub his face through my hair. Feel the sensation of his warm, bare skin. Feel his arms close securely around me.

And I hate it.

I used to feel so safe in Trey's arms. Like he was protecting me from the world. Now his arms are a prison. Instead of protecting me from the world, they are keeping me from it.

Trapping me.

How many miles away is New York, exactly?

…When at last Trey drops me back at my apartment building, he gives me a kiss that I can't bring myself to return. I don't know why this time is so much different than the others, but somehow it just is.

For a long time, I've assumed this was normal, but it isn't. This isn't anything close to what love should be.

How can it be love? There can be no love if you fear your partner. There can be no love if you have no respect for your partner.

Obviously both of these play a key factor in our 'relationship'.

I'm clearly not, in Trey's eyes, equal to him. Hence the slapping around and all those mind games, like what he did back in his room. Trying to manipulate me. Keep me under his control. Ensure that I stay his property.

He's worn me down so that I just succumb to his will. He's too strong; I can't fight him.

I'm scared to even think about what he might do if I try. Suddenly the bruises on my face and arms and legs seem trivial. He could do worse, he could do much worse. I don't want to give him the chance.

I don't waste a minute once I'm back in the apartment. I go right to my room and proceed to tear it apart more efficiently than a hurricane. Drawers pulled all the way out, the contents spilling across the floor. Take the rack out of my closet and shake all the clothes off.

I'm in too much of a hurry to worry about folding clothes. Just grab and stuff in the nearest suitcase. Everything goes. I'm disappearing.

I pack fast and I pack efficiently. My suitcases bulge and a fight to close them ensues. By the time I'm done both packing and grappling with my luggage, my room looks uninhabited.

Perfect.

When Mom comes to wake me up, I surprise her by bursting out of my room, lugging the suitcases along behind me. She hasn't even put her make-up on yet; I'm ready to go. Which is weird, because I couldn't be less of a morning person.

It's Mom who seems to be moving in slow-mo. My suitcases have been taken out to the car and I'm getting impatient. I follow her around, urging her to abandon her morning routine, which takes too long, I feel, and being a total pest. At least I'm making it easier for her to send me away—and not feel too bad about it.

"Can't you buy a coffee from Dunkin Donuts on the way to the airport?"

Our coffee maker, like the rest of our appliances, is practically an ancient artifact.

Mom waits it out and drinks her coffee, unfazed. "If you think I'm moving slowly now," she says, laughing, "you should see me without caffeine." That's just what I want. For her to take even longer.

"Mom, you're hot enough as it is. You don't need make-up."

"Trust me. I'll scare people if I don't wear any."

She good-naturedly puts up with my prying for a little bit. Soon amusement is replaced with annoyance.

"Megan, have you seen my cell phone?"

"No."

"Could you look?"

"It's six thirty in the morning, Mom. Nobody's gonna call you. Can you look for it later?"

"You never know. Can you please stop whining and help me? Five minutes isn't going to make any difference."

Finally, we're at each other's throats.

"The speed limit is forty, Mom. You're going, like, ten miles under."

"If you don't like how I'm driving, why don't you drive?"

Once I get behind the wheel, we make it to the airport in good time. It takes very little time to have my larger bags sent off and to find my gate. Conveniently, F7 is all the way at the opposite side of the airport. Determined not to lose one precious second (we still have about two hours), Mom and I run through the airport in search of it.

We have to go out separate ways when we reach the bag check though. Mom isn't a passenger.

We hug for what feels like forever and tearfully exchange goodbyes. This is the last we'll see of each other for awhile, because we don't exactly have enough money to ship me home and back for the holidays.

I wave one final time and head through security. Then she and all the rest of the crying, mechanically waving people disappear. I brush the tears from eyes, put my shoes on, and grab my bag. Off through the airport, to find my gate.

Like everybody else, I flop down in a seat. Over an hour and a half wait still to come.

How exciting.

The typical sounds of an airport; family talking loudly in foreign languages, occasional flight checks searching for that one lame guy who refuses to get on board, and the announcement that if you leave your stuff sitting out by itself, you can't blame the airport if you lose it. The smells are pretty much as fun and spectacular as those, and the sights? Well, who doesn't like seeing two hundred incredibly bored individuals wander by, completely lost and oblivious to the fact that their flight left two hours ago?

But finally a voice came crackling over the loud speaker, announcing that we were ready to take off. I fall into step with the others, robotically take up my bag and shuffle into the line.

Ticket is approved. Walk out to the plane. Find my seat. Store luggage, buckle up, and prepare for take-off.

I'm roused from my soporific state when the plane begins to pick up speed. I love take-off. I was the first one to get to my row and therefore made claims on the window. (Screw what it says on the ticket). Though the woman now forced to take the end seat has made some not-so-subtle hints about wanting it.

Then a flight attendant comes forward and we have to listen to her deadly dull lecture. In case we are too dense to figure it out ourselves, she gives us a demonstration of how to use our seatbelts. Emergency exits are located here, here, and here.

Blah, blah, blah. We get it, lady.

I tune her out and glance out the window. We're high up in the sky. Chicago is fast disappearing and with it my old life, and Trey.

I can't believe how calm about the whole ordeal I suddenly am. I'm only abandoning my entire life. What was my life anyways?

Snarky, backstabbing friends—half of whom Trey forbid me from speaking to. Abusive boyfriend. Maybe it's better if I leave it here behind me.

After all that, I am so ready to start over.

…The flight isn't ungodly long (though I'm slightly cramped from sitting in one place) and soon I'm walking through the JFK airport in search of my dad. The tall, dark-haired guy I chase down isn't my father.

It's my brother.

