Not even three feet past Lin did he hear the older boy’s footsteps echo through the hall against the concrete and that all-too-familiar feeling Hunter regularly got when he felt his temper rising and impatience not-so-steadily decreasing came back to him.
Even before Lin had opened his mouth, Hunter was preparing himself for what he might have to do to rid himself of this walking, talking caricature of a person. It was taking everything that he had not to deck him. And that was honestly harder than it might seem. Hunter didn’t need a reason to punch Lindsey. He would feel justified in laying him out -- or at least making attempts to, but even as depressed as he felt about what happened with Nickie and especially just how angry he was feeling in general, he resisted because Lindsey wasn’t worth it.
And he’d only make trouble for himself if he decided to let his emotions get the better of him. Just look at how that worked out for him with his ex.
“Tittybaby! Wait up!”
Hunter rolled his eyes when he caught sight of Lin walking beside him.
Just keep walking, Hunter thought to himself and even repeated in a low voice almost as if he was doing it to keep his boiling temper in check.
And that’s what Hunter did.
Or at least he tried to.
Lin nudged him on his side with his elbow, but Hunter was a half of a foot in front of him, so the elbow caught the back half of his ribs. That caused Hunter to stagger forward, though he caught himself a half second later. He whipped himself upright and shot Lin a death glare.
For a moment, there was a hint of his ire that burst to the surface and for a moment, as Hunter’s fists balled and he heavily contemplated doing the exact opposite of what wasn’t going to do, the options weighed themselves. It still wasn’t worth it.
“C’mon, I know ya got it in you!”
Not worth it. Not worth it. Not worth it.
And it especially wasn’t worth it knowing how stupid he looked with those two thumbs pointed upwards. Hunter had an idea of where he could stick them.
“Oh, how original,” Hunter commented under a breath that wasn’t as muffled as he thought.
Hunter bit his lip as he tried to constrain the urge to punch the ever-living daylights out of Lindsey -- an urge in which was being tested by the constant earsore that was the sound of Lindsey’s voice.
“C’mon, cry or some shit!
“Or you can just leave me alone,” Hunter offered as an alternative.
“Not gonna happen—”
“Do it! Do it! Do it!”
He gritted his teeth, digging his fingernails into the flesh of his palm, blood probably being drawn at this point. Everything inside him was beginning to lay out Lindsey Kay. Everything around him and everything that happened today — and in rapid succession, mind you — was begging Hunter to give into his darkest impulses.
It didn’t matter how many high roads he wanted to take, how better of a person he wanted to be, it seemed like the universe wanted Hunter to just be the rotten piece of shit that practically everyone other than Chas and Amy (and maybe a few others he’s probably forgetting) knew he was. And really, why even try and pretend he wasn’t anymore? He had hurt Liv and now was paying the price for that. And he hurt Nickie by not being completely truthful with her.
Karma was coming to him in the form of someone who would make the Buddha go insane.
And before Hunter even realized what happened, he whipped his body around and his fist made contact with the right side of Lin’s cheek. When Hunter saw Lin stagger, a smirk crawled itself on his face.
For the first time in a long time, Hunter Drake was starting to feel like his old self.
Lin was an annoying little shit. That was his role in life, luhmao — who he was cut out to be. Someone who pushed and pushed and pushed people until they snapped and showed their worst, and someone who always came out on top laughing because he made them snap.
But there were also downsides to doing this kinda shit, ya know, as there was to everything, and the downsides of being an annoying little shit was when people’s snapping involved something beyond just stammering and fuming or crying or yelling.
That was when it stopped being fun, usually.
Hunter whipped around, and before Lin had time to react, his fist collided with Lin’s face.
“Fuck!” Lin staggered back a couple of steps, clenching his jaw in pain and groaning as he brought his hand up to hold his cheek. For a second, he hunkered, pained, cupping his cheek. “Dude!” he hissed through clenched teeth.
There was this thing about Lin, though: he had a temper. The anger towards his father and his manager and all of the other people pressuring him about the fucking Arts Fest had laid latent in the moments since he’d left Lydia, but they came to a rise along with Hunter-directed fury as he settled his blue eyes back on Hunter.
When the going got tough, Lindsay Kay got tougher.
Everything registered with him in the matter of a few instants: Hunter’d just punched him because he was a bitch, and Chas’ little foot kisser was standing there now, smirking.
Thinking he’d done something or something — hell no.
No one got the best of Lin — ever, luhmao.
If there was one thing Lin believed in, it was fucking payback.
And Hunter wasn’t getting out of this without getting paid back in full.
Lin was pissed. Pissed at the world already, and now, pissed at Hunter.
There was only one way to solve that issue: damage.
Lin stood up straight, cracking his knuckles, and then he glared at Hunter again, grinning viciously. “Listen here, you smelly sack of Chas semen — you wanna fucking fight me? That what you're trying to do here, luhmao?“ He jabbed a finger at Hunter's chest, and then quickly snatched him down by his collar. "You want to fucking try me?"
In a quick motion, he slammed his fist into Hunter’s stomach, his grin becoming more of a snarl. “Then let’s have it, bitch!"
There were a few seconds of silence, a few seconds where JJ didn’t say anything. Nickie watched her cousin cross her arms, and she breathed in shallow, shaky breaths through her mouth.
Shit. JJ was going to walk out on her or something. She was just going to leave her here to wallow. Say that she didn’t have time for this and abandon Nickie, leave her to fucking rot in the girls’ bathroom, crying over her shit ex who JJ’d told her not to fuck around with in the first place.
God. God, Nickie was so fucking miserable. She wasn’t worth anyone’s fucking time, and she wouldn’t blame JJ.
Just hurry up and leave.
“Get up,” JJ ordered.
Nickie stared at her cousin for a moment, her gaze confused. Slowly, she obeyed, unfurling her legs and pushing off the counter to set her feet on the ground.
JJ placed her hand on Nickie’s shoulders, and she turned her around to face the mirror. “Look at yourself,” she said, and Nickie listened, reluctantly pulling her eyes from her cousin’s reflection to her own.
“Holy shit,” she whispered.
She looked like a wreck — a total fucking wreck. Her hair was frizzed from her gripping it and rubbing it against the wall, and her lips were puffy and swollen. Her ears were burning a bright red, and her face was pasty, almost green. Her blue eyes were baggy, glassy, and bloodshot, smeared with back mascara. Her nose was bright pink and chapped, with some of the skin near her nostrils peeling.
JJ raised a makeup wipe to rub beneath Nickie’s eyes again. “It’s pathetic, Nick,” JJ said softly.
Nickie felt her tears threaten to spill again. “It is,” she mumbled, looking down at her hands, which clutched the sink’s edge. “It’s pathetic.”
She was pathetic.
“This is what we’re gonna do,” JJ said, and Nickie lifted her eyes to watch her cousin’s reflection she sat the makeup wipes to the side to take out a few products from her bag. Nickie’s brows knit together. “What?” she asked.
JJ took opened a compact and dabbed a brush in blush, brushing it on Nickie’s cheeks. “You’re going to stop crying, and we’re going to pretend like he doesn’t exist.”
Nickie shook her head slightly. “But JJ —“
“I don’t want to hear that you can’t,” JJ interrupted, dotting concealer on her ring finger and dabbing it on the bags beneath Nickie’s eyes, “or you love him, or how much you miss him, you’re not going to acknowledge any of that.”
“But it’s the truth.”
“I don’t care if it’s the truth.”
Nickie breathed out a soft sigh through her nose. “JJ…,” she started, but she was too tired to fight anymore.
She twisted the tube of mascara and turned Nickie around to face her. “Blink,” she commanded, and Nickie obeyed. When she heard a clatter in the direction of her cousin’s makeup bag, she opened her eyes again, and now her cousin held a tube of lipgloss. She adjusted Nickie’s chin, and Nickie didn’t bother to protest as she began applying the red lipgloss to her lips. “If it isn’t? Then, you’re going to lie to yourself until you believe it.”
Her cousin gestured towards the mirror, turning her around towards it again.
Nickie breathed out a soft sigh. She looked normal-ish now, save for the bloodshot-ness of her eyes. “JJ, I can’t,” she said, shaking her head. She looked at her reflection. “He…he’s…I can’t.”
“In the words of your aunt, and my mother,” JJ said, “you can, and you will.”
Nickie looked back at her own face, staring at it. She considered protesting again, but she heard JJ’s words echo in her head.
You’re going to stop crying, and we’re going to pretend that he doesn’t exist.
That was fucking easier said than done, but…
But it was what she needed to do. She knew that was what she needed to do.
Breathing out another soft sigh, Nickie mumbled, “You’re…right.” She put her hands on the sink again. “I…I can,” she said, voice unsure. The words were both to JJ and to low self-esteem mess of a self. “I will." She nodded, breathing out a small sigh. "I won’t cry over him anymore. I promise.”
I promise to you, and to me.
She looked at herself for a moment, then reached up her hand to brush it through her hair. She sighed softly.
She looked…okay enough. Okay enough to fake it, at least.
“I’d…better get going,” she said. “I need to work on my Arts Fest project or whatever.” She rolled her eyes. “Two weeks ’til we have to do that Arts Fest shit…” She sighed softly, and she looked over at her cousin’s reflection again.
She didn’t want her to come in the first place, but now, Nickie felt a small, grateful smile playing at her lips. “JJ?” she said, releasing the sink and turning towards her.
And then she opened her arms and closed her cousin in a hug. “Thanks,” she mumbled after a few seconds of gently squeezing her. “It…means a lot.”
She pulled back after a second more, and then she laughed softly, rolling her eyes. “But…don’t mention it.” She held up her hand, scoffing quietly. “Seriously.” She smiled, laughing again, and then she walked back to the stall that she’d been sitting in.
Stooping down, she grabbed her purse and her backpack, throwing her backpack over her shoulder along with her purse. When she exited the stall and started towards the door, she gave JJ a small wave. “Catch you later,” she said in her tired, strained voice, but she gave her a small, genuine, thankful smile before she pushed out of the bathroom and into the hallway.
Did he have a sign on his forehead written in invisible ink that only douchebags could see? That was the only explanation. He tried to stay out of it. Tried to stay out of drama but the universe just kept putting him in precarious situations.
Javi showing up in Gen’s dad’s office.
Saint just happened to be on his route home on Josie’s birthday.
Bumping into Callum.
Trevor being Trevor.
And now this fuckwad.
“Doesn’t matter. Move.” He repeated.
His eyebrows raised and a small smirk formed across his face. Was this guy for real? Did he think he was scary? Did he think cause he was a few inches taller that it intimidated him? Lucky had taken on guys twice his size and won. If the guy wanted a fight, then he’d get one but he really, really just wanted to be left alone.
“Wrong guy. That would be Woods.”
No. Woods was actually dating Evie. This guy enjoyed giving her a hard time. Maybe he was wrong. Twitter was like that. Made things up. Made things bigger deals than they needed to be all in the name of keeping up with some form of dramatic quota.
He followed the other boy as he sat down next to him. Guess his resolve wasn’t as strong as he came off. Or maybe he was having a shitty day too. Either way, he was relieved. As much as a distraction might help his current mood, a fight seemed tiring for his already exhausted self to handle.
“Where the fuck did you hear such rubbish anyway? Is that the tune Simpclaire’s singing to the public nowadays?”
He glared as the other boy grabbed his bottle of whiskey. His unopened, much needed bottle of whiskey. And the fucker opened it. Seriously, who the fuck was this guy? He’d never seen him in this building before. Recognized his face as someone he’d seen on Twitter and eerily similar to his childhood friend, Danny.
His eyes narrowed at the other boy, but he didn’t need an entire bottle of whiskey, right? If a swig of whiskey will get him over his bullshit drama and outta his hair, it’d be worth it.
He shrugged. “You know Twitter likes to blow things out of proportion. Make one comment and you’re a simp or an asshole or all of the above.” He let out a small chuckle. “It’s fucking stupid.” Twitter and he had never gotten along. Not since he started attending HA.
"Consider this the toll fee for taking up half my spot."
He rolled his eyes as he watched as the other boy set the bottle down next to him. He huffed out an irritated laugh as he slid his hand in his pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He’d quit before coming to HA, but that didn’t last too long. He only smoked on rare occasions anyway. He placed a cigarette between his lips and lit quickly inhaling and exhaling dramatically.
“As soon as you’re done with whatever it is you came up here for, you should leave. The roof ain’t for little kids like you.”
He took a drag from his cigarette and raised his eyebrows in an amused smirk. This guy’s tough guy act was entertaining to say the least. “Thanks for the advice, but I’m not the one with the reputation for simping.” He said as he reached his arm across the other boy and snatched his bottle back.
He took a rather large swig and set the bottle down between them. A gesture of neutrality. “I’ve had a shit day and my apartment is hot as balls. I’ll leave when I’m ready.” He said as he took another hit off his cigarette and glanced over at the other boy. “We gonna have a problem? Cause I was gonna let Jameson here distract me from all my problems, but if you’d like to take his place…just say the word.” He said matter of factly. His eyes stared directly into Dalton’s. He wasn’t gonna be scared away.
Damien was getting a fucking headache trying to listen to the fucks behind him. At least he'd actually won the fucking chair, triumphantly watching as Kian fell to his doom and then scurried back over to Felix like the little bitch he was. Damien had then scooted his chair back in front of the computer and had tried to set back to working on animating their short film. There was nothing quite like animating gore to really settle someone's nerves.
“Look at what you’re doing to the family, Dame. Seriously, you’ve made Fesus cry. Look at him,” Kian's annoying voice droned on, “the poor dude’s crying. Every time Fesus cries, a puppy dies. Is that what you like? Dead puppies? You fucking sociopath. Now you’re ruining the family and the puppies. For SHAME, Damien. For SHAME.”
"Dead puppies? Love it. Keep crying, Felix," Damien called absentmindedly over his shoulder as he kept on animating away... although he wasn't really getting all that far, because Damien was also kind of a one track mind kind of fella. He needed to not have certain people distracting him while he was busy.
“A wedge has come between us,” Felix said. “I mean… It just…it hurts my heart. Can’t we all just…be friends? Get along? Or is Fesus doomed to a fate of being caught between a slut and a guitarist for the rest of eternity?”
Insert the sunglasses emoji right fucking here because damn right Slater was a slut, and a proud one at that.
"Yes," was all Damien replied.
“Oh no, Fesus my sweet boy, you will be saved from this pain. Damien just can’t admit he loves us, that’s all. Dude needs therapy but you, my dear, you need family more than anything. What can we do to make it better, Fesus? Oh please tell me so I can fix it, I can’t stand seeing you so distraught.”
God, did Kian ever just shut the fuck up? Seriously.
“Now, look: y’all either quit fightin’, or I’m just gonna have to find a way for you two to settle this dilemma,” Felix started up again. “Y’all want that?”
