Community Stories. Get Inspired, Get Underlined

Discovering Me (Book 1 of Discovering Me Series)

By @ess1223

Alleyways - The Neighbourhood


Friday was our first and only nonscheduled day. We were not permitted to run wild, but we were able to choose where we wanted to go and what to do. The main attraction was visiting Audrey and Everett. Ellen insisted on going shopping first, claiming she needed to have the perfect to peruse her idol’s home. We returned to our hotel, enabling her to change. The rest of us were granted down time. Milo and I went to the living room in his suite to watch TV. Verna was out discussing a minor issue with the hotel staff. 

“Have either of you seen Elle?” Ryan’s voice cut through the noise from the television. 

He wore his beloved bathrobe open. He was only wearing a pair of jeans underneath. I found my eyes gravitating to his sculpted abs and chest. 

“Where are your clothes?” Milo sighed, as if he did this often. 

He made no attempt to cover himself up.

“I’m luring Elle in with my body bait and pissing her off by wearing the robe. Recipe for a fun time. S’up, Iz?” He winked at me.

Milo shielded my eyes with his hand. “How did you get in here?” 

“I have a spare key. I had Sami steal it for me. Elle’s not in her room. Do you know where she is?” 

“Probably trying to dress Morgan or Sami.” Milo kept his hand in place.

“Awesome.” He strolled off.

“–Are your clothes?!” We vaguely heard Nick cry after Ry opened the main door. 

“Drink it in, Nicky. I have no problems with nudity. My body is art.” We heard Ryan retort before closing the door.

I busted out laughing. Milo finally removed his hand. 

“See, your suite’s fun.” I giggled.

He fought off a smile. “Our friends are mad.” 

“In the best possible way.” I beamed. 

I checked my phone for the time. “She really needs to hurry up. I want to get there before my niece turns one.”

“Give her five minutes.” He held my hand.

I rested my head on his shoulder as I resumed watching television.

“Ready!” Elle popped her head into Milo’s suite.

“How did you get in?” He used the remote to turn off the plasma screen.

“Ryan’s key. I’ll be waiting in the hall.”

“Let’s go.” I stood up first. I hoisted him up to a standing position.

Verna arranged for a limo to take us to New Jersey. It was about a forty-five minute drive to get to their house from the city. The entire ride, Ellen was beaming with excitement. When we arrived at their home, the limo driver pulled up to their security gate.

“Can I PLEASE press button?!” Elle requested.

“Uhh…Sure?” I answered, a little reluctant.

If I said ‘no’, I’m sure she’d do it anyway, but I also knew who generally answered the gate.

“Hello?” Everett’s voice rang clearly through the speaker box.

Ellen started screaming at the top of her lungs. The rest of us covered our ears and groaned in pain.

“Elle?” He chuckled.

She basically started hyperventilating when he said her name. Sami pushed her out of the way.

“Yeah, that was her! This is all your fault. I hope you’re proud of yourself!” She barked.

“I’m very sorry, Sami. I hope I can make it up to you today somehow. Welcome to our home. I’ll buzz you in. “

The iron gates opened and the limo driver pulled into their driveway.

Once we were at the front door, Ellen insisted on having her photo taken by it. After that photo was taken, she made me take another one of her ringing their doorbell. 

“Hey, guys, come on in.” Everett smiled at us. 

“I’ve dreamt of this day.” Elle looked around the foyer in awe. 

“She’s your problem now.” Sami growled.

“She’s just happy.” Morgan defended.

“I don’t care. Her screaming is at an unhealthy decibel. I’m literally risking my well-being to be around her.” She fired back. 

“And you call us dramatic.” Ryan teased. 

“Is that my little Isa?” Audrey descended the stairs with a pink bundle in her arms. 

I placed my hand on my chest. “I really need to see her. I don’t think you understand.” 

She giggled. “This is Emilia Violet.” She showed her to me. 

“Emmy for short.” Ev added. 

She was even more beautiful in person. Her cheeks were chubbier and her hair was thicker than they were the last time I saw pictures.

“Can I hold her?”

“Of course.” She transferred her to me.

