Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron

  “It’s not funny,” she said, shoving me in the shoulder, but she was smiling.

  “Well, I something something too,” I said and she rolled her eyes.

  “Shut up.”

  I THOUGHT HIS eyes were going to fall out of his head when we walked into the arcade. It was a newish addition to the mall and I almost wanted to put in earplugs. They had everything from newer games to an air hockey table and Pac-Man.

  I held up my bag, which wasn’t easy to do because it was full of coins. I’d taken some cash to a local bank and gotten rolls of quarters.

  “I something something so much right now,” he said and I was regretting telling him that one little third. I thought it was a good way to do it, but was second-guessing myself already.

  Diving into my purse, I pulled out several rolls of quarters and hand them to him. He was practically skipping over to the Pac-Man machine that wasn’t currently occupied. There was another one right next to it, so I joined him.

  “This is the best fucking date ever,” he said as he put the quarters in and the game started. I almost didn’t want to play just so I could watch him.

  Apparently, Max was an animated gamer. He used his whole body and the expressions on his face were priceless. I snapped a few pictures on my phone of him when he wasn’t looking and planned to tease him mercilessly about them later.

  We hit all the classic games and then went for Skee-Ball and air hockey. I whipped his ass at air hockey, but he took his losses like a champ. When we started to get hungry we headed to the food court and got a little bit from almost every place. I suggested only getting dessert from the cookie shop, but Max said that wasn’t nutritional or some crap, so I got a salad to balance out the cookies and cupcakes. And pizza. And fries. Fries were potatoes, which were vegetables, so it was healthy.

  “This is like the best day ever,” Max said around a mouthful of a bacon cheeseburger.

  “Well, you’re easy to please,” I said with a wink.

  “Hey now,” he said, pointing at me with a napkin. “There’s nothing wrong with being a cheap date.”

  “Definitely not,” I said.

  WE WENT BACK to the arcade and played until all the quarters were gone. After that we just wandered through the mall and went into any stores that went wanted to and left without buying anything.

  “Getting those quarters tapped me out,” I said.

  “That’s okay. I’m just getting ideas for your birthday so I can save up,” he said and I wanted to strangle him for mentioning it again. He just wasn’t going to let it die.

  I did cave when we went into Sephora and got some new eyeliner. I couldn’t help myself. Makeup was a compulsion. Max needed a new set of earbuds, so he got those as well and we made fun of people in the Apple store.

  By the time our feet were sore and we were malled out, it was time for dinner.

  “Where do you want to go?” he asked.

  “I’ve got that planned too,” I said. When he planned our dates, they lasted an entire day so this was no exception. I’d asked Lottie if I could use her kitchen for a few hours and she agreed, saying it was high time she and Zan went out to dinner. I had the key to their place and we headed there after the mall.

  “You’re making me dinner?” Max asked as if I’d suggested that we take a stroll on the moon.

  “Yup. I’m not much of a cook, but I can do this.” I’d searched Pinterest (the world’s greatest time waster) for recipes that were simple, but seemed fancy. I’d settled on grilled cheese with brie and jam and French onion soup. I read the instructions so many times I’d memorized them.

  “Now go sit down and let me make dinner like it’s 1950 and you’ve just come home from work,” I said, grabbing one of Lottie’s aprons and tying it around my waist.

  “That is so sexy. Why is that apron so sexy?” he said, craning his neck over the back of the couch to look at me.

  “Shut up and watch television,” I said, snapping my fingers at him to turn around.

  “Yes, my dear,” he said and I could tell he was smirking. He flipped on the TV and started watching something on SyFy.

  NOTHING WENT WRONG with the dinner. Somehow. I didn’t burn anything, or screw anything up and it came out perfect. Or at least it was pretty damn good judging by the noises Max made when he was eating. They were very similar noises that he made when he was having an orgasm.

  “I’ll have what he’s having,” I said after a particularly vocal moan.

  “This is so fucking good. You have to make this again. Like, at least once a week.” His mouth was full, but it didn’t matter. Manners weren’t all that important to me.

  “We’ll see. I’m not sure if Lottie will let me use her kitchen every week. But maybe I can get a crock pot and one of those little grill things and make this in your dorm room. It would definitely be against the rules, but we’re both rebels.”

  “Amen to that,” he said, raising his sandwich. I picked mine up and we bopped them together as if we were doing a toast.

  When the last of the food was consumed and the leftover soup put away (I promised to leave some for Lottie and Zan), we cuddled on the couch and watched random shows. There was something to be said for the comfort level you could achieve with another person. I’d never thought I would get there with Max, but here I was with my head on his chest and his arm around me. Just doing nothing. It was perfect.

  “I something something, Max,” I said.

  “I something something, too, Trish,” he said. That was enough. For now.

  SHE KEPT BUGGING me about my birthday and I kept bugging her about hers and it was a nice little fight we seemed to keep getting in. Not really a fight, exactly. Trish and I rarely really fought and we’d never had a knock-down-drag-out. I knew we would eventually. It was only natural to fight. Trish was a fighter by nature, so it was a wonder we hadn’t had one of those yet.

