Rest Easy *Valentine's Day Entry*

*I'm submitting the first part of a novel, as it is still underway, but almost complete! I began it in January and the majority of it was written after the opening of the competition, but I had to re-upload because of the original upload date*

*Based on Prompts #1 and #2*

In Arizona, two teenagers spend a summer attempting to decrypt the life of an elderly woman with dementia, who had gone missing over forty years ago and cannot recall to anyone where and how she lived. This ongoing mission keeps the teenagers occupied all summer, bringing them closer and helping them to avoid the rough times they have been going enduring in their lives, and the pasts they just want to forget. As the pair grow a bond, it eventually appears that the world around them wishes against it. The price of overcoming the obstacles that stand ahead of them is hefty, but only they can determine whether it is worth the risk.

For those on desktop - I've added thematic songs to some of the chapters :)

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14. CHAPTER TWELVE | A RIVER

 

 

Dudley didn’t know how to respond to what Naya had told him yesterday morning, even twenty-four hours later. He may have teased her about it, but he knew deep down that it changed everything - every single interaction they’d have, from thereon. Things seemed to had shifted a little, since he spoke to her in her bedroom a couple of nights prior. He had held out a hand for her to hold, even if it was figurative, not physical. He was trying to wrap his mind around being liked by a girl who he realised was really no longer a stranger to him, as much as he tried to think she was. He was confused by his feelings - didn’t know left from right, friendly from intimate. All he could do was show her at least that he still cared, that he wasn’t concerned, that he still savoured her company, all whilst his ex girlfriend was drifting further away from him, whilst he was losing his best friend to a first love, and whilst he tried to dilute the intense pining he felt for his lost mother. All whilst his brother neglected him more and more.

 

He thought back to when he first met Vanessa, who was the newbie jazz drummer in a school band. She was handing out flyers to her ensemble’s first off-campus gig, an event at Totem’s father’s club. Though it was an adult venue, they had managed to book a stage for all ages to perform and watch an array of different old-school bands from around town. He almost didn’t attend the gig, but he got free entry through knowing the owner, and he thought, Why Not. He attended, and he was infatuated from the second she stumbled into a ragtime solo when it was her time to shine. She’d been drumming ever since she was twelve, but only really got into it once she started Freshman year, and she was such a natural. There was a solace in her expression, yet partnered with a passion that closed her off from anyone else in the room. But once the song was over and the audience applauded, she looked out into the crowd with enthusiasm and hope that that one boy she invited had come to see her. She was just excited as he, for them to be in the same room together, for him to witness her as she witnessed him, and he knew he had a crush on her without having to think it through.

It’s not to say things weren’t difficult at first - mixed signals flashed like a faulty traffic light system, but he just knew that he couldn’t get Vanessa Bailey out of his head, no matter how hard he fought with the thoughts. She invaded his psyche, his blood, his bones, she was ubiquitous, omnipresent, within and without. That’s how he knew. She was everywhere, she was the universe.

Naya wasn’t quite the same. She was a mist in the distance, crawling, ever moving closer, never quite there, but there was this anticipation, this expectation that he’d be cloaked in her presence and wouldn’t be able to shake it off, and it was always almost there. It was a slow-burn, a maybe. A Maybe. But sometimes the Maybe could hold more power than the Definitely; it hung suspended above him, either to blow away in the wind or fall down on him like rain, and he wasn’t sure which. Now that she said she liked him, things were getting clearer. They were also getting foggier, because he had to calibrate his thoughts. Naya wasn’t Vanessa, she was someone completely different, and it was like watching an Angel’s feet divorce the ground, replaced with the feet of a Fairy, a Siren, something just as gripping, but not as plain to see. Naya was a Maybe, but there was something detrimental about it. He liked her, and he didn’t know it. He couldn’t hold it down, anchor it to the ground like he could hold down his feelings for his first ever real love.

