The door flew open and the floorboards under my feet creaked loudly as I tread on them slowly and carefully. An overwhelming smell of wetness was the first thing I noticed as I walked into my house for the first time after the hurricane. Seth and I shared a look of despair as our noses wrinkled in disgust at the odor and we continued to check out the bottom floor. At first glance, nothing really seemed wrong on the first floor, but the real damages would come to be known after the person from the insurance company came to check it out.
Seth continued up the stairs, while I opened the refrigerator and began to throw out any food that looked rotten or smelled bad. Just a day and a half without electricity and almost all the contents in the fridge had to be thrown away. A loud groan from the floor above grabbed my attention and I shut the fridge door before making my way to the second level as well. I met Seth in his room where he was staring at his soaked mattress and water damaged wood floors.
He looked up at me and said simply, "This sucks."
I sighed as I looked around with a grimace. "You're telling me. I'm going to check out my room." He nodded, already making his way to his closet to see how his belongings fared.
The one good thing that came out of me leaving to go to Suzie's was that I had already packed most of my belongings. Well, it's a good thing if Suzie's house did better than ours. I walked around the empty room slowly, noticing the stains from the water on my ceiling and walls. Flinging open the window, a fresh breeze cleared some of the smell from the room and I stared out of it at Caleb's window opposite mine. He was out when Seth and I decided to check out the house, so I found myself wondering what he was doing at that moment.
Just as I pondered this thought, I heard a deep voice behind me say, "You trying creep on me?"
I jumped and turned in surprise to see Caleb scrutinizing me with amusement. He chuckled deeply as I calmed my racing heart. "You scared me."
He smiled at me and my stomach lurched, but this time it had nothing to do with the shock factor. "Not my fault you're so jumpy."
"Ha, ha," I said dryly, fighting the smile at his tease. "And I am not creeping on anyone."
"Yeah," he scoffed. "That's why you're staring at my bedroom window." Then he narrowed his eyes at me and they twinkled as he gasped. "Should I be closing my curtains when I change?"
The temperature of my cheeks flared up, but I was angrier with myself that the first thought that went through my mind was 'he changes with his curtains open?' "Idiot," I spluttered when I recuperated from the images flashing through my mind.
He poked me in the side with a laugh and then whistled lowly as he looked around my room. "This place looks like it got caught in a hurricane." I rolled my eyes and he grinned. "Oh, wait. It has."
I shook my head with a small smile at the pure corniness of his joke and the curve of his lips widened. "Oh shush up, Caleb."
"You love me, you know it." My breath caught in my throat at how absolutely right he was and I rolled my eyes again at the cheekiness in his expression. Instead of dignifying that with a response, I turned back to lean my head out of the window and took a deep breath of fresh air to calm my jittering nerves. The sound of footsteps behind me made me shift towards it where I saw Caleb lean down and pick up something from the ground. It was the picture of us that I had left before. He gestured towards the picture with his eyes and made a face. "Glad to see how much you value our friendship," he said sarcastically.
I turned around and leaned my back against the windowsill, tilting my head to the side. "You know I do."
He handed me the picture and I noticed that it was slightly damp. Ink stained my thumb as I ran it over the wet, glossy surface where the colors were now running, marring our faces. "Then why'd you leave this here?"
I shrugged, not lifting my eyes from the swirl of our mingled faces, the smiles washed away. "I figured I wouldn't be seeing you guys again."
Looking up hesitantly, I noticed him frown. "Were you ever going to tell us?" I shrugged again, looking back to the picture. "Why?"
I sighed audibly and placed the picture on the windowsill, my fingers still touching the edge. "I don't know. I guess it was easier to not say goodbye to you guys. It was easier to just leave you guys here if I wasn't going to be living here anymore."
Caleb began to say something, but his words escaped me as something nagged at the back of my mind. What else had I left here? It was important. I could feel it.
Then, I suddenly remembered. I dropped down to my knees and felt around under my bed. It had to be here. How could I just leave it here?
"Rosie, what's wrong?"
Caleb was now on his knees beside me, watching me as I frantically looked under my bed. Finally, my fingers met damp paper and I grasped the thin sheet, pulling it out. Once it was no longer under my bed, I opened it carefully, making sure it didn't rip. I breathed out a shaky sigh of relief. It wasn't completely destroyed.
