Rachel Van Dyken


  The end of Spring Semester

  I would have followed her anywhere.

  It’s funny isn’t it? People claim to know what love is — yet the minute they’re given the opportunity to prove it — they bail.

  I wish I could have bailed. I wish I could have walked away four years ago. Then maybe I’d have the strength to walk away now. To look her in the eyes and say, “Sorry, but I can’t do this again.”

  People rarely mean what they say. To me, sorry was just another word in the English language that people misused — like love.

  I love ice cream, I love pancakes, I love the color blue — bullshit. Because when I said love — I meant I bled for you. When the word love actually leaves my lips — I’m speaking it into existence. I’m empowering my soul — I’m joining with yours.

  I’d always heard about crossroads, how people are given choices in their lives, choices that either make or break them. I never realized that I’d be given that second chance; I never realized I’d fail to take it.

  Her eyes pleaded with mine. My heart shattered in my chest, my lips moved to speak — to say anything to get her to understand the depth of what I was feeling, but I knew the minute I told her how I felt — it would be all over.

  My heart, my soul, it couldn’t survive anything happening to her. If she wasn’t in my world, my heart would stop. I knew it was killing her — because it was destroying me.

  But going back to that life.

  Even for her.

  Was out of the question.

  Falling in love, jumping out, even knowing full well that she’d catch me. It wasn’t an option. Because everyone knows, when it comes to love, it’s not the fall that hurts… it’s the landing. And I knew it was only matter of time before she gave up on me too and allowed me to break.

  Because in the end… that’s all I was — broken. A shell of a human.

  “I don’t understand!” She beat against my chest with her fists. “You promised me! You promised you’d never leave!” Tears streamed down her face, the face I used to love. I closed my eyes then looked behind me as Saylor clenched the keys in her hand, waiting for my decision.

  I was at a crossroads all right. One path led to my future — the other to my past and utter self destruction.

  I couldn’t look at her. I ignored every thread of feeling — and relished the pain of my heart breaking into a million pieces as I held out my hand in front of me. “You’re right, I promised.”

  “Gabe!” Saylor yelled from behind me. “It doesn’t have to be like this.”

  “Don’t you see?” I said quietly without turning around. “It’s always been like this, it will always be like this. I warned you.”


  “Enough!” I yelled, tears threatening to stream down my face. “I said enough. You should go.”

  Behind me, the door slammed.

  “It’s okay!” she said, cupping my face. “It will finally be okay!”

  “Alright, Princess.” I choked on the word. “Alright.” I tightened the pink scarf around her neck and put my arm around her.

  “Thanks.” She sighed happily. “You always promised you’d take care of me. You can’t leave, you can’t—”

  “I won’t.” I vowed, because it was my fault. Just like everything else.

  “Can we go play now, Gabe?”

  “Yeah, sweetheart, we can.” I folded the blanket around her legs and pushed her wheelchair out of the room, knowing full well that I was choosing the wrong path — with every step I took.

  Chapter One

  Sad moment officially gone, just please, for the love of God, get a room —Gabe H


  Middle of Spring Semester

  “Focus, Kiersten.” I snapped my fingers in front of her face. “Stages of mitosis. Go.”

  We’d been sitting at the local Starbucks all morning. The smell of ground coffee was beginning to make me sick — I had nobody to blame but myself. Apparently ground coffee is what a new leaf smelled like. And I’d officially turned one over.

  Kierten’s eyes darted to the textbook. I scooted it away and waited patiently, folding my hands on the table.

  Her mouth dropped open to answer, a blank stare followed and then a groan. “G-a-a-a-a-be.” She smiled. “Can’t we take a coffee break? Please?”

  “Don’t stick out your lower lip.”

  She stuck it out anyway.

  “Kiersten…” I warned.

  “Please!” She gripped my hands in hers and pouted some more.