"No, I want Kian to fucking leave," Slater responded.
However, when he heard commotion behind him, he did turn in his seat to see what the fuck was going on. He rested one arm on the back of his chair, an eyebrow cocking up as he watched Felix moved a table into the middle of the room alongside two chairs -- one on either side.
“Now, ya know what I suggest to settle this? To keep me outta this, because it truly hurts my heart to be caught in the middle, and to find the true, rightful owner of that chair?” Felix asked.
“Sorry for hurting you, Fesus.” Kian said. The fucking kiss ass.
“A good ol’ fashioned arm-wrestling match. Either that, or the chair can be cut in half…or, ya know. One’a you could just…give up the chair?” Felix laughed. “Any way ya wanna do it, but get it done. I can’t stand any more of this… This…this…this rift, just tearin’ us apart.”
How was Damien friends with the two most dramatic mother fuckers in the whole goddamn school?
Kian wasted no time in hopping into one of the chairs, and that did nothing except earn a curling of the upper lip from Slater. Of fucking course Kian would be eager -- it came as no surprise that, although Damien was certainly no pushover (although his fighting record thus past probably made this seem like a lie), he also wasn't the strongest of guys. Kian, un-fucking-fortunately, was stronger than Damien.
“Alright my man, lay it on me.” Kian said. “We battle for our family’s honour like real men. We do this for Fesus, bless his poor innocent soul.”
Damien gave a dramatic roll of his eyes and a loud groan, and then he pushed himself up from the chair and trudged over to sit in the seat across from Kian. He mimicked Kian's pose -- arm resting on the table, other arm behind his back, and then he got ready for the match to start.
Much to Damien's surprise (but also to his happiness), it wasn't an instant win for Kian -- but it also wasn't an instant win for Damien. There was a lot of back and forth, but for the most part, they remained tied in the middle.
“Dude, you’re fucking cheating!” Kian grumbled as his tongue stuck out through his lips (Slater hoped he would bite it off). “Stop lifting your elbow, man, it’s annoying.”
"I'm not fucking cheating." Damien grunted back. By now, he'd risen out of his chair and kicked it to the side a bit -- more force if he was standing and all that. "Just fucking give in already, you fu--"
It all happened at once.
The table slipped out from underneath them.
Kian went flying...
... And the next thing Damien knew, he was on the fucking ground, the wind knocked out of his lungs and he was staring straight up into--
Oh for fuck's sake.
“What the hell, dude?” Kian grumbled as he sat up -- sat up on Damien's fucking stomach. “This is some kinky shit right here, dude. I can’t believe you threw the battle just so that I would be on top. You gotta get this horniness under control.”
For a moment, Damien just blinked up at him.
Was he really fucking--
He blinked again.
And then his upper lip curled up into disgust.
"I don't want you on fucking top of me," Damien snapped and his hands slammed into Kian's chest, knocking the boy back and off of him. He pushed himself up into a sitting position... and then he launched himself at Kian.
No fists were thrown, mind you, because Slater didn't actually want to hurt Kian (although he'd never admit this aloud), so it turned into more of a... shoving kind of grappling battle as they rolled across the floor. Occasionally, Slater was on top. Occasionally, Kian was on top. Not occasionally but rather fucking never was it kinky.
And then Damien shoved Kian, and Kian's body acted like a bowling ball and took down Felix with them. Damien didn't fucking care as he launched himself back on Kian, forming a sort of... dog pile with Felix on the bottom, Kian on top of him, and Damien on top of both of them. He went to slap that smug grin off of Kian's face, when a voice sounded behind him.
His blood turned to ice again as Damien slowly turned to look behind him to see the teacher from earlier, Miss Lancaster, watching them from the doorway.
"I... uhh..." he started.
"What's going on?"
"We're just, umm..." Damien awkwardly cleared his throat, and then he realized that he still had his hand raised, so he quickly dropped it down, letting out a soft chuckle as he reached forward and smoothed down Kian's shirt. "Oh, ya know... we're just ahh... recording some sh-- stuff. Some stuff for our movie."
"Fighting? Fighting?" he echoed as he shook his head and pushed himself up to his feet. "We're not fighting. No, no, you're mistaken. We're just ahh... it just uhh... the uhh... the audios sound better if we fake fight, ya know? So that's what... we're just... recording audios." He held his hands out and pulled both Kian and Felix to their feet, and then he situated himself between his two friends and threw his arms around their shoulders (and had to rise up on his tippy toes to reach Kian's fucking shoulders). "Isn't that right, guys? And I think we got it. Yepppp. Yep, that was... good job, guys."
Another uncomfortable laugh, and Miss Lancaster clearly still not believing them, but...
"Al... right." Her tone let on that she didn't believe a single thing that was being said. "I'm heading back to my class, but try to keep it down in here."
"Oh, yeah, yeah, of course. So sorry." Damien chuckled again, keeping that fake smile plastered on his face until the teacher had exited the room and the door was closed after her.
His smile fell and he let go of Felix and Kian, shooting one more dirty glare in their direction before he stalked back to the computer to get back to work on their movie.
"I hate you both," he grumbled, although it was safe to assume that was a damn lie.
The library was probably the last place you would expect to see Kinni. She didn’t exactly seem like the type that would use such a place. For the most part – this was true. The typical library wouldn’t be somewhere she would voluntarily go to. They sucked. They smelled like old paper and single middle-aged women. Things that Kinni hated ten-fold. The library was not an unfamiliar place for Kinipela.
Her drive to become the best at everything she does, unfortunately for her, meant that she spent an awful amount of time in libraries to do research. Though most of her time was in more prestigious libraries, like the one at Cal-Berkeley or UCLA, but nevertheless she spent time there. She would read up fashion periodicals, different photography books. She wasn’t a photographer herself, but there was a lot that could be learned from photography in other disciplines and in fashion that she could apply to her own work.
For every curse word. Every enemy. Every scheme Kinni plotted – she was one of the hardest working, most dedicated people in the world. She wouldn’t let a school, a class, or an essay stand in her way of dominance.
“Wah aunty say, no attempt, just do,” she reminded herself aloud as she looked over the essentially empty blank document. She thought deeply for a while letting her fingernails click again the keyboard once again, but instead ended up sucking the air between her teeth. There wasn’t many things that stomped or frustrated Kinni, but Jesus Franklin chris this was showing her up wasn’t it,”This paper is so humbug.” She let out a groan before something caught her brown eyes in the distance.
It was the person she had planned to meet up with to help her with this assignment. Beth. She wasn’t actually completely sure how she felt about her as a person, but they were friends. Or something of the sort. With other women it was hard for Kinni to understand where she stood. With men they were a bit more predictable. Not really straightforward – but predictable.
Beth wasn’t any different than any of the other feminine friendships that she had. There wasn’t really a girl best friend in Kinipela’s life, they all felt more like associates. Even she and her own little sister grew apart, even though she was and always would be her world. Beth, however, was an enigma. A mystery that she couldn’t seem to crack despite her attempts to. She was drawn to her. She could not explain it, but she was drawn to her. That was unusual for Kinni – she did the alluring.
Kinni’s eyes fell on Elizabeth as she approached the area where she was. She was going to respond to her initial hello but she was met with a bombardment of questions and statements. Well bombardment was quite a bit of an exaggeration, she wasn’t actually being bombarded that would imply that there were a bevy of questions or statements coming in. It wasn’t.
Alright, what are we doing? Where's your paper? And what's it on?
That’s all it was, but it felt so much more because everything felt more with Kinni. Well, that and it was kind of off-putting. No matter how much she had that happen to her she did not get used to it. Maybe it was because they did things differently on the island or differently in Atlanta so no matter what happened it felt like that it was always going to bother her.
“No story talk, yeah?”
she inquired trying not to sound too offended by the skipping of pleasantries. Why did she care if she sounded rude though? Being rude was kind of her thing in the first place. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought so why did it matter what Beth did.
Her thoughts were snapped when she saw Beth’s pale hands reaching out and her stating coffee. She wasn’t sure what to think of that. It was a little childish – but in an endearing way. Though in the same boat it kind of wasn’t endearing and more like rude, but it didn’t take long for Beth to correct it so Kinni wouldn’t bother lingering on it and risking her mood being changed or trying to find an excuse on why she acted like that.
Instead she grabbed the coffee that was being requested and moved it from near where she was sitting and putting it next to where her counterpart’s outstretched hands were. There wasn’t much else she could say, but…
“Uh it’s kind of like an analyitical paper on The Alchemist and comparing the main character’s journey of identity and self-recognition to my onw?”
There was a moment after Lin had staggered back after his fist connected with the boy’s jaw that Hunter felt like he was on top of the world. He had spent so much of this short interaction with Lindsey trying to take that high road, but he never knew how good it would feel actually decking the sonofabitch.
And, as he watched Lin look at him with an expression of anger and shock, Hunter returned with an almost taunting smile.
And as he stood there, Hunter couldn’t help but internally cringe at how he felt like Charlie. SOn of a bitch, this was the same situation. He insulted her on Twitter and she decked him for it and Huner did the same with Lin. The only difference was Lin looked like he wasn’t going to back down.
Which meant he had to prepare himself, though in the midst of his own overconfidence, Hunter wasn’t ready for it.
He should have been, especially when Lin jabbed a finger into his chest. As soon as he looked down, Lin used that deflection tactic to grab the collar of Hunter’s shirt. It was both frustrating and shocking that Lin could force him to bend to his will. There was no doubt in his mind that, despite how he appeared, Lin was strong. Granted, he was a few years older than Hunter was, so that should’ve been his first clue.
But wanna know the thing that Hunter didn’t prepare for? That gut punch that felt like he was run over by a semi. The force of the punch alone would have knocked Hunter flat into a hunched-over position and it sort of did, but when Lin had tugged on his collar, he made it impossible for him to fall over, so he was relegated to kneeling over Lin’s shoulder.
And you couldn’t invent a more humiliating position for Hunter Drake to be in, especially when he smelled some godawful, foreign scent and sweat.
Talk about gross.
“You sonofabitch..” Hunter gritted his teeth.
He tried to move, but between Lin’s hold on his collar and the unforgivable pain in his midsection, it was proving difficult. But Hunter pushed through and wrapped his right arm around Lin’s head, locked him in a tight headlock and he began hammering away on Lin’s upper back with his left hand balled up into a fist like a judge would on their gavel.
Lin’s aching jaw was clenched so tightly that his teeth could have broken as Hunter hunkered over his shoulder. He held tightly to is grip on his collar, forcing him to remain upright as Lin’s hands grasped the cloth. He felt a few pops within his tightly-clenched fists, and he knew that it had to be the seams on Hunter’s shirt busting.
Hunter was hunched over Lin’s shoulder like a fucking burping baby, like the fucking little bitch that he was, and Lin couldn’t help but laugh. “What’s wrong, Hunty? Can’t handle a little nudge? Why don’t you just fucking back down and cry?”
“You sonofabitch…,” Hunter growled through grit teeth, struggling to move.
“What’s that?” Lin started to taunt again. “You want me to let g —“
He was cut off by a grip slipping around his neck. He felt a sudden struggle to get air in, and he released Hunter’s collar in shock just as he felt several slams against his back. He hissed in pain, trying to gasp in air, and he kicked at Hunter before gripping his chest and pushing him backward with all of the strength he had in him, which toppled them both to the ground, with Hunter beneath him.
“Drake! Kay!” The words hardly registered with Lin as he struggled free from Hunter’s headlock. Barely managing to get free, Lin gripped Hunter’s shirt again, grabbing him up. He hit him in the cheek, the opposite one that he’d been hit on, and then he raised his fist to punch him in the mouth — the final fucking blow, as it went.
“Separate!” demanded the voice behind him, and he felt a grip on his shoulder.
He immediately wrenched his shoulder free, rearing his head back, his fist still poised to hit Hunter as he growled, “Fuck o —“
But his face, screwed up with anger, slowly relaxed in shock.
“M-Mr. Jumper,” Lin stammered, looking up at the man towering above him as his grip on Hunter loosened. “I — I can explain.”
“Office,” demanded the teacher. “Both of you.”
He dropped Hunter and held his palms up innocently, falling beside him and onto his ass. “Mr. Jumper —“
“Office,” he interrupted. The teacher’s face remained stern. “Office, Kay. Now. You, too, Drake. Get up, both of you.”
Lin scrambled to his feet, the look on his face desperate. “He attacked me!” Lin whined. “I was just defending —“
“If you don’t go to the office right now, I’ll get the dean to come and make you, and I promise you, it'll be so much worse for you then.” Mr. Jumper pointed down the hallway. “Both of you. Go. Now. I don’t want to hear a word from either one of you until you're told to speak.”
“Yes…sir,” Lin grumbled, glaring over at the boy he'd just scuffled with. He turned his back to the teacher and mouthed the words, “Fuck you, Hunter.”
Rot in hell, Titbaby.
• • • • •
Sitting in the office, watching the seconds tick by while sitting next to a boy who your fight with wasn’t even fucking over with, listening to the office ladies gossip about “Carol’s new baby” had to be as close to hell on earth as you could get.
Lin slumped in his seat, his neck and head resting against the back of the chair and his butt barely hanging on the edge. His left hand, wrapped in toilet paper to soak up the blood from his knuckles, clutched a Ziploc bag of teacher's-lounge-refrigerator ice to his swollen cheek, and the other hand was crossed over his chest. His lips were pursed in a pout, his brows low. His glare was set forward, but every once in a while, he’d look over at Hunter and flip him off with a middle finger placed by his ribs, which shielded his hand from the office workers.
This was some bullshit. Seriously, this was some fucking bullshit.
When the Vice Principal called them back and seated them in front of the desk, Lin quickly explained his story, point blank: “None of this is my fault! All I said was he looked like he was gonna cry 'cuz he was, and then the dude punched me! Seriously, man — you shouldn’t even have me in here!”
This was some class A fucking bullshit.
But the Vice Principal refused to hear it, and he actually fucking heard Hunter out, listened to whatever bullshit the other boy spouted, and then was like, blah blah blah, admin shit, go home for three fucking days or some shit like that —
Three days of out of school suspension for Lindsay Kay.
Three fucking days of out of school suspension.
Three. Days. Of. Fucking. OSS.
For this fucking bullshit.
Lin hadn’t fucking done anything! Legit, all he’d done was defend himself, and this was what he fucking got?
His dad would kill him, his mom would be pissed, Charlie'd probably have something to say, too.
Luhmao, seriously. Fuck this shit. Fuck this school. Fuck the fucking vice principal.
And fuck Hunter, man. Seriously, fucking fuck Hunter. Next chance Lin got to beat his ass, Hunter could consider himself indefinitely hospitalized, luhmao — you could fucking mark his words.