"What is that?"
Again, I ignored my friend's voice beside me. Instead, I focused on the smudged handwriting, almost illegible now. But that didn't matter. I practically had it memorized.
Caleb leaned closer next to me, enough that his scent filled my nostrils, and I looked up at him. He was trying to read what I was holding and I moved it away from his prying eyes.
"What?" he asked with finality in his voice.
I swallowed. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."
He sighed. "Rose, I've known you long enough that nothing is really nothing with you."
"That doesn't even make sense," I muttered, shifting away from him as he kept trying to read it over my shoulder.
"Yeah it does. Just tell me what it is."
I searched his face for a moment. So serious, but I knew that expression would turn to anger if I told him the truth. "It's a note, okay? It's private."
"A note?" he asked, confused now. "What kind of note?" I kept quiet, keeping my eyes glued to the page in my hands. "Come on, just save us both the trouble and tell me already. We both know I'm not going to let this go and you're going to spill anyways, so let's just skip all the nonsense and get on with it."
I looked up at him and there was nothing but honesty on his face. He was, of course, right. Why did he have to be so God damned nosy? "You're going to get mad at me."
"No, I'm not," he assured me.
"Yes, you are," I breathed, knowing he had no clue what he was saying.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not!"
"Yes, you are!"
"My God, we are not doing this right now! Just tell me," he ordered this time, staring me down sternly. But his eyes held only concern.
"Fine," I whispered, taking in a deep breath. "It's a note from my dad."
After a moment, I took a peek at his face and confusion was written all over it. "Wait. Why would your dad write you a note?" My lips were sealed as I stared up at him, watching as his face morphed to disbelief. "No… You wouldn't." Still, I said nothing, instead biting my lip as I saw him begin to realize. "You couldn't." The disbelief was becoming anger now.
"You said you wouldn't get mad," I reminded him softly, meekly.
He was practically seething now, but he made a show of taking a few deep, calming breaths with his eyes shut before speaking again. When he opened his eyes, he looked more in control, but still angry. "Why?" he barked out. "Why in the hell would you keep your dad's suicide note?" The tone of his voice made me flinch. He made it sound so wrong. I shrugged in response and he let out a breathy 'ha,' with no humor. "You must be some kind of masochist because I have absolutely no idea what kind of person loves to torture herself as much as you do."
"I don't torture myself," I mumbled, my fingers gripping the note possessively.
"Then what do you call this?" An uplift of a shoulder was his answer. "What kind of sane person does this?"
Well, that kind of hurt. "I guess I'm crazy then," I muttered.
At the bitterness in my tone, his voice softened, as if just realizing that he wasn't exactly helping. "I'm sorry. You're not crazy." He waited for a moment and I nodded my head. "Does Seth know about this?" I shook my head and he did the same in aggravation before abruptly standing. I looked up at him from the ground and he held out a hand to me. "Get up."
"Why?" I asked, warily.
"Just do it," he said, fiercely, shaking his hand at me. I took it, hesitantly, and he helped me stand up. "Give me the note."
Immediately, I clutched it to my chest and took a step back from him. "What? Why?"
"Just give it," he said, impatiently.
"What are you going to do to it?" I asked hesitantly, taking another step away.
He rolled his eyes. "Nothing. I promise."
"I can't let you read it." There were some things I couldn't even share with him.
He looked at me gently and his voice was soft. "I don't want to read it." Caleb looked at the paper in my hand and my hold on it tightened.
"What are you going to do it?" I repeated.
"It's not what I'm going to do to it. It's what you are."
I looked at him suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
He sighed softly. "I want you to destroy it. Tear it up, set it on fire, something, anything. Any way to get rid of it."
I shook my head. "I'm not going to do that."
He let out a sigh in frustration and rubbed his forehead with his fingers before lowering his hand to his side. "Okay, Rosie, think about it. What is the one thing you feel guilty about most?" I just stared at him, knowing fully well that he knew the answer to that. "Your dad's death, right?" I slowly nodded my head. "All keeping that note is doing is making sure you never let go of that guilt. It's just a constant reminder sitting under your bed about one of the darkest parts of your life. How do you expect to let it go if you keep forcing yourself to remember?"
I looked between the note and the earnestness and determination on Caleb's face. "I-I can't."
"Why not?" His voice was so soft it was heart melting. He was begging me.