  I gave in with a heavy sigh — you know, to show that I wasn’t happy about giving in to her demands even though that’s how it always was with our friendship. She said jump and I said where, how high, how long, and how fast can I do your bidding? “Fine, we’ll take a coffee break.”

  “Yes!” She slammed the book shut. “My turn to treat.” Her ridiculously cute smile made me laugh. Hell, she always made me laugh, and I so needed to laugh at this point in my life. Besides, if I didn’t laugh I was pretty sure I’d break down sobbing and the last thing the world needed was for me to suddenly make sure everyone was aware that I had feelings.

  Damn, I didn’t even want to be aware.

  “Nope.” I waved her off then had to physically restrain her from hopping off toward the counter. “I got it. Plus, Wes would kill me if he knew I made you pay for your own coffee.”

  “You guys spoil me too much.” She sat back against her chair and crossed her arms. “You’re going to have to let me go soon, Gabe. Both you and Wolf,” she said, using Wes’s nickname. “I can’t live in your protective bubble forever.” She yawned and accidently hit her hand on the wall beside her.

  “Aw, little Lamb,” I teased, using Wes’s nickname for her. “Get a boo-boo?”

  “Shut it.”

  “I’ll just go get your coffee.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “You do that, Turtle.”

  If she was a dude, I would have flipped her off. Instead, I laughed and walked away.

  I’d been making fun of her and Wes’s nicknames for each other — Lamb and Wolf — and in return had been gifted with one of my own, on account of my idiot cousin, Lisa, deciding to tell them the story about how I’d had a pet turtle when I was little and had cried when it died.

  But come on! That turtle was bad ass! I had a freaking funeral for the little guy — I full on wept.

  Not a proud moment.

  “The usual?” I called back.

  She folded her hands in front of her like she was praying and shouted, “Please!”

  With a smile I turned around and went to stand in line — trying to look casual, easy-going, normal. Ha! Funny how I used to actually practice being normal.

  I’d looked in the mirror and had to tell myself to visibly relax my lips, shoulders, muscles. I had to own the look because things had been crazy for so long — and apparently I had a certain way of walking that made people recognize me. Who knew, right? At any rate, I was a bad ass ninja master of disguise, and it wasn’t just my life that depended on it, but hers as well.

  Maybe it was my graduation — but ever since the start of this last semester I’d felt edgy — irritated, as if I was some sorry ass sitting outside waiting for a storm cloud. I had no reason to feel that way — I just did, and honestly? It freaked me out a bit. I hoped it was just a side effect of not sleeping around with every single girl on campus. Maybe that was what not having sex did to guys… made them paranoid and jumpy as hell.

  “What can I get you?” The barista asked, her demeanor cool, aloof.

  I leaned forward and smiled brightly. “That depends, what are you offering?”

  “Damn.” She snapped her fingers. “You confused
? The sex shop is just down the street.” With a wink, she leaned forward and whispered, “We serve coffee here.”

  “How…” I licked my lips slowly, falling easily back into old habits. “…embarrassing.” My heart started to race as I greedily scanned her tight little body, just barely hidden by the green apron. It was my game — the only thing I had going for me. The only thing that numbed me to my past — to everything. Don’t feel sorry for me. I loved every damn minute of it — because it was one more minute I wasn’t thinking about the past.

  The past, the past, the past. Ah, there it was, the reason I kept it in my pants now. My promise to Wes, and worse — my promise to myself. She wouldn’t want me to be this way — I was torn between feeling guilty about how I acted and also feeling relieved that at least there was still something that choked the sadness away from my existence.

  “It happens,” she replied breathlessly, her eyes widening as she took in my body. I was used to it. I lived for it. I survived on it.

  And then, she flipped her hair.

  A whiff of perfume hit me square in the face, shaking off any sort of lust I had going for me.

  Shit. It was the same perfume.

  Shaking, I jerked back forcing a weak laugh. “Anyways, um, can we just have two large caramel lattes? Triple shot and put extra whipped cream on one of them.”

