Chapter 14: Turbulence

It has now been almost a week since I last spoke to Rylan. Every day, I become a little more irritated and a little less hopeful. I really want him to talk to me, to acknowledge my existence, to listen. I try to focus on school and not to obsess about him, but it's difficult. I probably shouldn't have allowed myself to become so attached – as if I could have helped that.

Rylan was sort of becoming my buffer against the world, easing my transition into social situations – a comforting wall that shielded me from the discomfort of interacting with new people. Now that he's gone, I actually miss having some semblance of a social life, regardless of how vague and undeveloped it may have been.

Anyway, on Tuesday as I was heading to class, I saw Rylan in the hallway up ahead, walking with some guy. Because he was walking in front of me, he didn't notice me. He turned in a direction opposite from my class, and I watched with regret as he walked away.

Later on that day, I saw him in the cafeteria. He sat at a different table with other people, and I don't know if he saw me; I never caught him looking my way. I sat with Nikki and the others, but it's beginning to feel weird to be with them without Rylan around. After all, they were more his friends than mine. Although Matt was a little nicer to me, surprisingly.

On Wednesday I saw Rylan in the hall, and this time he did see me. He was talking to the same guy he was with the day before. He looked up suddenly as I was walking in their direction. He held my gaze for a few seconds with an unreadable expression on his face. He then turned his attention back to the guy, not looking my way again. I felt so rejected that I just quickly walked by. It's like he doesn't even know me anymore.

Earlier today, I was so desperate to talk to Rylan that I waited outside his first class so that I could approach him. Well when the class ended, he walked out talking to that same sandy-brown haired guy as the two previous days. Who is that guy? Why are they together so much? Anyway, Rylan didn't even notice that I was there - he was so engrossed in his conversation with that guy that he just walked past without looking my way. That was really frustrating. I followed after them for a little while, but I didn't want to go over and interrupt, so I quickly gave up.

I'm now standing in my bedroom, blankly staring out the window. I'm not really sure why I'm doing this. I'm actually just not sure what to do with myself. I've tried calling and texting Rylan, and I still haven't heard back from him. Why won't he talk to me?

I have a bad feeling about that guy he's been spending so much time with. I mean, they seem close… What if Rylan's moved on already? Or maybe they're just friends. I suppose it's none of my business either way.

By nature, I've always been a follower – never a leader. I either tend to cling to the people with whom I feel most comfortable, or I keep to myself. However, I know that people come and go, and life moves on. I should, too.

I sigh and grab one of my business textbooks and head to the living room to try to study. I sit down on the couch and open the book up on my lap, but end up staring at my cellphone that I've placed beside me, willing Rylan to call, text, anything. I wish I could shut that part of my mind up – the part that longs for him. It's so irrational, so bizarre how this desire nearly consumes me.

I really need to get a grip; I need to get over this infatuation with him. It's just that we were so close to…I don't know. A relationship? He kissed me, and I pushed him away. Why did I have to do that? I feel like an idiot.

How does Dad manage to ruin things for me when he's not even around?

I jump back to reality when the main door opens suddenly, and Luke walks in. He's been significantly less mean to me since the dance, bordering on nice, but maybe not quite there yet.

He removes his shoes and then looks in my direction. "Do you want to work out with me?" he asks.

I stop fiddling with the book in my lap and study his face in confusion. I wonder for a second if he's even talking to me, but there's no one else here, and he's looking at me, waiting for a response. "Work out with you?" I ask, surprised.

He shifts the bag on his shoulder. "I was supposed to go with Aiden, but he has to work, and everyone else is busy. I know that you're never doing anything; you've just been sulking around here for the past week."

I ignore his last sentence and repeat my previous question, still not comprehending why he would want to do anything with me. "You want to work out with me?" It always seems like my presence is such an annoyance to him, like he can't stand being around me. I still don't understand why, though; I haven't done anything to him.

"Is that not what I just said?" he asks, a hint of annoyance in his voice. But he's not scowling at me like he used to – I take that as an improvement. A small one, yes, but an improvement all the same.

"But why?" I ask, truly not understanding. This just doesn't make any sense. The Luke I know would never go out of his way to spend time with me; he would avoid that at all costs. And yet here he is, standing before me and looking frustrated at my evasion to his question.

