Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron


  “Sure,” he said, closing his eyes and pretending to snore. I poked him in the stomach and he opened one eye. I got out my phone and called for a pepperoni and green pepper pizza with extra sauce. Max’s favorite. I liked knowing his favorite kind of pizza. I liked knowing his favorite shirt because it was the first one he wore when he did laundry. I liked knowing that I could drive him wild just by kissing a certain spot on his hip.

  No, that was a lie. I loved those things.

  I hadn’t planned to do it when I told him earlier. Didn’t think about it. The words just slid out of me. So easy. So right. I’d waited for the terror to hit me but the only emotion I’d felt was incandescent joy. And then the way Max looked at me? Made it even more worth it.

  “What are you thinking about?” I hadn’t realized he was watching me.

  “You,” I said honestly.

  “What about me?” I smiled.

  “How much I love you.”

  “Really?” I sat down and kissed him on the forehead.

  “Yeah.”

  He closed his eyes and then opened them.

  “I like hearing that. Like, a lot.” I ran my hand through his hair. He’d worn it without gel today.

  “I like saying it. No, I love saying it. A lot.” We both laughed and then I watched his face change, like the sun going behind a cloud.

  “I shouldn’t be so happy when my parents are so miserable,” he said in a quiet voice.

  His words pretty much broke my heart.

  “Oh, Max. Don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes your family lets you down.” Mine definitely had. He rubbed his eyes with both hands.

  “I guess.” I stood up. I needed to find a way to get him out of his funk. I turned the TV on and tried to find something. Perfect. One of the cable channels played Family Guy, like, all the time. You couldn’t watch that show and not laugh.

  “Hey,” I said, poking him. He opened his eyes and I could tell he was still thinking about earlier in the day.

  “Hey,” he said back. I grabbed his arm and pulled him so he was in a sitting position and scooted so my back was against the wall. He mirrored me and we sat shoulder-to-shoulder.

  “Huh,” he said, noticing what was on the television, “I haven’t watched this show in ages.” Phew. Yay for the distraction.

  By the time the pizza came, Max was laughing at the antics of the Griffin family and the mood in the room was a hell of a lot better.

  Long. Ass. Day.

  I DIDN’T SLEEP well that night. I couldn’t stop picturing my mother’s face as I walked out the door and shut it behind me. The look that said I’d broken her heart and even if somehow we mended our relationship, things would never be the same. I’d never be able to undo that look.

  Usually when Trish couldn’t sleep, she would write in her journal. It had worked for her, so I got up and found some notebook paper and started writing things out, using the glow from my phone as a light. Trish was totally out, which was good. I didn’t know what I’d say to her if she woke up and caught me. Not that I was doing anything wrong, but… I just didn’t want to talk about it.

  THE NEXT WEEK was filled with more sleepless nights and writing. Somehow Trish didn’t catch me, and the pages stayed under the mattress where I shoved them. I couldn’t say it helped, exactly, but I found myself writing things I had never really thought of before. Or, never consciously thought of before. Things that lurked at the back of my mind that I didn’t acknowledge.

  Trish noticed I hadn’t been sleeping, but when I told her to drop it, she did. I was sure she felt guilty for pushing me to see my parents, even though I told her not to.

  Finals were in two weeks, but I had a hard time getting my brain to focus. Like it or not, summer was coming and I was going to have to go home and confront my parents again.

  I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. The deadline for signing up for summer classes and housing had come and gone, but I still went to the housing office to see if there was anything I could do.

  I was given a list of classes that were still available as well as their cost. Between that and housing and then having to pay for next year, there was absolutely no way to swing it.

  Trish found me when I was crunching the numbers and I struggled to hide the papers, but she saw them.

  “What are you doing?” she asked, hopping up on my desk and picking up one of the papers.

  “Nothing,” I said, reaching for it, but it was too late.

  “Hey, are you thinking about doing a summer semester?” I hadn’t said anything about it to her and now I felt like shit. Why had I hidden it from her? She was going to be staying with Lottie and Zan this summer.

  “I was, but I can’t afford it.” A few weeks ago, I thought it would be fine. My parents didn’t live that far from school and Trish could drive up and I figured Zan and Lottie wouldn’t mind if I crashed with Trish for a night or two. It was going to be fine.

  That was stupidly naïve of me. There was no way I could stay away from her this summer. No way I could go back to that house without her. It would be my personal hell.

  She chewed on her lip as if she was making some kind of decision.

  “Then let’s get an apartment.” I nearly tipped over and fell off my chair.

  “Are you serious?” Those were just about some of the last words I thought she would ever say. For fuck’s sake, she just told me she loved me yesterday.

  She nodded.

  “Yeah, why not? I mean, we’ve pretty much been living together already. We don’t spend a night apart. And I would feel weird crashing with Lottie and Zan. I just have these nightmares about hearing them having sex.” She made a face and swung her legs so they bounced against the desk.

  “If we pool our money, we could totally get something. Right near everyone else too, I bet.” Stryker’s apartment building was in a complex, with other identical buildings right near it. One of those was bound to have an empty place, right?

  No, no I was getting carried away. We couldn’t do this.

