Taking You For Granted

Oliver had always been around, and so he would always be around... Just, as a friend. That's all he was, she swore to herself. But, when something terrible happens she's forced to take a new look at her longest standing, never changing relationship.

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13. revelations and declarations

Saturday came quickly, and yet the week had felt like it dragged on in the moment. Oliver and I had been trying to be careful of our physical contact, knowing that Carolyn would be really hurt if we acted carelessly.

It was a grueling task.

Oliver's bruises were healing and it was like he was shedding the skin of his previous boy-self, turning into a man right before my eyes. A very handsome man. His jaw seemed more square lately. His hair a bit more unruly. His eyes more sharp.

I swallowed.

I was looking at him now. He was mowing the lawn, mouthing whatever lyrics were playing in his ears as he went. His tshirt was filthy with dirt, grass clippings, and sweat.

I had a glass of iced tea waiting for him when he stopped.

He stopped, put the mower away, and came to sit beside me on the porch.

"What are you so deep in thought about?" He asked and drank half the glass of tea.

"I'm trying really hard not to objectify you."

He spit the tea back out and laughed a full, hearty laugh.

When he regained his composure he turned to me and asked, "Do you think I'm hot?"

"Of course," I answered. "Because you are. It's a fact."

He smiled and leaned his sweaty head on my shoulder. I cringed and tried to pull away, but he wrapped his arms around me.

"Oli, you're sweaty and gross!" I exclaimed, giggling.

"But, I just want to hug you," he said and wiped his sweaty face on my back.

"Ew!" I squealed, but I didn't fight to pull away anymore.

He kissed my cheek and said, "I think you're hot, too. I prefer the words stunningly beautiful, but, you know, tomayto tomahto."

He soon left the porch and hit the showers. We left for the party when he was finished.

Jude greeted us gleefully and we joined a group of people, some of whom I recognized as being upperclassmen when Oli and I were freshmen. We were poor Lew's only hope of friends currently attending school with her in this room, and we were graduating in under two months.

She was a cool girl, just a bit... inaccessible. At school, she always looked like she was trapped in her own world. Drawing and scribbling in a notebook with her headphones on her ears. Tonight, after taking sometime to get to know her, I found out that those drawings were clothing designs. She took offense to being called Twiggy because it insinuated that she was only good for her looks, for modeling clothes, not designing them. I had no idea that kids at school had been teasing her about it and criticizing her drawings. After I took a look, I thought she was brilliant and incredibly creative.

Oliver and Jude hit it off very well. They kept singing duets with the karaoke machine. They finished up singing Wish the Worst by Old 97s before Lucy took the mic and belted out Creep by Radiohead in a way I'd never heard anyone sing it before.

Angry songs really were the best to sing at karaoke. I decided to get up there myself and sing a personal favorite, Say It Ain't So by Weezer. The emotion in the song struck me, and I was singing it with all of my heart. By the end of the song, my throats was raw. I'd ignored a lot of the training I'd gotten from theater and just sang it from my gut without thinking about the how's, without thinking about my breath and my diaphragm and how you aren't supposed to sing from your throat. I just sang. And it hurt, but it also felt amazing.

Oliver rushed to the stage and picked me up to swing me around triumphantly while the people around us cheered.

By the end of the party we had made several friends and exchanged numbers with a few people. We said our goodbyes, thanking Jude and Lucy for having us, and took our leave.

Before we got to our car, one of the guys from the party ran after us and stopped us.

"I have to tell you something," he said urgently. "I have to get it off my chest."

Oliver put his arm around my shoulders as if to protect me from an invisible danger.

"I saw Eddie," the guy breathed. "That night, at that party. I was there. I saw him put something in your drink before he gave it to you."

Oli and I were both silent for a moment, but I saw a hint of anger flare up behind Oli's eyes.

"Why didn't you stop him?" Oliver asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I should have. I was scared. My mom works for his parents. I thought they might retaliate."

"So why come forward now?" I asked.

"I saw you guys at tonight and felt just full of guilt," he said. "But you looked really happy. He didn't actually..."

He trailed off.

"No, he didn't," Oli finished for him. "He didn't rape her."

The guy cringed. So did I.

"No thanks to you," Oliver added.

"I deserve that," the guy said.

"Will you testify?" I asked.

"What?" He seemed surprised.

"Would you testify?"

"It would jeopardize my mom's job," he started to back away from us.

"Just think about it," I said and handed him Carla's card. "Eddie can't get away with this anymore."

"What do you mean by anymore?" He asked.

"You think I was his first victim?"

The look on his face spoke volumes.