He had orders or whatever the fuck from the vice principal: gather his things, get on his bike, and head straight to home. He could come by tomorrow to gather his makeup work, and that’d be all they wanted to see of him until Friday. They expected him to stay at home, consider his actions, “perhaps offer an apology to Hunter” or some shit like that.
Yeah. Like he was going to listen to what they had to say or needed to offer any kind of fucking apology in the first place.
There was no thinking to do about this. He had nothing to fucking regret. It was Hunter's fault for punching him and the teacher’s fault that he caught them scruffing — it wasn’t Lin’s fault for fucking fighting back.
He dropped the makeshift icepack and the wrappings on his knuckles into the trash can beside the door and slammed out of the office and into the hall. “This is fucking bullshit!” he hissed beneath his breath.
Glaring at Hunter once the door slammed shut, Lin growled lowly, “This is all your fucking fault, Chas Slut. You see what you fucking did? Fuck you. Luhmao, fuck this shit, man.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Go fuck yourself. Die in a hole or something. I shoulda snatched your tooth, and then you and Chas could both tongue kiss through the gaps in your teeth, luhmao.” He raised a middle finger below the office window before storming off in the direction of the parking lot.
He made a sharp turn and found himself at the lockers, and —
“Yo, Ashy,” Lin said, grinning. From his low-set brows and the vitriol in his grin, it was obvious that he was pissed. “Guess who just got suspended, luhmao!” He cackled as though hew were proud or happy about it, but he kicked some random person’s locker. “Dude, seriously, fuck this school, luhmao.” He tried to be breezy and casual, but his genuine irritatedness was betrayed his tone of voice.
He flopped his back against the locker, looking over at the blonde girl. He heaved a deep sigh, his grin falling from his swollen face. “I gotta be outta the school all week. They told me to go straight home or some shit since I drive myself on my bike or whatever the fuck.” He turned his head towards the ceiling, giving it an unamused look. “Bullshit,” he said again. “Luhmao, seriously, it’s bullshit.”
He looked over at her, cracking a small grin again as an idea popped into his head. “Ayo, you know what you and me should do?” he asked, and then he leaned close, relaying his idea in an excited murmur. “You should come ditch with me. I know how to break into my neighbor’s place — they got some bougie ass liquor. I’m not a fan, but I’ll drink with you if you want, luhmao. And then, we go to the parking lot behind Ben’s — just, like, ten minutes out from my pad, looks shady as hell, but trust me, it’s empty and you won’t get shanked or nothing with me there, luhmao. And then — then…” His grin widened. “We just fucking raise some hell, eh?”
Before waiting for an answer, the boy began to troop down the hallway, beckoning her and calling, “C’mon, I’ll race ya to the parking lot — last one to Dick’s a rotten egg!”
He'd made her mind up for her.
With that, he took off in a bolt, truly not giving a shit who was looking or watching — ‘cuz seriously, why the fuck would he even care, luhmao?
She picked the coffee up from the table and leaned back in her chair. With her free hand, Beth tossed her dyed red hair over her shoulder, and then she crossed her arm over her chest while she sipped from the coffee. It was okay, certainly not the best that she'd ever had, but it was good enough for free coffee.
"No story talk, yeah?" Kinni inquired, which earned a raised eyebrow from Beth.
"We're here for business, are we not?" She asked, letting out a soft sigh as she leaned forward and placed the coffee cup down away from her. "Pleasantries really just slow you down."
She leaned forward against the table and closer towards Kinni so that she could see what the other girl had down so far. Her pale eyes flicked to look at Kinni's as she started to explain what she was doing -- the project or whatever.
“Uh it’s kind of like an analytical paper on The Alchemist and comparing the main character’s journey of identity and self-recognition to my own?”
Not really. Sounded boring.
Or, at least, it would be a rather boring paper if it was to be written by Beth. Not through any fault of her own, but because her life had been fairly straightforward and laid out for her. Beth had known what she was going to be and who she was since a young age. However, she was decent at making things up -- little stories to fluff out her papers, because it wasn't like they could prove what was true and what wasn't.
"Well..." Beth started as she reached over, turning Kinni's notebook towards her and picking up her pencil. Ugh. She hated writing with pencils -- there was something about the feeling of lead against paper that just felt so juvenile and weak. Real writers clearly always used pens.
But she was still professional enough that she could help Kinni create something that was good enough, even with the rudimentary writing tools.
She tapped the end of the pencil against her chin, and then dropped hand with pencil to the paper and looked towards Kinni, her head tilting slightly to the side as she did so.
"Well, tell me, Kinni," she responded and lifted her hand, holding it so the pencil was hovering over the notebook. "Tell me -- whatever comes to mind that we could work with." She explained. "I remember writing this paper in my freshman year. I got an A on it -- obviously."
Again, she had definitely made up some stories to make it sound more interesting.
And with that, she noted down whatever Kinni said, until she felt that there was enough to form a decent enough paper out of, and then obviously she helped her with the actual writing part of it, too.
His friends opted for the first option. Er, well, it was more like Kian picked the first option, and Slater could never reject the opportunity to get a chance to, uh, ”put Kian in his place” or whatever he thought he was doin’, ya know.
“Alright my man, lay it on me,” Kian said. “We battle for our family’s honour like real men. We do this for Fesus, bless his poor innocent soul.”
At mention of his name, the utter saint (don’t you doubt it) clasped his hands together, kissin’ the top of his knuckles before unfoldin’ his hands. He looked towards the sky as he held his palms up. “Thank you, Kiki, O Faithful One. You will be blessed,” he said in his most benevolent tone, and then he chuckled, droppin’ the position as Slater trudged to the table.
They both put their other arms behind their backs and clasped the hands they were usin’ in the center of the table. Felix made his way over to the table and leaned down. He put his hand on top of theirs. “You know the rules. No usin’ your other hands, preferably no death threats, an’ all that other jazz.” He pulled his hand from theirs, holding a hand up to count with. “Oh my count. One…two — go!”
The match began intensely, and Felix watched in amusement as they pretty much deadlocked, his eyes shiftin’ from one intense face to the other and then back to the first.
Who was his bet for the one who was gonna win? Well, he wasn’t really one for bettin’, and he would never betray his friends by sayin’ who he thought had it in him to win.
(But also, the answer was Slater. But don’t tell them that — he doesn’t need the ego boost, and also Kian wouldn’t be too much of a fan of that fact. Thanks, he owed ya one.)
“Dude, you’re fucking cheating!” Kian grumbled, pokin’ his tongue out through his lips. “Stop lifting your elbow, man, it’s annoying.”
"I'm not fucking cheating." Slater grunted back. The guy’d risen out of his chair and kicked off to the side a bit, and Felix took the chair to rest his knee on, casually proppin’ it up as he watched the battle in front of him. “Just fucking give in already, you fu —“
And then, suddenly, whoop, there went the table, and there went Kian, and there went Slater, too, and Felix just kinda blinked, confused as to what the hell just happened as he stared down at his friends, who just so happened to be quite literally on top of each other.
This was a moment straight from some kinda chick flick if he’d ever seen one.
Or a gay porn, but he digressed.
“What the hell, dude?” Kian grumbled as he sat up on Slater’s stomach. “This is some kinky shit right here, dude. I can’t believe you threw the battle just so that I would be on top. You gotta get this horniness under control.”
Slater seemed to take a second to process what was happenin’, and Felix snickered softly. “Y’all good there?” he asked, but his question seemed lost to them.
Slater’s face curled in disgust. "I don't want you on fucking top of me," he snapped. His hands slammed into Kian's chest, knocking the boy back and off of him. He pushed himself up into a sitting position, and then —
Well. Here they went again.
He launched himself at Kian.
Felix watched with amused eyes as the boys rolled around on the floor, grappling at each other. Now, you might be ridiculin’ him for not havin’ that much of a reaction, but he asked you: what’d you expect him to do? It wasn’t like they hadn’t done things like this before — you kinda came to expect it — and all you could really do was sit back and watch the show and spectate. Keepin’ yourself out of it was always the best course of action.
And then —
Kian was shoved back into Felix, and Felix stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. The wind was knocked out of him, and he saw black for a second. Breathlessly, he grunted, “Hey!”, tryin’ to get up before he got swept in, but Slater seemed to have other ideas, instead launchin’ himself back onto Kian, which led Felix on the bottom of a three-person dogpile, breathless and dyin’.
He’d never been too religious, but right now, he was prayin’ to whoever was listenin’ that he just managed to come outta here alive.
Felix managed to turn his head, only to see Ms. Lancaster lookin’ at them from the doorway.
“I…uhh…,” Slater started.
It was his job to fix this situation. Felix’d done it before.
Good luck tryin’ to get us outta this’n.
"What's going on?"
"We're just, umm..." Slater cleared his throat. He couldn’t really see what was goin’ on above him, but he doubted that Slater looked all that calm and collected. "Oh, ya know…we're just ahh…recording some sh — stuff. Some stuff for our movie."
Askin’ the real questions out here, Lancaster.
"Fighting? Fighting?" Felix felt a weight move off of him, and he breathed out a sigh of relief. "We're not fighting. No, no, you're mistaken. We're just ahh…it just uhh…the uhh…the…audios sound better if we fake fight, ya know? So that's what…we're just…recording audios." He looked up at his friend to see his hand reached out, and he took it, mutterin’, “Thanks, bud,” even though, ya know, he was the reason why he was down there to begin with. Technicalities, amiright?
Felix let Slater pull him up, then dusted himself off, puttin’ his hands on his hips and offerin’ the teacher a wave and a “hey”, which was met with a poised eyebrow.
Slater threw his arms around his and Kian’s shoulders. "Isn't that right, guys?”
“Oh yeah, definitely.” Felix nodded emphatically, givin’ the teacher his most charming grin. “That, and, ya know, fight reference vid.”
“And I think we got it,” Slater continued, and Felix nodded in agreement. “Yepppp. Yep, that was…good job, guys."
“You didn’t do so shabby yourself,” Felix said. Slater laughed uncomfortably, and the teacher looked at them skeptically. "Al…right,” she said. "I'm heading back to my class, but try to keep it down in here."
"Oh, yeah, yeah, of course. So sorry.” Damien chuckled again, smilin’, and Felix added his own apology: “Yeah, sorry, ma’am. Won’t happen again.”
There was a silence between them all as they watched the teacher exit, but as soon as the door slammed, Slater let go of Felix and Kian, shooting them a glare as he walked back to the computer.
"I hate you both," grumbled the boy.
Felix rolled his eyes, and then grinned. “Love you too, bud,” he chuckled, beckonin’ Kian to follow him as he made his way to the good ol' Slut. “Now, what do you say we actually get to work, huh?”
Gen couldn’t understand what was going on between her and Mike. After their lips pulled apart, Gen’s mind had begun reeling with the implications of her actions, panic setting deep within her stomach. She tried to hide the manic look on her face to save Mike the awkwardness of the situation but, by the look he gave her right back, it was clear that both people knew that their kiss hadn’t been just some empty, emotion fuelled action. There was meaning behind it, unspoken and previously unaddressed feelings behind it, and clearly neither one of them was ready to confess.
All she had wanted not but ten minutes ago was for things to go back to normal. Now, she’s gone and made everything so much worse.
Mike was not the sort of person Gen found herself attracted to on anything more than a purely physical level. He was hot, anyone with eyes could tell that, and the way he was with Gen made their compatibility crystal clear. They were friends who pissed each other off and then angrily fucked in weird places, their relationship was nothing more than that.
That kiss was clearly way more than that, both Gen and Mike knew it.
Gen wasn’t ready to admit to anyone but herself that maybe Mike was more than a friend or even someone to warm her bed. For some strange, undecipherable reason, Gen felt like admitting her feelings would be admitting defeat, like she was going to be letting down that facade she had worked so hard to keep up. She regularly promised herself that the people she hooked up with were not people she would ever have feelings for. Then there goes Mike throwing that entire fucking mantra out the damn window.
There was also a level of guilt associated with feeling anything besides the norm towards Mike. Mike wasn’t the only person Gen had feelings for, simply the newest addition to the long list of people that could easily ruin her fucking life through her vulnerability. He wasn’t as important to her as Landon and neither boy was more important to her than Liv. Perhaps Landon got closest to getting Gen to feel what she did with Liv. Hell, maybe things would have actually gone somewhere with them if it wasn’t for the massive fuckup that occurred during lock-in.
No, Mike would never be Landon. Landon would never be Liv but he could get close. At the end of the day, no one would ever be Liv besides Liv. At least the world must’ve been getting a kick out of Gen’s emotional turmoil. Take the girl that Gen was still in love with and push her away, take the only person who ever came close and throw him into a pool of drama, take the last person and make him impossible to deal with.
Who knew Gen’s life would have such a flair for the dramatics?
“Nah. ’s fine.”
Gen bit her tongue. No, it was definitely not fine, nothing about this situation was fucking fine. She had just kissed Mike, like really fucking kissed him, and the two had basically all but plainly said that there was far more than friendship between them. What about that was fine to Mike?
“Speaking of what we should do now, we should really get work. Not much time left for us to just be throwing it away, huh?” Mike spoke through the awkward silence, though Gen couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Had the camera on the tripod always been so fascinating? No, but anything but Mike was good enough to capture her attention in the moment. “Y’know, babe, lunch’s almost done, daylight’s wastin’, and you and I’ve got some serious shit to do. Either we haul ass, or they'll haul our asses offstage.”
Forcing a half-hearted laugh out of herself, Gen walked over to the rack and pulled off the outfit she had tailored for Mike. Placing it in his arms with as little physical contact as possible, Gen grabbed her own dress and made her way towards the door to the change room.
“Yeah… work.” Play it cool, Gen, just let it go. “Let’s get to it, shall we?”
──────────── ❖ ────────────
The school day was supposed to have been a write-off. No more stupid emotions, no more feeling things towards Mike, no more letting her thoughts rule her. Gen was over it, over everything.
She wasn’t going to wait around for Evie to forgive her because ultimately, Gen knew she never would.
She was done feeling hurt over Liv. If Liv wanted to do drugs instead of have a relationship with Gen, fuck her and just let her do it.
She was done avoiding Landon and forcing the rift between her and one of the few people she had left to grow because her best… ex-best friend was pissed off at her about it.
She was done pretending that there wasn’t something between her and Mike.
Genevieve Johannes was fucking done.
After the school day, things had started returning to normal. The more time that passed, the more calm Gen began to feel. The disgusted eyes stopped following her in the halls, people stopped whispering as they passed her by, her friends stopped asking her how she was doing. People were back to viewing Gen as the normal, heartless bitch that they had before. Most of the time Gen would hate being forgotten and ignored but this time she couldn’t be happier.
Spending time with Landon became easier and she stopped feeling guilty about keeping him as a friend. She also stopped feeling guilty for having feelings for both him and Mike. It wasn’t like she could control things and at the end of the day, Gen knew that she’d have Landon regardless of her current standing with Mike, so what the fuck did it matter?