I supported her neck and held her body close to mine.

Her hazel eyes struggled to stay focused on me as I gently rocked her. “I can’t believe you had a baby.”

“It certainly happened. I heard you’re in a real-life relationship now.” I felt her smiling at me.

I looked up from Emilia and over at Elle. “Really?” 

She shrugged with an innocent smile. “I was told to keep her informed. I take my job very seriously.”

I warded off a smile and returned my eyes to Audrey. “Yes. Milo’s my boyfriend.”

“I knew she liked you.” She told him.

“Embarrassment. I’m feeling it now.” I grumbled.

She shook her head at me with a smile. 

“Would you like a tour?” Everett offered.

“YES!” Elle cheered before anyone else could get a word in.

“Can I please please please take pictures? They will not be leaked to the media. I will store them forever in my scrapbook dedicated to you.” Elle requested.

He chuckled at her enthusiasm. “I don’t mind if they are for private use only. We don’t want Emmy to end up on anything.” 

“Never. I think paparazzi that take pictures of celebrities’ kids are the worst. There’s definitely a line. Kids should be private.” She vowed before she started taking pictures of everything in sight.

They decided to show us the upstairs first. They have a wall of photos that lines their staircase. I knew I was featured in a number of them. I was hoping my friends didn’t notice.

“Do you guys want to see a picture of Izzie when she was little?” Audrey asked when we passed the photo wall.

“YES!” They practically shouted in unison as I groaned.

“Audrey!” I whined in protest as she looked for a good picture of me to show them.

“Don’t worry, Honey. All the embarrassing ones are in the living room photo album.” She teased.

“We’ll be going through those later.” Sami announced. Finn nodded in agreement.

“I’m sure little Iz looks adorable in all of them.” Milo told them.

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” I grumbled as I adjusted Emmy in my arms.

“Here’s a good one.” Audrey pointed to a picture of me when I was six.

I was lying in the grass with my hair braided in two pigtails. I was wearing a white dress with lace trim. My hand rested beneath my chin as I looked up at the sky, smiling.

“Awww! Izzie, you were freaking adorable!” Ellen took a picture of my picture.

“You can tell by that face that she was a troublemaker.” Ryan teased.

Everyone laughed and nodded in agreement.

“She was a rambunctious little thing, always bouncing around. Dance class was the only thing that got Ms. Hyper to chill out.” Audrey smiled over at me.

“What can I say? I love to dance.” I shrugged.

“You’re so cute.” Milo told me as we resumed walking. 

“Don’t you mean were?”

“Nope. You still are the cutest thing ever.” He slid his arm around my waist.

“Your opinion’s a little bias, don’t you think?” I looked to him.

“I’m a prince, what I say is law.” He shrugged.

“Oh, I wasn’t aware of that fact. My apologies, Prince Milo.” I smiled up at him cheekily. He cringed at the sound of his title.

“It’s alright, Isabelle. You’re forgiven.” He smirked. I nudged him lightly.

“Hey, no hitting. I evened the score.” He rubbed where I hit him over-dramatically.

“Should I kiss it and make it better?” I joked. 

“Yes, you should. You hit me so hard that my lips hurt.” He poked out his bottom lip.

“Oh really? Wow. We should really get you checked out by a doctor. Your lips and stomach shouldn’t be linked like that.” I worked hard to keep a smile off of my face. 

He pecked me as Em separated our bodies.

After going through all the rooms on the top floor, we went to the basement. 

“I’m legally obligated to warn you that a monster is staying down here. Whatever you do, DON’T make eye contact with her.” Everett said over-dramatically in his usual joking manner as we descended the stairs.

“I told you to quit telling people that!” His sister snapped at him as she crossed her arms. 

“Oh NO!! I’ve angered it!” He cried in mock horror, holding Emilia closer to his chest.

I giggled at his priceless expression with my friends. 

“Katelyn’s not a monster. She’s his sister. She lives in Connecticut, but she’s here visiting her niece and dorky brother. ” Audrey explained.

