Together We Heal by Chelsea M. Cameron

  “Goodnight,” I said and shut the lights off.

  TRISH WORKED PRETTY much the whole weekend, and I studied and worked as well. It was normal and boring and dull. Sometimes I felt like I was ancient before I’d even gotten to have my first legal drink.

  I thought about my relationship with Trish the entire time. I was distracted in all my classes on Monday and my buddy Owen, who was in most of them, noticed. We’d been friends in high school and had chosen the same college without intending to. We tried to room together, but things got screwed up and it didn’t work out. He was living off-campus now in an apartment that I couldn’t afford.

  “Dude, you are not present today,” he said, snapping his fingers in front of my face.

  “I know.”

  “Something up with your girl?” The first time Owen met Trish, he’d just shaken his head at me. She wasn’t his biggest fan either, but they tolerated each other for my sake.

  “Sort of. I just don’t know where her head is at,” I said as we walked across campus to our geology class.

  “I’m pretty sure that’s normal,” he said with a snort.

  “Yeah, probably,” I said. Owen didn’t know about the physical limitations Trish had put on our relationship. I hadn’t told anyone about that. It wasn’t anyone’s business but mine and Trish’s. I didn’t want anyone judging our relationship or making assumptions.

  “You two are okay, though, right?” he asked.

  “Absolutely,” I said and the lie clanged in my ears. Owen didn’t notice.

  MY MOM LEFT me a voicemail while I was in class. I listened to it and wanted to not call back, but I wasn’t that much of an asshole. They might have cut me off financially, but they were still my parents and I knew they loved me in their way.

  “Hey, Mom,” I said as I unlocked the door to my dorm. Trish was meeting me for dinner in a little while, but I had a break and I was going to lie in bed and shut my eyes for a few minutes. I was crazy tired for some reason.

  “Max, hello,” she said. Her voice was warm and I was hit with a pang of homesickness. Choosing my own path hadn’t been easy and I still struggled with it all the time.

  “Hey, what’s wrong?” She’d been pretty vague and just asked that I call her.

  “Oh, nothing.” Okayyyy.

  “Then why did you ask me to call you back?” She sighed.

  “I just miss you, Max.” I was an only child, so she was dealing with an empty nest.

  “I miss you, too,” I said, glad no one was here to hear this conversation.

  “You don’t think you’d want to come home?” she said in a hopeful tone. She and Dad had tried to get me to drop out and come home every day since I’d left. Hadn’t worked yet, obviously.

  “I’m not coming home, Mom. I’m going to stay here and get my degree and then I’m going to get a job.”

  “And what will your degree be in, Max? What have you left a sure thing for?” Like doing HVAC was a “sure thing.” I wasn’t going to argue with her about it.

  “I don’t know yet, but I’m going to figure it out. I still have time. I’m doing my gen eds and then I’ll pick my major.” Trish hadn’t picked her major either and I was kind of glad. We were both figuring our shit out together. My parents didn’t know about Trish. They didn’t really need to. They would meet her eventually, but I wanted to put if off as long as possible. I wasn’t sure how they would react to Trish. Or how Trish would react to my very traditional parents.

  “I just don’t understand, Maxwell. I don’t understand.” She sounded both sad and disappointed. I hated that I was the cause, but I couldn’t stop now. I couldn’t leave college just to make my parents happy. And would it really make them happy? They’d probably find something else to gripe at me about.

  “I know you don’t, but you don’t need to. You just need to know that I need to do this and I’m not doing it to hurt you, or to make you miserable. I’m going to college, not shooting up crack.” I’d said these words tons of times before, but they never seemed to have an effect.

  She sighed again.

  “I just wish you would come home,” she said, and I could tell if we kept this conversation going, she was going to cry and I couldn’t deal with that right now.

  “Listen, Mom, can I call you maybe tomorrow? I just have a lot of work to do and I’m going to dinner soon.” These weren’t technically lies.

  “Okay,” she said, totally forlorn. It ripped me up inside, but I just couldn’t do it.

  “I promise I’ll call you tomorrow. Promise. I love you.”

  “Love you too,” she said and we hung up. I tossed my phone to end of my bed and closed my eyes. I really needed a nap.

  THAT NIGHT WE went over to Stryker and Katie’s for dinner. Usually the couples with the apartments took turns hosting all of us for huge dinners. I had no idea where they got the money for all the food, but there was never a shortage. Money had never been a huge concern of mine; not until I went out on my own. Now it was more than a concern. I had to constantly check my bank account, making sure I had enough to pay for everything. It stressed me out constantly and I wondered how other people got by.

  Katie and Stryker had moved past the shock period and were starting to prepare for the baby. Katie was going to continue with school as long as she could and then take the second semester off, but take summer classes. Stryker was already looking for a well-paying job and he’d been putting in mega hours fixing cars so they could build up some cushion before the baby sucked all their money away. They seemed to have it together and they seemed… happy.

  Katie was glowing and every now and then she’d put her hand on her stomach. They couldn’t find out what they were having for a while, but they were both gunning for a girl.

