I can't believe people still read this.

Thank you.

I walked back to my car feeling drained.

The disappointed look in Dylan's eyes felt like a pinned photograph in my brain.

Well, what did I expect? This is what I wanted, isn't it?

So…why wasn't I happy?

I sighed as I opened the car door and got inside.

I turned the car on for the heat. My hands were already feeling frozen from the cold winter air.

The radio automatically turned on. I violently slammed the volume dial and sat in silence.

He gave up.

He gave up.

That was it. There was no more fighting anymore. No more pushing him away. He was done. He walked away.

I closed my eyes.

I felt sad, empty and pathetic.

I've been pushing for this outcome. I denied and rejected him countless times. And he kept coming back for me. A part of me almost started getting used to it.

I'm so stupid.

I wanted to cry but felt too weak. I just wanted to sit in silence and feel empty.

I deserved this. I didn't deserve him.

I deserved everything.

I sat back and stared ahead. The sight was bland and grey.

Everything was going wrong. Everything always went wrong.

I just wanted to be alone. Forever. I didn't want anybody, especially from my past, bothering me. I didn't want ties and feelings. I just wanted to be alone.

Yet here I was. Here I was with feelings for Dylan. With ties to Alicia. With Trisha popping back into my life and Clair begging me not to leave hers.

I put my arms on the steering wheel and leaned my forehead against them. I just wanted everything to go away. I didn't want to keep feeling like this. I didn't want to feel anything. But everything always hurt, no matter where I ran.

Alicia's aging face popped into my mind. Her wrinkled, lifeless skin, beady brown eyes, and the permanent frown she always wore. I could recall her raspy voice saying my name clear as day.

It felt like the woman had placed a curse on me from birth. No matter how hard I tried, there was no escaping her.

Jason's face replaced Alicia's. His strong jaw, big nose, and goofy smile that never quite reached his chocolate brown eyes. He was always my salvation from Alicia and Joe. He always made me feel good. Until he didn't.

I hated thinking about him.

I closed my eyes, pressing my forehead harder into my resting forearms.

Dylan's and Jason's face kept blending into one another in my mind.

Jason, my best friend. The guy I fell in love with. The guy who tried to sabotage everything I had ever hoped of achieving. The guy who tried to hurt me.

I hated him. I hated that I trusted him, that I gave so much of myself to him. I hated what he did and how much it still made me feel.


Then there was Dylan.

I wanted to cut the image of him out of my head. I tried to get his face out of my mind, but each time it came back stronger.

His piercing blue eyes watching me, not quite unreadable but puzzling nevertheless. His poised smirk that displayed his dimple. The way his jaw hardened when he grappled his frustration.

He had always managed to surprise me. He was kind. Forgiving. Patient and understanding and assured and smart and….


I shook my head. I needed to stop.

He was gone. He was never supposed to be in my life, anyway. It wasn't right.

There was no point in grieving over something that was destined to crash and burn.

I sat up straight and rubbed my eyes a little too aggressively. Black spots danced around my vision for a few seconds before I blinked them away.

Ridiculous. The notion that someone like Dylan purely and genuinely wanted me was ridiculous. It had to be some kind of sick joke or prank. Why he kept coming back, I had no clue. But it didn't matter. It was wrong.

It was wrong, but it still made me feel like shit that he was gone.

It didn't matter.

I was nobody and he was incredible.

I turned the key in the ignition. The engine rumbled to life as I fastened my seatbelt.

It was better this way.

It was better for everyone this way.

It never would have worked out between me and Dylan.

I wasn't the girl you married. I wasn't the girl you fell in love with. I was the girl you used. The girl who distracted you for a while. The girl you liked until you realized she was nothing.

I put my car into drive.

This was stupid.

This was all so stupid.

I had to shake this off. I had bigger things to worry about than my love life.

This was going to go away. I didn't have to let it hurt. I could just not think about it.

I turned the radio back on and drove my car out of its spot and onto the road.

My heart felt squeezed. I was squeamish and antsy.

I tried to sing along to the radio song, but it didn't empty my head.

Thoughts of being wrapped in Dylan's arms swam in my thoughts. Those same arms resting on his counter, pancakes cooking in front of him. Those arms trapping me behind a wall, with nowhere to go but him. The hot and heavy feel of his kiss.

I clenched my jaw as I stopped at a red light. I didn't want to think about him. I had other things to think about.

But again, there he was, etched in my mind. His smirk across the table at the Chinese restaurant. The feel of my body against his on the back of his bike. Our faces inches apart, sitting beside each other at the library.

I swallowed the raw emotion making its way up my throat. I didn't want to feel this way. I hated this. I didn't want to think about this.