Katelyn smiled at Aud kindly before she resumed glaring at Everett. “Aud’s so out of your league. You’re lucky Emmy looks like her.”

“We have the same genes. Be kind to yourself.” He smirked at her as Audrey took Emilia from him. 

“You know what, Everett? I like you. ” Finn mused.

We were all pretty shocked. Sami’s the only person he openly complimented.

“Thanks, Finn. I’m glad someone appreciates my sense of humor.” He replied.

“You pretended to propose to me in our high school cafeteria to ask me to prom. You had a ring box, got down on one knee and everything. How was that funny?” Audrey asked him lightly.

We all busted out laughing at the mental imagery.

“You seriously did that?!” Ryan cried, coming down for his fit of laughter.

Ev chuckled and nodded.” Yep. It was the funniest thing. I did a sentimental speech, I gazed into her eyes lovingly and dramatically got down on one knee with a velvet ring box.Aud’shorrified expression was priceless. When I opened the box and revealed that there was only a piece of paper with ‘Prom?’ written on the inside, we both lost it; she hit me on the shoulder and I laughed. It was one of my best pranks.” He chuckled at the memory. 

“You’re into pranks?” Sami asked. The surprise was written all over her face.

“He’s always been great at turning anything into a game. He keeps himself very entertained.” Audrey smiled at her husband.

“And you, Dear.” He smiled cheekily and pecked her on the lips.

She did her best to fight off a smile. 

“I’m starting to grasp why Elle’s super into you. You’re a pretty cool dude.” Sami mused.

“I know, right?!” Ellen chimed in.

“Uh, oh. I think you just earned yourself a new little fangirl.” Ryan teased.

“I’m only willing to admit he’s pretty cool. I will never be doing what she’s doing.” Sami nodded to Elle. She was posing between Everett and Katelyn and had Morgan taking a picture.

“She’s a severe case.” You could be a much more lax fangirl like Morgan.” I suggested.

“Nah. That’s still too much work.” She shrugged.

“But Sami, he plays eight instruments! One of them is the Cello!” Ellen announced dramatically.

“Dammit, Elle! Why’d you have to tell me that?! You know I like to support fellow cellists.” She grumbled crossing her arms. 

Elle shrugged it off and took a picture of Morgan with Everett and his sister.

“How come you’re immune to the Everett Woods fandom?” Nick asked me curiously.

“I’ve known him my entire life. He was my sister’s best friend, then he was her boyfriend, and now he’s her husband. I can’t bring myself to think of him outside of that context.” I shrugged.

We all made our way to their movie room. There was a giant projection screen and five rows of cinema seating. 

“This collection is incredible. I’d never get anything done because I’d be too busy watching movies.” Nick thought aloud. 

Instead of looking the latest blockbusters like everyone else, he migrated to their collection of indie films. 

“You really love films, don’t you, Nick?” I asked.

“Big time. Sometimes I want to be a filmmaker instead of a musician.”

“You could always score films.” I suggested.

He looked at me with a smile. “Music helps define the genre.” 

I nodded in agreement. “Especially in horror films.” 

“That’s part of the problem with the bad ones you love watching. The music sets up the wrong emotions.”

“Aside from the bad writing and low budget production value?” I giggled. 

“I want to fix everything.”

“Elle can’t for the same reason. She lost it on Sharknado.”

“Sharks are endangered because people went on a killing spree after Jaws premiered. They also aren’t aggressive; they generally attack when provoked or accidentally. Dolphins are the ones you have to worry about. And in that movie, they destroyed a tornado by shooting at it. That’s not how weather works!” Elle cried in her defense.

“All of that.” Nick pointed to her. He looked over at her. “Did you know the writer of Jaws dedicated the rest of his life to shark conservation? He felt really bad about making them the villain.” 

“Of course. I forgive you for joining Ryan’s robe cult. You’re my favorite again.” She hugged him. 

He chuckled. “Thanks, Elle.”

We eventually went upstairs to the main floor to conclude the tour. My friends and I ate as they checked out Audrey’s photo albums. I refrained from looking at my life illustrated with pictures. Most of them depicted times I wanted to forget. My friends and I were heading downstairs to watch a movie when the doorbell rang. We disregarded it and continued our migration.