  Could we?

  “You’re being awfully… casual about this. I mean, for a girl who had to say ‘I love you’ in stages,” I said. She just rolled her eyes and kept swinging her legs.

  “Yeah, well, I’ve decided that my past and my own fears have stopped me from doing a lot of things in life and it’s time that I let myself not be a prisoner anymore. You want to be with me, I want to be with you and the rest is just logistics. We’ll figure it out.” Her smile was so sweet and optimistic that it made my heart thump an extra beat.

  I leaned back in my chair and took her feet into my lap.

  “Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?” It sounded too good to be true.

  “Yeah,” she said, using one of her feet to stroke me through my pants. “Should we seal the deal?” One of her eyebrows quirked up and I got up and swept the papers off my desk. It made her throw her head back and laugh.

  “I’ve always loved it when guys in movies did that,” she said.

  “Then you’re probably going to love this next part as well,” I said, putting my hands on her shoulders and bending her back.

  “I think I like where this is going,” she said as I got her arranged the way I wanted and then leaned between her legs.

  Propping herself up on her elbows, she looked down at me.

  “Oh yeah, I definitely like this.”

  AFTER WE “SEALED” our deal with a few orgasms, I made him go online to look at places. Then we sat down and made a budget. It felt so adult that I was waiting for an actual adult to walk in and tell us that we weren’t allowed to do be doing this.

  “I can’t believe this is happening,” Max kept saying. He was so happy, he was downright giddy and it was rubbing off on me.

  “Me neither. And just in time for my birthday.” It was in a few days and Max hadn’t asked me more about gifts, but I knew he was planning something, even with all the crap that had been happening.

&
nbsp; I didn’t ask him what he was going to tell his parents. I mean, he’d have to tell them that he wasn’t coming home this summer. That was definitely not going to go over well, but I completely understood his need to be away from them. He’d gone from being so happy to looking like his soul was being crushed when he walked through the door.

  “Well, if the apartment thing doesn’t work out, we can always live in my car,” he said.

  I nodded. “It’s good to have options.”

  “My parents are going to be pissed,” he said, holding one of my hands between two of his and studying it.

  “Yeah. But they’re going to be pissed at you for being in school, so…” A flash of pain crossed his face.

  “Hey,” I said. “What size bed should we get? Queen or King?” It was my attempt to change the subject to something nicer.

  He thought about it.

  “King, I think. Go big or go home.”

  “I concur.”

  WE MADE MORE apartment plans and we told the crew about it. Of course they were nothing but supportive, as usual. I really did have the best friends ever.

  “Oh my God, this is so exciting! I wish we could all live in the same building or something so it could be like Friends,” Lottie said.

  “Yes, except that was a show, not real life. Those people never worked and they had fabulous apartments in Manhattan. Totally fake,” Will said, which ignited a debate that derailed everything for a little while.

  “You know there’s a place that’s going to be available next door. The guys are graduating so they’re moving out right after,” Stryker said.

  “Yeah? Do you think you could talk to the landlord and get us an application?” Max asked. It wouldn’t hurt to have Stryker and Lottie and Zan vouch for us. They were all model tenants and the landlord loved them. We were basically in. Just had to get the money together for the security deposit and first month’s rent. Oh, and then there was furniture, but with everyone moving out, we could probably get a ton of stuff for basically free.

  “For my little sister? Sure,” Stryker said and I pretended to punch him in the stomach.

  “This is so wonderful. Everyone moving in together,” Simon said, his arms around Brady.

  “What about you guys?” I asked. Simon and Brady shared a look that I didn’t understand.

  “We’re still going to dorm it next year,” Simon said and Brady looked away and his body was totally stiff. Yup, there was definitely a story there.

  “Why don’t you guys sign up to be roommates? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about banging and waking up your roommate. Because you’d be banging your roommate,” Lottie said, laughing.

  Simon rolled his eyes.

  “Whatever. So, do you guys need any furniture?” he said, turning his attention to Max and me. Well. I’d never seen Simon shut down a conversation that quick.

  “I don’t know. I think we’d need to figure out where we’re going to be and what we have room for,” Max answered for both of us.

  “Well, if you need anything. TV stand, kitchen island, cabinets, whatever. Just let me know,” Simon said. God, he was probably going to sneak in and do it anyway. That was definitely something he’d do. Like a Secret Home Makeover That You Didn’t Ask For. That would definitely be good show.

  “Great, thanks. We’ll let you know,” Max said. Lottie raised her voice and asked what everyone was going to do to celebrate the end of finals and that spawned a whole other conversation.

  No mention of my birthday, which was the next day. Either they forgot (the most unlikely) or they were planning something and pretending they’d forgotten (the most likely). I just went along with it because it made them happy to think I was in the dark.

  “See you tomorrow,” Stryker said with a wink as we were leaving.

  “Why tomorrow? We don’t have plans tomorrow,” I said, playing innocent.

  He winked.

  “See you tomorrow.”

  “YOU KNOW THERE’S a party tomorrow, right?” I asked her on the way back to the dorms.

  “Yeah, I know. I’m not that dim,” she said with a snort.