  My birthday finally arrived and she woke me with a hand job. Best. Birthday. Ever. And it had barely started.

  “Happy Birthday, Max,” she said, giving me a sleepy smile.

  “Will you let me go down on you?” I blurted out. She just laughed and then I yanked down the covers and went to work. Seriously, best birthday ever.

  I was lucky that it fell on a Sunday, so we had the whole day. We’d both gotten time off work for it. I didn’t know what she had planned, but if it was anything like our arcade date, it was going to rock.

  Our morning was spent getting breakfast at the little pie place Will had showed us when he first got together with Audrey, stuffing our faces with pie and telling the owner, Bea, that we were full and couldn’t eat any more. She still sent us on our way with two pies. One strawberry and one peanut butter cream.

  “That pie was a mistake,” I said, groaning as I sat in the car while Trish drove.

  “Pie is never a mistake,” Trish said. “Your face is a mistake.”

  “Man, kick a man on his birthday,” I said, pretending I was hurt.

  “Yeah, yeah,” she said. “You can take it.” I could. I could take whatever she wanted to dish out to me.

  “Mean, you’re so mean to me,” I said and she just rolled her eyes.

  I had the feeling that we would end up at Stryker and Katie’s and we did. There was a giant banner that said: CONGRATULATIONS ON SURVIVING 19 YEARS OF LIFE, which I was sure Simon had made. Stryker had done cool caricature and cartoon drawings of me and put them around and there was a blue theme to match my hair. It was fucking perfect.

  “You’re just the best, you know that,” I said to Trish, giving her a huge hug.

  “You were literally just calling me mean a few minutes ago,” she said, but she was smiling.

  It was just me, Trish, Stryker, Katie, Simon, Brady, Will, Audrey, Lottie, Zan and Owen. I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time with Owen lately, but he was my oldest friend and I thought it was super sweet of Trish to invite him. He was looking a little overwhelmed by everyone, but they all embraced him like they embrace
d everyone who was new. Just sucked them in added them as if they were always there. I’d never met people quite like that and it gave me faith in humanity.

  A cake with blue ombre frosting on it was brought out and everyone sang for me. I blew out the candles and made one secret wish.

  Drinks were brought out and I declined alcohol and just went with soda to go with the cake.

  “Oh my God, I think I just came,” Katie said around a mouthful of cake. “Baby definitely likes sugar.”

  “Be careful, you don’t want to get gestational diabetes,” Stryker said, staring at the size of her piece of cake.

  Katie rolled her eyes.

  “Look, I’ve basically been eating grass for the past few weeks. One piece of cake isn’t going to undo it,” Katie said, sticking her now-blue tongue out at him. I’d noticed that there were some new books on the coffee table; they looked well-read and they all had to do with pregnancy. Guess Stryker had been doing a lot of learning.

  After cake, Trish grabbed my hand and dragged me downstairs, with everyone else following us behind like they were all in on the same secret.

  “What did you do?” I asked Trish as she tugged me around the side of the apartment.

  “That,” she said, pointing to a car with blue flames along the sides.

  “Is that a fucking DeLorean?” I asked, my voice squeaking in my shock. Trish beamed at me and bounced up and down on her heels.


  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. The car was sitting there right in front of me, but it didn’t feel real. This couldn’t actually be happening.

  Trish dangled a set of keys in front of my face and I looked down at her. My mouth had dropped open.

  “Don’t just stand there, take her for a spin,” Stryker yelled out and I turned to see all of them standing about ten feet away and grinning like fools.

  “I’m guessing you had a hand in this,” I said to Stryker.

  “I might have helped a little, but Trish did some of the work herself. I taught her a few things,” he said with a wink as he put his arms around Katie.

  “You?” I asked, turning my attention back to Trish.

  “Just a little,” she said, holding up two fingers and pinching them together.

  “I so much,” I said, gathering her into my arms and wrapping both arms around her back. I just wanted to hold her forever. “You’re just the best thing ever.”

  “You gonna let me go so we can drive around in your new car?” My new car. What the actual fuck.

  I snatched the keys from her and we ran to the car. I got in and found a few more wrapped presents in the backseat.

  “You can get to those later,” Trish said. “Gun it, baby!” I turned the car on and the engine roared just like I hoped it would. This car sounded like sex.

  “Phew,” Trish said as I shifted into first gear.

  “What? Were you worried it wasn’t going to start?” I asked, half joking.

  “Yes,” she said and I could tell she was serious.

  “Shit, is this safe to drive?” I asked as I slowly drove the car past our friends who all waved and smiled as we went by.

  “Yes, it’s safe. Stryker checked it. And hey, if you get stranded, he can just come get you. I think he’s going to invest in a tow truck and start towing on nights and weekends for more money.” Like he didn’t have enough shit going on already. When the hell did he sleep?


  “Pretty much. He said I could borrow it and pick up some of the tows for cash, which is pretty sweet. Then I could cut back hours at the fabric store and I wouldn’t have to deal with Claud’s shit anymore. But then I’d see less of Lottie, so who knows.”

  The car ran fine, but I waited until we got out to the highway before I opened it up and really let it go.