 

The best way he could pay Naya back for making a fool out of her was to invite her on a trip into the town centre, to shop and prepare for the big Fourth of July party that Salvation Hill was holding the next day. It wasn’t on one of their usual days, but it meant that they had one regular day of the week off. His plan was to celebrate with Naya, Marie and the other residents in the day time, then go to Taylor Evans’ Independence Day bash later that night and get shit-faced. But he had to look decent for both occasions, so with a little financial help from his brother, he headed out to the Harlow shopping mall with Naya and they wandered through the stores semi-aimlessly, trying to slice time and keep each other occupied.

They ran through thrift stores and tried on second-hands, marvelled and scoffed at the high-end attire in the high-end parts of town, floated in and out of bookstores and music shops. Naya had bought a cream white above-the-knee sleeveless dress for the Salvation Hill party, and she decided she’d pair it with her silver Doc Martens. Dudley bought a loud blue Hawaiian shirt, which was pretty much at Naya’s demand. He owed her one.

“This is the very first sign of becoming whipped,” he joked. “Wearing what she tells me to wear.”

“I’m pretty sure the first sign was when you didn’t leave the ELT office when you could have.”

“You’re gonna hold that over my head forever, aren’t you?”

“Damn right.”

Their last stop was a CD store located in the Soho area of Harlow, where they browsed for records to play in the pick-up on their weekly journeys. They still had six weeks left, so it didn’t kill to sonically decorate their excursions a little.

 

“What kind of music do you think I’m into?” Naya asked Dudley as they sauntered down the aisles through the ages and genres of music.

“I’d have guessed… pop. Some electronic stuff. Something loud, funky.”

“What if I told you my favourite band of all time was Metallica?”

“I wouldn’t believe you.”

“You’re right, that’s a bit of a stretch,” she laughed. “But I can get down to some dark, gritty shit sometimes. I feel like you do, too.”

“Name something you think I probably listen to on the regular.”

“I can’t tell,” she said, flicking her fingers through a pile of vinyls. “Sometimes I sense Death Grips, other times, Bon Iver. Depends on what vibe I’m getting off of you.”

“Always tryna fish a vibe outta me.”

“I told you I’m going blind. You should be lucky I can even see you at arms length. Otherwise I’d have to gauge you with my hands.” And she reached out and placed her fingers on his cheeks, eyes closed for a few seconds. Dudley stopped smiling, felt his chest tighten. She was at it again, with one of her too-close, yet endearing gestures, like the pinky finger promise or the hair-braiding. She already told him to his face that she liked him, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. This was something telling him, Why Not Definitely?

“Blind people don’t go caressing people’s faces.” Dudley said, taking both of her hands away and letting go of them. “They just have to listen better, heighten their senses.”

“I’m gonna do things my own way when it’s my turn. If I wanna scope out one’s facial contours, I will.”

“Watch out for those battery charges.”

“Don’t charge me for battery, then.” She grinned. “Oh yeah, I remember. You’re a Tame Impala fan. I guess I should have remembered that, then this conversation would have been a lot shorter.” She walked away abruptly to the other side of the store, eyeing out potential albums for the truck. She was flirting with him. Dudley, she’s flirting with you. Don’t leave her hanging! Flirt back, said the voice in his head, the devil with a halo on his shoulder. Why Not Definitely?

 

 

He was snapped out of his gaze by the sound of laughter, as someone else walked into the store. He recognised the sound all too well, and it was like he was overwhelmed with vertigo, as the world slightly tilted. Karina strutted in, smelling of cigarette smoke, with a phone held to her temple and a huge smile on her face. She didn’t notice Dudley until he turned around and faced her. Her expression turned dark, and she quickly wrapped up the conversation she was having, standing and staring at him with emptiness.

“Hey, Dud.”