  “Oh.” The girl’s face went completely red as she typed in the order and shook her head. “Is that all?”

  Her voice was pitifully hopeful.

  But I’d already made up my mind.

  Or maybe it was my body that was made up first, then my mind. Either way, I felt like puking, like running outside and not stopping until I was either in the music room or on my Harley.

  “Yup.” I handed her my credit card, my fingers tensing around the sharp edges of the plastic. “That’s all.”

  She swiped, handed it back, muttered asshole under her breath, and I walked around to wait for the cups and make sure she didn’t spit in anything before our coffee made it into my hands.

  Within minutes I had our coffee and was already sitting back at the table.

  “So…” Kiersten took a slow sip. “How’s life?”

  I rolled my eyes. “Can we not do this?”

  “Do what?” She shrugged innocently.

  “The whole you ask me how I’m doing over and over again and just pray I’ll crack or worse yet, start crying and spouting out all my dirty—” I leaned in. “Little.” I leaned in a bit more “Secrets.”

  “Your sex eyes don’t work on me,” Kiersten said, her voice sounding bored as hell.

  I shrugged helplessly and took a long sip of coffee. “Worth a shot.”

  “Worth getting shot?” Kiersten corrected. “Because that’s what would happen. Wes would shoot you.”

  “Wes hates violence,” I defended.

  “No, he doesn’t hate it.” Kiersten laughed and looked to the door. “Oh my gosh… is that her?”

  “Her who?” Kiersten knew I didn’t do names — I rarely recognized the girls I slept with unless they walked up to me with their shirts lifted over their heads. Okay fine, so it wasn’t that bad, but pretty damn close. I swear it was easier to tell people apart that way.

  “Raylynn.” Kiersten lowered her voice. “That’s her!”

  “Don’t call her over,” I mumbled under my breath. That bitch was psycho. I slept with her once. One time! And she all but stalked me for three months! Kiersten had really liked her and thought she was pretty; therefore, my opinion didn’t matter. And nothing would make Kiersten happier than to see me settle down and stop whoring around, or so she told me every few days when she felt the urge to mama-bear me. Little did she know it had been months, which felt like years, decades… Oh, hell. Who was I kidding? It felt like death.

  “Oh look, she sees me!” Kiersten said happily.

  “I wonder if it’s because you’re waving.”



  “Raylynn!” Kiersten said in a cheerful voice that sounded like she was a cheerleader in another life. “How have you been?”


  All eyes turned to me.

  I stared into my coffee. Kiersten kicked me under the table. With a curse I looked up and said, “Yo.”

  “Yo?” Kiersten mouthed across the table.

  “Er, hi.” Raylynn blushed.

  Damn it.

  Her pale complexion and bright blonde hair did nothing to hide the fact that she was embarrassed.

  I tried again. “How have you been?”

  “Busy.” She cleared her throat, her eyes darting between me and my coffee as if waiting for me to ask her to sit down or worse yet, ask her on another date.

  And dead silence. Again. I suddenly experienced the exact definition of a pregnant pause.

  “Well…” Kiersten cleared her throat loudly then kicked me under the table. “It was great seeing you!”

  “You too.” Raylynn looked at me one last time then, shoulders slumping, walked off.

  “You ass!” Kiersten kicked my shin again. “And yo? Did you say yo? No one as white as you should ever say that word. Ever. I don’t care if you get kidnapped and the only way to be free is to either say yo or gnaw your own arm off. Gnaw the arm, Gabe. Don’t say…yo.”

  “Who said yo?” a male voice interrupted.

  “Ah, Wolf.” I teased, happy that I wasn’t alone anymore with Kiersten’s peering eyes and difficult questions.

  “Turtle,” he fired back.

  “Gabe said yo.”

  “Out loud?” Wes all but shouted. “Is he trying to get jumped?”