Being around Mike also seemed to get a bit easier at first. The first few times they spoke after the impromptu work period during lunch a few weeks prior had been tense. Rightfully so, in Gen’s opinion, since there was a lot left unsaid between them. But eventually, they started hooking up again and spending the night and falling back into that familiar rhythm.
No, Gen wasn’t about to admit that the sex felt different. No, Gen wasn’t about to admit that their hangouts were starting to feel a lot like dates instead of two friends simply spending time with each other. No, Gen wasn’t about to admit that things had definitely changed between her and Mike… Not yet, anyways.
Eventually, between all the late nights and the long work hours and the bossing Mike and Jared around, the Winter Arts Fest showed up. The trio had been done with the costumes and the photoshoots with time to spare, leaving them lots of extra practice time to get the timing and the projections just right. By the time the day of the performance rolled around, Gen considered their entire performance near perfect.
Would you really expect anything else from three of the finest students in the plastics department?
“Jared, come here. Your collar is all bunched up in the back.” Gen demanded in the dressing room, twirling her finger so that the taller boy would turn around. Reaching up to fix the collar, Gen smoothed out the shoulders of Jared’s jacket and pushed his shoulders so that he was turning in front of her. “Yeah, that’s better. Don’t you dare get this dirty, I’ll have your damn head.”
Gen had gotten to the dressing room early to hand steam and press their outfits before getting her hair and makeup done. Now she was running around the dressing room in a blue satin robe attempting to shove her earrings into place and trying to round up her partners to get them ready. Being seniors with a rather large performance, they were the second group of the morning and they needed to be perfect. Most people would find that pressure immense but not Gen. No, this was her favourite thing to do in the world.
“Have you seen Mike?” Gen asked Jared as she poked her earring into the piercing spot. “Mike! Come on, I have to fix your hair before we go on!”
Had Ashton West spent the majority of her day drinking?
Well, yeah, but that really wasn't all that important or surprising. Plus she was, like, still totally doing fine. Who cared if she just liked to get a little drunk-- no, no, not drunk. She was merely buzzed. Hardly even buzzed. Like less than buzzed. Like she'd just drank a little here and there throughout the day to take off the edge since her school day had been... umm... let's just say it had been eventful.
Well, all that had really happened was the whole fight between Jace, Javi, and Dorian -- or, rather, it was less of a fight and more of just Javi completely demolishing her brother and ex-boyfriend.
(Ignoring the fact that Dorian had actually fought back fairly well, obviously.)
She'd actually stopped drinking since that morning, although she'd still skipped a couple classes, but it was fine. Like, it was leading up to the Arts Festival. Plenty of people were probably skipping their classes to work on their projects, and Ash being the good student she was didn't even have to provide like... proof of that being what she was doing. All she had to do was say something like "oh I need to finish some stuff" and her teachers would (usually) let her off.
It was actually, like, right after she'd taken off from her last class and was walking down the hallway that she ran into Lin -- well, not like, literally ran into him. He turned at the end of the hallway, and a relaxed smile crossed her face at the sight of one of her best friends.
Her smile fell away, though, when she noticed one of his cheeks was kind of swollen.
“Yo, Ashy,” Lin said. “Guess who just got suspended, luhmao!” He cackled as he kicked one of the lockers. “Dude, seriously, fuck this school, luhmao.”
Well, that at least answered her question about what the hell happened to his face.
“I gotta be outta the school all week. They told me to go straight home or some shit since I drive myself on my bike or whatever the fuck.” He continued. “Bullshit,” he said again. “Luhmao, seriously, it’s bullshit.”
"Free vacation?" She offered awkwardly, although like... it was a suspension, so it probably wasn't the best kind of vacation to have.
Also it seemed liked everyone was getting suspended today. Guess the next few days of school were going to be boring as hell with half the school gone.
“Ayo, you know what you and me should do?” he asked, and then leaned closer to her. “You should come ditch with me. I know how to break into my neighbor’s place — they got some bougie ass liquor. I’m not a fan, but I’ll drink with you if you want, luhmao. And then, we go to the parking lot behind Ben’s — just, like, ten minutes out from my pad, looks shady as hell, but trust me, it’s empty and you won’t get shanked or nothing with me there, luhmao. And then — then…” His grin widened. “We just fucking raise some hell, eh?”
Oh yeah, nothing sounded more fun than breaking into Lin's neighbor's place to steal some fancy liquor, getting drunk, and then going somewhere that she had to be told "there's no way you'll get shanked," which meant there was at least a seventy percent chance she was going to get shanked.
Ash had already skipped rehearsal this morning to drink with Lucky, and then she'd skipped a couple classes afterwards while she drank a little more alone, and now... was she really going to skip the rest of her classes for the day to continue drinking with Lin? Especially when she'd already promised to go home and hangout with Gen and -- get this -- drink more. Like, was she really going to spend a whole Monday just drinking?
Well, the answer was probably obvious.
Before she could answer, Lin started heading down the hallway before calling back; “C’mon, I’ll race ya to the parking lot — last one to Dick’s a rotten egg!”
Well, see, now she had to go because otherwise he'd be waiting for her and like... it was just rude to make someone wait.
With a huff, Ash took off after him.
"You cheated!" She called after him. "Head start!"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Damien Slater was wearing a fucking gray suit with some ugly, flower-y shirt underneath. It was the nicest undershirt that he'd had at home -- and the only one that his mother had agreed to let him wear, and Damien, well... he had trouble saying no to his mother. So he'd begrudgingly tramped to his room, changing into the ugly shirt and pulling on the ugly suit and now here he was, after the premiere of their little animated movie.
And yes, he'd sat right next to his mother during the premiere, and she'd done all of those mother-y things. She'd gasped at the appropriate parts, she'd touched his arm and leaned over to whisper in his ear about how good and professional the animation was, and after it was all said and done, they'd headed back outside the theater, and Damien's mom had embarrassed him even more. She'd pulled him into a tight embrace, placing a kiss on top of his curly head of dark hair.
"Mom," he groaned and pulled away from her, smoothing down the front of his suit. "I'm at school. Could you not embarrass me?" He asked, his voice a low whisper as he spoke.
"Oh, Damien," his mother replied with a smile as she reached forward to fix his suit -- which he'd already done. "I'm just so proud of you. You animated all of that by yourself. Do you know how incredible that is? George, honey," Damien's smile faded as his mom reached over to touch Mr. Kirby's arm, and Dalton's dad seemed to zone back into the conversation. "We need to buy a copy of the boys' movie -- to play at one of your little business dinners." As she spoke, Damien's mom reached over to wrap an arm around his shoulders and pull him close.
"Miranda, there's a man-eating octopus."
"I'm a politician. I can't play something that childish at a dinner. I'd lose my credibility." George responded, and then glanced at Damien. "Not that it wasn't good. Very well... animated. The blood was very... realistic."
Miranda just scoffed. "Oh please, we're still going to buy a copy. Oh, maybe we can buy two copies," she suggested and smiled at Damien. "We could send one to your dad. I'm sure he'd love to watch it, and I'm sure the jail would be more than willing to let him watch it. I bet his buddies would love to see it."
"His... buddies...? You mean the other inmates?" Damien asked.
"Well, yes, but do you remember Logan? He's your godfather, and he's in there with your dad. You know he was the first person that you ever walked to? It was very sweet. And then they both got busted for cooking crystal meth in his bathtub. That wasn't so sweet. But we used to go down to the prison and you'd visit your dad first and then if we had time, you'd get to see Logan."
His mother continued to chatter away, and really... Damien just needed an out, but a quick glance around awarded him almost nothing. Fucking Felix had taken off to who knows fucking where, there was no sign of Kian (not that Damien wanted to see that fucker), but then, when all hope felt lost--
"Hey, mom, do you mind if I go say hi to a friend real quick?"
"Huh?" She blinked at him, and then her smile grew. "Oh. Oh no, of course not," Miranda said and released her son from her grasp. "But don't take too long, alright? We want to go find Dalton and spend a little time with him today, too, of course."
"Yeah, yeah, no problem. Ten minutes max," Damien said, giving a reassuring nod of his head before he stepped away from his mother and George and started powerwalking his way towards the only familiar person that he recognized in the area. A familiar person that he probably wouldn't've approached if it wasn't for her recently single status.
"Hey, Nickie," he greeted with a grin, and he couldn't help but glance over his shoulder to see... his mother watching them. Shit, shit, shit. She was going to think they were dating or something. So Damien started to walk, hoping that the small brunette would follow after him. "How're you enjoying the Fest?"
Ice cream. Pretzels. National Geographic. The Twilight movies. Working on her song for the Arts Fest. She was using any and everything she could to just hold back. After she’d cried in the bathroom stall, she’d made a promise to herself and to JJ: I won’t cry over him anymore. And so far — well, for the past couple of weeks — it had worked.
If she sat still too long, she’d start to tear up. When she tried to sleep, she’d get choked up.
And any time his name came up in conversation, her heart fell.
She’d heard a lot of people say that it wasn’t good to hold shit in, but everyone around her was telling her not to cry over a pile of literal shit, and she trusted them more.
For once in her life, Nickie wanted to not be a fucking crybaby.
But it left her at just doing that. Just barely holding it together. Faking smiles or laughs or telling her roommate or cousin that she was fine, literally fine, that even if she still felt in love with him that she was doing fine without him.
Life was gray, though. Just so fucking gray.
She missed his arms around her. Missed his texts. Missed being able to say that she had someone who loved her — actually loved her, even when she didn’t know the reason. She wanted him back. There were several times that she’d picked up her phone and hovered over the unblock button, everything in her begging for her to just hit that button and unblock him and everything could go back to normal. Fuck, even if she was just being used, she could be fine with it, just to have him back.
But she didn’t.
She didn’t do anything.
She just dragged. Dragged through all of the days and all of the nights and held together, if barely.
And now, she’d dragged all the way to Arts Fest, where she’d have to perform a song she’d written before all of this shit about something that she always did: try and feel fucking normal. Everyone would be watching her, looking at the wreck somehow performing this song and thinking, ”Damn, at least she’s holding together.”
That was all Nickie wanted. For people to see that she was doing fine. If they saw her that way, then maybe it’d work for her. Maybe she’d be able to fool herself, too. Just like JJ had told her: she needed to stop crying, and she needed to pretend like he didn't exist.
That was it. That was all.
As she washed her hands in the theater’s bathroom, the phone in her small, leather purse began to buzz wildly, and she pulled it out to see that she was getting a call from her dad. She had a feeling she knew what it was about, and a lump set in her throat, but she tapped the answer button anyway. “Hello?” she asked, putting the phone up to her face.
“Nick, hey,” he greeted. “It’s Dad.”
“Oh, hey, Dad.” She breathed out a soft sigh, trying a smile in the mirror and trying to sound peppy. “What is it?”
“Well…how are you?”
“Good? Oh, that’s…nice. Well, I’m…uh.” He chuckled. “I’ve…got some bad news, Nick.”
She swallowed hard, closing her eyes. Disappointment bloomed in her stomach preemptively. She bet that she was right. “Oh…well, what is it?”
“The, uh…the flight to Los Angeles we were supposed to take,” he said. “It was canceled, and the next one is going to be…” He sighed. “We’re just not going to be able to make it.”
Though she’d expected those words, her chest tightened, the disappointment spreading throughout her body and giving her heart a tight squeeze. “Oh,” she said hollowly. Her lip quivered, and she bit it to still it, drawing in a deep breath.
She knew that there was no way that the flight was canceled — she knew that there was no way that they bought tickets in the first place. He always did that, made up some kind of excuse as to why they couldn’t come. Nickie had no idea why he did that. He could just say it: “We don’t have enough money to come over there.” It was better than fucking lying to her — like every single goddamn person in her life did. She guessed he thought he was sparing her feelings by lying and saying he and her mom were coming and then saying that they couldn’t make it last minute, but it just made everything fucking worse. She couldn’t help that a part of her always believed that it was “going to be true this time” when it always turned out not to be.
But it was fine. She wasn’t going to cry over this, either.
She let out a long breath, then laughed softly. “That…sucks.”
Her father sighed into the receiver. “Nickie, I’m sorry.”
“No, no, seriously, it’s, like, fine.” She breathed another laugh. “It’s not a big deal. Like, there’s always next year.” Senior year. “It’s fine, yeah.”
“You sure?” he asked.
No, but it’s not like you can really do anything about it. “Yeah, yeah. I’m good. Thanks for calling and telling me.”
“Of course. I just didn’t want you to not see us and think we left without seeing you,” he chuckled.
“Yeah…,” she said emptily. “Well, like…I’ll talk to you later. There’s some projects I want to see, so, like…” She laughed flatly. “I’ve gotta run.”
“Talk to you later, Nick. Mom says hello,” he said. “Good luck. You’re going to do amazing. We’ll be watching the performance as soon as you post it and cheering you on.”
“I’ll…just send it to you,” she said quietly. “I’ll get JJ to film it or something.”
“Sounds like a plan, Nickie Marie. I love you.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
She pulled her phone from her cheek and looked at her reflection in the mirror, peering into her glassy blue eyes with a shaky breath. “It’s fine,” she whispered to herself. “You’re fine.”
She turned and pushed out of the bathroom and into the large, open hallway. Her eyes scanned the posters on the walls and the times, and she spotted a project that she’d been wanting to see — and the showing was in just five minutes.
Good. Perfect distraction: Damien Slater’s film.
She made her way into the theater, sitting as close to the door as she could, and she crossed her legs and her arms, making herself as small and inconspicuous as possible as she settled her eyes on the screen.
• • • • •
It was about a man-eating octopus.
She wasn’t exactly sure what she’d expected, but it wasn’t a fucking man-eating octopus. Maybe some guys with some guns doing Matrix shit? Maybe a cute romance flick or something? But nope.
It was about a man-eating octopus.
It was very neatly drawn, though, and the images of people being eaten limb-by-limb did help to turn her mind off of her parents standing her up.
She never thought she’d be thinking, ”A man-eating octopus helped my psyche,” but...well, fuck, here she was.
Fuck...just what the hell is my life?
She sat for a couple minutes once the film’s credits finished to let everyone else file out, and she walked into the hallway again, into the sea of people, of students and parents. She was alone, and she stood for a second, listening to the voices echo off of the walls and the high ceilings, unsure of where to go or really what to do.
She was alone, and she didn’t have to perform for a bit.
She sighed, looking around with her wide, blue eyes, feeling a patter in her chest and a heavy pit in her stomach. Everything was so crowded. There were so many people.
She was going to be sick.
The voice startled her, and her heart skipped a beat. She looked towards the origin of the voice.
“Oh, hey, Slater,” she greeted in return, mustering a smile in return for his grin.
He looked over his shoulder, and she looked curiously in the direction that he was looking to see a woman looking at the boy. She let out a soft, amused breath. That had to be his mother.