“Iz, wait, I think you’ll want to see who this is.” Aud stopped me.

“Yeah?” I turned around, still holding Milo’s hand.

“Don’t act like you haven’t missed me like crazy, Izzie Baby.” My cousin Rebekah appeared in the archway with her hands on her hips.

Her porcelain skin was a stark and beautiful contrast to her dark brown hair, which cascaded past her shoulders. Her green eyes sparkled with mischief as her full red lips were contorted into a smirk. 

“BEX!” I squealed, dropping Milo’s hand. I ran up to her and engulfed her in a constricting hug. “How have you been?!” 

“Rockin’. I’m pissed at you, by the way. Why didn’t you call me? I had no idea you were torturing yourself.”

“Your boarding school is in Ireland. I had too much on my mind to keep up with time zones. I’m good now. I promise.”

“You better be. We’re going out tonight for old time’s sake.” She released me from our hug.

“I don’t drink anymore.”

“Not an issue. We’re going to a surprise concert. Who’s he?” She nodded to Milo.

“My boyfriend Milo.” I extended my hand to him. He took it.

“It is nice to meet you.” He shook her hand.

“You have the power to make a phone book sound nice. That’s lethal. Your new nickname is Hot Stuff. I will never call you Milo.” She confidently maintained eye contact

He chuckled. “Okay. Why is Izzie’s nickname ‘Izzie Baby’?” 

“Izzie was the youngest member of the Hales family until Sophia was born. It still fits because she always manages to be the youngest person in each social situation she’s in.”

“She’s one of the youngest in our group of friends as well. Most of us are seventeen. She and Finn are the only two who are still sixteen.” He informed her.

“We’ll hold on to our youth longer than you guys; who’s laughing now?” I retorted playfully.

“All jokes aside, treat her well or I’ll kill you.” She deadpanned.

“No, you won’t.” I argued.

“Yes, I will. And if I see that bastard named after a pony, I’ll take care of him too. Mark my words.”

“I wouldn’t put that one past you. Come on, you need to meet the gang.” I gestured her onward.

“You’ve joined a gang? How fun.”

When we walked into the room, the others immediately gave us their full attention. 

“Hello, I’m Bex. I’ll be your fun guide for the evening.” She smirked and waved.

“I’m Elle. You have great style. Very rebel chic.” She complimented with a smile as she shook her hand.

She had a pair of black shorts on with a pair of sheer tights beneath them. She paired that with her signature combat boots, an indie band T-shirt, and an opened red flannel shirt. 

She chuckled lightly. “Okay. I’ll take your word for it.” 

“I’m Ryan. Is it safe to assume that your name’s Rebekah? If so, why’s Bex your nickname — not Becky or Becca?” Ryan asked curiously as he joined Elle.

“It’s so weird to hear my full name. Never again. Bex is unexpected. It sounds an awful lot like sex, which makes it stick out in people’s minds.” She shrugged.

He nodded in understanding.

“What are the rest of your names?” She asked the others.

“I’m Sami.” She shook her hand.

“My name’s Finn.”

“Hi, I’m Morgan.” She waved with a sweet smile. 

“Nick.” He shook her hand.

“Are you calling me or telling me?” She teased.

“My name’s Nick, not yours. Sorry. I really like them.” He blushed as he pointed to the band on her shirt.

“What do you like about them?” She inquired.

“Their bassist is incredible. They’d have to disband if Gordon left. He’s irreplaceable, maybe even more than the lead singer. He really defines their sound.” 

She smiled up at him. “Thank you for not pretending to like something to impress a girl. Have you ever seen them live?”

“I wish. They’re out of the country most of the time.”

“What if I told you we’re going to their show tonight?”

“Are you serious?” His face lit up.

She nodded. “They are playing a pop-up show. The address is in my phone.” 

“Slight problem. I doubt Miles’ guard dogs will let him out after dark. One of them is waiting in the car as we speak.” Ryan reminded us.

“We sneak. Duh. What time do the festivities start?” Sami asked Bex.