He didn’t answer; just felt his blood simmering ever so slightly. Naya watched from the other side of the store, feeling like history was repeating itself. Everything was always on repeat. History was the present. It was like watching a showdown, seeing the tumbleweed blow past, both opponents with their hands clutched to their waistbands, ready to pull the trigger. But then it looked different - it looked like a game hunter to a deer, a menace with a rifle, eyeing out their trophy. Somehow, Dudley was the deer.

“Can we speak outside for a moment?” He said, his voice red, after a moment of shrieking silence.

“Sure.”

“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said to Naya, before storming out of the door with Karina flouncing behind. Naya saw the confrontation that ensued through the shop window, but didn’t hear any of it. There were times it looked like he could kill Karina, take his hands and wring her throat like a wet cloth. But then there were times where it looked like she had stunned him, left him paralysed, lost for words, on the verge of dissipating. It was a thing of spectacle, something she couldn’t quite take her eyes away from him. There was more to the story. There was definitely more to the story.

 

“Can we just go home now?” Dudley asked afterwards, in a subdued tone, like if he spoke any louder his voice would crack. He was paler than paper, clearly distressed. Karina never even made it back into the store - she just walked off into the other direction, as if her sole purpose was to stir up the ambience.

“Yeah, let’s go. We’ve spent enough time in town already. We can get CDs another time.”

“That girl is a fucking bitch.” He paced around the sidewalk the second they stepped outside. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t do shit.”

About What? What did she do? What did you do? Those questions ricocheted around Naya’s head until it disconcerted her to think about the possible answers.

“Don’t worry, it’s all good.”

“She’s trying to hold what we used to have over me, back when we used to screw around in Freshman fucking year, like it’s a branding on my fucking forehead, like I deserved everything, like it’s my fault. Does that really make it my fault? That I was once a stupid fifteen year-old kid who fooled around with an older girl from a different school to kill time, to get my kicks, so I didn’t have to think about my sick fucking mom all the time? Then I move on and find a nice fucking girl, but everything goes to shit once again, because of her. She’s haunting me… she’s… she’s making me pay for it. I deserved it. I deserved what I got. That’s what she thinks. Bitch.”

“It’s OK, Dudley. None of that matters, now.”

“I hate feeling like this.” His eyes were rimmed with anger, with frustration, with a sadness she hadn’t seen from him before. “I just want to go home.”

“Let’s go, then,” she grabbed his arm, walking them both to the direction of his battered vehicle. “It doesn’t fucking matter. Whatever happened, it doesn’t matter. Do you hear me?”

“Naya-”

“It doesn’t matter.”

 

 

The pair had to wake up slightly earlier so that they could get to Salvation Hill and help to prepare for the garden party before guests and family members arrived. It was going to be a big affair of barbecues, live performers in the gazebo and lots of dancing. Everyone was required to leave their rooms and celebrate, get in their best outfits and rejoice the two-hundred and forty years that the USA had broken free from the shackles of Europe. Dudley didn’t think there was really much to rejoice. He found a certain hysterical irony in colonisers fighting for independence in a place that was never theirs to begin with. The Europeans were no longer European, they were American, and God fucking Bless America. The least Dudley could do was party with his ancestors’ oppressors. He was also in a compromising position, sharing blood with them, since his father was of Irish descent. So, Whatever. There was that saying, after all: if you can’t beat them-

 

“You look pretty.” Dudley told Naya, and he meant it. She took a little more effort in her presentation for the party, wearing the cream white dress she bought. It was complemented by a pearl necklace and earrings, baby pink eyeshadow and red lips. She was also wearing mascara, which definitely made a difference to her face; it framed her eyes in a different way, like they were different eyes completely. She wasn’t wearing her glasses, either; probably contacts. Her strawberry blonde hair was up in  German-style crown plaits. Of course, she had on her Doc Martens. Her arms were bare and splattered with freckles that just seemed to pop out of nowhere, all of a sudden. She did look pretty.

“You don’t look half bad yourself.” He had on the blue shirt and beige chino pants, and had undone the french braids, neatly tying his hair back. He rocked RayBans like he was some cool rock star on tour in Cali. He didn’t look half bad.