  “If we have a girl, we won’t need to buy hardly anything. We’re already drowning in pink shit.” Katie admonished Stryker for cursing, but he said he’d stop when the baby was born. Yeah, right.

  I watched Trish’s face as they talked about the new step in their lives. She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She wasn’t wearing her contacts, so it was a shock to see her natural blue eyes. They were prettier than the contacts.

  “He’s going to ask her to marry him,” she said as we went back to her dorm room. She’d wanted to do some laundry and sleep in her own bed tonight. So it was the floor for me. I was getting less and less okay with it and trying harder and harder to not let it bother me.

  “Really?” I said. Stryker didn’t seem like the marrying type, but who knew? The baby had changed everything for them.

  “Yeah, he told me yesterday. He’s saving up for a ring and then he’s going to do one of those elaborate proposals. So I hope you’re okay with being involved, being filmed and potentially becoming a viral video sensation.” I laughed. I didn’t think it would get that far, but you never knew.

  “Katie’s going to be your sister,” I said.

  “Yeah, I know,” she said flopping down on her bed and covering her eyes. Her roommate was gone as usual, so we had the place to ourselves. I pulled out the stack of blankets from under the bed and started to make up my little mattress.

  “It’s crazy. I never thought someone like her would be my sister, but I’m kind of excited. Does that sound weird?”

  “Not at all,” I said, crossing my legs and looking up at her from the floor. “I always wanted a sibling. Brother or sister, it didn’t matter. Someone to take the pressure off me from my parents.” My whole life I’d been in the spotlight and it had driven me nearly insane. I’d had to escape, which was one of the reasons I came to college.

  “Ugh, why? My brother drives me nuts.” She was totally lying. She loved Stryker with a fierceness I often envied. I wished she loved me like that.

  “Trish?” I asked.

  “Hm?” She leaned over the side of the bed so our faces were level.

  “Can I come up there with you? Just to sleep. Not to do anything else. The floor is kinda uncomfortable and it hurts my
back.” She looked at me as if I’d asked her to run away and join the circus with me.

  Her mouth opened and closed and she blinked a few times before she leaned back.

  “Okay.” I was so surprised I didn’t move right away.


  “Uh huh. Sure.” I got up slowly so I didn’t startle her, and sat on her bed next to her. I kept plenty of clothes here, but I usually just slept in my boxers.

  “I’ll keep my shirt and jeans on if you want,” I said, shucking my shoes and socks. She fiddled with the ends of her hair. The color had faded and she was going to need to redo it soon.

  “No, that’s fine.” She got up and went to grab her pajamas.

  I’d never seen her naked either. She asked me to face the wall when she changed and I just always did it. This time I didn’t want to. I wanted to see her. I wanted to touch her. I craved her skin and her scent and everything. The wanting roared in my brain and my dick went hard in two seconds flat. Sure, it happened a lot around her, but right now I was going to have to do something about it.

  Trish changed while I was occupied with hiding my visible boner. When she sat back down on the bed, she was wearing a thin tank top and even thinner shorts. They were worn and faded from too many washings. Her clothes were way too revealing and I sort of jerked away from her.

  She gave me a look and then got up to get one of the makeup wipes to take off her eyeliner and everything else. I got a little shot of satisfaction because I was one of the only ones who had seen her sans makeup. She looked softer when she didn’t have it on. Trish was beautiful either way, but I favored the clean version of her more.

  I leaned my head back on the wall, closed my eyes and tried to think of anything to deflate my boner.

  Famine, mass murders, animals being abused…

  “What are you doing?” My eyes snapped open and there she was, standing right in front of me in next to nothing, her face clean and her hair down.

  Fuck. Me.

  I let my eyes wander from the top of her head to the tips of her black-painted toes and it was good. It was all good. Her body should be studied by science because it was definitely something special.

  “Max?” she said, shifting from foot to foot, uncomfortable with my staring.

  “Yeah?” I said, not taking my eyes off her body, but slowly moving up to her face.

  Her face was almost always set in some sort of hard expression. But right now she looked vulnerable. Sweet. Like the girl I rarely got to see.

  “You can’t look at me like that,” she said, shaking her head, but not covering herself up, or moving away.

  “Why not?”

  “Because you just shouldn’t. I don’t like it.” At last she crossed her arms over her chest and glared. There she was. I knew that side of Trish was coming back.

  “You don’t like it?” I couldn’t look away from her. Her eyes narrowed.


  “I can’t really help it, you know. I really, really like looking at you.” Her eyes narrowed to slits.

  “What are you talking about?”

  Was she serious?

  “Who wouldn’t want to look at you? You’re beautiful.” She was so bright and colorful too. From the hair to the tattoos that bloomed on her skin. She had quite a few; more even than her brother.

  “Whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes. This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Trish’s poor opinion of herself. I just wanted to shake her sometimes. She was an incredible person and she just couldn’t see it.

  “I’m no underwear model wearing wings,” she said.

  “No, you’re not. You’re better.” She ran her hands through her hair and went to sit on her roommate’s bed, getting as far away from me as she could and still be in the same room. Sitting back, she drew her knees up and propped her chin on them.

