A/N: Because I can't only have one active story on FictionPress, apparently, here's the next one!
It's a lot darker than my other stuff, and a little more mature so be cautious.
I hope you all enjoy! Let me know what you think.
Chapter One: Cracked
I don't know if you've ever felt like that.
That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years.
Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist.
Or something like that.
I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this.
That's why I'm trying not to think.
I just want it all to stop spinning.
-Perks of Being a Wallflower
The party was outside. The music was blaring and she was glad because it meant that she didn't have to talk to anyone. She was just standing along the edge, five beers in, and the lines were all blurring together. The beer was gone now though, and she'd resorted to a bottle of cheap vodka instead.
It was the kind of night he would have loved. The weather was a perfect 79 degrees, and she was perfectly content in her short, black skirt and tank top. He would hate this outfit, though, she couldn't help thinking as she took another swig straight from the bottle. She didn't have the time or the energy for a mixer or a chaser.
Besides, the burn of it as it crept down her throat helped with the burn of everything else.
"You good, Cadence?" the face was swimming in and out and she nodded, wondering if Jared could read the pain in her eyes. No. He was probably just noticing the grimace as the vodka hit her lips.
"You wanna go to the car?"
That was a code they'd worked out a long time ago. Wanna go bang in the backseat? She pictured it for a moment, his body of top of her, skinny and swearing, muttering how good she was, how sexy. The smell of cigarettes heavy on his breath.
"No," she had places to be, tonight. She had enough on her mind without that, too. "I gotta go soon."
"Go where? His hands, shaking from the alcohol, or the drugs, or no sleep, started creeping up my leg, squeezing my inner thigh, higher, higher…
She shook it off.
"Nowhere. I'll see you tomorrow or something."
He scoffed, gave her the finger, and turned around. She rolled her eyes and managed to walk semi-steadily away from the crowd…there was only one place on her mind, tonight.
The ladder seemed longer each time she came. She sighed, closed her eyes, and thought sober thoughts.
Just get down this ladder safely, Cadence.
She threw the almost-empty vodka bottle into her bag, slung it across her body, and started down. It didn't take as long as she'd thought it would have, though dropping to the wood was a little tricky in her four-inch heels.
But it was worth it. It was almost as if she could inhale him in the air, out here. She closed her eyes and there he was, sitting with his legs dangling over the edge of the dock and staring our over the water, talking about whatever book he'd just read. "You've got to read it, Cadence. You really would like it. Are you even listening to me? Cade? Cadence?"
Her eyes flew open, heart stopped. Elijah?
And then, her eyes collided with the next closest thing. "Noah?"
"God. Hey. What are you – what are you doing here?"
He was standing, now, and he seemed taller than before. Even in her heels, she was only at his shoulders. He looked…
Beautiful. But that was the vodka.
He sighed and chuckled humorlessly, running his hand over his head and shoving his hands into his pockets. "Yeah. Eli's birthday."
It hurt, still, to hear his name. It was like a knife stabbing into her skin and being jaggedly ripped back out. "Yeah. There's…there was nowhere else to go."
His chin fell and he took a step closer. "Yeah, I know. It's like you can feel him up here. Like it's in the air. It's just…" He shook his head. "It's good to see you though. I mean, how are you? Besides…today…and everything."
She shrugged and wished she wasn't so wobbly on her feet. She wished that Noah wasn't here, that she could just drink the rest of this vodka and talk to Eli in peace. He took a step closer and she wanted to take a step back. She didn't want him to see her like this.
"I didn't know you were back," she hadn't meant for it to sound so…derogatory. As if she wasn't glad to see him. Because of course she was, of course it was good to see someone that had been so…
No. She tried to think that way, because isn't that what you were supposed to think? That because she and Noah had known Eli better than anyone that they could somehow help each other through the loss of him?
Well, that was bullshit. Because seeing Noah here was just another blow to her already destroyed emotions.
"Yeah, I, uh…" he looked uneasy, as if he didn't know what to say. "Transferred up here. Mom's not doing so well, and I just really wanted to be close to home."
His mom. God, she'd all but forgotten. Noah's mom had been fighting breast cancer for a few years now. He'd found out in the same year that they'd lost Elijah.
"I'm sorry," the words felt fake and forced but she knew that's what she was supposed to say. That's what everyone always said to her…or had, at first anyway.
"No, it's – she's a fighter." He smiled, then, and she wondered how he made it seem so real. She hadn't smiled in so long. Not a real smile, anyway. "She's gonna make it."
That hope, that hope was so naïve. She almost said it, too, but somehow she reared it back. There was no point in pissing him off, too. There was enough hurt between the two of them without it.