“There’s no set time on the show, but they usually they don’t go on until one or later. My dad has an apartment in the city. I can give you the address and meet you there. Sneaking out of the hotel is on you.”

“We’ve got that.” Finn replied.

The eight of us returned to our hotel that evening. We ate dinner with Verna according to schedule. We were careful not to discuss what we were doing that night. We played video games in the main suite until 9. We returned to our rooms in waves to avoid suspicion. Milo went to Ryan’s room under false pretenses to eliminate the struggle of sneaking out beneath Verna’s nose.

Both Elle and I took quick showers. After blow drying my hair and putting on my undergarments, I sat down on my bed and pulled on my sheer black tights. I put on a t-shirt dress and long necklace. I kept my hair curly and simply added moose to make it shiny. Elle did my makeup for me. I put on my black booties and leather jacket when she was done. After spritzing on a bit of perfume, the two of us made our way over to Ryan’s room. 

“Hey, Beautiful.” Milo not so subtly checked me out. 

“Hi.” I smiled as I kissed him. 

“You look really good in black.” I complimented his button down shirt. He had the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. It paired nicely with his dark wash jeans and black sneakers.

“Ready to party, Sams?” Finn called to her when she walked in with Morgan.

“You know it.” She walked up to him. 

“You look nice.”

She fought back a smile and looked down at herself. “I don’t need your approval.” She returned her eyes to his.

“I know, but that didn’t stop me from speaking my mind.” 

“I don’t want to do a whole thing. Simply nod if you want to be my boyfriend.” She kept her voice even and her tone casual.

He nodded with his usual blasé expression. 

“Sweet.” She pulled out her phone.

“Are you kidding me?! All that build up for ‘nod if you want to be my boyfriend’? I’ve been shipping this for years!” Elle cried in outrage.

“Sorry to disappoint.” Sami batted her eyelashes innocently; making it clear she kept their exchange as simplistic and unromantic as possible to mess with her.

We moved out in pairs of two, notifying the next group if the coast was still clear as soon as they were on the elevator. Milo and I left last, just in case someone attempted to find him at the last minute.

I removed my heels for the journey down the hall. Holding my shoes in one hand and his in the other, we ran down the hallway. Safely in the elevator, we laughed in giddy at our triumph. I stepped back into my boots, holding onto his shoulder for support.

We walked past the front counter, shielding our faces. The staff that manned it was well aware of our presence; Verna was on a first name basis with all of them. We met our friends at the front of the building. We took multiple cabs to my Uncle Tony’s apartment.

His primary residence was in New Jersey. He kept an apartment in the city for the nights he worked late at his record company. He started out as a gifted music producer and went on to establish Rogue Records.

“Welcome, welcome. Drinks and snacks on the bar. Make yourselves at home.” Bex opened her door to us.

“Where’s Uncle Tony?” I walked in. 

“Work. He’ll probably be home when I get back.” 

Some pregammed, others helped themselves to snacks and enjoyed the music. Milo’s eyes were glued to me, but he refrained from touching. There were was a foot or two of space between us at all times and it was making me uncomfortable. Worried he was scared of me, I lead Milo away without anyone noticing.

“Where are we going?”


“The bathroom?”

“Yep. In you go.” I gestured him inside. He complied reluctantly. I locked the door behind us.

“May I ask why we are in here?”

“You don’t need to feel guilty for wanting to be with me.”

He pursed his lips together and put his hands into his pockets. “I wish I knew.” His eyes diverged from mine. ” I wish I had given you space and time –“

“I was ready and I wanted you.”

“I love you. It is hard for me to think of someone hurting you like that and to stomach the fact that I have done things physically similar.”

I stepped forward and picked up his hands. “You have never laid a hand on me that I did not want or hurt me. You handle me with love, you listen to me; and the way you look at me –” I took a beat to smile. “I feel so beautiful. Please recognize the difference between you and him.”

“Are you sure?” He finally looked at me. His eyebrow usage brought a smile to my face.

I nodded. “I love you.” 