  “I don’t know why you’re still with me. I can’t sleep with you. I can’t have sex with you. I can’t do the normal stuff girlfriends are supposed to do.” Here we go. I knew we were going to have this conversation eventually.

  I took a breath and gathered my thoughts before I answered. I didn’t want to upset her if I could help it.

  “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want those things with you. I do. I really do. But if you’re not ready for that, it’s okay. I just… I want to make you happy. Because you make me happy. You’re amazing and gorgeous and you love people with this strength that you’re not even aware of. I knew the moment I met you at that funeral that you were going to change my life.” I let it happen. I let my heart spill out of my mouth. I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

  “I love you, Trish. I know it hasn’t been that long, but it doesn’t matter. I love you and I’m going to be here for you.” Her pale skin went even paler when I said I loved her. I finished my little speech and then waited for her response. My heart was pounding so hard I could barely breathe.

  HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Was this really happening? Did he just say that he loved me? How was that fucking possible? I felt in that moment that I was living someone else’s life. I’d been dropped into a role I wasn’t prepared for.

  Had I stepped into the plot of a romantic movie? Sure felt like that. Here was this amazing and sexy guy telling me all the things I’d ever wanted to hear. I should have been over the moon. I should have been making out with him and doing other stuff. It should have made me happy.

  But all I felt was dread. Fear. Bad feelings that squashed any good feelings that I might have had.

  What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why couldn’t I let myself have this?

  I opened my mouth to say something. I needed to say something.

  “I’m sorry,” I finally choked out. His dark eyebrows drew together.

  “Sorry for what?”

  “Sorry that I can’t be the girl you need me to be. Sorry that you can say all those wonderful things about me and I can’t believe them. I’ve been through so much in my life and a lot of it broke me beyond repair. I’m not a whole person, Max. You can’t love someone who isn’t whole. I can’t love you back.” He clasped his hands and looked down at them.

  We never should have started this conversation. It was going to end here, I knew it. He was going to take his ticket and get out.

  I’d wrecked it. I’d wrecked us.

  “I’m not going anywhere,” he said, startling me. I’d been too locked in my own head.


  He cleared his throat and sat up straight.

  “I’m not going anywhere. I think you’re trying to push me away, trying to sabotage this and that’s not going to work on me. I’m not going anywhere.” His eyes narrowed and I saw steely determination in them. I knew he was strong. He had to be to leave his parents and go out on his own at only eighteen years old. Max had left complete security for the unknown. I couldn’t imagine that.

  “What if I want you to go away?” I said. I was going to test how far he’d push this.

  “I don’t believe that. But if you did, really did, I wouldn’t push myself on you.” I believed him.

  “Look, Trish, this isn’t working the way we are. Things have to change. I’m sticking around, but I need something from you in return. Just a little bit of trust. Just a tiny bit. I’m not talking about sex. I’m just talking about sharing things with me. I want to know what goes on in that head of yours. I know you have a rough past. I’m not going to judge you for it. I’m not scared of it. I’m not scared of you.”

  Somewhere along the line, I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. This poor boy loved me so much and it made my already-broken heart fracture again. How many times could you break a heart before it couldn’t be repaired? I was pretty sure mine was beyond help.

  “You should be,” I said.

  WE WERE BOTH quiet for a long time after that. It seemed that we were at an impasse.

  “I don’t know how to trust you, Max. There’s only one person in the world I really trust and he’s s
pent our entire lives earning it.” It would probably hurt my other friends’ feelings to know that I don’t truly trust them, but whatever. I couldn’t help it.

  “It’s okay. As long as you try. That’s all I’m asking. Trying.” She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and nodded.

  “I can try. No promises. But I can try.” She exhaled shakily and I could tell by the look on her face that she was freaking out.

  “I’m not going to hurt you, Trish,” I said, but that was a promise I probably shouldn’t make. Still, if anyone was getting hurt in this whole thing, it was probably going to be me. Trish was used to turning people off and having them just go away. I was a little more persistent than the average person. I was willing to get through the thorns and prickles she put out to ward off intruders.

  “Okay,” she said and got up from the bed. “We should probably get to sleep. I’m tired.” I wasn’t sure if the sleeping together thing was still happening, but she came over and motioned for me to move aside so she could pull the blankets back. She got in and looked up at me.

  God, I loved her so much it made everything else get blurry. I wasn’t going to think about the fact that I’d said I loved her and she’d said she couldn’t love me back. I could wait. I would wait.

  “Are you coming?” she asked and I stood up. She held the blankets out for me to get in. Oh, we were doing this. Awesome.

  I got in next to her and she scooted over closer to the wall. I was surprised she didn’t want to be on the outside, but she didn’t say a word as I turned onto my side. There wasn’t much space between us, seeing as how it was a twin bed. Her back was to me and I could tell she was breathing hard.

  “I’m not going to hurt you, Trish. I just want you to let me love you,” I whispered into her shoulder. She sighed and wiggled a little bit back and toward me. Taking a risk, I snaked my arm around her waist. She froze for a minute, but then relaxed again. Looked like she was going to let me leave it there. I closed my eyes and let my head sink into her pillow. It smelled like her. This was so much better than being on the floor.

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