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Us and Them

By @ZoeAmber

Hayden

Friday / October 12th / 10:06 PM

I can’t focus. I play like c**p the entire game and nearly get pulled off the field a few times . I hear the whistle reverberate in my ears when the game ends and my teammates rush in around me in victory but all I do is search for her in the crowd. I already get the feeling she’s not telling me everything, and I don’t like the thought of what might happen when she gets home. When her father gets ahold of her.

When we’ve finished celebrating, I walk back toward the locker rooms but spot Adrian under some bleachers across the way talking to two kids I don’t recognize. I don’t see an exchange but I don’t like the look of them. One has a hoodie and a backpack on and the other has a full sleeve of tattoos. When they see me approaching, they go their separate ways, but confidently, not like they got caught doing something sketchy.

When I reach him, he looks up at me for a second like he’s seen a ghost, but then readjusts himself.

“What’s going on?” I ask him. “What was that all about?”

“Nothing, just some old friends.” He shrugs me off and rolls his eyes. “Leave me alone. Shouldn’t you be off having celebratory intercourse with Lillie Mason by now?”

I’m not sure how he found out but I know by his reaction and by trying to bait me, he isn’t telling the truth. Those kids were probably from his dealer and were giving him some kind of message. Maybe from the top, maybe from somewhere in between. I tell him to get his ass home before he gets in any more trouble. Not that I can do much about the trouble he’s already got himself into.

As I walk back down the hallway I see Lillie at the end of it, side on to me, and my face involuntarily grows into a smile.

My pacing slows when I see my parents around the corner, next to her, speaking indistinctly and my expression twists into disbelief when I see her grimace at my father’s words.

I jump in front of her and put some distance between her and them. My father grits his teeth side to side like he always does and knits his eyebrows together in irritation. My mother simply folds her hands and avoids eye contact as the two of them turn and walk away.

“What did they say to you?” Her lashes flutter and I almost lose my temper.

“Nothing.” She fakes a smile. “Let’s just go, okay?”

“Did he threaten you?” I search her face and then look in their direction as my rage builds.

“Hayden,” She grabs my hand and squeezes it. “Everything’s fine. Let’s just get out of here before we end up at your family reunion, okay?”

• • • • •

When we arrive at Jonah’s, the party music is beating out of every window and door. My parents’ attempt at frightening Lillie or whatever seems to have worn off by the time I help her off my bike. I spot Jonah and by the time I get to him, Mila is already taking Lillie’s victim statement over by the staircase.

“What the hell is going on between you guys.” He asks, sneaking a glance at Mila already. In her strappy chiffon red dress.

“Your guess is as good as mine.” I scratch the back of my head and look over. Jonah and Mila may as well be the best looking couple I’ve ever seen, but my eyes still somehow are drawn to Lillie from across the room.

Even in a hoodie and jeans she still outshines everyone here. She finishes explaining something to Mila and catches my glance with a sympathetic smile.

When the two of them reach us again, we join in on some of the party games around Jonah’s house.

House Rules, Ride the Bus, Flip Cup and more. I award all my loss drinks to Jonah, who takes them with pleasure and send a dagger in the direction of anyone that tries to pass her any extra drinks Lillie doesn’t want.

I’m glad she seems to be enjoying herself as she takes another sip and giggles at Mila’s bumbled answer to their game of Categories.

I’m still worried about her and what my parents– no, what my father said to her. Whatever, it was seemed to have really shaken her up back there. It’s a tiny concern that plants in the back of my mind, but I can feel the unease growing.

The next round ends on Jonah and his gulp of beer almost comes back up. He slaps a hand over his mouth as the rest of it goes down the wrong way and he explodes into a fit of hacks and chokes.

“Oookay. That’s enough of that, Mister.” Mila says, patting his back and sending an eye roll to us. “You’re on a time out.” She helps him up and leads him outside.

“I could use a little air too, actually.” She says on the end of a sigh, pulling out the neckline of her hoodie.

“I’m afraid the back patio might be a risky choice right now,” I say. “But I have somewhere else you might like.”

We put on our shoes and walked down the grass-covered hill behind Jonah’s house to the lake at the bottom. His family built a large dock and boathouse for their speedboat and jet skis for use in warmer weather. Jonah’s house was a popular destination for high-school kids over the summer, most of them seniors who were just taking advantage of him for it.

When we reach the bottom, she gasps in delight and approaches the shore of the calm water and takes in the warm air. “Wow.”

When I don’t respond she looks back and sees the mischief in my body posture; feet planted forward and hands clawed in preparation for tickling.

“Oh no.” Her jaw drops and she jabs a finger at me sternly. “No, no, no.”

“It would be so easy,” I say and take another step toward her.

“Don’t you dare.” She says, trying to smother a giggle. “Don’t. You. Dare.”

I speed ahead and grab her by the waist and throw her over my shoulder. She erupts into laughter and clutches onto my t-shirt while I whirl the two of us around. When I get dizzy, I plop my back down against one of the sandbanks and she comes down onto my chest.

“Very smooth.” She says and punches me in the chest.

“I can still throw you in the lake.” I grin and lock my arms around her waist again. “If you want.”

“You know, I’m good.” She huffs, breaking eye contact. “Already had my life flash before my eyes once today.”

“Raincheck, then,” I smirk and she gives me a look like she’s in pain but then readjusts back to a smile.

When I probe for an explanation she retreats and gets to her feet.

“Back to it, then?” I ask as I wipe the damp sand off the back of my jeans.

“Actually,” She lets out a sigh and eyes the messages on her phone. “I think I should get home.”

“You ok?” I probe again. She takes her eyes away from the phone and only brings them onto me after she speaks.

“Yeah.” Her voice is high, almost exasperated. And I don’t buy it. She’s had a few hard hits today, most of which were my fault though, so I choose not to dig a second time.

When we reach the house again, she finds Mila and we say our goodbyes and find my bike.

There’s a small ping of worry in my stomach because of how Lillie is acting. When I get close to her, she squirms and only settles down when I move away from her.

When we reach the main road on my bike, it hits me like a truck when she squeezes her arms around my waist…

like she’s barely holding on.

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  1. Kathleen Fazio

    Feb 2, 2022

    omg I love it so much! you are an amazing writer.

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    0 Replies Feb 2, 2022
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