He sighs. "You are being so annoying right now. Can you not hear? I just told you why. No. One. Else. Is. Available," he says with exaggerated slowness. "Besides, you should probably learn to defend yourself; I figure this could help you."

Oh. Is this about what happened at the dance? Oh God, he feels sorry for me. You know you're pathetic when your enemy feels sorry for you – I don't think you can possibly get much lower than that.

"No thanks," I tell him.

He slings his bag higher up onto his shoulder and shifts in place, shooting me an annoyed glance. "Just come. You're not even doing anything."

I point at the textbook in my lap. "I'm studying."

"Right. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, though," he says as turns and walks towards his room.

I'm too curious about this change in behaviour, so I place the textbook on the coffee table before standing up from the couch and following after him, stopping outside his bedroom door.

"You really want to work out with me?" This must be the third time I've asked that question – I just cannot grasp its meaning. Me and Luke working out together by choice? It's like Arabic or something; I just can't understand it. "I thought you hated being around me," I say.

He pauses and looks at me. He doesn't look annoyed or frustrated anymore – just calm, normal. "I would just prefer to go with someone. Anyone. Even you." He shrugs indifferently. "Despite the fact that your impassiveness pisses me off," he says before opening his bedroom door and walking inside.

"Impassiveness? What do you mean?" I call after him, confused.

"I mean," he says from inside his room, "that the whole time I've known you, you've been completely stoic and lifeless. It's very irritating. Nothing I say ever gets to you – you just take it like a pushover. No offense," he adds.

My mouth opens in surprise at his words. Has he just been trying to make me angry all this time? "No offense? How can I not take offense to that? All this time you've been a cocky, self-righteous jerk to me, and I'm sick of it," I snap, feeling the anger coursing through me. The words leave my mouth before I can stop them; I hadn't meant to say that, hadn't meant to react so strongly. Sometimes it just feels like the whole world is against me.

He pokes his head out of the door to look at me, surprised. A small smile soon creeps onto his face, and it infuriates me. Why is he smiling?

"Finally," he says calmly. "Now you're reacting to things. That's human. What you were doing before was just frustrating. It's like you restrain yourself so much that you don't respond to anything."

I cross my arms defensively, uncomfortable with what he's saying. He has no idea what I've gone through, and if he did then he'd probably feel like an idiot for the way he's been treating me – assuming that he even has a conscience.

"Whatever. It doesn't matter what you think, anyway. You don't know me," I say sharply. I don't know what it is with me today. I think I'm just so frustrated that I'm beginning to lose my carefully maintained control. Luke is making me lose my control – that makes me feel even angrier. He seems completely unbothered by my attitude, and he still has that infuriating smirk on his face. I want to hit him, which is strange because I never get violent with people.

"Maybe we should change that, then. Are you going to come or not?" he asks, sounding completely composed.

"No," I say as forcefully as I can.

He laughs, and I really want nothing more than for my fist to connect with his face. "You're mad at me," he says, as if the idea is so humorous.

He's laughing at me. I don't have to put up with this. I turn abruptly and start walking back towards the living room.

To my surprise, he follows after me. "Noah, come on. I was kidding."

I stop walking and turn to face him, not because I've changed my mind, but because I don't think he's ever used my name before.

He stops as well, watching me cautiously.

I sigh, weighing my options in my head. Well, it's not like I have better things to do, and I suppose this would help to take my mind off Rylan...

"Fine," I say, keeping my voice level. I don't want him to think that I want to go with him – because I don't.

If he's surprised by my surrendering, it doesn't show on his face. "Good. Be ready in twenty minutes," he says before walking back to his room and shutting the door behind him.

I stare after his retreating figure. I don't know if this is a good idea or not, but I guess it would be easier if Luke and I could just get along – if that's even possible.

I go to my room and change into track pants and a t-shirt. I check my phone again – nothing new there. I grab my backpack, throw some things into it, and then wait in the living room for Luke.

He soon comes walking over in black shorts and a grey, sleeveless undershirt. When I see him, I hate where I can feel my mind beginning to go. I try hard to fight it, but wow. He looks really, really good. All those muscles…

"Are you checking me out?" he laughs.