 

As expected, nobody came to visit Marie. She was happy all the same, mingling and chatting with the other residents of the home. The pair had fun conversing with her, reading out the romantic poems she had read, dancing in the noon sun and sharing a buffet of food and drinks. Some near-retired country singer performed a few old-time hits (Summer of ’69, Highway to Hell, Born In The USA amongst others) on his electric acoustic as the residents listened, entertained. All the other helpers and workers at Salvation Hill came out to celebrate, and it was overall a great success. Roy and Gita Crawford gave a speech toward the end of the party, congratulating Salvation Hill on its recent success and prosperity, and giving a shoutout to its first ever volunteers, Dudley Warrington and Naya Stephens, Junior Students at South Harlow High School. The sun was glistering, fixed high above the endless vista, everyone was happy, and Dudley realised that he hadn’t felt this good in quite a long time. Things were falling into place like Tetris, but just like sliding out a Jenga block, it could take the flutter of a butterfly’s wing to change things. These moments were precious; beautiful, ceaseless, but in the same breath, they reminded him that they came and went like water through a tributary, flowing into something bigger, something profound, something even harder to grasp; time itself. Things were always changing. People were forgetting, remembering, letting go, holding on. Dudley read romantic poetry to Marie and watched her gush, then not too long after, ask for a romantic piece, as she hadn’t read romance in years. She was a stagnant lake. He watched Naya dance in the summer sun, looking stunning, even prettier than she looked the day before that, and the day before that, and so on. He was a river, and this tributary was rushing by fast. Things were changing by the second. In the same way Violet was now Marie, Maybe was Definitely. A smooth, transition, yet so hard to pinpoint where it began.

 

The celebrations went on for longer than originally planned - everyone started packing up at around five in the afternoon. It had been a long day. Once the deck chairs were folded and the leftover food packed away, Naya and Dudley sat down in the garden gazebo. She reapplied her lipstick, having lost most of it by the time she was done feasting on hot wings like they were her last meal on earth. Dudley laughed as she wiped the sauce off her chest, it missing her dress by a millimetre. Now, she lay her head on his shoulder as they spoke about the day they just had. The sun wasn’t due to set for another few hours, but the sky was painting itself pink, right before their eyes.

“You still going to that party tonight?” Naya asked him.

“Yeah, probably. Not until later, though. Gonna pregame with my friends first. You can join if you want.”

“Can’t. Curfew.”

“Fuck curfew. Let’s party. Its the Fourth of July. A God-awful holiday, but the silver lining is at the bottom of  a can of Corona, amiright?”

She huffed. “Not funny. Anyway, I’m tired. I’ve been awake since six.”

“Sleep is for the weak.”

“Then I guess I’ll gladly succumb to that infirmity.”

“Words too big. Can’t compute.”

“I’mma rest up early tonight.”

“I’ll be thinking of you at the party. Hoping you made the right choice, choosing to turn your back to the joys of revelry.”

“Now you’re speaking all artsy and shit. Can’t we speak normal anymore?”

“No. We can dance, though.”

“Huh?”

“Can we dance to one more song before we head home?”

“Sure. Which one?”

“I’ll show you. It’s one of my faves. I’ll hijack the speakers - someone left the laptop unlocked over there,” he pointed to the DJ’s table next to the gazebo.

“Don’t think I’ve heard that one before.”

“You’ll love it.”

They moved around to Lights Out, Words Gone by Bombay Bicycle Club, and she did indeed enjoy it. They danced around the gazebo, disturbing a few of the residents who sauntered out to see what all the noise was about. Some scowled, some laughed, some cheered and some danced along. Before they knew it, they were parading around with a handful of elderly people in the garden, bopping to the groovy bass line and warm euphony of the vocals in the song. The sky was setting pink, orange, purple, every colour it could. When the song was over, people clapped, cheered, some walked back into the home. Having watched everything from the window, one of the assistant care workers came out from inside, and led everyone back inside.