"Call that number when you decide what you think is right," I told him. "Like you decided that approaching us was the right thing to do tonight."

He nodded and accepted the card.

Oli kept his arm around me and guided me to the Jeep. When I got in and tried to buckle my seat belt and failed, I realized I was shaking and my strength had left me.

"You are so much calmer about all of this than I am," Oli said through his teeth and pushed an angry breath out of his nostrils.

"What?" I asked, confused until I turned my head and saw him staring at his own shaking hands.

"I wanted to hit that guy," he admitted. "I don't like fighting, but when it comes to you... to this... It's like something else takes over me and I'm so quick to just..."

He ran a frustrated hand through his hair and turned to look at me, turmoil in his eyes.

"But you," his tone took on a sense of awe. "You thought to give him that card. To speak kindly to him even though he was such a coward, and it's partially on him that any of this happened..."

He balled his fists, then let out another breath.

"I don't know how you do it," he continued. "Look at me! I can't even stay calm now. But, you're amazing. I can't believe how strong you are."

He laughed wryly at himself, but I couldn't hold myself together anymore. My shaking gave way to sobbing and I collapsed on myself in the seat.

"Hey, hey," he started rubbing my back with one hand and holding to my arm with the other.

"I don't feel strong," I whimpered into my hands.

His hand was soothing, rubbing slow circles between my shoulder blades.

"But you are," he said softly. "And when you don't feel it, I'm here to remind you and to hold you up."

I took in a shakeup breath and sat up.

"I really don't deserve you," I said as he wiped the tears away from my cheeks with his thumbs.

He smirked but didn't reply.

Spring break ended quietly. Oliver drove us to school on Monday morning. Hedy met us by the entrance, the three of us ready for whatever waited for us on the other side. Surprisingly, the school was calm.

My locker was free from any new euphemisms. Eddie wasn't even present in Mr. Evans' class. Oli told me a few people knocked into him with their shoulders on his way to walk me between classes, but nothing went further than that.

When we got home, Carla was waiting for us in the living room. Carolyn came out of the kitchen with two cups of coffee.

I hated that adults liked to wait for you like that. It was rarely very pleasant.

"Juniper," it was awkward when someone called me by my actual name, but it sounded official coming from Carla. "I have some news, but I also have a decision for you to make. Sit down.

She was on the sofa by herself, but her presence seemed to fill it up. I sat on the hearth before the fireplace. Oli stood with his arms crossed in the doorway.

"I got an interesting phone call in the middle of the night Saturday," she said. "From a young man who said he was willing to testify that he witnessed Eddie Zimmerman putting an unknown substance into a glass bottle of root beer and then handing that bottle to you. He said he also saw Eddie bearing your weight when the drugs seemed to take affect before leading you away from the party."

I hadn't expected him to actually call, let alone call this soon.

"This is damning testimony," Carla said. "It's exactly the kind of thing we needed to push this case over the edge. I filed for a suit this morning. We should expect to proceed to trial fairly soon."

I swallowed. It felt like the floor was giving way beneath my feet.

"That isn't all," Carla continued. "Around noon today I received a phone call from the Zimmermans' attorneys. I've never gotten a response from the defendants' representation this quickly before. They want to settle outside of court. They're willing to pay you a large sum of money to keep this as quiet as possible."

"As quiet as possible?" I asked.

"You would need to agree to never speak of the settlement or the reason behind it with anyone," she explained. "Charges would more than likely be dropped against Eddie, and your case would not be admissible to discuss in our separate case concerning the corruption of his family."

I chewed this information over.

"So, they want to pay me to keep my mouth shut," I summarized.

"Basically," she folded her hands on her lap, her expression completely neutral.

I thought about it a little longer.

I looked to Oli, who simply shrugged at me. Then I looked to Carolyn.

"This one is up to you, kiddo," she said.

I stood up, suddenly incensed.

"Screw them!" I declared, balling my fists. "I don't want their money. I want Eddie stopped. And they need to learn that money can't cover everything that their son does wrong. He has to have some sort of consequence, or he's just going to keep doing this because he thinks he can get away with it as long as his parents have an infinite bank account."

"Do you at least want to know how much they offered?" Carla asked.

I shook my head.

She smiled at me.

"That's all I needed to hear," she said. "I'm glad I came here to talk to you in person. You seemed so timid when we first met. You're a little scary when you're fired up. You'll need that."

She stood up and came over to me to shake my hand. It was a firm handshake, but it felt like we were equals.

"I'll be in touch," she said, then waved to Carolyn.

She patted Oliver's shoulder as she passed him on the way out.

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