I feel my face heat up as I bring my eyes back up to his and see that he's smirking at me. I really am losing my control today, and I don't like it at all. "No! That's disgusting. You shouldn't be so full of yourself," I try to cover, although I know my voice sounds too panicked and too rushed to be sincere.

He shrugs. "Whatever, I don't even swing that way."

Well, that was certainly embarrassing.

He walks over to the fridge and grabs a water bottle. He turns his head, looks over at me, and then, to my surprise, he tosses another bottle over. I try to catch it, but miss, and it lands with a thud on the ground by my feet. I pick it up quickly, feeling incompetent. "Thanks," I tell him.

"Nice catch," he snorts. "Anyway, let's go."

Wordlessly, I follow him outside and towards the gym, since I've never been there before; I don't even know exactly where it is. It feels really strange to be going somewhere with Luke. As we're walking, I happen to glance over and notice that he has a tattoo on his upper arm that I've never seen before. It's a tribal-looking design with some words in it that I can't make out.

"You have a tattoo?" I ask, trying to figure out what it says, but it's hard to do that while walking.

He looks down at his arm and lets out a short, insincere sounding laugh. "No, my skin randomly started changing colours one day, and that was the end result," he says sarcastically.

I sigh, frustrated. "Okay, yeah that was a stupid question. What does it mean?" I ask, reaching out to it without thinking.

He steps away from me, out of reach. "Don't worry about it," he says flatly.

I let my hand drop. "Why not? I was just wondering."

"Well, don't," he says, his voice getting sharper, his body becoming tense.

I stop walking, confused by his behaviour. "Maybe this is a bad idea. I should probably just go back," I tell him. It was ridiculous to think that we could ever get along.

He stops as well, turning to face me, looking quite irritated. He runs a hand through his hair. "No, it's fine. I just don't want to talk about it," he says, his voice sounding a little calmer.

"Okay…" I trail off, puzzled. Why have a tattoo there if you don't want people to see it? Nevertheless, we continue walking the rest of the way in silence. I notice that he's holding his arm stiffly by his side, as if uncomfortable with it now.

Once we get inside the gym, I'm surprised by how big it is. There's a lot of different equipment available, as well as a large swimming pool. There are quite a few people here at the moment, and I feel a little intimidated. Especially standing next to Luke – I must look so feeble in comparison. Well, hopefully that will change eventually. I really would like to become more fit.

Luke is still silent, and it feels a little disconcerting, like my asking about his tattoo really upset him. Still, I follow along after him, finding the silence uncomfortable. He doesn't even look at me, and I begin to wonder if he remembers that I'm here.

He eventually walks over to the dumbbells and begins stretching, so I do the same.

Once he's done with that he looks over at me. "Let's do some bicep curls," he says, finally speaking to me.

"Okay."

He picks up two huge-looking dumbbells and begins lifting them smoothly. I find myself watching him, noticing how his muscles flex with the effort, how his shirt clings to his skin, how his head is turned down in deep concentration. It's kind of…hot.

As soon as that thought enters my mind, I pull my gaze away swiftly; I refuse to think of him that way. Instead, I look over at the different sizes of dumbbells. I definitely don't want to look weak by picking up the smallest ones. Well, I suppose I already do look weak. Regardless, I'm about to reach for a medium-sized pair, when Luke's voice stops me.

"You're gonna want to start smaller than that," he says, watching me now.

"Fine," I say, a little disappointed. I guess he would know, though. I pick up a smaller pair and then try to mimic the movements that he's making.

"Spread your feet apart some more, and don't lock your knees," he says.

I adjust my position. "Like this?"

"Stand straighter."

I straighten up and then begin to raise and lower the dumbbells quickly, not wanting to look pathetic.

He laughs. "Not like that." He puts his weights down on the bench beside us and then walks over to me. "You need to slow down and stop jerking your arms so much," he stands behind me and then places his arms over mine, guiding my movements.

When he touches me, it's like an electric current passes through my body, and I shiver at the contact. I really hope he didn't notice that. He's just standing so close. I feel the heat radiating off his body, and I can smell him. It's like a mix of sweat and aftershave that is somehow appealing. I get the urge to lean myself back into him, but I force myself to remain upright.

"Um, okay, I think you've got it," he says as he steps back. He gives me a quizzical look before picking up his weights and resuming his previous movements.