Her heart wrenched slightly, and she got a small, homesick feeling that made her really fucking wish that her dad’s lie hadn’t actually been a lie this time.
Slater started to walk, and Nickie looked back at him, beginning to follow. “How’re you enjoying the Fest?”
“Me?” she asked. Duh, her. “Oh, I’m really liking it so far, but I’ve literally seen one thing so far.” She laughed slightly. “It was your film, actually.” She took a couple of quicker steps to catch up to his side, and she looked up at him, smiling again, as brightly as she could. “By the way, like…amazing job, Slater. Seriously, that was better than some big name films I’ve seen. And you did that by yourself? Like…wow. Like, I’ll be surprised if you don’t, like, immediately get some kind of job offer from this or something. If you don’t, they’re seriously fucking blind. That was...amazing, seriously. Like, I don't even have words. You're...like, insanely talented, Slater.”
(She felt like she owed it to him to compliment him, since he’d done that for her at the lock-in and, like, had offered to chauffeur her to the ice cream. Besides, it was impressive, so even if she was intentionally trying to stroke his ego with her words, there was truth behind them.)
“I’ve never seen a better animation, so like…it’s a great way to start the fest, in my opinion, l-o-l,” she said. “How’s it going for you?” She glanced behind them, though the woman who’d been watching them was long out of sight. She squinted up at him. “Was that, like, your mom back there?”
Even at her low points, Nickie Abrams was still relentlessly nosy; it was a further distraction from everything going on with her life and parents and...whatever the fuck else.
She hated this... although that kind of sentiment was nothing new for Ava. She hated just about everything that she'd been forced to attend this school year, from the Fall Fair to the fucking Halloween party to lock-in to... this. The difference between those and this, however, was obviously that the Arts Festival was a required thing. Biggest grade of the year, don't fuck it up, dress nicely, blah, blah, blah.
Ava had kind of zoned out around the eightieth time that the same information had been regurgitated towards her about this thing. Quite honestly, she could care less one way or another when it came to failing.
Yeah, yeah, that was a dumb outlook. Whatever.
But Ava preferred to roll with the punches. If the story she'd submitted wasn't good enough to keep her in this fancy ass school, then whatever. She'd pack her bags and return home and go back to her boring old high school. It wasn't like this one was much different from that -- aside from maybe everyone doing twice as many drugs and fucking three times as much.
She'd settle back to where she'd been before. A wallflower nobody that did her best to make sure that the first time people tried to talk to her was also the last.
So, with that kind of idea and carelessness in her head, Ava had headed to the Arts Festival. At some point, she knew that she was going to have to find her parents again -- because of course her parents had traveled to LA just to see their child's story showcased at the Arts Festival. She'd already spent a couple hours this morning with her mom, who had fussed over her clothes and tried to convince her to wear something more... like... appropriate, because her mom didn't think what she was wearing was good enough, and blah, blah.
After insisting that she knew how to dress herself, Ava and parents had headed to the Arts Festival. She'd walked around with them for a bit, looking at first her story (and having to take a couple very embarrassing photos standing next to it) before they started poking around at the other displays.
Eventually, Ava had explained that she was going to go see Jules -- to which her parents had insisted on coming to see her performance, because of course they did. Ava was half convinced that her parents loved Jules as much as they loved her so, it was with a heavy sigh that she'd brought them along with her.
Luckily, she'd managed to ditch them before going to wish Jules good luck. With a smile, Ava waved goodbye to her parents and slipped backstage to try and find her friend.
She slipped past people, power walking a little faster past those that seemed to wonder what she was doing back there, until she arrived at the dressing rooms. Surely Jules would be in one of those, so she started knocking on doors and calling Jules' name until, instead of a "who the fuck?" she got an answer.
Ava opened the door, peeking her head in just to doublecheck that it was Jules and, once she recognized the little brunette, she stepped in and closed the door after her.
For a moment, she just leaned back against the door, and her mouth went dry. She had to look up at the ceiling for a moment, her cheeks puffing out with a breath before she exhaled slowly to look back down at Jules with a smile on her face -- and hopefully no blush that was darkening her cheeks.
"Hey, you look..." she trailed off as she pushed away from the door and started towards her. "You look amazing."
And she really fucking did.
She looked beautiful, hot, perfect. Like a freaking goddess.
She couldn't breathe. Her chest felt like it was constricting, so Ash took to trying to sit down in a chair in front of the little dressing room mirror. Except that looking at her reflection, at being able to pick apart the parts of her makeup that were imperfect, to look at her outfit that felt absolutely ridiculous on her reflected back at her just made the squeezing feeling ten times worse, and she had to press a hand against her chest.
Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Ash pushed herself up from the chair and took to pacing throughout the dressing room, which got her breathing, but it didn't help the pre-performance panic that was fluttering around in her chest like a caged moth. And it certainly didn't help the twisting in her stomach, or the feeling that she was going to be sick right before the performance, but at least if she was sick before the performance, she probably wouldn't puke on stage.
She couldn't do this, she couldn't do this, she couldn't do this.
She knew that was a lie -- Ash could do this. She'd done this before. Getting on stage to perform, and it was always easier when you had a partner, because then you didn't have to look out at the audience. You didn't have to see like... judgmental gazes looking back at you, and like... all you had to do was focus on the other person. And that was made even easier when you actually got along with the other person.
And she got along great with Lucky, so she knew that it would be fine. He'd be right there, and all she'd have to do was focus on his face and get through the performance.
Except that like, there were all these what if's.
What if she tripped?
What if she fell flat?
What if she forgot the lyrics?
What if she puked on stage?
With every new potential way that she could fail that appeared in her thoughts, she felt her chest constrict more, and her stomach would do ten more flips, and she'd press her arms -- which had tightened around her stomach -- tighter against her abdomen to try and stop the sick feeling.
Plus, like, her mom was supposed to be watching -- which didn't help to quell any of Ash's worries. She hadn't exactly told her mother that she'd gone against what they had planned, and she'd instead decided to do a duet with a "nobody" (her mother's words, not hers). A duet that Ash had written a while ago and that her mother had read, said was garbage, torn up, and tossed in the trash.
Obviously Ash had had a copy, but still.
So when her mother had found out what she was performing, it had kind of turned into a bitter argument between the two -- and by that, it mainly turned into her mother lecturing her and pulling out all of the cards. All of the "after everything I've done for you, you do this to me?[/i]" and the like, and eventually, her mother had stormed away and Ash hadn't talked to her since. So it was like... well, her mother hadn't said she was coming.
But Ash figured she would.
Like, could you really stay so mad at your child that you'd miss their performance that you'd traveled across the entire country to see?
(If anyone could be, it would be Elise West.)
Plus her mother had already been mad at her for all the fights that Jace had gotten into because of her (or at least that's how Jace had presented it to their mother), so...
It was fine.
Everything. Was. Fine.
Ash walked back over to the little dressing room table and she leaned forward, examining her makeup for the eightieth time that day. It looked fine enough, but...
With a shaky breath, she turned around and sat on the table -- at least then she wouldn't be able to see her face, and it would keep her from pacing -- and she looked down at her lap. Oh god, she couldn't go out there in like... like... boots and shorts. She was going to like... like...
Evie had been wrong, and this was a bad outfit.
Too much exposed skin obviously.
Yeah, yep, yes, she was going to be very, very sick.
This year’s Arts Fest had all the makings of one giant fecking migraine for Trevor Callaghan. His film was as perfect as it could’ve been with his time, actors, and resources — that wasn’t the issue. Neither was the parking, which often ruined events for him; he’d arrived early with all of the other students, so he’d been able to park his van in the front row.
Although, speaking of Rachel — the normal fecking minivan, not a goddamn pedovan or whatever the feck Nate and Lucky and Charlie and everyone fecking else thought they were so clever calling it — he'd spent all fecking afternoon once he'd gotten home with Amy the Monday after Nathan decided to come and encroach on his personal smoking time organizing all of that shite that Nate decided to fuck up. It was perfectly organized, all in place, and he decided to — to fecking fuck with it because his girlfriend was hot? Evie was hot. Evie was hot. Evie was hot. How did that make you feel, Jackass? Did that make ya feel angry? Were you going to fuck up his stuff again because your ego was so fecking fragile that a guy like Trevor made you feel threatened by him pointing out the obvious? It was in defense the first time, seriously, so feck you, fuck you, fuck you.
Nate could go fall in a hole for that. Seriously, he could go die in a hole for that. Trevor should charge him, make him actually pay. First, Nate smokes his weed. Second, he insinuates to Cappie that he and Ash went to second base on the fecking Ferris wheel, of all fecking places, and then, to top it all off, the fecking arsehole decides to fuck with his shite, for no reason beyond Trevor stating what was so obviously true. Not to mention, he stole some of his condoms, probably to fuck his girlfriend, who was hot — yeah, did ya hear that, Nate? Your girlfriend's fecking sexy as shite. Ya hear that?
And he stole a fucking photo of —
FECK. Fucking Christ, his head was pounding even thinking about it.
And now, Nate had a picture of prepubescent Trevor to use as fecking blackmail, a photo that, mind you, he forgot he'd had in there until he went sorting shite. That photo should have never seen the light of day, Trevor should have burned it when he had the chance, and now, he was paying the fecking price.
You could say Trevor was overreacting all you wanted to, but seeing his shite like that — his organized, orderly possessions, all neat and tidy and in the right places, pretty much the only things he had full control over in his life — in utter disarray — with half of them fecking missing, including a photo of you looking awkward as hell in your Sunday best that made you look like a fecking dweeb — nearly caused him to burst a blood vessel, and after he'd spent the hours obsessively reorganizing the things in his glove compartment back to their regular places and restoring order in the world, he'd gone from stressed to pissed. "Go die, Nate" pissed. "I hate you" pissed. "I considered plotting your murder for a few seconds but I don't have that in me" pissed.
Of course, Trevor spent all the time that he and Nate had gone to get the flowers bitching at him about it, so that'd gotten most of that out of his system and he was back to some sort of point where he was okay-ish with Nate.
Ish. Plus, Nate oh-so-graciously returning the photo helped him get in Trevor's better graces, though he still didn't trust it.
No, there were just two facts that made him feel like this was going to be a day from hell. The first was the fact that his girlfriend was doing a duet with — Jesus Christ, he didn’t even want to think his name — Fucky DuBitch and he was going to have to watch it because he wasn’t a shite person.
The second, larger, much more pressing issue was the fact that, much to his chagrin, his grandparents insisted on oh-so-kindly making a trip all the way from Ireland to see his project, meaning that he had to be unstoned, dressed in clothes that Mary Callaghan would approve of, wearing actual cologne that wasn’t Axe body spray (which clogged his fecking nose up), and constantly on edge. Even thinking about how the hell he was going to ever get away from them to hang out with Ash without his grandmother loudly badgering him about who she was, what she looked like, if he had a crush on her, “oh, so ya do; oh, don’t deny it, Sean; show me a picture — no, show me a picture; what’s that in your camera — Sean Trevor, show me now,” why did he have so many photos of — oh, they were cute together, when were they going to get together, oh they weren’t going to, why not, that’s not a good reason, she should just go ask her for —
Trevor knew he was uptight, tense, short-tempered, bitter, and generally unpleasant to be around, and he blamed it all on his overbearing, constantly-hovering five-foot-nothing bitch of a grandmother.
He felt like his head was going to explode any time she was around.
There was only thing — the one thing — that was keeping Trevor sane (enough) was the promise that he was going to be going on a date afterwards. And his roommates' performances and the showing of his film, but mostly the date.
He had game, what could he say? She simply couldn’t resist his charms.
(Don’t you dare make a single fecking comment about that.)
He’d Googled it, and with the temperature outside, it was fine to leave roses in his van. He’d set a little battery-powered fan up beside them in his trunks, too, just in case. He’d spritzed them with water and set them in the shade, and he hoped that would be enough.
He hoped she liked roses. Evie had said girls liked roses. Ash was a girl. Ash equals liking roses. It was a simple equation. Nate also said something about jewelry, so he'd grabbed a necklace.
Did she like necklaces?
What if she hated it?
Could you be allergic to necklaces? She was probably fecking allergic to that necklace he bought.
Oh, God, oh feck.
Thinking about this wasn’t helping his headache. It was only making it worse.
But he had a plan, and if there was anything that helped to calm him slightly, it was having a plan. He knew exactly where they were going, exactly what he was doing, and he had an exact idea of how it was going to go.
If things didn’t go according to plan, he’d heavily consider jumping off of a bridge.
(Actually, he already was considering it, but he digressed.)
He searched the names velcroed crookedly to the dressing rooms, his jaw clenched and every muscle in his body tense. He glanced over his shoulder antsily, his head and heart throbbing anxiously. Christ, if anyone saw him, he’d never live this down. They’d spread the news far and wide that Trevor Callaghan was a creepy pedovan driver who took snapshots of dressing starlets to get his sick kicks, and he would never be able to show his face in public again.
He swallowed hard, trying to walk casually. He mentally prepared an excuse: he took the wrong turn. Yeah, he took the wrong turn, opened the wrong couple of doors, and walked about one-hundred feet to the dressing rooms. Hah, you knew how it was. Easy to get lost. This place was very big, ya know. Wow, would you look at the time? Time really flies by when you’re having fun. Fun? What he meant to say was getting lost. Yeah, yeah, getting lost, yeah.
He’d practically convinced himself.
He tested a smile, and it felt good enough. Look, he couldn't have Ash know that he was dreading her performance. Er, not dreading it — that sounded bad. He looked forward to it in and of itself. She was going to do grand, he was sure.
He mostly dreaded Lucky. Lucky being there, Lucky performing a song that was supposedly a love song with his girlfriend, and — holy shite, don't fecking think about it.
Don't think about that fecking prick.
Practically humping his girlfriend's leg onstage.
Convinced he was having a moment.
Thinking he had a chance.
Making a mo—
Aspirin only went so far when it came to pains in your fecking arse.
He was going to be cheerful, and supportive, and she was going to be like, "Trev, you're so sweet," and then by the end of the night, he was going to forget that Lucky even existed and he was going to get lucky.
It was going to go swimmingly. It would be like his birthday, except...minus the apology, minus the my roommates hate me and so do I, minus the hold up lemme just pitch myself off this balcony, plus him actually getting laid this time with her not drunk (which he wasn't complaining about last time), plus him also enjoying it.
As long as he didn't have a nervous breakdown, he would be fine.
And he wasn't going to have a nervous breakdown.
Yep. No nervous breakdown.
Yeah, you know...he...
He would be fine.
Kill me now.
Finally, he found the door that he was looking for, and he reached up his fist to knock on the door. “Ash?” he called, loud enough for her to hear through the door but hopefully not loud enough to alert anyone else. “You...in there?”