 

“That’s a nice thing you did, there. Playing music for everyone. They enjoyed it.” Claire said, smiling at them. “But we gotta dial it down, now. They’re… old. Need more peace and quiet than the rest of us.”

“We agree. Sorry,” Naya said, grabbing Dudley’s hand and walking them back into the building. She had a tendency to do that - lead him places, like he needed her help. She was one step ahead of him, fingers intertwined, and he followed. “Thanks for having us today, Claire. It was an awesome day.”

“It sure was! I could tell you were having fun. And I haven’t seen Marie this joyful since she first got here. Warmed my heart.”

“It warmed ours, too. She’s an amazing person.”

“You too seemed to have bonded pretty well here, haven’t you?” Claire said, one hand on her hip. “Would you say that this whole thing is bringing y’all closer together?”

“Well, we didn’t know each other before, so yeah,” Dudley replied. “Inevitably.”

“Well, that’s nice to hear! I’m a sucker for romance.”

“Oh, no. It’s not like that.” His right arm hung slack by his side, and he latched onto his elbow with his left hand, looking down to the ground. Naya stared at him, worried, confused and amused, all at the same time.

“I read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, many moons ago. Back when I was really into the classics. I used to underline the sentences and words that stood out the most to me. There was this one that I loved. I might be paraphrasing, it’s been a while. But was something a little like this: “Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind!” She chuckled. “I’ll say no more. See y’all on Friday.”

 

Claire was right. They both knew it, they knew that everyone saw it, even if at varying degrees. It got to the point where Marie would watch them from afar, before asking them how long they’d been together for, and they’d have to keep reminding her that they weren’t together, they were just volunteer partners, just friends, just not-strangers. It had been two days since Naya told Dudley she liked him, and he decided he liked her too. Just before he dropped her off at six in the evening, he kissed her goodbye. It took them both by surprise, immobilised them with shock, had their chests and their cheeks burning, but it felt right in that moment. She slid out of the truck, waving him goodbye, and he nodded back, thinking back to the awkward double date where they bid their farewells in a fairly identical manner. But now there was more to the story. He kissed her goodbye. No doubt it was a little awkward, too, but it was the right thing to do, and he went on his way back home with a certain effervescence brewing inside him.

 

 

“You look like a Venice Beach douchebag,” Ash teased Dudley a few minutes into their first few shots at the dining table. Dylan was God-knows-where, so Dudley’s house was game for pregames.

“Piss off. It was for the care home party earlier today.”

“Why do I keep forgetting that you’re doing that? You’re keeping real quiet about it.”

“There’s not much to say, is there? I wouldn’t have an abundance of stories to tell you if I spent my time working shifts at Benno’s instead. Same thing.”

“What about stories of your one-and-only colleague? Rumour has it she’s tryna smash.” Wallis chimed in. “That’s what Jasmine said, anyway.”

Dudley tried not to break his poker face, thinking back to the kiss. “Do you ever stick your heads out of the echo-chamber of gossip?”

“Face it, Dud. Your name is always on somebody’s lips. Your ass always in somebody’s bed, your face prolly someone’s screensaver somewhere. You famous. Or infamous. Perspective, right?”

“Let’s cut some slack, guys.” Totem interrupted. “Shit’s been rough for him. He can enjoy making new friends without y’all taunting him about it.”

“How far is the stick up your ass today, Tote?” Wallis retorted before glugging down some beer.

My bad for sticking up for my friend,” he frowned. No pun intended. “Anyway, Tori’s been acting weird with me lately. It’s playing on my mind. I don’t know what’s up with her.”

“Damn. She gonna be at the party tonight?”

“She said she would. Didn’t seem keen, though.”

“You gotta treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen, bruh. Maybe you’re just too whipped now, and she doesn’t care anymore.”

“You’re so stupid. She isn’t not keen, she’s just got a hunch about something, and I wanna figure it out. I’ll find out later.”