He was right. Why? Then it hit me. "It's the only thing of his that was meant for me," I said in a quiet voice, feeling stupid as I said it. The look on his face broke my heart. It was just full of so much anguish. "I know. It's sad and pathetic, but-"
His eyes shut and his face looked pained as he shook his head, ceasing my speech. "Stop- stop talking. You're not- you're not sad. You're not pathetic." He held my eyes as he spoke slowly and quietly, but fiercely, his voice full of remorse.
I lowered myself to the floor, placing the note in my lap and absently smoothing out the creases. "No. I-I am," I said softly and Caleb took a seat across from me. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, hugging them close. I looked away from him, fully aware of how intently he was watching me and it was making me feel shy and nervous. "I do torture myself. I've read this note so many times that I have it memorized. And it hurts so much whenever I think about it or read it, but it's like an addiction. It's like I feed off his hatred." I sighed deeply. "There is something clearly wrong with me."
"Rosie, no, there isn't." Slowly, he rubbed his face with both hands before speaking again. "Look, I'm really sorry. I shouldn't judge you. You've been through things I can't even imagine." I nodded, still avoiding looking at him. "Whether or not you choose to keep that letter is none of my business."
Again I nodded, swallowing past a lump in my throat. It was only then I was aware of the pricking in my eyes. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I still don't feel like it's a good idea for you to keep it, though."
"I can't get rid of it. Not yet."
"Okay," he agreed. "When you're ready then." I blinked furiously, trying to stop the tears before they fell and sniffed. Caleb, noticing this, folded his legs under him, sitting Indian style now, and placed a hand on my shoulder before moving it up to cup my neck, gently coaxing my head up. "You okay?"
"Yeah," I muttered softly, giving him a small smile, loving the feel of his hand on my skin. "I'll be fine."
He smiled back before pulling his hand away and patting my knee twice. "Good."
There was a moment of silence between us, but it was very comfortable. No awkwardness whatsoever. And in that moment, I noticed something as I stared at his hand resting on my knee, his thumb absently drawing circles on the denim of my jeans: something was different between us. Ever since I had gotten back, we were more in tune with each other. We were closer. It almost seemed less friendly and more… romantic. Especially with all the touching we'd been doing lately. That wasn't exactly normal between friends, at least not at the extent that we'd been doing. Yes, something was definitely different between us.
Or maybe it was just me.
Subtly, I shook my head of those thoughts. It probably was just my imagination, so it wasn't even worth it to entertain the thought. When I brought myself out of the recesses of my mind, I found Caleb watching me with interest, making me feel insecure. "What?"
"Nothing," he said with a shrug.
A small smile made its way to my lips as I threw his words back at him. "Caleb, I've known you long enough that nothing is really nothing with you."
This made him let out a brief snort of laughter. "I don't know. I was just thinking about how strong you are. I really do admire you for that." A slight blush colored my cheeks at his praise and I looked to the floor, even though I disagreed with him. "But I hope you know that you don't have to pretend like everything is okay all the time. It is okay to cry every once in a while." A simple shrug was my answer and he continued. "That night at Sam's party, you didn't even shed a tear when I picked you up. At all. I kept thinking about how strange that was. I figured I would get there and you'd be crying your eyes out. And just now, you stopped yourself. Sometimes it's healthy to just let it out, you know?"
I sighed slowly, bringing up my knees now. "I don't know. Sometimes I feel like I don't have the right to cry. That shit with Callum… I know you're going to yell at me, but I really do feel like it was my fault for encouraging him. In hindsight, I guess I was kind of asking for it." He opened his mouth but I stopped him by raising my hand. "I know what you're going to say, so I'll just save you the trouble and tell you that you're right. This is just one thing I can't let go of right now, like my dad's death. Letting that go is hard."
He sighed. "I understand."
"Thanks." He nodded slowly in acknowledgement. "Can I ask you a question?"
Caleb smirked. "You just did."
I rolled my eyes with a small grin. "Oh shush up. How did you deal with the whole Bailey situation? How did you change yourself like that so fast?"
His eyes grew soft as he thought before answering. "Well, after I found out about what happened to her, I felt awful, obviously. That actually was my entire fault. To think I was almost the pushing point for someone's mental state deteriorating ate me up inside. The first reason that I thought of that caused it was my habits. So that was dating around, partying, drinking. I distanced myself from my friends and spent my time with my family instead."