What the fuck did you expect him to say? “Things were looking up, exclamation point”? Yeah, no, they really weren’t.
Moving from his clammy-handed, body-odor-ridden, neck-bearded intel landlord’s shitty, crumbling, cat-piss-and-cig-scented apartment would usually be a “yay, huzzah, woo, maybe God’s finally taking a break between intense rounds of fucking me straight in the ass” moment, but the fact of the matter was that moving from that disgusting hellhole into an apartment with Kirby — yeah, Dalton fucking Kirby — was a classic case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”. Dude was a fucking dick; there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
And he was also his damn roommate now, so hooray. Alexa, play “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang. Bring out the party poppers. Make a noise — Asshole Apartments was now instated. How fucking lovely, huh?
It wasn’t like Mike himself wasn’t a jackass — he was pretty sure that both Kirby and Mike acknowledged their dickishnesses and wore them like badges of assholeish honor — but seriously, he was already around one asshole plastic twenty-four-seven, and, trust him: dealing with one with far less personality, likability, sense of humor, good looks — the list really went on and on and you’d be here all night if you wanted him to continue — really wore on you.
Plus, the guy stayed up all fucking night — and Mike needed his beauty rest. Not to mention the fact that he never wanted to wake up, which, yeah, good for him, he could be late if he wanted to, but it still fucking annoyed him.
It could’ve been worse, he guessed — he could’ve been rooming with someone like West (the piss smelling one, not the hot one) — but he still wasn’t sure whether he preferred the showerhead that broke every time you turned on the shower or dealing with Kirby around the apartment. You won some, you lost some, and you didn’t know how to label most of the rest.
That was all well and good or whatever the hell you wanted to call it. Stressful as hell, sorting out all of the shit, getting everything sorted out. His mom had to be contacted, she didn’t answer, she finally did answer high as shit, and it was a whole lot of hoopla that he was glad was over when it was over. Life goes on, time passes, and all of that white suburban mom bumper sticker bullshit.
That really wasn’t the major thing on Mike’s mind. He’d love to say — really, he’d fucking love to say — that that was the only thing going on in his life, but that wasn’t how Michael Reid’s personal hell worked.
One thing was the Arts Fest — which happened to be today. He bet you couldn’t tell. Mike, the street rat, was dressed in clothes that weren’t from Walmart, had a change of clothes that also wasn’t from Walmart, and was standing backstage at this bougie ass theater waiting to go on for the last Arts Fest fashion show of his senior career, and you didn’t know what the event was? Tsk, tsk, babe. He figured that there was at least a little something bouncing around in your skull, but if you couldn’t even figure that out, he was actually wrong on that.
Mike was kind of caught between eagerness and dread. On one hand, he wanted to get this shit over with. It’d been a lot of hard work — seriously grueling stuff — and he’d be glad when he could just have some time to breathe afterwards. But on the other hand, it was his senior year, and this was his last chance. If he fucked it up — which he wasn’t going to do, but if he did — there was no going back, ya know.
Awww, his last year. Boohoohoo. So sentimental.
Not really. He wanted to get out of his hellhole ASAP, really.
And the other thing…well, the other thing wasn’t a thing at all. It was a person. A girl.
A bitch of a girl.
Fucking Genevieve Johannes.
Yeah, the Genevieve Johannes who he’d had a heart-to-heart with instead of working on the aforementioned project with. Yeah, the same one that’d pulled him off of the guy’s ass who he was beating after she was caught shirtless with said guy. Yeah, the same one who he’d fucked in a car also instead of working, and, yeah, the same one that he’d had angry sex on an office table with after she’d discovered that he’d been her ex’s rebound.
They’d resumed hooking up, as all good friends with benefits do. It was still tense at first, all of that bullshit from — well, you saw what happened on that school day. Don’t even try to act like you didn’t. You were probably still reliving it in your heads, you sick bastards.
Yeah, well also, so was he.
Seriously, Mike fucking hated it. Any time he thought about it, a ball of anger rose in his chest.
But it’d been tense from that. That…kiss or whatever the fuck.
”Awww, wook at Mikey, getting aww worked up ovew a kiss wike a widdle kid,” huh? Yeah, you could shut the fuck up already. Didn’t you ever get tired of that?
Listen, Mike ignored the tension, looked past it, and then then they fell back into the routine. The routine of hooking up in odd places…
And sure, she spent the night a couple of times, and sure, he found his eyes lingering on her even when he wasn’t horny as hell, but none of that was important, either.
See, there was this thing: Mike had feelings, but he didn’t ever have feelings. He had no interest of “aww, wiking someone” or playing in love or even considering being more than anything with anyone.
He’d learned and grown from his past. He wasn’t cut out for that shit, and he had no interest in forcing himself to be.
So what, he saw himself hanging on her words? So what, his heart almost skipped a beat when she said his name? So what, all of that romantic bullshit? Let Mike spell it out for you: he wasn’t fucking interested in her — and he never would be.
He had this habit of cutting off people — period, but especially when he thought that they might have some kind of feelings for him, because it was then that he got…bored, honestly. He just lost interest. He saw it as time to leave, time to call things off. ”It was fun while it lasted, but now you want it to last longer, so bye.”
And he thought that she — Gen — had feelings for him. He considered it, ya know. Fuck, she’d all but said it aloud, but maybe he was reading shit wrong.
But even with that inkling — no matter how strong it was — there was something that kept him to her. Kept him hooking up with her, kept him from calling it off like he’d done with Maddie and plenty of other girls in the past.
What it was, he didn’t want to name, didn’t want to think about, and didn’t want to fucking linger on, so you could shut your trap. He was just looking for the right time — he was looking for when it stopped being fun, when he stopped having any interest because of how she felt or something like that — and then he would leave and cut her off and they could go back to being just associates like they had been before, and he could forget all of this shit like thinking that maybe, maybe he could try it again with her.
It was all…
Fuck it, actually, stop that thought and let’s change the subject.
Blah blah blah, some kinda intro, Mike was already tired of talking to you. Insert some shit here about newves uwu if that made you feel better about yourself. Yeah, he knew how you got off on making Mike look all "uwu so timid uwu oh stahp he has feelings uwu". Seriously, could you just hurry this along?
Yadda, yadda, here Mike was, in the dressing room getting dressed. Oh shit, you never expected that to be happening in a dressing room, did you?
Breathing out a sigh and adjusting the last button on his white outfit, Mike peered at himself in the vanity. In light of the yellow lights around his vanity, dressed his white outfit, he looked like some purist cult member’s wet dream. He smiled at himself, letting out a soft laugh.
He was hot, though. Seriously, a sexy piece of meat. And he was going to kill this shit, no questions asked and no purchase necessary.
“Mike!” came the voice of the one who was the de facto boss in the project, for whatever fucking reason. “Come on, I have to fix your hair before we go on!”
“Yeah, yeah,” he drawled, rolling his eyes and chuckling. He gave himself one last size-up in the mirror, pressing his hands to his chest and trying on his smolder before grinning and chuckling again. “Break a leg, Mike-a-boy,” he muttered to himself, and then he pushed open the door to his dressing room and stepped out to join Gen and Jared.
“Hair’s already fixed enough,” he said, prodding the side with his palm and grinning at them both. “I’m all ready to go on and get this over with, as long as you two are,” he chuckled softly.
He felt a bit of nerves setting into his stomach (oh no, a fucking criiiime, oh shiiiit — ha, ha, ha, did you ever shut the fuck up?), and he swallowed hard.
As she pressed the black ballpoint pen over the last unfinished i of her signature to give it its tittle, Victoria Sterling felt her heart give a small, bittersweet squeeze. She hesitated to pick the pen up from the paper, instead staring at the title page, at her sister’s neat signature, which was just below hers own, where the pen still remained, and at the title in bold in the center of the white page:
Her senior year Arts Fest project — the culmination of all of the grueling years at this school that was often as close to hell on earth that you could get — sat right beneath her hand. All of the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that she’d put into this damn anthology, and this was what came of it.
She smiled faintly.
God, she’d worked so hard for this, and it was so fucking beautiful. Voracious, Tori’s magnum opus.
(Featuring some of Beth’s stuff, too, she guessed, but right now, this was about Tori, okay?)
She lifted her hand from the paper, setting the pen gently beside the hardcover book and slowly closing the cover. She settled her palms either side of it, admiring the sleeve with the vague smile on her face as her chest gave another sad squeeze.
Shit. This really was it. This really was the last Arts Fest for her, ever.
She picked up the book, swallowing hard and letting out a soft sigh. Her smile faded from her face, her brows knitting together. She walked over to the large desk where her (and technically her sister’s) anthologies lay, in three rows and seven or eight columns of stacks of five. These would be all the signed copies, which were obviously the more valuable copies, since Victoria was one-thousand percent certain this Arts Fest was going to get her an actual book deal, which would lead to her being famous and headlining conferences and getting to give those speeches of How I Made My Career — And How You Can, Too!, but there would be an order, too, if people wanted a copy but couldn’t grab it. Genius, Tori knew — that was her idea, too, just like the title of the book and most of what was inside.
(Did she mention that she'd preeeetty much done all of the work for this? Because she had. Which was fine, she guessed, since it was her last Arts Fest project. Ever.)
She settled the matte cover-ed book atop the only remaining stack of four, and it registered with her again: she’d just signed the last copy of her last Arts Fest project, ever. There was no going back or redoing it, or even reliving it. This was her last one, for the rest of forever.
Tori breathed out a long breath and stepped back from the table, putting her manicured hands on her hips. She could nearly shed a tear over this, seriously.
Emphasis on nearly, because she legitimately wasn’t some kind of big softie or whatever the hell Mikaela would have you believe. She was tough as nails, so something as small as this huge milestone in her life wouldn’t make her cry.
Only get a little — a little — choked up.
(Okay, maybe a lot choked up.)
With misty, green eyes, Tori looked over at her sister, the smile spreading back over her face. “Lizzie,” she said, then she reached out for her, grabbed her by the shoulders, and yanked her in for a hug before she could protest. Smushing her sister tightly, Victoria turned her face to the table again and leaned her head against Beth’s. “We did it!” she said, her usually calm voice bright with a barely-controlled excitement. “Seriously, like…I mean, I guess I did it and you helped, but still,” she half-kidded, laughing lightly.
She smiled admiringly at the books for another moment, exhaling lovingly, and then she turned her head to her sister again, giving her a final squeeze and making a small kissing noise beside her face before releasing her from her iron grip.
Look, if there was one thing that Tori would admit that she had in common with a “smothering helicopter mom”, it was that she definitely had the hug of one — which wasn’t a bad thing, okay? She was a hit at family reunions.
Er…at least the ones for her dad’s side.
“Oh, by the way,” Tori said, walking over to the designer purse she’d hidden beneath the desk that she and Beth had been signing at earlier. She picked it up and flopped open the top, reaching inside for her phone. She gave it a shake, and then clicked it on, unlocking it. She tapped into her messages and flashed the screen at her sister. “I think he should here any minute. Dad, I mean. So, like…” She looked up at her sister, giving her a stern, pointed look. “Be good. Don’t be all…Beth-y, you know, or else we’ll both hear about it later, and I do not want to have to listen to him griping about you being a little…ugh.” She rolled her eyes, sighing and dropping her phone back in her bag. “Ugh," she huffed again, "just don’t for once, okay?"
She slung her bag over her shoulder, standing up and walking over to Beth, putting her hand on Beth’s head and frowning at her concernedly. “Pretty please and thank you?” she added to her request.
Personally, Beth wasn't a particular fan of the name of her and her sister's anthology of short stories and poems, but it was her sister's last year or whatever, so she'd allowed her to pick the title or whatever. Beth would have her chance to do the same in just a couple years, and she'd make sure to pick something actually good -- not something like Voracious, which every time it was mentioned, just subconsciously made her hungry.
Beth stood nearby while her sister signed the last copies of the hardcover books. Was it just her imagination, or was Tori honestly dragging on and taking longer to finish signing the last handful of books than it had taken her to sign the others? Perhaps the idea of her senior year slipping away was finally getting to her sister.
Well, it was about time. Maybe Tori would finally branch out instead of being such a boring stick in the mud.
Unfortunately, Beth wished that Tori had taken a little longer to finish signing all the books, because as soon as she was done and they were set up... Tori's attention was turned to her.
“Lizzie,” Tori said, and Beth gave a roll of her eyes followed by a groan as Tori grabbed her and pulled her into a hug. “We did it! Seriously, like…I mean, I guess I did it and you helped, but still.”
That earned an aggressive roll of the eyes from Beth naturally as she wrapped her arms around her sister. She'd get exactly two minutes of hugging time, and then that would be it. No more Mama Tori being her overbearing self, because Beth was going to get enough of that when their mother showed up.
"Oh please," Beth said with yet another roll of her eyes, "you never would've finished it without me. I kept us focused and on task." Which wasn't really at all true, but whatever.
Tori looked back towards Beth, and then started to lean towards her making kissing noises, and Beth did her best to lean as far away from her as she could until her sister finally released her and Beth made sure to put some distance between the two of them. She smoothed down her shirt and her skirt before reaching up a hand to brush through her hair.
“Oh, by the way,” Tori said, “I think he should here any minute. Dad, I mean. So, like…” She looked towards Beth. “Be good. Don’t be all…Beth-y, you know, or else we’ll both hear about it later, and I do not want to have to listen to him griping about you being a little…ugh.” She rolled her eyes, which was totally Beth's thing and didn't look good on Tori. “Ugh," she huffed again, "just don’t for once, okay? Pretty please and thank you?”
Of course, as soon as Beth had heard Dad, she'd frozen with her fingers still tangled in her hair. She straightened up, pulling her hands from her hair and tucking a portion of it behind her ear.
"You can't invite dad," Beth responded and crossed her arms over her chest. "Tori, I invited mom. So you can't be all you, otherwise mom will get all weird and I don't want to deal with that. Uninvite dad."
(Psst, scroll up on the middle image and play the song ; ).)
There was no moment that Lindsay Kay felt more alive than on the stage, listening to the roar of the crowd and the slamming of the guitars and feeling the power of having them hang onto every not he yelled the lyrics into the microphone.
Around him and above him, the lights flashed: reds, purples, blues. Confetti rained down at random intervals. The music was ear-splitting and reverberated in his chest.
The whole stage — and the people around it, with their jumping bodies and screaming voice boxes — were his.
The smile never left his face. His wild, erratic, random dance moves — not the ones that had been practiced at all — pushed the crowd to laugh and sing and fucking live right along with him.
And when it came time for the audience to clap along, every single damn person in the auditorium began to clap along, and it made Lin’s chest swell with pride and this overwhelming feeling that this?
This was fucking it — where he was meant to be.
• • • • •
The sweat-soaked brunette cackled happily and tossed himself down into the foldable black fabric chair at the mirror, kicking his legs over one armrest and leaning his back against the other. “Fuck yeah!” he cheered, running a hand through his drenched hair before propping his elbow up against the back of the chair. “I fucking killed it!”