  “I figured. It’s nothing huge. I know you didn’t want a big deal.” I was lying a little. I didn’t think it was huge, but she would probably think we’d done too much. Oh well. I liked spoiling her. She deserved it.

  “No, you’re not dim in any respect.”

  She huffed a little, but she was going to have a birthday and like it.

  I PICKED HER up from classes with the car full of balloons.

  “You’re an asshole,” she said, pushing them aside so she could squeeze into the passenger seat. “How can you see to drive?”

  “Oh, it’s not that hard,” I said, pushing a few of them out of my way so I could see out the windshield. I was lying. It was a bitch driving a car full of balloons.

  “I hate you,” Trish said, but she was smiling.

  “No, you love me.”

  She sighed heavily.

  “Fine. I do love you.”

  “Oh, and Trish?” I turned and had to push a few balloons out of her face.

  “Yeah?”

  “Happy birthday, hun.” She wiggled around to try to get more comfortable, which wasn’t easy.

  “Yeah, yeah. Just drive and try not to get pulled over. Although, I would pay money to see a cop’s face when you try to explain this shit.”

  Yeah, that might even be worth having to pay the fine.

  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any cops on our way.

  “Roller rink? Could you be more cliché?” Trish said when I parked the car outside of Happy Skates.

  “Shut up. You’re going to roller skate and you’re going to enjoy it. Come on,” I said, going over to the passenger side. She sat in the car and refused to get out until I grabbed her arms and actually pulled her out.

  “I told you it wasn’t going to go over well,” Stryker yelled from across the lot where everyone else was waiting.

  “You’re all assholes,” Trish yelled.

  “But you love us anyway!” Lottie yelled back.

  “How about we go inside so we don’t have to yell anymore?” Will yelled.

  “Good idea!” I yelled back and we all headed for the entrance.

  I told the bored-looking dude behind the counter we were here for Trish’s party and he motioned us over to where we could rent skates.

  Now it was time for my first present. I motioned to Stryker and he ran out to the car. We’d actually had to have a planning session to get all this shit organized.

  “Hey, I don’t think they have your size,” I said when she tried to ask for skates.

  “What are you talking about? I’m a seven-and-a-half,” she said, looking at me like I’d lost all my brain cells.

  “Nope, they don’t have your size.” I said, dragging her away and making her sit on one of the benches as everyone else went and got their skates.

  Stryker came back with the first wrapped box and handed it to Trish.

  “What the hell, Max?” she said, getting pissed.

  “Just open the present.” I had never met anyone who disliked presents this much.

  She opened the box to find a brand new pair of black roller skates with bright orange wheels and neon polka dots. They were super cool and they just screamed Trish at me when I found them online. I had to have them rush-shipped overnight for a cost that was more than the skates were worth to get them here in time.

  “What do you think?” I asked when she didn’t say anything.

  “They’re awesome,” she said in a hushed voice.

  “Show us,” Lottie said, rolling over with her skates on. Trish wiped her eyes and then held the box out.

  “Those are rad,” Katie said. Stryker was reluctantly allowing her to skate, but only as long as he was allowed to hover within two feet of her with his arms out at all times.

  “Put them on,” I said and she did. I crossed my fingers and hoped they would fit. She stood up and rolled a
few steps.

  “Good?” I asked. She beamed at me.

  “Perfect.” I breathed a sigh of relief and then went to get my own skates.

  IT WAS SUCH a dorky present, but that was what made it so great. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d been roller-skating. I was a bit unsteady at first, but then it came back to me. My friends were all good sports and it turned out that Will was a natural. Surprise, surprise, the athletic guy was good on skates.

  My skates were the brightest in the place and I felt a little smug about that. There was a disco ball and flashing lights and they played terrible retro songs, but it didn’t matter. We all skated and tried tricks and chased each other around like we were kids again. Not that I’d ever done anything like this when I was a kid.

  “Having fun?” Max said as we held hands during one of the couples’ skates to a Celine Dion song that made me want to tear my eardrums out.

  “Yeah, I am. Your dating game is strong, Max Greene.” He kissed my hand.

  “I’m glad you think so. It’s all for you.” Mine. All mine. I liked hearing that.

  AFTER A ROUND of the chicken dance, which Max forced me to do, we rolled into a private room where there was a cake waiting for me in the shape of a roller skate. I was probably the oldest person who’d had a party in there. All our friends sang to me even though I begged them not to and then I had to blow out the candles and make a wish.

  I looked up at Max and he was looking at me in a way that made my heart go all poundy and jumpy. God, I loved him so much. I really, really did.

  Oh, right. I was supposed to be making a wish right now.

  I pulled in a huge breath and got all the candles out in one go. That felt even more lucky.

  More presents were brought out from everyone and I was quickly overwhelmed. My favorite was a CD from Stryker with a bunch of my favorite songs on it that he’d played on various instruments. He always did something really nice for me and it was always something you couldn’t get in a store.

  “To birthdays and roller skates and cars filled with balloons and sealing deals and ice cream in parking lots and blue hair and new apartments,” I said, winking at Max. Only he would know about a few of those things, but that was par for the course. We all toasted a million times when we went out.

 
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