"Thanks," I say, trying not to blush. I'm supposed to be mad at him. How is he making me forget what a jerk he is? But I guess he's not always a jerk – like at the dance when he defended me.

"No problem. So, what have you been so upset about?" he asks.

I'm surprised by the question, and I tense up a little in response, the weights suddenly feeling heavier in my hands. "Nothing," I answer quickly. Being here with Luke has actually been distracting me from my problems. I hadn't thought of Rylan for a while, but now that he's brought it up, I feel the longing starting up again.

He scoffs. "Nothing? I don't think so. Try again."

"No."

He looks at me sharply. "Just say it. You shouldn't keep everything bottled up inside, you know. One day you're going to explode." He laughs, as if that's so funny.

I focus on raising and lowering my arms, feeling the strain. "Why does it matter to you?"

"It doesn't. I'm just curious. You were right about what you said before – I don't know anything about you," he says.

"So?" I ask, keeping my attention on the dumbbells and not looking up at him.

"So, you're my roommate. For all I know, you could be a sociopath or something. I think things like that are important to know."

"Whatever."

"Fine, ask something about me, then," he says.

"There's nothing I want to know about you," I say uninterestedly, which isn't entirely true. I am curious about him; I just don't want him to get his way.

"Don't be like that. There must be something."

I look up at him then, and he's watching me, waiting for a response. "Why are you such a jerk?" I surprise myself by actually saying those words to him. Well, he did say that he wants me to stop being "impassive" with him, or something along those lines. Besides, Luke always pushes it too far, and I'm tired of being pushed around.

He looks at me seriously. "I'm not."

"That's a huge lie, and you know it," I say.

"Okay, well first of all, I'm actually pretty nice to most people."

This time, I scoff. "Yeah, right. How you may or may not act with other people doesn't explain why you're a jerk, which is what I asked." My control is further slipping, and I'm surprised by the way I'm acting. I don't usually talk to anyone this way; Luke just knows how to bother me.

He glares at me for a moment and then continues. "Second, remember that day at the beach?" A small smile forms on his lips.

I groan inwardly. Not that again. "Yeah, I remember. I apologized! It was completely an accident. I hadn't noticed you were there."

He laughs. "You were all snively and afraid afterwards. It was actually kind of funny."

"I was not snivelling nor was I afraid, but you're huge. I thought you might attack me or something."

"Huge, huh?" he asks, raising a blond eyebrow as if it were a compliment.

"Well, yeah. You are," I admit.

His small smile grows wider. This is a little strange; he's never smiled at me before today. "Anyway, then your boyfriend came to your defense-" he starts.

I interrupt, "He wasn't my boyfriend," I say coldly, missing Rylan.

"Oh, excuse me," he rolls his eyes in an exaggerated manner. "And then your friend came to your defense, as if I had done something wrong. I had just been walking by, minding my own business, when you started whipping things at my face."

"It was one thing, and it was an accident! How many times can I say that?" I ask impatiently.

He laughs. "I know – I don't even care about that. I only mention it because you get so worked up about it, and it's funny to watch."

I look down at the dumbbells in my hands again. "Oh, that's nice. I'm glad that I provide such entertainment for you," I say sarcastically, looking up at him. "Let's move on to the third reason why you're a jerk. Despite the fact that your first reason wasn't even a reason, and come to think of it, neither was your second one."

"I'm not a jerk. But anyway, third, as I said earlier, you just seemed so…distant all the time," he shrugs, which is an awkward movement because of the dumbbells he's lifting.

"Distant?" I repeat.

"Yeah, like you weren't there. As if you were just the shell of a person or something. It was kind of weird, actually. Today is the first time I've really seen you show some type of emotion. Except for that one day last week when you were smiling, I guess."

I'm taken aback by his last sentence, surprised he remembers that. However, I push that thought out of my mind; it's not like he cares about me. "So, that's why you decided to treat me like crap?" I ask, feeling offended.

He shakes his head. "No. I don't know. You just annoyed me."

"Annoyed in the past tense? As in, I don't annoy you anymore?" I ask curiously.

"No, you do," he says casually.

And here I thought we were making progress.

"What do I do that annoys you so much?" I ask, exasperated. I honestly don't do anything to him, so I'm really not sure how I could be bothering him.

"It's nothing that you do," he says.