"That's good, Noah. I just – really need to sit down, I think…" She took a step backwards and felt the ground shift under her feet somehow, then realized it was just the alcohol. But there he was, and he had her by the elbow, his body jarringly close, his cologne, she realized with a sudden, painful stab, the same kind that Eli used to wear. She remembered them trying to buy it together discreetly so that no one knew.
"Little too much tonight, Cady?"
"I'm fine," she muttered, and she sat cross-legged at the edge of the dock, leaning back on her hands and shaking her hair out behind her. Eli had liked it long, so she'd kept it that way. Even though sometimes she hated it. Even though it meant that sometimes, when she caught herself in the mirror, she couldn't help but think of him running his fingers through it, smelling it subtly when they stood together, seeing it brush his chest when she was lying on top of him…
"You don't have to always be strong, okay?" Noah's voice was too close and too kind. She didn't need it, didn't want it. "Cadence, it's okay to feel, sometimes."
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to cry. How many nights had they spent out here? The three of them. The two of them. It was Eli's favorite spot, the one spot in town where I can really think, you know? It was here that they'd started their romance, here that they'd spent their first night together, here that he'd proposed.
She allowed herself to think of that moment fleetingly – his boyish grin in the moonlight, his hair that was so dark that the moon made it look blue, his hand as he reached for hers and said Cadence, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I don't know what happens when I walk away from here tonight, but I know that I want you by my side through it. All of it. The rest of it. Forever. I can't imagine my life away from yours. Can't imagine what I would be without you. I know they say that stuff on the movies all the time – you're my soul mate, best friend, other half, you complete me...it all sounds so stupid, so corny – but it's exactly how I feel. Baby, there is no one else. Never will be. I love you more than you can possibly imagine, and I always will. Marry me.
The sob was out before she could stop it and the tears just came and suddenly Noah was there and she was clutching onto him like she'd never held onto anything. Like he was her life vest, her anchor, the only thing that was real in this god awful nightmare.
They sat there until she stopped crying. And then after that, when she was coming down, he still held her. And when she vomited, he gathered her hair at the nape of her neck and muttered the softest, kindest whispers.
"I'm sorry," she finally said, wiping her mouth with the back of a shaking hand. "I'm sorry you had to see me like this." This time, she really meant the apology.
"No," he stated firmly. "I've had my rough days, too."
Rough days. She mused. She wondered when rough days had turned into rough weeks. Months, even. She couldn't quite remember the last time she'd been completely sober – no pills, no weed, no alcohol. Two weeks? No, more than that. Five? Six?
But maybe he hadn't heard, yet. Maybe he didn't know that Cadence Larson was the lost child of the town. She'd heard the whispers, the rumors, the accusations. At first it was pity, and now, well, now it was just disdain.
They were so in love, you know? Just a few months before their wedding. Such a tragedy.
She's just taking it hard, right now. She needs some time to grieve, to pull herself back together. Who wouldn't be devastated after that?
How long has it been, now? Six months? God, she looks awful, doesn't she? Like she hasn't eaten in weeks.
I saw her down by the bars last night and she couldn't even stand. Her mother must be so upset. A year after Eli's death and she's more of a mess than ever.
She's been dressing like a whore, lately, have you seen her? It's such a shame…she was such a nice girl.
I heard she had to go to the hospital last night. Alcohol poisoning or something like that. Someone needs to get her some help.
"I shouldn't – I shouldn't be here."
"Cade – "
"I don't need your pity, Noah."
"I'm not giving it to you!"
She kicked her shoes off angrily and began padding over to the ladder. He had her wrenched back before she'd gotten out of arms length.
"You're in no state to climb up that ladder right now, do you understand me?"
"Let go!" She yanked her arm from his grasp, and when she glared up at him she found his eyes glaring right back. "I don't want to be here anymore, alright?"
"Why?" his voice was incredulous, his misdemeanor inquisitive. He wasn't trying to judge her, she could tell. "Cadence, what's so wrong with remembering him?"
"I can't, you don't understand." She could feel the tears coming on again, and damn it, if she wasn't so drunk she could have pressed them back. "It hurts, Noah." She was shaking. Her whole body. She got like this sometimes…if she'd had too much. She couldn't quite control her hands.
"I know," he reached out and cupped her neck with a large hand, the other grabbing her quaking hand, stilling it. "Cadence, I lost him, too."
This is what she had been waiting for. For him to somehow equate his pain to her pain. There was no way he felt what she felt. There was no way he felt the same agony, the same emptiness, the same absolute and total devastation.
Eli had been her entire world.
"Don't do that." She ordered without meaning to. She turned away from him; she had to brace herself to say the next sentence. "Don't pretend that – that Eli meant to you what he meant to me."