"What about the guilt though? How did you deal with that?"
"Honestly, I don't really know. It wasn't like one day I just decided I wasn't going to feel guilty about it anymore. It was more like I realized that I wasn't going to benefit anybody by beating myself over it anymore. I went to her and I tried to apologize to her, but that was all I could really do about that. All I needed to focus on afterward was making sure I changed, so I didn't hurt anybody else. I guess I decided that I would make some good come out of this horrible thing that happened."
I chuckled softly, nudging his foot with my toe. "And that's how you became the upstanding young man you are today."
He nudged me right back with an amused grin. "I guess so."
A moment of silence passed between us before Caleb cleared his throat, looking uneasy. "What's up?"
"Just out of curiosity, how did you know Bailey's name already?"
"Jayden and Nate kinda mentioned her name," I admitted hesitantly. When his face showed an expression of understanding, I hastily put in, "They didn't tell me who she was, but when you started talking about it, I put two and two together," to make sure he didn't get mad at his brothers.
"Oh, alright," he said, still looking uneasy, his eyes narrowed slightly. "Nowhere else?"
"If you're asking if I remember Sam mentioning it at the party, then yes, I remember that," I answered his unspoken question.
He raised his eyebrows and gulped, making my eyebrow raise at his reaction. What was the big deal? "Um, what else do you remember?" he asked in his attempt at nonchalance.
Suddenly, it clicked in my mind why he was asking, as a vague memory of me pressing Caleb against a fence came into my mind. He wanted to find out if I remembered that I tried to kiss him at the party! But why would he care about that? Even if I did remember it- which I did, vaguely- wouldn't it just be easier to pretend like it didn't happen? Has it been bothering him? It didn't mean something to him, did it?
"Why? Is there something I should remember?" I asked him, wanting to know how much information he would give up. Even though I remember bits and pieces, if I didn't remember, isn't it my right to know every embarrassing thing I did, good or bad?
He became flustered at the question, not seeming to know how to answer, as if he was battling himself on whether or not he should tell me. After a few seconds and my imploring look, he replied, "No. Nothing important."
My heart dropped a little, but this time I didn't just want to ignore the subject. So, I pushed on, lowering my eyes and voice. "So me pinning you against the wall and interrogating you isn't important?"
He was silent, so I looked back up at him to see uneasiness all over him. He licked his lips absently. "You do remember."
"Yeah," I said, slowly, noticing that he dodged my question. He nodded in response and he looked so uncomfortable. I almost dropped it that time, but I wanted an answer. I needed an answer. "You didn't answer the question." I hesitated momentarily. "That wasn't important?" My heart was pounding in my chest as I watched his expression carefully. He stared at me for a few seconds and then looked down at the floor, shattering my world. His whole body language told me his answer. "Oh, um, okay. Just forget I-"
"Actually," he interrupted slowly, softly. I looked up at him in surprise and he was smiling small at me. "It's extremely important."
I was at a loss for words. What was that supposed to mean?
Just as I opened my mouth to ask him just that, though, my brother appeared in the doorway. "Rose, come on, we gotta go shopping for new stuff. The insurance company said they'll take of it until a certain amount, so we should get started."
"Oh," I said to him before looking back at Caleb, who smiled as if to tell me it was alright. "Okay."
Seth looked between us for a second before nodding. "Come down in five." Then he left.
An awkward silence stretched between us where neither of us were really sure where to look, but I couldn't help but think Caleb was probably happy he was off the hook. "Um, well, I should get going then."
I nodded in agreement before standing. "Me too."
I walked past him toward the door and I heard him sigh loudly behind me. "Rosie, hold up." I did, turning around to face him. "We'll talk later?"
He actually seemed to mean it. Like I wasn't the only one who wanted to clear the air. I knew he could be wanting to talk to me to reject me, but I still felt hopeful as I grinned at him. "Sure."
Maybe it's not just me.
I don't really have much time right now, so I can't really say much except I'm sorry for leaving it there and thank you for being my awesome, amazing, incredible readers and reviewers. You people rock my world. No joke.
Thank you so much! I am incredibly happy you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it :D
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Well, I have four exams to study for, so I'll be off. Wish me luck!
Until next time :D