“I heard Vanessa’s gonna be there tonight. With Pearce Wilson as a plus-one. You know. The basketball player who looks like he’s been in Senior Year for the past three runs. A fuckin’ beast.” Ash said.

“The complete opposite to Dudley. Talk about a switch-up.” Wallis and Ash snickered. Both Totem and Dudley didn’t break a smile. Sometimes the immaturity of their friends wasn’t something they could even pretend to tolerate, even after a couple of drinks. “Yo. Imagine if Karina, Naya and Vanessa all showed up to the same party. I think a hurricane would start. Yo, this nigga’d prolly cry.” Wallis continued.

“Harder than when you found out your best friend started fucking Victoria Richards, the girl you’ve been crushing on since eight grade?” Dudley snapped. Totem just looked at him in awe, trying not to laugh at the savage remark that everybody in the room knew was true. They never addressed it head-on, but it was always bubbling beneath the surface. Wallis gave Totem the green light to date Tori, but it was still a clear violation of bro code. If he was going to dish out uncomfortable truths, he should be able to swallow them up, too.

 

The rest of the pregames actually became about pregaming, playing with cards and shot glasses until they were buzzed enough to leave for Taylor’s bash. His place was in walking distance, so they didn’t have to rely on a designated driver to get them all back home afterwards. They’d probably end up crashing there, anyway.

It was already pretty late into the party by the time the Guys arrived. All four were also quite inebriated, too. Especially Dudley. After spending a half hour socialising with strangers and friends alike, he was only bound to bump into Vanessa, which he did. She sat on the stairs of the house, texting someone on her phone. Probably Pearce, who was currently a no-show. As Dudley was en route to the closest vacant bathroom, she happened to be obstructing his path. He swayed at the bottom of the stairs, staring at her. Throat tightening.

“Ness.”

“Hey,” she tucked her hair behind her ear. She was wearing a tight crop top and a short denim skirt that she suddenly felt self-conscious about considering the angle she was seated at. “How’re you doing?”

“Never been better,” he murmured before trying to stifle a belch. He rubbed his eyes. “I’m kinda drunk. Heh.”

“Yeah, I see that.”

“How has your summer been? Long time no talk.” It had been around six weeks since they spoke in the school’s parking lot. He walked idly up each step until he was stood in level with her.

“It’s been OK. Peaceful. Just been… unravelling myself, I guess. I spent some time at the summer house in San Diego. Remember the one?”

“Yeah. From last year. We spent two weeks lazing around by the pool.” And having tonnes and tonnes of sex. He smiled, eyes sleepy, heart sad. “I’m glad you took me along with you, you know. Happy you’ve been having fun.”

“Yeah. I heard about your care home thing. Sounds so wholesome. Such a sweet thing of you to do, I’m proud.”

“Thank you,” he muttered. He had forgotten that he even needed to use the bathroom. He was now urgent for something else - words trying to scrape their way out of the back of his throat. He wanted to ask about Vanessa’s new squeeze, and he did. She frowned in response.

“We’ve been on a couple of dates. Well, three. He’s a nice guy.”

Dudley didn’t want to get angry, but he found it happening, and he couldn’t control it. “Are you for real?”

“…What?”

“This is the same guy that came to last year’s Halloween party in some dumb costume, ‘warrior’ paint, and a shitty feather headdress. The same guy demanding everyone call him ‘Chief’, running around screaming like a fucking degenerate. You know that pissed me off. We talked about it.”

“Dudley, that was almost a year ago. He knows that was wrong of him.”

“So you like dating a self-aware racist? Is it like dating a robot with a consciousness? Does it take the sting out of it?”

“I don’t want to fight here in the middle of a party.”

“Not fighting.”

“You are, and you’re drunk. You should go home.”

“You kidding? The party’s just getting started.”

“Dud, please,” she stood up. “Don’t embarrass yourself.”

“I think the girl screwing a braindead douchebag takes the cake.”

