“Atlas?” I start, adjusting myself against the willow tree me and Atlas are resting under.
“Yea?” He says, turning to look me in the eyes.
“Thanks for helping me out back there. And I’m really sorry I snapped at you yesterday. I really shouldn’t have.”
“Hey, it’s ok.”
“No, it’s really not, and I’m really sorry. It wasn’t your fault. I was just so frustrated and I guess I just snapped.
“Again, it’s ok. I’m not mad at you, I swear.”
God, the look in those indigo eyes just makes me want to spill my entire tragic life story to him. I take a deep breath to steel myself.
“Why don’t you have someone helping you with your stuff Nix?” He asks.
“Well, I would have Selene help me but we aren’t exactly on speaking terms right now.” I look down at my hands, hoping Atlas won’t notice the crack in my armor that he had just stumbled upon.
“Oh…I’m not going to ask what happened, but I’ve seen you two together and I’ve never seen two people with a stronger bond than you two. I say you show up at her door and not leave until you guys have made up. I bet she’s missing you as much as you are missing her.”
I don’t trust myself to speak without spilling out the whole story so I just lift my head and nod. I think Atlas sees the tears in my eyes because he silently closes the gap between us and wraps a strong arm around my shoulders. I stiffen as my head is screaming for me to move away, but deep down, it feels really nice to have someone care for me so much. I don’t want to ruin it.
“You know Nix,” Atlas chided, “you can relax. I’m not going to murder you.”
“Shut up,” I growl at him, fighting to keep my voice from wavering, But I do let myself relax and rest my head on his shoulder. I can’t help it. There is just something about Atlas that makes me feel safe.
We both fall silent. After a minute or two, I decided that I should try to lighten the mood.
“So Atlas, what do your parents think of you skipping school with some random girl?” I tease, lifting my head up and lightly elbowing him in the side.
Atlas expression turns sober and distant. “I wouldn’t know. Both of my parents were kidnapped about two years ago. That’s why I live with my uncle. It’s been so long that my uncle says that it’s probably safe to assume that they’re-“ He breaks off before he finishes, but I know what he was about to say.
****. Of course he has parent issues too. I really want to hate Atlas. I need to. But he’s making it harder and harder to hate him. I ignore what my head is telling me to do and wrap my arms around him. I can feel him stiffin, presumably in surprise, but then he relaxes into me.
“I’m really sorry Atlas, really.”
He lifts his head up, his mouth twitching up into a small smile, but I’m not done yet. Telling myself that I am about to say this to get him to trust me, and definitely not because I want to connect with Atlas, I take a deep breath and open my mouth to speak.
“My dad was murdered when I was eleven, and my mom is in jail for grand theft and selling drugs to minors. It was the only way she could support us after my dad’s murder. So now I live with my alcoholic aunt and that house that you dropped me off at… yea that wasn’t my house. My house is nowhere near that nice. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that I know how hard and ******* life can be, but It’ll get better, I promise. Every day, the pain will dull a little more, until it’s only watching and waiting from the corner of your conscience.”
I honestly don’t know how I said all of that without breaking down.
“Wow. Thanks, Nix. I really needed that. Wait, I can call you Nix right?” Atlas says, his trademark smile returning.
“Well, if you insist,” I teasingly sigh, punching him lightly in the shoulder.
“Jeez! What is with you and hitting me?” He whines.
“I wouldn’t have to hit you if you didn’t make it so easy,” I tease.
“By the way Nix, I never asked how you broke your ankle.”
Thank the Gods I Don’t Believe In that I had taken the time to come up with a cover story.
“It was really just a stupid mistake. I was walking down the stairs and I wasn’t paying attention so I slipped on a puddle of my aunt’s brandy. And well, you know the rest.
“Klutz!” he teases, grabbing my crutches and supplies before standing up. He extends a hand out to me and pulls me up carefully.
“Dork!” I snap back, grabbing my crutches from him while miserably failing to conceal my smile.
We both have history next, so we end up walking there together. Atlas holds my stuff for me and when we reach the classroom, he takes the seat next to me. It feels so natural, like we’ve been friends all our lives. Everyone is staring at us and I can already tell that there will be at least ten different rumors revolving around me and Atlas circulating by tomorrow. Oh well, I’ll worry about the rumors tomorrow, but right now, I don’t really care.