The light turned green and I sped forward. I drove way above the speed limit on my way home. I was impatient to get home and change my setting. I needed a way out of my own head.

I pulled up in my dorm's parking lot, making a sharp turn. A girl a few feet away looked bewildered in my direction.

I turned the car off and let out an exhausted breath. I grabbed my stuff, got out of my car and marched inside.

I walked in my dorm to Clair sitting against the wall on her bed, laptop in front of her.

"Heya!" She greeted me enthusiastically.

"Hi," I replied blandly. I set my stuff down on my chair and ran my fingers through my hair.

She frowned, looking over my expression. "Uh oh."

I sat down on my bed, feeling my shoulders slouch as I sighed.

"Yeah." Avoiding eye contact, I mumbled, "I don't really want to talk about it."

She was silent for a moment. "Okay. That's okay."

I gave a slight nod in response. "Thanks." My eyes went to the laptop on her lap. "How's your day been? Still at it all day?"

She groaned. "Yeah. I'm sooo bored. This research paper has taken me…" She glanced at her laptop screen, "44 hours so far! I'm so done with this."

"Hey, you're doing a great job. You're working hard."

She sighed. "Thanks." She rubbed her eyes. "I just need a change of pace after staring at a screen all day. I'm mentally and emotionally exh-aus-ted."

"I'd drink to that."

Her head perked up. "So you don't really want to talk about your day today?" She asked.

I shook my head. "Not really."

She nodded once, before she closed her laptop and scooted herself to the edge of the bed. "Well…okay, we don't have to talk about it. But…we could do something fun to get your mind off it?"

I looked up to catch her mischievous grin. I let out a small chuckle. "What?" Getting my mind off things sounded exactly like what I needed.

She got up excitedly, startling me, and ran to her closet. She opened up one of the drawers and pulled out a bottle of tequila.

"Eh? Eh?" She said, raising her eyebrows with each word.

I groaned. "Come on."

"Oh you come on! We haven't had a fun night in a while. I think you gotta get out of your own head for a bit." She placed a hand on her hip. "We haven't had a girls' night in forever. It'll be fun!" Her eyebrows started dancing again, "What do ya say?"

I stared at her, blinking a few times as I contemplated it. This was clearly on her mind before I even walked into the room. But…wasn't this exactly what I wanted, too?

Dylan popped into my head again. His tall frame, the way his eyes locked into mine, his…

I just wanted it to stop. I didn't want to think about him at all. Ever.

My mouth spoke and my head started nodding before I think my brain made the choice. "Okay."

Clair shrieked. She looked like she was about to start bouncing. "Yay! Yes. Hell yeah." She grabbed the two shot glasses that were resting on her table at all times and poured us two shots. "No sad girls here tonight. Let's drink to that!"

She practically danced over to me when she gave me my shot. "Unfortunately," she said with a frown, looking down at the shot in her hand, "We don't have any lemon or salt. But we're tough cookies." She smelled the alcohol and tried to contain her gag.

I swallowed as I looked down at my own shot. Well, here goes nothing.

I lifted my glass to hers. "Here's to being tough cookies."

She smiled. "Here's to being tough cookies!" We clinked our glasses together and down the tequila went in my throat.

Clair scrunched up her face as she held her breath. I watched her, holding my own breath for a few seconds to let the taste fade out a bit.

"Ugh!" She shook her head quickly a few times. "Ugh." She opened her eyes. "Gotta love tequila, though."

She sat back down on her bed.

The alcohol scorched my throat, which was unfamiliar. I used to be able to down tequila like a champ. I barely even used to make a face, unlike now.

"So," Clair said, smiling, "Watcha wanna do? Stay in or go out?"

I considered it for a moment. I thought about staying in, but I needed to get some space in between me and my regular life. Staying in the dorm I was so used to might make me feel worse. "Let's go out." I decided, nodding once.

"I was hoping you'd say that!" She beamed, bouncing up from the bed. "Let's take another shot to that."

I laughed. "Oh god, here we go."

"No, no! I love your hair like that! Keep it like that." Clair swatted my hands away from my own hair.

My hair was down, except for the top layer which I had tied in a loose hanging bun at the back my head. There were strands falling down the sides of my face, curling inwards. To me, it always looked messy but Clair always said it accentuated my facial shape.

I put my hands down and Clair went back to applying her lip liner.

I wore a black, low-cut top, a leather jacket on top, and ripped jeans. It always felt weird looking in the mirror when I looked good. It felt like I was looking at someone else. Maybe that was the whole point.

Clair wore tight black jeans and a low-cut black bodysuit with mesh sleeves. Her makeup was flawless as she did some finishing touches.

"Are you sure you don't want me to contour your face a bit?" She asked, her eyes never leaving her reflection. Her speech was slurred and higher-pitched, considering we had already had 4 shots.

