So it's been around five years since I updated this story. I've always meant to finish this, and I've come back to fictionpress with a renewed conviction to see this through. It's been really difficult for me to start writing this again - I started this story when I was eighteen years old (and it shows!) and now I'm twenty-five. I'm a totally different person! I look back on so much of this and feel very disconnected from it - and which is why maybe this latest chapter will feel the same. So, here is my attempt at gently easing myself back into this story. I hope you enjoy it!
Thank you to all of you who continue to read this, and who review, and perhaps most shockingly of all - have continued to give me support after all this time. Enough chatter, on with the show!
Sweetheart, what have you done to us?
I turned my back and you turned to dust
What have you done?
Sweetheart What Have You Done to Us - Keaton Henson
Chapter Ten - Stalemate
Something was wrong.
Lene wasn't an idiot. Far from it, actually. She may have skipped school a bit too much (okay, way too much), been consistently tardy with every paper she'd handed in, and gotten relatively mediocre grades but she was smart. It wasn't the kind of intelligence that could be graded on a scale from A to F, or based on facts learned from a second-hand textbook. But she had an acute awareness of the world around her thanks to some nifty psychic abilities and even better intuition. She was finally learning that sometimes her mind and heart weren't reliable enough to be trusted; this time she was going to follow her gut and her instinct. And they were flaring red sirens, battening down the hatches and screaming DANGER, DANGER, as loudly as internal organs and abstract concepts could.
Does it matter? His voice was a fragile whisper; his words full of possibility, and she wanted to release every care and dive into this beautiful opportunity and let it swallow her whole. It was as though, with this simple question, that he belied the sinister truth of the situation she'd so harshly been confronted with for the last couple of days. That Callum Thorn did not give a shit about her.
Hesitantly, she searched his eyes, on the lookout for any glimpse or twitch which would somehow reveal his thoughts, intentions or the punchline to whatever joke he was playing on her.
"You tell me," she replied with a hint of defiance. Instinctively, she steadied herself, gently moving her arm out of his grip. She felt sick, and her head was pounding, but it was as if his words, and slightly too sweet tone, had triggered something inside of her. Callum had all but declared war on her, and she'd let herself surrender to him on every battlefield; physically, she felt weaker than ever, but her resolve hardened and the cracks in her defences glued themselves back together, stronger than before. If he was going to compare her to a stray, then he was about to feel her bite.
Sensing a change in the atmosphere, Callum appeared to snap himself back into reality, blinking as though he'd just stepped out of a trance. Casually, he shrugged, as though not bothered in the slightest, as he let his hand flop back back down to his side. Lene watched as a shadow of a doubt flickered across his face, like a candle's flame gasping for oxygen before being extinguished. He seemed to be having some kind of inner battle, and for a second, Lene thought she'd finally seen a crack in his disguise.
However, he cracked a smile as he watched her wobble, still adjusting to how her body felt, and it was as though nothing ever happened. "Easy there, Muhammad Ali," he joked and raised his hands in false surrender. "Fight's over. You can sit down, if you want. Considering how our siblings haven't axed down the door in a reenactment of The Shining yet, I'd say everyone's probably simmered down by now."
Lene took his advice, and allowed his words to churn over in her brain. Noah. Tuck. She'd strangely sort of forgotten about them. She touched her temple, allowing her cold fingers to cool the developing bruise, before moving them to brush her lips. Lips which, if she was recalling correctly, had been kissing Tuck Thorn. Lips which had wanted more. Lips which were now making the rest of her body feel very confused.
When she'd wondered where everybody was, her mind had immediately only been concerned with one person.
"You call this a good whiskey sour?" grimaced Will Thorn as he took his second sip of the drink Jules had concocted for him. "I say this without hyperbole - this is the worst drink I've ever had in my whole life."
"No, I called it a mean whiskey sour. I think all the fancy champagne flutes and silver spoons in your mouth have ruined your appreciation for a real, stiff drink, Richie Rich." Jules held up her masterpiece appraisingly. "This little beauty is the kind that hits you hard and without mercy. Kind of like your brother actually," she said, malice dripping subtly from each word.
"Hey, that's a low blow!" Will started furiously, slamming his drink on the counter. It splashed over the edge and doused his hand. He shook his hand, trying to air dry it, now even more annoyed.