“Lindsay, watch your language,” warned his manager, and he tapped some number into his phone.
Lin rolled his eyes, laughing. “Luhmao! Dylannn, you fucking tightass! What, scared of a lil’ pottymouth? C’mon, my dude, up top!” He held the hand of the propped-up arm up for the dark-haired man to high five.
Dylan looked up from his phone screen to give Lin a stern look “Don’t call me that.”
Lin pouted, and then laughed, breaking out into a grin again. His heart was beating with excitement, the adrenaline rush of having just performed his heart out, and nothing could keep him from smiling for very long. “You’re legit no fun, dude! Luhmao, what’s your issue? Ess-em-aych, we’re not paying you for being a rudey prudey.”
The man heaved a deep, tired sigh, which made Lin’s grin broaden.
Dude, Dylan was seriously so fucking boring and uptight — dude had a pole up his ass the size of a giant’s splinter, and it was funny as hell, luhmao! Like, just getting him to sigh and try and hold in his anger and almost burst a blood vessel? Lin fucking lived for it.
And everything was 1000% funnier and brighter when he was riding the high from a performance.
“You have to be cleared out of here in fifteen minutes for the next student,” Dylan said. “Gather your things.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lin laughed, and he reached down and grabbed a chocolate bar from his satchel. He ripped it open and shoved a chunk in his mouth, then continued to talk, speaking with his mouth full. “Blah blah blah. You talk so much you’d think you were my manager or some shit, luhmao.”
Dylan blinked unamusedly. “I am your manager. Unfortunately.” He sighed deeply. “The paycheck is too good to back out of what we have going, though you certainly make me consider it.”
“Whaddoya think Ricky’d do if he knew you said that?” Lin grinned cheekily, wiggling his eyebrows. Dylan’s eyes widened, and Lin narrowed his eyes to show how “serious” he was, and then he broke his charade, cackling loudly. “Dude, I’m just fucking with you! Luhmao — fuck, you shoulda seen your face!”
“Again, I advise you watch your language. You’re cursing like a fifth grader who just learned the f-bomb, Lindsay.” Dylan put a hand to his forehead, sighing deeply, and then he tapped on his phone screen again. “The walls are thin, and I’m sure there are people waiting outside this door with business cards and things for you to sign.” He looked back up at Lin, only now seeming to notice that the boy was eating. “Where the — where did you get a chocolate bar? You reali —“
“You think I could get a soda or som’n’?” Lin bit off another sizable chunk of his chocolate bar. “I’m super parched, luhmao.”
“A soda,” Dylan repeated. “Lindsay, you have a water on the table beside you. Soda will ruin yo —“
“It’ll ruin my vocals, yeah, yeah.” He snickered, leaning down to his satchel again and flipping open the top. He shuffled his hand around inside it for a second, and then he laughed triumphantly as he pulled out a can of Sprite. He cracked it open and started guzzling it, focusing his eyes on the dumbfounded, irritated Dylan. He lowered the can, belching. “It’s Hollywood, man — luhmao!” He burped another small burp and cocked up a brow at the man. “You’re supposed to get me what I want, ‘cuz you work for me.”
“How many times to I have to tell you — that isn’t how it works.” Dylan glared at him, walking over to the desk and shoving his phone in his pocket. He began to pick the trash off of the desk. Lin grinned widely, proud of how much garbage he’d managed to produce in his short amount of time spent in here before and after — new fucking record. “And you, Lindsay, aren’t the one who —”
The man in the tailored suit stopped short of continuing as Lin heard the door creak open. “Mr. Teller,” said a voice from behind him —
A familiar voice.
He turned his head as his manager straightened his posture and greeted, “Mr. Westborne.”
Lin quickly moved his legs off the armrest of the chair, straightening his back against the actual back of the seat for a moment before he stood.
It’d been months since Lin had seen him in person — he hadn’t laid eyes on him personally since last year’s project showcase — and Lin had really fucking hoped to keep it that way. He knew he’d be here, ‘cuz the man found the need to come and breathe down his neck at events where Lin was doing something publicly, but he was sure he could evade him this year.
But there was apparently no escaping the rat bastard, because there, in the doorway, stood the blonde, blue-eyed man, in a neatly-styled suit, accompanied by a man and a woman who Lin recognized as an assistant and a bodyguard.
Lin felt his stomach do a turn as he said, “Dad?”
“Lindsay,” said Ricky, smiling pleasantly.
God. God, Lin fucking hated his face. As more and more seconds past, he felt his excitement and high mood waning.
“Hey…,” Lin greeted half-heartedly, trying to smile back.
The man looked to Lin’s manager. “Mr. Teller, a second?” His eyes moved to the people to his left and right. “Garrett, Andrea?”
The woman and man accompanying him gave a nod and walked out of the room, and Dylan nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said, and he looked at Lin. Now that Lin was standing, he was shorter than him. “Lindsay, clear out soon,” Dylan commanded. “There’s someone slotted to come in after you.”
“Yeah, got it.” Lin’s voice lacked the rude knowingness that it’d possessed before. It seemed to catch Dylan’s attention, but Lin just shook his head, looking away, and the man rushed out of the room, putting his phone to his ear.
Don’t fucking worry about it.
This left the room empty, save for the father and the son, and Lin awkwardly lifted his hand to the back of his neck. “Hey, Dad,” he said again. His eyes moved up to the man. “What are you doing here?”
Ricky seemed confused by the question, his pleasant smile pressing into a line as he poised up an eyebrow. “I came to find you after your performance,” he said, “and I was told you were in your dressing room.”
Fucking duh, Lin. His blue eyes darted away. “Oh…uh, yeah,” he mumbled. He cleared his throat. “Did you…”
Come to tell me something?
‘cept Lin didn’t need to ask that question, since the answer was obviously a fucking yes. There was no other reason why his dad would speak to him. Lin was a waste of time and fucking money, he forgot.
“What ya got?” he asked, looking everywhere but his dad’s face.
The sudden compliment took Lin aback. His eyes widened, and he jerked his head up to look at his father.
His heart gave a throb.
My — hold up.
“Wait, really?” he asked.
“Of course,” Ricky said, smiling again.
Lin’s smile, which had disappeared, spread across his face again — he couldn’t really control it.
His dad thought he’d done a good job.
His chest swelled with pride, and he felt his face heat up. “Oh, uh…thanks.” He looked down at his feet, and his smile broadened.
It just felt fucking nice to hear.
“Yeah, thanks,” he mumbled.
“I didn’t think you had that in you, but I’m sure it was the practice that made it that way,” continued Ricky. “I know you disliked it — seeing as you fought so damn hard to continue slacking — but as you saw, work, when you actually do it, pays off.”
He looked up at his dad, nodding.
Right, he knew there had to be a catch.
It was good, but it was all thanks to Ricky’s work of whipping Lin into shape, apparently. Duh it was — according to his dad, anyway.
His chest deflated slightly, his smile fading. “Yeah.”
“You’ve put more work into that than…well, anything that I can think of.” Ricky chuckled, gesturing with the hand that wasn’t in his pocket as he spoke. “More than your schoolwork, obviously.” He paused a moment, and then chuckled again. “More than any performance in the past. Compared to other students’ work, I’m sure it’s mediocre at best…perhaps below average.”
Lin’s stomach flopped.
“Oh,” he echoed quietly, and he looked back at the ground.
“Oh?” Ricky chuckled. “No need to look so dejected, Lindsay. I certainly would be ashamed in your shoes as well, but it’s time that you realize your talent — or...hmpf, ha, deficiency thereof, as I’ve only just now seen a smidge of talent in you — in comparison to your peers'. I told you, you don’t seem to me like the kind of boy cut out to be a star, son, even if you swear to me that you have it in you.”
He drew in a deep breath at his dad’s son.
He was only his fucking son when he was getting insulted.
Ricky’s tone was still bright, casual, and cheerful, as though he was discussing the weather. “Unless you make it so that performance is you on your worst day — unless that becomes your average — you stand no chance, and even then, I’m still not sure you have it in you to keep up with those around you. Hollywood Arts — and, ha, Hollywood, in general — is only for the elite, and I don’t believe I could count the mistakes that you made on my hands and feet, but…ha, well, Lindsay for you, it’s good work for now.”
Lin laughed hollowly.
That fucking stung.
“Thanks…,” he said.
“For once,” his father corrected.
Shit, he had to get away from this guy.
He turned around to the vanity, continuing Dylan's work and sweeping all of the litter into the small garbage bin beside the table. “Hey, Dad, I, uh, I gotta clear outta here,” he said quickly. He bent down, picked up his satchel, and slung it over his shoulder. He grabbed the half-eaten chocolate bar from the table and flipped up the wrapper, dropping it in his bag, and he grabbed his can of soda, tossing it in the trash.
He didn’t have a fucking appetite anymore.
“Devon Marrs is up next, if you want to watch him,” he added.
I’m sure his fucking performance will be better than mine.
He moved past his dad and shoved out of the dressing room, pushing past the people in suits holding out slips of paper and things to be signed.
He just had to fucking get away.
His face was hot, and his chest was burning.
He had to get away.
His dad’s voice was beside him, and Lin didn’t have to turn his head to know — there was no fucking escape from this bastard.
“I’ve also not had the time to speak with you about the call I received from the school a couple of weeks ago.”
Yeah, because Lin had blocked his number. Duh.
“Call from the school?” Lin was more focused on walking briskly and dodging people, hoping to escape his dad more than paying attention to what his dad was saying and what he was echoing.
“Yes, the fight, Lindsay. You were sent to the office and had me called and disturbed on set. Does that ring a bell, son?"
“The fight,” Lin repeated
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and Lin came to a stop, his stomach dropping.
His dad having any physical contact with him was...was fucking jarring.
“I’ve meant to discuss it with you,” his dad said.
Lin turned around, taking a step back to get his dad’s hand off of him. He put his own hand where Ricky’s had been, blinking a couple of time as he looked his dad’s face. After a moment, he said, “O-oh. Oh, okay.”
His stomach flopping, Lin walked to the side, out of the way of traffic, his father trailing behind him. When he glanced over his shoulder, he noticed that his dad’s people were with them again.
His dad stepped in front of him, a few steps away from Lin’s front, and Lin asked, “What is it?” There was a small, nervous quiver to his voice, and he looked anywhere but his dad’s face.
Lin wasn’t fucking scared. He wasn’t fucking nervous.
His dad just…
Shut up. Shut the fuck up.
“Lindsay,” Ricky said. He reached out, gripping Lin harshly by the shoulder and pulling him closer to him. Lin winced, lifting his eyes to his father. His heart pattered in his chest, somehow even faster than it had when he’d been on the adrenaline rush onstage. His father lowered his voice to a murmur, looking Lin dead in the eyes with a serious look. “Your performance impressed me, but that’s almost nulled by the fact that you have proven that your behavior has hardly been reformed.”
Lin blinked, swallowing hard. “Huh?”
“Last year, I was made to attend your court hearings because Margaret's in Canada,” Ricky said. “Perhaps you forgot, but you told me: no more trouble with the law and no more trouble with the school. You would work on your temper and self-control, and something like what happened would never happen again. You promised me that, and in return, I allowed you to continue attending HA. You remember that, don’t you?”
Lin’s eyes darted away for a moment. “Yeah…”
His father’s next question was cold: “Wouldn’t you say your broken promise warrants you getting pulled from the school?”
Lin’s heart caught in his throat, his stomach dropping as he looked back at his dad. It sent a jolt through his body, and he began to shake. “Wh-what?” He shook his head quickly. “Dad, Dad, no. I’m…he punched me first! It wasn’t my fault!”
Ricky’s face remained stern. “That one said he was provoked."
“He’s an—!” Asshole! Lin shook his head again. “Dad, seriously, like — like, look, all I said was — was he looked like he was gonna cry, and then he punched me and I had to punch back! It’s — it was stupid, seriously — and, like, I didn’t —“
“You don’t have to try and explain yourself, Lindsay,” Ricky interrupted. He stared at Lin for a moment, then continued. “This is the first incident this year, so I'll let it pass, though I'll be putting a cap on your funds for the next month. One hundred dollars a week, Lindsay, that's your limit." He let out a soft sigh. "You’ve done embarrassing things, certainly, but that’s more damage to your PR than anything. I'll chalk these up to that, just this once. I'm not going to suspend you this first time.”
“You’re…” His eyes flicked away. “Oh,” he said numbly.
“But I am going to warn you, son.” Ricky’s grip tightened on his shoulder, and Lin looked back at him, wincing slightly again. “You can’t afford anymore ‘missteps’ or ‘mistakes’ like that. This fight is something that you can easily play off, but another fight? Another couple? Something worse? Your reputation — my reputation, more importantly — is too fragile to afford you pulling another stunt. I’m paying for your tuition, housing, meals, anything you could ever ask for, and in return, the only thing I ask is that you put in effort and do the bare minimum of staying in line.”
“You underestimate me, son, but you’re living on my terms. Not the superintendent, not the student dean's, not the teachers’, not your manager’s, not your mothers, and especially not your own. Your actions have consequences, and they don’t only affect you. I will not hesitate to strip away this life you’ve made for yourself here if it means keeping you from further destroying my name. Do I make myself clear?”
“Do I make myself clear?” he repeated.
There wasn't a hint of humor on his face or in his voice; he was dead fucking serious.
Lin paused, his heart throbbing in his chest.
He wanted to say fuck you, punch him in the face, and run away laughing. Fuck, that’d be cathartic. If it was anyone else — any other person — he’d fucking do it.
But it was his dad.
And as much as he hated him, he just fucking couldn’t.
He could never fucking stand up for himself.
So weakly, he agreed, looking down at his feet: “Yeah.”
“Good.” Ricky’s grip released Lin, and he took a step back. When Lin looked up again, Ricky was smiling pleasantly, as if he hadn’t just threatened his son. He chuckled slightly, and when he spoke, his voice regained the same pleasant casualness that it’d had before. “Ah, speaking of your mother reminded me: where is she?”
Lin was still shaking, and he shoved his hands into his pocket so that it wasn’t obvious. “Mom?” His voice quivered. He cleared his throat, looking away from his dad. “Oh, she’s…she had to work. Boss…uh, told her last minute that she couldn’t take off ‘else she’d have to —“
“Oh,” Ricky interrupted. “A shame.”
Lin looked down.
Obviously Pricky was fucking disinterested. He barely even fucking acknowledged his mom’s existence, much less cared about her. Duh. How could Lin fucking forget?
“Ah, but I did hear mention of some article by the Fox girl?” Ricky asked.
Lin lifted his head again. “Article by…? Oh, yeah.” His voice was soft. His mind was still frazzled from the threat, but he realized: he meant Lydia’s interview. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, she just interviewed me.” He gave a slight shrug. “It, uh, wasn’t anything big.”