"I didn't say that." He replied desperately. "Cadence, he was my best friend – like – he was like my brother. I know I didn't love him the same way that you did, but he was still the most important person in my life."
"I can't talk about this – I can't, I just…" she almost fell again, and he caught her gently once more. She hated this. This wasn't how this night was supposed to go. She was supposed to get drunk, and come up here, and pass out. Like she always did on important days. On the days when it hurt the most.
But here was Noah and he was ruining all of it. And it was all too much, too overwhelming, and suddenly the blackness wasn't just above her, it was all around, and Noah was telling her it was okay, go to sleep, go to sleep Cady, go to sleep, sweetheart.
And for a moment, for a strange, awful, heart wrenching moment just before she passed out, she couldn't quite tell if she was in Noah's arms, or Elijah's.
When she came to, she was in a strange room. She had grown used to that, really…opening her eyes to a hangover and trying to piece together how she'd gotten wherever she was and who she might be next to. But when she turned her head, there was no one. And when she sat up, she was sure she'd never seen this room before.
The walls were a cool green, with dark, wooden trimmings. It was small, but modestly decorated; a desk with books stacked above it, a dresser that housed a basketball in a glass case and a few plaques, a flat screen television mounted on the wall and a leather chair in the corner. The bedside next to her was made; as if no one else had slept in here at all. There was an alarm clock next to her that digitally red 1:07 PM. It wasn't until she swung her legs over the side and looked down at the t-shirt she was wearing that she realized where she was.
It was a bright red shirt, the same color as her high school. The front of it said STATE CHAMPS in bold, white letters, and she knew what the back would say. THAYER. #21.
Elijah had the same shirt, though of course the back boasted a different last name and number.
So, that mean she was at Noah's.
She stood slowly, skirting the trashcan that had been placed not-so-subtly by her bedside, and locating the bathroom easily. She winced when she turned on the light. Her eyes were swollen, her makeup in pathetic, raccoon-like rings. Her hair was matted and flat, and she ran shaking fingers through it and then gathered it all into a loose, messy braid. Face-wash and mouth wash were in the medicine cabinet, along with a razor, refill blades, shaving cream, tweezers, gel, and a comb. And then, there was the cologne, the same damn kind…
She slammed the mirror shut harder than she should have.
When she emerged from the bedroom, still in a t-shirt and nothing more, she realized she must be in a loft apartment. There were three stairs down that led into a living room, and the wide open layout made the kitchen visible as well. The furniture was generic, Ikea, maybe, but nicely put together all-the-same. The couch boasted a pillow and crumpled up blanket, and she wondered if that's where Noah had slept.
And then, as if the timing couldn't be more perfect, the door closed. When she looked over, there he was. He was holding two bags of groceries as well as a leash that was attached to a small, white and gray husky.
"Come on, Duke, calm it down, jeez…" he chuckled and set one of the bags down on the table by the door, unhooking the dog with his freehand and letting him run to the stainless steel food and water bowl under the far window. "Crazy dog." He picked up the other bag and looked up, finally, and spotted her.
"Cady," he smiled at her carefully, "good morning."
"Yeah," she muttered herself, slowly crossing the room, her feet sinking into the thick, fluffy black rug that was padding the floor. "Or afternoon."
He chuckled again and nodded. "Right." he entered the kitchen and she was taken aback by how…good he looked. Maybe it hadn't been the vodka. His hair was a little longer than she remembered, a dark brown that lightened in the summertime, his eyes the same, warm hazel. He had a pretty tan, the kind that was natural with Italian blood, and his movements betrayed his athleticism.
"Duke," she muttered, "cute name."
"Yeah," he laughed again, "just a little reminder."
Noah was kind of the local hero. He was recruited to Duke straight out of high school, and had accepted the full ride with many TV cameras and his trademark smile. Unfortunately, a year and a half later he'd blown out his knee and lost his spot. Now, another year later, it appeared as if he'd transferred back home. Either way, little boys in town still pretended they were Noah Thayer, draining threes as well as easily dunking, known just as much for his outside game as his inside. He and Eli had been unstoppable; they'd had the uncanny ability to read each other's minds on the court, predict the other's next move before it was made. It was what won them state championships two years in a row.
God, they had loved basketball.
"You didn't – you didn't have to do all this for me." She crossed the living room and stepped up into the kitchen. She wondered if she imagined it, or if his eyes really lingered on her bare legs. He looked away just as quickly.
"I know," he smiled again. "But, I mean, you're one of my best friends, Cadence. And after everything…" he shrugged halfheartedly and left it at that. "Let me make you breakfast. Or, lunch. However you want to look at it."
"I should – Noah, I should go."