"Low blow? Isn't that another Tuck Thorn speciality?" Jules inquired feigning ignorance, and sipped at her drink with raised eyebrows.
He sighed, grabbed a dishtowel, and began slowly wiping his fingers."She's going to be fine, you know. And it's not your fault."
"My fault?" Jules asked, wide-eyed and incredulous. "I think it's obvious whose fault I think it is."
"Right. I thought for a minute that beneath the biting comments and misdirection, you were trying to cover up whatever guilt you felt about clearly inviting that idiot over here in the first place." Will spoke gently and reassuringly, but also pointedly enough that Jules knew that he clearly still thought exactly just that. "It doesn't help that the guilt-trip that has been taking the scenic route around your mind for the last hour has been playing all over your face for the same amount of time. You aren't responsible for the actions of anyone but yourself."
Jules locked eyes with the older boy, feeling annoyed that he'd seen through her so easily. Normally the opposite sex wasn't that perceptive. Maybe she was losing her touch. Maybe she was just tipsy. All Jules knew was that she was now officially desperate to change the subject. Maybe even turn the tables a little.
"So what's the story with the drop dead gorgeous brunette?" She asked mischievously.
He groaned and let his shoulders fall defeatedly. "Being abused by a high schooler within my own house," he grumbled and ran his hand through his dark hair, but allowed a small smile to creep up around the corners of his lips. "Talk about no mercy."
Will cradled the highball glass in his hand, running his thumb over the ridges on the glass. He took a large gulp, and fought a losing battle against a grimace as the burning sensation hit his stomach, lungs, and throat.
"Some night," Callum whistled breezily as he looked out the window at the first cracks of sunrise. He wondered if his attempts to make small talk were as painfully obvious to her as they were to him.
She scoffed from the bed as she cradled her head in her hands. "Yeah, it must have been very difficult for you to be humiliated by your brother and your date, concerning where you were expected to spend the evening tonight. And then punched in the face. Which resulted in a concussion. Which turned what was bound to be an already shitty hangover into a fucking nightmare." She stopped dramatically and then feigned mock surprise. "Oh wait. That wasn't you. That was me. But yes, it must have been a real trial for you to knock back an entire bottle of tequila by yourself and then proceed to avoid all human interaction for the rest of the night. I'm sure you'll have plenty to write in your diary tonight concerning all your hardships."
He felt all the blood rush to his head as he tried to control his temper. He had a short fuse, especially when it came to Lene Kemp, and even though he knew there was a bet to win, he just couldn't seem to stop the rising heat he felt within. Deep breaths, he reminded himself. Think of the bet. She's every right to be angry, he rationalized. But not towards him. "Why! How! You!" he sputtered, trying to organize some semblance of a sentence. "Talk about ungrateful! I basically saved your life!"
"Really," Lene stated, deadpanned. "I don't remember that part. I guess I must have blinked at the part where I headed towards the light at the end of the tunnel only to be miraculously rescued by you."
He groaned and threw his hands in the air incredulously seemingly unable to fully digest the words she was saying, and paced on the spot. Lene could tell he was trying to hold back the verbal bile he was thinking of throwing at her. She didn't care. She was on the apathy train and she couldn't brake now.
"What I am able to recall, however, is you comparing me to a dog and insinuating that your brother was some kind of idiot to even want to be in my presence. That I remember. As well as every other cruel taunt you've thrown at me every time I've had the misfortune of being in your company."
"On the subject of my brother, I guess I should have left you with him. Last time I checked he was taking very good care of you.
She looked at Callum as though he'd just grown three more heads. "Do you ever stop manipulating people?" Lene asked exasperatedly. "You've attempted to make me feel guilty for every single action. You pull me in just to push me away again. You're the magnet next to my compass - I'm trying to follow you but you're going crazy and sending me in a million different directions. Figure your shit out, Callum. I'm sick of trying to sort out what you want from me. Now I'm following what I want for myself."
"Me? Manipulative?" Callum's eyes bulged and he sputtered. "You literally showed up on my doorstep and told me that my fate was to be with you or whatever! Like, I had no choice in the matter. How's that for manipulative?"
"What does it matter? It's not like you believed me!" She yelled, annoyed. She could feel her temples pounding harder and harder, and the same beat, the same pain, the same anger, flowed freely throughout her body.