“You two are on speaking terms again?” Ricky asked, poising up an eyebrow.
“I…?” Lin drew in a deep breath. “I, uh, I guess.”
“That’s nice to hear.” Ricky smiled again. “Hopefully you two can repair your relationship. You two really were…” He trailed off, his eyes seeming to catch on something over Lin’s shoulder. “Ah, there she is now.“
Lin turned around to see Lydia, making her way through the crowd. She looked like she had some place to be.
There was one thing to say about Lin: he was advantageous. And Lydia? Well, she was his fucking way out.
“Yeah, uh.” Lin forced a short chuckle, reaching up and rubbing his neck. “Actually, I’ve been trying to find her,” he said. “Says she wants to do some kinda follow-up or som’n’, I’unno, but I, uh, literally haven’t been able to find her so I better, uh, run while I got the chance. I’ll see ya around, Dad.”
“Ah.” Ricky nodded, letting out a soft sigh through his nose and smiling once more. “You probably won’t see me around; I’m finding Isabella again and leaving after we look at the boys’ things.” Right, because he cared more about the fucking Cervantes dicks than Lin. “Be sure to tell me what she says, though; I would be willing to contribute to this article as well.”
“Yeah, I’ll tell her that,” Lin said breezily, just as Lydia reached them. He reached out and caught her arm, putting on a sudden, obviously-forced excitement that wasn’t Lin’s brand. “Ayo, Lyd! Hold up!” he said, throwing an arm around her shoulder.
In his eyes was a desperate plea: please, just fucking go along with this.
“So about the follow-up interview,” he said as he started to tug her away, “when do you want it to be?” He dropped his arm. “And what should I wear? You said a dress? Red's my color, so I think I've got one for the occasion. Sparkly, floor-length. Lipstick to go with it. An' you said you were going to film it this time? Post it on your Lin Kay stan account as an exclusive? You know —“
As they walked, Lin chattered away, pulling stuff out of his ass about the make-believe follow-up interview until he thought his dad was out of earshot. He lowered his voice, glancing over his shoulder and asking, “You think we’re far enough away?”
No Dad in sight.
Immediately, he dropped his forced cheerfulness, slumping his shoulders and heaving a dramatic sigh. His face pulled into a drained expression. “Holy fuck, that guy’s annoying as shit,” he groaned. “Wouldn’t stop fucking bitching at me about all kinds'a random shit. Nag, nag, fuckin' nag...luhmao.” He looked at Lydia, running a hand through his drying hair. “I just saved my ass, bro.” He breathed out a long sigh, and then grinned slightly, sitting his posture back upright. “Sorry to snatch you, luhmao. You were at the right place, right time, sooo." He shrugged. “Eh, but guess I owe ya one for sparing me from Pricky’s fucking griping." He chuckled slightly.
His brows raised with an idea, and he reached into his satchel, pulling out his half-eaten chocolate. His grin broadened, and he cackled. “How’s this for payment, luhmao?”
i'm a fucking genius
the stage of the celestial theater (finally!) --> the dressing room --> someplace inside
Physically, sure. He was dressed to the absolute nines (was that how the kids these days said it? Jace wasn't sure), he had his song picked out and perfected, but mentally? Mentally he wasn't ready at all. Or perhaps it was emotionally. Either way, he had a lot of... a lot of like... uhh...
He was hesitant about going on stage.
Not because he had stage fright -- it probably came as a surprise to know that the one time that Jace was actually confident? Sure of himself? Not at all stutter-filled or stressed?
Yeah, that just so happened to be when he was on stage.
Probably because the people that generally came to see him on stage actually liked him, so there was no booing or things being thrown at him.
Believe it or not, Jace was actually kind of good at what he did. When it came to music, he actually felt like he had a handle on what he was doing. Like he was actually doing something that people liked, and something where he was confident in his ability to do it well.
The issue was that he knew his mother wasn't going to approve -- the song that he was doing was a last minute one that he'd decided on when he'd failed to write anything that she approved of. So it was one of the ones that he'd sent to his mother for approval, and she'd waved her hand at dismissively and tossed aside, tasking him to write something else -- but the only kind of songs she'd sign off on were love songs.
Those weren't Jace's type of songs.
He didn't understand it.
Of course, his mother didn't know that, so she'd signed off on a half-hearted love song that he'd written and sent to her to get her off his back.
His goal here was to wow her with the not love song so much that she'd be all "Jace, that was amazing and you were right, that was so good, I'm so proud of you," or at least that was the hope.
(Jace knew it wouldn't go that way at all.)
And so, with his guitar case resting on his back, Jace found himself awkwardly walking through the Arts Festival. As he moved, his lips were mumbling the lyrics to the song.
There was just somethin’ about seeing a project you worked so hard on projected up there on the screen that made you swell with pride and think, Damn, I really did that — I really helped to make that. When you got used to the feelin’, though, it kinda became a casual thing, another notch in your patent leather belt and another thing to swell that ego’a yours, and that was kinda how Felix, hearin’ his voice comin’ from the loudspeakers to accompany Slater’s killer visuals, was feelin’.
To either side of him sat his parents: Clara with her eyes glazed over and starin’ at her manicured hands, which rested the armrests, and Caleb, whose blue eyes watched the action unfolding on the screen with a sort of contemplative look on his face. Felix didn’t pay much attention to his mom, but every so often, he would glance over and nudge his father, muttering a comment in regards to some technical thing he’d done durin’ recording to get this or that kinda effect on his voice, and his father would kind of almost chuckle, which really made Felix’s chest puff up more than the seein’ the film himself did.
Felix knew what that meant from his dad; he’d done a good job, and that was all he really needed to hear.
(Here was where he was gonna say, What could he say? He was a Daddy’s Boy, but given the kind of company that Felix kept, that’d definitely get taken out of context, so he asked that that be struck from the record before he even got it fully formed.)
Once they’d headed out of the theater, his father somehow disappeared, which left Felix with his mother. He walked with her to a less busy place, hopin’ that his father would come soon. He meant not offense to his mom. After all, she had birthed him, so he did hold a large amount of respect for her. She just…well, she’d always been more preoccupied with her soap operas or drinking wine with the other neighborhood millionaires’ wives to pay too much attention to him (he’d just glaze over the fact that she’d told him that she never really wanted kids to his face while wine drunk at one of his three-person birthday parties), an’ she was always kinda rude to him…always, though it wasn’t just a him thing. So that left Felix in a really kinda weird spot.
“So,” he started, because he either had to fill the silence with conversation or just stand like an idle Sims character and he wasn’t really much of a fan, “did it live up to the hype, Mom? What’re your thoughts?”
“It was…” Clara pursed her lips for a moment. “It had a lot of gore, that’s for sure,” she finally answered, her Southern drawl as heavy as ever. When she nodded, her blonde, so-hairsprayed-it-was-like-steel bun stayed solidly in its spot. “An impressive amount of blood and guts…and an impressive amount of screaming, too, Felix.” She smiled politely, the smile not traveling to her blue eyes.
Felix chuckled slightly, resistin’ the urge to sigh deeply. Translation: she hated it. His spirits sank a bit, but he forced his smile to stay on. “I know.” He reached up and rubbed his neck, chucklin’ again. “Damien’s not really got the finest of taste, an’ I…well, let’s just say I was just kinda there for the ride, ya know.”
“At least you seem to still be on good terms with Miranda’s boy. That’s an important connection to keep, so I guess that that’s a positive. He and you can never detach your names from this project, so I suppose that you have to take what you can get.” She laughed softly, and she gave him another tight smile, reaching out to give him a side-hug.
Felix reached his arm out to hug her back. “Heh, well. Guess you’re right. But it’s not the worst thing to have associated with my name, ya know.”
“You’re right. At least you didn't voice act in some kind of porno," she joked dryly, and she added a chuckle that he knew was forced. "I suppose your part was good, Felix. You worked with what you had...and I’m proud of you,” she said, though the way she said it made it known to Felix that it was more of a formality than an actual truth thing. But that was fine, ya know — he was confident enough in it, and he was sure that his mom just didn’t like it because she was more into the young and the restless staying intact than being eviscerated by an octopus.
“Thanks,” he chuckled softly.
“There was…definitely a lot of attention to detail, too,” Clara added, “so…past the intestines, I can see that Damien’s got talent, too, though not nearly as much as you.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”
Okay, maybe he could forget waitin’ on his dad; he didn’t want to have to talk to his mom even a second more. Somehow, the charismatic boy who always had somethin’ to say lost his words when it came to conversations with Clara.
As if he knew his wishes, someone passed by Felix that he’d been meaning to talk to for the past…well, for the past solid while at least.
“Mom, I’ve got to catch you later,” he said. “There’s someone I need to —“
“Oh, go right ahead,” she interrupted, as if eager for him to get goin’, too.
“Heh. Well, glad we’re in agreement there, Mom,” he joked with a chuckle, and he gave her a final side-hug before rushin’ to catch up with the person in question.
“Hey, wait,” he called, though not too loudly, holdin' up a hand as he rushed to meet him. When he caught up, he reached out to tap the shoulder of the other boy to stop him. He gave him a grin once he turned around. “Nathan Woods?” Felix asked, though he knew that was his name. “Felix Emmerson.” He held out a hand for him to shake. “Pleasure to meet you. Can I have a word?”
His last couple weeks had been absolute hell. Between trying to spend time with his girlfriend, finishing his own paintings for the Arts Fest, some fittings with the suit that Evie had made (which doubled as spending time with his girlfriend, so that was at least a plus), and helping Trevor with his stupid film...
Nate had had next to no time for himself -- which meant he'd been smoking way more weed than normal to cope, and maybe he'd been popping a few pills here and there.
And then the previous night, he'd gone to buy fucking flowers with Trevor, which had been a headache in and of itself. Trying to buy flowers was annoying enough -- and fucking expensive -- but trying to do it with Spank Bank was a new level of torture that Nate hadn't mentally been prepared for.
But it was fine.
Because he'd gotten up early, he'd come to the damn Arts Festival, and he'd set up his display of paintings. And once that had all been settled, Nate had hung around his booth for a bit -- and he'd even gotten to talk to a handful of art critics, some people here and there that could get him places.
Yeah, Nate had made strides.
Maybe the Arts Festival wasn't that bad.
But eventually, all good things had to come to an end, and Nathan Woods was dragged from the comfort of the visuals department's displays so that he could head to Evie's thing. Her little fashion show thing, which he'd agreed to help her with because he was... so fucking stupidly... simping. Yes, he'd admit that it had been for no other reason than a few weeks ago? He would've bent over backwards for Evie.
(And yes, he still would've, but that was unimportant.)
That was basically all he had for the rest of the day, though.
Nate hadn't been graced (or, rather, cursed) with his family's appearance, so he'd been pretty much stuck on his own for the day. Not that Nate was upset over that by any means -- he was a big boy. Eighteen years old, and he'd been living on his own here in LA since he was sixteen. Getting upset or boohoo-y over your parents and family not showing up was children shit, and Nate was by no means a child.
So, he walked towards the fashion showcase shit, bouquet of fucking peonies in hand. Fucking... stupid fucking pink and white flowers... making him look like less of a man...
Well, until some unfamiliar voice sounded behind him.
“Hey, wait,” someone called, but Nate assumed it wasn't to him, so he kept on walking -- up until whoever the fuck it was tapped him on the shoulder. “Nathan Woods?”
Who the fuck--
"Yeah?" he said slowly, his eyebrows drawing together as he stared down the unfamiliar blonde.
“Felix Emmerson.” The kid held out a hand to shake. “Pleasure to meet you. Can I have a word?”
Reluctantly, Nate reached out with his hand and shook the other boy's. "Fine. Make it fast." He responded as he dropped his hand back to his side.
Zeph's heart was pounding heavily in his chest as Stella leaned across the table, her finger moving along his jawline as her eyes fell to his lips and yeah, she was speaking, but Zeph wasn't hearing what she was saying. All he could hear was the pounding of his heart in his throat, his lips partially parted as if he was going to speak -- but if he was to try to speak? He'd probably just let out a super odd squeak or something--
And then she snatched his fry and fell back into her seat.
His jaw dropped.
"Oh... oh you're sneaky," he grumbled, his eyes narrowing as he glared across the table at her, although there was a pleasant smile on his face.
"If he even tries it'll be his biggest regret. Can you imagine anyone really working with an 18 year old guy who hits 15 year old girls? It'll ruin what little notoriety he might have. He might as well pack his crap up because his career will be dead before it ever really could begin." She said as the conversation about Mike continued. "Even he can't be that dumb. Or maybe he is and then we'll never have to see his face again."
"If anyone's gonna be that dumb, it's gonna be Mike," Zeph mumbled as he picked up a fry and took a bite out of it. Plus it felt like there was something about the guy where, even if he did some really stupid shit that should cost him his career, he'd just... be able to completely bounce back from it.
"I won't get hurt, I Promise. Lucky for you your girlfriend is tiny, but definitely mighty."
"I know, I know," he said with a heavy sigh. "But if any guy's gonna punch a girl, it's gonna be Mike. Even though I still think you could definitely take him."
(Zeph didn't actually think this, but shh. He was important to be a supportive boyfriend.)
"I gotta get to class, but I'll ahh... see you later? For a date, yeah?" He asked with a smile as he leaned across the table, placing a gentle kiss on her lips, and then stood up from the table, gathering his tray and Stella's to dispose of.
And by class, Zeph -- of course -- meant getting back to the dance studio to work on his half of the dance.
Listen, everyone might've thought that he was working way too hard on the whole dance thing, but it had paid off. Maeve and Zeph? They'd looked good for their performance, and it was with a ton of pride that Zeph was walking away from the stage, changed into his uhh... not dance clothes, because he wasn't about to walk around the Arts Festival in those short shorts. Instead, he had his dance clothes in a bag on his back.
To figure out...
What to do...
Zeph's family hadn't been able to come out for the Arts Festival, so he could count hanging out with them out -- it was kind of expensive to fly all the way from Australia. Sure, his dad probably could've scrounged up the money (his family wasn't by any means poor), but it was also a lot to try and travel across the world with his two little sisters. Not that Zeph was upset about it or anything. He understood, and he'd made sure to get his performance recorded and sent to his family.
Granted... it was pretty much middle of the night back home, so... he'd have to wait until his family woke up to hear any kind of feedback, but he knew they'd like it.
And it was while he was looking down at his phone and sending this particular video to his dad, his grandparents, his sisters -- basically everyone back home that would care that Zeph, not watching where his shuffling footsteps were taking him, found himself bumping right into some girl.
Instinctively, he reached out a hand to steady her, his dark eyes widening in worry and embarrassment.
"Oh, heck, I'm so, so sorry," he started. "Are you uhh... are you okay?"