A few years have passed since we've seen each other. (I used to see Dad a couple times a year, but Charles rarely came along. We talked on the phone a lot though—especially whenever Dad relapsed—and I could hear over the years as his voice deepened, tell by talking to him that h had gotten more mature, but it wasn't the same).

"Hi, Charlie," I greet when I'm able to stop gaping at him. Then at the use of my childhood nickname for him, I begin mentally kicking myself. Charlie? I could get away with it when we were eight, but now?

He's got to be six foot four now, probably buff beneath his hoodie (a weird family trait), and face much harder than I remembered.

I quickly try to think if there are any other nicknames there are to save myself. Chas? Chuck? But a small smile passes across his face and he returns this with a soft "Hi, Megs."

His childhood nickname for me.

We hug, happy to see each other, but it's unbelievably awkward. And just a little bit different from how it used to be. For starters, there's the generous time lapse. And then there are physical differences that can't quite be over-looked. I have boobs now, visible even under my hoodie. And he has…yeah…

It's too weird thinking about your twin brother like that. Weird and wrong.

"So where's Dad?" I ask quickly, standing on my toes and looking around for him.

Charlie/Charles' face grows stormy. "At work or passed out on the couch," he growls bitterly. He hates Dad, and the feeling is very mutual. Or that's what I gathered talking to him about it.

"He's still…?" I look into my brother's eyes, meaning something other than "binge drinking".

A grimace. Then a solemn nod.

"Trey?" Charles' eyes search my face, unquestionably seeing my bruised cheek, but he doesn't say a word about it.

A lump forms in my throat, but I manage words. "We broke up."

We may as well have.

So within five seconds of seeing each other, Charles (I can't get used to calling him "Chuck"/ "Chas") and I dumped all of our problems on one another. Cheerful aren't we?

It's decided that we go get my luggage, but then Charles starts looking around for someone. "Damn it," he grumbles. "The guy's on crutches. How far could he have gotten?"

'He' meaning who? He just said that Dad wasn't here.

Charles looks through the crowds, obviously finding whoever he was looking for. "Found him," he says. "Come on."

Not too far away, there is a blonde guy on crutches, looking around interestedly. Two Hispanic girls pass him; he eyes them admiringly, giving a long, drawn out "Hola!"

They giggle and approach him. "Hablas Español?" one of them asks flirtatiously. Apparently there is nothing hotter to these girls than hearing an American speak their native language.

A grin from the blonde. "Veo una bonita chica," he answers knowingly.

I see a pretty girl.

I find myself wondering how many of these pick-up lines he took the time to memorize. Beside me, Charles rolls his eyes, clearly disgusted.

This absolutely delights the girls, who whisper excitedly to each other for a moment in fast Spanish and then confront the guy. "Eres de por aquí?" the lead one asks.

I'm happy to see the blonde falter. He has no idea what she just said. Charles is happy too.

He stops and motions for me to. "This should be good," he says brightly. "Adrian's gonna fall on his face. He only knows two phrases, one of them being his pick-up line and the other one being 'Can you take your shirt off?'"

What a pig.

Why the hell would Charles associate with someone like that? He has an unusual amount of morals for a guy, especially one his age. Or he did and I hope he still does. The blonde, on the other hand, seems to have none.

To our great disappointment, the girls save him—Adrian—from embarrassment. I already don't like him and I don't think Charles does much either.

"She asked if you were from around here," the other girl explains in a slightly accented voice. "And, if you are, we were wondering if you would give us a tour?" A suggestive smile.

"Of course," Adrian answers complacently. "I'll show you guys everything: restaurants, clubs, hotels…"

That is actually decent of him, I think, but Charles is infuriated. Obviously he knows something that I don't. He stomps over to Adrian.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

The girls sense trouble because they flee without so much as a backward glance. Adrian himself looks like a kid caught digging in the cookie jar.

"Thanks a lot, Chuck," he says slightly sulkily. He stares wistfully after the girls. "I was going to give one to you."

How kind of him. Give a girl to him. Because woman after all are just mindless pieces of property, right? I'm not a feminist, but I'm pissed. Who the hell does this guy think he is?

Charles simply responds, "Walk off again and you can walk back." I'm disappointed in him. He didn't say a word to Adrian about how he treats women. I thought he was better than that. Obviously not. Hell, I bet he's in on it too.

Between Trey, and Charles, and Adrian, I have come to a decision. Men suck. If I'm going to start over, I want nothing to do with any guys. Not even my brother.

I don't say anything when Charles introduces us. On the contrary, meeting Adrian face-to-face makes me want even less to do with him. He looks so much like Trey that they could easily have been separated at birth.

Tall. Blonde. I'm-hot-as-hell-and-better-than-the-rest-of-the-world expression.

Not again.

Never again.

Adrian is oblivious to the fact that I'm glaring at him. Or if he isn't, he is a very convincing actor. He smiles (very nice smile) and says hi.

Then he ruins it by saying, "Are you sure she's your sister, Chuck? She's hot and you're a dog." But he's watching me out of the corner of his eye.

Maybe he was trying to win me over, but all he did was make me like him less.

I stalk on ahead to retrieve my luggage.

Author's Note: Here am I again. I'm kind of uncertain about this chapter. I both like and dislike it for various reasons. But I take my reader's opinion into greater consideration than my own. Hence why I welcome (and encourage) reviews.

So what do you all think about Megan? Like her? Hate her? My friend (who acts as an unofficial beta) said I made her really spineless, which wasn't my intention. I don't want everyone thinking God, what a whiny little bitch, because she really isn't supposed to be.

Thanks to all of my reviewers: marsbars12, crz4greece, Ciaobella, chrissayy, and awesomelyme. XD You rock, guys.