They both fell silent, and only the rapid, heavy breathing from both of them could be heard in the stale air of Callum's bedroom. Suddenly, his eyes widened with clarity. "Are you, like...on your period, or something? Cause your mood swings are seriously fucked up. We were having a normal conversation all of five minutes ago and then you just turn on me for no reaso-"
He lost his footing and stumbled into the wall with his palms forward, likely saving his own head from injury. He looked up to see Lene heaving heavily, face flushed, holding the pillow with such force between her two hands that he feared at any second she was going to rip it in half.
"Okay, so you're not on your period." He stood up straight and rubbed his palm against his cheek, slightly impressed with the force she had put into hitting him with a down pillow, covered in the finest Egyptian cotton. 1500 thread count and all. "Just your run of the mill, straight up insanity then. Good to kno-"
This time he hit the floor.
Lene walked over Callum's crumpled and whimpering form on the floor and headed towards the balcony. She noticed the pack of cigarettes on the desk near the window as well as a copy of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. For a rich snob, he had good taste in literature. To be fair, it was sitting on top of a Playboy, but she heard they had good articles, she reminded herself doubtingly. She grabbed them both and opened the locked shutter doors. A cool, nighttime breeze enveloped her, cleared her head and throat, and breathed new life into her.
There was a small chair and table outside on the balcony, and so she settled down comfortably. She wasn't ready to face her brother, her friends, or anyone else on the other side of Callum's door, but she was going to be damned if she had to spend another minute arguing with Callum Thorn. It was becoming a habit - one she particularly detested.
She toyed with the cigarette between her fingers. Her first cigarette. A milestone. A rite of passage, perhaps. She ran her fingers up and down it's length, and lightly bounced the pad of her index finger around the soft tobacco end. She willed for clarity and focus, and then put it between her lips.
"What are you doing?" questioned a soft, slightly chiding voice from above her. A large hand grabbed it from her mouth. "You've consumed copious amounts of alcohol. You've now got god-knows-what kind of diseases from my brother. You've had a blow to the head. You're possibly concussed. Not to mention, definitely crazy," Callum murmured the last one under his breath. "Let's not add nicotine addiction and lung cancer to the list of ailments."
"Sounds like I'm a lost cause already," she said, though made no attempt to grab it back from him. "So why the hell not?"
Callum appeared to be considering saying no to her request, as it seemed like an unwise move to give a hungover girl nursing a possible concussion a cigarette. But he shrugged - he was a high schooler, not a doctor - and gave it back to her. She promptly lit it, took one exhale, looked at the object in complete puzzlement, and then handed it back to him.
"Not a convert then?" Callum asked lightheartedly, though when he looked at her she was looking back at him with extreme seriousness.
"I should have said thank you. I'm sorry. And thank you. For helping me. Or whatever it was you did. I'm a little shaky on the details right now. And everything else. But genuinely, thank you." Lene tried to lock eyes with him but he averted his gaze. She settled for admiring the rising sun and swore she could feel it's warm, amber glow reaching out to her. She closed her eyes and felt a sense of calm wash over her.
She couldn't feel Callum's eyes on her, though had she opened them, she would have been surprised to find him looking at her quite peculiarly. He looked nervous and calm all at once. He felt...indescribable. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked out at the horizon, too scared to look at her any longer.
"I thought you were dead," he exhaled shakily, as though learning how to breathe. He looked down, scuffing his shoes against the ground, as though the gravity of his own words were just beginning to register with him. "It was only for a second. But I've never seen someone look so dead before. You're so small. Try to be more careful." He inhaled again.
Strangely, Lene understood that he was, in his own way, trying to apologize to her.
Another wavering exhale.
"Sit down," she commanded, and he obeyed.
Slouching against the outside wall, he continued to avert eye contact with Lene, and flinched when the book landed on his lap. He finally looked up at her, surprised. She leaned back and closed her eyes, but a smile danced around the corners of her lips.. "Read to me," she gently ordered.
He chuckled quietly to himself, strangely enjoying the moment, and started from the beginning.
And there it is! So much left to write - it's a little daunting! But I'm relaxing in a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam with endless lazy days in front of me so hopefully there is more to come very soon!