  I groaned into my hands and waited for them to stop talking about me like I wasn’t there.

  It was a regular occurrence with them. Kiersten would say something like I’m worried about Gabe, then Wes would say, Is he not eating? and I’d raise my hand and say, He’s just fine, he ate a burrito a half hour ago.

  “Guys!” I snapped, and dropped my hands to the table. “I’m fine, everything is fine. I said yo, I’m gangster, deal with it.”

  They both stared at me as if I’d just announced I was going to be a monk.

  “I heard something this morning.” Wes reached for Kiersten’s coffee and took a long sip then leaned back against the chair. If I wasn’t his best friend I’d effing hate him. He was the ideal All American Football Star. Quarterback, dark blond hair, blue eyes, buff, easy going. Yup, I’d freaking hate him.

  “Oh yeah?” My eyes narrowed. “Tell me, Gossip Girl, what did you hear?” I took a long sip of coffee.

  “Dry spell.”

  I spit out the coffee onto the table and all but choked to death. Damn Lisa, damn family, damn cousin. “I have no idea what you’re referring to.”

  “Right.” Wes licked his lips but dropped it. He leaned over and kissed Kiersten on the top of her head, then pulled her silky scarf tighter around her body.

  That simple motion — almost made me lose it.

  The tightening of a scarf — made me want to end my own life. If people only knew — if only I could trust people enough to tell, to explain, how wrecked I was on the inside.

  But no. I was playing a part. I was Gabe. I would never be him again, I would never be my past again.

  Kiersten laughed and kissed Wes’s nose.

  It was too much. Everything was suddenly too much, and in that moment I knew. It was too much four years ago — my time was up. The storm cloud was coming. “Look guys, I gotta run.”

  “Alright.” Kiersten barely took her eyes off Wes. “See you for Taco Tuesday?”

  “Yup.” I didn’t turn around. I didn’t wave. I grabbed my shit, and I ran out that door like the fires of hell were licking at my heels.

  Because for the first time in four years — the time bomb was about to go off and I wasn’t so sure how I was going to handle everything.

  My phone went off with a text.

  Puget Sound N: She needs you. Can you call an
d sing? Or maybe send her a picture text?

  Oh look, the bomb… it was ticking.

  Me: Yeah. I’ll call in a few.

  Chapter Two

  People will go through their entire lives justifying every damn decision…they’ll fight for all the wrong things, until finally the right thing stares at them square in the face. That’s when the choices start to matter. Because in the end, you’re a creature of habit. So you may want to choose right, but choose wrong in the end — because you’re so damn used to it. It’s tragic, then again, life’s tragic, don’t you think? —Wes M.


  “The dry spell’s really getting to you, isn’t it?” Lisa felt my forehead.

  I smacked her hand away and rolled my eyes.

  “You can’t call it a dry spell when it’s by choice,” I grumbled. “And by the way, thanks for telling Wes.” I’d run out of the Starbucks and headed directly to Lisa’s dorm room in hopes of talking to her about everything. Instead, she’d answered the door, her sweet smile conveying without words that she would always be there for me and she’d always understand.

  Except this time — I had refused to burden her.

  I looked at her now, several days after making that decision, and realized that had been our entire relationship. I give you my pain, you give me yours. And I was sick of it. I hated that she was part of it, and I hated that for the first time in four years I’d finally decided to grow a pair of balls and leave her the hell out of it — she didn’t deserve the darkness.

  I, however, did.

  “And cranky.” She plopped down onto the couch and messed up my hair with her hands. “You need to get out more.”

  “Question.” I put the TV on mute and pushed her away. “Weren’t you telling me a few weeks ago that I was going either going to die alone or from too many STDs?”

  Lisa’s blue eyes twinkled in amusement as she snatched the remote and turned the volume back up “Don’t be dramatic. I said you were going to die alone with STD’s.” She flipped her dark wavy hair over her shoulder and laughed.

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