I shook my head. "Nah. It'll look weird without any foundation."

"Thennn maybe you should let me do your foundation and glam ya up a little bit?"

"Nahhhh," I waved my hand.

"Oh come on! What if you see a little someone spéciâl?" The last word she tried to say in a French accent, but it came out way wrong.

This was the second time that she'd tried to bring Dylan up. Just like the first time, I shook off her question. "I don't think anyone will be paying attention to me with you sitting right beside me."

She feigned shock. "Quoi? Little old moi? Moi?" She shook her head. "Please, you're gorgeous without even trying."

"Sure, if huge bags and tangled hair is your type."

"It makes it even more unfair! Even with huge bags and tangled hair you outshine us mere mortals."

I chuckled and raised an eyebrow, placing my hand on my hip, "Excuse me, miss model? Mme. Clairissa Nourm who gets paid to model? I don't think my huge bags and tangled hair can outshine that."

She popped her shinny lips at me as she closed her lipgloss. She gave me an amused look. "Ugh! I can't win with you. Fine," She rolled her eyes but still kept a small grin, "We're both hot. I'll accept it." She put her lipgloss down and checked herself out again.

I grinned. "Perfect. That calls for another shot."

"Hell yeah!"

I pranced out of the bathroom. An awesome club song was playing from Clair's speaker, causing me to unconsciously dance as I poured us two more shots.

Clair came out, also shaking her hips to the beat of the music. She grabbed her glass and raised it in the air expectantly.

On the second shot, we had made a pact to cheers to something new on each one. The first one had been to being tough cookies. The second was to having a fun girl's night. The third was to our friendship. The fourth was to getting dressed up and looking good.

"It's your turn again to think about what to cheers to." Clair told me.

"Okay. Hmmm." I stared at her and then at our raised glasses. I put my pointer finger up. "Here's to…being independent women who don't need no man."

Clair burst out laughing. "Ah, Skye." Our glasses clinked and we took our shots. The fifth time around, it went down a little easier.

"Bleh!" Clair exclaimed. "It just doesn't get easier."

"Amateur," I teased.

"Hey! I'll have you know that I am an expert at drinking tequila. I got a track record of bad decisions to prove it."

I giggled. "Hey, you and me both."

Clair gasped excitedly. "Oh my god, tell me tell me tell me."

In my current state, and being put on the spot so suddenly, no memories immediately came to mind. But then I thought back to all the crazy stuff Trisha, Jason and I used to get up to.

And so the memories started flooding.

"Well," I said, sitting down on the floor beside my bed, "I think the first time I got drunk off of tequila was when I was 12." I shook my head at little Skye. "My friend Trisha and I got so drunk we thought it would be a good idea to drive our bikes straight into the pond. Don't ask me why. We didn't even know why. It was so dumb because obviously our bikes would sink to the bottom and we would be too smashed to fetch them." I started laughing, still shaking my head as I recalled the funny memory. "Trish and I were soaked, swimming in this gross pond. Our bikes were sunk 4 feet under us, we were in gross water, and we didn't care. We just laughed. We were laughing so hard we had to basically crawl out the pond just so we could laugh without drowning."

Clair had a curious look on her face, although she was giggling along with me. "So then we had to go to our friend Jason's house," It felt weird saying his name out loud. "Dripping and dirty, to beg him and his brothers to jump in the dirty pond to fetch our bikes." I smiled, remembering the incredulous look on Jason's face as we stood on his porch. "They actually agreed, but only on the condition that they could get as drunk as us first." I remembered Jason's small, unkept backyard with the dirty firepit his dad frequently used to burn random stuff. "They obviously wouldn't let us in the house, so they lit a fire in their backyard and we all hung out while they passed around a bottle of tequila. Then, of course, we all jumped right back into the dirty pond and collected our bikes."

Clair and I were both giggling at the end. Clair had found herself sitting beside me on the floor, too.

"That's crazy, Skye. I was ready for some random party story, not two 12-year-old girls getting wasted and dunking their bikes in a pond!"

I laughed. "I got lots of dumb party stories. That's just the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a tequila story." The warmth I felt from that memory felt nice. I hadn't thought about a happy memory in a long time.

"Well," Clair said, "I mean, it sounds like it was a lot of fun. Good thing you had Jason and his brothers to the rescue!"

That wiped the smile off my face. I looked down at my hands. "Yeah."

Clair cleared her throat, sensing my change in mood. "You've had quite the childhood, you frickin' wild child. Loved that story though." She smiled. "Any other fun ones you care to share? A party one maybe?"

I looked up at her and forced a smile. It was very strange to have taken a stroll down memory lane that didn't suck. That was actually a really nice memory, and it made me feel good remembering it.