His lips fluttered to a smile the moment the word ‘love’ left my lips. I kissed him for his subconscious cuteness. He kissed back with more passion than expected. Caught up in the moment, I deepened it and pressed myself closer to him. I walked backwards until I reached the counter. I sat down on top of it.

“You are so sexy.” He breathed into my ear, before kissing the space below my ear.

 I let out a shaky sigh.I held onto his back and played with his hair. 

“May I touch you?”

“Please.” I swallowed hard.

I moaned softly when he slipped his hand right where I wanted it. I guided his face to mine and resumed kissing him at full force. An abrupt stop on my part made him do the same and take a step back. 

“Too far?”

“Hoping for more, actually.” 

I removed my tights and shoes as he prepared himself. As soon as he was done, I pulled him where I was. 


“Are you done being afraid of me?” I put my arms around his neck. 

“I was never fearful of you. I have become more aware of your comfort. I should have been the entire time we have been together. I apologize for getting ahead of myself.” He kept his arms around my waist. 

“It’s okay. I’m guilty of it too.” I rubbed my nose against his.

“I love you.” He pressed his lips to mine.

“I know.” I put my hand on the side of his face. 

We slowly kissed in sync. 

 We cleaned up and rearranged ourselves side by side and returned to the lounge.

Bex appeared to be engaging in an intense conversation with Nick about their favorite bands. I stole the half empty water bottle she was holding. She was too engrossed in what they were talking about to notice. We left the apartment a little before midnight. Bex got us into the club with ease. We hit the dance floor as we anticipated the band’s arrival. I swayed my hips to beat. I loved the feeling of Milo’s hands on me. He excused himself to the restroom after a couple of songs. I spotted Elle and Morgan at a table on the balcony overlooking the dance floor. I went upstairs to join them.

“You looked like you were having a good time out there.” Elle stirred her fruity cocktail.

“I’m having a better one than expected.” I flagged down a waiter to request a glass of water.

“Can I buy you a drink?” A guy in his early twenties approached Elle.

“I’m covered.” She raised her glass.

“Let me know if that changes.” He flashed her a smile.

“I think my boyfriend would have a problem with that.”

Ryan walked up to our table. “Thanks for ordering my drink, Babe. Crazy line at the restroom.” He casually pecked her on the lips as if they did it all the time.

Her attempted suitor was gone in a matter of seconds.

“What is this?” I pointed to the two of them after accepting my drink from the waiter.

“They do it all the time when we go out. They’ve gotten really good at it, I must say.”

“I’d believe it if I didn’t know better.”

“That’s the point of acting.” Elle smiled.


“Where are the others?” Morgan asked.

“I saw Miles in line for the men’s room.” Ryan partially answered.

“Sami and Finn are right there. –“ I pointed them out. “And Nick is…” I scanned the crowd for him. I smiled when I found him dancing and laughing with Bex. “He’s right there.”

“Aww, he looks so happy.” Elle cooed, placing her hand on his chest.

“Don’t do that. He’s a grown man, not a puppy.” Ry intervened.

“I can say what I want to. I –“

“Is that Milo?” I excused myself before a full-scale fight broke out.

As I walked back to where my friends on the dancefloor were, I spotted a familiar face. I quickly looked away and started walking faster.

 “The rumors are true. You’re back.” He called to me from behind.

 A chill ran up my spine. I braced myself and turned around slowly.

“Colin, it’s best that–“

“He’s on house arrest because of you. If convicted of all charges, he’s looking at ten years. You are ruining his life. Stop lying!”

“Your brother –“

“You can’t change how you feel about it after the fact to save face.” 

“Is he bothering you?” Milo spoke in my ear to ensure I heard him over the music.

“It’s nothing. Let’s go.” I attempted to drag him away.

“Who are you?” Colin questioned, sizing Milo up.

“Her boyfriend.”

“What are you doing over here, Baby?” Bordeaux Hamilton plastered herself to Colin’s side.

When her eyes drifted to me, she scoffed.

“Best friend and his brother? Who won’t you screw?”

My face flushed. “I didn’t happen like that.”

“The pictures beg to differ.”