All through history, I can’t stop thinking about Atlas. He is just so different than what I expected him to be. He makes it so fricken hard to hate him. I mean, I literally just had a full-on heart-to-heart with the dude and now I’m going to go and murder his uncle! Who, by the way, is his replacement parent! And not to mention I definitely don’t like what Atlas does to me. He tears down my barriers in a way that nobody else has ever done, not even Selene can do what he seems to do. He understands me in a way that nobody else does.
But I can’t fail my mission. The consequences for failure are too great. I don’t know what’s going on between me and Atlas, but I have to shut it down. The walls that I’ve worked so hard to build around myself are crumbling and if I don’t rebuild quickly, well…I don’t want to find out what will happen.
The bell rings, and I am suddenly aware of the silent tears trickling down my cheeks. I wipe them away as quick as possible, but I don’t think I was fast enough. I feel warm, strong arms wrapped around me and I hear Atlas’ voice in my ear, “Hey, I know we have only just gotten to know each other, but I have a feeling you like to do everything on your own and you don’t like to let people in. You don’t have to tell me what those tears were about, just know that I am here, and I always will be, I promise Nix. Let me in.”
I allow myself one last moment of vulnerability. I whip around and hug Atlas as hard as I can. My arms are around his neck and it takes him no time at all to wrap his arms around my waist. He holds me steady so I don’t topple over since I am on one foot. Sobs rack my body and I’m pretty sure I am soaking Atlas’ shirt straight through. If Atlas minds, he definitely doesn’t show it. He moves one hand from my waist and uses it to smooth my hair.
“It’s going to be ok Nix,” he whispers.
“I can’t do it anymore Atlas. I can’t,” I manage to choke out through sobs.
Atlas guides me to the back of the classroom, and thankfully the teacher isn’t still in the room.
He holds me at arm’s length and looks me right in the eyes.
“What? What can’t you do? You need help Nix, whether you want it or not.”
I look away, not sure how to respond to this. I want to tell him so bad, but I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t keep lying to myself about how I feel about Atlas. I’ve tried so hard to hate him but I can’t. The closer I grow to Atlas, the harder it will be to complete my mission, and bailing out is not an option.
“Seriously Nix, now you’re scaring me.”
“Atlas, thank you for everything, really. But I can’t do this anymore.”
I break away and hobble over to my crutches. I leave my stuff there on the desk, I can get it later.
“Nixie! Wait! What’s going on?” Atlas sprints over and grabs my wrist right as I am almost to the classroom door. I almost trip over my crutches, but Atlas saves me from the hard floor. Instantly, it all clicks and my tears dry up. I whip around to face Atlas.
“Atlas, if you really are always there for me, you have to let me go. Please,” I plead with him. Atlas is such an amazing person, he doesn’t deserve someone like me. The farther away from me he is, the safer and happier he will be. He just needs to let go.
He holds on to my wrist. I can see the fire in his eyes, the hero inside of him. I know that look, he’s not going down without a fight. At this point, I don’t know if he’s going to let go. Part of me doesn’t want him too, but those feelings get shoved aside. I can’t afford to have feelings right now.
Then, Atlas surprises me. He lets go.
What the frick* just happened? One minute me and Nixie were having a great conversation and really getting somewhere, and then the next she’s bawling her eyes out and telling me to “let her go”. Whatever that was all about, it’s nothing good.
Did I do something? Is something going on with her family that she didn’t mention? Why won’t she tell me? I’m drowning in the questions flooding my mind. I just need to go someplace and think. I make for the side yard, not daring to look back, less I see Nixie and trigger something else.
There’s a couple making out underneath the farthest tree, but upon noticing me awkwardly standing there, they leave, not even disentangling themselves for one second. Sometimes, being the king of the high school comes in handy.
I barely make it to the first willow tree before I collapse on the ground, head in my hands. **** it. Why did I walk away from her back in the classroom? I need to get Nixie back. I need to help her, save her. I’m a superhero ******* it! She told me to leave her alone, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll watch from afar for a bit, give her the space she wants, until she’s ready. Ready for what? I’m not sure. But one thing’s for sure-I’m not giving up on Nixie Parker. Never again.