"It's your turn to tell a story!" I reminded her.

"Nononono! You know all mine. I'm always the one doing all of the storytelling." She pouted.

The truth in her statement struck me. I could now almost see the unfairness in our friendship.

Clair was very talkative and expressive. The complete opposite of me. With most of our conversations, I did feel like she was always sharing. I guess I did know a lot of her stories.

"Okay," I admitted, "Okay, fine. Give me a sec to think about one."

"Welllll," She said as she bounced up, "In the meantime…Another shot!"

I crinkled my nose and laughed. "Could I even say no?"

She poured us two more and we cheered it to creating more crazy and funny memories. She sat back down, still making a face from the tequila.

"Ugh! Just gotta breathe. Just gotta breathe." She closed her eyes, inhaling. After a few seconds of inhaling and exhaling, her eyes shot back open. "Did you think up another one?"

It felt like a smile had permanently plastered itself on my face. I felt hot all around, but the buzz felt great. "Honestly? I don't remember a lot of them. I would basically blackout at a lot of those things." I shrugged. "After you go to enough, they kind of all blend together, you know? It kind of becomes the same thing, time after time. You drink, you smoke, maybe you take a little bit of something else." A particular memory came to mind. "But, one time we took this guy's sled and rode it down the stairs. I'm pretty sure someone ended up with a broken nose."

Clair laughed. "What? That's insane!"

I laughed along. "It was. We were all just kids, really. I think I stopped seriously partying when I was around 15."

She raised her eyebrows. "You know, that's when most kids start to party."

"I didn't have a childhood like most kids."

She leaned her head back on her bed post. The alcohol was really getting to her, too. Her face was flushed and her chest and neck had some red patches.

"So, why 15? What made you stop?"

I immediately averted her gaze. I didn't stop to think before I answered. "Uh, I kind of went to juvee for a few weeks." She opened her mouth but no words came out. "It was really dumb and just…" I swallowed. "My best friend was a dealer and she was going to get caught. So she planted it on me and I took the blame."

Clair gasped, smacking her hand to her mouth. "Oh my god! That's terrible."

I took a deep breath. "Yeah." I started toying with my rings. "But I figured that that was what friendship was. It meant sacrifice. It meant better my head than hers." I looked up at her horrified face. Her expression reminded me that this story wasn't for casual conversation. I cleared my throat. "But you know, it's in the past! It's whatever, you know?"

Her eyes expressed a deep sympathy. Usually I hated people's pity, but Clair's felt warmer. More…real?

"That's…I don't know what to say, Skye. I'm sorry. That's a horrible thing to go through at 15."

I shrugged. "Hey, all those drugs must have gotten to my brain, you know? I didn't know any better. What matters is that I do, now."

She sighed. She surprised me by reaching out and grabbing my hand.

I had the instinct to pull away, but I let her reach out for a few seconds. I didn't want her to take it as a rejection. Looking down at her hand, though, I was suddenly overtaken with emotion.

"I'm sorry that I'm not always the best friend to you, Clair."

"Oh, Skye!" She exclaimed. She scooted towards me and wrapped her arms around me. I let my head fall on her shoulder. "Skye, you're a great friend. You're a great person. I feel lucky to know you and call you my friend."

My eyes welled up with tears. "Really?"

She squeezed me a little tighter. "Of course! You're so strong and considerate. How many times have you called or texted me to make sure I'm up for class? Or…or how many times have you listened to me complain about my problems without a word of complaint or annoyance? How many times have you brought me coffee for no reason at all?"

I sniffed as she continued, "Sure, Skye, you're defensive and closed-up, but you've clearly been through it. I don't think I even know half of what you've been through, yet you still shine your light on people. You make my life better, that's for sure."

At this point, tears were flowing. Clair must have felt them because she let go and said, "No no no! We're not crying right now. You'll ruin your mascara."

I laughed through the tears as Clair wiped them off my face with her thumbs. Sitting face to face, Clair sighed. "Seriously, Skye, I really wish you could see how great you really are. You're smart, hardworking, and to top it all off, absolutely gorgeous." I smiled at her kind words. She squeezed my hand reassuringly. "You're awesome, and don't you forget it."

"Thanks, Clair." I told her sincerely. I hugged her and she hugged me back. Her curly hair smelled of strawberry product.

It was nice to be hugged. The last time I was held was by Dylan.

I wasn't thinking about that.

When we let go, I sniffed one more time. "How ruined is my mascara?"

She smiled. "It's a little runny, but we'll fix it in no time." She glanced at the clock. "It's already 10PM though. Butttt….let's do one more shot and then it's," She threw her hands up in the air, "Hit the dancefloor time!"

Dylan will be back next chapter :)