I think for a moment. "Is it... Is it because I'm gay?" I ask, wondering if that bothers him or something.

"No, that has nothing to do with it."

"Then what is it?"

He doesn't answer; he just looks down at his arms as he continues to raise and lower the dumbbells.

I sigh. "You're so contradictory. You say you want us to get to know each other, but then you don't tell me anything."

He looks up at me, and his eyes are cold. "Maybe I just don't like you," he says harshly.

That stings a little – his voice, the bitterness in his disposition. "So there's absolutely no reason, then? If you hate me so much, then why did you even invite me to come here with you? That doesn't make any sense."

"There actually is a reason why I don't like you, but I'm not going to tell you what it is, and it's nothing that you could guess, so don't bother trying," he says.

"It's not because of the beach thing?" I ask.

"No, I already said I don't care about that."

I decide to give up. If he doesn't want to tell me, then there's not really anything that I can do about it. "Okay, fine. You can continue hating me for your unknown reasons," I say, feeling annoyed.

He studies me for a moment and then sighs. "You can take a break if you want." His voice is calmer now.

I really don't understand Luke's behaviour; he just seems so erratic. I'm not sure which side of him is real: the one that hates me or the one that seems to care about me. My arms have started to get tired, so I lower the weights down to the bench. I then grab my water bottle and drink from it thirstily before returning the cap and sitting down on the bench, feeling the stiffness in my arms. I watch Luke who is still doing bicep curls, wondering what goes on in his head.

"What's your major?" I ask after a while, because I realize that I still don't know.

He looks over at me. "Law."

"Really?" I ask, surprised.

"Yeah, why?"

"I don't know. I just wasn't expecting that, I guess," I admit.

"Okay... What's yours?" he asks.

"Commerce," I say glumly.

"You don't sound happy about it," he notices.

"I'm not; I didn't really want to major in that."

He looks confused. "Then why did you?"

I stretch my arms absently. "My dad insisted on it."

"Your dad?" he asks, surprised. "How old are you, ten?"

"No, but he said that if I wanted him to help pay for it, then I'd have to major in something he'd approve of."

Luke laughs and ceases his bicep curls. He walks over and lowers the dumbbells onto the bench before sitting down beside me. "You should do what you want. You're the one who's going to have to live with it," he says as he reaches down for his water bottle.

I shrug. "There was nothing I could do about it."

He takes a long sip of the water and then looks at me for a moment. "You know what your problem is?"

I sigh. "Why don't you tell me? Since you know everything and all," I add sarcastically.

He ignore that and says, "You let yourself get pushed around too much. You probably never try to defend yourself; you just do what other people tell you, blindly following along like a lost puppy."

I blink at him in surprise, quickly feeling offended by his words. "That's not true."

"Really? Because that's how it seems to me. If you don't like what you're majoring in, then change it. If you don't, you'll most likely regret it later. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life doing a job that you hate?" he asks.

"No, but I can't just...switch."

"Yes you can," he says firmly.

"I would lose my business scholarship," I realize.

He's silent for a moment, before saying, "If the scholarship is more important to you than going after your aspirations, then stay with it. I can't tell you what to do; I'm just saying that one day you may regret it, and by then it might be too late."

"I guess you're right," I say dejectedly. I'm afraid to make a big decision like that; I feel like whichever path I take will be so final.

He spins the water bottle in his hands. "It's still early on in the semester. If you do it now, the transition should be quite easy," he says.

I nod. "Okay, I'll think about it."

"And you can just tell your dad to mind his own business," he says jokingly.

I laugh at the play on words because my dad actually does run a business – and imagine Dad's face if I ever said that to him. I look up at Luke and see that he's watching me curiously, a small smile on his lips. "What?" I ask, wondering why he's smiling at me.

"You're laughing. I didn't know that was possible," he says.

I feel my face heat up, and I'm not even sure why. "Oh, yeah."

"Anyway, are you ready to continue?" he asks, gesturing to the dumbbells.

"Okay."

We stand and resume our previous stances, continuing with the bicep curls.

"Is Bree your girlfriend?" I ask suddenly, feeling more comfortable with talking to him now.

He looks over at me with a questioning expression on his face. "Why do always ask about that?"

"Why do neither of you answer?" I retort.

"Fine. Yes, she's my girlfriend, okay? We're dating. Now you know."