  The thing drove like a dream. It was everything I could have asked for and more.

  “I fucking love this car,” I said as I slammed my foot on the gas and the car listened to me as if it was an extension of my body.

  “I fucking love that you love this car.” Wow, she said the word. It was rare for her to use it at all, in any context.

  “I fucking love that you fucking love that.” She laughed.

  “We could keep going with this forever.” I didn’t know if she meant the “fucking love” part or the driving in the car part. I could do both.

  “Would you? Go forever with me?” I asked.

  She turned her head to the side, considering.

  “Maybe. We’ll see,” she said, which was a good enough answer for me.

  I pushed the accelerator and she screamed as the car shot forward.

  THE OTHER PRESENTS were silly, and all had to do with the car. A tree air freshener, a pair of fuzzy dice, new floor mats, a blue fuzzy steering wheel cover and one of those things you put in your windshield in the summer to reflect the sun back so it’s not hotter than hell in your car when you get in it.

  “I have a little something else for you,” Trish said, opening the glove box and pulling something out.

  “This is just part of something I’ve been doing for you. I’m not sure I’m ready for you to have them all now, but here’s one.” She handed me an envelope with what turned out to be a letter written on it from pages torn from one of her notebooks. So that was what she’d be doing with all those notebook pages.

  We’d parked back at the apartment, but hadn’t gone back to be with everyone else yet.

  I looked up at her as I unfolded the letter and it was easy to see that she was freaking out. Her knees were both jiggling and she had her bottom lip clamped between her teeth.

  “Do you want me to read it now, or do you want me to wait?” I asked.

  “Now. No, wait. No, you can do it now,” she said. Clearly she wasn’t quite ready for this, but it meant a lot that she’d given this to me anyway.

  “I’ll wait until we’re alone. We should probably get back, yeah?” She gave me a little smile of relief and I put the letter back in the glovebox.

  “Okay,” she said.

  “I love my gifts. Every single one of them,” I said, putting my hand under her chin and bringing her mouth to mine so I could kiss her.

  “And I love you,” I said looking deep into her violet eyes before I kissed her lips.

  I WAS FREAKING the fuck out about the letter. Freaking. The. Fuck. Out. That was the letter that told him one of my biggest secrets. The one that contained something in it that might make him not want to be with me anymore. The one that would set of a bunch of dominoes falling that would change how some people in my life saw me.

  I didn’t want the party to end because when it did we were going back to his dorm room and he was going to read the letter and then I would have to know.

  Things were going to change after that. I kept running through our past few months together. Thinking about all the good moments. The kisses, the naked times, the laughs, the looks, the… everything. Everything with Max was special and it was going to be altered now. I just hoped he loved me as much as he said he did.

  WE ALL ATE a second round of cake, but had to call it a relatively early night because we all had to be up in the morning for class or work.

  It was time to go and face the music.

  Since Max wanted to drive his new car, I left mine at Stryker’s and we took his back to the dorm.

  “Can I say something before we go in?” he asked as he killed the engine and turned toward me.

  “Uh huh,” I said, barely able to keep still in my seat. I just wanted to get this over with. Right now. The suspense was literally going to kill me.

  “Whatever is in that letter, it won’t change anything.” Yeah, he said that now. He hadn’t read it yet. I gave him a jerky nod but then he reached out and held my face with both hands and leaned close.

  “I can see you thinking. Stop it. Nothing. Will. Change. How. I. Feel. About. You. Got it?” I wanted to believe him. So, so much.

  “Okay,” I
said, my voice rough. He gave me a kiss and then retrieved the letter from the glovebox. That fucking letter. I never should have given it to him.

  As we walked into the building, he took my hand and wouldn’t let go. He unlocked the door and then shut it behind us. Had the room always been this small? It definitely hadn’t always been this small.

  I couldn’t breathe. Stumbling a little, I made my way to the spare bed.

  “Trish?” Max said as he sat on his own bed.

  “Yup,” I said, not looking at him.

  “Do you want me to read it somewhere else? Or…” I was about ready to burst. There was too much energy and stress building in my body and it needed to go somewhere. I stood up and started pacing around.

  “Just fucking read it, already. I can’t handle this,” I said, chewing on my thumbnail.

  “Okay,” Max said, pulling the pages out and unfolding them. I couldn’t watch him, so I turned my back and kept pacing. Max cleared his throat and then I hoped he was reading. I was waiting for gasps or some noise or something.

  Nothing. The only sound was the slap of my sneakers against the linoleum floor and the squeak as I pivoted when I got to the end of the room.

  There was finally a rustle of pages, as he turned one over. Why had I written on both sides? Why the fuck had I used so many damn words? I could have just told him most everything in one or two paragraphs. But noooo, I had to wax poetic about my secrets.

  I finally turned around and found him with his head dipped over the pages, but I couldn’t read his expression. His eyes jerked across the paper, taking in the words. He was a relatively fast reader, so that was lucky for me. He flipped another page and coughed once. No reaction. He was definitely past the most dramatic part and… nothing. The tiniest flicker of hope came to life in my chest and the further he got, the more it started to grow.

  Could this be happening? Could he really be okay with everything?

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