His eyebrows raised and he shook his head. "Sit down. I've got eggs, bacon, pancakes. Orange juice!" He held it up triumphantly and how could she say no to that smile? "Just stay. You need some meat on your bones, anyhow."
So she sat there listening as he talked. And talked. And talked. He talked about his puppy – how he had gotten lucky and his friend had been breeding huskies so he'd gotten a good deal, to work – he was working at a gym that was not only helping him with school, but also made him realize that he wanted to be a personal trainer when he graduated. He was flipping the bacon (turkey bacon) and tossing pancakes (whole wheat, whole grain) and scrambling eggs (only the whites) simultaneously as he lectured her about how important it was to take care of your body. And then he talked about his family and how his mom was doing better and how his dad was thinking about retiring soon, and then, suddenly, it was ready and he set down a steaming plate in front of her without her saying a single word.
"Bon appétit, Madame."
She forced a smile up at him, although it wasn't as hard as it usually was. "Thank you,"
"Welcome," he sat down opposite her and slid over some syrup (sugar free). "Here. Chow down."
She hadn't been hungry in so long that it was strange, sitting there with someone watching every bite she took. He scarfed down his food quickly, swigging juice as he did so, and still talking between bites. She ate an entire half of a pancake, one piece of bacon, and a solid five bites of eggs. It was the most she'd managed in one sitting in…god…months? Her stomach was so full she felt it would burst and she shoved the plate away from her gently.
"You're done?" He lifted an eyebrow and she was lost in his eyes, suddenly. They were scrutinizing her to the core. "You barely ate any of it."
"It was really good," she wasn't lying. "I'm just – a little hungover, I guess."
"Ah," he accepted the excuse graciously. "Right. Well lucky I've got a great garbage disposal. Here, Duke!" He set the plate down on the tile and Duke rushed over, his nails clicking on the floor as he did so, and cleaned her plate in under two seconds. "Nifty, right?"
She tried to chuckle and then stood. "Listen, I should go. You think I could borrow some pants?"
Her hands were shaking when she got home. She needed an Adderal or something. Fast. She took the stairs to her bedroom two at a time, opened the false bottom of her top desk drawer and pulled out her pill organizer. OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet, Valium, Nembutal, Xanax…there it was. Adderal.
She didn't have time to take it by mouth, instead crushing it up quickly with a shot glass that was sitting on her desk and forming it into a straight, pinkish line on top of a playing card. Then with shaking fingers, she used a rolled up piece of cash to snort it. It stung as it hit her nose and she shut her eyes against it, tilting her head back and inhaling. There.
She already felt better. She looked at the clock. The day was already half gone – it was around 3:30. Did she work tonight? She couldn't remember. She rustled through her bag until she came to her date book and groaned. She did work tonight. Started at 7:00. That gave her no time to relax at all.
So instead, she began getting ready. And as usual, the Adderal helped with that. It helped her, when she took a shower, to shave every inch of her body with a steady hand. It helped her focus on each strand of hair that she rinsed out, removing every bit of the make-up that was left over from the night before. And then the process started. And while she realized that she used to get ready a lot faster, it also didn't give her the same…result that she got now.
It was nearly half-past six when she was done. The girl staring out at her was no longer the soft, gentle, scrubbed-clean girl that had stepped out of the shower a few hours ago. Now, there was a smoky-eyed, glossy lipped vixen staring back at her. She'd spent extra time on her hair tonight, curling it into gentle, Kim Kardashian-like waves, her bangs long and swept low over her forehead so that she had to flick her head to keep them out of her eyes, which looked large and brown and smoked-out, her eyelashes full and thick and dark.
Clothes tonight were short, cut-off blue jean shorts and a tight-fitting, low-cut black tank-top that had Baz's across the front in thick, yellow writing. She looked good, she mused, tucking her lip gloss into her pocket and cleaning up around her mouth. She looked…sexy. She was still getting used to that being true. She'd always been pretty, she'd heard that her whole life. Something about her mom's exotic background that brought a slant to her eyes and gave her the long, thick hair, and her father's African-American heritage that gave her that permanent suntan and full lips. That's what she always got complimented on. Her lips.
She slung her bag over her shoulder and headed to her car, walking past her mom, who was sitting on the couch cutting out fabric samples and pasting them to a large poster board – a new decorating project that she was working on.
"Working?" her voice was chipper but Cadence couldn't help to roll her eyes.
Her mom always felt the need to make petty conversation. As if she didn't know that's where Cadence would be heading at 6:30 at night.
Well, maybe it wasn't such a stupid question. For the first few months after she'd been able to get out of bed, she'd started partying early. Very early.
"Yeah," Cadence muttered, and didn't turn around or respond when her mom told her to have a good night.