“You have the right to know what your girlfriend’s really like.” She addressed Milo.

She removed her phone from her clutch and started flipping through it.

“She slept with Phil, who was Colt’s best friend at the time. Then she slept with him, let him take pictures and tried to lie about it.” Bordeaux showed us her phone after finding what she wanted.

When I saw myself on the screen, tears collected in my eyes.

I was lying on a bed I recognized to be his completely naked. I was frighteningly skinny; bones were poking through my skin. My eyes were so glazed over that I appeared to be on another planet. I was awkwardly fashioned into a sexual pose, fully exposed. My face didn’t match it at all; my limbs appeared limp, as though I was a rag doll he arranged and was able to be photographed quickly before falling down. 

“Who’s seen this?” My hands started to tremble and it became increasingly difficult for me to breathe.

“Everyone. It’s how we know you’re a liar.” She fired back, putting her phone back into her bag.

Without warning or an explanation, I walked away as quickly as my legs carry me. I barged through the back exit and allow myself to break down the moment I reached the back alley. I began to sob uncontrollably. My stomach constricted and knotted until I felt sick. I tried swallowing hard, but it wasn’t enough. I involuntarily gagged and threw up on the concrete, gripping the brick wall for support.

 “What was– ?” Milo stopped in his tracks when he caught me throwing up.

“It’s — it’s not what it looks like. I didn’t do it.” I croaked through my tears, wiping my mouth off with the back of my hand.

“I know.” He put his arms around me and I buried my face in his chest. “It’s okay. I believe you.” He breathed into my hair as he rubbed my back.

I closed my eyes and worked to recall my breathing techniques. It took a little while, but I pulled away from him when breathing became easy. 

“Was that him?”

I shook my head. “His brother.”

“What did he say?”

“He blames me.” I fixated my eyes on the ground. “I didn’t know he took pictures.” My voice cracked and I resumed crying. 

He guided my head to my chest and rubbed my back as I sobbed. 

Reoccurring thoughts I had had then about how much I hated myself and the way I looked kept cycling through as the image remained ingrained in my mind. I clutched his shirt as my capacity to breathe shortened. He caught me when my legs went limp. He guided me to the wall and the two of us took a seat. 

“Baby, please look at me.” He pleaded with desperation. 

It took effort to focus on his words and register his request. I finally did it. He tucked my hair behind my ear and started tending to my tears with a pursed expression. 

“S-s-stop look-looking at me like that — like you love me. I-it hurts.” I hiccuped, still unable to breathe properly. 

“I can’t and refuse to try.”

I buried my face in my hand. “T-they are r-r-ight. I-I am gross and-and ugly and so easy.”

“No.” He replied firmly. “They could not be more wrong. I’m astounded by their cruelty. No one deserves this, especially you. I am so sorry.” He stoked my hair.

I shook my head.”You e-e-earlier and-and Phil was never — he was just nice to me. I am so–” 

“Who cares why you were with him? Yes, we made love earlier. It happened and we enjoyed it. It brought us closer after resolving a conflict.”

My tears fell silently after a while. A familiar feeling of numbness slowly crept over me. I welcomed it, preferring it over feeling everything at once.

“Let’s get out of here, okay?” He suggested when he noticed I was no longer shaking. 

I nodded.

He guided my face up to his when I wouldn’t look up. “I still love you.”

I forced as much of a smile as I could. He took my hand and escorted me back inside.

Milo notified our friends that we were leaving as I held onto him for support. Nick, Bex, Sami, and Finn opted to stay. They couldn’t see my face. I was happy they weren’t worried; attention was the last thing I needed. We passed Colin on our way out. I kept my eyes down.

“Keep running, Slut. No one wants you here!” He spat.

 Milo turned back and punched him in the face as hard as he could. Ryan dragged him to the nearest exit. Elle put her arm around me and led me out as Colin drew a crowd. Ryan shoved Milo into the first taxi that pulled up. Elle hailed another one as Morgan draped her arm across my shoulders. I was put into the car first. I pinned myself to the door and glued my eyes to the window, trying to get lost in the colors, lights, and sounds of the city.

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