Well, finally he's given me an answer to that.

"Okay, why was that so hard to say?" I ask.

"It wasn't. I just don't like everyone knowing my business."

"I am not everyone," I tell him.

"You know what I mean," he says.

We do a few more reps in relative silence until Luke checks his phone and says that he has to go.

A little later on, as we're leaving the gym, I look through the glass window at the large swimming pool.

"Have you ever used the pool?" I ask Luke as we walk away from the fitness building.

He follows my gaze and tenses up. "No," he says sharply.

His reaction surprises me. "Oh. You don't like swimming?" I ask.

He starts walking a bit faster, so I speed up my pace to keep up with him. "No," he repeats just as sharply.

"Why not?"

"I just don't," he says roughly.

"But why? There must be a reason."

He stops walking abruptly, nearly causing me to collide into him, and then turns to face me. His eyes are cold; his face, hard. "Could you just shut up about it?" he asks angrily, startling me.

"Okay...I don't see what the big deal is," I say quietly.

He turns around and continues walking. I follow a little behind him this time, confused by his temper. He doesn't say another word to me all the way back to our apartment, and I'm unsure of what I did wrong.

When we get inside, he storms off towards his room. Just before he reaches the hallway, he stops walking suddenly and turns around to face me. He looks kind of sad now, and I watch him dubiously, not sure what to expect.

"I'm sorry," he says so quietly that I almost don't hear it. He then turns and continues to walk to his room, shutting the door behind him.

I stay where I am, feeling shocked that just Luke apologized to me. I'm not sure what he's apologizing for – his outburst, or all the times he's been mean to me? I wonder what his problem is, anyway. He gets upset by the strangest things: the tattoo, the pool. What does it all mean?

I'm also not sure if our working out together helped our relationship or made it worse. Things had become a little...turbulent, after all. Well, Luke did apologize, so maybe it's a little better. I don't know, though; I've realized that he's very confusing and unpredictable.

I walk back to my room, thinking of what Luke said earlier about switching my major. I think he's right; I should do what I want, and I do tend to just do as I'm told. How far has that gotten me? Not very. I'm not happy with my life right now. Actually, I'm not happy at all.

I sit down on my bed and look at the photo of Mom, Logan and me that is sitting on the nightstand, feeling a wave of sadness pass through me. I could have died in the fire, too. I don't like to think about that, but it's true. If I hadn't woken up when I did, Logan and I probably would not have made it out alive. That's a really frightening thought; it makes me think that there must be some reason why I'm still here, that I must have some greater purpose in life.

I suppose that if the fire hadn't happened, then I probably wouldn't have met Rylan. So, at least one good thing came out of it. Although, he won't even speak to me anymore. Unfortunately, he was a very fleeting presence in my life.

Luke really may have been right about me. I think I ought to go after what I want, after all these years of blindly following along. I want to change my major, I want to be a stronger person, and I want Rylan. One of those will be easier to achieve than the other two. After all, switching my major will only require getting on a computer and filling out a form. Well, I suppose I'll have to deal with Dad's reaction once he finds out, and I know he won't be happy about it.

Being a stronger person...well, that'll definitely take some time, but I don't think it's impossible.

But Rylan…

I pull out my cellphone, deciding to give it one last try. If he doesn't respond this time, then I'm done. I won't try anymore, and I'll accept the fact that he doesn't want me.

I think for a few moments before I begin to type my text: I don't know if you read these messages or not, but I really need to talk to you. I like you, okay? YOU were NOT the mistake. If you've ever cared about me at all, then please listen to me.

I hit "send" before I can convince myself not to. My heart is hammering in my chest, and I feel incredibly nervous. It's a long message, I know, but I was honest with him, and I said what I needed to say. If he ignores that, then there really won't be any reason left for me to hold on. I can only hope that he'll read it and not delete it instantly upon seeing my name.

I grip my phone in my now sweaty hands, and lie down on my back. I then rest the phone on my stomach, closing my eyes and trying to calm my nerves. I feel the soreness in my arms, and I stretch them lightly.

I'm shocked when I soon feel my phone buzz against my stomach. I hurriedly pick it up and feel delighted when I see Rylan's name on the screen followed by: Alright, but I'm out right now and won't be back 'till late. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?