“You’re being a prick. What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m an orphan, Ness. I’m not the offspring of some business conglomerate leader, or political Pied Piper.”

“Oh my god. What does that have to do with anything? Stop using our backgrounds as a fucking excuse. It. Is. Not. Never was, never will be.”

“Says the rich girl.”

“To think I loved you once. I don’t know how I did it,” she hissed, and this felt like a close-range gunshot to his abdomen. It sobered him up, and she saw it straight away. “You make things so difficult for yourself.”

“You fuckin’ know what, Vanessa? I still fucking love you, and that’s why I’m the bitter ex, the one who lost it all, the one with a chip on his shoulder. I miss you, and I want nothing to do with you, all at the same time, and boy, I can’t even tell you how… awful… that feels. I didn’t want to lose you to someone like him. I wish the best for you, Ness. I wish nobody ever hurts you like I did, ever again. I mean it.” He clenched his jaw, tried biting his tongue, but the words tumbled. “Yeah, I still love you,” he whispered, “And I don’t know how I do it. I don’t know why.”

Vanessa started crying silently as he rambled. She wiped each tear as it fell. “Ugh. I need some air,” she mumbled, and with that, she stumbled down the stairs. Dudley went up to the bathroom throw up.

 

Totem found him some time later, and he wasn’t in the best of states. He was tired, on the verge of passing out. He had lost his phone too; Totem found it in the kitchen and saw the most recent texts flash up on his screensaver. They were from Naya.

I had fun today, the first one said.

You’re so lovely. Soft lips, too, the second one read.

Cya whenever.

 

You made out with Naya?” Totem said to Dudley as they sat sprawled on the front lawn of the house.

Dudley lousily lit a cigarette. “No, I kissed her. Just… a quick one. What the fuck. How do you know this?”

“Sorry dude. You left your phone on the counter. She sent something.”

“Fuck.” All that kept running through his mind was the other possible eyes who may have stumbled upon his phone and saw the messages. Eyes like Vanessa’s.

“I mean… the texts could be from anyone. You only saved the name as N.”

“Clearly,  N is for Natalie Portman.”

“It’s nice to see you’re moving on.”

“I got into a fight with Vanessa forty minutes ago. I made her cry. Shit.”

“I guess I’ll have to take back what I said.”

“I’m just stuck in a limbo, Tote. Sometimes things make perfect sense, other times they don’t.”

“It’s only natural.”

“It’s not. My world’s folding over, all the fucking time. I don’t know how to feel.”

“I completely understand.”

“I don’t know if you do, though.”

“Dud…”

“Everything is just… changing, everywhere.” he kvetched, trying to shake off his intoxication.

“Tori’s pregnant.”

“What?”

“Six weeks. She told me, an hour ago. She was drinking only chaser, no alcohol. She was being super moody, then just burst into tears in the bathroom, and she told me. Five pregnancy tests. Two cheap ones, three expensive ones. The flashy ones that know how far along, all that shit. All came back positive.”

Dudley found it hard to decipher his words in his lack of sobriety. “Amber’ll make a great mom. She’s mature enough. Clever, too. You’ve got a nice family. You’ll be a cool uncle.”

“Father, dude. Father. I said Tori.”

“Tori?”

“Tori.”

“…Tori.” Dudley sighed. “The Queen Bee of the Girls. The pretty ringleader. Ace at volleyball. That Tori.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Totem said, sotto voce. “I’m… stumped. You’re the only other person that knows this. I don’t even know whether to trust you, you’re drunk. But I won’t tell anyone about Naya if you keep quiet about this. At least while I try and figure things out.”

“I won’t tell a soul. You’re my best friend.”

It was true; he was. They had always been the closest. They always got the news first, they always kept each other’s secrets. Dudley saw Totem as more of a brother than he sometimes saw Dylan. He had always felt a part of the Williams’ family. But now it was growing, and everything was changing, everywhere.

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